Monday, 24 September 2012

An email to gladden the writers' hearts

I'm away from home on the slow parental computer, so there are no frills and no pictures today, but I wanted to share this email from poet, novelist and short story writer, Carolyn McCurdie about Elena Bossi's and my collaborative novel, Amigas. (In the interests of keeping the plot from full view, I've abridged the email slightly.)

Just to congratulate you and Elena on this delightful story. I loved the characters, strong, very different voices, the joys and hiccups of their developing relationship. I loved the contrasts between the increasingly harsh realities of Claudia's world, and the almost cottonwool comfort of Jude's, and yet the ordinariness of both, family, the growing of girls to womanhood. I cared about these two. And for that reason I appreciated the integrity of the ending. I wanted a happy ending. I wanted Claudia to be well and happy. Then I just wanted information about her … in its fictional way it honoured the truth of what the people of Argentina endured  during those years …  Humanity shines through this story. The structure, the skipping from country to country, culture to culture, language to language, brought home in the most powerful and subtle way, that a basic humanity is what we all share, linked by that and by shared pain and love.    

Thanks for saying so, Carolyn.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Why publish digital books?

I talked with an interviewer for the NZ Listener a couple of days ago, who's putting together an article about digital publishing. What was it that made me stride out into the unknown and take on something whose outcomes were so uncertain? she asked,

I felt myself firing up as I do when I consider Rosa Mira Books's raison d'être: I am passionate about seeing exceptional writing out into the world, and without needing a huge budget or wasting resources, digital publishing seems to be the best means at present of doing this. With established publishers currently hedging their bets, shortening their lists, and wanting to be sure that every book they publish is a commercial success, some beautiful works of writing are considered too risky to take on. It might be that the author is new or as yet unknown; that the work appeals more to a particular than to a general audience; that the story requires readers to bring their full attention and intelligence to the reading. Or that the form of the work is new. None of these is a compelling reason for strong writing to go unpublished.

I'm also passionate about making as fine a job as possible of the editing, design and presentation of each ebook, and helping it find its way to its readers.

It's apricot violet time here in New Zealand.

There are challenges, of course. Here in NZ we've been slow on the uptake with reading devices. Hard copy is still the preferred reading medium for most. Amazon and the big ebook sellers are often seen by ebook buyers as the only source of ebooks; it's a long, slow job directing buyers straight to Rosa Mira Books, where the books are available formatted for every kind of reading device.

None of us knows what's going to happen to books or the publishing industry over the next few years, or even months. Obstacles and opportunities abound, for publishers and independent authors. I wonder if digital will become the proving ground for paper books. If a digital book is bought, read and loved in sufficient numbers, it might be deemed worthwhile making of it a beautifully designed and bound hard-copy edition. The book will be the longed-for artefect that appears once the work is known and applauded in its digital form.

Speculation. Meanwhile, digital publishing grows both simpler and more sophisticated. It's easier than ever to convert a document to ebook format (or to find someone to do it for a reasonable price), while on the other hand, apps are being made that can make a simple story into a multi-media experience. Still, what matters most to me is that the writing around which this activity centres is all it can be. For now, Rosa Mira Books is keeping it simple, producing well edited, well designed, robust and intelligent work with heart.

Frisky people!

Dorothee's been cooking up a treat.

While writing and researching for The Glass Harmonica, she kept coming across evidence that American forbears weren't the puritanical bunch it's often assumed. She told the Ashland Daily Tidings how she came across some erotic pictures in a history text. "'I was so astonished at how explicit the erotic art of the time was. I started calling rare-book libraries and asking if they had any smutty stuff. And they did.'"

 To make the most of the wealth of infomration, art, poetry and objects that came to light, Dorothee's created a media-enhanced ebook:  Such Were My Temptations: Bawdy Americans 1760-1830. "Loaded with poetry, prose and art, the e-book depicts this country's founding forefathers and foremothers as quite passionate …. It even includes an engraving of Benjamin Franklin and a lady friend having an intimate moment. While graphic in places, the e-book's aim is pleasantly academic rather than pornographic. It's smart, fun and challenges widely held assumptions."

With Such Were My Temptations, Dorothee pushes boundaries in her own right, expanding the definition of the book, adding dimension to the reading experience in ways only recently made possible. Rather than adding content just because it is technically possible to do so, Dorothee finds that sweet spot where content comes alive with new technology. One example is a polyamory poem, dry to read in early English. Such Were My Temptations presents a vivid video of the poem to help readers feel what that old word ‘ribald’ really means.

“Kocks leaves no stone unturned in upsetting today’s definition of 'Puritanical'. From political sex scandals to polyamorous poetry, New England’s first citizens evidently had plenty in common with today’s Americans. Those who think of the 1760s as an era of widespread chastity should brace themselves for surprise before reading Temptations.”  —The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

To find Such Were My Temptations and more information run to