Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Around the Word

Crisis of Creativity or Just History Repeating? With the Jonah Lehrer scandal in full swing, a summer during which the box office has been almost nothing but remakes and sequels, knock-off ebooks, and a unparalleled literary phenom that could be flirting with copyright infringement, it's hard not to ask whether there are any original ideas left to be had. Animator and filmmaker Drew Christie explores this conundrum in a recent NY Times op-doc, "Allergy to Originality." Through a very creative use of various Wikipedia entries (solidly in the Creative Commons), the animated video explores the age-old question of whether a idea can ever be truly unique, or if everything is just an appropriation or amalgamation of previous cultural memes and icons. Is it really Hollywood's fault that we seem to find comfort in reworkings and extensions of the familiar (reflected in booming box office sales)? What do you think? Are there any original thoughts left to be thought?

Before They Were Stars. Ever wondered what your favorite celebrity New York Times columnists were up to before they were granted tenure and guaranteed precious column inches to fritter away? Most of them were actually out chasing down leads and risking their jobs in pursuit of the story. In this great article from The Awl, we learn that before Nicholas Kristoff got a little "White Man's Burden," he gave us stories about the people in crisis instead of preaching to them. Tom Friedman was on the ground in Beirut, and Maureen Dowd, now best known for her politics-lite repartee, authored one of the first long-form pieces to shed light on those in the shadows of the AIDS epidemic. While not heralded far and wide, Dowd's profile of Gay Men's Health Crisis challenged some of the more traditional views held by Times editorial staff, and almost cost her the job. 

The Book Critic's Burden. It happens to all heavy readers at one time or another: you start a book and then realize you're just not feeling it. Most of us ditch it in favor of something more enticing, but what if your job depends on powering through? Getting paid to read and review books may seem like a charmed life, but a reviewer has to read them all—the good, mediocre, and the painfully bad. What's a critic to do? In a recent column, "I Hate This Book So Much: A Mediation," Times book critic Lev Grossman discusses the anxiety and inner conflict he faces when he has to review a book he dislikes. Should he dig in and write that negative review? What if he's missing a point that's obvious to everyone else? How does he face someone whose novel he's dissed? It's a a heavy cross to bear. How do you, dear editors and writers, deal with a despised project?

Of Books and Booze. Writers are notorious drinkers, perhaps none more so than Earnest Hemingway. Did you know that one of Hemingway's favorite drinks was the daiquiri? That may seem a little incongruous with his "man's man" image, but apparently he developed a taste for them during the twenty years he spent in Cuba. So to commemorate his 113th birthday, Havana watering hole El Floridita decided to mix up the world's largest daiquiri in honor of the author's love for the drink and his ties to the island. If you want to pay homage to your favorite author through drink, or make your next cocktail hour a little more literate, here are a few sites that offer authors' favorite cocktails, drinks inspired by books and authors, and drinks from classic literature. If going out is more your style, check out the The Dead Poet on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which is owned by a former English teacher and features an actual lending library.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Q&A with Aziz Isham of

reKiosk is not like any other online marketplace you’ve seen. With this new site, now in beta with a launch planned for August, you act as your own distributor for your favorite books and music, and instead of the marketplace eating up a big chunk of the payment, most of the profit goes to the creator, with a small slice for you. 
So say you buy your friend's ebook from their reKiosk page and share it on your own kiosk. If someone then buys the book through you, your friend gets 70 percent and you get 25 percent of the profit. It’s kind of like owning your own private store that only sells things you like, and it’s certainly a great venue for promoting self-publishing.

Aziz Isham
We talked to founder and CEO Aziz Isham to get the full scoop.

How is reKiosk different from other online marketplaces?
We were built with two things in mind: 1) How do we make an alternative marketplace that puts creatives in control and remunerates them for their work; and 2) How do we empower curators (bloggers, publishers, or aspiring digital storeowners) to become an active (and paid) part of the process. We found that if we keep things simple and take as small a portion of each sale as possible, we could do both of these things and still create a beautiful, engaging e-commerce experience.

What inspired the idea for the site?
You could say that I've been working on this project for the last decade, in various forms. Three of my four grandparents are artists, and I've always been attracted to business models that try to make creativity a more economically sustainable occupation for as many people as possible. We all have enough toaster ovens, but I've never met anyone who's got enough poetry.

Who would you say is the “average” reKiosk user?
Either a content provider (a musician, record label, publisher, or writer, for example) or a curator. One person or company could be both, of course. The average customer is probably someone who's already interested in independent media, as that's the lion's share of what's on the site right now, though we hope that might change in the not-too-distant future.

How do you think reKiosk will benefit writers?
Any easy-to-use marketplace that encourages smaller, curated marketplaces will benefit writers. Right now we have a huge market for front-list titles and lots of strong, small niche markets, but we're in danger of loosing the mid-list, and that’s really scary. Some of the best authors of the twentieth century were firmly mid-list—James Salter, Phillip Dick, and Mike Davis, to name a few personal favorites. Would any of these writers have viable careers in today's publishing landscape?

Where do you see reKiosk heading in the future?
Hard to say. We've had some great advance praise so far and a lot of interest from all sectors, but we're really hoping to become a way to usher in a new form of the independent, digital bookstore or record shop, the internet version of the great spaces you could once find in any mid-size town or city, but which have since been replaced by Walmarts and e-retailers.

Request an invite at to get a head-start before the site is fully open. The possibilities seem almost endless, and we definitely agree about not needing another toaster!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Writing Life Rocks

Our friends at Ragan recently published the results of a poll, in which they ask freelance writers and editors what they enjoy about the writing life. We thought this was a great question, and we were curious to know what keeps our Gotham Ghostwriters (and editors) going. So we asked, "What's the best part of having a job as a writer or editor?" We got a lot of creative and informative answers.  
The basic breakdown:
  • I get to be creative every day: 5
  • I get to write for a variety of platforms: 2
  • I help others sound better: 5
  • I produce a tangible finished product: 3
  • Other (please elaborate!)
    • I get to be alone
    • I get to meet interesting (and famous) people
    • I like seeing my name in print

And here are some of our favorite answers :
"Permit me to offer a quote from English writer W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), from his novel, 'Cakes and Ale': 'Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.'" - Harold Gordon
"...when people ask me what I do for a living, it's a kick to say, 'I'm a writer.' Always the same thing follows. 'Do I know your work? Have you written any books?' That I can say 'yes and 'yes' is rewarding. Books are not all I write or edit or direct. At this point in my career I write, edit and direct it all, and I've learned more about such an array of businesses, industries and topics that this in and of itself is very rewarding. I can even talk about hernia repair and medical conditions. Now that's something!" - Sandra Rea-McGinty
"The money, the travel, the danger, and the women." - Peter Roff