March 23, 2007

Text Messaged Novel Revisited

 Finnish Short Stories Text Messages: An Anthology of New Writing Talent Language, Culture, and Communication: The Meaning of Messages (4th Edition) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics) Cell Phone Culture: Mobile Technology in Everyday Life The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication The Mobile Connection: The Cell Phone\'s Impact on Society (Interactive Technologies) C.E.L.L - Cityfolk Electronically Livin\' Life: The secrets we hide in our cell phones

Earlier this year I posted about Hannu Luntiala and the novel he wrote entirely from text messages.  This week, it was my good fortune to have the author of The Last Messages comment about the post.  I would like to note up front, that Luntiala is not a native English speaker and that he should be granted great latitude when reading his comment.  While it casts doubt on the judgment of the Finnish author that he chose my paltry page to register some clarification, perhaps we can chalk it up to “Cup O’ Books” being Finnish for “super terrific happy blog being most read by Americans”.  Hey, you never know.

I think it important to point out that, while I detected a slight note of defensiveness in the tone of the comment, it may simply be overzealous marketing language.  Mr. Luntiala has a book to push, has gotten some attention due to its format, and is laying some groundwork for possible translation.  Sounds pretty smart to me.  I just hope he doesn’t expect anyone to read his comment here, because the last hit I got was at a blind intersection.

One final thing before I talk about Luntiala’s comments.  I cannot read Finnish, and therefore I cannot read the book until its translation, so none of my comments should be taken as endorsement or criticism of the actual tome.  I just found the use of the technology, format and context interesting and worthy of note and speculation.

There were a couple of things in the Luntiala’s comment that prompted me to revisit this novel.  First, in spite of the American tendency to treat people from elsewhere, who speak English worser than we does, like an idiot and ignore the fact that they speak at least twice as many languages, Mr. Luntiala is intelligent enough to recognize buzz, and to know that it doesn’t last.  He is savvy enough to try laying the groundwork for a translation, and he has me typing away about a novel I haven’t even read yet.

Another thing that struck me from Mr. Luntiala’s follow-up was that Finnish SMS has many more characters from which to choose than American SMS.  If he is right, and the Finns get 160 characters with which to paint versus the American 20, perhaps SMS can be more expressive than I first thought.  In spite of his claim to be the first TXT novelist, I found Chinese author Qian Fuzhang to have a more serious claim.  He actually text-messaged his novel, rather than using traditional printing methods.  Either way, my real point is that Chinese, which uses characters rather than letters, probably has an entirely different penchant for being used as TXT.  My first impression would be that Chinese is actually better suited to the text message format.

Then again, after listening to NPR last night and Brian McConnachie’s Vocal Impressions series perhaps podcasting and the return of the oral tradition will become bigger news.  Since I have a face for radio (and blogging), perhaps that is an avenue I should pursue.  Maybe The Last Messages should be released solely as an audio book read by Sean Connery.

Many thanks for Mr. Luntiala for his response.  When his book is translated into English I will be sure to pick it up and let my three readers know what I think.

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February 5, 2007

D. S. Leach Consulting

 Public Relations Writing: Principles in Practice Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (8th Edition) Flight Capital: The Alarming Exodus of America\'s Best and Brightest Give Us Your Best and Brightest: The Global Hunt for Talent and Its Impact on the Developing World The American City : What Works, What Doesn\'t The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business Success

Last week, our local newspaper warned against the evils of cynicism.  While the message was ridiculously simplistic, it does contain the ring of truth.  Here is my attempt to be positive.

Looking for someone to help you start a website, write a book, or edit a project?  Let me recommend D. S. Leach Consulting, Inc. right here in Rochester, NY.  The paper is constantly haranguing its readers with tales of the massive flight of people and talent out of Rochester.  Well, Greg Bell and Diane Leach are prime examples of creative professionals who have moved in the other direction, coming to us from Chicago and Philadelphia, among other places. 

I met Greg through mutual blogging efforts in covering another positive Rochester experience: the Rochester International Jazz Festival.  He and his wife arrived several years ago and have recently started their consulting business, hoping to turn their experience as attorneys and editors into a thriving Rochester company.  Their website is an excellent example of what they can do for you, using a blogging format to explain their services.  They are an excellent example of the “brain-based” economy and should be supported with your business.

Good luck to Greg and Diane and D. S. Leach Consulting!  I can recommend them in complete sincerity, without any cynicism.

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November 20, 2006

Review of A Woman from Cairo by Val Landi

Red Storm Rising Deja Vu Intoxicated: A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World\'s Favorite Soft Drink Grumpy Old Bookman How and Why Lisa\'s Dad Got to Be Famous A Woman From Cairo Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future

The term “indie” became a cliche some time ago.  Indie film, indie music, indie video games, etc.  Being outside the mainstream is the traditional common theme in all things “indie”.  Labeled by marketers as a member of “Generation X”, I will assert my Madison-Avenue-given right to be cynical, and suggest that this rebellious term went corporate before Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John penned their first advert to the Corinthians.  You can thank me later for that little cutting-edge piece of insight, but I digress before I begin.

Starting less than a year ago, a first-time author named Val Landi began marketing his self-published A Woman From Cairo, which he had been shopping around to the publishing establishment for sometime. The novel got some buzz from the literary blog “establishment” (here, here, and here) back in the spring, and after reading about it I contacted Mr. Landi, who was kind enough to send me a book.  (The book lacked the advertised autograph, but I’ll live.)

As some of my three readers may know, I spend the school-year grading papers and the summer at the gravel pit, so I don’t always get to all of my extra-curricular enjoyments in a timely fashion.  Reading is high among those enjoyments, but Mr. Landi’s book had dropped slowly down the literary Jenga game next to which my wife and I sleep as more recent interlopers got placed on the top.  Due to my participation in the Winter Stacks Reading Challenge, I finally finished Mr. Landi’s book.  The first chapter took me seven months, the rest took two days. Good for you, Mr. Landi!

Mr. Landi is identified by some (including himself) as an “indie author.”  Before jumping into the review, I want to comment on the “indie” status of Mr. Landi and his book. 

In his most recent post, the author wrote:

“I find it delightfully ironic that A Woman from Cairo, an “Indie” book being launched on should be signed for development as an Indie film to be presented at the Sundance Film Festival…”

Ok.  Before moving on, let me point you to this short interview with Kevin Smokler.  I’ll wait until you come back…

The truth in labeling A Woman From Cairo as “indie” really depends on where one sits.  On one hand, if “indie” is a do-it-yourself term describing how one creates, publishes, and markets a finished product, than Mr. Landi is most definitely an “indie” author.  From reading the discussions about his book, publishing insiders and published novelists seem to agree that “Big Publishing” snubbed Mr. Landi in spite of his having a saleable product.  He then found an alternative and “independent” route to publish and sell his book.  This is certainly the “indie” blueprint.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Mr. Landi is pushing the limits of the spirit of “indie.”  If “indie” is a way of doing something, it is also, I think, a reason for doing something.  It provides an idea or an aesthetic that one cannot find in mass media.  In his website bio, we find that the author has worked for Bantam, IDG, and Microsoft.  He is currently the president of Realtime Publishers, where his bio reads, “senior sales and marketing executive for both Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial startups.”  Not really an “indie” resume.  In fact, one might argue that Mr. Landi has the resume of a successful e-publishing industry insider.  His blog subtitle is “Notes on Technology, Politics, and Religion”, but the posts are really focused on the marketing of his book.  At times the blog feels like a marketing research project right down to what looks to me like the censoring of comments.  Corey Doctorow and Ian Hocking types get on, but one finds no comments from fans or readers without their own blogs.

Anyway, two of Smokler’s comments stick in my mind here.  He said, “indie lit is ultimately based on sort of romantic notions that don’t apply anymore.”  Perhaps this is true.  We don’t need “indie” anymore because technology has provided just about anyone with the drive, the means to produce, publish, and distribute.  We are all “indie” now.

Another quote also sticks out when viewed through Mr. Landi’s blog as lens. “A book will become a calling card for people with mini-media empires. So people will use a book to kind of advertise themselves.”  Sometimes I get the feeling that writing a good book wasn’t the purpose here, marketing it was.

Either way, a good read was written.  This isn’t high brow literature, but decent genre fiction, which will appeal to the spy novel set.  Mr. Landi has a winner in my opinion, albeit with flaws.  If he has some longevity, he might do with terrorism what Tom Clancy did with the Cold War.  I agree with several other blog reviews I read that A Woman From Cairo is too long.  There is dead wood among much of the character development. Some of the characters, like Julie and Nan, were superfluous and could have been easily eliminated.  The character best written, in my opinion, was Sanna. 

The strength of the book is the plot, which slowly unravels what we don’t know through fast paced events.  Some of the Red Cell stuff was excellent, and probably what reminded me of Clancy.  Mr. Landi successfully juggled multiple intersecting plotlines with clarity and tension, then brings them all together in the end.  I have one suggestion for the Man From Madrid, the planned sequel to this book.  Surprise the reader at the end.  Give us a twist, or unexpected ending.  I liked the end to this one as it maintained the tension using Sanna’s decision to detonate (or not detonate) the bomb.

My mom wrote a review for the book during this past summer.  She is not a spy novel aficionado, but did introduce me to Clancy’s Red Storm Rising so she’s not a beginner either.  Here is what she had to say:

If you are looking for a good beach read, Val Landi’s A Woman from Cairomay be just the ticket, if you don’t mind running the risk of a sunburn.  The opening scene pulls the reader in immediately as you witness the assassination of El Sheik (Osama Bin Laden) by Al Qaeda’s number two man, El Tabib, who, coincidently, also played a role in the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.  This event is captured on film, and getting this film out to the public drives the plot forward.  The intrigue and topicality of this first chapter compels you begin chapter two, and by then you’re hooked.  The structure of the novel is very controlled, and this enhances the feeling of being drawn in, bit by fascinating bit.  The chapters are short and move quickly from character to character and place to place, each adding another piece to the puzzle, until finally they all converge in the climax.  It is an effective structure. It allows Landi to keep you engaged and to keep the plot moving quickly. This is especially appreciated by those who do read on the beach.

The characters in A Woman from Cairo are cleanly cut.  There is little superfluous information on each; yet, there is enough background given so the reader has an understanding of motives, and enough knowledge to make them believable.  This is appropriate as it is, essentially, a plot driven book.  However, I found the anti-heroine, Sanna Hamaj, to be unsympathetic despite her tragic background.  The brutality of L’Houssaine’s torture and death, at her hands, and her cold and cruel treatment of Alika, made her seem more of a killing machine than a human being. This may be a lack of empathy on my part and not the author’s.  I simply do not understand the mentality of suicide bombers, not on the evening news nor in Landi’s book.  There is much to admire in the character, Alika, however, and she makes a perfect foil to Sanna.

I did appreciate Landi’s use of the various settings to move the plot forward.  The action races from Afghanistan, to Egypt, to Manhattan, and finally, to Utah and the Sundance Film Festival.  The settings are disparate, which makes them interesting, but each place gives us a different take on the action; each gives the reader a feel for its own part in the story.  This is especially true of the Utah sequences.

I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of world response to the showing of L’Houssaine’s documentary.  This fact, added to the closing chapter with El Tabib sending his new protage off to New York City until the time is right for him to become a part of history, screams for a sequel.  The message that they are here, unnoticed, living among us, and waiting, is frightening enough in fiction; in reality it is too terrible to comprehend.

I agree with Mom, that Mr. Landi has a possible movie success on his hands.  He has grabbed a topic that will have some shelf life, as we watch the bumbling “War on Terror” with no end in site.

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March 22, 2006

Got a Website? Get a Free Book!

 A Woman From Cairo

I got my copy of A Woman From Cairo in the mail today.  Looking forward to finding out if the hype is justified.  For those that don’t follow any blog or website devoted to books (a very sensible move on your part, a ridiculous waste of time on mine), Landi is trying to self-publish his way to fame and fortune and has been the topic du jour for quite a few jours.  If you want to read more about him try John Barlow, Ian Hocking, Grumpy Old Bookman, or Landi himself.


Click here for details about your own free book. 

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