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Date: January 11, 2009

The Book Cover Archive

At Tor.com I read an article about a new site called The Book Cover Archive going live. It is, as the name implies, an archive of various book covers. Awesome, right? Well, for someone as book geeky as I am, it is awesome. Each entry is tagged with various meta data, allowing you to sort by and search for author, designer, genre, or publisher. Searching by author and genre is pretty standard, and being able to search by publisher is neat, but the real glory lies in being able to search by designer.

For example, here is the entry for a book I wrote about here a few weeks ago. Peter Carey Theft

The cover was designed by John Gall, who, as it turns out, designed a number of other books on my shelves: The Road, Lolita, Kafka On The Shore

Pretty cool.

Right now the site is in public beta, meaning that not everything is running at 100%. They currently have about 850 books in the database, but I can’t imagine that number not rising significantly. It also seems like a great way to find new books since each entry has a convenient link to the book’s page on Amazon. Not for me though. I have enough books for the time being. I need to stay OUT of the bookstore. But you all might need books, and might be struggling with finding something to read, so here’s a nice place to judge a book by its cover. Branch out and pick something up you might not otherwise.

Sunshine

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seal_of_approvalJuli and I watched Sunshine tonight, the 2007 Danny Boyle film about a group of astronauts on a mission to give the sun a kick start. I heard a lot of bad mouthing about it when it came out and it scared me away from the theatre, but having seen it I have no idea what people were complaining about. It was great. I know some people thought the midmovie twist was weak, but it worked for me. It’s no feel-good movie, and it shouldn’t be. It’s bleak, filled with tension and despair, and wonderful. It is a science fiction film yes, but it almost crosses the line of being a horror film in outer space. The film is a spiritual descendant of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but lacks the more overt horror elements. It is also clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but lacks the oblique abstraction. It’s a different beast altogether and I loved it. Approved. I’m only disappointed that I didn’t go see it theatrically.

Plot aside, the film is just fucking beautiful. Alwin Küchler’s cinematography has to be some of the most beautiful work done last year, right up there with The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. The film’s CGI is stunning, but the real beauty is in the delicate, painterly photography that is rich and sumptuous while portraying the stark bleakness of the crew’s predicament alone in the far reaches of our solar system on a mission to save mankind. One shot that stands out is early in the film when the ship psychiatrist is sitting in the observation room and there is an extreme close-up of his eye behind sunglasses and the depth of field must have been something like a centimeter, yet Küchler totally nails it, giving us this extremely distorted yet recognizable, intimate shot of the man’s eye as he stares straight into the sun. And the blurry camera work in the end sequence? Holy crap. Just astounding. A truly incredible accomplishment.

Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a highly distractable, highly unscheduled, highly undisciplined writer of things. For example, the beginning of this post has been sitting in an open tab since Friday morning. It is now very early Sunday morning and I am just writing the third sentence. You can imagine how difficult it is for me to compose anything of significant length or seriousness. As I’ve also mentioned before, I find it quite inspiring to read about how other people structure their work since it is such a struggle for me.

Friday morning I was reading an article on the Locus Magazine website by Cory Doctorow called “Writing In The Age of Distraction” that I might have found on BoingBoing. You can, no doubt, understand then that, as a fan of Cory’s, this article got me all excited up on a number of levels. It addresses something I like (Writing) in light of a problem I wrestle with (Distraction) by someone whose writing I like (Cory). In particular, one passage really stood out and screamed at me.

Short, regular work schedule
When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

This is a very interesting idea and something I’m going to try and keep going through The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories, which I am already behind on. Typically, I don’t write on weeknights because my work schedule can be so crazy at times that I have difficulty coming home, regaining my focus, and sitting down to work, especially when all I really want to do is eat something, hang out with my ladyfriend, and mellow before I go to bed. Of course I am never going to fulfill my obligations to TYO5KP&50SS by giving in to my base need to be lazy and “chill out,” as the kids say. That said, it is ridiculous to expect hours worth of work from myself when I come home at 10pm from work, maybe eat something, and sit in front of the computer at midnight. But 20 or 30 minutes I can do.

Since I don’t write in a program that shows a page layout like MS Word would, I don’t have a good indication of what a “page” is or when I reach it. A Google search shows that 250 words in 12-pt Courier per page is generally considered standard for a manuscript submission. Some of my own tests using a regular US Letter piece of paper with standard margins suggest that a page is about 350 words in 12-pt Times New Roman. Either way, two pages is, what, 500-700 words? That I can do. I think. Maybe. We shall see. I am really terrible at this whole “schedule” business.