Tag Archives: vanity

Amanda McKittrick Ros: Can writing be so bad that it’s good?

We often hear how self publishing and ebooks will overwhelm defenseless readers with a sea of slush. Those who say this may not know of Amanda McKittrick Ros. She self published long before it was fashionable, well, technically her husband financed the publication of her first novel. Irene Iddesleigh was introduced to the world in 1897 as a tenth anniversary present. It has ever since been a source of inspiration for all the wrong reasons.

An Amanda Ros society sprung up in Oxford in 1907, where dinner party guests had much fun mocking the book. Mark Twain called it “one of the greatest unin­tentionally humorous novels of all time.” Aldous Huxley wrote an essay about the novel’s bizarre style in 1928. And shortly after World War II, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien discussed the novel in their literary group, the Inklings. The task was to see who could read aloud the longest without breaking into “helpless laughter.” Apparently beer was also involved.

Ros demonstrates a penchant for overwriting. As has often been quoted, in her prose, eyes become “globes of glare,” legs are referenced as “bony supports,” pants are a “southern necessary,” and sweat is rendered as “globules of liquid lava.” As her title shows, alliteration was one of her favorite devices. From Irene Iddesleigh:

The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future, and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing.

Dialogue fares no better:

“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”

But what’s most interesting about Ros is not her writing itself, it’s the continued interest in her for more than a century. Ros was the subject of a 1964 biography, aptly titled O Rare Amanda! Her third novel, Helen Huddleston, which she left incomplete was published posthumously in 1969. In 1988, her work was collected in an Amanda Ros reader, Thine in Storm and Calm. In 2001 she was featured in Nick Page’s In Search of the World’s Worst Writers. She was the subject of a fresh “read aloud” contest at the Celebrate Literary Belfast festival in 2006. Demand for her books, which are all sadly out of print, is strong. Prices range from $200 to $500. It seems only a matter of time before some enlightened publisher introduces her in ebook form. How many writers of more talent have published celebrated tomes since, yet today are forgotten?

I reviewed Fannie Hurst in an earlier post. She was at one time the highest paid writer in America, but today is nearly out of print. Her writing is similarly amazing for all the wrong reasons. That post on Hurst is one of the most trafficked pages on this blog. People seem to love bad writing, or perhaps just bad art in all its forms. What else explains the attention paid to those unknowing contestants at the beginning of each season of American Idol?

And what happens when vanity and notoriety collide? Is it better to be forgotten or laughed at and remembered? If Ros were alive–she died in 1939–she could take solace in the fact that she has brought much joy to the literary world. She’s also frequently reported as saying: “I expect that I will be talked about at the end of 1,000 years.” Amanda McKittrick Ros may well be right.

Further reading on Ros: Amanda McKittrick Ros and the Inklings, Wikipedia: Amanda McKittrick Ros

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Kirkus Discoveries and Vanity Reviews

With all the hubbub over Harlequin Horizons late last year, I’m surprised that more attention isn’t paid to Kirkus Discoveries. This service is a division of the established and formerly (by me, at least) respected Kirkus Reviews. For a mere $425 for 7 to 9 week turnaround or $575 for 3 to 4 week turnaround, self-published and independent authors can have their book reviewed by an “experienced” reviewer.

The site is filled with the same hollow claims that raised ire far and wide against Harlequin. They offer to publish the review on their website “which has a wide audience of librarians, major publishers, agents, rights representatives, booksellers and film and television producers.” They go on to say that their reviews help “many authors” boost sales on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com, and that each month they include a lucky few in their Discoveries e-newsletter.

They also make great pains to indicate that while these reviews cost money, this doesn’t impact their content:

Though all our reviewers are experienced professionals, not all Discoveries reviews are glowing. Kirkus Discoveries is a caveat emptor service that gives honest, impartial evaluations of the titles we receive. The resulting reviews can be positive, negative or anywhere in between. By upholding Kirkus’ rigorous editorial standards, we ensure that an enthusiastic review is meaningful in the publishing community. Our long-standing editorial policy of anonymous reviews also applies to the Discoveries program.

Why would anyone commission a piece of writing and then not be able to dictate its content? This seems to be designed for the pure and simple purpose of separating writers from their money. Kirkus is preying on the same hopes that vanity presses are notorious for abusing, and they undoubtedly often add insult to injury once the review is delivered. One can only wonder what the reviewers must think who get these books. Are they the same reviewers who write the regular Kirkus reviews?

Kirkus defends the review-for-pay scheme with much of the same rhetoric that Harlequin used to defend Harlequin Horizons. As the world of publishing changes, they need to look for alternative revenue streams.

They’re right: the world of reviews has changed. We don’t need Kirkus anymore. Customer reviews written on sites like Amazon and the slew of great book bloggers that have emerged can quite nicely replace much of ye olde booke review guarde. These new venues review both traditionally and self-published books, and they charge nada. If a book–no matter who publishes it–is noteworthy enough to merit review, it should be reviewed. Period.

And whatever did happen with Harlequin Horizons? They yanked Harlequin from the name, relaunching the self-publishing imprint as DellArte Press. But it’s not clear if they’re still marketing self-publishing services when they reject a manuscript from the traditional Harlequin lines. They may not be, a search on the main Harlequin site did not bring up anything about DellArte.

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The 10,000 Year Vanity Press

Writers are vain creatures. If you ever meet one, we’ll tell you all sorts of lies about why we “must” write. Only one is true. We want to be immortal. Could anything else explain all them vampire stories?

This is one of the most worrying things about ebooks. As New Scientist recently explained, digital technology stands almost no chance of surviving the apocalypse. Paper would fare much better. While we’re hard pressed to access floppy disks and memory sticks from even a few years back, paper holds up pretty well. Used bookstores are loaded with the blockbusters from years gone by, attics overflow with discarded tomes, and libraries pile the stuff up and neatly archive it. Each paper book is a shot at immortality. If well tended, it can survive hundreds of years. Yet no one will even know how to turn on today’s ebooks two hundred years from now, let alone access any of the “books” downloaded to them.

Paper is better, most definitely, but even over the very long term paper doesn’t last. It is just paper after all. Surely not one of the paperbacks in the boxes I have piled in my basement will still be kicking around 10,000 years from now. Thankfully that New Scientist article highlighted the work of the Long Now Foundation. They’ve found an answer that can truly stand the test of time. Through their Rosetta Project, they’ve developed a medium that even Megatron wouldn’t be able to scratch:

For the extreme longevity version of the Rosetta database, we have selected a new high density analog storage device as an alternative to the quick obsolescence and fast material decay rate of typical digital storage systems. This technology, developed by Los Alamos Laboratories and Norsam Technologies, can be thought of as a kind of next generation microfiche. However, as an analog storage system, it is far superior. A 2.8 inch diameter nickel disk can be etched at densities of 200,000 page images per disk, and the result is immune to water damage, able to withstand high temperatures, and unaffected by electromagnetic radiation. This makes it an ideal backup for a long-term text image archive. Also, since the encoding is a physical image (no 1’s or 0’s), there is no platform or format dependency, guaranteeing readability despite changes in digital operating systems, applications, and compression algorithms.

Their first prototypes are an archive of 1,500 human languages, with translations into each language of the first three chapters of Genesis and other pertinent information. One of the prototypes was even shot into space on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe, and is currently headed for Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The assumption is that as long as one of the languages on the disk remains known somewhere, the rest can be tapped. This worked well for Egyptian hieroglyphics in the infamous Rosetta stone, which also contained the text in Greek. And avoids the mistake of the Phaitos disk, which only contains one uknown language. It’s 3,600 years old and filled with an amazing script, but no one knows what it says. Hopefully it’s more than a shopping list.

What this means for writers today is that as long as our words are scribbled in one of the 1,500 languages on the Rosetta disk, and survive, someone somewhere will be able to read them. But how can our words survive? Perhaps the Long Now foundation could become the world’s most forward thinking vanity press. They could charge $20 per page, etch on disk, shoot into space. Simple. If 200,000 pages fit on one disk, this Long Now vanity press would collect $4 million per disk (which they could in turn use for good to make up for evil vanity press stuff).

Why should the slush pile that’s currently being uploaded to Kindle perish when the current device is obsolete two years from now? Why not let it all live for 10,000 years? After all, even the most arcane dribble from the worst hack that ancient Egypt ever produced would make for fascinating reading today.

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