Archive for November, 2011
Soap and Water chapter 32 is now up at Red Lemonade. E-reader versions are on the Soap and Water page here as always. Also on that page I now have audio through chapter 16.
My Thanksgiving Thankfulness goes out to all of you who keep helping me out by reading, commenting, and sharing. I hope you all had good Thanksgivings too.
Soap and Water chapter 31 is now posted at Red Lemonade. This is another chapter with optional reading in the appendix associated with it, so that’s also posted there. E-reader versions of the chapter are also up on the Soap and Water page here, as are e-reader versions of the entire appendix, all the newspaper articles mentioned throughout the book. Plus, audio versions of chapters 14 and 15.
Finally, in case you haven’t seen it, I wrote another blog post for Red Lemonade, about gadgets and doodads.
In the decade and a half or so since Joe Sacco invented long-form “graphic journalism,” not many authors have tried to do anything like it. Guy Delisle, to a certain extent David Axe, Dan Archer. But more and more seem to be picking it up, and in Oil and Water journalist Steve Duin and artist Shannon Wheeler show why it has such great power when done right.
Like Sacco, Duin and Wheeler take us inside a tragedy that’s already been covered extensively by traditional news outlets: last year’s terrible BP oil spill. And like him they do it by focusing on individual stories, giving humanity and voice to people who we’ve otherwise met only in three-second soundbites at best, giving local color to the news’s dispassionate accounts.
Comics are an especially good medium for this, I think. Text alone doesn’t give the same effect of a person’s face speaking directly to you, and filmed documentaries must either hope their subjects are eloquent and charismatic or else edit their interviews extensively. Graphic journalists can clean up what people say and make them even more magnetic than they are in real life.
The frame for the reporting here is a trip to the Gulf taken by a group of about a dozen Oregonian environmentalists a few months after the spill. They are there to “bear witness,” they say, and it’s unclear what else they’re doing. There’s no attempt in the book to find a point-of-view character or to investigate very deeply what any of the visitors think about what they see; they are merely recording eyes who occasionally voice opinions. I don’t know if that will work for every future tragedy or even for every reader of this book, but it worked just fine for me. The book as a whole has a clear, angry point of view and it’s one I share. I’m a birdwatcher. The mass deaths of birds they describe upset me a lot. I don’t need that dressed up with characterization.
The only thing I wish were different is the art. Wheeler has opted for an almost impressionistic style in black and white, basic line figures shaded with ink brushwork. In a few panels this is quite effective, notably in some overhead landscape views of the Gulf or of towns. Much of the time, though, I found myself wishing for more detail. Since the event itself takes center stage, I wanted to experience it more fully, to see real individuality in the people who spoke and particularity in the lands around them. I wanted drawings that were more realist, in other words.
Even so, Oil and Water is a real achievement, both as a political statement and as a marker in the development of its subgenre.
PDF preview here.
Chapter 30 of Soap and Water is now posted to Red Lemonade. As always, you can find the e-reader versions on the Soap and Water page here, along with new audio recordings of chapters 12 and 13 for your listening pleasure.
Lots of exciting news this week thanks to you guys! Ryan O’Connor (who I believe has joined this mailing list–hi Ryan!), editor-in-chief of the highly awesome nthWORD Magazine has generously invited me to contribute a chapter to their upcoming ninth issue. And Brian McFarland of Red Lemonade has invited me to do some kind of podcast interview after the holidays. Both invitations I attribute directly to all of you commenting, sharing, and generally raising the book’s profile. So thank all of you who read, and especially all of you who help me share and promote. The boulder is moving inch by inch up the mountain, and I couldn’t do it alone.
Via The Frying Pan:
A recent investigative report alleges that the online retail giant is subjecting workers to sweatshop conditions. According to the report, “Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain.” The report goes on to describe the following scene: “During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals.”
Based on these appalling allegations, the invaluable watchdog group American Rights at Work has called for a holiday season boycott of Amazon. This will clearly run up against our consumerist desire to save time and money — but each time you’re tempted to click the purchase button, remember what’s at stake for the people who make the wheels of Amazon’s empire turn.
Like most boycotts, this is a terrible idea. A boycott needs a specific demand that can be won in order to lift the boycott, and an institutional commitment to building the boycott. “Until Amazon gets the message to stop the exploitation, and start respecting workers…” is not a specific demand. (With rare exceptions, it’s hard to demand that someone “get the message.”) Whether American Rights at Work has any institutional commitment to building the boycott or reforming Amazon beyond collecting an e-petition is an open question.
Asking people who use Amazon for a considerable portion of their shopping to sign a pledge without giving them any evidence that it will make a difference in anyone’s life is a recipe for exhausting sympathy, not building power.
In general, progressives are quick to call boycotts as a response to wrongdoing rather than as a tactic in pursuit of a goal. (Remember the Obamacare-related Whole Foods boycott?) Without a plan to win, they erode credibility, especially when taking on a nationwide giant like Amazon. Aesop has one lesson about this. But I prefer Omar’s.
Soap and Water chapters 28 and 29 are now posted at Red Lemonade. Did I say things were starting to happen last week? Well one of these chapters has sex in it, and in the other Veronica rediscovers her badassery. Plot is happening, people. No closely observed miniatures of dysfunctional family life for you.
I’ve also posted audio versions of chapters 10 and 11 on the Soap and Water page. That’s the same place you can find e-reader versions of all posted chapters.
I want to continue to thank all of you for reading, commenting, and sharing. Every one of you is helping more than you know.
I’ve been going over my records of correspondence with literary agents today, and have realized that perhaps a quarter of the ones I’ve ever been in contact with have failed on some basic level of correspondence. So since they all have fairly snooty guidelines up on their websites about how to query them, here are my guidelines for how I’d like to be rejected.
1. Nobody expects any kind of response to a first, cold query letter. It’s fine if you don’t answer. No complaints here.
2. If you do answer, though, and request to see all or part of the manuscript, while it’s fine if you take a while to read it, I do eventually expect a form rejection note. At least ten different agents have asked to see chapters and then simply never responded—and never responded when I followed up, either. It’s not that hard to send a form rejection. Really.
3. The form rejection is fine. While I appreciate the intention behind sending a personalized critique of the work explaining why you didn’t like it, I’m not going to pay attention to it. I don’t know you. I don’t know what I think of your taste. Save yourself the bother.
4. If you request revisions, especially major revisions, and I put in the effort to make them, I think you owe me the courtesy of actually reading them. It’s pretty shitty to ask a writer to put in months of work on something and then not look at it. It’s less shitty, but still kinda shitty, to request revisions and then send a form rejection.
That’s it. How has the publishing world disappointed you today?