Day Sixty-Eight: Techno-daemons

Through a series of horrible mistakes I managed to crack my iPhone open like an egg. I’m sure there are plenty of people like me, but this was mildly catastrophic (which isn’t even a thing).

I’ve spent the last hour wandering around the mall like a lost puppy. They took my phone away to fix it and I’m not quite sure how to exist without it. They said come back in 30 minutes… without my phone, I don’t even know how long 30 minutes is!

What a stupid problem to have: technology dependence.

Fittingly, on Friday I finished reading The Golden Compass (also called Northern Lights). If you haven’t read this book and are even mildly a fan of fantasy, you need to read it. Like drop what you’re doing and read it because Lyra is one of the most interesting characters I have ever read and the world Pullman has made is just familiar enough to make perfect sense with so many strange concepts that you’ll be reading to the last page just to find out what Dust is.

Anyway, the real brainchild of the book is that everyone has these spirit animals called daemos that are a part of them. When you’re a kid, they can change constantly, but when you mature they stay in one form and are your companion. Essentially they are part of your soul and to even be too far from your companion would hurt a person physically. They are part of what the characters define as “human” (to not have a daemon makes you less than human).

It’s a great book. Witches and magic and horrors committed on children and talking polar bears (they’re more than that though, the panserbjørne). But I think Pullman put a lot of love into his daemon concept. It really shows and is the backbone of what sets the story apart.

I’m not just rambling about this… I feel like people (or maybe just me in particular) have developed this same bond with our phones. I don’t like letting it out of sight. I sleep with it. When I don’t have it I am lost and confused and alone (which also happens quite a bit in the book, not to give anything away). I don’t want to live without it.

It’s not just that I like to play games on it… my phone holds half of my memory. It’s got all of my passwords. Endless knowledge at my fingertips. Communication with friends far away. It’s my journal, calendar, notebook. Half of my thoughts are stored in my phone. All of my personal mental deficiencies (namely, memory) are compensated for with my iPhone.

I don’t know. Clearly it isn’t good to be so dependent on such a fragile little object that someone makes me upgrade every two years for a costly fee… But I like my phone. There’s a lot to be said about social interaction and digitization of people (humans? Who wants to talk directly to humans?) and how much that has changed our generation. I know all of this! But still…

Bad or not, I’m still entirely dependent on my phone!

Day Fifty-One: Could A Computer Write A Novel?

Skipped yesterday’s blog because… Well, by the time I started writing a friend and El Novio showed up so we ate dinner instead. The good news is I did write a few 1,000 words which far surpasses what I’ve put in for the week prior to that. At least I’m no longer dragging my feet through the mud.

Anyway, during a very well-crafted meal of shrimp pesto (I am a cooking goddess) my friend asked El Novio about his work. El Novio is a computer programmer and very hush-hush about his work. I think he genuinely believes no one outside of another programmer would comprehend what he’s talking about, but it’s frustrating to try and pry information from him about his daily activities so I just assume he’s in an underground Fight Club and we move on.

However last night, as he does on occassion, he tries to put it in layman’s terms. Clearly, it made no sense (no offense, but he’s not always able to convey a simple greeting, yet alone complex programming). But I posed a question inspired by his over-simplified description:

Could you program a computer to write a novel?

(Or, to complicate this even more, could I enter a plot, a series of events and let it connect the dots? My own outline looks like an incomprehensible list of unrelated events. My job as a writer is to know how to unfold those events into each other.)

He says, “Short answer, yes. Long answer, it’s complicated.”

But while I actually believe that through computers anything is possible, I had to disagree (naturally, I’m a writer). While I think a computer can analyze words and stick them next to each other in a way that relatively makes sense, I don’t quite believe that through random idea generation or even linking two separate events a computer could write a good book. It could write a book, maybe even a comprehensive one, but not a good one.

A computer can’t tell you what it’s like to wake up on your birthday and find that no one you loved remembered it. It can follow grammar and find a meaning, but the thing that makes writers great are the connections between things that no one had ever seen before, the unique descriptions, the flawed sentence structure, the unseen plot twists. As a reader, my favorite part, is thinking that someone in the world was brilliant enough to create such a broad and whole story.

(Naturally we also discussed the idea that you put 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters and eventually you get Shakespeare, but I disagree with that as well. Shakespeare invented 1,000s of words with intention… A monkey can’t do that!)

So I thought I’d pose the question to you guys.

Could a computer write a book? Or, to make things more personal, could a computer write YOUR book?

Day Thirty-Four: Traditional Publishing is Dead?

I spend a lot of time reading technology and writing blogs (not just on this site, but everywhere). In this day, you have to. Last night I came across a blog where a young writer such as myself who had undertaken a similar project, completed it, and sent it to traditional publishing houses only for it to get rejected. He was thereafter thinking about making the jump to self-publishing and had lots of interesting input from editors and proofreaders encouraging him to do so–his work was good, there really isn’t much rhyme or reason to how a novel gets published.

It was weird how much this floored me. When I think of self-publishing, my mind automatically jumps to those one-dollar-to-free novels I buy on my Nook. Honestly? They’re horrible. I’ve read third grader’s essays that are better proof-read than some of those guys. I almost wanted to reach into my screen and tell this blogger not to do it! It’s literary suicide, I thought!

But it’s not.

I still live in some outdated vision of literature. I’ve had an e-reader for a few years now, but when I think of a book, I still think of just that. A book! I want to hold it in my hands. I want to turn the pages. I want to find it on my shelf smiling at me like an old friend. I want to leave it by my best friend’s bed to read when I’m done. I buy digital copies sometimes, but they’re copies. I know somewhere out there that book actually exists.

Today I read a few blog posts about how to actually make money as a writer. One guy starts going on about how publishing houses are monopolies that produce nothing but trash and the only way to create real work was by self-publishing (and that’s not just digital copies, there’s a million forms of it). Essentially, he destroyed my every romantic notion of being a writer.

You hear that when it comes to writing, content is king. This doesn’t really make much reference to the quality of the content so much as the quantity. I’ve heard of novelists in self-publishing that put out books every few weeks. This seems impossible to me. I’m trying to write a big story here. Every day it overwhelms me with how big it is. I can’t imagine writing it any faster without reducing the quality. Would it be better to be writing sub-par novels once a month in order to make a buck?

God, do I even need to answer that for you?

I’m sure there are people out there who make great money, and probably produce quality work in very little time (On The Road was written in three weeks, but don’t let that discourage us. It’s a very short book). But even then, that’s not the end-goal of my project.

I always had this rather childish fantasy of walking through a bookstore (and let us not get into the fate of the bookstore! Call me sentimental, but I don’t want to exist if bookstores do not) and finding my book on a shelf. I want to hold it. I want to open it to my favorite passage and sit right there on the floor of the shop to read it, like catching-up with a long-lost relative. I want to write my name in it and leave it for the next passing soul to pluck it from the shelf. I want to hold my book more than most people want to hold their first child.

But it’s more than that. I want someone to read my book. I want to have something worth saying that I can convey in such a way that makes this fragile language of ours make sense. I want someone to leave my book by their best friend’s bed. To dog-ear the pages. To leave scraps of paper between the pages bookmarking their favorite passages. I want someone to love my book as much as I have loved books.

I guess the heart of that romantic notion is just as easily accomplished with a self-published book. You’d cut the legalities. The Middle-men. The monetary vultures and hangers-on sucking the life out of my work just to make a buck. But I want to believe that there is still a heart in the publishing world that’s merely helping make my book as good as it can possibly be. That it takes a lot of great minds to make a great book.

It’s a literary sea out there. It isn’t a jungle. You could drown in all the books in the world, both digital and physical. I want my book to float.