February 19, 2009

Tweets for 2009-02-19

  • Test message from PHP class! #
  • Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog by Fahim Farook (Book) in Science Fiction & Fantasy http://lulu.com/content/213630 #
  • Got my first revenue cheque for my book today. But guess I won’t give up my day job … oh wait, I don’t have a day job 😀 #
  • Watching “Socha Na Tha” and enjoying it immensely – the story is so fluid and flows so effortlessly that it’s a pleasure to watch 🙂 #

November 7, 2008

The Stuff Nations Are Made Of

I just finished reading PTerry‘s Nation last night and it was quite the experience. Shakespeare, in As You Like It if I’m not mistaken, says that there are seven ages to man. There seems to have been, at least so far, three stages to PTerry’s writing 🙂

First there was the the spoofing PTerry, the one who made fun of fantasy clichés and parodied pop culture. Then there was the PTerry from around Small Gods who (or was it later, when Vimes began transmogrifying from a regular character into something different?) wrote much more thoughtful novels; in fact, he might just have moved from spoof to satire around this point. Of course, this is just my opinion, others might think differently 🙂

But with Nation, you have a new PTerry, or the third age of PTerry, where the tone is more serious. The usual PTerry humour is there but the tone of the novel is not of parody or satire, it’s about telling a story and it’s a story of ideas. Little ideas which can set big ideas rolling and big ideas which can move entire worlds. In fact, the whole novel is chockablock with ideas packed tight like sardines in a can 🙂

But the thread underlying it all is simple. It’s about the concept of a nation. When you are one person all alone in the world, there’s just you. But when you have two people facing all that may come there way, you have a nation. When a small child creates an imaginary friend, he’s creating his own nation that will let him be all that he wants to be. When an adult creates an alter ego that does heroic things when he can’t, he’s creating a nation that lets him cope with the world. We all rely on nations, whether consciously or subconsciously. But Nation takes the concept and shows us all that goes with being part of a nation.

There’s more to the story than that of course. But why should I spoil the joy of discovering these things for anybody? There’s a lot going on and given that I read the novel rather quickly, it seemed to all happen so fast. But it works and it works well.

About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the ending. And that has nothing to do with PTerry’s writing. There are two children at the end of the novel who ask somebody who’s telling them the story that was the story of Nation, why it couldn’t have ended differently. They don’t want a happy ending for nations, they are not interested in the bigger picture. They wanted a happy ending for individuals. I am like those children.

I can understand that reality is different, that you don’t always get the happy ending you wanted. I can also understand that when you look at how things turn out overall, that it was a happy ending for all of humanity perhaps. But still, I yearn for the happy ending that I wanted. Perhaps it’s because I’m like those children, I still haven’t grown up. But then again, I don’t want to grow up if it means that I have to give up my hopes for happy endings :p

On the other hand, I have enjoyed every bit of PTerry’s writing that I’ve come across over the years. While I found some of them were profound, they were still like a good dinner that you enjoyed a lot but forgot about after a few days – you take the idea with you but the details get lost as time passes. But Nation is like that one enjoyable dinner where you swallowed a fish bone by mistake and even after the dinner is forgotten, you remember the fish bone. Perhaps that’s why this particular ending is there – you remember it when all else is forgotten.

Overall, I think this is the best PTerry novel so far and while I probably would prefer that he goes back to the good dinners of the Discworld, I wouldn’t mind a fishbone-included-dinner like Nation every once in a while 🙂

October 29, 2008

Of Profiteering, Plagiarism, and Parody

When I talked about Cassandra Clare yesterday, I believe I mentioned that one thing that didn’t sit well with me was the whole plagiarism thing. Now don’t get me wrong, I think she’s plagiarised stuff (in my opinion, which is not that of a lawyer, of course) but I also think that some of the people who go on and on about the whole plagiarism thing don’t really understand what is going on either 🙂

In one corner, we have one of Cassandra Clare’s staunchest defenders, Heidi. Apparently, Heidi is an intellectual property attorney and she has been quoted on several websites saying stuff to the effect (if memory serves me right) that Cassandra Clare did not plagiarise and that her "lifting" from other authors was merely practicing :p She’s also said, if I am not mistaken, that if Cassandra had copied 299 pages of material in a 300 page novel from other authors and then had used that one remaining page to connect all the other 299 pages, that Cassandra wouldn’t be plagiarising.

On the other corner, we have those who say that as long as Cassandra does not acknowledge all her sources in citations (or almost all), she is guilty of plagiarism. And note that this seems to include quotes from TV shows, movies, books etc. as well. Supposedly, all of these quotes need to be cited in order for you to not be guilty of plagiarism.

And therein lies my own ambivalence in the matter – I don’t think either party is right 🙂 (OK, maybe there’s no ambivalence there about both parties being wrong :p) A long time ago, when I contacted Terry Pratchett about writing a parody of his Discworld series for a local print publication, he told me, and I quote, "Do not be Afraid.  If permission were needed to parody, I’d be out of a job!" 🙂

Of course, PTerry and I were both talking about parody. When you quote a memorable line from a movie or a book, are you parodying it? Or are you just trying to hook the reader with something they are familiar with? If that is your intention, and not just take somebody else’s words and put them in the mouth of your character just because you want to appear as a better writer, then I don’t believe you are plagiarizing.

And this isn’t just about quotes. Let me take PTerry again, not just because he’s my favourite writer and I admire his writing, but also because he is a good example in this case 🙂 His plots, his characters, his situations, and even some of the dialogue comes from parodying things we are familiar with. I can quote so many instances where he has used material from sources such as The Blues Brothers or Shakespeare. And he does not cite any of these sources in his books! So is anybody going to call PTerry a plagiarist? Of course, not! (And to be honest, I do this too, in my own books …)

On the other hand, Cassandra uses paragraphs of material written by other authors and passes them off as her own. This does not appear to be a homage or even a parody to me. In fact, there is one instance where she copies word for word a description of a sword fight from one of Roger Zelazny’s books. Given that the sentence in question contains the phrase "involved a beat, a feint in quarte, a feint in sixte, and a lunge veering off into an attack on his wrist." and the phrase was reproduced in full in Cassandra’s own work, you can’t really say that wasn’t direct copying?

And it’s sloppy writing too because you can’t be bothered to do some research and come up with your own set of fencing moves. You just copy somebody else’s words and hope that they did the research!

So yes, I still believe that Cassandra Clare was guilty of plagiarism. And to be honest, I don’t think even citing her sources would have really made it any better because in this particular instance, she was using a mishmash of other people’s words to create a story. How can anybody argue that is original or that that’s how the process of writing works?

Saddest of all is the fact that she is being rewarded for what she did. She has received a contract to be a published author because of her infamy. But in a world where money talks louder than integrity, I guess one cannot expect anything less …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:28 am  |  No Comments

October 28, 2008

The Multiple-life Syndrome and Other Stories

I’ve been on the Internet a long time and all this time, I’ve never (except during the early stages and even then only sporadically) used a handle, pseudonym, nickname or what have you. I’ve always been Fahim and it’s been easier to do things that way. I didn’t really want to have a whole second life on the Internet – I just considered the Net an extension of my existing life.

So it always amazes me when I hear stories about people who create a completely fictional life online just for their own jollies. Or in some cases, to make profit or to harass people. It gets even weirder when people create multiple lives for themselves online. I read about a couple of instances which truly boggled my mind yesterday and so I just had to comment on them 🙂

I came across the name Cassandra Clare because Laurie was reading this long thread which had something about her and a plagiarism brouhaha (more about that later …). So I became curious and began reading about Cassandra Clare (or Claire, as she apparently also spells here name).

Basically, she had first shot to fame with a parody of The Lord of the Rings called The Very Secret Diary, written in the vein of Bridget Jones’ Diary. (There’s something interesting there too – according to some, she stopped writing The Very Secrete Diary herself but was incensed at others continuing her work. That sounded very strange to me but I guess I’ll have to get back to that later in my discussion about plagiarism …) Anyway, Cassandra had then moved on to Harry Potter fandom and wrote quite a bit of fan fiction set in the Harry Potter universe and this apparently made her even more famous. So famous, that she became a BNF (Big Name Fan) and apparently everybody wanted to be her friend.

And it was at this point that we have the second player in the drama, Msscribe, makes her entrance. Apparently Msscribe wanted so much to be a friend of Cassandra, that she created other personas (sometimes known as "sock puppets" on the web :p) to talk up Msscribe and to link her to Cassandra (and her circle of friends) at any and every opportunity.

The complete story is so bizarre that I don’t think I can do justice to it in a brief fashion. But suffice it to say that she had not one or two, but at least half a dozen (probably more than a dozen according to the truly wacky story that unfolds if you do some research) different identities either supporting her or attacking her. And all this to gain the friendship (and the reflected status) of somebody who was supposed to be a BNF.

Of course, some of the reading (and summarizing) makes it seem so surreal because some of these created personalities change age/profession/location at various places. Guess when you’re actually going through all of this over a long period of time, it’s really hard to keep track of who does what. But still, when you see that somebody who is originally Msscribe’s new-found fan goes from being a 31-year old mother to an 18-year old student to being Msscribe’s live-in nanny, you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore 🙂

According to all the stuff online, Msscribe was finally shown to be a puppet-master extraordinaire and she also seems to have made some really bad choices in picking real enemies to attack (not just made up ones who were also her) and so became unpopular. Interestingly enough, it also appears that Cassandra herself provided some information which confirmed that Msscribe was the same person as some of her puppet personalities. And so ended the saga of Msscribe.

But back to Cassandra. It turns out that she had copied portions from a published author’s novel and used it in her fan fiction after changing just the names. Her excuse? She had written the paragraph(s) in question down in her writers’ notebook and came back to it months later and didn’t remember that it had been written by another author and thought that she’d done those. So the names in there was changed by the tooth fairy? Or did the Easter bunny have something to do with it?

The truly amazing thing here is that fan fiction is supposed to be a labour of love. Most writers would say that there is no money in fan fiction. But Cassandra had managed to make thousands of dollar (according to some accounts over ten thousand dollars) by writing fan fiction.

How? By preying on the generosity (and gullibility) of her readers. In this case, she played pretty much the same game as Msscribe, but without the sock puppets. She (or rather her friend) announced that Cassandra and her room-mate had had their computers stolen when their apartment was burgled. So this friend started a fund drive among the Cassandra Clare fans, purportedly to buy a new computer so that Cassandra could keep writing her fan fiction.

But once the amount collected went over what was needed to buy the stolen computers, other things got added to the list of stolen stuff and the fund drive continued on. And this is not counting the money that Cassandra Clare was making off of various CafePress stores that she’d created to sell items from her fan-fiction, which was itself based on copyrighted material belonging to someone else.

The biggest surprise of all? After doing all of this, Cassandra Clare has gotten a book deal with a well-known publisher and is now a published author! Surprising? In this day and age, I wouldn’t call it surprising. In fact, if I was a cynical person by nature, I’d say that she got the book deal because of her infamy rather than in spite of it. The publisher probably figured that she was well-known enough that she would sell whatever she wrote – I just hope they check the stuff before it’s published to make sure that she hasn’t accidentally copied something on to her new draft that was written by somebody else …

The other thing that struck me while reading the whole Casandra Clare affair was the whole copyright thing. Cassandra had apparently been in the habit of quoting things from well-known TV shows and movies in her works (in addition to taking stuff from other authors). Now it appears to be often said that she should have attributed all of these sources in her material or that she was in copyright violation and I’m not so certain about that. But that’s probably another entry for tomorrow …

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Posted by Fahim at 5:52 am  |  1 Comment

May 30, 2008

The Expectations of Imagination

I just finished reading King of Foxes, the second book in Raymond E. Feist‘s Conclave of Shadows series. I woke up in the morning thinking of something that I had first thought on reading the first book in the series, Talon of the Silver Hawk. So what was I thinking? I was thinking that it ruins the magic of an imagined world when the author takes shortcuts 🙂

Of course, I must start off with the disclaimer that Raymond E. Feist is a successful author and I cannot claim to be anywhere even remotely close to his level as a writer, in terms of success. However, I’m not writing as a writer but as a reader and all a reader needs to criticise a book is the fact that they didn’t enjoy it thoroughly 🙂

Now in the case of Raymond E. Feist, I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed his writing. in fact, quite the reverse. However, the more I read his work, the more I realize that he tends to use shortcuts in building his world and this tends to disappoint me. I expect a completely new world springing forth from the author’s imagination when I read a novel which is set in another world, not a pale imitation of our own clothed in slightly different trappings to hide the fact.

I don’t know if I was aware of the similarity to Japanese culture in Feist’s Tsurani when I first read his Magician and the other two novels in the series. But then again, that was close to 20 years ago. However, when I read Talon of the Silver Hawk, I was immediately aware that his Orosini were lifted wholesale from various North American Indian (or Native Americans or First Nation or whatever they are called today …) tribes. Then I woke up today with the realization that the continent on the other side of Midkemia, the world that Fiest’s stories take place on, is called Novindus. Nov + Indus as in New India, get it? Like Columbus thought America, the continent on the other side of our own world, was India. (Then again, apparently Novindus is supposed to be shaped like India and so it is actually India since the known world in Midkemia might be the Americas …)

There probably are other races and other places modeled after our world in Feist’s novels. And I’m not saying a writer has no right to do that, it’s a writer’s prerogative to write their story (and build their world) in any fashion they choose. But as far as I’m concerned, when somebody copies stuff from the world we know simply because it’s easy, it takes something away from the overall story. Now Terry Pratchett copies countries and people from our world in his Discworld series but that’s for satirical effect, there is a purpose to it. Not to mention that PTerry’s copies are never exact copies 🙂

But I see no real purpose to Feist’s wholesale copying of nations and peoples except that it’s easier to do that than to create something completely new. Perhaps I am mistaken and am assigning incorrect motives to Feist, Perhaps he did have a reason for creating these parallels. But if so, I can’t see that reason. All that it’s done for me is to slightly dilute the enjoyment of reading his work. And I don’t think any writer wants that ….




May 20, 2008

More Lulu-science

OK, the results are in – at my current level, the purchase of one book appears to bump me up about 3,000+ places on the Lulu sales rankings. I was at 50,227 last month when my friend Ginosion was kind enough to purchase a copy of my book, Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog. Today I discovered that my Lulu sales ranking had jumped up to 47,063!

Well, there you have the results of the not-so-empirical evidence. Of course, now the question is, is the jump in rankings consistent if another book is purchased? 😀 To find out, somebody else will have to buy a copy of the book though. Any takers? :p

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Posted by Fahim at 12:09 pm  |  No Comments

April 29, 2008

First Review of “Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog!”

Woo hoo! I’ve got my first review (scroll to the bottom of the page) and it’s pretty good! And no, I didn’t write it myself or get a friend to do it for me :p I do know the person who wrote the review – at least, I think I do …

I moderate a board on this writing forum called Absolute Write where writerly types gather together to help each other, to swap stories and to discuss the art and craft of writing 🙂 I had helped somebody on the forums with a minor problem they had and they were kind enough to offer to do something back for me. I asked them to do a review of my book if they had the time.

This person actually went on to buy the book because they said that they’d read a few chapters and liked it enough to buy the book 🙂 And then yesterday, I happened to scroll to the bottom of the Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog page on Lulu, and happened to notice that I had a review! It appears that the review was written a couple of days ago. Not sure if it takes that much time for a review to come up on Lulu or if I had actually missed the review for a few days :p

Whatever the case, I’m happy with the review. Now to see if I can get a second review from somebody… 😀

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Posted by Fahim at 6:23 am  |  3 Comments

April 28, 2008

In, Designing with InDesign

I spent most of yesterday in, doing layout work on C3, the magazine I edit. Not that I go out most other days, but that’s a different story 🙂 And yes, if I edit the mag, what was I doing working with the layout?

Basically, the layout is done by another person who’s supposed to have years of exeprience with InDesign, which is what we use to layout the magazine. Unfortunately, we tend to get into cycles where I’d send a change back, they’d fix it and send it back and I’d find something else has gone wrong. So we’d go back and forth like ten times to get things finally sorted out. We just didn’t have time for that this time.

The magazine should have been out already and I was getting slightly annoyed at the delays. So I asked if I could have the InDesign file myself so that I could do all the necessary changes at my end, fix all the things which annoyed me and so on and get things ready to go.

I got the file and it turned out that the other person likes to do things the hard way 🙁 InDesign provides a heck of a lot of tools which make repetitive stuff like templates, page numbers a breeze. You simply have to set up a master properly and you can modify the master to propagate your changes across your whole document. But the person doing the layout didn’t seem to understand all the nuances of doing a master such as layers and overriding master elements. So they were doing separate masters for almost every new page and editing/embedding some of the text in the master itself. It was a bit of a mess.

I spent most of the day sorting things out, fixing issue details which would otherwise have gone to print with incorrect information, and even re-arranging some images in the layout so that there wouldn’t be so much unused space.

I do have to wonder, how much of a given application do most "normal" users actually use? Do they know all the features that are there? Or do they simply try to "bruteforce" their way through the task instead of using the tools available to them?

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Posted by Fahim at 6:44 am  |  No Comments

April 24, 2008

“Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog” Jumps 10,000+ Places in Lulu Sales Rankings!

I kid you not 🙂 My book, Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog, has jumped over 10,000 places in the Lulu sales ranks. Last week when I checked the rankings, I was somewhere around 61,729 or something similar. I check today and I am at 50,227 🙂

OK, I’ll let you in on a little secret (and you probably knew this already if you know anything about self-publishing, Lulu etc.) – I only sold three books (as far as I know) for that huge jump in sales rankings :p

The thing that confuses me though is the fact that this jump in rankings did not take place for over a month after the sales occurred. But then again, that’s probably how the Lulu sales-ranking system works. Now that I think about it, if they have a return policy, that also probably allows them to take returns into account when calculating the sales rank.

Anyway, a month or so ago, I had sold two books within a short period of time and that’s when I thought about sales rankings. So I began checking the sales rankings to see if they changed. They didn’t as far as I could tell. Then I sold another book. I checked the sales rankings again. Still no change. So I thought that perhaps three books weren’t enough to make a dent in the sales rankings and gave up checking on them. Then today I happened to check the book page (as I normally do occasionally :p) and noticed that the sales rank had changed … and how! I guess it just takes a while for the rankings to change …

My question now is, how much more will my rankings go up if one more book is purchased? Anybody wanna give it a try? 😀

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Posted by Fahim at 12:06 pm  |  2 Comments

March 28, 2007

Honestly, it’s free!

As some of you might know, I’ve been talking about re-writing "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" for a while now. But I never seem to find the time since real-life has a nasty habit of intruding :p Currently, I’m busy writing but it’s not fiction – it’s a set of user manuals for a customer. I wish I was able to type away a page here and a paragraph there like some other writers but I can’t. I need to set myself goals and do a set amount of pages (or words a day) if I’m to work and at the moment, that’s not going to be a possibility 🙁

So, while I’m aware that I might rewrite "Honest" at some point in the future, I don’t know when (if?) it will happen. If it does happen, then it will be a completely different story than the current one since the re-write is supposed to be a complete change in direction. Except for broad plot outlines and a few characters from the current novel, nothing will be the same.

However, I’ve had people who’ve read the current version of the novel comment favourably on it. There’s one guy who raves about it and keeps telling me that I shouldn’t cut such and such portion out of a re-write when I do it. This leads me to believe that it’s possible that some people might enjoy this novel even in its current format. Of course, it looks as if agents or publishers (at least the ones I’ve tried) are definitely not interested in the current version :p

I hate wasting anything and since the novel is already written, it seems a waste to throw away the current version entirely. So, I’ve put up the whole thing as a free download on Lulu 🙂 I would have made the print version free as well but unfortunately, Lulu doesn’t allow that. So that one still has a price-tag attached to it but you can download the e-book for free. So if you’re interested, go ahead and take a look. And let me know if you enjoy it 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:05 am  |  No Comments

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