a weblog for readers and writers

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They're Watching Your Eyes

I spent all last week in New York City’s Time Square attending Neilsen Norman Group’s Usability Week 2010.

They presented interesting information about how people read on the Internet. Some of it was old news, stuff I’ve heard as far back as 2000 at “Writing for the Web” conferences: write for scanners, use bold and bullets. But to actually see the heat maps of where people’s eyes go when online was fascinating.

For example, people not only
scan when they’re online, but they tend to
hang out on the
left side of the page and, generally,
don’t even
read the
right side of the

But don’t worry,
you won’t
see me
succumbing to any
usability trends.

As always, Times Square was alive with people and lights and energy.
They tended to hang to the
right side

In Greenwich Villiage, they hung mostly to the left.

(That last line is invisible.)

Where are your eyes when you read online? Are you part of that margin that actually reads margin to margin?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Novel Fosters Community

Last year, Pulizter-Prize winning author Junot Diaz filled the room (two, in fact, with the event televised in a second room due to the enormous crowd) at the 2009 CityLit Festival. Diaz is a native of Dominican Republic and currently a professor of literature at MIT.

After a reading from The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Woa to the CityLit crowd in Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt library, Diaz opened the floor to questions. During the session, he was asked whether he was intentionally trying to confuse people who “didn’t get” science fiction references or know Spanish.

His answer was interesting.

Diaz explained that the intent of a novel is to foster community. He said that he imagined a situation in which a fan boy on a bus would reach out to an old Dominican grandmother and ask what something meant, or vice versa.

Although the creation of a novel is a solitary thing, it is designed to encourage community – the gathering together of people to discuss the novel and what is in it.

Just an interesting thought to come out of the brief, wondrous session of Junot Diaz at last year’s CityLit Festival. (The image of the fan boy and Dominican woman having a conversation they normally would have is a scene worthy of a Diaz novel itself.)

You can visit Junot Diaz at his website: www.junotdiaz.com.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Write to Express, Not Impress

One mistake often made by beginning novelists is to add a bit too much flair to the writing. Writers often become intoxicated with their skills, their ability to make music with words, to make magic out of sentences. They riff and conjure magnificent metaphors and before they know it, they’ve been carried away from the story.

And as Alice McDermott likes to say, “beginner” includes everyone. “You’re a beginning novelist every time you start a new novel. You’re discovering it every time over again.

Regardless of your experience and ability, you have to keep your skills in check. The long-distance runner won’t win the race by showing off with quick sprints. The writer must master the craft instead of getting drunk off it.

"Write to express, not impress,” Alice says. “Tell a story, don’t show off literary flair.”

If you tell the story well, the flair will be there.

Learn more about Alice McDermott at her Wiki site.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Past Futures on National Public Radio

Last month, I read an excerpt from my novel in stories, Tracks, on WYPR’s The Signal. I recently shared a link to the podcast featuring “Prewitt’s Plans,” which you can find in an entry last month.

But did you catch my NPR reading of “Futures” which aired on The Signal last fall? You may have caught it on the radio or online … but I never got around to sharing it here. I guess I figured I could share it sometime in the future.

The future is now.

“Futures” is another abridged story from TRACKS. It follows a young woman struggling with the choice between a new career in Chicago or the home and people in Baltimore she’s known all her life.

NPR describes TRACKS as “a book that zooms into the interior lives of a group of strangers on a train from Baltimore to Chicago.”

Catch the train at WYPR’s website.


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