VOLUME 40 | NUMBER 1
MAGAZINE OF THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
WRITING IN A DIGITAL AGE Featured Writers Jeananne Kirwin, Q.C.—Can Technology Be Harnessed To Reward Writers? Candas Jane Dorsey—The Future Of Writing Omar Mouallem—The Modern Writer’s Tech Toolbox Dana DiTomaso—Digital Marketing Tips For Writers Vivian Tsang—Reading Versus Screading
WESTWORD VOLUME 40, NUMBER 1 | JANUARY–MARCH 2020
17 20 8
8 THE FUTURE OF WRITING Candas Jane Dorsey
22 READING VERSUS SCREADING Vivian Tsang
12 THE MODERN WRITER’S TECH TOOLBOX Omar Mouallem
24 CREATING INTERACTIVE FICTION Davis G. See
15 BLOGGING ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB Tim Mikula 17 DIGITAL MARKETING TIPS FOR WRITERS Dana DiTomaso 19 ADVENTURES IN ONLINE PUBLISHING AND FUNDING Sophie Pinkoski 20 MAXIMIZING YOUR FACEBOOK BUSINESS PAGE Nikki Tate-Stratton
Raymond Gariépy 4
Carol Holmes 5
Write/Right: Law for Writers
Jeananne Kirwin, Q.C. 25 WestWord Submission Guidelines
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts; the Edmonton Arts Council; Calgary Arts Development; The City of Calgary; the City of Edmonton; Canada Council for the Arts.
The Community 26 Member News 27 New WGA Members 28 Donors & Sponsors
COVER PHOTO OF OMAR MOUALLEM BY JANAE JAMIESON
WRITING IN A DIGITAL AGE The Writers’ Guild of Alberta is a community of writers that exists to inspire, connect, support, encourage and promote writers and writing; to safeguard the freedom to write and to read; and to advocate for the well-being of writers. WestWord is published four times a year. ISSN: 0821-4203 © Writers’ Guild of Alberta, 2019 WGA Membership Rates $80/year; $50/seniors; $40/low income; free to post-secondary students until graduation. Membership is open to all writers resident or formerly resident in Alberta. WGA Executive President: Leslie Chivers Vice President: Leanne Myggland-Carter Treasurer: Susan Carpenter Secretary: Kevin Thornton Members at Large: Alison Clarke Lisa Mulrooney Dr. Kimberly Fraser Therese Greenwood Youth Committee Rep: Sophie Pinkosky Past President: Carol Parchewsky WGA Staff Executive Director: Carol Holmes Program and Events Coordinator: Jason Lee Norman Program Director, Southern Program Office: Samantha Warwick Communications and Partnerships Coordinator: Ellen Kartz Program Coordinator/Operations Manager: Giorgia Severini Member Services Coordinator: Mike Maguire WGA Contractor WordsWorth Director: Colin Matty WGA WestWord Editor: Raymond Gariépy Assistant Editor: Ellen Kartz Layout & Design: Jason Scheibelhofer Printing: Burke Group of Companies Please notify the WGA office immediately of any address change. Writers’ Guild of Alberta Percy Page Centre, 11759 Groat Road Edmonton, AB T5M 3K6 Ph: (780) 422-8174, Fax: (780) 422-2663 Toll-free: 1-800-665-5354 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: writersguild.ca Southern Alberta Office: 505 - 21 Avenue, SW, Calgary, AB T2S 0G9 Ph: (403) 265-2226 Email: email@example.com Submission queries can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
RAYMOND GARIÉPY “The great myth of our times is that technology is communication.” — Libby Larsen, American classical composer
OUR STORIES WILL PERSIST A tour of the Edmonton Journal building in the mid-1980s included the work area where staff handset each page using type metal. Soon after, the equipment was replaced with typesetters. In the late 1980s, when I began working at the teacher’s association, the latest technology was in use by editorial staff—chunky, clattering word processors housed in glass and wood cabinets to minimize the racket they made. Remember floppy discs? Film cameras? Dial-up modems? Ghetto blasters, 8-track tapes and cassettes? Mobile phones (cellphones) portrayed in 1990s TV shows were the size of walkie-talkies. I first learned about personal computers in the mid-1970s. The idea that a machine could perform rudimentary tasks to make our lives easier struck me as farfetched, pure science fiction, and likely just a fad. After all, back then, my parents owned a massive, boxy colour television and an electric gizmo that opened and closed the garage door. What more could one possibly need? “Writers in a digital age” is a broad subject. The articles featured in this issue of WestWord discuss writing and editing software, gadgets and tools streamlining the collection and dissemination of information, publishing platforms, tips for marketing oneself online, and reading versus screading. While brainstorming topics, it became evident that much of the content would focus on the above. What was needed, then, was an article on the future of writers and writing. “The Future of Writing: Writing and the Future” by Candas Jane Dorsey begins by addressing our need to communicate. “The history of symbol-making tells us that throughout human history, people found that if language, specifically the written word, did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it,” she writes. The oldest known written language is Sumerian, and it dates back to at least 3500 BC. Writing persists. From symbols on a clay tablet to sharpened stones scratching petroglyphs to the invention of ink to the printing press to word processors and beyond, whatever the “technology of language we will use,” Dorsey writes, “we carry the seeds of this technology within us, and they flower the moment we insist upon language at all. It’s inherent: something in our DNA, our brain structure—and only latterly our cultural fabric—calls for a story. The ink that records our past tattoos our future.” In my mid-teens (the early 1970s), I hammered out poems on a portable typewriter. The clunker was dependable, durable. My father, using a two-finger-typing technique, composed love letters to my mother on the same typewriter during their years-long, long-distance courtship in the 1940s. My dad wooed my mom with his honesty and the power of his story. He and I, 30 years apart, wrote with the same mechanical device, and although the outcomes were different, in the end, it was the words—our stories—not the writing tool, which mattered. 2
WILL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE REPLACE WRITERS?
Artificial intelligence is changing the way we think about the world. The world of tomorrow, the world where you can live your life with no limitations or restrictions, is being built today, today, right now.
The following text was generated from entering the prompt, “This issue of the magazine is about writers in a digital age,” into Talk to Transformer (talktotransformer.com), a "modern neural network" that completes the text. (WestWord did not copyedit the text.)
This issue of the magazine is about writers in a digital age. The industry’s evolution is often viewed from the point of view of the publishing world, or even of a publishing house. But if we were to look at the creative industry, where a lot of writing is still done on a computer screen, it would be as if the printing press was never invented.
with multiple small doors. I also need to make sure it doesn’t get too warm inside so it should have a closed top. I’m currently thinking of an interior door, but that may take a little time to get right.
This issue’s theme is digital publishing. The main focus is on the role of writers in the digital age, and in this context I will explore the idea of writers as writers, or what I like to call “storytellers.” It is this notion that we, as writers, have a lot to say. I will also argue that this is a big change from traditional publishing, where the most successful authors and best-known books are still produced in the traditional print medium.
The question remains, will artificial intelligence replace “human” writers? [AI got back on track with this sentence, which I then entered as a prompt. Bold emphasis is mine.] The truth is, we don’t know. If you’ve ever read a short story or novel and wondered what an AI could have done with it, you’re not alone. If you’re interested in learning more about how AI can be used to improve and enrich humanity, you can find more information on this site and by reading the books that AI can read.
I am not going to pretend that this is the whole story, or that the issue will change your writing habits. But it is worth exploring if you are at all interested in the subject. You will learn some neat things about how the “S” works. [Whoa! AI got off track here. The bold text was the last sentence AI spat out, so I entered it as a new prompt. Bold emphasis is mine.]
Artificial intelligence is not a race to the finish. It’s a race to win—to provide meaningful services to humans in a way that is relevant and meaningful for us, as humans, in the real world. Artificial intelligence is a way to achieve this goal. You are reading an excerpt from the book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.
You have no idea why the “S” on the other side of the triangle has an S, and it is not because it is some hidden secret of the triangle, nor is it an S-shaped mark left by some ancient civilization. You are seeing it for what it is: a straight line. The triangle in your hand is a plane. The “S” is simply a straight line.
Artificial intelligence is changing the way we think about the world. The world of tomorrow, the world where you can live your life with no limitations or restrictions, is being built today, today, right now.
Why does the “S” line up with the other two sides? We’ll go into that in a minute, but first, a little something about how the triangle is assembled.
Please note: “Why Am I Telling You This?” will return. I welcome your comments about this issue of WestWord magazine. I can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Let’s think about how the triangle is assembled. Let’s imagine that the top and bottom sides have the same angle. They are perpendicular to each other and the top and bottom are parallel, so that’s just a regular triangle. The sides are then attached to the outside walls of the box. The box will be glued into place, and the sides can be attached to the box and secured for final finishing. You may wish to use a little sandpaper to smooth out the edges. The box will be placed inside a large wood-frame box. This will be glued into place to allow access to the interior box for sanding and finishing. The final version of my small box, completed. Note the large hole cut out for the small side door and the large hole on the back to allow access to the interior box. I’m still working out the layout of the box. It will be an open box 3
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
SUPPORT THE ARTS—SPEAK UP CAROL HOLMES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Hello and welcome to the first WestWord of 2020... This issue addresses digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI), and how they inform and influence writers. I found it an informative read that broadened my understanding of what technology offers to writers and inspired questions to explore. On October 24, 2019, the Alberta government announced its 2019–20 budget. The Alberta Foundation for the Arts was allocated $28.4 million, a reduction of $1.5 million—approximately five per cent—from its 2018–19 budget. A further five per cent reduction will apply to the 2020–21 fiscal year. What this means for grants for artists and arts organizations in the current year is uncertain, and we are awaiting announcements. While we have anticipated cuts, there will be an impact to our operating budget, our youth camp, or both. Calculating the budget allotted, it amounts to $6.40 per-capita annually in the province. I encourage you to visit or write your MLA with your thoughts about the arts and their ability, beyond economic contribution, to inform, foster debate, develop mutual understanding and inspire community, and to underline the need for support. Looking ahead, we have a number of offerings to note. On Friday, January 24, 12 noon, the WGA will host a Social Media for Writers webinar. This is an intermediate-level webinar for those familiar with the basics of social media. It is free and exclusive to WGA members. Pre-registration is required and available through our website. In February, we are proud to be a sponsor for the second year of the WordBridge Writing Conference to be held February 7 and 8 in Lethbridge. Along with keynote speaker Robert Sawyer and YA writer Thorsten Nesch, there will be sessions on memoir and panel events. Put on your winter duds and join the organizers who “write, despite frostbite.” To register, check out wordbridgeconference.com. Moving forward to the spring, we are delighted to host our 2020 conference titled WONDER— Reclaim Your Curiosity, on May 22–24 in Calgary in partnership with the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. A highlight of the event is keynote speaker Anthony Doerr, whose novel All the Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. Program information and registration will be posted early in the new year. In closing, I would like to thank everyone who donated to the WGA in 2019. We are grateful for the support. Your donation assists the development of Alberta writers through the programs and services we offer. Tax-deductible donations can be made through our website. As we look ahead to 2020, I wish you all the best with your writing and to longer days of sunshine.
I encourage you to visit or write your MLA with your thoughts about the arts and their ability, beyond economic contribution, to inform, foster debate, develop mutual understanding and inspire community, and to underline the need for support.
THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
WRITE/RIGHT: LAW FOR WRITERS
CAN TECHNOLOGY BE HARNESSED TO REWARD WRITERS? JEANANNE KIRWIN, Q.C.
e creators well know the internet isn’t working fairly for us. Although our creative content has enjoyed unprecedented public exposure, we’ve never been paid so little for our creations. The problem is indiscriminate— it affects visual artists, musicians and writers alike—and ripples across industries. In Canada, where most art studios/galleries, recording studios and publishers are small and vulnerable to market trends, the problem has led to reduced availability of high-quality Canadian content, not only to Canadians but also to worldwide consumers. Why is this? First, piracy is rampant. Anyone can post and copy digital content to the internet, even if they don’t own it. Copyright law and digital rights management are ineffective against unlawful consumption of art, music and books uploaded by unauthorized parties who, unsurprisingly, don’t share their download revenues with creators. It’s as if a life raft, bravely sailing a flag labelled “copyright,” has been dropped into an ocean of powerful currents and tidal waves. Second, legitimate, but megalithic, platforms absorb the vast majority of the lawfully gained value from creative works, leading to a different kind of imbalanced value distribution. In this scenario, the seas our vessel sails may be more benign, but ocean tankers surround us. Third, copyright legislation for Canadian creators works against them because of a new fair dealing exception for educational purposes, which represents an even stronger headwind for our valiant life raft to battle. At the same time as the 2012 enactment of the Copyright Modernization Act (which
would create the storm introduced by the educational purposes exception), it became illegal to break a technological protection measure (TPM), better known as a “digital lock.” If a TPM secures a creative work, and someone breaks it, they are liable to pay up to $1 million for each breach. Within the legal community, we watched eagerly for cases on TPM breaking, and the 2017 case Nintendo v. King did not disappoint. The Federal Court ordered the lock-breaking defendant to pay $11 million. Despite the seriousness with which the law treated the infringement, digital lock breaking is reportedly rife. Circumvention (like piracy) is both relatively easy and difficult to police. New—exponential—technology is required. Examples of exponential technology include 3D printing, drones, robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain. All are capable within a given period of doubling their performance and/or halving their cost (hence, “exponential”). And of these, blockchain is touted as the technology that can best help the writing community. Quick, before your eyes glaze over and you turn the page, let me say blockchain is comprehensible for all writers, not just the tech-savvy or Bitcoin traders among us. Blockchain is a technology that combines three main features: (1) peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing (think what Napster did to the music industry); (2) cryptography (the computerized encoding and decoding of information); and, (3) behavioural economics* (sounds almost human). Access Copyright (accesscopyright.ca), the collective agency charged with ensuring creators are fairly paid for their creations, posed the question: How might we leverage blockchain to enhance the value of creative 5
We creators well know the internet isn’t working fairly for us. Although our creative content has enjoyed unprecedented public exposure, we’ve never been paid so little for our creations. The problem is indiscriminate—it affects visual artists, musicians and writers alike—and ripples across industries.
works both for creators and users? After all, in today’s unsettled waters, users, too, have problems. They have limited means to ascertain the provenance—the origin— and integrity of the creative content they consume, and little choice as to how to reward creators. (Wouldn’t many of us rather pay a musician more than the few pennies they receive when we access their songs on a mega-platform?) JANUARY – MARCH 2020
WRITE/RIGHT: LAW FOR WRITERS Blockchain is a ledger—a list of immutable digital records— put together in blocks, then linked in a cryptographicallysecure way (chain) that can be inspected by anyone to whom the blockchain is available. Because blockchain is unalterable and transparent, it is trusted.** Blockchain has been called “a trust machine.” Also, blockchain is programmable. It can be programmed, for example, to follow if/then statements like: If you buy Famous Author’s Latest Novel, then a royalty of $X will be paid directly to her; a payment of $Y will be paid to her publisher; a payment of $Z will be paid to the designer who created the cover art.
HOW DOES FANSHIP™ WORK? Following is a simplified description of how Fanship might work. • Independent authors and publishers upload books and supporting metadata on Fanship.
Once an activity (for example, the registration of creative work) is logged onto a blockchain, the record is permanent and can be audited by anyone. Therefore, if a valuable token can be exchanged using blockchain (à la Bitcoin), then perhaps a literary work could also be exchanged with the same technology. Access Copyright can see that blockchain could bring the creator back to the centre of the value equation, instead of remaining on the periphery.
• Fanship verifies if the work already exists on its attribution ledger. If the work exists, Fanship then confirms, using the information on the ledger, that the person uploading the work is the entity able to authorize its use. • If the work doesn’t exist in the attribution ledger, Fanship directs the person uploading the work to submit a claim through the ledger. The work circulates on Fanship only when the claim for attribution has been approved by an attribution attester and recorded on the ledger.
Access Copyright created a subsidiary called Prescient Innovations Inc. (prescientinnovations.com). Prescient is an exploratory laboratory that tests exponential technology and develops new revenue models and services that could enable creators to be paid for their work. Prescient is working right now on such a model. As if it’s meant to fit into the ocean-going metaphor, that model is called Fanship™ (prescientinnovations.com/projects).
• Once the work exists on the attribution ledger, a potential reader can download it. Upon download, a royalty is paid almost in real-time to the creator, to the publisher and anyone else designated as entitled to a royalty, such as an editor or graphic designer.
Fanship is a fan-recommendation and e-book sales platform that allows independent authors and publishers to view how fans are recommending their books and how those recommendations affect sales. Fanship also allows book fans to track their recommendations of books to others and be rewarded. Access Copyright recognizes that the key link in the blockchain for this application is an attribution ledger, a mechanism verifying that the person who uploads the work is its creator or other rightsholder. Blockchain won’t prevent piracy, but with a sound attribution ledger, instances of piracy will be significantly diminished.
• Also, peer-to-peer selling is possible. If you enjoy a book, you could recommend it to your friend and even send him or her a digital copy. The copyright owner would have set a pre-determined amount of content your friend could read. Then, if your friend wishes to read the rest of the book, he or she is prompted to pay to download the rest of the book. Again, royalties are paid out, and this time a reward is also paid to you, the person who recommended the book and initiated this particular sale. To learn more about blockchain:
So, yes, technology can be harnessed to help reward writers. The creative community must become involved early in the implementation of the new, exponential technology to ensure we become an integral part of our industry’s value equation. In other words, so we become the captains of our vessels, and in friendlier waters.
publishingperspectives.com/2019/01/blockchain-publishing-proof-ofconcept-canada-access-copyright-spain-renodo/ Attribution ledger: accesscopyright.ca/media/1407/attributionledger_summary_nov2019.pdf
***This concept of blockchain is attributable to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. The writer wishes to acknowledge the technical help of Matt Bin and Sapanpreet Narang in preparing this article. Jeananne Kirwin, Q.C., a lawyer in Edmonton, practices in the areas of intellectual property and corporate/commercial law with an emphasis on trademark and copyright registration and enforcement (kirwinllp.com). THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
JOIN US May 8th - 10th, 2020
Prestige Harbourfront Resort Salmon Arm, BC Presenters:
Whatever level of writer you may be, you’ll want to be part of this inspiring weekend on the shores of spectacular Shuswap Lake
Faye Arcand Sarah de Leeuw kc dyer Scott Fitzgerald Gray Blu & Kelly Hopkins David A. Poulsen Linda Rogers Michael Slade Sylvia Taylor Karen Lee White
Expect to be encouraged, informed and thoroughly entertained.
Check website for updates
Find out what these published authors and industry professionals can do for you. Register at: www.wordonthelakewritersfestival.com
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
THE WRITERSâ€™ GUILD OF ALBERTA
PHOTO CREDIT: PJ GROENEVELDT
CANDAS JANE DORSEY
THE FUTURE OF WRITING What writing/writers will be like in 2050 or beyond
n the fall of 2019, by an accident of fate, and with nine days’ notice, I found myself teaching a course called “Print Culture Studies” at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
If this sounds like the beginning of Dante’s Inferno1, that may not be far wrong. It’s daunting, preparing at short notice an entirely new field of scholarship, albeit one related like a conjoined twin to my life’s work. Mary Jo Bang renders Dante’s opening as: “Stopped mid-motion in the middle /Of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky— /Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost.” Unlike Dante’s poor narrator, I wasn’t descending into Hell, nor was I even entirely lost, but I was indeed within “a dense cage of leaf, tree and twig.” Print culture scholars study the fact and philosophy of language, the artefact of print, and the technology of cultural communication. Reading philosophers, pragmatic researchers, and pop-culture commentators, I found the forest not so dark, really, and with pathways leading from and through it to many of my well-trodden routes as a writer and reader. Now I find myself talking about those connexions to writing students, to people I’m editing, and occasionally to innocent bystanders.
Why bring it up here? Because we all know the future is just like the past, except different. The history of symbol-making tells us that throughout human history, people found that if language, specifically the written word, did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it2. It’s popularly held that written communication sprang up unconnectedly in Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, Egypt and China over about 6,000 years. What is less known is that written languages are invented anew all over the world, every century3. Here are three instances I found interesting, especially from a postcolonial perspective. Cree syllabics have often been credited to missionary James Evans, living in 1840 at Norway House. Did Evans invent them? Most evidence says no. One source cites Cree and Hopi accounts of teacher-healer Badger-Call teaching Cree syllabics long before Evans, and the language resembles other Indigenous notations far more than it does a Romanized transliteration of Ojibwe and Cree. Evans may have been given by his Cree neighbours the use of the language system—which may have also been a trade secret—and adapted it for print, or he may have flat-out appropriated it. While no-one will ever
know for sure, the burden of evidence speaks for the kinder hypothesis, showing Evans to be as strong an ally of the Cree as was possible for a European man of his time. Maybe those who taught him the syllabics weren’t all happy that he used their protected language for evangelistic purposes. Evans got in far worse trouble for his battles fighting the colonialist practices of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his story reads a bit like a spy thriller. Between 1809 and the 1820s, Sequoyah (and his young daughter Akoyah) invented and promoted a written Cherokee language. After considerable persuasion (and a few accusations of witchcraft), he convinced the Cherokee nations to adopt it formally in 1825. The Roman alphabet uses single sounds; Cherokee is a syllabary of 85 or 86 phonemes. One English scholar of the time found it a better system than the Roman, allowing children to master in just a few weeks what took more than two years for English learners. Finally, the Hmong language has endured a fascinating turmoil of more than a dozen conflicting scripts, none of which has yet achieved hegemony. Missionaries imposed a few, but most were internally created, the most interesting allegedly taught by
1 “—“Midway through the journey of our life, I found /myself in a dark wood, for I had strayed/ from the straight pathway to this tangled ground…”: Michael Palma translation, 2003. 2 To paraphrase poor Voltaire. 3 The same happens with language itself, which appears to be hardwired within us. Children kept isolated from adult languages, or with special bonds (such as twins), will invent language anew. Their languages will have syntax, grammar, vocabulary: this should give us a far more sensible idea of how quickly humans developed both spoken word and the use of symbols. We weren’t stumbling around grunting in caves for millennia. Neanderthals wove textiles—do we seriously think they weren’t discussing patterns and methodology?
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
Arguably, all human language exists to preserve stories— sometimes just about how many sheep a person owned. Still, it’s no accident some of the earliest discovered texts are literature and biography. supernatural Visitors to a 20th-century religious leader, the originally illiterate farmers’ child Shong Lue Yang, born in 1930 and assassinated in 1971. The life of linguists is more fraught than one thinks. Arguably, all human language exists to preserve stories—sometimes just about how many sheep a person owned. Still, it’s no accident some of the earliest discovered texts are literature and biography. It’s also arguable since some say narrative is neurologically coded into our sequentially oriented brains, that even calendars, which in artefact form date back 30,000 years, are storytelling devices: the story of the passage of human lives. By 2050 we will see, it’s often said, “the end of life on Earth as we know it” due to climate change, the singularity, space travel, the End of Oil—or just because that date sounds sufficiently futuristic. In 1948, Orwell’s readers thought 1984 far away, but the story still rings true with 1984 long past; co-incidentally, in actual 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer was published. In 1982, Ridley Scott set Bladerunner in 2019, but the film has eerie futuristic resonance even as it passes its technical best-before date; its sequel’s set in 2049. In 1986, Nora Abercrombie and I wrote the winning 3-Day Novel with the tale of a young, brilliant female hacker (and her grandpa): at the time, the most radical
tech I could envision was wireless internet, so the story is a period piece now. But the core issue of sexism in computing remains as strong, if not stronger (for example, GamerGate), today. There’s a distinction between story and setting when it comes to these predictive texts and many more like them.
Double vision. On one side, human history, with some 40,000 years5 of making marks on surfaces, or creating other objects (cloth, beads, knotted strings, carved bamboo strips, rocks) to perpetuate the story. On the other, a catastrophic future where we change unimaginably or cease to exist altogether.
Remember those “death of the book” panels? Silver-haired pundits in little pessimistic clusters of privilege bemoaned the imminent end of life on earth as we know it, er, the end of books. Yet decades have passed, and we don’t see books going away. Research shows that students print out e-texts, editors work faster on print versions of manuscripts, and writers whose books fill the e-verse start writing them by hand.
This may happen, but Hanlon’s Law famously says: “Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity6.” I mention this because— honestly? Are we really, as a species, so clever we can manage to exterminate ourselves completely? Instead, we’re a bumbling lot—endearingly so at times, as when we discovered penicillin, but at other times infuriatingly, even appallingly, incompetent at ensuring a positive future. Harsh, but it means I tend to think that whatever happens, some humans will remain, and keep writing. I believe in the persistence of story. We may “regress” to simpler infrastructure, but there’s no indication we will be less complicated beings: we are made of the need for story.
The singularity4: if you haven’t heard of this, it’s a theory by folks like mathematician John von Neumann and science fiction writer (and closet mathematician) Vernor Vinge. They posit a time when technological invention (artificial intelligence, primarily) suddenly progresses so exponentially beyond human ability to keep up that it results, through an unimaginable paradigm shift, in the end of civilization as we know it. A theme emerges. Whether anthropogenic climate change, cultural fry, or our invention of the computer is at fault, we face a higher-to-total likelihood of human extinction.
4 No, not the 2017 movie 5 That we know of—we can only measure from what artefacts survived.
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Perhaps you expect me, a speculative fiction writer therefore by default a futurist, to posit a digitally enhanced future: Richard Brautigan’s “cybernetic meadow…all watched over by machines of loving grace.” Computer networks across galaxies. Implants that allow us never to type again (yay). Digital archives of all of human consciousness, let alone human history.
FEATURE But digital dreaming was far more fun when our lives were not full of real computers7. The reality: bugs, glitches, planned or accidental obsolescence of platforms, and an increasing materials shortage for this high-tech cultural exoskeleton. Those crazy projections about a computer in every hand have come true, sort of, but unbelievably to early silicon evangelists, the world is running out of sand. Mining the source material for silicon has become a battleground of cultures versus corporations. So can we expect the cybernetic meadow? Human culture has always suffered for the impermanence of our media. Paper rots—there’s a reason that more ephemera such as papyrus and textiles survived in the desiccating air of Egypt, to be found by a gleeful future. The burning of the library of Alexandria robbed EuroAfrican civilization of most of its recorded memory. Paper was invented so long ago in China that only the idea of that early medium has survived, not what was written on it: for that, we have to rely on what was carved on turtle shells. Yet the most ephemeral materials, by far, that we use for writing in the 20th and 21st century are electrons. Digital media is the most fragile of storage. It can be erased by strong magnets, a Global Electromagnetic Pulse or any local version (for instance, a nuclear bomb), a microwave, a hammer taken to a hard drive, or even cosmic ray attrition—and that’s not considering how a record may exist but, like a tree falling in the forest, be silenced by the absence of a platform to “hear” it or the power to run it. You want to ensure survival to your storytelling? To heck with the paperless office. Print it out, on acid-free paper, and store it in a metal box (filing cabinets work okay for that if you don't have a handy survivalist shelter).
Simply and profoundly, language, as a technology, is additive. Piled upon the idea of language are layers: embellishments to, refinements of, variations on the core concept. Storytelling. Writing: stylus on clay or slate, pencil, nib, parchment, vellum, papyrus, paper, iron gall ink, pens, nibs, Biros. Print: block-printing, etching, moveable type, letterpresses, laser printers. Reading aloud. Silent reading. Typewriters, word processors, desktops, laptops, smartphones. Each doesn’t replace the former: they are multivalently coexistent. Despite doomsayers, we haven’t abandoned our other technologies in the scrapheap while we ride the digital singularity to destruction. Recently, Ted Bishop helped my class make iron gall ink. Students, using stick pens to write with, were amazed that this ink they had just ground was like the ink with which Treaty Six (also all their forebears’ marriage records) was written. It was much like the ink Jane Austen used to make, cure on the chimney hob and use to pen her books—but it also had much in common with the paste that a cave artist used to put her or his handprint on a wall 40,000 years ago.
imagine. Or we may break back to a lowtech, more tribal world where we make our ink of gall and iron again, our work ritualized within small groups and in ephemeral media. Whatever technology of language we will use, we carry the seeds of this technology within us, and they flower the moment we insist upon communicating at all. It’s inherent: something in our DNA, our brain structure—and only latterly our cultural fabric—calls for a story. The ink that records our past tattoos our future. Candas Jane Dorsey writes novels, short f iction, nonfiction and poetry from her desk in Edmonton while beset by figurative alligators and barked at by literal Pomeranians. Her most recent book is ICE and other stories (2018) from Britain’s bijou PS Publishing. Upcoming books include the mystery series The Adventures of Isabel and What’s the Matter with Mary Jane (ECW, 2020 and 2021) and a YA novel, The Story of My Life, Ongoing, by CS Cobb (2020). A past president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA), she is a Golden Pen Award winner and lifetime WGA member.
Assuming the earth is not scoured clean of our bothersome species, we will always find ways to document ourselves. Looking back from the year 2050, we may laugh at the specifics of prediction (where’s my flying car and jet pack?). But it's safe to say that the same passions will inform us; we will be finding ways to express and record those passions with the wealth of layers of story technology that we possess now or will discover. We may become eco-sensitive, make paper of hemp or bamboo instead of trees, we may mine mineral nodules from the ocean floor to craft embedded digital brain enhancements, and nanotechnology may transform us in ways we can’t even
NEWS CLIPPING PROVIDED BY AUTHOR
6 If you want to be kind, which is usually a good choice to make, just substitute “incompetence” for “stupidity.” 7 William Gibson says when he was writing Neuromancer on a 1920s Underwood typewriter, he thought computers and cyberspace were “sexy,” but changed his mind when the actual future arrived. By the way, Gibson also said, back in the 1990s: “The future is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed.”
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
PHOTO CREDIT: SHAYNE WOODSMITH
THE MODERN WRITER’S TECH TOOLBOX Gear, apps and software for the digital age
y home office started looking like Starfleet Mission Control because, ironically, I needed to get out of the house. As anyone managing ADHD will tell you: the secret to productivity are rules, and it seemed like a good first rule was being in pants and out the door by noon. But going where? Anywhere less distracting than my office. I didn’t have cash for a laptop, so I converted my iPad into one with a $40 wireless keyboard. I’d just gone freelance and would need all the money I could save THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
until I figured this thing out. Plus, a man with an iPhone, iPad, iMac, Apple TV and a MacBook? Seemed psychotic. It was 2013 and, luckily, cloud computing was making it easier to toggle between my tablet and desktop without skipping a beat. Until my desktop broke. That meant running a business—researching, pitching, transcribing, writing, editing, tracking changes and tracking changes again, invoicing and repeatedly sending non-threatening emails (otherwise known as “bookkeeping”)—on a nine-inch tablet, 12
a slab of metal designed to become more obsolete every day. The lag-time between apps was painful; the muscle aches from hunching over a tiny screen, worse. My next solution was a monitor, thinking I’d “cast” my iPad to a bigger screen using my Apple TV’s screen-sharing feature. That only made the lag time excruciating—like, Windows 7 bad. I caved, got a MacBook, and now I’m that man.
FEATURE As an unintended consequence, I find it easier to focus with two or three sideby-side screens across my desk. Seriously. It helps me stay clear of distractions as I toggle between word processor, browser tabs and transcripts of interviews I’ve conducted. I started looking for other efficiencies and discovered a host of digital tools to help run my tiny empire better, faster and from anywhere in the world—even home.
TRANSHUMANISM IS HERE “Transhumanism” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “The theory that science and technology can help human beings develop beyond what is physically and mentally possible at present.” Today, several cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) transcription apps, like Otter, Sonix, Temi and Trint, have impressive accuracy when it comes to transcribing audio. Within minutes of uploading, your interviews become a browser-based word processor linking text to sound, so you can follow and edit along. What used to take me four hours per hour of tape, now gets done in two. Premium services, like Scribie and Rev, combine AI and human transcription, quickly turning around near-perfect transcripts. Pricing is all over the place; charges range anywhere from per word to per minute to per month, or some combination of the three. My preference is Otter. It’s the cheapest (USD$10 monthly), has shareable features for teamwork and its slick phone app doubles as a voice recorder for interviews and notes-to-self.
VOICES FROM BEYOND In 13 years of journalism, I’ve learned there are three types of reporters: those who take notes by hand, those who take notes with a recorder, and those who know both are inherently flawed. Enter, the Smartpen. Not to endorse a single product, but there’s nothing like LiveScribe Echo
Smartpen. It simultaneously records my interviews and notes. There is a microphone, and in the pen’s tip is a sensor that stores my every stroke in realtime. By that I mean that when I upload the audio-visual file, I’m re-watching myself write alongside the sound—each page of each notebook is digitized and stored in the app. Has your brain exploded yet? The Smartpen (CAD $200 and up) requires brand-exclusive notebooks and ink priced on par with non-magic stationery. But because the audio is only so-so, I always record with my phone for backup. As for recording simple phone calls, I use a standard answering machine and landline (just kidding). Apps like TapeACall cleverly turn your smartphone’s three-way-caller feature into a phone tap. The freemium product (meaning it’s free, to a point) automatically stores conversations in the app, which you can pump into your AI transcription app of choice with two clicks. A simpler solution is Olympus TP-8, a CAD$20 phone tap that sits between your ear and phone receiver and plugs into your recorder on the other end.
RESEARCH AND DESTROY As laptops get smaller and phones get bigger, tablets are becoming just fancy paper. Still, I dust mine off for annotating meaty manuscripts, especially my own when it’s proofreading time. Without having to zoom in, I circle and scratch text as I would with a red pen, then switch to typing to leave longer comments. GoodReader (CAD$8.50), Xodo (free) and other PDF annotators haven’t just saved me hundreds in printing costs, they’ve saved my collaborators from having to decode my chicken-scratch. Similarly, though not necessarily optimized for tablets, camera-based scanning apps grab text from the quotable source material. I use Scanner Pro (CAD$5.50) to toggle back and forth between the original text and edited version to ensure accuracy. The app is cloud-compatible, keeps my research 13
organized and gels with Evernote (a freemium multimedia note-taker that some writers swear by, but to me is overthe-top).
MAXIMIZE YOUR BROWSER To upgrade a tired joke: “There’s an extension for that.” Want to highlight links as you read along? Super Simple Highlighter is like the type-A student in every Classics course with seven different-coloured highlighters at the ready. FireShot, which captures and automatically creates PDFs of said highlighted pages, is the same keener typing his handwritten notes. And Capti, which turns articles into audio, is sameold-me looking for an audiobook of the required reading. Capti’s freemium app also reads uploaded text in human voices, saving me from more than just my laziness, fatigue and attention deficit. I’m a big believer in writing for the ear, so I never file a chapter or article without first reading it aloud, listening for rhythm. A free alternative is exporting manuscripts to mp3 using FromTextToSpeech.com. But if it’s only links you want read to you, Pocket and other free extension/apps do the trick. I get much out of StayFocusd. Like Ritalin for my laptop, I activate it whenever I need to block access to an embarrassingly long list of websites for up to 23 hours. The extension is free, but heavy-duty blockers that simultaneously sanction sites across all platforms, such as Freedom and FocusMe (CAD$39/ year and up), are surprisingly costly for a technology whose function is dysfunction. Depends what your productivity’s worth.
KEEPING YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUD Cloud-based word processors, such as Office360, Pages and Google Docs, are okay but unnecessary. Downloading the right backup and syncing apps will create a folder on your desktop indistinguishable JANUARY – MARCH 2020
Unless I’m researching abroad, the most important daily decision I make is still whether to work from home. from your local files, allowing you to use your word processor of choice. For me, that’s Scrivener (CAD$67), the bookwriting software that keeps every draft, outline and source material in one file, with many nifty brainstorming, note-taking, goal setting and focusing features. But the last few years have seen countless free, freemium and subscription-based copycats across platforms (Manuskript, Wavemaker and Ulysses). None, including Scrivener, are any better for editing than Word, but that can be fixed with add-on extensions like Grammarly and ProWritingAid. The latter is a particularly ruthless copyeditor that scores and helps correct for redundancies, flabbiness and plagiarism. Is it safe to work off cloud accounts? Let me put it this way: I’ve lost thousands of files to corrupted hard disks, but not a kilobyte to cloud failures. However, I’ve lost time due to said services going down for a day, which is why I always sync to my hard drive. (Call me paranoid, but it doesn’t hurt to have a two-step thumbdrive backup, like SmartBackup, for special projects.) It’s essential to stick with one cloud and one organizing system, so you’re not accidentally working off the wrong file—ditto whatever cloud you’re using for notes, calendar appointments and reminders. And for Pete’s sake, marry a browser. It’s the only way to keep bookmarks and extensions intact from house to phone to library.
To meet my needs, I invested in cheap gear from dollar stores and AliExpress. com (the Chinese Amazon). For the home office: phone and laptop stand, Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and every adapter necessary to eliminate the need for a desktop computer, plus organizing trays, USB hub, extendable microphone stand, cord winders and, under my desk, a mountable standing desk.
Unless I’m researching abroad, the most important daily decision I make is still whether to work from home. THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
Omar Mouallem is a National Magazine Awardwinning writer whose travel stories have appeared in enRoute and The Globe and Mail. His narrative journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Guardian and The Walrus. He sits on the boards of LitFest and the writers for free expression group PEN Canada. Mouallem is the author of a forthcoming travel memoir about Muslims in the Americas, Praying to the West, published by Simon & Schuster Canada. For more information, visit omarmouallem.com.
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(course is part of the Social Media and Marke�ng cita�on program and combines online & in-class learning)
• Wri�ng Clearly in the Workplace (begins Feb. 25)
Study at the University of Alberta, a world leader in higher education.
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THE WRITER’S ESSENTIAL GADGET CASE
For the away office: additional pair of headphones and backup USB, various charging cords, adapters and card readers, a short HDMI cable to turn hotel TVs into second screens, multi-inlet chargers to power my laptop and phone together and a multi-inlet power-bank for when there’s not an outlet in sight. I keep everything in an organized gadget case, with a basic pen and notebook, for the Internet Apocalypse.
For more information, or to register: 780.492.3116 or 1.800.808.4784 uab.ca/we
BLOGGING ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB The incomplete and ongoing history of the weblog
he concept of online writing began with the first “blog” in 1994, followed by the fragmented surrealist hivemind of Twitter, memes, fake news and algorithmic journalism that is today’s online writing landscape. The following timeline of the (incomplete and ongoing history) of blogging begins in 1994, then every subsequent five years up until an unhinged speculative 2024.
WRITING ON THE WEB 1994: Less than one per cent of the global population (pewresearch.org/ internet/2014/03/11/world-wide-webtimeline/) used the internet; the user base consisted mostly of what was colloquially known at the time as “nerds.” Articles and commentary were categorized and shared through proto forums called “Usenets.” Then, an enterprising 20-year-old student named Justin Hall created what came to be known as one of the first “blogs.” A personal page consisting of several categories—“Swarthmore College Shit,” “Some Personal Shit” and “Here’s a Menu of Cool Shit”—credited to Yer Mama Net Productions. Hall set the baseline for online discourse. 1999: Global internet usage increased more than tenfold to just under five per cent of the world’s population (pewresearch.org/internet/2014/03/11/ world-wide-web-timeline/). There was widespread panic that the Y2K bug would bring global commerce to its
knees: an apocalyptic consequence of our growing reliance on computers. Several blogging platforms were introduced: FanFiction.net (1998), Open Diary, Slashdot, LiveJournal and blogger.com. The bar for technical knowhow was lowered. All you needed to find a global audience was an internet connection and one or more of the following: writing skills, a huge ego, exciting ideas, or a genuine belief that shape-shifting reptilian aliens controlled all levels of government. 2004: Y2K came and went without a blip; sales of canned foods stabilized. MerriamWebster Dictionary declared “Blog” the word of the year. (Not only is it a word, but it also has the eclectic honour of being a noun and a verb, alongside such luminaries as skate, hammer and f**k.) In the United States, bloggers obtained press credentials for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. (In 2005, Arianna Huffington founded the Huffington Post as a news blog and commentary site. A lynchpin of its business model allowed writers the opportunity to submit content for free in exchange for “exposure.”) 2009: Smartphones reached a market saturation of 17 per cent in the U.S. (statista.com/statistics/800990/ smartphones-in-active-use-in-the-unitedstates/) and global internet use sat at 1.73 billion people (royal.pingdom.com/ internet-2009-in-numbers/). Snowqueens Icedragon posted an erotic Twilight 15
PHOTO CREDIT: BRONWEN TUCKER
fanfiction trilogy, Master of the Universe, on Fanfiction.com. After two years, Twitter had 18 million users (thebalancecareers.com/twitter-sta tistics-2008-2009-2010-2011-3515899), including writers, journalists and poets. Based on the SMS limitations at the time, Twitter was a platform where users could post thoughts, observations, aphorisms and flash fiction up to 140 characters long. (In 2017, Twitter expanded to 280 characters.) A genre known as “Twitterature” saw the first “Twitter Novel”—Small Places by Nicholas Belardes (2008). In August, a writer named Justin Halpern tweeted “Shit My Dad Says.” It gained a massive following. By November, Halpern landed a book and television deal. 2014: Remember the Master of the Universe series? It was purged of Twilight references, renamed Fifty Shades of Gray and published, becoming one of the most popular books ever, selling more than 125 million copies. And the Huffington Post? JANUARY – MARCH 2020
FEATURE In 2011 it sold to AOL for $315 million (huffpost.com/entry/aol-huffingtonpost_n_819375). A year later, it became the first digital news outlet to win a Pulitzer Prize. It continued not to pay its writers. Poetry found a new life on Instagram. “Instapoetry” is short, accessible poetry written and read by a typically young audience. Depending on who you ask, Instapoetry either signalled the democratization of poetry or was just crowd-driven tyranny of amateurism. Instapoet Rupi Kaur moved to page poetry with Milk and Honey, which spent more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list. (In 2013, I found an unoccupied artistic niche and started a satirical blog about
Edmonton’s municipal election. I experienced the highest honour a local blogger can get, being mentioned by a different, much more influential local blogger. As the snake continued to eat its tail, many of my followers were bloggers who blogged for other bloggers about how to get their blogs to make money. This is called “metablogging.”) 2019: Twenty-five years since Yer Mama Net Productions debuted the first blog, there are now 600 million blogs (hostingtribunal.com), 3.3 billion people with smartphones (bankmycell.com/blog/ how-many-phones-are-in-the-world) and therefore unprecedented means of production of, and access to, the written word. You can do it anywhere: in bed, on the bus, or while taking care of your bi-daily biological imperatives. So easy,
in fact, that you don’t need to do it at all. Forbes, Washington Post, and Bloomberg begin using artificial intelligence to aid writing, especially straightforward financial and sports scores reporting. Since the name Skynet is taken, the sites are named Bertie, Heliograf and Cyborg, respectively. 2024: AI technology is used to apply vernacular and stylistic filters to voice-totext-transcriptions. Just like everyone has taken one really great photo, everyone has written one really great story. Information about everything around us is encoded into augmented reality. Everyone is reading all the time. Tim Mikula is a writer and artist based in Edmonton. He cut his teeth writing an unpopular local humour blog. Since then, he’s written for the Edmonton Journal, The Indy and Gigcity.
The Exporting Alberta Award is an annual financial prize honouring a local CAA-AB member who has published a book in the competition year. The award is designed to increase awareness of exceptional books by Alberta authors.
Deadline for submission is March 15, 2020 Details and registration information is available online at canauthorsalberta.ca/exporting-alberta
THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
auth rs Writers helping writers since 1921
FEATURE approach doesn’t rely on a specific social network, iffy tactics, or a substantial financial investment. In fact, if you’re just starting out, you probably have more time than money. While there are tools that can automate much of this work for you, you don’t need to use them to be successful.
WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE? Let’s start with the basics. Who do you need to reach? Where do they hang out? What kinds of messages will they respond to? You don't need to put together a focus group or send out a survey to find out— you just need to spend a bit of time on social media. Many social networks are public by default. For example, unless you have your Twitter account set to private, anyone can see who follows you or who you follow. Other networks, like Facebook, have more privacy, but often people haven’t checked all their security settings and have left some information open to anyone to browse.
PHOTO CREDIT: EMMA BUTLER
DIGITAL MARKETING TIPS FOR WRITERS
SERVE YOUR READER
Find what’s right for you
et’s face it: digital marketing is overwhelming. There are many different ways to spend your time (and money) marketing yourself online, with lots of conflicting advice on what’s best. Spend more than 10 minutes Googling digital marketing tips, and you’ll find 50 different ways to solve your marketing problems—but which one is right for you?
Start with the fans you already have and see what they follow. Is there another writer that they enjoy? What about TV shows, movies or websites? Is there a specific news source they share regularly? This information opens up a window into what your fans (and potential new fans) find interesting. Keep a list of what you’re seeing and note which items are the most common.
On top of this wealth of questionable advice, digital marketing changes constantly. It’s a full-time job to keep up on all the changes and then decide what’s worth pursuing and what’s a waste of time. How can you keep up? I’m going to walk you through Kick Point’s (kickpoint.ca) marketing methodology, which anyone can apply to their unique situation. This 17
Now that you know what your audience enjoys, give that to them. Our classic marketing formula (which has you filling out the blanks) is as follows: I am a __________ Who wants to __________ So I can _________ Put together some marketing mad libs (game of word prompts) and fill them out yourself to ensure you’re making the right marketing choices. Will what you’re doing help your audience get to where they want JANUARY – MARCH 2020
FEATURE to go? For example, who are you reaching, what do they want, what is your desired result? All marketing should follow this type of formula. Following a formula helps you avoid impulsive marketing opportunities that end up being a waste of time. For example, ask yourself questions such as the following: should you attend that conference? What about buying advertising in that publication? Well, if your audience isn’t there and the goal of that marketing activity doesn’t fit into this formula, don’t do it.
WHAT ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA? Social media can be beneficial, but it can also be a huge waste of time. Of course, you’d rather look at cute puppy photos on Facebook when you’re feeling blocked. Remember, social media isn’t actually your job, and while it might be useful on networks such as Twitter to chat with other writers, it may not be where you’ll see a return on your time investment. Set goals for yourself before you venture into social media, even if it’s just for five minutes. Are you there for fun or for work? Giving yourself a goal and a time limit before you open that browser window or app can keep you on track. It’s tempting to be on every possible social media network out there. Some of them are more flash in the pan and others might not be popular with your audience. For example, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a thriving group of readers on LinkedIn for your paranormal romance series. That being said, sign up for every network you can, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. Leave a simple message like “For updates, follow me on (your preferred network)” and leave it at that. This way, you’re reserving your name on these networks, and if readers do try to locate you, they’ll find out where they should actually be following you. Make sure to monitor notifications from these networks and reply. THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
Think beyond the big networks with which you’re familiar. At the time of this writing, TikTok is becoming the next big social network. Is it the right fit for you? Again, ask yourself: who is my audience and are they using that network? Check out book-specific networks, such as Goodreads. If you’re published, you probably already have a basic author profile on that platform—make sure to claim it and use it to communicate with your readers.
DON’T OVERLOOK EMAIL MARKETING Email marketing isn’t as thrilling as social media, but the returns often significantly outperform other marketing tactics. Email continues to be one of the most popular ways that people use the internet
people are on your list. It might just be your mom to start, but she clearly wants to hear from you.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR WEBSITE? Yes, you should have a website and make sure to register your domain name. Domains are cheap, so get all the possible options, including .ca and .com variants, as well as your book titles, pseudonyms, and anything else that springs to mind. If you’re just starting out, don’t rush out and hire a web designer. There are great DIY website builders out there, such as Squarespace and Wix. They’re basic, but they look great out of the box and, best of all, they’re inexpensive. Don’t go to a professional until you’re ready to pay for
It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re putting in lots of work for little to no reward. because it works. If you haven’t already done so, start building an email list by adding a sign up on your website and then promoting it through your various social media channels. Send emails to people on your list consistently and often. It may seem intimidating at first, but remember that people signed up because they want to hear from you, so why wouldn’t you give them what they want? Emails should be short and sent at least once a month. Any longer and your subscribers will likely forget that they signed up for your list and will unsubscribe when you email them after months of silence. You might feel that you don’t have time to write your list. Here’s a tip: make yourself a recurring meeting with yourself, or with an accountability partner, to send that email once a month. And remember, no one on your list knows how many 18
good work. Rudimentary website builders make better sites than many low-cost website designers.
REMEMBER YOUR WINS It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re putting in lots of work for little to no reward. Make a document for yourself where you record your digital marketing wins, even if they seem small at the time. This will help you stay motivated and also remind you how far you’ve come. Dana DiTomaso is president and partner at Kick Point, where she helps people and teams do better marketing. Alongside the team at Kick Point, DiTomaso pushes people to set goals and track data, so they understand what strategies and tactics bring value. She speaks at conferences around the world about analytics, search engine optimization and brand building. For more information, visit kickpoint.ca.
ADVENTURES IN ONLINE PUBLISHING AND FUNDING Edmonton writing group explores publishing platform and crowdfunding PHOTO PROVIDED BY AUTHOR
s a writer, I’ve found the best thing I could possibly do is surround myself with like-minded and supportive people. Finding a writing group has been crucial to making an individual passion into a communal one. Suddenly, my struggles with submitting, querying and publishing don’t have to be experienced alone. Whenever I find new opportunities, it’s no longer just for me, but for the good of a group. While my writing group, the New Cambrians, works hard and prides itself on encouraging each member to succeed, its goals are to benefit the group. As a community, we’re aware that when someone needs help with their artistic endeavours, more than likely, many of us need help with similar undertakings. Following is a glimpse into our world and how we came to explore online publishing and crowdfunding. Collaborating is vital to New Cambrians. Bringing together our combined skills as writers and artists enhances and validates everyone’s strengths. In doing so, we’ve discussed how best to promote ourselves. Online publishing has become a crucial motivator for gaining readers, not just locally, but outside our tight-knit Alberta community. Two options we’ve contemplated over the past year for future projects are Wattpad (wattpad.com) and Kickstarter (kickstarter.com). Each offers different features and opportunities for writers and artists to engage with their audience and build their brand.
WATTPAD Wattpad is an easy place to start for anyone just testing the waters of online publishing. New Cambrians selected Wattpad because a member, Kyle Hubbard, had a positive experience with it. “Wattpad has a user-friendly interface that allows for writers to add chapters, cover art, genre tags and everything needed to get a book online,” explained Hubbard. “What makes Wattpad stand out is all the ways writers can engage with readers. Anyone can highlight a sentence and leave a comment, and others can reply... including the author. Readers can also leave comments at the end of chapters, send private messages, or reply to ‘conversations’ (blog-like updates) on an author’s profile page.” Wattpad is great for fanfiction writers looking to dip their toes into a professional publication for the first time. As Hubbard put it, “Wattpad is a good way for new writers to get their books to readers and learn from their reactions, hopefully building strong readerships along the way.”
KICKSTARTER We discovered that Kickstarter is one way to fund writing projects. For example, magazines use Kickstarter to crowdfund 19
their projects. Publications like The Dark (thedarkmagazine.com), a fantasy/horror magazine, offer reward tiers based on how much donors pledge toward a project. Funds go toward printing costs and paying authors. Kickstarter has been influential in getting small indie press start-ups off the ground, as well. In Edinburgh, Scotland, Knight Errant Press (knighterrantpress. com), Monstrous Regiment Publishing (monstrous-regiment.com) and 404INK (404ink.com) have successfully crowdfunded their publications. The literary community in Scotland and beyond is supportive of these publishers, and I have no doubt such a funding technique could succeed for authors, artists and publishers in Alberta, too. If anything, Matthew Stepanic and Jason Purcell’s Glass Bookshop (glassbookshop.com) in Edmonton is proof that crowdfunding works and that Alberta’s literary community rallies behind its artists. There’s potential in online funding, one the New Cambrians could take advantage of in the future. Sophie Pinkoski is the Youth Representative for the Writers' Guild of Alberta. She holds an MSc in Publishing from Edinburgh Napier University. Pinkoski is developing networking opportunities for young professionals in the writing community. She spends her free time writing time travel and Victorian crime novels. JANUARY – MARCH 2020
MAXIMIZING YOUR FACEBOOK BUSINESS PAGE Business page is a key component in a solid social media strategy
ith more than 2.4 billion users (statista.com/statistics/264810/ number-of-monthly-activefacebook-users-worldwide/), Facebook presents a hard-to-ignore opportunity to connect with your audience in an ongoing and meaningful way.
Be consistent. As with all social media, posting content regularly is essential when it comes to maintaining your relationship with your audience. Decide in advance how often you’ll produce content. Create posts in batches and use Facebook’s internal scheduling option to post automatically.
Facebook is a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox. Publishers expect writers to have a social media presence, and a Facebook business page is a standard requirement. Bookstores will expect you to share the event they create on their pages to your page and publishers and agents love it when they’re able to share your posts to their audiences.
Facebook analytics provides you with a wealth of information about your audience that includes everything from what time your followers are likely to be online (schedule your posts accordingly) to their demographics and shopping habits.
You can’t just use your personal profile for your business page. Facebook has rules against using your personal profile for any promotion or selling.
Unless you have a globally recognized name and face, like Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman, it’s a good idea to identify your page with something other than just your name. Jack Black Creative Writing Teacher or Ali Banana Children’s Author are examples of names that make it clear precisely what the page offers.
The following tips will help you maximize your business page.
Tips to boost your presence on Facebook WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE? Before doing a mass invitation to all your friends, think about your ideal customer. Be selective. Facebook uses demographic information about your followers to show your page to others who may be interested THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
WHO ARE YOU?
PHOTO CREDIT: NIGEL FRANCIS
in what you’re offering. Thinking about who will engage with your page, who will be attracted to what you’re providing and is similar to the audience you’d ultimately like to reach, will pay off. It’s a mistake to think your business page is only about you. Nobody cares about you until you establish a relationship with them. Initially, visitors care about finding something they are going to love to read, a place to have great conversations and learn about writing. Getting to know, like, and trust you, and enjoying the fresh, engaging content you create will keep them coming back. 20
Fill out the About section, use the space allocated to post a longer story about you or your work. Include a call to action (for example: visit my website, sign up for my newsletter). Revisit this section periodically to make sure it’s current. Your banner, at the top of your business page, should feature strong, eye-catching images or a short video reflecting who you are and what you have to offer. If you write crime novels, don’t have a photo of your cat in the banner.
It doesn’t take that much time to do an excellent job with a Facebook page, and the benefits are huge. We write to connect with others. Let your page help you do exactly that. More than half of users check Facebook from a mobile device. The most important part of the image should be in the middle third of the banner. Keep text to a minimum and don’t waste this space by repeating the name of your page. The little circle in the upper left-hand corner is the equivalent of your profile image. If you have a logo that reads well, even if it’s tiny, use that here. Some authors like to use a headshot. Make sure nothing important is cropped from the photo.
If you have books to sell, set up a Facebook shop. You can link out to a third party (for example, your publisher) if you aren’t handling fulfilment yourself.
SHARE YOUR CONTENT WIDELY (AND WISELY) Sharing relevant posts from other pages can be a great way to bring in new followers. Use the share button to post to your personal page and share into appropriate groups. Follow group guidelines; spamming groups with your content is a quick way to get yourself banned.
GENERATING REVENUE Like other pages as your page; this builds a curated list posted on your page that helps Facebook understand your target audience. This matters when it comes to generating the right kind of traffic but
becomes doubly important if you are paying for ads. You want to ensure that any money spent on ads is cost-effective. Don’t have more than one in four posts linked to a destination outside Facebook. Facebook likes to keep traffic on its platform (remember, it’s funded by ad revenue, and that income is generated when members remain in the Facebook ecosystem). It doesn’t take that much time to do an excellent job with a Facebook page, and the benefits are huge. We write to connect with others. Let your page help you do exactly that. Nikki Tate-Stratton is the author of 35 books. Her most recent title is Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying (Orca Book Publishers). She is also the founder of Nexus Generation, an online subscription community for creatives, entrepreneurs and lifelong learners embracing the power of online tools. For information, visit TheNexusGeneration.net.
CREATE CAPTIVATING CONTENT Facebook offers many options for the kinds of posts you can include in your feed. Visual content is essential, with videos being right at the top of the list when it comes to what people enjoy. Don’t be afraid of Facebook live videos. These can be light, casual and candid. After broadcasting, you have the option to archive your live videos. Include questions, polls, quote cards and GIFs (graphics interchange format). Facebook loves it when your followers respond with likes, shares, tags and comments. The more engagement you generate, the more likely your posts will be shown to other potential followers. Create and publicize events whenever you’re running a workshop, attending a signing, or launching a new book. 21
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
READING VERSUS SCREADING The dividing line between reading print and online is space
Today, the internet has become synonymous with search engines and social media outlets, for they have become the primary points of access to vast amounts of resources stored online. PHOTO CREDIT: FRASER SHEIN
iven the ease of access to information, through our phones or computers, it sounds odd to talk about the future of reading. Isn’t it the case that everyone is reading? We cannot avoid discussing the internet in relation to reading. What is the internet? The internet dates back to the 1960s, but didn’t become widespread until it commercialized in the 1990s. It was at first a way of connecting computer systems reliably over a sizeable geographical span. When that became viable, communicating over the network became possible. Other opportunities arose, one of which was the storage of information. Today, the internet has become synonymous with search engines and social media outlets, for they have become the primary points of access to vast amounts of resources stored online. How is that information curated? In the early days of the internet, writers or webmasters acted as curators. Markup THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
languages (Html, XML) allow one to typeset a written piece on screen, a practice not unlike the typographical methods in print. But here is where the similarity between print practices and online practices end. The dividing line between print and online is space. This difference shows in two ways. First, in traditional print presentation, the physical space (for example, in a newspaper or a magazine), is limited. In comparison, the amount of online storage appears unlimited. While brevity and clarity are valued, they may manifest superficially as the number of characters rather than through editorial means. Second, in traditional print, beyond the two dimensions on a page, there is a third dimension: thickness. While the screen appears to be only two-dimensional, in reality, there is a third dimension: length. The issue is one of discreteness versus continuousness. What do I mean by 22
that? Psycholinguistic literature shows that humans require a break—quasimeaningful chunking of information—or we risk overloading our cognitive capacity. Overloading doesn’t have to be the result of too much information, it can be how the information is presented. For example, an interesting phenomenon is called “garden path sentences” (effectiviology. com/avoid-garden-path-sentences-inyour-writing), such as the following: The horse raced past the barn fell. Many readers stumble on the last word because they have problems resolving “raced past the barn” as a reduced relative clause. Similarly, when faced with scrolling down a screen of text with no end/resolution in sight, we face cognitive overload. The problem isn’t necessarily the volume, but that content appears continuous, rather than a collection of discernable, but related, pieces of information. Consider the traditional newspaper layout. A practical design takes advantage of the two-dimensional space by placing multiple stories in different rectangular
FEATURE blocks. Within each block, the headline stands out as the header of the story. This way, two effects are achieved: 1. The stories of the day are broken up into discrete blocks, easily discerned from one another. 2. The stories are juxtaposed together to form a bigger picture. One gets both the macro view (the range of accounts) and the micro (one can zoom in on any story).
The third dimension is no different. In the case of a book, the thickness, along with the amount of text per page, is critical. The reason is the same: discreteness versus continuousness, micro versus macro. With an entire page in sight, you can assess roughly how much content exists. In conjunction with the thickness, one gets a full picture. The challenge to the future of reading on a screen is to design strategies and interaction methods that allow
meaningful discretization (the action of making discrete, especially mathematically discrete. Merriam-Webster Dictionary) of content and the mediation between the macro and the micro views. Vivian Tsang, PhD, is the founder and CEO of indaloĂś research, a start-up company aiming to redesign how written content is accessed. She is also a translator. Her most recent translation, Fourfold Dependent Arising and the Profound Prajnaparamita by Master Tam Shek-wing, was published by the Sumeru Press in 2019.
JANUARY â€“ MARCH 2020
DAVIS G. SEE
CREATING INTERACTIVE FICTION Low-budget, text-only video games, allow for personal stories
most people think of when it comes to video games, but they’re an essential part of the larger gaming space because they’re one of the few places that allow for deeply personal stories.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY AUTHOR
Big budget games shy away from anything risky because they are beholden to the industry’s standards. Violence sells, so game developers rely on violent storylines. Stories about marginalised people who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied and white could alienate the industry’s core audience of straight white men, so are generally avoided. Franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are made by hundreds of employees with budgets of millions of dollars, so concessions are made to increase marketability. In comparison, we have games like Depression Quest, created in 2013 with virtually no budget.
ast year, I wrote a short story called “Time Passed,” based on a crush I held for a classmate in middle school, and about how those feelings continue to affect me a decade later. The story includes real memories from that time, and culminates in a fictional confrontation where I ask him: Do you remember me? Did you know? Did you feel the same way? Key to this story is that it has two endings. After exploring my memories, the reader must decide what is worse, that he and I missed our chance with each other, or that he doesn’t remember me at all.
In Depression Quest (depressionquest.com), players make choices as they navigate the daily life of someone with depression. Players go to work and manage relationships, but some options are closed off depending on how they cope with their mental illness. It’s a powerful metaphor for how depression prevents people from living their lives to their fullest. The game, made by three people using free tools, is available to play at no cost. Because it required no budget, the developers were able to make something that reflected their own experiences without worrying about how it would pay for itself.
My story isn’t a short story in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s interactive fiction, a text-only video game played by following hyperlinks between story passages. Think Choose Your Own Adventure novels, but only digital. Interactive fiction isn’t what
I began writing stories at a young age, and have loved video games for just as long, but two barriers kept me from writing video game stories. The first was a sense of being an outsider to gaming culture. I couldn’t relate to the masculine
THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
protagonists of mainstream video games, and my enjoyment of them was always paired with frustration at what the stories and characters failed to represent. Also, I could not see myself making a game because I never felt welcomed by the gamers. Second, I found the game development process mystifying. I couldn’t begin to imagine everything that went into making my favourite games. I knew it involved coding, but how could I code when I couldn’t even do math? Time Passed and Depression Quest were designed with a program called Twine (twinery.org). Unlike other popular game development programs, Twine is free and requires almost no coding knowledge. Twine opens the game development space to people who can’t access funds or who have little understanding of technology and allows them to develop unique experiences that reflect their lives more accurately than the games they see on store shelves. Finding interactive fiction made in Twine was a revelation. Unabashedly queer textbased games, like Queers in Love at the End of the World or Your Gay Monster Family, proved that my stories would be welcomed, and encouraged me to create games. I want to write a game on a large scale someday. Still, until game development resources become more accessible or major studios are willing to take risks, interactive fiction will remain an outlet for me and many others to tell our stories free of restriction. Davis G. See is a gay Edmontonian. His writing appeared in Vitality Magazine and Crab Fat Magazine, among other publications. He also writes interactive fiction, which can be found at davisgsee. itch.io. See holds a degree in communications.
WESTWORD SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Guidelines for Writers
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COPYRIGHT AND PAYMENT FOR ARTICLES PUBLISHED
• Send your article by email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: “WestWord Article.” • Please use Times New Roman, 12-point font, and double-space and paginate your document. • Name your file as “[Surname]—[Title]” (for example: “Smith—Untitled”). • Attach your submission as .doc or .docx files. • We suggest your article be between 700 and 1,500 words in length.
• We buy first Canadian serial print rights and limited, non-exclusive digital rights; copyright reverts to the author after publication. • Publication occurs within a year of acceptance. • WestWord believes writers should be compensated fairly for their work and pays industry rates for articles.
HOW TO SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR Letters to the editor are welcomed to encourage an exchange of ideas and opinions among members. • Email enquiries to email@example.com with the subject: “WestWord Letter to the Editor.” • The body of your email should contain your name and contact information.
HOW TO SUBMIT A PROPOSAL In addition to commissioned articles, WestWord welcomes unsolicited submissions. • Your proposal should express concisely and coherently the article’s essential elements; how you intend to approach the article; the section of the magazine best suited to the idea; and a summary of your credentials (no CVs please). • Email enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: “WestWord Article Proposal.” • The body of your email should contain your name, contact information, brief biography and outline of your proposal. • WestWord has a small staff. The response time to all proposals will vary.
MEMBER NEWS SUBMISSIONS Writers’ Guild of Alberta members in good standing may submit announcements about book publications, awards won, or other news about their writing life to the Member News section of WestWord. Submit news via email to email@example.com. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
JANUARY – MARCH 2020
MEMBER NEWS Writers’ Guild of Alberta members are encouraged to submit news about their recent publications. Please keep your submission brief—up to 150 words. Content may be edited to conform to WestWord style. Brian Brennan is pleased to announce that after publishing 15 nonfiction books of biography and social history, his first novel, The Love of One’s Country, is now in print. The story, which begins in Ireland and comes to a climax in Canada, tells how one immigrant escaped the famines of the 1840s only to face misery across the sea. An underlying theme is that while Canada has been recognized internationally since the 1960s as a welcoming haven for newcomers seeking a better life, it hasn’t always been that accommodating. During the famine years, Canada only grudgingly accepted a massive influx of Irish refugees because many of them were disease-ridden. The novel is available in paperback and as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and other booksellers. For more information, visit brianbrennan.ca. Pat Buckna announces the publication of his memoir Only Children: A Family Memoir (Maryhill Publishing, 2019). Buckna’s portrayal of his childhood in Calgary in the 1950s and 1960s is filled with unexpected twists resulting from chance encounters. In 1955, a boy stayed with Buckna’s family but soon left; Buckna and the boy didn’t see one another for nearly 40 years. Then Buckna watched his father confront a clerk in a grocery store, who turned out to be another brother, and a young woman introduced herself as his sister. Only Children will be of interest to anyone who grew up in western Canada THE WRITERS’ GUILD OF ALBERTA
in the 1950s and 1960s, people whose parent’s withheld information about siblings or family. Buckna’s insights into relationships, coming-of-age, family and his actions make for a fascinating exploration of a unique and event-filled life. For more information, visit patbuckna.com. Laurel DeedrickMayne has penned the introduction to a re-released edition of her great aunt’s memoir, When Days Are Long: Nurse in the North, published by Caitlin Press, 2019. Amy Wilson’s inspiring memoir is about her life as a field nurse for the Indigenous peoples in the Yukon and Northern B.C., during the 1950s. It provides a startling reminder of how little has changed for Indigenous communities. When Wilson accepted the job of field nurse in 1949, she was told the north was a fine country for men and dogs but that it killed women and horses. Wilson’s territory spanned 518,000 square kilometres and she was responsible for the health of 3,000 people. Still, Wilson was more than just a health care provider. She became an advocate, partner and friend for the community with whom she shared mutual respect, music, medicine and, most of all, with whom she shared her heart. Shelley A. Leedahl and Red Deer Press are pleased to announce that Leedahl’s book, The Moon Watched It All (with illustrator Aino Anto), won gold in the All Ages Picture Book category of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. These awards honour the best annual children’s books published (in English or Spanish) for the North American market. Leedahl is a multigenre writer in Ladysmith, B.C. 26
Bob Tatz announces the release of his memoir, Lost in the Battle for Hong Kong: A Memoir of Survival, Identity and Success 1931–1959. This book throws light on an important period in the history of Hong Kong. The memoir begins in the pre-war British colony, moves through the events of war and the Japanese occupation and ends with the author’s successful career as an engineer. Lost in the Battle for Hong Kong tells an unusual and intriguing story. Following the death of his mother, Tatz finds himself alone at the age of seven. Sustained only by memories of happiness, he’s forced to adjust to life in a boarding school. As war breaks out, he is lost in the streets of Kowloon but welcomed by a group of refugees fleeing the Japanese onslaught. Eventually, opportunities open the way towards significant success in early adult life. Erin Emily Ann Vance’s debut novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers (Stonehouse Publishing) was released in November 2019 to wide acclaim, rocketing to the #1 spot for fiction in the Calgary Herald in its first week and garnering rave reviews in Alberta Views, AntiLang Magazine. Vance is a former WordsWorth supervisor and camper, a WGA Youth Committee member, a past mentee in the WGA mentorship program, and an active member of the Alberta literary community. She was a 2017 recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize and was shortlisted for the 2018 Alberta Magazine Showcase Awards in Fiction.
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