What Makes a Good Book?

Lucy and Mr. Tummus from Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”
-C.S. Lewis

Writing Quotes: Seth Godin


“Any project that’s been held up in general fear-based polishing is the victim of a crime because you’re stealing that perfect work from a customer who will benefit from it. You’re holding back the good stuff from the people who need it, afraid of what the people who don’t will say.” Seth Godin

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: The German Romantics


“Wanderer Above the Sea Fog” (1818) Caspar David Friedrich

The German Romantics were pretty awesome. Their style of writing and thinking set in motion a key literary, art, and philosophical movement.

The German Romantics were also particularly practical folks. Not only did they want to write but they also wanted to remain in society and make a living. Which meant that almost all of them held some of the most “unwritely” jobs possible.

Goethe, whose The Sorrows of Young Werther kicked off Romanticism, was a statesman. E.T.A. Hoffman, author of “The Golden Pot,” “The Sandman,” and “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was a judge. Novalis, the brilliant poet who died at the age of 24, managed a quarry. And these positions were not unimportant to them. Indeed, Goethe, Hoffman, and the unfortunate Novalis worked hard at their day jobs, and then went home to write at night.

In a world bent on specialization—the idea that we can only be really good at one thing—we often forget that this specialization is a new phenomenon. That writers have very rarely ever been only writers, and that people can be highly talented in vastly different ways and enjoy all that they do. So, like the German Romantics, don’t limit yourself and enjoy life to the fullest. (And, if you can, do it all while taking the literary world by storm.)

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Diana Wynne Jones


As with many authors, Diana Wynne Jones discovered storytelling as a child. The eldest daughter of rather strict parents, she and her two younger sisters were allowed to read nothing more than the classics, histories, and the like. So, to entertain herself and her sisters, Jones started to create her own stories. Acting as a Scheherazade, she would write a new installment to a story in the day and then read it to her sisters at night, perpetually keeping them at the edge of their seats.

After Jones grew up, went to Oxford—where she studied English under the great Lewis and Tolkien—and got married, she stopped creating stories for a span of time. Then, stressful and hectic circumstances caused her to return to the worlds of her imaginations in order to stay sane.

And it stuck. From that point until her death, she wrote and published and wrote. Jones became one of the top names in children’s fantasy, her wild imagination influencing other authors, such as Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, and Megan Whalen Turner.

What makes her writing so wonderful, though, was her education in the classics as a child. Reading Chaucer, Piers Plowman, and Spenser left her with a fertile imagination and a wide knowledge base from which to pull ideas. This meant that incorporated into every novel were ancient ideas that then enriched the twists and turns of Jones’ stories. This, in turn, make her concepts highly unique and always fascinating.

But this could only be because she loved to tell stories.

Which is what being a writer is really all about.

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Will Eisner

As with many of the great names in comics, Will Eisner began his career in the Golden Age with his action hero the Spirit. He worked on this project from 1940-1945 and then disappeared.

Well, he didn’t really disappear, he just quietly slipped out of the world of comics to work for the United States military illustrating service manuals and the like. Then, after his thirty-three year hiatus, Eisner returned and published A Contract With God.

A series of four vignettes dealing with Jewish life in the 1930s, A Contract With God was an influential work that helped to bring the idea to the public that comics can be about more than superheroes in tights. (This is not to say that there hadn’t been independent comics prior to Contract, but they were not so much in the public eye as Eisner’s work.) The first book length comic to term itself a graphic novel, Contract was, and is, considered groundbreaking as it deals with themes of ethnicity, anger, irony, and the confusion of life (among other things) without any breaks into fantasy or childish themes.

But Contract wasn’t created because Eisner wanted to radically transform the world of comics. It was written and drawn because he lost his daughter. Contract is, above all else, Eisner’s way of coming to terms with the passing of a beloved child. It was his method for reconciling himself with God after a major tragedy affected his life.

After Contract, Eisner went on to teach sequential art and become one of the most respected names in the comics industry. But without his drive to work through his pain in art, to break the prescribed formula for comics and novels, and the need to create meaningful art, Eisner would only be the man who created the Spirit, and we would have lost a great work.

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys at window

Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams grew up in the Caribbean on the island of Dominica. As a teenager, she was sent to Britain to be educated, and it was in Europe where she spent the majority of her adult life. Somewhere along the way, Ella Williams transformed into the writer Jean Rhys. This change, however, did little to alter her unease over something intensely related to her birthplace: how she read Jane Eyre. Told to like it because it was (is) a great work by a female author, she could accept all but one thing: Bertha Mason.

Like Rhys, Bertha Mason–the secret, mad wife of Mr. Rochester–is Creole. The depiction of Creole femininity as fierce and almost mannish disturbed Rhys. She had known Creole women of wealth and class—as Bertha is described—growing up. She was one of those women. She could not stand behind Brontë’s depiction of what she considered herself to be.

So, to set the record straight, she wrote Wide Sargasso Sea. An unauthorized prequel to Jane Eyre, Rhys’ novel makes Bertha a main character and the heart of the story. To further revamp the image of the “mad woman in the attic,” Rhys gave the character the more feminine name Antoinette, exposed the issues and stereotypes that confronted Creole womanhood when she was a child, and purposefully drew parallels between the lives of Antoinette and Brontë’s Jane in order to highlight the divergence of the characters’ lives (tragic and happy). With the publication of Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ career was reexamined and she gained a seat in the literary canon.

Whether or not Rhys’ and Brontë’s novels can actually be paired together is up to the individual reader. However, no one can deny that Rhys used the process of creative adaptation to fashion something uniquely her own that adds to her readers’ worldviews, which is in and of itself an amazing feat.

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Dr. John Polidori

The Vampyre Book Cover

Most know the story of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein. As she, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Lord Byron spent their days in the Swiss Alps rediscovering their favorite Gothic novels, they decided to try their hands at the dying genre. From this endeavor, the world gained Frankenstein. And the very first piece of vampire fiction. Or at least it was inspired during this time.

Among the party, was Lord Byron’s doctor, John Polidori. Not only a private physician, Polidori was also a Romantic author in his own right. During the days of practicing the art of Gothic fiction, Byron wrote “A Fragment of a Novel” and then tossed it aside. Eventually, Polidori was also cast out of Byron’s service and he returned to England. There, he remembered some of Byron’s story and gradually changed it into a short tale—the first to contain vampirism in fiction—called “The Vampyre.”

Prior to Polidori’s story, there were only a few short articles in newspapers and in books that discussed vampires at all. Once his short story was published, these creatures of the night became a popular literary trope, particularly for Gothic authors. And, since his work was the first to actively explore the idea of the vampire in modern literature, he set the first guidelines for what vampires were and were not. “The Vampyre” went on to inspire many later novelists, namely Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu whose novella Carmilla was the primary source text for Bram Stoker’s more renowned Dracula.

Even though Polidori did not fully received credit for his story at the time (it was attributed to Byron), his imagination has gone on to inspire very good (and very bad) fiction. Why? All because a group of writers decided to play with one of their favorite genres, and Polidori later decided to flesh out unfinished ideas into something new.

Note: There was a lack of a proper update last week as I was attending an Air Force BMT graduation. Got to see my Airman First Class! Hua!

Visual Artists Your Copyright is in Danger

A note about proposed copyright changes that affect visual artists. Please take the time to read and say something.


It is important that if you ever expect to reuse your copyrighted work as a way to make a living that you respond to this Notice. They have explicity asked for artist’s comments on the proposed changes. But time is short. If you have not seen previous notices on this action, now it the time to write.

The Congressional machinery is at it again after a 8 year hiatus. The Copyright office is drafting a new Copyright Act. A major part of this revision is designed to break loose the use of your copyrighted art. Large internet firms and lawyers devoted to free culture on the internet are pushing this. Members of the Guild are writing letters. We need you to write one as well.

The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators is a member of the American Society of Illustrators Partnership, and is supporting the efforts to inform lawmakers about the damage that can be done to artist’s ability to conduct successful businesses.

Read more about this issue

Artists Alert: From the Illustrators Partnership
The Return of Orphan Works

The new recommendations would resurrect the failed Orphan Works Act of 2008. But there are new proposals that go far beyond Orphan Works.

The Copyright Office says that these artists’ issues are also “ripe” for legislation: copyright small claims, resale royalties, and other forms of secondary licensing which most artists have never heard of.

The deadline is THIS THURSDAY: July 23, 2015

American artists can submit their letters online here.
Non-U.S. artists can email their letters to the attention of:

Catherine Rowland
Senior Advisor to the Register of Copyrights
U.S. Copyright Office

Read the Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry.

Read the 2015 Orphan Works and Mass Digitization Report.

Because of our past opposition to orphan works legislation, the Copyright Office has issued a special Notice of Inquiry on Visual Works. In it, they acknowledge that visual artists face special problems in the marketplace and they’ve asked artists to respond to five questions:

1. What are the most significant challenges related to monetizing and/or licensing photographs, graphic artworks, and/or illustrations?

2. What are the most significant enforcement challenges for photographers, graphic artists, and/or illustrators?

3. What are the most significant registration challenges for photographers, graphic artists, and/or illustrators?

4. What are the most significant challenges or frustrations for those who wish to make legal use of photographs, graphic art works, and/or illustrations?

5. What other issues or challenges should the Office be aware of regarding photographs, graphic artworks, and/or illustrations under the Copyright Act?

And we might suggest a 6th question of our own:

6. What are the most significant challenges artists would face if these new copyright proposals become law?

Since most artists have never written to lawmakers before, many of you have asked us for sample letters.

It is important that the Copyright Office receive unique letters.

Eight artists have provided their letters to inspire you to write. The letters are poignant examples written respectfully by artists telling their own unique story about their experience and concerns:

Letter 1: “I’m writing to stress that for me, and for artists like me, copyright law is not an abstract legal issue. Our copyrights are our assets. Licensing them is how we make our livings.” Read more.

Letter 2: “As a freelance illustrator, I need to maintain revenue streams in order to make a living for my family. The resale of my past images is part of my day to day way of doing business.” Read more.

Letter 3: “My art is reasonably well known since it has served the advertising, editorial, public relations and historical documentation needs of the aerospace industry, publications, the military services and air and space museums for 68 years.” Read more.

Letter 4: “I am writing to you as an award winning professional illustrator of over 40 years whose work has appeared in many major publications, books and advertisements, both nationally and internationally.” Read more.

Letter 5: “I have been a professional medical illustrator since 1975, and self-employed since 1981. During the course of my career, I have created thousands of illustrations…” Read more.

Letter 6: “Copyright is the basis of my income and ability to support my business. It is the only way I have to protect the accuracy and integrity of my work, and to negotiate an appropriate fee for re-licensing.” Read more.

Letter 7: “My specialty area is fetal development and women’s health illustration…The protection of these images is of utmost importance to my livelihood, and I have struggled to fight the rampant piracy of them, especially by political groups.” Read more.

Letter 8: “I am writing to ask that you create policy to protect visual authors and their exclusive rights, and support a sustainable environment for professional authorship. Read more.

Remember no one is asking you to write a legal brief. Copyright law is a business law, and the lawyers writing these laws know little or nothing about our business.

Let’s explain to them how the laws they’re writing will affect us.
– Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner for the Board of the Illustrators’ Partnership

Pass this on to other artists you may know in other organizations.
-Britt Griswold, GNSI VP

Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Robert Louis Stevenson


For the remainder of the summer, we will be addressing writing topics—such as rewriting, criticism, etc.—through anecdotal evidence. After all, while it’s nice to discuss topics theoretically, it’s much more interesting to learn about how real writers tackled different issues. The first case study is Scottish Victorian author and globetrotter, Robert Louis Stevenson.

During the December of 1885, Stevenson had a nightmare that chilled him to the core. It took him back to his days as university student in Edinborough where he’d been a model student by day and an experiencer of life by night. In the dream, however, Stevenson was not one person living a double life, but physically two people, living two lives—a metamorphosis made possible by ingesting a chemical compound.

The moment Stevenson woke—his dream still burning in his mind—he began to write. Three days of feverish writing later, he completed the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This is where things get interesting. Stevenson asked his wife Fanny to read the finished draft, wanting to receive her input. And her judgment was anything but encouraging. Fanny declared the story to be simply horrible and that it meant nothing. Accepting her evaluation, Stevenson promptly threw the draft into the fire.

Since we all know the story of Jekyll and Hyde, we can assume that Stevenson did not give up on his dream story even after incinerating the first draft. Almost immediately, Stevenson set to work again. This new draft was finished four days later. And three days after that, he completed the final revisions as his publisher began preparing for a January debut of the novella.

And the rest, as they say, was history. Jekyll and Hyde became an instant popular and critical success, which continues to define our notions of monstrosity to this day. All because Stevenson listened to some harsh criticism and refused to give up.

But what do you think?