Thursday, April 26, 2012

This Book is Top-Shelf

I just got the exciting news that The War Master's Daughter will be included in Smashword's Premium Distribution Catalog. This increases the book's availability to a variety of outlets, including 32 foreign countries. But most exciting is that it will be available as an iBook as soon as next week! Having recently succumbed to the siren's call that is the iPad, I know this is a market I want to be in. TWMD eBook may also soon be coming to a library near you! Make sure to request it at your local branch.

But in the interim, the eBook is available in a variety of tablet-friendly formats, including for the Kindle Reader. And if you download from Smashwords, you can get your copy for 67% off the list price--this week only! Use coupon code SK65L.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Intellectual Pleasures of Draw Something

My coworker told me, “Download Draw Something and watch your next 3 hours disappear.” I did exactly that, marveling that anything save heroin and cigarettes could be quite as addictive as purported. Like 14 million other users, I was immediately and almost irreparably hooked on the game, which is a colorful, capacitive-screen update of the classic Pictionary.

At first I was rather rudimentary in my drawings—turning out good-enough hieroglyphs for friends and strangers to guess. Then I took a turn with an especially creative friend who rendered me a werewolf with more character than you see on a CBS sitcom. Then on tumblr, I stumbled upon some truly inspired Drawn Somethings. I suddenly realized this game could be so much more. To paraphrase a statement I read online but cannot readily source, “Draw Something is like commissioning tiny paintings from my friends.” Once I got an iPad, I reveled in going completely overboard to render something simple.

My hours on Draw Something have yet to rival Angry Birds levels of obsessiveness, but I admit to spending more than a healthy amount of time playing. All this time has got me thinking about why this game fascinates me so much. Its addictive properties are well documented, but my brain has been tickling: Does the game get in touch with something deeper about our minds and our culture? And why do I like it so darn much. So here is some of what Draw Something represents to me.

The Psychology of Symbolism

I’m a classically trained artist. The number one rule drilled into my head during my decade and a half of arts education was not to symbolize. In other words, draw what you see not what you think you see. Eschewing symbolism was tremendous for my ability to render from reality, allowing me to excel in portraiture.

But symbolism is exactly what makes art so communicative. It’s why we can communicate with images that are not photographs—paintings, cartoons, and Draw Something doodles alike. Our brains combine information from various sources to create a unified interpretation of an image, even if we have never seen that image before. Certain shapes, colors, objects, etc. signify meaning within and among cultures.

Much of this symbolism is learned, through experience, education, and acculturation. This aspect of Draw Something fascinated me because it emphasized how I share intellectual and cultural development with other people (more on this in a bit). But even more fascinating to me is our shared ability to interpret symbols even beyond what we are taught. For example, it takes just three marks to make a face.


It doesn't look anything like a face; however, the signifier is undeniable. But it’s not something we’re taught, like the Pythagorean Theorum; it’s actually a skill we’re born with. Babies can recognize faces (as distinct from non-faces) at just 3 months old. Moreover, studies demonstrate that humans have a unique, inherited, genetic ability to recognize faces where none should reasonably exist.

Intellectually, we know this

  looks absolutely nothing like this

But our evolutionary instincts take over and translate the symbol—in case, you know, that face is someone trying to steal your food or kill your young. It’s also why all three of these examples work equally well to convey meaning:

In a strange way, I feel like Draw Something is letting me connect with other people on a more basic level—while also connecting with them on a more complex level, which brings me to:

Personalities, Predilections Revealed

When symbols are not hardwired in our brains, diversity in interpretation becomes the challenge, with varying degrees of severity. Symbols have vastly changed over time. Think about the cross, which was once a symbol of a terrifying death, or the Nazi swastika, which once symbolized peace and harmony. With sharing-propelled pop culture, signifiers changes even faster. And that’s part of the fun.

Playing Draw Something with a diverse group of people can make the lowest common denominator of symbol rise to the top. Take the clue “Easter.”  It’s interesting that most of my teammates drew a bunny and eggs. One friend drew the stone rolled away from the tomb. The word “wreck,” as another example, is a free-for-all.

The interpretation a person chooses tells so much about their personality that couldn’t quite be seen any other way. It’s a peek inside the way they interpret words, and moreover, the way they think you interpret words. It’s a melding of the mind, like Stephen King’s “mind-reading trick” in On Writing.

Going the other way, you have to know your audience. For me, a big part of the fun is choosing an interpretation that will hopefully provide a big of amusement for my partner, as well as get a correct guess. And I definitely tend to land on the “obscurer the better” end of the spectrum. I am proud to have friends for whom I could draw something like this and get a correct answer:

For others, it would look a lot more like this:

I recently realized through a number of contextual clues that one of my DS partners was likely British. A brief mental retrospective over our 72-turn streak made me wonder if I would have drawn anything differently if I had realized that earlier. Then again, I probably don’t even know what he might not know. I like to have to second-guess what I may lazily consider universal; it reminds me that the world is a lot bigger than I am.

The Absence of Words

I mentioned above that I have substantial art training, but by trade I am a writer. I read and manipulate words all day long, nearly every day. A forum, no matter how small, where I cannot use any words at all to communicate is like a tiny brain oasis.

Definitely part of the fun for me is eschewing ALL letters and numbers in favor of images and symbols only. It’s the absence of language, which is at once uniting and dividing. Remove language, and you remove a lot of the barriers to communication. In my professional life, I write business proposals and we strive to convey as much information in graphics rather than in words for the very simple reason that graphics are more efficient for communicating certain types of information.

Of course, part of the point of Draw Something is that it’s inefficient. While there are no documented rules, many hardliners pooh-pooh any use of words (or actively call it out). For my part, I never use words, letters, or numbers, but I won’t quit a game with someone just because they do—unless it’s seriously blatant. Because what’s the fun in this?

The second part of the joy I get in the absence of words is that communication is absolutely reduced to the task at hand—at least until the latest update. Previously, your drawing had to speak for itself. And the only praise you got was a correct guess. If you felt really compelled to applaud your partner for a particular mini-masterpiece, you could squiggle out an awkward “Awesome!” with your finger, then trash the drawing and get onto the task. But that was it. It felt elementary—rudimentary and joyful as finger painting. But in the days of the like button, endless streams of comments, and retweeting, I think we’ve all gone a little too far in our hunger for e-validation. Draw Something was a little respite from the constant approval mongering. Which brings me to…

The Joy of Creating in a Vacuum

If I spent a lot of extra time drawing a really special “Lennon” for you, it was because I wanted to do that—for you and for myself. Because it was hopefully a little highlight to both of our days. Sure, I may dash off a quick “bride” before I go to sleep. But in large part, I try to spend some time on my little doodles. There’s no countdown clock, no extra coins for getting done faster. In a world where everything seems reduced to its most streamlined 140 characters, where every task seems multitasked, it’s nice for me to slow down while I’m drawing for you—and for you to slow down while you watch me draw it.

More than that, the drawings used to disappear as soon as they were sent. Sure, you could capture a screenshot (and many have) but that wasn’t really in the spirit of things. For the most part, the “tiny paintings” were a fleeting pleasure, shared between you and your DS partner. I was disappointed that the update not only lets you save your drawings, but has buttons for sharing them on the social network. The small pleasure of creating in a vacuum, just for the sheer joy of doing it, has been reduced like so many other things as a means to get attention.

The changes brought about by the update  didn’t surprise me—especially after the OMGPOP CEO showed his true colors, comparing DS to Information Age behemoths AOL and Facebook. His true motive (not that I blame him) is to sell as many apps as possible to demanding consumers who have had their tastes cultivated for them by the prevailing social media, not to preserve a neat little microcosm of culture—pop and otherwise. 

But I still love the game, and I’ll still play for all the reasons cited above. But I’m keeping it between you and me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

I stumbled across this gem of an article today. It is a take-off of a feature article about me and my book that ran in my high school newspaper, The Cry of the Hawk. As a friend pointed out, it appears to have been translated into another language, then translated back into English through an automated app, like Google Translate. I wonder if this is a technique employed by spammy sites like Online-Degree-Diploma to drive traffic to themselves, while skirting outright plagiarism?

I don't quite understand. However I am beyond amused. There is indeed some poignant wisdom in this weird translation, sort of like a bad fortune cookie dictum.
Writing a main division is a severe try for some determined author, as well as Zupko’s put confidence in was no different. In Apr 2011 she submitted to thirty agents, athwart twenty of them returned a mean form of rejection. Zupko said, “If a solitary chairman is starting to confirm a predestine of my book, it is starting to be me.” She did have it chance.
In the words of another friend, "When a content farm bot is translating and then untranslating and then republishing your high school newspaper's article about you, you know you've made it." 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview at ARQ

The lovely Kelly Leard, blogger at Alien Red Queen and now at To the Controller, has given me even more ink. Check out our virtual interview on the topics of indie publishing and The War Master's Daughter.
"The best way I’ve found to avoid writer’s block is to work obsessively and compulsively […] limited periods of time. I value quantity over quality. Quality will come with time and practice. But you can’t fake quantity. The words will never write themselves. I set ridiculous goals for myself so that I’m so busy with writing, I don’t have time to second-guess what I’ve written. . . ." [read more]
The best part? Getting to cast the book. A lot harder than I thought it would be! Kelly offers up her own selections as well. Who do you see playing Aurora, Storey, and all the others? We're still looking for a great Dymphna!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lucky 7 Blogfest

Rance Denton just tagged me over at The Action Prose for the Lucky 7 Blogfest. I'm so glad too, because, like Rance, I've been so busy writing, revising, marketing, and doing all sorts of authorly stuff, that SYEWW has been stalled. This is a great, fun excuse for a post. And the best part is that it doesn't take too much brain power, because writing, revising, marketing, and doing all sorts of authorly stuff doesn't leave you with much mental horsepower.

I have two simultaneous works in progress (to assuage my two different personalities, obviously), so I thought I'd treat you all to bits from both. The rules for Lucky 7 appear after the excerpts.

Excerpt from page 7 of Bugged:

Finally swallowing, he said, “You’re right. Not everything is different to everyone. Most sensation is linked to physiognomy. So barring some genetic anomaly, we basically see the same, smell the same, taste the same.” Swish, swish. “But of course, not you, Richard the Supertaster.” Sometimes he had to flatter Richard to make sure he was still listening.
“I can’t help it if I have access to thirty percent more taste buds than you.” Richard flicked his pink tongue out over his fat bottom lip. Ever the sucker for old fashioned flirtation.
“But there is so much about perception that isn’t actually linked to the physical sensory organs. Things that are linked to the intangible, emotions, gut feelings. You perceive fear, but that doesn’t always stem from physical stimuli. You can’t even always explain it. What scares you might be nothing to me, and vice versa.”

Excerpt from page 77 of [untitled] cozy mystery, to be mysteriously published under a mysterious pseudonym:

“Couldn’t he just be someone you know?” I ask. I take a sip of my drink and I actually like it. But it’s strong, really strong, and I promise myself not to have another. “I’m sorry. I mean, are you sure you want to talk about this?”
“Absolutely!” she says emphatically. “I confess I had ulterior motives to inviting you over. Sometimes, I just need to vent. And Maury’s pretty much put a gag order on me about the whole thing. He thinks media attention just fuels this guy. And Maury’s not the type of person you can sit down and have a heart-to-heart with.” She whispers confidentially, “I need a girl to talk to.”

Funny that both random excerpts are one-on-one dialog during the course of drinking alcohol. I hope I'm not becoming . . . samey. Seriously, though, these works couldn't be more different. Just a neat coincidence.

The way the Lucky 7 blogfest works is this: 1) If you’re tagged in a post by an author, you can choose to take part (which I hope you do!); 2) Go to page 7 or 77 of your current work-in-progress, go down to the 7th line, and post on your blog the next (approximately) seven lines! It’s as simple as that. 3) Remember not to cheat! Don’t pick a part you think will be engaging; don’t edit; just post it, show the raw, unedited truth of a writer’s first draft; and 4) Tag some of those writers you know would be wiling to show a bit of their creativity.

I'm tagging seven of my friends who write, and who I know--or hope--have a current WIP. I hope you'll respond on your blog or a Facebook note!

Kelly Leard
Jes Goodyear
Laura Bogart
Gavin St. Ours
Shauna Kelley
Jenna Morton-Aiken
Josh Munro

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another Positive Review!

Blogs are picking up on The War Master's Daughter!

Check out the review on Alien Red Queen:

"But probably what is the most impressive about this debut novel is Zupko’s use of smooth transition between past and present as a technique for controlling the pace and plot development of the story. Though the cast of characters is fairly small, given the isolated nature of the main character’s predicament, and this makes it easier to discern possible plot twists, Zupko still manages to surprise and engage the reader.  She manages what could have been a rather standard and boring storybook ending – 'and they all lived happily ever after' – in a way that leaves the reader something to ponder.  I genuinely didn’t want the story to end.
"The War Master’s Daughter is likely the beginning of what I hope is a long and prosperous career in fiction for Elly Zupko, and well worth a read." [read more...]

The book continues to get positive reviews on Amazon, maintaining 5 stars. Check out what people are saying!