Ben Crowder

Category: BooksPage 2 of 58 (577 posts)

On writing

As I’ve begun blogging again, a voice in my head keeps demanding to know how I dare have the gall to consider my opinions important enough to post online for (an admittedly small sliver of) the world to see.

It’s a persuasive voice, and I see now how often it has silenced me, stifling my words because I am dumb or I have nothing worthwhile to say or I’ll just make a fool of myself or I’ll get in a heated argument and I’m not good at arguments. Its list of reasons is long.

While heated arguments still aren’t worth getting into, I’ve been thinking about what this voice tells me, and I’ve come to the retrospectively obvious realization that it is wrong. It is wrong not because I am important, but because other people are.

I write because someday, something I say may help someone else in some small way, and helping each other is one of the most important things we do here on Earth.

The voice is shouting at me right now that this is ridiculous and that I’m tremendously arrogant to think that my weak writing could possibly help anyone. Perhaps. But I’ve read many things that have changed me, and if others’ writing can do that for me, mine may yet do that for others.

I’m writing this about myself, but of course it’s just as true of everyone else, too.

Queen of the Cruel Sea


As promised, “Queen of the Cruel Sea” is finished and available for reading on the web and in EPUB, Kindle, and PDF. I hope y’all enjoy it. (FYI, the background cover art is Seastorm, a piece I painted a few years ago.)

I’m still waking up early every morning to write, which is the only reason this story is finished instead of having fallen by the wayside like so many other stories and novels I’ve begun. So that’s good — I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing. Expect many more stories and poems and novels in the years to come.

And now that this is out the door (even though it’s not October 1 yet), my sabbatical has officially begun. Farewell till February!

Queen of the Cruel Sea first draft

Today I finished the first draft of “Queen of the Cruel Sea,” clocking in at just over 11,000 words. Not terribly long, but this happens to be the first time I’ve stuck with writing long enough to produce a full draft of a piece of fiction longer than a few pages. (I’m not counting Out of Time, my pathetic NaNoWriMo novel from 2007.)

My routine of waking up early to write each morning is working well, as is the outlining process. Getting the story finished by the end of the month shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Card on education

I liked this bit from Orson Scott Card’s August 14 Uncle Orson Reviews Everything column (I’ve edited out some of his bold formatting, and thanks to Liz Busby for the link):

The upper division college English students I teach are almost uniform in their ignorance of how to think logically, avoid fallacy, support or refute an idea with evidence, or even develop coherent ideas in clear English sentences.

The exceptions are almost all students who were home-schooled, or who come from homes where the parents read books and discuss ideas and facts and history and news with their children.

What can you do about this, short of home-schooling your children?

Read books and discuss ideas and facts and history and news with your children.

You have no idea of how much power parents have, compared to mere teachers. You can raise open-minded, skeptical, well-educated children just by keeping your own educational process alive … and talking about it at home.


Project Gitenberg

Project Gitenberg is a project to take Project Gutenberg texts and put them on GitHub for better version control and issue tracking. As they say on the site, this allows for cool things like using post-commit hooks to automatically generate EPUB and PDF files whenever a change is committed to the book repository. And pull requests are nice for submitting changes. (Nicer than an email with a changelist? I don’t know. But the coder part of me is excited about this.) Thanks to Tod Robbins for the heads up.

If/when I get back into making ebooks, I’ll most likely do something similar to this and put the source files up on GitHub.

Speaking of making ebooks: For about a year now I’ve been mulling around an idea for an md2epub replacement called Caxton that would make it easier to publish ebooks — particularly, inheritance of styles throughout a series, plugins, and a templating language. I’ll talk more about it when it’s closer to being done.

Chesterton on being broad-minded

A good bit from chapter 20 of G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics:

Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

A writing update

Lately I’ve started getting up early to write (long experience having shown that that’s the only way that works for me), which hopefully will result in some finished stories and eventually novels in the nearish future. I’m also now listing current projects at the top of my writing page, for what it’s worth.

My current project is tentatively called “Queen of the Cruel Sea.” It began life as a brief scene I wrote when I was playing around with Cathode a couple years ago. Since then I’ve tinkered with the story every few months, getting to 11,000 words written on it last year, but plot issues forced me to start over. Between that first brief scene and this current draft, only the title remains the same. The story is, however, much better, I think. I’ve written around 4,300 words so far, with three scenes down and five to go. (Assuming things don’t change too drastically with the outline as I get further along. I’ve already had to revise the outline in some substantial ways based on how the first three scenes went.)

This also marks my first time trying a variation on Rachel Aaron’s technique. First I write a high-level outline (beginning, end, and then middle to connect the two) and revise it a few times till I’m happy enough to move forward. I then go through each scene, writing a very detailed paragraph-by-paragraph outline including dialogue, and then I write the full scene.

So far, it’s working well. Figuring out the detailed outline before I write the actual words has been a huge help, making it far easier for me to see and fix issues (and so more quickly). It’s like figuring out an algorithm in pseudocode before actually writing the code. I recommend it.

Anyway, after I finish and release “Cruel Sea” (by the end of September, a deadline I just made up because I need something solid to work towards), I’m planning to start writing novels instead of shorter works, beginning with a science fiction standalone. And of course plans are subject to revision, same as my plots. And life, though not quite in the same way.

A slightly different kind of ebook

Turns out reading PDFs of old books (from Google Books, Internet Archive, etc.) on my iPhone works out reasonably well. For example:


On the left is the fully zoomed out page. Indoors, I’m able to read it without too much difficulty, though my eyes do thank me when I zoom in (as on the right). The problem with zooming, however, is that navigating to the next page then requires more swiping, and, at least in iBooks, you have to zoom in again every time you turn the page.

After a bit of this, I got to wondering what it would be like to typeset an iPhone-sized PDF, designed specifically to be read on a phone. Here’s how it turned out (and this is a proof of concept, nothing too polished):


The pages are set at 7.573×4.267″, which I arrived at by taking 1136×640 (iPhone screen dimensions in pixels) and dividing by 150. Arbitrary, but it worked out well enough. And the text is at 16 points on the left and 18 on the right. (Also arbitrary, but dependent on the page size, of course.)

The PDFs:

The main advantage to a foolhardy scheme like this is full typographic control — margins, fonts, layout (important for poetry), tracking, etc., all without worrying about limitations of ebook readers. I could try to do something about widows and orphans, for instance, though I didn’t do that with this proof of concept.

The downside is that it’s custom-tailored to the dimensions of the iPhone 5S, and on other devices it wouldn’t fit as perfectly. Not necessarily a dealbreaker, though.

Is it worth pursuing? No idea. One of these days I’ll set a full book this way and try reading it on my phone to see how it compares.

New Harry Potter short story

J. K. Rowling has released a new short story featuring Harry Potter later in life. A sample from the middle:

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: ‘We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.’ So what are they hiding? Is the Chosen One embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem?

Apparently Rowling has been writing other Harry Potter-related stories on Pottermore for the past few months, but this is the first one to feature Harry himself.