First thoughts on iBooks Author

I downloaded iBooks Author and I've played around with inputting a fairly crunchy eBook I happened to have recently created, using other production tools. (That's A New Shakespearean Poem, for those of you who have been following this blog.  ANSP has footnotes, verse, and all sorts of non-standard goodies.)

First, it is lovely and easy to use.  I never want to use another production tool.  I tried using PDF input, just to see what horrors would ensue.  Mercy, it worked, though I had to re-format italics, some special formatting (verse), and footnotes.

It also takes Word as input, although I haven't played around with that yet.

Author has templates. You can drag files into the system, pour them into a template, and add interactive elements, such as movies.  Keynote files can be dragged in.  If you can write Javascript and HTML, you can create your own interactive widgets.

Among the other goodies:
  • Glossary creation tool
  • Automatic tables of contents
  • Every-word dictionary definition
  • Slideshows, video, 3D molecule viewing, whatever you like, with a single image for placeholder

Both iBooks and iBooks Author are free. iBooks Author was something like a 165MB download and runs reasonably well in my not-too-high-powered MacBook Air.

“The world will be filled to the sky with easy-to-make but terrible books,” a blogger comments.  “And any individual book will be lost in a sea of crap.”

There is a new Textbooks area in iTunes, and several textbooks are already there, as well as Al Gore's book.

Bloggers are already making the negative points that
  • A good book still takes significant money to produce, especially if it contains interactive elements (Al Gore’s book cost over $1M).
  • It's far from clear how much less a textbook will really cost.  Only 13% of textbook costs are actual post-master production costs
  • ...or how it will be maintained (iTexts belong to the owner for life, and as we all know, maintenance is a big expense)
  • ...or whether this won't widen the gap between haves and have-nots in education (yes, especially in K-12 school districts)
  • ...and many more issues

But Apple is clearly aiming to shake up, not just educational publishing, but education.  Their market strategy is to link iTexts with iTunes U--which will allow professors to link directly from the book to podcasted lectures on iTunes U.

More fun all the time.


My Arisia schedule

Arisia is one of the leading SF/anime/gaming conventions in the country, and it takes place in Boston, at the Westin Waterfront, Jan 13-16.  You want to be there. 

I certainly will be.  Here's my schedule:

Interstitial Fiction: Dancing Between Genres     Griffin     Fri 7:00 PM
With Joy Marchand, John Bowker, Julia Rios, Erik Amundsen
Interstitial fiction is writing made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It crosses borders, written by people who refuse to be constrained by category labels. Some favorite examples will be discussed here.

Reading: Palmer, Smith & Schneyer     Quincy    Fri 10:00 PM
Authors Suzanne Palmer, Sarah Smith, and Ken Schneyer will read selections from their works.  There will be chocolate.
Folks:  What should I read from?  You have your choice:  THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK, a bit out of the Shakespeare poem, or something from the new TITANIC book.  (No, it's not finished yet.  Grrr.  Don't bother me.)

So, What's New?   Griffin     Sat 10:00 AM 
With James Cambias, Jeff Hecht, Shira Lipkin, Judah Sher
Nanotechnology is now an industry. Cloned animals can be bought online. Robots are getting smarter and more lifelike. Science is telling us that the future could be different in ways (vanished glaciers, droughts and floods, and reduced biodiversity) that are materializing perhaps even faster than AI and the Singularity. Is science fiction paying proper attention to the best information available on the future? What is new and on the horizon that SF should look out for? How could it change SF?

Panel in the Pool    In the hotel pool, duh   Sat 11:30 AM
With Jeff Warner, Michelle d'Entremont
What would life be like on an entirely aqueous planet? Could intelligent life evolve? What about space-faring intelligence? Come discuss such questions in our own aqueous environment of the hotel pool. Swimsuits required!
I have absolutely nothing interesting to say on this panel (I think)--but fun is fun.

Don't Quit Your Day Job    Adams    Sat 1:00 PM
With Suzanne Palmer, KT Pinto, Jennifer Pelland, and Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate
Hal Clement, Alice Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr), and so many other authors kept working their mundane jobs while writing. What can a day job bring to your art? Should going full time be the goal?
Clearly, this is the Panel of Persons whose name begins with a P.
Don't quit your day job.  Honest.  Get a day job you like and share your successes with your friends there.

Writer's Clinic    Otis    Sat 4:00 PM
With Barry Longyear, Elaine Isaak, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Resa Nelson
Have you hit a road block in the writing of your story? Are the characters not acting the way you want them to? Do your action scenes read more like exposition? Do you have questions on dialogue? At this small, informal, information session, authors answer your questions with an eye toward getting your story unstuck. Sign-up will be at the con and limited to 10 people.
This should be GREAT.  Barry, Elaine, and Resa are all wonderful editors--I don't know Genevieve yet.  I'm not so bad myself.

Winter Is Coming      Douglas    Sat 5:30 PM
With Dyschordia, Night Stalker, Tim Lieder, and Randee Dawn
George R.R. Martin's *A Song of Ice and Fire* is a blockbuster in every way. Come discuss the biggest series in fantasy (literally)! We'll be discussing the series through *A Dance With Dragons,* so 'ware the spoilers!

Self-Publishing Snares     Hancock    Sat 8:30 PM
With Raven Kaldera, Gordon Linzner, Jaime Garmendia, Everett Soares
What are the things you need to look out for when self-publishing? Do you really need an editor, cover artist, or graphic designer? If so, how do you find them? Who are the reputable companies to deal with and which are the ones to avoid? How do you know?
Learn about HTML5.  Learn about writers' cooperatives.  This could be your future.
(See also the Autograph Session with Gordon and me on Sunday.)

At the Project Backup table   Sun 10 AM-12 noon
The Project aims to make help against harassment visible and available, to create safer environments, to help women to support other women and men to challenge other men. We are specifically interested in making sff, anime, comic, and other cons safer spaces.
Thanks for organizing this, Shira Lipkin!

Autograph - Lieder, Linzner, & Smith    Galleria - Autograph Space Writing   Sun 1:00 PM
Autograph session with Tim Lieder, Gordon Linzner and Sarah Smith.
Two of us were on the Saturday self-publishing panel, and Gordon has been publisher of Space & Time Magazine for 40 years, so drop by and talk some more about self-publishing.  Get a bookmark signed.  Have some more chocolate.

The Future of School     Otis  Sun 2:30 PM
With Wraithe, Sean Sullivan, Ovid, Mike Bonet
Science fiction writers have often written about changes that technology might make to education, from the students "desks" in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game to Heinlein's observations and critiques of education in his juvenile fiction. What kinds of alternate education exist now? How does emerging technology effect the learners of tomorrow? Will school still be out for summer?
I'm talking more about education, which is going to be one of the big innovation drivers of the 21st century. My day job is with Pearson, the leading innovator of educational solutions--and I love my day job.


ANONYMOUS: See it twice

So now we come to ANONYMOUS, with perhaps a better idea of where it fits in the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

I liked this movie a lot.  It's a beautiful and splendidly acted film, and considerably more intelligent than it is likely to be given credit for.

How much does it prove about the authorship?  It proves nothing.  It's fiction; it wants to tell a story, and it tells a ripping good one.

Roland Emmerich knows how to create spectacle and outdoes himself here.  Every single frame has something for fans of the Elizabethan period.  The tennis court! The bear baiting! The Globe!  The burning of the Globe!  London!  If you liked Titanic or Shakespeare in Love, you’re going to thrill at what Emmerich has done.  

But it's no more factual than Shakespeare in Love, and doesn't mean to be.

One of the most beautiful shots in the film, heart-stoppingly lovely, is the panorama of Queen Elizabeth's funeral on a frozen Thames, thousands of people all in black following an enormous black-draped carriage.  It perfectly captures the stunned bereavement of a nation, the jagged white void at the center of Shakespeare's London.  

And it's a complete fabrication.  Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was in April.  ANONYMOUS is factually, egregiously dead wrong, consciously dead wrong, dog-rolling-in-awful-stuff wrong, in ways that a mere child can spot.  And that's OK. The action of the story starts around 1599, but Kit Marlowe is still alive, well past his sell-by date.  (Zombie Marlowe?  If only.)  He is killed in a mugging in London, not in a tavern in Deptford.  Anne Cecil lives to draw the sheet over Oxford’s dead face, embodying the Cecils’ scorn of him.  Robert Cecil is already alive to be jealous of the golden Oxford boy arriving in the Cecil house. 

In other words, this isn't history.

Surprise. It's a movie.

Even if you think Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works, it isn't history.  It's Amadeus.  Think an emotion-frozen Mozart with an unexpected Salieri--a Mozart who has not only been told, but believes, that the one thing he wants to do is the thing that will most disgrace him. This is a history of emotions, a life “as ‘twere”. Draw the line between truth and fiction wherever you want to:  The Living Dead, Queen Elizabeth's bastards, Edward de Vere as Shakespeare.

But the characters ring true.

As far as Emmerich's concerned, get over it, Edward de Vere wrote the plays.  Rhys Ifans plays de Vere as a real piece of work, held-back, snobbish, caught in his social place.  “Plays are not written by people like me.  They are written by people like you," he tells Ben Jonson, and follows it up with remarking dismissively that he chose Jonson as a front man because "You have no voice."  He is a man who believes that he will ruin himself by being himself, and in the snake pit of London, he's probably right.  He allows only two things to touch him, a son he cannot claim and works he cannot put his name to.  Ifans shows a whole new side of his acting, revealing Oxford charily, in momentary distrustful flickers. Oxford, at the theater, realizes that here is raw political power waiting to be grasped; he leans forward for a single moment before catching himself.  Having rescued Henry from death, he allows himself to embrace him once.  His fingers are always inky, but only once do we actually see him writing: stripped of his caution, listening.
Who knew Emmerich could direct actors so well?  The unexpected central character is Ben Jonson, the stand-in for our democratic indignation.  A poet to his bones, Jonson knows absolutely that the elitist de Vere is only playing.  Sebastian Armesto, as Jonson, moves from disdain to stricken dismay to narrow-eyed professional jealousy, and finally to an unexpectedly moving encounter with a fellow poet.  Edward Hogg plays Robert Cecil like the smartest snake in the pit, a Puritan Richard III.  Mark Rylance, billed as Condell, combines all the immortal actors who spoke Shakespeare's lines, an embodied play-spirit made flesh.  Sir Derek Jacobi, a fussy hurried Prologue with an umbrella, rises into greatness on his own voice.

It would be a spoiler to talk about all the things the characters accuse each other of (and look who does the accusing).  The central story is the succession--who will reign after Elizabeth?--and children and parenthood are as central to this movie as poetry.  Who is the father of a child, who is the father of Shakespeare’s poetry, and who can lay claim to their children?  The great child is England, acted by the eager faces of the people of London, a reluctantly enchanted handful of poets, the tragically young conspirators Essex and Southampton, a delusional queen.

A story that flips around over half a century takes a lot of setting up, and the first few minutes are as confusing as a Shakespeare play.  Fitting characters into this Procrustean plot, Emmerich happily gives some less than their due.  Queen Elizabeth is raddled rather than regal and Sir William Cecil is a one-note Puritan.  

And what about Shakespeare?  Rafe Spall of Shaun of the Dead does a neat turn as cocksure, clueless W.S. of Stratford.  His Shakespeare knows he’s born to be the hero—writer John Orloff gives him a wonderful early scene, “I’m an actor.  I crave to act”—but the real joke is his striking physical resemblance to W.S.  How can the spitting image of the Bard be such a con man?

It's a big, overstuffed, sometimes untidy movie, and you may be infuriated by it.  But you’ll want to see it.

I want to see it twice.


How Shakespeare Could Be Shakespeare After All

Last time we talked about small details as evidence.  Embedded in plays like fossils in shale, they testify that these quintessentially English productions were once bathed in Italian seas.  They carbon-date the plays with references from as far back as the 1570s.

These references act just like similar magpie-details in the work of contemporary writers I know.  They testify that the work was being thought out and planned, if not written, at a particular time and place.

I can't ignore them.

Personally, I'd much rather have William Shakespeare of Stratford.  It's appalling to think that your greatest literary hero embodies your worst fear about society:  that, just as it takes money to make money, it takes money to make literature.  It would be terrible if Shakespeare meant only that.

But if you accept the unthinkable, that Shakespeare came from a background of power and position, then a multiplicity of nagging biographical questions become easier to answer.  How did Shakespeare know French well enough to write in it?  The Stratford grammar school didn't teach French.  How did Shakespeare read books of Renaissance humanism frequently enough to quote about 200 of the approximately 800 humanist books published in England during Elizabeth's reign?  Richard Field and the Vautrolliers didn't publish that sort of books.  How did Shakespeare know lawyers' terminology and  hawking terms well enough to have them imbue his thinking and his language?  Surface knowledge, no matter how skillfully acquired, seldom dyes the writer's mind so deeply with metaphor.

Ingenuity can explain each of these.  But simplicity can explain them too.  Perhaps Shakespeare got someone to write his French scene for him, perhaps he somehow had the leisure and the connections to get and read those books.  But perhaps he had been taught French, perhaps he had a library and had friends who did, perhaps he studied under a lawyer, perhaps he owned hawks whose long-dead wings still rustle in the plays.

I have a small horse in this race, a Shetland pony or perhaps a large dog with a mullet:  While writing Chasing Shakespeares, I discovered a poem.  If you've read the novel, you know all about it. While reading an ancient book in the British Library, my hero Joe Roper finds an obscure poem that seems to him to sound like Shakespeare.  It is in iambic pentameter and in the rhyme scheme of Venus and Adonis; it has run-on lines, very early; it uses rare and new words, particularly words taken from sports; it uses dramatic voices; and, as Robert Lowell used to say about Shakespeare, every once in a while there is a good line, a very good line indeed.  I've published the whole thing where you can decide for yourself.  99c until November 5, 2011, $1.99 thereafter, in a variety of eBook formats:

In a recent post
the Shakespeare scholar Holger Syme calls for less Bardolatry and more real scholarly work.  Now is the time to do that work.  Once upon a time scholarship was restricted to a small elite.  Once upon a time, and not long ago, the only way to read Anthony Munday or Nicholas Breton was to travel to a library that owned the books, talk yourself into the library, and read them on site.  That costs money.  Either one had one's way paid by fellowships, or one paid one's way oneself.  I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright, or I'd never have been able to discover England.

Now we have the Internet and Google Books.  It still pays to check your sources--it always pays to check your sources--but it doesn't take a Fulbright or Mellon, or access to a great library, to do most of a piece of significant work.  It is possible to read online a large proportion of the books published in Elizabeth's time, and one person could do it.

Online it's also possible to learn a lot of what it once took graduate school to do.  For instance, you can learn the basics of reading secretary hand
or read Renaissance classics in Renaissance printings. Google Books has a 1506 edition of Il Cortegiano that looks lovely on an iPad, and to understand it, you can consult several Renaissance Italian dictionaries

Major work cab be done online on data-mining the archives.  The National Archives has major online efforts going; see for instance
and other major initiatives are working on data-mining Elizabethan online sources, looking at this wealth of newly accessible material.

This is a tremendously exciting time for Shakespeare studies.  Scholars with a passion for Shakespeare have more ways to hone their skills than ever before.  Information can be shaped more readily into knowledge.  Scholars can communicate with each other, build on each other's work, and save each other from mistakes.

What could dethrone every other claimant to Shakespeare's throne?  Knowledge.  Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name has convinced many people, including me, by its painstaking work in using known facts to create a life.  I would be happy to be convinced otherwise, but Bardolatry will not do it.  There's a lot of newly available sixteenth-century material out there, and somewhere in it is more about Shakespeare.  This is the time to find it.

In 1623, Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare "He was not of an age, but for all time."

Let's see what our time can do for him.

Why Shakespeare Isn't Shakespeare: Evidence 2

The locus classicus to find these mismatches is a book called Shakespeare by Another Name, by Mark Anderson.  (Full disclosure:  I read the book pre-publication and am mentioned in it.)  Ten years in the writing, Shakespeare by Another Name is almost 600 pages long, and a full third of those pages are footnotes.  To take only a few of the shiny little details that appear in Shakespeare's Italian plays, Anderson mentions:
  • Sailmaking in Bergamo, an inland city; long considered a gaffe, but this is correct
  • Ttraveling from Verona to Milan, both inland cities, by boat; another "proof" that Shakespeare did not know Italy in detail, but this is also correct
  • The nasal dialect of Padua
  • Specific Italian phrases, such as "sound as a fish" and "by the ear"
  • Features of Italian politics (e.g., Padua is under the protection of Venice, but Mantua is not) and of Italian law (e.g., the form of marriage between Katharine and Petruchio, which is Italian and not English)
  • The seacoast of Bohemia, which did have a seacoast from 1575 to 1609
  • The detailed geographic features of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik), which is the "imaginary" city ofTwelfth Night (SBAN 85-87). Ragusa was the watering-stop for Venetian galleys; Oxford was reported to have injured his knee on a Venetian galley in the summer of 1575
  • Giulio Romano's sculpture, which Shakespeare compares to Hermione's memorial statue; Romano's memorial statue to Castiglione's wife existed in Mantua (SBAN 97)
  • A mural (also by Romano) in the main guest room of the Gonzagas' palace in Mantua (SBAN 97-98), similar to a mural described in The Rape of Lucrece
  • A painting of the history of Venus and Adonis, in Titian's studio in Venice (SBAN 96), which shares elements with Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis
  • References to the Jubilee of 1575; disguising herself as a Jubilee pilgrim, Helena's destination in Italy is "St. Jacques le Grand," Tuscan shrines to St. James the Great in Pistoia and Prato, used as overflow shrines during that Jubilee. (SBAN 100-101)
  • "Friar Patrick's Cell," in Two Gentlemen of Verona, a real location in Milan where Friar Patrick O'Hely stayed in 1576 (SBAN 106)
This sounds like someone who was in Italy, and whose magpie mind collected shiny things, and put them in because they were fun.  Almost none of them are necessary to the plays they're in.  But there they are.

Other little shiny details date the action of plays.  In All's Well that Ends Well, for instance, it is casually mentioned that Don John of Austria is dead but William the Black Prince of Orange is still alive.  That dates the action of the play between 1578 and 1584.  The action of Hamlet takes place around November-December 1572--the star in the first scene, "that yond star that's westward from the pole" is Copernicus's nova, embodying the almost sacrilegious upheaval that forms the emotional core of the play.  "The times are out of joint."

These details don't indicate the time of the writing of the plays.  But they do indicate that, in the 1570s and probably in Italy, Shakespeare's immense creative imagination was gathering material, and picking up with that material the magpie facts that stud his plays.

And by "Shakespeare" I mean the man who wrote the plays.  If he was gathering creative material in Italy in 1575-76, there does not seem to be a way that he could be William Shakespeare of Stratford.


Why Shakespeare Isn't Shakespeare: Shinies as Evidence

Last time we talked about shinies, little goodies that are not necessary to the plot.  They may add a little to the story, but not much; some other detail could do as well. The writer just likes them, and they're there in the "Spare Art Parts" closet, so in they go.

Here's an example I happened to be involved in.

In Louis Auchincloss's The Rector of Justin, the rather conservative hero owns a treasure, a portrait of the first modern novelist, Samuel Richardson.  In the book, Auchincloss describes it.  It's small, it shows Richardson writing on a lap desk, and it is painted on copper.  

When I read that, I had a Sherlockian moment and immediately wrote to Louis Auchincloss, care of his publisher.  Had he ever seen it and where was it now?

No one knew where that portrait was.   It had been lost.  But "on copper."  Where had that detail come from?

Auchincloss had described it that way because he had seen it.

It was in his living room.

(Auchincloss wrote on a lap desk.  His son had found the portrait of Richardson writing on a lap desk and given it to him, and he liked it so much he used it in the book.  I got to have tea with Louis Auchincloss, a lovely and gracious man, and see Richardson and some of his other goodies.)

The writer's magpie mind picks up these shiny things in the process of doing more substantial research.  They're fun, so you slide them in somewhere.  Details of places you've been and most people haven't.  The ads in a particular Tube car in London in the Millennium Year.  An interesting couple of names you came across.

Everybody has their shinies.  Shakespeare is full of them.  He likes to tell you things about geography, particularly in Italy and France.  He drops in references to contemporary events.     

And here’s where the whole thing gets a little suspicious. 

Because most of them are real details, most of them can be dated.  Located.  Traced to a particular source, or a particular city and time.  Given a local habitation and a name.

That's why there is an authorship question.  Not because of Shakespeare's background; remember Mark Twain and Machado de Assis.  Not because of his education; creative people make their own education, following their inspiration where they need to go.
Because what Shakespeare the playwright chooses for his shiny little details, and what appears through them, doesn't match the life of William Shakespeare of Stratford.


Why Shakespeare is Shakespeare: Shiny!

Every writer I know is a magpie at heart.  Magpies find shiny things everywhere.  They pick up phrases, new words, memes and T-shirt slogans.  They know how medieval beer is brewed.  They can tell you forty-five really interesting things about rats.  They pick up names, and interesting geographical facts, and local info from places they’ve been.  And sometimes they use them just because they’re there, or because they like to boast, just a little, that they know more about rats, or Martini-mixing, or recreational bomb-making than you do.

In the inexperienced writer, this is called data dumping, or “I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”  They spent a whole afternoon finding out how a corset-maker made corsets, and now they’re going to tell you.  Everything.   

In the good writer, or the great writer, most of the magpies' shiny things end up in the closet marked “Spare Art Parts,” but occasionally the writer will give you something just because he has it and it’s shiny and it works in the scene.

An example.  I researched a book called Chasing Shakespeares during the Millennium Year in London.  I was writing from the point of view of Joe Roper, who had never been to London before.  Joe was coming into London from Heathrow via the Tube—Joe was poor, the Tube is the cheapest way in--so I came in by Tube too.  This was Joe’s first sight of London and I took notes.  I took pictures of the upholstery; I wrote down the ads he saw.  Some of them were funny—eatyourhandbagbitch.com, sminting, a bizarre ad for Asahi Beer—and they fed into a moment that would appear much later in the book, when Joe sees a phone advertisement quoting Shakespeare and realizes that for the rest of his life, even if he chooses to ignore Shakespeare, he’ll be haunted by Shakespeare’s words. 

Shakespeare is full of shinies.

Shinies are little goodies that are not necessary to the plot.  They may add a little, but not much; some other detail could do as well. 

And that’s the trouble.  It’s not that Shakespeare has to be educated; we know he was, though he may have got it mostly because he hunted it down.  It's not that he had to be educated as a lawyer to know how a lawyer speaks and thinks.  It's certainly not that he had to come from a particular social class.  

It’s the shinies.