Book History, Episodes

18. Have Book, Will Time Travel

 

Tuesday, the 8th of December, was Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day. Don’t ask me what in the world that is supposed to mean or what kind of presents it involves, but so far, science has let us down with its inability to come up with a time machine. Which means the best we can do is to open the pages of a book and journey along through time with the author’s imagination.

Please note: There is a little jumble in the info at the start. I talk about several stories that send the hero into the future, then I talk about a story that sends the hero into the past, then I say something like  “it seems authors were focussed only on sending people into the future.” Sigh, what can I say, it’s been a long year. So, apologies for any confusion.  

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

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Have Book, Will Time Travel (Rough Transcript)

Introduction

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And this time we’re getting in our way back machines. Or maybe our way forward machines? Either way we’re traveling through time because Tuesday, the 8th of December, was Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day.

Don’t ask me what in the world that is supposed to mean or what kind of presents it involves, but I’m sure Doc Brown and Marty McFly could clue you in.

The Icky Part I Have to Do…

Before we start, just a reminder that this show is supported by you. Of course, since we’re speaking about time travel, you could use the fast forward feature on your podcast app to time travel past this part, but I’ll try to make this quick.

There are a ton of ways you can support the show and most are super inexpensive, including, as I mentioned last time, just doing your normal Amazon shopping through the Amazon affiliate link you’ll find on TheBookOwlPodcast.com/support. You don’t get charged any extra but every time you shop, I get an itty bitty commission that helps contribute to the time I spend bringing you these tidbits of entertainment.

And since it’s gift-giving season, also on that page you’ll find some snazzy Book Owl merchandise. I’ll admit some of these items are quite costly and I don’t earn much commission from them, but if you’re looking for something unique to treat yourself this holiday season, there’s notebooks, stickers, and t-shirts.

Intro Part Two Because Once Isn’t Enough

Okay, enough of that, let’s get time traveling. Or more accurately, let’s look at time travel in fiction throughout the ages. See, it’s sort of time traveling.

I think we’d all agree if we’d known what 2020 was going to involve a time travel machine would have been a well appreciated 2019 Christmas present so we could just skip over the year.

But so far, science has let us down with its inability to come up with a time machine. Which means the best we can do is to open the pages of a book and journey along through time with the author’s imagination.

Mythology Meets Physics

It turns out the concept of time travel stories aren’t anything new. Hindu mythology includes what might be recognized as the oldest time travel tale. In this story  the king travels to meet the creator god Brahma for I don’t know, maybe a nice chat and a cup of chai? Whatever his reason for going, when the king returns he finds out decades have whizzed by in his absence.

Which, if you know anything about physics, isn’t too far off the mark. Assuming Brahma lived in the sky or on top of a very high mountain, science does show that time moves more slowly for people who are under less gravity. So someone up in a spaceship actually ages less than someone on Earth. It’s a fascinating discovery, albeit an absolutely creepy one, and it has been proven using really accurate timepieces.

But this isn’t the Physics Owl Podcast, so let’s get back to the fictional side of time travel.

Japanese Sea Monkeys?

Moving up the ages and shifting over a few thousand miles to the east, we get a collection of fairy tales from Japan that dates to around 750 CE. One of these bedtime stories tells of a fisherman who decides catching fish isn’t how he wants to spend his weekend, so he heads underwater to hang out in a sea palace. And yes, this had me picturing a scene from a Sea Monkeys ad.

The fisherman hangs out with the Sea Monkeys for a few days, but when he returns to the surface, after he takes a big gulp of fresh air, he finds out he’s been transported 300 years in the future. And I hope he enjoyed his time in the sea palace because obviously by this time no one knows who he is, he’s lost his boat, and all of his family have died. Which does make this a pretty miserable fairy tale, so maybe we should move on.

Sleepy Head Time Travel

So while the idea of playing loose with time isn’t anything new, it does take a while for technology to catch up with time travel. Even though machines were already making their way into our lives and changing them sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, these machines take a long time to work their way into fiction.

And rather than jumping into a machine, we find a lot of earlier time wandering tales involves someone falling asleep and waking up in the future. Which makes me wonder if you force yourself to stay awake will you go back in time? Think about it.

Anyway some of these sleepy stories include Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving from 1819 , Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy from 1888, and The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells who we’ll be returning to soon enough.

Ow, My Head!

Similar to the sleepy head version of time travel, is the conked on the head method of time travel. And probably one of the most humorous and famliar examples of this in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

There’s a lot going on in this simple tale, but the title pretty much sums it up. A man from Connecticut, Hank Morgan, gets hit on the head and this sends him back in time to King Arthur. Hank gets captured by one of Arthur’s knights, then uses his knowledge of the high tech world of 1889 to convince everyone he’s a magician and that it would be a really bad idea to kill him.

Hank tries to make things better for King Arthur and even tries to prevent Arthur from being killed, but no luck. And while this story was well-received in the US, in England they saw it as an attack on the institution of the monarchy.

Take Me Back

So, from these examples it would kind of seem that most writers were obsessed with getting a glimpse into the future, but a few, and some of the earliest time travel stories in English have our travelers going back in time.

These include the short story Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism, and this was written anonymously in 1838 for the Dublin Literary Magazine. In it our hero waits under a tree for a coach to show up and falls asleep. When he wakes find himself roaming around in the 9th century. He tries to tell people about the future and a few believe him, but most thinks he’s a bit doodalalee.

Another early example of backward time travel comes from Paris avant les hommes (Paris before Men) written in 1861 by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard, although it wasn’t published until after his death which is too bad for him because it turned out to be a pretty popular story. In this story, we finally see someone time traveling without falling asleep or receiving a head injury. Instead a magic demon sends the main character  into prehistoric times where he hangs out with dinosaurs. Maybe the precursor to Jurassic Park.

Twenty years later we get “Hands Off by Edward Everett Hale in which the main character goes back to Ancient Egypt and tries to change Biblical history by keeping Joseph from being enslaved by the pharaoh. And while this is one of a few stories of someone going back rather than forward in time, it’s also quite likely the first time travel book where the character’s interference alters history.  

A Little Back and Forth

But why stick with the past or the future? Can’t we have both? Yep, and Charles Dickens was ready to deliver this…well, sort of. His A Christmas Carol published in 1843, does take old Ebenezer back in time, but it’s not as if he can do anything while he’s there. It’s merely a memory the ghost of Xmas past is forcing him to remember.

And if memory is time traveling, I guess I’ll time travel back to a really tasty sandwich I had in Strasbourg last fall. But Ebenezer does the travel to the future. Or at least a potential future and it’s this potential future that is one of the key themes of time travel fiction.

As Scrooge says after seeing the dismal fate the ghost of Xmas yet to come has shown him “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me….Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

And yay, Tiny Tim lives happily ever after. Oh, I hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone.

The Rise of the Machines

But most of us, when we think of time travel probably aren’t thinking of naps, blows to the head, or creepy ghosts hanging out in our bedrooms. We have an image in mind of a machine like some strange chamber or a souped up Delorean, that moves our hero through time.

And while HG Wells’s Time Machine probably is the first thing that springs to mind, he wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of a manmade object making a mess of the world’s timeline.

In fact, we start out not with a large machine you step into, but with The Clock That Went Backward a story from 1881 by Edward Page Mitchell. Moving the hands of the clock shifted time. But unless you can open up the grandfather cook and step inside, it’s still not what we think of as a time machine, is it?

Finally in 1887 we get Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s El Anacronópete which is touted at the first story to have a true machine purpose built for time travel. It’s a huge iron box that’s like something straight out a steampunk novel with pneumatic tubes that are driven by electricity.

And weirdly enough, inside the machine are brooms that sweep themselves. Oh wait! Isn’t that a roomba! Anyway, all is going well as the voyagers visit various eras in the past, until it self destructs when they try to go to the day of creation.

Finally We Get to THE Time Machine

But of course, although there were predecessors the book that really stirred up the popularity of the time machine was HG Wells’s The Time Machine. This wasn’t Wells only foray into wandering around in time. Before this he’d written “The Chronic Argonauts” in 1888. Wells had thought of turning this story into something else, but wasn’t quite sure what exactly.

Then his publisher asked to see a serial novel based on time travel. Wells didn’t hesitate a moment to jump on the idea. The fact that the publisher was offering him the equivalent of 12K pounds in today’s money probably didn’t make the decision too tough to make.

In The Time Machine, the narrator is relating lectures about a man who traveled to the future and discovered a race of people who seemed happy and living the good life without having to work very hard, but then realizes it’s because another race of people have been forced to toil underground to keep everything running smoothly.

And much of the inspiration came from Wells own childhood where he and his family and the people they knew worked their fingers to the bone below stairs or literally underground in mines.

Time Travel Travel

But egad, that’s a bit depressing isn’t it? So let’s wrap up time travel on a happier note and that’s a subgenre of the time travel concept…Time tourism. Think about it. How many of us would love to take a time tour anywhere that isn’t 2020?

In 1948 American authors Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner wrote the novella Vintage Season in which visitors from the future vacation at a rental home just when the owner wants to sell. The visitors like his place so much they tell heirs friends all about the quaint little place.

Then there’s Ray Bradbury’s 1952 Season of Thunder (season being a popular title, I guess) in which big game hunters get bored with killing off rhinos, lions, and elephants, and decide to time travel to the age of dinosaurs. I mean, go big or go home right?

Time Goes On

Anyway, the time travel genre started strong and continues to thrive today in books like Stephen King’s 11/22/63 when a man has to decide whether stopping the assassination of JFK is worth losing the love of his life.

There’s Diane Galbaldon’s Outlander series with men in kilts. Lots of kilts. And a woman who never seems for a moment phased by the fact she’s gone back a couple hundred years in time.

Michael Crichton brought the past to life with Jurassic Park, but he also took us back in time using some really amazing science research in his book Timeline.

And of course, we can’t leave off without Douglas Adams’ Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series where the most sought after dining establishment is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe which is called Millways. Milliways is the nearest restaurant in space but not time, and is a five star restaurant situated at the end of time and matter.

As with anything in the Hitchhiker’s series it’s a hilarious concept, especially how you make reservations and raise the money to pay for a meal there, but if you do as describe you can watch the universe end night after night while enjoying your Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Update Time

And that is it for time travel so that must mean it’s time for your favorite…updates! The podcast is still plugging along. Another big thanks goes out to Tierney of TierneyCreates.com for including The Book Owl’s history of cookbook episode as part of her Thanksgiving celebrations.

Other than that, my next episode will be a little bit different. One tagline for this podcast is everything books minus the reviews, but just to wrap up the year I’m going o share with you my favorite books of 2020, a year when many of us got more than our fair share of reading in.

As for writing, as I mentioned last time, I put in the order for my proof copies of the first two books of my Cassie Black trilogy. Well, they showed up the day after Thanksgiving and they came out pretty darn good. There’s still a little tweaking to do on the covers, but the interior looks great. This month, I’ll give the first book yet another read through while also doing a full rewrite on book three.

And just in case you like to do a little shopping for yourself, all three books are currently on pre-order on most retailers. Unfortunately, you can’t pre-order the paperbacks, but I usually release those just a few days ahead of the ebook release date just to make sure everything goes through on time. I’ll keep you posted on when those are live on the stores.

Signing Off

Okay my time traveling buddies, that is it for this episode. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.   

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Book History, Episodes

17. Cooking Up Something Good

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American listeners!

Because Thanksgiving is THE holiday where food takes center stage, I bet there’s more than a few of you out there reaching for a cookbook this week. Which is why The Book Owl went into research mode to discover the history of cookbooks.

From rotting meat to imaginary friends, it’s a recipe for concocting a great episode. And, there’s even a special guest who tried to take over the show.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

Cooking Up Something Good (Rough Transcript)

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And let me offer up a very Happy Thanksgiving to my listeners in the U.S. I hope everyone is keeping their distance and that you’ve got a plan in place for all that leftover turkey.

Because Thanksgiving is a holiday all about food and especially food we don’t normally cook — seriously, at what other point in the year do you suddenly think, “OMG, I just HAVE to make cranberry sauce?” — I thought this would be an excellent time to explore a type of book many Americans will be cracking open this Thursday.

The Part Where I Ask You to Go Shopping

But before we start, just a quick reminder that you help keep this show running. I need to offer up a very belated thank you to LaVelle for being a continued sponsor of the show with her monthly gift. 

Unless you’re feeling especially flush with money, there’s no need for you to be quite so generous, but I want to remind you that you can help the show out by doing nothing more than the normal shopping you plan to do on Amazon this holiday season. 

Any time you feel the itch to purchase a pack of dog food, a new pair of yoga pants, or a book that you intend to give as a gift but end up keeping for yourself, before you start shopping please head to the book owl podcast dot com slash support and use the Amazon link on that page to do your shopping.

That’s an affiliate link and it does not cost you anything extra, but does earn me an itty bitty commission that really does add up.

What? Another Introduction? Fine…

Okay, enough of that. So, if you’re going to be in the kitchen this week, I bet at some point you’re going to be reaching for a cookbook of some sort. Which had me curious about the history of these most valuable kitchen tools.

Well, okay, the electric kettle that keeps me fueled with tea is the most valuable in my opinion, but you know, cookbooks, second most valuable.

The Oldest Cookbook…and Recipe Success

It turns out the oldest cookbook, or at least the oldest one that’s been discovered, dates from 1700 BCE and has no pages. Wait, let me clarify. It’s actually a collection of a handful of recipes on a series of four clay tablets that are part of what’s known as the Yale Tablets.

And no, they weren’t unearthed in Yale, they’re called that because they’re housed in the Yale Peabody Museum as part of the Yale Babylonian Collection. Lot of Yales going on there.

Anyway, the main recipe on these tablets is a meat stew that contains meat, obviously, vinegar, and herbs, and is said to resemble a stew that was so adored by kings, it ended up being written about in stories for over 300 years.

And just like finding an interesting recipe in a magazine, some researcher said, “Hey, let’s give this a try.” So in 2018, a few brave folks from New York University recreated the stew as best they could with modern equivalents of the ingredients.

The result? Turns out it was pretty darn tasty. And I’ll include a link to their experiment in the show notes.

Cooking Up Food Poisoning In Ancient Rome

So moving up about 1800 years, we get to the first century CE and we find the earliest European cookbook, the De re coquinaria. And I’m no Latin scholar, but I think that translates to from the king’s kitchen. An if there is a Latin scholar to there, please let me know if that’s right or wrong. 

Anyway, this book was supposedly compiled by the Roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, and he was the celebrity gourmand of the day. And he and his book were so influential, any collection of recipes came to be known as an Apicius for decades to come. 

Now, in Ancient Rome the goal of cooking, what chefs gained fame for was being able to take your main food item and flavoring it and covering it up so much you could not tell what you were eating.

This wasn’t because Romans loved eating the Surprise du Jour. It was because, well, how do I put this? They didn’t exactly have refrigerators and they weren’t exactly bringing in fresh meat every day.

And I really hope this isn’t familiar to you, especially today, but the cooks had to do everything they could to hide the taste of the rotting meat they were serving up. Yum.

Chinese Cookery Classic

Stepping away from Europe for just a bit and jumping forward again in time (I know, you haven’t travelled this much in months, have you?). We’re popping over to China where there are reports of cookbooks dating all the way back to the Tang Dynasty, which was extended from the years 600 to 900, but some pesky person lost it. Or maybe spilled soy sauce all over it. 

Either way, the earliest surviving Chinese cookbook dates from about 1330, and I’m not going to attempt the Chinese name for the book, but in English it translates to the name Important Principles of Food and Drink. And I really hope the recipes inside weren’t as bland as that title.

Germans Love Their Cookbooks

Okay, zipping back over to Europe, we find medieval Germans really liked to cook. Or at least they really liked cookbooks, because it’s here we find the most cookery manuscripts. These include Das buch von guten spise, or the Book of Good Food from 1350.

And probably no surprise, but the Germans were also the first to employ our friend the printing press to publish a cookbook in 1485, with the name Kuchenmeysterey, or Kitchen Mastery. Which has a rather modern marketing ring to it.

A Cookbook for the Average Householder

Again, no surprise, but the French also had a few cookbooks on their shelves. And like most of the other cookbooks I’m talking about from this time period, these were all intended for chefs who were cooking for the highest levels of society, including the king. For example, the earliest French cookbook we have was written in the 14th century by Guillaume Tirel, the master chef for not one, but two French kings. 

But we have a little rebel in France, and as far as I could tell, this might be the earliest cookbook written for common people, or rather for women making food for their families. This was La Menagier de Paris, or the Householder of Paris, and was written by a middle class Parisian for other middle class Parisians.

Curry? Did Someone Say Curry? The First English Cookbook

Of course, there were also cookbooks from Italy, Spain, the Middle East, India, but since I’m a self-centered English speaker, let’s head back up to England where we’ll find the first cookbook written in English. It dates from 1390 and was penned by the chef of King Richard II, and had the intriguing title Forme of Cury.

And now I really want some curry, but I think a cure referred to any type of stew, so there’s probably not a spicy vindaloo amongst the pages.

Printing Press By-product: The Celebrity Chef Begins

So as I mentioned earlier, the Germans were the first to crank out a cookbook from the printing press. And this kicked off a wave of cookbook publishing in the 1600s when we see a huge profusion of books coming out for household management and food preparation. 

And you’re going to need that advice because right around this time, especially in Holland and England, it becomes quite the thing to see who amongst your ritzy friends can throw the most lavish banquets. This is when we really start seeing food preparation being turned into an art form — and let’s be honest, that artwork is probably still being used to cover up the taste and smell of meat that’s gone off. 

And as is still happening today, chefs start becoming celebrities. Households fight over hiring the most renowned cooks and the chefs themselves start competing pretty viciously with each other to see who can write the most popular cook book. Which sounds like the set up for an amazing historical novel full of bitchy backstabbing.

Coming to America

But enough of Europe, let’s hop the pond over to America where we find Amelia Simmons in 1796 writing the book American Cookery, which she declared was “adapted to this country and all grades of life.”

And as the article from Book Riot I used as apart of my research snarkily notes, there weren’t a lot of grades of life who could afford to purchase cookbooks so this was probably intended mainly for the upper class. But the book did manage to stay in publication for 30 years.

What’s a White Lady to Do?

Also in that article which I’ll link to in the show notes I found an interesting correlation between the American Civil War and the rise of cookbooks in the American South. See, most middle and upper class households had um, shall we say, free labor running their kitchens. 

When slavery was abolished and the freed people said, “I’m outta here,” the white ladies were kind of left in the lurch. And some of them could probably still hire cooks, whether those cooks were black or white — and that hired help was probably mostly black, if we’re being realistic. 

But many other former slave owners had lost their free labor which also meant they lost a cheap way to make gobs of money which also meant they were left to do their own cooking. Well, after years of being tended to by unpaid servants, these white ladies had little idea what to do in the kitchen. 

Luckily, one of the books that appeared was written by Malinda Russell, a freed slave who, in her book used the euphemism that she was an experienced cook. And her recipes start to show a pattern in presentation that would continue to evolve, including putting a list of the ingredients at the start of the recipe. Unfortunately, the amount of those ingredients still required a fair bit of guesswork.

Brussels Sprouts and Measuring Spoons!

It’s not until 1845, when with the release of Modern Cooking for Private Families by Eliza Acton that we get not only a book written entirely for the home cook, but we also get the format we know today with the list of ingredients, the full instructions of what to do with those ingredients, and precise cooking times.

It also, as a little side fun fact, was the first book in the U.S. to have a recipes for Brussels sprouts.

But while Eliza’s book had plenty of information, it could still be a bit vague. Because there were no standardized tools, cookbooks at the time didn’t exactly pinpoint exact amounts or temperatures. For example, one book told people to heat water until it was a little warmer than the temperature of milk coming straight from the cow. Which has me picturing some poor woman running back and forth from her stove to the barn to keep checking on things.

It’s not until the early 20th century before we start seeing more precise recipes. And that’s because we finally got standardized measuring cups and spoons. And, thankfully, we moved away from wood-burning stoves and ovens whose temperature couldn’t be regulated, to electric and gas stoves that could be set to a specified temperature. And cookbooks quickly started incorporating these marvels into their recipes.

The Best-Selling Cookbook of All Time

Finally, we can’t get away from cookbooks without mentioning the best-selling cookbook of all time…The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Betty, as you might know, doesn’t exist. She was completely made up by the company that would later be known as General Mills. And she came about because people kept writing in asking questions about the company’s products.

So, kind of like a cooking Dear Abby, they created Betty to answer the questions. And they chose the name Betty because it sounded friendly and cheery, and Crocker was the last name of the company’s recently retired director.

The imaginary Betty Crocker was born in 1921, and became hugely popular. And like many celebrities, she eventually came out with her own cookbook. The first Betty Crocker Cookbook was published in 1950.

It not only contained recipes, but also practical household tips, and plenty of sympathy and understanding for the trials and tribulations of the mid-century housewife. It was so popular it outsold the Bible in its first year of publication, and had since sold over 65 million copies. And yes, I have my own tattered copy in the kitchen.

But Wait, There’s More

So that’s it for a quick history cookbooks. But I couldn’t resist researching one more thing, and that is the weirdest cookbooks. As you might guess, it generated seem hilarious hits that I’ll be sharing with those of you who are on The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter. And if you want to get that newsletter, yep, there’s a link in the show notes.

Podcast Updates

I guess that means it’s time for updates. As for the podcast, there’s not much to report. Just keep listening and keep recommending the show to others, and I’ll keep trying to crank out episodes. Of course, if you have an idea for a book, an author, or a bit of literary lore you’d like me to explore, feel free to contact me with your topic ideas by using the link in the show notes. 

Writing Updates…Prepping for Cassie Black

As for writing updates, I’ve been putting together all the parts to get my Cassie Black Trilogy ready for release early next year. That means getting titles, covers, and descriptions together for all three books. I’ve also formatted the paperbacks for the first two books — book three isn’t to that point yet, but getting closer.

And I’ve gone on a mad spree of writing a stockpile of blog posts to share Cassie’s creation, inspiration, and quirks with the world over the next few months. I know, big surprise, but there’s a few links in the show notes if you’d like to see the process of coming up with titles and the evolution of the books’ cover design.

Signing Off

Okay my home cooks, that is it for this episode. Stay safe, keep your distance, don’t eat too much, and I will hoot at you next time.

 

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Episodes

16. Biting Into Bram Stoker

 

The Book Owl is still in the Halloween spirit, and that means from the huge number of authors who are having a birthday this month (or would have been if they were still alive), I’ve chosen Bram Stoker as the Book Owl birthday boy. In this episode we dive into his troubled personal life and the reality behind his most famous tale.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

*Note: I mention Dublin’s St. Michan’s Church in this episode. If you’d like to read about my own odd visit to their creepy crypts, please visit my blog post Finn McSpool Cries Out for His Mummy.

Biting Into Bram Stoker (Rough Transcript)

Introduction: 

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. Where I am just trying to get through this day after election day. And I am recording this on 4 November, making kind of a struggle to sound chipper but I’ll do my best.

Behind the Scenes (aka “Intro Part 2”):

A few episodes ago we celebrated Agatha Christie’s birthday, and I think it was episode 12 if you want to go back and give it a listen, and I figured it was time for another birthday party on the podcast. The problem is that November is apparently a good time for birthing an author because there are a huge number of writers that were born this month. 

So, the trouble wasn’t finding a topic, it was deciding which author is getting a birthday bash on the show. And, because I’m recording this not long after Halloween, and maybe I’m still a little bit in the Halloween spirit, I’ve chosen Bram Stoker as the Book Owl birthday boy. 

Big Thank You to a Loyal Listener:

But before we jump into the show, and while I give you time to scramble to come up with a present for Bram, I just want to give a huge thanks to Tierney for not only leaving some lovely comments on the Book Owl Podcast blog, but also for leaving some kind words along with a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Hoorah!! And just so you know, leaving reviews, or even simply a five-star rating, does give the algorithms a little tickle, so if you have a few seconds and have been enjoying the show, please pop into whatever podcast app you’re listening in right now and rate or review the show. 

Setting the Mood:

Okay, so put on your cloaks and hop into your horse-drawn coach because we’re going to Whitby, England. It’s the 1890s and the ship Dmitri which has sailed from Varna on the Black Sea is trying to pull into Whitby’s harbor. There’s a storm kicking up, and more than one vessel has already been lost to sea, but it seems the Dmitri is going to make it into port. Before nightfall, a great cheer goes up at her sliding into the safety of the harbor. 

But during the night a gale picks up, the seas rise and the ship runs aground. The force is so strong, the masts collapse, crashing onto the deck. Observers report seeing a black dog fleeing from the ship and charging up the slope to a nearby abbey. When the ruined ship can finally be inspected it’s discovered of the already small crew only a handful have survived. And when questions are raised about the cargo of the ship, they find only a strange sandy dirt in the hold.

Alright, if that sounds at all familiar, it’s because it is one of the true stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s most famous of his fifteen novels, Dracula. Which it turns out has more than one rather strange and mysterious event surrounding it.

Bram’s Early Days:

But let’s start with Bram, or rather Abraham Stoker. He was born on the 8th of November, 1847, in Dublin, Ireland. His dad, Abraham, was also from Dublin where he worked as a civil servant. His mom, Charlotte, was from County Sligo on the western side of the island.

Bram wasn’t the healthiest of kids at the start and was actually bed ridden pretty much until the age of seven. And I don’t know why, but no one is really sure what was wrong with him, which seems a little strange given it wasn’t all that long ago. But as he lay in bed, his mom would tell him stories that might not have been completely age appropriate for their scare levels.

But somehow, Bram makes a full recovery and even ends up being quite the athlete when, from 1864 to 1870, he attends Trinity College, which reminds me that I need to cover that library on the podcast very soon. He graduated, then went on to earn a Masters degree in 1875.

Bram Stoker, Theater Critic?:

Bram, while it’s not clear exactly what he studied, loved the theater, but he also knew he needed to earn a living, so ike dear old dad, he got a job in the civil service and worked in Dublin Castle. But while he was there, he also worked for free as a theater critic and wrote pieces for the Dublin Evening Mail. 

And now, these days, theater critics are kind of respected and maybe even treated a bit loftily. That was not the case back then when theater critics were thought of as the lowest form of journalists. But Bram showed the snobby people a thing or two, because he wrote such eloquent and well thought out pieces that readers ended up really admiring his work and even improved the notion of what a theater critic could be.

As if holding down two jobs wasn’t enough, Bram was also writing short stories that got published and he also published the god awfully boring sounding non-fiction tome The Duties of Clerks in Petty Sessions in Ireland. Despite the dull name, the book was lauded by, well, by the type of people who would bother to read something like that.

Florence vs. Henry:

Now due to his work at the theater, Bram was meeting all kinds of characters including Henry Irving, who comes to play a larger role in a bit, and Oscar Wilde. At the time, I guess Oscar was trying to keep things under wraps because he, Oscar, was wooing a young woman by the name of Florence Balcomb. Well, Bram came along, and stole her right from under Oscar’s nose and the two — that would be Bram and Florence, not Bram and Oscar — got married in 1878. But because I’m guessing that Oscar wasn’t terribly upset by losing Florence, the three maintained their friendship.

Unfortunately, although Bram did seem gaga for Florence at first, within a year of their being married, he ditched her for Henry Irving who wanted Bram to come to London to manage his theater, the Lyceum. And let’s just say that Bram idolized Henry and the two became so close that almost anywhere Henry went in the world, so did Bram.

Building the Bones of Dracula:

During this time, Bram is also continuing to write, and by this mid-1890s he’s already published four novels. It’s also in this time and during his travels with Henry that he meets a Hungarian traveler and writer who tells Bram tales of the Carpathian Mountains, and told Bram, who showed a huge interest in the topic, that he should go to Whitby, England to continue looking into the Carpathian’s strange history and legends.

Bram gets to Whitby, heads to the library, and asks to see a book called The Accounts of Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. This was rare book, so rare that the library didn’t even let people know they had it, but Bram’s Hungarian friend had told him about it and exactly what pages to look at. The librarian hands over the book, and as the librarian maintains a close watch over Bram, he doesn’t idly thumb through the book. Instead he goes immediately to a specific section and begins making notes about the name Dracula, which in Moldavian means devil and was given as a surname to anyone known for exceptional cruelty. And I like how they specify exceptional cruelty, Like your everyday run of the mill cruelty was okay.

Anyway, Bram finishes his notes and heads over to the Whitby Museum to look at their collection of maps. It’s here he gets the exact longitude and latitude for the village that will house Dracula’s Castle. From the museum, Bram makes his way to the harbor, where he hears first hand accounts of the demise of the ship Dmitri.

Darker Inspiration:

As Bram is on his research trip to Whitby, Oscar Wilde is being tried for and convicted of lewd acts…which is a euphemism for being homosexual. The courts portrayed Oscar as a monster, as the most vile and draining pestilence on society. It’s this vile portrayal of his close friend that inspires Bram’s most famous character. He begins writing Dracula only months after Oscar’s conviction.

Part of Bram’s writing of Dracula took place in Scotland’s Cruden Bay where he was a regular when he wanted to get away from it all. Nearby the town, stood Slains Castle, which provided a visual cue for Dracula’s Castle and many features of the real castle can be seen in the novel such as an octagonal room. 

Another thing that inspired Bram’s tale was a visit to St. Michan’s Church in Dublin Ireland, where they have in the crypt some very lifelike corpses that would have been there for about a couple hundred years when Bram would have visited, And I have seen those bodies and been in those crypts and I will tell you they are a bit unsettling…then again, so is the tour guide who takes you down there but that’s another tale altogether.

Editorial Grumblings:

So if you’ve ever read Dracula, which is a pretty dense book, but also really good, you’ll know it’s written in the form of letters. And it’s here you can really see Bram’s previous work in journalism because he’s spot on with noting realistic details, ships’ logs, and the diary entries are just like people reporting on their daily — albeit very strange — lives.

So Bram writes his book and sends it to his editor for publication. In the original version, Bram claims that all the events are real, that Jonathon and Mina Harker are his close friends who brought him their diaries and newspaper clippings from the time period around the events. 

The editor did not like the idea of presenting the book as fact and rejected it, telling Bran to change it so it’s more fictional. And to be fair, this was the late 1890s and London had just endured the Jack the Ripper mayhem, and the killer was still running loose. People might have been up for a scary story, but they didn’t want that story to be anything but fiction and the editor worried the book might cause a panic. 

The editor also decided the book was way too long, so in addition to changing many aspects of the text, Bram had to remove the first 101 pages of his book. And let me tell you, Dracula is already a long book, so the idea of getting through another 100 pages? Not sure if I could manage. 

Dracula Sees the Light of Day: 

Anyway, finally the book was released in May of 1897 and ended up being very well received. And although somewhat popular, the book wouldn’t gain a rabid readership until 1922 when the film Nosferatu came out. The film took the story line from Dracula without permission and the legal fight that ensued ended up gaining the book so much notice, it started selling like mad. And in the bonus feature in this episode’s newsletter, I’ll cover that fight a little bit more.

Troubled Times and a Troubled End:

Bram, in addition to managing Henry Irving’s theater and writing for newspapers, would go on to write another 8 novels, loads of short stories, and four more non-fiction books. As some of the homo-erotic scenes in Dracula and his other books, and his own devotion to Henry Irving show, Bram did have a strong adoration of other men, but he repressed it heavily and even went so far in 1912 to demand all gay authors in Britain be put in prison.

His overworking, the stress of his repression, and possibly a form of syphllis, led to aseries of strokes in that same year. Bram died in London on the 20th of April, 1912.

Dracula Lives On:

As for Dracula, the most famous of the undead and dozens of characters inspired by him continues to live on. But the actual manuscript of Dracula also can’t be kept down. In the 1980s, the original manuscript was discovered in Pennsylvania. Why there? I could not find out, but it does begin on page 102 with Jonathan Harker heading off on his ill-fated train journey. Which does make it strange to think Bram, with four novels already under his belt and plenty of writing experience didn’t actually start the true action of his story until 100 pages into his book. But what was in those first pages? Supposedly you can garner clues from his notes and journals, but you’ll have to get to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia to see for yourself.

So that’s it for Bram. He seems to have had a successful life, but also a troubled one, and I do wonder what he would make of sparkly vampires.

Update Time:

As for updates, regarding the podcast, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll do a second episode this month. The week I would be researching, writing, and recording I’ve got a lot of “life” stuff going on, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time to get an episode together, but we’ll see.

As for writing, I do have my own little vampire story called the Drive Thru Window. It’s not gory, and it’s got a fair bit of dark humor, so if you want to check it out on my Payhip Store, it’s only 99c. And other than that, I finished the first draft of book three of my Cassie Black trilogy. I’m reading over all three books this week to see how they flow together and to make sure I don’t have any major inconsistencies. Which is a lot of reading in only a few days, but it’s a bit icky out this week, so it’s good rainy day chore.

Signing Off:

Alright my friends, that’s it for this week. If you’d like to help keep the show running, please visit the book owl podcast dot com slash support to see the very inexpensive options for keeping the microphone charged, and I will hoot at you next time.

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Episodes

15. Ten Spooky and Kooky Libraries

 

It’s a listener-inspired episode in which, just like in the movie Ghostbusters, the Book Owl discovers ghosts love spending their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

 

Ten Spooky & Kooky Libraries (Rough Transcript)

Note: I’ve made the transcript a little easier to read by providing section breaks with headers. Let me know if this works better for you who’d rather read than listen.

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Well my little ghosts and goblins, this episode is coming out only a couple days before the haunting holiday of Halloween, which means I’m required by podcast law to feature something spooky. As if we Americans aren’t already fearful enough over the upcoming election, right? 

Behind the Scenes:

Anyway….I already had an idea for this episode floating around in my brain, but then Helen Crawford listener and lead monster maker over at Crawcrafts Beasties stepped in and said, “What about an episode on haunted bookstores?” 

I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, it turned out that there really aren’t many interesting tales of haunted bookshops. I mean, there were a few haunted bookstores, but it was more just quips about cold spots in the building or the occasional book falling off a shelf. There were no real stories behind the stories. 

But the lack of bookstore ghosts didn’t stop my search. Because it turns out that just like in the movie Ghostbusters, ghosts would rather spend their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries. And let me tell you there turned out to be an overwhelming number of library hauntings, but I’ve picked a few of my favorite, funniest, and creepiest ones to share with you. 

Cheap Ploy to Get You to Join My Newsletter:

And if you’re on The Book Owl Podcast newsletter, as your bonus trick or treat this time around, you’ll get links to all the ones I had to skip over. And that also means this is the perfect time to mention that if you aren’t already signed up to the newsletter, there’s a link in the show notes. You’ll not only get bonus content with each episode, but you’ll also get a little owl-themed gift for joining the flock.

Alright, onto the episode and ten spooky libraries!

So since Helen is from Ireland, I thought it would only be appropriate if we start with a haunted library from the Emerald Isle.

Ghost in the Library #1

And that would be Marsh’s Library which the more I read about it, might just deserve its own full episode. This gorgeous book palace was founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh – which makes him sound like a Harry potter character — and this was the first public library in Ireland. 

Well, Marsh had a niece who he had raised and adored and whose relationship with a salty sea captain he vehemently opposed. The niece couldn’t help it, she was in love and eloped with her captain, leaving behind a note for her uncle telling him what she’d done. 

Of course, she didn’t want to be stopped before the two got properly hitched so she hid the note in a book. In a library. Marsh never did find the note. I’m not quite sure how he was seen supposed to know it existed, but after his death in 1713, something was seen wandering through the gallery, rummaging through book after book in search of the letter. And supposedly if you move between one gallery of the library to another, you can feel a spectral chill….

Ghost in the Library #2 

Hopping over to Norfolk, England, well this ghost story really drives home the stereotype of the British stiff upper lip, Keep Calm Carry on mentality. 

So we’re heading to the library of Felbrigg Hall. In the 1970s, the estate was acquired by the National Trust and it was up to David Muffon to put the place in order. So one evening (okay it could have been daytime, but evening makes it spookier), David’s at a desk in the library and happens to notice someone in a chair by the fireplace reading some books….then the someone finished his reading and faded away. 

Okay, at this point, even as a skeptic, I’d be letting out a horror movie scream and dashing the hell out of there. But not David. He just shrugs his shoulders and continues about his work, then later asks the butler if the house has any ghosts. 

To which the butler says, “Oh sure, we’ve got William Windham III who likes to raed by the fireplace.” The butler found this so normal he even set out books for the ghost to read…turns out Ghost William favored works by his old friend Samuel Johnson. Talk about a life long fan. Or is that an afterlife long fan?

Okay so let’s jump the pond because it turns out, American ghosts really love their libraries.

Now as some you know, Mr. Husband works at a library and there’s an ongoing joke that once you get a job at the library, you don’t leave. Turns out, that might be very true because I think at least a third of the stories I read were about the ghosts of former library workers. Most of whom liked to push books to the floor…which I’m sure after a lifetime of having to keep the shelves tidy means they are having a very satisfying afterlife.

Ghost in the Library #3

Mr. Husband also tells stories of a few, rare troublesome patrons, but in most cases, these folks leave the library premises when asked. Not so much in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library. See they used to have an old man who came to the library and was a real nuisance. Not one to let a little death stop his crabby ways, he is now haunting the library and continues to pester students and staff.

Ghost in the Library #4

Speaking of naughty ghosts, over in Tarrytown, New York, not long after his death, Washington Irving — who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow — began haunting the library of his home. Trouble is, unlike William Windham, Irving isn’t there for the books…he’s there because it’s a tourist attraction and he likes to pinch the bottoms of female visitors. 

Ghost in the Library #5

So let’s get into the creepy side of the stacks…over at the Sweetwater County Library in Wyoming, ever since the library opened in 1980, lights have been seen flipping on and off, and strange sounds reverberate through the building at night. In rooms with no windows, glowing dots are seen to flicker across the walls. 

See, it turns out the city planners didn’t pay attention to their horror film tropes and built the library over a freakin’ graveyard that had been the burial place mainly for Asian railroad workers. The graves had supposedly all been moved in the 1920s. Supposedly. 

Because in 1985, they found one remaining coffin. Yeah, I’m out of there already, but for those of you sticking around…it gets even more eerie. See, kids, there used to be these things call typewriters and the library had them for typing up forms and documents. But on occasion, the typewriters would type on their own. 

The library staff tried inserting paper to see if the ghosts had a message to convey, but the specters refused to commit anything to paper. Pretty smart that. But wait, there’s more because the creepy crawlies aren’t done yet! 

So once the library got computers, there was one that was a closed system, meaning it had no external inputs, and because of what it was used for it had no wordprocessor on it either. The librarian using it one day turned her back and when she turned back around her name was typed in large letters across the screen. Again, no external input. No word processing program. I’m scaring myself here.

Ghost in the Library #6

Speaking of typewriters over at the Old Palace Theater branch of Arkansas’s Saline County Library, employees have heard phantom footsteps, slamming doors, books falling from shelves, and paperback carousels rotating on their own. And, working late one night, Director Julie Hart heard the distinctive sound of a manual typewriter. Trouble is… the library had gotten rid of all their typewriters years ago. Damn typewriters are scary!

Ghost in the Library #7

This one isn’t super creepy, but it does prove that if you name your kid Millicent, you’re just asking her to eventually become a ghost. So the founder of Fairhaven’s Millicent Library was Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers. His daughter Millicent died of heart failure in 1890 when she was only 17, and he named the library after her. 

And of course she began haunting it. Patrons have seen her glowing blue form walking the halls. And at night, after the library’s closed, people have reported seeing a girl standing in the window of the turret that makes up part of the front of the building. 

But Millicent isn’t lonely in her afterlife. She’s also hanging out with a woman in black who runs her fingers along the shelved books, and a man dressed in a tweed jacket, purple bow tie, and small circular glasses who mops the basement floor. 

Ghost in the Library #8

Okay, want another creepy one? How about another horror movie classic: the evil curse! And you’ll find that over at the Peoria Public Library. 

See, the land the library was built on was once owned by Mary Stevenson Grey. And I don’t know if she hated libraries or just had a bad experience with a librarian, but in 1847 she pronounced a curse on anyone who occupied her land after she died. 

And if you don’t believe curses are real, well, three library directors have already met untimely ends. There’s E. S. Willcox, who in 1915 was run over by a streetcar; there’s Samuel Patterson Prowse, who was doing nothing more exciting than attending a library board meeting in 1921 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. And in 1924, Director Dr. Edwin Wiley committed suicide by taking arsenic. 

Now, I don’t know if the Peoria Library is covering something up, but since those deaths, supposedly no other library directors have died under mysterious circumstances. Still, employees do report seeing the ghost of Prowse hanging around the basement.

Ghost in the Library #9

Enough with creepy, let’s get to my second favorite, which is funny and kind of sad too. So the front portion of the Old Bernardsville Public Library in New Jersey was once the Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War. 

The innkeeper’s daughter was Phyllis Parker who was in love with a British spy. The spy was hanged in 1777, and to make sure Phyllis didn’t forget her transgression, the body was delivered in a coffin to the tavern. 

Phyllis suffered a nervous breakdown and was never the same again. Then, starting in 1974, Ghost Phyllis began showing up in the rooms of the library where the tavern once was. But she was a good ghost who never caused any trouble and seemed to be a welcome addition. So much so that they issued her her own library card.

Despite this, Phyllis slowly stopped making appearances and one of the last times she was seen was in November 1989, when a 3-year-old boy saw a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room. Not put off one bit, he stopped and said hello to her. Maybe Phyllis knew her time was up because only a couple years after this final appearance, the library moved to a new location.

Ghost in the Library #10

And I’ve saved my favorite ghostly tale for last. And this tale really does have a tail because its about a ghost cat. Unless he’s Manx. 

Anyway, this is at the Doris and Harry Vise Library at Tennesee’s Cumberland University. So in March 2001, the director of the library, John Boniol, said a cat came floating across his office floor. He said it wasn’t walking, it was gliding and none of the feet touched the ground. It then vanished into the boxes that were under his desk. Which sounds like your typical cat. 

But that’s not the only ghosts in the Vise Library. John reported eerie sensations in certain rooms and a former librarian used to play peek-a-boo with the ghost of a little girl. I’m not sure if that’s creepy, or just says a lot about what it takes to get through a slow day in library land.

So, what about your area, any haunted libraries you know of? Have you felt any icy fingers tickling your spine while you roamed the stacks? Let me know!

Update Time:

So, now it’s update time – As for writing, as I record this I’m about halfway through the first draft of the third book of my Cassie Black trilogy, and by the time this comes to, I am hoping I’ll be almost done with that draft. I’m pushing to get the book, and the trilogy completely revised and edited by the end of the year, and I think I’m going to be cutting it pretty close, but it will be nice to have them all put together and ready to publish in the first part of 2021.

And as for the podcast, well, not much to report here. Thanks to everyone who’s been commenting on the episodes and as ever, if there’s a strange bookstore, quirky author, or other book related topic you want covered, don’t be shy about letting me know!

Signing Off:

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. If no ghosts and goblins snatch you up at your local library, I will hoot at you next time.

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Authors, Episodes

14. Will Authors Go Extinct?

 

It’s October and that means all things spooky…and I can’t think of anything scarier than AI pushing authors to extinction. Find out how real the risks are, and what you as a writer or a reader can do to save the species Homo authoris.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

Episode Transcript (or roughly so)…

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So it’s episode 14 and, because this is normally around the time of year Mr. Husband and I are off traveling, I had planned on doing something related to travel books (which I still plan to do), but I recently posted an article on my writing blog that got a lot of attention and since it is book related, I thought it would make a great topic for the podcast.

So, if you have read that post, this will be a bit of a rerun (I’ll be adding my own snarky comments in, though so it will be a tad different), but for those of you who haven’t read it, I hope this gets your brain cells thinking about books, about authors, and about the future of writing.

So, jumping right into it today, the question is: will authors go extinct?

And this was on my mind for a while because while working in the garden a couple weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of The Career Author Podcast.

In this episode the guys, who are J. Thorn and Zach Bohannan, were chatting about technology and publishing. I kind of expected it to be about software like Scrivener which is a writing program that helps you keep things super organized and makes shifting scenes and chapters very convenient, and Vellum which is a book formatting program, but it turned out to be WAY more…and WAY scarier.

The technology they ended up focusing on was AI (artificial intelligence, in case you didn’t already know). And specifically AI that learns from books being fed into it, then can spit out an entire novel…a novel it has written itself based on the tropes and writing style used in the books it gobbled up into its creepy little AI brain.

Now, the book lovers out there are probably thinking, “What? AI can’t do that.”

Well, it kind of can. It’s already being used to write various types of articles that end up getting published by big news agencies such as Associated Press, Forbes, and the LA Times, as well as smaller agencies looking for cheap content for their websites.

It’s known as Automated Journalism and the main reason it exists is because why would you want to pay a bunch of pesky reporters who demand weird things like salaries and benefits, when you can simply grab an AI-generated article?

And to give you an example of how rapidly-generated content can drive down salaries for writer, some of the magazines I’ve written for have paid up to $500, $700 for an article. But I’ve also written web content where the articles were just as long as those magazine articles, and they paid me around $15…and that’s considered high. Many of these web content factories will pay under $10 for an article, but AI could drive down even that small amount. And I’ll get into this concept a little more in a bit.

But back to books. Right now, (I think) there’s only been one serious attempt for AI to write a novel and it didn’t go well. But this is AI we’re talking about, people. It’s job is to learn and it learns QUICKLY. It won’t be long before it cranks out a readable novel you won’t be able to distinguish from a human-written novel.

Which, as an author, is scary. And it was to J. and Zach who predicted that the job of “author” as we know it might go extinct.

And before you shout, “But that’s impossible. Writers will always write. Readers will always read.” Well, taking an example from the guys, that’s probably what book binders once thought. Now, the only book binders are artisans on Etsy. And really, looking across the board, plenty of other jobs have been made extinct (or mostly so) by advances in technology.

Now, I’m not a Luddite. I love my Mac, I love playing with programs to make book covers and format my books, I love being able to download audiobooks within minutes from the library and to stream yoga videos to work out the kinks at the end of the day. But I still have enough wariness over AI to think this extinction could become a reality.

Think about it. What does generating products by machine do? Just think in general about something like shirts, or furniture, or anything else that used to be handcrafted. And I’m going to go a bit into the world of economics here, but don’t be scared, we’ll come back to books as quick as we can.

So first, machines speeds up the process of manufacturing and that adds more product to the market. Second, it drives down prices because there’s an easy abundance of cheaply made product (cheap mainly because you get to get rid of most of those expensive humans). Third, it creates a uniform (dare I say, cookie cutter) product.

All three of these combined are the perfect ingredients to kill off the species Homo authoris.

So let’s look at each of those three things a little more closely and see how it relates to writing and books and extinction.

First we have speeding up the process. There’s already human authors blowing me out of the water by being able to whip up books in only a few weeks, but even that pace is going to seem slow when a trained AI can churn out a book in only a few minutes.

Now, I’m not one to complain about more books. I love books! But it’s already a crowded market out there for authors. There’s something like nearly a million books self published in the US every single year.

But AI’s productivity could flood that market with books, making it even harder for human authors to get discovered. And with retailers often favoring new releases, well, AI will easily win that game and push even the fastest author to the bottom of the heap.

Next we’ve got driving down AI prices. A certain store named for a certain river has already encouraged a race to the bottom of ebook pricing, and some customers will scoff if a book is more than 99c, although many indie authors have been able to resist this by successfully pricing books at $4.99 or more.

But if AI can crank out book after book, it’s going to have plenty of product, and with volume comes low prices. Sure, the first AI books will seem like novelties and people might pay higher prices for them, but before long, I can see AI books rarely being placed above that 99c price point.

And once again, human writers who have bills to pay and buy wine risk losing this low-price competition. Remember, a 99c book on that retailer, nets the author a mere 34c…on which we have to pay taxes, dropping the actual take-home royalty to around 15 to 20c.

If we’re priced out or have to price so low we can’t keep up our wine habit)as well as squeezed off the virtual shelves, well, let’s just say resource and habitat loss is a key factor in any extinction.

Next, we’ve got to look at that cookie cutter product. If AI learns to write from books it’s fed, it’s going to create books similar to those books. Which is fine. We all take inspiration from books we read.

But here’s where I stop blaming AI for writers’ future extinction because this third point got me thinking about how some writers are already “training” readers.

I listen to a lot of writing podcasts and read plenty of books on the writing craft, and I am constantly hearing/reading about the expected “tropes” in certain genres. If you write genre X, you must have A, B, and C to satisfy readers because readers expect to see A, B, and C, and they’ll give you crappy reviews if you don’t have those exact things.

And yes, I understand certain tropes make a story work. You’re not going to have a romance novel without two people working their way around a relationship. You’re not going to have a thriller or horror novel without some sort of really bad guy.

But what drives me bonkers is when authors are advised to include very specific scenes, very specific actions, very specific character types and character motivations to satisfy their genre’s tropes.

In other words, writers are advised to make cookie cutter books.

I’m Not Saying I Don’t Like Cookies, But… I can’t tell you how many indie-written books I’ve picked up that are cookie cutter versions of each other or of other more popular books.

But does the fault go to the writer or to the reader?

Because maybe that’s what readers have been lulled into expecting…Don’t think too hard, just grab that book that looks like the past three books you’ve read. Don’t expect the unique. Don’t expect the unexpected. Expect the same story you’re familiar with because why risk discovering something new? Why take the chance you might not like it? Stick with what you know. Keep eating those same cookies.

And the same goes for book covers. I participate in a few author-sponsored promos every month and in those promos are on average, let’s say, 50 books. And well over half the urban fantasy books will have the exact same cover… an attitude-filled, twenty-something-year-old on a bright blue, green, or purple background with black around the edges and shiny text for the title (most of which are almost the exact same font).

And we as indie authors are told this is exactly what we’re supposed to do. Make a cover that matches genre expectations. Make the cookie cutter version even if your book looks the exact same as everyone else’s because otherwise readers won’t know that’s the story they want to read.

You know what happens to my eyes when I see those covers? I pass right over them. They all look the same to me. Call me the odd man odd, but I’m more drawn to the well-done, unique cover that makes me curious about what’s inside. I appreciate the author who’s trying to stand out, trying to be different, trying to catch my eye.

And it’s that desire for the unique, for the something special, for the original thought (even if inspired by another author) that human writers should be training readers to seek out.

Because if we keep training readers to only want the same old story in the same old package, Ai can do that in the blink of an eye and authors really will go extinct.

After all, AI can crank out those page puppies far faster than any human and they’re bound to do it cheaply sooner or later. There’ll be no point to us human writers if readers remain satisfied with the same cover, the same characters, the same story, the same cheap price point over and over. And over and over.

Sure, a familiar story is fine now and then, but shouldn’t we be seeking new twists, shouldn’t we be encouraging new ideas, and new glimpses into the world? We should crave what does make us human, which is our crazy amount of innate creativity and curiosity. (Okay, I know other creatures are creative and curious, but shut up, I’m on a roll here.)

So What Can We Do?

We can’t stop the progression of AI technology (unless we can hire some Luddites to break the machines like they did the weaving looms back in the day). To be honest, most of us have absolutely no say in the rapid advance of something we find more than little creepy.

But what we writers can do is stay unique. We can write something without the crutch of strict tropes. Build a new world. Tell a tale that is completely new, not one that follows the same outline everyone else is following. Create a cover that stands out, not one that blends in. Be brave enough to make the regular price of your hard work to more than 99c.

And readers, you have a job to do too. Like I said. Seek out the unique. Step out of your book comfort zone. Don’t grab that 99c book with the same old cover, opt instead for perhaps a $3.99 one that looks a little different (if you can afford it, of course. If you can’t, ask your library to carry that book.).

And get to know the human behind the book. Sign up for an author’s newsletter if they have one, follow and interact with them on social media, get to know them (without being a stalker, of course). If they sell books directly to readers, purchase from them.

Because the more you get to know just how much work goes into those non-cookie cutter stories, you will appreciate a human-made book more than ever.

And that understanding, that appreciation, might just keep us writers from going extinct…or at least delay that extinction until I make my first million. HA! That’ll be the day!!

Okay my little humans, go forth and read and write, be different, expect unique, and use your minds!!!

Alright, time to get off my soapbox and share some updates.

As for writing, speaking of covers, I’ve finally honed in on the style of cover I want for my Cassie Black trilogy, I’ve also figured to titles for the three books, and I am pretty darn close to nailing the descriptions. Oh, and my first draft of book three is progressing quite nicely.

And as for the podcast all I have is a reminder that this show is supported by you. I specifically chose not to go with a free podcast service because they insert ads willy nilly. But this show does eat up a fair amount of time and I can’t justify keeping the show going if it doesn’t get a tiny amount of support from my listeners. So, if you’re able, please consider buying one of my books, treating the Book Owl to a cuppa, or simply using my Amazon Affiliate link the next time you’re doing a little shopping. And you’ll find all those ways to support on the book owl podcast dot come slash support.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

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