Fractal Literature

I recently came across this article from back in 2016. It’s a couple years old, but I found the premise fascinating enough to discuss anyway. As you probably know, one of the things I talk about here is the difference between “literature” and “genre.” The distinction has never been all that clear to me. I especially take issue with literary snobs who insist that, for example, stories with paranormal elements or speculative technologies can never be literary, basically by definition because they fall under “fantasy” or “science fiction.”

There certainly is a lot of bad genre fiction out there, especially these days, but it also seems to be that literary conceits such as “dysfunctional family” are really no less genre than say, stories about werewolves or whatever. I can follow the argument that literary writing requires prose of a certain level, or character development of a certain level, or story complexity of a certain level – or for that matter all three. But if that’s the case, it should be independent of the subject matter.

“Realism,” especially of the “hard materialist” sort, has never really captured my attention. For one thing, magick is totally real. I do it all the time, and it makes my life way more awesome than it would be otherwise. So a world without active spiritual forces seems totally forced and unrealistic to me. Also, why do I want to read about regular life? Especially the regular life of a character who’s way more boring than me? When your life as a magical practitioner feels totally normal, trying to understand a character who lacks that element is really, really dull.

This article, though, discusses an idea that I had never previously considered. According to mathematical analysis, sentences in great literature exhibit a “multifractal” pattern. The analysis was conducted by analyzing sentence length throughout the entire text. The researchers concluded that the pattern was present in the vast majority of “great literary works” that they studied, and was especially clear in texts that were written using stream-of-consciousness techniques.

“All of the examined works showed self-similarity in terms of organization of the lengths of sentences. Some were more expressive—The Ambassadors by Henry James stood out—while others were less extreme, as in the case of the French 17th-century romance Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus. However, correlations were evident, and therefore, these texts were the construction of a fractal,” says Dr. Pawel Oswiecimka (IFJ PAN), who also noted that fractality of a literary text will in practice never be as perfect as in the world of mathematics. It is possible to magnify mathematical fractals up to infinity, while the number of sentences in each book is finite, and at a certain stage of scaling, there will always be a cut-off in the form of the end of the dataset.

Things took a particularly interesting turn when physicists from the IFJ PAN began tracking non-linear dependence, which in most of the studied works was present to a slight or moderate degree. However, more than a dozen works revealed a very clear multifractal structure, and almost all of these proved to be representative of one genre: stream of consciousness. The only exception was the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, which has so far never been associated with this literary genre. “The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” says Prof. Drozdz.

The most multifractal works also included A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, Rayuela by Julio Cortazar, The US Trilogy by John Dos Passos, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, 2666 by Roberto Bolano, and Joyce’s Ulysses. At the same time, a lot of works usually regarded as stream of consciousness turned out to show little correlation to multifractality, as it was hardly noticeable in books such as Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust.

“It is not entirely clear whether stream of consciousness writing actually reveals the deeper qualities of our consciousness, or rather the imagination of the writers. It is hardly surprising that ascribing a work to a particular genre is, for whatever reason, sometimes subjective. We see, moreover, the possibility of an interesting application of our methodology: it may someday help in a more objective assignment of books to one genre or another,” notes Prof. Drozdz.

There’s some speculation in the article on how this observation might or might not related to a fractal structure within consciousness itself. Back in my college days I played around with the idea of fractal consciousness, and the result was this paper. While neuroscience has disproven enough of psychoanalysis that much of the Jungian speculation in it is probably meaningless, I still contend that it makes sense for consciousness to follow some sort of fractal pattern – we just need to work out what the fractional dimension of that pattern is.

At any rate, one of the things I have mentioned a couple of times over on Augoeides is that I have never found it that difficult to distinguish a genuine “received text” from a fake one. There’s a particular feel to the language that seems obvious to me, in terms of how it flows in general and how certain points get elaborated and extended. The Book of the Law, for example, clearly exhibits this sort of structure. On the other hand, most of the “secret fourth chapters” that show up every so often in the Thelemic community don’t. I also see it in historical pieces like Dee and Kelley’s Angelic Keys, and not as much in some of the other conjurations and so forth from those periods.

So is something like this “multifractal structure” what I’m noticing? I’m not sure at this point, but it strikes me as a possibility. It could be the case if the closer something is to stream-of-consciousness while remaining meaningful, the more likely it is to be a legitimate received text. The researchers did apply their analysis to the Bible and didn’t find a pattern, but the Bible is a collection of many texts written in both Greek and Hebrew, and I don’t know enough about the analysis conducted to see whether or not I think that translation might be part of the issue.

Perhaps more practically – can a novel be written in a multifractal pattern by design? If so, it would be an interesting experiment to write the same kind of story that I usually write – fantasy or science fiction – but write it in this “literary” way. Would book critics view it differently? If so, does that imply that multifractal prose is literary and prose without it is not? At the very least, if that distinction exists it would represent an objective difference between these two kinds of writing.

I also think that what we would find is that there should be such a thing as “good genre” and “bad literary.” Obviously it should be possible to write something terrible using a multifractal approach, just like it should be possible to write something really good without it. But I probably am getting ahead of myself there. One study does not a scientific discovery make, and maybe this finding is little more than a stray artifact.

I will say, though, that I’m looking forward to future research along these lines. It’s always frustrating to be judged by a metric that is essentially “I know it when I see it” rather than anything quantifiable. Here’s an interesting experiment to try – find a selection from Finnegan’s Wake or one of the other “high-multifractal” pieces in this study. Write down the length of each sentence in the selection. Then, like composing a haiku, write a narrative that matches the length of each sentence and see if what you get is any good.

Well Played!

In the wake of this whole “cockygate” nonsense, it may be that one of Faleena Hopkins’ targets will have the last laugh. Hopkins sent a cease-and-desist notification to Jamila Jasper, another romance novelist who dared to “infringe” on Hopkins’ “cocky” trademark with a romance novel called Cocky Cowboy. Jasper was quoted in the original article about Hopkins, stating that while she thought this was bogus – like every other reasonable person does – she was not in a position to engage in any legal action of her own and would have to comply and change the title of her book.

Well, she did, and it’s hilarious. Cocky Cowboy is now retitled The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked. Note that the new title doesn’t contain “cocky” and the trademark only applies to that exact word. Also, the new title takes on a kind of Chuck Tingle-esque over-the-top quality that is legitimately funny, especially in light of this whole stupid “scandal” or whatever the heck it is. Jasper is getting a big sales boost over this, and according to her reviews she’s apparently a pretty good writer in addition to being delightfully snarky.

If you want to take a look at the new title and show your support for standing up to the writing equivalent of patent trolling, you can check out The Cockiest Cowboy to Ever Have Cocked right here.

“Cocky” Sounds About Right

faleena_hopkinsWe authors are going to need more than clown sex stabbings to sell books if we keep trying to eat our own. I understand that book sales are disappointing, marketing is hard, and making a living publishing books is basically impossible at this point, but trying to drag each other down fighting over the crumbs of an ever-decreasing pie is seriously not the way to go.

According to this article from The Guardian, romance novelist Faleena Hopkins filed a trademark on the word “cocky” back in April. She is the author of a series of books that use the word in the their titles. Since then, she has claimed to own the word and has threatened legal action against any other author who uses it in a book title.

Faleena Hopkins is the self-published author of a series of books about the “Cocker Brothers” (“Six bad boy brothers you’ll want to marry or hide under you [sic] bed”), each of which features the word “cocky” in the title: Cocky Romantic, Cocky Biker, Cocky Cowboy.

On Saturday, author Bianca Sommerland posted a YouTube video sharing allegations that Hopkins had written to authors whose books also had titles including the word “cocky”, informing them that she had been granted the official registered trademark of the adjective in relation to romance books, and asking them to rename their novels or face legal action. Records at the US patent and trademark office show that the registered trademark for use of the word “cocky” in relation to romance ebooks was issued in April 2018.

Self-published writer Jamila Jasper, who claims she was asked by Hopkins to change the title of her novel Cocky Cowboy, said she removed her novel from sale after she was contacted by Hopkins. “I have to admit I am intimidated because I don’t have many resources to fight this legally if she does pursue,” she wrote on Twitter. Pajiba reported on Monday that the author Nana Malone had been asked to change the title of her novel Mr Cocky, while TL Smith and Melissa Jane’s Cocky Fiancé has been renamed Arrogant Fiancé. Other writers claimed that Hopkins had reported them to Amazon, resulting in their books being taken down from the site.

Hopkins tweeted that the word was “a brand”, and that the writers she was contacting could “keep their books, rankings, reviews and their money by retitling which takes one day”. On Facebook, she said she was a victim of “cyber-bullying”, writing that she “applied for the trademark to protect the future of my series because it helps people. It’s filled with love, hope, and respect to all human beings.”
She added: “I receive letters from readers who lost money thinking they bought my series. I’m protecting them and that’s what trademarks are meant for.”

Others are not so sure. Chocolat author Joanne Harris punned that “such behaviour is considered a dick move” on her blog, adding more seriously that “if it were really possible to legally forbid authors from using a certain common word in their book titles, then the whole publishing industry would be down the drain in a matter of days”.

Seeing as this is totally not how trademarks work, and that it basically fits the definition of “utterly deplorable,” I’m left to wonder if this might be an attempt by Hopkins to employ the “being awful” side of the clown sex stabbing promotion method. If it is, I’ll admit it’s a clever variation on the theme that I have never thought of. It’s got to be getting pretty close to peak awfulness, and it remains to be seen if it boosts her sales like a clown sex stabbing would.

Surely I could trademark the word “Arcana” – the title of my first novel – and then file suit against all makers of Tarot cards! After all, they include a set of cards called the “Major Arcana.” There also are a series of music albums that use the title, and a couple of other things that use it as well. Or I could trademark “Guild” – after the Guild Series – and then threaten to sue every single author who has a guild of anything in their books. That’s even more awful, right?

Seriously, though, if you think this is as outrageous as I do, there’s a petition you can sign asking the patent and trademark office to strike down Hopkins’ trademark. It probably won’t work, because she’s allowed to trademark whatever she wants. She’s just not allowed to beat every other author out there over the head with it, and the courts should eventually make it clear that this behavior is totally not okay.

Awful But Effective

Zoe AdamsI keep reading accounts of authors trying to market books using all sorts of different promotional services, and the results are almost always described as “disappointing.” Marketing is tough, and as I’ve noted previously, it’s a lot easier to make money off authors than it is to make money by being an author. Promotions of whatever sort generally lose money and don’t even generate that much exposure.

Looking through the news lately, though, I came across something that appears to have worked. The trouble is that it’s not the kind of promotion that most of us want to go through. Kieran Bewick is a 17-year-old fantasy novelist with one ebook currently published. He made the news when, in a truly bizarre story that hit all the tabloids, he was stabbed during sex by his girlfriend Zoe Adams, who was dressed as a clown at the time (!). Adams was recently sentenced to eleven years in prison for the attack.

Adams shrugged off this evidence as a joke and claimed that she had no recollection of the stabbing. However, Judge James Adkin, dismissed her defense and said her “cruel and sadistic” actions were those of someone who deliberatly intended to cause harm, reported The Telegraph.

Adkin added that the attack was premeditated, citing the duct tape and knife that had been taken into her bedroom prior to the attack. “You had decided to cause serious harm to Mr Bewick during sex,” Adkin said. “I am sure that by that time you had already become disinhibited by drink and drugs and the more sadistic side of your personality had come to dominate.”

Bewick, an aspiring fantasy novelist, survived the attack but was left was life-threatening injuries, including a collapsed lung. In his victim impact statement, Bewick said he is going to be emotionally scarred for life and that the attack will further exacerbate his fear of clowns.

“I struggle with the knowledge that someone I genuinely cared about would do this to me. Just after I got out of hospital, this thought played on my mind a lot,” he said. “But having had time to think about it, I am convinced that she planned it. It wasn’t personal. She was going to do it to someone and it just happened to be me. Strangely, that makes it easier to deal with.

Checking the sales rank on Bewick’s book, I can confirm that with only one review and a two-star rating, it currently is outselling every single thing that I have ever published. Bewick lives in the UK, too, so he doesn’t have to offset his earnings against hospital bills. That alone would make the clown sex stabbing  approach less viable in the states, even though in terms of sales it seems to be working better than any commercial promotional service I’ve seen.

And I joke – sort of. To be clear, I’m not making fun of Bewick or his book, or this awful ordeal that he’s been through. My point is that this is one more piece of evidence that “going viral” is not a thing that happens due to simple word of mouth or individual people sharing posts. As I’ve mentioned here previously, according to a huge data set amassed by analysts at Yahoo!, the “viralness” of anything is directly proportional to the circulation of the largest media outlet that covers it. That’s the only metric that matters.

The upshot of this is that aside from massive publicity outlays that may finally produce a return on investment, but which no independent artist or writer can afford, outrage and incredulity are what make most popular artists popular. It has almost nothing to do with technical skill or quality of work. People telling you that you can become a bestselling author by focusing all your efforts on writing the best book you can? Flat-out wrong. Getting attention for your work is exponentially harder than doing the work in the first place, so if you really want to make even a meager living at writing that’s where you have to focus.

Because of the outrage and incredulity factors, the only shortcut is to be an awful person (to generate outrage) or, like Bewick, have something awful happen to you (to generate incredulity). And to be clear, the awfulness you need to cultivate is not just any awfulness. It has to be kind of mystifying and bizarre to anyone who reads it, a “man bites dog” kind of story, because that’s what will make major media outlets pick it up.

Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend? Boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex? A little less boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex while she’s wearing full clown attire? We have a winner, folks! It’s whole clown thing that really pushes the story over the top and makes larger outlets want to report on the story. And the resulting media coverage sells books. But the problem is that this is a pretty difficult thing to do on purpose.

I’m a practicing magician, so I probably could come up with some occult-related stunt that at least fundamentalists would find awful. At the same time, so few people care about the occult that I doubt I could push anything like that into clown makeup stabbing territory. I don’t really want to commit a crime or wind up in a hospital, so that limits my options. And I think if anybody is outraged by what I say on my magick blog, Augoeides, I would know about it by now.

So at the moment I’m still standing here at the drawing board, trying to brainstorm an approach that fits all my criteria and is as sensational and weird as a clown sex stabbing. I think I’m going to need a lot of luck to pull that off. Truth be told, I’m probably nowhere near masochistic enough or messed up enough or surrounded by messed up enough people to do it. That’s by design and it’s the life I want to be living, but clearly the drawback is that it limits my potential marketing appeal.

To wrap up, this all makes me weep for the future of our art, and if there’s a hill I’m willing to die on, this is it: writers should not have to subject themselves to clown sex stabbings – or their equivalent – in order to sell books. A world where that’s the norm is a dystopian nightmare, and we’re already closer to it than I think any of us would like.

How did we ever get here?

 

Mastering the Thirty Aires Submitted!

30_aires_color_500
It took a lot longer than I ever expected, but my draft manuscript for Mastering the Thirty Aires has finally been submitted to my publisher. Editing and book production usually run around six months or so, which means that the book should be available sometime next fall.

Mastering the Thirty Aires completes my trilogy of books on the mostly-Dee-purist-with-some-additions system of Enochian magick that I have worked out over the last twenty-five years. It focuses on practical results, and uses what I consider the best interpretation of the material in the Dee diaries for attributions and powers of the all the spirits and other components of the system. It deals with how to use the Aires and Parts of the Earth to effect political change, and also includes some valuable and practical material on zodiacal magick.

I’m looking forward to making this final piece of my base Enochian system available to the public, and will keep you all posted when I have a release date. Thanks for your patience, and I think you will like the final result very much.

The New Censorship?

censorshipAt the end of this last month, erotica writers on Amazon noticed something disturbing. Erotica and romance novels containing adult content were being stripped of sales ranks and reviews without any explanation. It appeared to be more than a technical glitch, in that adult content in particular was being targeted. Amazon has yet to release any sort of statement explaining what is going on, but many writers including me are concerned about the possibility of ramped-up censorship on the world’s largest online book market.

A big blow to the romance community has surfaced as romance and erotica authors are having their titles on Amazon stripped of their ranks and reviews. Towards the end of March, the romance community began to notice romance and erotic novels being stripped of their ranks and/or reviews, without an explanation. Although Amazon has yet to make a statement about what’s going on, it’s clear that any book that contains adult content could be stripped.

Of course that’s devastating to both authors and readers. Both of these things allow authors to successfully sell their works and helps readers to find titles they would be interested in. In an effort to try and save their reviews and rankings, some romance/erotica authors have taken to removing any keywords that might cause their titles to be stripped. For those that have published in the erotica category, it might prove even more difficult to protect their books from these changes.

Since Amazon isn’t being transparent about what is happening, it’s not clear why these novels are being stripped. Many authors believe it could be in response to the FOSTA bill, while others believe it could be an internal update from Amazon to push these books off the ranks. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) was touted as a bill to make everyone safer by creating accountability for internet companies. However, the bill was met with great backlash for many reasons, including the amount of censorship it would allow.

I want to be clear on a couple of things here. First of all, FOSTA is a fundamentally stupid law. Much like the Communications Decency Act in the 1990’s that was struck down as unconstitutional, it enables censorship on the grounds of what might happen. With the CDA, it was about liability for Internet companies hosting anything children might be able to access, regardless of verifications and safeguards. FOSTA is about liability for Internet companies that might host a personal ad that was really put up by a sex trafficker. Might, could, maybe, possible. Nothing about due process or even a reasonable understanding of how Internet platforms work.

Second, I have no idea if this is related to FOSTA or not. Amazon has made no statement one way or the other. It seems kind of unbelievable that it would be at first glance, since even given the goofy “might” criteria in the bill, there’s no way that I can imagine a book of erotica could possibly have anything to do with sex trafficking. I also think it’s kind of strange that Amazon would kill their own golden goose here, since they are making a lot of money on erotica. It’s hard for authors to make money on anything else, and Amazon always gets a cut. But whatever is going on, it’s not good. I don’t think anybody halfway sane wants an Internet that is so sanitized that you have to install Tor and hit the dark web for anything not rated G.

So I’m calling on Amazon to knock this crap off. I realize that it’s unlikely to make much of a difference coming from an insignificant author like myself, and I also realize that this is one of the hazards of allowing a single company to monopolize so much of the book industry – which is a whole other conversation.

UPDATE: As a point, I am aware that the term “censorship” technically applies to actions by the government, not private corporations. Amazon is a business and it can decide what it will and will not carry. However, my point is this – if they really are removing and down-listing content in response to the ridiculous FOSTA law, as I see it, that DOES qualify as censorship. At this point nobody knows if that’s what they’re doing, which is why they need to clarify their actions as soon as possible.

Charging for Giveaways?

authors-money-marketingOne of the things I will always tell aspiring authors is that there is a lot more money to be made off of authors than there is to be made by being an author. The reason for this is pretty simple. Writing is a passion, so we authors keep doing it even though making money at it is really tough, and we are always looking for new ways to publicize books and get them in front of readers. At the same time, hardly anything ever works that well, so if you, say, run a paid service that publicizes books you may find that authors are happy spending a significant amount of money on your service even if all it generates is a handful of sales.

Sometimes, though, these services get too greedy for their own good. As of January, Amazon-owned book site Goodreads has been charging authors for book giveways. So not only do you have to pay the money out of your own pocket to buy the books, you also have to pay Goodreads to… do whatever Goodreads does. Post a listing? For hundreds of dollars? Yeah, I’m not going to be doing that, and I advise everyone else to do the same.

The truth is that if you follow author discussions online, giveaways rarely accomplish much of anything these days. They had their day in the sun maybe two years ago. Everything I’ve read recently suggests that these days they have little effect on sales and maybe garner a review or two – if you’re lucky. I also think that the rise in giveaways has had a toxic effect on the book market in general, by acclimatizing people to getting all their books for free.

That’s just not sustainable if want any authors to be able to support themselves on their writing going forward. The biggest problem with writing and the arts in general is that writers and artists are passionate about our work and enough of us are going to keep doing it regardless of how much money we are making. That makes the supply practically unlimited against a finite demand, and the more of us who give away our work for free, the worse it gets for everyone else.

I suppose Goodreads imagines that it will be making money off of publishers and the few writers like me who have money to spend, but the bottom line is that charging for a giveaway is just stupid. I’m not about to waste the money I have on nonsense like that. And if you realize going in that a giveaway is very unlikely to generate sales, you probably won’t either. My suggestion is this – if you want to do a book giveaway, give away ebooks through a platform like Smashwords.

Here’s why. First, they’re not owned by Amazon. Amazon already takes a big enough share our money and web traffic. Second, with an ebook there’s no inventory involved, so you aren’t really taking a loss on the books you give away. Third, unlike Amazon which requires a Kindle or an e-reader or whatever, when you buy an ebook on Smashwords you have the option of downloading the book in a bunch of different formats – including PDF which you can basically read on any phone, computer, tablet, or whatever.

Smashwords makes it easy to create a coupon that you can send out to people on your mailing list. You can set it up to last for a period of time, or a certain number of downloads. All your fans need to do it is buy the book on Smashwords with the coupon, and the book is free. Once they own it, they can go into their Smashwords account and download it again, any time they way, and in any supported format – including Kindle, Nook, PDF, Apple, and so forth.

Oh, and making those coupons is free. With the way things are going, that right there recommends it pretty highly.