Farewell To Demand Studios

Charles River in Winter
Sunset on Ice Covered River

Misdirected Anger

I really want to be mad at Demand Studios, but  in all honesty, they have done nothing more than try to save the company from all the curve balls that Google has been tossing them lately. The latest one is called Google Panda, which I can’t really explain, but I know it has something to do with algorithms and page rankings. P.S. if you want to learn about an algorithm, all you have to do is watch the Social Network or look up the term online. You might find that it has something to do with algebra and a Persian mathematician, named a al-Khwārizmī.

How It Happened To Me

A week ago Tuesday (August 2) I was sitting in the Winnipeg Public Library (yes, that’s in Canada) working on my slew of assignments, when I decided it was time to take a break and grab a sandwich at Tim Horton’s. (What else do you do when in Canada) When I returned to the library and went to the DS website, I discovered much to my surprise that DS had removed all my claimed assignments and placed me in the “Writer Development Program”, three words that I have now come to loathe. My work in progress was retained, but everything else went poof!! Gone forever never to be seen again. Instead, I was faced with the task of choosing three new assignments and submitting them to the senior editors. Once this was accomplished, I would simply sit back, relax and wait for my new work to filter through the system.

How It’s Gone

The good news has been that I found three assignments without much difficulty that I felt I could write with ease. I did this and submitted the three pieces within a few days. All three came back for rewrites with some rather complicated instructions, so I took my time and resubmitted each one. Yesterday, the first rewrite was rejected and I have not heard from the other two. So unless my rejection is overturned (highly unlikely) my time with DS is kaput. In fact, they have even removed my ability to look for new assignments. All I anticipate right now is to have the last two articles pass through, so I can at least collect a small bit of money.

Looking Back

Despite some of the bad press Demand Studios has received around the web, I have enjoyed my stint with DS and have learned much about writing content and  Search Engine Optimization. At times the writing task has been very frustrating, but I have enjoyed being able to complete a short article and see the finished results online. My writing has improved and providing  content for DS has encouraged me to jump in and tackle other writing tasks. In fact, I have been at the point for a while now, where I need to put more effort into other types of writing. My complaint concerns the way in which the writing ended, but my problems are small potatoes to the challenges that Demand Studios faces now that they have gone public.

Sunset Over Back Cove
Sunset Over Water

Literary Map of the United States

Relief Map of the United States
Relief Map of the United States

Big Country

Here is a relief map of the United States that includes part of Mexico and Canada as well. As anyone can easily see the country stretches between two coasts which approximately 3,000 miles apart. The western half of the country is quite rugged and mountainous, while the east sits at lower elevations and is blessed with abundant rainfall. Across the varied topography, there exists a wide range of culture, history, geography and lifestyles, which collectively form the United States of America. If you mapped the land mass according to the notable writers that each place has produced, you would see a landscape covered with names.

Literary Map of the USA

Scribner Books, the UK publisher, has done just that. Now all interested parties can purchase such a map from the major book publisher.  The map is printed on 84 X 59.4 cm (33 X 24 inches) recycled card stock and features 226 authors, who lived and worked in the USA. Price is right about 10 pounds ($16 US) and shipping is free in the UK if you make enough additional purchases.

Western Writers Come Out Big

The big winners on this display item are the western writers of the mountain states. Since the printer had to fill the land area with names, writers from sparsely populated areas, like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah get their name spelled out in big letters, while for more prominent names from the populated east, get crunched together with numerous peers. A quick glance over reveals the names of E. Annie Proulx, Black Elk, Willa Cather, Cormac McCarthy, Zane Grey, Sojourner Truth and Vladimir Nobokov, which are all displayed quite prominently. Mark Twain does OK, but others such as Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack Kerouac, John Irvine and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may require a magnifying glass to read.

The Case For Slam Poetry

Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)
Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)

Controversy At The White House

Just last week the White House invited a rapper, who goes by the name of Common Sense, to give a reading at a Wednesday Night poetry reading. Common Sense, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., has been on the rap scene for many years now. He still manages to draw White House attention, even though he has not recorded anything substantial, since 2000. Nonetheless, “Common Sense” managed to draw some fire this time from Sarah Palin, among others, due to his pass support of Assata Shakur.It should be noted that Common Sense has appeared before (notably the Christmas season) without drawing any fire.

Further Developments

The debate did not stop there, for just last night Jon Stewart appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor”, just to exchange views with the host about Common Sense’s White House visit, rap music in general and the limits of free speech. It appears just by his appearance and ability to hold his own on the Fox News show, Jon have may benefitted more from the debate. Anyway the two pundits got to know each other much better, and left the show best of friends.

Pushing The Envelope

But why should the WH appreciation be limited to listening to one Chicago over-the-hill rapper. Why not sponsor a genuine Poetry Slam with numerous contestants, a panel of judges and a lively audience cheering on their favorite contender. Slam Poetry fests are a lively form of literary entertainment that could  use some more exposure. Although they display a verbal influence from Rap, they are very much different to sitting in a bar or state occasion getting bombarded with the latest lyrics du jour.

Tainted Cup of Tea

K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wkikpedia
K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wikipedia

Fiction Or Non-fiction

As of late, 60 minutes is becoming a regular visitor on the literary scene. Their latest excursion into the literary world occurred this Sunday night and concerned one of the best-selling non-fiction writers in the English language.  The writer of concern is Greg Mortenson who has written the best-seller, Three Cups of Tea. If just some of the things that Mortenson’s critics claim are true, Mortenson might have to re-classify his popular travel and humanitarian story as fiction. Does anybody remember James Fry and the controversy that erupted over A Million Little Pieces? Seems that Greg Mortenson might have problems of a similar nature.

Add Fraud

Unfortunately, Mortenson’s problem may not be limited to telling a few tall tales in a non-fiction venue. You see Mortenson has developed a whole network of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that are operated from funds provided by philanthropists from around the world. Some of the more notable benefactors include Jon Krakauer and Barrack Obama, both of whom are successful authors in their own right. According to the reporters at CBS 60 minutes, Mortenson has participated in several questionable practices with his fundraising activities. These include misuse of non-profit status to promote a private enterprise, funding schools that don’t exist or are no longer in service and fabricating facts.

Deeper Problems

Just for stretching the facts in his memoir,  James Fry in conjunction with his publisher had to refund dissatisfied customers, plus give large sums of money to several deserving charities. Still, Fry was able to complete and sell a follow-up novel that has enjoyed good sales. So when all is said and done, the inaccuracies in “Million Pieces” may boil down to some very expensive advertising for the next novel. Events may not turn out so well for the author of “Three Cups of Tea”.For even if only half of what 60 Minutes reports is true, Mortenson could be in much deeper trouble.

60 Minutes and the N-word

Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn
Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn

I have a confession to make. I am not very comfortable using the N-word. I have heard the word all my life, used in all types of situation that vary from a Richard Pryor stand-up routine to the other end of spectrum, where the six-letter noun is used to put somebody down. And yes the word (at least in my experience) can be applied to anybody, though the most common usage might still occur, when it is directed towards black people from other races. Now that I have gotten this matter off my typing fingers, I can address the issue that 60 minutes raised. And that is the publication of a new version of Mark Twain’s classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, where the word, “nigger” has been changed to slave throughout the text.

The publisher for the “new” edition is called New South and the  book is now available and selling well. New South is a book publisher located in Montgomery, Alabama and the reason for changing the offensive language was to make the book for available for classroom usage, especially in pre-college situations. I do not have a problem with this alternative version, as long as readers are aware that the language has been changed. However, if this new edition were to become the norm, and the original version were to become the exception, more would be lost than gained. 60 Minutes did a nice job of airing the debate including interviews with proponents, opponents and high school English teachers, who teach the book in their American literature classes.

Oglethorpe’s Savannah

Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia
Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia

This past Saturday I had the privilege of visiting the charming Southern city of Savannah, Georgia. The occasion was the 4th Annual Savannah Book Festival, which was held at Telfair Square in the old historic district. Here in the historic district of the city, organizers had arranged literary speakers to give talks not only at the above pictured Telfair Museum, but also at the Trinity Methodist Church, Jepson Museum and a tent that was set up on the public square. Also on the square were a couple of book tents, where visitors could purchase both fiction and non-fiction titles.

Besides from the gathering of readers and writers, there was also the walk through the old city from my streetside  parking spot to the festival site. This stroll was most informative, for it took me right through one of the largest historical districts in the country. Savannah has a most interesting history for it was built in the early years of  the 18th century to give British debtors, a second chance in life.

To understand Savannah, it is necessary to take a look at the city’s founder, James Oglethorpe, a British citizen, who was born in 1696. James Oglethorpe served in Queen’s Anne War, returned home and was incarcerated in a British prison for killing a man in a brawl. After five months of confinement, Oglethorpe was released from jail and immediately elected to Parliament. His prison experience became paramount it the man’s successful attempt to recommend changes for the system. Of utmost concern was the British custom of imprisoning those who went bankrupt.

Savannah, which was begun as a British settlement in 1733, was created to give those imprisoned for debt a second chance in life. From this unusual beginning arose a prosperous city, which has survived the tests of time, and remains an important place of commerce today.

Savannah Today
Savannah Today

Super Bowl Haiku

Mt. Fuji and The Sea off Satta by Utagawa Hiroshige
Mt. Fuji and The Sea off Satta by Utagawa Hiroshige

Applying poetry to sports is not an unheard of event, but it is a literary activity that is not usually applied to football. However, an opportunity recently arose to write a piece of Haiku about the upcoming Super Bowl, which features a contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. The popular sporting event is scheduled on Sunday and will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas barring any unusual weather events or meteorites dropping out of the sky.

Haiku is an interesting form of short poetry, originally associated with Japan, but now popular in the English-speaking world as well. In this type of writing a short poem is created using just three lines of text. Each line has a designated number of syllables and rhyming isn’t necessary. The first and last lines each contain five syllables, while the middle phrase bears seven. Traditionally, Haiku portrays two juxtaposing images, which when combined, should reveal irony, humor and awareness.

In Japan, Haiku was often used to express some of the tenets of  Zen awareness, along with detached observations and comments on everyday life. In America, Haiku has become a popular method of reflecting our national past time, baseball, but associating this poetic structure with football is much less common. Perhaps this will change in the future.

Recently, I wrote several Haiku in honor of Super Bowl LXV, which is due to be played early on Sunday evening. One was published at Associated Content and the other two I have included with this post. Hope you enjoy.

Poem  #1

As the pack returns

Strong resistance heeds their path

The trophy is theirs

Poem #2

Heads clash in Dallas

The sound echoes everywhere

Then there is silence