Who Writes Like Me: Literature Maps

I recently came across Literature-Map, a website that has some magic formula it uses to predict which authors you will like based on the name you give them. So say you adore Hemingway and are hoping to find an author you’ll adore just as much. You go to this website and type in his name,  and up pops a map. You can see Hemingway’s map here.  

According to this map, you will probably like Faulkner and Salinger (because their names are closest in proximity to Hemingway’s), and you probably won’t like Nabokov or Joyce or even Shakespeare. 

So of course I had to experiment. I put in Sara Donati, and something like this showed up (click for a larger image):

Note first: This image has been edited; I took off the names of some authors simply because I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether or not our work is similar.  

Some things that I found interesting:   there aren’t many authors whose work is similar to mine. I’m not even similar to myself, which is quite a trick. The closest in physical proximity are Jean Auel, Rebecca Cable, and Marion Bradley. Furthest away are Patricia Veryan, Stephen Frey, Kerry Greenwood and Karin Slaughter. 

To try to figure this out, I used color coding. Light blue means I have only vague associations for the author. I may have read something of theirs, but without some research I don’t remember what that could have been, or what I felt about it.  I read a lot, so I’m a little surprised that I’m unfamiliar with so many of these authors. Especially as many of them (apparently) write in a way that appeals to readers who are drawn to my work. 

Light red means I do remember this author’s work, and I really don’t see any similarity. In fact, in some of these cases, I would rather not be compared. 

Light green means I know this author’s work and I like it. Almost none of the light green authors are in near proximity, which is no surprise at all. Let me just approach this another way. 

The Literature-Map people compare Hemingway to writers like Dickens, Tolstoy, Rand and Twain. Why these authors in particular? Why is Shakespeare on this map, but not Austen?

Why is Stephen Frey, of all people, on my map? I love Karen Slaughter’s gritty crime novels, but they are set in modern day Atlanta and have to do with themes that are in no way similar to the stories I write. Why is she on my map?

I’ll answer my own question: the algorithms behind these maps are defective. I let the Visual Thesaurus help me with this particular cloud:

Maybe there’s a website out there that does a better job of predicting a reader’s tastes, but if so, I haven’t come across it. Please let me know if you have. 

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Bubble-gum pink vanity, and karma

The one thing about menopause I did not anticipate was a bald spot. Yes. I have a small bald spot at the top of my head. Imagine a day-glow pink island surrounded by white hair. Keeping the damn thing  out of sight requires finagling, and I often fail. It’s a little bigger than a nickel. 
 
It’s as big as the continent of Asia.
 
If I mention this to other women my age, I don’t get the empathy I’m hoping for. They say “but you’ve got so much hair” and “only you notice it” and “wear a hat” or they just grin and shrug and sometimes there’s a smirk. Women my age can be merciless. Okay, everybody can be merciless, but women of my age are sharp sighted and willing to go for the pink spot.
 
I have never been beautiful. At my best I was attractive in a certain way. But I always, always had good hair. Thick to the point of driving hairdressers crazy, naturally curly/wavy. Shiny.
 
See this photo? Me at seven, an Italian Catholic kid on her way to First Communion. It took an hour to tame my hair so the veil would lie properly. You can see the bulk of it, and that it was doubled up.
 
Some women will tell you that the good part of menopause is that the hair on your legs thins down to nothing so you don’t have to shave anymore. Sure, except you need that extra time now to deal with your bald spot. Or your new mustache.
 
Here’s how serious I am: I’d rather have an old lady mustache to deal with than a bald spot.
 
Didn’t realize I was so vain, did you? In my defense: this was my one vanity. So now, a confession and a demonstration of how karma works.
 
When I was living in Austria I dated somebody for over a year. Tall, skinny, blond, thinning hair even then. Some years later I happened to go back for a visit just when he was getting married, and he invited me to the wedding. And I went and had a good time. He married a former student of his (yes, I know, bad juju), a very exuberant, very young woman with a beautiful complexion and gorgeous hair. Lots of hair. A lot like mine. She was proud of her hair, too, and she liked to toss it. I never tossed my hair. Honest.
 
A few years after that when I was back for a visit — and the former boyfriend had achieved complete balditude — I ran into her. She was pushing a baby carriage, and in it was her daughter, about a year old. A pretty baby, but bald as a boiled egg. So I said all the things you say about a healthy happy baby and then I said with an utterly straight face:
 
“Oh look, she’s got [her father’s] hair!”
 
The look on her face I will never forget.  I had zeroed in on the one thing about her baby that had to be a disappointment to her and she was shocked at my temerity. She was outraged. She was stymied. She sputtered something about how her daughter’s hair would come in, and marched off.
 
The day I noticed the bubble-gum pink island at the crown of my head, I truly understood karma.
 
So please don’t comment to tell me that I look GREAT, because that will only irritate me. Don’t tell me about the hair-in-a-can product that your great aunt Georgia loves. And please don’t tell me to grow old with dignity. There is a long list of things I’m being dignified about. I reserve the right to be emotional about this one thing that has been central to my identity for all my life.  Until ten years ago.
 
 On the other hand, if you have a magical cure for what’s ailing me, first, quick, get a patent because you are going to be filthy rich. Then tell me about it.
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In which I embrace and celebrate my historical-geographical nerdiness

It’s amazing sometimes what you come across. For anyone interested in France, the history of France (or Europe), and maps, this is pretty wonderful.  Bless the Wikipedians, say I. 

Watch this dynamic map and it will show you how the borders of France changed over time, lands lost and gained. It would be even more interesting if they had links to the wars that were responsible for the shifts, but that would be a fun little project at some point when I’m bored.

I embrace and celebrate my historical-geographical nerdiness. Nerditude?

French borders from 985 to 1947

By http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Obscurs [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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lend a hand to authors (young and old)

Like everybody else I have to limit the amount of time I spend wandering around in the ether. There are so many things to read and keep track of, I could easily spend the entire day doing nothing else. In these difficult times especially it feels like there’s an emergency every hour  on the hour, so getting stuff done is even harder. Add depression and anger (also about recent events) and it’s takes some real willpower to persevere. 

And yet, here I am asking you to read something new.  

Young writers — young people in general — are having a tough time. I see this up close and personal with my daughter and her friends. A college degree doesn’t mean much in this economy (and yes, it’s still pretty bad, especially for the very young and the 50+ crowd).  

Jason Howell is a talented writer who runs a website where writers chime in on questions he poses. One of his talents is asking interesting questions, so I generally get stuck there for a half hour or so when I stop by. Once in a while I participate by contributing an answer.  Please stop by and see what he has to offer. His website: Howlarium; his Twitter account: Jason Howell;  he’s also on Goodreads. Lend a hand. I can’t hurt and it might help.

See this ad to the right? Yes, I’m changing the subject, but not by very much.  

Bookbub seems to forget that if they put authors out of business, they will have nothing to sell. Isn’t that the definition of a parasite? How do authors counter this kind of mind-set? 

Marketing. 

Please remember that like almost every other novelist out there, there is almost no marketing coming from my publishers so somebody else has to do it, and that person is, of course, the author. We scribblers depend to a very large degree on word of mouth and the goodwill of our readers. I have wonderful readers, but you’re all very busy, too.  I hope you’ll understand why I post this reminder of the things you can do to help me keep writing:

  1. Hit ‘like’ here and/or on Facebook (see the bottom of this post or the right hand column). 
  2. Hit ‘share’ for Facebook and/or Twitter.
  3. Save something you see here to your Pinterest pages. 
  4. Share a post you like by email.
  5. Post a review at Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble or your own website. Mention something I wrote on Facebook or Twitter or your favorite discussion forum.  

And that’s it. The end of the regularly scheduled fundraiser. 

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Writers Resist

You may have heard about Writers Resist, and if not, here’s the skinny, from their website:

Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. As writers we have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society…. 

Throughout the US and in other countries, writers are organizing their own Writers Resist events on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, January 15, 2017.

Invited speakers will read from a curated selection of diverse writers’ voices that speak to the ideals of Democracy and free expression. The public is encouraged to attend.

I’m cynical by nature, so I’ll just admit that while Writers Resist is an appealing idea, it doesn’t seem to me to promise very much in the long-run. It’s not as though we’ll have any particular insight into strategies for resistance. We’re just one more group of people who are frightened and angry and worried. 

But it doesn’t hurt, and it may well help in some ways for writers to get together and invite the rest of the non-writers in their communities to come listen to them read and talk. So I offered my help and ended up creating the poster for the Bellingham Writers Resist Event. And here it is. 

It may just be depression that’s weighing me down, but this whole thing makes me feel weary.  

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Cranky Pants: The Chef

If you are a novelist and you live in a small town you run into people who have read your novels now and then,  at the grocery store, at signings, when you stop by the neighbor’s place to ask about the missing newspaper delivery boy, at parties, on the bus. 

It makes sense to be polite and respectful, no matter who you are. No matter what kind of questions they ask you. But sometimes it’s really hard. Now, every profession has a list of questions they fear. For physicians I assume it goes like this: you’re browsing the dessert table at a wedding and the groom’s great uncle charges right up and challenges you: Would you look at this gigantic (fill in the blank) on my [foot, head, rear] and tell me what it is? 

The thing about questions from readers or would-be readers is that they are not always neutral or friendly. Once in a while you get a suspicious character who is sure you have cheated your way into publishing. From this person you may get a conversation that feels a little like an interrogation.

Sometimes you cannot get a handle on your temper.

This conversation didn’t go exactly this way. But I wish it had.


Person: So, you’re a writer, I hear. You don’t look like a writer.

Me: I get that a lot.

Person: What exactly do you write?

Me: Mostly novels.

Person: Novels! Really? Novels! Have any of them ever been published

Me: Quite a few, actually.

Person: Oh really. Are you one of those Amazon self-published types?

Me: I am not. What do you do for a living?

Person: I’m a chef. 

Me: Really? Have you ever cooked anything? Do you make money doing that or do you just cook for yourself? What kind of cooking do you do?  Do you cook real food? Would I have eaten anything you’ve cooked?  I’ve been eating pretty much every day for my whole life so that makes me an expert on food, and in fact I think I’ll be a cook. But I’ll only cook real food. I’m not interested fashionable stuff, it’s critical approval I’ll be after.  And a television show. 

Person:

Me: Thanks, you’re a real inspiration.

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