How Susanna Clarke starts “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”: Big questions

How author Susanna Clarke asks the right questions to hook readers and drive the story in the opening chapter of her fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Also, how the philosophy of Romanticism comes alive in the story and setting, and what writers can learn from kids cartoons. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How Yann Martel starts “Life of Pi”: The power of first-person storytelling

In Life of Pi, Yann Martel searches for the “spark that brings to life a real story.” Life of Pi itself uses first-person storytelling to light that spark. Let’s see how Yann Martel uses the power of first person in the opening chapters to hook the reader, and why the novel starts before the first page. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How J. K. Rowling starts “The Philosopher’s Stone”: Voice vs Exposition

How J. K. Rowling’s first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hooked her readers, agents, and editors, using voice, mystery, and nostalgia. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

Teaching religious diversity using “The Faith Project”

In a spectacular TED talk, explorer Wade Davis reflected on the world’s cultures saying, “These myriad voices of humanity are not failed attempts at being modern. They’re unique facets of the human imagination. They’re unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?” We’ve captured just a few of those myriad voices and unique answers in The Faith Project, an interactive documentary exploring the religious diversity of Canada.

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The Beckoning Bell: Resilience and hope in video games and life

After I walk across the stone bridge, there’s a small cobblestoned plaza that forks into winding streets. I turn left, walking in the cramped alleys between old buildings. There are stairs, and an archway, and beyond, the buildings open up to a cemetery. It’s the only way to the old church, where they say there’s a cure for my illness.

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Close Your Eyes: a short story

A shooting star streaked through the clear mustard sky and burst apart, bombarding the plateau and the colony below with shrapnel. After a fragment with a bullet’s velocity shattered a dish on the colony’s communications tower, Arjun decided to climb the tower himself to repair the dish rather than pull construction drones away from their scheduled work.

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How to lose a mountain: the peaks and pitfalls of exploration, near and far

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It was called the Plain of Six Glaciers, which sounded like something in a Tolkien novel, what with his Battle of the Five Armies, or the Cracks of Doom, or, like, the entire Silmarillion. I stared up into the mountains at the supposed location of the mythical plain. The distant plateau was hidden by peaks and the sunlight shone from behind them.

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Surrender: the upside-down beauty of the word “islam”

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I place my prayer rug on the floor in the direction of Mecca. It came from my grandparents, I think, from the old country. It has been a part of my life since I was a child, a fixture in our home, and now it is threadbare from wear. It’s limp like fresh chapati. The burgundy, velvet fibres fray on the parts of this rug that have cushioned our heels and knees for decades. I smooth out its wrinkles and bumps and imperfections with the brush of a flat, tender palm, like I’m tending a bed of soil in a garden. I sit beside it or on the edge of my bed for a minute or two. I breathe.

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Open call for stories: How do you pray?

I admit it: I struggle with prayer. The month of Ramadan is coming up in the Islamic calendar, which means I’ll be fasting from sunrise to sunset everyday for 30 days. (If you’re counting, that’s no food or drink from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

It’s a time of introspection and prayer. Yet when I’m deprived of a good night’s sleep and regular food, I tend to space out. A few years ago, after my pre-dawn meal and morning prayers, I returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep before the start of the day. In a state of half-sleep during this holy month, I imagined I was in the Emperor’s throne room in a musical version of Return of the Jedi. The old guy can dance, let me tell you.

Yet despite the difficulty (and the show tunes), Ramadan is an essential part of my spiritual life. So is daily prayer; there are times in my life where prayer actually helped me survive. These practices help me cultivate a sense of gratitude and even optimism about my life. So, creating a space for that practice is important to me. Read more

The Slow Web

Three years ago on the occasion of Ramadan, I started an info-fast. I unplugged from Twitter, disabled most of my Facebook account’s functionality, unsubscribed from all my Google Reader RSS feeds, stopped commenting on blogs and closed off comments on my blogs (that last one may have happened before or after, but let’s pretend it all happened at the same time).

There is too much to keep track of, and I simply gave up. In the end, the things you do have to add value to your life. This generation is struggling with the Web the same our parents may have struggled with watching too much TV. We are glued to this stuff. I know most of my day is spent at the computer. I wanted and still want to rethink my relationship to all this web-based activity. I suppose it’s about bringing mindfulness to the act. Slow Blogging was something I mentioned around that info-fast. Jack Cheng’s Slow Web is an idea that fits perfectly into this as well.

Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.

A great example of the Slow Web is the recently launched Evening Edition news site. It’s ironic that we broke away from the strictures of the broadcast, mass-communication era and are now trying to break away from (or find a different relationship to) the on-demand era.