Luck and Prosperity

18 November 2017

From author Joey Loi via Medium:

Finally, in the distance, lights emerge from behind the low early morning fog. Seventy four salt-skinned men and twenty eight salt-skinned women look eagerly onwards. Together they bob with the ocean, up and down, up and down, to the tune of God’s will and the mercy of men who captain Chinese fishing vessels. The boat drifts towards the lights, pushed by indifferent water, aided only by a ragged canvas sail that never wanted to carry this weight. Cruel, holy water. It holds out a ticket to those desperate enough to reach for one, but promises nothing. These drifters no longer hear the water, they hear only whatever it is that makes those lights glow.

Among the black hair and raw sour stench, Chon sits restlessly on the white-stained damp deck. His crossed legs are propped up by his arms folded elbow-in-hand over his knees, his two younger sisters flanking his sides. Kin skin sticking to kin skin. Two hours ago, they were instructed to dump anything that could suggest that their boat left from China: a radio with Chinese labels, local newspapers used to wrap three day old buns. They wouldn’t qualify for refuge if the Hong Kong government discovered they hadn’t come directly from Vietnam.

He’s exhausted and can’t sleep. Chon lifts his head and squints toward the shore, anxiously scanning for ships coming to turn them away. He’s heard it happen to his drifting countrymen before. Fortune can be taken away as arbitrarily as it is given. But his sleep-deprived concentration fails, and he succumbs to wonder — have we made it?

Link to the rest at Medium

PG stumbled across this piece and ended up reading it because he was engaged by the the opening excerpted above.

Annie Proulx Gave One of the Best National Book Award Speeches

18 November 2017

From Annie Proulx’ acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters via Vulture:

Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…

. . . .

We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.

. . . .

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

Link to the rest at Vulture

Vulture comments, “The least suspenseful part of the National Book Award ceremony can be the most fun: the speech given by each year’s winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Winners of that lifetime-achievement prize tend to be over 80, and to expound passionately on the general theme of “kids today.””

I love a big, character-rich story

17 November 2017

I love a big, character-rich story with a dark heart, with a compelling mystery or some kind of ticking clock at its center. I want to be lured in by prose, captured by character, and bound by stellar plotting to keep turning the pages.

Lisa Unger

An Unsolicited Great Idea for Your Next Book

17 November 2017

From The New Yorker:

“You’re a writer?” the man said. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book.”

Gompers tried to stay calm. He had become a writer for the same reason anybody did: he was incapable of coming up with ideas of his own, and he longed for a lifetime of being given them at cocktail parties. But he had been down this road before. Somebody would offer him an amazing, can’t-fail idea for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to be made into a hit movie, and then they would demand millions of dollars in payment.

This was fair enough, but Gompers simply didn’t have the money. How could he, a mere writer, earn any money before he had an idea given to him by a total stranger? And without any money, how could he pay the millions of dollars the idea was inevitably worth? It was, in the phrase coined by Joseph Heller’s chiropractor’s cousin, a total “Catch-22.”

So Gompers tried to play it cool. “A great idea?” he said, casually. “And what would you want in return?”

“You write the book, and then I take half the profits,” the man answered.

Gompers nearly dropped his drink. The other man was going to do the heavy lifting of coming up with a one- or two-sentence logline, and all Gompers had to do was expand it into a novel-length story featuring believable characters and elegant prose—and, in exchange, the man wanted only half the profits?

There had to be a catch. Maybe the idea _wasn’t _for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to become a hit movie. Maybe it only had a seventy-five-per-cent chance of becoming a best-seller, and then the film version would earn a few Oscars in technical categories but never really take off. Still, if he turned it down and the man later ended up at a cocktail party with John Grisham or Thomas Pynchon, Gompers would never forgive himself.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Disney Accused Of Plundering ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ In Copyright Lawsuit

17 November 2017

From Deadline Hollywood:

A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. allege that Disney lifted “copyrighted expression of themes, settings, dialogue, characters, plot, mood, sequence of events” from their 2000 spec script entitled Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unlike many such similar suits, the duo say they submitted the script while working with Disney on their Red Hood project that the studio was interested in. During that period from late 1999 to 2000, the two writers and their producer Tova Laiter say they worked closely with Disney’s Brigham Taylor, Josh Harmon and Michael Haynes, among others. In fact, they say Disney got them into the Writers Guild as work progressed on the never-made Red Hood.

Then, soon after Laiter handed the Pirates script and a sizzle reel to Taylor on August 9, 2000, things started to sink in the relationship with Disney – especially after a copy of the screenplay and original artwork was supposedly spied on the coffee table in Taylor’s office and they were quickly hustled out of the room.

. . . .

“The opportunity to have a major film studio, such as Defendants, take a screenwriter’s original spec screenplay and turn the work into a major motion picture is the ultimate dream,” states the complaint filed Tuesday in Colorado federal court against almost every corporate aspect of Disney. “A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. almost realized that dream, but they this dream quickly turned into a nightmare, when their original work, ‘The Screenplay,’ was intentionally copied and commercially exploited by Defendant’s, creating a billion-dollar franchise, with no credit or compensation to Alfred or Martinez.”

. . . .

Very soon after that meeting in Taylor’s office, according to the suit, the writers were paid out for their Red Hood work and basically put back on a plane to Colorado, their dalliance with Disney seemingly over.

. . . .

“This complaint is entirely without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending against it in court,” said Disney on the lawsuit against the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced five-film series based on the theme park ride that first appeared at Disneyland in 1967. Having just registered “their original works of authorship with the U.S. Copyright Office on October 3rd, 2017,” the plaintiffs do not offer any explanation as to why it took them nearly two decades to recognize a copyright infringement.

Link to the rest at Deadline Hollywood

PG says you don’t have to be Disney to become tangled up in this type of litigation.

When PG worked for a large advertising agency during the Mad Men days, instructions to employees who received creative ideas in a letter or other writing from any person outside of the agency went something like this:

  1. As soon as the employee realizes the content of a letter, document, etc., he/she will immediately stop reading and mark the place in the letter where they stopped.
  2. The employee will immediately place the letter into an envelope and securely seal the envelope.
  3. The employee will hand-deliver the envelope to the legal department, tell one of the lawyers what it contains and be available to answer questions in the event it is necessary to prepare an affidavit describing the entire sequence of events.

So what’s an author to do?

Many authors are quite comfortable in providing help to other authors, especially if they write in the same genre. Such help often includes reading first drafts, helping with plot structure, etc.

PG doesn’t want to interfere with these collegial and helpful practices. In the large majority of such cases, there is no real copyright risk. However, he suggests that authors exercise a little caution.

This is not legal advice, but here are some tips to consider:

  • Don’t be afraid to keep early drafts, outlines, character sketches, ebook files, etc., for a long time.
    • If you’re a paper person, buy some storage boxes and keep your old papers in a closet, garage, storage locker, etc. When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the archivist at some large institution will thank you.
    • If you’re a computer person, save digital copies of your working files, drafts, etc., in permanent digital form – DVD’s are inexpensive and will hold many, many pages of your books.
    • Storing copies in the cloud will also work. Yes, it might be possible to change the dates on some files, but computer forensics experts are pretty good at detecting such modifications and if you’re in litigation, indications that you tampered with evidence can cause a truckload of troubles to fall on your head.
  • If a friend tells you about a story he/she is writing that sounds similar to a book you’re working on,
    • Tell your friend there are some similarities between the two plots so it’s clear you are already working on your story and you don’t have anything to hide. During this conversation, you don’t have to act like you’re talking to the secret police. You can be friendly.
    • Don’t add anything distinctive to your MS that your friend told you about unless it’s already in your MS.
    • You might send emails to a couple of your uninvolved friends or associates describing what has happened.
    • Save your MS as it existed on the date of your conversation with your author friend in at least a couple of different places.
    • Think twice about providing reading services, editing, advice, etc., on your friend’s book until after yours is published.
    • If your book is going to be traditionally published, send an email or letter to your editor at the publisher explaining the situation. Keep a copy for yourself. Your publisher may have a process it wants to use in handling these types of situations.
      • Under typical traditional publishing contracts, if there is a legal dispute about copyright ownership and the publisher is named in litigation, you’ll be obligated to pay the publisher’s legal expenses in addition to your own.
  • Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, only the expression of those ideas.
    • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl gets boy has been used zillions of times in books and movies and is not protected by copyright. All the standard plot and story structures have already been used many times and are not protected.
    • Unique details – usually many more than one – are where copyright can begin to come into play.

Again, this is not legal advice. Copyright infringement disputes are often very fact-specific, so general statements are just an overview and specific elements of the works may result in an ultimate outcome that is different than might be anticipated under general statements of the law.

Google, Shmoogle. Reference Librarians Are Busier Than Ever

17 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

PITTSBURGH—Sherry Yadlosky, a staff member at the Carnegie Library in this city’s Oakland district, answered the phone in her cubicle late in the afternoon of Nov. 1. A woman wanted to know who would be pitching for the Dodgers that night in the final game of the World Series.

Ms. Yadlosky consulted a sports website. “It looks like they’re going to be starting Yu Darvish, ” she said. The caller asked whether Mr. Darvish was a good pitcher. Ms. Yadlosky thought about it for a moment, then said: “It depends on your definition of good.”

After taking the call, Ms. Yadlosky, 28 years old, recalled a library patron who once asked her whether bar codes on store merchandise contained the Mark of the Beast, a symbol discussed in the Book of Revelation. “Um, no,” she said.

Carved in stone over the library’s arched entrance is the motto “Free to the People.” That applies not just to books but to answers for almost any question posed to librarians.

Even in the internet age, reference librarians still dig up answers that require extra effort, searching old books, microfilm and paper files, looking for everything from owners of long-defunct firms to 19th-century weather reports.

Though online searches are now at the fingertips of most people, many still prefer to call or visit a library. Some can’t or don’t use computers; others recognize librarians have search skills and access to databases that search engines can’t match.

. . . .

Librarians generally are happy to receive questions, partly because serving lots of people helps them justify taxpayer funding. The Hennepin County public libraries in Minnesota calculate that they answer about 1.3 million questions a year. The county’s population is about 1.2 million.

Privacy is respected. When someone asked the Pittsburgh library how to build a guillotine, a librarian emailed diagrams from a German website without asking questions.

. . . .

James Scott, a Sacramento librarian, said one woman woke up with a red blotch on her skin and wanted to know if it was in the shape of any meaningful symbol. He offered books on symbology.

“We’ll get folks that call up and say I woke up this morning and I had this trippy dream and I wonder if you have anything that can help me,” Mr. Scott said. He recommends books on the interpretation of dreams.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The OP reminded PG of more than one time in the distant past when a law librarian was enormously helpful to him.

On more recent occasions, PG has become aggravated with Google because its search engine is not sufficiently precise. Having spent a lot of time with Lexis and Westlaw (two online legal research services), PG knows how to structure a detailed query calculated to pull a particular needle from the right haystack.

Unfortunately, Google always wants to please a visitor, so it’s programmed to provide more than the searcher may really want to see. On occasion, a researcher may want to confirm that nothing exists within the search parameters, e.g. no murder trials were held in Henry County, Iowa, during August, 1939. Google’s search engine really hates to admit nothing exists that responds to a search so it will return a lot of information about murders, real and fictional, ancient and modern, that mention Iowa anwhere.

Google Scholar is a step in the right direction and includes some useful filters, but, in PG’s experience, it won’t ruthlessly abide by a carefully-structured query.

The Gold-Bug

17 November 2017

From Bookriot:

For modern readers, Edgar Allan Poe is synonymous with Gothic tales of horror and “dark” poetry, like The Raven or The Tell-Tale Heart. But during his lifetime, that wasn’t the case. Instead, by far his most successful and famous story was one little-known today: The Gold-Bug.

In The Gold-Bug, our unnamed narrator meets with an old acquaintance, William Legrand, who lives on an island near Charleston, South Carolina. Legrand is in “one of his fits…of enthusiasm,” having just discovered what he believes is a unknown species of beetle. So imagine how excited he gets when he realizes that, in collecting the bug, his black servant Jupiter accidentally grabbed a scrap of paper with a code revealing the location of Captain Kidd’s lost treasure.

. . . .

The Gold-Bug was the first work of fiction to incorporate cryptography into the plot. In fact, the very word cryptograph was invented by Poe and used for the first time in this story.

. . . .

Before Poe, cryptography was a complete mystery to most people. Simple substitution ciphers like the one in The Gold-Bug were considered unbreakable unless you possessed the key to decode them. But Poe’s knowledge of language and obsession with logic, or “ratiocination,” made him realize that any code could be broken. And he showed people exactly how to do it.

Link to the rest at Bookriot


17 November 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:


Compare sonnettomaniac n.

. . . .

Great enthusiasm for sonnets; extreme fondness for the sonnet as a literary form.

. . . .

1821   New Monthly Mag. 1 644 on record as a specific for the sonnettomania.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Bookstore Sales Fell Again in September

16 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales declined 6.5% this September, compared to September 2016, according to preliminary figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday morning. Sales in September were $1.01 billion, down from $1.8 billion a year ago.

The poor September performance in bookstore sales, for the second consecutive month, showed a significant decline compared to the prior year. In August bookstore sales tumbled 10.9%, compared to a year ago.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Barnes & Noble Investor Proposes Deal to Take Bookseller Private

16 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

An activist investor in Barnes & Noble Inc. has proposed a transaction that would take the bookseller private with the help of current shareholders and a hefty dose of borrowings, an effort that could face formidable obstacles.

Sandell Asset Management Corp. has approached the company with a plan that would value Barnes & Noble at more than $650 million, or more than $9 a share, according to people familiar with the matter. Its shares closed Wednesday at $6.60. The price is roughly $750 million, including Barnes & Noble debt.

The proposal faces a number of obstacles and indeed several attempts to take Barnes & Noble private in the past decade have fallen apart.

It calls for $500 million in debt financing, which could be a difficult ask at a time when the company and the retail sector more broadly are struggling with online competition.

. . . .

The fact that Mr. Riggio has no intention of rolling his shares into a private company means Sandell would need to find other significant shareholder backing or put up the cash itself if it can’t find a new outside investor.

. . . .

Sandell has said Barnes & Noble is a unique asset in retail and believes it can generate enough cash to handle a larger debt load, especially given the company’s relatively low level of borrowing currently and access to a $700 million credit facility.

. . . .

In its 2017 holiday survey, Deloitte found that for the first time, consumers expect to spend more of their holiday budgets online than in-store.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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