Monthly Archives: July 2016

Is the Present Worse Than Any Fictional, Futuristic Dystopia?

30 July 2016

From Vulture:

At the annual BookExpo America conference in 2010, William Gibson gave a prescient address about the future of the future — or, rather, about the fact that the capital-F Future, the one he’d grown up dreaming about and reading about, didn’t exist anymore. Once, Gibson argued, the promise of the future was central to science fiction, which routinely depicted exhilarating visions of some better tomorrow. Yet “if you’re 15 or so today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now,” he said. Current events — quantum teleportation, synthetic bacteria, not to mention all the commonplace technological leaps we absorb with a stifled yawn — are all so amazing and incomprehensible that we no longer need to dream about what tomorrow might bring.

As evidence, he cited his own novels: His first, Neuromancer, was written in the early 1980s and set in roughly the 2030s. Virtual Light, released in 1993, was set in 2006. Soon, he said, “I found the material of the actual 21st century richer, stranger, more multiplex, than any imaginary 21st century could ever have been.” So his ninth novel, Zero Hour, published in 2010, is set a year earlier in 2009. The job of the futurist is no longer speculating about what might come. It’s trying to comprehend what’s already here.

I remembered Gibson’s words recently while discussing dystopian fiction with the crime-writing historian and critic Sarah Weinman, who made a similar, if somewhat more offhand, observation about dystopian fiction. You remember dystopias, right? Those bleak visions that dominated our pop-cultural discourse for, oh, about ten years or so? Dystopias have been around for more than a century, all the way back to H.G. Wells and George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, but their recent pop-cultural ascendance might be bracketed by the publication of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Road in 2006 and the end of the Hunger Games movie quadrilogy last year. During that stretch, dystopian visions of collapsed societies became such a staple of novels, TV, and film that some of dystopia’s most prominent practitioners were moved to pronounce the notion passé. The commercial prospects of dystopias may have been waning for a few years, but Weinman’s point was different. Six years ago, Gibson had theorized that the capital-F Future had been usurped by an endless digital Now — but is it possible, Weinman posited, that fictional imaginings of dystopia are being made irrelevant by the awfulness of today?”

Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG requests that the OP not start a political argument on TPV.

Finger-Pointing, Trouble-Saving, and Pussyfooting

30 July 2016

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In an earlier Lingua Franca post I grumbled about writing advisers who vilify the passive as if it were a dangerous drug (despite using it copiously themselves in private). Warnings against the passive have in fact been getting increasingly extreme for about a hundred years.

. . . .

So when I encounter a book that’s a bit better than the average, as I recently did, it’s only fair that I should comment. The Handbook of Good English (1982), by Edward D. Johnson, . . . is a bit more sensible on the topic than most works addressed to the general public in the past half century.

. . . .

“Don’t be afraid of the passive voice,” he says firmly. Adults “can forget that ‘Avoid the passive’ rule”: It’s for kids. “The passive voice is respectable, is capable of expressing shades of meaning that the active voice cannot express, and is sometimes more compact and direct than the active voice.”

When does the passive express a shade of meaning that the active doesn’t? In what could be called the finger-pointing use of long passives. A passive with a by-phrase lays stress on the agent. In The money was stolen by a man, judging from those footprints, Johnson points out, the passive ensures that the agent (a man) is at the end of its clause, where it naturally receives stress. The active (a man stole the money) would be stylistically worse.

And when is the passive more compact and direct? One class of such cases comprises Johnson’s “trouble-saving passive.” If you were to take a sentence like Smith was arrested, indicted, and found guilty, but the money was never recovered and try to wrestle it into the active voice, as so many writing guides insist you should, you would have to find subjects for all the active verb phrases. You’d need subjects for arrested Smith (the police department? the county sheriff?), and indicted him (a grand jury, as in the U.S.? the Crown Prosecution Service, as in Britain?), and for found him guilty (a judge? a trial jury?), and for recovered the money (the detectives? some bank or post office? the people whose cash had been stolen?). Implementing this pointless and clumsy elaboration would make the sentence nearly twice as long.

Johnson also notes the utility of what he calls “the pussyfooting passive,” which he says “is essential in journalism” because “often the writer does not know who did something or is not free to say who did it, but he wants to say it was done.”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

30 July 2016

From The New York Times:

Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting?

There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.

And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

. . . .

 Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

. . . .

“This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong,” Dr. Berninger said. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” You have to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page, she said. Brain imaging shows that the activation of this region is different in children who are having trouble with handwriting.

Functional brain scans of adults show a characteristic brain network that is activated when they read, and it includes areas that relate to motor processes. This suggested to scientists that the cognitive process of reading may be connected to the motor process of forming letters.

. . . .

 Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, did brain scans on children who did not yet know how to print. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” she said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Donald Ray Pollock’s Gothic Hillbilly Noir

29 July 2016

From Electric Lit:

Donald Ray Pollock has had what you might call an unconventional route to literary success. Born in the deliciously named backwater, now ghost town, of Knockemstiff, Ohio, the formerly hard-drinking Pollock worked in the nearby Mead paper mill (whose owners paid for four trips to rehab, the last of which stuck) as a laborer and dump truck driver until the age of 45, when he decided to turn his attention to writing. Since then Pollock’s unique brand of “hillbilly gothic” — bursting at the seams with unhinged misfits engaged in lurid violence, with a healthy dose of black humor thrown in for good measure — has earned him a slew of awards including the PEN/Robert Bingham W. Prize for debut fiction and Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, as well as a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Not bad for a late bloomer.

. . . .

Dan Sheehan: You worked for many years at a paper mill not far from your hometown. Did the desire to write creep up on you gradually throughout that period or did you wake up one day hungry for a change?

Donald Ray Pollock: I’d always been a reader, and for many, many years, writers had been my “heroes,” so to speak, much like other people admire sports figures or TV reality stars or billionaires, but, like most of them, I never had the confidence to think that I could actually be one myself. Then, when I was forty-five, my father retired from the mill and I imagined myself doing that twenty years down the road — putting away the work boots and heading for the TV — and I decided I wanted to try to do something else. By the time I was fifty, I’d published maybe six or seven stories, and I quit the mill and went to grad school at The Ohio State University.

Sheehan: Was that transition a difficult one?

Pollock: Yes, mostly because I didn’t have any idea about what I was doing. Though I had an English degree by that time, thanks to a program the paper mill sponsored for employees who wanted to further their education, I hadn’t taken any creative writing courses, and I didn’t know any writers personally. But I did have discipline, or maybe stubbornness is a better word, and I just kept hacking away at it. The first story I published was written maybe two years after I started.

Sheehan: With the success of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time [Pollock’s debut short story collection and novel], were you ever tempted to leave Ohio and move to New York, as so many writers tend to do these days?

Pollock: Never. Though I don’t mind visiting a big city, just for a change of pace or whatever, I could never live in one. Too crowded, too noisy, too many people. I’m a complete dud at what is called “networking;” and because I don’t drink anymore, socializing or parties can sometimes be downright painful for me after an hour or two, so there really wouldn’t be any reason to do it. Also, I’d think that living in a place like NYC would be way too expensive for most writers.


Link to the rest at Electric Lit and thanks to Sean for the tip.

Here’s a link to Donald Ray Pollock’s books.

And Knockemstiff, Ohio, is here.

Nothing I do

29 July 2016

Nothing I do is done by popular demand.

Steve Martin

10 Amazing Facts about The Lord of the Rings

29 July 2016

From author DJ Edwardson:

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the publishing of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic. The first installment of this trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was published on July 29th, 1954. To celebrate this occasion, as well as to culminate the end of the 2016 Silmarillion Awards, myself, along with the hosts of the various Silmarillion Awards are writing articles in honor of this one fantasy series to rule them all!

For my contribution I submit for your reading pleasure these 10 Amazing Facts about The Lord of the Rings. Though diehard Tolkien fans and scholars will no doubt be familiar with most, if not all of them, you might just learn a thing or two.

. . . .

1. Tolkien intended the book to be published as a single volume

You think The Fellowship of the Ring and the other volumes are long by themselves, do you? Well, the Oxford Don originally wanted all three to be published in a single volume, along with the appendices and perhaps the Silmarillion thrown in for good measure! Can you imagine the size of such a book? Though now that the series is so popular you can buy all three books in a single volume, his publisher at the time, perhaps wisely, chose to release the story as a trilogy. So now you know Peter Jackson wasn’t going so far out of line when he stretched The Hobbit into three movies. He was simply honoring a time-honored Middle-Earth tradition.

. . . .

5. The series was first revised in 1965

In 1965 Ace Books published an unauthorized and royalty-free version of The Lord of the Rings in the U.S. because Tolkien had lost his copyright to the work. By revising it, he was able to correct certain errors in the original editions and, more importantly, reassert his copyright. Though Tolkien made no wholesale changes and did not consider his works in any way allegorical, such as C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, he wrote of the revisions in a letter to Robert Murray, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

. . . .

8. The poem “One Ring to Rule them All” was composed in the bathtub

Yes, that’s right. It’s hard to believe that this epic and dark piece of verse was created while taking a bath, but according to Tolkien, that’s precisely where he came up with it. Part of me imagines he exchanged his beloved tobacco pipe for one blowing bubbles as he droned out these famous words in his thick British accent. If you’re a writer looking for some inspiration, you might want to draw yourself a long hot bath and see what happens!

If you’re not familiar with the verse (or even if you are it’s so good it’s worth reading again) here they are:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Link to the rest at DJ Edwardson

Here’s a link to DJ Edwardson’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Photographer Files $1 Billion Suit Against Getty for Licensing Her Public Domain Images

29 July 2016

From Hyperallergic:

In December, documentary photographer Carol Highsmith received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website. It demanded payment of $120. This was how Highsmith came to learn that stock photo agencies Getty and Alamy had been sending similar threat letters and charging fees to users of her images, which she had donated to the Library of Congress for use by the general public at no charge.

Now, Highsmith has filed a $1 billion copyright infringement suit against both Alamy and Getty for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs. “The defendants [Getty Images] have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” the complaint reads. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” According to the lawsuit, Getty and Alamy, on their websites, have been selling licenses for thousands of Highsmith’s photographs, many without her name attached to them and stamped with “false watermarks.”

. . . .

Since 1988, Highsmith has been donating tens of thousands of photographs of people and places in the United States to the Library of Congress, making them free for public use. The institution calls the donation “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” The Carol M. Highsmith Collection is featured in the library’s Prints & Photographs Division, alongside the likes of Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl and Depression photographs.

. . . .

“The injury to Ms. Highsmith’s reputation has been … severe,” it continues. “There is at least one example of a recipient of a threatening letter for use of a Highsmith Photo researching the issue and determining that Ms. Highsmith had made her photos freely available and free to use through the Library website. … Therefore, anyone who sees the Highsmith Photos and knows or learns of her gift to the Library could easily believe her to be a hypocrite.”

Link to the rest at Hyperallergic and thanks to P.D. for the tip.

PG says authors are not the only creators who are sometimes badly treated by large commercial organizations that deal in creations protected by copyright.

PG also attests that Ms. Highsmith is an excellent photographer. You can see her professional website here and the collection of her photos she donated to the Library of Congress here.

Protecting Your Content and Your Name

29 July 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Back when I was writing a lot of tie-in novels for Pocket Books’ Star Trek division, a brand-new editor asked me to help him rescue a short story anthology. It seems that the main writer on the project had quite unexpectedly. The writer had outlined the story, and the outline had been approved by Paramount, which was a major hurdle. What the editor needed from me was an actual draft of the story.

In other words, none of the characters were mine. The plot, setting, and theme were not mine. The editor needed my style as a writer and my name on the cover. That was it.

I had never worked with this editor before. My usual Star Trek editor advised me to stay clear. But, I figured, it was just a short story. What could it hurt?

Well…it didn’t exactly hurt. But it was perplexing. I wrote the 6,000 word story as requested from a 2,000 word outline. Turned the story in on time. Got an acceptance, and the ridiculously high acceptance payment.

Then I got the copyedit.

Which wasn’t a copyedit. The editor himself had rewritten every single sentence of the story. Every single one. Sometimes adding passive voice. Sometimes making the meaning unclear. Always dumbing down the content and the voice and the point of each sentence, let alone each paragraph.

I looked at that, glanced at my contract, and realized that even though this short story was written as work made for hire, I could make a huge stink about this. I could pull my name or pull the story or cause all kinds of grief.

In the end, I decided to leave it alone. If you look up this short story now, you’ll see the most poorly written thing ever published under my name.

. . . .

That is the only time in my recollection that I can recall allowing an editor’s or copyeditor’s full rewrite of my work to get into print. I’ve had worse rewrites in my career, including a copyeditor who changed every single piece of punctuation in one of my romance novels, but I never let those go through under my name.

I cited contract terms, refusing to allow the changes. I pulled books from publishers because of shenanigans like this. I got copyeditors fired. Repeatedly.

I defend what I write. My writing in some story or novel or nonfiction article might be awful, but it’s mine. If I put my name on it, guaranteed—except for that one short story—every word in the piece is a word I wrote or approved. Every single one.

. . . .

I told you that most writers check their traditional book contracts for the advance, the payout, and the due dates. They don’t look at anything else. Writer after writer, and editor after editor, have told me this.

I always look toward the editing clauses first. Because if they’re ugly, the rest of the contract usually is as well.

This applies to all kinds of writing for traditional markets, especially for nonfiction and short fiction. I’ve seen terrible editing clauses in those contracts, and what’s ironic is that those clauses often seem to be the most innocuous.

What you want is complete control of the content of your work. In every single short fiction contract I sign, I change the publisher’s right to “edit the Work” to “copyedit the Work.” I always add a line that ensures I must approve any changes, including those copyedits, to the Work.

If I don’t like the copyedit, my version stands. If my version isn’t going to stand, then the story doesn’t get published. Period, end of story.

. . . .

The British publishing company has the right—if the publisher deems that right necessary—to completely rewrite my article. They could change everything. They could add stuff I find objectionable—political points of view, for example. They could libel someone through careless writing or even deliberately. They could take a piece in which I say I love something, and change it to say I hate it.

They can do all of that, because I would have signed that right away. Then I would have waived my right to remove my name as the author of the piece. So they could write all this stuff, and claim I meant it, because my name is on it.

. . . .

Oh, and one that drives me as batty as the editing clauses: they have the right to my name. Not just to use my name in publicity. I “empowered” them to use my name in any situation they “considered necessary.”

My name.

I see this clause a lot. Writers give up the right to their own names to a corporation for a few thousand dollars and the publication of a novel.

. . . .

She wrote back, refusing to change the editing clause, and then said this:

I’m afraid the moral rights clause is not one that I am able to make any alterations to. It is a standard clause across all of our contracts and our lawyers will not accept changes to it. As you say, this is a clause that relies somewhat on trust; I can only assure you that we will not act unreasonably, as it would not be in our interest to do so….

I kid you not. She wrote “Trust us. We won’t hurt you.”

. . . .

Make sure the editing clauses in your contracts—from short story contracts to article contracts to novel contracts—limit what the publisher can do to your work. You essentially should allow them to change some things to house style (like whether or not you put a capital after a colon). You should have the right to review a copyedit—and to have the final say on that copyedit.

You also need a clause that limits revisions. When there’s a clause in the contract that says that the finished book must be “accepted” by the Publisher, then you have to define what that means. If it means revisions, then those revisions should be limited to no more than two or three before the contract terminates.

I’ve known writers who rewrote their books for years before the books finally were tossed back as unacceptable by the publisher. One author I know rewrote her book every year for ten years for a textbook publishing house I worked for. When my boss left, and the next editor took his place, that editor saw this continual revision, and canceled the contract. the writer had to repay her entire advance.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Regarding responses such as our lawyers will not accept changes [to a standard contract provision], PG says that the lawyers work for the publisher, not the other way around.

If a publisher tells its lawyer to modify a contract provision to reflect a request from an author, the lawyer will do so. The lawyer may advise the publisher not to make the change for this or that reason, but if the publisher instructs the lawyer to make the change anyway, the change will be made.

A Golden Age of Books? There Were Only 500 Real Bookstores in 1931

29 July 2016

From The Atlantic:

I’m reading a fascinating book called Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, published in 1984 by the popular historian Kenneth C. Davis. I picked it up because many of the changes that social media and the Internet are supposed to have wrought on culture are ascribed to the rise of the paperback in this book.There’s all this talk in the book about “the Paperback Revolution” that “enabled American writers to find American readers by the millions” among the “Paperback Generation.” Mass-market paperbacks, we’re told, “made an enormous contribution to our social, cultural, educational, and literary life.”

I haven’t gotten far enough along in the book to tell you how Davis argues the story, but early in the book, I was absolutely dumbfounded by his description of the publishing business in 1931. He draws on a “landmark survey of publishing practices” carried out by one Orin H. Cheney, a banker, as a service to the National Association of Book Publishers.

Among the normal complaints about book publishers selection processes, we find this staggering stat about the retail business of selling books (emphasis added).

“In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels,” Davis writes. “In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers’ salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned ‘carriage trade’ stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation’s twelve largest cities.”

Furthermore, two-thirds of American counties — 66 percent! — had exactly 0 bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Gordon for the tip.

Amazon Posts Another Blockbuster Profit

28 July 2016

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. reported another record profit and its fifth-straight quarter in the black as it continued to reap new sales from Prime memberships and its relentless push to deliver goods ever faster.

Revenue increased 31%, helping push Amazon to its third-straight record quarterly profit, assisted by rising sales at its cloud-computing unit.

Shares of the company rose 2.3% to $769 in after-hours trading.

Amazon appears finally to be delivering on a long-held hope from investors of consistent profitability. The Seattle company hadn’t had five consecutive profitable quarters since 2012 as it pumped much of its sales back into product and infrastructure development, including massive suburban warehouses to feed customers’ appetites.

For the second quarter, Amazon recorded an $857 million profit, or $1.78 a share, compared with $92 million, or 19 cents a share, a year earlier, as sales rose to $30.4 billion from $23.19 billion. Analysts were expecting a profit of $1.11 a share, according to the average estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters.

. . . .

Helping prop up results was the Amazon Web Services cloud computing division, which rents computing power to other companies. AWS revenue increased to $2.89 billion from $1.82 billion a year earlier. The unit appears on track to exceed Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’s goal of reaching $10 billion in sales this year.

. . . .

Amazon is no longer just the dominating force in online retail. It overtook Wal-Mart Stores Inc. by market capitalization a year ago and is pushing into brick-and-mortar with a bookstore in its hometown of Seattle and several others planned across the U.S. And the retailer is a major focal point for brands and manufacturers betting that consumers are willing to buy more goods online, such as clothing and food.

And to keep customers using its $99-a-year Prime unlimited shipping membership, Amazon has fattened up the program with exclusive streaming television shows and music as well as a one-hour delivery service for some goods in a number of cities. It said this month it will offer Prime for the first time to customers in India, where it has pledged $5 billion in investment since 2014.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

« Previous PageNext Page »