How to Deliver Backstory Without Confusing the Reader

From Jane Friedman:

One of the key pitfalls of backstory, especially early in a novel, is either confusing backstory or overly coy and “mysterious” backstory. Here’s what it looks like.

In the enigmatic town of Serenity Falls, nestled deep within the embrace of towering pine forests and shrouded in perpetual mist, secrets were as abundant as the whispers that echoed through the labyrinthine streets. The townspeople moved with an air of quiet reserve, their eyes veiled and their lips sealed, guarding the mysteries that lurked in the shadows of their collective history.

Isabella, a newcomer to Serenity Falls, with a past as elusive as the morning fog, felt an inexplicable pull toward the town’s enigmatic allure, drawn by a sense of curiosity that she could neither explain nor ignore. She found herself embroiled in a web of intrigue and suspense that seemed to emanate from the very soul of the town itself.

Editor Tiffany Yates Martin discusses this terrible passage of backstory (written by AI, in fact) and then shows how to improve it. 

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Dig into Your Character’s Taboos

From Writer Unboxed:

I am drawn to the things that people won’t talk about. That may be obvious, if you know that my first two novels were about body image and suicide. When was the last time you asked a new mom about her poochy, post-baby abdomen, or what it was like for your neighbor to find her son dead by his own hand? Body-altering, life-changing events happen to us every day that most people just won’t talk about, even though staying mum feeds a churning magma of shame.

Secrets and lies are everywhere in contemporary fiction, and will often drive the entire novel, as David Corbett covered well in a 2022 post. For the purposes of this post, if the protagonist participated in “the thing that shall not be mentioned,” it’s probably more like a shameful secret that someone might lie to cover up.

What I want to look at today is a subtler contribution to characterization—unquestioned taboos passed down through your character’s family or tribe of origin.

Our understanding of what behavior is acceptable in society can come from what we’re told—“No sweetie, we don’t bite our friends”—or, sometimes more powerfully, through what’s never spoken about. If you’d like to try this way of enhancing characterization, look for a taboo relevant to your premise that is specific to the character’s family, as in the examples below. Because it won’t ever be talked about, the character may not even know why it’s taboo; they’ve simply accepted it as forbidden. These silent influences can add shading to a character, impact goal achievement, or dam/damn their inner arc of change.

Love. A man approaching a dock in a motor boat is met by a four year old waving his arms. “Uncle Jim, Uncle Jim, I love you!” The man climbs onto the dock, says hello to the child, then marches up to the boy’s mother and asks why her son would say that to him. She says, “Um, because he loves you? Wild guess.” The uncle harrumphs. “Well. We don’t do that.” What if using the word love causes suspicion in a family member instead of pleasure?

Money. Even though your character’s father was a vice-president of a major company, she had no idea what he earned except that according to her mother, the money didn’t stretch far with five children. This might leave the character clueless about budgeting, saving, and investing in ways that could impact her goal achievement. If her best friend hinted at “how much more money” she was making at her new job, your protagonist might feel prompted to ask for the details her friend longed to spill, but, believing it was crass to talk about money, have to force those words through the involuntary constriction in her throat. What if making money made her feel uncomfortable rather than successful?

Age. At dinner, a girl once asked her favorite aunt how old she was. Her mother cut her a stern look. A long, tense pause ensues. Her aunt finally says, “Old enough to know better.” How might this impact the girl? Would she think that aging is shameful and to be avoided at all cost? Might she be waiting for the day when she knows better?

Emotions. As with many who will not talk about the trauma they’ve suffered, there might be only two prevalent emotions at home: silence and anger. How might this impact a sensitive boy, who perceives the emotional world in many more shades, and cannot stop his tears despite his mother demanding that he do so? Might he see his emotional intelligence as emotional damnation, instead?

. . . .

 Interpersonal issues. An only child grows up to be a mother ill-equipped to manage the five children she has after she marries, especially since her husband works long hours supporting them. Her strategy when trouble erupts is to divide and conquer. How might this impact her daughter, when she’s called upon to resolve conflict in her own life?

Mistakes. A boy grew up never realizing that the parents he’s been emulating made mistakes. They certainly never admitted to any. How might this hamper this young man later in life, when an important relationship requires that he make use of the fine art of apology? And might he dismiss as weak an important mentor after the man admits to his own mistakes? How can he leave perfectionism behind in order to allow new awareness and personal growth?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Unions at Oxford University Press and Barnes & Noble are continuing to organize the book world.

From The Literary Hub:

We may be in for another hot labor summer in literature and publishing this year. Two recent news items caught my eye, as workers continue organizing in the world of books.

Workers at the Oxford University Press Union are threatening to strike as negotiations with management continue to stall. The union has faced stiff resistance, and filed a successful complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the Oxford University Press has broken the law by refusing to negotiate and by moving bargaining union work overseas. A strike may be next for the union as they continue to fight for better conditions and protections “to ensure the sustainability of OUP’s legacy and to serve as a model for fairness and stability across the industry.”

Elsewhere, Barnes & Noble workers are gearing up to unionize more of the chain’s more than 600 stores. Organizing efforts have already been successful at seven stores, and workers are hoping to keep the momentum up and push for more.

Barnes & Noble’s CEO James Daunt’s attempts to squash further organizing and slow-walk negotiations haven’t been particularly effective, and he has made the argument against organizing oddly personal. The Guardian quotes Zane Crockett, a bookseller at a unionized store in Bloomington, Illinois, who said that Daunt called into “the store himself saying a vote for the union is a vote against him.” A New York bookseller, Jessica Sepple, said that the CEO’s “big argument against us unionizing was it would make [Daunt’s] life harder, which he would repeat several times. It wasn’t very successful.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

If the Daunt quote is accurate, he’s even more stupid than PG has long suspected.

Carter Wilson Interviewed Hundreds of Writers — Here’s What He Learned From Them

From BookTrib:

I launched my podcast Making It Up nearly three years ago with the goal of interviewing writers not for any particular work of theirs, but to talk to them about their lives. I didn’t want to ask them what famous author they want to have dinner with or what their top five favorite books are … yech. I wanted to know what their childhood was like, what inflection point made them want to write, and to hear about the years of glorious rejection letters. Most readers pick up a book and assume the author has always been an author, and they make gobs of money writing. I wanted the real, raw truth.

After nearly 150 conversations with writers of all backgrounds (from NYT bestselling thriller authors, to hopeful debuts, to historians, science writers and poets), I’m still amazed how much connective tissue binds us writers together. A few commonalities I’ve evidenced throughout my interviews:

  • Most writers can name a specific person or event that happened in their teenage years that made them want to write.
  • Writing is less a plan than it is a purpose. Despite all efforts to do anything but write, the act of writing will burrow its way to the surface at some point in a writer’s life.
  • No one sets out to write because it’s a solid business decision.
  • Nearly every writer has suffered (or continues to suffer) from impostor syndrome. We all feel like frauds, no matter how successful we may get.
  • There is no linear progression to a writer’s career. Some become hugely successful with their first book, but struggle to repeat the magic with the next several. Others find their best sales after ten books. You can’t count on anything, but yet the best may always be yet to come.
  • Writers can easily name a peer of whom they envy their success.
  • Writing is hard. It gets easier as the muscle for it develops, but it’s never easy.
  • Writing is meditation. It’s one of the few times in a person’s day they have to be fully focused and, more importantly, completely present.
  • Most writers hate social media and eschew the idea of self-promotion, necessary as it may be.
  • Writers view the publishing industry with a mixture curiosity and frustration. We all agree the industry is incredibly opaque, and there’s no formula for success within it.
  • Writers in the same field or genre don’t view one another as competition, and are often generous with their time supporting and promoting each other’s work. They view the true competition as anything else that vies for a potential reader’s attention, namely smartphones and Netflix.
  • Finally, from my experience, most writers are deeply kind, humble and just happy to share their time and opinions with you.

That last one is a universal truth I’ve seen throughout my podcast career. I’ve never talked to a jerk. Sure, some are shy, awkward, and certainly technologically challenged, but always generous and honest. Moreover, these writers are fountains of wisdom, doling out indispensable truisms from which not only my listeners benefit, but I as well. My favorites include S.A. Cosby talking about the equitability of writing (all quotes slightly edited for clarity):

“I think writing, of all the creative arts — acting, singing, dancing — it’s the one where everybody has the best shot. You can be a 75-year-old first-time author, you can be a 35-year-old author that’s got six or seven books under your belt, or you can be a 21-year-old wunderkind. Everybody has that same shot because nobody knows what’s gonna click, what’s gonna break out. And so for me, writing is that thing where I just feel like it’s the most equitable creative art.”

— S.A. Cosby on the Making It Up podcast

Or listening to Robert Dugoni tell me about taking advice from a friend, which led to him diving into learning the craft of writing:

“He said “immerse yourself in the community in which you want be involved.” So I started going to conferences, and I’d be sitting at tables with people that I had just met, and they’d be talking about these books that they read on story structure, or on character development, and I’d be like, what? So I took a step back, and I took about three years, and I gave myself an MFA. I have about forty binders, all full of different tabs, things like development, tension, what you’re trying to do. I had to learn, and, lo and behold, three years after I initially started, after I’d spent years and years studying, I started to have some success.”

Robert Dugoni on the Making It Up podcast

Link to the rest at BookTrib

How anybody can compose a story by word of mouth

How anybody can compose a story by word of mouth face to face with a bored-looking secretary with a notebook is more than I can imagine. Yet many authors think nothing of saying, ‘Ready, Miss Spelvin? Take dictation. Quote no comma Sir Jasper Murgatroyd comma close quotes comma said no better make it hissed Evangeline comma quote I would not marry you if you were the last person on earth period close quotes Quote well comma I’m not so the point does not arise comma close quotes replied Sir Jasper twirling his moustache cynically period And so the long day wore on period End of chapter.’

If I had to do that sort of thing I should be feeling all the time that the girl was saying to herself as she took it down, ‘Well comma this beats me period How comma with homes for the feebleminded touting for custom on every side comma has a man like this succeeded in remaining at large mark of interrogation.

P.G. Wodehouse

Best dictation software of 2024

From Tech Radar:

The best dictation software makes it simple and easy to record audio notes on your desktop or mobile device.

It also allows you to speak instead of typing and converts your spoken words into text. This can save you a lot of time and energy and is very useful for anyone who might have difficulty typing for any period, such as those with RSI or a disability.

Although dictation software has been around since the 1990s, it was mostly seen as a gimmick due to low accuracy. However, technological advancements have made them more accurate and usable; you can now dictate text with accuracy levels of over 90%.

The most popular office software, Word, comes with a built-in speech-to-text converter, and it’s back engine has almost certainly been helped by Microsoft’s purchase of the Dragon software company, which leads the field when it comes to dictation software for all applications. Apple and Google also provide similar options for their software platforms.

. . . .

Dragon Professional Individual

Dragon Professional Individual dictation software is widely recognized as the best in the business. Dragon products are reliable, easy to use, and among the most accurate available.

Having used Dragon dictation software on our laptop, we can attest to its best-in-class performance. In a 300 word test, the software got 299 words correct. 

Like most advanced dictation software platforms, Dragon software leverages deep learning technology and artificial neural networks. These technologies enable Dragon to adjust its transcription based on several factors, such as the amount of ambient noise, the speaker’s accent, and even the tone with which they speak. 

For businesses, several Dragon dictation products may be suitable. This is because Dragon has gone beyond merely offering one software package for all purposes, and has created dictation software custom-designed for specific industries. The most popular are Dragon Legal, Dragon Medical One, and Dragon Law Enforcement. 

The biggest downside of Dragon dictation software is the substantial cost for a license.

. . . .

Microsoft Word speech to text

Although not a standalone dictation software platform, we believe Microsoft Word’s dictation functionalities merit a spot on this list. Built directly into Microsoft Word, and included with all Microsoft 365 subscriptions, it is a powerful and accurate dictation tool. 

The platform relies on vast amounts of training data and artificial neural networks, meaning it is continuously improving its ability to transcribe voice to text. Having tested Microsoft’s dictation software, we’re confident it competes in accuracy and ease of use with the leading dictation software providers. 

There are few standout features to mention, but we see this as a strength. Microsoft Word’s dictation software is straightforward to use, with no setup or installations required. It is accessible directly from the Word application, and it only takes one click to begin voice typing. 

Several voice commands enable you to take control of the document. These include punctuation marks and formatting tools. 

A final thing we like about Microsoft Word’s speech to text software is its support for nine different languages, with many more in the testing stage.  

. . . .

Google Docs Voice Typing

Google Docs is a popular online world processor offered by Google, the tech giant best known for its search engine. It works just like Microsoft Word but online instead of a desktop app. It’s also free to use, so you don’t have to pay any extra fee for a dictation tool. 

Google Docs allows you to type with your voice. When you open the software, just select Tools > Voice Typing and give it access to your device’s microphone. Then, you can click the pop-up microphone button anytime you want to dictate text. During our test, it was very accurate and typed in the correct words that were dictated. Just ensure you speak loudly and legibly because little pauses and stutters can confuse it. 

All you need to use Google Docs is a working Google account. There’s no setup or installation required; you just have to sign in and open a new document. The drawback is that you can not use the voice typing feature offline. 

. . . .

How We Tested the Best Dictation Software

To test for the best dictation software we first set up an account with the relevant software platform, whether as a download or as an online service. We then tested the service to see how the software could be used for different purposes and in different situations. The aim was to push each dictation software platform to see how useful its basic tools were and also how easy it was to get to grips with any more advanced tools.

Link to the rest at Tech Radar

The OP includes information about other dictation programs beyond the three mentioned above plus a more detailed review of Dragon Professional, MS Word and Google Docs.

Feel free to share your experiences with dictation software in the comments.

How To Dictate Your Book

From The Creative Penn:

The word ‘writing’ has become associated with hitting keys on a keyboard to make letters appear on a screen or inscribing by hand onto paper. But the end result is a mode of communication from one brain to another through the medium of words. Those words can be generated by your voice, just as people can ‘read’ by listening to an audiobook.

Famous authors who have written with dictation include diverse creatives John Milton (Paradise Lost), Dan Brown, Henry James, Barbara Cartland and Winston Churchill. When Terry Pratchett, fantasy author of the Discworld series, developed Alzheimer’s Disease, he found he couldn’t write anymore, so he moved to dictation in his final years.

. . . .

So, why dictate?

(1) Health reasons

You can dictate standing up or while walking, or lying in bed with injuries, or if pain stops you typing.

I started using dictation when I had RSI and used it to write the first drafts of Destroyer of Worlds and also Map of Shadows, plus some chapters for this book, which I dictated while walking along the canal towpath.

(2) Writing speed and stamina

Dictation is faster at getting words on the page than typing, especially if you are not self-censoring.

I’ve made it up to around 5000 words per hour with dictation, while I only manage around 1500 words per hour typing.

There is a trade-off with ‘finished’ words as you will have to at least lightly edit to correct transcription issues, but if you want to get that first draft done faster, then dictation can be the most effective way.

(3) Increased creativity

Some writers have a problem with perfectionism and the critical voice in a first draft. They struggle to finish a book because they are constantly editing what they have written.

If you dictate, you can bypass this critical voice, get the first draft done and then edit it later.

. . . .

What’s stopping you dictating?

There are a number of reasons why people resist dictation. I know them all because I’ve been through this journey several times!

The most common are:

• “I’m used to typing. I don’t have the right kind of brain for dictation.”

• “I don’t want to say the punctuation out loud. It will disrupt my flow.”

• “I write in public so I can’t dictate.”

• “I have a difficult accent which will make it impossible.”

• “I write fantasy books with weird names which won’t work.”

• “I don’t know how to set it up technically.”

• “I can’t spare the time to learn how to dictate.”

Here’s what I wrote in my journal on the first day I tried dictation before I’d actually even started.

I’m very self-conscious. I’m worried that I won’t be able to find the words. I’m so used to typing and creating through my fingers that doing it with my voice feels strange.

But I learned to type with my fingers, so why can’t I learn to type with my words? I just have to practice. Something will shift in my mind at some point, and it will just work. This should make me a healthier author, and also someone who writes faster.

Authors who use dictation are writing incredibly fast. That’s what I want. I want to write stories faster as I have so many in my mind that I want to get into the world.”

Here are thoughts from my journal after the first session:

“It felt like the words were really bad and the story clunky and poor. But actually, when the transcription was done and I edited it, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A classic case of critical voice.

I need to ignore this when I’m dictating. I definitely need to plan the scene more before I speak it, which will save time overall in both dictation and editing.

I did think I would find the punctuation difficult, but that has also been easier than I thought. There are only a few commands that you use regularly, and dialog is the worst but you get into a rhythm with that. It also gives you a pause between each speaker to consider what they might say next, so perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. For the Indian character names, I am just using an easy placeholder word that I will go back and fix later.”

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

It appears that Joanna created this blog post and video about six years ago. PG plans to see if he can find anything about technology updates that may be relevant to authors who may want to experiment with dictation.

Here’s a video in which Joanna describes how she dictates her books.

Authors who dictate

From Sathyanand’s Blog:

“The Greek poet Homer (probably) dictated the entire Iliad and Odyssey because, according to tradition, he was blind.” ~ says Michael M. from Daily Writing Tips.

Dame Agatha Christie dictated perhaps half of her 66 famous mystery novels. Science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson says, “It’s been about fifteen years since I gave up the keyboard and took up a recorder for my first drafts.” He is the author of 56 bestsellers, with more than 23 million books in print worldwide.

Legendary writer Sidney Sheldon wrote all his 18 novels by dictating. “Each morning from 9 until noon, I had a secretary… I wrote each morning — or rather, dictated — and then I faced the TV business.” On the best days, he dictates close to 50 pages.

Link to the rest at Sathyanand’s Blog

Are You A Dictator? Then Philips’ New Integration with Nuance Dragon’s AI Speech Recognition May Be for You

From LawSites:

I am not a dictator (although some in my family may at times disagree). But I know that, for many lawyers and legal professionals, dictation is the only way to go. If you are one of them, you may want to check out the integration announced today by Philips Dictation of Nuance Dragon’s AI-powered speech recognition into the Philips SpeechLive dictation platform.

Philips SpeechLive, owned by the company Speech Processing Solutions, is a browser- and mobile-based dictation and transcription product for converting speech to text. The product, which also includes tools for routing and managing transcriptions, is used by a number of law firms.

With today’s announcement, SpeechLive now integrates Nuance Dragon, which has been a long-time leader in dictation software for the legal profession. The integration brings enhanced AI-driven speech recognition with software that continuously learns and becomes more accurate with use.

. . . .

Among the features enabled through this integration:

  • Specialized legal vocabularies. User can access tailored legal vocabularies for greater precision in transcription.
  • Custom profiles. Speech profiles can be personalized for to enhance efficiency and reduce repetitive corrections.
  • Personalized user recognition that uses adaptive learning to optimize transcription accuracy, tailored to individual preferences.
  • Real-time speech recognition. Integration of the Dragon Bar enables users to dictate directly into applications, such as Word documents or client management systems.

Link to the rest at LawSites

PG was an early adopter of Dragon’s early dictation system a very long time ago. It didn’t work very well.

However, in his law office, he dictated most of the documents that he couldn’t create with his home-brew document assembly system. His secretaries were very talented at cleaning up some of the documents he had dictated badly.

He also dictated requests to call the court clerk’s office to find out the status of court filings, etc., etc., etc. He hired the smartest secretaries he could find and paid them significantly more than the local going rate so they would stay around a long time. When a big check would arrive, he often paid his secretaries part of the windfall. Hiring and keeping smart people paid off very nicely for him.

PG remembers reading that a successful author dictated the first drafts of his novel for transcription a long time ago. He doesn’t recall who it was, but perhaps the name will float into his mind from the cloud or some similar source.

The Pacific Islands: United by Ocean, Divided by Colonialism

From Public Books:

The Pacific islands of Samoa and the Cook Islands are about as far from each other (960 miles) as the American West Coast cities of Los Angeles, California, and Portland, Oregon. And yet, the inhabitants of the two islands must contend with a time difference of a remarkable 23 hours. The reason is that they are separated by the International Date Line, which divides one calendar day from another. Here, deep in the Pacific, the impact of Western colonialism runs deep: it even shapes the way Pacific Islanders experience time. It does so by erecting a barrier between geographically close and historically linked islands, a divide, explains scholar Maile Arvin, that is “irreconcilable with Indigenous epistemologies of the Moana, or Pacific Ocean that emphasize the ocean as connection rather than barrier.”

The Pacific Islands have long had a shared culture, yet were divided by European colonizers—with terminology based on their encounters with Africa—into “Polynesia,” “Micronesia,” and “Melanesia.” “White people carved this vast oceanic world into categories of race,” Nitasha Tamar Sharma writes, “appointing Melanesians as the Black people of the Pacific because of their dark skin and curly hair, in contrast to Polynesians, whom Europeans considered closer to Whiteness.”

A case study for understanding Pacific Islanders’ relationship to whiteness can be found in Guam, a Micronesian island held by the US as a territory. One of the most militarized islands in the western Pacific Ocean, Guam contains two major military bases: Naval Base Guam in Santa Rita and Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo. It is the construction of modern Guam as a strategic military outpost for the United States that forms the basis of Alfred Peredo Flores’s Tip of the Spear: Land, Labor, and US Settler Militarism in Guåhan, 1944–1962. Flores posits that Guam (which Flores calls Guåhan, the island’s Chamorro name, but which I will refer to in this essay as Guam for ease of recognition by unfamiliar readers) was developed by the United States through a process of “settler militarism,” and that the formation and maintenance of Guam’s civilian military labor system depended on privileging the needs—financial and sexual—of white Americans over those of Chamorro (the Indigenous people of Guam, also spelled CHamoru) and Filipino workers. “Settler militarism,” according to Juliet Nebolon, underscores the extent to which “settler colonialism and militarization have simultaneously perpetuated, legitimated, and concealed one another,” making it a useful term to understand the development of Guam as both a cultural and military asset to the United States.

This question of proximity to whiteness is also considered by Arvin in Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai`i and Oceania, which theorizes that Pacific Islanders’ identity has been shaped by a “logic of possession through whiteness.” By this logic, Arvin argues, Polynesians were considered “almost white”: allowing white settlers to claim indigeneity and thus settler colonial ownership over Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia. Such near-whiteness contrasts Micronesians (including Chamorros in Guam) and Melanesians, whom Arvin argues were considered closer to Blackness and, thus, racially subjugated in a more conventional manner. Polynesians’ perceived proximity to whiteness, according to Arvin, was primarily rooted in the belief that “because Polynesian language, myth, and biology contained an Aryan heritage, Polynesian peoples and land were naturally also the heritage of white settlers.”

Arvin’s “logic of possession through whiteness” illuminates Flores’s account of what happened in mid-20th-century Guam. Putting these two books in conversation, I argue that Chamorros’ racialization as dark and “other” in contrast to white Americans allowed for the privileging of whiteness and white labor in the settler colonial project in Guam, in contrast to Arvin’s example of settler colonialism in Polynesia, specifically Hawaii, relying on constructing Polynesians as proximal to white Americans. In the first instance, settler colonialism positioned Chamorros as distant from whiteness in order to underscore Pacific Islanders’ perceived inferiority as laborers and residents of Guam compared to their white counterparts. In the second instance, settler colonialism similarly exalted whiteness not by underscoring Pacific Islanders’ distance from whiteness but by locating Polynesians as “almost white as an attempt to make Polynesia into a Western, settler colonial project, not merely a place.”

In post–World War II Guam, then, Arvin’s “logic of possession through whiteness” operates slightly differently than it does in Polynesia to nevertheless exercise control over Chamorros, specifically by underscoring their distance from whiteness rather than assigning them an “almost white” status.

It is necessary to first define the parameters of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, even though the terms are a “form of knowledge production that structures settler colonialism.” Polynesia is the largest by area of the three regions and includes Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti Nui, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand, among other islands. West of Polynesia is Melanesia, which includes Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, among others. North of Melanesia are the islands of Micronesia, including Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Polynesians, specifically Native Hawaiians, were positioned as racially proximal to whiteness. As such, they were elevated above Micronesians and Melanesians, who were named so literally because of their melanin. Micronesians fell somewhere in between: darker in complexion than Polynesians but lighter than Melanesians, occupying the liminal space between whiteness and Blackness. Some scholars offer a more capacious definition of Blackness: According to legal scholar Charles Lawrence as summarized by Sharma, Blackness “includes Micronesian and Hawaiian men whose lives are burdened (and cut short) by racist people in positions of power—who in Hawai’i include Asians.” Under this framing, both Chamorros and Native Hawaiians occupy a position of relative Blackness compared to non-Indigenous Asian and white settlers.

So where do all Pacific Islanders, considered separately from Asian Americans (with whom they have been grouped), stand in relation to whiteness? Considering this question is important as Asian Americans litigate their own positionality in relation to whiteness, especially with looming discourse contending that Asian Americans are “honorary white people” in light of issues such as affirmative action and policing.

Pacific Islanders are often lumped together with Asian Americans in US community surveys, data reports, and government-sanctioned celebrations. These include Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, alternatively referred to by the federal government as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and, most recently, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: three names that underscore the government’s ongoing uncertainty when it comes to defining and locating Pacific Islander communities in relation to Asian Americans.

In 1997, the US Census finally separated the categories “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” and “Asian.” Still, Pacific Islanders are seldom considered separately from Asians in mainstream news coverage and scholarly criticism, beyond references to the Pacific Islands in geopolitical and military contexts. But there are “stark, documented inequalities between Asian American and Pacific Islander groups,” as Arvin observes. Moreover, grouping them together ignores “the distinction that Pacific Islanders are Indigenous peoples,” meaning they are the earliest known inhabitants of the region.

And the dearth of specific information about the demographic makeup and needs of Pacific Islander communities has led to fewer resources for those communities, especially when health and economic studies in reality focus primarily on Asian ethnicity groups but purport to target AAPI communities. Disaggregating data among Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can help: a San Francisco Unified School District student population recount found that almost three times as many students identified as Pacific Islander compared to the school’s initial report for the 2018–19 academic year—and that more than half of them identified as Samoan, which led to the creation of an educational pathway for students “rooted in Sāmoa Aganu’u indigenous values and practices.” Clearly, when it comes to Pacific Islanders, questions of terminology have material consequences.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG doesn’t agree with ideas of racial guilt or historical racial subjugation as the most relevant elements in today’s society.

He also disagrees with the statement in the OP that “The Pacific Islands have long had a shared culture.”

How did this sharing of culture take place in a region that covers an enormous area—64 million square miles—a space larger than all the land masses of the world combined—during times when a huge portion of Pacific Islanders could only travel by small boats powered by sails or paddles?

PG will limit himself to a discussion of only one more statement in the OP – “White people do not need to be present for whiteness to exert its hegemony.”

What is “whiteness”? Is the “whiteness” of Finland the same as the “whiteness” of white people living in South Africa? How about the “whiteness” of Alaskans and the “whiteness” of white sharecroppers who live in Alabama?

The author of the OP is a woman named Meena Venkataramanan (Harvard University, BA in English; University of Cambridge, MPhil in English), who writes for The Washington Post and speaks English, Spanish and Tamil.

On Ms. Venkataramanan’s blog, we learn that:

My writing has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, POLITICO, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Chicago Review of Books, Harvard Magazine, the Texas Tribune, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and ABC News. My work has been featured on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and All In With Chris Hayes, and I have discussed my reporting across national and regional media.

On a different page of her blog, we can see “links to selected media appearances on television, radio, video, and podcasts.” In various of these media appearances, we learn that she is a recognized expert on why more American women want their tubes tied and how Queen Elizabeth’s death resurfaced colonial trauma for some people. Additionally, her thoughts about a “Bad Bunny and El Muerto Variant Cover” on TikTok apparently rated an article in The Washington Post.

Ms. Venkataramanan is certainly a useful expert on a wide variety of subjects—where Pacific Islanders stand in relation to Whitness, knowledge production that structures settler colonialism, how Asian Americans litigate their own positionality in relation to Whiteness, and so forth.

PG just realized that he forgot to mention another field of expertise Ms. Venkataramanan has mastered – Why “Some Black Germans want change.”

Captain Cook’s Final, Fatal Voyage

From The Economist:

Until recently Captain James Cook was not a particularly controversial figure. But in January a statue of the 18th-century British sailor and explorer was toppled in Melbourne and the words “The colony will fall” spraypainted on the plinth. In Hawaii an obelisk in Cook’s memory has been splattered with red paint and the message “You are on native land.” Cook has joined Edward Colston, Robert Clive and Cecil Rhodes as a focal point for anti-colonialist ire.

In fact Cook was neither a slave trader nor much of an imperialist. He was, first and foremost, a brilliant navigator and cartographer. Acting under Admiralty orders, he undertook three pioneering voyages in the Pacific between 1768 and 1779. His mapmaking transformed Europeans’ knowledge of the world’s largest ocean.

An excellent new book draws on Cook’s letters and notebooks to tell the story of his third and final trip. Cook was almost 50 when he set off on hms Resolution in July 1776. Among the crew he took were William Bligh (later captain of the Bounty before the mutiny in 1789) and Mai, a Tahitian prince noted for being painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Cook had secret instructions from the Admiralty not only to claim new territory for Britain, but to search for a north-west passage via the Bering Strait (a task even someone with his navigational experience found impossible).

The author, Hampton Sides, focuses on Cook’s return to Australia and New Zealand—countries the explorer had first encountered almost a decade earlier—his discovery of the Society Islands (today part of French Polynesia) and his time in Hawaii. It was there, in February 1779, that he was killed after a botched attempt to kidnap a local chief in response to the theft of a longboat.

Cook was a man of his times. He believed Europe would have a civilising influence on many benighted folk in the Pacific. He was distinctly cruel in meting out punishments, to his own crew as well as to any indigenous people who opposed him.

Yet Cook also admired many of the people and places he encountered in the South Pacific. Unlike the Spanish, he had no interest in religious conversion. He tried hard to stop his men from spreading venereal disease. For the most part, his land claims were aimed not at promoting a British empire but forestalling grabs by Britain’s rivals, France and Spain.

Link to the rest at The Economist

J.K. Rowling Still Free from the Speech Police

PG note: This is closer to the political line than PG typically ventures. This will not become a regular feature on The Passive Voice.

He makes this exception because, as described in The Wall Street Journal, Scottish law has the potential to seriously harm authors who are subject to it.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democracy. If a government can outlaw and punish speech it dislikes for any reason, a fundamental tool that allows a democracy to readjust its course and correct the errors that human beings inevitably commit.

It is a short step from prohibiting speech a government believes to be improper to prohibiting speech that criticizes other actions the small group of people who are in power decides will be best for themselves.

From The Wall Street Journal:

An appalling political effort to force the people of Scotland to express only government-approved thoughts on “gender” has so far been unable to conquer the country’s most successful expresser of thoughts. Megan Bonar and Katy Scott report for the BBC:

Social media comments made by JK Rowling challenging Scotland’s new hate crime law are not being treated as criminal, Police Scotland has said.

The Harry Potter author described several transgender women as men, including convicted prisoners, trans activists and other public figures.

The new law creates a new crime of “stirring up hatred” relating to protected characteristics.

The force said complaints had been received but no action would be taken.

Ms. Rowling responds on X:

I hope every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women – irrespective of profile or financial means – will be treated equally under the law.

Libby Brooks adds in the U.K.’s Guardian:

As the Scottish government’s contentious hate crime law came into force on Monday, the author… posted a thread on X… listing sex offenders who had described themselves as transgender alongside well-known trans women activists, describing them as “men, every last one of them”.

She stated that “freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal”.

Agence France Presse notes more of Ms. Rowling’s commentary:

The law, she said in a lengthy online criticism, is “wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces”.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment,” she wrote.

Thank goodness that Ms. Rowling will remain free—at least for now—but will such liberty be allowed for everyone? Ross Douthat now writes at the New York Times

In 2002, the English journalist Ed West penned an essay entitled “Britain Isn’t a Free Country.” His evidence was straightforward: Through the aggressive enforcement of laws against hate speech, Britain was harassing, investigating and sometimes imprisoning its own citizens, effectively consigning the right to free expression to the dustbin of history.

Here in 2024, Mr. Douthat describes the latest assault on free expression:

The new Scottish law criminalizes public speech deemed “insulting” to a protected group (as opposed to the higher bar of “abusive”), and prosecutors need only prove that the speech was “likely” to encourage hatred rather than being explicitly intended to do so. One can offer a defense based on the speech in question being “reasonable,” and there is a nod to “the importance of the right to freedom of expression.” But a plain reading of the law seems like it could license prosecutions for a comedian’s monologue or for reading biblical passages on sexual morality in public.

Mr. Douthat adds:

My prediction is that neither Rowling nor any figure of her prominence will face prosecution. Rather, what you see in West’s examples is that the speech police prefer more obscure targets: the teenage girl prosecuted for posting rap lyrics that included the N-word or the local Tory official hauled in by the cops after posting to criticize the arrest of a Christian street preacher.

Which is, of course, a normal way for mild sorts of authoritarianism to work. Exceptions are made for prominent figures, lest the system look ridiculous, but ordinary people are taught not to cross the line.

Mindful of this possibility, Ms. Rowling posted on X on Tuesday:

If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I’ll repeat that woman’s words and they can charge us both at once.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

It is extremely difficult to obtain a hearing from men living in democracies

It is extremely difficult to obtain a hearing from men living in democracies, unless it be to speak to them of themselves. They do not attend to the things said to them, because they are always fully engrossed with the things they are doing. For indeed few men are idle in democratic nations; life is passed in the midst of noise and excitement, and men are so engaged in acting that little remains to them for thinking. I would especially remark that they are not only employed, but that they are passionately devoted to their employments. They are always in action, and each of their actions absorbs their faculties: the zeal which they display in business puts out the enthusiasm they might otherwise entertain for idea.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The journey from Self-Published to Traditionally Published author

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I often get asked why I decided to self-publish my books. It all started in the summer of 2019 when I attended the Winchester Writers’ Festival, submitting the first three chapters and a synopsis of my debut novel Leave Well Alone to four literary agents beforehand.

It was a busy weekend, listening to guest speakers, participating in workshops, meeting other authors and joining writing seminars. In addition, during the festival, I attended one-to-one sessions with each of the agents I had submitted my work to. These sessions were how I imagined speed dating to be, but for writers to find an agent rather than a lover.

There were about thirty agents in a hall and as many authors. A bell would ring, indicating the start and finish of each session, when the authors would stand up and leave their current perspective before moving on to the next agent. The stakes were high for us authors, each session intense as we hoped to find an agent.

The highlight of the weekend came when I sat down opposite the third agent (from a very reputable agency), and she said, ‘I love it. Everything about it. Your story idea, your writing, your characters, everything!’ We spent the ten-minute slot chatting about the publication process and the author name I should use. It was a surreal moment, and I was beyond excited! While raising my three sons, one of whom has severe disabilities, I’d been writing Leave Well Alone on and off for seven years. I envisaged signing copies of my labour of love in bookstores. I fantasised about seeing it at the airport.

But life doesn’t always take the path we hope for.

Things didn’t work out with that agent (long story), and to say I was bitterly disappointed is an understatement.

But, in hindsight, it was the best thing to happen to me. And if I ever met that agent again, I would wholeheartedly thank her for not taking me on.

I threw my manuscript into the Cloud in disdain and began plotting my second book, Don’t Come Looking. By the end of the year, I had completed a very rough draft.

Discouraged by the agenting process, I began researching self-publishing and what it would entail to get my book into the hands of readers. I found an editor (who went on to edit all my six self-published books) and worked with her to make Leave Well Alone the best it could possibly be. I spent hours learning the beginning of the publishing world and constructing a marketing plan, and at the end of 2019, I decided 2020 would be the year I would see my debut in print.

I found a cover designer, devised a detailed publishing schedule, and taught myself how to run Amazon and Facebook ads. Then, on August 1st, 2020, I self-published my debut. By Christmas, it had earned Amazon’s bestseller tag, topping the charts in both the UK and the USA. Little did I know I would go on to self-publish another five books.

In May 2023, I was approached by Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK, to work with them. Two months later, I signed a two-book deal with them. I was thrilled they signed me on two books I hadn’t even written. I spent the rest of 2023 writing How Can I Trust You? and Did I Kill My Husband? to be published on April 8th and May 29th respectively. I also wrote a short story, Sweet Revenge, to introduce new readers to my work. You can pick up a copy from the following link: https://bookouture.com/subscribe/aj-campbell/

I’m currently writing books nine and ten, which I can’t wait to tell my readers more about.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Writers With ADHD: Strategies for Navigating the Writing Process

From Writers Helping Writers:

Earlier this year, I received an email from Bret Wieseler, requesting, “I would love to see a post about writers with ADHD. If you’ve never struggled with it yourself, maybe you know someone who has and can share their thoughts, methods, management strategies, etc. You offer such great insight into the many aspects of being a writer. I’m sure some of your readers, like myself, who struggle with ADHD would appreciate any advice you could offer.”

I immediately knew who to call on, and I am excited to share a guest post today from a writer who has been a part of my own journey almost from the very beginning. Johne Cook and I met on an online writing forum over 15 years ago, and he remains one of my favorite people to have entered my life in this journey. I have long admired his pragmatism, his insight, and his general cool in the face of the Internet’s insanity. To this day, I will often ask myself, “What would Johne do here?”

He has always been open about his experience as a writer with ADHD—both the challenges and his solutions for overcoming them. Today, I’m excited to have the opportunity to let him share his experience, tips, and resources with you.

Discovery

I wish I knew then what I know now.

For my first 45 years, I thought I was broken: I was a daydreamer, I couldn’t focus on things everyone else thought were important, I fidgeted when I should have been focusing, and I focused intently on the wrong things when people wanted my attention elsewhere.

It’s not like there weren’t clues. I excelled as part of an award-winning marching band in high school where marching in unison was expected, but it was like I was out of step with society.

I had difficulties with organization, time management, and sustaining attention in non-stimulating environments.

I couldn’t make important decisions to save my life. I kept putting things off. I had health problems, money problems, interpersonal problems.

I waited until the 11th hour to begin anything important, and things frequently fell through the cracks.

When I was young, what I wanted most was to be “normal.” But the older I got, the more I believed that was never my reality or calling.

Everything changed the day I heard a piece on NPR called “Adult ADHD in the Workplace.” As they discussed what ADHD was and shared six basic questions, I realized I checked five of the six boxes. They shared a link to a website, and I double-checked my results when I got home.

And then I met with a doctor and confirmed the diagnosis. My entire identity changed.

When I tried two different medications that gave me additional focus at the expense of my creativity (and some other small side effects), I sensed, for the first time, that my creativity was somehow tied to my condition. I valued my ability to sling words, see patterns, and make intuitive leaps that others around me couldn’t.

Because I valued my creativity, I ultimately handled my ADHD through other means that I’ll talk about below.

I realized I could either run from my ADHD or embrace it.

I decided to lean into it.

Communication

Knowing is half the battle. Knowing this about myself (and knowing that I was special, not broken) changed the way I saw everything.

I started by talking to my wife Linda and my family about what I was like and gradually increased my communication to include my boss and peers at work.

For some of them, what I told them was no surprise, and my biggest pleasant shock was how cool everyone was about it.

Finally, when appropriate, I shared about my ADHD with people I met out in the world. Letting people know what I was like set expectations and minimized confusion.

Once I had that handled, I moved on to the fun stuff.

ADHD as a Superpower

If attention deficit is the disorder, attention hyper-focus is my superpower.*

During the pandemic, Linda and I watched an interrupted season of The Amazing Race, mostly for Penn and Kim Holderness from YouTube’s The Holderness Family. It was only while watching the show that we learned that Penn was very ADHD. They referred to his ADHD as a superpower, and I saw with my own eyes how his ADHD helped him with pattern recognition, creative outside-the-box thinking, and hyper-focus during challenges.

And watching Penn at work on the show changed how I viewed my own ADHD.

In short, when managed effectively and embraced for its positive attributes, ADHD can empower writers to harness their inner strengths and achieve success in various domains of life.

Understanding ADHD in the Writing Process

People with ADHD exhibit different symptoms such as difficulty maintaining attention, hyperactivity, or impulsive behavior. For writers, these symptoms can manifest as challenges in organizing thoughts, staying on task, and completing projects.

However, it’s also associated with high levels of creativity, the ability to make unique connections, and a propensity for innovative thinking.

Challenges Faced by Writers With ADHD

(The following challenges are common but not universal.)

  • Distraction: Writing progress can be derailed by the lure of new ideas, social media, or even minor environmental changes.
  • Difficulty Organizing Thoughts: It can be daunting to translate a whirlwind of thoughts into coherent, structured writing.
  • Procrastination: Delaying writing tasks in favor of more immediately rewarding activities.
  • Impulsivity: Starting new projects without finishing current ones can lead to a cycle of uncompleted works.

Despite these challenges, many writers with ADHD have developed strategies to thrive.

Strategies and Tools for Writing with ADHD

I decided against medication. Once I took medication off the table, I began leaning harder on software tools to become more organized and to remind myself of important things.

Turning ADHD challenges into advantages requires a combination of personal strategies, environmental adjustments, and technology.

Linda and I are a team—she knows to prompt me to use my tech to capture ideas or thoughts in the moment, and I’ve become better at tracking my ideas by noting them in my phone or on my calendar.

Today, there are more tools available than ever.

Here are several approaches:

1. Structuring the Writing Environment

Minimize Distractions: Create a writing space with minimal visual and auditory distractions. Tools like noise-canceling headphones or apps that play white noise can help.

Establish Routines: Having a set writing schedule can provide structure and make it easier to start writing sessions.

2. Breaking Down Tasks

Use Lists and Outlines: Breaking writing projects into smaller, manageable tasks can make them less daunting. Outlining can also help organize thoughts before diving into writing.

Set Small Goals: Focus on short, achievable objectives, such as writing a certain number of words daily, to build momentum.

3. Leveraging Technology

Calendars: Google Calendar or Fantastical (MacOS only) free up my mind and keep me up-to-date.

Writing Software: Applications like Scrivener or Google Docs offer features to organize ideas, research, and drafts in one place.

Time Management Apps: Pomodoro timers or task management apps like Trello can help manage time and keep track of progress.

Pocket: A social bookmarking service for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks.

SnagIt: A screenshot app on my computer where I capture and store screenshots in folders for later use. Also does optical character recognition (OCR) on text strings, allowing me to replicate URLs with copy/paste.

Note-taking appsApple Notes—my second mind that I can access from any of my Internet-connected devices.  Notion—a beefier app for more sophisticated note-taking

4. Embracing the Creative Process

Allow for Free Writing: Set aside time to write without worrying about coherence or structure. This can help capture creative ideas without the pressure of perfection.

Develop a System for Capturing Ideas: Use note-taking apps or carry a notebook to jot down ideas as they come, regardless of the time and place.

5. Seeking Support

Writing Groups: Joining a writing group or participating in writing challenges can provide accountability and motivation.

Professional Help: For some, working with a coach or therapist specializing in ADHD can offer personalized strategies and support.

Success Stories: Writers With ADHD

Many successful writers have ADHD and have spoken about how it affects their creative process. Writers emphasize the importance of embracing their non-linear thinking, and view it not as a hindrance, but as a source of creativity and originality:

Agatha Christie: The “Queen of Crime” was known for her prolific output and intricate plots. Some speculate that her energetic writing style and ability to focus intensely on details could be signs of ADHD.f

. . . .

John Irving: The author of The World According to Garp was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and has spoken about how his condition has both helped and hindered his writing process.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The following are from The Holderness Family, mentioned in the OP:

SPD Client Presses Race to Claim Books as Ingram Drops a Tight Deadline

From Publishers Weekly:

An email sent by Ingram Publisher Services to former clients of the shuttered SPD Press Distribution is causing more panic in the independent publishing community. The email directs publishers to fill out a form by April 17, providing Ingram with instructions about where to send their titles—at the presses’ own cost. But what has publishers most anxious is Ingram’s plan to “recycle” any inventory remaining at the Ingram warehouse after 60 days.

Given the current state of confusion and uncertainty about future distribution arrangements, some publishers worry that two months isn’t nearly enough time to complete the process of finding a new home for their titles. Others on social media pointed out that some of the 300,000 books that were at the SPD warehouse likely belong to publishers that are no longer operating, and, without anyone around to claim them, will simply be destroyed.

The email also notified publishers that with the closure of SPD, Ingram’s warehouse and fulfillment agreement with the distributor has ended and that Ingram has stopped fulfilling orders. This puts publishers in a lose-lose situation: on the one hand, filling orders with no clear path for retailers to pay suppliers is a losing proposition; on the other, no new orders coming in means no cash flow.

The IPS email also says that Ingram will continue to process returns from the Ingram wholesale business for all titles associated with SPD for six months. After that point, all returns will be recycled “unless agreed otherwise.”

Responding to the urgency of the distribution question, Independent Publishers Group will participate in a webinar hosted by the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses on April 8 at 3:00 p.m. EDT, in order to provide information about its different services. CLMP is inviting all presses with at least $10,000 in annual sales and an ongoing publishing program to attend. On April 9, IPG will host its own online open house at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Small Press Distribution Shuts Down

From Publishers Weekly:

Small Press Distribution, one of the last remaining independent book distributors in the United States, has closed. In an announcement made March 28, SPD executive director Kent Watson said that the closure is effective immediately, and that the staff is in the process of winding down the business.

Watson cited a decline in sales and a loss of institutional support as the reasons forcing the distributor, founded in 1969, to close. “Despite the heroic efforts of a tireless staff to raise new funds, find new sales channels for our presses, and move from our outdated Berkeley warehouse, we are simply no longer able to make ends meet,” said Watson in a statement. In February, SPD completed moving more than 300,000 titles from its Berkeley facility to warehouses owned by the Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping.

The transfer was part of Watson’s plan to keep the nonprofit distributor a viable option for small publishers by cutting operating costs while simultaneously increasing services such as access to print-on-demand facilities, e-book and audiobook distribution, and more extensive distribution in the U.S and worldwide.

The move from the Berkeley warehouse was facilitated by a GoFundMe campaign that raised $100,000. Watson launched a second effort last month in an attempt to raise another $75,000 to roll out the new services to publishers, but the campaign was having trouble gaining traction. In announcing the closing, Watson said that the warehouse shift took longer and cost more than SPD had planned for, while systems integration delays further strained SPD’s financial resources. Part of that strain, Watson elaborated, was due to a loss of $125,000 in annual grants SPD had previously received, a loss Watson attributed to “funders [moving] away from supporting the arts.”

At the moment, all SPD inventory remains at the Ingram and PSSC warehouses. In a post on its website, SPD said publishers will need to contact Ingram or PSSC to discuss distribution options and the return or disposition of their books.

The demise of SPD is another blow to independent publishers looking for distribution options to reach retail accounts.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says a lot of many small presses are operated by very conscious people who love books and will publish authors who can’t get a New York publishing contract. These authors are left out in the publishing cold because they write for a group of faithful readers that is too small to move any New York profit needle.

It’s not unusual for small businesses of all sorts to be thinly capitalized without any financial backup plan to weather a storm like that described in the OP.

Authors publishing through small presses provide writing is attractive, at times very attractive, to a small group of ardent book lovers. Again, unless such readers manage to gather hundreds of thousands of like-minded book lovers, big publishers are unlikely to fill a gap that has kept some small publishers in business.

Ingram may want to help, but they operate in large-volume printing and distribution that is designed to sell at least thousands of copies of a given book. PG notes that Ingram Lightning Source does provide print-on-demand service. PG understands that Ingram charges an annual Market Access Fee of $12 for each title a publisher places in the Lightning Source system.

He doesn’t know enough about Ingram’s real-world per-page fees and shipping fees to speculate if it can provide a profitable safety net for small independent publishers. However, he suspects that Small Press Distribution, the last distributor services small publishers that has closed its doors as described in the OP, must have had some significant benefits to small publishers that Ingram does not offer.

3 Body Problem: Lawyer sentenced to death for Lin Qi murder

From The BBC:

The release of Netflix’s series 3 Body Problem has been watched millions of times around the globe since its release late last month.

It has even found an audience in China where Netflix is unavailable, sparking much chatter among viewers of the series.

But many fans of the three-book series, credited with propelling China’s nascent science fiction genre after its publication in 2008, have also been paying attention to a court room in Shanghai where one of the key players behind the adaptation was sentenced to death just a day after the show’s release.

His crime? Murdering a man sometimes dubbed China’s “billionaire millennial” – the gaming tycoon Lin Qi, whose company Yoozoo Games owns the rights for film adaptations of the Chinese science fiction epic.

According to the court, Xu Yao, who was known as a distinguished lawyer, became consumed by professional rivalry after Lin sidelined him shortly after he helped land the Netflix deal in 2020.

Within months of this apparent slight, Lin was dead – the victim of a poisoning plot described as both “premeditated” and “extremely despicable” by the court last week.

For fans of The Three-Body Problem, which features an alien civilisation and is set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, the parallels were clear.

“At least we know that Xu Yao and Lin Qi have read The Three-Body Problem thoroughly. Lose your humanity and you lose a lot; lose your animal nature and you lose everything,” said one comment on China’s Weibo.

Lin and Xu were reportedly on good terms at the start: Lin had appointed Xu to spearhead a subsidiary called The Three Body Universe a year after he joined Yoozoo as the company’s chief risk officer in 2017.

The subsidiary was in charge of securing intellectual property rights for the film adaptations, and the two had worked closely together in brokering the deal to adapt the novel into a Netflix original series.

But they fell out when Lin – who founded Yoozoo in 2009 – decided to put other executives in charge of business operations, local reports said. Xu, authorities allege, began to plot.

Some reports said he set up a company in Japan to acquire the lethal substances and even tested them on animals. Xu then disguised the substances as probiotic pills and gave them to Lin.

Lin checked himself into the hospital when he felt unwell after taking the pills, and was initially in stable condition. But his condition took a dramatic turn – he died 10 days later, on Christmas Day 2020, at the age of 39. At the time, he was believed to have had a net worth of around 6.8bn yuan (£745m; $941m), according to the Hurun China Rich List

Four other people fell sick from drinking poisoned beverages in the Yoozoo office but survived, the court heard.

Following his death, Yoozoo issued a statement on its official Weibo microblog which read: “Goodbye youth… We will be together, continue to be kind, continue to believe in goodness, and continue the fight against all that is bad.”

His death shocked China’s gaming and technology sectors and sparked widespread speculation, but it took years for the full details to emerge – despite Xu being detained within days.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy called Remembrance of Earth’s Past, by Chinese author Liu Cixin. The novel has been translated into close to 30 languages since it was published in Chinese.

The Netflix show, stylised as the 3 Body Problem, debuted with 11 million views in its first four days and has remained among Netflix’s most-watched programmes since its release on 21 March.

The series is one of the most expensive projects undertaken by the streaming giant, with a reported budget of $160m for eight episodes. Its co-creators include Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weis and the book’s author Mr Liu. Lin is posthumously credited as an executive producer.

Link to the rest at The BBC

Publishers Dispute State English Language Training

From Publishing Perspectives:

Since Publishing Perspectives first reported in September 2023 on the textbook crisis in Mexico, publishers say the situation has gone from bad to worse, with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador now taking steps to produce its own English-language-training books.

The Mexican Publishers Association, the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM), has issued a formal declaration and complaint, calling out the Ministry of Public Education (SEP) for its effort through the National Commission of Free Textbooks (CONALITEG), to develop educational materials for the teaching of the English language in preschool, primary, and secondary schools.”

In a remarkable next-shoe-to-fall development, the most influential book publishing body in Mexico—the country with the largest number of native Spanish speakers in the world—is in litigation with its own federal government over the free-enterprise right to produce not only Spanish-language educational materials but also English-language training (ELT), the latter being vital to the future prosperity of Mexico’s nearshoring national workforce.

Having pushed aside more than 25 years of successful protocols for private commercial textbook creation in Spanish, Mexico’s federal government, the publishers say, now has declined to recognize the publishing community’s Guidelines To Authorize the Use of Didactic Packages for the for the Subject  of English as a Foreign Language in Public Schools of Basic Education of the National Education System.

This means, the publishers say, that the government is once more making its own educational materials—as it was discovered to be doing last autumn with Spanish-language texts. Government agencies “are allegedly preparing the English textbooks for the 2024-2025 school year,” the CANIEM says, “without having the corresponding study programs for preschool and elementary school,”  information that’s part of the Guidelines.

. . . .

When a system of private publishers bidding for the right to produce national textbooks is superseded by a government overtake of textbook creation and production, the result is a clear loss of the freedom to publish for many publishers, who no longer have an open market in which to operate.

And what’s more, the CANIEM writes, “This decision compromises the education and academic training in the English language of millions of Mexican children; violates the rights of teachers to choose and have access to quality teaching materials; and tramples the rights of different publishing houses to participate in their development.

“This puts at risk millions of young people entering the job market to take advantage of Mexico’s integration with the world’s largest and most dynamic international market and such associated phenomena as ‘nearshoring,’ since they do not have basic communication skills.”

Nearshoring, of course, is a business strategy that involves outsourcing various business processes and needs to nearby markets. The United States, obviously, positions the world’s most robust English-language economy in excellent proximity to Mexico. But without the requisite English-language skills, then Mexico’s native Spanish speakers are left out of the nearshoring benefit.

The legal position CANIEM is taking is that its’ actually illegal for the government to take it upon itself to produce English-language training textbooks for preschool and elementary school “without having previously elaborated and presented the study programs to which such books must be adjusted; secondly because the call cannot be made without previously being published in the Official Gazette of the Federation. And finally because in an open and notoriously discriminatory manner, several publishing houses were excluded, all of which are members of the Mexican Association of Publishers.

The Political Context

Many authoritarian governments have included state textbook publishing as an early foray into the erosion of free expression, deploying disinformation to dumb down a population being routed away from critical thinking.

A year ago, in March 2023, Valerie Wirtschafter and Arturo Sarukhan wrote at the Brookings Institution, “As Mexico’s Senate celebrated the passage of a bill designed to curb the power of the National Electoral Institute (INE), the non-partisan and independent agency that oversees elections, the country took another step backward toward its decades-long authoritarian past. … Under president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a pugnacious and charismatic leader who swept to power in 2018, Mexico’s independent institutions are slowly losing their ability to serve as a counterweight to the executive.”

The member-publishers of CANIEM are up against what appears to be another textbook-control grab by the Mexican government for intellectual impact on its population.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

An Utterly Misleading Book About Rural America

From The Atlantic:

Rage is the subject of a new book by the political scientist Tom Schaller and the journalist Paul Waldman. White Rural Rage, specifically. In 255 pages, the authors chart the racism, homophobia, xenophobia, violent predilections, and vulnerability to authoritarianism that they claim make white rural voters a unique “threat to American democracy.” White Rural Rage is a screed lobbed at a familiar target of elite liberal ire. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the authors appeared on Morning Joe, the book inspired an approving column from The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, and its thesis has been a topic of discussion on podcasts from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and the right-wing firebrand Charlie Kirk. The book has become a New York Times best seller.

. . . .

It has also kindled an academic controversy. In the weeks since its publication, a trio of reviews by political scientists have accused Schaller and Waldman of committing what amounts to academic malpractice, alleging that the authors used shoddy methodologies, misinterpreted data, and distorted studies to substantiate their allegations about white rural Americans. I spoke with more than 20 scholars in the tight-knit rural-studies community, most of them cited in White Rural Rage or thanked in the acknowledgments, and they left me convinced that the book is poorly researched and intellectually dishonest.

White Rural Rage illustrates how willing many members of the U.S. media and the public are to believe, and ultimately launder, abusive accusations against an economically disadvantaged group of people that would provoke sympathy if its members had different skin color and voting habits. That this book was able to make it to print—and onto the best-seller list—before anyone noticed that it has significant errors is a testament to how little powerful people think of white rural Americans. As someone who is from the kind of place the authors demonize—a place that is “rural” in the pejorative, rather than literal, sense—I find White Rural Rage personally offensive. I was so frustrated by its indulgence of familiar stereotypes that I aired several intemperate critiques of the book and its authors on social media. But when I dug deeper, I found that the problems with White Rural Rage extend beyond its anti-rural prejudice. As an academic and a writer, I find Schaller and Waldman’s misuse of other scholars’ research indefensible.

After fact-checking many of the book’s claims and citations, I found a pattern: Most of the problems occur in sections of the book that try to prove that white rural Americans are especially likely to commit or express support for political violence. By bending the facts to fit their chosen scapegoat, Schaller and Waldman not only trade on long-standing stereotypes about dangerous rural people. They mislead the public about the all-too-real threats to our democracy today. As serious scholarship has shown—including some of the very scholarship Schaller and Waldman cite, only to contort it—the right-wing rage we need to worry about is not coming from deep-red rural areas. It is coming from cities and suburbs.

The most obvious problem with White Rural Rage is its refusal to define rural. In a note in the back of the book, the authors write, “What constitutes ‘rural’ and who qualifies as a rural American … depends on who you ask.” Fair enough. The rural-studies scholars I spoke with agreed that there are a variety of competing definitions. But rather than tell us what definition they used, Schaller and Waldman confess that they settled on no definition at all: “We remained agnostic throughout our research and writing by merely reporting the categories and definitions that each pollster, scholar, or researcher used.” In other words, they relied on studies that used different definitions of rural, a decision that conveniently lets them pick and choose whatever research fits their narrative. This is what the scholars I interviewed objected to—they emphasized that the existence of multiple definitions of rural is not an excuse to decline to pick one. “This book amounts to a poor amalgamation of disparate literatures designed to fit a preordained narrative,” Cameron Wimpy, a political scientist at Arkansas State University, told me. It would be like undertaking a book-length study demonizing Irish people, refusing to define what you mean by Irish, and then drawing on studies of native Irish in Ireland, non-Irish immigrants to Ireland, Irish Americans, people who took a 23andMe DNA test that showed Irish ancestry, and Bostonians who get drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day to build your argument about the singular danger of “the Irish.” It’s preposterous.

The authors write that they were “at the mercy of the choices made by the researchers who collected, sorted, classified, and tabulated their results.” But reading between the lines, the authors’ working definition of rural often seems to be “a not-so-nice place where white people live,” irrespective of whether that place is a tiny hamlet or a small city. Some of the most jaw-dropping instances of this come when the authors discuss what they would have you believe is rural America’s bigoted assault on local libraries. “The American Library Association tracked 1,269 efforts to ban books in libraries in 2022,” Schaller and Waldman note. “Many of these efforts occurred in rural areas, where libraries have become a target of controversy over books with LGBTQ+ themes or discussions of racism.” The authors detail attacks on a number of libraries: in Llano, Texas; Ashtabula County, Ohio; Craighead County, Arkansas; Maury County, Tennessee; Boundary County, Idaho; and Jamestown, Michigan.

But half of these locations—Craighead County, Maury County, and Jamestown—do not seem to qualify as rural. What the authors call “rural Jamestown, Michigan,” scores a 1 out of 10 on one of the most popular metrics, the RUCA, used to measure rurality (1 being most urban), and is a quick commute away from the city of Grand Rapids.

That Schaller and Waldman so artfully dodged defining what they mean by rural is a shame for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that the question of who is rural is complex and fascinating. Scholars in rural studies make a distinction between subjective rural identity and objective rural residence—in other words, seeing yourself as rural versus living in a place that is geographically rural according to metrics like RUCA. The thing is, rural identity and rural residence are very, very different. Though Schaller and Waldman mention this distinction briefly in their authors’ note, they do not meaningfully explore it. One political scientist I spoke with, Utah Valley University’s Zoe Nemerever, recently co-authored a paper comparing rural self-identification to residence and found a stunning result: “A minority of respondents who described their neighborhood as rural actually live in an area considered rural.” Her study found that 72 percent of people—at minimum—who saw themselves as living in a rural place did not live in a rural place at all.

It turns out I am one of those people. I grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, an 88 percent white enclave in the southward center of the state. Eighteen minutes and nine miles to the east, you hit the capital city of Harrisburg, which has the best used bookstore in the tristate area. Nineteen minutes and 13 miles away to the west, you hit the game lands, where I spent my teenage years playing hooky and hunting in thick, hard-green mountains. Mechanicsburg feels urban, suburban, and rural all at once. There are strip malls and car dealerships. There are trailer parks and farms with beat-to-hell farmhouses. There are nice suburban neighborhoods with McMansions. My high school had a Future Farmers of America chapter and gave us the first day of deer season off. The final week of my senior year, a kid unballed his fist in the parking lot to show me a bag of heroin. Another wore bow ties and ended up at Harvard.

What do you call a place like that? It was both nice and not-nice. Somewhere and nowhere. Once in college, a professor made a wry joke: Describing a fictional town in a story, he quipped, “It’s the kind of place you see a sign for on the highway, but no one is actually from there.” He paused, racking his brain for an example. “Like Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.”

I tend to think of myself as having a comparatively “rural” identity for a variety of reasons: because Mechanicsburg was more rural when I was growing up. Because both sides of my family are from deeply rural places: Mathias, West Virginia (where 100 percent of the county population is rural), and Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (74 percent rural). Because, since the age of 10, I have spent nearly all my free time hunting or fishing, mostly in unambiguously rural areas that are a short drive from where I live. Because people like that professor tend to view my hometown as a place that is so irrelevant, it barely exists. So when Nemerever looked up data on Mechanicsburg and told me it had a RUCA score of 1 and was considered metropolitan—like Schaller and Waldman’s erroneous library examples—I was genuinely surprised. I’d made the same mistake about my own hometown that Schaller and Waldman had about Jamestown, Michigan.

Scholars who study rural identity say that common misperceptions like this are why defining rural is so important. “Researchers should be highly conscious of what ‘rural’ means when they want to measure relevant social, psychological, and political correlates,” a study of “non-rural rural identifiers” by Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a political-science professor at the University of South Carolina, warns. “Rurality can be a social identity that includes a broad group categorization, even including people who do not currently live in a rural area.”

Schaller and Waldman might have understood these nuances—and not repeatedly misidentified rural areas—if they’d meaningfully consulted members of the rural-studies community. In a portion of their acknowledgments section, the authors thank researchers and journalists in the field who “directed our attention to findings of relevance for our inquiry.” I contacted all 10 of these people, hoping to better understand what kind of input Schaller and Waldman sought from subject-matter experts. One said he was satisfied with the way his work had been acknowledged, and another did not respond to my message. Seven reported only a few cursory email exchanges with the authors about the subject of the book and were surprised to find that they had been thanked at all.

Although it is not unusual for authors to thank people they do not know or corresponded with only briefly, it is quite telling that not a single person I spoke with in rural studies—with the exception of the Wilmington College rural historian Keith Orejel, who said he was disappointed that his feedback did not seem to influence the book—said these men sought out their expertise in a serious way, circulated drafts of the book, or simply ran its controversial argument by them in detail.

. . . .

Arlie Hochschild, a celebrated sociologist and the author of Strangers in Their Own Land and a forthcoming book on Appalachia, struck a plaintive note in an email to me about White Rural Rage: “When I think of those I’ve come to know in Pike County, Kentucky—part of the nation’s whitest and second poorest congressional district—I imagine that many would not see themselves in this portrait.” She added that these Kentuckians would no doubt “feel stereotyped by books that talk of ‘rural white rage,’ by people who otherwise claim to honor ‘diversity.’”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG grew up in rural and very rural areas. (He remembers the name of every student in his class in grades 1-6 and can recite them on demand. [No, he was not home-schooled.] He was the valedictorian of his high school graduating class of 22. Out of those 22, only two graduated from college.

PG was happy to move to a close-in suburb of Chicago to go to college. He used some of his leisure time to ride public transportation to explore all different sorts of neighborhoods in the city, including one in which all the signs were in Polish and another in which the signs were in Greek. After he graduated, he worked in Chicago for several years. During this period of time, Chicago was the largest Polish city in the world—more Poles lived in Chicago than in Warsaw.

As far as White Rural Rage is concerned, PG remembered that he was required to read a book titled How to Lie with Statistics because his first job out of college involved analyzing a lot of numbers.

From the reading PG did to understand White Rural Rage, it sounded like the authors of the book cherry-picked their statistics to fit their desired conclusions—opinions first, numbers later. And, of course, the book’s publisher was Random House, most of whose management regard New Jersey as terra incognita.

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Psychopath

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: This narcissistic and antisocial character lacks empathy and will cross any line to get what they want.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), the Joker (The Dark Knight), Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Adventurous, Charming, Confident, Focused, Observant, Private, Spontaneous

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Antisocial, Callous, Controlling, Cruel, Dishonest, Evil, Haughty, Hostile, Impatient, Impulsive, Irresponsible, Manipulative, Rebellious, Reckless, Self-Indulgent, Selfish, Uncooperative, Unethical, Vain, Violent

ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Remaining cool under pressure
Acting assertively and decisively
Maintaining a singular focus on their goals
Being highly adaptable
Communicating strongly and effectively
Paying keen attention to details
Being confident
Showing resiliency in the face of setbacks
Being cruel for their own satisfaction or personal gain
Refusing to accept responsibility for their actions
Choosing relationships based on what the other person can do for them

SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Having to maintain a façade of emotional intimacy and normal emotional range in a long-term relationship
Their lies and manipulation being exposed
Facing legal or social repercussions for their actions

TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Forms a genuine connection with another person
Has an atypical trait: Hospitable, Affectionate, Wholesome, Gossipy, Responsible, etc.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

From Forbes Health:

What Is the Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath?

Today, both psychopathy and sociopathy may be used as terms implying an antisocial personality disorder, the official diagnosis for an individual displaying the traits of either term. While there is much overlap between psychopathy and sociopathy, they are not one and the same.

What Is a Sociopath?

The term sociopathy was coined in the era of behaviorism between 1920 to 1950 as a primary psychological theory, but it has since fallen out of use. “This term has not been used in modern science for several decades—for example, you cannot get funding from the National Institute of Health [NIH] to study ’sociopaths,’” says Kent Kiehl, Ph.D, a neuroscientist studying brain imagine, criminal psychopathy and other psychotic disorders in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When the term was still in use, it was believed that people were born as blank slates and subsequently shaped by their environment or social forces, ultimately resulting in a good or bad personality, says Kiehl. However, this view was determined to be incorrect and, as focus shifted to increasing accuracy and reliability in diagnosis, the term “sociopathy” was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) about 20 years ago.

What Is a Psychopath?

Even though the term is not an official diagnosis per the DSM-5, psychopathy remains a term in psychology today to indicate individuals who display high levels of unemotionalism or callousness, as well as impulsiveness or developmental antisocial traits, such as destructive or aggressive behavior.

Symptoms of psychopathy generally appear in early childhood and impact all areas of an individual’s life, including relationships with family, friends, at school and at work. About 1.2% of the adult population has psychopathy, according to a 2021 study in Frontiers of Psychology[1]. Those with psychopathy tend to display antisocial behaviors, such as a lack of empathy and disregard for the well-being and emotions of others, which can negatively impact relationships both personally and professionally as they struggle to connect and trust the world around them.

Psychopath and Sociopath Traits

The traits of a psychopath and a sociopath are “the same,” according to Kiehl, with both falling under the clinical diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

However, in terms of social construction, the two terms are viewed somewhat differently. Specifically:

  • Sociopaths tend to act more impulsively and erratically compared to psychopaths.
  • Sociopaths generally struggle to maintain a job or a family life, whereas psychopaths may be able to do so.
  • While psychopaths generally struggle to form attachments, sociopaths may be able to do so with a like-minded individual.
  • Psychopaths may be better able to disassociate from their actions and experience less guilt than sociopaths.

In order for a patient to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, they must display a “persistent disregard for the rights of others,” according to the DSM-5 clinical criteria as listed in the Merck Manual, a medical reference guide. This disregard is indicated by the presence of three or more of the following traits:

  • Disregarding the law (such as committing acts that are grounds for arrest repeatedly)
  • Acting in a deceitful manner (lying repeatedly, deceiving others for personal gain or using aliases)
  • Being impulsive or failing to plan ahead
  • Acting irresponsibly on a consistent basis (quitting a job without plans to get another or failing to pay bills)
  • Being easily provoked or aggressive (frequently getting into physical fights)
  • Failing to feel remorse (feeling indifferent to or rationalizing the mistreatment of others)

However, the most utilized method to assess traits of a psychopath in clinical or forensic work is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), says Kieh. The assessment can be used to predict violence and other negative outcomes, as well as explore treatment potential.

The assessment includes 20 items on which individuals are rated on a scale of zero to two based on how much their personality or behavior matches the item’s description. This results in two primary scales—one to measure emotional detachment and one for antisocial behavior—which combine for a total score. The highest score an individual can get on the PCL-R is 40, and a score of at least 30 is needed for someone to be classified as a psychopath.

Items on the assessment include:

  1. Glibness/superficial charm
  2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
  3. Need for stimulation
  4. Pathological lying
  5. Conning/manipulative
  6. Lack of remorse or guilt
  7. Shallow affect
  8. Callous/lack of empathy
  9. Parasitic lifestyle
  10. Poor behavioral controls
  11. Promiscuous sexual behavior
  12. Early behavioral problems
  13. Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  14. Impulsivity
  15. Irresponsibility
  16. Failure to accept responsibility
  17. Many short-term relationships
  18. Juvenile delinquency
  19. Revocation of conditional release (meaning someone was granted a conditional release from prison and that release has been revoked.)
  20. Criminal versatility

Psychopathy and Sociopathy Causes

While sociopathy—when the term was still in use—was a disorder believed to stem from a person’s environment, psychopathy is believed to arise mostly from biology and genetics with some environmental influence, though research on psychopathy’s causes is ongoing.

“There’s a lot of current research examining how biology/social forces interact and contribute to the development of psychopathic traits,” says Kiehl. “We generally review ‘primary’ psychopathy as coming from a larger biology/genetic component, contrasted with ‘secondary’ psychopathy, which is hypothesized to come from more social forces (such as bad parenting or perhaps trauma as a child) contributing more than biology.”

Risks of Psychopathy

There are a number of risks associated with psychopathy. Indeed, psychopathy is “one of the best predictors of future violence that we know of,” Kiehl notes. Although not all people with psychopathy are physically violent, studies find that while psychopaths account for less than 1% of the general population, they are responsible for between 30% and 50% of all violent crimes[2].

Still, psychopathy does increase a person’s tendency toward antisocial and aggressive behavior, which can manifest in various ways in school, the workplace and social situations. “Interpersonal relationships are also highly prone to failure,” Kiehl notes.

An affected individual struggles to form trusting bonds and tends to manipulate others and engage in antisocial behaviors, all of which can pose challenges to forming positive interpersonal relationships. That being said, how a person with psychopathy ultimately behaves varies based on the individual, their environment and their community.

Link to the rest at Forbes Health

Ask a Bookseller: ‘Art and Fear’

From Ask a Bookseller:

This one’s for the creatives.

Used bookstores can be a treasure trove of great reads, old and new, on a huge variety of topics.

Dickson St. Bookshop in Fayetteville, Ark., is one such spot. Bookseller Elaine Eckert says she gets particularly excited when she comes across a copy of her favorite nonfiction book, “Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Eckert says she first picked up a copy two decades ago, and she still has that copy with its margin notes and underlines.

Written in straightforward, unpretentious language, the book urges people to keep doing the good and hard work of creating something new in the world.

“Whenever you’re tearing apart layers of your soul and putting them onto canvas or music notes or into words, there’s always that self-doubt,” concedes Eckert, who is also an amateur painter.

She easily located her favorite sentence in the book that reminds her to keep going: “Those who continue to make art, or those who have learned how to continue, or more precisely, have learned how not to quit.”

. . . .

She recommends this book as a good companion for those moments when creating feels scary or weighted down by self-doubt, or when our progress doesn’t align with our expectations.

Link to the rest at Ask a Bookseller

AI v. Hemingway

In his experiments with AI writing programs, PG has discovered a few strengths and weaknesses.

Following are the first few paragraphs of “The Sun Also Rises,” as originally written by Ernest Hemingway:

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly’s star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.

I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Robert Cohn had never been middleweight boxing champion, and that perhaps a horse had stepped on his face, or that maybe his mother had been frightened or seen something, or that he had, maybe, bumped into something as a young child, but I finally had somebody verify the story from Spider Kelly. Spider Kelly not only remembered Cohn. He had often wondered what had become of him.

Robert Cohn was a member, through his father, of one of the richest Jewish families in New York, and through his mother of one of the oldest. At the military school where he prepped for Princeton, and played a very good end on the football team, no one had made him race-conscious. No one had ever made him feel he was a Jew, and hence any different from anybody else, until he went to Princeton. He was a nice boy, a friendly boy, and very shy, and it made him bitter. He took it out in boxing, and he came out of Princeton with painful self-consciousness and the flattened nose, and was married by the first girl who was nice to him. He was married five years, had three children, lost most of the fifty thousand dollars his father left him, the balance of the estate having gone to his mother, hardened into a rather unattractive mould under domestic unhappiness with a rich wife; and just when he had made up his mind to leave his wife she left him and went off with a miniature-painter. As he had been thinking for months about leaving his wife and had not done it because it would be too cruel to deprive her of himself, her departure was a very healthful shock.

The divorce was arranged and Robert Cohn went out to the Coast. In California he fell among literary people and, as he still had a little of the fifty thousand left, in a short time he was backing a review of the Arts. The review commenced publication in Carmel, California, and finished in Provincetown, Massachusetts. By that time Cohn, who had been regarded purely as an angel, and whose name had appeared on the editorial page merely as a member of the advisory board, had become the sole editor. It was his money and he discovered he liked the authority of editing. He was sorry when the magazine became too expensive and he had to give it up.

By that time, though, he had other things to worry about. He had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine. She was very forceful, and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand. Also he was sure that he loved her. When this lady saw that the magazine was not going to rise, she became a little disgusted with Cohn and decided that she might as well get what there was to get while there was still something available, so she urged that they go to Europe, where Cohn could write. They came to Europe, where the lady had been educated, and stayed three years. During these three years, the first spent in travel, the last two in Paris, Robert Cohn had two friends, Braddocks and myself. Braddocks was his literary friend. I was his tennis friend.

The lady who had him, her name was Frances, found toward the end of the second year that her looks were going, and her attitude toward Robert changed from one of careless possession and exploitation to the absolute determination that he should marry her. During this time Robert’s mother had settled an allowance on him, about three hundred dollars a month. During two years and a half I do not believe that Robert Cohn looked at another woman. He was fairly happy, except that, like many people living in Europe, he would rather have been in America, and he had discovered writing. He wrote a novel, and it was not really such a bad novel as the critics later called it, although it was a very poor novel. He read many books, played bridge, played tennis, and boxed at a local gymnasium.

And here is what PG’s current most interesting writing AI, Perplexity, generated:

Certainly! Here is a creative rewriting of the first few paragraphs of “The Sun Also Rises” in the style of Ernest Hemingway: 

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym.

He was Spider Kelly’s star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose.

In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.

I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Robert Cohn had never been middleweight boxing champion, and that perhaps a horse had stepped on his face, or that maybe his mother had been frightened or seen something, or that he had, maybe, bumped into something as a young child, but I checked on all the stories I heard about Cohn, and found out that they were true. This passage maintains Hemingway’s characteristic terse prose, simple and direct language, and understated tone. It also reflects Hemingway’s focus on themes of masculinity and the effects of societal pressures on the individual.

Perplexity has a “Tell Me More” option at the end of its responses (at least in the paid version). PG hit the “Tell Me More” button and here’s what Perplexity provided:

Continuing in the style of Ernest Hemingway, the narrative would likely proceed with a focus on the disillusionment and existential themes that are prevalent in his works. Here’s an extension of the rewritten passage, maintaining the Hemingway style: After Princeton, Cohn was lost. Like many of us, the war had changed him. It wasn’t just the physical scars, those were easy to hide. It was something deeper, a sort of emptiness that came with seeing too much and understanding too little. He wandered through Europe, searching for something he couldn’t name. It was in Paris that he found Frances, and for a while, it seemed as though he might have found what he was looking for. But happiness, like a shadow, is elusive when chased.

Paris was a city that promised much but held back even more. It was filled with expatriates like us, all running from something, all trying to write the next great novel, paint the next masterpiece, or simply forget the past. The cafes of Montparnasse were our battlegrounds, where we fought against our own disillusionment with words and wit as our weapons.

Cohn wrote a novel during those years. It wasn’t particularly good, nor was it bad. It simply was. Like so much of life, it existed in that gray area between success and failure. Frances encouraged him, perhaps more out of a desire to secure her own future than any belief in his literary talents. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The book was published, and Cohn found himself a minor celebrity among the expatriate community.

Yet, fame, Cohn discovered, was as empty as everything else. He began to realize that the problem wasn’t with Paris, or his novel, or Frances. The problem was with him. He had been searching for meaning in a world that seemed determined to withhold it. And in that search, he had lost himself.

It was around this time that I met him. He was a man out of step with the world, clinging to the belief that somewhere, somehow, there was something real, something true. I couldn’t help but admire him for that, even as I pitied him. For in the end, we were all lost, all searching, all hoping for the sun to rise on a new day that would bring with it some semblance of meaning. This continuation captures the essence of Hemingway’s themes: the search for meaning in a post-war world, the disillusionment with the “Lost Generation,” and the personal struggles of his characters as they navigate their lives. Hemingway’s writing often explored the complexities of human emotions and relationships against the backdrop of a world that seemed indifferent to individual suffering, and this narrative aims to reflect those elements.

End of Perplexity Rewrite

PG says Papa doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Postscript:

During his web-wandering in connection with this post, PG discovered something else of interest:

The Unpublished Opening of The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway
Also includes:
Letter to Ernest Hemingway on The Sun Also Rises
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was published in a now-defunct periodical titled Antæus No. 33, Spring 1979, edited by Daniel Halpern. You can read this Unpublished Opening/Fitzgerald Critique article Here.

If you don’t have a copy, you can read The Sun Also Rises, with the opening Hemingway used after seeing Fitzgerald’s letter Here.

How Anthropic found a trick to get AI to give you answers it’s not supposed to

From TechCrunch:

If you build it, people will try to break it. Sometimes even the people building stuff are the ones breaking it. Such is the case with Anthropic and its latest research which demonstrates an interesting vulnerability in current LLM technology. More or less if you keep at a question, you can break guardrails and wind up with large language models telling you stuff that they are designed not to. Like how to build a bomb.

Of course given progress in open-source AI technology, you can spin up your own LLM locally and just ask it whatever you want, but for more consumer-grade stuff this is an issue worth pondering. What’s fun about AI today is the quick pace it is advancing, and how well — or not — we’re doing as a species to better understand what we’re building.

If you’ll allow me the thought, I wonder if we’re going to see more questions and issues of the type that Anthropic outlines as LLMs and other new AI model types get smarter, and larger. Which is perhaps repeating myself. But the closer we get to more generalized AI intelligence, the more it should resemble a thinking entity, and not a computer that we can program, right? If so, we might have a harder time nailing down edge cases to the point when that work becomes unfeasible?

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

What Is Sensitivity Reading?

From The Science Fiction Writers of America:

Have you ever read something that you knew was incorrect? Sometimes, research has fallen short of convincing people who know better, even though other readers might not notice anything wrong. For those who know, it can be jarring and pull them out of the story. How would you feel if that error was about your life? Your personal history? Your family’s history? Or something intrinsic to who you are?

Sensitivity readers exist as a consultancy resource to offer an authentic perspective regarding how marginalization affects characters, settings, and worldbuilding, and to provide feedback that an author can accept, reject, or question. That feedback can include, but is not limited to, problematic tropes, stereotypes, inaccuracies, and offensive portrayals. Utilizing this feedback, authors improve the representation so that readers who live these experiences can avoid harm and enjoy their books.

The controversy

Books have been recruited into the ongoing culture war that we’re seeing across our society with lurid headlines about Roald Dahl or the James Bond books “being forced” to change. Often, when an author has negative feedback or a book is delayed or withdrawn, the sensitivity readers are blamed.

Sensitivity reading is seen as new, controversial, and headline-grabbing. Changing anything is presented as “woke,” snowflake modern sensibilities. However, this practice has been employed for as long as books have been printed. Some great examples include Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the Bowdlerized version of Shakespeare, or how Grimm and Anderson fairy tales are softened for younger children. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa-Loompas were originally pygmies Willy Wonka imported from “the deepest and darkest part of the African jungle.” Ten years later, Dahl updated them as having “golden-brown hair” and “rosy-white skin,” and Africa became Loompa-land. Dahl was happy to edit his own work. So was Dickens, with another book considered a classic. Dickens went back and removed over two hundred references to anti-Semitism of the Fagin character in Oliver Twist after criticism from a Jewish reader. 

Stories with positive outcomes exist in modern reporting despite the media’s tendency to focus on authors who are less receptive. Recently, Irvine Welsh spoke candidly about when he’d written trans characters, and thought using sensitivity readers would be akin to censorship. However, Welsh said his sensitivity reader had wanted to make the book “as authentic as possible and was incredibly supportive. And it did help to make the book better.” 

Joanne Harris, Chair for the Society of Authors, also made a great point when she tweeted: “If you don’t want to use a sensitivity reader, don’t use one. But if you’ve never used one, then maybe you’re not the person most qualified to talk about what sensitivity readers actually do.”

The process

What sensitivity readers look for depends on their specialty and the manuscript itself. Topics could include race, LGBTQIA+ experiences, disability, and other marginalizations. While what we’re looking for varies, we all look for authenticity. We read through the manuscript, searching for instances of stereotyping, bias, or harmful tropes, and providing cultural, personal, or community-related context to all aspects relevant to our read.

As a biracial British Indian second-generation immigrant, my area of expertise includes my identity, race relations in the UK, especially for the Indian/Desi diasporas, UK anti-immigration politics, Brexit, etc., through to India under the Raj, for both factual or fictional books. I can help with general racism, but I would always recommend finding a closer fit where possible.

With most fiction or non-fiction books, my sensitivity read is completed at the end of the editing process, before or during copy edits. I’ll be given the full manuscript to review or a selection of scenes. Picture books, however, require feedback for the very early script and work-in-progress art stage. A second review of the final art and copy will often be completed.

When reading, I’m working from my personal lived experience, from training, and any background research required, if it’s a particular time period, for example. If it’s authentic, I’ll give it a thumbs up and explain why; if it’s not, I will give suggestions on how to improve the authenticity. These suggestions might be in-line text or links to further resources where they can find more information.

I take note of initial impressions by using Track Changes in MS Word or comments on a PDF; then, on a second read, I’ll review how those impressions played out. Were people deliberately using stereotypes in order to subvert them later, or was it an accidental problem that needs fixing? I point out good representation, not only the negatives, and try to recommend details that help the story ring true.

The report ties back to a page number or a reference, so the author knows exactly what the comment refers to. If it is an overall issue, I’ll clarify why they must change something fundamental about the narrative.

Industry uptake

While there is no formal data on the use of sensitivity readers, I have noted an increase in requests and new clients. I worked with ten different publishers in 2021, thirteen in 2022, and sixteen in 2023. There was a similar proportional increase of requests from independent authors. My sensitivity reading peers have also noticed an upward trend, especially from publishers.

Many reads are one-off projects, but I have been working with some publishers since 2020, and I know of at least one publisher who uses readers for every book they release.

Bloomsbury, Bonnier, and Quarto told The Bookseller they had employed sensitivity readers as it was “important in inclusive, forward-thinking publishing.”

Why do it

Creating characters that reflect the world’s diversity is important for writers and readers. However, it’s essential to create that representation authentically. Consider why you’re adding characters different from yourself, and how you will feel if you get aspects wrong. Consider asking for feedback to create your best character rather than worrying about possible bad reviews or social media pile-ons. 

Link to the rest at SWFA

PG tried to think of a book of fiction he had read that reflected the world’s diversity. He was unsuccessful.

PG’s favorite books are often set in a time and place very different from any PG has experienced. That preference takes him to many histories. Fantasy/sci-fi is another trip to a time and place he has never experienced first-hand and has never actually existed.

PG also bucks against overly-sensitive people, although in his former legal practice, he had to deal with clients who could be triggered by many and varied events and experiences. The hurly-burly and unpredictability of some hard-fought court cases were difficult for such clients to deal with.

PG tried to prepare clients for ups and downs in court proceedings, but the intense emotions when a witness delivers a nasty surprise instead of another brick in a carefully constructed wall can be hard to deal with.

Page 98

From Writer Unboxed:

I’m writing this post in a public library. It isn’t a research library, the awesome university kind where you might go to dig up fabulous story details. It’s a humble branch library. The patrons are either kids from the nearby high school or their moms. The adult fiction shelves are not deeply stocked with classic novels but rather with plastic-jacketed titles from recent decades, the kind of stuff that regular people want to read.

It’d say that 70% of the fiction titles on the shelves are mysteries and thrillers. We’ll come back to that.

First, a nod to my fellow WU contributor Ray Rhamey. His monthly Flog a Pro posts are popular, and with good reason: They highlight first pages and ask us to judge them, yes or no, would you turn to the second page or not? Brilliant.

Ray knows a lot about first pages. His website has a checklist of things that a first page should accomplish. There are two primary areas. With respect to character, something should go wrong or challenge the character; the character should desire something; the character should take action. With respect to setting, the reader should be oriented, what’s happening should be happening “now” not “then”, set up isn’t needed.

The final element is a story question. Got all that and you get a gold star. I like Ray’s checklist; it is a good, basic starting point for beginnings, which bring us right away into the story action and are how the vast majority of manuscripts begin. Ray is the first to say that his checklist is only a guideline and that’s wise. There are many ways to open a novel besides kickstarting the action. There are atmosphere openings and voice openings (sometimes called the letter to the reader) among a variety of other approaches.

Whatever the opening strategy, in my observation effective openings offer us the following:

  • Commanding voice. Skillful language, sonority and cadence lull us into the semi-dream state in which story begins to seem real. I’ve written about that previously HERE.
  • Character presence. Whether first person or third, close or distant, we are anchored in a character and strongly sense who that character is. Furthermore, we have a reason to care about, identify with or hope for that character.
  • Intrigue. This is commonly understood as story question, the puzzle unsolved, the mini-mystery that doesn’t yet have an answer. Intrigue, though, can be anything anomalous, odd, out of the ordinary, curious or leading. The crude application of intrigue is seen in thriller hook lines, but there are many other ways get us interested.
  • Story expectation. The type of story experience we’ll have is signaled through tone, sensibility and word choice. I’ve written previously about promise words HERE.
  • Necessary knowledge. This is emphatically NOT set up. Set up is the unneeded explanation of how the story circumstances came about. It assumes that the reader is a dummy, unable to understand or accept why a story is happening. Necessary knowledge, on the other hand, tells us something specific about person, place or story that is different enough as to be critical to the verisimilitude of the story we’re going to read, or at least is unique detail or unusual perspective that, paradoxically, contributes to the illusion of reality.
  • Mood. Our frame of mind is set. Stories can be broken down into two fundamental categories, invoking in us either fear or hope. Gloom sends us one way. Delight sends us another. As with the underlying musical score in a movie, we’re emotionally prepared.
  • Story world. We find ourselves in a place which is not only particular—a place which we can imagine in the mind’s eye—but a place in which we sense that things are going to happen. Big things. Significant things. Meaningful things.

However, my post today is not about openings. I’m fairly confident that the opening of your WIP is going to bring us some, if not much, of what I’ve identified above. My post today, rather, is about page 98.

When we are that deep into your novel, is page 98 still bringing us stuff which engages, intrigues, informs, sways, and suggests to us that there is more to come? Is there still a strong feeling of character, sensibility, and promise? Do we find ourselves in a particular mood or frame of mind?

Or to put it simply, is page 98 as good as page 1? To find out how—or even whether—that can happen, let’s go back to the library.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

J.K. Rowling Still Free from the Speech Police

From The Wall Street Journal:

An appalling political effort to force the people of Scotland to express only government-approved thoughts on “gender” has so far been unable to conquer the country’s most successful expresser of thoughts. Megan Bonar and Katy Scott report for the BBC:

Social media comments made by JK Rowling challenging Scotland’s new hate crime law are not being treated as criminal, Police Scotland has said.

The Harry Potter author described several transgender women as men, including convicted prisoners, trans activists and other public figures.

The new law creates a new crime of “stirring up hatred” relating to protected characteristics.

The force said complaints had been received but no action would be taken.

Ms. Rowling responds on X:

I hope every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women – irrespective of profile or financial means – will be treated equally under the law.

Libby Brooks adds in the U.K.’s Guardian:

As the Scottish government’s contentious hate crime law came into force on Monday, the author… posted a thread on X… listing sex offenders who had described themselves as transgender alongside well-known trans women activists, describing them as “men, every last one of them”.

She stated that “freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal”.

Agence France Presse notes more of Ms. Rowling’s commentary:

The law, she said in a lengthy online criticism, is “wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces”.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment,” she wrote.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Apple has been secretly building home robots

From Business Insider:

Apple is in the early stages of looking into making home robots, a move that appears to be an effort to create its “next big thing” after it killed its self-driving car project earlier this year, sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Engineers are looking into developing a robot that could follow users around their houses, Bloomberg reported. They’re also exploring a tabletop at-home device that uses robotics to rotate the display, a project that’s more advanced than the mobile robot.

The idea behind the smart display robot is to mimic a person’s head movement, such as reacting during a FaceTime session. It initially caught the attention of senior Apple executives years ago, though they’ve disagreed over whether to continue with the project, Bloomberg said.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Museums are becoming more expensive

From The Economist:

“It’s almost a moral duty that museums should be free,” said Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). That was in 2002, when a ticket to moma cost $12 (around $19 in today’s prices). In October moma started charging $30, the latest in a series of price rises.

moma is not the only museum raising the cost of admission. The Metropolitan Museum in New York ended its longstanding “pay what you will” policy for out-of-town visitors in 2018 and raised general admission for them to $30 in 2022. Last summer the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim Museum all followed suit, bumping a standard ticket from $25 to $30.

Museum staff complain of climbing costs and a case of “long covid”. In America only a third of museums have met or surpassed pre-pandemic visitor numbers. Higher energy and labour costs have pushed up ticket prices in Europe, too. In January the Berlin State Museums, the Louvre and the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, raised the price of general-admission tickets by 20%, 29% and 17%, respectively. Prices have remained stable only in Asia and the Middle East, where museums are younger and state funding is especially generous.

Ticket fees may seem high, particularly in destination cities where tourists are not likely to be dissuaded by spending a few more dollars. But “whatever museums charge, it is not covering their operating costs,” says Javier Jimenez, a director at Lord Cultural Resources, a consulting firm. The Association of Art Museum Directors reported in 2018 that ticket sales accounted on average for just 7% of total revenue at American art museums. Memberships contributed another 7%. The remainder of budgets usually come from endowments, charitable donations, grants and retail operations.

European museums are less reliant on admissions fees, because they are often heavily subsidised by governments. This can make it awkward to ask taxpayers to buy a pricey ticket and in effect pay twice. Many institutions choose to offer reductions for the young, pensioners and locals.

All national institutions in Britain offer free admission, as do most state-run museums in China. (Exceptions are made for special exhibitions.) In America some 30% are free, including big public museums like those of the Smithsonian Institution and private ones such as the Getty Centre in Los Angeles. Some observers have repeated Mr Lowry’s call for museums, especially the most well-endowed, to stop charging for admission entirely.

Ballooning prices go against museums’ goal of sharing art with a more diverse public. They could also accelerate the already steep decline in the share of Americans attending museums and galleries: between 2017 and 2022 it shrunk by 26%.

Declining public interest, particularly among young people, is a challenge for institutions that rely heavily on public support. Those who choose not to visit a museum today may be the people who vote against government subsidies or refuse to write personal cheques as patrons in a few years. Those who spend time inside museums’ galleries are more likely to grasp their richness and want to invest their own riches in them.

Yet significantly reducing costs may not actually do much to attract new audiences either. In both America and Europe, people say that price is just one of several factors when it comes to deciding what to do with their leisure time. 

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG’s first job out of college was right across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, then (and hopefully now), one of the great art museums of the world.

When he didn’t have a business lunch or a tight deadline, PG would go over to explore nooks and crannies in the Art Institute with few visitors as well as the impressive large pieces that reliably brought crowds into the building on most days.

As he recalls, he gave the museum a relatively small amount of money to acquire the right to visit any place in the Art Institute at any time the building was open.

PG was saddened by the OP and the admission fees charged to those who are less than well-off.

Visitor Information

PG glanced at some site stats for TPV and discovered that, after the U.S., the second-largest location providing visitors to TPV is China. More visitors from China than Canada or Britain.

He hopes his comments about China posted earlier today don’t cause problems for his Chinese guests.

Hong Kong’s Forbidden Apple

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Chinese Communist Party has already crushed freedom in Hong Kong. Now it’s beating a dead horse.

As directors of Next Digital, we saw three years ago the jackboot effect of the security laws Beijing has imposed on Hong Kong. The company published Apple Daily, a lively independent newspaper founded in 1995 by businessman Jimmy Lai. With no judicial process, Hong Kong’s security secretary froze the company’s bank accounts, forcing the paper to close. Mr. Lai was already in jail and is now on trial on national-security charges.

Now the Communist Party is going after Apple Daily’s readers. On June 24, 2021, the paper’s last day of publication, people lined up for hours to show their support by buying a copy. More than a million were sold in a city of fewer than eight million. Under the latest national-security law, which took effect last month, possession of “seditious publications” is a crime. A Hong Kong resident could go to prison for having a keepsake copy of Apple Daily at home.

Think we’re exaggerating? On March 10 the Global Times, a Communist Party propaganda organ, published what it billed as “a rebuttal to Western media hype targeting the law.” The “rebuttal” described Mr. Lai as a “modern-day traitor” and Apple Daily as “the secessionist tabloid, depicted by Western politicians and media as the so-called defender of freedom of speech.”

During what passed for a debate over the bill in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, lawmaker Peter Koon asked an official to clarify the provision. Apple Daily “is certainly seditious,” Mr. Koon allowed. “But what if some people intend to keep a record of such a bad newspaper and had two copies at home? Would that be counted as possessing seditious publications?”

Security Secretary Chris Tang said that it would depend. The Global Times “rebuttal” quotes him: “For example, ‘I’ve placed it [seditious item] there for a long time, I didn’t know it was still there, the purpose wasn’t to incite, I didn’t know about its existence,’ that could constitute a reasonable excuse.” Feel better? The law also authorizes the police to use “reasonable force” to remove or destroy seditious publications.

. . . .

But more nonmedia companies are likely to find the risks of doing business in Hong Kong too great. The new law expands on the old one by incorporating China’s criminalizing of “state secrets.” That can include not only journalism but also the kind of information-gathering routinely done in a global financial center by industry and company analysts, investors, consultants, lawyers and accountants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG says this is a sobering story likely to spur sales of outbound airline tickets from Hong Kong. Such activity will move a great many intelligent and talented people out of Hong Kong for long-term stays outside of China.

Perhaps Chinese leaders believe the nation has a surplus of such individuals within its 1.4 billion population, but PG thinks they’re mistaken.

AAP StatShot: In 2023, US Revenues Were $12.6 Billion

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its release today (March 26) of its December 2023 StatShot report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) the year-to-date figures cover last year, with total revenues across all categories in December 2023 down 2.5 percent as compared to December 2022, at US$970.7 million.
Year-to-date revenues, the AAP reports, for the overall industry were up 0.4 percent at US$12.6 billion.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); higher education course materials; and professional publishing.

Trade Revenues

Calendar Year 2023

Trade revenues were down 0.3 percent at $8.9 billion for the calendar year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were up 0.4 percent, coming in at $3.3 billion
  • Paperbacks were down 2.0 percent, with $3.1 billion in revenue
  • Mass market was down 22.9 percent to $140.0 million
  • Special bindings were up 2.2 percent, with $210.0 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were up 0.6 percent for the year as compared to the year 2022 for a total of $1.0 billion
  • The closely watched digital audio format was 14.9 percent for 2023, coming in at $864.0 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 16.2 percent, coming in at $12.9 million

December 2023
In December, the industry’s trade revenues were down  1.2 percent, at $719.0 million.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 8.6 percent, coming in at $245.3 million
  • Paperbacks were down 7.2 percent, with $244.0 million in revenue
  • Mass market was up 5.4 percent to $11.0 million
  • Special bindings were down 14.2 percent, with $18.1 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were up 16.3 percent as compared to December 2022, for a total $90.3 million
  • The digital audio format was up 24.5 percent for December, at $81.9 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 7.8 percent, coming in at $1.1 million

. . . .

AAP StatShot reports the monthly and yearly net revenue of publishing houses from US sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, and other channels. StatShot draws revenue data from approximately 1,240 publishers, although participation may fluctuate slightly from report to report.

“StatShot reports are designed to give ongoing revenue snapshots across publishing sectors using the best data currently available. The reports reflect participants’ most recent reported revenue for current and previous periods, enabling readers to compare revenue on both a month-to-month and year-to-year basis within a given StatShot report.

“Monthly and yearly StatShot reports may not align completely across reporting periods, because:

  • “The pool of StatShot participants may fluctuate from report to report
  • “As in any business, it’s common accounting practice for publishing houses to update and restate their previously reported revenue data

“If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports first indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports to AAP, permitting AAP in turn to report information that is more accurate than previously reported.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is happy to be corrected by visitors to The Passive Voice who are more statistically literate than he is, but it appears that sales of digital books – ebooks and digital audio – are growing briskly while sales of physical books in all forms are in decline.

PG notes that this is only a snapshot of recent sales, but he doubts that sellers of physical books in any form have been dancing in the streets in recent weeks and months.

From the standpoint of a vendor, sales of digital books and digital audio have to be inherently more profitable because there are no expenses associated with physical stores to pay directly or indirectly.

Organized groups of electrons can be moved from place to place at an extremely low cost.

The Truth About Website Growth

From Writers in the Storm:

Statistics are interesting. Statistics can provide us with valuable information. Like, right now, there are over 8 billion people on the planet and over 1 billion websites (most of which are inactive). One of my favorite teachers said that it only takes 5000 true fans to be famous, although I can’t find any proof for that statement. Thinking of the various authors I’ve worked with, I will say that once your fan base gets up in those numbers, you’re generally happy with the income level.

Build it and they will come.

Aside from being a misquote, that sentiment is particularly misleading when related to author websites. No, there isn’t any guarantee that anyone will find your website or your book. Even if you have the most beautiful website or the most amazing book, there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever find it.

“Wow, Lisa. That sounds really negative. Isn’t this a big part of what you do?”

Yep. Every day. And I’ve seen sites grow from nothing to amazing. Google sends you a special email when you get 1 million visits in a month. I’ve seen websites outgrow their hosting, email lists that explode in popularity, and sites that provide their owners with a very comfortable living.

But I’ve also seen some websites that just sit there. Alone. Abandoned. 82% of websites are abandoned. If you’ve paid for hosting, you know that is a lot of money to spend doing… nothing.

I’ve studied statistics from many author websites: new authors, established authors, NYT bestsellers. I’ve watched how their websites grow over time. It is a lot of fun to go back over the history of a long blog, watching how the author experimented, played, and learned how to turn their digital space into something amazing.

Content is king.

When we talk about physical real estate, we say, “Location, location, location…” because location makes a huge difference in the value of a property.

With digital real estate, content is everything. Okay, so I’ve seen some people arguing this point, so let me say it this way: giving something of value is the key to success. Yep, it’s the same as we say about everything. Site visitors want to know “What’s in it for me?”

If there isn’t anything there for them, they don’t care.

“So, great! All I need to do is put stuff on my blog and it’ll work!”

No. Sorry. It is more complicated than that. Because it isn’t just content. It is useful content that people want.

This principle is so important that Google even has an algorithm named after it.

If your content is useful, you get rewarded by search engines and content aggregators*. Not useful? You get buried.

*Content aggregators, news aggregators, or news readers are apps that collect and display articles, blogs, podcasts, and other information. Content aggregators are a great way for entertainers to be discovered. Examples: Google News, Flipboard, Apple News, Smart News, and Feedly. Using tools like these is a great way to build a curated information source that will create a custom set of articles for you to read each day.

Entertainment has value.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is important to remember: we’re in the entertainment industry. So “useful” for us means entertaining.

Write fantastic entertaining content on your website, and people will flock to it. Right? Maybe. I’ve seen some amazing growth with this method, but I’ve seen many people post once or twice and then stop. Why?

“It didn’t work for me.”

That’s usually the point at which I start screaming silently. (Because screaming loudly at clients is considered rude.)

Here’s the truth: one or two posts won’t do it.

In my years of teaching and coaching writers, I’ve only seen one person who went nearly viral with their first post. Their second post was fairly normal, and they didn’t post again. (Imagine me crying at the lost opportunity for that incredibly talented writer!)

That’s not how the internet works.

Why? Because it takes a while to really start connecting with your true fans. Most people don’t even know who their true fans ARE when they start their website. (What? You thought you were the only one who felt that way?)

I love looking at website statistics, because I can see when people start connecting and when things start getting shared around. Authors without stats often miss the early signs of growth entirely. My favorite moments are when authors tell me they want to stop, and then I show them the graph of people looking at their content.

Most authors start out with a long flat graph. They post and test content like it was pasta they are throwing at people’s social media walls. Sometimes something sticks. Most often, that sticky thing isn’t new, because it took a bit of time for people to find it. From my experience, I’d say most of the successful posts I’ve seen tend to be several months old. One of my most successful posts was years old before it was discovered.

Once an author realizes what their fans want, they start writing more of that, and you can watch the graph grow.

Some authors catch on really fast. Most take months or years.

Here are the hard numbers.

Neil Patel (a search engine optimization guru) compiled the analytics data of more than 1 million websites across different industries. (Entertainment is one of those industries, and the one we fit into.)

Of websites whose authors were writing consistent content each month:

  • Traffic increased 11.4% within the first 6 months
  • Another 9.58% traffic bump in months 6-12
  • The second year saw a 49.4% boost over Year 1
  • Year 3 was up 30.7% over Year 2
  • Year 4 grew another 13.5%

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Help Us Choose the Saddest Book of All Time

From Electric Lit:

Forget March Madness—this year, we’ve decided to try something new: March Sadness. That’s right, folks: this literary bracket is full of the most devastating novels we could think of, all with the goal of choosing the saddest of the sad. These are the books that have broken our hearts in the best and worst ways, the ones that will compel any reader to go on a long, long walk while playing the same depressing songs on loop and contemplating the tragedy of life. 

You, dear reader, are going to help us decide which of these books has single-handedly accounted for thousands of dollars in revenue for the Kleenex brand (we assume) thanks to readers blotting their eyes and blowing their noses. Voting starts Monday, March 25 on our Instagram and Twitter (sorry, did we say Twitter? We meant “X”).

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG missed this earlier and March Sadness has already been determined. Go to Electric Lit to find the winner/loser. Cursor down at Electric Lit to see the winner(s) and loser(s) of each round of March Sadness.

Generative A.I. For Writers: An Unfolding (But Not Inevitable) Nightmare!

From Chuck Wendig:

I have seen the sentiment around that generative AI for writers and artists is “inevitable,” which is a message that I think falls right in line with the myth of the starving artist — meaning, they’re two bits of pervasive folklore put forth by the Powers That Be, because it rewards and enriches those powers. To put a finer point on it, it’s ****ing capitalism. It’s capitalist propaganda bellowed from the deepest, most cankerous cave of moneyed interests, because if they say it enough times and make it true, then they make more money because we make less money, the end.

Just the same, I’ve seen some actual writers and actual artists start to… really take this to heart. They are taking on the inevitability of Gen AI sure as a broken-hulled boat takes on water — but that boat doesn’t have to sink, and nor does AI have to be inevitable. I do think it is inevitable that Moneyed Interests will continue to push AI as a catch-all solution to problems that don’t exist, and they won’t just let that bone go — but I do think, just like crypto and NFTs and what-have-you, that the actual value of Gen AI and the inclusion of Gen AI is far, far from confirmed prophecy.

So, this is a post talking about what we are, I anticipate, likely to see regarding artificial intelligence and both our writing lives and our writing careers. Note: none of this is good, but again, none of this needs to be inevitable, either, and I feel like blah blah blah, forewarned is forearmed.

Real quick, a quick sum-up of where we’re at with Gen AI in art and writing (and arguably music and game design and pretty much everything else):

a) It is built entirely on stolen work, colonizing the efforts of human creators, milling everything into artbarf and content slurry — and it is worth reminding too that it is not the AI that has stolen our work but rather, the creators of the AI who literally directed their artbarf robots to build themselves out of pilfered material.

b) It is environmentally damaging, increasingly so, guzzling water like a man in the desert and contributing overmuch to carbon emissions — see this article here, from Yale. Immigrants crossing borders are dying of thirst, but meanwhile, we’re feeding a half-a-liter of water to the machines just to ask it a couple-few dozen questions (which it will probably get wrong).

c) It continues to chew at the beams and struts of our information fidelity, and in those holes and in the inevitable collapse, mis- and disinformation will flourish like an invasive species.

With those three things in mind, it is fair to say, I think, that use of AI in writing and in the arts is unethical at present until the problems of stolen material, environmental damage and information erosion are addressed and solved. There’s a fourth thing, one that arguably is too true of everything we touch, which is that Gen AI exists largely to make Rich People Richer, and does nothing for everyone further down the ladder. (This is a much harder problem to solve because, well, welcome to the water in which we swim.) It serves companies. It does not serve people. It doesn’t help writers or artists or the audience. It’s there to make stuff fast, cheap, easy.

And, to opine a bit here, even outside the ethics of this, I also think use of Gen AI in this way is supremely lazy and completely betrays the entire point of making art and telling stories in the first ****ing place. It’s not helping us make the work better and get paid more. It’s relegating art and writing to a hobby only, while simpering incel chimps press buttons and get their rocks off by having the AI make images and stories of whatever mediocre garbage is passing through their minds at any given moment.

But, but, but —

Again, I don’t think this is inevitable.

Here I’m really going to switch gears and talk more explicitly about Gen AI in writing, and the problems it presents beyond the lack of ethics and the fact it’s really just there for lazy people who actually like the idea of writing more than they actually want to write. (Ironically, some people want to be a writer without doing work, but AI doesn’t fix that for them — they’re still not writing jack s****, they’re just zapping the Fancy Autocorrect Robot and making it s*** it out words for them. The software is the writer, not them.)

So, for me there are two key problems with Gen AI in writing —

1) It sucks.

It really just sucks. It’s not good. It can make the shape of the thing you want it to write (article, story, blog post, review) but then it fills it with half-assed hallucinations. Gen AI isn’t here to get things right, it’s here to make things look right, which is a very different thing. AI is vibes only. You don’t get an article — you get an article-shaped thing that’s just a really, really advanced version of Lorem Ipsum.

Gen AI isn’t true artificial intelligence. It isn’t “thinking” per se about input and output. It’s just barfing up the raw-throated bile of effervescent copypasta. It’s just a program tapping the predictive words button. And it knows to do this because, again, it’s stolen a whole lot of material to feed to its Judas Engine. So what it’s outputting is a broth steeped from tens of thousands of illicitly-yoinked human-created pieces of writing.

It also isn’t good at sustaining anything with continuity. Continuity is really important for writing — in an article, in an essay, and especially in longer-form material. When we talk about Chekhov’s Gun, that’s a shorthand that means the pieces of narrative information we use early are just the start of the trail of breadcrumbs that will carry us through the story. The gun appears early and must be used later — but that’s true of so much inside our work. We introduce things that are important, that have continuity throughout the work, that appear again and again and form a kind of constellation of narrative information — and that information comes in the form of themes, motifs, motivations, descriptions, tension-building plot points, and so on. AI has literally no understanding of that. Because it doesn’t understand anything. It just sees a pile of stuff and attempts to ape the shape and colors of that stuff. Gen AI artbarf can show you a house in image, but it has no idea what building a house means, it doesn’t know what’s behind the walls or how bricks are laid or how ****ing molecules and atoms form together to make everything — it just horks up the architectural hairball on command, like a cat with the Clapper in its stomach.

CLAP CLAP GIVE ME A VICTORIAN MANSE MADE OF CANDY HA HA LOOK MOTHER, LOOK, THE GOOD KITTY VOMITED FOR ME A CANDY HOUSE, I MADE ART, I AM AN ARTIST, MOTHER, PRAISE ME

Anyway. What I’m saying is–

AI doesn’t know s*** and can’t sustain s***.

And here the retort is often, “Well, sure, but this is what it can do now, imagine what it can do in a year or two.” And that mayyyyy be true, but I have a gut feeling that — particularly when it comes to writing — it has some very hard limits. It can never really go beyond the fact it is Fancy Autocorrect. Because it does not truly think, it will always be janky. It will never sustain information for long. It will always lie. It may be able to fake shorter pieces, but I also think that, like humans spotting Terminators, we will develop a keen eye to be able to spot this bulls*** with an increasingly refined Uncanny Valley detector in our guts.

2) The second problem is that it can’t be copyrighted. That’s a real problem, a true vulnerability, though one that hasn’t been entirely tested legally, yet — what if you push the AI-Do-My-Work-I-Suck-And-Am-Lazy button and it spits out a 5,000-word short story but then you change like, every 100th word? What does that mean for its copyrightability? I don’t know because I am a stupid person and not a lawyer, but I do suspect that it remains a very real weak spot in its defenses.

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig

PG notes that, although he disagrees with Chuck about a variety of contentions in the OP, nobody ever doubts what Chuck’s opinion is about a great many things.

History Goes to War in the Holy Land

From The Wall Street Journal:

The dogs of the neighborhood perk up to greet me at Benny Morris’s front gate in this middle-of-nowhere town in central Israel. The great historian, shaggy-haired, in T-shirt, open flannel and socks, has recently returned home from the U.K., where the barking did not cease.

He was there to debate a hard-line anti-Israel scholar and speak at the London School of Economics, where some students tried and failed to shut down his lecture with droning, preplanned slogans. “You’re actually quite boring,” Mr. Morris, 75, told them, at which point he was called a racist, doubtless in the expectation that he, a liberal, would be cowed by the slur. He wasn’t. “I’d rather be a racist than a bore,” he replied.

Mr. Morris was once the toast of the campuses. “I was sort of a symbol on the left,” he says on his back porch. “I don’t want to say ‘icon.’ ” If he won’t, I will. Mr. Morris was foremost among the “New Historians” who shook Israel in the 1980s and seemed to triumph in the 1990s with their revisionist accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. His 1988 book, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-49,” was a landmark in Israel’s self-criticism and understanding. That same year, Mr. Morris spent 19 days in Israeli military prison for refusing to serve on reserve duty in the West Bank.

How did he go from there to the shouting match at LSE? To many on the left, Mr. Morris says, “I seem to have turned anti-Palestinian in the year 2000,” when Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton offered a two-state solution and Yasser Arafat rejected it. “I thought this was a terrible decision by the Palestinians, and I wrote that.” When the Palestinians, in response to the offer of peace and statehood, then launched a wave of terrorism and suicide bombings unlike any before it, Mr. Morris disapproved of that, too. “I began to write journalism against the Palestinians, their decisions and policies,” he says, “and this was considered treachery.”

Mr. Morris was suddenly out of step “because people always forgive the Palestinians, who don’t take responsibility,” he says. “It’s accepted that they are the victim and therefore can do whatever they like.” Mr. Morris doesn’t contest the claim of victimhood but sees it on both sides. “Righteous Victims” is the title of his 1999 history of the conflict.

Israel is viewed as “all-powerful vis-à-vis the Palestinians,” he says. “But as we see it, we are surrounded by the Muslim world, organized in some way by Iran, and the West is turning its back on us. So we see ourselves as the underdog.” Try that on a college campus. “Now, the Palestinians are the underdog, and the underdog is always right, even if it does the wrong things,” he says, “like Oct. 7.”

The West hasn’t reckoned with Oct. 7. Not the massacre itself, which is at once too hard to fathom and too easy to condemn, but the broad support for it among Palestinians. “They were joyous in the West Bank and Gaza Strip when 1,200 Jews were killed and 250 were taken hostage,” Mr. Morris says. Palestinian support for the atrocities has remained constant, at over 70%, in opinion polls.

Mr. Morris tries to see it from their point of view: “700,000 Palestinians had become refugees as a result of Israel and its victory in ’48. They’d been living under occupation since ’67. I understand their desire for revenge and to see Israel disappear or very badly hurt.”

But that’s too easy. “In addition to those history-based grievances, there is Muslim antisemitism, terrorism and a level of barbarism, which for Israelis felt like more than revenge for bad things we’ve done,” he says. “It was a sick ideology and sick people carrying out murder and rape in the name of that ideology.”

Mr. Morris stresses the costs of that Palestinian decision. “There was never destruction like what has happened in Gaza over the past five months in any of Israel’s wars.” In 1967, “Israel conquered the West Bank with almost no houses being destroyed,” he says, “and the same applies in ’56 in the Gaza Strip, and the same applies in ’48. Israel didn’t have the firepower to cause such devastation. This is totally new.”

He doubts the scale of the suffering will move Palestinian nationalists. “Probably they’ll look back to Oct. 7 as a sort of minor victory over Zionism and disregard the casualties which they paid as a result,” he says. That’s the historical pattern.

“Not only has each of their big decisions made life worse for their people, but they ensure that each time the idea of a two-state solution is proposed, less of Palestine is offered to them,” Mr. Morris says. “In 1937, Palestinians were supposed to get 70% of Palestine or more.” The Zionists were willing to work with the plan, but the Arabs rejected it and chose violence. “Then, in 1947, the Palestinians were supposed to get 45% of Palestine,” with much of Israel’s more than 50% comprising desert. The Zionists accepted the partition, and, again, the Palestinians chose violence.

“And then in the Barak-Clinton things,” in 2000, “the Palestinians were supposed to get 21%, 22% of Palestine.” Instead they launched the second intifada. “Next time,” Mr. Morris predicts, “they’ll probably get 15%. Each time they’re given less of Palestine as a result of being defeated in their efforts to get all of Palestine.”

Mr. Morris says 1947 was the best chance for peace, but the Arabs instead tried to block and then crush the new Jewish state. Though they came to see the war as the nakba, or catastrophe, and as the final stage of a Zionist invasion, at the time “they thought they were going to win,” Mr. Morris says. “They have a problem explaining to themselves why they lost the war with twice as many Arabs as Jews—100 times as many if you include the Arab states.”

One day, Mr. Morris admits, the Palestinian strategy could work. “Somebody coming from Mars would say, ‘The Arabs have the numbers. They have the potential for much greater economic and military power, so they’re going to win here if they persist in their resistance.’ ”

Mr. Morris lets that hang in the air. “And yet, one never knows,” he says. “Unusual things happen here. Peace might also break out, which would be even more unusual.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG reminds one and all to be courteous in their comments. Israel/Arab questions are hotly debated on many different places online for those unable to be courteous on TPV.

The Third Planet

“Do you ever wonder if–well, if there are people living on the third planet?’

“The third planet is incapable of supporting life,’ stated the husband patiently. ‘Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.”

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.

10 Best AI Story Generators (March 2024)

From Unite.AI:

AI story generators are powerful tools that can create plots, characters, and complete stories based on small text prompts. These AI-powered software applications offer writers an innovative way to overcome writer’s block and find inspiration for their work.

Here are some of the top AI story generators on the market.

1. Sudowrite

Sudowrite is an AI-powered writing assistant designed to help authors break free from writer’s block and elevate their storytelling. By providing a simple text prompt, users can generate ideas, characters, and plotlines to enrich their stories. Sudowrite offers a user-friendly interface, making it accessible for writers of all experience levels. This AI tool is designed to improve the writing process, enabling users to create more engaging and original content. Its intelligent suggestions can help writers craft better stories and push their creative boundaries.

In addition to generating ideas, Sudowrite can also help authors refine their writing by providing alternative phrasings, synonyms, and sentence structures. The platform can also recognize and suggest improvements for clichés and overused expressions, helping writers create fresh and unique content. Sudowrite offers seamless integration with popular writing software like Google Docs, Scrivener, and Microsoft Word, making it a convenient tool for writers to use in their daily workflow.

Top features of Sudowrite:

  • Advanced AI engine for story generation
  • Real-time suggestions for plot, characters, and dialogues
  • User-friendly interface and experience
  • Easy integration with popular writing software
  • Alternative phrasings, synonyms, and sentence structures
  • Recognizes and suggests improvements for clichés and overused expressions

Read our Sudowrite Review or visit Sudowrite.

2. Jasper

https://youtu.be/6JTBoPhjqKg

Meet Jasper, your AI assistant 👋 Write amazing content 10X faster with the #1 AI Content Platform

Jasper is an AI writing assistant that can generate story ideas, write entire stories, or expand on existing drafts. With a focus on natural language generation, Jasper helps writers create engaging, coherent, and original content. Its advanced algorithms analyze user-provided prompts and generate stories that capture the essence of the input while maintaining a natural and captivating flow. Jasper is versatile and can be used for various writing projects, from short stories and novels to blog posts and articles.

Beyond story generation, Jasper also offers additional tools and features to help writers optimize their content. For example, it can analyze text and provide insights on readability, SEO optimization, and grammar, helping authors improve the overall quality of their work. Jasper’s user-friendly interface makes it easy to customize generated content, allowing writers to control the tone, style, and complexity of their stories. With its powerful AI engine and versatile features, Jasper is an invaluable tool for writers looking to elevate their craft.

Top features of Jasper:

  • AI-driven natural language generation
  • Versatile writing assistant for various projects
  • In-depth customization options for generated content
  • User-friendly interface and easy setup
  • Readability, SEO optimization, and grammar insights
  • Customizable tone, style, and complexity

Read our Jasper Review or visit Jasper.

3. Plot Factory

Plot Factory is an online story generator and writing platform that allows users to create, organize, and store their stories in one place. Its AI-powered story generator helps writers develop new ideas, characters, and plotlines by providing them with creative suggestions based on their prompts. In addition to its AI capabilities, Plot Factory also offers a suite of tools for organizing, outlining, and world-building, making it a comprehensive solution for writers.

Top features of Plot Factory:

  • AI-powered story generation
  • Comprehensive writing platform with organizational tools
  • World-building and outlining capabilities
  • Cloud-based storage and collaboration features

4. Writesonic

Writesonic uses advanced AI to help writers craft engaging and original stories. It takes user prompts and turns them into comprehensive stories, making it a valuable tool for authors seeking inspiration or trying to overcome writer’s block.

Writesonic also offers a suite of writing tools, including a blog post outline generator and a landing page copy generator, demonstrating its versatility beyond just story generation.

Top features of Writesonic:

  • Advanced AI engine for generating comprehensive stories from prompts
  • A suite of writing tools for different writing needs

Link to the rest at Unite.AI

As PG has mentioned before, he’s interested in the experiences indie authors have had with various AI writing assistants. Click the Contact PG link toward the top of the blog.

Reading fiction ‘significantly’ reduces stress

From The Bookseller:

The Queen’s Reading Room –  the literary charity set up by Queen Camilla in 2021 – has found that reading fiction can “significantly” reduce stress.

The research, which was carried out by Trinity McQueen and Split Second Research, is the first to be commissioned by the charity. 

Participants in a neuroscientific study were asked to complete a number of tasks while having biometric reading taken. The findings suggest that reading fiction for just five minutes reduced stress by nearly 20%. 

Qualitative elements of the study found that reading fiction can also reduce loneliness and improve focus. High-frequency fiction readers reported finding it easier to read a map, find a new place and follow a newspaper story and were more likely to believe that reading fiction kept their brain sharp and improved their intellect. 

. . . .

Speaking about the results, Vicki Perrin, chief executive of The Queen’s Reading Room, said: “As a charity, we are fascinated by the relationship between reading and wellbeing and it comes as no surprise to us that there are clear benefits to reading. We are delighted that our very first neuroscientific study has been able to confirm what we have all known for so long – that there is an important link between improved mental health, brain health and social connectedness, and that it should be nurtured further. 

“While this research has only just begun to scratch the surface of what reading can do for our well-being, we very much hope that the results of our study will spur a shift in the way we think about reading.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG expects that he’s not the only regular reader to be unsurprised at the findings in the OP that reading is very good for him, Mrs. PG, any number of PG offspring and a large number of friends.

Small Name Writers…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Readers buy book by not only what their front brain thinks of the sales copy and the cover, but more than that, readers (all of us) buy books because of subconscious clues.

Clues like:
—Cover art not professional
— Cover art not to genre or book title impossible to read
— Book sales copy dull and passive and gives too much plot away.
— Book interior so poorly formatted as to be impossible to read.
There are others, but one major clue that helps readers trust that the book is done by a professional and it will be entertaining is the size of the author name on the cover.

Yes, size does matter.

Traditional publishing ground one simple concept into readers minds for 50 years.

The bigger the author name on the cover, the better the book will be.

That is where the term “big name author” came from.

A beginning writer with a first book would always have a small name on the book. Roberts, Cussler, Koontz names fill the top third of the book cover.

So suddenly here comes indie publishing and authors, full of fear, put their name down on the bottom of their books in small print. And then wonder why they get no sales.

Duh…

Your author name should fill from side to side over the top third of every book you write. You should be shouting that you are a big name author to your readers. (There are a few genre common things that tell readers of that genre you are a big name, but mostly it is size.)

So if you want more sales, believe your books are worth reading, then start acting like it and put your name on the top of your books in large form.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Could your marriage survive a shipwreck?

From The Economist:

When the captain of a Korean tuna-fishing ship first caught sight of Maurice and Maralyn Bailey bobbing in the Pacific Ocean in June 1973, he could not work out what they were. About four months earlier, while they were trying to sail from England to New Zealand, their boat had crashed into a sperm whale. The couple was stranded in a tiny inflatable life-raft tied to a flimsy dinghy, subsisting on rainwater, turtles whose throats they had slit, birds they strangled and sharks they suffocated. Unable to stand and wearing clothes that had disintegrated, their skeletons looked ready to burst through their skin.

Miraculously, they were alive. In “Maurice and Maralyn”, Sophie Elmhirst . . . draws on her own reporting, Maralyn’s diaries, the memoirs that the two published and a trove of news clips to tell the tale of this couple’s survival—and the love story that bubbled alongside.

The pair had met a decade earlier at a car rally in Derby, England. Maurice was older and flew planes, but was lonely, awkward and felt that he had “so much to wade through before he could do anything”. Maralyn was chatty and brave and, unlike Maurice, “seemed to know instinctively how to do things”. They married, bought a home and then sold it, using the money to buy a yacht. Their dream was to become explorers.

They found their adventure. But despite the seafaring and adrenaline, in “Maurice and Maralyn” it is love itself, “a terrifying fluke”, which makes life extraordinary. Two people choose and are chosen, “and, most unlikely of all, these choices must happen at roughly the same time”, Ms Elmhirst writes.

Link to the rest at The Economist