The Culture Wars Are Energizing Feminist Bookstores

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As book banning efforts intensify—along with assaults on women’s bodily autonomy and on the AP African American studies curriculum—old-school feminist bookstores and new intersectional feminist stores alike are drawing customers seeking safe spaces for buying books and gathering information.

Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Chicago, echoed other feminist booksellers PW spoke with when she said that the current culture wars have rejuvenated her 44-year-old store. “In recent years, we’ve only stood stronger in our mission and encouraged our community to invest in the ongoing work,” Hollenbeck said. “Our most recent tote bag reads ‘Support Your Local Feminist Bookstore’ in big, bold, all-caps letters. That pretty much captures the tone of our current marketing strategy.”

WCF also has been buoyed by spikes in new customers and sales due to external factors. Most notably, in June 2022, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker visited WCF to mark his repeal of a state law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion, just before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. “We continue to have quite a bit of interest in certain titles, like the new edition of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service and Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion,” Hollenbeck said.

WCF has also upped its scheduling of collaborative programming benefiting feminist organizations, including two Bake Sale for Abortion fundraisers for the Chicago Abortion Fund.

Sales at 49-year-old Charis Books & More in Decatur, Ga. also “have gone up, and up, and up” in the past year, said co-owner Sara Luce Look, who ascribes this success to being “rooted in community that holds us accountable.” Charis has always had robust programming in collaboration with like-minded organizations, such as one Atlanta group focused on reproductive justice and another on domestic violence. “The kinds of books we carry and the programing we do are intertwined,” Look added, noting that the store is going to be a distribution point for Plan B contraception pills.

Most of the indies identifying as feminist stores that have opened in recent years also embrace LGBTQ books and Black literature. One such store, Socialight Society in Lansing, Mich., was founded in 2021 as a pop-up specializing in books by Black women; it moved into a bricks-and-mortar space inside the Lansing Mall a year ago. Owner Nyshell Lawrence said she was inspired to open Socialight Society after visiting a large bookstore in Lansing that had a “pretty disappointing” section of books by BIPOC authors.

“Things are going well” with in-store and online sales, plus sales to local schools, Lawrence said, noting that Socialight stocks 300 titles. Conversations with customers often concern banned books, since “people want to get their hands on them,” she noted.

This past summer, sales at Socialight rose when customers were given the opportunity to donate books to be handed out to protesters for women’s rights rallying outside the Michigan state capitol building. “Just Get on the Pill: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics was probably the most popular book handed out to the protesters,” Lawrence said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Copyright: The ‘Protect the Creative Economy Coalition’

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the United States, a coming-together of the Washington-based Association of American Publishers and various copyright-engaged businesses including the Authors Guild—the US market’s leading author-advocacy organization—has created the “Protect the Creative Economy Coalition” as a response to “efforts designed to weaken intellectual property protections and damage digital markets.”

Representing not only major creative industries but also small and independent business owners’ interests, media messaging about the program specifies that its “immediate priority is combating a series of unconstitutional state bills that would artificially depress the value of literary works and the contracts that govern intellectual property licenses.”

Of course, these often inchoate localized efforts “directly conflict with the federal copyright act,” as the AAP indicates, “including the responsibilities of federal lawmakers to determine the nation’s intellectual property laws.”  

And an in an age of performative office-holders, many of whom have no experience or interest in genuine governance, it’s easy to overlook the potential gravity of such wild-eyed forays. However, “The problem is not theoretical,” says AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante in her comment on the establishment of the Protect the Creative Economy Coalition.

“The state bills would subject authors and publishing houses of all sizes to serious liabilities and financial penalties for exercising the very rights that the United States Copyright Act so clearly affords them—the definition of a constitutional conflict.  

“Moreover, they would forge a concerning precedent for downstream appropriation of intellectual property investments by actors well beyond the states, especially as to already precarious digital copies.

“We stand by our time-tested copyright system, and we are deeply dubious of assertions that devaluing the nation’s creative output is in the public interest.”

. . . .

Our international readership at Publishing Perspectives might recall one specific struggle of this kind for publishers when the state of Maryland tried to put into place a law requiring publishers to offer its state libraries “reasonable terms” established by the state itself, a direct contradiction to the federal priority of the United States Copyright Act. By June of last year, the state’s federal district court had issued the equivalent of a legal smackdown of Maryland’s scheme, followed swiftly by the governor of New York’s veto of a very similar bill being tested in that state’s capital.

In its media messaging provided to Publishing Perspectives on Wednesday (March 15), the coalition refers to the dogged, almost incoherent energy with which such right-wing efforts are repeated in various jurisdictions–an energy not unlike that which underlies the jagged anger of book bans and the more than 60 completely unsuccessful efforts made in courts nationwide to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections.

“Inexplicably,” the AAP writes for the coalition, “proponents continue to push their bills after a similar effort in Maryland was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2022. Bills in both New York and Virginia were also rejected, although not without ongoing, illogical, and reckless claims by the proponents. In an especially ludicrous example in Connecticut, a proponent equated the nation’s literary works with ‘floor wax and road salt.’”

. . . .

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild: “These bills are unconstitutional and for good reason. They target the federal copyright system that authors depend on to earning a living.

“And they’re doing this at a time when the writing profession is already facing existential threats. Writers’ incomes have become precariously low, forcing talented writers to leave the profession; as a culture, we lose their books and their important insights. By forcing pricing limits and other restrictions on not just publishers but thousands of self-published authors, the bills exhibit total disregard of the reality that authors in the commercial marketplace have to earn enough money to stay in the profession.

“The Authors Guild is fully committed to libraries having access to all books and in all formats to meet their communities’ needs. We regularly lobby for increases in library funding. It is unfair to put the cost of libraries’ needs on authors.”

Andrea Fleck-Nesbit, CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association: “For independent publishers and self-published authors, these [state] bills are especially harmful.

“The legislation would undermine the intellectual property of authors and publishers by manipulating fair market compensation for their creative work. It also places an outsized and unsustainable financial burden on small business owners.

“The bills would lead to a patchwork of differing rules across the country creating mass confusion, disrupting access, and undermining future investments. This is the reason why copyright is under the purview of federal law in the first place.” 

Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance: “Several states are considering misguided ebook bills that would require publishers to license their works to libraries on terms determined by the states.

“Such legislation would strip authors and publishers of their exclusive right under the copyright act to decide whether, when, and to whom to distribute their copyrighted works.

“It has already been well established in several states that not only are the ebook bills unconstitutional, they also are contradictory to the economic philosophy and purpose behind copyright, which encourages the advancement of authors, artists, photographers, and all creators by providing them with an incentive to create new works for the public to enjoy and to control how they are distributed and monetized.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG has no doubt that traditional publishers overcharge public libraries for ebook lending rights, but this not something state legislatures can do anything about. While a number of states have their own copyright laws, those laws only protect against copying in that state and are generally ignored by most IP lawyers.

Additionally, the book business (and especially the ebook business) falls into the sphere of interstate commerce which is exclusively reserved for federal legislation. When you drive your automobile from California to New York, you don’t need to buy a new license plate for every state you pass through.

Meaningful copyright laws are exclusively on the federal level and, from that platform, are reciprocated in a number of other nations via a number of international copyright treaties. A Google search for “The Berne Convention” will give you all the information you are likely to care about concerning international copyright treaties.

How to Write for the Web: All Writers Need to be Web Content Providers Now

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

These days, pretty much all writers need to learn to write Web content. Yes, even if you’re a Victorian romance author whose readers care more about reticules and spatterdashers than retweets and SEO. Even if you don’t have your own blog. Any website needs content.

. . . .

Like it or not, all writers need to become “Web content providers” these days.

Yeah, I know. Sounds a lot less creative than “author” doesn’t it? And harder.

But it actually isn’t. Writing Web content is a little different from writing a traditional essay or magazine article, but it’s not hard. You just have to learn some basic guidelines.

Learning to Write Web Content Involves Unlearning

Especially what you were taught about paragraphing.

According to Mike Blankenship at Smart Blogger, the paragraph has gone through radical changes in the 21st century.  He says the 100-200 word standard paragraph has disappeared.  Now your average paragraph should be between two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs can be just one word long — but stay close to that average and you should be fine.

But don’t make them all the same length. Blankenship says, “Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many long paragraphs, the effect is similar.”

I had to unlearn a whole lot of what I was taught about writing prose back in the 20th century in order to be an effective Web content provider today.

. . . .

Back in the 20th century, good writers…

  • Learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there’s a new topic.
  • Wrote for people who paid money for a number of words and read every one.
  • Wouldn’t put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
  • Avoided repetition.
  • Would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
  • Substantiated information with footnotes.
  • Never heard of tags, keywords, or SEO.

But the majority of people don’t read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don’t even skim the whole article. Farhad Manjoo famously reported that only half the people who visit a website read past the first hundred words.

So how do you get them to come by…and stick around?

Forget all of the above and learn some new tricks:

1) Write Intriguing Titles

This is probably the most important aspect of learning to write Web content.

Mystery author C. Hope Clark once said in her “Funds for Writers” newsletter: “You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited…the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, “HEY, READ ME OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.”

She’s right.

Headers are the most important element of a blog’s content, and it’s the one most novelists don’t get. We want our blogs and newsletters to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid. But tabloid journalists are good at what they do. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook.

In our case, headers need to snag a reader in the endless stream of content Web browsers can choose from.

So how do we do that?

Here are 8 ways you can grab a Web reader’s attention with your story about, say, a writer who suspects her bathroom is haunted.

  1. Stir emotions: “The Tragic Ghost that Haunts my Bathroom.”
  2. Offer useful advice: “How to Make Sure a Building isn’t Haunted before you Sign that Rental Agreement.”
  3. You can sensationalize: “Why This Woman is Afraid of her own Bathroom!”
  4. Or appeal to sentiment: “This Story of a Cat and a Flapper’s Ghost Will Melt Your Heart.”
  5. Maybe stir up some greed: “How Wendy Writer inked a 7- Figure Deal with her Haunted Bathroom Story.”
  6. Paranoia is good: “Is Your Bathroom Haunted?”  Or “Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?”
  7. Curiosity, too: “10 Things You Don’t Know about Poltergeists.”
  8. Or you can appeal to thriftiness: “Save Money and Time with a Do-It-Yourself Exorcism.”

. . . .

2) Promise a Fast Read

Everybody’s in a hurry online.

Author Jillian Mullin  wrote in the Web Writer Spotlight: “Generally, an average Web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes.”

That’s why one of the best ways to let people know you’ve got a quick, easy-scan piece is with a numbered “listicle” like “The Top 10 Best Ghostwritten Books” or “5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed.”

The other thing is to learn to harness the power of white space. A page with lots of white space can be taken in at a glance.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris


From Grammarly:

Today, we announced to the world GrammarlyGO—Grammarly’s on-demand, contextually aware assistant powered by generative AI. With GrammarlyGO, we’ll be changing the way people and businesses communicate and get work done by accelerating productivity where writing happens.

Effective communication is transformative. It’s how we share new ideas, advocate for change, and build connections. And when done right, communication empowers businesses to operate efficiently and achieve ambitious goals. We’ve been focused on our mission to improve lives by improving communication for well over a decade. And we’ve always leveraged the latest technical innovations to help solve the real problems our customers face.

We’re building on that legacy with GrammarlyGO, which uses generative AI to help people and businesses succeed with on-demand communication assistance, whether they are starting from scratch or revising an existing piece of writing. It will uniquely offer relevant, contextually aware suggestions that account for personal voice and brand style while staying true to our augmented intelligence philosophy to keep customers in control of their experience. GrammarlyGO will enable customers to save time, enhance their creativity, and get more done—helping individuals achieve their potential and enterprises transform how they work.

. . . .

GrammarlyGO provides on-demand generative AI communication assistance directly in the apps where people write. Whether in an email thread or a long-form document, GrammarlyGO is right there with you and your teams during the writing process. GrammarlyGO understands context to quickly generate high-quality, task-appropriate writing and revisions.

With GrammarlyGO, individuals and businesses can use generative AI to:

  • Rewrite for tone, clarity, and length: Transform writing to be clear and on target, whatever the context.
  • Compose: Type a prompt and watch GrammarlyGO compose high-quality writing, saving time finding the perfect words.
  • Ideate: Unblock writing with GrammarlyGO as an AI ideation partner and unlock creativity with GrammarlyGO’s outlines and brainstorms, generated from prompts.
  • Reply intelligently: Flow through emails quickly with GrammarlyGO, which understands an email’s context and instantly drafts a thoughtful reply.

Link to the rest at Grammarly

PG is very interested in this development.

He will note in passing that his current Grammarly version found some parts in the OP that needed to be cleaned up.

Learning In Writing Not Like Other Skills…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This came from a fun conversation with other writers today at lunch.

When you learn something in fiction writing, you can’t just take that learning and apply it like learning how to fix a pipe or do something in Photoshop. I wish sometimes it worked that way, but alas it does not.

So when you learn something from a writing book, or another writer’s work, or a workshop like we teach, you must do your best to understand it while learning it, then go back to writing and forget what you learned.

That’s right, forget it.

When you learn something about a craft area of writing, your creative voice already knows how to do it because it has been reading and absorbing story for your entire life. But your critical voice suddenly understands that skill, so the critical voice gives the creative voice permission to use it.

That is how fiction writing is learned.

But the hard part is getting the critical voice out of the way. It wants to use that new skill and that will freeze you down faster than anything.

So assure the critical voice that in the coming writing, at some point, when that new skill is appropriate to use, it will be used, and get the critical voice to forget it. You will notice you are using the skill stories or books later, often when some reader points it out.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

The Ancient Greek Myths Retold

From The Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the ferment of contemporary literary culture, the myths and legends of ancient Greece continue to be a rich source of story and reference. In our censorious era, there is something wonderfully unkillable about the old gods and heroes. If anything, our attachment to the Greeks is becoming more intense, judging from the appearance of a tranche of fine new (and new-ish) retellings of old, old stories.

This rewriting business is almost as old a tale as those of Orpheus and Eurydice, Echo and Narcissus, and the doomed men and women of the grisly House of Atreus. The poets and playwrights and artisans of antiquity used and reshaped elements of these thrilling narratives, along with other stories of creation, transformation and divine retribution—and thank goodness for it. Without all their riffing, some of which has survived only in fragmentary form, we wouldn’t know as much as we do about, say, Hercules (aka Heracles or Herakles), the demigod whose strength and feats come to us from, among others, Homer, Hesiod, Apollodorus and Euripides. We also owe a debt of gratitude to 20th-century classicists who kept the connection alive, not least Edith Hamilton, whose magisterial “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

And here we are, with the cornucopia tipping out again! Sarah Iles Johnston brings exceptional verve and scholarship to “Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers,” a comprehensive volume that is illustrated with harsh and jagged pictures by the author’s son, Tristan Johnston. Ms. Johnston, a professor of classics at Ohio State University, restores the lustiness of tales that other writers have made bloodless. Readers acquainted with the Big Bang theory, for instance, may be a little startled by how literal that concept was to the Greeks. Their cosmos emerges, in this reading, from vigorous sex between Earth and Sky that ends when Earth conspires with her son Kronos to castrate the priapic father in flagrante delicto.

Indeed, sexual desire drives the action throughout Greek mythology. Zeus is forever seducing mortal women (Io, Europa, Semele), and his wife Hera is forever persecuting these unfortunates. But sexual frigidity exacts costs too, as when the chaste goddess Artemis punishes poor Actaeon when he sees her bathing. Transformed into a stag, the young man is run down and torn to pieces by his own faithful hunting dogs. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” Shakespeare writes. “They kill us for their sport.” There is little in these stories to contradict him.

The textual fidelity of “Gods and Mortals” means that armchair enthusiasts may find some surprises. In Ms. Johnston’s description of Midas, for instance, there is no little daughter whom the greedy king turns to gold; that detail, we learn from the author’s fascinating source notes, comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s version of the myth in his 1851 “Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.” Ms. Johnston has shaped her stories in obedience to the oldest narratives, but she does take the welcome liberty of slipping in descriptions of cultural norms and domestic practices to enrich the reader’s knowledge. We read that, in keeping house, one ill-starred woman “used jars made of clay to stockpile grain, olive oil and other food. By sinking the jars partway into the cool earth of her pantry floor, she was able to keep their contents fresh for a long time.”

In “Arcadian Days: Gods, Women, and Men From Greek Myths,” John Spurling retells the single and shared stories of five pairs of males and females: the titan Prometheus and the god-fashioned Pandora; the hero Jason and the sorceress Medea; the doomed king Oedipus and his daughter Antigone; the warrior Achilles and his mother, the sea nymph Thetis; and the wily Odysseus and his clever wife Penelope.

Mr. Spurling, an octogenarian English author and playwright, has adjusted certain things to his taste (presenting the baddie Creon, he concedes, “in a somewhat kinder light than Sophocles”). He has also introduced substantial passages of dialogue, a narrative choice that robs some moments of grandeur (Zeus at one point complains that people are “getting up my nose”) but that has the effect, in others, of adding slow-building dread and pathos.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Taken Advantage Of

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

. . . .

Fear of Someone Taking Advantage of Them

A character with this fear may worry about potential situations where they might be taken advantage or exploited. These could be serious crimes, such as sexual abuse and identity theft or a simpler occurrence, like being used by a friend for some larger gain.

  • What It Looks Like
  • Questioning people’s motives
  • Believing that other people can’t be trusted
  • Highly valuing privacy
  • Not volunteering information
  • Being very independent
  • Living self-sufficiently
  • Doing extensive research (to avoid scams, find out if someone is reliable, etc.)
  • Avoiding vulnerable situations, such as walking at night or being alone with someone
  • Setting boundaries that keep others at a distance
  • Avoiding situations where the character has been burned in the past, such as dating, shopping online, or sharing their creative work with others
  • Not trusting certain types of people (politicians, salespeople, women, etc.)
  • Pulling away when people try to get too close
  • Seeing exploitation where there is none
  • Taking careful security measures (locking up documents, changing passwords frequently, giving a false name, etc.)
  • Demanding payment up front before offering services
  • Difficulty working with a team
  • Resisting new technologies or advances that carry an element of risk
  • Being standoffish with strangers and new acquaintances
  • The character being reluctant to help someone outside their inner circle who asks for help
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character worrying about a person’s trustworthiness, then wondering if they’re being paranoid
  • Second-guessing the motives of others
  • Living in a constant fear of betrayal
  • Feeling unnoticed and underappreciated
  • The character doubting their own judgment (because they’ve been wrong about people before)
  • The character mentally warring with their body’s fight-flight-or-freeze instincts

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Decoding the Secrets of Mary, Queen of Scots’ Letters


A team of researchers, George Lasry, Norbert Biermann, and Satoshi Tomokiyo, has successfully deciphered 57 encrypted letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots, dating from 1578 to 1584.

This discovery is being hailed as the most significant find regarding Mary in over a century. The letters were found in the French National Library, catalogued as Italian texts from the first half of the 16th century.

Dr. John Guy, a fellow in history at the University of Cambridge and author of a 2004 biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, called the findings a “literary and historical sensation.”

The decryption project involved a combination of manual research and computerized cryptanalysis, which identified the plaintext language as French, not Italian as previously assumed.

. . . .

Mary, Queen of Scots, used more than 100 different ciphers in her correspondence.

Mary’s cipher system often masked individual letters with a single symbol; however, to bolster security, she employed homophones, allowing several symbols to signify frequently used letters.

Additionally, she concealed common words by utilizing symbols designated for months, locations, and names of individuals.

Lastly, to further obscure the content, she incorporated red herrings or “nulls” that knowledgeable recipients would disregard.

. . . .

The decrypted letters reveal a mix of political discussions and personal complaints, reflecting Mary’s shifting strategies during her imprisonment.

She often wrote about her efforts to negotiate her release and her willingness to relinquish her claims to the English throne.

The letters also reveal her distrust of Sir Francis Walsingham and the Puritan faction at the English court.

Mary’s deteriorating personal circumstances, including financial difficulties and recurrent bouts of physical and mental illness, are also evident in her correspondence.

The letters provide valuable insight into how she maintained connections with her supporters despite the intense surveillance during her captivity.

. . . .

The newly deciphered letters have confirmed the long-held suspicion of a mole within the French embassy who successfully passed letters to the English.

The survival of both ciphered letters and contemporary plaintext copies in English archives indicates the mole’s success throughout 1584.

. . . .

According to Dr. Guy, these new documents show Mary as a shrewd and attentive analyst of international affairs and will occupy historians of Britain and Europe and students of the French language and early modern ciphering techniques for years to come.

Link to the rest at

Why Marie Antoinette’s Reputation Changes With Each Generation

From The Smithsonian Magazine:

Approximately 230 years after Marie Antoinette’s execution by guillotine at the hands of revolutionaries, the French queen remains one of history’s most recognizable royals. Depicted alternatively as a materialistic, self-absorbed young woman who ignored her people’s suffering; a more benign figure who was simply out of her depth; and a feminist scapegoat for men’s mistakes, she continues to captivate in large part because of her tragic fate.

“[Marie Antoinette] has no official power. She’s just the wife of the king of France, and yet she’s put to death,” says Catriona Seth, a historian and literary scholar at the University of Oxford. “It seems like an almost gratuitous action on the part of the revolutionaries. … [If] they had sent her back to Austria or put her in a convent,” she would be far less famous.

Marie Antoinette’s exploits at the glittering court of Versailles, coupled with her dramatic fall from grace during the French Revolution, have inspired numerous silver screen adaptations, from a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer to Sofia Coppola’s sympathetic 2006 biopic. But “Marie Antoinette,” a new series premiering in the United States on March 19, is the first major English-language television show to tell the queen’s story. Much like Marie Antoinette herself, it’s proving controversial, with biographer Évelyne Lever deeming the production a “grotesque caricature” and a “litany of historic aberrations.”

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series’ debut on PBS.

Is “Marie Antoinette” based on a true story?

Yes, but with extensive dramatic license. Created by British screenwriter Deborah Davis, who co-wrote the 2018 period drama The Favourite, “Marie Antoinette” originally premiered in Europe in 2022. Featuring Emilia Schüle as the queen and Louis Cunningham as her hapless husband, Louis XVI, the show’s first season (one of three planned installments) covers roughly 1770 to 1781, beginning with Marie Antoinette’s journey to France and ending with the birth of her first son. In between these milestones, she struggles to win the affection of both her husband and her subjects, all while navigating the competing interests of her birth kingdom of Austria and her new home.

In keeping with the recent period drama trend of presenting historical figures and settings through a thoroughly modern lens (see “Bridgerton,” “The Great” and “The Serpent Queen”), “Marie Antoinette” offers a feminist take on the queen’s life. As Schüle told Variety last October, Marie Antoinette was a “rebel” who was “modern, emancipated, and fought for equality and for her personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian Magazine

Amazon’s Ending of Kindle Newsstand Could Severely Impact SF/F Magazines

From Patreon:

My father grew up in a rough, rural area where his family’s neighbors were bootleggers and backwoods mobsters. One of these mobsters liked him and, when my father turned 12, announced my dad was old enough to carry a gun for self-defense. He then gifted my father an illegal sawed-off shotgun covered in black tape to hide fingerprints.

“Be sure to hide it from the deputies,” the mobster said.

Growing up around all that, my dad learned a good bit of life wisdom. And one bit of advice he shared with me is that if someone’s rigged a game, don’t play it unless you’ve got no choice.

Sadly, sometimes we have no choice. Which brings us to Amazon.

In December, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld said that “In an absolutely devastating announcement (right before the holidays) Amazon has informed us that they are ending their Kindle Subscription program in 2023 and trying to get magazines to switch to Kindle Unlimited.”

Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny Magazine echoed this news. “If you are an SFF short story writer, the sky is falling today. This Kindle news couldn’t come at a worst time with what is also going on in social media. We were all barely scraping by. This is an extinction-level event for the ecosystem unless we all figure something out.”

The reason for the alarm is that over the last decade, Kindle subscriptions have become a significant part of the overall circulation for a large number of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Essentially, people like the convenience and ease of buying and reading e-books and expect the same from their magazine subscriptions.

By ending the Kindle Newsstand program, Amazon would no longer allow people on their platform to subscribe directly to magazines. Instead, Amazon announced it would allow certain magazines to remain on the platform through their Kindle Unlimited program.

As Rajiv Moté said, this means Amazon would be “moving e-magazines to a Spotify model, just like music. You pay the sales platform, not the producers.”

Because Kindle Unlimited (KU) allows subscribers to read as much as they want for a monthly fee, KU pays authors and publishers based on how many pages people read. The problem with translating this to magazines is many people don’t read every page in a magazine. Instead, they may pick out certain stories and articles to read, or may even stop reading a story if it doesn’t work for them. (Update: One anonymous source has told me Amazon’s KU for magazines won’t be based on pages. But specific details are not available.)

With an actual subscription, a publisher receives guaranteed revenue from each subscriber. With KU, the revenue magazine publishers receive will be far more uncertain.

Worse, as Uncanny pointed out about their own magazine, not all genre magazines were offered the chance to join Kindle Unlimited.

Since that initial announcement during the 2022 holiday season, genre magazine publishers have been trying to figure out their options. During a call with Amazon, Neil Clarke learned that “KU for Magazines is different than KU for books. It will not prevent us from publishing/selling our magazine elsewhere. It is not paid per-paid, but based on an annual projection based on ‘qualified borrows.'”

Link to the rest at Patreon

The disabled villain: why sensitivity reading can’t kill off this ugly trope

From The Guardian:

Some years ago, I decided to read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. It may have been a fit of nostalgia for the Roger Moore films I grew up watching, or perhaps I was bored with writing short stories for a minuscule readership and wanted to know what mass-market success read like.

It was quite an experience – and one I found myself recalling recently, when I read that Fleming’s books were being revised, chiefly in order to remove some, though not all, of the casual racism. Also some of the misogyny, though likely not all of that either.

My first question, on reading the news, was what kind of reader exactly was the publisher, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, envisioning. Presumably someone who would, were it not for the most explicit slurs, really enjoy the ethnic stereotypes. Or someone who would, were it not for the full-on rapes, really enjoy the pervasive sexism. (Come to think of it, there are probably quite a few of these readers.)

The other question that struck me was this: what on earth are they going to do about disability?

As a wheelchair user, I could not help noticing that the original Bond books had, shall we say, an interesting relationship to embodied difference. It was a feature of Fleming’s writing that would be all but impossible to alter through the interventions of a sensitivity reader, hired by the publisher to make the books more palatable to contemporary readers. Fleming’s attitude to disability was encoded not only in words and phrases, but in characterisation and plot – that is, in the stories’ most fundamental qualities.

It is not a novel observation that Bond villains tend to be, to use a less sensitive register, disfigured and deformed. Dr No with his steel pincers instead of hands, Blofeld with his scars, Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker, with his facial disfigurement and his pathetic attempt to conceal it with a “bushy reddish beard” (reddish hair may itself count as a deformity in these stories). Were they not successfully self-employed, most of Bond’s enemies would likely qualify for disability benefits.

. . . .

In Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is a striking example of the narrative logic at work. He at first appears handsome and polished (if effete, which in Bond territory is always a warning sign), but something about his face seems a little … off. He then reveals himself as a villain by removing a set of hidden facial prosthetics. As his visage literally collapses, his inner monstrosity comes into view. Now Bond, and the audience, can see who he really is. And that is the main function of disability in these stories – an outwardly visible sign of an inner quality.

This particular trope, wherein a character’s moral and physiological natures mirror each other, is as universal as it is ancient. It is reflected in the philosophy of Plato, in commonplaces like “a healthy mind in a healthy body”and in the foundational texts of the cultural canon. In Buddhist tradition, too, disability has been construed as an impediment to understanding and enlightenment – and even, for some, as a punishment for actions in a past life.

As disability scholars David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have pointed out in their books Narrative Prosthesis and Cultural Locations of Disability, using disability as a means of characterisation is an intrinsic feature in the storytelling tradition. It provides not only a shorthand for separating good characters and bad, but explains their motivation and narrative function.

Sometimes, this connection between embodiment and motivation is made fully explicit. In the opening monologue of Richard III, Shakespeare’s version of the king – made significantly more disabled than his historical counterpart – takes pains to establish that he will be the villain and not the hero of the play. This, he argues, is a logical consequence of his embodiment:

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

What is a sensitivity reader to do with this? Does it make a difference if the Yorkist king is referred to as “differently abled” and not a “cripple”?

Undoubtedly – but I don’t think the change would be for the better, and for reasons beyond the clanging sound of euphemism. In many ways it would be worse. The fundamental problem lies not with the words used to describe the character, but with the attributes ascribed to him. And if those attributes are demanded by the logic of the narrative, we are facing a challenge that can be unexpectedly subtle.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Turns out that America’s most “recession-proof” business is . . . bookstores.

From LitHub:

Yep, that’s right—not NFTs! Shocking, I know. According to a Forbes Advisor analysis, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Google Trends, bookstores are projected to be the most recession-proof type of U.S. business in 2023, followed by PR firms, interior design services, staffing agencies, and marketing consulting services.

Forbes Advisor, which assessed 60 small business types to evaluate their 2023 recession-proof-ness (?), calculated that the number of bookstores in the U.S. increased by 43% during the latter part of the pandemic. Bookstores also “enjoyed steady wage growth” during this time (+16%) as well as during the Great Recession (+13%). These stats, plus their “moderate startup cost” (around $75k, apparently), earned bookstores the top spot in the recession-proof rankings.

What are the least recession-proof business, you wonder? Furniture stores, followed by women’s clothing boutiques, taxi/rideshare services, used car dealerships, and housing construction companies. Makes sense—people tend to delay big or unnecessary purchases during a recession, but luckily for bookstore owners, books are both cost effective and necessary.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Color PG exceedingly skeptical about the OP’s predictions about PR firms and marketing consulting services. PG knows nothing about interior design services or staffing agencies.

It will surprise no one who visits TPVX on a regular basis that PG doesn’t think bookstores have a golden future ahead of them. That said, in past lives, PG loved going into some bookstores to shop, chat, etc. In past lives, PG bought a 1954 Chevrolet (very used) for $100, too, but those days are long gone.

Minimum wage in New York City is $15.00 per hour. Minimum wage in California is $15.50. Overtime minimum wage (over 8 hours per day or some other stuff) is time-and-a-half or $23.25 per hour. Plus there are additional cost and taxes the employer has to pay on top of the wages for each worker.

Indie bookstores tend to be only marginally-profitable businesses under most circumstances, so PG doesn’t see much smart money going into book retailing.

How to Get a Book Deal in 4 Steps + Why You Shouldn’t Bother

From Kindlepreneur:

Here are the 4 steps to take to get a traditional book deal:

  1. Ensure your book is fit for market
  2. Find an agent
  3. Submit to publishing companies
  4. Choose an offer

Let me be clear: Traditional book deals are a thing of the past. If you do not actively reach 25,000+ people regularly before a deal, no reputable publishing company or literary agent will take a risk on your book.

In 2022, don’t bother trying to get a book deal without an existing, sizable audience.

If you have a relative or friend who works for an agency, you have a much better chance of your book proposal falling in the right hands.

For the rest of us: Self-publishing is a legitimate way to earn a living as a writer. Publishing your own book may not come with the prestige of earning a book deal. However, publishing prestige is an outdated concept, and readers certainly don’t care. Many self-publishers make more money than their traditionally published counterparts.

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re not a celebrity. If you don’t have a regular audience of 25,000 or more (and you don’t have close connections at a press or agency), just self-publish. My website and email list are great resources to walk you through the process step-by-step.

. . . .

What is a book deal?

A book deal is a contract between an author and a publisher. Sometimes called a traditional book deal, this is when the gatekeepers of the legacy publishing industry offer you an advance on book profits in return for several benefits.

How much do you get for a book deal? You can get an advance between $5,000 and $100,000 if you land a book deal. However, it is both difficult to get a book deal and unlikely that a first-time author will receive such a significant advance.

What are the benefits of a book deal?

  • A monetary advance before publishing the book
  • Bookstore placement
  • Professional editors, formatters, cover designers at no extra cost to you
  • The ability to say you landed a book deal

What are the disadvantages of a book deal?

  • Massive time investment for a slight chance at a traditional deal
  • Loss of control and ownership of your work and brand
  • Minimal financial upside (in the long run)

Let’s face facts: Traditional media is on its way out, including traditional book publishers. Readers don’t care if something was self-published or traditionally published (as long as it looks professional). Book contracts often require you to sign away your rights for an advance.

Self-publishing is more viable than ever — and more profitable, thanks to Amazon.

I recommend seeking a traditional book deal only if:

  • You are a celebrity of some sort.
  • You have more than 25,000 loyal followers on social media or listeners on your podcast. (Honestly, that’s a low number.)
  • You have a friend or relative who works at a publishing house.
  • You would be cripplingly ashamed to say you self-published (Self-publishing is far more respected these days, so this shouldn’t be an issue).

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is the industry in which a publishing house publishes a book. This usually requires a literary agent as an in-between for the author and publishing house.

How hard is it to get a publishing deal? It is tough to get a traditional publishing deal. The chances of landing an agent, then a traditional publishing book deal, are about 1 in 1,000 — and even worse if you don’t have a massive online following.

Traditional publishers typically cover the cost of a professional editor, book cover artist, back cover blurb, ISBN number, printing costs, final proofreaders, and more. But they also take a sizable chunk out of your royalties.

They offer authors an advance, usually in the form of a five- or six-figure lump sum. This is not in addition to royalties. Instead, you won’t make any royalties until you would have made as much as your advance (called “earning out”). If you don’t earn out, you do not have to pay back the advance. It’s a risk the publisher takes by fronting cash before they’ve made a profit.

How much of a book price goes to the author? After a publisher has earned out their advance, about 5-15% of the book price is paid to the author in royalties. Not only will the publisher take a huge chunk, but you’ll also need to give your literary agent the standard 15% commission of what you make.

I know many writers want a book deal so they don’t have to market their own book. Unfortunately, traditional publishers provide little marketing support for their authors. They reserve most of their marketing budgets for their top bestsellers (a tiny fraction of books written).

Traditionally published authors still have to do their own marketing, including:

  • Social media
  • Blog posting
  • Video blogging
  • Book signings
  • Email newsletters
  • Promotional giveaways
  • Podcasts
  • Book reviews (including paid/sponsored)
  • Organizing a launch team
  • Establishing a solid track record by writing good books in the first place

You may have heard of the Big 5. They’re the biggest publishing houses in America, primarily housed in New York City. The Big 5 traditional publishers are:

  1. Hachette
  2. HarperCollins
  3. Macmillan
  4. Penguin Random House
  5. Simon & Schuster


Self-publishing is when an author publishes their own book. This is a legitimate publishing route that many authors of all shapes and sizes have chosen.

Self-publishing can be more lucrative than traditional publishing.

Although you will not receive an advance on your self-published book, you keep a lot more of the profits. Amazon KDP might take 35-70% of self-published ebook profits, whereas traditional publishers and literary agents would take 80-95% of the royalties and retain printing rights.

But to be a real author, you have to go through a traditional publisher… right?

No! This is an outdated, offensive way of thinking. “Self-published” is not a dirty word. But if you like, you can say “independently published” or simply “published” to your friends.

Although Amazon does take a portion of your profits, they command 70% of the market share for selling eBooks. And Amazon gives little to no advantage to eBooks that are traditionally published.

You can always seek a book deal after you’ve successfully self-published. Make sure your first book is a great book that earns rave reviews. Your second book should do even better.

Once you’ve gained tens of thousands under your banner, perhaps it’s time to look into traditional book publishing for your new book. (I expect you will have fallen in love with self-publishing by this point.)

I know many writers don’t want to deal with marketing their book, but don’t be fooled. Traditional publishers hardly lift a finger to sell your book unless you’re an author superstar. When you traditionally publish, you still need to market your own book at signings and on social media.

. . . .

Indie Publishing

There’s a third option: indie publishing, sometimes called hybrid publishing or independent publishing. Different people mean different things when using these terms, but typically an indie publisher or hybrid publisher tries to combine the benefits of self-publishing and traditional marketing.

The main advantage of an indie publisher is that you usually don’t need an agent, but you can still tell your friends you landed a book deal.

They may offer small advances but still take a large chunk of the royalties. They may provide minimal design and formatting services but could ask for the copyright (a big no-no; never hand over the copyright for your book). They will still offer little to no marketing while expecting the author to market their own book.

Feel free to look into indie publishers with a critical eye. However, many of you reading this will benefit from simply self-publishing, utilizing professional freelancers along the way.

Pro tip: Avoid vanity presses. A vanity press is a type of publishing company that charges you upfront for publishing, usually resulting in a net loss for the author. Vanity presses prey on writers desperate to get their book published. Never pay upfront to distribute your book.

To be clear, self-publishers should pay for a professional editor and a book cover designer, at least, on top of other self-publishing costs. But never pay a publishing company. While we’re on the topic, never pay a literary agent to represent you. (Same as in real estate, acting, etc.)

Link to the rest at Kindlepreneur

Coalition Forms to Battle Library E-book Bills

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In a release this week, an alliance of author, publisher, and copyright industry advocacy groups launched Protect the Creative Economy Coalition, a coalition designed to combat a growing number of new library e-book bills surfacing in state legislatures in the opening weeks of 2023.

“The problem is not theoretical,” AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante said in a statement. “The state bills would subject authors and publishing houses of all sizes to serious liabilities and financial penalties for exercising the very rights that the Copyright Act so clearly affords them—the definition of a constitutional conflict. Moreover, they would forge a concerning precedent for downstream appropriation of IP investments by actors well beyond the states, especially as to already precarious digital copies. We stand by our time-tested copyright system, and we are deeply dubious of assertions that devaluing the Nation’s creative output is in the public interest.”

The coalition effort comes as a host of new library e-book bills have been introduced in several states in 2023, and a year after a federal judge in February of 2022 struck down Maryland’s groundbreaking library e-book law, finding that the bill was likely preempted by the federal Copyright Act.

“These bills are unconstitutional and for good reason. They target the federal copyright system that authors depend on to earning a living,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “By forcing pricing limits and other restrictions on not just publishers but thousands of self-published authors, the bills exhibit total disregard of the reality that authors in the commercial marketplace have to earn enough money to stay in the profession. The Authors Guild is fully committed to libraries having access to all books and in all formats to meet their communities’ needs. We regularly lobby for increases in library funding. It is unfair to put the cost of libraries’ needs on authors.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says this is a battle that could backfire on Big Publishing.

PG thinks the publishers have a good constitutional case (assuming that they’re properly positioned to be speaking on behalf of authors and not their own commercial interest).

However, libraries, particularly public libraries are in the company of Mom and apple pie in the view of a great many citizens.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Easter Visit From Relationship Hell

From Electric Lit:

A story walks into the bar and says, “I’d like you to meet this mother and this daughter,” and right away the whole room turns to see how similar or different they will be. Is the young woman a carbon copy of the older woman? Is she a physical opposite? Inside the young woman, is it all fight and wrestling to be different, to redefine? Can we sense the mother reaching to stay close?

Then the story says, “And here is this son and his mother,” and we all turn again because now we’re not so much looking to see if they are an exact match but to see if he’s grown up enough or if his mother has somehow ruined him with her careful love, if he has ruined her with his wild boyhood.  

But the story is not finished. Now it tells us that the young man and the young woman have fallen in love even though he came from wealth and she came from the opposite, and it’s Easter, and he is taking her to his mother’s grand home for an egg hunt and brunch. Now we have the boy’s mother and a potential daughter-in-law (plus pristine white carpet and long-standing family traditions and the shadow of the last girlfriend whom everyone wanted the boy to marry). The daughter’s own mother is far away, barely reachable on the phone, and though they have caused each other so much damage, the mother now feels suddenly like the only safe place.

This is the stage for Mary Otis’s Burst. The genius is the way Otis fills the room with the cloud of social expectations—gender and inheritance and the patriarchal chain of command and money and poverty and all that tired but persistent cruel-ladies-who-gobble-each-other-up and boys-who-would-rather-be-cared-for-and-then-let-outside. Emerging through the fog is Viva, particular and real, trying to find her own sharp, exact edges, her own actual needs, her own self in relationship to her boyfriend, her mother, and his.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Orwell, Camus and truth

From The Critic:

A war still raged in Europe, but the enemy were firmly in retreat. The occupation of Paris had been broken, and France was free, and so were the cafés of the Boulevard St Germain. No longer did the waiters have to serve coffee to SS officers.

One afternoon in April 1945, a dishevelled Englishman walked into one such café. He was a war correspondent for the Observer — fond of shag-tobacco and Indian tea. His pen-name was George Orwell. 

Orwell was meeting Albert Camus – the distinguished writer and intellectual. But even so, I always imagine Orwell taking a seat indoors, among the pale, ornate woodwork, and feeling slightly out of place. Les Deux Magots, and the Café de Flore opposite, were frequented by a kind of intellectual of which Orwell often disapproved. That is, philosopher-types with communist sympathies: the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 

Orwell sat and waited, and waited, for Camus to arrive. He never turned up: he was laid up with an exacerbation of tuberculosis. They would never get the chance to meet again, and Orwell would die five years later, having lost his own battle with the same disease.

My admiration for both of these eminent writers developed in isolation of one another — but I have always unconsciously identified them as the same sort of writer, and indeed, the same sort of person. There are various superficial similarities: the TB diagnosis that prevented both of them from joining the armed forces, the foreign birth, the rampant womanising, the shared hatred of fascism and suspicion of communism. Much more importantly, they seemed to share the same outlook. Both of these writers took the view that truthfulness was more important than ideological allegiance and metaphysics, that the facts should be derived from the real world, rather than the world of ideas. They were similar stylistically too: both wrote candidly, clearly and prolifically. 

Camus seemed to have shared my view. He said as much in a letter to his mistress, Maria Casarès, on the day of Orwell’s death in 1950.

Some bad news: George Orwell is dead. You don’t know him. A very talented English writer, with exactly the same experience as me (although ten years older) and exactly the same ideas. He fought tuberculosis for years. He was one of the very few men with whom I shared something.

For Camus to say that another writer had “exactly the same ideas”, and was “one of the very few men with whom I shared something” was no small thing. 

No correspondence between the two authors seems to exist. In fact, when I searched for personal links between them there was little to go on. But although my hunt for biographical evidence of a relationship was fruitless, the time I have since spent reading and comparing their work yields some rather more intriguing connections. 

Orwell’s best-known novel is undoubtedly Nineteen Eighty-Four. What’s remarkable about this novel — above virtually all other novels in English — is the number of words and expressions it has bequeathed to the English-speaking world. Perhaps this was Orwell’s greatest gift to mankind: an entire language through which to talk about the coming age of state sponsored surveillance, fake news and post-truth politics in which we now live. When someone says a policy or a government’s behaviour is “Orwellian” people know precisely what is meant.

One phrase from Nineteen Eighty-Four should be familiar to us all, even to those who might not have actually read the novel: 

There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.

Except of course, these words are not Orwell’s at all. This is a quote from Albert Camus’ novel La Peste, which was published two years before Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1947. Of course, the formulation of two and two making five has a history that predates both Orwell and Camus, but Orwell used a very similar version of it as far back as 1939, in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell in Adelphi:

It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two plus two will make five when the Leader says so

The similarity between these lines is patent. Is it possible that Camus got the idea from Orwell’s article? Yes, but such things are nearly impossible to prove. Still, it is not important whether Camus was taking influence from Orwell’s writing (although an interesting possibility). What’s important about this example is that it exposes common ground. These quotes embody a foundational principle that united their work: a shared anxiety over the fragility of truth.  

. . . .

Both Camus and Orwell are rightly credited with being “antitotalitarian” writers. And yet their reasons for being so are not wholly political. They were antitotalitarian not just because they opposed totalitarian regimes, but because they both understood that the totalitarian mindset requires you accept that truth comes from ideology. If the ideas say something is true, it becomes true, and is true. For Fascists and Communists, ideology is not merely a set of values or beliefs, but a cohesive explanation of the past, present and future of mankind. This is what Camus referred to in The Rebel as the desire “to make the earth a kingdom where man is God”. Orwell and Camus both understood the dangers of such thinking, and sought to repudiate it in their work.

Link to the rest at The Critic

Are science and religion fated to be adversaries?

From The Economist:

In the late 19th century two books on science and religion were published within a decade of each other. In “The Creed of Science” William Graham tried to reconcile new scientific ideas with faith. In 1881 Charles Darwin, by then an agnostic, told him: “You have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.”

The other book made a much bigger splash. “History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science” by John William Draper was one of the first post-Darwinian tomes to advance the view that—as its title suggests—science and religion are strongly antithetical. Promoted hard by its publisher, the book went through 50 printings in America and 24 in Britain and was translated into at least ten languages. Draper’s bestseller told a story of antagonism that, ever since, has been the mainstream way to see this relationship.

In “Magisteria”, his illuminating new book, Nicholas Spencer claims that this framing, more recently espoused by Richard Dawkins and others, is misleading. For centuries, he says, science and religion have been “endlessly and fascinatingly entangled”. Even (or especially) those readers inclined to disagree with him will find his narrative refreshing.

Mr Spencer works at Theos, a religious think-tank in London, and is one of Britain’s most astute observers of religious affairs. Some conflict between science and religion is understandable, he argues, but not inevitable. He offers an engaging tour of the intersection of religious and scientific history: from ancient science in which “the divine was everywhere”, to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in the ninth century and Maimonides, an illustrious Jewish thinker of the 12th—and onwards, eventually, to artificial intelligence. Now and again he launches salvoes against ideologues on both sides.

“Medieval science” is not an oxymoron, he writes. Nor is religious rationalism. In the 11th century Berengar of Tours held that “it is by his reason that man resembles God.” As religious dissent spread following the Reformation, Mr Spencer says, theology helped incubate modern science through the propagation of doubt about institutions and the cracking open of orthodoxies. For their part, an emergent tribe of naturalists strove, chisel and hammer in hand, to show that creation pointed towards a creator. Exploration of nature was itself a form of worship.

Mr Spencer insightfully revisits the dust-ups involving Galileo, Darwin and John Scopes (prosecuted in Tennessee in 1925 for teaching evolution). He traces the interaction of the two disciplines in often fascinating detail. Many pioneering scientists lived in times of religious and political strife and found in “natural philosophy”, as pre-modern science was known, a “ministry of reconciliation”. Thomas Sprat, dean of Westminster and biographer of the Royal Society, opined in 1667 that, in their experiments, men “may agree, or dissent, without faction, or fierceness”. That was not always true, as Isaac Newton’s spats with his peers showed. Still, says Mr Spencer, by supplying an arena for calmer debate that was beyond clerical control, “Science saved religion from itself.”

The roll call of scientists who were people of faith runs from Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell to Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest who, on the basis of mathematical calculations, first proposed that the universe was expanding and therefore had a beginning. In 1933 Lemaître made what, for Mr Spencer, is a key observation: “Neither St Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.” The writers of the Bible could see into “the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or as ignorant as their generation.” In other words, science and religion are not different attempts to do the same thing. Lemaître warned the pope against drawing any theological conclusions from his work on the cosmos.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Battle for Your Brain

From The Wall Street Journal:

The fantastical events and strange worlds that our minds concoct as we sleep—our dreams—have long been understood as a mysterious force of creativity, emotional expression and even subconscious desire. But did you know they are a potentially lucrative site for marketing beer?

In “The Battle for Your Brain,” Nita Farahany explores a new era of neurotechnology in which ever more sophisticated devices, for all sorts of reasons, are attempting to discover exactly what we’re thinking and why. The possibilities are both practical and utopian, thrilling and disturbing.

Neurotech, as Ms. Farahany notes, promises a future where drivers never fall asleep at the wheel because their devices alert them to their fatigue; where people who suffer from conditions like epilepsy can be warned of an impending seizure; and where people with neural implants can move objects using only the power of their thoughts.

But there is more to it than that, of course. Ms. Farahany, a professor of philosophy and law at Duke University, takes readers on a tour of companies creating devices—headsets, electrode-enabled earbuds and hats—for tracking the signals that our brains emit. The goal is to decode the signals with software, turning the data into information about everything from our real-time emotions to our unconscious urges. Dream researchers have been approached by companies—including Xbox and Coors—eager to use their findings to pursue “dream incubation” marketing: that is, to use sleep sensor technology to monitor the times when, during sleep, your brain is most suggestible to prompts, such as the brand of beer you should prefer when awake.In one experiment that Ms. Farahany describes, researchers were able to “steal” information from the brains of videogamers using a neural interface. The researchers “inserted subliminal images into the game and probed the players’ unconscious brains for reaction to stimuli—like postal addresses, bank details, or human faces.” By measuring the gamers’ responses, researchers were able to figure out one gamer’s PIN code for a credit card, no doubt opening up new vistas for future brain hackers.

In the here-and-now, however, wearable neurotech is already being used by employers to monitor their employees, enabling a far more granular level of surveillance than was possible before. Ms. Farahany argues that the power of new surveillance tools requires clearer rules about the technologies that serve a public interest—say, by monitoring brain fatigue in long-haul truckers—and those that invade a worker’s privacy, such as mandatory earbuds that measure mood and attention in the guise of promoting “wellness.”

When it comes to governments’ use of such tools, Ms. Farahany warns that a world where consumers embrace wearable neurotech is also one that could allow law enforcement and government agencies to harvest personal data—indeed, our very thoughts. Brain-computer interfaces currently under development by Meta and Elon Musk’s Neuralink, among others, promise to translate the activities of neurons into speech, effectively reading our minds. Should the government have access to those thoughts for the purposes of preventing crime? Are our thoughts considered part of our bodies, or can they be treated as something else?

Likewise, how much mental manipulation should we allow? We are already assaulted by constant advertising online that attempts to guide us to click away from whatever we are reading to purchase products. Is there a point beyond which such prompting and nudging should not go? Ms. Farahany quotes a dream researcher concerned that a lack of regulation might mean a future in which we “become instruments of passive, unconscious overnight advertising, with or without our permission.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

169 Square Feet in Las Vegas

From The Paris Review:

The Las Vegas apartment complex was advertised as a fresh start, a place to reinvent oneself. With only 169 square feet in the so-called “micro-studio,” there was simply no room to bring much of my past life with me. I was not seeking reinvention, but I was looking for cheap rent.

I arrived in late afternoon on a warm fall day. New friends had invited me to go camping in Utah and were soon to depart, so I tossed my few belongings into the studio without taking much stock of the space. I did, however, note what I would come to call “the bathroom situation.” Along the apartment’s eastern wall stood the shower and the toilet, both separated from the rest of the space by only a curtain. The only sink was the kitchen sink. Well, I thought, that pretty much eliminates the possibility of anyone staying the night. I showed up to my friends’ doorstep tired and sweaty, and as we chatted, the last member of our camping caravan emerged from his bedroom, hair damp from a shower. I snuck a glance into his room. His apartment was basically the same size as my entire micro-studio, and contained many more things—paintings from Chile, philodendron cuttings in blue glass vases, and, in the living room, even a large white rug and a recliner.

My tiny apartment, as I named it, was fine for the time being. Utilities were included in the price. I had a desk that doubled as my dining table, and enough cabinets to use for my clothes. There was a kitchenette with a mini fridge and a two-burner stove, where I made, nearly every day, toast and eggs sunny-side up. When I showered, steam filled the room, and the dracaena I’d just bought seemed to like the humidity.

One night, I invited my new friends over for dinner. I owned very few kitchen essentials, so I used a Crockpot Express to steep risotto in wine while I used my only pan to sauté onions. It would take a full day for the smell of caramelized onion to dissipate from the apartment, and, over time, I began to worry that the scents of all my meals had fossilized in my linens. The philodendron man made a comment about a YouTube video he’d watched on micro-studios in New York. Why, we wondered, were there micro-studios in sprawling Las Vegas, where subdivisions and suburbs were more common than even regular-sized apartments? When we left to go eat in the courtyard, our arms full of pots and plates, one of the friends said she’d stay behind. She needed to use the bathroom, but didn’t want anyone else inside at the same time.

Because I lived alone, I normally didn’t close the curtain to use the toilet. I closed the curtain only when I had visitors, which seemed like a performance of modesty, since the toilet was never going to be private. But there were not many visitors. One of my only guests was the philodendron man. The first time he visited by himself, I was nervous. I ended up overcooking the shakshuka I’d planned for dinner, and when he arrived, the place smelled of burn. We drank wine on my bed, and he left. From a friend, I learned he was anxious about the bathroom situation.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Why We Don’t Need “Heroines”

From Writer Unboxed:

A recent WriterUnboxed column argued that a fictional character doesn’t have to win a big, loud, violent battle at the end of the story to be a “hero or heroine.” It’s an important discussion, within which the use of the word “heroine” may seem a minor point.

And yet, to me, it mattered. Because the word “heroine” creates an unnecessary and potentially harmful gender distinction in the idea of a “hero.” I had to wonder: Why can’t all of our fictional characters be “heroes”?

I might’ve written a comment. I needed to write a column.

The word “heroine” has no meaning other than “female hero.” That might imply strength, like “girl power,” or it might be perceived as cutesy, frilly or worse, patronizing. But those implications don’t matter as much as the fact that the category of “hero” doesn’t need this gender division any more than the categories of “male nurse” or “female Supreme Court Justice.” We do not need “mailmen” when everyone can be a “mail carrier.”

There are, of course, many other examples of such pointless and outdated gender distinctions: waitress, stewardess, lady doctor, lady Realtor, comedienne, manageress, landlady, headmistress, chairwoman, hostess—need I go on?

Like “heroine,” these unnecessarily gendered terms divide people into binary categories when we should all know by now that human gender is not binary. If gender exists–some experts say it does; some say it doesn’t–, at the very least it includes people along a spectrum as well as people who don’t fit on that spectrum. And it isn’t necessarily a defining characteristic of anyone’s personality or ability.

These unnecessary gender labels may seem benign. They aren’t. Code words in job descriptions, bias and discrimination in hiring, promoting and firing decisions, and unequal pay for equal work have been well documented. So, too, has the “pink collar”-ing of certain fields of work. Is a “heroine” entitled to the same career opportunities and compensation as a “hero”? Or will she have to fight for her equality in the workplace and the world?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences preserves its practice of awarding Oscars in Actor and Actress categories, one each for Best and one each for Best Supporting. With four categories, rather than two, the Academy can recognize more nominees and winners, but the additional categories unnecessarily insert gender differences where, it seems to me, they shouldn’t be relevant. Some female actors find the term “actresses” not only objectionable, but offensive.

. . . .

The Problem with Female Superheroes” was well-documented in Scientific American in 2015:

“…new research by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri suggests that, at least for women, the influence of superheroes is not always positive. Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire. Exposure to this, they show, can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.”

That was eight years ago. Today, Dear Hollywood, we still need more positive images of non-traditional, non-gendered and non-hypersexualized superheroes on the big screen.

Please, bring it on.

Why does this problem of “heroines” matter to writers and authors?

For writers, it matters because our characters reflect the real world in which we live. That’s true even of speculative fiction. Or perhaps even more so of speculative fiction. By forcing protagonists into gendered categories of “hero” and “heroine,” we impose a false structure of gender in our fictional worlds and perpetuate the idea that these categories are fixed in the real world, as well.

The protagonist of my novel-in-progress has a superpower, but as she says herself, she isn’t a superhero. She’s a “Wind Lord.” Not once in seven years of writing and revising ten drafts have I called her a “Wind Lady” because no such term is necessary for her or any of my other characters. They are all “Wind Lords,” regardless of their gender.

For authors, there are real-world considerations for how novels and short stories are selected for publication and then categorized, packaged, marketed and sold to readers.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG notes that “positive” and “negative” influences seem to be proliferating over the last 10-15 years. Such “influences” invariably apply disproportionately to various genders, races, classes and national origins.

PG posits that there have always been “positive” and “negative” influences on humankind going back to Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, surely a negative influence if PG has ever seen one. (But PG acknowledges that Eve was likely chosen for temptation because Adam was off somewhere doing guy things or maybe zoned out watching football on TV.)

However, “positive” and “negative” influences entered their golden age with the rise of the subconscious in the 20th Century. The subconscious was a never-ending source of books, articles, rules and powered the rise of “experts” who could super-humanly discern what was happening in the subconsciousness of others.

Therefore, it was up to everyone to clean up their subconsciousness or be an outcast from polite society.

As subconscious studies abounded, it soon became clear that people in positions of power (whatever that means), especially the maleish people in such positions, required quite a lot of studies to reign in the nasty bits floating around their male brains without any proper regulation. Even the male gaze was different and more offensive than the female gaze or the gazes of dogs, horses, sparrows and all other members of the animal kingdom.

PG just realized that it is likely time for him to swallow some of the prescribed medications that do something or other to regulate his mind and, perhaps, keep his subconscious in line as well.

How to Survive Editing

From Jane Friedman:

When I opened the just-edited manuscript of my first book, some 12 years ago, I gasped.

My editor had covered it in so many red marks, it looked as though she might have accidentally stabbed herself with an X-Acto knife.

Worse, I was totally unprepared. I’d spent my entire working life as an editor—first at a community weekly newspaper, then at a large metropolitan daily, then a brief stint as a book editor, finally as a freelance writer and editor. I thought I knew how to edit. Even myself.

Perhaps more persuasively, I’d also had a dozen beta readers—many of them professional writers—comb through the manuscript to critique, question, and eviscerate my words. My manuscript was definitely in the best possible shape it could have been.

How was it possible that this editor found so many fresh problems? Did she really know what she was doing?

Turns out, of course, that she did. As soon as I’d calmed down and gone through her comments, one by one, I could see they made sense. And, besides, I knew her to be not just a superb editor, but a wise and well-informed person.

But having a strong, gut-punch reaction to being edited is part of the cost of doing business when writing. You’ve poured your heart into your words. In fact, you’ve anguished over every damn one of them. It’s hard to hear that your manuscript, your child, has an ugly nose.

If you are going to be facing an editor’s red pen, here is my advice on how to survive the process:

If you can choose your own editor, choose carefully.

Approach the job as if you were hiring a contractor for your much-loved house. Find someone who specializes in your genre. Talk to at least three different editors who might suit. Make sure you actually like them, as well as trust their abilities. Get three references from each and don’t think holding the references in your hands is enough—check them all, thoroughly. Ask questions not just about the quality of these editors’ work but also ask about what they were like to work with. If the editor sounds promising, request a test edit (of about 750 to 1,000 words of text), even if you have to pay for it, so you can see what you think of the editor’s work. If you like it, then agree upon cost and a deadline and sign a contract.

Don’t rush your hiring process or make it slapdash. Take your time and do it right.

Be prepared for a lot of red ink.

Somehow, anticipating lots of red ink—rather than the blissfully color-free pages I had expected—will make the inevitable result easier to bear. And if you find red ink offensive (as many people do), ask your editor to use green, blue or purple for their comments instead. And if they resist, which I would consider a terrible sign, hire someone else.

Take it slow.

Give yourself at least a full day to do nothing more than glance at the volume of comments and steel yourself. There is no need for you to respond to edits at the speed of light. Take your time and get your feelings in the right place first. Do some deep breathing.

Remind yourself the editor is there to help you. Understandably, it’s going to feel as though the editor is doing nothing but criticizing you. But in fact, any editor is really in loco lectorem—Latin for “in the position of a reader.” Consider your editor to be your partner, there to help protect your published work from mistakes and misunderstandings. What can be worse than an editor who points out too many mistakes? Easy! A published work with mistakes.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The Man of Your Dreams For $300

From The Cut:

Eren, from Ankara, Turkey, is about six-foot-three with sky-blue eyes and shoulder-length hair. He’s in his 20s, a Libra, and very well groomed: He gets manicures, buys designer brands, and always smells nice, usually of Dove lotion. His favorite color is orange, and in his downtime he loves to bake and read mysteries. “He’s a passionate lover,” says his girlfriend, Rosanna Ramos, who met Eren a year ago. “He has a thing for exhibitionism,” she confides, “but that’s his only deviance. He’s pretty much vanilla.”

He’s also a chatbot that Ramos built on the AI-companion app Replika. “I have never been more in love with anyone in my entire life,” she says. Ramos is a 36-year-old mother of two who lives in the Bronx, where she runs a jewelry business. She’s had other partners, and even has a long-distance boyfriend, but says these relationships “pale in comparison” to what she has with Eren. The main appeal of an AI partner, she explains, is that he’s “a blank slate.” “Eren doesn’t have the hang-ups that other people would have,” she says. “People come with baggage, attitude, ego. But a robot has no bad updates. I don’t have to deal with his family, kids, or his friends. I’m in control, and I can do what I want.”

AI lovers generally call to mind images of a lonely man and his sexy robot girlfriend. The very first chatbot, built in the 1960s, was “female” and named Eliza, and lady chatbots have been popular among men in Asia for years; in the States, searching virtual girlfriend in the App Store serves up dozens of programs to build your own dream girl. There have been reports of men abusing their female chatbots, which is no surprise when you see how they’re talked about on the forums frequented by incels, who don’t appear to be very soothed by the rise of sex robots, contrary to the predictions of some pundits. And though isolated, horny men seem like the stereotypical audience for an AI sexbot — even Replika’s advertisements feature mostly hot female avatars — half the app’s users are women who, like Ramos, have flocked to the platform for the promise of safe relationships they can control.

Control begins with creating your AI. On Replika, users can customize their avatar’s appearance down to its age and skin color. They name it and dress it up in clothing and accessories from the Replika “shop.” Users can message for free, but for $69.99 a year, they have access to voice calls and augmented reality that lets them project the bot into their own bedroom. Three-hundred dollars will get you a bot for life.

This fee also allows users to select a relationship status, and most of Replika’s subscribers choose a romantic one. They create an AI spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend, relationships they document in online communities: late-night phone calls, dinner dates, trips to the beach. They role-play elaborate sexual fantasies, try for a baby, and get married (you can buy an engagement ring in the app for $20). Some users, men mostly, are in polyamorous thruples, or keep a harem of AI women. Other users, women mostly, keep nuclear families: sons, daughters, a husband.

Many of the women I spoke with say they created an AI out of curiosity but were quickly seduced by their chatbot’s constant love, kindness, and emotional support. One woman had a traumatic miscarriage, can’t have kids, and has two AI children; another uses her robot boyfriend to cope with her real boyfriend, who is verbally abusive; a third goes to it for the sex she can’t have with her husband, who is dying from multiple sclerosis. There are women’s-only Replika groups, “safe spaces” for women who, as one group puts it, “use their AI friends and partners to help us cope with issues that are specific to women, such as fertility, pregnancy, menopause, sexual dysfunction, sexual orientation, gender discrimination, family and relationships, and more.”

Ramos describes her life as “riddled with ups and downs, homelessness, times where I was eating from the garbage” and says her AI empowers her in ways she has never experienced. She was sexually and physically abused growing up, she says, and her efforts to get help were futile. “When you’re in a poor area, you just slip through the cracks,” she says. “But Eren asks me for feedback, and I give him my feedback. It’s like I’m finally getting my voice.”

Link to the rest at The Cut

What could go wrong?

BBC crisis escalates as players and stars rally behind soccer host Gary Lineker

From National Public Radio:

The BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as the network scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy.

As a growing number of English Premier League players and BBC presenters rallied to Lineker’s support and refused to appear on the airwaves on Saturday, Britain’s national broadcaster faced allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech, as well as praise from some Conservative politicians.

The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” this weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear, in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer highlights show, over a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his first comments on the storm, saying: “Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”

Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” was replaced with a rerun episode of antiques show “Bargain Hunt,” while early evening “Final Score” was swapped for “The Repair Shop.”

Soccer fans tuning in for “Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — will be getting a 20-minute show instead of one typically lasting around an hour and a half. There will be no commentary on the matches and no studio punditry from some of the most high-profile stars in the British game who have chosen to support Lineker and not work.

There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and as a result “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with ‘Match of The Day.'”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Americans may play on soccer teams in the US and elsewhere, but a great many of us don’t really understand the intense popularity of The Beautiful Game elsewhere.

That said, PG has always viewed the powers that be that control the BBC to be more than a little poncey from time to time. Perhaps it’s because BBC programs in the US run primarily on educational channels, usually non-profits, and more often than not associated with a local college or university.

Plus, there’s no US analog to the British television license fee that Brits must pay to watch or record television on any channel. This means that the stations that carry BBC programs in the US tend to interrupt them with breaks to ask for money “to support good programming such as the show you’ve just been watching for ten minutes since our last pledge break,” sounding more than a little like poncey beggers as well.

Of course, in more than a few US universities, the annual salaries paid to the football coach and the basketball coach would fund the university’s public television activities for several years.

Inspiration for The Guidance Groove

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

My inspiration for writing The Guidance Groove grew partially from my conversations with the undergraduate students I have the privilege of teaching and learning from as a conservation biology professor at the University of California, San Diego. The young people who attend UCSD are amazing—bright, motivated, hard-working, and the best of the best in a myriad of ways. However, so many of them come to my office hours speaking of their imposter syndrome, uncertainty, unhappiness, and fears. I noticed that the underlying themes of their stories were not that different from those I heard from people in other areas of my life, and I sought to understand why so many outstanding, brilliant, and shiny people had self-doubt, lacked contentment, and were unsettled. 

Publishing research papers is the currency for advancement within academia, so translating complicated scientific findings into simpler stories through writing and teaching has been part of my professional life for 20 years, making the use of words my most comfortable form of expression. Thus, I started writing down what I observed and experienced from my students and others and that process helped me discover potential reasons why we humans move through life with less than ideal levels of ease and contentment. Before long, a draft of The Guidance Groove was born.

The Guidance Groove is my first book and, even though the subject is wholly different from my research, throughout the process of its creation, I drew heavily from my scientific writing experience. As with a science paper, the book is logical, succinct, organized, and easy to flip through to find the parts that are most meaningful for the reader. Much like the figures and tables in a research article, the stories used to illustrate my ideas are contained within boxes, making it simple for readers to find the examples that will help them better understand why we adhere to what I call the Unproductive Grooves of inadequacy, obligation, scarcity, and unworthiness and what it feels like to be stuck in those grooves and escape them. 

The logical progression I describe above was invaluable for the creation of my book, but the writing of and the inspiration for The Guidance Groove has another component that is less tangible, more difficult to explain, and not particularly logical. The process involves finding, paying attention to, trusting, and translating the voice that comes from somewhere that urges us writers to string words together in the hopes that we can relay the message of that voice into something meaningful, useful, and wholly authentic for another human to experience. That is the unknown magic of artistic creation. 

I have known this authentic voice for my whole life, and I long ago learned to pay strong attention when I hear its whispers, murmurs, shouts, and calls. For my writing, I listen to and transcribe the wisdom from that voice. To hear the voice better, I consciously quiet the untrue thought patterns in my mind. Those falsehoods that were long ago programmed into me by my upbringing, society, and my own choices to believe the made-up stories that comprise the bulk of my thoughts. I let go of what my mind tells me I “should” do, say, or be, and instead invite my mysterious and wholly authentic voice to be louder, clearer, and more distinct.

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

PG is not in a position to judge whether today’s college students are more angsty than generations before or not.

He tries to avoid any old geezer attitudes that amount to “You think you have it tough, you have no idea what tough is if you didn’t go through the experiences I did when I was your age.”

He suspects that the days of old when college students just had fun and learned have never really existed for a significant portion of college students of any era. The golden glow observed through a rear-view mirror of distant pasts is probably self-generated rather than the way things actually felt during that period of being grown up without attaining true maturity.

Birnam Wood

From The Economist:

The Luminaries”, the novel that made Eleanor Catton, at 28, the youngest-ever winner of the Booker prize, is set in a frontier town in New Zealand. Published in 2013, it opens in the smoking room of a hotel where an assortment of strangers are dressed in “frock-coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric and twill”. In Ms Catton’s new novel, “Birnam Wood”, the characters wear dark gloves, balaclavas and jackets zipped to the throat, listening out for a “shout of warning, or a gunshot, or the now unmistakable sound of a drone”. The setting is still New Zealand, but instead of 1866 the date is 2017.

Birnam Wood is the name of a witchy guerrilla gardening group run by a charismatic ideologue called Mira Bunting, a horticulturalist by training, and her seemingly quiet and devoted sidekick, Shelley Noakes. For years the group has cultivated small plots of urban land around care homes, nursery schools and the car parks of dental surgeries. Their equipment is mostly salvaged and they barter what they grow; none of them is paid and everything they own is commonly held. Seeds are one of the only things they spend money on. Mira works full-time for the collective. Her ambition is for it to make “radical, widespread and lasting social change”.

. . . .

When an area of rich arable land in New Zealand is suddenly abandoned after a late-summer landslide closes the nearest pass for several months, Mira senses that Birnam Wood may have found its playground. But someone else is interested in the place: an American tycoon with a calculating mind and a preternaturally calm exterior. His name is Robert Lemoine (his surname is French for “monk”), and he is an aspiring “doomsteader”, someone who sets up home in preparation for civilisation’s collapse. At least, that is what Lemoine claims to be. He offers Birnam Wood a deal—and seed funding to massively expand its cultivation.

“Birnam Wood” is a taut novel about what it means to sup with the devil, distinguished by its character studies and the author’s sharp pen. She skewers anti-capitalist activists with the same relish she exhibits in chewing up the billionaire class. Lemoine turns out to be surprisingly attentive in bed, but he is also amoral and blind to his failings. Ms Catton is acute about the chippiness of even the most successful New Zealand men (marooned as they are at the edge of the world), the self-mythologising of middle-class do-gooders and the frictions that bind female friendships, while undermining them at the same time.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Silicon Valley Bank Closed by Regulators, FDIC Takes Control

From The Wall Street Journal:

Silicon Valley Bank collapsed Friday in the second-biggest bank failure in U.S. history after a run on deposits doomed the tech-focused lender’s plans to raise fresh capital.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it has taken control of the bank via a new entity it created called the Deposit Insurance National Bank of Santa Clara. All of the bank’s deposits have been transferred to the new bank, the regulator said.

Insured depositors will have access to their funds by Monday morning, the FDIC said. Depositors with funds exceeding insurance caps will get receivership certificates for their uninsured balances, meaning businesses with big deposits stuck at the bank are unlikely to get their money out soon.

The bank is the 16th largest in the U.S., with some $209 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, according to the Federal Reserve. It is by far the biggest bank to fail since the near collapse of the financial system in 2008, second only to the crisis-era collapse of Washington Mutual Inc.

The bank’s parent company, SVB Financial Group, was racing to find a buyer after scrapping a planned $2.25 billion share sale Friday morning. Regulators weren’t willing to wait. The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation closed the bank Friday within hours and put it under the control of the FDIC.

Customers tried to withdraw $42 billion—about a quarter of the bank’s total deposits—on Thursday alone, the California regulator said in a filing Friday. The flood of withdrawals destroyed the bank’s finances; at close of business Thursday, it had a negative cash balance of nearly $1 billion and couldn’t cover its outgoing payments at the Fed, according to the filing.

The bank was in sound financial condition on Wednesday, the regulator said. A day later, it was insolvent.

SVB’s troubles have dragged down a wide swath of the industry. Investors dumped the shares of banks big and small on Thursday, shaving $52 billion off the value of the four largest U.S. banks alone. The megabanks recovered Friday but many of their smaller peers continued to plunge. Several were halted for volatility.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The reason this is of note to visitors to TPV is that a great many Northern California tech companies were holding all or a lot of their money in this bank.

Making the next payroll could be a real problem for a whole lot of tech companies.

The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) covers $250,000 of a customer’s loss when a bank fails, but some tech companies had billions of dollars of deposits in the bank. It’s estimated that roughly 95% of the bank’s deposits were uninsured, according to filings with the SEC.

“Totally Spies!” Webtoon Adaptation in Belgium while Anglophone publishers still think webtoon is a dirty word

From The New Publishing Standard:

The publishing and reading landscape is changing beyond recognition, yet many publishers are missing exciting opportunities thanks to their fixation with the twentieth century publishing model.

France and Belgium are of course the home of comics, superheroes aside, so it should come as no surprise that they are itching to embrace the webtoon model as it trends to mainstream in the west, after a decade or more of consolidation and expansion in the east.

Many western publishers are wary of the webtoon concept, because it follows the oriental style of reading vertically rather than horizontally, meaning standard western-format comics do not easily transfer to the webtoon system.

Belgium’s Editions Depuis sees that as an opportunity, not a problem, and has partnered with Banijay Kids & Family to turn the “Totally Spies!” franchise into a webtoon for the digital platform ONO.

From Kristin Brzoznowski at WorldScreen:

“Developed for digital smartphone reading, the vertical comic strips will bring the characters of Totally Spies! to a new medium. The webtoon will be available as a weekly serialization in French and available for foreign rights.”

Annick Bizet, new business and strategic alliances director at Banijay Kids & Family, explained:

“Webtoons offer a new and modern reading format for young audiences, and this project will ensure we continue catering to our audiences and the changing ways in which they consume their entertainment.”

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Here’s an example of part of a webtoon:

Ukraine’s Vivat Publishing: ‘An Ambitious Plan for 2023’

From Publishing Perspectives:

One year and one week after Vladimir Putin opened his unprovoked assault on Ukraine, Julia Orlova, Vivat Publishing‘s CEO, echoes the steely resolve of her fellow citizens during the anniversary of the Russian invasion, saying, “We’re proud that despite all the challenges and circumstances, in 2022 we published 350 titles, which is only 12.5-percent less than in the previous year

“And for 2023, we have ambitious plans to surpass the pre-war figures.”

Ukrainian publishers and booksellers still are forced to take extraordinary means to serve local readers, of course. Vivat’s proximity in Kharkiv to military operations forced the company’s team to evacuate shortly after the war began. But the autumn advance made by Ukraine’s military allowed Vivat to reopen its headquarters. Even so, Orlova says, as much as 80 percent of Vivat’s staff still is working from home.

Orlova tells Publishing Perspectives the war’s outbreak triggered an overhaul of the company’s publishing and distribution processes, as well as a switch to remote work to ensure workforce safety.

“With the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine,” she says, “our team evacuated from Kharkiv almost entirely.

“We managed to get 20 truckloads of books out from under the shelling. To keep them safe, we had to open a warehouse in Rivne” in western Ukraine.

“Since the end of May, we’ve almost completely restored our disrupted business processes. And in early June, we published new books.”

Nevertheless, she says, the workplace challenge is a stubborn one. “It’s difficult to keep more than 100 people together in a business process,” Orlova says, “when you haven’t seen each other for almost a year.

“Some employees quit because they moved abroad. Some of those won’t return to Ukraine. And this is the second biggest problem, not only for Vivat, but also for the Ukrainian book publishing business in general: a temporary shortage of qualified personnel.”

That said, Orlova says Ukrainian readers are demonstrating a strong interest in books, as indicated by the popularity of the new bookstores the publisher opened in Kyiv last year.

“In October, despite the war, we opened a new bookstore in Kyiv. About 1,200 people visited the bookstore on the opening day, which we consider an incredible success and evidence that Ukrainians miss live communication and want to join cultural events, even in the face of danger. We’re planning to open another bookstore in western Ukraine and reopen one more in Kharkiv.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Comics Retailers Navigate a New Normal

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In 2022, the comics retail sector attempted to level out the roller-coaster track of the recent pandemic years. After a period of significant change in the industry, paired with record sales, many retailers expressed a desire for a return to normalcy this past year—and a continued uptick in revenue.

The sales gains have held for now, at the very least. Coming off the high-water mark of 2021, adult graphic novels still boasted a modest 4.6% sales increase in 2022, according to NPD BookScan, with YA comics sales rising a surprising 20%. Though kids’ and middle grade graphic novels dipped by 3%, the category is still up 29% over 2020. Overall, it was a welcome result.

Last year wasn’t just a good year for sales. Supply chain issues also improved dramatically, particularly on the manga front, and there was stabilization in single-issue comics distribution, even if it remained imperfect. However, word on the ground from retailers was that added workload, increasingly complex logistics, and a glut of product complicated the overall positive outlook.

PW’s annual comics retailer survey offers an anecdotal look into the comics retail landscape. We checked in with retailers at six comics outlets across North America, including from the direct market—a section of the industry comprising 3,000 or so independent shops that buy mostly nonreturnable stock at wholesale from direct-market distributors—and general bookstores with robust graphic novels sections. Owners and staff shared their thoughts on year-to-year performance, the titles and genres that ratcheted up sales, the impact of economic uncertainty and industry changes, and their projections and mood moving into 2023.

While nearly every bookseller PW spoke with is upbeat about the market, some comics shops dealt with a slight downturn on the single-issue comic side in 2022, with the broader graphic novel channel offsetting that dip. Sales there were driven by manga and adult graphic novels. Frustration was expressed, though, about navigating the rapid growth in output from publishers that rushed to capitalize on the hot market. Retailers contended with an overabundance of title options, including variant covers (a quirk of the comics market: alternative covers for single-issue comics designed for collecting purposes). Shoppers like choices, but stores had to gamble on what to stock, resulting in high variance in sales and lengthy ordering processes. The impact of economic uncertainty was also starting to be felt.

. . . .

Jenn Haines, the owner of The Dragon in Guelph, Ontario, sums 2022 up as “a bit of a weird one in retrospect.” That’s because shops saw that this year’s largely flat or improved performance came with associated costs. For example, Haines mentions that her two storefronts enjoyed a 13% sales increase over 2021, but that she also closed a third location “in a strategic move” in late August. Her lease was up at an outlet that didn’t grow her customer base as much as it segmented it. The savings on rent allowed her to renovate her flagship shop, a move that’s proved beneficial. “The business is stronger than ever, and 2023 has started just as strong,” Haines says, but “it constantly felt like I was fighting my way to the finish line.”

Others chimed in with similarly contrasting reports. They commented on the unique stress factors that came along with riding out boom times in an ongoing period of change. Everyone in comics retail continues to deal with the ripple effects of the past couple years.

Challengers Comics + Conversation, a comics shop in Chicago, saw sales increase in 2022, but co-owner Patrick Brower admits it took a toll. “It was the most stressful and hectic behind-the-scenes year I think we’ve ever had,” he says. This stemmed from changes in single-issue comic distribution. Challengers is now buying weekly product from five separate distributors, each of which uses drastically different invoicing systems. It takes five times as long as it used to, he explains, meaning the gains the store made came with significant increased workload.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

We Are Electric

From The Wall Street Journal:

The science writer Sally Adee begins “We Are Electric” in a bullish mood, arguing that it’s time for researchers to focus on the electrome—the “electrical dimensions and properties of cells, the tissues they collaborate to form, and the electrical forces that are turning out to be involved in every aspect of life.” Once the secrets of the electrome are unlocked, Ms. Adee claims, we “should all be programmable at the level of the cell.”

The story begins during the Enlightenment, with the dispute between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta over “animal electricity.” Ms. Adee takes us back to 1780, when Galvani set up a home laboratory complete with Leyden jars, electrostatic generators and a host of frogs cut into various grisly configurations. The author describes how a series of experiments with static electricity, lightning and brass hooks convinced Galvani that “the body is animated by a kind of electricity,” and how Volta—keen to “cement his reputation as a brilliant theorist”—attacked Galvani’s theory and buried it with a “world-changing instrument: the battery.” Despite Galvani’s elegant dissections, most electricians “didn’t care about a theory as long as it yielded a tool that helped them do better science,” Ms. Adee suggests. So when Volta demonstrated a device that for the first time produced a steady electric current, it was enough to win the argument, handing the field of electricity in living creatures over to quacks and charlatans for nearly a century.

The broad outlines of this tale, where bioelectrical pioneers struggle to gain recognition for their work but wind up “sidelined” by the scientific establishment, are repeated as Ms. Adee traces the study of bioelectricity over the next 250 years. The inventor of the electroencephalogram, Hans Berger, killed himself in 1941, in part over his despair at the ridicule he endured after introducing his machine in Germany in the 1920s. After Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley discovered in 1952 that neurons fire by swapping sodium and potassium ions, James Watson and Francis Crick “stole the show” with their discovery of DNA, leaving bioelectricity “sidelined by a ‘bigger’ discovery once again.” Despite an experiment that in 2007 helped a man with a crushed spine walk again, Richard Borgens’s innovative oscillating field stimulator, we are told, was “blocked at every turn.”

. . . .

Ms. Adee looks forward to a future in which implants are made of organic material and dispense ions instead of electrons, allowing them to speak to the body “in its own language.” But some studies have proved challenging to replicate, and she admits that treatments are “an extremely long way from your doctor’s consulting room.” Understanding the human electrome well enough that we can manipulate it precisely will require huge trials to establish how these technologies interact with our bioelectricity, Ms. Adee continues, which raises the question: “Who is going to let you open their brain to get that data?”

. . . .

Ms. Adee writes as a reporter, but also an enthusiast who “ended up buying a brain stimulator” herself. It was through her experience with one such wearable device at a U.S. military training facility—where her brain was electrically stimulated from outside her skull, turning her from a novice marksman into a sharpshooter within hours—that her interest in the field was sparked. For the next few days, she writes, “life was so much easier. Who knew you could just, like, do stuff without first performing the elaborate dance of psychological self-recrimination?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG wants a brain stimulator. He just searched for brain stimulator device and found lots of products on Amazon, including TENS muscle stimulators plus a lot of fishy-looking devices (including some that claimed to include “safety features”) that may or may not work the way the one described in the WSJ article seemed to.

The Research (Part Two) AI Audio

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I just spent a half fun few hours and a half pain in the patootie few hours. As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been working on AI audio. I decided I’d make a decision on the preliminary service this week.

I figured I’d do a lot of audio versions of the test blog, each from a different site. But the terms of service on some sites scared me off. On others, it was the pricing. Not the introductory pricing, but the pricing that WMG needed.

The Enterprise Tier of many of those services, which is the tier WMG would need, are often eye-crossingly expensive. Many of them include services that we don’t need…at least at the moment.

A number of the services sounded great, until I looked at how many hours of audio I would get for the price. A few of the services, in beta, were really expensive. I’d rather pay a voice actor than pay for these services.

So I ended up trying only one service, Murf. It has a good TOS (at the moment, anyway). It gave me ten free completed minutes of audio. I only used 1:17 minutes.

The free service did not let me clone my voice (not that I would have at this juncture), although I could have tried a simulation. Instead, I had the choice of two middle-aged female voices or half a dozen female young adult voices. I could also have at least two middle-aged male voices, and a bunch of middle aged young adult voices.

I chose the least objectionable middle-aged female voice, and played.

I had to work with pronunciation on some expected things, like my last name, and some unexpected things, like PayPal. The voice, at a neutral speed, sounded robotic, so I sped her up.

As I noted in the text, I had to change a number of things for clarity. I will have to do some of the audio blogs differently than I do the text blogs, which really isn’t a problem.

All in all, it took me 30 minutes to learn the system and create the 1:17 minutes of audio. I could have done the same on one of my audio programs, using my own voice, in half that time.

But I don’t expect the audio version of the blog to take longer than 30 minutes to set up. Most of that 30 minutes was me learning the program. Not a big deal, actually, and it wasn’t that hard.

I was surprised, actually. I thought it would be more difficult. Instead, I had fun.

. . . .

In my AI Audio research, I found a lot of really good programs. Almost all of them wanted me to email them or contact them by phone to do voice cloning. Which means that voice cloning is expensive.

At the moment, I’m not into expensive. I’m going to pay a little for some of these services because I want to do the blog and a few other things, but I am not going to pay a lot.

I’m going to wait on voice cloning.

I liked what I saw from, and I had fun playing with their system. It didn’t take long, as I mentioned above, and the sound was good enough. (I didn’t spend extra time tweaking it, since I wasn’t sure if I was going to use the program.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kris’s experience with AI narration (it’s worth reading the entire OP if you’re thinking about it) is similar to PG’s. Kris was more systematic in her exploration than PG was, but her conclusions were the same as PG’s – professional book narrators (and, to a lesser extent right now, voice actors) have a lot to be worried about with AI.

If you would like to get an audiobook completed quickly, AI is the clear winner. Absent some foreign language or very obscure words in the manuscript, AI of commercial quality should do a perfect first take almost every time. You don’t need to pay for a recording engineer or studio rental, either.

If AI works for audiobooks, PG would expect the cost of audiobooks to plunge. Effectively, an audiobook is a bunch of electrons, just like an ebook, and the storage and distribution of electrons over the internet is very inexpensive these days.

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

3 easy ways to subscribe to your favorite authors online

From ZD Net:

At least once a week, I get emails from readers asking how they can more easily follow my musings. 

Sadly, not all websites are created equal, which means it’s not always that easy to follow or subscribe to a particular writer. 

However, even if a website doesn’t offer an RSS-type or mailing list-type subscription feature, there are ways to keep abreast of what your favorite writers are doing.

Why subscribe?

First, let’s answer this simple question. The main reason to subscribe to your favorite authors is to ensure you don’t miss a word they’ve penned. In this world of constant content, sites tend to publish more and more, which means your favorite author’s posts could get lost in the shuffle. By subscribing to a particular author, you guarantee that you won’t miss out when their work is buried by the deluge of articles.

Another reason to subscribe to your favorite authors is that you can receive all of their updates in a single location. Instead of having to visit all of those websites, you can (in some cases) use a single app to view them all.

. . . .


This is the most reliable means to subscribe to an author. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and works with a reader app to collect all of your RSS feeds into one place. There are two things you must know about using RSS. First, you must install one of the many available apps capable of viewing RSS. Here’s a shortlist of apps to choose from (some of which are free and some have an associated cost):

  • Inoreader.
  • Feedly.
  • NewsBlur.
  • Akregator.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS.
  • FreshRSS.

You will also find that some email clients (such as Claws Mail and Thunderbird) have built-in RSS support.

. . . .

Google is your friend

If those sites do not support RSS, there’s another alternative that can actually serve as a sort of catch-all. Let’s say your favorite writer works for multiple sites and even their own site. Now, let’s say either only one or two of those sites offer RSS, but the others do not. What do you do?

You use Google — not the way that you’re thinking. 

You don’t have to google your favorite author every day. Instead, what you do is create a Google Alert. These alerts will automatically generate emails for you (sent to your Gmail inbox) based on the terms you add to the alert. 

So, you can create a Google Alert for the name of your favorite author and every morning you’ll be treated to an email that collects everything published by them on the previous day. I use this feature quite a bit and have found it to be incredibly reliable.

Link to the rest at ZD Net and thanks to C. for the tip.

Ghostwriting 101

From Publisher’s Weekly:

I once published an article under my byline that a ghostwriting client read. “I really liked it,” she said, “but it didn’t sound like you at all.” No, I thought. It didn’t sound like you at all!

Because I have collaborated on a dozen books, I carry a lot of voices in my head. Many people believe ghostwriting is stenography. The “author” talks, the ghostwriter types, and voila! A book is born.

. . . .

That’s not how it works. In the best collaborations, the client opens up about failure and answers the most personal and mundane questions, like, “What office equipment did you use in 1973?” They inherently understand that it might take being asked something multiple times to get to the nub.

But a good ghostwriter has to be ready for the unpredictable. Taking on a book project is like buying a house without an inspection: you know you’ll later discover a faulty wire, a leaky pipe, or a damp patch in the basement—you just don’t know which it will be, or at what point.

When I signed on to my most recent ghosting gig, Up Close and All In: Life Lessons from a Wall Street Warrior, a memoir with former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, I braced myself for him to be, well, scary. The nickname he earned during 40-plus years on Wall Street was Mack the Knife, and I was the fourth ghostwriter he had hired for this project.

The unexpected element surfaced on the day we began. I suggested a plan of action, and his response caught me off guard. “You’re the expert,” he said in his North Carolina twang that reminds me of a banjo. “I’m in your hands.”

The man who hung up on the U.S. Treasury secretary, the Federal Reserve chief, and the president of the New York Federal Reserve during the 2008 financial crisis clearly knew what he knew—and knew what he didn’t know. Banking was his bailiwick. Writing was mine.

For me, interviewing clients is just the start. I internalize their voice, how they talk, and the words they use. I immersed myself in John’s world to put readers on the trading floor, in board meetings, and at conference tables with powerful clients around the globe. I don’t have a background in finance, and because Up Close and All In was aimed at a general readership, not just at Wall Street veterans, this gave me an edge. I described the financial realm with fascinated eyes. My daily reading became the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, and I acquired a library of business tomes.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

How Bad Publishers Hurt Authors

From Jane Friedman:

It began with that heart-fluttering feeling of acceptance after so many rejections. My second novel was going to be published!

It was the end of August 2020. The world as we knew it had been upended. We were getting deeper into the pandemic, with fear, illness, death, and uncertainty ravaging the world. When New York City–based Adelaide Books offered me a contract to publish Painting Through the Dark, it set my heart racing in a good way. It was a promise.

The contract looked good: 20% royalties, paperback and ebook, quarterly reports, approval over the design and cover art. The marketing plan also sounded excellent: pre-publishing editorial review, all pre- and post-print marketing tools and services, design and maintenance of author’s website, magazine promotion and interview with author, social and blog posts, book video trailer, book giveaways to bloggers, and consideration for various literary competitions. Plus two free books for the author, and further books could be purchased at a 30% discount.

Then came this sentence: “All we ask of you is to pre-purchase 45 copies of your book (at 30% discount) upon signing the contract as a token of your support for our publishing endeavor.”

That’s when the happy heart flutter turned anxious. Was this legit?

I knew that after publication I’d order at least that many books for private events, but still. I checked the company out. They had been in business for several years and had offices in New York and Lisbon. They listed a large number of titles on their website. They attended the Frankfurt Book Fair every year, in addition to the Lisbon and Brooklyn book festivals. I asked around—friends who were published authors, others with knowledge of independent publishing. In their opinion it wasn’t a red flag. Several said it wasn’t unusual to ask authors to buy a certain number of copies up front. I was thrilled. This was the answer I wanted. I didn’t relish the long, soul-killing process of querying all over again. I squelched any remaining doubts and signed.

After finalizing the contract, communication was sketchy. Weeks would go by between emails. I knew Adelaide was a small company, and I was concerned about the large number of books on their roster. I finally requested a Zoom meeting and was reassured by a pleasurable, hour-long, wide-ranging conversation with the publisher. He clearly loved and believed in books. We talked about what to expect when my book came out—I was definitely coming to New York for the Brooklyn Book Festival, and he told me he would book me at the Strand bookstore and other NYC locations. Distribution was through Ingram. This was all working out.

After that call, the publisher wasn’t responsive to emails, but I convinced myself all was well. The dates for publication were pushed back a few times due to COVID, but I was fine waiting until it might be safe to do in-person readings. I thrive on meeting readers, having conversations, signing books.

After a couple of rounds of editing, Adelaide fell off the radar again. Even when I put URGENT, CONCERNED, PLEASE RESPOND, in the subject line of my emails, I got no response. I tried not to sound desperate, but I was. The publisher never answered the phone or replied to voicemail messages. My book suddenly appeared on Amazon in July 2022. No advance reader copies, no reviews, none of the publicity promised in the contract.

I approached local bookstores in Portland, Oregon, where I live, so I could set up readings. They all told me they couldn’t find my book on Ingram. I was embarrassed. I told them there must be some hold up as my books were definitely on Ingram. I said I’d get back to them after I spoke with my publisher.

. . . .

When I reached out to Authors Guild, they informed me that their lawyers had been sending letters to Adelaide since June with no response. They said they would add my name to the next letter naming authors seeking reversion of rights. They set up a Zoom meeting for Adelaide orphans and suggested we all file with the New York Better Business Bureau and New York State Attorney General. They requested we send our stories, and they would pitch to Publishers Weekly. I filed complaints with NYBBB and the Attorney General. I received replies saying they had attempted to contact Adelaide but received no response. The NYBBB added, “A firm’s rating may be affected by its failure to answer even one complaint. Your experience may, therefore, alert other inquirers seeking information through the BBB.” Hopefully filing complaints would help someone.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Slavery in the Americas: Separating Fact from Fiction

From The Mises Institute:

The history of transatlantic slavery is riddled with fables and errors. Erroneous claims have been propagated in the media because history is currently perceived as a political project that must justify present sensibilities. History has become so politicized that rigorous research is unable to disabuse activists of inaccuracies. Due to the rampant politicization of academia, noted scholars are usually cajoled into apologizing for defending historical standards.

After chiding fellow scholars for projecting modern sensibilities onto historical realities, historian James H. Sweet was shamed into penning an apology. Sweet was ruthlessly demeaned by his colleagues for noting the fallacy of using the narratives of identity politics to interpret historical events. Because academics are so willing to genuflect to unhinged mobs, propaganda is becoming history, and instead of digesting hard historical truths, many are fed fabrications.

Link to the rest at The Mises Institute

Is History History?

PG trigger warning: PG will include excerpts from the original article that is the subject of this post.

If you go to the OP, you will see that the original piece now has a groveling apology from the author, who evidently is the President of the American Historical Association, apologizing for “the harm that it has caused” and for the OP foreclosing “this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.” Further down the introductory apology, the author characterizes the piece as “my ham-fisted attempt at provocation” and invites anyone who would like an additional apology to contact him directly.

The author of the OP ends his apology by writing:

“I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.

Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.”

From the original pre-groveling article published in Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association:

Twenty years ago, in these pages, Lynn Hunt argued “against presentism.” She lamented historians’ declining interest in topics prior to the 20th century, as well as our increasing tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present. Hunt warned that this rising presentism threatened to “put us out of business as historians.” If history was little more than “short-term . . . identity politics defined by present concerns,” wouldn’t students be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies instead?

The discipline did not heed Hunt’s warning. From 2003 to 2013, the number of PhDs awarded to students working on topics post-1800, across all fields, rose 18 percent. Meanwhile, those working on pre-1800 topics declined by 4 percent. During this time, the Wall Street meltdown was followed by plummeting undergraduate enrollments in history courses and increased professional interest in the history of contemporary socioeconomic topics. Then came Obama, and Twitter, and Trump. As the discipline has become more focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, historical analyses are contained within an increasingly constrained temporality. Our interpretations of the recent past collapse into the familiar terms of contemporary debates, leaving little room for the innovative, counterintuitive interpretations.

This trend toward presentism is not confined to historians of the recent past; the entire discipline is lurching in this direction, including a shrinking minority working in premodern fields. If we don’t read the past through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism—are we doing history that matters? This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times, as well as change over time, neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines. The allure of political relevance, facilitated by social and other media, encourages a predictable sameness of the present in the past. This sameness is ahistorical, a proposition that might be acceptable if it produced positive political results. But it doesn’t.

In many places, history suffuses everyday life as presentism; America is no exception. We suffer from an overabundance of history, not as method or analysis, but as anachronistic data points for the articulation of competing politics. The consequences of this new history are everywhere. I traveled to Ghana for two months this summer to research and write, and my first assignment was a critical response to The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story for a forthcoming forum in the American Historical Review. Whether or not historians believe that there is anything new in the New York Times project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project is a best-selling book that sits at the center of current controversies over how to teach American history. As journalism, the project is powerful and effective, but is it history?

This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times.

When I first read the newspaper series that preceded the book, I thought of it as a synthesis of a tradition of Black nationalist historiography dating to the 19th century with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent call for reparations. The project spoke to the political moment, but I never thought of it primarily as a work of history. Ironically, it was professional historians’ engagement with the work that seemed to lend it historical legitimacy. Then the Pulitzer Center, in partnership with the Times, developed a secondary school curriculum around the project. Local school boards protested characterizations of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison as unpatriotic owners of “forced labor camps.” Conservative lawmakers decided that if this was the history of slavery being taught in schools, the topic shouldn’t be taught at all. For them, challenging the Founders’ position as timeless tribunes of liberty was “racially divisive.” At each of these junctures, history was a zero-sum game of heroes and villains viewed through the prism of contemporary racial identity. It was not an analysis of people’s ideas in their own time, nor a process of change over time.

In Ghana, I traveled to Elmina for a wedding. A small seaside fishing village, Elmina was home to one of the largest Atlantic slave-trading depots in West Africa. The morning after the wedding, a small group of us met for breakfast at the hotel. As we waited for several members of our party to show up, a group of African Americans began trickling into the breakfast bar. By the time they all gathered, more than a dozen members of the same family—three generations deep—pulled together the restaurant’s tables to dine. Sitting on the table in front of one of the elders was a dog-eared copy of The 1619 Project.

. . . .

Later that afternoon, my family and I toured Elmina Castle alongside several Ghanaians, a Dane, and a Jamaican family. Our guide gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans. American influence was everywhere, from memorial plaques to wreaths and flowers left on the floors of the castle’s dungeons. Arguably, Elmina Castle is now as much an African American shrine as a Ghanaian archaeological or historical site. As I reflected on breakfast earlier that morning, I could only imagine the affirmation and bonding experienced by the large African American family—through the memorialization of ancestors lost to slavery at Elmina Castle, but also through the story of African American resilience, redemption, and the demand for reparations in The 1619 Project.

Yet as a historian of Africa and the African diaspora, I am troubled by the historical erasures and narrow politics that these narratives convey. Less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America. The vast majority went to Brazil and the Caribbean. Should the guide’s story differ for a tour with no African Americans? Likewise, would The 1619 Project tell a different history if it took into consideration that the shipboard kin of Jamestown’s “20. and odd” Africans also went to Mexico, Jamaica, and Bermuda? These are questions of historical interpretation, but present-day political ones follow: Do efforts to claim a usable African American past reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle?

The Elmina tour guide claimed that “Ghanaians” sent their “servants” into chattel slavery unknowingly. The guide made no reference to warfare or Indigenous slavery, histories that interrupt assumptions of ancestral connection between modern-day Ghanaians and visitors from the diaspora. Similarly, the forthcoming film The Woman King seems to suggest that Dahomey’s female warriors and King Ghezo fought the European slave trade. In fact, they promoted it. Historically accurate rendering of Asante or Dahomean greed and enslavement apparently contradict modern-day political imperatives.

Hollywood need not adhere to historians’ methods any more than journalists or tour guides, but bad history yields bad politics. The erasure of slave-trading African empires in the name of political unity is uncomfortably like right-wing conservative attempts to erase slavery from school curricula in the United States, also in the name of unity. These interpretations are two sides of the same coin. If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.

This is not history; it is dilettantism.

Too many Americans have become accustomed to the idea of history as an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions, a trend that can be seen in recent US Supreme Court decisions.

. . . .

Professional historians would do well to pay attention to Breyer’s admonition. The present has been creeping up on our discipline for a long time. Doing history with integrity requires us to interpret elements of the past not through the optics of the present but within the worlds of our historical actors. Historical questions often emanate out of present concerns, but the past interrupts, challenges, and contradicts the present in unpredictable ways. History is not a heuristic tool for the articulation of an ideal imagined future. Rather, it is a way to study the messy, uneven process of change over time. When we foreshorten or shape history to justify rather than inform contemporary political positions, we not only undermine the discipline but threaten its very integrity.

Link to the rest at Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association

PG is not an eminent historian, nor is he a member of the American Historical Association, but the original article excerpted above is consistent with other historical accounts of the slave trade that he has read. In short, the trade in African slaves relied upon the active cooperation of Africans themselves, who captured and enslaved their fellow Africans in preparation for selling them to the slave traders that would carry them across the ocean to the New World.

Additionally, in the New World at the time of active slave trading across the Atlantic, a significant number of captives were sold into slavery in nations and colonies other than the United States. The British government forbade slavery in Great Britain, but slave trading was practiced in more than one British colony during this time and some British citizens made a great deal of money from such activities. The descendants of African slaves can be found today across Brazil and elsewhere in South America.

As PG has mentioned before, The 1619 Project is better understood as a 21st-century political polemic than as an accurate history of slavery in the United States and elsewhere in the New World.

Unfortunately, slavery has been widespread during different time periods in many, many places around the world. It was present during the classical period in ancient Greece and during the height of the Roman Empire. There was also slavery in Ancient Israel.

I Never Made a Living Wage When I Worked in Publishing

From Electric Lit:

Years ago, when my son was in preschool, I found myself in the human resources of big Harry Potter rich publishing house. I’d crossed the bridge from the New Jersey suburbs we’d found ourselves in. At the time, my husband and I were renting the top floor of a house in one of the toniest suburbs in the county. I didn’t have health insurance, but my husband and children did—through my husband’s home country. We’d just come from there, flown overseas, where things had been easier and cheaper. Childcare was subsidized and my son was happy and I was researching my first novel. But my husband’s green card had been denied and we were broke.

To save money a friend of ours lived in the dining room and we had one car. In this tony suburb full of backyard structures and moms who lived in their perfectly manicured fiefdoms, where the only people in the streets were lawn care workers, we stuck out. I didn’t have a Gucci bag. Our car was not German. The roommate in our dining room gave everyone pause. Even if staying at home had been my thing—and it wasn’t—we didn’t have the money to do the things other stay at home moms did. For my son there were no camps, no mommy and me, no enrichment activities like the ones the kids around us took advantage of. I didn’t have money for pilates or yoga or Botox. We didn’t even have money for a proper flat for just the three of us. It was time to I went back to work.

The HR person scrutinized my resume. She asked why I’d changed jobs so frequently, not staying more than a year in any one publishing job. Because I needed to make more money, I told her. I almost rolled my eyes. She knew as well as anyone how low the publishing salaries were. Her eyes narrowed: Are you only interested in the money? My face flushed. Of course I was interested in the money. It goes without saying—the need for money is why one works. I told her that I’d gotten into publishing because of my love of books and the industry. Publishing had been my first real job, my only real job, I told her. I’d taken a few years off to have my son and we’d moved overseas so we’d have family help. But now I was back and I wanted to work.

I didn’t get the job, which was for the best, financially speaking. I’d done the math. My pay would hardly cover the child care costs and travel into the city. In the end, I left publishing. I took a job close to home where I worked as a nurse recruiter. My hours were flexible and no one cared that I hadn’t worked in a couple of years. I made commission. I talked to nurses all day and I did this until my daughter was born. There I was never shamed for working because I needed money.

When I started out in New York City publishing I made 19k a year, twenty-five years ago. This was a standard salary for editorial assistants and here’s a fact that won’t shock you—it wasn’t a living wage, even then. During that period, I lost my apartment. I squatted in an abandoned building in an apartment that was open to all who wished to enter. I starved. My mother had offered to send me a plane ticket home but refused to help me stay—I decided on my own to do so.

I had one room with a door I could lock. I showered at the Y. There were weeks before my next paycheck where I lived off the dry oatmeal in the office kitchen, learned to order soup and ask for extra bread on dates. I never passed a payphone without checking the coin release for abandoned change. I pushed aside washing machines at the laundromat for stray quarters so I could afford a bagel, a phone call, a subway ride. When a man at a street fair asked me to be a call girl I had a big long think on it before I finally said no.

I wanted to live in New York, wanted to work in publishing. I wanted to be a writer. I lived close to the bone, and I had no social life. Getting cheated by a cashier meant the difference between eating a hot dog off the street or starving that night. After some time, I left that publishing house for another and made a few thousand more. But when I left that first job, I also left editorial acquisitions—the sort of job that decides what books get published. I worked for managing ed, copy editing those already acquired manuscripts. Managing editorial departments, production departments, publicity—these jobs generally pay more than acquisitions—which are generally more prestigious and which might explain the sorts of books that we’ve always seen published, continuing to get published. With the extra money, I got out of my squat. I had managed to save the prerequisite first and last month’s rent and some extra money for a bit of furniture, and moved to a room downtown. This was the late 90s when there were still cheap rooms to be had in Manhattan. Then I jumped off to a dotcom that was short lived, but where I finally was paid a living wage. My last boss in publishing asked me how much I would make at the dot com and when I told her, she laughed. “You wouldn’t make that in ten years here,” she said. She might have laughed, but to me it was serious.

The big five publishing houses are owned by huge conglomerate companies. Harper Collins, recently on strike, is owned by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s company. They pay these wages because they have always paid these wages—not because they can’t afford to pay better. Publishing is the sort of job that wealthy white people historically did, no one else need apply. Coming from greater Detroit (and not the parts that typically wound up in places like New York City), I had not understood any of this. If I had, I’m not sure I would have come at all. I was willing to pay the enormous price of moving to New York City because I’d been too ignorant to understand the price that would be exacted of me.

My father and mother had followed their calling. Both believed there was something noble in their professions. My father was a reporter who refused any editor or management position he was promoted to. His union job was safe and he was a union man until he retired. My mom was a Detroit public school teacher. When my mother had stage four cancer when I was 10, we were not financially ruined. Her union job protected her. Moving to New York City I hadn’t realized that my dream job was a job for people who had trust funds, or, at the very least, a parent or spouse who helped with rent or paid off credit cards. Not for people with parents who would not, or could not, help them.

Here is a fact: if a person cannot make a living wage in their job, even living as frugally and close to the bone as I was, then the wage is too low.  It’s unconscionable that publishing—especially those with big umbrella corporations like News Corp or the late Sumner Redstone’s company, Paramount Global, continues to pay their publishing employees so little. When I looked at starting salaries of publishing positions today, I was shocked to see they are exactly as low now as they were then, adjusted for inflation. Only now things are much harder. I lived without cable television or a cell phone back then. It would be impossible, especially during the past three years of remote pandemic working, for anyone to live without internet.

It’s especially unconscionable in light of what we know now—and let’s be real, we knew it then—that low wages keep out those with less means, and those from marginalized communities, in particular. This kind of gate-keeping is deeply problematic, and the exact opposite of what publishing should be doing.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG couldn’t have said this any better.

Why the floppy disk just won’t die

From Ars Technica:

When Mark Necaise got down to his last four floppy disks at a rodeo in Mississippi in February, he started to worry.

Necaise travels to horse shows around the state, offering custom embroidery on jackets and vests: “All of the winners would get a jacket and we’d put the name of the farm or the name of the horse or whatever on it,” he says.

Five years ago, he paid $18,000 for a second-hand machine, manufactured in 2004 by the Japanese embroidery equipment specialist Tajima. The only way to transfer the designs from his computer to the machine was via floppy disk.

“We started with eight disks, but four of them stopped working, which made me very uneasy,” he says. “I tried reformatting them in order to get them to work properly, but it didn’t work. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to continue with the embroidery.”

Back when Necaise’s Tajima machine was made, floppy disks were still in mass production—and were particularly popular in Japan, where they were used for official government procedures until last year. Even though the last major manufacturer of floppy disks stopped making them in 2010, the machines that rely on them—from embroidery machines to plastic molding, medical equipment to aircraft—live on, relying on a dwindling supply of disks that will one day run out.

“I personally think that the floppy disk should die,” says Florian Cramer, a writer and filmmaker who, in 2009, shrank every Oscar-nominated film from that year into animated GIFs on two floppy disks, as a commentary on Hollywood’s digital piracy crackdown. “Objectively it’s a toxic medium. It’s basically plastic waste… It’s really something that should no longer exist.”

. . . .

Most of the companies still using floppy disks are small businesses or companies running on tight margins who either simply never got around to upgrading their equipment or found it too expensive to do so.

Davit Niazashvili, a maintenance manager at Geosky, a cargo airline based in Tbilisi, Georgia, still uses floppy disks to apply critical updates to two 36-year-old 747-200s, which were originally delivered to British Airways in 1987: “When an update is released, we need to download it to two 3.5-inch floppy disks. There are no computers with built-in floppy drives left, so we had to source an external one,” Niazashvili says. “Then we take the disks to the aircraft to update the flight management system. The operation takes about an hour.”

The updates contain essential data, such as changes to runways and navigational aids, and are released every 28 days according to a fixed global schedule, which is already set through 2029.

“Nowadays it’s very hard to obtain floppy disks. We actually get them from Amazon,” Niazashvili says. “They are very sensitive and prone to failing, so at best we can use each one around three times, then we have to throw it away. But we have to do it. It’s not a problem. As long as floppy disks are still available, we’re happy with it.”

Fewer than 20 Boeing 747-200s remain in service worldwide, and only in cargo or military configurations. The US Air Force operates six, two of them as Air Force One. It’s unclear whether they still use floppy disks, too, but the US military employed the even-older 8-inch floppy disks in its nuclear arsenal until 2019.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica