There is nothing like the death of a moneyed member of the family

There is nothing like the death of a moneyed member of the family to show persons as they really are, virtuous or conniving, generous or grasping. Many a family has been torn apart by a botched-up will. Each case is a drama in human relationships — and the lawyer, as counselor, draftsman, or advocate, is an important figure in the dramatis personae. This is one reason the estates practitioner enjoys his work, and why we enjoy ours.

Attorneys Jesse Dukeminier and Stanley M. Johanson

Feckless heirs in the spotlight

From LinkedIn:

A great article in today’s Australian on the dangers of adult children waiting around for an ‘automatic’ inheritance given a number of recent judgements in this area.

A fundamental right here in Australia is the right of testamentary freedom – the right to leave your worldly goods to who you want when you die. However, that right is tempered by societal obligations and social norms, which means if you don’t leave proper provision for your family, they can challenge your Will to get proper provision.

This sort of challenge is known as Family Provision claim, and the law exists to stop people making capricious or mean spirited Wills that are designed to disinherit someone who should properly be provided for.

However, for too long the law has been used by people to make claims where they don’t have any real need or where the Will was not capricious or deliberately mean – and many of those claims are by adult children.

The importance of the case in this article is that Justice Pembroke is making it clear that he, at least, has had enough of those sorts of claims – and that the Will of a parent should not automatically be upended just because an adult child is not provided for.

Link to the rest at LinkedIn

Owner of Scholastic leaves the $1.2 Billion Harry Potter publisher to his Lover and cuts out his two sons and ex-wife

From The Daily Mail:

The owner of $1.2BILLION Scholastic Corp. – which publishes books like ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ and ‘Magic Schoolbus’ – died suddenly in early June and shockingly left the company to a past flame who works in the company.

M. Richard Robinson Jr., who died suddenly on June 5 during a walk in Martha’s Vineyard, left the the company to Iole Lucchese, the company’s strategy officer; not either of his sons, siblings or ex-wife, The Wall Street Journal reported

She also inherited all his personal possessions, according to the The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the 2018 will that outlined the succession plan, which family members are reportedly unhappy about.

Family members and former colleagues said Robinson, 84, and Luccesse, 54, it was an open secret that they were in a longtime romantic relationship, but said they believed the couple broke up years ago.

Robison said in his 2018 will that Lucchese, who has been with the company for more than three decades, is ‘my partner and closest friend.’

Scholastic Corp. publishes some of most-well known titles like ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Clifford,’ ‘Magic Schoolbus’, ‘Captain Underpants,’ among others.

Family members told the paper that they’re reviewing their legal options.

. . . .

He left behind two sons – Maurice ‘Reece’ Robinson, 25, and John Benham ‘Ben’ Robinson, 34 – his ex-wife and mother of his boys Helen Benham, and siblings: Sue Robinson Morrill, Barbara Robinson Buckland, Florence (Dover) Robinson Ford and William (Bill) Robinson.

Reece Robinson, who’s done documentary work, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that it was ‘unexpected and shocking.’

‘What I want most is an amicable outcome,’ Ben Robinson, who operates a sawmill and workshop that produces lumber, flooring and furniture from trees in Martha’s Vineyard and lives off the land work, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

He told the paper that he never met Lucchese until they spoke about his dad’s estate last week and said this was ‘like salt in an open wound.’

‘We expect to have a collaborative approach with the estate,’ he said without elaborating.

. . . .

Meanwhile, the woman who’s heading the company now has been there since 1991, when she became an associate editor in book clubs and moved up the ranks until se was named chief strategy officer in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Two years later she became sole president of Scholastic Canada and in 2018 she added the title of president of Scholastic Entertainment. 

She’s a Canadian with a home in Ontario and a permanent US resident, according to an affidavit filed in New York Surrogate’s Court. 

Former staffers told the Wall Street Journal that she and Robinson had ‘sweet’ and ‘contentious’ moments, where the battled in meetings about the direction of the company. 

Former staffers said she wanted to expand the company. 

Despite the public bouts, people who knew them say Robinson relied on her and she remained part of his inner circle, the Wall Street Journal reported.  

The company declined comment.   

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail

The New York Times recently released a story about the current succession battle going on for Scholastic, but it’s behind a robust paywall.

The Self-Help That No One Needs Right Now

From The Atlantic:

Nothing about The Body Keeps the Score screams “best seller.” Written by the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, the book is a graphic account of his decades-long career treating survivors of traumatic experiences such as rape, incest, and war. Page after page, readers are asked to wrestle with van der Kolk’s theory that trauma can sever the connection between the mind, which wants to forget what happened, and the body, which can’t. The book isn’t academic, exactly, but it’s dense and difficult material written with psychology students in mind. Here’s one line: “The elementary self system in the brainstem and limbic system is massively activated when people are faced with the threat of annihilation, which results in an overwhelming sense of fear and terror accompanied by intense physiological arousal.”

And yet, since its debut in 2014, The Body Keeps the Score has spent 150 weeks—nearly three years—and counting at the top of the New York Times best-seller list and has sold almost 2 million copies globally. During the pandemic, it seems more in demand than ever: This year, van der Kolk has appeared as a guest on The Ezra Klein Show, been profiled in The Guardian, and watched his book become a meme. (“Kindly asking my body to stop keeping the score,” goes one viral tweet.)

After all the anxiety and social isolation of pandemic life, and now the lingering uncertainty about what comes next, many people are turning to a growing genre of trauma self-help books for relief. The Body Keeps the Score is now joined on the best-seller list by What Happened to You?, a compilation of letters and dialogue between Oprah Winfrey and the psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry. Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, sells about 1,350 other books under the “Anxiety, Stress & Trauma-Related Disorders” tab, including clinical workbooks and mainstream releases. Sometimes, new installments in the genre seem to position themselves as a cheat code to a better life: Fill out the test at the back of the book; try these exercises; narrativize your life. One blurb I read, on the cover of James S. Gordon’s Transforming Trauma, basically said as much: “This book could give you back your life in unimaginable ways, whether you think of yourself as a trauma victim or not.”

“You can kind of understand why the sales of these books are going up in this stressful, pressurized situation,” Edgar Jones, a historian of medicine and psychiatry at King’s College London, told me. In a moment of personal and collective crisis, the siren song of a self-help book is strong.

There’s just one problem. In spite of their popularity, trauma books may not be all that helpful for the type of suffering that most people are experiencing right now. “The word trauma is very popular these days,” van der Kolk told me. It’s also uselessly vague—a swirl of psychiatric diagnoses, folk wisdom, and popular misconceptions. The pandemic has led to very real suffering, but while these books have one idea of trauma in mind, most readers may have another.

. . . .

In the decades since, trauma has come to signify a range of injuries so broad that the term verges on meaninglessness. The American Psychological Association, for example, describes trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster”—like, but not only. “Like weeds that spread through a space and invasively take over semantic territory from others,” trauma can be used to describe any misfortune, big or small, Nicholas Haslam, a psychology professor at the University of Melbourne, told me. That concept creep is evident on TikTok, where creators use “trauma response” to explain away all kinds of behavior, including doomscrolling and perfectionist tendencies.

In the pandemic, trauma has become a catchall in the U.S. for many varied, and even competing, realities. Some people certainly are experiencing PTSD, especially health-care workers who have dealt with the carnage firsthand. For most people, however, a better description of the past 19 months might be “chronic stressor,” or even “extreme adversity,” experts told me—in other words, a source of immense distress, but not necessarily with severe long-term consequences. The whole of human suffering is a lot of ground for one word to cover, and for trauma best sellers to heal.

Today, a comprehensive shelf of trauma self-help includes the biophysicist Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger, which argues that a lack of trauma in wild animals can offer insight into how humans might overcome their seemingly unique susceptibility to it; The Deepest Well, by the surgeon general of California, Nadine Burke Harris, who uses personal experience to draw a direct line from childhood stress to a host of physical and social ills; and It Didn’t Start With You, in which the author, Mark Wolynn, makes the controversial claim that trauma can be inherited from distant ancestors.

These books tend to follow a reliable arc, using the stories of trauma survivors to advance a central thesis, and then concluding with a few chapters of actionable advice for individual readers. In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk writes about people he refers to as Sherry, a woman who was neglected in childhood and kidnapped and repeatedly raped for five days in college, and Tom, a heavy drinker whose goal was to become “a living memorial” to his friends who had died in Vietnam. For patients like these, van der Kolk eventually turned to yoga, massage therapy, and an intervention called eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, which specifically treats the traumatic memories that pull people with PTSD back into the past.

Those experiences are remarkably different from what most Americans have endured in the pandemic. Although almost everyone has struggled with the risk of contracting a deadly virus and the resulting isolation and potential loneliness, a remote worker’s depressive episode, or an unemployed restaurant worker’s inability to pay their bills, has little in common with stories like Tom’s and Sherry’s. They are no less important—no less deserving of attention—but we need better words to describe them, and other remedies to treat them.

Even van der Kolk himself is wary of some of the ways in which trauma is used today. When I asked him whether he thinks The Body Keeps the Score is useful for all the readers turning to it during the pandemic, he objected to the premise of my question: The readers he hears from most, he said, are those who grew up in abusive households, not those who feel traumatized by COVID-19. “When people say the pandemic has been a collective trauma,” van der Kolk said, “I say, absolutely not.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Making the Past Relevant (by Diversifying Biographies)

From author Heather Demetrios in Publishers Weekly:

After reading my new biography of World War II spy Virginia Hall, Code Name Badass, a seasoned biographer told me, “I’m… pleasantly surprised you got away with it!” The surprise was justified: it’s not often you see a YA nonfiction work that’ll make your grandma clutch her pearls. Badass is meant to read like an episode of Drunk History, with all the irreverence of the Comedy Central hit intact—but with more than 50 pages of endnotes.

My Pussy Riot–style ambush on the genre has f-bombs falling on its pages. This book comes to the fight with brass knuckles and one of the most audacious women ever to enter the ring of war as its subject. I wanted the language to reflect the dirty fighting of guerilla warfare and the culture of my readers, most of whom armor themselves for the daily onslaught of the patriarchy with clothing and accessories emblazoned with so-called foul language.

It’s possible to drop an f-bomb and an endnote at the same time, I assure you.

Despite the increasing presence of female writers, subjects, and narrative approaches to nonfiction, I’m still not seeing many books that marry the deep research required of a quality biography with bingeable prose. With the rights of women constantly under threat, the last thing my readers want is another biography by the man, for the man, about a man. I may be writing about the past, but the future is female.

It was exhilarating to write the book I wanted to read—as though I’d ditched history class and hung out behind the gym, sneaking a cigarette with the French Resistance instead of reading a dry chapter on the early days of asymmetrical warfare.

Badass is about a disabled woman whose job was to be invisible, but who was also rendered invisible not only by the men in power she worked with but by the privileged few who chose to write and acquire biographies. Did I want to make a little noise with my book, since its subject was often silenced? Hell yes I did. And to be heard over all the dudes in the biography section, I knew I’d need to do a bit of literary shouting.

. . . .

We’ll always have the scholarship and heft of a David McCullough or Ron Chernow. But many readers I know—myself included—long for biography that’s infused with the energy of the subject’s life (often iconoclastic, passionate, and dramatic) and wouldn’t mind seeing a clear line drawn between the past and the present. In short: relevant biography, as modern as its 21st-century readership.

I’m not alone in taking the genre’s road less traveled, but I want to see more writers on this road with me. There’s no map, but you have a lot of fun getting where you’re going.

I share some of Virginia Hall’s privileges: I’m white, middle-class, educated, American. Hall’s access to education and travel is what allowed her to become one of the greatest spies of all time. But she was also disabled and a woman. These two barriers created numerous obstacles throughout her life. And yet it was her character—her grit, moxie, and doggedness—that made me want to write about her.

In order to do Hall’s extraordinary life justice, I had to write in a way that was as divergent as the woman herself.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that anyone who believes inserting obscenities anywhere in a book is daring or unusual has mixed up 2021 with 1960.

If you’re gonna be a rebel, you need to do something that’s not passé. Nose rings don’t count. YA Fiction is purely a creation of the New York publishing world. You can put anything in a book and call it YA. You might pick up some one-star reviews on Amazon, but, if you’re a real rebel, what other people think doesn’t mean a thing.

The OP author’s latest book is Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall and is published by Atheneum Books which is owned by Simon & Schuster which is owned by ViacomCBS.

The person who has total control of ViacomCBS is Sheri Redstone, a wealthy heiress who took over the company from her father, Sumner Redstone.

Perhaps the author of the OP and Ms. Redstone can get together to talk about how their rights as women are constantly under threat.

How Amazon Changed Fiction As We Know It

From MSN:

During my interview with literary historian Mark McGurl, I glanced out the window to see an Amazon truck rumbling down my block. It was a fitting metaphor for our conversation about Everything and Less, McGurl’s provocative new literary history about how Amazon has reorganized the universe of fiction. “Amazon has insinuated itself into every dimension of the collective experience of literature in the United States,” McGurl writes. “Increasingly, it is the new platform of contemporary literary life.”

With its staggering American market share of 50% of printed books and upwards of 75% of ebooks, Amazon has changed literary life as we know it. But the Everything Store hasn’t just changed how we buy books: according to McGurl, the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University, it’s transformed what we buy, what we read, and how we write. In Everything and Less, McGurl draws a line from Amazon’s distribution model to the contemporary dissolution of genre boundaries, arguing that Amazon’s algorithm has effectively turned all fiction into genre fiction. In lucid and well-argued prose, McGurl goes spelunking through the many genres shaped by Amazon’s consumerist logic, from the familiar realms of science fiction to the surprising outer reaches of billionaire romance and Adult Baby Diaper Erotica.

Perceptive and often deeply funny, Everything and Less raises compelling questions about the past, present, and future of fiction. McGurl spoke with me by Zoom to discuss the Age of Amazon and all it entails: the dissolution of genre boundaries, the changing role of the author, and the reasons why all hope isn’t lost.

Esquire: Where did this book begin for you?

Mark McGurl: One day, I realized that I had become an inveterate Amazon customer. Then, as a literary historian, I got to thinking through some basic facts about the company. Amazon started as a bookstore, which itself is fascinating. 25 years ago, Amazon did not exist; now, it’s a dominant force in book publishing. That seemed to call for some analysis of what the rise of this company means. Not in any simple sense, like, “Amazon now dictates how literature is supposed to be.” It’s never that simple, but Amazon does illuminate the world in which reading happens. Literature now coexists with lots of other things in the world that it didn’t in the past; Amazon is a bright lamp illuminating that fact.

ESQ: How would you describe the characteristics of the novel in the Age of Amazon? What’s the house style of an Amazonian novel?

MM: There’s tremendous variety in fiction, so the task is not to simplify that variety. It’s a circus out there. From Amazon’s perspective, all fiction is genre fiction. In the early 20th century, literature was systematically divided between so-called genre fiction—entertaining fiction, escapist fiction, science fiction, romance, Westerns, thrillers, etcetera—and literary fiction. What Amazon does is look at the literary field and say, “It’s all genre now.” Genre is the overriding rule of literature in our time.

ESQ: When you say that Amazon looks at all fiction as genre fiction, do you mean that Amazon algorithmically sees it that way?

MM: Yes. One of the amazing things about Amazon is how many genre categories the platform has. It’s literally thousands. There are bestseller lists of a more conventional kind, but when you look toward the bottom of any book listing on Amazon, you’ll see it ranked at a certain number in hugely varied categories, from divorced women’s fiction to Swedish fiction. Amazon has created endless ways of dividing the novel to produce a generic form. This is continuous, of course, with marketing. The broader market phenomena we’re talking about are product differentiation and market segmentation. All big markets understand that certain products will appeal to certain audiences. In literature, genre is the marketing of that world of distinctions.

ESQ: Early in the book, you write about a story called “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, which started at 58 pages before sprawling into a 1,500-page opus, following reader demand. You use it as an example of how publishing to an eager readership can shape the continued life of a work of fiction. Looking at this, I ‘m reminded of someone like Dickens publishing serialized fiction. When an author self-publishing on Amazon is paid by the amount of pages read, how is that so different from the tradition of authors getting paid by the word?

MM: It’s very much continuous with that. Arguably, the strange hiatus was in the early 20th century through the mid-20th century, with the coming of literary modernism and a widespread assumption that literature should be something apart from the market. But in the longer run of the history of publishing, writing for the market has been the norm since the 18th century. The story of Amazon is in some ways deeply continuous with that, even though the mechanisms are fairly different. We’re not talking about serial publication where you’re waiting a month for the next installment, but you are thrown back into this sense of serial production. In some ways, it really is the roaring back of the Dickensian moment in literary history. If you want to make it as a self-published writer, writing one book will not do it. Even a great book won’t do it. The whole game is to gain some audience with a really good book, then continue to serve that audience. That’s what happened with Hugh Howey. He wrote a great short story, which really took off. Then, to serve that audience, he had to keep writing more installments. Before long, he had this massive epic, which has now been optioned for the screen. Certainly the Dickens spirit is back, and Amazon is its sponsor.

ESQ: That seems like the full life cycle of writing, these days. From self-published to runaway success to optioned for the screen.

MM: Cable is something we really have to think about. Only a very small number of novels can be made into cable series, but nonetheless, it really has become a thing. HBO hovers out there as a possible final destination for your work, which will explode its popularity. We live in a world where visual culture is the dominant culture, whether it’s cable television or the internet. Literature just has to relate to that however it can. Granted, I think writers are largely happy about this. As a novelist, you could very much aspire to see or participate in a well-made rendition of your story.

ESQ: Speaking of being an author today, you use this new term: “author-entrepreneur.” You write, “In the Age of Amazon, the job of writing fiction converges with the job of marketing it.” Can you explain the ways the role of the writer has expanded, and the ways in which it has absorbed the labor traditionally done by other people?

MM: In previous decades, the writer was supposed to write his or her book, then the publishing house would take care of the rest. You could remain innocent of how the sausage was made, except when you were asked to do readings. Self-published writers don’t have that luxury at all. Folks who make a living as self-published writers know so much more about marketing books than prestige writers. Apart from creating the book, there’s so much ancillary work they have to do. They have to know pricing strategies, email list cultivation, and cover design. It’s all very exhausting, which is why the most cutting edge of the phenomenon is for self-publishing to operate like a farm system. A writer develops an audience, an editor at a major publishing house will notice, and then they’ll convince the writer to go legit. What that writer gets is relief from all the ancillary work. That’s the argument that’s made to these folks: “You’re spending all these hours cultivating your email list. Do you really want to be doing that, as opposed to creating fiction?” The level of knowledge that a self-published writer has to have is orders of magnitude different from a more traditional writer.

. . . .

ESQ: For self-published writers, Amazon has removed traditional barriers to publication. If you’re self-published, you don’t need an agent or a publisher. What does that mean for the literary world? Is this freeing us from gatekeeping, or is the filtering provided by agents and publishers important?

MM: At some point in the middle of writing this book, I realized I wasn’t going to solve that conundrum. I’m populist enough and democratic enough that I can’t help but appreciate the idea of anyone being able to give this a try. On the other hand, there’s just no denying that the quality control issue is a real one. There’s so much c*** out there. Does the bad stuff impede your access to the good stuff? Do you trust recommendation algorithms and reviews to lead you to things that are actually good? I eventually stopped trying to resolve this dilemma. Quality matters, and the fact that lots of bad books are being published isn’t something I want to celebrate, even as I’m happy for people who can try their hand at writing. The way we think about self-publishing now is like a zombie apocalypse, with so many books coming at us in a zombie hoard—including many zombie novels! It’s hard for me to want to eliminate all the zombies. I think there’s just too much creative energy there, even as there’s certainly a limit to how much time we can or should give to works that aren’t great.

Link to the rest at MSN

“I think there’s just too much creative energy there” which the subject of the OP believes is a bad thing.

So the world would be a better place if we could just stifle a lot of creative energy?

Which, of course, leads us to the question, which voices should we stifle?

In a prior life, PG spent a lot of time in New York City and enjoyed his experiences there. He also spent a lot of time in Chicago and enjoyed his experiences there. A lot of different cities are wonderful places. PG loved his visits to London and Paris and would add Florence and Oxford as most enjoyable smaller cities outside the United States.

That said, PG suggests traditional publishing in the U.S. would be a much healthier business if it weren’t concentrated in one city. And if it weren’t populated by a quite narrow and extraordinarily homogeneous group of people.

Look at how much energy and creativity a Seattle company brought to the book business.

Jeff Bezos was a banker in New York City, but he headed to Seattle and started by hiring people from that area when he began building the biggest bookseller in the world, then the biggest seller of everything else.

Could Amazon have happened in New York? Count PG as skeptical.

Could Microsoft have happened in New York? Apple? Google?

Again PG loves New York (particularly when someone else is paying for his expenses) and it is clearly a world-class city. However, some parts of New York, included, but not limited to publishing manifest all the drawbacks of provincial business cultures despite the fact they are located in a large city.

Of Fear and Strangers

From The Wall Street Journal:

George Makari’s concern with xenophobia goes back to a childhood trauma. To escape from sectarian conflict, his French-speaking Christian parents had fled their native Lebanon and settled in the U.S., where Dr. Makari was born. In 1974, at the age of 13, he was taken on a family visit to Beirut. Suddenly, the travelers found themselves caught in the midst of what would become a civil war. “To me, it was bizarre,” Dr. Makari recalls in “Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia.” He continues: “All these bewildering sects were far more alike than different. All were Levantines who spoke the same dialect; all loved the same punning humor, devoured the same cuisine, abided by strict rules of hospitality, and approached any purchase as a three-act play: bargain, stage a walk-out, then settle. They were quick with proverbs and went agog when Fairuz sang. And yet, subtle distinctions in their identities now meant life or death.” It was an experience that would haunt a young George Makari.

Today, Dr. Makari, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and the director of Weill Cornell’s DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry, sees xenophobia as a threat to social peace, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and North America, where recent political convulsions have been driven by a bristling hostility toward strangers and outsiders. Dr. Makari is clear that a lot of different impulses are often conflated here: “ethnocentrism, ultranationalism, racism, misogyny, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, or Islamophobia.” What might they have in common? “Is there any one term specific enough to not be meaningless, while broad enough to allow us to consider whatever common strands exist between these phenomena?” He thinks that there is: xenophobia. And if all these disorders are variants of the same affliction, then perhaps they have the same cause and might be susceptible to the same treatment.

Dr. Makari traces the invention of “xenophobia” to the 1880s, when psychiatrists came up with a variety of “phobias” apparently caused by traumatic experience. “Hydrophobia”—a fear of water—was an old term for rabies. There followed a rash of other phobias, from claustrophobia to my personal favorite, phobophobia—the fear of being frightened. (One commentator remarked that the number of phobias seemed limited only by an Ancient Greek dictionary.) Xenophobia entered a medical dictionary in 1916 as a “morbid dread of meeting strangers.”

Like many psychiatric classifications, early definitions of xenophobia covered too much ground. Perceptions of the disease seemed malleable. What began as a psychiatric diagnosis would soon be used to describe the fury with which colonized populations often turned on settlers. These settlers, in turn, would be accused of xenophobia by the critics of colonialism, as waves of migrations in the years leading up to World War I provoked fears of a loss of national identity.

In the U.S., three confrontations between different segments of the population proved formative. The first pitted the Puritans, who were themselves refugees from religious persecution, against Native Americans. The second was the forced migration and enslavement of millions of Africans by descendants of the country’s European settlers. The third was provoked by the migrants, first from Europe, then from Asia, who arrived after the Civil War largely for economic reasons.

Dr. Makari notes that in 1860 60% of the white population in the U.S. was of British origin, while 35% were broadly classified as German. By 1914, after 20 million immigrants had passed through American ports, 11% of the white population had British roots, 20% German, 30% Italian and Hispanic, and 34% Slavic. The settled sense of identity enjoyed by established white American Protestants was threatened. There was, in particular, a panic about Chinese immigration, even though the number of arriving Chinese was relatively small. This led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers. In 1892, 241 lynchings were recorded in America. Two-thirds of the victims were black; the remaining third were mostly Chinese and Italian. In 1908, the Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce asked: “Is it a ‘yellow peril,’ or ‘black peril,’ or perhaps, after all, is it not some form of ‘white peril’ which threatens the future of humanity in this day of great struggles and complex issues?”

. . . .

One idea is that there is something fundamentally human here. Early human groups competed for territory. All intruders were enemies. The more you feared and hated outsiders, the better your chances of survival. So xenophobia bestowed an evolutionary advantage. Sports fans are simply expressing inherited tribal instincts. Even babies are frightened by a strange face.

This is a popular one-size-fits-all explanation. But it is problematic. For one thing, anthropologists do not agree that constant strife was the norm during the 95% of human history when small nomadic bands lived by hunting and gathering. The Victorian anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor said that early humans would have had to choose between marrying out or being killed out. When Europeans in the early 19th century made contact with surviving communities of hunter-gatherers, different bands were observed forming marriage alliances and trading partnerships that generally kept feuds from raging out of control.

. . . .

In the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, however, a better explanation of mass hatreds was needed. The orthodox theory in American psychology at the time was behaviorism, which explained habitual attitudes and responses as the products of conditioning: Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of a bell because they had been conditioned to recognize this as a cue for food. In the same sort of way, children are warned against strangers and so conditioned to fear others.

Less orthodox, but more influential in the long run, is the notion of projection. Each of us half-recognizes our shameful desires, infantile fears, aggressive impulses. Instead of dealing with them, we may accuse someone else of harboring those same feelings, cleansing ourselves by shifting the blame onto a scapegoat.

According to yet another analytic theory, the people most susceptible to collective paranoia are the children of strict and demanding fathers whom they feared and adored. Theodor Adorno, the lead author of the classic account “The Authoritarian Personality,” wrote that the typical subject “falls, as it were, negatively in love.” Cowed by the father-figure, he is masochistically submissive to authority and sadistically takes out his anger on the weak.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but PG doesn’t know how many clicks it can handle. He apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

7 Books About People Having a Worse Day Than You

From Electric Lit:

[T]he first five books I’ve published have all been my attempt to answer that question: how do we endure?

No surprise, The Book of Job has always been my favorite part of the Bible. That tale of one man with a mountain of misfortune heaped upon him is one of the presiding spirits of my book. The epigraph of Machete is the old Spanish proverb, “Dios apriete, pero no ahorca.” While the English equivalent is “God never gives you more than you can handle,” my literal translation strikes a different note: “God squeezes, but He doesn’t strangle.” As a survivor of childhood trauma, this question has been at the center of my art from day one. Not surprisingly, as a reader I’m drawn to books about survival in all its many forms. Here are a few books that kept me company while I wrote Machete, and a few that have made it onto my nightstand recently. 

Lima::Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico

The poems of this collection chart how women navigate the violent waters of machismo without drowning. While she writes about women along the U.S. border with Mexico, these women could have just as easily been from my South Texas hometown. How these women find ways to thrive, and not merely survive, is nothing short of heroic.

. . . .

The Life by Carrie Fountain

In “Time to be the fine line of light,” Fountain writes:

“There are so many things 

that destroy. To think solely of them

is as foolish and expedient as not 

thinking of them at all.” 

While one could say the backdrop of these wise, muscular poems is the Trump presidency and the pandemic, the way they examine parenting small children during times of great upheaval is timeless. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Another Lovely Long Sentence

All round them, ten, scores, it seems like hundreds, of faces and bodies are perspiring, trooping and bellying up the stairs with arterio-sclerotic grimaces past a showcase full of such novel items as Joy Buzzers, Squirting Nickels, Finger Rats, Scary Tarantulas and spoons with realistic dead flies on them, past Fred’s barbershop, which is just off the landing and has glossy photographs of young men with the kind of baroque haircuts one can get in there, and up onto 50th Street into a madhouse of traffic and shops with weird lingerie and gray hair-dyeing displays in the windows, signs for free teacup readings and a pool-playing match between the Playboy Bunnies and Downey’s Showgirls, and then everybody pounds on toward the Time-Life Building, the Brill Building or NBC.

Link to the rest at The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolf

Science

Science is not a thing. It’s a verb. It’s a way of thinking about things. It’s a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena.

Michael Shermer

A Lovely Long Sentence

From Stuart Little:

In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elms trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.

Link to the rest at Stuart Little by E.B. White

The Half-life of Verbs

From Daily Writing Tips:

The term half-life existed before the term was applied to the breakdown of a radioactive substance.

One earlier meaning was “an unsatisfactory way of life.” Another was “the size of painting half life-size.”

The radioactive application dates from 1907. Now, the term is also applied to the time required for half the amount of any substance to be “eliminated or disintegrated by natural processes.”

Irregular Verbs
In 2007, a group of Harvard mathematicians developed a formula to calculate the half-life of English irregular verbs. The less frequently a verb is used, the more quickly will it begin to decay.

Irregular verbs are one of my favorite things about English. I see them as a link with the oldest form of the language, living fossils still in use.

Nevertheless, I accept the fact that many of the remaining irregulars are being lost daily to regularization: changing their distinctive past forms to -ed in both the simple past and past participle. This is a normal part of the development of the language.

The Harvard study calculated the half-life of 177 English irregular verbs. According to the findings, many have already reached their half-lives; others are nearing them. The most frequently used irregular verbs, however, look likely to outlast the language.

English has been developing (and changing) for more than 1,400 years. Irregular verbs with a half-life of 700 years are going or gone. Some have been operating as hybrids, with an -ed past and an irregular past participle.

Verbs with a 700-year half-life
Some of my favorites have reached the 700-year milestone.

bid/bade/bidden
cleave/cleft/cloven
slay/slew/slain
smite/smote/smitten
tread/trod/trodden

I’d like to keep them all, but the forms I cherish most are those of slay.

I have nothing against the form slayed in the sense of amusing or impressing people:

They slayed us with the little boy who couldn’t wait for Christmas,

Seth Rogen slayed at the Hollywood Film Awards last night.

With George Fenneman, as his announcer and straight man, Groucho slayed his audiences with improvised conversation with his guests.

A few minutes later, Calhoun went to the podium and slayed a roomful of journos with his usual combination of bombast, wit and defensiveness.

However, I do feel that vampires and dragons should be slain. Likewise, I prefer to read that Buffy slew the Chaos Demon, not that she “slayed” it.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

IP is the New PrimeTime

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 JP Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia . . . . said, “IP is the new primetime.”

Television execs are acting on this. They’re becoming platform agnostic (which raises its own problems) and they have learned, because of the pandemic, that people want to watch good television. They don’t care if that program was produced in 1980. They will binge whatever appeals to them.

Which is why the upfronts were so odd this year. A few networks didn’t even push their fall line-ups, which used to be essential for ad revenue. Now, these networks are pushing their platforms or even, at times, their older programming, trying to pair up the right ad with the right program in the right way so that consumers will see it all.

What I wrote in my blog was that, for publishers, IP should be the new frontlist. Rather than promoting the new books and titles at the expense of everything else, traditional publishers should be mining their backlist for items that will capture the moment.

For example, let’s take the pandemic. (Please, as the old comedians used to say.) If publishers had been smart, they could have combed their backlist for stories of survival in the middle of a plague.  Or maybe a few books that would make us all feel better about the extent of the pandemic we’re currently in. With just a little time on the Google (as a friend calls it), I found a dozen lists of good plague literature. None of the lists were published in 2020, by the way.

. . . .

The point isn’t whether or not the books are still in print—although that’s part of this argument. The point is also that the publishers themselves should be putting books like these out as part of their front list, books they’re throwing money behind so that readers know about them and buy them.

Because of my crazy summer, I decided to wait to write this small series of posts until the fall.  By then, every time I looked at the title of this blog, which I had listed as “IP is the New Frontlist,” I had forgotten where I saw the original quote. I had, instead, thought that some savvy book publisher person had said that at a book conference.

I decided to wait to see if publishers took any action on this before I wrote about it.

Shows how dumb I can be.

In those months, as the TV/film industry continued to alternately reel and innovate because of the pandemic and the impact on that entire industry, the book industry decided to pretend that nothing had happened in 2020—except an election here in the States and an insurrection in January of 2021.

They commissioned new books to deal with all of those things because—to be fair—no one had time-traveled to the future to write books on those things in 2019.

But publishers didn’t look through their inventory to find books relevant to those things. I have some books in my personal library, books on impeachment, on the U.S. Constitution and on the 1850s, which provides a rather terrifying roadmap for where we are now.

Publishers also didn’t look for books on health and wellness to keep people sane in lockdown or tons of classic literature on plagues and pandemics or incredible escapist fare for those of us who wanted to think of anything except death and dying.

To show you how little traditional publishing plans, the Bridgerton tie-in edition for Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, which was the basis for the first season, didn’t receive any promotion or advertising. The book released on December 1, but when I searched for it around December 15, I couldn’t find it. Avon put no money behind it.

They thought the series was going to tank.

That’s so different from the way most TV or film tie-ins are treated. Some of that was pure bigotry—traditional publishers make a lot of money on romance novels, but never think of them as anything other than garbage.

But some of it was sheer ineptness. It didn’t matter that the show was being produced (and shepherded) by Shonda Rhimes, who seems to have a golden touch with what she does. Nor did it matter that the show was on Netflix, which promotes the hell out of everything.

Avon saw a 20-year-old book and thought that putting together a tiny tie-in edition was more than adequate. It was so in-adequate that I couldn’t find the book two weeks later.

Friends overseas couldn’t get copies at all, and were begging for copies from the States. Then, when the book took off, it took a while for Avon to realize they needed Bridgerton editions of the whole series.

The book sales were skyrocketing and the books were increasingly hard to find. That’s terrible planning on the part of Quinn’s publisher. I’m sure Avon knew the TV show was coming; they just didn’t think a backlist series was worth their time.

Whoops.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Long on Kid Appeal, Browsable Nonfiction Continues to Trend

From School Library Journal:

I first heard the term “browsable nonfiction” used by Jennifer Emmett, senior vice president of National Geographic for Kids in 2012 at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) writing retreat in Silver Bay, NY. It’s the perfect moniker for a popular category of children’s books inspired by Dorling Kindersley’s groundbreaking Eyewitness Book series.

When these lavishly photo-illustrated books entered the U.S. marketplace in 1991, they revolutionized children’s nonfiction by giving young fact lovers a fresh, engaging way to access information. Both then and now, the eye-catching design and short blocks of clear, straightforward expository text delight “info-kids” who crave knowledge about the world and how it works and their place in it.

Here’s what some young readers have to say about browsable books:

“You can open to any page and find a cool fact, and I like reading cool facts.” —Lily, second grader
“You have a lot of choices about how you read. It’s like the potluck dinners at my church.” —Matthew, fourth grader

“I like the design. I prefer to flip through the pages to find exactly what I’m looking for rather than having to read through a whole book.” —Keith, fifth grader
The ability to dip in and out of these books instead of reading from cover to cover is a key characteristic of browsable nonfiction, but—initially—it was this very aspect of the category that worried adults.

“When Eyewitness Books first came out, some educators thought the format would interfere with students’ ability to develop critical reading skills,” says Michele Nokleby, school librarian, Hawthorne Elementary School, Missoula, MT. “They wondered: Would these books impact reading stamina? Would they affect students’ attention spans? As a result, teachers were hesitant to use them in the classroom.”

Luckily, that attitude has changed. As is increasingly true with graphic novels, educators now recognize that browsable nonfiction is a gateway to literacy for many children. And according to Marlene Correia, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education, Bridgewater (MA) State University, these books can also “help students who prefer fiction develop the skills necessary to navigate the more complex expository texts they’ll encounter in high school and college, and in their future careers.”

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

Interrupting Bias in the Book Biz

From Publishers Weekly:

There’s been a lot of ferment about racial equity in publishing, but will it yield concrete results? Much of the focus has been on announcing new imprints aimed at people of color, but that’s no substitute for changing the forces within publishing that create problems in the first place.

Publishing houses have been hiring and promoting more people of color, but in order to do so they often have to promote from outside the industry. That suggests that subtle and not-so-subtle forms of bias are stalling the careers of people of color, or driving them out of the industry altogether. Research documents that bias is constantly being transmitted through formal processes such as hiring and evaluations and informal processes that govern access to opportunities; publishing is no exception. Here’s how the five basic patterns of bias occur in publishing, as well as some suggestions for bias interrupters—metrics-driven, evidence-based tools that are designed to surgically eliminate them:

Prove-it-again bias: Pedigreed white men are assumed to be competent, whereas other groups have to prove themselves repeatedly. “It took seven years of interviews for an editorial assistant position,” says Amistad editorial director Tracy Sherrod, who is African American. To overcome this, publishers should ensure that all candidates—whether for hire or promotion—are assessed by the same objective criteria agreed to in advance, rather than by “gut.”

Tightrope bias: White men need only be authoritative and ambitious to succeed; others need more political savvy to find ways of displaying authority and ambition that are seen as appropriate. “White colleagues are able to speak their mind, but when it’s my turn, I can’t be direct or forthcoming without coming off as aggressive,” says Ebony LaDelle, associate director of marketing at HarperCollins. “I know that I and a lot of people like me have spent hours trying to figure out a way to write an email that appeals to a white colleague or make myself more pleasant in some way, because they can’t handle honest criticism. I’m just tired of tiptoeing around my feelings to protect theirs.” To guard against this, publishers must keep track of who gets personality critiques in performance evaluations and look for demographic patterns.

Tug-of-war bias: This occurs when bias against a group fuels conflict within the group, especially when there’s just one “diversity slot.” Even the experience of gender bias can divide women: “ ‘Race is your thing, feminism is my thing,’ I’ve been told by several of white women—including some I had trusted as allies. Evidently, if you advocate for racial diversity in a field dominated by white women, you will never be anything but the angry brown minority in the room.” Publishers need to recognize that the experience of gender bias differs by race—and make sure there’s not just one diversity slot.

Racial stereotyping and disrespect: This appears to be more prominent in publishing than in other fields. Stereotyping translates into career disadvantage: “As the only Black staff member at the press, I started to notice that I was asked to attend meetings every time there was an issue with a Black author or Black bookseller,” a source told the Scholarly Kitchen in 2018. “At the same time, I was often excluded from higher-level meetings that were more appropriate to my role.” This experience makes clear the need to avoid stereotypes, and match opportunities to talent and experience, not demography.

The maternal wall: The final pattern may be less of a factor in the publishing world: maternity leave is a given in the industry, and Covid-19 has shown the potential of remote work. Going forward, make sure that opportunities are equally available to remote, hybrid, and on-site employees.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that self-publishing can help anyone avoid the cesspool of traditional publishing.

Inheriting the copyright

From The Legal Genealogist:

The Legal Genealogist trusts that — by now — readers understand that copyright lasts for some time after the death of the person who created the work: the book; the photo; the painting.

Around the world, the minimum time generally is 50 years after the death of the creator. In the United States, it’s generally 70 years after the death of the creator.

What may not be as well understood is who owns the copyright at that point — and how that person comes to own it.

That’s clear from reader questions, like the one that came in yesterday: “In order to claim inheritance of a photo or collection of photos, does one have to explicitly have that inheritance stated in a will? For example, my dad passed away in 2019, and my sister and I were the sole beneficiaries of his will. He left us instructions on where the digital photos were stored and passed on boxes of physical photos…but they are not explicitly mentioned in his will. Do we own the copyright to his photos now?”

Here’s the bottom line: a copyright is just another piece of personal property, like somebody’s car or desk. The only difference is that the car or desk is tangible personal property; a copyright and other intellectual property is intangible personal property. But ownership passes to the deceased person’s heirs just the way that car or desk does.

And as genealogists we should know how property passes to the heirs: by testate succession (when there is a will) or by intestate succession (if there isn’t one). The Copyright Office makes it clear that works with copyrights as well: “You can bequeath a copyright by will or pass it along as personal property under applicable state laws of intestate succession.”

. . . .

In any given case, we start with determining if the copyright owner left a will. If he or she did, then:

• Does the will mention copyrights specifically or intellectual property generally? If so, that provision controls.

• If the will doesn’t mention copyrights, does it mention personal property generally? If so, that provision controls, but there’s a potential hitch here: the provision can’t be limited to tangible personal property.

• If the will doesn’t mention copyrights, or its personal property provision is limited to tangible property, then does the will have a residuary clause (“and all the rest and residue of my estate I leave to…”)? If so, that provision controls.

If the deceased copyright owner didn’t leave a will or if there is absolutely nothing in the will that covers personal property at all, then:

• What state’s law controls how any personal property would be distributed to descendants?

• What does that state’s law say about who’s entitled to inherit personal property?

• Who was alive when the copyright owner died who would have been included in that group?

• Who is alive today who might have a claim to any part of the copyright owner’s personal property?

Link to the rest at The Legal Genealogist and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG says the bottom line for your copyrights and everything else you own is that your heirs will be very grateful to you if you have a will.

While he is not an expert on the laws of inheritance in nations other than the United States, he can say with some assurance that in any country whose laws are derived from the British Common Law and British legal traditions, following this advice is probably a good idea.

As mentioned in the OP, the inheritance laws of each state are somewhat different, but a properly drawn will in one state will almost certainly work about the same way in another.

Inheritance tax laws vary from state to state. Generally, the term “estate tax” refers to the tax imposed by the United States government on larger estates. The term “inheritance tax” refers to taxes imposed by the state where the person is living when they die.

As a general proposition, settling the affairs of a deceased person will be much more simple if that person has a will.

It is an excellent idea for you to hire a competent attorney to draft a will for you. A great many interesting court cases revolve around a will written by the decedent without legal assistance. Another group of interesting court cases is centered on a will drafted by an attorney to which the decedent (or maybe someone else) made handwritten changes.

Where a will is not correctly drafted, and any meaningful amount of money is involved, litigation may ensue.

PG will spare you the details of a war story, but long ago and far away, he managed to resolve litigation over the meaning of a will that had been ongoing for 16 years.

The decedent with an estate of considerable size had a will drafted by a local attorney, which she signed in the manner the law required. She then went on a cross-country trip to visit the significant number of individuals named in the will. She took the original will with her.

While on the trip, she made many handwritten changes to her will, crossing out words, handwriting (in pencil) notes and names and property descriptions with arrows going here and there.

After returning from her trip, the decedent died before she could take her marked-up will back to her attorney so he could make a new one. There was some question whether any of her local heirs might have had access to the will before it was filed with the Probate Court.

Suppose an individual or couple wish to have a will drafted that basically divides the property they own at death between a relatively small number of people or leaves it to a charitable organization. In that case, a lot of different attorneys can do that job without charging very much money.

If an individual or couple have property (including intangible property like copyrights to books) that is worth more than a few hundred thousand dollars, a qualified estate planning attorney may be able to help reduce the estate and inheritance taxes due to state and federal governments by for a legal fee that is significantly less than the amount of taxes due.

PG has been purposely vague in this discussion because, as mentioned, laws vary from state to state and there are factors that may impact probate and death taxes that may be unique to an individual or couple and impact what’s involved for the heirs after their deaths.

It is not unusual (and perfectly justified) that more than a few people may be concerned about what the attorney will charge for her/his services.

It is not at all impolite for you to make an appointment for a meeting with an attorney or, at the beginning of the meeting, to ask in a friendly manner how much the attorney will charge for a meeting to discuss your estate and, on a broad level, what death taxes are may be involved, again in round numbers.

During the meeting, if the attorney recommends that wills, trusts, etc., be drafted or redrafted, it is not impolite for you to ask what the costs will be for the attorney’s services in doing so if the attorney doesn’t include that information in the discussion with you.

It is possible that the attorney may legitimately not know or be able to estimate costs ahead of time due to matters that may arise only after he/she gets started. Quite often, she/he may be able to give you a general range in which your bill will fall.

If you don’t feel good about your meeting with the attorney, you can be assured there are others who perform the same services.

PG says the bottom line for your copyrights and everything else you own is
that your heirs will be very grateful to you if you have a will.

While he is not an expert on the laws of inheritance in nations other than
the United States, he can say with some assurance that in any country whose
laws are derived from the British Common Law and British legal traditions,
following this advice is probably a good idea.

As mentioned in the OP, the inheritance laws of each state are somewhat
different, but a properly drawn will in one state will almost certainly work
about the same way in another.

Inheritance tax laws vary from state to state. Generally, the term
“estate tax” refers to the tax imposed by the United States
government on larger estates. The term “inheritance tax” refers to
taxes imposed by the state where the person is living when they die.

As a general proposition, settling the affairs of a deceased person will be
much more simple if that person has a will.

It is an excellent idea for you to hire a competent attorney to draft a will
for you. A great many interesting court cases revolve around a will written by
the decedent without legal assistance. Another group of interesting court cases
is centered on a will drafted by an attorney to which the decedent (or maybe
someone else) made handwritten changes.

Where a will is not correctly drafted, and any meaningful amount of money is
involved, litigation may ensue.

PG will spare you the details of a war story, but long ago and far away, he
managed to resolve litigation over the meaning of a will that had been ongoing
for 16 years.

The decedent with an estate of considerable size had a will drafted by a
local attorney, which she signed in the manner the law required. She then went
on a cross-country trip to visit the significant number of individuals named in
the will. She took the original will with her.

While on the trip, she made many handwritten changes to her will, crossing
out words, handwriting (in pencil) notes and names and property descriptions
with arrows going here and there.

After returning from her trip, the decedent died before she could take her
marked-up will back to her attorney so he could make a new one. There was some
question whether any of her local heirs might have had access to the will
before it was filed with the Probate Court.

Suppose an individual or couple wish to have a will drafted that basically
divides the property they own at death between a relatively small number of
people or leaves it to a charitable organization. In that case, a lot of
different attorneys can do that job without charging very much money.

If an individual or couple have property (including intangible property like
copyrights to books) that is worth more than a few hundred thousand dollars, a
qualified estate planning attorney may be able to help reduce the estate and
inheritance taxes due to state and federal governments by for a legal fee that
is significantly less than the amount of taxes due.

PG has been purposely vague in this discussion because, as mentioned, laws
vary from state to state and there are factors that may impact probate and
death taxes that may be unique to an individual or couple and impact what’s
involved for the heirs after their deaths.

It is not unusual (and perfectly justified) that more than a few people may
be concerned about what the attorney will charge for her/his services.

It is not at all impolite for you to make an appointment for a meeting with
an attorney or, at the beginning of the meeting, to ask in a friendly manner
how much the attorney will charge for a meeting to discuss your estate and, on
a broad level, what death taxes are may be involved, again in round numbers.

During the meeting, if the attorney recommends that wills, trusts, etc., be
drafted or redrafted, it is not impolite for you to ask what the costs will be
for the attorney’s services in doing so if the attorney doesn’t include that
information in the discussion with you.

It is possible that the attorney may legitimately not know or be able to
estimate costs ahead of time due to matters that may arise only after he/she
gets started. Quite often, she/he may be able to give you a general range in
which your bill will fall.

If you don’t feel good about your meeting with the attorney, you can be
assured there are others who perform the same services.

 

 

 

 

PG says the bottom line for your copyrights and everything else you own is
that your heirs will be very grateful to you if you have a will.

While he is not an expert on the laws of inheritance in nations other than
the United States, he can say with some assurance that in any country whose
laws are derived from the British Common Law and British legal traditions,
following this advice is probably a good idea.

As mentioned in the OP, the inheritance laws of each state are somewhat
different, but a properly drawn will in one state will almost certainly work
about the same way in another.

Inheritance tax laws vary from state to state. Generally, the term
“estate tax” refers to the tax imposed by the United States
government on larger estates. The term “inheritance tax” refers to
taxes imposed by the state where the person is living when they die.

As a general proposition, settling the affairs of a deceased person will be
much more simple if that person has a will.

It is an excellent idea for you to hire a competent attorney to draft a will
for you. A great many interesting court cases revolve around a will written by
the decedent without legal assistance. Another group of interesting court cases
is centered on a will drafted by an attorney to which the decedent (or maybe
someone else) made handwritten changes.

Where a will is not correctly drafted, and any meaningful amount of money is
involved, litigation may ensue.

PG will spare you the details of a war story, but long ago and far away, he
managed to resolve litigation over the meaning of a will that had been ongoing
for 16 years.

The decedent with an estate of considerable size had a will drafted by a
local attorney, which she signed in the manner the law required. She then went
on a cross-country trip to visit the significant number of individuals named in
the will. She took the original will with her.

While on the trip, she made many handwritten changes to her will, crossing
out words, handwriting (in pencil) notes and names and property descriptions
with arrows going here and there.

After returning from her trip, the decedent died before she could take her
marked-up will back to her attorney so he could make a new one. There was some
question whether any of her local heirs might have had access to the will
before it was filed with the Probate Court.

Suppose an individual or couple wish to have a will drafted that basically
divides the property they own at death between a relatively small number of
people or leaves it to a charitable organization. In that case, a lot of
different attorneys can do that job without charging very much money.

If an individual or couple have property (including intangible property like
copyrights to books) that is worth more than a few hundred thousand dollars, a
qualified estate planning attorney may be able to help reduce the estate and
inheritance taxes due to state and federal governments by for a legal fee that
is significantly less than the amount of taxes due.

PG has been purposely vague in this discussion because, as mentioned, laws
vary from state to state and there are factors that may impact probate and
death taxes that may be unique to an individual or couple and impact what’s
involved for the heirs after their deaths.

It is not unusual (and perfectly justified) that more than a few people may
be concerned about what the attorney will charge for her/his services.

It is not at all impolite for you to make an appointment for a meeting with
an attorney or, at the beginning of the meeting, to ask in a friendly manner
how much the attorney will charge for a meeting to discuss your estate and, on
a broad level, what death taxes are may be involved, again in round numbers.

During the meeting, if the attorney recommends that wills, trusts, etc., be
drafted or redrafted, it is not impolite for you to ask what the costs will be
for the attorney’s services in doing so if the attorney doesn’t include that
information in the discussion with you.

It is possible that the attorney may legitimately not know or be able to
estimate costs ahead of time due to matters that may arise only after he/she
gets started. Quite often, she/he may be able to give you a general range in
which your bill will fall.

If you don’t feel good about your meeting with the attorney, you can be
assured there are others who perform the same services.

 

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones audiobook review

From The Guardian:

The latest masterwork from Dan Jones, the British historian and author of The Templars, isn’t short on ambition. Spanning a thousand years, it tells the story of the “awkward slab” of time that is the middle ages, the period between the fall of the western Roman empire in the fifth century AD and the Protestant reformation. Jones, who reads the audiobook himself, lays out his plan in the introduction to “sweep across continents and centuries, often at breakneck pace. We are going to meet hundreds of men and women, from Attila the Hun to Joan of Arc. And we are going to dive headlong into at least a dozen fields of history – from war and law to art and literature.”

He isn’t wrong about the pace: he hopscotches from the collapsing Romans, barbarian migration and the rise of Islamic empires to the age of the Franks, the brutal Mongol superpower and the plague that wiped out millions across north Africa, Asia and Europe. But despite the hectic schedule, his reading feels relaxed as he delights in peculiar details and revels in witty asides. While the tone is confident, Jones mercifully avoids the declamatory style that can afflict historians in performance mode.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG noted the OP for two reasons.

  1. In his reading, it isn’t common for a large-circulation periodical to include audiobook reviews.
  2. Having the author voice the audiobook is also somewhat unusual.

Perhaps those who follow audiobooks more closely that PG does will correct any misconceptions PG has about this part of the literary world.

Spanish crime writer Carmen Mola reveals her most stunning plot twist: She doesn’t exist and her books are penned by three men

From The Daily Mail:

She’s gripped Spain with her ultra-violent crime thrillers and was regarded by critics as the country’s answer to Italy’s reclusive novelist Elena Ferrante.

But now Carmen Mola has revealed her most stunning plot twist: she doesn’t exist, and her books are penned by three middle-aged men.

On Friday night the €1million Planeta prize was awarded to Mola, an author who until now had been presented as a female university professor writing under a pen name so she could remain anonymous.

But when the main prize at the ceremony was announced in the presence of King Felipe VI in Barcelona, three men stepped up to the podium – throwing the literary world into a state of confusion.

Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero published novels and worked as scriptwriters under their real names before writing as Mola. Credits include work on TV series Central Hospital and Blind Date.

. . . .

Their lead character in the Mola novels is detective Elena Blanco, a police inspector with a fondness for karaoke, grappa and casual sex, according to publisher Penguin Random House.  

The men, all in their 40s and 50s, denied choosing a female pseudonym to help sell the books. Mercero told Spanish newspaper El País. ‘I don’t know if a female pseudonym would sell more than a male one, I don’t have the faintest idea, but I doubt it.’

They previously claimed in interviews that Mola was a professor in her late 40s, telling Spanish ABC newspaper three years ago they needed anonymity to ‘protect a settled life that has nothing to do with literature’. 

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail and thanks to K. for the tip.

And Carmen Mola has an author page on Amazon.

How to Use Real People in Your Writing Without Ending Up in Court

From Helen Sedwick:

Scarlett Johansson won a defamation suit against a French writer for creating a promiscuous character who happened to look like the movie star. A Georgia jury awarded $100,000 to a woman who claimed a character in The Red Hat Club falsely portrayed her as an “alcoholic s**t.”

Writers face three big risks when using real people in their writing: defamation, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of the right of publicity. Yet every fiction writer bases characters on real people. Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name. How can writers use real people in their work without risking a lawsuit?

First, a simple rule. If what you write about a person is positive or even neutral, then you don’t have defamation or privacy issues.

For instance, you may thank someone by name in your acknowledgements without their permission. If you are writing a non-fiction book, you may mention real people and real events.  However, if what you write about identifiable, living people could be seriously damaging to their reputation, then you need to consider the risks of defamation and privacy and how to minimize those risks. I am not talking about portraying your mother-in-law as a bossy queen bee; I am talking about portraying your mother-in-law as a drug dealer.

Common sense and a cool head are key.

First, let’s start with a quick summary of United States law. (The laws of other countries are more favorable to the targets. In today’s Internet environment, you could get sued in France for a blog written in California.)

Defamation

To prove defamation, whether libel for written statements or slander for spoken ones, a plaintiff (target) must prove all of the following:

False Statement of Fact.

If a statement is true, then it is not defamatory no matter how offensive or embarrassing. Opinions are also protected because they are not “facts.” Couching something as an opinion is not bullet-proof. Courts see no difference between “Joe is a pedophile” and “In my opinion, Joe is a pedophile.” The more specific a statement, the more likely it will be seen as a statement of fact. Parody is not defamatory if the absurdity is so clear no reasonable person would consider the statements to be true.

Of an Identifiable Person:

A defamatory statement must contain sufficient information to lead a reasonable person (other than the target) to identify the target. Typically, the target must be a living person, but companies and organizations have sued for defamation. Oprah Winfrey was sued by a group of Texas ranchers after saying she had sworn off hamburgers because of mad cow disease. (Oprah won the case.)

That is Published:

One person (other than the target) must read or hear the statement.

Causes reputational harm:

The statement must be more than offensive, insulting, or inflammatory. It must “tend to bring the subject into public hatred, ridicule, contempt, or negatively affect its business or occupation.”

Made With Actual Malice or Negligence:

If the target is a public official or a public figure, then the plaintiff must prove the statement was made with actual knowledge that it was false or with a reckless disregard for the truth. If the target is against a private individual, courts generally require some fault or negligence by the defendant.

Invasion of Privacy Claims

Even if you publish the truth, you may still be sued for invasion of privacy if you disclose private information that is embarrassing or unpleasant about an identifiableliving person and that is offensive to ordinary sensibilities and not of overriding public interest.

The target must have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Any conduct in public is not protected, particularly today when everyone carries a camera in their pocket. Similarly, public figures can have little expectation of privacy. A movie star lounging topless on a yacht should not be surprised that a camera with a long lens is pointing her way.

The disclosure must be more than embarrassing; it must harm a person’s personal and professional reputation. Typically, these cases involve incest, rape, abuse, or a serious disease or impairment. Sex videos have triggered a number of suits.

Even if the information is highly offensive, courts often decide there is no legal liability if the information is of public interest. Public interest does not mean high-brow or intellectual. Gossip, smut, and just about anything about celebrities is of public interest.

Frequently, courts find stories of rape, abuse, and incest to be of public interest if they are disclosed by the victims. As you can imagine, judges and juries are not sympathetic when the perpetrator makes a privacy claim.

In any situation, however, writers should try to get releases from people who will be recognizable in their work.

If you cannot get a release, then consider changing the person’s name and identifying characteristics. Yes, this is permissible, even in memoirs.

Another flavor of invasion of privacy is called false light. Suppose you post a photo of a criminal arrest. Jane Doe, a bystander, appears in the picture, a true fact. If the photo creates the impression that Jane was arrested and you do not take reasonable measures to dispel that impression, Jane could sue you for portraying her in a false light.

Misappropriation of the Right of Publicity

Using someone’s likeness, name, or identifying information for advertising, promotional, or commercial purposes may get you sued. Whether the person is a private individual or public figure, you would be liable for damages, including punitive damages. If the person is dead, you could still get sued in some states and foreign countries.

Right of Publicity claims are limited to:

  • Advertising: Using a person’s image in an advertisement. Same applies for using look-alikes or sound-alikes. Bette Midler won $400,000 from Ford after they used a singer to mimic her voice in an automobile commercial.
  • Merchandise: Selling t-shirts, mugs, greeting cards and other products with unauthorized images.
  • Impersonations: Impersonating a celebrity for commercial purposes. Yes, all those Elvis impersonators either have permission from Elvis’s estate or are taking legal risks.
  • Implied endorsements or relationship: Wrongfully implying that someone has endorsed your work or was involved in its production violates a number of laws.

Link to the rest at Helen Sedwick

Ms. Sedwick is an attorney who appears to have transitioned into an indie author. A check of the records of The State Bar of California shows her as inactive which means she is an attorney in good standing with the California Bar who doesn’t presently practice law.

To be clear, this is a voluntary status that a member of the California Bar can elect if she/he no long wishes to be involved in the practice of law, but does want to keep the option of returning to active practice open if she/he changes her/his mind in the future. The last time PG checked, an inactive member still has to pay some bar dues, but doesn’t have to spend the time and money to attend Continuing Legal Education classes.

PG is also a member of The State Bar of California. He is currently on Active status because he is practicing law.

When PG became a member of The Missouri Bar many years ago and practiced law exclusively in that state, he switched to inactive status in California. He kept that inactive status through his subsequent employment as an executive and in-house attorney at several high-tech companies, then changed to active status again when he resumed practicing law focusing on legal and contract problems faced by authors and small publishers.

Ms. Sedwick has written a book titled, Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. PG hasn’t read the book, but based upon what she has written in her blog post, he would expect that Ms. Sedwick knows a lot about this topic.

PG will caution that some elements of defamation, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of the right of publicity exist under federal law and state law and, while the general rules may be similar, there may be some borderline cases that are actionable in some locations and not actionable in others.

The internet has added a whole new element to defamation law because a defamatory remark may originate in one state or nation but appear in all states and nations via the internet. There is even something called Twibel, libel via Twitter – See Pillsbury: Internet+Social Media for a discussion of Twibel.

Stillwater: Amanda Knox Reaction & Murder Case Controversy Explained

From ScreenRant:

It’s not strange for filmmakers to take inspiration from real-life people and events, but sometimes, the way these are handled in fiction does more harm to the people they are based on – such is the case of Stillwater, based on the Amanda Knox case and who has called out those involved for profiting off her controversial and complex case. The coronavirus pandemic forced studios to delay their releases and reorganize their schedules, and one of those movies that went through a couple of date changes is Stillwater, directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon. Stillwater is finally out, but not without a lot of controversy.

. . . .

Stillwater tells the story of Bill Baker (Damon), an unemployed oil rig worker from Oklahoma who sets out alongside a French woman called Virginie (Camille Cottin) to prove his convicted daughter’s, Allison (Abigail Breslin), innocence, who had spent four years in prison for the murder of her roommate. Stillwater premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021 and was released in theaters at the end of the month, but instead of making headlines for its quality, the movie has been involved in controversy for using Amanda Knox’s case as inspiration without her consent, with her calling out Damon and McCarthy on social media.

. . . .

Amanda Knox took Twitter to call out those behind Stillwater for using her story for profit and dragging her name into it for the sake of marketing. Knox explains that Stillwater has been marketed as being “inspired by the Amanda Knox saga”, focusing on the sensationalist side of what happened to her rather than on facts. Knox also explains how authorities and thus the media focused on building a specific image of her, even though she’s innocent and wasn’t involved in the murder she was accused of and continues to be linked to by the media. Of course, there’s also the fact that her story was used without her consent and fictionalized, once again painting her under the wrong light, with the movie “reinforcing an image of her as a guilty and untrustworthy person”. Knox also invited McCarthy and Damon to her podcast so they can clear all this up, but there hasn’t been a response from them yet.

. . . .

In 2009, Amanda Knox was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher, her roommate in Perugia, Italy. What led to that and what followed for years was a messy investigation by Italian authorities in which Knox and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, were portrayed in a negative light, leading to a lot of controversy as the interrogations and the overall investigation was put into question by U.S. lawyers and forensic experts. After a long and tiring legal process, during which Knox points out she had “near-zero agency” and no control over the image the media was building around her, Italy’s highest court exonerated Knox and Sollecito in 2015, but she had already spent almost four years in prison. Knox returned to the US, completed her degree, and wrote the book Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, and has worked as a journalist and activist ever since.

. . . .

Stillwater isn’t the first movie to take “inspiration” from Amanda Knox’s story, such as Lifetime’s Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy, for which Knox actually sued them over.

Link to the rest at ScreenRant

Writing my Way Through Trauma

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I never kept a diary or a journal. Writing was never my thing. I am a talker. Put me in a room with people and I will talk non-stop. Don’t get me wrong, I like to write, but it was never something I really did.

All that changed in 2010.

I was pregnant with my second child (after multiple miscarriages), and I went into early labor. This wasn’t just a little early. This was seventeen weeks early – meaning I was only twenty-three weeks pregnant. It was too soon. I had to make it to that magical viability mark of twenty-four weeks.

I spent six days lying in a hospital bed trying desperately not to give birth. My head was tilted down thirty-degrees below my feet. All the blood had rushed to my head. I was in pain, scared, and the only thing I could do was keep my eyes closed and breathe. I didn’t talk much those six days. Talking made me emotional and being emotional made it hard to lay still and stay calm.

My son, Sam, was finally born at twenty-four weeks and two days and weighed in at a whopping one pound twelve ounces. Two days after having Sam, I was alone for the first time in a week and it all started to hit me. Everything I had been through. Everything I had experienced. I was overwhelmed and felt like I was suffocating with all the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head.

It was late at night, and the only thing I had nearby was my tablet. I opened it up and began writing an email to my brother who was living in Lesotho at the time. I wanted to update him on how his nephew, and I were doing.

Once I started writing, however, the email to my brother took on a life of its own. I ended up writing a long missive that was dumping ground for everything that was trapped in my head. I released it all on “paper”. The anger, the fear, the pain, the hope… all of it. When I was done, I felt relief. I was no longer weighed down by the thoughts swirling in my head.

The next day, after a long, hard day of learning about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and what lay ahead for me and Sam, I turned to my tablet once again. Writing allowed me to process all the information I had gotten during the day and gave me a safe space to work through the trauma of it all.

It was then that I knew writing was going to save me. I quickly purchased a URL and installed WordPress. Two days after my son was born, my blog, Tales of the Anti-Preemie, was born. At first, the blog was just for my friends and family. But soon, I started seeing comments from total strangers who had either been sent my blog or found it on their own.

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

And here’s a link to Tales of the Anti-Preemie where, if the photo correctly depicts him, it appears that Sam is doing well.

Chapter Titles Are a Great Marketing Tool in the Age of E-Books

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

“Chapter titles!?” sez you. What is this, the 18th century? What am I supposed to write? Something like this?

Chapter the first, in which our hero is born, discovers that fire is hot, learns to pull up his own breeches, and slays a smallish dragon.

Hey, those 18th century writers knew their marketing. A reader flipping through a book in the shop could get an idea what kind of things were going to happen in the novel if it had descriptive chapter headers.

But yes, I know chapter titles went out of style in the age of modern minimalism.

Hemingway didn’t need no stinkin’ chapter titles. Neither did Fitzgerald or Faulkner.

However, some of the postmoderns later ventured into chapter title waters. David Foster Wallace used them in Infinite Jest, and John Barth titled his chapters in The End of the Road.

And in the 1990s, Annie Proulx used chapter titles to great effect in her Pulitzer Prize winner The Shipping News. Most of the chapter titles are the names of sailors’ knots, or other naval terms. Each chapter embodies a certain kind of knot, like “Love Knot”, “Strangle Knot” and “A Rolling Hitch.”

These literary authors used the chapter titles to enhance and comment on the content of the chapter.  Even though they wrote before the era of e-books, they used the chapter titles in a reader-enticing way.

Chapter Titles are Essential for the “Look Inside” Feature on Your Buy Page

But chapter titles are making a big comeback in the age of the e-book.

Why?

Because of the “Look Inside” function on a book’s buy page at most online retailers. This is where you make or break your sale, as Ruth showed us in her great post on How To Lose a Book Sale. Most retailers insist on a Table of Contents in your opening pages. And the average Table of Contents of a novel looks like this:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Bored yet?

Is that really what you want taking up the valuable real estate in your “Look Inside”?

Compare that with Rick Riordan’s current #1 Bestseller, The Red Pyramid

  1. A Death at the Needle
  2. An Explosion for Christmas
  3. Imprisoned with my Cat
  4. Kidnapped by a Not-So-Stranger…

Which table of contents is more likely to intrigue a reader?

Chapter Titles Aren’t Just for Children’s Books Anymore.

“Yeah, well,” sez you. “Rick Riordan writes for kids. I write for adults!”

It’s true that chapter titles are much more common in children’s literature, but savvy adult authors are using them too.

Delia Owens used chapter titles as well as titled sections in her runaway bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing. The titles intrigue readers as well as orient them in time and space.

The Crawdads Table of Contents looks like this:

Part 1—THE MARSH

Prologue (Yes, there’s a dreaded prologue. Owens breaks pretty much every rule, and sells millions.)

  1. Ma
  2. Jodie
  3. Chase
  4. School
  5. Investigation
  6. A Boat and a Boy
  7. The Fishing Season
  8. Negative Data
  9. Jumpin’
  10. Just Grass in the Wind…

The chapter titles tell us who the chapter is about, and then show how the story will develop — without offering any spoilers. Owens’ chapter titles also give the reader a sense of place. 

It sure is more interesting than a list of numbers isn’t it?

Delia Owens not only hit the NYT bestseller list with a debut novel — an amazing feat in itself — but she stayed there through 2019 and part of 2020. I wonder if her chapter titles had anything to do with her initial sales?

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

The Ant Man’s World

From The Wall Street Journal:

A well-known portrait of Edward Osborne Wilson shows the smiling Harvard professor hovering, like a benevolent god, over some models of his cherished leafcutter ants. The photograph serves as the cover of “Tales From the Ant World,” Mr. Wilson’s most recent and, by my count, 35th book. The large ant right beneath Mr. Wilson’s chin, a mix of Mars Rover and de Chirico mannequin, wields a leaf almost as big as the entomologist’s head. The proportions seem off, but in a larger sense they really aren’t: As Mr. Wilson, now in his 90s, has reminded us over a long, distinguished career, ants can more than hold their own against humans. There are, by some rough estimates, 10,000 trillion ants in the world at any given moment, and their combined weight (Mr. Wilson, who likes to mock his ineptness at math, nevertheless supplies numbers whenever he can) would match the total weight of the planet’s human population.

Mr. Wilson has always had a knack for reducing complex problems to simple number games, easy-to-grasp metaphors or memorable anecdotes. A world-famous scientist, winner of many medals and honorary doctorates, celebrated for his research on ant communication and evolutionary equilibrium in island settings, he has also swept up awards in the field of literature, including two Pulitzers and, for his novel titled (what else?) “Anthill” (2010), the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for fiction. Earlier this year came the ultimate literary sanctification, inclusion in the venerable Library of America, where Mr. Wilson is now rubbing shoulders with just a handful of other nature observers: John James Audubon, Rachel Carson, Loren Eiseley, Aldo Leopold and John Muir. And, as if further corroboration of Wilson’s eminence were needed, we now also have “Scientist,” a full-length biography by Richard Rhodes, whose previous work in the genre includes the popular “John James Audubon: The Making of an American” (2004).

. . . .

Mr. Wilson’s career as a naturalist began during a summer vacation on Paradise Beach, Fla., with an incident so far from paradisal that it would have ended a lesser man’s aspirations: A pinfish the boy had caught jumped and pierced his right eye, blinding it. Yet, although he would later lose some of his hearing, too, young Wilson never wavered in his determination to become a naturalist. He settled on entomology: Keeping his surviving eye trained on the ground, he would track the motions of animals too small to rise to most people’s attention, creatures whose world was ruled not by sight and sound but by taste and smell. “I opened logs and twigs like presents on Christmas morning, entranced by the endless variety of insects and other small creatures that scuttled away to safety.”

Born into a complicated, nomadic family, young Wilson attended more than a dozen schools in 10 years, with no apparent damage to his intellectual development. His sixth-grade teacher in Washington, D.C., noted on his report card: “He writes well and he knows a lot about insects. If he puts those two things together, he might do something special.” And “something special” he did with “those two things.” One of the great pleasures of the new, lavishly illustrated Library of America edition is the opportunity to appreciate the many ways in which Mr. Wilson fuses literature and science. His blend of wisdom and wit even extends to his footnotes: He never saw the Emperor of Germany bird of paradise in the wild, Mr. Wilson admits, but “many Paradisaea guilielmi probably saw me.”

. . . .

Works by scientists don’t, as a rule, contain such perfectly paced sentences as the following tribute to Bulum Valley, New Guinea, where Mr. Wilson went in 1955 to collect ants: “A flock of sulfur-crested cockatoos circled in lazy flight over the treetops like brilliant white fish following bottom currents.” And not too many fiction writers would dare insert such precisely observed passages into their novels as the following, taken from Mr. Wilson’s “Anthill,” a description of a particularly scrappy ant species: “The swollen posterior lobes were filled with adductor muscles that closed the jaws with enough force to cut through the chitinous exoskeleton and muscle of most kinds of insects.“ If you think such language is entirely too technical for a novel, you have a point. But I would still suggest that you give “Anthill” a try—the combination of ant lore and human plotting works well enough for Margaret Atwood to have tagged Mr. Wilson, in a review of the book, the “Homer of the Ants.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link. If the WSJ does something to make it decay with use, PG apologizes if you hit a WSJ paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG found Mr. Wilson’s Amazon Author page fascinating for his prolific popular output which was almost certainly accompanied by a lot of publications in academic journals.

NOTE: The WordPress Kindle Embed function has been blowing up whenever PG hits the Free Preview link below the image of the book cover. If you click the Buy on Amazon link, that will take you to the book’s site on Amazon where the Look Inside feature works fine.

PG hasn’t been able to track down the source of the problem. If someone else has, PG would appreciate an explanation or fix via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Contest Alert: Bardsy’s “The Short and Long of It”

From Writer Beware:

Yes, folks, it’s another of my posts about problematic writing contest rules.
I do a lot of these, and the issues are often pretty similar from post to post. But because writing contests are so popular, and poor rules language is so common, it never hurts to blast another warning out there.
Bardsy offers products and resources intended to help writers “Optimize Your Writing Process”, including writing tools, templates, video courses, automated tips and prompts, and something called the “Bardsy Method”. Bardsy members can publish their stories to the Bardsy Library, where they can be accessed and read by other members, or submit to Bardsy anthologies for possible publication. All of this is accessible for a monthly membership fee of $12.99.

Right now, Bardsy is running a “NoNoWriMo Prep Contest” called “The Short and Long of It”. Writers can enter unpublished short stories of between 1,200 and 3,000 words. The winner will get a cash prize of $299, plus a free six-month Bardsy Elite membership (Elite membership normally involves an invite from Bardsy and a higher monthly membership fee). An unspecified number of finalists will receive a  50% discount on regular Bardsy memberships for six months (a prize, in other words, that they will have to pay to take advantage of). There’s no entry fee. Notably, there’s also no guarantee of publication–even though Bardsy does claim publishing rights.
And that’s where the problem arises. Specifically, in the Additional Rules section of the contest guidelines: 

There are several issues here. First, simply by submitting to this contest, you’re granting publishing rights to Bardsy–whether or not you win or are declared a finalist.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Either Bardsy is malevolent or filled with idiots.

If Bardsy’s attorney recommended this language, PG would welcome a conversation to set her/him straight about why this was a really stupid drafting error and a vast rights overreach. If counsel picked this provision from a law firm form file, somebody intelligent needs to go through that file to make certain it’s not filled with other garbage.

Writer Beware posted the OP yesterday and, when PG checked today, the rights grab language was still there.

Either way, PG suggests watching your wallet if you deal with them or, even better, finding similar services from someone else.

The curious case of the midsized publishers

From Nathan Bransford:

Now that Workman has been acquired by Hachette and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been acquired by HarperCollins, where have all the midsized book publishers gone? Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly surveys this dying breed and cites the difficulty of building a backlist, the capital needed to grow into midsized publisher, and ongoing acquisitions by bigger players, but there are still publishers like Kensington who are holding on by focusing squarely on their niche.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suspects that midsized book publishers are having the same financial problems as the rest of traditional publishing is experiencing. The small folk just don’t have the financial resources that the big publishers do.

When a little publisher is swallowed by a big publisher, those people working at the little publisher who aren’t fired outright get new bosses and any promises the survivors made to the little publisher’s authors disappear into the wind.

If a commitment is not inserted into a written contract, for virtually all legal purposes, it doesn’t exist. Certainly, it doesn’t exist for the big company because it took over the rights and obligations in the written contract.

That said, PG suggests that the big publishers are facing exactly the same market forces that battered the little publishers into selling out.

The Titanic will take longer to sink than a fishing boat.

Public Domain

PG apologizes for the sloppy Photoshop job, but he was in a hurry.

Spiders, Snakes, Public Speaking, and Not Querying Agents

From Writer Unboxed:

A while ago, a writer friend of mine was talking about her first query letter. She’d let me read it and I thought it was well done. This wasn’t a surprise. She’d spent a lot of time on it, she’d researched, revised, and sent it out to critique partners for their honest opinions. It was at a place where further effort was just spinning her wheels, at least until agents started to weigh in.

But she was frozen in place, terrified to send it out. She admitted that even though she knew the query and the manuscript were both in excellent shape, she couldn’t pull the trigger. “What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like…me?

“They won’t,” I told her in my usual too-blunt way. “At least, most of them won’t. That’s just the way it works. But they don’t all have to like you. Only one has to like you.”

She laughed and said, “Can you imagine going out on stage in front of a large audience, singing a big emotional ballad that you wrote yourself, and when you’re done the audience is silent except for one person, slow clapping in the back row?”

She had a point.

It occurred to me that as writers, we really are true performers, and not so different than any other artist whose platform is a stage or a gallery wall. My friend couldn’t send out her query because she was suffering from good old-fashioned stage fright.

Based on my research, social anxiety and fear of public speaking/performance affect 22 million Americans and are two of the top-twelve most common phobias (along with fear of spiders, snakes, heights, flying, dogs, storms, needles/injections, germs, and both wide open and small spaces). These phobias are evolutionary and have been key to our survival—keeping us away from poisons or getting too close to a cliff edge and falling to our deaths. But now, with our day-to-day lives being lived in much safer environs, those evolutionary anxieties have less purpose while being no less present. Even when there’s no actual threat to our safety, our bodies often want to flee, or they just freeze up. Not surprisingly, these fears attack self-confidence and cause people to avoid stepping up to the podium even when doing so could lead to long-term success.

Getting back to my friend and her query letter, she’d admit that her stage fright comes from her need to be perfect and her fear that she never will be. Well (here’s me being blunt again), she’s right about that. She never will be perfect. None of us will. Check out this 1-star review for the King James Bible:

“I would have given it 5 stars if not for the 2 typographical errors that I’ve found (so far).”

For some, simply acknowledging that perfection is not attainable may be all it takes to gather the courage needed to put their writing out there for others to see, to judge, to love, or to hate.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

A Writer Says Goodbye to the Twittersphere

From Publishers Weekly:

A novelist friend told me that social media is pretty much mandatory these days, otherwise I could expect to remain plankton in a sea of fish all swimming toward the same accolades. As a poet, I’m already used to being a small fry, yet as I move into writing journalism and creative nonfiction, I’ve wondered whether I should log back on.

I quit Facebook in 2014 after a manic episode that reared its Medusa-like head online. My wall was a mess of incoherent thoughts, followed by all the email rejections I’d ever received, copied and pasted from my inbox. For the grand finale, I wrote that I would stage a hunger strike to protest the government’s lackluster care for those living with mental illness. Soon after my last post—but not before I typed out the addresses, emails, and phone numbers of my closest friends (should the news media want to reach out to them for comment)—I was hospitalized and newly diagnosed with bipolar I.

As it turns out, extreme social embarrassment is an excellent way to curb a Facebook addiction. A true introvert and a perpetual validation seeker, I knew my pictures were never cute enough, my posts never witty enough, and I spent hours looking at the profiles of women that guys had dumped me for. “She rides an old-school motorcycle,” I’d think. “Makes sense.”

Post-hospitalization, my friends gently reminded me that their personal information was still online. I deleted my account for good.

My pact to stay off social was tested when I started looking for an agent. I scanned interviews and attended panels in which agents said that a strong social media presence was something they looked for in a client. I read manuscript “wish lists” that expressed a keen interest in working with influencers. I noticed that writers in my social circle had, on average, 20,000 Instagram followers, and some had upward of 50,000 Twitter followers.

At the start of 2021, I gave it a try. One agent advised writers to pick a platform and get good at it. I guessed my strong suit would be Twitter. Like an endless Pez dispenser, I can come up with wisecracks all day. With a few quips queued up, I started an account, waited for something spectacular to happen, and pressed delete the next day.

It just didn’t feel right. As a 41-year-old woman, I chafed at the idea of building a “me” brand. I also objected to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for moral and ethical reasons. I didn’t want to support men who had supported the rise of hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and a racist megalomaniac who committed human rights atrocities at the U.S.-Mexico border that this country has yet to properly acknowledge or reckon with. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey put profit before people—demonstrating how easy it is for tech to manipulate government and destabilize democracy.

I do not wish to discount how essential social media is for connecting people amid a global pandemic. Nor do I wish to ignore or dismiss how critical these platforms have been for social justice movements such as the Arab Spring, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and even #PublishingPaidMe, which revealed deep racial disparities in the amount writers are paid and the ways publishing continues to be predominantly white—from literary agencies to the Big Five (or is it the Big Four?) publishers.

By now, publishers expect writers to become their own publicists and marking team—and I imagine that landing a viral tweet must feel incredible. For me, though, as someone who lacks self-discipline, easily gets addicted to things, and still manages to spend time on Twitter (snooping, sleuthing, and lurking) without an account, social media would put a stake in the heart of my career.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Hubris

Hubris is character trait that features excessive pride or inflated self-confidence, leading a protagonist to disregard a divine warning or violate an important moral law. As a literary device, hubris is commonly exhibited by a tragic hero as their tragic flaw, or hamartia. The extreme pride or arrogance of hubris often consumes a character, blinding them to reason and resulting in their ultimate downfall.

. . . .

Examples of Hubris in Fictional Characters

Hubris is a common literary device applied to fictional characters whose excessive pride, self-importance, or arrogance leads them to negative consequences. Here are some examples of fictional characters that exhibit hubris:

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)
Gaston (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)
Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)
Prince Humperdinck (The Princess Bride)
Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary)
Troy Maxson (Fences)
Willie Stark (All the King’s Men)
Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein)
Doctor Faustus (Doctor Faustus)
Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire)

. . . .

Difference Between Hubris and Pride

Though pride is often used as a synonym for hubris, there are differences between the two. Hubris indicates an excess of pride, confidence, and self-importance. Pride, in its authentic nature, is considered positive and desirable. Pride is associated with healthy self-esteem, self-evaluation, and self-confidence. The outcome of authentic pride as a character trait is generally an individual who is considered conscientious, emotionally stable, and agreeable.

However, hubristic pride is considered negative and undesirable as a character trait. Hubris is characterized by low internal self-esteem, arrogance, egotism, aggression, disagreeableness, and even shame. In addition, the outcomes associated with hubristic pride are recklessness, impulsiveness, disregard for the well-being of others, and heightened attention to the individual’s image or persona.

Link to the rest at Literary Devices

Facebook is nearing a reputational point of no return

From The Economist:

Disaster struck the world’s biggest social network on October 4th when Facebook and its sister apps were knocked offline for six hours. It was one of the less embarrassing moments of the company’s week. The next day a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, told Congress of all manner of wickedness at the firm, from promoting eating disorders to endangering democracy. Some wondered whether the world would be a better place if the outage were permanent.

A share of the opprobrium heaped on Facebook is incoherent. Politicians are angry but so far seem incapable of co-ordinating reform to rein it in. And investors have kept buying the stock, regardless of the bad headlines. Yet the company should take no comfort from this. The blind fury unleashed shows that its reputational problems have got out of hand.

Some of this week’s criticism was tendentious. Reports highlighted internal research showing that Instagram, Facebook’s photo-sharing app, makes one in five American teenagers feel worse about themselves. They paid less attention to the finding that Instagram makes twice as many feel better about themselves. Facebook’s critics are right that it should be more open. But the firm has half a point when it says that the hysterical reaction to unsurprising findings will lead companies to conclude that it is safer not to do such research at all.

Other complaints are really criticisms of the broader internet. The question of how to regulate viral content for children goes beyond Facebook, as any parent who has left their child with YouTube knows. Likewise, dilemmas over how the firm amplifies attention and how to draw the line between upholding free speech and minimising harm. Facebook repeated its plea that Congress should weigh in on matters such as minimum ages, rather than leaving it to firms. It has made a better stab than most at settling free-speech questions with its “oversight board”, a pompous-sounding but quietly useful body which dispenses rulings on matters from misogyny to misinformation.

The most damaging claim this week gained the least attention. Ms Haugen alleges that Facebook has concealed a decline in its young American users. She revealed internal projections that a drop in teenagers’ engagement could lead to an overall decline in American users of 45% within the next two years. Investors have long faced a lack of open disclosure. Misleading advertisers would undermine the source of nearly all the firm’s sales, and potentially break the law. (The firm denies it.)

. . . .

But fury may matter. Facebook is nearing a reputational point of no return. Even when it set out plausible responses to Ms Haugen, people no longer wanted to hear. The firm risks joining the ranks of corporate untouchables like big tobacco. If that idea takes hold, Facebook risks losing its young, liberal staff. Even if its ageing customers stick with the social network, Facebook has bigger ambitions that could be foiled if public opinion continues to curdle. Who wants a metaverse created by Facebook? Perhaps as many people as would like their health care provided by Philip Morris.

Link to the rest at The Economist

London Chef Elizabeth Haigh’s Cookbook Withdrawn After Plagiarism Allegations

From Eater London:

The worlds of London food and international cookbooks are rocking after far-reaching allegations of plagiarism by a highly regarded chef. Cookbook publisher Bloomsbury Absolute has withdrawn Makan, the debut cookbook by Mei Mei owner Elizabeth Haigh, after allegations of plagiarism from Sharon Wee, the author of Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen, a cookbook memoir published by Marshall Cavendish in 2012.

Wee issued a statement on her Instagram on Thursday 7 October, saying that she had been “distressed to discover that certain recipes and other content from my book had been copied or paraphrased without my consent in Makan by Elizabeth Haigh, and I immediately brought this matter to the attention of the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute.” Wee’s book is set to be republished in November 2021.

Eater contacted Wee, Haigh, and Bloomsbury for comment. Wee told Eater that she cannot elaborate on her statement for legal reasons; a spokesperson for Haigh said, “Elizabeth Haigh is not able to answer your questions, for legal reasons.” Bloomsbury Absolute initially returned an out-of-office auto-reply, before pointing to a statement given to industry publication The Bookseller, which followed a report in the Daily Mail: “This title has been withdrawn due to rights issues.”

. . . .

The email then presented examples from both books side-by-side:

Wee:

“My mother, like many of her friends, placed their most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy access while they cooked. That often meant a plastic tray . . . where there were small bottles of soy sauces, sesame oil, and jars of minced garlic, salt and sugar. In the past there would also have been a metal container to hold recycled cooking oil.”

Haigh:

“My mother . . . kept her most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy reach of where she cooked. That often meant a plastic tray full of little jars of oils, crispy-fried shallots or garlic, crushed garlic, salt and sugar. There was also usually an old metal pot for recycled or discarded frying oil.”

Wee (on transcribing her mother’s recipes):

“It faced many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

Haigh:

“It faced many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements . . . and learning the different daun (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

Wee:

“Ginger is thought to ‘pukol angin’ (beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). Hence, post-natal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind.’ In my case, a backache, especially in the winter, was often remedied with a knob of ginger, with the sliced surface dipped in brandy. The brandied ginger was used to rub my back and it left red streak marks, indicating the wind in my flesh and bones. It always worked.

The ginger flavour is strongest just beneath its skin. Therefore, leave the skin on to get the most of the flavour.”

Haigh:

“Ginger is thought to have healing properties – pukol angin (to beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). This is why postnatal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind’ . . . The strongest ginger is just beneath the skin, so to get the most flavour out of it don’t peel it.”

Further allegations followed, suggesting that recipes had been lifted from more than one source. Singaporean poet and critic Daryl Lim shared two Instagram posts detailing similarities between Makan and other recipes, from blogs and other cookbooks, as well as between Haigh’s book and Sharon Wee’s.

Link to the rest at Eater London

Are Recipes and Cookbooks Protected by Copyright?

From The Copyright Alliance:

Recently, the owner of a website that aimed to “fix online recipes” by removing ads and stories apologized and removed the website after receiving complaints via social media. While the website hoped to create an easier reading experience for visitors, the owner acknowledged that a great deal of time, money, and effort go into creating these recipes and the content that accompanies them.

Given the recent controversy, we thought this would be a good time to discuss the copyrightability of recipes. Can you copyright a recipe and, if so, which elements? What about copyright protection for cookbooks?

What Copyright Law Protects

Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. So, a work needs to be original, independently created by a human author, and possess at least some minimal degree of creativity while also being set in a sufficiently permanent form.

Recipes easily meet most of these requirements. For instance, they usually satisfy the “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” factor by being recorded in a cookbook or website or even on a piece of paper. They are also independently created by a human author — usually someone’s grandma, it would seem. However, despite meeting most of the requirements, standing alone, recipes are usually not protected by copyright.

Can You Copyright a Recipe?

Recipes are usually not protected by copyright due to the idea-expression dichotomy. The idea-expression dichotomy creates a dividing line between ideas, which are not protected by copyright law, and the expression of those ideas, which can be protected by copyright law.

There are rare times where the idea and the expression of the idea are so intertwined that there is only one way, or very few ways, to express the idea. When this is the case, that expression of the idea is not protected by copyright law. A recipe’s list of ingredients, or simple directions, is so intertwined with the idea of that recipe that there are very few ways to express this idea; so, a simple list of ingredients or simple directions will not usually be protected by copyright.

Based on this reasoning, the United States Copyright Office Compendium, the Office’s manual for examiners, states that a mere listing of ingredients or contents is not copyrightable, as lists are not protected by copyright law (chapter 314.4(F)). The Office has also stated that a “simple set of directions” is uncopyrightable.

In addition, courts have found that recipes are wholly factual and functional, and therefore uncopyrightable. As the Sixth Circuit described in Tomaydo-Tomahdo, LLC v. Vozary, “the list of ingredients is merely a factual statement, and as previously discussed, facts are not copyrightable. Furthermore, a recipe’s instructions, as functional directions, are statutorily excluded from copyright protection.”

Further, in Publications Int’l., Ltd. v. Meredith Corp., the Seventh Circuit explained that certain recipes may be copyrightable, as there is a difference between barebones recipes and those that “convey more than simply the directions for producing a certain dish.”

Recipes can be protected under copyright law if they are accompanied by “substantial literary expression.” This expression can be an explanation or detailed directions, which is likely why food and recipe bloggers often share stories and personal anecdotes alongside a recipe’s ingredients.

A recipe can also be protected by copyright law if it creatively describes or explains the cooking or baking process connected to the list of ingredients. Even if the description of the recipe is sufficiently creative and copyrightable, the copyright will not cover the recipe’s ingredient list, the underlying process for making the dish, or the resulting dish itself, which are all facts. It will only protect the expression of those facts. That means that someone can express the recipe in a different way — with different expression — and not infringe the recipe creator’s copyright.

Cookbooks Can Be Protected as Copyrightable Compilations

What about a compilation of recipes, like those found in a cookbook? A cookbook can be protected under copyright law as a compilation if the selection, arrangement, and coordination of the included recipes is creative.

The copyright for a compilation does not cover the individual works included in the compilation, such as the individual recipes within the cookbook.

Link to the rest at The Copyright Alliance

Even if it were possible to copyright recipes, the Guardian’s account indicates that the offended chef was not the creator of the recipes and that the chef transcribed her mother’s recipes:

It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

PG claims no special expertise about UK copyright law, but some quick research on the UK Copyright Licensing Agency website indicates that recipes may not be copyrightable under UK law for the same rationale as applies to recipes under US law.

From The Guardian in 2006:

Can a recipe – as some of the world’s top restaurateurs and food experts are now asking – ever be considered intellectual property?

An altogether more complex dish has prompted this debate on the online food forum, eGullet, this week. The recipe, in brief: prawns are pureed using an enzyme called transglutiminase, extruded into a noodle, cooked, and served with smoked yoghurt, paprika and nori. Not the sort of meal that two chefs separated by 10,355 miles are likely to invent at the same time.

Still, identical versions of this dish did appear simultaneously on the websites of two cutting-edge restaurants – Melbourne’s Interlude, run by a 31-year-old British chef, Robin Wickens, a former student of Raymond Blanc; and Wylie Dufresne, head chef/owner of WD-50, a restaurant in New York’s trendy Lower East Side. The former, it quickly transpired, had copied the latter, without crediting the innovator. Interlude also appeared to have produced direct replicas of recipes from several other restaurants, leading to one eGullet poster to warn Wickens to prepare to be labelled a “fraud”.

Wickens told the Guardian that the near-identical dishes were a result of a research trip to WD-50 and said that, “At no time did I try and claim that I invented any of the dishes that I had experienced in the US and recreated at Interlude.”

“It might be a bloody cheek. But so what?” says restaurant reviewer Egon Ronay. “It goes on all the time. Chefs travel the world looking for dishes and try to imitate them in their own menus. That’s how good cooking spreads – it’s what food is all about. Frankly, in my view, it doesn’t matter a damn.”

Dufresne is reluctant to criticise Wickens, who recently sent him a letter of apology. Whatever his justification, Wickens has opened a pandora’s box. As an eGullet editorial put it: “We believe the Interlude controversy is not a simple matter of a lone Australian restaurant copying a few dishes from halfway around the world. Rather, it’s one of the most significant issues facing the global culinary community today.”

But can you copyright a recipe? Could Heston Blumenthal register his roast spiced cod with castelluccio lentils? Or St John’s Fergus Henderson his roast bone marrow with parsley salad? No, says Alex Papakyriacou, of intellectual property law firm Briffa. “Case law suggests that reproducing a written recipe in the preparation of a dish is not copyright infringement. The same goes for recipes that have been communicated aurally or by a chef deciphering the ingredients and method involved in the preparation of a recipe by sampling a dish prepared to it.”

Nor is it possible to patent a recipe, either in the UK or US, because the organic development of food will never constitute an “inventive step”. In short: you will never know definitively where your pizza or prawn noodle originated.

But if there is no legal basis crediting a dish, is there a moral incentive? “Only if it’s a signature dish by one of the very few truly original chefs in the world,” says Richard Corrigan, the chef owner of two of London’s top restaurants, Lindsay House and Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill. “Everyone has been robbed in the middle of London, it’s normal. But it doesn’t bother me; I’m sometimes tickled. Every restaurant in London is after my bread recipe, for example, and it’s not easy to keep it a secret.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Even if it were possible to copyright recipes, the Guardian’s account indicates that the offended chef was not the creator of the recipes and that the chef transcribed her mother’s recipes:

It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

In her Instagram post decrying the use of these recipes, Ms. Wee wrote, “I wrote my book in loving memory of my mother. I credit her and her peers for their anecdotes, recipes and cooking tips. This was their story.”

PG suggests that this statement, if true, could be interpreted to mean that all sorts of people besides Ms. Wee’s mother used the recipes in her cookbook and even Ms. Wee’s mother was not the creator of the recipes which Ms. Wee wishes to take credit and prevent others from copying.

The fact that Ms. Wee was the first person to write down these recipes in English and publish them doesn’t make her any sort of a creator of the type that copyright laws are designed to protect.

To be clear, plagiarism may rightly be regarded as bad behavior, but unless the plagiarist violates copyright law, there’s no foul under US law.

Empathy

Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.

Sterling K. Brown

Silverview

From The Wall Street Journal:

When writers die they typically leave behind false starts and unfinished manuscripts, but, unless the death is sudden, it’s less usual to find an entire novel complete and unpublished. But that’s just what we have in John le Carré’s “Silverview,” now sent into the world by the author’s son, Nick Cornwell, who tells us in an afterword that the book was essentially finished, needing only a bit of editorial tweaking. His father, he says, began the novel right after “A Delicate Truth” (2013)—an angry work that helped bring the expression “deep state” into common parlance. That novel amounted to a well-wrought exercise in contempt for the increasingly privatized and deeply corrupt “War on Terror.” It has all the ingredients of most of le Carré’s post-9/11 work: American mischief, for-profit military forces, black ops, deniability, “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced interrogation,” an idealistic innocent and a British civil servant on the take.

“Silverview” has some of that, but le Carré continued to withhold and rework it, moving on instead to publish “A Legacy of Spies” in 2017. Expanding on elements from “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and dragging an ageless Smiley out of storage after a quarter of a century, that novel had a bottom-of-the-barrel feel. Finally, with “Silverview” still sequestered, le Carré produced his last novel, “Agent Running in the Field,” a blast against Brexit and Trump—and, once again, not one of this great author’s best. But here at last is “Silverview,” the novel we didn’t know we were waiting for.

Julian Lawndsley, 33, has opened a bookstore in a small town on the coast of East Anglia. Perhaps le Carré means to pay homage to Penelope Fitzgerald’s fine little East Anglian novel “The Bookshop” here, but he has done his own proprietor the favor of equipping him with a fortune, acquired as a trader in the City. What Julian really lacks, however, is any knowledge of bookselling or, indeed, of literature, something which is beginning to oppress him. One day, the “sixty-something” Edward Avon enters the shop, expresses his great pleasure that it exists, and suggests that Julian stock W.G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn,” another novel set (in part) in East Anglia—and one with which “Silverview” shares some preoccupations. It later turns out that Edward went to school with Julian’s father—thus, a bond is forged. Edward becomes Julian’s adviser, popping into the shop to use the computers to track down the out-of-print books he believes the shop should carry.

But, really, who is this fellow? When asked, Edward replies, “Let us say I am a British mongrel, retired, a former academic of no merit and one of life’s odd-job men.” He turns out to have been born in Poland and is married to Deborah Garton, a wealthy, wellborn Englishwoman, who at one time was frequently away working for various quasi-governmental organizations—she says—but is now dying of cancer. Seeking more information on his new friend, Julian pays a call on a neighboring shopkeeper, Celia Merridew, of Celia’s Bygones, a junk shop by any other name. Celia, a font of gossip and gripes, invites him in for a “ginny” (served, like Mrs. Gamp’s, from a teapot). She tells him that she and Edward used to run a nice under-the-table business, with Celia and her shop fronting for Edward who was—he said—buying and selling Ming porcelain over the internet. In return she received frequent envelopes of cash—until recently when Edward’s Lady Muck wife put an end to it.

Elsewhere we meet Stewart and Ellen Proctor, depicted by le Carré with his customary genius for class taxonomy and attributes, conjuring up their understated privilege—good schools, garden parties, arch family sayings, infidelities and societal role in the secret services, “the spiritual sanctum of Britain’s ruling classes.” Stewart is, in fact, Britain’s “chief sniffer-dog”—he’s head of Domestic Security. He has recently been given a sealed envelope from Deborah, delivered by her testy daughter, Lily. Stewart has just learned of “a five-star breach” in security which takes him off to visit Orford and a joint British, American and NATO base on the coast, a “military Disneyland of dazzle-painted hangars and black bombers.” Three hundred feet below it lies “a dedicated nuclear hellhole,” chambers designed for nuclear weapons. A maze of tunnels running under East Anglia supplies a closed-circuit fiber optic system linking the base to others in the region, but unconnected to the outside. Still, there has been a breach, and it’s a puzzler.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but, if not, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The Space in Between: An Empath’s Field Guide

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

One of the blurbs offered for my book The Space in Between: An Empath’s Field Guide generously states that I “put words to the wordless,” which honestly, was the most gratifying praise I could have received. It also partly explains why it took me so long to write my book—nearly ten years of countless revisions, exploring how to articulate my intuitive sensory existence.

For many empathic persons the world can be confusing and isolating; particularly for those who are unaware that they receive extrasensory information from the environment and unwittingly accept what they feel as their own. Or for those who are aware that they are empathic, yet feel a disconnect due to a lack of definition and understanding of what that means within society. Most dictionaries, in fact, place the origin of “empath” in science fiction and fantasy, which hints at the difficulties people with such sensitivities and abilities face in communicating how they experience the world.

How do you validate your sensory experiences of feeling emotions, thoughts, and physical discomfort of others when even the dictionary—the authority on language—only affords you an existence in science fiction or fantasy?

The effort of giving language, and thus form, to the nebulous-yet-visceral experiences of an empath undeniably challenged me. My intention throughout my writing process was to demystify the empathic experience for anyone, empath or not, and that meant I needed a way to let the reader into my world. The irony is not lost on me that “world building” is typically a task for fantasy and science fiction writers and not one for a nonfiction writer describing the physical world we all inhabit in the here and now.

And there’s the rub; empathic or not, we don’t all inhabit the same view or perception of the world. Once I recognized that the dictionary’s definition of an empath revealed more about the collective mainstream beliefs and biases than what an empath was, beyond labeling it a paranormal ability, my book’s structure emerged, as did my sense of purpose. I would be a guide to the reader, supported by ancient Greek poet Pindar’s prompt, which has been my personal touchstone and is quoted in the early pages of my book: “Learn who you are and be such.”

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

The Weirdest Schools in Literature

From Electric Lit:

Schools have their own set of rules and morality, rituals and language. What makes sense in an elite private Manhattan school—good grades, fancy clothes, the competitive sports of the wealthy (squash and tennis) can be entirely anathema in a progressive school where cooperation, eschewing of labels, and creativity are valued. In a small community, an outsider can never fit in or understand what goes on in the center. Sometimes the most ordinary school can be rendered creepy. The inhabitants—students and teachers—are stuck there after all until they graduate or retire. Throw in a charismatic leader, secret society, or strange ideology, and what you have is a cult.

. . . .

Many of us remember our high school years with the intensity as if they happened yesterday. I can barely remember anything that happened the year before the pandemic, but I can still smell my high school cafeteria at noontime. Bewildering things happen in schools all the time and there are often no other adult witnesses. The wildest things happen in schools: violence, sex, breakdowns and breakups, abusive teachers, bullying, tragedy, but comedy also. Boarding schools are especially ripe settings for novels and I’ve included four novels that take place in them. Carrie is the most American, most John Hughes of all the high schools on the list and Curtis Sittenfeld’s is perhaps the most benign. Ishiguro the most heartbreaking—the students are doomed from the start.

. . . .

The Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA) in Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

As grownups, we look back on our school years with bewilderment and sometimes bewitchment. Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise has all the culty elements I appreciate in a novel: an ’80s school culture I recognize, teenage romance, artistic ambition, unreliable narrators, surprise twists, and a dangerously charismatic leader. The Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA) is a high school for talented drama students. The first third of Trust Exercise, features Mr. Kingsley, a charismatic teacher with an arbitrary set of rules and criteria for succeeding:

“His very way of gazing told them plainly how far they fell short….they felt their deficit all the more sharply because the unit of measure was wholly unknown.”

The last two-thirds spin the entire book on its head; the author pulling us through the high school gauntlet experientially: elliptical, circuitous, gaslighting.

. . . .

The Leoncio Prado Military Academy in The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargos Llosa, translated by Lysander Kemp

Originally titled La Ciudad y Los Perros, “The City and the Dogs”, this 1963 novel is set at the military academy in Lima that Llosa himself attended as a teenager and deals with the death of a student and the school’s subsequent cover up. This nonlinear story is told from multiple perspectives and was influenced by Faulkner who Vargas Llosa said he read with pencil and paper in hand trying to attempt to distill Faulkner’s style. The abuse and violence described was directly related to Vargas Llosa’s own 1950s experience as a student there in the 1950s and the publication of the novel so angered the administration that they went on to publicly burn 1,000 copies.   

. . . .

Ault School in Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Upper-class waspy prep schools are something I can’t get enough of. A club so elite they’d never accept me? Please, tell me more. I devoured this book when it came out. Being a Midwesterner myself, I also pined for the J Crew catalog-looking East Coast boarding schools and begged my mother to attend one. However, because we were not rich and I was a fairly terrible student, it was never going to happen. Prep is the quintessential fish out of water story: Lee is Midwestern, not rich, not schooled in the ways of the monied East Coast elite, but she wants desperately to fit in. She finds herself, at least initially, with the outsiders on the margins, but rejects them as she moves closer to the center. Ault School is full of the sort of arcane rituals one expects: names like Tig and Cross and Gates, summers in Nantucket, and the game of Assassin played throughout campus.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

A Writer Says Goodbye to the Twittersphere

From Publishers Weekly:

A novelist friend told me that social media is pretty much mandatory these days, otherwise I could expect to remain plankton in a sea of fish all swimming toward the same accolades. As a poet, I’m already used to being a small fry, yet as I move into writing journalism and creative nonfiction, I’ve wondered whether I should log back on.

I quit Facebook in 2014 after a manic episode that reared its Medusa-like head online. My wall was a mess of incoherent thoughts, followed by all the email rejections I’d ever received, copied and pasted from my inbox. For the grand finale, I wrote that I would stage a hunger strike to protest the government’s lackluster care for those living with mental illness. Soon after my last post—but not before I typed out the addresses, emails, and phone numbers of my closest friends (should the news media want to reach out to them for comment)—I was hospitalized and newly diagnosed with bipolar I.

As it turns out, extreme social embarrassment is an excellent way to curb a Facebook addiction. A true introvert and a perpetual validation seeker, I knew my pictures were never cute enough, my posts never witty enough, and I spent hours looking at the profiles of women that guys had dumped me for. “She rides an old-school motorcycle,” I’d think. “Makes sense.”

Post-hospitalization, my friends gently reminded me that their personal information was still online. I deleted my account for good.

My pact to stay off social was tested when I started looking for an agent. I scanned interviews and attended panels in which agents said that a strong social media presence was something they looked for in a client. I read manuscript “wish lists” that expressed a keen interest in working with influencers. I noticed that writers in my social circle had, on average, 20,000 Instagram followers, and some had upward of 50,000 Twitter followers.

At the start of 2021, I gave it a try. One agent advised writers to pick a platform and get good at it. I guessed my strong suit would be Twitter. Like an endless Pez dispenser, I can come up with wisecracks all day. With a few quips queued up, I started an account, waited for something spectacular to happen, and pressed delete the next day.

It just didn’t feel right. As a 41-year-old woman, I chafed at the idea of building a “me” brand. I also objected to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for moral and ethical reasons. I didn’t want to support men who had supported the rise of hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and a racist megalomaniac who committed human rights atrocities at the U.S.-Mexico border that this country has yet to properly acknowledge or reckon with. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey put profit before people—demonstrating how easy it is for tech to manipulate government and destabilize democracy.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG may have mentioned that he quit using his Facebook account several months ago after changing a lot of personal information about himself to information about nobody. He expects that anyone who may stumble upon his moribund account and knows him will likely conclude his account has been hacked.

PG used this tactic after being unable to locate any way to simply close his FB account. He changed his Facebook password to a long random string of numbers and letters without keeping a copy so he wouldn’t try to revive his account in a moment of weakness.

PG’s motivation for departing from Facebook World was an unanalyzed feeling that Facebook was getting a little creepy, almost stalking him during his online travels.

The recent disclosures of how much information which many might regard as private the company collects from its users has confirmed PG’s sense of FB creepiness.

So he’s off FB for good. If for any reason he decides he needs to go onto FB again to check out something, he’ll create a phony profile for that purpose, use it, then abandon it again.

Yes, PG regularly clears his browser cache of cookies and trackers. He also deploys a VPN that lets him appear to be logging in from Greece or Taiwan with an anonymous browser program that doesn’t keep anything when he wanders into places he suspects may try to track him in some way. He also has a bunch of burner email addresses he uses strictly for signing up for a single service (if you’re willing to use long nonesense Gmail addresses a few times as burner email accounts, PG hasn’t found any noticeable objection from Google so far. If he sees a report of Google cracking down on Gmail abuse in Taiwan, he may change this strategy.)

If PG were an author who was ordered to establish a social media presence in connection with a book or books, he might use some or all of these tactics to exploit FB without being exploited by FB in return.

Amazon Fake Reviews Scam Exposed in Data Breach

From Safety Detectives:

The SafetyDetectives cybersecurity team uncovered an open ElasticSearch database exposing an organized fake reviews scam affecting Amazon.

The server contained a treasure trove of direct messages between Amazon vendors and customers willing to provide fake reviews in exchange for free products. In total, 13,124,962 of these records (or 7 GB of data) have been exposed in the breach, potentially implicating more than 200,000 people in unethical activities.

While it is unclear who owns the database, the breach demonstrates the inner workings of a prevalent issue affecting the online retail industry.

How the Process Works

The information found on the open ElasticSearch server outlines a common procedure by which Amazon vendors procure ‘fake reviews’ for their products.

These Amazon vendors send to reviewers a list of items/products for which they would like a 5-star review. The people providing the ‘fake reviews’ will then buy the products, leaving a 5-star review on Amazon a few days after receiving their merchandise.

Upon completion, the provider of the fake review will send a message to the vendor containing a link to their Amazon profile, along with their PayPal details.

Once the Amazon vendor confirms all reviews have been completed, the reviewer will receive a refund through PayPal, keeping the items they bought for free as a form of payment.

The refund for any purchased goods is actioned through PayPal and not directly through Amazon’s platform. This makes the five-star review look legitimate, so as not to arouse suspicion from Amazon moderators.

. . . .

2. Data related to the reviewers

Messages on the ElasticSearch server also contained other forms of directly and indirectly identifiable personal data exposing the reviewers themselves, such as:

  • 75K links to Amazon accounts/profiles of review sellers
  • PayPal account details (email addresses)
  • Email addresses
  • ‘Fan names’ – supposedly usernames, often containing names & surnames

Leaked PayPal account details and ‘fan names’ outline email addresses and what seems to be the usernames of people providing fake reviews. These details could be used to indirectly identify individuals, while many of them contained full names and surnames.

The Gmail addresses of reviewers were also provided to vendors directly via message. In total, 232,664 Gmail addresses have been exposed on the server, though some of the email addresses were duplicates.

. . . .

The ‘Gmail’ figure covers only those individuals who use Google as their mail provider. When we factor in the presence of other types of email accounts, such as Outlook, the enormity of this breach becomes apparent. 75,000 Amazon accounts were leaked as well, although there are potentially several duplicates included in this figure. Along with Amazon vendors compromised through their contact details, it’s reasonable to estimate that around 200,000-250,000 people were affected by this breach.

The server appeared to be located in China, and it is thought the leak affected citizens from Europe and the USA (at a minimum). In reality, the leak could have affected individuals from all corners of the world.

Link to the rest at Safety Detectives and thanks to O. for the tip.

Who Is the Bad Art Friend?

From The New York Times:

There is a sunny earnestness to Dawn Dorland, an un-self-conscious openness that endears her to some people and that others have found to be a little extra. Her friends call her a “feeler”: openhearted and eager, pressing to make connections with others even as, in many instances, she feels like an outsider. An essayist and aspiring novelist who has taught writing classes in Los Angeles, she is the sort of writer who, in one authorial mission statement, declares her faith in the power of fiction to “share truth,” to heal trauma, to build bridges. (“I’m compelled at funerals to shake hands with the dusty men who dig our graves,” she has written.) She is known for signing off her emails not with “All best” or “Sincerely,” but “Kindly.”

On June 24, 2015, a year after completing her M.F.A. in creative writing, Dorland did perhaps the kindest, most consequential thing she might ever do in her life. She donated one of her kidneys, and elected to do it in a slightly unusual and particularly altruistic way. As a so-called nondirected donation, her kidney was not meant for anyone in particular but instead was part of a donation chain, coordinated by surgeons to provide a kidney to a recipient who may otherwise have no other living donor. There was some risk with the procedure, of course, and a recovery to think about, and a one-kidney life to lead from that point forward. But in truth, Dorland, in her 30s at the time, had been wanting to do it for years. “As soon as I learned I could,” she told me recently, on the phone from her home in Los Angeles, where she and her husband were caring for their toddler son and elderly pit bull (and, in their spare time, volunteering at dog shelters and searching for adoptive families for feral cat litters). “It’s kind of like not overthinking love, you know?”

Several weeks before the surgery, Dorland decided to share her truth with others. She started a private Facebook group, inviting family and friends, including some fellow writers from GrubStreet, the Boston writing center where Dorland had spent many years learning her craft. After her surgery, she posted something to her group: a heartfelt letter she’d written to the final recipient of the surgical chain, whoever they may be.

. . . .

The procedure went well. By a stroke of luck, Dorland would even get to meet the recipient, an Orthodox Jewish man, and take photos with him and his family. In time, Dorland would start posting outside the private group to all of Facebook, celebrating her one-year “kidneyversary” and appearing as a UCLA Health Laker for a Day at the Staples Center to support live-organ donation. But just after the surgery, when she checked Facebook, Dorland noticed some people she’d invited into the group hadn’t seemed to react to any of her posts. On July 20, she wrote an email to one of them: a writer named Sonya Larson.

. . . .

When it comes to literary success, the stakes can be pretty low — a fellowship or residency here, a short story published there. But it seemed as if Larson was having the sort of writing life that Dorland once dreamed of having. After many years, Dorland, still teaching, had yet to be published. But to an extent that she once had a writing community, GrubStreet was it. And Larson was, she believed, a close friend.

Editors’ Picks

Over email, on July 21, 2015, Larson answered Dorland’s message with a chirpy reply — “How have you been, my dear?” Dorland replied with a rundown of her next writing residencies and workshops, and as casually as possible, asked: “I think you’re aware that I donated my kidney this summer. Right?”

Only then did Larson gush: “Ah, yes — I did see on Facebook that you donated your kidney. What a tremendous thing!”

Afterward, Dorland would wonder: If she really thought it was that great, why did she need reminding that it happened?

. . . .

They wouldn’t cross paths again until the following spring — a brief hello at A.W.P., the annual writing conference, where the subject of Dorland’s kidney went unmentioned. A month later, at the GrubStreet Muse conference in Boston, Dorland sensed something had shifted — not just with Larson but with various GrubStreet eminences, old friends and mentors of hers who also happened to be members of Larson’s writing group, the Chunky Monkeys. Barely anyone brought up what she’d done, even though everyone must have known she’d done it. “It was a little bit like, if you’ve been at a funeral and nobody wanted to talk about it — it just was strange to me,” she said. “I left that conference with this question: Do writers not care about my kidney donation? Which kind of confused me, because I thought I was in a community of service-oriented people.”

It didn’t take long for a clue to surface. On June 24, 2016, a Facebook friend of Dorland’s named Tom Meek commented on one of Dorland’s posts.

Sonya read a cool story about giving out a kidney. You came to my mind and I wondered if you were the source of inspiration?

Still impressed you did this.

Dorland was confused. A year earlier, Larson could hardly be bothered to talk about it. Now, at Trident bookstore in Boston, she’d apparently read from a new short story about that very subject. Meek had tagged Larson in his comment, so Dorland thought that Larson must have seen it. She waited for Larson to chime in — to say, “Oh, yes, I’d meant to tell you, Dawn!” or something like that — but there was nothing. Why would Sonya write about it, she wondered, and not tell her?

Six days later, she decided to ask her. Much as she had a year earlier, she sent Larson a friendly email, including one pointed request: “Hey, I heard you wrote a kidney-donation story. Cool! Can I read it?”

. . . .

Ten days later, Larson wrote back saying that yes, she was working on a story “about a woman who receives a kidney, partially inspired by how my imagination took off after learning of your own tremendous donation.” In her writing, she spun out a scenario based not on Dorland, she said, but on something else — themes that have always fascinated her. “I hope it doesn’t feel too weird for your gift to have inspired works of art,” Larson wrote.

Dorland wrote back within hours. She admitted to being “a little surprised,” especially “since we’re friends and you hadn’t mentioned it.” The next day, Larson replied, her tone a bit removed, stressing that her story was “not about you or your particular gift, but about narrative possibilities I began thinking about.”

But Dorland pressed on. “It’s the interpersonal layer that feels off to me, Sonya. … You seemed not to be aware of my donation until I pointed it out. But if you had already kicked off your fictional project at this time, well, I think your behavior is a little deceptive. At least, weird.”

Larson’s answer this time was even cooler. “Before this email exchange,” she wrote, “I hadn’t considered that my individual vocal support (or absence of it) was of much significance.”

Which, though it was shrouded in politesse, was a different point altogether. Who, Larson seemed to be saying, said we were such good friends?

For many years now, Dorland has been working on a sprawling novel, “Econoline,” which interweaves a knowing, present-day perspective with vivid, sometimes brutal but often romantic remembrances of an itinerant rural childhood. The van in the title is, she writes in a recent draft, “blue as a Ty-D-Bowl tablet. Bumbling on the highway, bulky and off-kilter, a junebug in the wind.” The family in the narrative survives on “government flour, canned juice and beans” and “ruler-long bricks of lard” that the father calls “commodities.”

Dorland is not shy about explaining how her past has afforded her a degree of moral clarity that others might not come by so easily. She was raised in near poverty in rural Iowa. Her parents moved around a lot, she told me, and the whole family lived under a stigma. One small consolation was the way her mother modeled a certain perverse self-reliance, rejecting the judgments of others. Another is how her turbulent youth has served as a wellspring for much of her writing. She made her way out of Iowa with a scholarship to Scripps College in California, followed by divinity school at Harvard. Unsure of what to do next, she worked day jobs in advertising in Boston while dabbling in workshops at the GrubStreet writing center. When she noticed classmates cooing over Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Housekeeping,” she picked up a copy. After inhaling its story of an eccentric small-town upbringing told with sensitive, all-seeing narration, she knew she wanted to become a writer.

At GrubStreet, Dorland eventually became one of several “teaching scholars” at the Muse conference, leading workshops on such topics as “Truth and Taboo: Writing Past Shame.” Dorland credits two members of the Chunky Monkeys group, Adam Stumacher and Chris Castellani, with advising her. But in hindsight, much of her GrubStreet experience is tied up with her memories of Sonya Larson. She thinks they first met at a one-off writing workshop Larson taught, though Larson, for her part, says she doesn’t remember this. Everybody at GrubStreet knew Larson — she was one of the popular, ever-present people who worked there. On nights out with other Grubbies, Dorland remembers Larson getting personal, confiding about an engagement, the death of someone she knew and plans to apply to M.F.A. programs — though Larson now says she shared such things widely. When a job at GrubStreet opened up, Larson encouraged her to apply. Even when she didn’t get it, everyone was so gracious about it, including Larson, that she felt included all the same.

Now, as she read these strained emails from Larson — about this story of a kidney donation; her kidney donation? — Dorland wondered if everyone at GrubStreet had been playing a different game, with rules she’d failed to grasp. On July 15, 2016, Dorland’s tone turned brittle, even wounded: “Here was a friend entrusting something to you, making herself vulnerable to you. At least, the conclusion I can draw from your responses is that I was mistaken to consider us the friends that I did.”

Larson didn’t answer right away. Three days later, Dorland took her frustrations to Facebook, in a blind item: “I discovered that a writer friend has based a short story on something momentous I did in my own life, without telling me or ever intending to tell me (another writer tipped me off).” Still nothing from Larson.

Dorland waited another day and then sent her another message both in a text and in an email: “I am still surprised that you didn’t care about my personal feelings. … I wish you’d given me the benefit of the doubt that I wouldn’t interfere.” Yet again, no response.

The next day, on July 20, she wrote again: “Am I correct that you do not want to make peace? Not hearing from you sends that message.”

Larson answered this time. “I see that you’re merely expressing real hurt, and for that I am truly sorry,” she wrote on July 21. But she also changed gears a little. “I myself have seen references to my own life in others’ fiction, and it certainly felt weird at first. But I maintain that they have a right to write about what they want — as do I, and as do you.”

Hurt feelings or not, Larson was articulating an ideal — a principle she felt she and all writers ought to live up to. “For me, honoring another’s artistic freedom is a gesture of friendship,” Larson wrote, “and of trust.”

. . . .

Larson and Dorland have each taken and taught enough writing workshops to know that artists, almost by definition, borrow from life. They transform real people and events into something invented, because what is the great subject of art — the only subject, really — if not life itself? This was part of why Larson seemed so unmoved by Dorland’s complaints. Anyone can be inspired by anything. And if you don’t like it, why not write about it yourself?

But to Dorland, this was more than just material. She’d become a public voice in the campaign for live-organ donation, and she felt some responsibility for representing the subject in just the right way. The potential for saving lives, after all, matters more than any story. And yes, this was also her own life — the crystallization of the most important aspects of her personality, from the traumas of her childhood to the transcending of those traumas today. Her proudest moment, she told me, hadn’t been the surgery itself, but making it past the psychological and other clearances required to qualify as a donor. “I didn’t do it in order to heal. I did it because I had healed — I thought.”

The writing world seemed more suspicious to her now. At around the time of her kidney donation, there was another writer, a published novelist, who announced a new book with a protagonist who, in its description, sounded to her an awful lot like the one in “Econoline” — not long after she shared sections of her work in progress with him. That author’s book hasn’t been published, and so Dorland has no way of knowing if she’d really been wronged, but this only added to her sense that the guard rails had fallen off the profession. Beyond unhindered free expression, Dorland thought, shouldn’t there be some ethics? “What do you think we owe one another as writers in community?” she would wonder in an email, several months later, to The Times’s “Dear Sugars” advice podcast. (The show never responded.) “How does a writer like me, not suited to jadedness, learn to trust again after artistic betrayal?”

. . . .

By summer’s end, she and Sonya had forged a fragile truce. “I value our relationship and I regret my part in these miscommunications and misunderstandings,” Larson wrote on Aug. 16, 2016. Not long after, Dorland Googled “kidney” and “Sonya Larson” and a link turned up.

The story was available on Audible — an audio version, put out by a small company called Plympton. Dorland’s dread returned. In July, Larson told her, “I’m still working on the story.” Now here it was, ready for purchase.

She went back and forth about it, but finally decided not to listen to “The Kindest.” When I asked her about it, she took her time parsing that decision. “What if I had listened,” she said, “and just got a bad feeling, and just felt exploited. What was I going to do with that? What was I going to do with those emotions? There was nothing I thought I could do.”

So she didn’t click. “I did what I thought was artistically and emotionally healthy,” she said. “And also, it’s kind of what she had asked me to do.”

Dorland could keep ‘‘The Kindest” out of her life for only so long. In August 2017, the print magazine American Short Fiction published the short story. She didn’t buy a copy. Then in June 2018, she saw that the magazine dropped its paywall for the story. The promo and opening essay on American Short Fiction’s home page had startled her: a photograph of Larson, side-by-side with a shot of the short-fiction titan Raymond Carver. The comparison does make a certain sense: In Carver’s story “Cathedral,” a blind man proves to have better powers of perception than a sighted one; in “The Kindest,” the white-savior kidney donor turns out to need as much salvation as the Asian American woman she helped. Still, seeing Larson anointed this way was, to say the least, destabilizing.

Then she started to read the story. She didn’t get far before stopping short. Early on, Rose, the donor, writes a letter to Chuntao, asking to meet her.

I myself know something of suffering, but from those experiences I’ve acquired both courage and perseverance. I’ve also learned to appreciate the hardship that others are going through, no matter how foreign. Whatever you’ve endured, remember that you are never alone. … As I prepared to make this donation, I drew strength from knowing that my recipient would get a second chance at life. I withstood the pain by imagining and rejoicing in YOU.

Here, to Dorland’s eye, was an echo of the letter she’d written to her own recipient — and posted on her private Facebook group — rejiggered and reworded, yet still, she believed, intrinsically hers. Dorland was amazed. It had been three years since she donated her kidney. Larson had all that time to launder the letter — to rewrite it drastically or remove it — and she hadn’t bothered.

She showed the story’s letter to her husband, Chris, who had until that point given Larson the benefit of the doubt.

“Oh,” he said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times (unfortunately, there is a paywall) and thanks to D for the tip.

Perhaps PG is feeling a little unfeeling today. He blames an approaching winter storm.

From a strictly legal standpoint, nobody owns a story. The first person who created a story that follows the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl (and all the various gender variations to the basic structure) doesn’t own the story structure.

Copyright only protects a particular expression of a story, not the ideas behind the story. For example, PG can easily recall multiple instantiations of the following structure:

  1. Heroine sets out on a quest to accomplish something important. The quest involves a journey.
  2. Heroine encounters multiple obstacles and setbacks during the journey, some of which seem almost impossible to overcome.
  3. Using strength, skill, brains, and perhaps, luck or divine assistance, heroine overcomes each obstacle and ends up triumphant in the end.

The Odyssey follows this pattern. So does the story of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, along with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

In the OP, Ms. Dorland was not the first person to face the emotional stress of donating a kidney, making a great sacrifice, or risking her life to help someone else, known or unknown.

For PG, Ms. Larson’s explanation, that she wrote a story “about a woman who receives a kidney, partially inspired by how my imagination took off after learning of your own tremendous donation” rings true and does not violate any exclusive right of Ms. Dorland to tell such a story. Whether Ms. Larson heard about Ms. Dorland’s experience directly from Ms. Dorland or from someone else is, for PG, immaterial.

To get a bit legalistic about the matter, if Ms. Dorland wished to make certain Ms. Larson didn’t use her experience to write a story, Ms. Dorland should have asked for Ms. Larson to keep the matter confidential at a minimum. Absent Ms. Larson’s agreement to keep the matter secret, for PG, even a request would not grant Ms. Dorland any sort of exclusive right to the story.

Perhaps if the two women had engaged in a lengthy series of exchanges that were clearly intended and understood to remain confidential and the kidney transplant story was part of this series of conversations, Ms. Dorland might have had some legitimate expectation concerning Ms. Larson’s keeping the matter confidential.

But perhaps PG has missed something in the OP that makes his opinions questionable. He’s happy to hear contrary views in the comments. If this is something only two women would understand (but a lot of pairs of women would understand the same way), PG is happy to be told of his male blindness as well.

The Jailhouse Lawyer by James Patterson

From Novel Suspects:

PROLOGUE

I WASN’T PRESENT at the courthouse in Erva, Alabama, on that morning in June, when events unfolded that would suck me into the undertow of Douglas County. But I’ve talked to the people who were there. I’ve heard the story from all perspectives.

They all recalled that it was a bright day. The morning sun filled the courtroom with light, making the polished walnut benches and vintage millwork gleam.

The county inmates, garbed in orange scrubs, sat together in the front row of the courtroom gallery, bowing their heads to keep the sun out of their eyes. One young man covered his face with his hands.

The district attorney shifted in his chair to peer through the glass panes in the doors leading into the courtroom rotunda. His unlined face wore an anxious expression.

The court reporter’s heels tapped a nervous staccato beat on the tile floor. She turned and whispered to the bailiff, who stood beside the door to the chambers of Judge Wyatt Pickens.

“Well, where is he?” the court reporter said, just as the chamber door opened and Judge Pickens emerged.

The occupants of the courtroom jumped to their feet even before the bailiff’s voice called out, “All rise! The Circuit Court of Douglas County, Alabama, is now in session, Judge Wyatt Pickens presiding.”

The judge settled into his seat. He opened the laptop on the bench before briefly examining a stack of manila file folders. “You may be seated.”

As the courtroom rustled with the sounds of people shuffling back onto the benches, the judge looked out over the courtroom.

His eyes narrowed. “Where is the public defender?”

No one answered. The inmates in orange exchanged glances but maintained perfect silence. The district attorney tugged at his suit jacket and cleared his throat.

The noise caught the judge’s attention. “Mr. Carson? Where is the public defender?”

The young attorney stood and said, “I haven’t seen him this morning, Judge.”

Judge Pickens turned to the bailiff. “Harold?”

“Well, Judge, I’ve been here since about 7:30 this morning. Didn’t see him in the coffee shop or the lobby.”

Judge Pickens sighed. “This is our criminal docket day. We can’t proceed without him.” He turned to his clerk, a pretty woman hovering near the door to chambers.

“Betsy, if you would, please make a call over to the public defender’s office. See if you can raise him.”

“Yes, Your Honor.” She disappeared through the chambers door. The silence in the courtroom was broken by a female inmate.

“Judge? I seen him this week at the jail.” When the judge ignored her contribution, the woman slid back onto her bench.

Betsy reappeared. With an apologetic grimace, she said, “Judge, I just got the answering machine at his office.”

“Call his cell phone.” The judge’s voice was patient, but his face grew ruddy.

“I did, Judge. He didn’t pick up.” After a pause, she said, “I left a message.”

Judge Pickens drummed his fingers on the surface of the bench, the tempo increasing in speed and intensity. Then he stopped and slapped his palm on the wood veneer.

“Harold, you’re going to have to head over there and get him.” The bailiff bobbed his head. “Yes, sir, Your Honor.”

Outside the courtroom, Harold took the century-old courthouse’s marble stairs cautiously, gripping the brass handrail as he descended. He didn’t care to take a tumble. The bailiff wasn’t a young man, and his prosthetic foot made maneuvering the stairs particularly tricky.

He exited the courthouse and headed across the street to a two-story building that had been converted into the public de- fender’s office. The paint on the door designating Rob Ford public defender of the district was still shiny, as though it hadn’t yet had time to dry.

Harold turned the door handle, half expecting the entrance to be locked, but the door opened freely. The reception area was empty.

“Mr. Ford?”

There was no response. When the bailiff stepped inside, the door shut behind him. Harold made a face. It smelled like there was a sewer backup in here, and since the office was county property, Harold made a mental note to tell Judge Pickens so the judge could get the county commission on top of the problem.

As he walked across the reception room, Harold heard the crunch of broken glass under his shoe leather. He looked down and saw a shattered picture frame, facedown on the floor. Bending over with a grunt of effort, he picked up the frame and examined it. It was a family portrait: the public defender, his wife holding an infant, and two young children, a boy and a girl.

The bailiff lifted his head and called out again, “Rob? You in here?

The judge is waiting on you.”

He set the frame faceup against the wall, then walked a narrow hallway where a closed door bore a plastic nameplate, designating it as the office of Robert Ford, public defender. Harold rapped on the door with two knuckles.

“Rob? We’ve got a courtroom full of folks waiting across the street.” The smell of sewage was stronger outside the office door. The bailiff’s head bobbed as he swallowed. His hand shook when he turned the doorknob.

Link to the rest at Novel Suspects

Should fiction writers ever lift stories from other people’s lives?

From The Guardian:

Name: The muse.

Age: Ancient.

Appearance: Let’s start with “complicated”.

Before we start, can I tell you something strange that happened to me recently? No, you can’t! Please don’t.

Why? Because I guarantee that someone, somewhere, will rip it off and pass it off as their own.

But it’s a good story. Stop it! Didn’t you read Who Is the Bad Art Friend? yesterday?

Bad What Friend? It’s the title of a punishingly long article in the New York Times that has set the world alight. It’s hard to sum up succinctly, but the story of Who Is the Bad Art Friend? is basically this: a woman donated her kidney to a stranger, and then a second woman wrote a story about donating a kidney to a stranger.

Right. And it all kicked off. Nobody comes out of it particularly well, but it begs the question: are writers allowed to mine the lives of others?

Yes. But isn’t there something vampiric about leeching off someone else’s experience?

James Gandolfini routinely called the writing staff of The Sopranos “vampires” for exactly that reason, and that was the best television series ever made. But isn’t there a line where things become creepy?

No. I mean, what about Cat Person?

Oh here we go, Cat Person again. At the time it was published, Kristen Roupenian’s short story was heralded as lightning in a bottle; the perfect summation of the female experience. But then this year we learned that Roupenian had wholesale lifted the experience from a woman named Alexis Nowicki, who subsequently wrote a first-person essay about it.

Who would be a muse, eh? Loads of people, that’s the thing. Dante wrote about his childhood crush Beatrice di Folco Portinari in The Divine Comedy. Jane Austen used an old flame as inspiration for Mr Darcy. Charles Dickens based numerous characters on his lover Ellen Ternan. It was all fine and nobody minded.

So what changed? Two words: the internet. Online, everybody gets to create a bubble where they are the star of their own finely honed story. So when someone else mines their life for a different story, it feels more like a violation. Also, who’s to say that Ternan enjoyed being written about? She couldn’t complain on Facebook.

Does this story have a moral? Yes: it’s that writers are terrible people and you should cut them all from your life immediately.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Facts

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.

Mark Twain

AAP StatShot Annual Report 2020: US Book Revenues Flat at $25.71 Billion

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) today released the StatShot Annual report for calendar year 2020, estimating that the United States’ book publishing industry generated US$25.71 billion, a slight decrease of 0.2 percent from 2019 revenue of $25.77 billion.

The AAP makes the point that this is consistent with past StatShot reports, the American book publishing industry’s revenue having ranged between $25 billion and $26 billion since 2016.

In a prepared statement, Maria A. Pallante, AAP’s president and CEO, is quoted, saying, “The 2020 results are remarkable and inspirational for a year that people will long associate with an unprecedented public health crisis, worldwide suffering, and colossal business disruptions.

“That publishing is resilient is nothing new, but we should nevertheless take a moment to recognize the incredible dedication and innovation of the industry in serving readers and the public interest during such an isolating and confusing time.”

Here’s a quick breakdown by sector:

  • Trade: In 2020, total revenue, including directly reported and estimated data, in the industry’s largest category, trade (consumer books), increased by an estimated 6.0 percent to $16.67 billion, and by 8.6 percent in directly reported revenue
  • Higher education: Revenue from higher education declined 5.7 percent to $3.10 billion
  • PreK–12:  Revenue declined 12.3 percent to $3.84 billion
  • Professional books: Revenue declined 14.5 percent to $1.68 billion
  • University presses: The smallest category reported that it grew slightly, by 2.9 percent to $391.7 million in 2020

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that if your revenues have been between $25 and $26 million for 4-5 years, your business is flat, not growing. Yes, it didn’t grow during the Pandemic, but it also didn’t grow before the Pandemic.

Here’s more detail from the AAP report:

While eBook revenue had declined since 2014, during calendar year 2020 the category was up 11.7%, coming in at an estimated $2.12 billion. Downloaded Audio continued to grow, and was up 13.2% as compared to 2019, with an estimated revenue of $1.42 billion for the year.

The Online Retail channel, which includes sales of digital products as well as physical products sold via online platforms, increased 19.2%, reaching $9.53 billion in revenue, and representing 37.1% of all estimated industry revenue.

Bookstores experienced lower foot traffic, and as a result Physical Retail, which comprises all sales to bookstores and other traditional retailers, including their online sales, saw a year-over-year decline of 11.3%, coming in at $5.13 billion. In addition, the U.S. Export market declined 2.8% to $1.27 billion during 2020. The Direct-to-Consumer channel also suffered a significant decline.

In terms of Trade (consumer books) publishers, this year marks the first time that Online Retail represented 50% of revenues, up from 43.3% in 2019. Across all of Trade, Direct fell 45.6%. There was increased revenue for Children’s & Young Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction, however units declined 9.5% for Fiction titles and increased 0.9% for Non-Fiction titles.

In Higher Education, an increase in distance learning helped to further accelerate widespread adoption of cost-effective eTextbooks in both sales and rentals––including models such as inclusive access––resulting in an estimated 5.7% decline to $3.10 billion as compared to 2019. PreK–12 education publishers saw a 12.3% decline to $3.84 billion as compared to 2019.

Link to the rest at Association of American Publishers

The inflation rate from 2016-2020 was not severe, but if the book business was flat on an inflation-adjusted basis during that period, sales would have increased 14%.

In other words, $1 in 2016 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1.14 today, an increase of $0.14 over 5 years.

(2021 inflation is significantly higher than any year in the 2016-2020 era, up 5.7% so far during the year. but, since 2021 isn’t finished yet, we won’t know how high the year’s total inflation number will be. Unless the traditional publishing world substantially increases its growth rate, 2021 revenue growth on an inflation-adjusted basis will be quite bleak.)

Per Statshot’s 215 report, overall publisher revenue for 2015 was $15.4 billion, down 2.6% from the previous year.

If the traditional book industry’s revenues had been keeping up with inflation during the 2016-2020 era, the 2015 revenue of $15.4 billion would have grown to $17.6 billion in 2020.

Again, compared to the remainder of the economy not just during 2020’s Covid economic mess, but during the years before Covid, traditional publishing has been in a continuous decline for a long time. When PG checked 2010 publishing income, per Publishers Weekly, 2010 trade publishing sold $27.9 billion worth of books during that year.

PG acknowledges that Publishers Weekly data for 2010 from Bookstats, may reflect a different manner of data collection and aggregation than that used by AAP for its StatShot numbers, but PG is fairly confident that the 2020 publishing business generated much less than the 2010 publishing business did.

That said, PG is happy to have visitors to TPV who are inclined to dig more deeply into the data propose corrections/modifications, etc., to PG’s quick and dirty take on the statistics.

(2021 inflation is significantly higher than any year in the 2016-2020 era, up 5.7% so far during the year. but, since 2021 isn’t finished yet, we won’t know how high the year’s total inflation number will be. Unless the traditional publishing world substantially increases its growth rate, 2021 industry revenue growth on an inflation-adjusted basis will be quite bleak.)

How to Write Faster

From the Grammarly Blog:

In a perfect world, deadlines wouldn’t be a thing. You’d have unlimited time to complete everything you need to write, like essays, reports, reading responses, and even the kinds of writing you do for fun, like blog posts and short stories.

Obviously, we don’t live in a perfect world. But we do live in a world where you can learn how to write faster. Writing quickly is a skill that’s helped thousands of writers, especially writers with time-sensitive assignments like interviewers and journalists, meet their deadlines without breaking a sweat.

. . . .

Learning how to write faster is easy. To help you streamline your writing time, we’ve gathered a few helpful writing tips that will have you hitting deadlines in no time. 

Streamline the writing process

You’re most likely familiar with the writing process. It’s the six steps just about every piece of writing goes through to develop from an idea to a published piece. Working through these steps means doing a thorough job of brainstorming, outlining, writing, editing, and perfecting your work . . . but it can be a slow process. When you’re crunched for time, you simply don’t have the luxury of working through the unabridged writing process.

In a pinch, you can streamline it. One way to streamline the writing process is to combine steps one and two and outline your work as you brainstorm it. This might mean a less coherent outline, but that’s fine—you’ll smooth it out when you write. 

After getting an outline on the page, get right to writing. We’ll later on cover strategies that can help this step go faster. During the writing stage, the goal is to start getting words down. Don’t worry about irrelevant, superfluous, or awkward words winding up in your text—you’ll fix these up when you edit your work.  

Speaking of editing, you’ll also need to cut out an important step in the writing process: editing your work with fresh eyes. Ideally, you’d wait about a day after writing to edit your work so you can catch mistakes more easily. But with a limited amount of time, you’ll need to dive right into editing after you’re finished writing. Depending on how pressed for time you are, you might also have to combine the last two steps in the writing process, editing and proofreading. 

Type faster

It might sound like a sarcastic tip at first, but we mean it sincerely: Train yourself to type faster. You can do this by playing typing games and doing typing exercises that build muscle memory in your fingers. If you look at the keyboard when you’re typing, it’s time to learn how to type without doing that. Similarly, if you’re using the “hunt and peck” method or otherwise using any fewer than all ten of your fingers, it’s time to become a stronger, faster typist. 

Websites like typingtest.com can tell you how accurately you’re typing and how many words you can type per minute as well as providing typing lessons and exercises. The average person types about 40 words per minute, with 65 to 70 being the general target for “fast typing.” Typing 90 to 100 words per minute is considered to be very fast typing, with some of the fastest typists achieving more than 120 words per minute. When you can type faster, you can literally write faster. 

Write what you already have in mind

You might have no idea how to start your essay, but know exactly how you want to support your argument. Skip right to your body paragraphs. 

There’s no rule that says you have to write your piece in order of first to final paragraph. Write in the order that makes it easiest for you to start writing and maintain momentum, which often means jumping right to the parts that you’ve already worked out in your head. 

Writing the parts that you already know you want to say achieves two things:

  • It gets text onto the page: For you, seeing text on the page can be hugely motivating—it’s a lot easier to keep writing when you already have a foundation to build on, rather than starting with a blank screen.
  • It can help you determine what to say in sections you haven’t written: If you’re struggling with an intro paragraph, writing your supporting paragraphs can give you the phrasing and organization you need to introduce them in your opening section. Similarly, if you’re having a difficult time with certain body paragraphs, but you’ve written at least one, determine how that paragraph you’ve written fits into a broader piece. What does it follow? What follows it? Think of the piece you’re writing as a jigsaw puzzle and the sections you’ve written as puzzle corners you’ve completed. Which shapes fit into that partially completed puzzle? 

Link to the rest at the Grammarly Blog

An Amazon shopper faces up to 20 years in jail for $290,000 fraud. Prosecutors say he bought Apple, Asus, and Fuji products, then mailed cheaper items as returns.

From Business Insider:

An Amazon shopper who for five years bought expensive items — including a top-of-the-line iMac Pro — and then mailed cheaper items as returns faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, prosecutors said.

Hudson Hamrick, of Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, a court filing showed.

. . . .

US attorneys filed charges against Hamrick in September, saying he’d engaged in about 300 fraudulent transactions with Amazon. That included about 270 product returns — some 250 of which were “materially different in value” — that amounted to more than $290,000 in total fraud, said the charging document and another that detailed several transactions as part of Hamrick’s plea agreement.

Many of the transactions followed a simple pattern, prosecutors said: Hamrick would order an expensive item, initiate a return, then mail a similar — but less valuable — item. Sometimes he’d also sell the expensive item, netting him both the return and the resale value, prosecutors said.

In August 2019, for example, Hamrick ordered an Apple iMac Pro for $4,256.85, the US attorneys said. After about two weeks, Hamrick started the return process with Amazon, which then issued a refund.

“Instead of returning the high-end iMac Pro, Hamrick returned a much older, less valuable non-Pro model with a completely different serial number,” said a court document filed by Maria K. Vento, an assistant US attorney.

A week before Hamrick initiated his Amazon return, he sold an iMac Pro on eBay, Vento said.

. . . .

“Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to pursue all measures to hold bad actors accountable.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Perhaps PG is assuming too high a standards for Amazon’s fraud detection team, but he would think that the first incorrect return would have triggered some sort of red flag.

He certainly hopes that an Apple newby didn’t order a new $4K Mac Pro from Amazon and receive an old Mac instead.

The great book shortage of 2021

From Vox:

If there’s a particular book you’ve got your eye on for the holidays, it’s best to order it now. The problems with the supply chain are coming for books, too.

“Think of the inputs that go into a book,” says Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute. “There’s paper, there’s ink, and there’s getting the book from point A to point B. All of those things are affected.”

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been exacerbating existing problems in the global supply chain for nearly two years now. Add to that pressure a global labor shortage, a paper shortage, the consolidation of the American printing industry, and an increased demand for books from bored stay-at-homers across the US, and you’re faced with what Baehr says is a “perfect storm” of factors to create what some observers are calling a book shortage.

However, that doesn’t mean holiday book shoppers will be faced with empty shelves at their local bookstore come December, cautions Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt. “There is no book shortage as such at the moment because the nature of the publishing cycle is that these books are planned many months ahead,” Daunt says.

Most of this fall’s major releases have already been printed or have their printing runs scheduled, and any delays to those scheduled print runs are expected to be minimal. Still, some titles have seen their publication dates bumped by weeks or even months. Of those, some now won’t reach shelves until next year.

The place where readers are most likely to find themselves in a crunch, though, is with surprise bestsellers. Every year, there are books that do much better than either publishers or booksellers expected them to and sell out their initial print runs. Normally when that happens, booksellers immediately order more books, and publishers are able to print those books and ship them out rapidly. In 2021, that’s going to be a lot more difficult. If a publisher unexpectedly sells out of a book early, it may not be able to send new copies to bookstores until well into 2022.

. . . .

More people are reading books

According to industry tracker NPD Bookscan, printed book sales have increased 13.2 percent from 2020 to 2021, and 21 percent from 2019 to 2021.

“Usually a good year means going up maybe 3 or 4 percent,” says NPD books analyst Kristen McLean. “The growth that we saw last year and this year is pretty unprecedented.”

McLean says it’s clear that the pandemic is what’s driving the growth in book sales, in part because of what kind of books are selling well and which aren’t. As global lockdowns began in March of 2020, sales of traditionally high-performing categories like self-help books and business books plummeted, while sales of educational books for home-bound kids and first aid books for emergency preppers took off.

Since then, McClean says, book sales have tracked closely to the trends of the quarantine era: a lot of bread books early on, a lot of books on social justice and race in the summer of 2020 during the George Floyd protests, and books on politics during the presidential election season. Then, after the election, sales of adult fiction began to really take off — a trend McLean pointed to as telling.

“That’s one of the things I look at really closely,” McLean says. “When someone buys a nonfiction book, that could be because it’s a reference book, or because they want to understand something that they’ve heard. But when someone buys an adult fiction book, generally that’s for pleasure reading. So that is a good leading indicator that people are really engaging with books.”

Reading is one of the hobbies that people have started to pick up over the course of the pandemic. And overwhelmingly, they’re reading printed books, not ebooks.

“Ebook sales did go up last summer,” McLean allows, noting that many of the social justice titles of the summer, such as Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, rapidly sold out in print, driving readers to ebooks for their immediacy. Generally, however, ebooks are holding steady at just 20 percent of the US market.

“There’s just more people who want to read and prefer reading print,” McLean says.

. . . .

The paper shortage begins with the wood pulp shortage. According to a report from the printing company Sheridan, the price of wood pulp rose from $700–$750 per metric ton in 2020 to almost $1,200 per metric ton in 2021. Sheridan cites an environmental initiative in China that shut down 279 pulp and paper mills as one of the major drivers behind the spike in pricing, as well as a global backlash against plastic and the rush to replace plastic products with paper alternatives.

Meanwhile, with shoppers increasingly ordering products online, the price of cardboard in which to ship goods has gone up with demand. So paper factories have begun to invest more in producing cardboard, shifting their resources away from making book-grade paper in the process.

“You have a combination of both fewer mills producing book paper and greater demand for wood pulp elsewhere, so that there is both a price and availability issue,” explains Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group.

A shortage of raw materials is also wreaking havoc in the inks market. According to a report by the Business Research Company, the same Chinese environmental initiative that led to a shortage of wood pulp has also led to decreased availability of resins, monomers, photo initiators, oligomers, and additives. Moreover, ink manufacturers are rapidly consolidating. All of these issues combined means ink prices are steadily rising.

. . . .

Most book printing happens in the US. Books with heavy color printing, like picture books, are sent to China, but in order to keep the cost of shipping low, most publishers do the rest of their printing domestically. That’s getting more and more difficult to manage.

Until 2018, there were three major printing presses in the US. Then one of them, the 125-year-old company Edwards Brothers Malloy, closed. The remaining big two, Quad and LSC, attempted to merge in 2020, but then the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit. Quad responded by getting out of the book business entirely; LSC filed for bankruptcy and sold off a number of its presses. Smaller printers have continued to operate, but the infrastructure to keep up with the demand for printed books in North America is in shambles.

So if demand is up, why are so many printers shutting down?

Part of the issue is that printers find themselves squeezed by Amazon in both directions. As a major book buyer, Amazon has a lot of leverage to negotiate on price, allowing it to purchase its books from publishers at very low cost. Publishers pass the resulting losses along to their printing presses. Following the rules of capitalism, printing presses would like to pass the loss along to their workers in turn — but in the rural distribution regions where most of these presses operate, the other major employer is Amazon warehouses. And Amazon has set the floor for wages at $15 per hour.

“I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing,” O’Leary says. “But you’re competing for labor.”

The labor shortage also means that even when printers raise their wages, they don’t have anyone to hire. The industry is chronically understaffed. “Printers, binders, the true book manufacturers, they could all hire an additional 10 to 20 percent of their current workforce without even batting an eye,” says Baehr.

Meanwhile, very few new players are entering the game. Part of the reason is that it costs a lot of money upfront to enter the industry. “It’s a capital-intensive business, printing,” says O’Leary. “You have to spend from several million to more than $10 million on a printing press, and you generally amortize that over a long period of time.”

So right now, publishers and printing companies have to pay more for the paper that makes up any given book, more for the ink that prints the words in the book, more for the time at a printing company to get the book printed, and more for the labor to staff the press to get the book produced.

Then come the problems with shipping.

. . . .

“Los Angeles — which is a major port of entry for the United States — New York, and New Jersey are all pretty full up,” says O’Leary. “We’re hearing reports of delays of weeks for getting things cleared.”

“Containers are not moving out of ports and onto trains quickly enough,” explains Chris Tang, a UCLA business professor specializing in global supply chain management. “And on top of that, all of the warehouses in the Midwest are full. So everything is stuck.”

. . . .

Even more pressing, however, is a shortage of truck drivers. There just aren’t enough trucks on the road to pick up as much stuff as we’re currently shipping around the world. “We’re talking tens of thousands fewer truck drivers than we need,” says O’Leary.

And as stuff sits in warehouses, waiting to be picked up by increasingly scarce truck drivers, the price of storage goes up, adding to overall shipping costs. “It used to be around $3,000 per container,” Tang says. “Now the price is closer to $20,000.”

. . . .

One of the big underlying problems when it comes to printing and shipping books is the same labor shortage that’s currently roiling the rest of the country. There aren’t enough press operators to get books printed, and then there aren’t enough truck drivers to get them to bookstores. Wages have gone up, but there still aren’t enough people working.

. . . .

In the long term, it’s likely that as current agreements between printers and publishers expire, the printers will begin to charge publishers more for their services to better manage the rising costs of paper, ink, and labor. At that point, book prices will likely go up. No one is entirely certain what that increase will do to the book retail market, but it’s unlikely that demand will keep scaling up indefinitely.

Link to the rest at Vox