If you truly love film

If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big color photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe.

Werner Herzog

Artists use frauds

Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on

Kurt Vonnegut

Film Adaptations Of Books Earn 53% More At The Worldwide Box Office

From Forbes (2018):

Film adaptations of books gross 44% more at the U.K. box office and a full 53% more worldwide than films from original screenplays, according to research commissioned by the Publishers Association and produced by Frontier Economics. 

The report also found that 43% of the top 20 highest-grossing films in the U.K. from 2007 to 2016 were book-based and another 9% were based on comic books. Data for the report was compiled from a variety of sources, publishing industry magazine The Bookseller notes, incorporating case studies and publically available information alongside contributions from the BBC, UK Theatre and Nielsen BookScan.

“In short, published material is the basis of 52% of top U.K. films in the last 10 years, and accounts for an even higher share of revenue from these leading performers, at 61% of U.K. box office gross and 65% of worldwide gross,” says the report, adding later that “Across any of the common measures of viewership, book adaptations on average outperform shows based on original scripts or on comic books and other sources.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Demand for TV rights ‘never been higher’

From The Bookseller:

In an overcrowded market with the proliferation of streaming platforms alongside the traditional broadcaster, creating content based on previous IP is an ever-growing trend . . . Not that it wasn’t a trend before, it’s just that IP generation (writing a book, creating a podcast, a YouTube series) has never been as accessible or opportunity-filled as it is today. Books still have the lion’s share of the source material market for TV and cinema adaptation. But not all books are created equal when it comes to adaptability. 

Some genres are more easily transferrable to the screen and tend to create a better connection between the source audience and the series viewers. Classics of world literature still retain the trophy when it comes to literary adaptations. 

Across genres, from Jane Austen to Bram Stoker, these stories have been revisited time and time again in the visual medium, allowing younger generations to discover them anew.

Every time a new “Dracula”, a new “Pride and Prejudice”, a new “Frankenstein” or “Sherlock” hit the screen, the original texts are looked at with fresh eyes, as curiosity around the source material is reinvigorated, and audiences revisit the original books to discover those nuances that can only exist in the written form. It is definitely true that you can make one book from a series, but a thousand series from a book.

When it comes to new titles, thrillers reliably make promising adaptation fuel. The booming of new authors in the thriller space and the insatiable global appetite for crime stories that has always characterized fans of television series are a match made in heaven. From the most established and well-recognised IP to the newcomers, content providers have always been eager to turn a “page-turner” into a bingeable series. From HBO’s “Sharp Objects” (Gillian Flynn) or “Big Little Lies” (Liane Moriarty), to “The Haunting of Hill House” (Shirley Jackson), from “Hannibal” (Thomas Harris) to “The Alienist” (Caleb Carr), watching a series based on a thriller novel has never been so satisfying. 

Fantasy, however, is probably the genre that benefits the most when it comes to screen adaptation. From the gothic saga of “The Originals” to the modern tale of “Discovery of Witches”, from the epic battles of “Game of Thrones” to the generational conflicts of “His Dark Materials, thanks to the evolving world of CGI and special effects, it’s become increasingly possible to bring to life with staggering precision and realism the worlds we imagined in the page. But the bigger the book, the bigger the responsibility of those who adapt it: for if a book has managed to captivate thousands of fans around the world, one needs to be very cautious and respectful when it comes to translating onto the screen, so as not to lose the connection that the readers have with the original story. It also of course comes with the unique opportunity of attracting a completely new pool of fans, and producers should be equal parts thrilled and humbled by the prospect of transforming a beloved fantasy book into something that can grace screens the world over.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says this trend is all the more reason for authors to hold on to their subsidiary rights or, if traditionally-published, bump the royalty rates up for subrights or negotiate for an increasing percentage of subsidiary rights as gross income to the publisher from subrights hits certain revenue levels.

Most books, indie or traditional, aren’t adapted for motion pictures or televisions, but if lightning strikes with a big subrights deal, it will almost certainly because the author did a great job of writing the book instead of the publisher doing better than usual in selling print and ebook rights.

Book Sales Up, Readership Down

From The Authors Guild:

Both publishers and booksellers celebrated the news that print book sales were up 9.1 percent last year. According to Publishers Weekly, booksellers sold 825.7 million books in 2021, up from 757.9 million in 2020. A huge increase in fiction units sold led the way, with young adult fiction sales jumping 30.7 percent, adult fiction up 25.5 percent, and children’s fiction up 9.6 percent, respectively. All told, print book sales have risen more than 18 percent since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

U.S. Readership Lowest in Two Decades
The statistics on female readership are specifically troubling. For decades, women read nearly twice as many books as men, but the gap has narrowed significantly. The average American woman read 15.7 books last year compared to 19.3 books five years ago. While male readership declined only slightly over the same time period, going from 10.4 books in 2016 to 9.5 in 2021, this decrease in the number of books women read will particularly impact fiction sales, given that women account for 80 percent of all fiction sales in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

The overall decline in readership is likely due to increased interest in other at-home leisure activities, particularly digital streaming services. Just six percent claimed reading to be their favorite way to spend an evening, far below spending time with family (33%) or watching television or movies (23%). Gallup notes that this is only the second time since 1960 that less than 10 percent of Americans didn’t select reading as their top favorite evening activity. 

. . . .

Paper Shortages Continue to Delay Book Publication
“Paper mills are not only cutting back, but they’re switching from book grade papers to, in their view, more profitable types of paper products,” said Integrated Books International’s Bill Clockel in a recent interview. “So even though some mills might have closed, more likely than not they’re not making book papers anymore. That’s the biggest problem that we see. There are other challenges with obtaining consumables, but paper clearly is the biggest one.”

Labor also remains an issue due to worker shortages attributable to both COVID-19 and increased employee turnover, as the quit rate among warehousing workers, which includes book distribution centers, ranked the third highest in the nation in November 2021 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cautious Optimism
Though the majority of U.S. authors have experienced significant income declines since the start of the pandemic, many in the book industry remain positive. The percentage of Americans reading e-books rose five percent in the past two years

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG will reveal that during the same period of time discussed in the OP, the earnings of many indie authors, including Mrs. PG, from Kindle Direct Publishing have been climbing.

Hitler’s American Gamble

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most Americans, if asked, would probably say that Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Nazi Germany, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Since we were at war with imperial Japan, the logic would run, we were obliged to be at war with Japan’s Axis ally.

In fact, it was Adolf Hitler who declared war on the United States—four days after Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 11, 1941. By doing so, he managed to bring the full weight of America’s industrial might against him. The war declaration ranks as Hitler’s worst strategic blunder—even worse than his decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, when he pitted the Wehrmacht against an opponent with much greater manpower reserves and strategic depth.

In “Hitler’s American Gamble,” Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman—historians at the University of Cambridge and King’s College, London, respectively—provide an engaging and insightful account of the forces that shaped Hitler’s fateful decision. The authors note that, far from being an irrational or impulsive gesture, Hitler’s war on America “was a deliberate gamble.” It was driven, in part, by “his geopolitical calculations” and “his assessment of the balance of manpower and matériel.” The decision derived as well, the authors assert, from Hitler’s tortured view of the relations among Britain, the U.S., and, not least, the Jews in both Europe and America.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Hitler was heavily engaged in waging war on Britain, and he seemed close to winning. Yet he was hesitant to deliver the knock-out blow. He had already missed an opportunity to do so in the spring of 1941, when Britain evacuated Greece and Crete and Rommel’s Afrika Korps was scoring success after success against British forces in North Africa. Hitler believed that his real enemy was Winston Churchill, not the British people, and that the British people would eventually give up the fight and accept Nazi hegemony in Europe. At the same time, he was well aware that it was the U.S. and its supplies of food and war matériel—sent across the Atlantic under the terms of Lend-Lease—that were keeping Britain in the fight.

In Hitler’s mind, then, America was a grave threat to his plans for German hegemony—indeed, Germany was locked in deadly combat with “the Anglo-Saxon powers,” Britain and the United States. But that is not all. Hitler believed that, as Messrs. Simms and Laderman put it, “ ‘the Jews’ had manipulated the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ into war with the racially kindred Reich.” Race-paranoia was a critical component of Hitler’s “gamble.”

Hitler was convinced that Japan’s surprise attack would divert U.S. resources and attention just long enough to secure Britain’s isolation and surrender. And the German panzer divisions poised only 12 miles from Moscow signaled the imminent collapse of his only other opponent, Russia. In the event, he was wrong on both counts. What was about to collapse in Russia wasn’t the Red Army but the Wehrmacht, as Hitler’s panzers were thrown back from Moscow and nearly half a million German soldiers perished in the winter of 1941-42. Meanwhile, Japan’s victories in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor proved to be too brittle to last.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but if it stops working, PG apologizes for the paywall.

The Benefits of Writer Friends

From Publishers Weekly:

I’ve never been particularly great at making friends. As a woman with both ADHD and autism, small talk is hard, and reading social cues is even harder. I tend to either overshare or clam up entirely, and both have led to plenty of awkward moments that felt mortifying at the time but give me a good laugh when I look back at them. Adolescence was challenging, and masking my neurodivergence always left me exhausted, but taking off that mask and embracing neurodivergent info dumping about special interests and my directness with my peers often left me on the outskirts of social circles. My best friends in middle and high school were the characters in the books I devoured.

. . . .

I wrote, queried, and went on submission with my debut novel, A Brush with Love, without knowing anyone else who had endured the process—who could share useful strategies or advise what to expect and what questions to ask. Navigating the emotional roller coaster of the process without someone to commiserate with was tough.

As authors, our careers are steeped in vulnerability. We must be soft enough to create yet tough enough to take criticism, and then brave enough to try again. It’s an isolating journey, and one I was quickly feeling burned out from without any writer friends to lean on.

But I didn’t know where to start with finding them. I think a part of me—the awkward tween who never quite fit in anywhere—had clutched on to the hope that friends would find me, that I could be a passive bystander in developing the friendships I so greatly craved.

. . . .

So, one day, with a glass of wine providing liquid courage and absolutely zero couth, I made it a mission to actually do something to make a friend. It was as simple, albeit terrifying, as telling an author how much I loved their work and that I’d like to be their friend if they were open to it.

Can you believe that actually worked?! Because sometimes I can’t. I had no idea being direct and honest—something that had so often made me a weirdo among my peers—could allow me to form some of the most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had.

By being vulnerable and getting out of my own way, I’ve found that other writers are also looking for that connection. We spend weeks, months, years pouring our souls into our pages, holding our hearts in the tips of our fingertips as we craft our characters and story only to rework it, restructure it, experience the highs of it being loved, and the crushing lows of it being torn apart. Being able to share all those feelings with someone who gets it—really gets it—has both taught me skills and brought me unexpected joy.

The most important aspect of cultivating these bonds is making friends simply for the joy of the relationship, not for what transactional benefit someone else can provide. One doesn’t need an endless stream of bestselling authors texting them or tweeting about their work to make the publishing experience meaningful. I’ve learned that opening up and being vulnerable with others can create a safe space for everyone to be their truest self. And that’s where the real fun begins. Whether it’s a single person or an entire group, finding friends in the chaos of publishing carries with it endless opportunities to laugh, to cry, to cheer someone’s big wins or show solidarity in the group chat when someone experiences anxiety or disappointment.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How Much I Made Self-Publishing 10 Books Through Amazon KDP

From Medium:

Back in 2013, I was offered a publishing contract with a small book publisher. They asked me to write ‘Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens’ – a 160 page book based on my success in specialist journalism.

The contract was royalties-only, but based on their expertise and enthusiasm, I had high hopes for the title. I expressed reservations because I thought the focus was too niche, but they didn’t agree. They pointed out that health is a massive growth area, food journalism is huge etc. Fair point. So I signed the contract.

After publication, reality kicked in. Sales were abysmal; marketing, non-existent. It got good reviews, but I only made £126 in royalties. It was a huge amount of work for £126.

. . . .

When I was ready to produce another book, I decided to self-publish and get a decent cut on each sale. ‘Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More,’ was born. It was a collection of my articles, most previously published in magazines, on how to succeed as a writer. I’d been writing for magazines for four years by this time, and was making a nice living from it.

I wrote new chapters to fill gaps. Over the next few years, I sold 140 copies and made about £250.

. . . .

Every time I had a slow period at work, I looked at my articles and considered whether a collection of themed articles would sell if I turned them into books. Still hoping for great things, I decided to publish more books.

Over the next six years I published:

  • The Little Book of Freelance Writing
  • Pagan Journeys
  • Healthy Inspired Living
  • Memories of the Second World War
  • A Grand Tour of Scotland
  • Writing Success
  • Candida Albicans
  • The Guinea Pigs’ Guide to Training Humans
  • Pestilence — an apocalyptic novel

With the exception of the last three, they were all collections of articles that I’d had published in magazines. Most of them were available in ebook and paperback formats on Amazon.

. . . .

To date, I’ve made just over £900 across all my titles. The writing books generated most of that income, although the most recent one flopped — I guess my readers have had enough!

. . . .

To be honest, I’m feeling Medium has more potential as a good earner if I publish regularly. Trying to sell books is very hard, unless you find a niche that sells itself.

. . . .

To keep my costs down on self-publishing, I created my own covers, formatted my own interiors and did all the practical work myself. I have MS Word and graphics software already, so the only investment required was my time.

Some people prefer to buy design and editorial services. But with modest incomes from books, you can see how it might be hard to make a profit if you’re paying out cash to cover designers, editors, and formatting companies.

Some people prefer to buy design and editorial services. But with modest incomes from books, you can see how it might be hard to make a profit if you’re paying out cash to cover designers, editors, and formatting companies.

. . . .

I’ve been disappointed by sales to date. The rewards seem to be diminishing. My writing books, which used to do well, aren’t selling now. The newest titles are selling in small numbers, but not enough to justify writing another novel, for example!

The novel was a huge amount of work and I’d hoped to sell 1000 copies, but I’ve yet to sell 100… despite running Amazon advertising campaigns.

. . . .

If you can get a publishing deal with an advance of £1000 or more, I’d grab it. I wrote another book in 2017, commissioned by a publisher, for which I received a £1500 advance. I’d consider that again.

Self-publishing however, is a bit hit and miss. Brilliant books get overlooked. Popular topics can do really well if they get noticed, despite flaws in the manuscripts.

. . . .

Cover design helps, but I’ve seen people use KDP standard templates and sell thousands! It depends to some extent on whether you have a ready audience.

. . . .

But for me, right now, I’m focused on growing my Medium profile, and obviously, the day job, writing for magazines. My next bestseller will have to wait!

Link to the rest at Medium

WH Smith’s ‘bestselling’ book charts filled with titles publishers have paid to feature in rankings

From Inews UK:

Book lovers are unwittingly paying for titles which appear to be the top-selling releases of the moment, when in some cases a publisher has paid the retailer to feature them in its “bestseller” charts, multiple industry figures have claimed.

Rankings displayed at shops such as WH Smith, as well as those compiled by online retailers, are determined partly by whether a book has been boosted in a deal with publishers, industry insiders say.

The practice has come to light after a former WH Smith employee alleged that when he worked at the retailer, staff were instructed to display author and TV presenter Richard Osman’s novel The Thursday Murder Club in the number one slot in stores, regardless of sales figures, because publisher Penguin Random House had paid for the space.

“When the last Richard Osman came out, Penguin bought the number one spot on all WH Smith in-store bestseller charts so it had to be displayed as the bestseller in every single store, whether it actually was or not,” Barry Pierce, who worked at the retailer from 2020 to 2021, recently claimed on social media.

. . . .

[T]he chart comprised books that WH Smith wanted to “push”, and was treated as a “promotional space” rather than a “legitimate chart” based on which books were selling the most copies, he claimed.

“Often… our area manager would come in and rearrange the chart so certain books [would] appear higher,” Mr Pierce added.

True bestseller charts based on figures from Nielsen BookScan – which collects point-of-sale data from more than 6,500 UK retailers – are widely regarded as the most accurate reflection of the top selling titles and authors.

The admission has prompted astonishment from readers and authors, but industry figures, who backed up Mr Pierce’s claim, maintained that such agreements have long been part of the way publishers and retailers do business and should not come as a surprise to the book-buying public.

James Daunt, managing director at Waterstones, the UK’s largest bookshop chain, said it was commonplace for other retailers to exchange spots in their charts for money.

Waterstones itself previously accepted millions of pounds each year from publishers to position titles in its “bestseller” charts, but Mr Daunt said he put an end to these deals as soon as he was appointed.

“Since I took over in 2011, Waterstones has never taken one penny to place books [on shelves]. The year before, Waterstones took £27 million [from publishers],” Mr Daunt said.

Link to the rest at Inews UK and thanks to H for the tip.

The question that occurred to PG was, “If a publisher was ethical in its business practices, would it pay for phony best-seller rankings.”

PG is certain a publisher would respond that this was just a time-honored method to increase sales and, thus, profits.

Inquiring minds might ask if calculations of the amount of royalties owed to authors were ever subject to this sort of “publishing industry practice.”

Libraries, Publishers Battle Over Terms for E-Books’ Use

From Bloomberg Law:

States that want to give libraries a better deal on e-books are watching a publishers’ suit against Maryland, the first state to set terms for how digital books are distributed for public borrowing.

Library associations, including the American Library Association and several state groups, have been pushing for state laws to require publishers to distribute digital works to libraries on “reasonable” terms that the states would set. The groups say libraries pay too much for electronic books and should be able to get them at lower prices.

The bills and the law enacted in Maryland have set off alarm bells for authors and publishers who fear the legislation encroaches on copyrights.

Similar suits to the one in Maryland by the Association of American Publishers might follow if bills in other states move forward, copyright attorneys, publishing industry lobbyists and others said. They say the bills propose a radical rewriting of the copyright system that only Congress is able to change.

. . . .

“The Maryland case is very, very significant because we’re hoping and believe the court will say, ‘You can’t do this. This is unconstitutional,’” said Keith Kupferschmid, the president of the Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit that represents a broad group of creators. “And, presumably, other states would at least be a little more cautious. Hopefully they wouldn’t introduce the bills at all.”

. . . .

Library officials back the bills so they can loosen restrictions on the number of digital works that can circulate and not let publishers dictate pricing terms, said John Chrastka, the executive director of the EveryLibrary Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for library funding.

The Rhode Island and Massachusetts bills are based on the Maryland law. Supporters hope the bills can either be redrafted to avoid similar lawsuits or that the Maryland court will throw out the case.

In New York, Brianna McNamee, the New York Library Association’s director of government relations and advocacy, said the bill Hochul vetoed will likely be tweaked based on recommendations from her office.

“The bill’s viability in its current form is contingent on that pending litigation in Maryland,” McNamee said. “In a perfect world, if the suit goes away it would be our hope that it would provide reassurance to the governor and her staff that New York state won’t be sued upon enacting similar legislation.”

It’s not clear that the Maryland law is preempted by the Copyright Act, said Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association. The AAP’s claims aren’t valid in terms of copyright law because it’s actually a matter of contract law, Inouye said.

. . . .

The Maryland law and the similar legislation are preempted by the federal Copyright Act, which gives copyright owners a bundle of exclusive rights, including being able to decide when and how their works are distributed, Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, said.

The AAP and proponents of the lawsuit said they support public libraries and that libraries are essential in expanding readership, but the Maryland law has the potential to harm creators and weaken the copyright system.

“The public libraries are an important piece of providing public access, but they don’t operate alone in a vacuum,” said Maria A. Pallante, the CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

The Motion Picture Association, the National Music Publishers Association, and the News Media Alliance also oppose the bills because they say there could be a potential domino effect in states also creating compulsory licenses for other creative works besides e-books.

“The other industries are concerned because if states start doing this,” Rasenberger said, “then the next thing down the line is going to be movies and television programming.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

PG has suggested on many prior occasions that traditional publishers are foolish in their pricing strategies for ebooks because, after the first copy of an ebook is created, additional copies cost the publisher no more to produce.

In a perfectly-sane publishing world, ebooks would always cost much less than printed books and still generate a much higher profit margin without killing any more trees and shipping physical books long distances from the low-income nations where they are printed.

PG suggests that Amazon’s pricing sweet spot for ebooks per its KDP royalty structure is $2.99-9.99. That’s where the 70% royalty is payable. Everywhere else in the 99 cent to $200 price range permitted by Amazon, the royalty is 35%.

To the best of PG’s recollection, this pricing/royalty strategy is identical to the policy created by Amazon at or near the introduction of its ebook self-publishing option for authors that gave authors who didn’t feel a publisher added value (or couldn’t find a publisher for their books) direct access to what has become by far the largest bookstore in the world.

One of Amazon’s motives for setting and maintaining this royalty structure, indeed for putting a lot of effort to make self-publishing easy in the first place, was the attempt of major US publishers to force Amazon in increase its prices for all books to the suggested retail price set by publishers.

Amazon hadn’t grown into the international giant it is today and American publishers were more focused on killing Amazon to avoid this sort of discounting below their fancifully-created suggest retail pricing structure in order to preserve their effective monopoly over the market for books found in traditional bookstores.

Times have changed greatly since then – lots and lots of physical bookstores have gone out of business in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) and ebooks have become a significant source of income and far more significant source of profits for traditional publishers selling through Amazon.

With respect to ebooks licensed to libraries, traditional publishers have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing. The incremental cost of ebooks licensed to libraries over ebooks licensed to Amazon and other online bookstores is also effectively zero, but publishers still want to charge libraries more for exactly the same collection of electrons as Amazon offers for much less.

PG thinks there are some copyright issues in the states’ litigation claims, but this collection of lawsuits and the potential for yet another loss in court for traditional publishers reflects (in PG’s stupendously humble opinion) the ongoing stupidity of those individuals and conglomerates running traditional publishing in the United States.

Too much greed in the library sales department could end up costing publishers much, much more over the long run. It’s a risk the publishers didn’t have to take, but they did so anyway.

The Benefits of Writer Friends

From Publishers Weekly:

I’ve rewritten the opening to this column approximately 50 times because I can’t figure out how to discuss the difficulty of making friends as an adult without it sounding, quite frankly, really sad. But it’s not sad! It’s a fact of life, and one that isn’t talked about enough.

I’ve never been particularly great at making friends. As a woman with both ADHD and autism, small talk is hard, and reading social cues is even harder. I tend to either overshare or clam up entirely, and both have led to plenty of awkward moments that felt mortifying at the time but give me a good laugh when I look back at them. Adolescence was challenging, and masking my neurodivergence always left me exhausted, but taking off that mask and embracing neurodivergent info dumping about special interests and my directness with my peers often left me on the outskirts of social circles. My best friends in middle and high school were the characters in the books I devoured.

Many of these feelings followed me into adulthood. For the first few months after I got my book deal, I was surprised by the loneliness I felt. Granted, this was relatively early in the pandemic, and loneliness was a common issue for many of us, but I felt like a new kid stepping into a cafeteria, unsure where to sit. Was there a table where I even belonged? What nuances did writerly interactions have that I might be missing? And so much was happening around me—revisions and edits and a general sense of having no clue what was going on (or if anything was happening with my book at all… publishing epitomizes “hurry up and wait”).

I wrote, queried, and went on submission with my debut novel, A Brush with Love, without knowing anyone else who had endured the process—who could share useful strategies or advise what to expect and what questions to ask. Navigating the emotional roller coaster of the process without someone to commiserate with was tough.

As authors, our careers are steeped in vulnerability. We must be soft enough to create yet tough enough to take criticism, and then brave enough to try again. It’s an isolating journey, and one I was quickly feeling burned out from without any writer friends to lean on.

But I didn’t know where to start with finding them. I think a part of me—the awkward tween who never quite fit in anywhere—had clutched on to the hope that friends would find me, that I could be a passive bystander in developing the friendships I so greatly craved.

. . . .

So, one day, with a glass of wine providing liquid courage and absolutely zero couth, I made it a mission to actually do something to make a friend. It was as simple, albeit terrifying, as telling an author how much I loved their work and that I’d like to be their friend if they were open to it.

Can you believe that actually worked?! Because sometimes I can’t. I had no idea being direct and honest—something that had so often made me a weirdo among my peers—could allow me to form some of the most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had.

By being vulnerable and getting out of my own way, I’ve found that other writers are also looking for that connection. We spend weeks, months, years pouring our souls into our pages, holding our hearts in the tips of our fingertips as we craft our characters and story only to rework it, restructure it, experience the highs of it being loved, and the crushing lows of it being torn apart. Being able to share all those feelings with someone who gets it—really gets it—has both taught me skills and brought me unexpected joy.

The most important aspect of cultivating these bonds is making friends simply for the joy of the relationship, not for what transactional benefit someone else can provide. One doesn’t need an endless stream of bestselling authors texting them or tweeting about their work to make the publishing experience meaningful. I’ve learned that opening up and being vulnerable with others can create a safe space for everyone to be their truest self. And that’s where the real fun begins. Whether it’s a single person or an entire group, finding friends in the chaos of publishing carries with it endless opportunities to laugh, to cry, to cheer someone’s big wins or show solidarity in the group chat when someone experiences anxiety or disappointment.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Live Like the Ancient Cynics

From The Atlantic:

There are a growing number of Marxists today. By which I mean followers of Groucho, not Karl. “Whatever it is, I’m against it,” Marx sang in his 1932 film, Horse Feathers. “I don’t know what they have to say / It makes no difference anyway.”

What was satire then is ideology today: Cynicism—the belief that people are generally morally bankrupt and behave treacherously in order to maximize self-interest—dominates American culture. Since 1964, the percentage of Americans who say they trust the government to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time” has fallen 53 points, from 77 to 24 percent. Sentiments about other institutions in society follow similar patterns.

Whether cynicism is more warranted now than ever is yours to decide. But it won’t change the fact that the modern cynical outlook on life is terrible for your well-being. It makes you less healthy, less happy, less successful, and less respected by others.

The problem isn’t cynicism per se; it’s that modern people have lost the original meaning of cynicism. Instead of assuming that everyone and everything sucks, we should all live like the ancient Greek cynics, who rebelled against convention in a search for truth and enlightenment.

The original cynicism was a philosophical movement likely founded by Antisthenes, a student of Socrates, and popularized by Diogenes of Sinope around the fifth century B.C. It was based on a refusal to accept the assumptions and habits that discourage people from questioning conventional dogmas, and thus hold us back from the search for deep wisdom and happiness. Whereas a modern cynic might say, for instance, that the president is an idiot and thus his policies aren’t worth considering, the ancient cynic would examine each policy impartially.

The modern cynic rejects things out of hand (“This is stupid”), while the ancient cynic simply withholds judgment (“This may be right or wrong”). “Modern cynicism [has] come to describe something antithetical to its previous meanings, a psychological state hardened against both moral reflection and intellectual persuasion,” the University of Houston’s David Mazella wrote in The Making of Modern Cynicism.

There were no happiness surveys in Antisthenes’s times, so we can’t compare the ancient cynics’ life satisfaction with that of those around them who did not share their philosophy. We can most definitely conclude, however, that modern cynicism is detrimental. In one 2009 study, researchers examining negative cynical attitudes found that people who scored high in this characteristic on a personality test were roughly five times more likely to suffer from depression later in life. In other words, that smirking 25-year-old is at elevated risk of turning into a depressed 44-year-old.

Modern cynics also suffer poorer health than others. In 1991, researchers studying middle-aged men found that a cynical outlook significantly increased the odds of death from both cancer and heart disease—possibly because the cynics consumed more alcohol and tobacco than the non-cynics. In one 2017 study on middle-aged Finnish men, high cynicism also predicted premature mortality. (Although both of these studies involved only men, nothing suggests that the results are gender-specific.)

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

America’s Ever-Expanding Criminal Code

From The Wall Street Journal:

How many federal crimes has Congress created? The question seems like it ought to have a straightforward answer that citizens can look up. In fact it’s more like asking, “how many genes are in the human genome?” The answer is in the many thousands, but despite decades of counting, no one knows for sure.

A new project by the Heritage Foundation and George Mason University’s Mercatus Center says it is “the first effort to ‘count the Code’ since 2008.” The researchers created an algorithm with key phrases like “shall be punished” and “shall be fined or imprisoned” to search tens of thousands of pages in the U.S. Code.

In the 2019 Code, they found 1,510 criminal sections. By examining some of those sections at random, they estimated that they encompass 5,199 crimes in total. The Heritage Foundation report notes that “there is no single place where any citizen can go to learn” all federal criminal laws, and even if there were, some “are so vague that . . . no reasonable person could understand what they mean.”

By running their algorithm on past versions of the U.S. Code going back to 1994, the researchers also estimate the rate at which criminal laws are proliferating. There were about 36% more criminal sections in 2019 than 25 years earlier, for an overall growth rate of 1.27% per year. More than half of the growth took place from 1994 through 1996. Since the mid-1990s, the biggest annual increases were in 2005-2006 (2.48%) and 2011-2012 (2.76%).

These figures, the report emphasizes, don’t cover the 175,000 page Code of Federal Regulations, which contains an unknown number of crimes created by executive-branch officials under authority delegated by Congress. The results can be grimly amusing. Defense lawyer Mike Chase has highlighted many examples, such as a 2006 regulation that creates a potential five-year prison sentence for bringing more than $5 of nickels out of the U.S.

But even when it comes to conduct everyone agrees should be criminal, the inexorable expansion of the Code has serious consequences for justice and federalism. The Constitution envisioned that most lawbreaking would be handled by state governments, while the federal government’s jurisdiction would be narrower.

As Congress asserts jurisdiction over conduct already criminalized by states, however, that division erodes. “Duplicative” laws mean prosecutors can “charge different people committing the same offenses with different crimes, opening the door for bias,” the report notes.

Or they can be prosecuted twice for the same offense. The Supreme Court has held (most recently in 2019’s Gamble v. U.S.) that consecutive state and federal prosecutions don’t violate the Fifth Amendment’s double-jeopardy clause.

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

In lieu of a rant, a sense of PG’s thoughts concerning the WSJ article, from The Oxford Eagle:

Lavrentiy Beria, the most ruthless and longest-serving secret police chief in Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia and Eastern Europe, bragged that he could prove criminal conduct on anyone, even the innocent.

“Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime” was Beria’s infamous boast. He served as deputy premier from 1941 until Stalin’s death in 1953, supervising the expansion of the gulags and other secret detention facilities for political prisoners. He became part of a post-Stalin, short-lived ruling troika until he was executed for treason after Nikita Khrushchev’s coup d’etat in 1953.

Beria targeted “the man” first, then proceeded to find or fabricate a crime. Beria’s modus operandi was to presume the man guilty, and fill in the blanks later.

Link to the rest at The Oxford Eagle

In all his imaginings

In all his imaginings, he had never envisioned her crying. He knew that her son had died, but he’d never expected that her pain might be anything he could recognize, almost as though he believed that Negroes had their own special kind of grieving ritual, another language, something other than tears they used to express their sadness.

Bebe Moore Campbell

The triumph of culture

From The Economist:

They tore down the statue and rolled it into Bristol harbour, and none of them denied it. Yet this month a jury in England acquitted four people over the toppling of a likeness of Edward Colston, an English philanthropist and leading slave-trader who died in 1721. Part of the case for the defence was unusual for a courtroom, and revealing of the intellectual mood in Britain and beyond. The real offence, said the accused, was that the monument to such a monster was still standing. Facing criminal charges, they made an argument about art, and about history.

In an era of rising nationalism and seething partisanship, some borders—including those between countries and political camps—can seem to be hardening. But others are blurring, such as between politics and culture, statecraft and stagecraft. When the news vies for attention with entertainment, and is relished as meme and soap opera, entertainers have a political edge—and from France to Ukraine, television personalities have exploited it. Poets may no longer be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but activist sports stars and outspoken children’s authors have a pretty big say.

The substance of public debate has evolved with the personnel, not least in the erosion of another distinction, between the present and the past. Witness the saga of Colston, who splashed back into the news 300 years after his death. A decade ago, the idea that Conservative ministers might lambast the National Trust, staid steward of English country houses—as they have over its interest in slavery and colonialism—would have seemed outlandish. (So, to American voters, would one run for the White House by the star of “The Apprentice”, let alone two.) Whoever controls the past may indeed control the future, but from the streets of post-imperial Britain to the school boards of America, they have a fight on their hands first.

Disputes over whose history is told, how and by whom, in part reflect a struggle over claims on power and virtue today. Adherents of “cancel culture”, that dismal oxymoron, believe some people, living and dead, are too discredited to be heard at all. In these rolling culture wars, The Economist has no fixed side. But neither are we neutral. Our liberal principles suggest that controversial voices should generally be audible—and that some statues should come down.

. . . .

Culture’s role in politics is not the only way it has become more salient. During lockdown, stories on the page and screen have offered vicarious adventures, and a sense of solidarity in adversity, to people across the world. Even as theatres and galleries closed, the technology of culture has developed to match this craving. If covid-19 has coloured the experience of the arts, meanwhile, in time the reverse will also be true: writers and artists will shape how the pandemic is understood and remembered, and we will be watching.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG is more than a little concerned about cancel culture wherever it appears.

In one respect, the actions of the cancel culture mobs – physical and intellectual – can be classed with book burning. In the Twentieth Century, book burning was most prominently practiced by the Nazis, who burned the books of Jewish authors.

Book burning has a long history, too. The first recorded state-sponsored book burning was in China in 213 BC, according to Matthew Fishburn, the author of Burning Books. The burnings were ordered by Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who also started the Great Wall and the Terracotta army.

. . . .

On June 22, 2011 a group in The Netherlands burned the cover of The Book of Negroes, by Canadian author Lawrence Hill, continuing both an ancient and modern tradition.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

. . . .

Panhandling Repertoires and Routines for Overcoming the Nonperson Treatment

In this article, I present panhandling as a dynamic undertaking that requires conscious actions and purposeful modifications of self, performances, and emotions to gain the attention and interest of passersby. I show that describing and theorizing panhandling in terms of dramaturgical routines is useful in understanding the interactions and exchanges that constitute panhandling. In addition, repertoires rightly portray panhandlers as agents engaging the social world rather than as passive social types. From this perspective, sidewalks serve as stages on which panhandlers confront and overcome various forms of the nonperson treatment.

This facet of human nature – oppressing or attacking the Other – is most prevalent and dangerous when a group uses force/violence to punish one or more individuals who are perceived to be from a different tribe, species, race or social position – some sort of nonperson who is not a member of whatever group of Übermenschen have the power to threaten an individual or group which lacks legal, social or physical power sufficient to deter mistreatment.

Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting within the norms of a social group and, thus, may be treated in a manner different from those who are members of a social group, racial, ethnic, educational, professional class, etc.

It is an effect that influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group. Othering also involves attributing negative characteristics to people or groups that differentiate them from the perceived normative social group.

It is an “us vs. them” way of thinking about human connections and relationships. This process essentially involves looking at others and saying “they are not like me” or “they are not one of us so I am not required to give them the same respect I give those who are like me.”

It takes a mob to cancel an individual.

Othering is a way of negating another person’s individual humanity and, consequently, those that are have been othered are seen as less worthy of dignity and respect.

On an individual level, othering plays a role in the formation of prejudices against people and groups. On a larger scale, it can also play a role in the dehumanization of entire groups of people which can then be exploited to drive changes in institutions, governments, and societies. It can lead to the persecution of marginalized groups, the denial of rights based on group identities, or even acts of violence against others.

Verywellmind.com

In the United States, unfortunately, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities and language minorities have all been subject to some degree of the cancel culture of a time and place, sometimes geographically localized and at other times widespread.

PG argues that the actions of college students who “cancel” the ideas or speech of an individual or group are operating under the influence of the same class of degraded human nature that resulted in Jews being sent to concentration camps eighty years ago or the Native Americans being killed or forcibly ejected from their homes in the United States or the evil bourgeoisie who owned the means of production being attacked and killed because, by their nature, they were enemies of the proletariat.

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

From The Public Domain Review:

This year [2014], the works of one of the most successful and universal writers of all time came into the public domain in many countries around the world. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck – in all, thirty-three books bearing the name “Beatrix Potter” have sold close to 200 million copies.

. . . .

A teenage Beatrix Potter with her pet mouse Xarifa, 1885, from Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University

Her appeal is so powerful that museums hold her in permanent exhibition – and some of them even commemorate her solely. Hollywood has trawled through her life, if somewhat on tiptoe. The great and the good have acknowledged her influence and the affection she inspires. Pottery, apparel, wallpaper – all kinds of domestic accoutrements bear her quaint, unthreatening drawings; her inescapably fluffy image has driven a licensing industry that has been worth millions. Yet Beatrix Potter was a sharp-edged, and reclusive woman, serious and complex, and her “nursery” reputation does her scant justice; she was much more than a “mere” children’s writer. Which, however, is where and how her famed “product” began – with the famous letter from Beatrix aged 27 to Noel Moore, aged 6, the little son of her final governess;

Sep 4th 93

My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail – and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sand bank under the root of a big fir tree…

She called it a “picture letter.” In among the words she had sketched each character in the tale, with Peter unquestionably the perkiest: he’s the only one standing upright. As adults’ novelists do, she had taken him from life – Peter Rabbit was based on a Belgian buck, she’d given him the name “Peter Piper” and described him thus: “Whatever the shortcomings of his fur, and his ears and toes, his disposition was uniformly amiable and his temper unfailingly sweet.”

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

Beatrix Potter’s Eye for Nature

From The Wall Street Journal:

Britain’s brief but fertile Edwardian period was a golden age of children’s literature. The first decade of the 20th century saw the stage premiere of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and the publication of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows.” But no writer represents the genre in its heyday better than Beatrix Potter, whose diminutive illustrated picture books gave the world Peter Rabbit, Tomasina Tittlemouse and a host of other precocious animal characters. Precise, expressive watercolor illustrations by the author were the trademark of her books, which have now sold hundreds of millions of copies.

Potter, born in 1866, didn’t publish her first book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” until her mid-30s. She would go on to write 23 tales for children, but as early as 1913, at the height of her fame, she began to wind down her career to devote herself to sheep farming in England’s Lake District. When Potter died in 1943, she left behind a treasure trove of drawings, letters and personal effects, which form the basis of a new exhibition opening on Feb. 12 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature” includes nearly 200 artworks, books, photographs and other objects, from Potter’s childhood sketches, already demonstrating a keen eye and a steady hand, to a letter written the week before she died. Potter was raised in an upper-middle-class Unitarian clan that made a fortune from printing calico cloth; a photograph of her at 15, holding one of her many pets, shows a cosseted young Victorian. The photo also hints at a sense of thwartedness. In spite of her career, she arguably lived under the thumb of her parents until she married at the age of 47.

. . . .

A toy from the 1920s based on Potter’s character Jemima Puddle-Duck is an artifact of her enterprising forays into merchandising. A cross between J.K. Rowling and John Muir, Potter set herself up in midlife as a guardian of the Lake District’s picturesque countryside and traditional farming methods. She first visited the area on childhood vacations with her family and eventually bought up some 4,000 acres of farmland, which she left to Britain’s National Trust. A 1909 watercolor landscape in the exhibition—“View across Esthwaite Water,” painted near where she eventually settled as a farmer—seems to cross objective topography with frank affection. Later, a 1930 photograph of Potter with a shepherd and a prize-winning ewe casts the London-born writer as a timeless rustic.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes if you hit a paywall, but this should be a free link.)

The world I want to live in

The world I want to live in is a world where everybody is a bit more uncertain about their arguments and is a bit more open to other people’s arguments. I think that we can engage ideas without ad hominem attacks.

Adam Davidson

Considering Enslavement and Its Legacy in Children’s Literature

From School Library Journal:

Children’s literature has been, historically, a site for the origin of ideas about race and racism in the United States. Since I was a child, I have wondered why Black children show up most often in certain genres of the fictions of childhood, and not in others. I grew weary of many of the Black children’s books I read when I was in school. It seemed that if we weren’t following the North Star to freedom or marching for civil rights, we were dodging bullets in the ghetto, or we were the Black best friend in the otherwise all-white landscapes of childhood and teen life. Although we’ve seen movement in recent years, my weariness has shown up during recent presentations as a cynical joke about “The Five Black Kids You Meet in Children’s Literature.” It’s quite telling that audiences almost always laugh. Knowingly.

They’ve met those kids in books, too.

Children’s literature is becoming more inclusive. But it has been a long, complicated road, and the journey is ongoing. Black child readers, and their teachers, families, and communities, occupy a unique place when it comes to stories for children that deal with race. The collective trauma of enslavement—what literature scholar Saidiya Hartman has called the afterlife of slavery—has continuing implications for the descendants of enslaved people living today. That’s because slavery influences the way that Black people are perceived, more than 150 years after Emancipation. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois notes the presence of Blackness as always already being a problem, in reality and imagination:

To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem?
I answer seldom a word.

Women, people of color, and other marginalized populations have always had to read ourselves into literary canons where we were absent.

We’ve always told our own stories. Black storytelling extend deep into our past, predating the Middle Passage and the Door of No Return, as poet and essayist Dionne Brand observes. After passing through the Door, African Americans have had to write ourselves into existence. Recently, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and author Renée Watson came up with another lyrical metaphor—Born on the Water, the title of their 2021 picture book in verse, derived from the 1619 Project. Black storytelling traditions have always existed in the shadows of the American story—and that includes in children’s books.

“The lost shadow book is the book that Blackness writes every day,” poet Kevin Young writes in The Grey Album. “The book that memory, time, accident, and the more active forms of oppression prevent from being read.”

I love this observation. Despite adversity, oppression, and the shadow books lost along the way, Black people have kept storying. “Storying,” Young writes, is how “Black writers have forged their own traditions, their own identities, even their own freedom.”

Prominent in the shadows cast by Black children’s literature is The Brownies’ Book, a periodical for Black children published in 1920–21 by Du Bois and Jessie Fauset, an editor and writer. Also published in 1921 was Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, which includes the observation about enslaved Black Americans, “the Negroes were strong and could stand rough treatment.” It won the inaugural Newbery Medal the next year. Issues of The Brownies Book included stories, photographs, games, poetry, and information on current events; a goal was to dispel stereotypes of Black people and expand Black children’s literature. The Brownies’ Book was missing from mainstream shelves, but present in Black communities.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

“Perfect to Me”: How Self-Editing Can Take Your Novel to the Next Stage

From Writers Helping Writers:

Part of the trick of hiring an editor is knowing when your manuscript is ready to hand over to them. There’s no point submitting a draft that you already know has POV issues or structural problems. The ideal situation I like to be in when I deliver my manuscript to an editor is that I think it’s perfect. Of course, it never is, but “perfect to me” means I’ve done everything I know how to do. That way, the editor will teach me something.

There are three main types of edits: developmental, line, and proofreading. At each stage, an author can do a lot of self-editing to create a “perfect-to-me” manuscript.

The Developmental Stage

A developmental edit tackles big-picture issues: plot, structure, characterization, point of view and the like. It can be hard to see where a novel isn’t working on a substantive level. Sometimes you know it’s not working but can’t figure out why. In both cases, I find it helpful to work through structural exercises.

List the major structural elements that should appear in a novel and fill in the blanks. You can go as basic as three-act structure (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.) or you can get more detailed with something like a Save the Cat beat sheet. It amounts to the same thing: a novel must build momentum and it does this by hitting certain pivotal moments. If while doing this exercise you discover you’ve skipped a step or two, that’s probably where your problem lies.

Literary agent Hannah Sheppard boils this process down to a single sentence: When A (inciting incident) happens, B (character) must do C (action) otherwise/before D (catastrophe). Try filling it in. If you can’t, you’ll know there’s a problem.

One of the most common developmental issues I encounter as an editor is the protagonist’s lack of a strong, measurable goal. This goal needs to power the main character through the whole manuscript. One way to test this is to write a synopsis of the novel. Yuk, I know. A synopsis shows flaws. It’s a scary process. If you can’t boil your story down to a few pages that clearly trace a protagonist’s quest for a goal, you’ve got trouble.

Another thing a synopsis will reveal is causality (or the lack of it). If you find yourself connecting plot elements with the words, “and then,” (as opposed to “but,” or “therefore”), your story won’t be building the momentum it needs to hold a reader’s attention.

Has your protagonist done something at the end of the novel that he couldn’t have done at the beginning? If not, you have a character arc issue.

I could write an entire piece on point of view—and indeed, many editors have. Go read a few of them. I will say one thing here. It seems like it would be easiest to write in omniscient so you have access to every character’s thoughts. In fact, it’s the hardest POV to master.

Don’t be tempted to add new business to a novel to solve an existing problem. Often, you simply haven’t delivered on the promises you’ve made.

Most clients I deal with believe one developmental edit is all their novel needs. In fact, it takes several passes to wrinkle out developmental issues. Writing a novel is (or should be) like building a house of cards. Remove one card and half the house topples. Developmental edits are hard for that reason. As soon as you solve one problem, you’ve created five others. You should not expect this to be a quick and simple job. Most writers are in too much of a rush. Good work takes time. A novel benefits greatly from smoking on the shelf for a month or so after a major edit. Indeed, time might be the best editor of all.

Sometimes clients are tempted to skip the developmental stage. Because they’ve worked for so long on their novels and have used beta readers, they believe they can jump straight into a line edit and (bonus) save some money. Skipping the developmental stage is like building a house on sand. Even when I’ve worked for a year on a novel and finally decide it’s ready to send to my publisher, the first thing they do is assign me—you guessed it—a developmental editor.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Ad hominem

Ad hominem is a notoriously weak logical argument. And is usually used to distract the focus of a discussion – to move it from an indefensible point and to attack the opponent. Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher, Furies of Calderon

Saving Classics From Identity Politics

From The Atlantic:

Early in Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation, Roosevelt Montas describes an intellectual origin story that I found strikingly familiar. Montas, a fatherless teenager who had recently immigrated to the Bronx from the sticks of the Dominican Republic and was still learning to read in English, found himself on a winter evening faced with a pile of discarded books, some ornately decorated with gold-edged pages, waiting for the garbage collectors. “I wanted to take them all, but there were too many, and we had no bookshelves,” he writes. “In the end, I grabbed only two hardbacks. One of them was a volume of Plato’s dialogues.” That fortuitous selection—and his dogged efforts to learn what was between those covers—would fundamentally change him.

Half a century earlier, in a provincial and segregated Texas community, my own fatherless Black father had a chance encounter with the very same text. And as it freed Montas, it liberated him. It allowed him to build his sense of himself as a reader and thinker, and to forge a connection to a tradition that could not be severed by the accident of his skin or the deprivations his immediate ancestors had suffered.

I suppose, then, that I was primed to admire Montas’s earnest defense of the humanities, which is also a personal testament to the power of a liberal education. And I was primed, as well, by my own experiences and observations to agree with his argument that minority and underprivileged students would have at least as much to gain as their more advantaged peers from entry into the larger intellectual culture that has molded the Western societies we must navigate.

“Every year, I witness Socrates bringing students—my high school students as well as my Columbia students—to serious contemplation of the ultimately existential issues his philosophy demands we grapple with,” Montas writes. “My students from low-income households do not take this sort of thinking to be the exclusive privilege of a social elite. In fact they find in it a vision of dignity and excellence that is not constrained by material limitations.”

This position may have once seemed obvious (think of how W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass stressed the importance of universal, humanistic education), but today it is radical and contested. In the all-consuming culture wars, Western customs and habits of thought, which are ever more conflated with oppressive “whiteness,” have been pitted against oversimplified understandings of diversity and group identity. The latter are ascendant. But as Montas’s book and life make clear, ideas and identity needn’t ever be a question of either/or.

Identities, resonant as they may feel, are almost always too narrowly drawn in the contemporary pedagogical discourse, particularly when even those with the best of intentions take the interests of Black and brown and otherwise marginalized students into account.

“Representation of the cultural backgrounds of a diverse student body as an organizing principle in general education necessarily leads to incoherence, essentialism, and tokenism,” Montas argues. “The criterion of democratic representation—appropriate for politics—is not appropriate for selecting common curricula; to adopt it as such is to abandon the very idea of education and to turn students into interest groups, each lobbying for their own special curricular accommodations.” Yet in this era of seemingly limitless racial reckoning, elite academic institutions have made a devil’s bargain with group identity, in many cases at the expense of the elevating notion that some ideas have withstood the test of time and shaped the contemporary world for a reason. Many academics have stopped arguing that certain ideas are worth understanding no matter the standpoint from which any one individual might approach them.

Last year, in a much-discussed article in The New York Times Magazine, Rachel Poser chronicled Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s fervent mission to “save classics from whiteness.” Padilla’s origin story is quite like Montas’s: A child prodigy also from the Dominican Republic, he drew attention and admiration in the New York City homeless shelter he inhabited with his family. There, he fell in love with a textbook titled How People Lived in Ancient Greece and Rome. He excelled in every elite space in which his gifts and drive landed him. Each institution he encountered—from Manhattan’s Collegiate School, to Princeton, to Oxford, to Stanford, to Columbia and then back to Princeton—enacted the principles of a liberal education and catapulted him upward.

He distinguished himself early in his career as an authority on the Roman senatorial classes and published original research into the interior and religious lives of the empire’s enslaved population. Nonetheless, even as his star rose, he “began to feel that he had lost something in devoting himself to the classical tradition,” Poser wrote in the Times article. “Padilla sensed that his pursuit of classics had displaced other parts of his identity, just as classics and ‘Western civilization’ had displaced other cultures and forms of knowledge. Recovering them would be essential to dismantling the white-supremacist framework in which both he and classics had become trapped.”

Here’s Poser describing the revolution in Padilla’s thinking and his intense ambition to excavate his authentic self from the scaffolding of his education, which led him far away from Montas’s universalist worldview.

Padilla has said that he “cringes” when he remembers his youthful desire to be transformed by the classical tradition. Today he describes his discovery of the textbook at the Chinatown shelter as a sinister encounter, as though the book had been lying in wait for him. He … now sees the moment of absorption into the classical, literary tradition as simultaneous with his apprehension of racial difference; he can no longer find pride or comfort in having used it to bring himself out of poverty. He permits himself no such relief. “Claiming dignity within this system of structural oppression,” Padilla has said, “requires full buy-in into its logic of valuation.” He refuses to “praise the architects of that trauma as having done right by you at the end.”

Padilla slaps the sins of slavery, racism, colonialism, fascism, and the production of whiteness on his discipline and told Poser that he “suspects that he will one day need to leave classics and the academy in order to push harder for the changes he wants to see in the world. He has even considered entering politics.” This is extreme, but Padilla is not alone in his refusal to separate ideas from the flawed and compromised men and women through whom they have been transmitted. Even rudimentary educational pursuits such as basic literacy and numeracy have in recent years—and especially since the George Floyd protests of the summer of 2020—been combed over in search of latent and structural anti-Black and -brown biases. A vocal and growing number of people in the knowledge economy now purport to believe, some genuinely and some no doubt expediently, that there is no such thing as an idea devoid of the historical power imbalances inscribed in contemporary identity designations.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Big Tech Wants To End Copyright

From Tilting at Windmills:

I’m a writer by trade. I don’t have another gig as a lawyer or comedian or anything else. This is what I do to support my family.

Luckily, I’m able to do this because the work I create is covered by copyright. Salem—the parent company for sites like Townhall, Red State, Bearing arms, Twitchy, Hot Air, and PJ Media—is able to make money off content because that content can’t be found anywhere else.

At least most of it.

. . . .

Copyright tends to be more of a factor when it comes to entertainment. Books, movies, and television all enjoy copyright protection, which means you can’t just decide to start streaming Firefly on your own for fun and profit. You’ve got to deal with Fox, first.

. . . .

However, as Jennifer Van Laar notes at Red State, big tech seems to be working to undermine much of that.

For years companies like Google and Spotify, whose revenue streams depend on content and profits depend on how cheaply they can acquire it, have worked to weaken copyright protections. They know they can’t get what they want through a transparent legislative process, so they’ve set their sights on effectively changing the law by using “a well-established legal organization to ‘restate’ and reinterpret our copyright laws for the nation’s judicial system.”

The organization, American Legal Institute (ALI), an invite-only organization for legal scholars, is known for its Restatements of Law, which have been described as “Cliff’s Notes” guides to various legal topics:

The ALI…is widely known and rightfully recognized within legal circles as an authority on explaining the law. Through their best-known works, called “Restatements of the Law,” the ALI compiles all aspects of a legal topic and publishes a “Cliff’s Notes” guide to that topic. These Restatements are regularly relied upon by our nation’s judges when they are asked to decide on cases requiring expert knowledge of a particular subject.

According to the Content Creators Coalition, ALI’s Restatements are “descriptive black-letter texts designed ‘to reflect the law as it presently stands’ that are used by courts, scholars, and legislatures to understand the current state of the law on any subject. ALI Restatements have historically been considered the gold standard for unbiased legal clarity and precision” (emphasis added).

Although ALI’s Restatements almost exclusively focus on common law (formed by precedent) and not statutory law, the organization started a project aiming to restate the Copyright Act, a federal statute, back in 2013 at the suggestion of UC Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson. According to then-Acting Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple:

[T]he Restatement project appears to create a pseudo-version of the Copyright Act that does not mirror the law precisely as Congress enacted it.

Samuelson is the founder of the Samuelson-Glushko Law Clinics (which one blogger referred to as “Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucius Institutes)” who, at a Copyright Society of the USA conference “vehemently railed against awards of damages for copyright infringement while a room full of the nation’s top copyright law practitioners sat in shocked, slack-jawed silence or excused themselves for coffee.”

. . . .

Basically, though, Big Tech has decided that it wants to fund “legal research” that will undermine copyright because technology services benefit from looser copyright laws.

For example, you write a book. Now, I’ve written a few myself, so I know how much time and dedication goes into each one. Copyright laws allow you to have control over that book until or unless you give that up to someone, like a publisher. They then get the copyright so they can make money, giving you some of it.

. . . .

What’s happening here is that these Restatements, which are supposed to be based on the current understanding of the law, have been co-opted by some who actively oppose copyright protections in an effort to undermine the legal support for them. They’re blatantly misrepresenting the law in an attempt to effectively change the law.

And they’re likely to get away with it, too.

Link to the rest at Tilting at Windmills and thanks to K. for the tip.

PG will note that the author of the OP said he was not a lawyer upfront.

The Restatements he mentioned have been around forever. They’re published by a private company, The American Law Institute, universally referred to as ALI.

Restatements are a quick way of getting an overview of a legal subject or a piece of a legal subject, but Restatements aren’t the same as federal or state laws or formal decisions by federal or state judges.

When PG was doing a lot of litigation, he would resort to the relevante Restatement only if he couldn’t find any statute or court decision that was close to supporting his client’s case. On more than one occasion when he did this (not much more frequently than 2-3 occasions), the judge would either look at him (or opposing counsel, if opposing counsel tried to use a restatement) and say something like, “Does that mean you can’t find any Missouri law (or California law or federal statute or case) that supports your client’s case?”

If the judge didn’t say this first, opposing counsel (including PG if he was on the other side of a case where the attorney argued from a restatement) would say something like, “Your Honor” or “Judge” (if he knew the judge well), “I have included a great many citations to case law and statutes in order to support my client’s contentions. If counsel cannot locate any reliable citations, I’ll be filing a Motion for Summary Judgment (or whatever was appropriate) on behalf of my client because the other side apparently has no legal basis for their arguments.”

As a quote in the OP says, restatements are like the Cliff’s Notes version of the law. Just as Cliff’s Notes is the resort of desperate college students who aren’t ready for the final exam (May Cliff be blessed for all his past support of a younger and callower version of PG), for most judges with which PG is acquainted, quoting or citing a restatement, unless the restatement reference is accompanied by a whole bunch of on-point cases and statutes, is raising the desperation flag. An insightful client will be wondering why you didn’t recommend starting settlement discussions before wasting all the client’s money in court.

But Big Tech is a money machine and will waste a lot of money to get a 0.001% improvement in a legal position it’s trying to sell the justice system.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

How to Fight Fair Use Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: The Experience of One Open Educational Resource

From The Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship:

At the launch of one of the early online open educational resources (OER) in 2002, the approach to addressing copyright was uncertain. Did the university or the faculty own their material? How would the third-party material be handled? Was all of its use considered fair use under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) because of its educational purpose? Or was permission-seeking necessary for this project to succeed and protect the integrity of faculty and university? For many years, this OER was conservative in its approach to third-party material, avoiding making fair use claims on the theory that it was too risky and difficult to prove in the face of an infringement claim. Additionally, being one of the early projects of its kind, there was fear of becoming a target for ambitious copyright holders wanting to make headlines (and perhaps win lawsuits). It was not until 2009 that the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for OpenCourseWare was written by a community of practitioners who believed that if fair use worked for documentary film makers, video creators, and others (including big media), it worked in open education as well. Once this Code was adopted, universities and institutions were able to offer more rich and complete course content to their users than before. This paper explains how it happened at this early open educational resource offering.

Link to the rest at The Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship

PG says that whenever a group of people get together to create something – a book, a collection of stories, a computer program, a mural, etc., etc., someone should think about copyright in the finished project.

If the group is going to make their creation free to all the world forever and ever, one place to locate decent licensing agreements at no charge is Creative Commons.

Creative Commons was established about twenty years ago to “build a vibrant, collaborative global commons,” mostly, but not completely online. The principal original goal was to encourage an open internet where information and knowledge was available with no strings attached for anyone who could use a device that accessed the internet.

In connection with this goal, the organization promulgated a collection of “free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that provide a simple, standardized way to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.”

If you go Here, the Creative Commons website walks you through a quite-nice set of information and questions that lead a visitor to the Creative Commons license that will work the best for them if they want to share their creation free.

One important caveat – The Creative Commons licenses all include you making your work available to the rest of the world without the rest of the world having to pay you anything for your creations.

If you want to exert control over your creation in any material way beyond being mentioned as the creator or one of the creators in some manner a Creative Commons license is not what you want. If you want to make certain you get paid in some manner for your creation, a Creative Commons license is not what you want.

You’ll have to talk to an attorney.

Regarding the OP, the ironic thing about the creators of Open Courseware at MIT and others institutions of higher education could, at no cost to themselves, contracted the university attorney.

Every major institution of higher education and a great many not-so-major institutions (in the United States at least) has a university or college attorney who is supposed to help make sure the faculty don’t do something that’s legally stupid.

For even the dimmest of university counsel, a project whereby a group of university employees to get together with a bunch of people all over the place to create a computer program with lots and lots of information in it would have triggered a call to outside Intellectual Property Counsel who could have saved the project the sorts of problems mentioned in the OP.

Rytr

PG received an email following his post about Rytr, an artificial intelligence authoring program.

I just tried the tool for a plot. This is what I put in:

“A man dies and goes to hell and then must undertake a quest. “

This is what it gave me:

“Every few days someone would come to take me to the next level of hell. I was told there is no end to how low one can go, but I was still overjoyed at the idea of making it out alive.

“I navigated through level after level of demons and tried to remember what my life was like. There was an angel waiting for me at the gates to my house. She told me not to look back and try not to cry. She said I left something behind long ago, but it’s something I need to find again.”

Not bad!

‘The collapse of humanity is deathly funny’: Gary Shteyngart on writing comedy in difficult times

From The Guardian:

do not write historical fiction. But I envy those who do. I can picture them sitting in the lamp-lit halls of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, thumbing through fraying, early 20th‑century telephone directories or spinning the roulette of the microfiche machine, or meeting at a nearby coffee dispensary with fellow history-minded wordsmiths in the wee hours of the day, like hunters getting ready to put a bullet through the heart of a wildebeest. The best are able to address the current moment through deft metaphysical journeys between the present and the past, to illuminate our wayward realities by reminding us that it has ever been so, that the past is not even the past, or whatever Faulkner said.

Personally, I have trouble building a literary time machine. A decade ago, when I wrote a memoir set primarily in the 1980s, all I could remember of that era was Michael J Fox running around in a varsity jacket. The rest of my memories were just volumes of mist that sometimes trickled out of my minor brain holes, tantalising but highly suspect emissions that bore news of events which may or may not have been. When one’s teenage years are a distant Greek island, imagine trying to write a novel about the romantic entanglements of the Italian futurists or the political cataclysms of Meiji-era Japan, or anything at all about the ancient Egyptians.

As a child of two failing superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, I have always found myself in a maximal historical position. The headlines of the newspapers, whether Pravda or the New York Times, were always screaming about events on a global scale. There was no “Local Drive-In Theater to Feature Annual Jaws Marathon” or “Piggly Wiggly 5k Marathon Nets Hearts and Dollars for Muscular Dystrophy Research”. It was all “The Struggle Continues, Angola Will Win”, or our Marines lying dead in the rubble of Beirut. For as long as I’ve been alive, I have been, like the character of John Self in Martin Amis’s Money, addicted to the present. And writing about the perfidy, the hubris, the insanity of these two large, imploding imperial suns, the US and USSR, in something like real time has been my mandate from the start. My first novel, written as a five-year-old and paid for in pieces of glossy Soviet cheese by my literature-obsessed grandmother, concerned Lenin meeting a magical socialist goose and conquering Finland. The rest of my work has pretty much followed suit.

When the pandemic first hit, I had been writing a humour-forward dystopian novel in which New York University had taken over most of Manhattan, building walls and checkpoints round the island, and deputising its own military force, the Violet Helmets (violet is one of the school’s colours), to keep out the non-matriculated. Come March 2020, reality rushed over the draft of my funny dystopia in waves. Once people started dying and our president continued lying, I realised the smallness of my attempted novel, the way the academic satire seemed much too easy and glib. I had undershot my historical mandate and had to make amends immediately. I trashed 240 pages of NYU conquering Manhattan and began to write a tight Chekhovian take on the disaster at hand, a novel with the simple title Our Country Friends.

The importance of the moment presented itself right away. My first novel looked at the world through the prism of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the immigrants who had washed ashore on the other side of the Atlantic; my second through the prism of oil politics and American foreign policy. My third examined the advent of tech as the ultimate arbiter of American society (and the death of its democracy); my fourth the way America had become fully financialised by a class of useless and clueless meritocrats. I had always hovered around the present moment, a few years behind it or, in the case of my third novel, Super Sad True Love Story, slightly ahead of it. That book was recently mentioned in the pages of this newspaper in an article about how banks such as Lloyds and NatWest have demanded the firing of faculty staff at London’s Goldsmiths art college – in Super Sad, the school has been rebranded as HSBC-Goldsmiths and offers double qualifications in finance and art.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Listening

Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.

Jeanette Winterson

Listening Hard to Write Well

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

The acclaimed writer Eudora Welty once noted that “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”

Wow. There’s so much for a writer to unpack in this brief but profound observation. How many times have I rushed headlong into drafting a novel without taking time to listen for the real story—the story behind the story?

Welty wrote often about characters who were not listened to, but of course, that is entirely different from listening for the emotional beats that drive a story forward; the unspoken longings that define characters in a subterranean way; and source material that may come from anywhere and everywhere.

Welty had a way of boiling down the power of listening to a primal force: “Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

. . . .

I think there’s a strong case to add listening to the common list of five senses—hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. After all, the senses are the building blocks of fiction. Even in the most far-out, world-building sci-fi novels, the writer still grounds the reader in her senses, whether it’s the cold blackness of space or the terrifying grip of alien tentacles.

As Madeleine L’Engle wrote, rather cryptically, but with a nod to the all-encompassing nature of listening well, “We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”

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

What Can Happen When Your Agent Decides To Become Your Publisher

From Writer Beware:

Last week, several people drew my attention to this article in the Des Moines Register. “Iowa Romance Writer Sues Over Efforts to Have Ghostwriter Take Over Series.” 

If your “conflict of interest” radar is screaming right now, it should be. 

Clark’s complaint (which you can see here) accuses Grishman et al. of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent concealment, and alleges a variety of malfeasance, including concealing the family connection, and invoking an allegedly non-existent contract clause to justify buying out the final two books in an uncompleted series and hiring a ghostwriter to write them. Clark is seeking to terminate both her RedRock Literary and Pink Sand Press contracts, and to receive an award of “lost profits, damages, costs, and attorney’s fees based on Pink Sand’s breach”. 
As of this writing, Grishman hasn’t filed a response to the lawsuit, but he did have this to say to a local reporter:

. . . .

Apart from the books it has published for Clark, Pink Sand has virtually no track record as a publisher. A search on Amazon turns up two other authors and five other titles–but the status of those titles is unclear. They are nowhere to be seen on the Pink Sand website, they don’t appear ever to have been promoted–or even mentioned–on Pink Sand’s Facebook page, and four of them–by Jeanne De Vita, writing both as herself and under the pen name Callie Chase– have either been taken out of print or are listed as out of stock or unavailable everywhere but on Amazon.

. . . .

Both of the contracts Clark signed–the RedRock agency contract and the Pink Sand publishing contract –are attached to her original complaint. 

The agency contract looks reasonably standard to me, though it imposes a three-year term that the author can terminate only in the event of breach by the agent–not ideal. It also has an arbitration clause, which could complicate things for Clark’s legal effort to be released.

The publishing contract, which covers a whopping 28 titles, is another story. It includes some really terrible clauses, particularly in regard to payment. 

For instance, here are the royalty rates for hardcover publication:

This is seriously nonstandard. Mass market paperback royalties are also substandard, at 5% of wholesale. 
Of course, both of these provisions are moot, since Clause 4(a) of the contract stipulates publication only of “an e-book and trade paperback edition”–but there are big problems with royalties for those formats as well. Ebooks are paid at just 15% of net (even the big publishers typically pay 25% of net, and most small presses pay considerably more). As for trade paper royalties, there is no mention of them in the contract. At all. (!!!)

Subsidiary rights payments too are hugely, one might almost say rapaciously, substandard, with the publisher keeping 85% and the author getting just 15%. These include foreign language, book club, and numerous other rights that are typically allocated at least 50/50 between author and publisher.  
Other lowlights: an overly lengthy grant term (10 years); no advances for certain of the many backlist titles acquired; a non-competition clause that bars Clark not just from publishing competing works, but from publishing anything until the terms of the contract have been completed; an agency clause that empowers RedRock to increase its commission for subagented rights sales beyond the commission rates stipulated in the agency contract; and a clause that empowers Pink Sand to retain rights for five years to a delivered revision it declines to publish, unless the author can find another publisher willing to hand all the author’s earnings over to Pink Sand until advances have been repaid. (Good luck with that.)

It’s hard for me to imagine any reputable publisher offering a contract like this, or any reputable literary agent advising a client to sign it. I see some pretty atrocious contracts from inexperienced publishers who don’t know any better, but Grishman is not inexperienced. Waterhouse Press is a successful house, and he worked there for years. 

Make of that what you will. Make what you will, also, of the timelines involved. David Grishman incorporated RedRock Literary (for the first time) on November 13. Less than three weeks later, on December 2, he signed Clark as an agency client. Six weeks after that, on January 15, Steven Grishman incorporated Pink Sand Press. Clark’s publishing agreement was signed just eight days later, on January 23. 

The whole thing has the feeling of a rush to pin something down.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG was inclined to go on a rant, but, surprisingly, he restrained himself.

He will make a few points, however.

  1. Yes, lawyers cost money. Ms. Clark is learning that because she has had to hire a lawyer to represent her in this contract litigation.
  2. Litigation always costs more, lots more, than hiring a competent attorney to look at a contract before you sign it.
  3. (Side note: PG has cut his law practice way back and isn’t accepting any new clients. If anyone has had a personal satisfactory experience with another attorney who reviewed a publishing contract or agency agreement, send a note to PG via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog so PG can add her/him to his list of attorneys to send to people who contact PG for legal help when he’s not able to provide it.)
  4. Any time someone sends you a document for your signature, they are asking you to agree to be bound to a contract, give them permission to do something, give up some right you have, pay them money, act as their body slave, etc., etc., etc. This is standard practice for most reputable businesses and also standard practice for many crooks.
  5. READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT!
  6. Make a working copy of the contract, sit down with that copy and a red pen and READ THE DAMN CONTRACT! The longest business agreement PG ever reviewed was much shorter than any book PG has read. (And a lot more boring.)
  7. An author who has spent hours and days and weeks and months writing a book should be willing to spend the extra time necessary to make sure that her/his baby is going to have a good home surrounded by honest people. Plus, remember how much it will cost you in legal fees to get out of a bad contract.
  8. Annotate the contract with your red pen as you go through it – underlines, question marks, exclamation points are all great. Write notes in the margins. Use your red pen for anything that worries you, that sounds fishy or that you don’t understand.
  9. If the contract says something like, “As set forth in Paragraph 49 . . . ” make your red pen mark, then go look at Paragraph 49, use your red pen there and combine the Paragraph 49 language with the language that includes “As set forth in Paragraph 49 . . . ” so you’re reading both provisions together.
  10. The other party can give you something in Paragraph 1 and effectively take it all back in Paragraph 49.
  11. Be just as careful reading the end of the contract as you are when you are reading the beginning of the contract. If the contract has exhibits or additional pages after the place where the parties sign it, read those just as carefully as you read the rest of the contract and use your red pen liberally.
  12. In most American business contracts, the last provisions of the contract are called boilerplate and often consist of stuff the person who put the contract together may well have copied and pasted from a prior contract. But just because it’s copied from another contract doesn’t mean the boilerplate provisions are fair or safe or that something nasty isn’t hidden there.
  13. PG can recall more than one contract written by someone else that incorporated what looked like it was a boilerplate “Standard Terms and Provisions” section at the end of the contract. In some cases, these were even a photocopy of something taken from another contract and attached to the custom contract that the parties had agreed to. On more than one occasion, the innocent-looking “Standard Terms and Provisions” included some terms that were deal-breakers for PG’s clients, even though the rest of the contract was fine.
  14. After you get finished with your red-pen fun, either:
    1. Send an email/letter to the person you’re dealing with asking about each of the items that concerned you or that you don’t understand; or
    2. Make a photocopy of your red-marked version of the contract and ask the other side to respond to your concerns.
  15. Aside from specific responses to your redline questions, the manner in which the individual on the other side reacts to your questions may tell you a great deal about whether this is someone you want to work with or not.

PG has millions of additional tips, warnings, cautionary tales, etc., that he could add, but these are the most obvious things you should look at and do.

How to Reach Out to Someone Beyond “How Are You?”

Apropos for the Covid years.

From the Grammarly Blog:

With so many uncertainties stemming from the current pandemic, you might be looking for more human connection and comfort from friends and family. And while it’s good to check in with loved ones more regularly, simply asking how they are doing might not be enough to show true empathy.

There are alternative ways to inquire about how someone is doing that can be more helpful and supportive—especially during a challenging time. The most important thing is to ask a genuine question that invites a genuine answer.

If there’s someone in your life that really needs your support and compassion, here are 10 ways to ask how someone is doing that are empathetic and open-ended.

1. How can I support you? 

If your friend or family member is dealing with something particularly stressful, ask them how you can help. Sometimes, it can be comforting just to know that you are ready to support them. Even if they don’t actually allow you to do anything special for them, like cooking them dinner or babysitting their new puppy, it’s good to express that you are there for moral support and are willing to help if need be.

2. What’s been on your mind lately?

Allowing your colleague to vent about whatever has been on their mind will likely lead to a deeper, more honest conversation. They’ll feel like you really care about their inner thoughts and feelings. By asking such a direct question, you’re letting them know that the floor is theirs and you are ready to listen to anything that’s been bothering them.

Link to the rest at the Grammarly Blog

The upheavals

The upheavals [of artificial intelligence] can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease.

Nick Bilton

Dominant languages can spread even without coercion

From The Economist:

Never think the world is in decline. A recent book, “Speak Not” by James Griffiths, looks at the bad old days when it was seen as acceptable to impose a culture on others through force. The author tells the stories of Welsh and Hawaiian—languages driven to the brink of death or irrelevance before being saved by determined activists.

. . . .

Americans fomented a coup in Hawaii that led to its eventual annexation. Missionaries built schools and fervently discouraged local customs like the hula, a performance in honour of ancestors that the Americans considered lascivious. Oppression of culture and of the language went hand in hand: by the late 20th century the only fluent Hawaiian-speakers were worryingly old. But activists fought to expand teaching of it, and eventually brought Hawaiian into many schools. The number of speakers is now growing. Even some of the state’s many citizens of other ethnicities find it fashionable to learn a bit.

Welsh survived centuries of union with England largely because of Wales’s relative isolation and poverty. But in the 19th century British authorities stepped up efforts to impose English; schoolchildren had to wear a token of shame (the “Welsh Not”) if they spoke their native language, the kind of tactic seen in language oppression around the world.

Again, activists fought back. In 1936 three of them set fires at an air-force training ground built despite local opposition. The perpetrators turned themselves in, then refused to speak any language but Welsh at their first trial. It ended in a mistrial; their second resulted in a conviction, but on their release nine months later the arsonists were feted as heroes. They had lit a fire under Welsh-language nationalism, which in later decades would not only halt the decline in Welsh-speakers, but reverse it. Today the right to speak Welsh at trial (and in many other contexts) is guaranteed.

Mr Griffiths’s book ends with a sadder tale. Though Mandarin is the world’s most-spoken native language, China still has hundreds of millions of native speakers of other Chinese languages such as Cantonese (often misleadingly called “dialects”), as well as non-Han languages like those used in Inner Mongolia and Tibet. Evidently regarding this variety as unbefitting for a country on the rise, the authorities have redoubled their efforts to get everyone speaking Mandarin—for instance by cutting down Cantonese television and resettling Han Chinese in Tibet, part of a wider bid to dilute its culture. A regime indifferent to the tut-tutting of outsiders can go even further than American and British colonialists.

But English spreads by less coercive means, too. Rosemary Salomone’s new book, “The Rise of English”, tells the tale of a language that has gone from strength to strength after the demise of Britain’s empire and perhaps also of America’s global dominance. These two forces gave English an impetus, but once momentum takes hold of a language, whether of growth or decline, it tends to continue. Everyone wants to speak a language used by lots of other influential people.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Rytr – AI Writing Assistant

This is an example of what one AI Writing Assistant, Rytr, can produce.

PG wrote a short description to seed the AI:

Many authors, both new and experienced, are becoming self-published and maintaining complete control over their books.

He then added key words for the output:

self-publishing, Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, independent author, authors

PG then asked Rytr to create some variants of the output and clicked a button on the screen.

Here are the three variants that PG liked the best:

Variant 1

Self-publishing has become a popular way for authors to maintain complete control over their books.

The rise of self-publishing has been driven by the advent of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP allows authors to publish their own books and sell them on Amazon, as well as other retailers. The process is simple and straightforward, and the cost is low.

Self-publishing can be an attractive option for new authors who want to maintain complete control over their work. It also provides an avenue for experienced authors who don’t want to go through the traditional publishing process because they are unhappy with how it could affect their book’s content or quality.

Variant 2

Self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular among authors. It is now possible to publish a book without the help of any publishing house. Authors can now maintain complete control over their books and make all the decisions themselves, including pricing, cover design, and marketing.

The self-publishing industry has grown tremendously in recent years due to the rise of ebooks and digital publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The number of self-published titles has increased from about 200,000 in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2014. In 2015 alone, there were 2 million new self-published titles released on Amazon’s Kindle store alone!

Variant 3

Self-published authors have total control over their work and how it is marketed. They can choose what they want to publish, how much they will charge for it, and who they will market it to.

The process of self-publishing is more cost effective than traditional publishing because there are no middlemen involved. Authors save money on cover design, editing, printing costs etc.

PG notes that this is not deathless prose, but he produced these and more variants in less than a minute. The service also lets you set the tone of the output. PG selected “Convincing” for the variants shown above.

You can see in some of the variants that the program has added facts and information that PG didn’t include in his short seed language. PG presumes that part of the artificial intelligence involves pulling information from the web and elsewhere to allow Rytr to add such relevant information to its output.

Here’s a link to Rytr

Rytr provides free access to its services for original text seeds of up to 125 words. For PG, this is enough to get a flavor of what the service can offer but is obviously a teaser for Rytr’s paid subscription offers, which, for PG, are not that expensive.

PG would be interested to know if any visitors to TPV have any experience using this or any other AI writing tool. Feel free to share your experiences in the Comments to this post or to PG privately via the Contact Me button in menu bar that’s right below the header image.

PG will be sampling some other AI Writing tools over the next few days and will share what he finds.

Artificial Intelligence Writing Assistants

From Becomeawritertoday:

A writing assistant is a software program that uses artificial intelligence technology to help writers with the creative process. This can include everything from offering a grammar checker to assisting with the nuances of the language to make the writing more engaging.

English writers have a lot of options available for them if they want to use a writing assistant in their work. While an assistant is not going to replace the need for a writer, the right writing tool can help improve readability, reduce grammar mistakes and help writers avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

Link to the rest at Becomeawritertoday

PG is going to explore AI Writing Assistants a bit.

He tried one out a few days ago and was amazed at its output – not Pulitzer-Prize-Worthy, but better than a whole lot of college graduates could produce.

PG is always skeptical about anything that claims to be driven by Artificial Intelligence, but in his quick experiments, he found the AI programs added relevant material that was suggested, but not included in the seed language he put into the Writing Assistant.

The first stage of this class of programs was Grammarly, which PG and many writers started using because of its superior spell-checking ability. Over time, Grammarly added more and more grammar-checking features as well.

Based on PG’s preliminary explorations, some of the AI Writing Assistants are a step beyond PG’s current understanding of what Grammarly does.

But at my back I always hear Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvel, To His Coy Mistress

PG’s Note: In 1641, two years after Marvel completed his BA at Cambridge, his father drowned in “the Tide of Humber”—the estuary at Hull made famous by To his Coy Mistress.

The Hotel of the Idle Moon

From The Millions:

It feels safe to say that no other writer of great stature wrote more often than William Trevor about old people. Only Alice Munro comes close—perhaps V. S. Pritchett. Here’s an incredibly stupid admission: when I first encountered Trevor, it made perfect sense to me that he would write so much about old people, since he so perfectly embodied the platonic ideal of an old person. Those twinkly, wise eyes! That signature Irish walking hat! I was in my 30, in the late aughts, when I first read Trevor, and he was in his late-70s. It did not occur to me that he had not always been in his late-70s, that many of the multitude of stories were written when he was my age at the time.

But enough about my stupidity, which I would prefer to reveal slowly over the course of this project, rather than all at once in an information dump. I mentioned Trevor’s interest in the elderly in a previous entry, the way aging is simpatico with his central theme, i.e. coming to terms with one’s life. But it’s more than that. Advanced age and accompanying senescence are, if not an obsession, a fixation. Sometimes, with writers, you viscerally sense the person, place, thing, idea, or general theme that quickens their pulse—you can hear the fingers tap that much faster on the typewriter. With Charles Portis, it’s cars, or more broadly, mechanical objects; with Ottessa Moshfegh it’s any bodily-related function: peeing, pooping, barfing. I sense, in Trevor’s stories, that quickening when it comes to senility, sundowning, the general incapacity of age.

In several of these stories we’ve covered already, an old person’s vulnerability provides a key plot point: Miss Winton’s fuddled inability to wrest control of the situation in “The Penthouse Apartment;” Miss Efoss becoming overwhelmed and subsumed by the Dutt’s desire for a child in “In at the Birth;” General Suffolk’s progressive drunkenness and weakness in “The General’s Day.” Even the titular Miss Smith, a relatively young person, undergoes a sort of premature dotage. This week’s story, “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” provides the most explicit version of this yet, as a pair of married con artists, the Dankers, invade the country home of the ancient Marstons and their equally ancient servant Cronin. They likely poison Lord Marston, and proceed to consign the Lady and Cronin to a small wing of the house while they convert the rest into a hotel. Cronin dreams of cutting their throats with a razor strop, but in the end, he understands it to be absurd that he “imagined himself a match for the world and its conquerors.”

Link to the rest at The Millions

Politics

PG has received a couple of private messages that are concerned that he has steered TPV into overly-political areas that have generated more heated disagreements than are usually the case at this location.

When PG reviewed the last few weeks of posts, he decided he agreed with with those who shared their concerns with him.

Henceforth, PG will endeavor to avoid posts containing politics of the elected-officials and government bureaucrats genre and stay closer to the author/book world. He does not, however, intend to bridle his scorn at idiots and predators in the publishing business, however.

Over-Active Filters

PG received an email from a visitor to TPV who felt there was a problem with his spam filter.

He couldn’t find the source of the problems, all the usual and shady suspects were in the Spam folder.

PG did find other perfectly-good comments that had ended up in the Trash folder, however.

If you feel your comments have been mishandled by the happy busy electrons residing at TPV, send PG an email via the Contract PG link on the top toolbar of the page.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.

Ed Koch

Chapter House Is Turning A New Page For Indie Book Publishing

From Forbes:

The merger of indie presses Black Ocean and Not a Cult into a new publishing group offers new path for competitive small-press publishing in the digital era.

As debates about the metaverse rage on, a new development in publishing is proving that digital transformation is core to the future of one of the most legacy media formats in existence: books.

Today, two prominent indie presses — Black Ocean and Not a Cult — officially announced a merger, forming the Chapter House Publishing Group.

The move is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts: in addition to the two aforementioned presses, Chapter House will also stand up a raft of additional imprints: Psychonaut Press for speculative fiction and non-fiction (with editor-at-large Sheree Renée Thomas); Tetra House for self-publishing services and strategy; Kin Garden for children’s books and books for parents; Sauce Press for cookbooks and other food-related books, and an as of yet unnamed imprint for esoteric arts & ideas (with discussions of bringing on writer, curator, and host of The Witch Wave podcast, Pam Grossman, as editor).

. . . .

With this merger, Chapter House becomes one of the few U.S. indie publishing groups with a presence on both coasts, and has earned a new deal with prominent indie book distributor Consortium.

Not a Cult Founder Daniel Lisi and Black Ocean Founder Janaka Stucky see this new chapter as an assertion that independent publishing is more vibrant than ever — in contradistinction to the increasing homogeneity they perceive resulting from “Big Five” major book publishing (likely soon to be Big Four).

“As systems become more homogenous, it is necessary to diversify not only backgrounds but also a diversity of thought that isn’t sponsored by corporations beholden to their shareholders or investors,” Lisi said in an interview with the author. “You don’t want to read books 100% from one place. You want to have many sources, many voices, a chorus of information to explore.”

. . . .

Contrary to what some might expect, book sales have actually increased in the 2020s — seeing a rise of 8.2% in 2020 and an 18.5% increase in the first half of 2021 (compared to the first half of 2020). But like any medium, when book publishing is determined by the choices of a select few, authors and readers suffer.

Chapter House is combining the new possibilities of digital publishing with an emphasis on quality to become a publisher that makes the best of new and established practices. Major book publishing emphasizes volume; the more books a press prints at once, the cheaper the price per book. But this means that publishers are often implicitly seeking reliable hits to justify large print runs.

. . . .

Chapter House will continue to emphasize a small-team focus for each imprint, with accessible “unagented” submission periods continuing for both Black Ocean and Not a Cult (both of which received over 500 submissions during their open calls). In collaboration with art curator Alan Weiner, Chapter House opened up a new base of operations in Aero Salon in downtown Los Angeles and hired staff to handle fulfillment, with the goal of creating a sustainable, scalable, and transferable framework for indie presses to compete with big presses — while retaining an emphasis on boundary-pushing books — using streamlined digital tools and practices.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG doesn’t know anything about either small publisher, but unless both are consistently profitable, he’s reminded of the old story of two drowning men who see one another as potential means of mutual buoyancy.

Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.

From NBC News:

Nearly six months ago, celebrated Black children’s author and illustrator Jerry Craft received a message saying some of his books were being pulled from a school library in Texas.

“I was caught off guard,” Craft, the Newbery Medal-winning author of the 2019 graphic novel “New Kid,” told NBCBLK. “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act.’ I know what my school visits do. … I felt bad if there was going to be some kids that would not be able to take advantage of that.”

The person who sent the message to Craft is from Katy, Texas, a town near Houston that has been under fire for attempts to limit the public’s access to books that teach about racism. In October, the Katy Independent School District made headlines for temporarily yanking two of Craft’s books, which tell the stories of Black boys who experience racism in schools, from school libraries and postponing his virtual visit. A now-deleted petition with more than 400 signatures showed parents calling for Craft’s visit to be canceled.

At the time, Craft tweeted that he was shocked by the accusations.

“Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory,” Craft wrote in response to a parent confused about the ban, citing the decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America.

. . . .

While the Texas school district reinstated the book and rescheduled his visit, Craft is among dozens of Black authors whose works are being pulled from school libraries under the pretext that they’re teaching critical race theory. (Most of the books that are targeted for bans don’t teach critical race theory but are written by and about people of color.). The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many with content that highlighted race, gender and sexuality. Since September alone, there have been at least 230 challenges, the organization said in an email.

Link to the rest at NBC News

For visitors from outside the United States, the teaching of what is usually called Critical Race studies/lessons/etc., has been causing a great deal of uproar during the last couple of years.

PG doesn’t know whether Critical Race Theory is a “decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America” or not.

He does know the the latest uproar concerning Critical Race Theory began with an August, 2019, New York Times initiative titled “The 1619 Project,” with the following introduction:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. n the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

The 1619 date is significant because late in 1620, a group of English pilgrims, dissenters from the Church of England, arrived in Massachusetts to establish a new settlement that would allow them to practice their religion without being persecuted.

In November, 1620, prior to leaving the ship which carried them to the United States, The Mayflower, this group of immigrants approved what has since been titled, “The Mayflower Compact.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great BritainFrance, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Prior to departing, the Pilgrims signed an agreement with The Virginia Company, a British commercial venture chartered by James I, to be industrious in Virginia after they arrived.

The 41 male Pilgrims aboard the ship signed the Mayflower Compact. They concluded that they hadn’t landed in the British Colony of Virginia, their intended destination (established by representatives of The Virginia Company as part of a commercial enterprise in 1607). Instead they had landed in present-day Massachusetts, about 600 miles North of Virginia and well outside of any jurisdiction or sphere of influence of The Virginia Company. PG doesn’t know exactly when anyone in Virginia learned about the Pilgrims, but it was certainly well after they and those who followed them to the Plymouth Colony were well-established and prospering.

The Mayflower Compact is significant because it established a framework for the majority of the male residents of The Plymouth Colony to create rules and laws by which all would be governed. Today, it is generally regarded as the first document setting forth a basis for a self-governing settlement anywhere in the English-speaking world and, perhaps in many other worlds as well.

[To} covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony;

More specifically, the male Pilgrims (including two indentured servants) agreed:

  • the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • the colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

The principles reflected in The Mayflower Company would be utilized and expanded upon elsewhere in North America and continue to be fundamental to federal and state governments in the United States. Principles embodied in the US Constitution has been copied and included in the constitutions of a number of democratic nations around the world.

While PG does not condone or excuse slavery in the United States, PG will point out that slaves were freed in the United States more than 150 years ago. The Southern States where slavery existed took more than 100 years to begin to recover economically from the Civil War. Rural poverty, black and white, is still a significantly larger problem in the states of the former Confederacy than it is elsewhere in the US.

PG suggests that the long-term impact of the 1620 document and the people who wrote it has been and is much greater in the US than the tragedy that began in 1619.

But PG acknowledges that others may disagree.

Hochul Vetoes New York’s Library E-book Bill

From Publishers Weekly:

Just hours before it was set to become law, New York Governor Kathy Hochul on December 29 vetoed New York’s library e-book bill. The bill is now back with the legislature, where it is tabled.

The veto comes despite strong grassroots support: in June, the bill unanimously passed the New York Assembly 148-0, and passed the New York State Senate 62-1. But the Association of American Publishers’ December 9 federal lawsuit seeking to block implementation of a similar law in Maryland sparked concern in the governor’s office. And in her brief explanation of the veto, Hochul cited the AAP’s concerns.

“While the goal of this bill is laudable, unfortunately, copyright protection provides the author of the work with the exclusive right to their works,” Hochul wrote. “As such the law would allow the author, and only the author, to determine to whom they wish to share their work and on what terms. Because the provisions of this bill are preempted by federal copyright law, I cannot support this bill. These bills are disapproved.”

The New York bill was also opposed by a cohort of powerful New York-based industry groups, including the AAP and the Authors Guild, which urged Hochul to veto the measure in a recent letter, calling the bill “an unjustified attack” that would have “a significant negative impact on the economy and jobs” in New York.

. . . .

The library e-book bills come after a decade of tension in the library e-book market, with librarians long complaining of unsustainable, non-negotiable prices and restrictions on digital licenses. Specifically, the bills emerged as a response to Macmillan’s controversial (and since abandoned) 2019 embargo on frontlist e-books in libraries, which led library advocates to take their concerns to state and federal legislators.

“This is a powerful moment for libraries,” concluded a December, 2020 report on digital lending from the ALA’s Joint Digital Content Working Group. “If we cannot find ways to make our digital collections robust and lasting, including a return to perpetual access as an option, libraries will never be able to meet an ever-increasing demand and provide equity to the communities we serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Great speed in reading

Great speed in reading is a dubious achievement; it is of value only if what you have to read is not really worth reading. A better formula is this: Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.

Mortimer Adler