Connecticut Investigating Amazon’s E-Book Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Connecticut is actively investigating how Amazon.com Inc. sells and distributes digital books, according to the state’s attorney general, the latest of several state and federal probes into the tech giant’s business practices.

The investigation is examining whether Amazon engaged in anticompetitive behavior in the e-book business through its agreements with certain publishers, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

Connecticut asked Amazon to provide documents related to its dealings with five of the largest U.S. book publishers, according to a subpoena issued in 2019. The Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that investigates technology platforms, obtained the subpoena through an open records request and shared it with The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

“Our office continues to aggressively monitor this market to protect fair competition for consumers, authors, and other e-book retailers,” Mr. Tong said in a statement.

The publishers cited in Connecticut’s Amazon subpoena include HarperCollins Publishers, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp ; Lagardere MMB; SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Penguin Random House, a unit of closely held German media company Bertelsmann SE; Simon & Schuster, the book publishing arm of ViacomCBS Inc.; and Macmillan. Penguin Random House has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster, pending regulatory approval.

. . . .

The Connecticut investigation is one of several ongoing probes into the Seattle-based company’s market power. In October, the House Antitrust Subcommittee completed a 16-month investigation into Amazon and other technology companies, concluding that Amazon has amassed “monopoly power” over sellers on its site.

. . . .

Amazon is the dominant U.S. e-book retailer, accounting for 76% of digital books sold in the U.S. in September, according to Codex Group LLC, a book audience research firm. Rival sellers of digital books include Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Barnes & Noble.

The e-book market has been controversial for years. Amazon kick-started the business when it introduced its Kindle e-reader in November 2007, a launch that offered digital bestsellers for $9.99. The discounted offering helped Amazon build market share, but publishers believed it hurt the industry.

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

Please Stop Comparing Things to “1984”

From Electric Lit:

George Orwell’s 1984 is one of those ubiquitous books that you know about just from existing in the world. It’s been referenced in everything from Apple commercials to Bowie albums, and is used across the political spectrum as shorthand for the silencing of free speech and rise of oppression. And no one seems to love referencing the text, published by George Orwell in 1949, more than the conservative far-right in America—which would be ironic if they’d actually read it or understood how close their own beliefs hew to the totalitarianism Orwell warned of.

Following last week’s insurrection at the Capitol, Josh Hawley said it was “Orwellian” for Simon & Schuster to rescind his book deal after he stoked sedition by leading a charge against the election results. Donald Trump, Jr. . . . claimed after his father was kicked off Twitter that “We are living in Orwell’s 1984,” then threw in a reference to Chairman Mao for good measure. . . . (V)oices all over Twitter lamented the “Orwellian” purge of their followers after accounts linked to the violent attack were banned from the platform. It’s enough to make an English teacher’s head spin.

I understand why Orwell’s dystopian novel is so appealing to people who want to decry authoritarianism without actually understanding what it is. It’s the same reason I relied on the text for years in my own classroom. Although we often urge our students to resist easy moralizing, the overt didacticism of 1984 has long been part of its pedagogical appeal. The good guys are good (even if they do take the last piece of chocolate from their starving sister or consider pushing their wife off a cliff that one time). The bad guys are bad. The story is linear and easy to follow; the characters are singularly-minded and voice their views in straightforward, snappy dialogue; the symbols are obvious, the kind of thing it’s easy to make a chart about or include on a short answer section of a test. (20 Points: What does the paperweight represent to Winston, and what does it mean when, after it is shattered, he thinks, “How small…how small it always was!”) Such simplicity can be helpful when presenting complicated ideas to young people who are still developing analytical and critical thinking skills. And so, like so many other teachers, I clung to Orwell’s cautionary tale for a long time as a pedagogical tool despite its literary shortcomings.

But when Trump began his rise to political power, I started to notice the dangerous inoculating quality that the text had in my own classroom. Because the dystopia of 1984 was such a simplified, exaggerated caricature, it functioned for my students not as a cautionary tale, but as a comforting kind of proof that we could never get “that bad.” I didn’t take the step to remove the text from my curriculum, but more than in previous years, I began to feel the need to charge the students to consider how things like “doublethink” and Newspeak related to our own political moment. But beyond the intellectual pleasure of the exercise itself (they were more than ready to offer examples of these methodologies across the political spectrum), most students could not bring themselves to consider that the United States could actually sink into the kind of totalitarian control that Oceania experienced. They cited our “freedoms”—speech, press, etc.—as mitigating factors. They trusted norms, even as those norms were being continually tested and broken in real time, the goalposts moving ever closer to political collapse. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

  1. PG apologizes for a delayed start to his posting today. Besides blaming Covid (which neither PG nor Mrs. PG or any PG offspring have caught, but it does tend to weigh on PG’s mind nonetheless), PG had a few surprises earlier in the day that occupied way more time than they should have.
  2. PG reminds one and all that TPV is not a political blog and, given the toxicity of political discussions, debates, shouting contests, etc., in the US during the past few months, PG especially doesn’t want contemporary politics to intrude into the respectful, considerate and interesting environment PG and many other visitors appreciate when they click on a link that leads them here.

1984 was published in 1949, when Joseph Stalin had been ruling the Soviet Union and its people with an iron fist since he became Secretary General in 1922 and Orwell was clearly referring to something like a Stalinist society and the some of the tactics of the Communist party in a fictional context in his book.

Fortunately, regardless of which of the two major-party candidates had won the most recent presidential election in the United States, referring to either as an Orwellian or potentially-Orwellian head of state would be a gross overstatement.

Senator Hawley’s comment about Simon & Schuster acting in an “Orwellian” manner in canceling his book contract was vastly overheated. While PG is fully capable of deploring the behavior of various major and minor US publishers with a variety of insulting adjectives, “Orwellian” is not one he would use.

The author of the OP, a former English teacher turned author, also took a Hawleyesque turn in some parts of the OP insulting Republicans that PG omitted from his excerpt.

In both the Senator’s and the former English teacher’s expressed opinions, PG observed the arrogance and foolishness of those who believe their education automatically brings them common sense and perspective on almost any contemporary event.

Be ruthless about protecting writing days

Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have ‘essential’ and ‘long overdue’ meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.

J.K. Rowling

Who Killed Nordic Noir?

From Public Books:

We begin, as usual, with a dead body. In April 2020 an 84-year-old Swedish woman died in the happily unsuspicious circumstances of old age. Her name was Maj Sjöwall. But to readers of a certain dark bent, she was “the godmother of Nordic noir,” beloved for her creation of a new kind of detective novel. With her partner Per Wahlöö (who died in 1975), Sjöwall wrote the 10-volume Martin Beck series: a set of novels, published between 1965 and 1975, that attempted to map the whole of Swedish society through the ostensibly conservative form of the police procedural.

These were crime novels that dared to be boring. The protagonist Martin Beck—unlike the cynical demigod detectives of American hard-boiled noir—suffered from constant colds, worked on a team rather than alone, and spent most of his time on the job combing through stacks of paper. Patiently realist and sociologically astute, the Martin Beck books presented crime as emanating not from individual pathology but from rips in Sweden’s tightly stitched social fabric. Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Beck series laid the foundations for one of contemporary literature’s most dominant popular forms: the Scandinavian crime novel.

The Martin Beck books were thoughtful works of art disguised as mass entertainment. In the novels, political critique drew warmth from lovable characters; passages of austere description heightened suspense. This marriage of the realistic and the thrilling, the political and the popular, turns out to have been a fragile achievement. Much has changed since Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s idealistic beginnings. The Scandinavian crime novel has all but abandoned the artistic and political aspirations that once served as the genre’s bedrock.

When “Nordic noir” exploded onto the global literary scene around the time of the financial crisis, the genre did so not in the mode of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s realism but in a new key of ultraviolence. In the atmosphere of ambient unrest that accompanied the plunging markets, an inked-up, chain-smoking hacker named Lisbeth Salander burst into world literature, her face piercings glinting. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008) inaugurated a hunger among readers for tales featuring torture chambers, comeuppance against rapists, and snowy landscapes drenched in gore. Publishers, too, smelled blood. A wave of translations ensued, primarily from Sweden but quickly encompassing writers from Norway, Denmark, and (less so) Iceland and Finland.

. . . .

The time has come to ask what lies ahead for Scandinavian noir, and whether Sjöwall’s passing marks the end of an era. Since its origins in the 1960s, the genre’s visibility and violence have increased. Yet its excellence has faded, and its commercial success seems to be falling off. No great artistic practitioner of Nordic noir has emerged since Henning Mankell, whose 1990s-era series following the moody, introspective policeman Kurt Wallander offers both intelligent rumination on Swedish national identity and a complex portrait of the protagonist’s troubled interior. As for sales, Larsson has come to look like an anomalously titanic figure, with more than 100 million copies of his Salander books sold worldwide. Jo Nesbø, the most successful living author in this genre, has by comparison sold about 40 million copies across more than a dozen novels—spectacular numbers on the order of Mankell, but trending downward; Nesbø’s latest installment, Knife (2019), has sold just over 30,000 print copies in the United States since coming out a year and a half ago.

A mystery of our own, then. Is the Scandinavian crime novel alive and well, at large in some modest disguise—flinging chum and straining at the ropes on a fishing vessel beyond the fjords? Or is it lying dead, tongue swollen, behind a locked door? And if the latter: Who killed Nordic noir?

Link to the rest at Public Books

Writing with Self-Doubt

From Indies Unlimited:

Do you have self-doubt? Guess what? You’re probably a writer. No, I take that back; you’re probably human. Yes, we all struggle with self-doubt at one time or another. If we didn’t, I daresay we’d have wooden blocks in our heads instead of brains. I believe any thoughtful, contemplative, and — especially — creative person suffers from self-doubt, be it a momentary pause or a lifelong battle. The big question is: how do we deal with it?

Recently I watched one of my favorite movies, Shadows in the Sun. It’s about writers, one young, one older. The older one (Harvey Keitel as Weldon Parish) has not written in twenty years, not since he had a best-seller and then lost his wife. He’s paralyzed by the fear that, along with his wife, he’s lost the world-acclaimed talent he used to have. He sits at his typewriter, fingers poised over the keys, and tears stream down his face. He can’t type even a single stroke.

The younger man (Joshua Jackson as Jeremy Taylor) wants to be a writer, has written a little, but is not sure he has what it takes. He writes in fits and starts, one step forward and two steps back. He has no idea if what he’s written is any good at all, or if it ever will be, and not knowing, he can’t commit to giving it his full effort.

I think most of us can identify with either, or both, of these types of self-doubt. Okay, maybe most of us have not had a best-seller, but we may have written a book that we really, really like, and that did pretty well in sales and got great reviews. The “problem” with success is: how do you follow up on that? If you were struck by an inspired story, created complex, well-rounded characters, and had a kick-ass ending, can you do it again? What if you can’t? Should you even try?

. . . .

[W]hat happens is I start a new book, I get two or three or five chapters in and… I hate it. It’s flat. If I don’t like it, how can I expect my readers to like it? But how do I fix it? DO I fix it? Or do I toss it and start something else? Maybe after much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair I figure out a way to liven it up. Introduce a new character that adds some zing. Think of a new twist to the story line. Okay, now I’m cooking with gas. Chapter nine, ten, and… wading into the quagmire of the middle slump. No, not again!

Yes, again. Because the self-doubt that we feel is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s not something we confront once, stare down, and never see again. It rears up again, and again, and again. Why? Because we continue to create. Every time we start a new project, we’re endeavoring to create something that was never there before. If we didn’t, if we just did the same thing over and over, we wouldn’t be writers, creators; we’d be producers. But we are creators. We get a new idea, we develop a new character, we charge off into the wilds of a new genre… and around every corner lurks the specter of self-doubt. And we have to deal with it over and over and over.

. . . .

You can take the left-brain approach and analyze. This means sitting down and reducing your WIP into small, bite-sized chunks and comparing each aspect to the perfect story. Is your main character sympathetic (even if s/he’s a jerk to start), believable, and three-dimensional? Do you like him or her? Do you have sufficient back story, and have you developed his/her flaw(s), those things that hold him/her back now but will get him/her to the end of the book? How’s your story arc? Does it soar, or does it droop in the middle? Is it predictable? Surprising? Are you building tension? Think of all the things you look for in a good book, and see if yours holds up.

You can take the right-brain approach and riff. Keep going, keep pushing through, and somewhere along the line you may have an “ah ha” moment when your character’s motivation becomes clear and your story falls into place. I do this fairly often, and I’ve had books that I’d been a micron away from abandoning suddenly become cohesive and satisfying. It’s hard-slogging; when I’m in this phase, I might only write a paragraph a day because I don’t know where I’m going. And I won’t deny that this approach could involve some heavy rewriting once you get it figured out, going back and tidying up the bits you need to bring it full circle. Eventually, thought, you reach that point of cohesion that makes it all worthwhile.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Writing Better Dialogue

From Writers Helping Writers:

Screenwriters are masters of dialogue. They rarely have the opportunity to include a character’s innermost thoughts on the screen so they rely heavily on dialogue to drive the story forward, develop characters and convey a range of emotions. By studying the art of dialogue through reading screenplays and watching movies or TV shows, it will help you develop your own characters and stories.

. . . .

There’s an array of movie and TV scripts available on the internet for you to read and I recommend you start with the screenplay of one of your favorite movies. I will add that screenplays available on the internet are not pirated, as screenwriters and film production companies often make them available for the public to read after a movie or TV show has been produced.

When studying dialogue, here are some points for you to consider:

What Isn’t Said

Humans rarely say everything we’re thinking and feeling and neither should your characters. If we’re talking about something that scares us or we’re in danger of being found out or simply too embarrassed to talk about a subject, we change topics or do something that helps us avoid talking about something we don’t want. 

The Coen Brothers are brilliant at holding back dialogue that creates tension so that when a character does speak, we’re mesmerized by their words and really want to know what they have to say. The movie No Country for Old Men is a great example. 

No Two Characters Should Sound the Same

The way in which a character speaks is a culmination of their experience, upbringing and beliefs and no two people should ever sound the same. Listen to the way your friends and family talk. People have favorite words and expressions, some interrupt conversations while others sit quietly and wait until they’re asked a question or think a long time before saying how they feel. Others avoid talking about their emotions all together. Imagine a conversation between a teenager and someone in their mid-forties. They’re likely to use different idioms and expressions the other may not understand.

Look at each of your characters and figure out what kind of person they are. Are they a leader, follower, questioner, peacemaker or a troublemaker? How would this be reflected in the way they speak? Their traits will greatly influence their conversations with others. 

Read the Dialogue Out Loud

The best way to discover if dialogue is working is to read it out loud. You can do it yourself or enlist a friend or family member to be the other character or you can use one of the many available reading programs that will read what’s on the page to you. Does the dialogue sound natural or stilted? Are they using the other character’s name too much in the dialogue (a mistake nearly every writer does!)? Are they too wordy? Remember, most conversations between people are short and simple. Most of us don’t use big words and opt for the simpler version to get our message across. We also don’t speak for great lengths of time without being interrupted and neither should your character. 

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Comments

PG just noticed that The Passive Voice has received over 300,000 comments since he opened up shop centuries ago.

Thank you to everyone who has shared thoughts on TPV. As PG has mentioned before, the comments are PG’s favorite part of running this joint.

15 Books About Family Secrets

From Book Riot:

As a reader, few things are more intriguing or emotionally satisfying than uncovering a family secret. First, they make our own family secrets not seem so strange—after all, everyone has them. And the more astounding they are, the easier it is to get hooked in the story. I’ve collected 15 of the best books about family secrets—fiction and nonfiction, classics and recent debuts.

. . . .

Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger

When 17-year-old Jesse Matson embarks on a deer hunting trip with his dad, he never imagined only one of them would make it home alive. Everyone, even the doctors, believe the death to be a suicide. But the ghost of his father still haunts Jesse, and he’s restless with grief and the need to set things right. In this contemporary Hamlet retelling, Jesse must unravel the family secrets behind his father’s death before they consume him.

. . . .

The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik

While helping her mother move after her father’s death, Jasmin Darznik discovers a perplexing photograph of her mother. In it, she is wearing a wedding veil—but the man standing next to her is not Jasmin’s father. At first, her mother refuses to discuss the photo or how it relates to her past. But then, her mother sends a series of ten cassette tapes that reveal her troubled and abusive first marriage, as well as a sister Jasmin.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

The Death of Camus

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Jan. 4, 1960, the world lost one of the most profound voices of the 20th century. Albert Camus, the 46-year-old author of “The Stranger” and “The Plague” and a recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was riding in the passenger seat of a Facel Vega en route to Paris when the car swerved off the road and crashed into a tree. Camus died instantly, while the driver—Camus’s publisher, Michel Gallimard —would die from his injuries a few days later. The man who taught us how to face an absurd world had died an absurd death.

The Italian writer Giovanni Catelli contends that this was no accident. In his book “The Death of Camus,” first published in 2013 and translated into English by Andrew Tanzi, Mr. Catelli lays out the theory that Camus’s car crash was a political killing engineered by the KGB. Camus, Mr. Catelli notes, had issued various broadsides against the Soviet Union in the wake of its 1956 invasion of Hungary. Greatly charismatic and internationally revered, Camus posed a serious challenge to Moscow. He was, the author writes, “a free, indomitable and dangerous man.”

In short, staccato chapters, Mr. Catelli recounts his investigation into the circumstances surrounding Camus’s car crash. He also revisits the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Camus’s connection to a pair of literary figures: the Czech writer Jan Zábrana and the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. Mr. Catelli’s case is compelling but far from ironclad, and some readers will be more convinced than others. But his book provides a clear and useful window into the currents that political writers were forced to navigate during the Cold War.

Zábrana (1931-1984) is central to Mr. Catelli’s narrative. A poet and translator whose parents were persecuted by Czechoslovakia’s communist regime, he rendered Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” into Czech. Mr. Catelli chances one day upon Zábrana’s posthumously published diaries in a Prague bookshop and alights on a passage from 1980, which reads: “I heard something very strange from a knowledgeable and well-connected man. He says the car crash that cost Camus his life in 1960 was set up by Soviet intelligence. They rigged the tyre with a tool that eventually pierced it when the car was travelling at high speed.”

Zábrana’s man (who wouldn’t reveal his source) told him that the order was issued by Soviet minister Dmitri Shepilov, in response to an article Camus wrote in March 1957 that attacked Shepilov over the events in Hungary. Mr. Catelli writes that Camus “let loose with all the indignation of a libertarian who refused to bow to tyranny.” He first attacked Shepilov in a speech delivered on Oct. 30, 1956, during a meeting of the exiled Spanish Republican government. He continued to denounce Moscow over the next few years; in 1958, he wrote the preface to “The Truth About the Nagy Affair,” a book published by the anticommunist Congress for Cultural Freedom refuting the charges brought against Imre Nagy, Hungary’s revolutionary prime minister, whom the Soviets executed for treason.

. . . .

One of the book’s longer digressions concerns the fraught publication of Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago.” Zábrana wouldn’t live to see his translation published—the Czech edition wasn’t released until 1990, after Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. “Doctor Zhivago,” due to Soviet censorship, was first published in an Italian version in 1957, and the CIA helped produce and distribute Russian-language copies at the Brussels Expo a year later. Camus was in touch with Pasternak during this time. Mr. Catelli notes admiring letters between the two, and reports that Camus sought to influence the jury to give Pasternak the Nobel Prize in Literature. Pasternak indeed won the Nobel in 1958—one year after Camus won his—to the great embarrassment of the Soviets, who forced him to decline it. Camus had poked his thumb once more in the eye of the Kremlin, which, if Mr. Catelli is to be believed, would soon orchestrate his demise.

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

PG is a sucker for Cold War intrigues, particularly in the communist nations in a geography formerly referred to as Eastern Europe (now Central Europe). Communists there sometimes tried to outdo their Soviet overlords.

The Differences Between Line Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

From Jane Friedman:

Editors disagree about many of the finer points of their work such as whether to capitalize the word president (no, generally, but yes with President Lincoln), whether to spell out numbers (some styles say yes to every number lower than 10 or lower than 100), or whether to use the serial comma that preceded this clause (Chicago Manual of Style says yes). Some purists would argue that this post’s headline should read among instead of between. But I digress.

Editors also disagree about whether to start a sentence with And. And of course editors disagree about what constitutes the levels of editing that are often labeled copy editing, line editing, and proofreading—or just simply editing.

For guidance, I turned to the authority, the Chicago manual. Yet even that widely accepted all-knowing guide doesn’t make a distinction among editing levels: “Manuscript editing, also called copy editing or line editing, requires attention to every word and mark of punctuation in a manuscript, a thorough knowledge of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.”

New authors are often confused about what level of editing they need, and rightly so. I hope to offer insight into the differences between line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

. . . .

What to Expect with a Line Edit

In a line edit, an editor examines every word and every sentence and every paragraph and every section and every chapter and the entirety of your written manuscript. Typos, wrong words, misspellings, double words, punctuation, run-on sentences, long paragraphs, subheadings, chapter titles, table of contents, author bios—everything is scrutinized, corrected, tracked, and commented on.

Facts are checked, name spellings of people and places are confirmed. This is the type of edit I perform most often.

Your editor will likely do the following:

  • Conduct heavier fact checking (for example, exact titles of movies in italics, death date of a famous person in history, the protagonist was using an iPhone before they were invented).
  • Make suggestions about moving or removing text (or actually doing the task and explaining in a marginal note why).
  • Initiate a discussion about why the dreary Introduction could be cut.
  • Offer a new scheme for moving a chapter or two around to better accommodate a time line. (Actually doing the moving and writing transitions might fall into the category of developmental edit or left to the author to do.)
  • Query the author in a marginal note about why Susan in chapter 2 was wearing a winter coat when the scene takes place in summer. Or whether the author intended for the detective described earlier with a full beard to be scratching his stubble.
  • Point out repetition and inconsistencies in the story line. But not rewriting. Actually revise awkward sentences, break up long sentences, streamline sentences with clauses and parentheticals. Recast sentences that begin with There are and It is. Those constructions are simply not strong. That’s why line editing is considered a sentence-level type of edit.
  • Substitute stronger words for the commonly overused words (very, pretty, things, great, and good are my pet peeves).

Let me show you what an edit can do. This is a paragraph from Chris Meyer’s book Life in 20 Lessons. Chris is a funeral home director. A line edit would turn this rough paragraph—

The more regular are the things that make life so cruel and unfair: a healthy man has a heart attack on his bike ride, a child stricken with cancer, a mother dying before her children reach middle school, a father on vacation with his children, a son abalone fishing because it brings him joy, a daughter in an auto wreck with her best girlfriends, a simple slip and fall, gunshots, the list is as endless as it is tragic.

—into this:

More likely are the events surrounding death that make life so cruel and unfair: a healthy man has a heart attack on his bike ride; a child is stricken with leukemia; a mother dies before her children reach middle school; a father suffers a fatal stroke while on vacation with his children; a son drowns while abalone fishing; a daughter is killed instantly in an auto wreck with her best girlfriends; a simple slip and fall, gunshots, the list is as endless as it is tragic.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

George Saunders: ‘These trenches we’re in are so deep’

From The Guardian:

George Saunders was born in Texas in 1958 and raised in Illinois. Before his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, won the 2017 Booker prize, he was best known as a writer of short stories, publishing four collections since 1996 and winning a slew of awards. In 2006, he was awarded both a Guggenheim and a MacArthur fellowship. His latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, draws on two decades of teaching a creative writing class on the Russian short story in translation at Syracuse University, where he is a professor.

. . . .

What prompted you to turn your creative writing class into a book?
I was on the road for a long time with Lincoln in the Bardo. When I came back to teaching, I just thought, man, after 20 years of this, I really know a lot about these stories. There was also that late-life realisation that if I go, all that knowledge goes too. I thought it would be just a matter of typing up the notes, but of course it turned out to be a lot more.

The book focuses on stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol. What is it about Russian writers that has held your interest for so long?
I tried to teach a similar class on the American story, and it wasn’t as good. I just have a connection with [these Russian writers] – with the simplicity and also the moral-ethical core of the stories. They’re all pretty much about: will this guy live? Did this person do right or wrong? And that resonates with my mind.

This is more than just a how-to-write book: there are lessons here, too, about how to live and what fiction can teach us about being nicer, more empathic people.
I think the main thing that it [fiction] teaches us about is the process of projection that we’re constantly doing. I’m a Buddhist, and we believe you really do make the world with your mind. So a story is like a laboratory to help you identify your own habits and projections. Also, it’s about being in connection with that other human being who wrote it. Working on this book made me realise that when you’re reading a story and analysing it, you’re really reassuring yourself that connection is possible, and that even though this person looks like my enemy, there is – maybe, not always – a way to temper that a bit. So I got a little more confident that connection prevails. Until it doesn’t. And then you’re in America in 2020.

You write about the virtues of revision and that slow, incremental process that is vital to telling good and truthful stories. With that in mind, what are your feelings about social media, which thrives off instantaneous reaction?
There’s something wonderful about the spontaneity of social media, but I think at this point it’s becoming 100% toxic for people to be firing off the top of their brains. One of the things this book says is that the deeper parts of our brain are actually more empathic. If you revise something 20 times, for a mysterious reason, it becomes more social, empathic and compassionate. With Chekhov, you feel he’s always saying: “Well, what else?”, “Is there anything else I should know?”, or “Maybe I’m wrong.” And all of that seems to be designed to foster love, or at least some kind of relation to the other that’s got possibility. So I’m not a fan of social media. I’m not on it. And I won’t be, because I think it’s killing us, actually. I really do.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Per typical Big Publishing sloppiness, there’s no look-inside showing on the Amazon listing for Saunders’ latest release.

Nicki Minaj Pays Tracy Chapman $450,000 in Copyright Dispute

From The New York Times:

For months, the entertainment industry’s legal calendar had an intriguing item on the horizon: a copyright trial pitting Tracy Chapman, the revered and reclusive singer-songwriter, against the firebrand rapper Nicki Minaj.

But that trial is not to be. Late last month, the parties agreed to a judgment of copyright infringement against Minaj, and a payment of $450,000 to Chapman, according to documents made public on Thursday in federal court in California, where the case was being adjudicated.

Chapman sued Minaj for copyright infringement in late 2018 over a song called “Sorry,” which borrowed heavily from Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You,” released in 1988. The aspect of the case that drew the attention of legal scholars and entertainment litigators was that Minaj’s song, which she recorded with the rapper Nas, was never officially released, although it had been played on the radio by Funkmaster Flex, a celebrity D.J. on the New York radio station Hot 97.

Chapman accused Minaj of using “Baby Can I Hold You” without permission, which she said Minaj had asked for but was denied. Yet Minaj argued that her creation of “Sorry,” even without a license from Chapman, was protected by the doctrine of “fair use” — an exception to copyright law that lets creators borrow copyrighted material under certain conditions.

Their dispute raised thorny questions for musicians and the companies behind them: Can artists be held liable for copyright infringement for works in progress? Do artists need permission even to experiment in the studio?

. . . .

In September, Judge Virginia A. Phillips, of United States District Court in Los Angeles, sided with Minaj on the question of fair use. In a summary judgment decision, Judge Phillips wrote that “uprooting” the common practice of letting artists experiment privately “would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

But the judge allowed the case to go to trial over the question of how the song made its way to Funkmaster Flex. Chapman’s side alleged that Minaj had leaked it, and pointed to substantial correspondence between the two. Minaj said she did not send the track, and Funkmaster Flex said that he had gotten it “from one of his bloggers,” according to the judge’s ruling.

If Minaj had leaked the song herself, or authorized its release through intermediaries, she may have been liable for significant penalties. Court papers show that Minaj’s lawyers made their offer of $450,000, “inclusive of all costs and attorney fees incurred to date,” on Dec. 17, and that Chapman’s team accepted it on Dec. 30.

Link to the rest at The New York Times thanks to B. for the tip.

PG hasn’t been following the case except at a distance, but suspects that a lot of the $450K will go to Chapman’s attorneys.

PG hasn’t seen anything about whether Chapman is going after or plans to go after Funkmaster Flex or Hot 97.

Union Songs

Although the difference between the ideal of a worker’s union and its current instantiation, at least in the US, is substantial, the problems of downtrodden workers and their feelings about their lives has generated more than one song that PG enjoys.

Following are a few examples:

Joe Hill, an early 20th century Swedish-American union activist and martyr, wrote a song titled, There is Power in a Union in 1913.

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American singer, Johnny Paycheck, part of the 1970’s “Outlaw Movement” in country-western music, performed a song about a poorly-paid laborer who has finally had enough, Take This Job and Shove It, written by David Allan Coe, who, per Wikipedia, spent much of his early life (starting at age 9) in reform schools and prisons.

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Woody Guthrie, an American singer/songwriter who grew up in Oklahoma and Texas during the Great Depression, known as the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”, wrote Union Burying Ground in 1941.

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Most union songs were originated and written by men, but Bread and Roses is an exception.

The term is associated with the strike by mostly female textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, between January and March 1912, now often referred to as the “Bread and Roses strike”. The slogan pairing bread and roses referenced an appeal for both fair wages and dignified conditions for women.

Per Wikipedia, the “bread and roses” term originated in a 1910 magazine article written by Helen Todd describing an Illinois campaign for women’s rights to vote.

Woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.

The phrase was applied to the right to unionize in 1912 by Polish-born union activist Rose Schneiderman of the Women’s Trade Union League of New York

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist – the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.

The lyrics of the song originated in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim. The first stanza reads:

As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing, “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.”

Per Wikipedia, the song has been sung by graduating seniors at Mount Holyoke College each year since 1932.

Mimi Farnia wrote the following version of Bread and Roses.

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Finally, back to Joe Hill.

The performer in the following video, Paul Robeson, became the third African-American student ever enrolled at Rutgers College in 1915 and graduated as the valedictorian of his class. Robeson was also a star football player in college and during the early years of the National Football League.

Robeson was the son of a mother who was an African-American school teacher from a prominent Quaker family and a father who who had escaped from slavery in the American south while in his teens and became a Presbyterian minister in Princeton, New Jersey.

While playing professional football, Robeson also attended Columbia Law School and quit football a month before he graduated in 1923. He started his long and successful professional performing career in 1924 as the lead in a Eugene O’Neil play in New York City.

In 1934, Robeson traveled to the Soviet Union at the invitation of famous Russian film-maker Sergei Eisenstein, stopping in Nazi-dominated Berlin on his outbound trip. During the Spanish Civil War, Robeson was an active and open supporter of the Republicans in opposition to the Fascists. During and after World War II, he was labeled a Communist by the FBI which ultimately lead him to be prohibited from traveling overseas during the McCarthy era of the 1950’s and seriously harmed his performing career.

Ultimately, a landmark US Supreme Court decision in 1958, Kent v. Dulles, holding that the right to travel is a part of the “liberty” of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law, permitted Robeson to travel and resume his performing career outside of the United States.

In 1961, Robeson’s health began a severe decline, including a suicide attempt in Moscow followed by extended in-patient psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy, in Moscow and East Germany. After returning to the United States in 1963, Robeson’s remaining years were spent in seclusion until he died in 1976.

I am a believer in regular work

I am a believer in regular work, and never wait for an inspiration. Temperamentally, I am not only careless and irregular, but melancholy; still I have fought both down. The discipline I had as a sailor had a full effect on me. Perhaps my old sea days are also responsible for the regularity and limitations of my life. Five and a half hours [of sleep] is the precise average I allow myself, and no circumstance has yet arisen in my life that can keep me awake when the time comes to ‘turn in.’

Jack London

Want to Change the Book Biz? Organize.

From Publishers Weekly:

In December, Verso Books’ management voluntarily recognized our union. After several years of informally organizing our workplace and seeing some successes, we realized that to make significant progress we would need formal representation, so we joined the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. We have identified our core issues and demands—closing the gender pay gap, job security, increasing staff leverage, and raising wages across the board—and intend to make them cornerstones of our collective bargaining process in 2021.

What we realized through talking to fellow book workers during this organizing process is that our situation is far from unique. In recent years, and in 2020 in particular, a series of decisions has underscored publishing’s already-shaky foundation and its wresting of power from workers into the hands of—quite literally—a powerful few. Here’s why we think other publishing workers should consider unionizing their workplaces, too.

Unions are an essential safeguard in an industry that benefits from workers being divided, and a union can help raise wages for its members as well as for nonmembers. With even a few medium to large publishers unionized, we could see salaries across the industry rise significantly as a result of competition to match union wages.

We believe we’re already seeing inspiring movement in this regard: after several publishers raised entry-level wages this year as a result of increased pressure to pay workers a living wage, the HarperCollins union is using this leverage to push for across-the-board raises for everyone in its bargaining unit as part of ongoing negotiations.

Furthermore, the publishing industry will only be able to recruit and retain workers from different backgrounds if it starts to offer living, sustainable wages to all employees. As we see it, there’s no future for publishing without a workforce that reflects the demographics of its readership, and unions are the best guarantor of the fair pay, dignified labor conditions, and meaningful opportunities for growth that can bring true diversity. If stipulated in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), unions can help create leaders across various levels of a house by requiring employers to promote from within and abide by diversity clauses, producing opportunities for junior employees—a small but still significant percentage of whom are people of color—to actively shape the future of these companies.

For workers at small publishers, Penguin Random House’s recent announcement that it intends to buy Simon & Schuster for a whopping $2.175 billion was not a surprise. And while unions can’t prevent mergers, they can help with job security in the event of corporate restructuring or economic downturns like the one we saw in 2020. Introducing protective language into CBAs—such as seniority clauses, recall provisions, or even measures that would bar layoffs in lieu of other payroll-meeting measures—can provide a modicum of safety amid much uncertainty.

Publishing is not immune from the abuses that sometimes emerge when managers enjoy unaccountable power; it is not uncommon for junior workers to suffer verbal and sexual harassment by managers on and off the job. Unions can introduce meaningful measures to help workers resist abuse and, if necessary, fight back. In short, they reduce the authority of managers by tipping the balance of power in the workplace. And when workers have more power, we can act more boldly in everything we do.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG is quite skeptical about whether unionizing publishers will benefit authors. He suspects not.

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Protagonist and Crush

From Writers Helping Writers:

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

. . . .

There are many kinds of romantic relationships; this one is all about a protagonist who’s crushing on someone. It may be a far-off person who doesn’t know the character exists (a celebrity or someone at the office) or a person with whom they’re already in a platonic relationship (their boss, a best friend’s sibling, or a friend-of-a-friend). Sometimes the other person is oblivious to the protagonist’s infatuation while, in some cases, it’s obvious despite the character’s best attempts at hiding it.

. . . .

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship

  • Admiring from afar
  • Trying to catch the crush’s attention in non-intrusive ways (attending a get-together they’re attending, finagling an introduction via a mutual friend, etc.)
  • The protagonist purposely looking their best when the crush is around
  • Mooning over the crush to the safe people in the character’s life
  • Seeing the crush in a positive light; recognizing and valuing their positive traits and attributes
  • Learning about the crush’s hobbies and taking an interest in them
  • Seeking to impress the crush (through the character’s performance at work, by highlighting their own strengths, etc.)
  • Mentally replaying small interactions and analyzing them for interest

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship

  • Using intrusive means to catch the crush’s attention (by sabotaging their current relationship, crashing a private party, etc.)
  • Being unable or unwilling to see the crush’s flaws
  • Being so desperate that the protagonist will accept even negative or harmful attention should the crush offer it
  • Not taking no for an answer
  • Stalking
  • Obsessing to the point of neglecting healthy relationships
  • All other romantic options paling in comparison to the point that the character is unable to entertain other possibilities
  • Not being able to properly perform at work or school due to distraction and daydreaming
  • Being so nervous or flustered around the crush that the character is unable to function
  • Becoming so obsessed with the crush that the character believes life isn’t worth living without him or her in it

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

From The New York Times:

Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.

Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.

“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”

Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.

In fact, the manuscripts do not appear to wind up on the black market at all, or anywhere on the dark web, and no ransoms have been demanded. When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?

“The real mystery is the endgame,” said Daniel Halpern, the founder of Ecco, who has been the recipient of these emails and has also been impersonated in them. “It seems like no one knows anything beyond the fact of it, and that, I guess you could say, is alarming.”

Whoever the thief is, he or she knows how publishing works, and has mapped out the connections between authors and the constellation of agents, publishers and editors who would have access to their material. This person understands the path a manuscript takes from submission to publication, and is at ease with insider lingo like “ms” instead of manuscript.

Emails are tailored so they appear to be sent by a particular agent writing to one of her authors, or an editor contacting a scout, with tiny changes made to the domain names — like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, an “rn” in place of an “m” — that are masked, and so only visible when the target hits reply.

“They know who our clients are, they know how we interact with our clients, where sub-agents fit in and where primary agents fit in,” said Catherine Eccles, owner of a literary scouting agency in London.

“They’re very, very good.”

. . . .

Often, these phishing emails make use of public information, like book deals announced online, including on social media. Ms. Sweeney’s second book, however, hadn’t yet been announced anywhere, but the phisher knew about it in detail, down to Ms. Sweeney’s deadline and the names of the novel’s main characters.

“Hi Cynthia,” the email began. “I loved the partial and I can’t wait to know what happens next to Flora, Julian and Margot. You told me you would have a draft around this time. Can you share it?”

It was signed, “Henry.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A team of independent publishing consultants with broad and deep experience in the industry have produced an excellent report on the effects of the past year’s pandemic on the book publishing business called “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021”. Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck are real pros and they have been systematic and rigorous in their methodology. The report is free (here) and is bound to be among the most widely-read papers in our industry very quickly.

The notion was to look at the changes that have taken place in the worlds publishing lives in and work back to the impact on the publishers. This approach makes sense. You can’t analyze or predict the future about trade publishing without looking at what is happening in the world of retail. You need to understand what the impact of change is on schools and colleges to gain insight into how publishers will have to adjust. Indeed, that’s how publishers themselves will approach the challenge: they will try to understand the environments they have to live in to formulate their go-forward strategies.

And the authors have captured the reality that the pandemic was not really bad for the book business. In fact, for many publishers it has been a boon. The authors amply document that most book sales have been sustained and that most book publishing operations have managed to shift staff to working remotely and are still able to continue to produce effectively.

One impact of the pandemic on retailing that was thoroughly appreciated by Guren, McIlroy, and Sieck (and seldom remarked on elsewhere) is the rise in importance of the brick-and-mortar “equivalents” to Amazon: like Target, Walmart, and Costco. Those stores have long had the in-store presence of a limited number of book titles but in the online environment, with Ingram in the background, they can sell just about any book except some proprietary Amazon titles. Online non-book consumers can put books in their grocery basket with these retailers as readily as they can with Amazon and more and more of them appear to be doing that. Although it is more likely that many of these new book customers for them were filched from local brick and mortar retail rather than from Amazon, the net effect has been to really grow books in importance to them.

. . . .

Discovery that shifts from bookstores to online favors backlist. And publishers have been challenged to deliver new titles with the same marketplace impact in the readjusted book marketplace. Some new title production has continued, to be sure. But there are anecdotal reports of postponements with some publishers choosing to hold back quite a bit until things change.

. . . .

“Covid Impacts and Insights” discusses the relative ease with which publishers have maintained their operations without using their offices. Discovering how to work this way is bound to have implications on the future of offices — where they’ll be, how full they’ll be, and what percentage of each employee’s time will be spent in them — in our business. The report notes the fact that a lot of publishers spend big money on Manhattan real estate. In a margin-challenged business like ours, that is bound to come under closer scrutiny as the pandemic fades.

. . . .

One is touched on in the Executive Summary at the top and not returned to: the efforts by publishers to compensate for a declining infrastructure of intermediaries (particularly bookstores) with more D2C — direct to consumer — efforts. For well over a decade, even the most general of the general trade publishers have been building those efforts. They all have databases with millions of consumer names that they are able to use with varying amounts of success. This creates subtle distinctions between the sales capabilities of the houses based on their different abilities to reach direct audiences.

So when Penguin Random House acquires Simon & Schuster (assuming the sale is allowed to proceed), the chances are that they will both get some new books that are appropriate for some of their “captive” audiences and, conversely, that they will acquire some D2C reach that S&S developed that can now be applied to PRH books. Not much is known about the specific proprietary D2C capabilities the houses have, but those sales assets, however slowly they grow, become increasingly important as bookstore opportunities shrink. Both the publisher marketing efforts and the brick-and-mortar erosion are accelerated by the pandemic.

There is another change that has been slow and inexorable over the past decade or more and which the pandemic can only exacerbate. Since the center of gravity has shifted away from bookstores, a domain publishers “controlled” and which shielded them from competition from books that had no powerful publisher, it has become increasingly difficult for publishers to make new books “work”.

. . . .

How does new title production of the established trade houses today compare to what they issued ten or twenty years ago? (One hint: it is almost certain that the combined new title output of PRH and S&S will be less after the merger than it was before.) And how do sales of new titles compare to sales of backlist? And how much of the new title output survives to become contributing backlist?

This is a tough set of facts to compile, but it is almost certain they’d show that big publishers are living off their backlist and not making it grow like they did in past decades. The “moat” around established publishers was always the bookstores; real publishers could put inventory into them and mere aspirants could not. When there were thousands of bookstores carrying tens of thousands of titles (or even hundreds of thousands) and almost all the books were sold through brick-and-mortar retailers (a fair description of the world before 1995, or even before 2005), the big publishers had an advantage that no number of D2C names can win back for them.

. . . .

In pandemic times, when output is constrained in many ways, the ability to print at the point of distribution changes everything. The striking example of how much this matters was a NY Times paperback bestseller list at the end of June which had a majority of the titles being printed and distributed by Ingram.

Having learned the many benefits of being able to meet substantial demand without inventory in place, the publishers aren’t likely to forget it. The fact that a unit costs more to deliver when you print one was always well understood; now it can also be seen that shipping and handling and returns costs are avoided so the difference in profits is not as great as the difference in unit cost. Publishers know this now. It will change things going forward.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Mike points out that the ability of traditional publishers to put product into physical bookstores (and the larger publishers could do this more successfully than most small publishers) was important for their success and prosperity. Fundamentally, traditional publishers controlled this retail channel and large publishers paid a lot of attention to large bookstores and even more to large bookstore chains.

However, Barnes & Noble is about the only large bookstore chain still in business. The latest pre-Covid data PG could find was that there were 633 BN physical stores in the US. Books-a-Million was second with 260 stores in 32 states and store numbers dropped quickly farther down the list. These numbers are almost certain to decline when the retail sector can finally open up and have a reasonable expectation of customers entering their stores. PG’s bet is that there will be a lot fewer physical bookstores after Covid than there were before.

A whole lot of readers who purchased their books from physical bookstores pre-Covid have learned that Amazon has everything and can deliver a physical book to their home tomorrow or the next day if they order it as soon as they leave Barnes & Noble. Even early books by current bestsellers may be a special-order item in a physical bookstore. And those readers will quite possibly pay less than if they waited for a BN special order to arrive in a week or two. Smaller bookstore chains may require an even longer wait.

PG was interested in Mike’s observations that publishers’ back list had become a larger contributor to revenue and sales than it had been prior to Covid. He rightly pointed out that the migration of sales from physical bookstores to Amazon and other online bookstores had been a primary cause of this rebalancing.

PG suspects that some veteran authors who were/are traditionally-published may wonder whether it’s fair for their publishers to be harvesting the large majority of the money from these backlist sales when the author’s advance has long been spent and the publishers haven’t devoted any significant amounts of money or effort promoting the author or her books for a very long time, particularly if the publisher isn’t providing much in the way of advances for new books the author has written lately.

You can download the complete COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021 HERE. While Mike focuses mostly on the trade publishing business (which is likely the most interesting part of for most visitors to TPV), the complete report includes some information about academic and research publishing which is under pressure because its primary customers – academic institutions – has been severely stressed by Covid.

I am firm

I am firm. I may sometimes appear impatient at nothing at all, and all that; but this everybody who has had a chance to know me well have noticed: things come my way even though they take years; No one sways me, save in little things of the moment; I am not stubborn but I swing to my purpose as steadily as the needle to the pole; delay, evade, oppose, secretly or openly, it’s all immaterial, the thing comes my way.

Jack London

Foretelling the End of Capitalism

From The Wall Street Journal:

Never judge a book by its cover. And never, probably, begin a review by quoting that line. But I think it’s appropriate here. For as I gazed at the cover of Francesco Boldizzoni’s “Foretelling the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures Since Karl Marx ” and noticed the presence of the Grim Reaper, I prepared myself for a detailed discussion of the millenarianism that has characterized leftist thinking, not only since Marx but indeed long before him.

Such a study would involve an investigation into the religious or quasireligious reasons that have underpinned belief in capitalism’s impending downfall. Their origins stretch back to antiquity, stemming from a desire to overturn the existing order—whatever that might be—and replace it with a heaven on earth. Mr. Boldizzoni offers a glimpse of this: “Fantasies about . . . the second coming of Christ, and speculation about the advent of a classless society, were not different in function. In both cases, at stake were the restoration of justice and the just rewards of the deserving at the end of the turbulent process of contemporary life.”

Despite some backward glances, however, Mr. Boldizzoni’s narrative focuses mainly on the mid-19th century and later, when the rise of capitalism was quickly accompanied by the first forecasts of its replacement. Drastic social change raised questions of whether it was the right social change. As Mr. Boldizzoni demonstrates, those expecting capitalism’s eclipse went beyond the usual suspects: John Stuart Mill turns up, as does John Maynard Keynes. Both looked forward to a time when humanity would be prosperous enough to rise above grubby, sharp-elbowed capitalism, a vision that perhaps reflected their own privileged backgrounds more than anything else.

. . . .

That said, the predictions of capitalism’s extinction made in the past 200 years or so are of considerable interest. There were, for example, Depression-era writers who thought, with more than a nod to Marx, that underconsumption would bring capitalism down. Such doomsayers have (so far) been proved wrong, but their analyses can be well worth the effort Mr. Boldizzoni puts into examining them, even if some are treated with more seriousness than they deserve—out of a deference maybe to the author’s own political inclinations. On the other hand, his adherence to, roughly speaking, midcentury social democracy—an “arguably . . . mild variety of capitalism” with its strong unions, mixed economy and generous welfare state—also gives him valuable distance from his subjects.

Mr. Boldizzoni attributes the failure of predictions of capitalism’s fall to factors that range from overly crude analysis to wishful thinking to mistaken trust in “progress.” The last is usually dated back to the Enlightenment but, I’d argue, is in no small part a relic of centuries of religious thinking. Mr. Boldizzoni writes that “the entire history of social forecasting and its mistakes is intertwined with faith in progress.” His use of the word “faith” is telling—and faith is an unreliable guide to the future.

. . . .

Even soundly based arguments have underestimated the resilience of capitalism or, perhaps, capitalisms—it can take many forms, whether the laissez-faire version of the early 19th century, the more tightly regulated varieties that followed or today’s information economy, and there are plenty more to choose from. Nevertheless, rather than look to capitalism’s adaptability or effectiveness, the author prefers a more complex and not altogether convincing explanation of capitalism’s durability, one resting on the way it is maintained by the combination of a “highly hierarchical social structure” and an “individualistic orientation” of those at the top.

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

PG notes that capitalism has been practiced on a small scale for centuries, sometimes even in the midst of socialist or communist societies. Neighbors have sold or swapped. Government officials in socialist societies have accepted bribes for additional services or products. Workers on state farms have set a little aside for themselves here and there.

Capitalism as a recognized system of economic organization has proven remarkably useful in most societies in which it has been tried or officially permitted.

Motivation

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.

Zig Ziglar

Writing Life

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

When the idea came to me for my novel, I remember racing to my computer and writing in a sort of frenzy. I wrote a few pages in this exhilarating state of mind, then closed my computer and went on with what I had been doing, probably cooking dinner. Reading what I had written the following day, I realized I was on to something, and that perhaps this could turn into a book. That was an amazing feeling!  

But what happened during the years it took me to finish was far from linear or formulaic. In fact, it was probably the messiest, most organic, albeit exciting, experience I have ever lived through. In the beginning, I had no outline, structure or direction. But there was a magic that would occur, with sparks of illumination so insanely thrilling, that I just couldn’t stop writing.  

Mostly though, as every writer will tell you, the process was more prosaic and consisted of staring at the computer screen for hours on end and coming up with very little. Putting in the time and not giving up was crucial. Some days were good, some days not so good. But miraculously, those two states of mind, the enchanted and the mundane, merged into a river of creativity, that resulted, to my utter delight, in a book.  

My story began to develop and grow in unexpected ways, much like a baby who resembles neither parent at first but occasionally, even eerily, flashes a crooked smile or gives you that soulful gaze that makes you know you are staring at your spiritual twin. If you think about the things that have preoccupied you in life – the people, passions, loves, heartbreaks, milestones, interests, hobbies, books, travels, dreams, regrets — tucked away in the deepest recesses of your memory bank, chances are you will find them in the pages of your book. They may be softly woven throughout your pages, quietly vibrating in the background or take center stage, emerging with crystalline magic.  

Humming in the background of my own consciousness was a love of literature, women writers, travel, and England. If I could combine my love of those things with a riveting story about a woman who takes a trip that changes her life, this just might work. 

During the writing process, I discovered some faithful companions – habits and tools I could rely on, that became lamposts to light my way during the chaotic, messy, enigmatic business of writing a book. 

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

The Spiritual Message at the Heart of ‘Peanuts’

From The Literary Hub:

In the 70 years since the comic strip “Peanuts” first appeared, countless other comic strips have come and gone. All the while, seemingly seamlessly, utterly unconsciously, some of the themes and touchstones of “Peanuts” have woven their way into our vocabulary, our views and voices, our senses and sensibilities.

“Peanuts” may not have the cool factor of other things in our culture, but it has transcended the test of time; it has become an almost Talmudic totem, a talisman, one that we take with us, celebrate with, and perhaps cling to all the more tightly in times of trouble.

It plays a singular role in the popular culture, especially in the context of a society in which it seems that there is little, if anything, on which we can all remotely agree, divided as we are on politics, values, technology. That’s what makes the strip—which officially ended in 2000, when Charles M. Schulz died, but continues in syndication, plus the holiday TV specials, the books, the adaptations for screen and stage, the apps and the ads, and all of the paraphernalia—sacred and even more cherished than ever. It may be hard to imagine considering something as universally popular as “Peanuts” as under-rated, under-appreciated, for what it is. But it is, and its status deserves recognition: it is one of last great shared texts in our culture.

It’s axiomatic that we live in a highly polarized culture. To ideate about enduring cultural consensus about almost anything seems an exercise in wistful nostalgia. And yet, we would do well to imagine what such broad consensus might look like. And we might find ourselves thinking, about the most recent and arguably final example of a great American work of art loved broadly and without reservations by the masses, the elite, and everyone in the so-called middle.

. . . .

Looking back, when “Peanuts” (a title that Schulz detested) first started in 1950, Harry Truman was the president. “All About Eve” was in movie theaters, and Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees was a bestseller.

Fifty years later, when Schulz died, in 2000, “Peanuts” was read in 75 countries, 2,600 papers and 21 languages. In all, well over 18,000 strips appeared over the course of almost a half-decade, making it, according to Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”

Along the way: “Peanuts Gallery,” a concerto, was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1997; Schulz received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture; in 1990, his work was shown at the Louvre. Just last year, Apple TV launched the Peanuts Channel, featuring “Snoopy in Space.” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to be the most produced musical ever, with over 40,000 productions and counting. And as happens perennially, faithfully, over the coming weeks and months, we will come together to watch the Peanuts holiday specials: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the under-appreciated Thanksgiving special, sandwiched in between.

What is it about the world of “Peanuts,” then, that still compels us to enter? Until “Peanuts” came along, comic strips where largely populated by grown-ups acting like children. One of the refreshing revelations, part of what has made “Peanuts” resonate so strongly, for so long and with so many, was that it’s a world of children who act, talk, think, and feel more like adults. This spiritual system peopled exclusively by children, preternaturally wise beyond their years, included among its core beliefs that: Life can be hard; perseverance is required; joy is fleeting but attainable; and imagination is essential.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Beheaded

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IT IS OUR LAST full day in London, my daughter Melissa and me. We take an Uber to the Tower of London and book the hour-long Beefeater tour. The guide is dressed as a guardsman in a red suit, trimmed in gold, and a tall black hat. He cracks jokes on the lawn that used to be the castle’s moat — jokes about the plague and the lack of modern amenities and the beheadings. We laugh, blissfully unaware that we are less than two years away from a plague of our own. It is an unusually warm summer day in London. California weather, ironically. My daughter and I are enjoying our trip, excited to be in a different country, the day filled with possibilities. I am exhilarated.

The guide shows us the White Castle, the Crown Jewels, the battle turrets. When we come upon the Tower Green Monument, my mood changes. The monument stops me cold. This is not the spot where Anne Boleyn was executed, but we are surrounded by her death. Boleyn was beheaded by sword on May 19, 1536, at the age of 35, in a spot that is visible from the monument, to the right of where we are standing. It is now a tourist-filled walkway between the White Tower and the building where the Crown Jewels are kept. Boleyn’s body lies within the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, just behind the monument and directly in front of us. Behind and to the left of us, the prison towers rise — the Beauchamp Tower, the Bloody Tower, the Bell Tower — the cramped quarters where Boleyn and so many others awaited their deaths, prayed for mercy, witnessed the executions of their friends through grated windows the size of postcards, scratched their names and their last words into the stone walls. “The bell tower showed me such sight / That in my head sticks day and night,” the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote in 1536 from a prison cell overlooking the Tower Green. He was imprisoned with Boleyn and is said to have witnessed her execution. “These bloody days have broken my heart.”

I feel a kinship with Anne Boleyn, with women whose portraits will not end up in the National Portrait Gallery for their accomplishments. Women whose only accomplishment was having survived for a brief period of time in a world which did not belong to them. The monument jolts me from a sleep, reminds me that here a man ordered his wife’s head severed from her body without remorse. The crimes of which Boleyn was accused hardly matter. Her biggest crime was not holding her king’s attention.

In her book Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, anthropologist Frances Larson writes that beheading another human being is an act requiring feelings of both distance and superiority. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII was already superior to any woman by virtue of his birth as a man. Perhaps not so different from today, I think, except the optics have changed. But he was also born a Tudor and became the king of England. In terms of privilege, entitlement, and appetite, I picture him a 16th-century Donald Trump.

At one time, Henry was so infatuated with Boleyn that he broke with the Catholic Church in order to marry her. Three years and three miscarriages later, his feelings had cooled. I imagine King Henry VIII going through the mental gymnastics necessary to distance oneself from a former lover, the rationalizations required to convince oneself the leaving is justified, the cruelty needed to cut the ties, to harden the heart, to take a new lover while the old one is still living, breathing, crying. I have done it. I have had it done to me. However he managed it, Henry distanced himself enough from a woman he once loved, the mother of one of his daughters, to have her killed. He was engaged to his new crush, Jane Seymour, the day after Boleyn’s beheading. They were married 10 days later.

King Henry VIII had between 57,000 and 72,000 people executed during his 40-year reign. The tens of thousands of people who were killed here could never have imagined what this place would become 500 years later. They could not have imagined the people like me, coming here for amusement, gawking and joking and snapping photographs.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG notes that, as many around the world, including many of the visitors to The Passive Voice, worry about sickness or death from Covid, there have definitely been more dangerous and difficult times to live during the past.

PG is presently reading an excellent biography of Peter the Great by Robert Massie.

Peter was the the 14th child of Czar Alexis by his second wife, Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina. All the other sons, except one, died before Peter, at age ten, became the Tzar, chosen over an older half-brother, Ivan, due to Ivan’s severe physical and mental disabilities.

Immediately prior to Peter’s affirmation as Tzar, at the instigation of a competing Russian royal family, the elite Streltsy Guard fomented a huge riot in Moscow. During this turmoil, Peter witnessed the slaughter of several members of his family, including two of his uncles at the hand of the Streltsy.

Covid sounds benign by comparison.

I Wish

Well, I wish your mom was ugly

And your dad was ugly too

Then they couldn’t have a girl

To be as beautiful as you

Bob Schneider, Wish the Wind Would Blow Me

Where Is My Office?

Not necessary relevant for all authors, but certainly of interest to authors with day jobs.

From The Wall Street Journal:

For much of the past century, work has been a place where people went. For big organizations, a workplace meant “concrete, steel and glass monuments built to service commerce and Mammon; commanding the skyline of the modern cityscape and dominating the lives of the millions of people who work in them.” So observes corporate real-estate veteran Chris Kane in “Where Is My Office?” But now, he says, “the world of work is changing.” Office work especially is “no longer anchored in one place.” Indeed, he notes, work has become a thing that people do and not a place where people go.

So what is to become of those monuments to Mammon? And how about all those workers whose lives were dominated by them? Mr. Kane explores this question in his intriguing, if meandering, book on “reimagining the workplace for the 21st century.”

Much has been written on the future of work, mostly by management gurus. Mr. Kane comes at the question from a different angle, with a background in the property business—mostly, though not exclusively, in the U.K. He calls himself an “industry provocateur” who has spent his career persuading the people who finance and build offices to think about what their tenants will actually want. (Oddly enough, they don’t seem to want the “uninspiring spaces of beige, grey or off-white” that the industry delivers.) He has also helped large companies rethink their property portfolios, urging executives to see that property can be converted “from a cost centre into a value creator.” He observes that “a well-designed and well-run workplace has beneficial effects on the performance of its occupants.” They collaborate. They feel inspired. They don’t quit quite as quickly. Handled well, property can be a strategic tool.

. . . .

Mr. Kane is also keenly aware that many past attempts to rethink office life have resulted in ideas that are questionable at best: Witness seas of soul-deadening cubicles or the attempts to do away with assigned seating completely that ended up with much-hated “hot desking” policies—everyone has to fend for herself every morning to score a workable spot.

While noting that companies will want more flexible spaces to scale up and down and shorter leases, Mr. Kane wisely doesn’t endorse no-personal-space policies that seem unaware of human nature; nor does he recommend shrinking square-footage requirements to save money and then hoping for the best. He argues that smaller, fluid spaces can’t just be about cutting costs; they should be “about choice of how and where we work.”

The options include renting space in commercial co-working spaces such as WeWork and working from home—something companies were loath to allow in the past, since “many managers insist on being able to see their staff and have them physically present in the same office.” Managers fear that “no work gets done unless they can see their staff at their desks.” Mr. Kane is quick to argue against this fear, but 10 months into Covid, much of this debate seems moot.

The proportion of Americans who had ever worked from home doubled in the span of about two weeks in March 2020. There is every reason to think that, even if “normal” life returns, many companies will aim to keep at least part of their workforce away from central hubs and office towers and that many employees will refuse to endure commutes after a year or more of skipping them. To what effect? one wonders. While Mr. Kane refers to the pandemic from time to time, “Where Is My Office?” feels as if the bulk of the manuscript was written before this game-changer. He says that “the corporate sphere now needs to take a Darwinian approach—adapting and evolving in order to cope with uncertainty.” But the BBC’s new spaces were created with the idea that employees would show up at them more days than not. Now it’s unclear how many organizations really need a gleaming headquarters—no matter how well-designed the headquarters happen to be.

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

PG has seen more than a few articles discussing how former office workers should set up and outfit their home work spaces. This type of information can also be helpful for any author who writes some or all of their work at home.

A short, non-comprehensive list for PG would include the following:

  1. A comfortable chair that won’t make you ache if you sit in it for several hours a day.
  2. A good keyboard.
    1. As a sidenote, at his mother’s wise insistence, PG took a typing class in high school and became the fastest and most-accurate typist in his class (it was a very small class).
    2. PG’s typing skills were valuable for him in college since he earned money by typing papers for other students at exorbitant prices because he could start typing a 20-page term paper at midnight and get it finished in plenty of time so the procrastinating student paying him could turn it in at 8:00 AM and PG could get some sleep before his own 8:00 AM class the next day.
  3. PG typed the answers to all of his law school exams (essay questions were standard) as well as the essay portions of his bar exams. Since he could type far faster than he could write (legibly or illegibly), PG could put a lot more of the extensive information he pretended to have in his head into these exams.
  4. While PG did a lot of dictating while he had a more typical law practice than he has now, he also did some typing on documents, or parts of documents, that required particular attention and detail that was not conducive to efficient dictation.
  5. When computers first came into law offices, PG bought the first computer for himself so he could amply explore its potential uses in his practice. Typing well meant he could experiment quickly. After this learning process, PG gave his computer to his secretary and provided suggestions about how she could use it efficiently (PG always hired the smartest secretaries he could find and paid them well so they stayed with him for a long time). Of course, PG bought the latest faster and more powerful computer available for himself to replace the one that migrated to his secretary’s desk. Whenever he bought a new computer, his secretary got the one he had used before that was typically about a year old, so everybody stayed up to date.
  6. This is a very long explanation of the basis upon which PG recommends a good keyboard for anyone who spends much time typing. The difference in cost between a good keyboard and a cheap one is relatively small. PG has used ergonomic keyboards for a long time because he finds them more comfortable and faster. Currently, he uses a wireless keyboard to reduce the substantial clutter on his desk a tiny bit. If you want to do all your writing in a coffee shop, you will want to use a laptop. For PG, however, the keyboard on laptop computers (he has owned and used many) are definitely second-rate. At times (like on an airplane), using a separate keyboard is not feasible. However, it’s not difficult to slide a small cordless keyboard into a canvas briefcase, backpack, carry-on bag, etc., so typing is better when your not on a plane or in an airport.
  7. For fellow keyboard nerds, yes, PG does miss the old Northgate keyboards with their lovely key-switches, but we all have to move on from tragic losses like that.

Getting out of the hospital

Getting out of the hospital is a lot like resigning from a book club. You’re not out of it until the computer says you’re out of it.

Erma Bombeck

Book Clubs in Lockdown

From BookBrowse:

The Book Club Experience in 2020

Three-quarters of the 3,417 respondents who say they are in a book club are in groups that are
currently meeting. Some have experienced sickness, quarantines or fatalities among those close
to them, and many feel drained by current events; but they also feel supported by their book
club and buoyed by a greater sense of friendship and community.

The great majority of groups had previously met in person and indoors. Now, 65% of those that
are currently meeting are doing so virtually, almost all on Zoom, and 17% are meeting outdoors
(with some looking for a new winter location).

A quarter of those who are currently meeting say their group’s attendance rate is lower than
last year, mostly due to technical issues meeting virtually or not feeling safe meeting in person.
But 14% of virtual groups have gained members, mainly due to the ease of meeting online and
former or part-time members being able to join virtually.

Looked at as a whole, the resilience of book clubs shines through. Of course, they would prefer
not to be meeting with restrictions, but the majority have persevered and found a way forward,
with many saying they have a greater appreciation for their group. In fact, although a third of
respondents in groups that are currently meeting say that their overall book club experience is
not as good as it was last year, half say their group is more important to them.

Meeting Virtually

Respondents meeting virtually greatly appreciate that technology allows them to stay
connected and maintain a sense of community.

In general, technology adoption is viewed as positive, with Zoom frequently described as a
lifeline. However, some groups still struggle with technical issues and virtual etiquette, and many
are temporarily missing members who are unable, or sometimes unwilling, to meet virtually.
Virtual discussions tend to be less free-flowing. This is seen as a benefit by some who feel their
group’s book discussions are more focused and inclusive due to fewer side conversations; but
others miss the organic flow of an in-person meeting.

Link to the rest at BookBrowse

The full report is available in downloadable PDF as an ebook an no charge from the BookBrowse website. They’ll also sell you a printed version if you prefer that. You are required to give your first and last names and an email address. Additionally, you have the option of signing up for periodic BookBrowse newsletters at no charge.

PG has signed up for and received a couple of periodic free newsletters from BookBrowse for several years and doesn’t recall being placed on any spam email lists he can attribute to BookBrowse selling its email list.

What Writers and Editors Do

From The Paris Review:

The work of the literary editor is conducted in a kind of shadow, cast by the name of the author. A few editors have stepped out of that shadow, becoming perhaps more infamous than famous, for the labels “editor” and “famous” seem like a contradiction in terms, essentially incompatible. An example is Gordon Lish, who became known in the literary world as “Captain Fiction” and whose authors included Raymond Carver. Another is Maxwell Perkins, editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, whose epithet was the “Editor of Genius.” One of the most celebrated editing jobs ever done was carried out by Ezra Pound, not in any formal capacity, but as a friend, his ruthless hand paring down an early version of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” into the form in which we know it today. Gordon Lish’s editing was quite as unconstrained and uncompromising, the style we think of as Carver’s being in fact Lish’s work. Carver himself was rather ambivalent about it, though it unquestionably established his name as a writer. This became apparent when Carver’s own manuscript was published after his death, his stories there being quite differently ample and expansive, barely recognizable. There is little doubt that the editor’s Carver was better than Carver’s Carver, and how must that have made the author feel as he stood in the spotlight to receive his accolades, hailed as the great new name of American literature? The example is interesting, for the job of the editor is to exert influence, not for his own good, nor necessarily for the author’s, but for that of the book, and if we can suggest that Lish went too far, we must also ask in relation to what? After all, the book was certainly the better for it. Were the wounded feelings of its author more important? Without Lish, Carver’s books would have been poorer and he would have been a reasonably good writer rather than a brilliant one. This raises the question of what a writer is, and where the boundaries run between the author, the book, and the surrounding world.

America has a tradition of strong editors, though the issue is not specifically American. I know of Norwegian editors who to all intents and purposes move their author’s feet, so to speak, in the dance of their literary endeavors, who basically instruct them: left foot here, right foot there, left foot here, right foot there. And I know, too, of Norwegian writers at the exact opposite pole, who deliver print-ready manuscripts to their editors and would change publishers promptly at the suggestion of reworking anything.

Lish’s job on Carver is perhaps too extreme to serve as an example of the role of the editor, but what any kind of boundary breaking always does is to draw attention to the boundary itself—in this case between editor and writer, who together with the text form a kind of Bermuda Triangle within whose force field everything said and done disappears without trace. Had Lish not gone as far as he did, everything in Carver’s texts would have been attributed unequivocally to Carver, the way all novels, short stories, and poetry collections are attributed unequivocally to the writer. To understand what goes on in this shadowland, we could ask ourselves: What would the books have been like without their editors? In my own case, the answer is simple: there would have been no books. I would not have been a writer. This is not to say that my editor writes my books for me, but that his thoughts, input, and insights are imperative to their being written. These thoughts, this input, and these insights are particular to me and my writing process; when he is editing the work of other authors, what he gives them is something particular to their work. The job of editor is therefore ideally undefined and open, dependent on each individual writer’s needs, expectations, talent, and integrity, and it is first and foremost based on trust, hinging much more on personal qualities and human understanding than on formal literary competence.

I remember a time in my late twenties when I was working for a literary magazine, we had commissioned a contribution from an established poet, and I was given the job of taking care of it. I read the poem and responded with a few comments, some suggestions as to minor changes, and a tentative inquiry as to whether the poem might be developed a bit further in the same direction. The reply that came back can be summed up in a single question: “Who are you?” In fact, there may well have been an undertone in that reply warranting an even more forceful wording: “Who the hell are you?” I was vexed by this, my comments had been cautious and, as far as I could see, justified. It was how I was used to commenting on the works-in-progress of my writer friends. Surely a poet of such experience and standing could relate more professionally to their own writing?

But the reaction wasn’t about the poem. It was about a faceless editor wanting to change the poem, which I guessed was being construed as an attack. As if there was something wrong with the poem and this faceless young male academic thought he knew what was needed to fix it. Objectively, I think my comments were on the right track, but when it comes to writing there is no such thing as objective, it’s all about the person writing and the person reading. If I had met this poet a few times, if we had been able to gain an impression of each other, perhaps get an idea as to each other’s literary preferences, I think my comments might have been taken differently, perhaps even prompted changes to the work, though not necessarily in the way I had envisaged.

The situations in which creative writing takes place are often complicated, to put it mildly—anyone even slightly familiar with the writing profession, as we so grandly refer to it, knows that it is one great big entanglement of neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination—and working with writing in that kind of context means that a concept such as quality is a poor standard indeed, at least if we think of quality as an objective norm. In literary editing, quality is a dynamic entity, more a process than a grade, and one that will vary according to the individual writer and editor.

That the books that come out of this are treated in almost exactly the opposite way in literary criticism, which is very much about weights and measures and comparisons to other books, can often throw an author into shock and is something one never quite gets used to. It feels almost as if there are different books, one belonging to the editor, another to the critic, and for the author this can be difficult; should he or she listen to his or her editor, who will invariably say that critics don’t know what they’re talking about, that they are insensitive and stupid, driven by their own agendas, and so on, or to the judgement of the critics?

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG could (as usual) be wrong, but he suggests that not all (perhaps not even a majority) of authors are rife with “neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination.”

Based solely on his personal experiences, PG would guess that there are a higher percentage of attorneys that manifest some, many or all of such problems/issues/behaviors than there are authors that do the same. Certainly, due to the pressures of their work (or whatever), a higher percentage of attorneys have problems with alcoholism and drug abuse that is typical of the general population at large.

A great many bar associations sponsor seminars and other educational programs for their members that deal with addiction, drug abuse, mental illnesses, etc. Some even require participation in such programs for a specified number of hours every couple of years.

Honesty

Honesty is the key to a relationship. If you can fake that, you’re in.

Richard Jeni​​

My friends

My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem. But they don’t really know me.

Garry Shandling

In the end

In the end there doesn’t have to be anyone who understands you. There just has to be someone who wants to.

Robert Brault

Treasure

Treasure your relationships, not your possessions.

Anthony J. D’Angelo

More Ways of Thinking about Relationships in Writing

Following his earlier post about a Relationships Thesaurus, PG was intrigued while considering the enormous number of various types of relationships and shades of relationships between people (and groups of people) as compared with the more limited scope of relationships he sees in many books and stories.

Here a single sub-part under Relationships from WordHippo that PG picked because most of the synonyms had little or nothing to do with romantic or family relationships.

Noun

The state of cooperating, being allied or working together:

cooperation

partnership

union

communications

confederation

rapport

collaboration

conjunction

alliance

hookup

linkup

association

liaison

affiliation

connection

tie-up

coalition

relation

compact

federation

trust

axis

league

cartel

coterie

clique

copartnership

society

brotherhood

club

combination

fraternity

sisterhood

sorority

co-partnership

joint venture

strategic partnership

contractual cooperation

strategic relationship

strategic alliance

mutually beneficial alliance

mutually beneficial relationship

cross-holding

mutually beneficial

partnership

equity alliance

confederacy

guild

combine

consortium

group

syndicate

organization

block

order

bloc

congress

sodality

organisation

labour union

workers’ association

labor union

trade union

Bund

companionship

consociation

faction

link

ring

party

fellowship

mob

friendship

togetherness

body

gang

community

participation

enterprise

crew

chumminess

cahoots

bargain

arrangement

contract

deal

link-up

protocol

understanding

settlement

covenant

entente

accord

bond

accommodation

coordination

hook-up

tie-in

business arrangement

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Host and Guest

From Writers Helping Writers:

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Description: A host or hostess is someone who welcomes and entertains guests at a venue, function, or in their own home. They are responsible for taking care of the needs of their guests, making them feel both valued and special. In this relationship, self-worth is tied to each person’s role. The guest feels valued through inclusion; depending on the event, the importance tied to other attendees, and the situation, inclusion is a symbol of status and respect. In turn, the host takes pride in their role and the experience they offer guests. Their ability to oversee a successful event (which sometimes also means having to set aside personal feelings or ignore politics) will raise their esteem in the eyes of others, in turn feeding their self-worth. Of course the opposite is also true – if either party fails in their role, esteem will diminish, especially the closer the relationship is between host and guest (family, friends, business partners, exes, etc.). A negative experience means guests will feel undervalued and view themselves as a burden which may leave them angry at the host for making them feel this way. A less-than-ideal outcome will leave the host feeling inadequate due to their failure to manage the event properly or provide for their guests.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Respect and appreciation that flows both ways
Ensuring the other party has any information they need (where to find things, a timetable of activities, and any special requirements, allergies, constraints, or expectations the other may need to know)
Being polite, friendly, and patient
Doing as instructed and playing one’s role (as the good host, the well-mannered house guest, the sociable guest speaker, the appropriately attired attendee, etc.)
Being on time and not making unreasonable demands of the other
Being appreciative of the other’s time and attention
Playing peacekeeper and discouraging drama should it crop up

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Monopolizing someone’s time because they believe they have the right to
Not respecting the host’s property, time, or reputation
Tempers that flare
Being two-faced (threats hidden behind smiles, veiled insults, gossiping about the other to bring down their reputation)
Seeking to undermine or exploit the other
Using one’s role to make the other look bad (creating problems for a host that are impossible to fix, or calling negative attention to a guest, thereby singling them out among their peers)
Making unreasonable demands (forcing too many rules on a guest or demanding a host go above and beyond)
Taking advantage of someone’s hospitality
Noticeable friction between a host and guest that makes others uncomfortable
Endangering guests (conducting illegal activities while at the host’s home, distributing drugs at a party, etc.)

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

PG posted this as a suggestion for authors to consider the wide range of relationships and relationship dynamics that can exist between people and characters.

A love letter to European literature

From The Bookseller:

Aged 15 I got a Christmas job at my local bookshop in Battersea so I could save to go interrailing. My parents’ bookshelves were brimming with mostly Black writers: Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Chester Himes, Terry McMillan, and I was surrounded by ‘consciousness’ (as we then called ‘woke’). I was yet to read European works in translation, and the bookshop opened up to me the rest of Europe and its myriad cities, cultures, languages and complex histories.

I started with French literature and read Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Perec, Georges Bataille. From there, I explored more of the continent, José Saramago, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi. Reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Likeness of Being was haunting and powerful. Kundera confronts readers with questions of exile, identity, belonging and selfhood.

I discovered John Berger, who, although not exiled, was a cultural émigré from Britain to France and his work introduced me to artists, writers and thinkers across Europe. Reading his Once in Europa opened me up to Russian literature and I was that 23-year-old girl in pubs reading Nabokov and Dostoevsky at the table whilst everyone chatted around me. I felt like I was a character in a Mike Leigh film and a total cliché, but I found my first true love and didn’t business what anyone else thought. A few years later when John and I met we became friends and he encouraged me to move to Europe and fulfil my potential. 

From Russia, I went back to Bohemia and discovered the fantastical mind of Franz Kafka. Amerika, which inspired an incredible piece by German artist Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End to Franz Kafka’s Amerika, which I saw at the Tate Modern in 2005. I’d never thought Germany, with its complicated history, as a place that I would find compelling, but after seeing that piece I became curious.

A year later I went to Berlin for the first time and visited an institution called The Literatur Haus in Charlottenburg: a grand villa where the sole purpose is to connect readers with writing and literature. There are eleven Literature Houses across Germany and a European network of cities including Oslo, Copenhagen and Prague, yet not one in Britain. Literature Houses offer a deeper cultural exchange that is very different to libraries. These buildings stand tall as a beacon of the importance of narratives and storytelling. I understood that German culture, Gutenberg to Goethe and beyond, was built on the basis that, without literature, nothing else can be formed. I was hooked. Heading back to London, I enrolled in classes at the Goethe Institute and they helped me to discover the works of Hans Fallada, Hannah Arendt, Joseph Roth, Jenny Erpenbeck, Julia Franck, W.G. Sebald and Stefan Zweig.

What was so striking to me about the literature from the continent was that it seemed to be concerned with progress, difference and change. Outside of Shakespeare, English classics always felt so stuffy to me and obsessed with maintaining the status quo and birth rights. Where forbidden love and class was the order for the day in Britain, central European literature was concerned with surviving regimes and emphasised hard work and humility. Southern European literature seemed full of creativity and bold new ideas, centring humanity. 

It seemed to me that continental European literature reflected the region’s turmoil and revolutions, while Britain maintained elite ruling classes and divided rule from the playbook from the Age of Empire.

Looking towards the publishing industry, where Europe’s biggest nations publish up to 42% in translation, Britain merely publishes 5%. The continent has always been interested in listening, thinking about and understanding the lives of others.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Agent Laurie McLean Gives 10 Publishing Predictions for 2021

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

Hold onto your pens, people…it’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s that time of year again. I present to you Predictions in Publishing: the 2021 Edition!

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was bemoaning the fact that the book publishing industry seemed to have stagnated and not a lot was changing. Then, WHOOSH, in March everything changed all at once. And here we are counting down the days to the final end to the Year of the Great Pause, where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel into 2021. Let’s hope it’s not a train! (It’s not a train…)

. . . .

1) Publishing Professionals Leave New York

More editors, agents and other publishing pros have moved out of the New York City metro area, and are working from homes in other cities, and even states, where the cost of living is significantly lower. If they bought or rented a house with a yard and several bedrooms/office space elsewhere, or moved in with their parents and find it delightful, the thought of moving back into a comparably-priced studio or one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn might not be strong enough to get them to return.

They have gotten comfortable with working remotely. They are now Zoom or Google Meeting pros. And they see how much more work they can get done (especially editing) if they don’t have to commute or do endless in-person meetings every day. Even art departments have developed successful workarounds. This has fundamentally changed the publishing process.

As we move into the future, I believe you’ll see a diaspora of publishing professionals, just like tech workers or other non-geographically-tied workers have experienced, and eventually they will either be located in a smaller building in NYC or will Zoom-in remotely when needed, only visiting the main office once a month or so. It has long been the case with agents and even the odd editor, but now it will be commonplace among the major houses. New York will be the center of publishing in name only. Virtual companies will have the edge.

. . . .

3) Reading on Screens Increases

Everyone got used to buying all kinds of things online, and that includes ebooks. But will this trend continue once bookstores are open again?

I believe so. Readers have become comfortable with reading on a screen as part of the total ecosystem of reading, just as they’ve become comfortable with shopping at their local retail stores as well as Amazon, Bookshop.org, indie bookstores, reading apps, etc.

They will consume hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, ebooks, audiobooks and any new format that comes along. Publishers need to understand that and work it into their P&Ls on stories and worlds they want to license.

. . . .

5) Bookstores Adapt

Indie bookstores (traditional publishing’s main retail outlet) have been severely disrupted. Do they survive and thrive or collapse? Will Barnes & Noble make it? Will Amazon continue to dominate or will Bookshop.org challenge them? I think all these issues will play out in the latter half of 2021.

I think indie bookstores have already pivoted successfully by being creative and community-minded. They rocked drive-by distribution and deliveries. They figured out how to do many of their promotional events and author “signings” online.

It’s the larger box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, now under a new management team led by Brit James Daunt, who I see fumbling the ball and perhaps not being fiscally viable much longer. Five years and they’ll either be gone or severely smaller. That’s my prediction. Amazon is hastening their exit. Look back at prediction number 3.

. . . .

8) Online Book Promotion Becomes the Norm

Virtual book promotion is here to stay. It already was not making economic sense to send an author on a multi-city tour to promote a book, when only a handful of fans would show up at the local Barnes & Noble in each city. If all bookstores, even small ones in rural locations, can get an author to do a 1-hour Zoom chat about their book with fans who’ve already ordered the pre-autographed book from said indie bookstore, it’s going to catch on. It’s affordable, easy to accomplish, and readers will like it if they can watch their author heroes while in their jammies.

Also, need I say, school visits will become a lot more accessible and affordable if done virtually. This way authors can earn a few dollars and bookstores can scale up or down depending on the popularity of the authors virtually visiting their locales.

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

It is 2021, but PG still does not always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

For one thing, Bookshop.org hasn’t a chance in hell of taking a hundredth of one-percent of Amazon’s share of the book business.

PG will note that, although more honored in the breach than in the observance, the .org extension was originally intended to be reserved for non-profit organizations.

In the case of Bookshop.org, the website is run by a Limited Liability Company (LLC) which, at least in the United States, denotes an organization that strives to earn a profit. Again, in the United States, a charitable organization is typically operated as a non-profit corporation. Corrected per CE Petit’s comment and superior knowledge of current LLC practices and law.

That said, regardless of its intent, PG suggests that Bookshop.org will have quite a bit of difficulty generating a profit of any sort and its business and commission structure is designed for traditional publishers, so it will generate teeny-tiny royalties for the authors who make books possible in the first place.

PG says that, if you or your reading friends wish to encourage and compensate authors, buying through Amazon is the only way you go.

House of Trelawney

From The Wall Street Journal:

In a song of 1938, Noël Coward wrote:

The stately homes of England

How beautiful they stand,

To prove the upper classes

Have still the upper hand.

Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt

And frequently mortgaged to the hilt

Is inclined to take the gilt

Off the gingerbread

Hannah Rothschild’s new comic novel “House of Trelawney” is about an ancestral home in Cornwall where the gilt has definitely come off. Trelawney Castle, situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean, has belonged to the same noble family for 800 years. “The castle was their three-dimensional calling card, the physical embodiment of their wealth and influence,” writes Ms. Rothschild. “Each Earl added an extension until it was declared the grandest, if not the finest, stately home in the county of Cornwall.”

It sounds wonderful. It’s not. The novel opens in 2008, and the castle has fallen into “chaos and decrepitude.” The bungling and ineptitude of the last eight dissolute earls, “along with two world wars, the Wall Street Crash, three divorces and inheritance taxes” has eaten up the estate. There were once medieval oak woods, meadows and waterfalls on the 500,000 acres known as “Trelawneyshire.” Now ponds have silted up, hedges are bedraggled, and arches are covered with vines. Inside the castle, which has a room for each day of the year, empty squares discolor walls where great paintings once hung. In the rooms “the huge side tables were covered in a layer of dust and detritus, and a grand piano sat in a pool of water.” And the decay is accelerating: “Occasionally a great crash of avalanching plaster could be heard falling like a tree in a faraway wood.”

In 1988 the 24th Earl of Trelawney, now aged 85, handed the pile to his feckless son and heir, Kitto. His oldest and smartest child, Blaze, couldn’t inherit because she was female. Such were Britain’s archaic rules of primogeniture. With no funds left for its upkeep Kitto, like many an earl or duke before him, was forced to marry for money. Jane, his dowdy bride, possessed a fortune. But, inevitably, Jane’s money ran out. So did the heating and hot water. Now she is martyr to the cause, the house “skivvy,” feeding her aging parents-in-law and three teenage children cut-price mince (ground beef). She delivers pots of hot water to the freezing elderly earl and countess who reside upstairs in a fantasy world peopled with imaginary housemaids and butlers. They still change into formal clothes (now rather shabby) for dinner.

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

My mother

My mother always told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, “just wait.”

Judy Tenuta

The Last Minute

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.

Rita Mae Brown

Math is the Friend of Prolific… And the Enemy of Excuses…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Writers who want to hold dearly to the myths of writing must stay away from math. Math can be super deadly to writer’s fears and myths and beliefs. Math, after all, is just numbers.

So let me point out where this is glaringly clear in a simple example.

You write 250 words of fiction a day, shorter than many of your emails. Most writers can do that in 15 minutes or less.

So you do that every day, you manage to make your writing important enough in your life that you carve out 15 minutes a day to do it.

250 words x 365 days = 91,250. That’s a full novel.

Now is where this entire column gets brutal. Let’s say you really like writing 50,000 word novels like I do.

And you can manage to cut out of your busy game schedule and work and family and television schedule one hour a day to write. And if you are like most writers, you can do 1,000 words in that hour. (If you are much slower than that you need to deal with the fear.)

Here comes the math…

1,000 words x 365 days = 365,000 words divided by 50,000 word novels = 7.3 novels a year. So say you took two weeks vacation from that horrid hour-per-day schedule so you only wrote 7 novels in a year.

AND HERE COME THE EXCUSES… 

Wrapped up in neat bows in writing myths.

Excuse #1… What about rewrites? If you are still lost in that myth, I can’t help you. Learn how to cycle and write in to the dark and stop being sloppy and produce a finished draft.

Excuse #2… Where will I get that many ideas? (I really can’t help you.)

Excuse #3… What about all the publishing that goes along with that? Oh, no, every month or so you might have to spend a few extra hours to publish your novel so you can make money.

Excuse #4… What about all the plotting and outlining and character sketches and such to get ready ahead of time. (Oh, my…seriously?)

And on and on and on… Pick a myth…

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

The 2021 Regifting Guide for Writers

From Writer Unboxed:

Happy 2021! Now that the longest year in history is over, it’s a good time for reflection and taking stock of things. And by “things” I mean those Christmas and/or Hanukkah gifts you got. If you’re a writer, you probably got a lot of writing-centric gifts. I’m going to say it so you don’t have to: some writer gifts are better than others. (I know, you don’t want to seem ungrateful, but another coffee mug? Really?!)

If Santa decided to go off-list for you, take heart that even the worst Christmas gift for you may be a reasonably serviceable birthday gift for someone else. That’s right, we’re talking about the greatest of holiday taboos: regifting. Some may frown on it, but a properly executed regifting prevents waste and saves you a trip to the store, which is more important than ever during a pandemic, so really you’re doing everybody a favor. The 2021 Regifting Guide for Writers will help you decide what to keep, what to give away, and how to do it without looking like a jerk.

Let the foisting begin!

  • Motivational posters: The implicit premise behind many writing-themed gifts is that writers are in an unceasing funk in which they have no ideas or inspiration. This is accurate, of course, but it’s kinda mean to broadcast it to everybody, right? Few gifts signal writers’ daily desperation as loudly as the motivational poster. Designed to fill writers with creative inspiration, writing-inspiration posters more often remind writers of all the writing they’re not getting done. Verdict: Regift it.
  • Notebooks: Cracking open a brand-new notebook fills writers with inspiration, and can be a fun way to kickstart a new writing project. Verdict: Keep it.
  • Pens: The most ubiquitous tool of any author, pens are portable, useful, and make a statement about your commitment to your craft (or that you snagged a promotional pen when you dropped off your suit at the dry cleaner). Writers get a lot of pens as gifts, some of which are impractical, fussy, or require a very spillable inkwell. However, there are few things more frustrating for a writer than not having a pen when you need one. Verdict: If it’s a fancy pen, keep it. If it’s a box of cheap, ordinary rollerball pens that will actually fit in your pocket, keep it and write a very nice thank-you card.
  • Writerly coffee mugs: If there’s one thing people know about writers, is that they’re always drinking coffee, unless they’re drinking alcohol. Coffee mugs emblazoned with statements like, “BE NICE TO ME OR I’LL PUT YOU IN MY NOVEL” and “I AM SILENTLY CORRECTING YOUR GRAMMAR” are popular gifts from folks whose friendship is good enough that they know you’re a writer, but not so close that they will read your work. While each author mug has a different catchy slogan, they all contain the same subtext: “I AM NOT PUBLISHED.” Verdict: Regift it to an unpublished friend.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Old Novels as Therapy

From Publishers Weekly:

I am a published novelist and a rabid reader, but I’ve been stalled in both those areas. Between the cultural tumult and my almost-15-year-old dog’s terminal kidney disease, I’ve become a worried political activist and an exhausted canine hospice caregiver.

. . . .

Between my dog’s IV drips and endless treks up and down my four flights of stairs to walk her, I found I cannot concentrate on reading new novels, let alone meeting new characters and remembering who everybody is. So suddenly my reading habit—a great source of joy—stalled.

In these incredibly dark days, I’ve found solace talking to people I’ve known since childhood. And, likewise, I realized I need books with a personal foundation already in place: books that I already know are outstanding, that I know will transport me—books that I trust because of my long history with them. I have such books already on my shelves, but I also bought a couple more.

I’d read a library copy of Percival Everett’s God’s Country in the past, and I bought a new one from Bookshop—assuring him a royalty, a local indie bookstore a sale, and me the leisure to take my time and mark it up for my second reading. I bought a used edition of And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, from Better World Books, whose profits support literacy programs, and I read it twice within two months, taking as long as I wanted to savor the delectable prose.

. . . .

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read my paperback and my parents’ 1951 hardcover of The Catcher in the Rye, and it is beckoning again. In these rough times, there might be something sweet about hanging out with Holden Caulfield.

Likewise, I’ve lost count of my readings of A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole’s brilliant and hilarious novel whose rejections may have contributed to his suicide. How could publishers have ignored this book? How could a writer do something this original and alive and not meet the sort of welcome that would include the Pulitzer Prize he posthumously received?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Zoom Book Tours: 5 Authors on Publishing in a Pandemic

From Wired:

WRITING A BOOK is a lonely pursuit, one that can take years of solitary work. Selling a book is another story. Authors give talks in cramped storefronts, schmooze at luncheons, and learn to casually discuss their belabored creative project as commercial content. The publicity circuit can be dispiriting, sleazy, and exhausting. It can also be exhilarating, liberating, and fun—a chance for people who spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts to feel like someone’s heard them. This year, releasing a book into the world became another task largely undertaken solo, at home, staring at a screen. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the publishing industry to reimagine its process for convincing people to buy its latest offerings. Even the industry’s fanciest nights, like the National Book Awards gala, took place as digital events, with participants glammed up and sitting at home.

. . . .

Joanne McNeil, author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User

I was lucky enough to have a few in-person events before quarantine. One of the events was recorded for Book TV, on C-SPAN, and because it was one of the very last in-person bookstore events that happened anywhere, it ended up playing repeatedly in March and April at odd hours. The first month of quarantine, I wasn’t sleeping so great, so I would be awake at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I had signed up for email alerts to tell me when it aired and I’d get the emails sometimes just before I’d go to bed. I was staying with my parents, and my dad wakes up really early. The first time it aired, we were both up, and I was able to watch my event with my dad.

It could be a lot worse. The kind of person who wants to hole up in a room and write 80,000 words is not necessarily the kind of person who loves to be the center of attention. So there are some aspects of the virtual events that are less nerve-wracking than doing them in person. But the drawback is that these bookstores aren’t getting the same sales. And you don’t have the conversations you used to have; you’re not meeting in a restaurant and getting to catch up with old friends who show up to the reading. I miss those things. When you log out of a Zoom and you’re just alone in a room. It’s really bewildering.

Just staring at the screen feels exhausting. There are only so many ways to make virtual events different. But one of my upcoming events will be different—it’s a Second Life Book Club, hosted by Bernhard Drax. He creates avatars for authors on request. I asked for a cyborg avatar. I’m excited because it is a creative approach that isn’t trying to replicate the offline experience of a book event.

. . . .

Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown

At first I was really nervous about Zoom. What if the connection cut out? Would I be presentable on camera? I got to do an event with the writer C. Pam Zhang, who wrote an incredible debut this year. Her book was picked for the Goop book club—the first pick!—and she invited me to be on a panel. I was really excited, and since it was for Goop, my wife Michelle and I wanted to present our home in a nice-looking way, with me in front of a built-in bookshelf that Michelle had made. But the connection wasn’t good enough, so I had to move to the bedroom. Only afterward did we realize that the dresser behind me was covered in a layer of dust visible on camera. We had moved some books off of it, so there was a negative outline of dust around where the books had been. This only made it more noticeable. So much for a good impression on Goop!

That was probably the worst mishap I had until the National Book Award. [Ed note: Yu won the National Book Award!] It was a mishap of my brain. I really didn’t expect to win, so I prepared absolutely nothing. When they announced my name, I started freaking out. My son was next to me and he started freaking out. My daughter was upstairs, she started freaking out. Michelle and I just looked at each other, freaking out. So I give my remarks, which are totally off the cuff—and I forget to thank my family. When I realized afterward, my stomach dropped. My book is about people who are underappreciated and I forgot to thank the people who’d supported me all those years and were literally in the background when I won. And my parents were watching in their home. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

Going to an awards ceremony in our living room was really fun, though, because afterwards I changed back into shorts and we had pizza.

Link to the rest at Wired

Perhaps PG’s blown out with too much holiday consumption, but the promotional efforts of the publishers in the OP seemed to be very underwhelming.

Why screw around with traditional publishers if they can’t figure out an effective way to promote your book? PG’s not a publishing marketer, but he could think of ten ways to do a better job than was done for these authors.

OTOH, author appearances via Zoom certainly don’t cost the publisher any sort of meaningful money.

Light Blogging Today

Today is New Years Day in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere (although PG may be a little fuzzy about the effects of the International Date Line and whether it may 2020, 2021, 2022 or still 1960 in Australia or not).

The traditional book biz was trying to sell books as Christmas presents, but after that, it really went dark.

PG doesn’t know whether regaining his sanity after this strange year is a hopeless endeavor or not, but a day off can’t hurt that process (or make it worse).

PG wishes one and all a good/better/best 2021 and he will be back tomorrow providing that he has not devolved into a pool of primeval slime before then, in which case, he may need to spend another day evolving back to the point of at least limited coherence.