What to read to become a better writer

From The Economist:

The first words are the hardest. For many of us writing is a slog. Words drip with difficulty onto the page—and frequently they seem to be the wrong ones, in the wrong order. Yet few pause to ask why writing is hard, why what we write may be bad, or even what is meant by “bad”. Fortunately for anyone seeking to become a better writer, the works recommended here provide enlightenment and reassurance. Yes, writing is hard. But if you can first grasp the origins and qualities of bad writing, you may learn to diagnose and cure problems in your own prose (keeping things simple helps a lot). Similarly heartening is the observation that most first drafts are second-rate, so becoming a skilled rewriter is the thing. These five works are excellent sources of insight and inspiration.

Politics and the English LanguageBy George Orwell. Available on the Orwell Foundation’s website

Starting with Orwell’s essay may seem as clichéd as the hackneyed phrases he derides in it. Published in 1946, this polemic against poor and perfidious writing will be familiar to many. But its advice on how to write is as apposite now as then. (Besides, it is short and free.) Orwell analyses the unoriginal, “dying” metaphors that still haunt the prose of academics, politicians, professionals and hacks. He lambasts the “meaningless words” and “pretentious diction” of his day; many of the horrors he cites remain common. To save writers from regurgitating these, Orwell proposes six now-canonical rules. The first five boil down to: prefer short, everyday words and the active voice, cut unneeded words and strive for fresh imagery. The sixth—“break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”—displays the difficulty of pinning down something as protean as language. But this has not stopped others trying.

Style: Lessons in Clarity and GraceBy Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup. Pearson Education; 246 pages; $66.65 and £43.99

In “Style”, Joseph Williams, who taught English at the University of Chicago, instructs writers on how to revise their scribblings into something clearer, more concise and coherent. (Aptly for a text about rewriting, it is the latest in a long line of reworkings of Williams’s teachings on the subject, which appeared under various titles.) Unlike Orwell, who devised high-level rules for writers to wield by instinct, Williams proposes nuanced “principles” and shows how to apply them. Whereas, for instance, Orwell exhorted writers to “never use the passive where you can use the active”, Williams explains how passives can sometimes help create a sense of flow. This forms part of his coverage of “cohesion” and “coherence”, which could upend the way you write. Insightful, too, is Williams’s guidance on pruning prose and on the ills and virtues of nominalisations—nouns formed from verbs (as “nominalisation” is from “nominalise”), which often send sentences awry. Such technical details, summary sections and practice exercises make “Style” the most textbook-like work on this list. It may also be the most useful.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG will note that some editions of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace are monstrously overpriced (Pearson nearly always overcharges for books it sells into the education market). If you do some hunting on Amazon, you can find much less expensive editions, including used books. PG will defer to others concerning whether Mr. Bizup and other co-authors of more recent editions have added valuable content not present in the original.

Additionally, there is a notable absence of Amazon’s Look Inside feature for easy browsing.

One additional point for those who do not wish to overpay for books is that PG was able to find copies available from his local public library.

The books world is much tougher now

From The Guardian:

William Boyd, 70, is the author of 26 books, including Any Human Heart (2002) – adapted for television in 2010 with three actors playing the lead role of Logan Mountstuart – and Restless, the Costa novel of the year in 2006. His new book, The Romantic, is set in the 19th century and presents itself as a biographical fiction inspired by the personal papers of one Cashel Greville Ross, a Scots-born Irishman who fought at Waterloo, met Shelley, smuggled Greek antiquities and set out in search of the source of the Nile, among other adventures. Boyd, whom Sebastian Faulks has called “the finest storyteller of his generation”, grew up in Ghana and Nigeria and lives in London and the Dordogne, from where he spoke over Zoom.

Where did this novel begin?
My mid-20s were steeped in Romantic poetry because I spent eight years at Oxford not finishing a PhD on Shelley. I’ve always felt that nothing is wasted, and I was asking myself how I could recycle this material when I read The Life of Henry Brulard, the fantastically modern-feeling autobiography by [the 19th-century French writer] Stendhal, who I don’t think is much read in UK literary circles. He called himself a romantic because he kept falling in love – he felt it was a curse – and I decided that this store of knowledge I had about Romantic poets could gel with writing about someone with that kind of temperament.

How does writing a “whole life” novel – this is your fourth – compare with writing your thrillers?
It’s more challenging. In a tightly structured spy novel like Restless, the plot machinery is part of the allure. Here, the narrative has to seem like it’s happening randomly, like life, yet it can’t flag: Cashel is 82 when he dies, and you can’t write a 5,000-page novel with every month and every year. My other three whole-life novels are told in the first person, so nothing can happen and it’s still interesting because of the voice. I was conscious that writing The Romantic in the third person meant that things had to keep happening, even at the end of Cashel’s life. What I came to understand was that 19th-century lives were incredibly crowded; Anthony Trollope went to Australia twice and America six times.

. . . .

What about your use of faux-real framing devices – what attracts you to those?
When I published my novel The New Confessions in 1987, it was reviewed in the Times by Bernard Levin, who said he was so convinced by the novel’s autobiographical form that he found himself riffling through looking for the photographs. That was where the idea of Any Human Heart was born. I had a kind of test drive for that novel when I used anonymous photographs of real people in my art hoax, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960, a biography of this nonexistent painter, where I got people like [David] Bowie to join the conspiracy. In [Boyd’s 2015 novel] Sweet Caress the photos telling the story of the main character’s life all come from junk shops and websites. It’s an old trope – Daniel Defoe pretended Moll Flanders was a real person – but I want people to think, God, did Logan Mountstuart really exist? I’m trying to show that fiction can grip you in a way that reportage and history can’t.

How has the writing life changed since you began publishing?
The 1980s was a kind of boom period but the challenge for a literary novelist now is to just keep the show on the road. It used to be you could write a novel every couple of years or so and have a perfectly nice bourgeois life. Now the mid-list has gone. The brutal fact is you either sell or you don’t. Friends of mine who’ve written 12 novels can’t get published or their advances have dropped by 80%. It’s a much tougher world.

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

When you have committed enough words to paper

When you have committed enough words to paper, you feel you have a spine stiff enough to stand up in the wind. But when you stop writing, you find that’s all you are – a spine, a row of rattling vertebrae, dried out like an old quill pen.

Hilary Mantel

History

History offers us vicarious experience. It allows the youngest student to possess the ground equally with his elders; without a knowledge of history to give him a context for present events, he is at the mercy of every social misdiagnosis handed to him.

Hilary Mantel

Our Editors Remember Hilary Mantel

From The Paris Review:

At school, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety was recommended by the history teacher I, a hateful teenager, liked least (pedantic; prone to raptures over seemingly arcane points of fact). He proclaimed it the best book we could read on the French Revolution; since it was the only novel on the list, I opened it anyway, and was reluctantly entranced. (Robespierre, self-conscious, trying to muster something better than his usual thin, cold smile for Danton—“But it was the only one available to his face.”) Mantel’s imagination was uncannily sinuous: it seemed she could absorb and reinvent her revolutionaries without bending or avoiding any of the established facts, and dance her way through the countless disputed ones. By the time of Wolf Hall, she could conjure a Thomas Cromwell faithful to the historical record whose thoughts ran quick and vital, with no whiff of the antique. Those intricately researched and constructed books are animated throughout by the thrill it evidently gave Mantel to inhabit a mind like Cromwell’s—to imagine its unusual intelligence, the dark jokes it might tell itself even in extremis. There’s a moment when our man, believing he may die, is reluctant to give confession, to relinquish those sins “that others have not even found the opportunity of committing … they’re mine.” He goes on: “Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hand: I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.”

—Lidija Haas, deputy editor

Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost is one of my favorite memoirs—a book about illness without sentimentality, let alone self-pity; about the supernatural, without the woo-woo; about motherhood without children:

You come to this place, midlife. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led. All your houses are haunted by the person you might have been. The wraiths and phantoms creep under your carpets and between the warp and weft of your curtains, they lurk in wardrobes and lie flat under drawer liners. You think of the children you might have had but didn’t. When the midwife says, “It’s a boy,” where does the girl go? When you think you’re pregnant, and you’re not, what happens to that child that has already formed in your mind? You keep it filed in a drawer of your consciousness, like a short story that wouldn’t work after the opening lines.

—Emily Stokes, editor

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Note: When PG checked Amazon’s Wolf Hall page, the Kindle version had been reduced to $2.99

Nation of Victims

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘I worry that this book has all been in vain,” writes Vivek Ramaswamy in the last pages of “Nation of Victims.” He fears that the American liberals he so badly wants to reach will simply brush him away as an Uncle Tom or a “Dinesh”—after Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian-American conservative whose name, for many, has become a byword for partisan hackery. He worries that people will dismiss him for “just spouting conservative talking points,” which liberals find especially indigestible when delivered by a non-white person.

Mr. Ramaswamy is Indian-American and has been, he tells us, politically conservative since he was in the sixth grade in Ohio. A self-made magnate, he founded a biotech company at age 28, eight years ago. He is now a robust commentator on current affairs, contributing from time to time to the features pages of this newspaper. His last book, “Woke, Inc.” (2021), took corporate America to the woodshed for its cynical—and lucrative—embrace of “social justice.” He has dissed Davos as “the Woke Vatican.”

In “Nation of Victims,” Mr. Ramaswamy turns his burning gaze on identity politics in America, blaming it for “the death of merit.” A first-generation American, he laments the fact that his America is no longer the country that his parents came “halfway around the world to join.” He doesn’t quite say that the American Dream is dead—he is too much of an optimist for that—but he does believe that “we’re not a nation that tells itself Horatio Alger stories anymore.”

As if to underscore the point, he feels the need to explain who Alger was—a writer who “made a name for himself in the 1800s writing rags-to-riches young adult novels” about poor boys who made good through honesty, hard work and luck. Alger isn’t read any longer in America. Mr. Ramaswamy wonders, mischievously, whether he might be resurrected by letting it be known that Alger was gay. We have been, he writes—pursuing his subversive advocacy a little further—“erasing a prominent gay author from American history, and representation matters.”

In Mr. Ramaswamy’s telling, the Alger “trope” illustrates how America, once a “nation of underdogs,” has become a nation of “incumbents”—a word he uses as a synonym for victims. The underdog American endured the hardships dealt to him by fate and strove to overcome them by making demands of himself. The incumbent American, by contrast, complains of hardships being thrust upon him by others, “the evildoers who commit racist acts, the perpetrators who steal elections.” And so these others owe him his rescue, his salvation. Today’s America has two options: either “closing off victimhood as a path to success” or forsaking the merit-based culture that is in “our national DNA.”

“Nation of Victims” makes a passionate, persuasive case for the first of those options. As such, it is a polemical companion to the oeuvre of Shelby Steele—who has spent a lifetime making an elegant and irrefutable case for the repudiation of the culture of black victimhood—and to John McWhorter’s “Woke Racism” (2021), which teaches weary Americans how to fight the virus of political correctness.

. . . .

Intriguingly, Mr. Ramaswamy suggests that the roots of American victimhood lie in the defeat of the South in the Civil War and the Lost Cause movement, which claimed the Confederates would have won but for the mistakes of a few ignoble generals. Prominent among them is James Longstreet, blamed by Lost Causers for the crushing defeat at Gettysburg. Mr. Ramaswamy makes a game attempt to burnish the reputation of Longstreet and argues—no doubt looking for a fight—that his name might replace Bragg’s in any rebranding of American military installations. Bragg, of the eponymous fort, was “a hapless general who lost almost every battle.” Longstreet, says Mr. Ramaswamy, was a better man: He became a Republican after the war, supporting Reconstruction and rekindling his prewar friendship with Ulysses S. Grant.

Victimhood also has constitutional roots, the book argues, describing how notions such as substantive due process and strict scrutiny have empowered an activist judiciary to “correct defects in the democratic process that had allowed majorities to oppress minorities.” Mr. Ramaswamy is at his weakest in his discussion of the 14th Amendment—whose due-process clause has led to much thorny jurisprudence. In his breezy armchair originalism, in which he seeks the amendment’s authentic meaning, he glides past almost all recent scholarship on the subject. Yet a few inexpert pages on American law don’t detract from his compelling conclusion that what we witness in the U.S. today is a form of “constitutional oppression Olympics.”

African-Americans, he writes, have become enshrined by precedent as “the gold standard of constitutional victimhood.” There were periods in American history when racism was so rampant that it “demanded a comprehensive societal response.” But the book insists that the need has passed. Now, in the name of anti-racism, we risk exacerbating the very problem we seek to solve. Mr. Ramaswamy gives us the example of a young Indian-American protege, a STEM-loving kid who was rejected from every college he applied to in favor of non-Asian applicants whose SATs were significantly lower than his. Heartbreaking questions tormented this young man: “What’s wrong with me? What do they have that I don’t?” What liberals miss, says Mr. Ramaswamy in response, is that they create new and genuine victims by their “ruthless pursuit of social justice,” in which some races are elevated over others in a hierarchy of victimhood.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Longest single-volume book in the world goes on sale – and is impossible to read

From The Guardian:

A limited edition single volume of the long-running manga One Piece is being billed as the longest book in existence.

At 21,450 pages, it is physically impossible to read, making it less of a book and more of a sculpture.

Priced at €1,900 (£1,640), the book isn’t credited to Eiichiro Oda, the writer and artist behind One Piece, which has been serialised in Japanese magazine Shōnen Jump every week since 1997. It is being sold instead as the work of Ilan Manouach, the multidisciplinary artist who has designed the limited edition volume, which is titled ONEPIECE.

Manouach printed out the Japanese digital edition of One Piece and bound it together, treating the comic not as a book but as “sculptural material”, according to the book/ artwork’s French publisher JBE.

A spokesperson for JBE told the Guardian that ONEPIECE is an “unreadable sculpture that takes the shape of a book – the largest one to date in page numbers and spine width – that materialises the ecosystem of online dissemination of comics.” Whatever it is classed as, there certainly seems to be a market for ONEPIECE – the limited edition run of 50 copies sold out within days of its release on 7 September.

Manouach’s piece came about because of the “profusion of available online content and the rampant digitisation of the comics industry” which “challenges the state-of-the-art of comics craftsmanship”, according to his publisher. “Ilan Manouach’s ONEPIECE proposes to shift the understanding of digital comics from a qualitative examination of the formal possibilities of digital comics to a quantitative reappraisal of ‘comics as Big Data’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

There are photos of the book at the link.

Majority of library services ‘actively considering’ taking part in a warm bank scheme

From The Bookseller:

The majority of library services are actively considering taking part in a “warm bank” scheme according to a recent survey carried out by charity Libraries Connected. However, only 4% expect to receive any extra funding. 

A snapshot survey of more than 50 library leaders showed 59% intend to take part in such a scheme – which allow visitors to use the facility to keep warm – while 88% plan to signpost vulnerable users to charities and other council departments and 76% plan to offer advice and information on reducing household bills, saving energy and tackling debt.

The results are presented in the charity’s new briefing note Supporting the Vulnerable This Winter, which also revealed 61% of services plan to provide additional activities such as games and crafts to keep people amused for long periods of time, while 43% plan to serve hot drinks and 39% plan to install extra desks and comfortable chairs for those using libraries to keep warm.

. . . .

“Libraries are warm, free and accessible spaces, located in our town centres, high streets and villages. As such they are ideally placed to help those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis this winter, whether that’s with a cuppa, a good book and a comfy chair or specialist debt advice. 

“A relatively small investment across the library network could have a huge impact, allowing libraries to use their local knowledge and connections to provide targeted support at this critical time.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG did a little extra research on warm banks and discovered that some UK art galleries are also expected to participate.

PG is not an expert on how this is likely to evolve in the UK, but in the US, especially in larger cities, warm banks could end up being filled with homeless people who, unfortunately, may bring other problems.

For the record, PG is in favor of programs to keep the homeless warm and fed during cold winter months (and at other times), but some of the libraries’ and galleries’ regular clientele might be a bit concerned, especially if they have children with them.

But PG could be entirely wrong.

Google Sees Russia Coordinating With Hackers in Cyberattacks Tied to Ukraine War

Not really anything to do with books, but PG found this interesting.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A growing body of evidence suggests that pro-Russian hackers and online activists are working with the country’s military intelligence agency, according to researchers at Google.

Western officials and security experts are interested in the possible Kremlin links because it would help explain Moscow’s intentions both inside and outside Ukraine despite recent military setbacks that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin this week to announce a mobilization push.

Officials in the U.S. and Europe have warned throughout the war that Russian hackers could lash out against Ukraine’s allies by targeting critical infrastructure and governments with cyberattacks, but so far that has largely failed to materialize.

Over the past few months, Google’s Mandiant cybersecurity group has observed apparent coordination between pro-Russian hacking groups—ostensibly comprising patriotic citizen hackers—and cyber break-ins by Russia’s military intelligence agency, or GRU. In four instances, Mandiant says it observed hacking activity linked to the GRU in which malicious “wiper” software was installed on a victim’s network.

The initial wiper software caused disruption by destroying computer systems across the organization. Then, the hacktivists entered the picture. After each of these hacks—within 24 hours of the wiping—the hacktivist organizations have published data stolen from the same organizations.

Three pro-Russian hacktivist groups have been involved, according to Mandiant, which was acquired by Google in a deal that closed earlier this month. They are called XakNet Team, Infoccentr and CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn.

Combined with the other activity related to the war, this has created an unprecedented situation, Mandiant said, in a report on the hacktivists set to be released on Friday. “We have never previously observed such a volume of cyberattacks, variety of threat actors, and coordination of effort within the same several months,” the report states.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

In Defense of Library Lending

From Publishers Weekly:

The Hachette v. Internet Archive case has been in the press lately following the parties’ filing of summary judgment motions. But the case is not about the end of copyright as we know it, as Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid implied in his July 18 PW Soapbox, “Standing Up for Copyright.” Nor is it a “torpedo” aimed at the Copyright Act, as AAP CEO Maria Pallante said in a recent PW q&a. Rather, the case concerns the special role of libraries to provide open, nondiscriminatory access to books.

At issue in the publishers’ lawsuit is a practice called controlled digital lending, the principles of which my colleague Dave Hansen and I codified in a 2018 white paper. Under CDL, libraries (including the Internet Archive) make scans of their legally acquired physical books and loan the scans in lieu of the print under rules that mimic physical lending: only one person can borrow a scan at a time; the scans are DRM-protected; and only one format can circulate at a time to maintain a one-to-one “owned-to-loan” ratio. In other words, if the scan is checked out, its print counterpart cannot circulate, and vice versa.

As librarians see it, CDL is a traditional checkout function adapted for the needs of the modern library user. Under the Copyright Act, libraries have always been free to lend the books they have legally acquired without permission or having to pay additional fees. So why are these major publishers suing over CDL?

Because some publishers want to force libraries into a world in which digital books can’t be owned and can only be licensed (through services like OverDrive, for example), usually at significantly higher prices and under restrictive terms. Central to their lawsuit, the publishers argue that a library loan via CDL represents a lost license fee. And while I understand why these large corporate publishers would like to force libraries into an expensive, limited, non-negotiated, and highly profitable licensed access market for e-books, libraries should not have to buy (and rebuy) expensive, time-limited licenses to provide digital access to the physical books they have already purchased.

In her PW q&a, Pallante claimed that CDL will “irrevocably weaken the ability of authors to license their works.” In fact, a scan of a legally acquired print library book loaned under CDL does not negatively impact the market for publishers or authors. To the extent that a library loan has any impact on the marketplace, a digital loan under CDL is no different than the loan of the print book. Look at it this way: no one disputes that a library can mail a print book it owns to a patron. With CDL, libraries can now deliver access to their physical books using a more efficient means: the internet. And if a book’s digital checkout under CDL is controlled to function just like the physical checkout, what difference does it make whether a patron borrows the library’s physical book or the library’s scan of that book?

Pallante suggests such efficiency is a bad thing, citing the publishers’ long expressed desire for “friction” in digital library lending. But having legally purchased their physical books, the IA and its partner libraries are entitled under copyright law to lend them. Nothing in the Copyright Act requires there be any amount of friction in the lending process. Copyright law does not protect friction.

It is time for the major publishers to stop treating each library loan as a lost consumer sale. In his Soapbox, Kupferschmid complained that the IA has “amassed a collection without paying the rights holders a cent.” In fact, the books were paid for. These are the books that sit on our libraries’ shelves or in our off-site repositories. They were all purchased by a library or otherwise legally acquired, and the authors were all paid in accordance with their publishing contracts. Furthermore, this is what libraries do: amass and preserve collections that serve an important, fundamental purpose in society long recognized and valued by the public, courts, Congress, as well as by publishers and authors.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says traditional publishers still hate ebooks, even though ebook license revenue includes virtually none of the costs associated with dealing with printed books – printing, warehousing, shipping, dealing with returns of unsold books, etc., etc., etc.

To maximize profit in a perfect publishing world, a savvy publisher would go ebook only and be a pure ecommerce company.

Of course, more than a few intelligent authors would wonder whether they really needed a publisher when they could upload their ms. to Amazon and receive a much larger share of the selling price.

PG is not privy to the conversations traditional publishers are having among themselves, but he suspects they are very worried about their financial futures. They’re riding a sick horse if they keep trying to prop up printed book sales other than on a POD basis. Traditional bookstores won’t all disappear overnight, but PG anticipates there will be a drip, drip, drip diminution in the number of physical bookstores.

He’ll put up a quote about this right after he posts this item.

Amazon Is Changing Its Ebook Return Policy in Major Breakthrough for Authors

From The Authors Guild:

The Authors Guild is proud to report that our discussions with Amazon’s senior executive team concerning the platform’s policy that allows readers to return ebooks online within seven days of purchase, regardless of the amount read, have resulted in a major breakthrough. Yesterday, Amazon informed us of its plans to change its ebook return policy to restrict automatic returns to purchases where no more than 10 percent of the book has been read.

The planned change will go into effect by the end of the year. Any customer who wishes to return an ebook after reading more than 10 percent will need to send in a customer service request, which will be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the return request is genuine and complies with Amazon’s policies against abuse. This process will create a strong deterrent against buying, reading, and returning ebooks within seven days, and readers who attempt to abuse the return policy will be penalized under Amazon’s policies. The Authors Guild and the Society of Authors, its counterpart organization in the U.K., had taken up this issue with Amazon’s senior executives earlier this year. We applaud the scores of indie authors who advocated for this change.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG notes that traditional publishers will also experience a financial gain as well, more than the author will.

Tedious Anti-Copyright Stance of EFF is Not About Protecting Anyone

From The Illusion of More:

Welp (as the kids say), it looks like Katherine Trendacosta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found an old PowerPoint deck from 2012 and used it to write a new post ominously titled Hollywood’s Insistence on New Draconian Copyright Rules Is Not About Protecting Artists.

Typical of the EFF playbook, Trendacosta devotes an entire post maligning the motion picture industry rather than address the “rule” (the SMART Act), which she does not even mention until the final paragraph. At that point, the reader is meant to take her word for it that the proposed legislation is bad because—believe it or not—there is too much diversity and choice in the streaming market, and because film producers want to make money.

Ms. Trendacosta calls streaming a “hellscape” where consumers cannot find what they want and/or where shows and films are canceled or moved to different platforms. She writes, “It’s disingenuous for Hollywood’s lobbyists to claim that they need harsher copyright laws to protect artists when it’s the studios that are busy disappearing the creations of these artists.”

“Hellscape” is a bit dramatic as critiques go, given that market research indicates that 74% of consumers report being satisfied with streaming and that those numbers are currently trending upward. Of course, the anti-copyright playbook Trendacosta is using tells her to imply that when producers make market decisions to stop producing a given work, or to move a work from one channel to another, this is “disappearing” material that should be available in perpetuity. In fact, she inscrutably cites the “disappearance” of a film which is temporarily being made available in a new 4K cinema format and will return to streaming in a matter of months. Hellish, no?

Perhaps Trendacosta is unaware that we are enjoying a new golden age of filmed entertainment available on—or produced especially for—the private screen market. Streaming models have fostered a diverse range of projects that would never have been made, let alone been sustainable, in the narrower distribution paradigms pre-Netflix. But a reality of all this bounty is that more experimentation and risk-taking means that a higher volume of material will be canceled or redistributed more frequently as audiences respond to what gets made. That’s just the business of making entertainment media, and the EFF always acts as if the business is what makes efforts to mitigate piracy somehow dishonest or sinister.

Here, Trendacosta digs a little deeper into the big box of EFF’s toys and argues that ordinary tensions that arise among studios and talent—including strikes and financial disagreements—are evidence that the parties seeking remedies to piracy “don’t care about artists.” True to form, the folks at EFF pretend to care about artists by erecting a false dichotomy between the creators who work on projects and Hollywood, where “Hollywood” is a generic term to describe a monolith that does not exist.

. . . .

So, what is the supposedly “harsh” new piracy remedy that EFF is opposing this time?
The Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies (SMART) Act is a legislative response to the fact that for more than 25 years, Big Tech has refused to fulfil its side of the bargain struck with the adoption of Section 512 of the DMCA. Simply put, Section 512(i) requires online service providers to collaborate with copyright owners to develop standard technical measures (STM) to identify and expeditiously remove infringing content from internet platforms.

But not only did the development of STM never quite happen, the Googles and Facebooks of the world, who came after the OSPs that negotiated the DMCA, benefitted from mass infringement on their platforms because the DMCA shielded them from liability.

SMART seeks to address more than two decades of stonewalling by adding a new Section 514 to the DMCA that would create new remedies to confront Big Tech’s refusal to adopt appropriate and affordable technical measures to reduce online piracy. At the same time, its proposals would protect smaller and less well-resourced service providers by calling for a variety of tailored and practical technical measures to be developed under a multi-stakeholder process overseen by the Librarian of Congress.

This is what the EFF is calling “draconian”—a proposal to restore the intent of the DMCA as it was enacted in 1998. SMART is the first substantive response to Big Tech’s two big lies: 1) We can’t do it; and 2) We shouldn’t do it because it will chill speech. Those arguments have worn paper thin in recent years given the role these same companies have played in fostering the most toxic, Republic-shaking nonsense ever to be “freely spoken.” But credit where it’s due. At least Ms. Trendacosta didn’t say SOPA.

Link to the rest at The Illusion of More and thanks to C. for the tip.

You’ve Burned Out. Now What?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

For most of 2018, my solitaire app was my drug of choice. I could lie on my old, blue couch and play simulated cards for hours. And I had hours to kill because I was avoiding any and all work. I spent my mornings with students in classes, passing time by going through the well-rehearsed motions of teaching and mentoring, pretending I was fine before racing to my car and heading home to the couch. I retreated to solitaire after every trip to campus. It was a way of vaporizing time I “should” have been using for writing, planning classes, going to meetings, and generally being productive. But I just kept playing, win or lose, feeling ashamed of my laziness.

I must have played thousands of hands of solitaire, comforted by the logic of the game, the tedium, and the fact that solitaire wanted nothing from me except to turn the next card. The people on campus wanted things from me, expected a version of me that would shatter in a mental breakdown before Christmas later that year. That expected version of me had played the higher-ed game at a high level for her corner of academe — she published regularly, had a book with a highly respected university press, was a liked if challenging teacher, and actively served her institution (Elon University) and discipline (professional writing and rhetoric). She had a reputation for getting things done.

That was not me anymore. I had burned out, and it shocked my system to the core. It had been building for years: Every department meeting had to be maximally efficient, every class had to be perfect, every opportunity to show leadership had to be fully taken advantage of. The perfectionism and pressure had gradually worn me down. Sometimes after class, I’d stand frozen in an empty stairwell, trying to decide what to eat for lunch, as if it were the biggest decision of my life. I dreaded running into anyone — student or colleague. I had panic attacks over going into my office — even though it’d been my workplace for a decade.

And for all this I felt deep shame. Before my burnout diagnosis I didn’t have a language or rationale for what was happening to me. The brain fog, decision fatigue, panic attacks, inability to do any work that wasn’t publicly performative, the solitaire addiction: What was happening to me? I truly had no idea. The message I initially took away from my diagnosis was that I just wasn’t good enough anymore, and that higher ed would spit me out for falling short of the very productivity goals I’d once prided myself on. The idea that I was “a burnout” was crushing to my personal and professional identity. And I believed that once people found out about my burnout, it would be all over. So I waited, one game of solitaire at a time.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” By calling it a syndrome, WHO avoids defining it as a mental illness per se, instead as a collection of related symptoms, under the umbrellas of (1) exhaustion, (2) cynicism or depersonalization, and (3) feelings of reduced professional efficacy. When experiencing those symptoms, our ability to manage stress is lessened, making it easier for stress to compound and manifest in physical, emotional, and intellectual ways.

My experience aligned with that definition. I was exhausted, physically unwell, emotionally volatile, intellectually blank. I had distanced myself from everyone related to the university. I deeply questioned if anything I did really mattered. When I took the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the most widely accepted research instrument to determine levels of burnout, I scored almost off the charts. I had nothing left to give, it turned out, even though my work demanded more and more of me. But it wasn’t all my fault. As Kevin R. McClure put it in these pages, “burnout isn’t just about people struggling to cope with stress; it’s about people struggling in workplaces where stress never subsides.”

The most important words in the WHO definition are “chronic workplace stress.” Burnout is a workplace phenomenon. Burnout is systemic; it’s a product of workplace cultures that value productivity above all else. Burnout is also a product of higher ed, a culture where productivity infuses everything we do, and where the longest CV wins. Wins what, I’m not sure. More work? In this vein, Jonathan Malesic argues that “burnout isn’t a failure of productivity but the continuation of productivity despite lacking the strength it takes to produce.” Burnout occurs when productivity becomes toxic.

Higher ed, as a culture, espouses the values of lifelong learning, discovery, contribution to a better world, and striving for excellence — all wrapped up in a view of the academy as a calling. Professors change the world through research and teaching. I love those values as ideals. In a sense, I gave myself completely over to them, to the cultural imperative that the vaunted halls of academe call only a few and that fewer still can belong in the long term. For me and for many faculty members with whom I’ve spoken, the idea of being “called” caused us to overcommit to our work, which, in turn, set us up for burnout.

When you “do what you love” — when you have a calling instead of just a job in higher ed — it’s easy to slowly give more and more of yourself to work. The heart of academic culture is an orientation toward competitive productivity. This is why we take work-related reading with us on family trips. This is why we check our email incessantly, regardless of where we are and whom we are with. This is why holiday breaks are spent revising and resubmitting. This is why we have colleagues we constantly measure ourselves against. Success is bound up in higher ed’s other core values: productivity, achievement, and the ability to keep up with the expectation escalation and ladder-climbing of the academic career trajectory. The “publish or perish” mentality is alive and well across higher ed, despite what this ideological imperative can do to one’s mental health and well-being. Amid this culture, intellectual joy and community are diminished greatly.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

PG notes that authors can burn out as well.

Burnout is so common among lawyers that many bar associations provide lots of information in the form of in-person or recorded presentations about symptoms of burnout and where to go if feel you may be edging toward burnout. Burnout task forces, burnout hotlines, etc., are also commonly sponsored by bar associations, often with contributions from legal malpractice insurance companies.

Here’s a link to one lawyer burnout article that PG thinks isn’t behind a paywall. Here’s another. Here’s a link to a lawyer burnout study sponsored by The California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar (District of Columbia, e.g. Washington DC). Here’s a link to an article about Identifying and Managing Attorney Anxiety published by the General Practice/Solo Section of the American Bar Association.

Moving away from attorneys, here’s a link to a World Health Organization report titled, “COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.”

Smart Brevity

From The Wall Street Journal:

“I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” The remark, attributed by the authors of “Smart Brevity” to Mark Twain, nicely sums up the book’s theme: It’s hard, time-consuming work to say a thing briefly, but the work pays off. In fact, Twain wrote no such thing—the remark, in a slightly different form, belongs to Blaise Pascal. But the point is still valid.

The authors of “Smart Brevity” are Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, co-founders of the aggressively to-the-point news website Axios. Messrs. Allen and VandeHei left Time magazine and the Washington Post, respectively, for Politico, which Mr. VandeHei co-founded, in 2007. Before Axios, which began in 2016, Mr. Schwartz worked for Politico and Gallup.

The book is written in the style of an Axios news article: A one- or two-sentence lede, a terse paragraph labeled WHY IT MATTERS or THE BIG PICTURE, followed by a few short bullet-pointed paragraphs. The authors developed this style, which they call Smart Brevity, when they realized that consumers of news in the 21st century, overwhelmed by words issuing from every direction, generally don’t read news articles; they skim them, or glance at the headline and the first sentence or two. Their solution: If you want to influence people through the medium of words, use fewer of them. “Strong words, shorter sentences, arresting teases, simple visuals and smartly organized ideas,” they write, “transform writing from unnoticed to vital—and remembered.”

“The Elements of Style” and many other guidebooks enjoin writers to omit needless phrases, delete unnecessary modifiers, use active verbs, and so on. You get all that here, but Messrs. VandeHei, Allen and Schwartz write for the online era of short attention spans and verbal incontinence.

They have a point. Most books and essays published these days are too long: gummed up with adjectives and pointless asides, laden with prolix displays of expertise. Many news articles, too, are repetitive, full of vague insinuation, and include figures and quotations whose import is not apparent. Then there are the ordinary modes of written communication. You have not experienced periphrastic confusion until you have tried to read emails from your child’s public school about matters that ought to be simple but, for reasons that perplex the greatest minds, are not—picture days, pick-up times, grade reports.

“Something went haywire in our evolutionary journey that turned us into long-winded blowhards armed with a few fancy words in reserve,” the authors write.

That “something” was, of course, the internet. Messrs. VandeHei, Allen and Schwartz don’t discuss the difference between print reading and screen reading, but it’s worth some reflection. An email or a web article can hold an infinite number of words. The temptation to keep issuing verbiage is too great, the discipline of economy too taxing, for most writers to bear. The printed page, by contrast, although it doesn’t guarantee good writing, does impose limits. If you are reading these words in print, you will note that the review comes to an end near the bottom of the page, where the dead-tree real estate reaches its end.

. . . .

Maybe the Axios style is the future of written communication. If so, please kill me.

I don’t get the bullet points, for one thing. The book’s short chapters are written in paragraphs, as all writing in English is, but about two thirds of these paragraphs have little dots to the left. “The bullet point is a wonderful way to isolate important facts or ideas,” the authors write. Maybe so, but the excessive use of bullets leads you to wonder why some bulleted paragraphs have no important facts or ideas, and some nonbulleted ones do. And anyway why am I thinking more about these little dots than about the subject matter? It’s a fine way to read if you want to go insane.

. . . .

The worst thing about “Smart Brevity,” though, is the way the Axios style does the work of interpretation for the reader. News journalism at its best presents you with an array of observable circumstances and no definite conclusion. The arrangement of those circumstances is itself an act of interpretation, to be sure, but in the end the journalist leaves it to readers to decide what it all means. 

Not in the world of Smart Brevity™. There you’re simply told WHY IT MATTERS and THE BOTTOM LINE and, in its online manifestation, if you doubt the reporter’s construal you’re invited to click the words GO DEEPER and read some other article. “Don’t make your readers pick what’s important!” the authors exclaim to reporters. “You’ve mastered your content, honed your idea and know what matters.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

If you’ve never seen Axios, here’s a link.

Running an Olsen Twins Fan Page Taught Me to Craft an Online Identity

From Electric Lit:

Before my online life orbited around Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, my imaginative play centered on being Mary-Kate and Ashley. The twins were girls like me, except cuter and blonde. A bit older. Certainly smaller, but still, larger than life. They were influencers before the advent of social media. Their empire was built upon their ability to successfully monetize the self. 

 “Do you want to be Mary-Kate or Ashley?” I’d ask my neighbor, Megan, as we waded through the creek by her house. Megan always wanted to be Mary-Kate. That’s why I’d given her a choice. 

Mary-Kate was marketed as sporty and adventurous. Ashley was stylish and demure. Who you chose aligned with the girl you hoped to be – and for me, that was the most feminine girl, the most perfect of girls, everything I’d been told a girl should be. 

We divvied up the twins and mimicked plot lines from their direct-to-video mystery and You’re Invited! series, pretending to solve crimes in our neighborhood cul-de-sac, planning occasion-less parties in the garden. Everything the twins marketed was rooted in a reality that could theoretically be replicated – a reality more exciting and beautiful than the mundane life of a rural West Virginia girl.

By the time the Olsens were in elementary school, their manager, Robert Thorne, began the work that would lead to their jaw dropping fortune. No longer just child actresses, they became a brand. Their faces appeared all over Walmart, one of the only places to shop in our small town. As my mom filled up her grocery cart, I strolled the dimly lit makeup aisles where I spotted the Mary-Kate and Ashley line: jelly lip glosses and creamy eye shadows in a variety of catching colors. Their makeup boasted no specific cosmetic improvement. Not longer lashes or brighter skin or stronger nails. The only brag was the association.

I walked to the middle of the store, to their girls’ clothing line targeted to tweens, those in-between childhood and adolescence. There, I picked out one of their tank tops to purchase with my allowance money, a flimsy piece of fabric in aquamarine, its back a maze of strings. 

“I don’t know,” my mom said as I held the shirt up in the freezer section of the grocery store, harsh lighting barely illuminating the small rhinestones sewn into the fabric for embellishment. “You wouldn’t be able to wear a bra with that.” 

“I don’t need a bra,” I argued, though my mother and I both knew that I certainly did. I could tell she was about to say this, though she stopped herself, perhaps for fear that my response to being punished for breasts would be continued attempts to starve them away. 

“You can only wear it around the house,” she said.

“In the neighborhood?” 

“I don’t know. Certainly not out.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What Not to Say When Writing a Novel

From The Writer’s Nook:

When writing, it’s often just as important knowing what not to say, as it is knowing what to include, and this clearly includes all writing, but from my perspective, it’s easier to perceive when expressed through the eyes of my fictional characters and my very real readers.

As always, you don’t want to waste your readers time. Nor do you want the story’s pacing to lag, or the story to ebb and flow, so you need to be as concise as possible, cutting whatever you say to the bone. Yet still, there’s much more involved than just that.

Traditionally, new authors tend to do ‘data dumps’, where they simply create a rich intricate back story, and then dump the entire thing in the readers lap, creating a virtually unreadable mishmash of undecipherable gibberish. The obvious problem here, isn’t that the back story isn’t vital, but that readers simply can’t process that much information all at once.

Instead, it’s best to parse that information out over time, revealing each separate detail of their past one at a time, when it’ll have the maximum impact and the greatest relevance to the story. In essence, you parse the vital information out a single nugget at a time, getting the reader used to such emotional revelations, so they’re eagerly awaiting the next.

Yet, once more, that’s only a small part in what not to include in a story. Ultimately, if you tell the reader everything they want to know, you’re actively keeping the reader at bay, shoving them out of the story, so you can tell them everything, which is clearly a mistake. To make the story personal for readers, you need to pull them into the story with you and allow them to solve the inherent mysteries and solve the many conflicts, on their own.

Now this is by no means a simple process, but it’s a necessary one. Without this reader participation, the story will be all tell, and no show. All “John did this and Tom did that”, with no self-discovery or the reader actually feeling as if they’re living life through both John’s and Tom’s adventures.

The key to this sort of ‘non-detail’, is to lead the reader to the edge, giving them time and the encouragement, to figure the story details out for themselves. For the reader to feel a part of the story, they have to actively live the story, solving the crises, winning the girls (and boys) and playing a key role in the entire story!

Now, as usual, there are multiple techniques which help with this. Primarily, these consist of foreshadowing (ex: outlining things so that when they occur, the reader will understand why they’re so important to the overall story, rather than surprise ending which jar the reader right out of the story) and red-herrings, which intentionally lead the reader down unproductive dead ends, keeping them unsure of how things will turn out.

Link to the rest at The Writer’s Nook (on Quora)

Twelve Writers Bring Back Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

From Smithsonian Magazine:

In 1927, with the publication of her short story “The Tuesday Night Club,” Agatha Christie debuted a new and instantly iconic character: Miss Jane Marple, an elderly woman from a small British village, whose twee penchants for knitting and local gossip belie a cunning ability to crack killer crimes.

Christie did not expect Miss Marple to rival the popularity of Hercule Poirot, her meticulous Belgian detective who put his little grey cells to good work in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the novel that had catapulted Christie to literary fame the previous year. But readers loved the “fussy and spinsterish” Marple, whom Christie would go on to feature in 12 novels and 20 short stories. The detective made her final appearance in 1976’s Sleeping Murder, published the same year as Christie’s death.

But now, Miss Marple is making a comeback. As Sarah Shaffi of the Guardian reports, a new collection of short stories, sanctioned by the Christie estate, features 12 new Marple tales penned by a diverse lineup of contemporary women writers.

Simply titled Marple, the collection includes contributions by seasoned crime authors, like Val McDermid and Dreda Say Mitchell. But it also features stories by those who typically work in other genres, like the historical writers Kate Mosse and Natalie Haynes, and the fantasy author Leigh Bardugo.

The writers were asked to follow a set of guidelines. They had to set their stories within the time period in which Miss Marple exists in Christie’s work, and refrain from inventing new backstories for the detective. They were able to incorporate characters and events from the canon of Marple stories, but they were asked not to draw on plot points from other Christie books.

The project came with pressure to live up to the legacies of the “Queen of Crime” and one of her most beloved characters. “The greatest challenge was knowing that if I didn’t do this well, I would enrage many, many fans,” Jean Kwok tells Emily Burack of Town & Country.

But the new stories transcend mere emulations of Christie’s writing, with each author leaving her unique fingerprints on the narratives. Mitchell, for example, tells the Guardian that she is personally interested in the contributions of Caribbean women during the world wars, and thus has Miss Marple collaborate with Miss Bella, “a former member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force whom Miss Marple met in an air raid shelter.” Kwok used to read Christie’s novels as “a poverty-stricken first-generation immigrant” who had moved to New York City from Hong Kong; she has her Miss Marple travel to Hong Kong on a cruise ship—with an “untimely death aboard,” of course.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books

From The New Yorker:

You were a girl who wanted to choose your own adventures. Which is to say, you were a girl who never had adventures. You always followed the rules. But, when you ate an entire sleeve of graham crackers and sank into the couch with a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you got to imagine that you were getting into trouble in outer space, or in the future, or under the sea. You got to make choices every few pages: Do you ask the ghost about her intentions, or run away? Do you rebel against the alien overlords, or blindly obey them?

This was the late eighties in Los Angeles. You binged on these books, pulling tattered sun-bleached copies from your bookshelf: four, five, six in the course of a single afternoon. All over the country, all over the world, other kids were pulling these books from their bookshelves, too. The series has sold more than two hundred and seventy million copies since its launch, in 1979. It’s the fourth-best-selling children’s-book series of all time. Its popularity peaked in the eighties, but the franchise still sells about a million books a year.

In “The Cave of Time,” the first book in the series, you discover a time-travelling cave whose tunnels carry you to Colonial Massachusetts, where you become a soap-maker’s apprentice; or to the Titanic, where your attempts to warn the captain are futile; or even to a version of the year 2022 that does not look much like our version of 2022 (more bike trails). The stated desire of your character (to return to your own time) is at odds with the actual desire of a reader (to have as many adventures as possible). You want to die in the jaws of a T. rex, or change the course of history by eating a sandwich. The warning at the beginning of the book tells you, “Remember—you cannot go back!” But of course you can go back, and you will. After the first few books, the warnings stop saying “You cannot go back!” They understand that going back is the point—not the making but the re-making of choices, the revocability of it all. In childhood, you get to take things back. It’s a small compensation for having very little power in the first place.

Choose books invited kids to exercise some agency, as they rattled around in these cages of limited possibility: millions of seven-year-olds who would someday become thirty-five-year-olds remembering with an aching nostalgia this early sense of freedom; this faith that, after every death, there would always be a do-over.

TWO DADS

The story of Choose Your Own Adventure is largely the tale of two men: Edward Packard, a lawyer who came up with the concept while telling bedtime stories to his two daughters (who sometimes wanted the protagonist to do different things), and R. A. (Ray) Montgomery, an independent publisher who put out Packard’s first book, in 1976, after all the big houses had rejected it. Each of them eventually went on to write nearly sixty titles in the series. During the next three decades, Packard and Montgomery (who died in 2014) weathered an evolving, sometimes fractious relationship. Each, at various points, pursued publishing ventures without the other. But together they were responsible for many of the most beloved titles in the series: Packard’s “The Cave of Time,” “Your Code Name Is Jonah,” “Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?,” and “The Mystery of Chimney Rock”; Montgomery’s “Journey Under the Sea,” “The Lost Jewels of Nabooti,” “Mystery of the Maya,” and “Prisoner of the Ant People.”

Both men went through divorces shortly before the series started gaining momentum, and ended up writing many of their books as single fathers. Their children remember helping their fathers invent and flesh out new scenarios: Packard’s daughter Andrea suggested the idea of a time-travelling cave; Montgomery’s sons, Anson and Ramsey, suggested cars (the Saab 900 Turbo, the Lancia Stratos) for “The Race Forever.” Packard paid his children thirty-five cents an hour to read his manuscripts and offer feedback: Which parts were boring? Which choices would kids enjoy? (Andrea, Anson, and Ramsey ended up writing for the franchise, publishing their first Choose books during college.)

Andrea recalls that time with her father felt even more precious after her parents divorced. (They split up when she was seven.) He would take her on weekend outings that emphasized experiment and tactile experience—encountering the world in concrete, physical ways—and Andrea sees the Choose books as another manifestation of this ethos: a way of encouraging kids to experience the world through exploration and curiosity. Andrea can still remember looking at her father’s diagrams for the books: the forking branches spidering across taped-together paper charts. To her, “those charts felt like houses of possibility.”

. . . .

THE STORYTELLER

When his daughters were young, Packard told them bedtime stories about a boy named Pete, a literary alter ego of Andrea’s. (Pete was also the name of a friend she had a crush on, but she thinks the character’s creation had more to do with her suspicion that boys had more freedom in the world.) At key junctures in the story, Packard would ask his daughters what they thought Pete should do next, and when they gave different answers he’d play out both possibilities. Packard remembers this innovation as a function of necessity—“If I’d been a better storyteller, we never would have gotten the form. . . . I’d get stumped, and ask the girls what should happen next”—but Andrea recalls it as an instance of his generosity. He wanted to give each girl her own ending, just as he was always meticulously fair in his distribution of snacks, compliments, and attention.

Andrea remembers bedtime stories with her dad as sacred—this was the time the kids got to be with him, after his long days working at a law firm in Manhattan and his lengthy train commutes back to their home, in suburban Connecticut. Eventually, Packard began using these commutes to turn his bedtime stories into his first book, “Sugarcane Island,” a story full of branching paths recounting Pete’s adventures on a remote island. Working on the manuscript offered Packard an escape from a law career he found largely unsatisfying. In 1969, Packard signed a contract with an agent, who submitted “Sugarcane Island” to various New York publishers and accumulated a stack of rejections. One editor thought it was more of a game than a book. Another said, “It’s hard enough to get children to read, and you’re just making it harder, with all these choices.”

THE SCENARIO BUILDER

On a Vermont ski vacation in 1975, years after getting rejected by every editor who read “Sugarcane Island,” Packard stumbled across a magazine article about a small publisher called Vermont Crossroads, run by a husband-and-wife team: Ray Montgomery and Constance Cappel. They were looking for inventive children’s literature. When he sent them “Sugarcane Island,” they were immediately excited by the concept. One of Montgomery’s jobs had been consulting as a scenario builder for the Peace Corps and for Con Edison, writing elaborate second-person roles for participants: “You are a construction worker in your mid-thirties. . . . Oil shortages worry you, but you believe a lot of it is bluff.” Packard’s book reminded him of those scenarios: their immersive perspectives, decision junctures, and forking paths.

Despite the couple’s enthusiasm, Vermont Crossroads didn’t have many resources to devote to promotion. Packard had to pitch in to help with the publishing costs. Montgomery Xeroxed sixty copies and gave them to a local teacher to pass out to her students as a kind of juvenile focus group. Asked if they found the book interesting, fifty-nine said yes—and the one who called it “boring” reported having read it nine times. When asked if they would give the book as a gift, only four students said no (one of whom explained, “I’d keep it”). Another student said, “In other books if you’re in a jungle and a snake was next to you, you would have to go away or stay still but in this book you can do both.”

“Sugarcane Island” went on to become one of Vermont Crossroads’s most successful books, selling more than five thousand copies, but both Packard and Montgomery believed that the idea had the potential to break out on a much larger scale. That’s when things got a bit messy, both personally and professionally. Montgomery and his wife separated (as Packard tells it, “she got the house, he got ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ ”); and both men tried (separately) to take the Choose Your Own Adventure concept to larger publishers. First, Packard signed a deal with J. B. Lippincott & Co., an imprint of Harper, and published two Choose books. His pitch for a third was rejected. Packard says that Montgomery, “miffed” that Packard had left Vermont Crossroads, approached Bantam, then part of Bertelsmann, with the concept on his own. Montgomery got a contract for six books. As Packard tells it, Bantam “wouldn’t sign the deal” without Packard’s involvement; as Montgomery’s widow, Shannon Gilligan, tells it, Montgomery’s sense of fairness, as well as a feeling that six books in a year was too much for one writer, inspired him to get Packard involved. However it happened, they eventually split the deal.

Andrea helped her father come up with the idea for “The Cave of Time” during a road trip. They were in his orange Volkswagen Squareback—with a stick holding up one window, and no seat belts in the back—going to see his mother on the North Fork of Long Island. Packard told his daughters and their younger brother that he had a contract with Bantam and he needed ideas. Andrea had recently gone spelunking at summer camp, crawling into a small cave beneath the main cave, farther than anyone else, and felt torn between exploring more—had anyone ever seen these tunnels?—and returning to safety. When she suggested the idea to her father—a cave whose deepest tunnels transported you through time—he said, “Great idea! Get started!,” and handed her a yellow composition pad. “The Cave of Time” credits Andrea with “concept, title, and editorial assistance,” and she has always received a percentage of the royalties.

At Bantam, Choose Your Own Adventure finally found the huge readership its creators always believed it could entice. A 1981 feature in the Times described a fourth-grade classroom with seven students all making different choices in “The Cave of Time.” Soon afterward, Packard was interviewed by Bryant Gumbel on the “Today” show. (He’d been hoping for Jane Pauley, whom he had a crush on.) At some point in the early eighties, Bantam decided that it wanted twelve books a year, so it got six from Packard and six from Montgomery.

The Choose franchise hit a generational sweet spot, alongside the rise of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. Back then, it was these text-based experiences which could most powerfully deliver the possibilities of interactive narrative.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Word Hero – AI Writing Tool

PG notes one of the commenters claims WordHero is just a front-end for an open-source AI writing program.

PG isn’t in a position to determine whether this comment is true or not, just that it was made.

The Power of Chiastic Story Structure

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

When writers put on their story theorist caps, nothing is more exciting than those moments when you get to recognize consistent patterns emerging within obvious story forms. This is the basis of all of our understanding (and musing) about story, including the chiastic story structure we’ve been studying these past few months.

Although writers sometimes think of story structure as something external (and therefore rather arbitrary) that we impose on a story in order to make it look a certain accepted way, it is actually just the opposite. Story structure, in all its many posited forms, is simply a record of the long-recognized patterns that have emerged from humankind’s millennia of stories.

By a certain point in the pursuit of story, most writers become familiar with what is now considered the “standard” Three-Act Structure. But as we’ve been exploring in this little series, another lesser-known pattern that emerges from this foundation is that of chiastic story structure. Sometimes called “ring structure,” a chiastic structure is one in which the two halves mirror each other in reverse order—in essence coming full circle.

In the last five posts, we’ve explored how all the major beats recognized in the Three-Act Structure are in fact inherently chiastic. We find important structural and symbolic links between all the following:

  • The Hook and Resolution
  • The Inciting Event and Climactic Moment
  • The First and Third Plot Points
  • The First and Second Pinch Points

And we also find a linked or mirrored structure inherent within itself at the story’s central pivot:

The Midpoint

. . . .

What Is Chiastic Story Structure?

As stated, chiastic structure is a literary technique of repetitive symmetry, designed to create insight and resonance through both comparison and contrast. We can witness chiasmus as a common technique in poetry, employing the pattern of “A, B, B, A” (and so on). It can also be used most simply on the sentence level, as we see in such famous sentences as:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.“–John F. Kennedy

“We shape our buildings, and afterward our buildings shape us.”–Winston Churchill

“All for one and one for all!”–Alexandre Dumas

“Man can be destroyed but not defeated. Man can be defeated but not destroyed.”–Ernest Hemingway

Chiastic structure is perhaps most famously recognized from ancient religious texts, including the Bible. Wikipedia shows the Genesis account of the flood to be structured like this:

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

PG notes that there are a great many links in the OP that lead to more extensive exploration of chiasmus. As usual, this post provides an overview of the OP, but may be confusing to some because of the omission of the links.

Chiasms and Chiastic structure have been around for a long time and, as mentioned above, the Bible (at least in its English translations) includes what may be some of the earliest examples.

From Bible Discernments:

Several European publications in the 1700’s and 1800’s discussed the symmetric arrangement of Scripture, the most notable being John Jebb and Thomas Boys. However, it was not until the 1920’s that Nils Lund published articles about the chiasmus in the United States. Since the 1980’s, there has been an increasing interest in the chiastic approach.

. . . .

One of the most comprehensive reviews of this writing style was prepared by Dr. David Dorsey in 1999. In that book, Professor Dorsey described the structure and meaning of each Old Testament book using this chiastic approach. Dorsey found that the chiastic approach is particularly frequent in Genesis, but he shows examples from every book in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Bible scholars have also found examples of the chiastic approach in every book, but some books are more known for them than others.

Rather than using the term chiasm, some scholars refer to this structure as a “chiasmus.” A few people refer to it as “inverted parallelism”, and still others use the term “symmetric parallelism.” No matter what it is called, this structure was widely used during Bible times as it appears to add emphasis.

Those who first identified this literary structure chose the word chiasmus because in the Greek, the letter chi looks like an ‘X’. In this illustration from Matthew 23:12, we see one line of the ‘X’ which relates the word “exalt” in the first and last; likewise, the word “humbles” is connected by the other line.

The 'X' shape of a simple chiasm

Chiasmus literally means “placing crosswise, diagonal arrangement.” Wade White gives this simple definition: “chiasmus is the reversal of elements in otherwise parallel phrases.”6 Simply put, each chiasm is a structured repetition of themes starting at the outside and moving to the center.

Many attempts have been made to define and redefine chiasms over the years: some see a very simple structure while others provide a wide number of exceptions that becomes very inclusive. In Joshua’s Spiritual Warfare, we will see that a chiasm achieves its importance when the central point provides profound insight into the verses; therefore, the general focus is on those with a more simple structure. Where the chiasm has been identified, the center point often gives clarity and understanding of the full intent of these Scriptures either by revealing what is otherwise hidden or by adding particular emphasis.

Within the Book of Joshua, Bible scholars typically focus on the use of the chiasms in chapters 2 and 22. On the World Wide Web, for example, it is very difficult to find sites where chiasms are identified in other parts of the Book of Joshua. Similarly, there has been no association of chiasms with spiritual warfare on the Internet. Someone may have written about it, but as of the writing of Joshua’s Spiritual Warfare, it simply does not stand out.

This book attempts to add to the general understanding of the chiastic approach, namely that the center point of a chiasm can often be applied to the battle known as spiritual warfare. This is particularly true in the Book of Joshua. It is my hope that each of us will come to a new level of understanding with regard to spiritual warfare. We will study how to recognize these chiastic patterns for ourselves so that as we read other books of the Bible, the Lord can speak to us in a new way. Oh the joy of discovering God’s word for today!

Link to the rest at Bible Discernments (footnotes and links omitted)

PG first came across chiasmus a very long time ago when he was analyzing the structure of a variety of poems in college.

The concluding lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats are a well-known example of chiasmus:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

You can find a bit more about chiasmus here.

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PG just received an email from D. about a plugin on TPV that allows registered visitors to subscribe to comments so they will be notified if someone makes a new comment on a post of interest.

PG tweaked the plugin and couldn’t find a specific problem, but hopes his tweaking has fixed the problem.

Today’s book bans might be more dangerous than those from the past

From the Washington Post:

Last year, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R) made national news when he released a list of more than 800 books that he wants to prohibit schools and libraries from carrying, inspiring conservative school districts across the nation to step up their own efforts. The majority of these books feature characters who, like many young Americans, are people of color, LGBTQ or both. Nationally, we are experiencing what many educators, librarians and journalists accurately have dubbed an unprecedented wave of censorship.

Of course, this is not the first time politicians and citizens have mobilized to ban books. During the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his allies waged a variety of censorship campaigns, with some Americans even participating in book-fueled bonfires. Political officials and mobilized parents, with conservative organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, pulled “subversive” books from library and store shelves in the late 1940s and early 1950s and intimidated librarians, teachers and store managers to keep them from stocking them.

But beyond a shared tenor of anxiety, Cold War book-banning campaigns and those of today differ substantially in strategy and effect. McCarthy-era book censorship was part of a much larger, coordinated campaign that used the federal and state governments to restrict other “subversive” art, including film and television. And, such efforts were international. In fact, one of the most successful efforts was the removal of books from Overseas Libraries, a network of American libraries under the jurisdiction of the State Department that served as an arm of cultural diplomacy.

But through it all, young people’s literature often escaped the attention of censors and, in fact, grew more diverse and more focused on young adolescents as an audience, anticipating the genre that we now call “young adult literature.”

This is because McCarthy-era book bans often focused on mass-adopted textbooks as the easiest way to control what students read. They cared most about two issues: anti-communism and race. Often, the two went hand in hand as civil rights activists were accused of holding communist beliefs. Textbooks, particularly social studies textbooks, that critiqued capitalism, economic equality or the health of American democracy were withdrawn from the classroom throughout the 1950s, and their publication was stopped entirely at times.

. . . .

Everywhere, parents were less likely to object to books that were part of their own education than recently published textbooks written by liberal college professors they had never heard of. And so, students in grades seven through 12 continued to read novels in English classes (“Silas Marner,” “Great Expectations” and “The Red Badge of Courage” were the three most commonly taught), along with plays and poetry. High school students read “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar” more than any other literary works. Adolescent literature instruction, in other words, consisted of literary classics steeped in familiar civic and ethical messages — about industry, integrity and self-sufficiency — that many students’ parents had also read when they were in school.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG notes that the Left Wing is just as liable to ban books and authors of which they disapprove as the Right Wing is.

See here and here for a discussion.

Making an Enemy of Luxury

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Following the English Revolution and a puritanical cultural interlude, the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 under Charles II commenced an age of excess. The new commercial wealth that began to be more widely dispersed by the century’s end set off a veritable explosion in the emulation of courtly and aristocratic styles. A much more indulgent attitude toward vice soon prevailed, and satirizing luxury thus became a leading theme in the literary utopias of this period. Memoirs Concerning the Life and Manners of Captain Mackheath (1728) comments on the epoch that:

There arose among us a general and uncommon desire of money, and after this an extraordinary appetite for power; the two great fundamentals of every evil. Avarice immediately overthrew all probity, and trust, and mutual confidence;…After this extraordinary change of property, virtue seemed to become vice, and vice, virtue; and all men inclined to think that if they had wealth, they had a right to everything;…and this poison having thus mixed with the blood and spirits of the people, they became weak and enervated: the desires of mankind after wealth being insatiable, were not to be diminished either by want or abundance. After this followed rapine, injustice, a general dissolution of morals; and in each man was found a desire after the goods of his neighbor, and the rich oppressed the poor without modesty or moderation.

Similarly, Memoirs of the Court of Lilliput (1727) laments that “wherever luxury and idleness presides, there will be room for pride, for vanity, and lust; and that led me to a reflection how much an elevated station is an enemy to virtue; and how greatly we deceive ourselves in believing that riches are the source of happiness.”

Another satire from 1744 contrasts the dissolute manners of Europe to those of Madagascar, and notes that “it is our own luxurious effeminacy that has stripped us out of our natural simplicity, and clothed us with the rags of dissimulation.” By contrast were the “happy people, unto whom the desire of gold hath not yet arrived,” for modern times “may be truly called the Age of Gold, / For it, both honor, love, and friends are sold.”

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing

From The Guardian:

Over the past year, Helen Gordon and I have been putting together Being a Writer, a collection of musings, tips and essays from some of our favourite authors about the business of writing, ranging from the time of Samuel Johnson and Grub Street, to the age of Silicon Roundabout and Lorrie Moore.

Researching the book, it quickly became obvious that there isn’t a correct way to set about writing creatively, which is a liberating thought. For every novelist who needs to isolate themselves in a quiet office (Jonathan Franzen), there’s another who works best at the local coffee shop (Rivka Galchen) or who struggles to snatch an hour between chores and children (a young Alice Munro).

Conversely, it also became apparent that alongside all this variety of approach, there are certain ideas and pieces of advice that many writers hold in common. In an 1866 letter to Mrs Brookfield, Charles Dickens suggests that: “You constantly hurry your narrative … by telling it, in a sort of impetuous breathless way, in your own person, when the people [characters] should tell it and act it for themselves.” Basically: SHOW DON’T TELL. Three words that will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a 21st-century creative writing class.

. . . .

Leo Tolstoy and HP Lovecraft – pick the hours that work best for you
Tolstoy believed in starting first thing: “I always write in the morning. I was pleased to hear lately that Rousseau, too, after he got up in the morning, went for a short walk and sat down to work. In the morning one’s head is particularly fresh. The best thoughts most often come in the morning after waking while still in bed or during the walk.”

Or stay up late as HP Lovecraft did: “At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

William Faulkner – read to write
“Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

Katherine Mansfield – writing anything is better than nothing
“Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Strangers to Ourselves

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Rachel Aviv was 6, she stopped eating. Psychiatrists diagnosed her with anorexia nervosa, a disorder typically brought on by reading magazines that present thinness as the ideal of femininity. But young Rachel was only just learning to read; she didn’t yet have a concept of ideal femininity. Her case was the earliest recorded onset of anorexia in America. During her hospitalization, she met other girls in the anorexia unit, including Hava, a 12-year-old whose circumstances mirrored her own. Both girls came from Jewish families (Rachel got the idea of fasting from Yom Kippur); had parents engaged in a long, hostile divorce; and heard derogatory jokes about obese people. But while Rachel soon began eating again and returned to normal life, Hava became a “career” anorexic—in and out of hospitals her entire life until her premature death in her early 40s.

Why do some people recover from mental illness and others don’t? Why doesn’t having insight into one’s condition provide a cure? By all accounts, Hava at 12 had excellent insight, precociously recorded in her journals; at 6, Rachel had none. In “Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us,” Ms. Aviv, now a staff writer for the New Yorker, draws on her own brush with mental illness to explore the limits of psychiatric frameworks for understanding minds in crisis.

The book unfolds in what are effectively case studies of subjects suffering from different disorders—depression, schizophrenia, psychosis—but these cases are not closed. They do not lend themselves to neat, scientific conclusions. Though the subjects come from different times and cultures, they all occupy what Ms. Aviv calls the “psychic hinterlands, the outer edges of human experience, where language tends to fail.” Ms. Aviv wanders out to these far reaches, reporting with deep empathy and nuance on a category of experience that, she acknowledges, she might not have recognized “if I hadn’t been there myself.”

The case of Ray Osheroff is notorious in psychiatric circles. In the late 1970s, Osheroff, a successful physician, was sent into a debilitating depression when his once-thriving dialysis company failed. Consumed by regret and thoughts of the parallel life in which “he could have been a great man,” Osheroff received psychoanalytic therapy at an institution called Chestnut Lodge. The ethos of Chestnut Lodge was that no cure was possible without self-knowledge—but self-knowledge did not cure Osheroff. It wasn’t until he left for another institution, which prescribed antidepressants, that he began to feel restored. In 1982, Osheroff sued Chestnut Lodge for negligence and malpractice. The case set up a conflict between two models of treatment—the psychoanalytic and the neurobiological.

In the end, though, medications failed Osheroff, too. In an unpublished memoir, he struggled to resolve the different theories of his illness. Which approach was correct? As Ms. Aviv writes, “he also sensed that any story that resolved his problems too completely was untrue, an evasion of the unknown.”

. . . .

In Minnesota, a young black mother named Naomi is terrified that her children’s lives will be blighted by racism. But her astute sociological observations bleed into psychosis. She believes she is being watched, and that the government is out to kill her children. During a July 4 celebration, she throws her 1-year-old twins off a bridge, then jumps, too, shouting, “Freedom!” Following Naomi’s years in prison for second-degree murder, Ms. Aviv examines the intersection of racism and mental illness, shining a light on the social forces that are often ignored in the treatment of black, brown and poor patients. “Mental-health institutions,” she writes, “were not designed to address the kind of ailments that arise from being marginalized or oppressed for generations.”

While Naomi is undertreated, a privileged white woman in Connecticut named Laura is overtreated. Diagnosed first with bipolar disorder, then later with borderline personality disorder, Laura is on 19 different medications over the course of 14 years until, suffering from emotional and sexual numbness, she decides to find out who she is without them. Her struggle, like the struggles of Osheroff, Bapu and Naomi, is not simply with mental illness but with narrative. “There are stories that save us, and stories that trap us,” Ms. Aviv writes, “and in the midst of an illness it can be very hard to know which is which.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

End Art Shame

From A Writer’s Notebook:

Stop being ashamed of being an artist.

Stop being ashamed of thinking of yourself as an artist, or of wanting to be one.

Making art, and/or wanting to make art, is just about the least shameful thing you can do. Whether your art is writing or painting or acting or something else, it should not be embarrassing. The most important person you need to please when it comes to making art is yourself.

The world has enough doubt and cynicism and general terrible feeling in it, without this unnecessary shame. Love something. Want something. Care about something. Do it with your whole heart.

Link to the rest at A Writer’s Notebook

I cannot

I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else – I can give my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.

Queen Elizabeth II

Feedback and Editing: The Right Eyes at the Right Time

From Writers Helping Writers:

Unless you wrote your book exclusively for your own satisfaction, once your creative vision is on the page, it’s time to zoom in on how the book works for readers. The key is getting the right kind of feedback for where you are in the revision and editing process—and dodging the kind that will pull you off track.

Much of this choice hinges on your editorial budget. You could do most or all these steps for yourself at no cost, but the quality of your book will reflect the quality of the production behind it. Most writers end up drawing on both free and paid feedback options.

Writing Feedback: Stage by Stage

With a newly complete manuscript Volunteer feedback is perfect at this stage of your book’s development. One or two alpha readers (often a spouse, critique partner, or close friend) provide that initial gut check on what’s hitting home and what’s missing the target.

During second and later drafts

As you continue working through early drafts, crowdsourced feedback continues to be your best bet. Lean on your peers in critique partners and groups, collecting enough opinions to sort out which point to genuine issues and which simply refer to personal taste.

Active drafting can be an opportunity for coaching or mentoring on story problems identified by critique buddies—a character arc that refuses to gel, saggy pacing, a general lack of zing—if your budget and time comfortably allow it. A little one-on-one help from a pro now could prevent you from filling your manuscript with pernicious errors that will inflate your editing rate down the line. (Incorrect use of dialogue tags and action beats, I’m looking at you!)

Before you’re ready for professional editing

Once you sense you’re nearing the limits of your ability to improve your book on your own, it’s time to bring in beta readers. Beta readers provide high-level, subjective, personal feedback such as “the pacing felt slow in the middle” or “I just didn’t like that character at all.”

Although paying for beta reading ensures the readers will finish the book and return feedback, it’s not necessary to hire a pro. In fact (unpopular opinion ahead), an editor is the wrong choice for beta reading. The reason is simple: Beta reading is not Editing Lite™. It’s designed to generate genuine reader reaction, not analysis from a trained professional.

When you’re ready for professional editing

When you’re ready for professional editing, marching in with a request for a particular type or level of editing puts you at risk of getting precisely what you ask for—whether your manuscript needs it or not. It would be like relying on Dr. Google to diagnose a physical ailment, then convincing a local doctor to prescribe strictly the medications and treatments you’ve decided you need.

Choose your editor with care. You deserve a specialist who resonates with you and your work, not whoever offers the lowest rates and immediate availability.

Once you’ve found the perfect editorial collaborator, let them recommend what your manuscript needs. Their recommendations should be based on what will best support your story, your writing, and your publishing goals. If your editor hasn’t reviewed all those points, you can’t be sure you’ll get what you need.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Why Britons love to queue

From The Economist:

Hundreds of thousands of Britons have responded to the death of Queen Elizabeth II in a very British way: by queuing. A line to see the queen lying in state started to form on September 12th, two days before viewings in Westminster Hall began. By the afternoon of September 15th the estimated waiting time in London was over eight hours. It will continue, day and night, until 6.30am on September 19th, the morning of her funeral. As the line snaked for miles along the Thames, observers reacted appreciatively. One tweet called The Queue “the greatest bit of British performance art that has ever happened”. But is queuing the best way to do things?

Organisers needed a way to allocate scarce resources, or in this case, limited slots to file through Westminster Hall past the coffin. An ideal system would give spots to those who value them the most, with everyone having an equal shot at securing one. A queue effectively rations out the spots to those who turn up first—and who are willing to wait. An alternative might have been a lottery, with spots randomly allocated to a subset of those who applied, as was deployed for a concert to mark the queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June. Or even perhaps some kind of market, with prices for each time slot set high enough to balance supply and demand. To visit Buckingham Palace, for example, one must buy a ticket.

As a rationing mechanism, a queue has some advantages. Participating in a line that could stretch overnight, or at least several hours, is a strong signal of one’s eagerness. It also reduces the risk that those who cannot afford to pay for the privilege are shut out. But it has drawbacks. Although participants are not paying money for their spot, they are paying in time and comfort. Economists fret that a queue such as this favours those without much else to do and excludes those who cannot, for example, afford to skip work. Others, such as the frail and the sick, might not be able to access the queue at all.

The alternatives reduce the inefficiency of long waits. But they have their own disadvantages. A lottery system risks those who feel very strongly about seeing the queen losing out to someone lucky who does not care very much. A market-based system will allocate spots based on who values the experience—and who is also most able to pay. That would seem distasteful and unfair. A study published in 1977, by Martin Weitzman, then of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showed that, in cases where needs were more equally distributed or where income was more unequally distributed, rationing (of which queuing is one form) outperformed pricing in its ability to allocate things to whoever needed them most.

Link to the rest at The Economist

People sleep peaceably

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

George Orwell

PG Note: Colleen just informed PG that this post showed seven comments, but she couldn’t see any of them.

When PG popped the TPV hood open, he found seven spam comments that WordPress and/or one or more of PG’s installed plugins had counted as legitimate, despite the fact that the comments had been sent to spam hell where nobody could see them.

PG will assure one and all that nothing about the spam comments would interest them, unless they’re longing to interact with sexy Russian girls online or desire to have some malware installed on their computer.

PG will keep an eye on this plugin to see if it needs to be replaced and thanks Colleen for pointing out the problem for him.

Flowers of Orwell

From The Dublin Review of Books:

The Brazilian rubber tapper, labour activist and environmentalist Chico Mendes, who was assassinated by a rancher in the Amazon in 1988, reportedly once said that “ecology without class struggle is just gardening”. The aphorism is often deployed to remind less radical environmentalists that questions of social and economic justice have to be at the centre of their concerns. Gardening, a hobby seen as the preserve of the relatively privileged few, becomes a slur in this context, typifying a tendency of the green movement to value nature primarily as a space for merely private contemplation or spiritual nourishment, a refuge rather than a battleground.

One of the effects of climate breakdown is that it is gradually and irreversibly rendering all politics climate politics, whether we like it or not. This is a disorienting situation, to say the least. It means that traditional, much cherished conceptions of nature as something separate from society, and from the sinful humans who would do it harm, become obsolete. What we call nature is no Garden of Eden – it is not a paradise and we were never cast out of it. Instead it is a collaboration between human and nonhuman beings seeking mutually enriching coexistence on a finite planet. But perhaps this shift in our thinking about nature also means reassessing the politics of gardens. This is what Rebecca Solnit suggests through a series of fascinatingly digressive and wide-ranging reflections on the roses George Orwell planted in the garden of his cottage in Hertfordshire in the spring of 1936.

This period marked the key turning point in Orwell’s life, when he went from being what Solnit describes as a partly successful novelist with a curmudgeonly affection for old-fashioned English ways, to a fierce political essayist and prophet of dystopia. The transformative event was the Civil War in Spain, for which he departed at the age of thirty-three in the winter after he’d planted those roses. His experiences among the communists fighting Franco, recorded in his book Homage to Catalonia, marked him indelibly. He emerged from the war a committed revolutionary socialist with a hatred for all forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, whether right-wing or left-wing, having witnessed at first hand Stalinist repression of supposed Trotskyists in the Spanish trenches. An already-existing hostility to ideological rigidity and officialdom was intensified in the writer.

Solnit, a leading American cultural critic, feminist and environmental activist, is less interested in dissecting Orwell’s political consciousness than in asking where his love of roses and gardening fit into it. Despite his decades-long influence on her work, she encounters Orwell anew through his horticultural efforts, of which he kept a charmingly straightforward diary that Solnit returns to again and again. Through this and other avenues, she seeks out an Orwell very different from the one most of us know — an Orwell who could bore you to tears with his detailed knowledge of shrubs and the superiority of sixpenny Woolworths roses, an Orwell of wheelbarrows and well-earned cups of tea, who lamented the loss of common English names for flowers to the fancy Greek nomenclatures of science. Solnit observes how her second book, the superb Savage Dreams from 1994, which documented a grassroots campaign against nuclear weapons testing in the deserts of Nevada, echoes Homage to Catalonia in how it interweaves a personal and subjective narrative with a bigger historical one. The two Orwells, she argues, come together in this precarious balancing of the private and the personal – even the seemingly apolitical – against the crushing weight of history and its techniques of power. To love a sixpenny rose, or the wild roses of northeastern Nevada’s Shoshone territory, hardly seems a political act, but it becomes so within a larger social and historical story.

At the same time, Solnit avers, “love of nature is no guarantor of virtue”. This is certainly true, as Stalin’s curious dream of growing lemon trees inside the Arctic Circle demonstrates. But this is where the book becomes somewhat evasive. Solnit addresses the colonial nostalgia implicit (and sometimes explicit) in idealising portrayals of the English countryside, but she largely glosses over how all of this is connected to Orwell’s own sentimental anglophilia and his faith in the common folk. During the 1941 Blitz, he wrote in a famous essay that the English

are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official …

Solnit refers to the passage but does not critique its cultural nativism or the ridiculous claim made in the essay that the plain people of England would never allow totalitarianism to take root in their land precisely because of their natural immunity against the official culture of states and flags and military uniforms, the British empire notwithstanding.

Link to the rest at The Dublin Review of Books

For the first time, a Uyghur novel is translated into English

From The Economist:

Perhat Tursun was a precocious teenager.

He published his first poem when he was 11 years old and started university in Beijing at the age of 14. Back then, in 1983, few books by foreign authors were available in Uyghur, his native tongue. So Mr Tursun mastered Mandarin and gained access to troves of translated foreign works. He devoured the writings of Camus, Dostoyevsky, Joyce and Kafka. When other Uyghurs arrived in the capital to study, he advised them to do the same.

Through reading, young Uyghurs could explore a world that was off-limits. As members of the predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority, acquiring a passport was difficult and they faced bitter prejudice in Beijing, a city dominated by ethnic-Han Chinese. Despite these obstacles, the group of Uyghurs nurtured a passion for literature and philosophy and would go on to become some of the leading intellectuals of their generation. Mr Tursun made a name for himself as one of the most influential modernist writers in the Uyghur language. He chafed against convention and despised obsequiousness, recalls Tahir Hamut Izgil, a renowned Uyghur writer and film-maker living in exile in America, who was among the students Mr Tursun mentored.

Years later, in 2006, Mr Tursun finished writing “The Backstreets”, a book which echoes his life. The narrator is a nameless Uyghur from rural Xinjiang, a region in the far west of China, who is hired by a company in Urumqi, the regional capital, to fill their diversity quota. The protagonist grapples with racist superiors and callous strangers while searching for a place to live. Published in America and Britain on September 13th, “The Backstreets” is the first Uyghur-language novel to be translated into English.

Written as a stream of consciousness, the book exemplifies Mr Tursun’s unconventional use of form and style. At one point the Uyghur narrator imagines the murderous rage of a Han bystander and the page is filled with 215 consecutive repetitions of the word “chop”. Visceral and often disorientating, “The Backstreets” illustrates the painful effects of racism and exclusion. It is a strange and devastating novel, a portrait of what it means to become a second-class citizen in your homeland.

Darren Byler, an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, discovered the novel while conducting fieldwork on Uyghur migration in 2014 and felt it “deserved a broader audience”. To decode the book’s dense language and cultural references, he relied on his co-translator, a Uyghur migrant living in Urumqi, credited only as Anonymous. They met daily in a teahouse, often in the company of friends—and, they suspected, informants.

Link to the rest at The Economist

There’s No Time to Despair over Book Bans—Just to Fight Them

From Publishers Weekly:

For those of us who cherish the freedom to read, the current wave of attacks on books in schools and libraries is disheartening. For the teachers and librarians on the front lines, it is far worse. They are being attacked for choosing books that reflect the needs of their students and patrons. They are accused of “grooming” children for sexual abuse, or indoctrinating them with allegedly anti-American ideas about race. In the face of these threats, many are considering leaving the profession they love.

The vitriol is also being directed at the parents, students, and community members courageously standing up and speaking out at public meetings against banning books.

But it would be a mistake to give in to despair. Americans have been successfully fighting for the freedom to read for over a century. In the 1920s, for example, the newly organized American Civil Liberties Union denounced efforts by super-patriots to turn schools into a vehicle for their propaganda. It also challenged a ban on the teaching of evolution in Tennessee with the help of a science teacher named John Scopes.

Publishers, booksellers, and librarians joined the fight against book-banning efforts in 1953, after Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a campaign to purge books by 75 “communist authors” from libraries operated by the U.S. State Department. The American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council responded by issuing a statement, “The Freedom to Read,” in which they declared such a freedom as “essential to our democracy.” Even President Dwight Eisenhower joined the fight. “Don’t join the book burners,” he said.

The next two decades saw significant advances in protecting free speech, as the Supreme Court struck down laws that Southern states were using to suppress the civil rights movement, while also expanding artistic freedom and broadening protections for protesters. But book banning surged again in the 1980s, when conservative groups sought to silence authors like Judy Blume, who wrote about sex and the other complex issues facing young people. The number of book challenges in schools and libraries shot up to more than 1,300 a year.

Once again, publishers, librarians, and booksellers successfully fought back. The ALA launched Banned Books Week in 1982 to counter claims that libraries were harming children. Libraries and bookstores mounted displays of challenged books to give people a chance to see what the book banners were attacking. The most significant achievement of this period was the adoption by many schools and libraries of a formal process for evaluating challenged books.

Previously, there had been nothing to stop a school official from simply pulling challenged books off shelves. Today, most school districts require a written complaint. When a complaint is filed, the school responds by forming a review committee that usually includes a professional (a librarian or teacher), a parent, and sometimes a student.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG worked in a large university library as one of many jobs to work his way through college.

From that experience and interactions with a great many academic and public librarians over the years, he treated all with courtesy. Some were “professionals” per the OP and others who worked full-time were not particularly intelligent or well-educated. Some even expressed personal opinions with which PG did not agree.

The OP made PG cringe for two reasons:

  1. Joe McCarthy died in 1957. However, some individuals can’t resist digging him up, likely because nobody like him has gained high public office since then.
  2. The OP mentions “a professional (a librarian or teacher)” implying their employment makes them an authority on what books should and shouldn’t be in a library accessible to children attending public schools. This is an example of a long-recognized logical error, commonly called “appeal to authority.”

From Logically Fallacious:

Appeal to Authority

argumentum ad verecundiam

(also known as: argument from authority, ipse dixit)

Description: Insisting that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered. Also see the appeal to false authority .

Logical Form:

According to person 1, who is an expert on the issue of Y, Y is true.

Therefore, Y is true.

Example #1:

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and perhaps the foremost expert in the field, says that evolution is true. Therefore, it’s true.

Explanation: Richard Dawkins certainly knows about evolution, and he can confidently tell us that it is true, but that doesn’t make it true. What makes it true is the preponderance of evidence for the theory.

Example #2:

How do I know the adult film industry is the third largest industry in the United States? Derek Shlongmiester, the adult film star of over 50 years, said it was. That’s how I know.

Explanation: Shlongmiester may be an industry expert, as well as have a huge talent, but a claim such as the one made would require supporting evidence. For the record, the adult film industry may be large, but on a scale from 0 to 12 inches, it’s only about a fraction of an inch.

. . . .

Appeal to Authority: Insisting that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered. Also see Appeal to False Authority.

Link to the rest at Logically Fallacious

PG has known some highly-educated and intelligent individuals who held one or more opinions that could not be supported logically or with a preponderance of any reliable evidence.

Secrets

Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.

James Joyce – Ulysses

Serialization

The OP describes a currently secret method/process for serializing traditionally-published books and making money from sales of such serials. It’s focused on traditional publishers and is, potentially, a different way of monetizing their backlists.

It is a long-standing practice in traditional publishing to put most titles out to pasture a few years after their initial release. They’ll keep some copies in a warehouse in case someone or someone’s friendly local book seller, contacts the publisher Agatha Christie and similar evergreen authors are among the rare exceptions to this habit.

It is pretty clear to PG that Publishing Perspectives was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with some teeth in it before being briefed on this method/process, so the OP includes a lot of dancing around, presumably to work around the requirements of the NDA.

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

But as a final note, it’s interesting to remember that a strong dynamic in backlist sales was observed in many markets during the deepest periods of the world’s coronavirus-related lockdowns. In some markets and demographics, that backlist interest has persisted well beyond the spread-mitigation measures of the early pandemic.

If the new app being described to us can take advantage of that trend, it may arrive with a wind at its back as a new and attractive way for readers to consume backlist as well as new content.

. . . .

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

Webtoon has some user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Microsoft responsible AI principles

From Microsoft:

Fairness

AI systems should treat all people fairly

Reliability & Safety

AI systems should perform reliably and safely

Privacy & Security

AI systems should be secure and respect privacy 

Inclusiveness

AI systems should empower everyone and engage people

Transparency

AI systems should be understandable

Accountability

People should be accountable for AI systems

Link to the rest at Microsoft

Microsoft has videos that elaborate on each of these principles available at the link.

Further down on the lengthy Microsoft page, a Microsoft Office of Responsible AI is mentioned. PG couldn’t find out who heads the office on the MS site, but did find information about that person on Adobe’s Blog:

Natasha Crampton

Natasha Crampton leads Microsoft’s Office of Responsible AI, as the company’s first Chief Responsible AI Officer. The Office of Responsible AI puts Microsoft’s AI principles into practice by defining, enabling, and governing the company’s approach to responsible AI. The Office of Responsible AI also collaborates with stakeholders within and outside the company to shape new laws, norms, and standards to help ensure that the promise of AI technology is realized for the benefit of all.
Prior to this role, Natasha served as lead counsel to the Aether Committee, Microsoft’s advisory committee on responsible AI. Natasha also spent seven years in Microsoft’s Australian and New Zealand subsidiaries helping Microsoft’s highly regulated customers move to the cloud.
Prior to Microsoft, Natasha worked in law firms in Australia and New Zealand, specializing in copyright, privacy, and internet safety and security issues. Natasha graduated from the University of Auckland in New Zealand with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Information Systems.

PG’s Google search also picked up a presentation that Ms. Crampton and her boss gave at a recent RSA Conference. RSA provides a variety of corporate cybersecurity products.

PG is old enough to remember the first RSA, which was generated from the surnames of Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman, who publicly described the very secure public key cryptosystem algorithm in 1977. This discovery prompted PG and others to adopt systems like TrueCrypt to make (in PG’s case) email communications with clients safe from hackers.

Flooded with AI-generated images, some art communities ban them completely

From ars technica:

Confronted with an overwhelming amount of artificial-intelligence-generated artwork flooding in, some online art communities have taken dramatic steps to ban or curb its presence on their sites, including Newgrounds, Inkblot Art, and Fur Affinity, according to Andy Baio of Waxy.org.

Baio, who has been following AI art ethics closely on his blog, first noticed the bans and reported about them on Friday. So far, major art communities DeviantArt and ArtStation have not made any AI-related policy changes, but some vocal artists on social media have complained about how much AI art they regularly see on those platforms as well.

. . . .

The arrival of widely available image synthesis models such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion has provoked an intense online battle between artists who view AI-assisted artwork as a form of theft (more on that below) and artists who enthusiastically embrace the new creative tools.

Established artist communities are at a tough crossroads because they fear non-AI artwork getting drowned out by an unlimited supply of AI-generated art, and yet the tools have also become notably popular among some of their members.

In banning art created through image synthesis in its Art Portal, Newgrounds wrote, “We want to keep the focus on art made by people and not have the Art Portal flooded with computer-generated art.”

. . . .

The current wave of image synthesis tools allows users to type in a written description (called a “prompt”) and output a matching image, almost like magic. The results often need cherry-picking and dedication to get just right, but with a skillfully crafted prompt, the results can imitate the works of human artists with sometimes stunning detail.

The most successful prompts often reference existing artists and art websites by name but rarely alone. Mixing artists can create innovative new stylistic blends. For example, here is the prompt that created the robotic woman in the center of the image at the top of this article in Stable Diffusion:

Beautiful crying! female mechanical android!, half portrait, intricate detailed environment, photorealistic!, intricate, elegant, highly detailed, digital painting, artstation, concept art, smooth, sharp focus, illustration, art by artgerm and greg rutkowski and alphonse mucha (Seed 79409656)

The most popular image synthesis models use the latent diffusion technique to create novel artwork by analyzing millions of images without consent from artists or copyright holders. In the case of Stable Diffusion, those images come sourced directly from the Internet, courtesy of the LAION-5B database. (Images found on the Internet often come with descriptions attached, which is ideal for training AI models.)

Link to the rest at ars technica

PG says AI is here and, absent draconian government interference, it’s going to stay here and proliferate. He’ll reiterate that AI Writing is already available for short-form work – a paragraph, a page – but it will definitely develop in sophistication and expand its capabilities just like ai art has.

There’s a search engine that’s devoted to finding ai art online – Lexica. The images PG examined included the prompt the creator entered into the ai art system to generate the image. ArtStation includes similar content.

Here are three images PG picked at random off Lexica and their accompanying written ai prompts which have been used to create the image:

full body portrait character concept art, anime key visual of a confused baby with googles, studio lighting delicate features finely detailed perfect face directed gaze, gapmoe yandere grimdark
Portrait of big bird’s child, big bird morph child morph, digital painting, realistic shaded, realistic shaded lighting, fan art, pix
Symmetry!! product render poster puzzle cube scifi, glowing lines! intricate, elegant, highly detailed, digital painting, artstation, concept art, smooth, sharp focus,

Books are physically changing because of inflation

From The Ecoonomist:

The second world war was a hard time for British publishers. Paper imports collapsed; paper started being made from straw; publishers printed only sure-fire hits. New novels were rejected; a history by Winston Churchill went out of print.

But the war did not stop some books from doing well. A volume by a hitherto little-read author called Adolf Hitler, for example, sold splendidly. Despite being 500-odd pages long and containing chapter titles such as “The Problem of the Trade Unions”, “Mein Kampf” was an instant hit. After topping British bestseller lists in 1939 it became the most frequently borrowed book in British libraries and was, one magazine noted, a “topical bestseller”.

Publishing can, then, find the paper for the things it wants to print, even in times of scarcity. The industry is currently experiencing another period of shortage, and war is once again a cause (along with the pandemic). In the past 12 months the cost of paper used by British book publishers has risen by 70%. Supplies are erratic as well as expensive: paper mills have taken to switching off on days when electricity is too pricey. The card used in hardback covers has at times been all but unobtainable. The entire trade is in trouble.

Not every author is affected: a new thriller by Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, is a 1,024-page whopper—and this week reached the top of the bestseller lists in Britain. But other books are having to change a bit. Pick up a new release in a bookshop and if it is from a smaller publisher (for they are more affected by price rises) you may find yourself holding a product that, as wartime books did, bears the mark of its time.

Blow on its pages and they might lift and fall differently: cheaper, lighter paper is being used in some books. Peer closely at its print and you might notice that the letters jostle more closely together: some cost-conscious publishers are starting to shrink the white space between characters. The text might run closer to the edges of pages, too: the margins of publishing are shrinking, in every sense.

Changes of this sort can cause anguish to publishers. A book is not merely words on a page, says Ivan O’Brien, head of The O’Brien Press in Ireland, but should appeal “to every single sense”. The pleasure of a book that feels right in the hand—not too light or too heavy; pages creamy; fonts beetle-black—is something that publishers strive to preserve.

But, says Diana Broccardo, the co-founder of the publisher Swift Press, although some savings might seem small, over an entire year “small things…can add up.” You can squeeze out an awful lot of white space from a seven-volume series of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. Authors might like to imagine that they are judged by the sheer power of their prose; in truth, publishers must also measure their words by the tonne and by the metre.

Some publishers are considering shorter books. Previously, if an author was commissioned for 70,000 words and filed 80,000, you’d not worry too much, says Mr O’Brien. Now, he says, “You might say, ‘Well actually, no.’…Because otherwise the book is just not going to work.”

This is not necessarily a bad thing. For at the heart of the publishing industry lies an unsayable truth: most people can’t write and most books are very bad.

. . . .

Paper-supply problems provide an opportunity for tripe to be trimmed. In wartime such trimming caused a minor revolution in English literature, says Leo Mellor, a fellow at Cambridge University. Out went dull Dickensian dialogue, in came elliptical modernism. Suddenly, says Mr Mellor, there was “a premium on the laconic and the succinct”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Words “I Wanted” Do Not Belong in Book Reviews

From Book Riot:

My professional life has swung more and more to writing about books over the last few years. This means that in addition to writing a lot more reviews than I used to, I read a lot more reviews than I used to. It also means that I’ve developed some opinions about how to write useful, thoughtful reviews, and here’s the one I truly wish everyone would start paying attention to: the words “I wanted” don’t belong in book reviews.

I’m not arguing against critical reviews. I’m all for critical reviews, both the ones that point out misogyny or racism or homophobia in books, and the ones that simply express an opinion about something that didn’t work — plot, character, prose, etc. Reviews are subjective. If someone doesn’t like a book, and they can explain why without using the words “I wanted,” that information can help other readers decide whether or not they want to read it. But if that review is just sentence after sentence trolling the book because it wasn’t the book that reviewer wanted to read — that’s not helpful, and it’s not even a real critical review.

Let me let you in on a little secret. If your book review is peppered with the words “I wanted,” it probably means that you should have DNFed that book. It almost certainly doesn’t mean the book you read was bad. It almost certainly does mean that you’ve written a bad review — not a critical review, a bad one.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

The Technology And Legal Issues Behind Metaverse

From Above the Law:

When most people hear the phrase “virtual reality,“ they probably think of the clunky and uncomfortable headsets popular in the 1990s. However, recent advancements in VR technology have made it possible to create much more immersive experiences, in turn leading to a resurgence in interest in VR, and businesses are starting to take notice.

“Metaverse” is a term used to describe a virtual world created by combining elements of the real world with elements of the virtual one. It describes a type of augmented reality with the potential to change the way we interact with the world around us.

The technology behind the metaverse is still in its early stages, but it holds a lot of promise. One of the most promising aspects of the metaverse is its ability to create a more realistic and immersive experience for users.

Avatars

Avatars are one way that the metaverse fosters such immersion. Avatars are digital representations of people that can be used to interact with the virtual world. They can be customized to look like their users and can be equipped with a variety of different features.

Some avatars can even track users’ movements and replicate them in the virtual world, creating a more realistic experience; features like that make it possible for users to interact with each other more naturally.

Virtual Reality

The metaverse also makes use of virtual reality (VR) technology, simulating a computer-generated environment that can mimic real-world conditions. This allows for a more immersive experience, making users feel more like they are actually in a virtual world.

This technology is still in its early stages, but it has the potential to revolutionize how we navigate the world.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality describes an enhanced version of the real world created by combining elements of both the virtual world and the real world. This level of immersion makes the VR experience feel more natural while taking advantage of the unique strengths of inhabiting a virtual world.

. . . .

Legal Issues

As the metaverse is still in its early stages, there are several legal issues that still need to be addressed. Below, you’ll find descriptions of some of the most important issues.

Gambling And Lottery Laws

The metaverse is often used for gambling and lottery games. A number of countries have laws prohibiting gambling, and these laws may apply to metaverse games. It is important to check the laws in your jurisdiction and consult a lawyer before participating in any metaverse gambling.

Privacy And Cybersecurity Laws

Since the metaverse is a decentralized platform, it is not subject to the same privacy and cybersecurity laws as traditional centralized platforms. This means metaverse users may have less protection against cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Some of the key questions to consider when it comes to privacy and cybersecurity include:

  • What personal information are you sharing on the metaverse?
  • Who has access to your personal information?
  • How is your personal information being used?
  • Is your personal information being shared with third parties?
  • What security measures are in place to protect your personal information?

A POTENTIALLY LARGE Marketplace

The metaverse’s decentralized nature means that there are no boundaries when it comes to buying and selling goods and services. This can be a great opportunity for businesses to reach new markets, but it also entails some risks, largely in the form of fraud and scams.

User Interactions

The way users interact with each other on the metaverse can have a significant impact on their experience. It is important to be aware of the risks associated with interacting with others on the metaverse.

Link to the rest at Above the Law

A New App For Serializing Backlist

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an unusual instance for us here at Publishing Perspectives, we have first news today of a potentially important publishing app currently in development—and our sources on this exclusive story have spoken to us on condition of anonymity, in advance of a public release of the information. 

They are describing to us an app that has the potential to be a bridge between traditional trade publishers—based in any market in world publishing—and the popular framework of serialization as a way of presenting valuable backlist titles, often otherwise overlooked by consumers.

Those who are working on this new app are being characterized by these persons-familiar as teams that “effectively built the serialized storytelling category,” which, as many of our readers know, has found vast, faithful audiences particularly in Asian markets.

In providing our audience of publishing executives and rights specialists with this next bit of information, we’d like to get ahead of one potential misconception: our sources are telling us that this new app will not be for user-generated content (UGC), as many high-visibility serialization platforms are.

Instead, this property will be professionally curated and designed as a market resource for professionally published books.

Our readership will recall that in May 2021, a US$600 million merger was completed between Naver’s Webtoon, based in a suburb of Seoul, and Toronto’s Wattpad.

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

  • Webtoon has some  user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
  • The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

We’re being told that people behind the development of that professionally driven part of Webtoon’s offerings are behind the forthcoming app.

. . . .

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Seattle libraries had more than 130 closures this summer

From The Seattle Times:

As record-breaking temperatures baked Seattle this summer, box fan sales spiked, wading pools grew crowded, health warnings were issued …

And libraries closed.

There were more than 130 full- or partial-day closures due to heat in June, July and August, according to the Seattle Public Library.

Nine of the system’s 27 branches lack air conditioning, and SPL’s current policy is to close them when indoor temperatures hit or are expected to hit 80 degrees for more than an hour.

Such closures have become more common recently, interrupting services at the branches that many Seattle residents rely on for checking out books, internet use and resting in a quiet environment.

SPL staffers don’t like the closures, because they get in the way of processing materials and interacting with patrons, said Jessica Lucas, teen services librarian at the Northeast branch and vice president of AFSCME Local 2083, the union for Seattle library workers. The book drops stay open so returned books pile up. Staffers are usually redeployed to branches with air conditioning, which means extra travel, Lucas added. But the closures are necessary nonetheless, because working in the heat is worse, she said.

“Some patrons really understand and some don’t get it at all,” said Lucas, who sometimes hears patrons complain. “We have to be in here all day long for an eight-hour shift and do physical work during that time.”

SPL’s heat-closure threshold used to be 90 degrees but was lowered to 85 degrees in 2018, based on “health and safety concerns for staff and patrons” and an increase in multiday heat waves, SPL spokesperson Laura Gentry said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the system is using a temporary threshold of 80 degrees because employees are required to wear masks, which can increase discomfort in hot temperatures, Gentry said.

The Green Lake and University branches had the most full-day heat closures this summer, canceling service completely for seven days each. The Northeast branch, currently the system’s busiest for borrowing, had the most partial-day heat closures, with 19 days.

“This is part of a big story about how the Pacific Northwest in general is not equipped” for the consistently scorching summer weather Seattle is now experiencing, said Darth Nielsen, SPL’s assistant director of public services. “We see this as a long-term issue … and we have to respond to that.”

SPL plans to add air conditioning at several branches in the coming years and is seeking funds for the other branches, Nielsen said.

Six of the city’s nine branches without air conditioning, including Green Lake and University, were built more than 100 years ago with grants from New York steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who funded libraries across the country.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

Why Do We Do Kickstarters?

From Dean Wesley Smith:

First off, surface reasons.

1… It gets new books to readers ahead of the publication date and at a discount. Fans of a series or a writer enjoy that. I know I do, which is one of the reasons why I back so many campaigns.

2… It gets our work out to readers we might never find and they might then buy more of our work. This is called discoverability.

3… It is amazing promotion and advertising and you don’t have to pay for it. In fact, if you do it right, you get a lot of promotion and make some money in the process. Sort of like selling a story to a top magazine.

4… Money does not hurt. These are book sales. We hope to do about $150,000 in 2022 in this form of book sales, about the same as last year.

5… We also add in workshops to help writers and help people become aware of the vast resource of writing information we have built on WMG Teachable.

Larger reason…

This is 2022, no matter how many writers still want to live in 1990s. The modern world of publishing is that writers become their own publishers, start their own publishing businesses, and explore all the new ways to get their writing out to readers. And wow, in 2022 there are a lot of ways. Kickstarter is one way.

And right now, at this point in time, it should be the first way.

Here is how it works. 

1… Finish a new book, put the publication date out 4-6 months to take advantage of free promotions during that time.

2… Put the book up for preorder in as many places as you can as soon as you can (after it is finished).

3… Do a Kickstarter campaign for the book giving the backers the book months before it publishes.

(and then go from there…)

Kickstarter is promotion, it is book sales, and it makes you money if you do it right.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Not Just Another Post on POV

From Writers in the Storm:

If you’ve whipped around the writing block a time or two, you may have lots of experience with POV. If this is your initial test drive, you might be Googling—P . . . O . . . What? Either way, this post is for you.

First, you can stop Googling. POV stands for Point of View. Some of you are nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We got it.” Others might be asking why we care about a view.

We care because the view is everything. You’ve heard the phrase, location, location, location when it comes to prime real estate. And where is the prime real estate on the page? Inside your POV character’s head.

What Is a POV Character?

Before we jump in, let’s define a POV character. It’s your main character. The one telling the story. You might have one or two or three depending on your genre. But unless you’re George R.R. Martin, be careful not to have too many. But that’s another post.

Sometimes it’s hard for writers to remember that their characters are supposed to feel like actual people to the reader. At least that’s the idea—to make a character so real, the reader can imagine living in their world. Better yet, living in their head.

I’d like to point out here that actual people, in general, don’t have psychic or omniscient abilities. They’re not mind readers, and they’re not gods, unless that’s part of your story world. If it is, feel free to check out here. If it isn’t, stay with me.

Two Rules To Stay Focused

You can go really deep when it comes to POV. There’s a lot of information, dos and don’ts, tips and tricks. It can be overwhelming. But if you start with two rules, you’ll almost always get it right.

Rule #1

While you’re writing, put yourself in the scene and become your POV character.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Imagine you’ve literally stepped into your character’s skin. Then keep that in mind as you take the movie running through your head and translate it onto the page.

If you are your character, this means in each scene “you” can only:

  • see what your character sees
  • hear what your character hears
  • smell what your character smells
  • tase what your character tastes
  • feel what your character feels
  • know what your character knows

This holds true whether you’re writing in first person (I) or third person (he/she). And if you have multiple POV characters, you will become multiple people as the point of view switches from scene to scene. Sometimes it helps to take a minute to really get into a particular character’s head. That’s okay. Give yourself that time. It will make the writing process that much smoother.

Rule #2

Don’t let your character do anything you (as a real person) can’t do.

This one is a little more involved. Let’s try to make it simple. The idea is to hold your POV character accountable as a “real person.” And that isn’t always easy. Below are some questions that can help you dig deep into POV. 

Remember, you are your main character. So if you, as a real person, answer “no” to the questions below, your character has to answer “no” as well. Spoiler alert: the answer to every question below is going to be “no.”

Examples:

  • Can you see your own expression?

I had a sparkle in my eye. / She had a sparkle in her eye.

Unless you’re looking in the mirror or experiencing an astral projection moment, the answer is “no.”

  • Do you generally notice how you’re speaking?

“My tone was one of condescension.” / “His tone was one of condescension.”

We don’t often think about how we’re speaking. Sometimes that gets us in trouble when others take our tone the wrong way.

Side Note: you (as your character) can choose to be deliberate about speech. That’s different. It’s purposeful. A conscious choice. It looks something like this:

I made sure to pour on the condescension. / He made sure to pour on the condescension.  

  • Would you refer to yourself as “the girl,” “the boy,” “the naive child,” “Jim’s wife,” or anything else that distances you from yourself? This is mostly an issue when you’re writing in third person.

You could say: Myron handed the baby to me. Myron handed the baby to her.

I would think of myself as “me” in first person and “her” in third person. And so would your character.

But you can’t say: Myron handed the baby to his mother.

I wouldn’t call myself “his mother” in first or third person. This is an omniscient, eye-in-the-sky view, not a personal, I’m-in-the-character’s-head, I-am-the-character view.

I hope you see that the examples above are things you (as your POV character) would not observe about yourself. They’re things you would observe about someone else. Someone outside of yourself. Someone who is not you (as your POV character).

So, let’s move onto more things you (as your POV character) would observe about someone else.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Affirmative Action’s Big Win Always Had an Asterisk

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Ted Spencer still looks back. No one who lives through a grueling legal saga defined by questions about race, equity, and the Constitution could ever board up the windows to the past.

Spencer was director of admissions at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 decided two cases challenging the institution’s race-conscious admissions policies. The justices handed one plaintiff a victory in Gratz v. Bollinger. But Michigan won the day because the court’s ruling in a companion case, Grutter v. Bollinger, affirmed that colleges could continue considering applicants’ race and ethnicity as one of many factors. The landmark decision shored up the foundation on which a generation of admissions practices would stand. And many people in academe rejoiced.

But for Michigan, the celebration was fleeting: The opponents of affirmative action soon extinguished the university’s victory with a successful ballot initiative that banned the use of racial preferences throughout the state.

What Spencer sees in those momentous events is complicated: a triumph with a 10-foot-tall asterisk, a backlash presaging the lawsuits now looming over academe. This fall, the Supreme Court will hear two cases challenging the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The court’s 6-3 conservative majority has been hacking down precedents such as Roe v. Wade. So there’s a good chance that it will shred Grutter, ending the longstanding use of race in admissions throughout the land.

You might dread that outcome or welcome it. Either way, Grutter matters because it invites the nation to consider what’s really at stake in the age-old debate over race-conscious admissions. It’s something more consequential than whether Becky with the Good Grades gets into her dream college. Grutter matters because it poses a fundamental question about fairness, asking us which kind of society we want to live in: one that clings to the ideal of colorblindness at all costs, or one that recognizes the ongoing struggle of integration? Because Grutter’slegacy might soon disappear into the whooshing downspout of history, it’s worth taking a look back.
Spencer, now retired, believes that many people have forgotten what the Michigan cases were all about, if they ever even knew: “I would tell colleagues, You can’t just say ‘Michigan was sued.’ You have to explain why, the background.”

His own story entwines with that background and the essential questions that Grutter poses. It’s the story of a Black man raised in the Deep South during segregation who became a leader in a field long dominated by white men.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

PG notes that, while Gratz and Grutter were important affirmative action cases, the one that started it all was the US Supreme Court case titled Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, handed down in June of 1978.

The Bakke story stretches back to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which continued the process of desegregating schools and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race. Although Congress officially ended segregation, there was a reluctance to actually integrate schools, and a disparity in college-preparedness remained between races.

Here’s how The National Constitution Center describes Bakke:

The Bakke story stretches back to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which continued the process of desegregating schools and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race. Although Congress officially ended segregation, there was a reluctance to actually integrate schools, and a disparity in college-preparedness remained between races.

Thus, colleges like the University of California, Davis School of Medicine adopted policies of racial favoritism, policies designed to compensate for unfair disadvantages. Specifically, the school established a program to designate 16 of the 100 spots in each class for minority students.

Allan Bakke, a white male in his thirties, twice applied for admission at the school but was rejected, partially because of his advanced age. Bakke’s interviewer considered him “a very desirable candidate”; his GPA was comparable to other admittees and his MCAT scores were all significantly greater. Compared to the special admittees of UC Davis’s affirmative action program, he beat every student in every metric in both of his application classes.

Bakke, exasperated by the rejections, filed suit, contending that the University of California violated the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act. Ironically, he argued, a law that was passed to promote equality was being employed for the opposite purpose.

The case rose through federal courts to reach the Supreme Court of California, which struck down the admissions policy and ordered Bakke’s admission. Shocked at the surprising judgment from a traditionally liberal court, the frustrated university requested a stay of admission. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case for its October 1977 term.

National interest in the case was enormous—58 amicus briefs were filed, setting a Court record until 1989, and reflecting the many and diverse arguments on the issue.

Ultimately, the Court was mixed in its decision: six different Justices wrote opinions on the case, with Justice Lewis Powell writing the controlling opinion and virtually splitting his vote between two groups of four Justices.

Affirming the lower court, Powell and four of his colleagues determined that specific racial quotas in university admissions are unconstitutional. In Powell’s words, “The fatal flaw in … [UC’s] preferential program is its disregard of individual rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The majority argued that, by explicitly differentiating racial groups for consideration, the university violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. It was unfair, they said, that minorities were eligible for 100 spots in the class when whites could only vie for 84. Thus, the Court struck down racial quotas and ordered Bakke admitted.

Yet Powell also joined the remaining four Justices in affirming the legality of a program that considered racial background as one of many holistic factors in admissions decision. In his view, such a policy did not specifically exclude anyone from admission.

Discussing a Harvard race-awareness program, Powell argued that even though “race or ethnic background may be deemed a ‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file … it does not insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.” With each applicant considered for an array of qualities, someone like Bakke would not be “foreclosed from all consideration from [a] seat simply because he was not the right color or had the wrong surname.”

PG was just out of law school when Bakke was handed down and, when he read the decision, he had a sense he had that this decision hadn’t addressed all the issues it should have and would not stand the test of time. Basically, the Supreme Court kicked the can down the road.

Twenty-five years later, in the landmark case of Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court affirmed its decision in Bakke by ruling that the University of Michigan Law School’s race-conscious admissions policy was constitutional because it did not involve the use of explicit quotas. But Bakke remains fundamental precedent on affirmative action.

Link to the rest at The National Constitution Center

When one encounters a Supreme Court decision in which “six different Justices wrote opinions,” one can be assured that the Court agreed on the outcome, but couldn’t agree exactly what legal theory or theories supported that outcome. A skeptical observer might conclude that the affirming justices knew the outcome they desired, but weren’t quite sure about how statutes and cases could be put together in a way that indicated those justices weren’t pulling a Constitutional right out of thin air.

Many reasonable people can and do agree that the Supreme Court caused a good outcome for a group of Americans that had been treated quite badly for a very long time.

Freeing them from slavery was an enormous and brutal undertaking that imposed an extremely high cost on both the North and the South. As PG has previously written, the Civil War, a war killed more Americans than were killed all the other wars in which the nation had engaged during its existence combined up to part-way through the Vietnam War, when, after over a hundred years, the death toll of American soldiers in all those other wars finally exceeded the death toll in the Civil War.

This coming November, over 50 years since the Bakke decision was handed down, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear challenges to the consideration of race in the admissions process at Harvard and the University of North Carolina in two separate cases. More than a few court watchers think the Court will decide that what is now called affirmative action and/or diversity in college in the selection of applicants who are admitted to a college or university is unconstitutional if it is a lightly disguised version of racial discrimination against students of one or more races to favor students of another race.

One of the changes that has occurred over the past couple of decades is that affirmative action places a greater burden on applicants of Asian descent than it does on applicants who are white. To the best of PG’s recollection, admission of Asian students was not a factor considered by the Supreme Court in any of its previous major decisions on the topic of race and college admissions.

What’s the Central Conflict of your Novel? Keep it Center Stage.

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

“Conflict in Every Scene”

We’ve all heard this advice, and for good reason. Your protagonist has a goal—hopefully, an audacious and high-stakes goal that is difficult to achieve. “Difficult” is important. It’s one of the qualities of a highly engaging story because the harder the goal is to reach, the less certainty readers have that the protagonist will be ok. They’ll find themselves wondering: Will the hero win in the end? Can they overcome the odds? Will they be able to make the necessary internal growth for them to succeed?

To maintain this level of reader empathy and engagement, the conflict has to come hard and fast. There needs to be hardship in every single scene. Some of that strife will relate directly back to the story goal. This will be in the form of obstacles, adversaries, setbacks, and disappointments that push the character farther from their objective.

But not every conflict has to do with the overall goal. Some of it relates to an important subplot that’s impacting a key story player. And then you have inner conflict. This conflict exists solely within the character as they struggle with various aspects of personal evolution and internal growth.

As you’re drafting — as the story progresses and the protagonist’s difficulties compound — there’s always a risk of the central conflict getting muted or lost in the noise.

Too much conflict, or certain problems getting a disproportionate chunk of airtime, can lead to pacing issues and confused readers who aren’t sure what the character is working toward. Keeping the core plot and central conflict should be your main focus. That’s the best way to ensure that everything you add to the story is leading to that eventual climax.

How do we do that exactly?

KNOW YOUR STORY’S CENTRAL CONFLICT

The first step is to identify the main conflict for your story. A good place to start is with the six common literary forms of conflict:

  • Character vs. Character: In this scenario, the protagonist goes head-to-head with another character in a battle of wills. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Die Hard, The Princess Bride)
  • Character vs. Society: These stories feature a character who faces seemingly insurmountable challenges when taking on society or a powerful agency within their world. (The Hunger Games, Schindler’s List, Erin Brockovich)
  • Character vs. Nature: In this case, the character goes up against nature. (The Perfect Storm, Wild, The Revenant)
  • Character vs. Technology: This conflict will pit a character against technology or a machine. (The Terminator, The Matrix, WarGames)
  • Character vs. Supernatural: This form of conflict involves a character facing opposition that exists (at least partially) outside their understanding. ( Sleep, Ghost Rider, Percy Jackson and the Olympians)
  • Character vs. Self: Of all the conflict forms, this is the most personal (and often the most compelling) because the friction arises from within the character’s belief system or personal identity. (The Bourne Identity, DexterA Beautiful Mind)

Which of the six central conflicts is your story built around? Identifying it will help you keep it front-of-mind and in the spotlight. This knowledge can also help you choose the right conflict scenarios—the problems and friction-inducing situations that will test your character’s commitment, reveal characterization, and force them to reflect on how to become stronger so they can achieve their goal.

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