Every man

Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Britain has an enormous number of pheasants

For some readers,“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was a disappointment. “[T]his fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising,” wrote a reviewer in Field & Stream, a hunting periodical, in 1959. Unfortunately, “one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material” to get to the passages “on the management of a Midlands shooting estate”.

Pheasants rarely command attention—and yet there are oodles of them. The most recent estimate puts their number in early August (before shooting season begins) at 31.5m, and their share of the nation’s wild-bird biomass (together with the less numerous partridge) at around half. The number released into the wild each year after rearing has risen by around 900% since the 1960s. Yet, as in Lady Chatterley, they seem peripheral to the narrative.

One reason is that official figures held on them are so poor. The government knows how many pigs there are in England (4m), cattle and calves (5.2m) and llamas (1,000). There is a Sheep and Goat Inventory (in England, unlike the End Times, the species are bracketed together). And it tallies deaths caused by various animals, including dogs (two in 2019), rats (one) and crocodiles (zero).

But there are no good data on pheasants. Anyone who holds 50 or more captive birds should fill in a form for the poultry register, but many do not. Estimates differ wildly: another commonly cited one puts the total far higher: at 47m.

Opinions differ on whether this abundance is a good thing. Animal-lovers say that shooting pheasants is cruel. Saboteurs sometimes try to stop shoots. Environmentalists say pheasants’ droppings damage the soil, and that they boost the number of predators such as foxes. But they also bring benefits, says Joah Madden of Exeter University, who produced the most recent estimate of their number. They have shaped the countryside for the better: 28% of British woodland is managed for game, and if you spy an isolated copse or strip of trees on a hill, there is a fair chance it is there to provide cover and good sport.

Link to the rest at The Economist

For the record, although he has not had the pleasure of visiting Britain in well over ten years and his British ancestors left England and Scotland almost 400 years ago, PG still considers himself to be a fully-committed Anglophile and is definitely a subscriber to The Economist. Stories like this still resonate with the British voices in his blood.

Hopelessly Devoted: Why We Watch Sports

From Public Books:

My father called me the other day to ask if I was in a good mood. The Mets were in first place, having triumphed in their season opener. These days Mets fan cherish even the briefest of moments on top. During the brighter era of the mid-eighties, my father, a trial lawyer, childhood Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and recent convert to the Mets, developed a new philosophy. He decided that the outcomes of his cases were directly tied to the Mets results. If they were winning games then he would win his case, and if they lost then it did not bode well. He did not harbor this belief in secret; he strongly encouraged his clients to root for them. And this philosophy stood him in surprisingly good stead through the late eighties. As the Mets slid downhill in the following decade, pragmatics forced him to put this philosophy, if not his allegiance, aside.

In The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession, Eric Simons attempts—earnestly and enthusiastically—to explain such irrational behavior. He starts with his own. The book opens with a blow-by-blow account of Simons watching his alma mater football team, the University of California, play Oregon State. Cal is down three with seconds to go. A win would make them the top team in the nation and give them a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time in over fifty years. The rookie quarterback needs to throw the ball away to set up the tying field goal and a chance to win in overtime. But, inexplicably, he chooses to scramble for the win, and he fails. After describing his sweat-stained, devastated ride home, Simons declares: “this sports experience was one of the most emotionally complicated moments of my life.” His surprise at himself—at the intensity of his reaction to something that is “just a game”—drives the inquiry of the book. Sports are precisely not matters of life and death. So why do we invest so much energy and emotion in the apparently unimportant and irrational endeavor of sport fandom? Why do humans watch sports? Why do we feel the way we feel when we watch? How can a game generate such intense and complex emotional and physical responses in us? Shouldn’t these responses be reserved for the things in life that “really matter”?

Sports are precisely not matters of life and death.  So why do we invest so much energy and emotion in the apparently unimportant and irrational endeavor of sport fandom?

The underlying premise of the book is that watching ourselves watch sports can help reveal something fundamental about ourselves as contradictory human creatures.  Simons gathers material from scholars, sports fans, and at-home experiments. He reviews a stunning range of research—in psychology, neuroscience, and sociology—on topics running from the hormone system, emotion, and motivation, to cultural cognition, schadenfreude, and theories of self deception. He hangs out with fans of Cleveland’s perennially losing teams, embeds himself in the up-at-dawn San Francisco branch of Arsenal’s international fan club, and trails after the fanatic fans at the heart of Raider Nation in order to find out how sports fans understand their own fandom. And he performs pseudo-scientific experiments on himself and his friends, such as monitoring testosterone levels through saliva samples before, during, and after watching hockey games. Spectatorship, in Simons’s hands, is not a topic for which there is a single explanation but a field for understanding how we come to care and invest value in apparently “unnecessary” activities.

Art history and cinema studies have long examined and theorized questions of spectatorship, but sports generally falls outside of this tradition’s scope. One exception is a glancing mention by Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, when he uses the example of “a group of newspaper boys, leaning on their bikes, discussing the results of a cycle race” to claim common ground between cinematographic and sporting technologies, arguing that in the cases of both film and sport, “everyone watches the performances displayed as a semi-expert.” For Benjamin, the sports fan, in occupying the position of a semi-expert, gains a degree of authorship; the race, match, or game, then, is always the product of multiple authors. It is common property—a collective creation—and one generated from within common conditions of relations at a particular historical and technological moment. As the title indicates, Simons, on the other hand, is after “the science of sports obsession,” and the majority of the book rests on work from biology and psychology. His writing displays an evolutionary, universalizing cast. The book slowly scales up from the physiological to the psychological to the social. I found it delightful to read Simons’s synthesis of the research being done on the effects of winning and losing on brain chemistry, models of social dominance, kinesthetic empathy, and mirror neurons.

We learn about a fish boxing ring complete with spectator fish. Researchers collect urine from the spectator fish after each bout to determine if merely watching other fish fighting has an impact on the spectators’ testosterone levels.

We also learn about experiments that test which parts of the brain fire in athletes, fans, and novices as they watch sports. The motor cortex (the part of the brain that directs movement) activates in both athletes and serious fans (experts and expert watchers) when they watch.

Athletes’ brains go particularly nuts when a shot is missed—when early anticipation of the ball’s movement is the biggest advantage. But although the biology is entrancing, applied psychology and neuroscience do not—as of yet—provide truly satisfactory explanations for why people care about sports. While a test can prove that watching competitions impacts testosterone levels, we do not know enough about what a rise or fall in testosterone level means to understand definitively what we know from the test. Simons reminds us, “You can’t generalize behavior or hormonal changes onto one person, you can’t predict the way a person will respond to a game without understanding all the ways the game matters to them.”

So how do we explain something like the commitment to almost guaranteed misery on the part of those fans who root for perennially losing teams? Simons chooses Cleveland fans as his example, but it could be any team, really. Team sports are organized around an inescapable fact: at the end of every season, every team loses except one. And that winning team will most likely lose the following year. Being a sports fan would seem to be a regular practice in heartbreak. Which is to say, being a sports fan has something to do with love. Simons reaches back to Socrates to unearth an old but still useful definition of love, one with parallels in contemporary research. The notion of a “social prosthetic system,” as advanced by behavioral scientist Stephen Rosslyn, is this:  individuals build up their identities by placing pieces of themselves into people and things that they care about, “à la Voldemort.” These practices of self-expansion are our bid for immortality. We care about sports teams, then, because (or when) we choose to lodge key parts of ourselves in them and to build core pieces of our identity around them. Humans are motivated to expand themselves, this causal logic goes, and watching sports is one way we can do this. We cannot understand sports fandom by measuring win/loss ratios, because most of the value and the pleasure lie in the risks and rewards of the ongoing relationship. And, as in addiction and romantic love, this relationship requires relinquishing control. In watching, we choose to put ourselves in situations that are out of our hands. We choose to be swept away by feeling.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Narrative Design In The Gaming Industry

From The Creative Penn:

Edwin McRae: Narrative design is effectively the design of story elements that then go into video games. I steer away from the general term of writing for video games, because often within the industry, the games industry, writing gets siloed into things like dialogue and flavor text. And the player-facing material that you would see in a video game.

Whereas narrative design, there’s a lot more behind the scenes than that, creating the story experience for a video game, which I’m happy to elaborate on more what a story experience for a video game is.

I started out writing a novel, pitched that around, almost got picked up by HarperCollins at one point, but to no avail. And then shifted to doing theater for a while, and then studied screenwriting for film. And then on that course, which is at Victoria University in Wellington, I managed to get a work placement on New Zealand’s soap opera, ‘Shortland Street.’

I ended up as a storyliner and script writer there for four years, which taught me a lot about churning out a lot of story and the best practices for that kind of fast-paced storytelling. And then I got to the end of my tenure with writing for soap opera, I wanted to do other things.

I started to hang out with some game developers in Auckland at the time, at a game developers meetup, met the guys at Grinding Gear Games who make the game ‘Path of Exile.’

They Facebook messaged me one day and said, ‘Hey, do you want to try writing some dialogue for us?’ And then that kind of, the rest is history.

Joanna Penn: It’s so interesting. You’ve done lots of different types of writing, obviously. But I wonder if you would also maybe start by giving us more of an overview of the gaming industry, because I feel like there’s a lot of misconceptions.

Edwin: It’s certainly become a large industry. It has eclipsed cinema as an industry. I was looking a few things up, I think cinema is around $110 billion, games are around $150 billion as an industry internationally, which you compare that to books.

Publishing still sits around over $200 billion, but of that, books I think are around the $120 billion mark. I would see games as a platform being as large as the books industry pretty much at the moment.

So it’s certainly a significant thing out there. And interestingly, your average gamer, I was looking at, is apparently I think 34 years old, has children, and owns a house. So it’s not the teenage stereotype that often is assumed with video gaming.

Looking at various stats it ranges…for instance in Australia, 80% of gamers are over 18 and the U.S., 70% are over 18. So it’s actually, it’s quite a mature audience, and perhaps more mature than people might assume.

Joanna: And what about the gender split? Because there used to be this sort of thing that it was mostly guys.

Edwin: Oh, absolutely. That’s the curious thing with games. It’s almost like referring to a game is the same as referring to a book, as a book can be anything from a thriller to a dad’s joke book, could be horror to a kid’s picture book.

It’s the same range with games, it can be everything from yes, your ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and your ‘Call of Duty’ shooters back right to…for instance there’s a company here in Dunedin, Runaway Play, that makes effectively nature simulation games and games about cat cafes, and games about dog refuge centers.

There’s a full range within the type of games that are out there, there’s really something for everyone.

Joanna: There are obviously the high-end games where you need whole consoles and things, but then you see people playing games on their mobile phone.

Edwin: Oh, absolutely. That’s the curious thing with games. It’s almost like referring to a game is the same as referring to a book, as a book can be anything from a thriller to a dad’s joke book, could be horror to a kid’s picture book.

It’s the same range with games, it can be everything from yes, your ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and your ‘Call of Duty’ shooters back right to…for instance there’s a company here in Dunedin, Runaway Play, that makes effectively nature simulation games and games about cat cafes, and games about dog refuge centers.

There’s a full range within the type of games that are out there, there’s really something for everyone.

Joanna: There are obviously the high-end games where you need whole consoles and things, but then you see people playing games on their mobile phone.

Edwin: They’re the ones that get the most press is the really big ones like ‘Cyberpunk 2077,’ or ‘Witcher 3,’ or ‘Skyrim,’ big games that you can explore for up to, oh gosh, 100 hours, 200 hours, 300 hours for some. But those are your larger titles that cost between say $50 to $100, $120.

But then especially in the indie game dev scene, you’ll get games that are anywhere from $2 to $20. And even in those, you’ll tend to have a good 10 to 20 hours of gameplay in those. Again, it can be on mobile, it can be on PC, it can be on console.

There’s that epic, massive series that you can explore, there are short stories, and novellas in the game scene as well. So, again, it’s a full range of experience on offer.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Nature’s what it’s all about

Nature’s what it’s all about, but our people have been brainwashed into thinking that life is a cell phone against your head and the TV on a beer commercial with hot chicks.

Tim Dorsey, Nuclear Jellyfish

The average TV commercial

The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half-second clips in it, or one-third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Some Unconventional Advice About How to Write the D*mn Blurb

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

Your blurb (aka Production Description on Amazon) has one — and only one — purpose:  to make the reader an offer s/he can’t refuse.

How do I know?

Because over the years, I’ve written hundreds — more likely thousands — of blurbs.

From the slush pile to the editor’s office.

When I started out in publishing at Bantam, my first assignment was to slog through the slush pile.

The second? Write the d*mn blurbs.


Because no one else wanted to.

I was clueless and inexperienced, but I learned right away that the “real editors” (unlike novice moi) didn’t like (hated) writing blurbs.

Not knowing any better or even what to do, and too intimidated to ask for advice, I studied the company’s current releases. I paid special attention to:

1— the front cover tag line

2 — the back cover sell block

3 — the first page (more sell text)

When I finished emulating them as best I could, I was required to take my efforts to my boss, the Managing Editor, a savvy old-timer, for his OK. We met in his office almost every morning when he would go over my attempts and show me in word-by-word detail how my blurbs could be improved.

Which was by a lot.

. . . .

Those blurbs went through draft after draft until the ME was satisfied, and I was unleashed on the next month’s list. And so it went, book after book, month after month, year after year.

I learned to write headlines, how to use reviewers’ quotes to their best advantage, how to write short, appealing sell blocks.

I wrote blurbs for genres ranging from westerns (Louis L’Amour anyone?) to nurse romances, from to scifi to classics, from horror and thrillers, from gothic suspense (remember Victoria Holt?) to mysteries, and big-ticket mmpb reprints of hardcover bestsellers to which Bantam had acquired the rights.

. . . .

After the ME retired, I endured an epically neurotic and insecure EIC who stroked his mustache and agonized over whether compelling or fascinating was preferable.

After lengthy consideration, he would — finally! — make a decision.

The next day, he’d require me to rewrite the d*mn thing again. Under his direction, I’d swap compelling with unforgettable and, after the obligatory period of extended anguish, he’d finger his mustache and bestow his approval.

And back again the day after that, when he would reverse his second opinion and I would have to replace unforgettable with memorable.

He would hem and haw, dither and dawdle, furrow his brow, and pull at his mustache while I wracked my brain for another synonym for whatever adjective was currently causing him such psychic pain.

In the end, only the demands of the printer’s stringent deadlines forced him to eventually make a decision.

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

One of the main benefits that traditional publishers say they offer authors
is marketing and promotion expertise.

PG will note that none of the individuals mentioned in the OP gives any
indication that they had any training, experience or background that suited
them for writing advertising copy, which is what a blurb is.

Does a literature degree prepare one to write compelling advertising copy?
Does a creative writing degree prepare one to write compelling advertising

PG thinks not.

A very long time ago, PG worked for a massive advertising agency with
clients spending many millions of dollars for compelling advertising. Fall
short in that task and the agency lost the account to another agency that did a
better job. If the agency lost an account, people expected to be fired.

PG was not in the creative department, but he worked with people in the
creative department because he was responsible for talking with the client
about what the client was looking for and making sure the client would be happy
with what the agency produced.

During that time, PG worked with copywriters who wrote copy for print ads,
billboards, television commercials, etc.

PG thought he was a pretty good writer, but these folks were writing
geniuses. They always had limited space (billboards, for one example) limited
time (for television and radio commercials), but the most important challenge
they had to overcome was limited attention span on the part of people who would
be reading what they wrote.

The agency had conducted studies concerning consumer attention spans for
advertising materials. PG doesn’t remember specifics, but the bottom line was
that an advertisement had only a low-single-digit number of seconds to engage a
reader/viewer, etc. Failure meant the consumer’s attention went somewhere else,
and the advertisement did no good for the client. If there were many failures,
the client went somewhere else and management took a close look at the people
involved in the failure to keep the client satisfied.

Everybody involved would have been fired if a brand-new copywriter was assigned
to write advertising copy for anything more than the in-house announcement of
the Agency Christmas Party without going through a serious learning curve
working with a very experienced copywriter. PG doesn’t ever remember the agency
hiring anyone to write copy straight out of college. It was more efficient to
watch for good copywriters at smaller agencies and pirate the best who were
already trained.

One final point: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, Don
DeLillo, Joseph Heller and Helen Gurley Brown each worked as advertising
copywriters early in their careers .


An Ode to Sticky Notes

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Occasionally someone in one of the various on-line writing groups in which I hang out will ask how people organize their research. It usually generates a discussion of digital versus paper filing systems.  And I occasionally weigh in with my own multi-layered, always evolving system of computer files, notebooks, 3 x 5 cards, and the glory of the project box (courtesy of Twyla Tharp).  Within that system, one thing stays constant:  sticky-notes.

I literally don’t remember what it is like to do historical research without sticky-notes.  3M marketed the first Post-It notes the year I wrote my master’s paper and I embraced them with enthusiasm. Over the years, they’ve become one of the pillars on which my research process rests.

When sticky-notes first came out, they were expensive for someone on a graduate student budget, so I used them sparingly.  I cut them in two.  I reused them until the sticky strips grew fuzzy and refused to stick any more. I reverted to using scraps of paper as bookmarks.  (Because real bookmarks were also a luxury on a graduate student budget.)

Now I use sticky-notes with abandon.  I even stopped trying to re-use them about a year ago.  (I finally realized the aggravation of losing information I had marked when they fell out a book outweighed the virtuous glow of reducing paper usage one small square at a time.)

At the moment I have a large (and growing) pile of books on the floor near my desk, stuffed with more-or-less color-coded sticky-notes and tabs.  The tabs mark sections I want to capture for the books.  The regular sticky-notes allow me to annotate a page in a library book with an idea or response to the author.  (Because while I happily underline and scribble in the margins of books I own, I do not write in library books.  I am not a barbarian.)  

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

PG admits to being a heavy-duty sticky notes user from very shortly after the beginning of the Post-It Note in 1980.

33 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises

From Writers.com:

Common literary devices, such as metaphors and similes, are the building blocks of literature, and what make literature so enchanting. Language evolves through the literary devices in poetry and prose; the different types of figurative language make literature spark in different ways.

. . . .

Literary devices are ways of taking writing beyond its straightforward, literal meaning. In that sense, they are techniques for helping guide the reader in how to read the piece.

Central to all literary devices is a quality of connection: by establishing or examining relationships between things, literary devices encourage the reader to perceive and interpret the world in new ways.

One common form of connection in literary devices is comparison. Metaphors and similes are the most obvious examples of comparison. A metaphor is a direct comparison of two things—“the tree is a giant,” for example. A simile is an indirect comparison—“the tree is like a giant.” In both instances, the tree is compared to—and thus connected with—something (a giant) beyond what it literally is (a tree).

Other literary devices forge connections in different ways. For example, imagery, vivid description, connects writing richly to the worlds of the senses. Alliteration uses the sound of words itself to forge new literary connections (“alligators and apples”).

Link to the rest at Writers.com

What Makes a Book “Appropriate” for School?

From Publishers Weekly:

When I was a teen, I’d have given anything for a book like Ordinary Hazards. Of course, it hadn’t yet been written. What I did discover back then was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. In her novel, I found Francie, a character I resonated with deeply. We weren’t of the same race, nor were our lives a perfect replica, by any stretch. Still, Smith’s character and I both faced tough challenges in our young lives, and like me, Francie knew the color of hell by heart. Because of her story, I knew that I wasn’t alone in the world, and knowing that gave me strength for my own journey. This is the power of story. This is why I became a purveyor of story, myself.

Over the course of my long career, I’ve written fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, and poetry on a wide variety of subjects, but the one thing I’ve always believed is that the single most important story I have to tell is my own. Ordinary Hazards, my memoir in verse, is that story. It is a story of darkness and childhood trauma, of a parent’s alcoholism and mental illness, of the seamy side of foster care, and of sexual assault. But it is also a story of love and light, of faith and grace, and of a young girl’s discovery of the power of the written word.

Mine is a story of triumph over darkness, and, as such, is ultimately a story of hope. The possibility of planting seeds of hope in the hearts and minds of young readers is why I wrote Ordinary Hazards. As agonizing as it was to rip open the wounds of memory, I knew there were young people who needed a story like mine—and a true story, at that. And thousands of readers across the country have already been inspired by it. This is why I was stunned when I learned that a school district in Leander, Texas, had elected to remove my award-winning memoir from their curriculum.


It is one thing to rip a book from your own teen’s personal library, but to interfere with every other teen’s access to that book throughout your school district goes beyond the pale.

Leander’s issue with Ordinary Hazards—and Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, among other titles recently removed—is that these titles are considered to have “inappropriate content.” I’m assuming the content in question in Ordinary Hazards is difficult subject matter, namely alcoholism, sexual assault, and mental illness. Difficulty, though, is no reason to remove a book from an age-appropriate reader’s easy reach.

The truth is, the lives of many teens are difficult. Some are homeless, or have parents in prison, or have been bounced from one foster home to another—or all of the above. Other teens live, as I did, in homes where a parent wrestles with mental illness or alcoholism, or may struggle with these issues themselves. Finally, though you may be unaware, countless teens of every gender, sitting in high school classrooms right now, have been sexually assaulted. Is this subject uncomfortable? Absolutely. But writing about the topic is hardly inappropriate, especially when it’s handled delicately.

Censors will find nothing salacious, graphic, or gratuitous in Ordinary Hazards. I specifically chose to write my memoir in poetry because the form allows for the delicate treatment of difficult content. As such, no one can reasonably charge the writing itself of being inappropriate. When it comes to sexual abuse, what is inappropriate—not to mention criminal—is the abuse itself. Writing about that abuse is both appropriate and necessary. Teens need to know that sexual assault is not a secret to keep.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

‘Hot vaxxed summer’ fizzled, but ‘hot books fall’ feels like a safe bet

From The Los Angeles Times:

What was it like seeing book sales explode during the coronavirus pandemic? Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s president and CEO, couldn’t help quoting Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“A lot of people had extra time at home and they turned to books,” Karp said. Virtual sales and appearances, meanwhile, “made it easier to reach readers directly.”

Still, it’s been a rocky 18 months for U.S. publishers, whose jobs are defined by predictability: They work on monthslong publishing schedules, orchestrate book tours and promotional plans and calibrate printings based on expectations.

As COVID-19 swept across the world last year, they had to throw many of those plans out the window — canceling tours, delaying books and having their media rollouts drowned out by breaking news. Nevertheless, fueled by online sales and the demand of the quarantined and bored, total unit sales for print books in the generally flat industry rose 8% between 2019 and 2020, according to NPD BookScan.

This fall promises something almost as valuable as a boom year: a return to some semblance of normal.

“This year, we’re not letting the pandemic dictate our decisions,” said Reagan Arthur, publisher and executive vice president of Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House. “The pandemic’s been with us longer than some of these books have, and so we scheduled them having a much better sense of how we would publish them, whatever the current climate was.”

It’s been a strong 2021 for adult fiction, led by Amazon bestsellers such as Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds,” Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library” and Laura Dave’s “The Last Thing He Told Me.” This fall is equally promising, with new titles from crossover literary stars including Richard Powers, Anthony Doerr, Jonathan Franzen, Sandra Cisneros and debut thriller novelist Hillary Rodham Clinton (with Louise Penny).

. . . .

The pandemic fueled some surprising — and perhaps temporary — areas of growth. George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” is among Amazon’s top 20 bestsellers of the year (so far). And last March, just as the state was preparing for its first shutdown, Albert Camus’ “The Plague” was flying off of the shelves of local stores.

. . . .

Tobi Harper, deputy director at Red Hen Press, has noticed an uptick in reader interest in dark fiction. (Dystopia has certainly dominated critical attention.) Last fall, even before the rise of phenom Amanda Gorman, it was poetry. “Any time of extreme political turmoil,” Harper said, “there’s a noticeable jump in poetry sales.”

Sales of Japanese manga skyrocketed 243%, according to NPD BookScan, making it the largest adult fiction category in the U.S. Those sales are expected to decline as people return to offices and schools and reading habits revert to the mean.

. . . .

Whatever normal looks like, it’s clear to publishers that we aren’t there yet.

Last year, after book tours were canceled, authors took to virtual platforms to promote their books, wiping out a major source of revenue for bookstores. Though online sales have buoyed publishing, they tend to help those with established platforms. Bricks-and-mortar shops, which operate through hand sales, recommendations and word of mouth, remain an important avenue for up-and-coming authors.

“An author who has a strong presence or following can certainly sell a lot of books at virtual events,” says Burnham of HarperCollins, “but it’s harder for newer voices to get the kind of sales that you might get from in-person events versus virtual, because there’s so much competition for people’s time in the evenings.”

Going into the fall, many writers are doing hybrid events — while keeping a close eye, day by day, on the surging Delta variant.

. . . .

The country’s varying reactions to the health crisis have posed a major challenge in planning tours and readings.

“Every state responds differently, counties respond differently, and that certainly impacts artists that want to be connecting with the world,” Lewis said.

Harper at Red Hen said they’re not counting on a fully open country this fall.

“We’re trying not to depress our authors by saying things like that quite so intensely, but basically we’re saying, ‘If you want to do an in-person event, let’s talk to the bookstore and see how they’re living,’” Harper said.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

As PG has mentioned before, he thinks more than a few authors dislike book tours. Moving from city to city to present your speil at a new bookstore every night might sound fun at first, but, for an introvert, that experience can be pretty stressful. If attendance is light, the experience can be downright depressing.

Certainly, a great many traditionally-published authors want so seem cheerful and upbeat to encourage their publishers to put lots of money and effort behind new releases, but PG wonders if, five or ten years from now, whether one of the many unexpected consequences of Covid is the end of the book tour.

The Record Label Remixing Novels into Music

From The Guardian:

Last year, Taylor Swift’s album Evermore featured two prominent nods to literature: the Rebecca-inspired Tolerate It, and Happiness, a breakup song which references F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

After the news that Dolly Parton’s debut novel is to be released alongside her new album, it seems that fiction-inspired music is having its moment.

The scores to screen adaptions of books have enjoyed steady sales for years, with Wendy Carlos’ and Rachel Elkind’s soundtrack to The Shining (1980) due to receive a vinyl reissue later this month. And authors have been writing existing music into their work for decades: the late Sean Hughes’s 1997 novel The Detainees featured a revenge-seeking antiques dealer who becomes galvanised after being pushed into a Wedding Present mosh pit.

The Scottish micro label Bibliotapes has made literature-inspired music into an entire business. The label’s objective – asking musicians to compose new scores to classic novels – is an idea so simple it could almost be a happy accident. Stuart McLean, who runs it, suggests that’s the case.

“There was no grand plan. The label can be best summed up in a sentence: soundtracks for books on tape,” writes McLean.

“After I mentioned the idea of book soundtracks on Twitter, I was sent one for CS Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew by Ioan Morris, who’s composed many of the Doctor Who soundtracks for Big Finish’s audio adaptions.”

Eight further soundtracks to novels have now been released by the label, including Audio Obscura’s pulsating score to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-FourRupert Lally’s brooding woodwind compositions for John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, and the electronica prepared by Twenty-Three Hanging Trees as an accompaniment to Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (and since picked by Meadows Records).

Bibliotapes is releasing its soundtracks in cassette form only (McLean “never felt the point of hanging on to something long after the physical copies have sold”, and “cassettes are faster to make and distribute” than vinyl), but the artists themselves have kept their music available digitally via Bandcamp.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The OP sounded interesting to PG until he got to the part about releasing the soundtracks on cassette.

PG will rely on British visitors to comment concerning whether this is a reasonable commercial structure or not, but PG doesn’t think he still has any equipment that can play music on cassette tapes. If he does, he expects the music would sound very unlike what listens to on a daily basis.

Barnes & Noble Climbs Back

From Publishers Weekly:

A little more than a year ago, Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt used the forced closure of nearly all of his physical stores to begin refurbishing the interior of each location, as well as to review each store’s title selection. Daunt had planned to remake the stores over an 18-month to two-year span, but the retail lockdown, coming less than six months after Daunt took over as CEO following the acquisition of B&N by Elliott Advisors, forced his hand.

While Daunt appeared confident B&N could weather the Covid storm, others in the industry were not so sure how much time the new owners would give Daunt to turn around the bookstore chain at a time when the viability of physical retail was being called into question. However, as bookstore sales have bounced back from the depth of last year’s slump (bookstore sales were up 30% in the first half of 2021 over the comparable period last year), publishers say B&N has been performing well. Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp credited Daunt with “revitalizing” the retailer, while HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray praised Daunt’s decision to remake the stores during the pandemic and for his ability to convince Elliott to keep investing in the business, adding that HC’s sales with B&N are up.

Daunt said total B&N sales are up about 5% to 6% so far this year, compared to 2019, with book sales up by double digits. The pandemic has continued to hurt B&N’s café and newsstand results, but books and other core areas, such as educational games, puzzles, and workbooks, have done well, Daunt said. Urban areas are having the hardest time recovering from the pandemic, and New York City in particular, Daunt said, has been “a drag” on the overall rebound.

Unlike his first few months on the job, Daunt said trends now seem to be in B&N’s favor. Book sales have remained resilient during the recession, interest in reading is up, all B&N stores have undergone at least one round of refurbishing, and rents are down. The most important change Daunt has made to B&N—giving local store managers more control over what, and how, they sell in their stores-has kicked in. Daunt acknowledged that most stores will carry many of the same titles, but where the books are placed, and in what quantities they are ordered, is now left to managers. “Managers are in charge of the way the titles are presented,” Daunt said. The goal is to make sure books that are selling well have the necessary quantities, and books that aren’t working are returned quickly. Resupplying stores is a “central focus,” Daunt said, and the company has invested in its distribution centers and people to make its internal supply chain operate more efficiently. Lowering returns has been one of Daunt’s priorities since he took over B&N, and while progress has been made, he said there is still room for improvement.

. . . .

Staying out of the way doesn’t mean more change isn’t coming, however. The stores are still adding new fixtures and are beginning to get ready for the fall by adding such things as new cash wraps. This spring, Elliott bought the stationery and gift retailer Paper Source and put Daunt in charge. Daunt said he will use B&N’s “stable mate” to create better, though not necessarily bigger, stationery sections. At the other end of the spectrum, Daunt remains committed to B&N’s Nook business; earlier this year B&N introduced a new Nook tablet in partnership with Lenovo, and he expects sales for the device to build.

B&N has opened six new stores since Daunt took over, and he said he expects to open eight more over the next month. B&N will also continue to close underperforming outlets, and Daunt expects to finish the year with about the same number of locations—about 625 stores—as B&N had at the start of the year. (“Sometimes staying even is moving ahead,” he said.) In 2022, however, Daunt hopes to open new stores “in decent numbers” and to have a net gain in outlets. “We make good tenants for landlords,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders how much of this is happy talk.

Revisiting Roosevelt and Churchill’s ‘Atlantic Charter’

From The Wall Street Journal:

It was, even for those two historical giants, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, a remarkable action. On Aug. 7, 1941, without letting the still-neutral American nation know what was going on, the unorthodox and purposeful president had arrived in the quiet harbor of Placentia Bay on the Newfoundland coast, after traveling there via train and warship. Two days later the equally resourceful Prime Minister of Britain arrived in the same port on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, just repaired from its encounter with the Bismarck.

For three full days, these two leaders and their top advisers shared their views about how the United States and the British Empire should carry out a combined policy against the Axis powers “in the event” of America’s joining the war. This meeting turned out to be the first of 11 that the “Big Two” would have during the world conflict—the last being with Stalin, at Yalta in February 1945. Their colloquy established a pattern for the hammering-out of the shared Anglo-American grand strategy.

In addition to discussing their military intentions, the two governments also worked together to produce one of the most important political documents in the West’s canon of statements about human rights, trade, the freedom of peoples and democratic purpose. The statement, soon termed “The Atlantic Charter” in the press, was issued after the two leaders had secretly departed for home, the better to avoid possible enemy interruption.

The Atlantic Charter was never actually signed by Roosevelt and Churchill, but was later viewed by historians as a grand step toward the coming of the United Nations. The lineage of the document’s ideas ran back, via Wilson’s Fourteen Points, to 19th-century thought about the comity of nations and an international order. And when this greatest conflict in human history was over—to be followed shortly after by the rise of the Cold War—the permanent peacetime agreements that formed the NATO alliance (1949) could also be seen as the natural successor to the ideas and decisions that arose from Roosevelt and Churchill’s meeting.

It is not surprising, then, that whenever the cohesiveness and common purposes of the Western Alliance appears to be splintering, whenever America and Europe seem to be drifting apart in today’s world, the calls to halt that danger almost always begin by referring back to this historic 1941 encounter. A fine new Brookings Institution policy book by David McKean and Bart Szewczyk, “Partners of First Resort: America, Europe and the Future of the West,” is not a work of history, unless one thinks of it being what scholars at the Harvard Kennedy School call “Applied History.” The two authors are scholar-practitioners (both being former members of the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State) and their account begins with the Atlantic Charter, the United Nation and NATO, then gallops forward swiftly to the coming of the Obama and Trump presidencies, both of which in their different ways (the latter especially) exposed irresolution and fissures in the Atlantic partnership.

This book can be seen as a liberal-internationalist act of special pleading, but it is no less interesting for being so. “Partners of First Resort” is quite good in describing the American-European differences of viewpoint in recent times, and on the dangers posed by Chinese authoritarianism—as well as by Vladimir Putin’s frequent efforts to undermine Western ideas and unity. The book concludes with a long chapter (“Toward a New Atlantic Charter”) that contains a serious and detailed agenda of all of the areas that any and all American policy makers, Republican or Democratic, now have to grapple with: climate change; cyber conflict; technological disruption; trade; public health. “Partners of First Resort” comes across, then, as a bold attempt to set out a grand strategy for the West, perhaps timed to catch the attention of President Biden and his team of advisers.

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

The Once and Future Temp

From Public Books:

In the 1980s, Arlene Kaplan Daniels coined the term “invisible work” to describe unpaid labor, traditionally undertaken by women, in the household. Over time, feminist scholars—from anthropologists to economists—adopted and broadened the term to refer to any work that is physically hidden, culturally overlooked, socially marginalized, economically devalued, or legally unprotected. This is to say, invisibility is a rather amorphous characteristic that results when the work, worker, or workplace is obscured, often leading to a combination of economic, cultural, and social devaluation.

In Hilary Leichter’s first novel, Temporary, this invisible work makes the world turn. Following the incredibly odd temp positions of a young woman navigating the workplace, the reader quickly realizes that Temporary is a surreal and speculative novel set outside this universe. In each chapter, the unnamed narrator fills in for a different person or thing, taking on wacky placements as an assassin, a pirate, and a sea barnacle.

In Leichter’s novel, the protagonist is born a temporary, living in the space “between who she was and whom she was meant to replace.” While Leichter’s temporaries were originally created “to fill any gaps the gods had forgotten,” over time they have become a class of people with no choice but to embrace their transient occupational status and its affective demands. In Leichter’s world, the “temp” has grown from a temporary occupation into a permanent fixture of the universe. In one sense, then, Leichter forces readers to ask what it means for temps to be anything but provisional.

Leichter dreams up a colorful and kooky world of work in Temporary, which asks the question, What can fiction, specifically the surreal and bemusing kind, teach us about modern working life? With a matter-of-fact tone and tongue-in-cheek language, Leichter crafts a world in which work-life balance is as elusive as celebrity status. While Temporary’s story world is purposefully impressionistic, its portrayal of temporary work draws very real connections between the history of the “temp” industry in the US and newer forms of contingent labor that demand workers sacrifice not just their time—and now, potentially, their health—but also crucial facets of their identities.

For Leichter’s mythical temps, their purpose is not merely to stand in for other workers (the assassin, the pirate) but also to embody them, to become them. The central journey occurs in this in-between of internal and external selves, for it is through these portraits of exaggerated embodiment that Leichter captures the gendered and affective aspects of work. Leichter places these traditionally invisible and feminized practices in the foreground, constructing a campy story of work and identity that reveals just how closely the two are connected and how this proximity can invite exploitation.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG notes that every job he held in college was temporary.

He’ll further note that any job he held after graduating from college and law school was temporary.

The legal term is generally At Will Employee. Here’s a definition:

At-will employment refers to an employment agreement stating that employment is for an indefinite period of time and may be terminated either by employer or employee. If an employment is at-will, such an agreement would typically be expressly included in the relevant employment contract.

Although PG has held some executive positions, none ever came with an employment contract. He liked that because he could always move to a better job for more pay. He always felt the best employment security was his ability to do useful things.

Additionally, but definition, all attorneys, doctors, dentists, etc., provide services only if and when clients or patients ask them to do so.

Silicon Valley has a hipper term for Temp – Gig Work.


When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.

Nora Ephron

According to most studies

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Jerry Seinfeld

Serialized Books Are a Burgeoning Business at Substack

From Publishers Weekly:

The subscription e-newsletter platform Substack has already made its mark on the media business, but will it do the same for book publishing? Authors including Elle Griffin, John McWhorter, Maggie Stiefvater, and Matt Taibbi use the service to serialize new books or publish short stories exclusive to their newsletter audiences, but to date, the platform is still only dipping its toes into the book business. Still, Substack provides authors—the latest of whom is Anand Giridharadas, an editor-at-large for Time, political analyst for MSNBC, and former New York Times correspondent—with some interesting options upon which to capitalize.

Giridharadas will serialize the first two chapters of his 2014 book, The True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas, in his newsletter, The.Ink, which goes out, he said, to an audience of “tens of thousands” of free subscribers and a smaller list of paid subscribers. The book, PW wrote in its starred review, “follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman but survived.” It is, our reviewer said, “an affecting story of forgiveness and redemption” centered around “the author’s penetrating portraits of the two men.” The book has sold nearly 15,000 copies in all print formats at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

Over the course of eight days, Giridharadas will publish the first two chapters of the book—each one focusing on one of its two principal characters and broken into four newsletters each—in both text form and audiobook segments, which will also be offered free of charge via Audible. (The first installment was published today.) The excerpts will be sent via newsletter and live in blog form as web pages on The.Ink, hosted by Substack. Giridharadas will also open his paid subscriber Zoom sessions to all for virtual book club discussions beginning on August 31. The arrangement is particularly interesting considering that the book has already been published—and that its publisher, W.W. Norton, greenlit the project without any licensing fees.

. . . .

Giridharadas saw the possibility of a new audience now, but “books only land once, and in this case, I had this ongoing frustration or sense of a missed opportunity.” So he contacted Norton, telling them he wanted “to give this book another shot at the conversation, and to land in the conversation now that these very dark portents of the book have have kind of materialized and become not fringe-y things but central things.”

At first, Giridharadas said, he and his publisher talked about “very conventional things, like, do I write a new foreword? Or do we reissue the book with a new cover?” But Norton didn’t see a reissue as the way to go.

“In this case, we chose not to reissue,” Alexa Pugh, v-p and publishing manager at Norton Trade Paperbacks, wrote in an email to PW. “One of the first (though not only) things we look for in a reissue candidate is the need to refresh the package to appeal to a new readership, often a more modern one if the book was published many years ago. But we agreed that the cover has held up nicely since it original publication in 2014, which lent support to the idea of pursuing a different method to get the book back out there. We also saw other ways that Anand could make the connection to current events outside of adding new material to the book itself in a new edition, such as through the book club he’ll be conducting as part of the newsletter campaign.”

Ultimately, both parties landed on using Giridharadas’s newsletter, which he launched last August, positing that its intimate nature, and the personal connection he has developed with its readers through it, would be their best shot at bringing the book back into the conversation. It was a new arrangement for both parties, and not without its challenges. Giridharadas, for one did not like the idea of licensing the content. But Norton agreed to let him reuse the first two chapters without any financial arrangement. Pugh noted that Audible “was also happy to coordinate with us” to include audio excerpts matching the serialized chapters at no cost.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

30 Ways to Say, “You’re Stupid”

From Daily Writing Tips:

I’ve been bingeing on the Shetland mysteries by Ann Cleeves and have finished them all. The novels are set in the Shetland islands to the extreme north of the UK. One of the many enjoyable features is the realistic dialogue, replete with dialect words and British idioms. I encountered several words, some of them insults, that sent me to the dictionary.

In researching insults in general, I came to realize that English provides an astounding number of ways to show contempt for our fellow creatures—too many for a single post.

I shall begin with thirty words used to insult the intelligence.

Compounds involving the head

One way is to form a compound with head, brain, skull, or wit:

NOTE: The definition of wit referenced in these compounds is “The faculty of thinking and reasoning in general.”


Words for mental conditions
Some words used to call a person stupid or foolish were or, in some contexts still are, medical or legal terms. The Ngram viewer shows all of these especially offensive insults understandably declining—until the 2000s, when they began climbing. The word idiot shows an especially dramatic spurt as we enter the age of incivility at the highest levels.

idiot: A person so profoundly disabled in mental function or intellect as to be incapable of ordinary acts of reasoning or rational conduct; specifically a person permanently so affected, as distinguished from one with a temporary severe mental illness.

imbecile: (Latin imbecillus “weak, feeble, delicate, fragile, ineffective, lacking intellectual or moral strength”) Of a person: mentally weak or deficient; lacking in intelligence or intellectual ability; stupid, foolish, idiotic. Sometimes used with the medical meaning of “suffering from mental retardation, typically of a moderate or severe degree,” but now largely disused and often considered offensive.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

If you’re not familiar with the Ngram Viewer, it’s a Google Books project you can find here.

Spoon River Anthology

From The Poetry Foundation:

Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas, and he grew up in the small towns of Lewistown and Petersburg, Illinois. The author of 40 books of poetry and prose, Masters is best remembered for his great collection Spoon River Anthology (1915), a sequence of over 200 free-verse epitaphs spoken from the cemetery of the town of Spoon River. His honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

When Spoon River Anthology first saw publication in 1915, it caused a great sensation because of its forthrightness about sex, moral decay, and hypocrisy; but its cynical view of Midwestern small town values influenced a whole generation of writers and their works. “The volume,” said Herbert K. Russell in the Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, “became an international popular and critical success and introduced with a flourish what has since come to be known as the Chicago Renaissance”—a group of writers, including Masters, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Theodore Dreiser, who disproved the notion held at the time that only on the East coast of the US were there writers capable of producing great literature. “It is safe to say,” declared Ernest Earnest in Western Humanities Review, “that no other volume of poetry except The Waste Land (1922) made such an impact during the first quarter of [the 20th] century.”

Masters was firmly rooted in the Midwestern society he both praised and criticized in Spoon River Anthology. The central Illinois area in which he grew up was especially revered for its historic association with Abraham Lincoln; Russell commented that Masters’ “hometown of Petersburg was but two miles from Lincoln’s New Salem; he knew personally William Herndon (Lincoln’s law partner), the Armstrong family (one of whom Lincoln had defended), and John McNamar (the man who jilted Ann Rutledge before her story became entwined with Lincoln’s).”

. . . .

Masters himself was trained for the law—he practiced as an attorney in Chicago for nearly 30 years, and for several years he was the law partner of Clarence Darrow, the lawyer later to become famous as the counsel for the defense at the 1925 Scopes trial—although he had long harbored literary ambitions. Using a variety of pseudonyms to avoid possible damage to his law practice, Masters began to publish poetry in magazines. By 1915 he had published four books of poetry, seven plays, and a collection of essays, but none of them had received much critical attention. Then, following the advice of Reedy’s Mirror publisher William Marion Reedy, Masters began to experiment with poetic form, bringing to life the sort of people he had known in his boyhood. The result was Spoon River Anthology, which mixed classical forms with innovative ones. It followed the example of the Greek Anthology, a collection of some 4500 Greek poems written between about 500 B.C. and 1000 A.D. Many of these poems, like those in Spoon River, took the form of epigrams—laconic sayings that harbor (or seem to harbor) a truth—and others were expressed as confessional epitaphs, in which the dead commented on their lives. Unlike the ancient Greeks, however, Masters made his dead recite their speeches in free verse.

Link to the rest at The Poetry Foundation

By coincidence, PG met Masters’ daughter, who was a older woman, when he was a sprout in college. She was a friend of PG’s favorite professor.

Here’s the introductory poem from Spoon River Anthology. As mentioned, Spoon River’s cemetery is on The Hill. (PG tip – If you read it out loud, you may get a better sense of the poem.)

The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one? —
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire,
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution? —
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

The Hill via The Poetry Foundation

The People We Think We Know (and the Characters They Inspire)

From Writer Unboxed:

Basing fictional characters on people we know carries both distinct risks and unique rewards.

The risks include potentially offending the person inspiring the character, especially if unflattering facts are revealed and the characterization is not adequately camouflaged—or poorly executed.

That said, a great many writers I know have reported that the people on whom they’ve based characters have seldom if ever recognized themselves, if only out of misguided vanity.

On the other hand, the rewards of basing characters on people we know include the ability to use personal, real-world knowledge and observation in the characterization, with the added plus of being able to use one’s own distinct intuitive impression of the person.

Obviously, there is no guarantee that knowing someone assures that you know them well. How much of someone’s life goes unnoticed by even intimate companions? Absent clandestine surveillance, we can’t know the secrets of others unless they’re divulged to us, either by the person herself or by someone betraying a confidence. And the violation of trust revealed in the latter circumstance is only enhanced if the secret is passed along by us, fictionally or otherwise.

I first began thinking of these matters when I was working on The Art of Character, specifically in response to the question of where our characters come from, i.e., are they created or discovered. (Answer: they’re a little of both.)

And while I was working on that section of the book, I happened upon a poem John Updike wrote late in his life, titled “Peggy Lutz, Fred Muth.”

. . . .

In that poem, Updike remarks:

Dear friends of childhood, classmates, thank you,
scant hundred of you, for providing a
sufficiency of human types: beauty,
bully, hanger-on, natural,
twin, and fatso—all a writer needs

These thoughts came crashing back to me recently when I returned to Columbus, Ohio, to attend my 50th high school reunion. (Yes, I really am that old.)

In particular, I was repeatedly struck by how much or how little many of us had changed, and in both instances why.

Link to the rest at From Writer Unboxed

PG found the entire text of Peggy Lutz, Fred Muth here.

What Do Fiction Writers Owe Their IRL Inspiration?

PG note: IRL = In Real Life

From Vulture:

Contemporary entertainment is a hall of mirrors, an endless flow of simulacra: reality shows, biopics, documentaries, Instagram posts, Youtube vlogs. Podcasts and docuseries and movies process the same real-life events (Tonya Harding, the O.J. trial, Theranos), responding to one another, building on one another, until the metanarrative is part of the entertainment. I guess it is no surprise, then, that our fictionalized characters have starting launching protests about how we’ve used them. A woman named Alexis Nowicki recently wrote a Slate essay outing herself as the inspiration for the viral short story “Cat Person,” and Amanda Knox, who was falsely accused of murder by Italian authorities, wrote an Atlantic article about a movie that (very) loosely transposes her story. Tom McCarthy, the director of Stillwater, did acknowledge in a Vanity Fair interview that his movie was “directly inspired” by Knox’s case. I still can’t decide if this was all marketing — McCarthy trying to stir up the true-crime audience and situate his film amid the flow of Amanda Knox content — or naiveté, an artist assuming that people will understand that inspiration is about the spark of an idea, not the act of appropriation.

It must first be noted that Stillwater bears little resemblance to Knox’s nightmarish story. She was a 20-year-old American exchange student in Italy when her roommate, a British student named Meredith Kercher, was gruesomely murdered. The police immediately focused on Amanda and her Italian boyfriend, despite virtually no evidence pointing to them. Another man was eventually arrested and convicted of the crime, but Knox was still churned through the Italian legal system for eight years. She was definitively cleared of murder charges in 2015, but not before she spent four years in an Italian prison, where she was sexually harassed and subject to psychological abuse. Her diary was stolen and pored over by the rabid press, which portrayed her as a nymphomaniac femme fatale who had convinced two men to murder Kercher as part of a demented sex game.

Stillwater takes place not in Italy but in France, and the American exchange student, Allison Baker (played by Abigail Breslin), is not from a nice, working-class family in Seattle, like Knox, but a poor and chaotic home in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she was raised by her grandmother because her father was a drug addict and her mother died by suicide. Allison is convicted of murdering her ex-girlfriend, a French Muslim girl, but insists that a mysterious man named Hakim committed the crime. The film takes place five years after her conviction, as her father, Bill (played by Matt Damon), who has cleaned up and is trying, belatedly and disastrously, to be in his daughter’s life, takes on the task of tracking down Hakim.

Knox was understandably angry that McCarthy used her case as shorthand to sell a movie that has little to do with her. She wrote a series of tweets that she spun into an essay for The Atlantic, venting her frustration at the way her name is used without her consent: the “Amanda Knox saga” or, worse, “the sordid Amanda Knox saga.” “I never asked to become a public person,” Knox writes, but she acknowledges, “My name, my face, my story have effectively entered the public imagination. I am legally considered a public figure, and that leaves me little recourse to combat depictions of me that are harmful and untrue.” After years of Italian authorities and the tabloid media creating fanciful and grotesque stories about her, Knox is weary of being made a subject of fiction.

Knox’s public vendetta against Stillwater may also be a matter of practical survival. As a best-selling author and true-crime podcaster, she is eager to maintain her hold on her story for both her dignity and her brand, which is her only source of income. The Vanity Fair article in which McCarthy discusses Stillwater ends, for some reason, with a rundown of the personal and legal debts that Knox and her family incurred during her trials, which reportedly ate up all of her nearly $4 million book deal. In a vast and lucrative true-crime media landscape on podcasts and streaming TV, big cases may appear like proprietary brands, but they are in fact public property. The “Amanda Knox case” does not belong to Amanda Knox, which seems to be the major source of her frustration: that she has neither the sole right to tell her story nor the exclusive right to profit off of it.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG will spare long-suffering visitors to TPV yet another rant, but he doesn’t agree with the whole “appropriation” argument as it is used in a variety of settings.

He takes a very legal approach to his thinking. If something newsworthy happens that the newspapers and other news outlets can write and feature, its in the public sphere. At that point, anybody can pretty much do whatever they want with the story, particularly if they create a work of fiction that doesn’ t use a victim’s or key participant’s real name.

For PG, the key sentence in the OP (if it is correct), encapsulates the legal justification, “It must first be noted that Stillwater bears little resemblance to Knox’s nightmarish story.”

Advance copies of Sally Rooney’s unpublished book sold for hundreds of dollars

From The Guardian:

When advance reading copies (ARCs) of Sally Rooney’s new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You were sent out in May, there was a flurry of social media posts. A lucky selection of editors, writers and influencers flaunted their copies; others bemoaned not having been granted one. Soon listings for proof copies (which are clearly marked “not for resale”) started to appear on trading sites such as eBay and Depop. One copy, listed on eBay by a seller in North Carolina, sold in June for $209.16. Even the canvas tote bag that Rooney’s publicists had been sending out with the ARC copies was fetching prices in the region of $80.

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, advance copies of popular and classic novels have long been collector’s items: a rare proof copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stonefor example, or classics by authors such as Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck can sell for up to £30,000, while Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroadswhich will be published in October, sold earlier this month on eBay for £124.

But this high demand for ARCs of books that are yet to be published has only emerged recently, fuelled in part by the rise of book bloggers and influencers.

“Part of the purpose of proofs is to make people get to feel like they’re in an exclusive club,” said Adam Howard, who works for Scribe Publications. “But it happened with the Sally Rooney on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

Posting under hashtags such as #Galleybrag, Instagram influencers show off the advanced copies of novels to which they were granted access. Among these, Rooney’s forthcoming Beautiful World, Where Are You is by far the most prized. Given the social currency that a selfie with an advance copy of the novel can carry, Howard is not surprised that people are prepared to pay large sums to get their hands on it.

“When a book appears on social media months before official release, other bloggers and readers go mad for it,” said Dan Bassett, a Bristol bookseller and blogger who is regularly sent galley copies of forthcoming titles. “This has led to people selling them though market places, with others asking people like myself if I would sell it to them.”

However, the sale of ARCs is a legal grey area. Advance copies are clearly marked as not for sale, and publishers remain their legal owners. This means that technically, a publishing house could recall an ARC at any time – but this is largely unheard of. And since proofs of big releases have only recently become such a hot commodity, publishers have not traditionally had to police ARC sales stringently – and have generally been willing to turn a blind eye to a small number of proofs being sold in charity shops.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

It’s not exactly a conspiracy theory, but if PG was hired to do some on-the-cheap promotion for an upcoming traditionally-published book, he might use a few social media accounts to do exactly what’s described in the OP, then have someone contact the Guardian books editor with a hot tip and some screenshots.

A Black Woman’s Quest to Trace Her Lineage

From Electric Lit:

Lineage is complicated in Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s debut novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Set in Washington, D.C., and Chicasetta—a fictitious town based on Eatonton, Georgia, the birthplace of Jeffers’ mother—the novel relies on historical “songs” to trace Ailey Pearl Garfield’s lineage from the arrival of her first African ancestor on American soil and her Creek ancestors’ early encounters with Caucasians in America. The songs serve as a narrative of the land and what happens throughout the years to the inhabitants of that land.

Given the period, the novel touches on large issues—slavery, the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, colorism, race relations—but for Jeffers, the heart of the novel is the growth of the messy, chubby, loud, and imperfect Ailey.

When we first meet Ailey, she is a preschooler, traveling with her mother and sisters to spend the summer months in Chicasetta. The coming of age novel follows Ailey through her teenage and college years. As Ailey grows older, the annual pilgrimage and her relationship with her elders take on a different meaning. Ailey’s Uncle Root introduces her to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and gifts her a first edition of The Souls of Black Folk. Later, when Ailey attends university, Du Bois serves as a guide leading her to discover her life’s calling and forge a path distinct from that of her parents and sisters.

. . . .

Donna Hemans: Where does your fascination with history come from?

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: When I first learned about slavery, I didn’t learn about it in a history book. I am a child of the ’70s. Even though I went to primarily African American schools up until junior high school, we didn’t get a lot of that in school. You had to learn it elsewhere. 

My grandmother’s father was born in slavery. And he was a little bitty boy—a toddler—and my great-grandmother Mandy was a teenager when freedom came. One of her first memories is of her father being sold down the river to Mississippi or where ever, sold deeper south. That was a very traumatic experience for her. She told that story to my mother. She was an old woman and my mother was maybe five and Momma would always despair that she hadn’t spent enough time when Great-Grandma Mandy tried to tell these stories. The kids wouldn’t listen; they wanted to go out and play. Great-Grandma Mandy would say “You got to hear this.” And then Momma would always say “I wish I had paid more attention.” 

That made an impression on me. But you know when you are a child, you don’t have these sorts of critical thinking skills. But as an adult, I think there was something about that grief that Momma had had if she had paid more attention to her great-grandmother that made me pay attention to the older folks. So that’s how I first learned about slavery through family stories. 

Later, when I first began reading the classic slave narratives—Frederick Douglas’ narratives, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—things began to click about the stories I had heard in Eatonton and then the history that was on the page. And that’s when the fascination really began. 

The first time I was in graduate school, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had a big archive called the Southern Historical Collection. That’s where I first encountered the archives and I still have photocopies of letters written by enslaved Black people that I found in the Southern Historical Collection. Once I saw those letters I was just hooked. I couldn’t get those people out of my mind.

DH: I think of the focus of the book as building lineage. Ailey says to her white classmate that for white descendants of the Pinchard family “paternity is an a priori assumption.” But that’s not the case for Black Americans. Lineage of Black people in the Americas is such a complicated thing. Why did you want to write about the complexity of lineage? Is it tied to the fact that it is so difficult for Black folks to trace who we are and where we came from? And do you think the complexity of lineage is widely understood outside of Black communities? 

HFJ: I definitely do not think that many people who are not African American understand that most of us have European ancestry, no matter what we look like. I am a cocoa-brown woman with coily hair and I have white ancestors on both sides, paternal and maternal. I don’t think people understand the violence behind white lineage in Black communities. I do think the half has not been told about Native American lineage in Black communities. 

One of the reasons is that there is so much missing from the historical archives. In the United States, no one bothered to keep these sort of impeccable records. When you go to 1860, that’s basically where you’re going to hit a wall for Black lineage to be able to trace names, to be able to trace where people lived. If you don’t have bills of sale, if somebody wasn’t sold, typically you’re not going to have a paper trail. So lineage was very important. 

But also I think that only within Black communities are we really aware of the way that skin color has been used as a hierarchy. Skin color, hair texture, all of that. But also only within Black communities are we aware that in one family with the same mother and father, you can have several different skin colors, several different hair textures. So within the family, you may be treated the same or you may not, but when you go out people will respond based upon phenotype. 

The reason I found that to be fascinating to talk about is that we have always heard this sort of story about the house and the field slave, and that enslaved Africans who worked in the house were close in color to the master and many of them were related to the master. And so they had an easier time than people who worked the fields. What I hadn’t seen a lot of in fiction is an examination of what those people who lived in closer proximity with the master had to deal with in terms of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG isn’t very impressed with accounts of kind masters and happy slaves. It’s difficult for him to believe there wasn’t a continuing anxiety arising from the knowledge that a life and an environment could change in an instant. The death of one owner then a new owner who had inherited the slaves. A relatively stable owner who traveled to Europe who was replaced by an overseer who showed one face to the boss and another to the slaves. A good owner who went bankrupt, leaving the fate of the slaves in the hands of a banker in New York or Atlanta.

On the other hand, PG has identified his ancestry with enough precision to be fully satisfied that neither he nor any of his ancestors benefitted financially from slaves or slavery. Even if one or more of them had, PG doesn’t believe that the sins of the fathers are the moral responsibility of their descendants any more than he believes that descendants of slaves who have lived in freedom all of their lives are entitled to any special benefits by virtue of the suffering of their ancestors.

PG realizes that this attitude places him in opposition to the opinions of more than a few in the United States. Such individuals are entirely free to have whatever opinions they think best about slavery or anything else.

One of the problems with extending past wrongs, even horrible atrocities, beyond the lives of those who were the perpetrators or victims of those wrongs is that this is, unfortunately, a very good way to create a forever war, one that can never end because no one is in a position to say that justice has been served and the war can end.

PG remembers meeting more than a few veterans of World War II when he was a child. Some were still physically impaired by the wounds they had received fighting the Japanese or Germans. A subset of this group still bore a grudge, not just against those they fought, but all Japanese and Germans, including those who had lived in the United States before the war and their descendants and played no part in it.

PG has read that the Taliban and some other middle-eastern groups refer to American or European soldiers as “crusaders” although the last crusade ended over 700 years ago. For PG, that’s a forever war.

Does Technology Have a Soul?

From The Paris Review:

When my husband arrived home, he stared at the dog for a long time, then pronounced it “creepy.” At first I took this to mean uncanny, something so close to reality it disturbs our most basic ontological assumptions. But it soon became clear he saw the dog as an interloper. I demonstrated all the tricks I had taught Aibo, determined to impress him. By that point the dog could roll over, shake, and dance.

“What is that red light in his nose?” he said. “Is that a camera?”

Unlike me, my husband is a dog lover. Before we met, he owned a rescue dog who had been abused by its former owners and whose trust he’d won over slowly, with a great deal of effort and dedication. My husband was badly depressed during those years, and he claims that the dog could tell when he was in despair and would rest his nose in his lap to comfort him. During the early period of our relationship, he would often refer to this dog, whose name was Oscar, with such affection that it sometimes took me a moment to realize he was speaking of an animal as opposed to, say, a family member or a very close friend. As he stood there, staring at Aibo, he asked whether I found it convincing. When I shrugged and said yes, I was certain I saw a shadow of disappointment cross his face. It was hard not to read this as an indictment of my humanity, as though my willingness to treat the dog as a living thing had somehow compromised, for him, my own intuitiveness and awareness.

It had come up before, my tendency to attribute life to machines. Earlier that year I’d come across a blog run by a woman who trained neural networks, a Ph.D. student and hobbyist who fiddled around with deep learning in her spare time. She would feed the networks massive amounts of data in a particular category—recipes, pickup lines, the first sentences of novels—and the networks would begin to detect patterns and generate their own examples. For a while she was regularly posting on her blog recipes the networks had come up with, which included dishes like whole chicken cookies, artichoke gelatin dogs, and Crock-Pot cold water. The pickup lines were similarly charming (“Are you a candle? Because you’re so hot of the looks with you”), as were the first sentences of novels (“This is the story of a man in the morning”). Their responses did get better over time. The woman who ran the blog was always eager to point out the progress the networks were making. Notice, she’d say, that they’ve got the vocabulary and the structure worked out. It’s just that they don’t yet understand the concepts. When speaking of her networks, she was patient, even tender, such that she often seemed to me like Snow White with a cohort of little dwarves whom she was lovingly trying to civilize. Their logic was so similar to the logic of children that it was impossible not to mistake their responses as evidence of human innocence. “They are learning,” I’d think. “They are trying so hard!” Sometimes when I came across a particularly good one, I’d read it aloud to my husband. I perhaps used the word “adorable” once. He’d chastised me for anthropomorphizing them, but in doing so fell prey to the error himself. “They’re playing on your human sympathies,” he said, “so they can better take over everything.”

But his skepticism toward the dog did not hold out for long. Within days he was addressing it by name. He chastised Aibo when he refused to go to his bed at night, as though the dog were deliberately stalling. In the evenings, when we were reading on the couch or watching TV, he would occasionally lean down to pet the dog when he whimpered; it was the only way to quiet him. One afternoon I discovered Aibo in the kitchen peering into the narrow gap between the refrigerator and the sink. I looked into the crevice myself but could not find anything that should have warranted his attention. I called my husband into the room, and he assured me this was normal. “Oscar used to do that, too,” he said. “He’s just trying to figure out if he can get in there.”

While we have a tendency to define ourselves based on our likeness to other things—we say humans are like a god, like a clock, or like a computer—there is a countervailing impulse to understand our humanity through the process of differentiation. And as computers increasingly come to take on the qualities we once understood as distinctly human, we keep moving the bar to maintain our sense of distinction. From the earliest days of AI, the goal was to create a machine that had human-like intelligence. Turing and the early cyberneticists took it for granted that this meant higher cognition: a successful intelligent machine would be able to manipulate numbers, beat a human in backgammon or chess, and solve complex theorems. But the more competent AI systems become at these cerebral tasks, the more stubbornly we resist granting them human intelligence. When IBM’s Deep Blue computer won its first game of chess against Garry Kasparov in 1996 the philosopher John Searle remained unimpressed. “Chess is a trivial game because there’s perfect information about it,” he said. Human consciousness, he insisted, depended on emotional experience: “Does the computer worry about its next move? Does it worry about whether its wife is bored by the length of the games?” Searle was not alone. In his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach, the cognitive science professor Douglas Hofstadter had claimed that chess-playing was a creative activity like art and musical composition; it required an intelligence that was distinctly human. But after the Kasparov match, he, too, was dismissive. “My God, I used to think chess required thought,” he told the New York Times. “Now I realize it doesn’t.”

It turns out that computers are particularly adept at the tasks that we humans find most difficult: crunching equations, solving logical propositions, and other modes of abstract thought. What artificial intelligence finds most difficult are the sensory perceptive tasks and motor skills that we perform unconsciously: walking, drinking from a cup, seeing and feeling the world through our senses. Today, as AI continues to blow past us in benchmark after benchmark of higher cognition, we quell our anxiety by insisting that what distinguishes true consciousness is emotions, perception, the ability to experience and feel: the qualities, in other words, that we share with animals.

If there were gods, they would surely be laughing their heads off at the inconsistency of our logic. We spent centuries denying consciousness in animals precisely because they lacked reason or higher thought. (Darwin claimed that despite our lowly origins, we maintained as humans a “godlike intellect” that distinguished us from other animals.) As late as the fifties, the scientific consensus was that chimpanzees—who share almost 99 percent of our DNA—did not have minds. When Jane Goodall began working with Tanzanian chimps, she used human pronouns. Before publishing, the editor made systematic corrections: He and she were changed to itWho was changed to which.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

You can’t talk

You can’t talk your way out of a prob­lem you be­haved your­self into.

Stephen Covey

Smarter Tomorrow

From The Wall Street Journal:

Working at home has led to widescale experimentation in productivity. Many workers, no longer tied to central offices, are trying new schedules, locations, routines and work-life arrangements. But this has been a haphazard process, nothing like a controlled scientific study. Those interested in adding rigor to their self-improvement journeys have no better place to turn than “Smarter Tomorrow: How 15 Minutes of Neurohacking a Day Can Help You Work Better, Think Faster, and Get More Done,” by the science educator and advocate Elizabeth Ricker. (Neurohacking, to put it simply, is finding shortcuts to a better-functioning brain).

At the outset, Ms. Ricker contrasts her project with traditional self-help, in which one copies an authority’s example and doesn’t measure the results. Instead, she offers what she calls “The Neurohacker’s Creed”: Don’t assume the same thing works for everyone, pick “hacks” and evaluations carefully, and find a partner so you can help each other. There’s also “the neurohacker’s ladder,” F-S-T-R: Focus on your goals, select an experiment, train and reflect on the outcome and next steps.

Similar organizing structures permeate her upbeat book, which reads like a combination of a science book (including both fun findings and neuroanatomical terms), a workbook (presenting goals and takeaways in each chapter, and a section for experiment recipes), a memoir (detailing her own self-help sojourn) and an encouraging email from a smart friend (full of exclamations points and apologies for puns).

“Smarter” can mean lots of things. Ms. Ricker interprets the term ecumenically, tackling four broad categories of improvement. First, there’s “the new IQ,” by which she means executive functioning, a combination of working memory (juggling things in your head), inhibition (resisting temptation) and mental flexibility (quickly shifting focus or synthesizing ideas). Second, “the new EQ,” or emotional self-regulation—the ability to monitor, assess and modify your feelings. Third, memory and learning, whether for events, facts or skills. Fourth, creativity. Each can be assessed with simple tasks online or in the book, and the author also offers surveys with which to track two more holistic outcomes: the ability to complete to-do lists and life satisfaction.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (The link should work for non-subscribers, but the WSJ may cause it to rot after a few clicks. PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

How to Get Readers on a $0 Budget

From Digital Pubbing:

If you’re an author, you need a solid marketing strategy to boost the visibility of your brand and grow traffic to your website.

Fortunately, in 2021 there are many advertising ideas you can use for free.

As a self-publisher, you can take advantage of one of many free advertising ideas to promote your business with no money.

If you wrote an ebook, Amazon Kindle Publishing is with no doubt the best place for free advertising.

Make sure you also take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin. The best one depends on your industry and audience.

93% of marketers say that video marketing is an important part of their strategy. That’s because it’s an engaging form of content, with billions of users watching one billion hours every day.

If you don’t want to try new content formats, make sure you create a blog. You can repurpose parts of your ebook content to grow an online audience that will be interested in reading more about a certain topic.

(Large infographic omitted, but it contains a good part of the information in the OP)

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

PG posted about this for two reasons:

  1. Not everybody thinking/looking at/considering self-publishing is in the same place with regard to how much they know about online and other self-created promotional ideas.
  2. The OP talks a great deal about “free” strategies and tools authors can use to promote their work.

PG notes that all “free” publicity/advertising/etc. takes time. If the author does it herself, it requires the author’s time and energy to pursue. Every author has some limits on the amount of time she can spend doing writing, promotion or anything else.

If time is money (or time spent doing one thing is time that isn’t available for doing something else), then time isn’t actually free in economic terms.

On a very simple basis, an author could use the time spent on self-promotion to do more writing instead.

The bottom line is whether a creator’s time is best spent on creating more or selling what has already been created.

Of course, in some cases, an author doesn’t really have a choice because there’s no one who will promote her books other than herself.

The alternative is, of course, to pay someone to do something the author could do. The person being paid might be better at promoting the author’s work than the author is due to a better talent for promotion, more experience doing promotion, etc., etc.

PG’s point is that, if an author has the means to hire someone else to do any of a variety of things, spending some money to hire help may be more effective than learning and spending the time necessary to do the job herself, particularly if the author doesn’t already know something about advertising, promotion, etc.

Just because releasing, promoting and selling the author’s first book involved no one but the author doesn’t mean that, if the first book is generating some money, repeating the same strategy over and over again makes the most economic use of the author’s limited time.

Empty Spaces

From The Paris Review:

It is not incorrect to say that, for years, the way my family grieved my mother was to avoid acknowledging her altogether. It is not incorrect to say that we hardly invoked her name or told stories about her.

Shortly after college, my father, Caroline, and Steph descended upon my cleared-out group house in Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving. In my childhood home, my father’s stacks of clutter multiplied until they overtook the space that my mother had so carefully cultivated; it crowded my sisters and me out. I reacted efficiently, diligently, which is to say that I pretended that trips to Steph’s apartment in Rhode Island or Caroline’s in California were just a chance to visit another part of the country.

We’d decided to exchange Christmas gifts a month early, since we wouldn’t be together in December.

Caroline, dressed in a key-lime-green onesie, handed Steph and me sets that matched hers.

“They’re actually really comfortable,” she said. She smiled toothily and pulled up the hood to show us the outfit’s ears, her faded highlights a spray of lavender around her face.

The onesies were from the kids’ section, which was fine for us since everyone in our family, including our father, was small and roughly the same size. Steph and I donned ours, and I was grateful for anything to distract from how cobbled together holidays had become since my mother’s passing. My sisters and I stood on my front stoop to take a photo of us modeling our new outfits. In the photo, Caroline and I jam our hands into our pockets while Steph is wedged between us, her arms thrust into the air. We look so much like sisters, not just because, in this image, we are dressed identically, but because the ways we hold our mouths enthusiastically, wryly, are the same.

Afterward, Steph passed out slender boxes.

“I thought this might be good for everybody to open last,” Steph said. There was a question in her voice, a preemptive apology that made me tense.

She had gifted us each a framed photo of our family. It showed all five of us, including my mother, in Seattle the summer before she died, and it was one of the last photos we’d taken together. We stand on a pier. The sky is muted and filled with the gray wash of color that comes from dragging paintbrush water across a canvas. It looks windy, and though it’s the end of summer, we must be cold, because we’re wearing long pants and sweatshirts. We huddle around my mother, who has her hands clasped in front of her stomach.

“Oh,” Caroline said as she pulled the wrapping paper off hers, her eyebrows shooting up her forehead as she examined the photo.

I shivered and said nothing. Our time with our mother was a past life—some version of ourselves from which we’d become estranged. When I replayed memories of her, it was as if hearing someone else recount stories of their own mother.

“What’s this?” our father asked, still working his fingers underneath the paper. He looked at my sisters and me, confused by our sudden shift in mood, not understanding this context. “Oh. A photo of our family?”

We held the wooden frames like they were made of blown glass. I studied my mother’s face and sat in a glum silence, unsure what to say, fighting the urge to turn the photo away.

When I consider the ways images can wrench our grief to the surface, I think of Diana Khoi Nguyen’s poems, which are wrapped around photos of her family in her collection Ghost Of. The book is dedicated to her siblings, including her brother who committed suicide. He is cut from every photo. Nguyen plays with these silhouettes. She cocoons him with her grief and her memories of him. She inhabits the negative space with her despair.

Why should we mourn?
Isn’t this the history we want
one in which we survive?

The first time I read her poems, I assumed that she had sliced her brother out of the photos. I thought she didn’t want outsiders to be privy to his body. No. Nguyen told an interviewer that her brother, in a fit of anger, carved himself from all of the family photos hanging in a hallway of their childhood home. Afterward, he carefully slid the photos back into their frames.

“They foreshadowed his death, and after his death, the missing shards in the frames wounded me deeply,” she said in an interview. “I avoided walking down that hall, I avoided returning to the house.”

When I learned this, her grief crept into me. I avoided walking down the hall, I avoided returning to the house. Why head down a hall of memories if it leads to a perpetual reminder of death? I felt as though Nguyen, with her poetry, had inhabited the void that her brother had left behind, the way I now inhabit the one created by my mother.

For many years, I could not look at photos of my mother. I wrapped the one from Steph in a scarf and tucked it into my bedroom closet, underneath a box of clothes I no longer wore. The way I endured grief was to think only of the after, and not the before.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The polarized publishing world

From The New York Times:

For a snapshot of how politically polarized the country has become, consider the best-seller list in this Sunday’s New York Times. Political books hold the top five spots on the hardcover nonfiction list, but they offer wildly divergent views.

No. 1 on the list is “American Marxism” by the Fox News host Mark Levin, which argues that liberals, including President Biden, are advancing a socialist agenda. Two titles that follow present sharply critical views of the Trump administration: “Here, Right Matters,” a memoir by Alexander Vindman, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who had a role in Trump’s first impeachment; and “I Alone Can Fix It,” an explosive account of Trump’s last year in office by the Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Next come books by the conservative media stars Ben Shapiro and Jesse Watters.

“The same kind of polarization that we’re seeing in the mainstream culture is happening in the book market,” Kristen McLean, an analyst at NPD BookScan, a market research firm, said. “The appetite is there on both sides of the political divide.”

When Biden took office, publishers braced for a slump. The Trump years had been an enormous boon to their industry, with a torrent of best sellers that included bombshell exposés by Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff, and tell-all memoirs from John Bolton and Mary Trump. Political book sales hit a 20-year high, according to NPD BookScan.

As predicted, sales of political books fell in the first seven months of this year. But publishers remain bullish about the genre. While sales have tapered off, the numbers are still well above what they were in 2016, and even 2019. Books by conservative authors are starting to pick up, as is often the case when there’s a Democrat in the White House.

“It’s easier to sell political books when your audience is in the opposition, when it’s feeling embattled and they’re more worked up and angry,” Thomas Spence, president and publisher of the conservative publishing house Regnery, told me. “The first two quarters of 2021 have been great for us.”

The conservative book market also carries risks for big corporate publishers, though. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, Simon & Schuster canceled plans to publish a book by Senator Josh Hawley, who tried to overturn the results of the presidential election. (Mr. Hawley, who accused the company of violating the First Amendment, released his book with Regnery.)

Simon & Schuster later announced that it had signed a two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence. The decision outraged liberals, including some of Simon & Schuster’s own authors and staff members, who signed a petition calling on the company to stop publishing books by former Trump officials. But the petition failed to sway executives, and news broke soon after that Simon & Schuster had bought a book from Kellyanne Conway.

Those acquisitions didn’t appease conservatives like Tucker Carlson, who attacked Simon & Schuster over its decision to drop Hawley, and accused the company of censorship in his new book, “The Long Slide.” (His claim of censorship is undercut by the fact that his book was published by, well, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times (link may expire. if so, PG says sorry.)

PG’s heart aches for the poor wittle New York publishers. They have such a tough job. Their little hearts must ache all day when people say bad things about them.

It’s no wonder they have to drink and do drugs when they get home.

Liberty is the very last idea

Liberty is the very last idea that seems to occur to anybody, in considering any political or social proposal. It is only necessary for anybody for any reason to allege any evidence of any evil in any human practice, for people instantly to suggest that the practice should be suppressed by the police.

G.K. Chesterton

Men do not differ much

Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.

G.K. Chesterton

How Charles Dickens built Bleak House

From The Guardian:

The problem with most biographies is that they tend to have only two pace settings. There is the plod of the episodic, one-thing-after-another accounting; parallel to that is the gallop that makes years vanish in pages. Momentum may build, and it may stall, depending on the life being investigated, but that dual speed is the halter that biographical writing struggles to break from.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst isn’t an innovator in restricting his scope to a specific time-frame – Alethea Hayter’s 1965 book A Sultry Month set the standard – but he is surely the first to compass the life of Charles Dickens this way. The year 1851 was momentous both in the writer’s personal circumstances and in the life of the nation and bouncing ideas between the two enables Douglas-Fairhurst to set his own narrative rhythm, at once irresistible and ominous. The Turning Point sees Dickens as a product of his age, “a living embodiment of its energy and ambition”, and identifies the book he was preparing to write, Bleak House, not only as the “greatest fictional experiment of his career” but as a signpost to the future of the novel itself. Typical of this book’s magpie eclecticism is that it notes “turning point” as a phrase gaining currency in mid-Victorian English.

Turning 39 in February, Dickens is found to be in restless mood (when was he not?), editing his weekly magazine, Household Words, consulting with his friend Angela Coutts on the running of Urania Cottage, his London refuge for “fallen” women, trying to set up a literary guild for needy authors and, perhaps closest to his heart, organising a production of his friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play Not So Bad As We Seem for a charity gala. Dickens might once have become an actor – an untimely cold had thwarted his audition years ago – but he now excelled himself as an actor-manager, directing, cajoling, inspiring, controlling. He even managed to persuade the Duke of Devonshire to loan him his grand London mansion as venue for the play’s royal premiere. The duke also made available his gardener, Joseph Paxton, to supervise the staging at Devonshire House.

Paxton’s name this year was almost as famous as Dickens’s, for in May his much-vaunted Crystal Palace in Hyde Park opened its doors and the Great Exhibition was under way. “A giant architectural exclamation mark”, in Douglas-Fairhurst’s words, this vast cathedral of glass and iron divided opinion. While some regarded it as a symbol of progress and a singular feat of engineering, others like Ruskin thought it chilly and lifeless. Dickens himself was not a fan, preferring buildings on a human scale. As one to whom “order” was sacred, he also deplored the exhibition’s higgledy-piggledy profusion – it’s notable that even he sometimes found things too much. On another visit in July, he was more taken by the sight of 100 schoolchildren wandering about the place. He later discovered that one of them had got lost and ended up in Hammersmith. Having spent the night in a workhouse, the boy was retrieved by his mother; he was supposed to have asked her when it would all be over. “It was a Great Exhibition, he said, but he thought it long.” You can hear Dickens’s laughter in that line.

As ever, family was close to his heart and to his nerves. In March, his father died after agonising surgery on his groin, a death that probably revived all his lifelong ambivalence towards this unsatisfactory parent. Recasting him as Micawber in David Copperfield, Dickens could make merry with his fecklessness, but in real life John Dickens had been a pest and a drain on his resources. Less than two weeks later, his infant daughter Dora suddenly died, news that he broke to his wife, Catherine, staying at Malvern, in a letter that gently tried to cushion the shock, as if she might have been a child herself. Pliant and plump, Catherine had borne him nine children in 13 years, during which time the vibrations of his impatience and discontent with her had grown stronger. Douglas-Fairhurst observes that the example of Bulwer-Lytton would have warned Dickens of how a bad marriage could pollute one’s life, but the parallel doesn’t quite hold: Rosina Bulwer-Lytton was a vengeful fury who pursued a public campaign against her husband, whereas Catherine Dickens simply became an unhappy encumbrance. A cache of recently discovered letters reveals that in the years prior to their separation Dickens tried to have her declared insane, a stratagem worthy of the ripest Victorian melodrama.

. . . .

The new fashion for bloomers in 1851 provoked his ridicule – women wearing trousers, or indeed the trousers, was an outrage against the social order, he argued in print, making clear that their doing anything much beyond home-management ought to be discouraged. He organised his own household with rigour, recreating a near-lookalike of his previous domicile when he moved the family to a new home in Tavistock Square. 

Link to the rest at The Guardian

About the OP, PG asks, “Why can’t we accept historic figures as individuals who were shaped by the times and places they inhabited?”

The OP mentions Dickens’ “reactionary attitudes to class, race and women’s liberation.”

Those who are applying 21st century moral strictures to 19th century figures are failing to understand the completely-accepted social mores that shaped the historical figures because of when they were born, how they were raised and what they were taught.

Speaking of women’s liberation, here’s a photo of the Guardian’s Editorial, Financial and Wire Room staff members in 1921:

Does anyone wish to speculate concerning the gender of the bosses and and the tasks that the women performed? And the relative paychecks of the genders?

The Guardian opposed the creation of the National Health Service in 1951 as it feared the state provision of healthcare would “eliminate selective elimination” and lead to an increase of congenitally deformed and feckless people.

PG can assure one and all that “attitudes to class, race and women’s liberation” were different in 1960 than they are today. He will also predict that “attitudes” toward all sorts of things will be much different in 2121 than they are today. (And, yes, that includes attitudes at The Guardian.)

Such contemporary attitudes toward those long-dead also assume that societal norms have only advanced toward greater absolute good over time.

Was the Germany of 1935, ruled by Adolf Hitler, morally superior to the Germany of 1835, ruled by Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria?

End of rant. PG feels much better now.

A study on dishonesty was based on fraudulent data

Definitely not about writing directly, but quite possibly a wonderful story about human nature, which forms the basis of many works of fiction and is present at all times, everywhere.

From The Economist:

IF YOU WRITE a book called “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty”, the last thing you want to be associated with is fraud. Yet this is where Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist at Duke University, finds himself, along with his four co-authors of an influential study about lying.

In 2012 Mr Ariely, along with Max Bazerman, Francesca Gino, Nina Mazar and Lisa Shu, published a study on how to nudge people to be more honest. They concluded that when asked to affirm that information is truthful before they give it, rather than afterwards, people are more likely to be honest. The results stemmed from three experiments: two conducted in a laboratory (led by Mr Bazerman, Ms Gino and Ms Shu), and a third based on data from a car-insurance company (led by Mr Ariely and Ms Mazar).

Several researchers have tried and failed to replicate the results from the laboratory tests. But it is the car insurance study which is driving the most serious doubts. It asked policyholders to self-report the number of miles they had driven. Customers were asked to sign a statement on the reporting form which said, “I promise that the information I am providing is true”; half of the forms had this declaration at the top, half had it at the bottom. All of the car-owners had previously reported their odometer readings to the insurance company, giving a baseline for the data (the time elapsed between the baseline readings and the experiment varied for each customer). Mr Ariely and Ms Mazar found that when customers were asked to sign the statement at the top of the form, there was a 10.25% increase in the number of self-reported miles, compared with the miles reported on forms where the statement was signed at the bottom. The more miles a car has driven, the more expensive the insurance will be. The researchers concluded that signing the truthfulness statement at the top of the form resulted in people being more honest (and thus on the hook for higher insurance premiums).

With over 400 citations on Google Scholar, these findings have spread far and wide. But on August 17th Leif Nelson, Joe Simmons and Uri Simonsohn, who run a blog called Data Colada, published an article, based on the work of a group of anonymous researchers, dissecting what they believe to be evidence of fraud. There are several eyebrow-raising concerns, although two in particular stand out: the number of miles reported by the policyholders, and the way in which the numbers were supposedly recorded.

In a random sample of cars, one would expect the number of miles driven by each vehicle to follow a bell-shaped curve (such as a “normal distribution”). Some cars are driven a lot, some are barely driven, but most fall somewhere in between these extremes. But in the experiment from 2012, the number of miles driven follows a uniform distribution: just as many cars drove under 10,000 miles as drove between 40,000 and 50,000 miles, and not a single car drove more than 50,000 miles. Messrs Nelson, Simmons and Simonsohn suggest that a random number generator was used to add between zero and 50,000 to original readings submitted by the customers.

The random number generator theory is backed by the second problem with the data. Many people, when asked to write down big numbers, round to the nearest ten, hundred or thousand. This can be seen in the data for the original odometer readings: nearly 25% of the mileages end in a zero. But in the experiment, each digit between zero and nine is equally represented in the final digit of the mileage reports. Humans tend to round numbers, but random generators don’t.

All five members of the original research group admit that the data in their study were fabricated. But all say they were duped rather than dishonest. “We began our collaboration from a place of assumed trust⁠—rather than earned trust,” said Ms Shu, on Twitter. However, she declined to comment further to The Economist. Mr Ariely’s name is listed as the creator of the Excel spreadsheet containing the original data. But he says he has no recollection of the format of the data he received, speculating that he might have copied and pasted data sent to him into the spreadsheet. One explanation is that the insurance company, or a third party that collected data on its behalf, falsified the numbers. The Hartford, the Connecticut-based insurance company that allegedly provided data for the experiment, could not be reached for comment. Mr Ariely has requested that the study be retracted, as have some of his co-authors. And he is steadfast that his mistake was honest. “I did not fabricate the data,” he insists. “I am willing to do a lie detection test on that.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

From Buzzfeed News:

The paper also bolstered the reputations of two of its authors — Max Bazerman, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely, a psychologist and behavioral economist at Duke University — as leaders in the study of decision-making, irrationality, and unethical behavior. Ariely, a frequent TED Talk speaker and a Wall Street Journal advice columnist, cited the study in lectures and in his New York Times bestseller The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.

Years later, he and his coauthors found that follow-up experiments did not show the same reduction in dishonest behavior. But more recently, a group of outside sleuths scrutinized the original paper’s underlying data and stumbled upon a bigger problem: One of its main experiments was faked “beyond any shadow of a doubt,” three academics wrote in a post on their blog, Data Colada, on Tuesday.

The researchers who published the study all agree that its data appear to be fraudulent and have requested that the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, retract it. But it’s still unclear who made up the data or why — and four of the five authors said they played no part in collecting the data for the test in question.

That leaves Ariely, who confirmed that he alone was in touch with the insurance company that ran the test with its customers and provided him with the data. But he insisted that he was innocent, implying it was the company that was responsible. “I can see why it is tempting to think that I had something to do with creating the data in a fraudulent way,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I can see why it would be tempting to jump to that conclusion, but I didn’t.”

. . . .

But Ariely gave conflicting answers about the origins of the data file that was the basis for the analysis. Citing confidentiality agreements, he also declined to name the insurer that he partnered with. And he said that all his contacts at the insurer had left and that none of them remembered what happened, either.

According to correspondence reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Ariely has said that the company he partnered with was the Hartford, a car insurance company based in Hartford, Connecticut. Two people familiar with the study, who requested anonymity due to fear of retribution, confirmed that Ariely has referred to the Hartford as the research partner.

The Hartford did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News. Ariely also did not return a request for comment about the insurer.

. . . .

The imploded finding is the latest blow to the buzzy field of behavioral economics. Several high-profile, supposedly science-backed strategies to subtly influence people’s psychology and decision-making have failed to hold up under scrutiny, spurring what’s been dubbed a “replication crisis.” But it’s rarer that data is faked altogether.

And this is not the first time questions have been raised about Ariely’s research in particular. In a famous 2008 study, he claimed that prompting people to recall the Ten Commandments before a test cuts down on cheating, but an outside team later failed to replicate the effect. An editor’s note was added to a 2004 study of his last month when other researchers raised concerns about statistical discrepancies, and Ariely did not have the original data to cross-check against. And in 2010, Ariely told NPR that dentists often disagree on whether X-rays show a cavity, citing Delta Dental insurance as his source. He later walked back that claim when the company said it could not have shared that information with him because it did not collect it.

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed News

PG picked an online random number generator at random.

Somewhere in his brain, he remembered reading that random numbers generated by a computer are not truly random numbers, but are pseudo random numbers – he is not certain of the difference, but expects picking an online random number generator by entering “Random Number Generator” into Google and picking one of the first listings to appear is a pseudo random number generator search. Or something.

At any rate, here is a list of ten random numbers that PG created with the online random number generator – pseudo or non-pseudo, he can’t tell the difference:


If, as the OP’s suggested, the main culprit is a TED Talk speaker and a Wall Street Journal advice columnist who used a random number generator to create the mileage figures upon which the whole ground-breaking study was based, it makes PG question the expertise of TED Talk speakers and Wall Street Journal advice columnists.

Additionally, is there a reason why none of these heavy-duty university mathematics and data science experts never noticed that none of the numbers in the original data was rounded off?

That’s most interesting

That’s most interesting. But I was no more a mind-reader then than today. I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw. It wasn’t really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Jay Gatsby

A series of quotes from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort ‘It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. “All right,” I said, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”’

. . . .

Why they came East I don’t know. . . . I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.

. . . .

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

. . . .

He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.

. . . .

That’s my Middle West . . . the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark. . . . I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

. . . .

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

. . . .

You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow, she went on . . . “Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything . . . Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!

. . . .

I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

. . . .

In my younger . . . years my father gave me some advice . . . “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one . . . just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

. . . .

‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,’ I thought; ‘anything at all. . . .’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.

. . . .

We drew in deep breaths . . . as we walked back . . . through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

. . . .

‘I married him because I thought he was a gentleman,’ she said finally. ‘I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.’

. . . .

He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy.

. . . .

Neither of them can stand the person they’re married to…. What I say is, why go on living with them if they can’t stand them? If I was them I’d get a divorce and get married to each other right away.

. . . .

For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again . . . . I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.

. . . .

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

. . . .

[H]e stretched out his arms toward the dark water. . . . I . . . distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way. . . . When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished. . . .

To Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

John Keats, 1816

Some scholars believe that Keats was an opium addict. It is known that at least one of his doctors treated Keats with mercury, attempting to stop a chronic sore throat and, perhaps, venereal disease.

Per one of Keats’ biographers, Nicholas Roe, “It is difficult to appreciate how commonplace an opium habit was in Keats’s lifetime.” Opium was dispensed “as a matter of course, and for a simple reason: it was the only painkiller that worked.” 

Keats had been a medical student and had professional knowledge of what treatments were commonly used to treat various conditions.

While some might demean Keats and his work because of the substances he ingested voluntarily or which were prescribed for him, PG thinks it’s amazing that he was able to compose such incredible poetry despite the effects of the horrible substances that he and others put into his body.

Bright Star, Green Light

From The Wall Street Journal:

What a pleasure these days to come across a book that unabashedly, cheerfully celebrates the lasting power of literature. Jonathan Bate takes his cue straight from one of the subjects of his dual biography “Bright Star, Green Light.” “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” chanted the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) at the beginning of his long poem “Endymion” (1818). “Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness.” Well, “Endymion,” roundly panned upon publication for being too florid, almost did pass into nothingness. No such worry today: Although Keats didn’t make it far beyond his 25th birthday and there isn’t all that much life to cover, he seems to get a hefty new biography every five years. And while “Endymion” still isn’t a critical favorite, the poem’s opening lines, perennial as the art they celebrate, have sustained generations of literature lovers. As they also did—and this is the starting point of Mr. Bate’s book—an otherwise very different writer, the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940).

An odd pair they certainly make: Fitzgerald the flamboyant high priest of Jazz Age glitter, a compulsive talker, college drop-out and no-holds-barred alcoholic, and “Mister John Keats five feet hight,” as he called himself, the socially awkward, formally trained physician who believed writing poetry was nothing special yet couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else. “Every man whose soul is not a clod / Hath visions,” he asserted in his unfinished epic “The Fall of Hyperion.” Small wonder that he told his fiancée Fanny Brawne he wasn’t “a thing to be admired.” Fanny and, it turns out, F. Scott Fitzgerald begged to differ. Granted, the American writer’s admiration could, at times, border on silliness. For example, as a diffident Princeton student, Fitzgerald once rewrote Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819) as an ode to his as-yet-untouched Greek textbook, “thou joyless harbinger of future fear.” And, later, in an informal literature course he created for Sheilah Graham, his last lover, Fitzgerald changed the title of that same ode to “A Greek Cup They Dug Up.” Other tributes mentioned by Mr. Bate are of a more hidden sort, allusions meant for the well-read. The title of Fitzgerald’s last completed novel, “Tender Is the Night” (1934), came from Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819), which also provided the source for an obscure line describing the protagonist’s music room in “The Great Gatsby” (1925): “There was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.” In the original ode, Keats’s light, of course, streamed not from the hallway but straight from heaven, “with the breezes blown.”

But Mr. Bate also draws our attention to those striking moments in Fitzgerald’s work in which the very fabric of the American writer’s imagination flashes “Keatzian” (distractingly, Mr. Bate relies on Fitzgerald’s idiosyncratic spelling throughout his book). Think of the green light across the bay the love-stricken Jay Gatsby saw burning all night, next to Daisy Buchanan’s house. At the end of the novel, Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick Carraway, sprawled out on the beach, relates that green flicker to the fresh, green, simpler world full of promise that once beckoned to the first Dutch sailors who came here. Gatsby’s noble, selfless sacrifice, taking the blame for the hit-and-run Daisy committed, redeems his lies and missteps. In spirit if not in letter, Fitzgerald pays tribute here to Keats’s early sonnet “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” (1816), where the poet likens his discovery of Homer to the excitement of a conquistador glimpsing, for the first time, the Pacific Ocean. Okay, Keats, in his enthusiasm, mixes up his generals, substituting Cortés for Balboa, but as Fitzgerald slyly observes: “When an immortal like Keats makes a mistake, that too is immortal.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (The link should work even if you’re not a WSJ subscriber. If not, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Therapist and Patient

From Writers Helping Writers:

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

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

. . . .

A patient visits a therapist to receive treatment and rehabilitation in support of their mental and emotional wellbeing. A therapist’s guidance helps the patient identify their emotions, cope with daily challenges, reduce symptoms of mental illness, and make life choices.

The term “therapist” is a broad one that encompasses social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, life coaches, and more. The label also applies to counselors who deal with marital, family, and substance abuse issues, among others.

Relationship Dynamics
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict. 

  • A therapist and patient working together willingly to solve a problem
  • A therapist working with a reluctant patient, such as a teen whose parent is making them attend sessions or an addict partaking in court-enforced rehab
  • A patient seeing an overworked or incompetent therapist who isn’t really helping
  • Two willing participants who just aren’t a good fit for each other
  • A once-willing patient backsliding into destructive habits and no longer being honest with their therapist
  • A long-term patient becoming frustrated with their lack of progress and pulling away from the therapist
  • A therapist becoming too emotionally involved in a patient’s situation
  • A needy patient demanding too much time or attention from their therapist
  • Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
  • The therapist quitting their practice
  • The patient or therapist relocating 
  • Insurance changing for either the patient or the therapist’s practice
  • Either party developing feelings beyond the professional relationship
  • The therapist gossiping about the patient
  • Either party accusing the other of inappropriate conduct
  • The patient suffering a severe setback (a relapse, family tragedy, job loss, breakup, etc.)
  • Someone the patient knows receiving care from the same therapist
  • The patient refusing to participate in a session
  • The therapist giving the patient bad guidance or wrongly diagnosing them
  • The patient not following through on their appointments, promises, or the advice of the therapist
  • The patient coming off of prescribed medication for mental health reasons
  • The patient’s situation stirring up painful memories for the therapist
  • The patient giving the therapist a bad review
  • The patient failing to pay for services
  • The therapist not having the skills, knowledge, or experience to help the patient
  • The patient lying to the therapist
  • The therapist exerting too much control over the patient
  • Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
  • The patient wanting to stop therapy before the therapist believes they are ready
  • The therapist wanting to put the patient on medication, and the patient resists
  • Either party wanting a different amount of time together than the other party
  • Either party wanting to bring a third party into the sessions, while the other does not
  • The therapist wanting to refer the patient to someone else
  • The patient wanting more access to and communication with the therapist
  • The therapist wanting information the patient is not yet ready to reveal
  • The patient wanting to finish therapy in order to meet an external requirement, while the therapist wants them to accept help
  • The patient wanting to keep secrets from the therapist
  • Either party wanting control 
  • Either party wanting a personal relationship
  • The patient wanting the therapist to lie on their behalf
  • The patient wanting to maintain behaviors, believing they can self-monitor them
  • The patient expecting an unrealistic outcome based on what is possible through therapy

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

For years, a mysterious figure has been stealing books before their release. Is it espionage? Revenge? Or a complete waste of time?

From Vulture:

On the morning of March 1, 2017, Catherine Mörk and Linda Altrov Berg were in the offices of Norstedts, a book publisher in Sweden, when they received an unusual email. A colleague in Venice was asking for a top-secret document: the unpublished manuscript of the forth-coming fifth book in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series. The books, which follow hacker detective Lisbeth Salander, have sold more than 100 million copies. David Lagercrantz, another Swedish writer, had taken over the series after Larsson’s death, and his latest — The Man Who Chased His Shadow (later The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye )— was expected to be one of the publishing events of the year.

Norstedts was guarding the series closely. Lagercrantz wrote his first “Millennium” book on a computer with no connection to the internet and delivered the manuscript on paper, at which point Norstedts mailed a single copy to each of the book’s international publishers. With the new title, Norstedts wanted to streamline the process — Lisbeth Salander’s publisher, they figured, should be able to protect itself from hackers and thieves. Mörk and Altrov Berg, who handle foreign rights at Norstedts, consulted with other publishers of blockbuster books. The translators working on one of Dan Brown’s follow-ups to The Da Vinci Code, for instance, were required to work in a basement with security guards clocking trips to the bathroom. Norstedts decided to try sharing the new “Millennium” book via Hushmail, an encrypted-email service, with passwords delivered separately by phone. Everyone would have to sign an NDA.

The unusual email came from Francesca Varotto, the book’s Italian-edition editor, and arrived shortly after Norstedts sent out the manuscript:

Dear Linda and Catherine,

I hope you are well. Could you please re-send me the link to the manuscript of The Man Who Chased His Shadow?

Thank you!



Minutes later, and a few blocks away from Norstedts headquarters in Stockholm, Magdalena Hedlund, the agent representing the book, received a similar email from Varotto. It was strange that Varotto had lost something so valuable, but she and Hedlund were old friends, and the email struck a familiar tone. Plus everyone was scrambling: The book was set for release in 27 countries simultaneously, and the translators had to get started. Hedlund sent her friend the link to the manuscript.

Varotto replied instantly. “I’m sorry M,” she wrote. Varotto said that her password was “disabled/expired.” Could Hedlund send a new one?

Back at Norstedts, Mörk also received an email from Varotto. “Sorry Catherine,” the message read. “Could you please give me the Hushmail code?” Altrov Berg dashed off a separate message to Varotto, asking if everything was okay.

Suddenly, her phone rang. “Why are you sending me this?” Varotto asked. Altrov Berg explained what was happening. Varotto was confused. She hadn’t sent any emails to Norstedts all day.

With Varotto on the phone, the two Norstedts employees scrolled through the messages. The emails looked like ones Varotto would send: The text used the same font, and the signature at the end was styled just like hers. Then, with Varotto still on the line, Mörk got yet another email asking for the password.

They scanned the messages again. Only now did Varotto notice that the signature listed her old job title; she had been promoted two months earlier. The subject line also misspelled the name of her companyFinally, they realized the email address wasn’t hers at all: The domain had been changed from @marsilioeditori.it to @marsilioeditori.com.

Everyone deleted the emails. What other malicious tricks were lurking inside? The IT department at Marsilio Editori began investigating and found that the fraudulent domain had been created the day before through GoDaddy. It was registered to an address in Amsterdam and a Dutch phone number. When an employee tried calling, it went straight to a recording: “Thank you for calling IBM.”

The “Millennium” team was in a panic. The thief didn’t yet have the password, as far as they knew, but was clearly determined to get it. Publishers around the world depend on a best seller like this, and an online leak of the manuscript could derail its release.

But the book’s publication came and went without a hitch. The manuscript never reappeared. What was Fake Francesca Varotto after? Much more than Lisbeth Salander’s best-selling exploits, it turned out. On the same day as the “Millennium” emails, Fake Francesca asked someone else in publishing for an early look at Lot, Bryan Washington’s story collection, as well as a debut novel about an accountant who becomes a fortune teller. Even stranger, the thief had other identities. Later that day, a fake Swedish editor went to the Wylie Agency in London to request a copy of Louise Erdrich’s just-announced novel, and someone pretending to be Peter van der Zwaag, a Dutch editor, asked a colleague in New York for the same fortune-teller book. Fake Peter then introduced his new assistant to request that she be added to a private mailing list filled with confidential publishing information. The assistant followed up with a friendly note: “It’s so busy and overwhelming now with the London Book Fair, isn’t it?” The assistant didn’t exist.

Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to DM for the tip.

I am

I am my heart’s undertaker. Daily I go and retrieve its tattered remains, place them delicately into its little coffin, and bury it in the depths of my memory, only to have to do it all again tomorrow.

Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls

The Value of Book Distribution Is Often Misunderstood by Authors

From Jane Friedman:

During my career in publishing, several factors have led to self-publishing becoming a viable and profitable path for authors. These include:

  • The growth of ebook sales, which in some ways replaces the mass-market paperback
  • The rise of online retail: the majority of books are now sold online regardless of format—and we all know where, at least in the US
  • The advent of print-on-demand (POD) technology and distribution

This last one has been of tremendous benefit to traditional publishers and authors alike. It means that no one has to take a financial risk on a print run when demand is uncertain. Nor does anyone need to worry about warehousing and inventory management. Rather, the book is printed only when an order is placed, then it’s immediately dispatched to the customer.

As of 2021, most readers cannot tell if the paperback they’re holding in their hands is print-on-demand or from a traditional offset printer. Even hardcover print-on-demand is seeing an increase in sales and acceptance by consumers. Yes, print-on-demand carries carries a higher unit cost (and thus lower profits), and it has some design and production limitations. But for the average self-publishing author, this makes publishing more accessible and affordable than it has ever been. (The same is true for small presses, of course.)

As more and more books get purchased online, it doesn’t matter if your books are available on a physical bookstore shelf or not. You don’t need a bricks-and-mortar presence for your book to be discovered and purchased. All you need is a product page at the major online retailers. Readers won’t know how the book is printed or that it’s only printed when they order it, or they may prefer a digital edition.

Print distribution using POD can be set up quickly by anyone, at no or little cost, using Amazon and Ingram. Amazon KDP is the portal that self-publishing authors use to upload their book for sale in both print and ebook formats. Ingram is the biggest book distributor in the world, and authors can access its distribution network through IngramSpark. Cost is minimal, about $50 for initial setup and $25 per year after that. Ingram sells to anyone and everyone who buys books, including your independent bookstore, libraries, chains; it also has a global distribution network that reaches just about any country you can expect to sell in. Your book is available to be ordered at thousands of retailers once it’s active in Ingram’s system.

So quality distribution is not hard. It can be obtained by anyone by simply signing up and uploading printer-ready book files or ebook files.

So why do people talk about the need for “distribution” so much if distribution is essentially free for all?

Some people conflate book distribution with having a sales and marketing team.

There are two types of distributors in traditional book publishing. One type of distributor actually sells the book into retailers, in significant quantities. Sales reps pitch specific accounts or buyers. They try to secure orders for hundreds or thousands of books prior to the publication date. This makes a lot of sense in a traditional publishing model where there’s a print run and you’re trying to generate as much interest and demand as possible in the lead up to publication, to get as many books on shelves as possible. The print run might even be adjusted based on how much accounts order.

The other type of distributor simply ships books when they’re ordered. They take care of warehousing and fulfillment. They are not selling and marketing books, but they are also taking a smaller cut of sales than the type of sales-responsible distributor discussed above.

Ingram is a bit of a confusing character in all this because it handles both types of distribution. But for the purposes of self-publishing authors, it really only serves the latter role: it makes books available to be ordered. Your book is included in its database of thousands upon thousands of titles. But they’re not actively going out and selling or marketing titles to accounts, any more than Amazon has a sales force that sells your ebook or POD book.

If you’re investing in a print run, then distribution is in fact a major challenge

Imagine spending thousands of dollars to pay an offset printer to ship you 1,000 print copies of your book. The books have arrived at your front door on a pallet. Now what? How will you get these books into retailers’ hands? Where will you store them? Who will ship them? This is a big problem and it used to be that authors relied on Amazon Advantage to solve it. But Amazon Advantage is now closed to new accounts.

It is exceedingly difficult to distribute print books as an author when you do a print run. You really need to be working with a service company of some kind, or a hybrid publisher, or someone who can warehouse the books and fulfill orders for you over the long term, who has a relationship with Ingram, Amazon, and so on. There is no realistic way for a single-title author to work directly with either of those companies unless you’re using their print-on-demand services.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

There are a relatively small group of blogs and websites that almost always have information that PG thinks is quite worthwhile. Jane Friedman’s blog is one of that group. She sometimes has guest bloggers from time to time who also usually do a good job as well, but Jane is very consistently quite good.

Much recommended by PG: Jane Friedman

I Just Don’t Get Some Authors

From Book Riot:

Most of the time, when I finish a book I don’t like, I consider it a fault of my book selection abilities: it just wasn’t for me. I can see how some people might like it, but it didn’t line up with what I enjoy in a novel. For instance, I can’t stand a lot of description of imagery. As a not very visual person, it always feels like a slog to read. My eyes glaze right over it. But I know that plenty of people love books with rich descriptions, because they can vividly imagine the scene. Great for them, not for me.

Sometimes the fault lies more in the marketing: I was promised a romantic read, and this turned to be meditation on mortality. The cover suggested something fun and silly, and this was a heartbreaking read I was not in the headspace for. Of course, occasionally I just think a book is bad. As much as I want to believe there’s a reader for every book, there are some that I finish and can only think about the glaring faults.

The weirdest thing, though, is when your experience of a book doesn’t match up to what seems to be everyone else’s. It’s not just, “Well, I didn’t like this because it’s a space opera and I’m not much of a fan of that genre,” but: “Everyone says this is funny, but I found it depressing??” There are a few authors who I just seem to bounce off of. When I read their books, I just…don’t understand what they’re trying to do. I understand the literal meaning of the words, I’m following the plot, but I just don’t get the selling points. I don’t understand the appeal.

There’s one author in particular I seem to have this problem with the most — probably because he’s such a popular author that I kept going back and trying again, because I felt like I must be missing something. Since his work is so beloved, I’m going to refrain from naming names, but every time I read his books, I feel like I’m reading them through a window. There’s a distance from the characters, the world, even the writing. I can’t seem to ever got lost in the story.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG is undoubtedly atypical in more than one way, but he’s never felt any pressure to read books his friends liked that he doesn’t like. Or any book that he doesn’t like.

(Yes, PG did have a longer-than-normal educational experience that involved reading (or skimming) books he didn’t like, but he doesn’t count that. Incidentally, PG was a big fan of used college textbooks because they were cheaper and because, in many used books he chose, the prior owner(s) underlined the important parts. Those study aids made reading books he didn’t like go much faster. He did always wish that the student bookstore where he bought the books had indicated whether the prior owner got a good grade in the class or not.)

While reading the OP, PG gained the impression that the individual might not be very old and, possibly, feel a bit of peer pressure in her choice of books

How American retailers have adapted to the Amazon effect

From The Economist:

After reeling from the shock of the pandemic, America’s consumers came roaring back early this year, fuelled by vaccines, stimulus cheques and their instinctive bullishness. Now their enthusiasm is starting to ebb. Retail sales in July were 1.1% lower than a month earlier and a consumer-confidence survey by the University of Michigan suggests that shoppers lost more of their swagger in early August. The Delta variant has played on their nerves while price spikes and supply-chain glitches have dulled enthusiasm for buying some products such as cars—sales of which dropped by 3.9% last month, compared with June. There is now a sense that the rate of growth in consumer spending is returning to a more pedestrian pace after 18 giddy months of wild shrinkages and splurges.

Yet even as normality beckons it is ever clearer that the pattern of spending has been transformed. One change is well-known: a lift in the level of e-commerce. The other is less familiar. An industry that was supposed to have been annihilated by Amazon has bounced back.

In 2017-19 all the talk was of a “retail apocalypse” and “retailmaggedon”. The fear was that a steady rise in e-commerce and Amazon’s relentless expansion into new products would drive traditional retailers towards extinction, just as Kodak failed to adapt to the digital-photography revolution and eventually went bust.

. . . .

Things have turned out rather differently. The pandemic has certainly sped up the shift towards e-commerce sales, which have risen from 14% of the total in 2018 to 20% this year according to JPMorgan Chase, a bank. Although the pace of growth has slowed in the past few months there will be no return to the past.

Meanwhile the industry’s structure is starting to look different. Amazon has thrived: its market share of e-commerce stands at about 40% overall and is far higher than that in some categories, such as books. Shopping centres have struggled to attract the same numbers of visitors as before, and some have defaulted on their debt. Nonetheless, the health of the non-Amazon retail industry looks better than it once did. At $2.5trn, for example, the market value of American listed retailers is 88% higher than at the start of 2018, while their total net debt burden has been easing since the end of 2019. The number of people employed in the retail trade is only 4% below its post-war peak in 2017.

Behind these numbers there are three types of fightback. First, the biggest retailers have embraced the digital world. This week Walmart predicted that its global e-commerce revenues would reach $75bn for the full year (about 13% of the firm’s total sales). It has made a big push in hybrid types of shopping that involve online activity but harness its stores, such as “click-and-collect” and online memberships. Target has promoted a similar service and digital sales now make up almost a fifth of its total.

The second fightback is from digital-only alternatives to Amazon. Although the veteran marketplace eBay has struggled over the years, Shopify, which helps merchants sell online and fulfil orders, has seen its share of American online sales reach 9% and its market value soar to $188bn. Many other digital firms are operating in lucrative niches, from Instacart in grocery delivery to Etsy in interactive shopping for artisanal goods.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG has checked out Walmart’s ecommerce interface and found it to be less sophisticated and well-designed than the ecommerce offerings of many much-smaller etailers, but perhaps he’s missed something.

The Power of Trust

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ralph Waldo Emerson is rarely invoked when people are discussing business and national economies, but he captured a nice point when he observed that “distrust is very expensive.” When individuals lack confidence in the quality and reliability of the products they’re buying—from meatloaf to mutual funds—commercial exchange is impeded and economic growth thwarted. It’s no coincidence that countries with high levels of distrust have high rates of poverty as well.

The U.S. experienced an episode of mass distrust in 2008, when collapsed confidence in the banking system sent the economy into a tailspin. Today, with the products and policies of major companies becoming ever more deeply integrated into our lives—particularly companies in the technology sector—there is ever more need for chief executives and their teams to build trust and maintain it.

That is the backdrop to “The Power of Trust” by Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta, a Harvard Business School professor and research associate, respectively. The authors provide an overview of trust’s role in business, drawing on academic studies and describing companies that have fostered trust, lost it or regained it. Their goal, they say, is to provide readers with a road map “to build, improve, recover, or sustain the trust of the people and groups who rely on you, and whom you rely on, to build a thriving business.”

That is the backdrop to “The Power of Trust” by Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta, a Harvard Business School professor and research associate, respectively. The authors provide an overview of trust’s role in business, drawing on academic studies and describing companies that have fostered trust, lost it or regained it. Their goal, they say, is to provide readers with a road map “to build, improve, recover, or sustain the trust of the people and groups who rely on you, and whom you rely on, to build a thriving business.”

The road map they provide follows a four-part design in which each element contributes to trust in business. The first part centers on competence, which refers to a company’s ability to deliver what it has promised. The next part takes up motives: Does a company have what the authors characterize as “good intentions”? The third part addresses means—“the fairness of your processes and treatment of people when distributing rewards and pain points.” The fourth part registers the “impact”—both intended and unintended—of a company’s actions on the consumers it serves and the communities in which it operates.

None of these elements alone is sufficient to achieve trust, the authors say, and progress in each ultimately depends on companies having their houses in order: “To establish trust with your customers,” Ms. Sucher and Ms. Gupta write, “you need to first establish it with your employees and create processes and standards internally to ensure your products or services are up to standard.”

In their chapter on competence, the authors lavish praise on the Ritz-Carlton, pointing to robust management training that results in its employee turnover rate being much lower than the industry average. They describe the company’s simple “Three Steps of Service”—warmly greeting guests, using their names, and bidding them a fond farewell—as a “brilliant piece of behavior engineering.” The motives chapter features an inspiring story of Tommy Hilfiger producing a line of clothes designed to be easily accessible to people with conditions such as muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease.

But much of the book’s narrative focuses on companies that have lost trust. In the “means” chapter, Michelin is criticized for its move in 1999 to lay off 7,500 Europe-based workers in order to slow (or reverse) its erosion in market share. As for an example of the “impact” effect on the broader society, there is the tale of Volkswagen, which, in 2008-15, used software to cheat on emissions tests. The authors quote a European government official saying of the company’s actions: “We felt betrayed.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link to the OP. If it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

While not necessarily directly related to the work of authors, PG thinks trust is an important component in the ongoing success of an author.

One of an author’s most important business assets is the group of readers who enjoy the author’s books and tend to purchase more than one of them. These readers may sign up for an author’s newsletters so they know when a new book will be released. Amazon’s algorithms are likely to point a reader who has purchased one book to other books written by the same author, whether already available or released at a later time.

PG will rely on the comments of visitors to TPV to provide more informed comments on this topic, but he thinks that reader trust will be enhanced by a consistent level of quality in the author’s books. Cranking out a potboiler may undermine this trust.

Additionally, consistency in the types of books an author writes, an ongoing leading character, secondary characters or a setting that appears in more than one book may also contribute to readers developing a trust that an author will deliver a new, but familiar general experience with a new story. Agatha Christie comes to mind as an example. Arthur Conan Doyle is another.

PG understands than an author may begin to feel emotionally or creatively trapped by feeling forced to write what seems like the same book over and over again.

The Secret to a Tight, Propulsive Plot: The Want, The Action, The Shift

From Jane Friedman:

Creating a story without at least some idea of your plot is like planning a trip without a route: You’re likely to wind up meandering, stuck, or lost.

But strong plot is more than just a series of interesting events. It’s a foundational element of what creates story—the road along which your character travels and is changed en route to a strongly held desire.

This basic definition of story means that plot is intrinsically tied to character. As a story element it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is both driven by and drives the protagonist: what she wants, the steps she takes to get it, and how she’s affected by each step on that journey.

You can adapt how much you decide to plot in advance of drafting based on whether you’re a die-hard plotter, a pantser, or something in between (“plantser”), but framing the overarching story as well as each scene within it through the lens of your characters and these three key elements—the want, the action, and the shift—will help guide you through creating a consistently cohesive and propulsive plot.

Think of your protagonist(s) as Tarzan.

If you want him to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, your job as the author is to make sure there’s a vine within reach when he needs it, that it swings him smoothly through the jungle canopy, and that there’s another vine ready for his grasp when he reaches the end of that arc. He can travel the whole jungle that way, all the way home to Jane.

That’s the sense readers should have of your character’s journey—that they’re effortlessly borne along with your protagonist on an unbroken series of arcs toward the final destination. The want is the vine awaiting the character’s grasp; the action is the swing; and the shift is the transfer from one vine to the next awaiting vine.

If any of these three stages fail, that smooth momentum is broken and you risk sending your protagonist—and your reader—plummeting to the forest floor, or stranded in the treetops or on a motionless vine.

This formula applies not just to each individual scene, but to the story as a whole. Before you even begin drafting, see if you can define your story through the lens of the want, the action, and the shift:

Hypercautious Marlon is desperate to keep his sole remaining child close to the safety of home and his protection after the rest of their family is killed, but when his son is swept out to sea, Marlon must face the dangers of the open ocean in trying to find him—and learns that life must be lived fully, despite the risks.

Did you recognize the key plot points in Finding Nemo?

  • The want is clownfish Marlon’s desire to keep Nemo safe in their little anemone and corner of the sea.
  • The resultant action is his journey to track Nemo down and bring him safely home, and all the challenges, obstacles, setbacks, and advances along the path to that goal.
  • The shift is Marlon’s realization that he can’t shelter Nemo from every danger, and that a meaningful life can’t be lived in fear.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman