The Caconym

From The Hydrogen Sonata:

The Caconym was silent for a few moments. It watched a small solar flare erupt from near one side of the sunspot over which it had stationed itself. Another tendril of the star’s gaseous shrapnel, ejected by an earlier outburst of the furious energies erupting for ever beneath it, and thousands of kilometres across and tens of thousands long, washed over and around it, bathing its outer field structure in radiation and delivering a distinct physical blow.

It allowed itself to be gently buffeted by the impact, using its engine fields to adjust its apparent mass and so increasing its inertia so that the effect would fall within acceptable parameters, while observing the outermost elements of its field structure deform inwards by a few micrometres under the weight of the blast. The effect of the colliding gust of plasma was to send it drifting very slightly across the face of the sunspot, spinning slowly.

Link to the rest at The Hydrogen Sonata

10 More Naming Words Ending in -nym

From Daily Writing Tips:

eponym
The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott.

exonym
A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-speakers call the people of Wales the Welsh.

autonym
A name by which a people refers to itself. The name the Welsh people call call themselves is Cymry. They call their country Cymru. Switzerland, which has four official languages, each of which has a different word for Switzerland–Suisse, Schweiz, Svizzera, Svizra—uses the Latin word Helvetica for the country on its postage stamps and for other uses. Here are some more country autonyms with their English exonyms:

Austria—Österreich
Belgium—Belgique
Germany—Deutschland
Greece—Hellas
Israel—Yisra’el
Japan—Nippon
Poland—Polska
Spain—España
Sweden—Sverige

ethnonym
The name of an ethnic group, tribe, or people. The residents of the United States are called Americans. Other ethnonyms used by Americans include African-American, Black, Indian, Native American, and Asian-American. A similar term, demonym, is a term that refers to the inhabitants of a place. For example, Chicagoans, Londoners, Mancunians (inhabitants of Manchester, England).

toponym
The name of a place. Because the Romans occupied Britain for three and a half centuries, many British place names derive from Latin words. For example, the Romans called their camps castra, a word that developed into the suffix chester/cester, giving modern Manchester, Winchester, and Cirencester.

caconym
“An erroneous name.” The Greek word for badkako, gives us several English words. Cacophony is “bad sound,” for example from an untuned musical instrument, or harsh- sounding words. A cacodemon is an evil spirit. A caconym is a “bad name,” i.e., an incorrect or faulty term. A malapropism, for example, is a caconym.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Rare Tablet Bearing Ancient Epic Poem Forfeited to U.S.

From The New York Post:

Brooklyn federal prosecutors want an ancient artifact known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” returned to Iraq — where it was looted years ago before being sold to an unwitting Hobby Lobby for the arts and craft chain’s bible museum.

Brooklyn US Attorney Richard Donoghue’s office filed a civil action Monday asking that the $1,674,000 artifact, dating to 1600 BC, be handed over to the Iraqi government.

The Sumerian epic poem written in cuneiform on the clay tablet is considered one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature, officials said.

“Whenever looted cultural property is found in this country, the United States government will do all it can to preserve heritage by returning such artifacts where they belong,” said Donoghue in a statement.

“In this case, a major auction house failed to meet its obligations by minimizing its concerns that the provenance of an important Iraqi artifact was fabricated, and withheld from the buyer information that undermined the provenance’s reliability.”

Federal agents seized the 5-by-6-inch work in 2019 from the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

In April 2003, an unnamed antiquities dealer purchased the tablet along with a number of other items from another dealer in London, prosecutors said.

In 2007, that dealer sold the tablet for $50,000 to another buyer, and allegedly provided a fake provenance letter, falsely claiming it had been legitimately obtained at an auction in 1981 before laws were passed restricting the importation of Iraqi artifacts.

The tablet was later sold by an unnamed international auction house to Hobby Lobby Stores in 2014, in a private sale for an eye-popping $1,674,000 for display at the Museum of the Bible.

Three years later, a museum curator contacted the auction to clear up some contradictory information about the item’s origins.

Despite inquiries from the museum and Hobby Lobby, the auction house failed to disclose details about how they had obtained the artifact and withheld the false provenance letter, which it knew would not hold up to “scrutiny in a public auction,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

It’s unclear whether the museum, which cooperated with the investigation, alerted federal authorities to the suspected theft.

The piece is known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” since it contains a portion of the poem in which the protagonist describes his dreams to his mother.

Hundreds of thousands of artifacts have been looted from archaeological sites throughout Iraq since the early 1990s and sold on the black market, officials said.

Spokeswoman Charlotte Clay said the museum fully supports the effort to return the tablet to Iraq.

“The museum, before displaying the item, informed the Embassy of Iraq on Nov. 13, 2017, that it had the item in its possession but extensive research would be required to establish provenance,” she said in a statement.

Link to the rest at The New York Post

Here’s what the tablet looks like:

the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet

Provenance: Important, Yes, But Often Incomplete and Often Enough, Wrong

From Artnet News:

This essay addresses provenance issues in the context of a sale. Of course the provenance of a piece is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but how important to the seller and buyer is knowing that, for example, there were three private owners between the artist and the current owner. If one of those owners was Paul Mellon or a major museum, it might be very important. And, have the buyer and seller made that importance clear in their sale agreement?

• • •

Ask anyone at the next gallery opening or museum exhibition and you will find nearly universal agreement that the provenance (lit. “origin”) of a work of art is important.1 In fact, a New York federal judge recently observed that “[i]t is a basic duty of any purchaser of an object d’art to examine the provenance for that piece…”

Less clear is whether the standards that exist in the art world about what should be included in the provenance are followed with any regularity or even can be followed as a practical matter. While theoretically intended to be a “chain of title” that should include every owner of the work since its creation, provenance typically tends to be a non-exclusive listing of interesting facts concerning the background of the work, such as notable former owners (at least those who are willing to have their identities disclosed) and the exhibition of the work at prestigious venues. Should galleries which held the work on consignment be listed? Does a seller have potential liability if the provenance provided to the buyer turns out to be inaccurate in any material respect? What if it is merely incomplete?

Before addressing those questions, it is useful to consider how provenance is relevant to sales of art. Art litigation generally falls within one of three categories: disputes concerning ownership, disputes concerning authenticity, and, to a lesser extent, disputes concerning value. The provenance of a work may bear on each of those potential areas of dispute. Obviously, to the extent provenance represents a chain of title, it may bear quite directly on a dispute concerning ownership. (If “H.W. Göring, Berlin” is listed in the provenance, that is probably a red flag).

More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.

Many works of art acknowledged to be authentic carry some risk that in the future questions of authenticity may arise. After all, experts sometimes change their minds, new experts may disagree with the old consensus, and new facts or technologies may emerge. An impeccable provenance that can be verified serves to mitigate that investment risk. On the other hand, we have seen that a dubious provenance may itself be used as circumstantial evidence that the work is a fake. Thus, even where authenticity is not currently an issue, an inaccurate or incomplete provenance still could give rise to a claim in the future.

Recently an art dealer faced a claim that the provenance he provided with a painting was incomplete because it did not include all of the owners going back to the artist. According to the disgruntled buyer, this omission was material because the provenance included a gallery involved in a well-publicized forgery scandal and, therefore, the painting would be hard to re-sell at an appropriate price without a verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Significantly, the painting had been sold at auction a decade earlier and the dealer had provided the current buyer with exactly the same pre-auction provenance as the prominent auction house had provided at the time of the auction sale. The dealer did not think to second-guess or investigate the completeness of the provenance provided by the auction house and did not have the resources to do so. Previous owners of the work did not want their identities disclosed due to privacy concerns (which is not uncommon), so a more complete provenance was not even feasible. Nevertheless, the buyer claimed that he had been promised a “verifiable provenance” and sought to revoke the sale. The buyer did not contend that the work was not an authentic painting by the famous artist, but merely that it would be hard to re-sell without a complete and verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Although the dispute ultimately was resolved without litigation, this episode starkly highlights the potential risks a seller may be assuming by providing—without qualification—a provenance that he or she has no real reason to doubt.

Link to the rest at Artnet News

Forging Papers to Sell Fake Art

From FBI News:

Michigan art dealer Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz grew up in a family of artists. His namesake uncle, Ian Hornak, was famous among Hyperrealist and Photorealist painters, and his mother was a gifted painter as well.

Spoutz became an artist in his own right—a con artist peddling fakes. His specialty was forging the paperwork that he used as proof of authenticity to sell bogus works.

His deceit finally caught up to him on February 16, when he was sentenced in New York to 41 months in prison on one count of wire fraud for defrauding art collectors of $1.45 million. The judge also ordered Spoutz, 34, of Mount Clemens, Michigan, to forfeit the $1.45 million and to pay $154,100 in restitution.

Spoutz’s scam was straightforward but well executed. He contacted art galleries or auction houses and offered for sale previously unknown works by artists such as American abstract impressionists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell. The art did not appear in any catalogs or collections of the artists’ known works, said Special Agent Christopher McKeogh from the FBI’s Art Crime Team in our New York Field Office.

“He was selling lower-level works by known artists,” explained McKeogh, who worked the case for more than three years with fellow agent Meridith Savona and forensic accountant Maria Font. “If it’s a direct copy of a real one, the real one is going to be out there and the fraud would be discovered.”

Before paying thousands of dollars for works of art, collectors and brokers want assurance the work is real—especially if the work is previously unknown, McKeogh said. Among other things, they look at the provenance—the paper history of an item that traces its ownership back to the original artist—for proof.

Spoutz, who also owned a legitimate art gallery, understood the value of provenance. He forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys, and other documents. Some of the letters dated back decades and looked authentic, referencing real people who worked at real galleries or law firms. Spoutz also used a vintage typewriter and old paper for his documentation.

The old typewriter turned out to be the smoking gun in the case. “We could tell all of these letters had been typed on the same typewriter,” McKeogh said. The type of a letter allegedly sent from a business in the 1950s matched the type in a letter allegedly sent by a firm in a different state three decades later. Spoutz also mistakenly added a ZIP Code to the letterhead of a firm on a letter dated four years before ZIP Codes were created.

Another red flag was that many of the people referenced in the letters were dead. And some of the addresses were in the middle of an intersection, or didn’t exist at all. “All these dead ends helped prove a fraud was being committed,” McKeogh said.

When marketing his fakes, Spoutz stopped just short of saying the works were authentic. “He tried to give himself an out and said they were ‘attributed to’ an artist,” McKeogh said.

. . . .

Spoutz produced the fake provenance, but not the fake art. “Spoutz was not known as an artist. He had a source he kept going back to,” McKeogh said. The FBI used experts in the field and artist foundations to determine the works Spoutz sold were forgeries.

Many of the fakes passed through auction houses in New York City, McKeogh said, and a suspicious victim eventually contacted the FBI. McKeogh inherited the case about three years ago, when another agent retired.

Although Spoutz has been sentenced, McKeogh and Savona do not believe they have seen the last of the fakes he peddled. The FBI recovered about 40 forgeries; there could be hundreds more that were sold to unsuspecting victims. “This is a case we’re going to be dealing with for years. Spoutz was a mill,” McKeogh said.

Link to the rest at FBI News

The OP’s are all dealing with the fringes of intellectual property, but, in each case, the original creator (or the individual creating the forgery) took something that had little to no intrinsic value — clay in the case of the Gilgamesh Dream Table, blank canvases in the case of the paintings — and added value to it

The Art of Fiction

From The Paris Review:

Kenzaburo Oe, The Art of Fiction No. 195
Issue no. 183 (Winter 2007)

INTERVIEWER

Many writers are obsessive about working in solitude, but the narrators in your books—who are writers—write and read while lying on the couch in the living room. Do you work amid your family?

OE

I don’t need to be solitary to work. When I am writing novels and reading, I do not need to separate myself or be away from my family. Usually I work in my living room while Hikari listens to music. I can work with Hikari and my wife present because I revise many times. The novel is always incomplete, and I know I will revise it completely. When I’m writing the first draft I don’t have to write it by myself. When I’m revising, I already have a relationship with the text so I don’t have to be alone.

I have a study on the second floor, but it’s rare that I work there. The only time I work in there is when I’m finishing up a novel and need to concentrate—which is a nuisance to others.

.

The Blind
By Sigrid Nunez
Issue no. 222 (Fall 2017)

There are things I’d like to know, too. For example, why, when these two girls want to talk, do they keep getting into their cars and driving to each other’s houses? Why do they never use their phones, not even to text to find out first if the other one is home? Why do they not know things about each other that they could easily have learned from Facebook?

It is one of the great bafflements of student fiction. I have read that college students can spend up to ten hours a day on social media. But for the people they write about, though also mostly college students, the Internet barely exists.

“Cell phones do not belong in fiction,” an editor once scolded in the margin of one of my manuscripts, and ever since—more than two decades now—I have wondered at the disconnect between tech-filled life and techless story.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

O poor, unthinking human heart

O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate. We cling with both arms to false hope, refusing to believe in the weightiest proofs against it, embracing it with all our strength. In the end it escapes, ripping our veins and draining our heart’s blood; until, regaining consciousness, we rush to fall into snares of delusion all over again

Rabindranath Tagore

False hopes

False hopes are more dangerous than fears.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Find Your Topic, Not Your Voice

From Jane Friedman:

In setting out to become a writer, you must strive, above all, to discover your unique voice. At least, that’s become the conventional wisdom, taught in MFA programs as well as in more casual settings, from writers group meetings at Starbucks to free classes taught in the stuffy backroom of your local library. Yet there is so much wrong with this advice that, if you spend even one full minute giving it serious thought, your eyes will roll heaven-ward all on their own like Where even to begin?

Still, we must begin somewhere, so here goes.

How can you know what your tone will be when you don’t yet know what your topic is?

Where exactly do we think voice comes from if not from subject?

Which is the right cart and which is the right horse?

Sure, your unique sensibility may account for a large part of your hot takes, but would you write about muffins and genocide the same way, or Fords and fjords? And are we really so sure that voice trumps all other aspects of a piece of writing?

Finally, who is responsible for advancing this damnable, now-inescapable sick logic, and what is their address, because I’m thinking I might like to T.P. their house?

Maybe that seems a tad aggressive. But you have to consider the real damage this advice has wrought. All over the world, people’s drawers bulge with unpublishable novels, essays collections and memoirs in which there’s plenty of voice, yet no story, no real through-line, no sense of one’s audience beyond the assumption that they’re there. That’s the problem. This overemphasis on voice puts the focus on the writer and what they want to say and how they want to say it, ignoring more pertinent questions. Namely, considering how there’s Mare of Easttown to binge on HBO, why should anyone spend hours poring over your writing instead?

It also ignores the credentialism involved with the few novels and works of nonfiction that get acquired, more or less, because of voice alone. Publishers are a lot less apt to value your unique voice if that voice doesn’t come with degrees from Harvard or Iowa, or if you’re not reading this article while lounging on the terrace at Yaddo. It’s just a fact. There are exceptions, of course. The overall picture is, however, about as clear as any close-up of Kate Winslet, though not as pretty.

I rant like this from firsthand experience, from the wish I could time-travel back about 15 years and tell myself all this. My own writing breakthrough, the one that got me a book deal after a dozen years of trying, came from focusing on topic ahead of voice. Your writing struggles and goals may well be different. You are probably miles ahead of me, much less dense and much quicker to learn. But considering the prevalence of the conventional wisdom, let’s turn it on its head a minute.

What if you were to put the primary focus on your topic?

It might just help you land a book deal, climb some lofty bestseller list, scale those Everest-like Amazon ranks—and what’s more, the process is simple, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  1. Pick a topic that fascinates you, or learn about a topic until it fascinates you.
  2. Lead with research. Google your subject to see what’s out there. Begin to gain a sense of whether an audience already exists.
  3. Bring that topic to the world.

This strategy can lead to more interesting writing, and interesting is what you need to be, considering you and I and everyone else we know are all working inside a full-fledged, entertain-or-GTFO attention economy. Few of us occupy such exalted positions that we can take audience for granted. This is all the more true if your goal is to eventually sell a book—again, fiction or nonfiction—because first you must prove to agents and acquisition editors that there’s a crowd of people eager to pay for it.

Your topic could, for example, take any of the following forms:

  • Things that interested you as a child
  • Ideas you can’t get out of your head
  • Places that have become your personal obsessions
  • Or some such B.S.: weird jobs, strange headlines, cultural trends, etc.

And your audience may pop up in such places as:

  • Facebook fan groups dedicated to your subject
  • Publications and other outlets (from podcasts to YouTube channels) dedicated to your subject
  • Reddit boards about your topic
  • Other writers who’ve covered this same subject, plus their audiences.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG hasn’t decided if he needs to establish a quota for the number of articles he posts that include a discussion about the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing contract or not. He’s happy to receive suggestions on this topic in the comments.

As he was thinking about this quite common trope, the thought occurred to him that the consistent appearance of such stories might be evidence of some sort of common cognitive error or mental disorder that seems to plague more than a few would-be authors who wish to be traditionally published. He’s not certain if an MFA is a contributory factor to contracting this condition or merely a symptom of it.

PG needs some help in understanding what’s going on here.

Note that PG is not disparaging mental health professionals or the great benefits they can provide to those who are genuinely mentally ill or otherwise emotionally impaired. Nor is he ridiculing those, author or non-author, who have genuine mental, emotional and/or cognitive problems.

He’s simply providing the many intelligent laypersons who visit TPV and who may have observed the anguish and anger exhibited by many authors who are frustrated with the arbitrary and unfair treatment traditional publishing and it’s enablers visit on them, particularly when those authors have other avenues for getting their books in front of readers.

Per Positive Psychology, here is a list of common cognitive errors AKA cognitive distortions:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.

The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them.

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to.

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth.

One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things.

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another.

Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met.

When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame.

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others (Beck, 1976; Burns, 1980):

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Per WebMD, here is a list of the most common categories of mental disorders:

Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders:Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.

Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.

The political history of dubbing in films

Not exactly about books, but Felix suggested it and I usually agree with him.

From Salon:

English-speaking audiences rarely come across dubbed films and television programmes. This probably explains why they tend to find dubbing so, well, weird. Dubbed voices usually sound a bit flat and never quite sync up with the mouths we see onscreen. This can be off-putting and perhaps even a bit unsettling.

But since the birth of sound cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s, dubbing has been commonplace in many countries, including (looking just at Europe) Italy, Spain and Germany. Dubbing is still used in many of these countries as a way of translating foreign films and television. In Italy, the dubbing system became so developed in the 1930s that it was even used to add voices to Italian films, right up until the 1980s when the growth of TV (which used directly recorded sound) led to changes in standard industry practice.

So why did such a seemingly bizarre practice gain a foothold in these countries’ burgeoning film industries? After all, aren’t subtitles a better way to keep the original film intact and translate it at the same time? There are a few reasons.

. . . .

In the early 20th century, much of Europe’s film-going population had low literacy levels. Subtitles are useless if you can’t read them (or read them fast enough). There’s also the argument that subtitles ruin a film’s images and keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the bottom of the screen. However, perhaps the most important reason for dubbing’s favour was political.

Dubbing is a brilliant tool for film censorship. Sound films began to appear in the early 1930s, a time when many countries were falling under the sway of totalitarian regimes. In Europe, these included those of Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and the Nazis. Censorship had been a feature of film production and distribution in Italy, Spain and Germany since before these dictatorships took power, but it increased markedly after they did so.

Italy and Spain, in particular, found dubbing ideologically useful. Mussolini’s Fascists, for example, manipulated foreign films during the dubbing process by changing dialogue to remove any unflattering reference to Italy or Italians. They also used dubbing to alter morally undesirable elements of film plots. For example, the Italian dub of the 1931 American film “Men in Her Life” was altered to remove a reference to Mussolini.

. . . .

Perhaps even more nefariously, they also insisted that films be dubbed into standardised national Italian (the official form of the language that was generally understood around the country). This was an effort to stop people in different regions from speaking local dialects and minority languages, and to prevent foreign words from entering Italian culture. Dubbing became a key nationalist tool that could unify and isolate Italy at a fundamental socio-cultural level.

The same story played out in Franco’s Spain where dubbing kept films ideologically acceptable and marginalised minority languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. In post-Nazi Germany, dubbing was used to alter film dialogue to play down references to the country’s Nazi past and the atrocities it entailed. For example, the Nazis in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 “Notorious” were rebranded as generic drug smugglers.

. . . .

In the post-second world war period, western Europe (with the exception of Spain) broke free of totalitarianism and literacy began to increase, but dubbing remained. This was partly because it had become an established and familiar habit. But dubbing had also become vital to the system of co-production, which European cinema was increasingly reliant upon. Co-production basically involved two (or more) production companies in different countries teaming up and making a film together. It was popular with producers as it meant they could pool resources and access grants and tax relief from multiple governments.

. . . .

Dubbing meant that each actor could act in the language of their choosing on-set (if you watch an old dubbed film closely, you can often tell that actors are speaking different languages. Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a clear example of this practice). The films were shot without sound and a range of different dubs in different languages were produced in post-production, using various teams of voice actors.

. . . .

Dubbing is still used as a key method of audio-visual translation in many countries and it still attracts politicised debates. For example, the film market in French-speaking Canada has argued that dubs produced in European French are not appropriate for that territory. Dubbing frequently and unsurprisingly ends up at the centre of debates around the politics of language and cultural imperialism, the imposition of one country’s culture onto another country or people.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Felix for the tip.

The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

Goodreads, the popular book cataloging website, functions as a hybrid social media platform and digital library. The social media aspect of Goodreads allows for interaction between users. Users can see their friends’ reviews, reading progress in a book, and even the giveaways friends have entered. The reviews on Goodreads are public, meaning anyone — even those without an account — can access and read reviews.

When anyone does a quick search for book reviews, Goodreads is frequently the first result. The problem with Goodreads being within the first search results for book reviews is that makes the reviews on Goodreads that much more desirable. Goodreads reviews, for many, feel more trustworthy because they are peer written.

For the most part, Goodreads reviewers are average readers. Their reviews are imperfect, full of grammatical errors, gifs, and internet slang. Goodreads users write their reviews in a way that makes sense to them. Some users write reviews for their own cataloging use, others write reviews to be helpful to others, some reviews are simple and short.

. . . .

Like many social media platforms, Goodreads can  feel like a competition. In addition to a yearly reading challenge, Goodreads offers stats on their users. Anyone can read and access these stats to see the Top Reviewers and Readers, Most Popular Reviewers, Most Followed, and Top Librarians. It’s a popularity contest no one signed up for. Stats are updated on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and can be sorted by country or worldwide ranking of Goodreads users. It’s important to note that clicking “Meet People,” under the community tab, directs to Most Popular Reviewers, even though it’s in the center of the list. Top Reviewers is second on the Meet People option.

On similar websites, Top Reviewer and Most Popular Reviewer might refer to the same type of ranking, based on community votes or interaction. On Goodreads, however, Top Reviewer refers to number of reviews written within a certain time frame. A Goodreads reviewer can be a Top Reviewer without being a popular one. This type of ranking makes it extremely easy for people and not-people to fake their ranking as Top Reviewers and Top Readers. The Top Readers are simply ranked by number of books read.

Weeding through the weekly Top Reviewers, many profiles appear ordinary. The astonishing number of books read and reviewed per week by the Top Reviewers makes it clear that these profiles are not average, albeit avid, readers. To read 400 books per week, every week, is simply not possible, by human standards. While there is nothing preventing actual people from inputting hundreds of books every week into their Goodreads accounts, there isn’t much of a reason to do so. So, what’s going at Goodreads? 

Bots. Bots are what’s going at Goodreads. Since Goodreads is also used by non-account holders, it is a desirable internet space for advertisers. What happens is that a company or individual will pay for hundreds of positive reviews of their product, so that when a potential buyer sees the reviews, all they see are positive reviews and 5-star ratings. In the case of Goodreads, the product is books. These reviews can be written by a bot or a person with multiple fake accounts.

Top Reviewers’ fake profiles might not always be easy to spot, as they often use stock images as the profile picture, or leave the avatar blank. Their reviews, though are fairly easy to spot. Hundreds of reviews per week? Check. Poor grammar and short reviews? Check. Strange, vague, or unrelated reviews? Check, check, check. If it sounds like the warning label on a blood pressure medication, rather than a review for a regency romance, a bot probably wrote it. Bot reviews are often copied and pasted from another book. Many fake accounts will post multiple reviews of the same book. Going down the list of the Top Reviewers, reviews will often trend towards the same book or topic.

. . . .

So why doesn’t Goodreads do anything about the bots, fake profiles, and scammers? Goodreads knows about the scammers. Users are asked to flag the reviews and keep it moving. That seems extremely unhelpful of them. Fake reviews and reviewers are a well-documented phenomenon. Goodreads isn’t the only website filled with profiles named “Keyboard” with blank avatars. In 2019, the popular skincare brand, Sunday Riley settled with the FTC for writing positive reviews on the Sephora website, for over two years. These reviews were written by Sunday Riley employees. Amazon, Goodreads’ parent company, is also riddled with fake reviews.

Amazon shops rely on reviews to get consumers’ attention. Five-star reviews, whether they’re genuine, or from a bot, boost the rating and boost the buying potential. Amazon is the top bookseller in the world, so of course it would want to boost reviews of books. Whether Amazon is paying for the ersatz reviews or it’s another party is unknown, but Goodreads is absolutely swarming with bot accounts. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

Reading Beyond Neurodivergent Sterotypes

From Publishers Weekly:

Ableism against neurodivergent authors is a widespread problem within the publishing industry. Neurodivergent people include those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other neurological differences.

Popular, award-winning books with neurodivergent characters written by authors who don’t have lived experiences of neurodivergence permeate the publishing landscape. Some of the common and harmful stereotypes that appear in these books show neurodivergent kids as burdens to their families, or depict neurodivergent protagonists who “overcome” their disabilities. When neurodivergent authors present different, more nuanced experiences in their books, they’re asked to change them to be more like these award-winning books, or they’re rejected outright because of narratives that don’t fit publishers’ expectations of how neurodivergence should be represented.

I thought I was one of the lucky ones. A publisher approached me to write a children’s picture book based on my lived experiences with autism, which became my debut, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism. But I was shocked when my agent, Naomi Davis at BookEnds, told me the same publisher sent a rejection letter with ableist comments about my new chapter book series highlighting neurodivergent experiences. It indicated that my proposed series was too focused on kids with issues and therefore wouldn’t reach a wide audience.

Kids with “issues.” The publisher referred to neurodivergent kids as kids with “issues”—as if neurodivergent children are defined by their weaknesses rather than their strengths. As if they shouldn’t be embraced for their different ways of experiencing the world. And as if they don’t have any interest or need to read a series like this.

At least one in five kids are neurodivergent, according to the CDC’s statistics. But in a 2019 study, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 3.4% of children’s books have disabled main characters, and only a fraction of that includes neurodivergent main characters—nowhere near the 20% that should represent neurodivergent kids.

The rejection letter went on to say that the series wouldn’t reach a wide audience because that’s not what I wanted. The publisher claimed that it didn’t want to push me into creating a series that it wanted.

Despite my desire to reach a broad audience, and the multiple rounds of revision I had already done on this proposal over eight months, I was blamed for the publisher’s view that my story would not matter to people beyond the neurodivergent community. The publisher spoke over me, rather than hearing my voice.

My agent wrote a long response, objecting to the language in the rejection and pointing out how it implied that neurodivergent stories appeal only to neurodivergent readers. The publisher’s rejection language was ableist. It’s not what we expected from a publisher already publishing my book specifically about autism. It’s insulting to imply that a book that appeals to neurodivergent readers more than to neurotypical readers won’t have a wide enough audience. We were shocked, and we were furious.

The publisher’s response to my agent’s letter was a performative one-line statement “apology” that provided no insight into how it intended to repair our relationship, support my currently published book, or do better going forward. In fact, it seemed to place the burden of this conflict on my agent and me for being upset, rather than on its actions.

If an agented and published author like me faces ableism from a publisher, how is the publishing industry treating unagented aspiring authors? 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG isn’t quite certain what he is supposed to say or not say regarding an article written by a neurodivergent author.

PG is certainly divergent in a number of ways, but doesn’t believe he is neurodivergent as he understands the term.

However, the author’s reported experience with a prospective publisher as described is not at all atypical of the way publishers treat all sorts of people – healthy, impaired, etc., etc.

Additionally, there is no great surprise if a manuscript from an agented and published author is rejected by a publisher for any reason or no reason. There are no versions of a season pass for a season of any length in the traditional publishing world.

Publishers as a group are also noted for their reluctance to work with an author who is “difficult” for any reason.

PG is not certain whether there are any degrees of “difficult” that apply in this behavior by publishers.

Whenever he’s read/heard about it, “difficult” seems to be a binary characteristic for an author. One is or one is not difficult. If one is a teeny bit difficult, perhaps such behavior is not enough to trigger the difficult trapdoor.

Additionally, an author may be in the good graces of a publisher one day and difficult the next. Overstep some invisible line, even if it wasn’t present yesterday, and you’re difficult.

Disagreeing with a decision made by a publisher as is depicted/implied in the OP is a behavior characteristic of more than one “difficult” author regardless of whether the author is absolutely correct and the publisher is absolutely wrong or not.

It’s not about right vs. wrong, it’s about not difficult vs. difficult.

Publishers may be difficult to any degree, but authors may not.

How Amazon and Bookbub Will Help You Sell Books–FREE

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

Yeah, we know…

A BookBub feature will rocket your book skyward.

Stacked promos can help you tickle the algos and ride the tsunami.

A great launch strategy well executed can get your book a bestseller badge.

But all these options are pricey—especially a BookBub feature if you can even get one.

And they don’t all necessarily work or don’t work as well as you hoped.

Then what?

What if your Book is a Dud?

What can you do if the book you’ve worked on had professionally edited, bought a great cover for, hired a pro blurb writer—is a wall flower? The lonely, overlooked guy or girl all primped and ready for the prom, but who just doesn’t get the love?

What if you keep submitting and your book just doesn’t click with BookBub?

What if you can’t afford a BookBub feature even if you could get one?

Or what if your book just isn’t a hot seller in a hot genre?

Do you give up?

Do you weep, wail, gnash your teeth and curse the fates?

Of course you do.

Who doesn’t?

Or, after a bout of weepy, whiny self-indulgence, do you pull yourself together and search for other ways to get where you want to go?

Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?

It does?

You’re kidding. Right?

No. Definitely not kidding. In fact, you’re wrong.

Of course Amazon wants your book to sell, because the more money you make, the more money they make.

But how do they do that? And how do you get in on the goodies?

Amazon provides every author with access to an exclusive book page whose content you control.

Yes, you probably have a website, but think of your Amazon author page as a website on steroids with two huge advantages.

The first advantage is that every one of your book pages on Amazon contains a clickable link that takes a reader directly to your Amazon author page.  The more books, the more clickable links.

That clickable link takes a reader or a prospective buyer one click to find out more about you and all your books. One click ease leads directly to your author page where you can post photographs, videos, and blog posts, where they can view your complete catalog, come-hither covers, yummy blurbs, alluring bio, and reviews, the good, the bad and the not terrible but not-so-hot either.

The second significant advantage to your Amazon author page is that the author page has a big, clickable follow button when readers can sign up to received news about your new releases and pre-orders. Make the most of that follow button by using your email lists and social media to encourage your fans to follow you on Amazon.

Why?

The reason is that Amazon will send an announcement to everyone on your “follow” list whenever you have a new release.

Amazon with its powerful marketing muscle and tons of buyer data will send out an alert to each of your followers telling them you have a new book for sale for FREE.

So be sure to claim each new release on your Amazon Author Page and take the time to polish your author page to a high sparkle.

Here is Amazon’s own guide to what your Author Page can do for you.

Besides Amazon’s powerful Author Page and clear guidelines, they provide the responsive and helpful Author Central for any issues or glitches you might encounter along the way.

An email or call to Author Central can help:

  • *Fix and update metadata
  • *Clean up boo-boos
  • *Untangle issues with the Series Manager
  • *Remove scammy reviews because Amazon hates misuse of its review system as much as you do
  • *Remove early, outdated editions of your ebooks (but not print editions)

This detailed, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide by Dave Chesson will  guide you through the process of setting up your Author Page in Author Central. There are pointers about how to make the most of your Author Page.

Tip: I have found that if your first attempt to resolve a glitch fizzles, giving Author Central a second chance can result in a different outcome—so don’t give up if the issue persists. Just try, try again.

BookBub is On Your Side, Too

BookBub, with 20 million followers, will also put its powerful marketing muscle to work for you and your books. At the BookBub subscriber sign up, readers indicate which genres they prefer and where they purchase their eBooks—at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google.

Like Amazon, BookBub provides several tools for authors to get the word out about themselves and their books, and get their books in front of that large audience of readers. According to BookBub many of their subscribers are reading a couple of books every month. Some are reading a book a week, or even a book a day!

Bottom line: BookBub subscribers are avid readers and are always looking for new books.

FREE Bookbub Features

Along with its powerful, pricey, and hard-to-get Features, BookBub also provides authors with FREE ways to reach prospective readers whether or not you’re able to score a Feature.

Analogous to Amazon’s Author Page, BookBub offers an Author Profile Page with many of the same customizable features. Go to BookBub’s home page to find the Author Profile tab, and follow the instructions to set up your own Profile page. Any author — trad pubbed or self pubbed — can claim a BookBub Author Profile.

BookBub, like Amazon, will send out new book alerts to your followers and will help drive interest to your pre-orders.

BookBub’s own articles will step you through the process of setting up your author profile and offers tips about how to polish your bio with examples, and explanations of exactly what makes an author bio great. Plus a checklist to help keep you on track.

BookBub’s information-packed articles, like Amazon’s guidelines, offer specific help to step you through every part of the user process from setting up your account  to the specifics of launching a new book.

BookBub’s savvy book marketing team also goes into the details of their New Releases For Less program, tips on pricing and discounting strategies, and tutorials on how to target readers via BookBub ads. You will find all this — and more!, as the pitchmen say — on the BookBub blog.

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

PG has become aware of discontent among some indie authors with BookBub. Basically, that BookBub is rejecting books for paid promotions it would have almost certainly accepted a couple of years ago.

PG hasn’t seen any online information he trusts as reliable about what’s changed with BookBub’s acceptance process, but a look at the free assistance mentioned in the OP might be useful.

New tips on Amazon are almost always helpful. Afterall, that’s where most indie authors want those who click on BookBub or other third-party promotional sites to end up anyway. (No insult to other, perfectly reliable online bookstores intended, just an opinion based on how many ebooks and other books the Zon sells.)

Note: PG usually doesn’t include links in his OP excerpts because they can lead who-knows-where. He’s left the links in this one because Anne and Ruth’s blog has been useful and reliable for a long time plus he clicked on the links to the OP and they link to the sites they describe.

Bad Contract Alert: Bytedance’s Fictum Reading/Writing

From Writer Beware®:

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a flood of questions and complaints from writers who’ve been approached by reading/writing platforms or apps based in Hong Kong or Singapore.

There’s a growing number of these platforms, and they are aggressively soliciting for content, including on established platforms like Wattpad. While most of the solicitations target writers directly, agents are receiving approaches as well.

Some platforms appear professional, with contracts that are fairly reasonable and straightforward. Others…not so much. Last October, I wrote about the terrible contracts offered by A&D Entertainment and EMP Entertainment, two companies that are deputized to recruit for Webnovel.

A new player in in the reading/writing app field is Fictum (domain registered just this past November). Available on Apple and Google Play, it’s owned by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and is currently recruiting writers with existing published books, as well as writers willing to produce 200,000 words or more of new material for its Long English Story Project.

For new material, Fictum offers both exclusive and non-exclusive contracts, with different levels of financial remuneration that are rather confusingly described here. You must first publish three chapters in order to apply for a contract; once you’re contracted, you must fulfill punishing word counts and maintain a grueling schedule in order to earn. For the exclusive contract, for instance, you must publish at least 1,000 words a day in order to receive a “daily update bonus” of $200 per month. More words equal more cash: if you can bang out 100,000 words a month, you get $400. Time is money, though: you can’t take more than four days off in a single month, and if you fail to produce for more than four days in a row at any time, you forfeit payment.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a flood of questions and complaints from writers who’ve been approached by reading/writing platforms or apps based in Hong Kong or Singapore. 
There’s a growing number of these platforms, and they are aggressively soliciting for content, including on established platforms like Wattpad. While most of the solicitations target writers directly, agents are receiving approaches as well.

Some platforms appear professional, with contracts that are fairly reasonable and straightforward. Others…not so much. Last October, I wrote about the terrible contracts offered by A&D Entertainment and EMP Entertainment, two companies that are deputized to recruit for Webnovel.
A new player in in the reading/writing app field is Fictum (domain registered just this past November). Available on Apple and Google Play, it’s owned by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and is currently recruiting writers with existing published books, as well as writers willing to produce 200,000 words or more of new material for its Long English Story Project. 

For new material, Fictum offers both exclusive and non-exclusive contracts, with different levels of financial remuneration that are rather confusingly described here. You must first publish three chapters in order to apply for a contract; once you’re contracted, you must fulfill punishing word counts and maintain a grueling schedule in order to earn. For the exclusive contract, for instance, you must publish at least 1,000 words a day in order to receive a “daily update bonus” of $200 per month. More words equal more cash: if you can bang out 100,000 words a month, you get $400. Time is money, though: you can’t take more than four days off in a single month, and if you fail to produce for more than four days in a row at any time, you forfeit payment.

I’ve seen one Fictum contract, offered for an existing published book. You can view it here. To put it mildly, there are issues of concern.

– The Grant of Rights is non-exclusive and time-limited–but it is also irrevocable. In other words, you aren’t stuck forever–but you have no right to cancel. 
There was originally a clause allowing the author to terminate for cause, but in the contract I saw, that clause had been blacked out. The deletion wasn’t as effective as someone thought, though, because when I converted the contract to PDF, the excised words showed up:

This isn’t much better than saying “no, you can never cancel”. You’d have to wait a year, and you could only invoke the clause if not a single person had accessed your work in all that time (which might be hard to show, given that Fictum doesn’t have to tell you how your work is performing–see below). Talk about crafting an option so that it practically never happens! Plus, if even if you were unfortunate enough to fulfill the requirements, you’d still be screwed, because you’d have to give money back to Fictum:

Let me know if you can make sense of that formula.

– You must waive your moral rights. Moral rights include the right of attribution (the right to be identified as the author) and the right of integrity (the right to protect your work from changes that would be prejudicial to the work or to you). If you waive your moral rights, you surrender both. Among other things, this means that your work could be published without your name, or under someone else’s name.

Moral rights aren’t really recognized in the USA, but they are important in other countries, and the Fictum app is distributed in multiple nations across the world.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

If you’re an author and not familiar with Writer Beware, you probably should be. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the site was founded under the auspices of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Curently, it’s also supported by the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

The current staff, as listed on the website is Victoria Strauss (also a co-founder), Michael Capobianco and Richard C. White. All are authors and each is a volunteer.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the three is an attorney, but his strong impression is that each is a savvy veteran author who knows her/his way around both the legal and non-legal aspects of the publishing business. Besides, PG knows an unfortunately large number of dumb attorneys and you don’t have to climb very high on the smart and savvy tree to be better at locating traps in contracts that authors sign than a dumb lawyer.

Besides, PG has never seen any information about a US law school that includes any specialized program that focuses on laws affecting authors and the publishing world. (Way more money in representing people who have been injured in auto accidents involving insured drunks.)

As full disclosure, PG learned about intellectual property law in law school (Gutenberg was still suing people who ripped off his printing press), and worked for a company that made its money licensing patents, but his first exposure to the world of publishing contracts was when Mrs. PG became dissatisfied with her traditional publisher.

That was the first time PG had looked at her publishing contracts (barefoot shoemakers’ children, etc.). He figured out how to break the contracts so she wasn’t shackled to her publisher any more. Prior to that, PG knew a lot about business contracts, but nada about publishing contracts.

So, PG thinks it’s a good idea for authors to visit Writer Beware on a consistent basis. He’s going to be more consistent in checking the site for potential TPV posts, but don’t rely on him to tell you everything you know about whatever appears on Writer Beware.

Hong Kong Police Arrest Five Over Children’s Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong’s national-security police arrested five people for allegedly conspiring to commit sedition through a series of picture books that portray sheep being targeted by wolves—an allusion to China’s crackdown on pro-democracy supporters in the city.

Hours after police detained five members of a speech therapists’ union, police displayed three illustrated books that they say incited hatred against the government among children as young as four. The cartoons simplified “political issues that kids wouldn’t comprehend and beautifies criminal activities,” Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah told a news conference. “They’re meant to poison the minds of children,” he said.

Described as teaching aids, the books were distributed through pro-democracy businesses, local political offices and online by the speech therapists’ union, which was founded in November 2019—a time when some activists formed workers’ groups as a way to organize protest actions against the government.

The books include one titled “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” which is set against the backdrop of antigovernment protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. It depicts a malicious plot by the wolves to take over the sheep’s village and devour them all.

Another, “12 Warriors of Sheep Village,” refers to a dozen activists who were caught by the Chinese coast guard during an ill-fated boat escape from Hong Kong last year. The third book in the series, titled “Street Cleaners of Sheep Village,” alludes to a medical workers’ strike last year when Hong Kong faced its first coronavirus infections imported from China, using cartoons of littering wolves to portray outsiders.

. . . .

Thursday’s arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on dissent in the former British colony and were made on the same day that four former executives and journalists of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily appeared in court charged with violating the national-security law by conspiring to collude with external forces. Apple Daily, founded by jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, was forced to cease publication last month after authorities seized its assets.

. . . .

Publishers have been among the targets of authorities since the national-security law was imposed last year. Media groups and opposition groups have raised concerns that free speech is being eliminated and so-called red lines about what amounts to a crime are being expanded to eliminate criticism of authorities.

“Even children’s picture books cross the red line,” Herbert Chow, a local businessman who supports the protest movement, wrote in a Facebook post referring to the arrests.

The five people arrested—two men and three women, aged between 25 and 28 years old—are board members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. They were detained under a colonial-era antisedition law rather than the security law imposed by China.

In its online mission statement, the union says it has chosen to align itself with the politically marginalized. “We are a group of speech therapists, we should walk with the unheard,” it said on its website. “Those who are lucky won’t understand that being able to speak is a luxury. But we resonate with this.”

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

Pay the writer

From The Bookseller:

I’m currently reading Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions (Bloomsbury, 2015) by the brilliant writer, Eve Poole. The book meticulously slays capitalism’s dragons in fairy dresses: the assumptions of competition, the invisible hand, ‘market pricing is just’, the supremacy of the shareholder, the legitimacy of the limited liability model and more. It is a very thorough and intellectually robust read. I strongly recommend it.

I did notice that the book doesn’t cover one key toxic assumption that capitalism appears to consider to be fact: writers neither want or need to get paid.

I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would consider it wise or fair to approach a professional writer to work for them for free. I also cannot think of any other realm of professionalism (outside of the creative sphere) in which mega profitable organisations expect to be able to extract labour and expertise for free.  

Don’t cry for me -I am to blame for my own woes. I struggle to resist Twitter and often put ideas out there, like many people. Perhaps I accidentally gave the impression that I like giving away my labour for free. So, it should probably come as no shock that the source of my current bewildered disdain permeates from a tweet I wrote.

I was approached by a blue-chip multinational corporation to write a piece for them on the governments’ seeming push to regulate social media organisations in light of the racist abuse faced by England footballers.

Noticing they hadn’t mentioned a fee, I asked what it was. Their response:

“Sadly there is no fee for opinion pieces ☹ I am told it’s because it is the ‘foundation’ so it’s all meant to be charitable.”

I’d have no problem contributing my time to a charity. But context is critical here: the ‘foundation’ arm of a corporation that made $5.98bn last year asked me to clear my diary, research, write, rewrite, battle with my self-doubts (and demons), rewrite again and then send them a professionally written piece. For free. Or, as they put it, ‘for charity’. I passed.

The representative of the organisation came back to me and said: “That’s fair enough. I am fighting internally for opeds [sic] to be paid so I’ll keep you in mind in case it changes. Have a lovely day!”

. . . .

“I hope that works out well internally. I am part of an organisation called the Black Writers’ Guild and we’re very strong on this. Being a Black writer is often a double whammy – our labour as Black people and then as writers is often not valued. I understand this is a ‘foundation’ but I’m assuming everyone in your hierarchy is getting paid for their labour. Writers have bills too. If the ‘foundation’ wishes to contribute their proceeds to charity – that is admirable. But it is an unfair assumption that writers can afford for the fruits of their labour to go to charity. Home is where charity starts after all. And we won’t have homes if we don’t get paid for our labour.”

. . . .

This is not the first or tenth time this has happened to me. I was once asked to come and spend half a day with another multi-billion-pound organisation. Upon enquiring about pay they offered me “five thousand dollars…”. ‘HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN THE SKIES ABOVE ARE CLEAR AGAIN!’ I thought… until I read the sentence in full: “…five thousand dollars… in Ad Credit… to a non-profit organization of interest to you”. Again, I passed.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has a somewhat different take on the free work than the author of the OP. PG’s take is based on his experience of many years as a retail attorney in a low-income area.

One of the (many) things that malpractice insurance companies warn attorneys about is what is sometimes called, “street-corner advice” or “coffee-shop advice.”

Attorney bumps into an acquaintance who owns a factory that employs a couple of hundred people at a street corner. The factory owner is someone who would make a nice client. The two stop and chat briefly then the acquaintance says something like,

"I was thinking about you the other day after my kid, who just got his drivers' license, bumped into another car in the high school parking lot. 

It was a little thing that didn't do much damage and nobody got hurt. Since he's a new driver, my car insurance premiums will go through the roof if I tell my agent about it. 

There's nothing wrong with me keeping the whole thing quiet and just giving the other kid's family a couple of hundred dollars to fix the scratches is there?" 

The attorney wants to do this guy a favor because then when he needs help with something bigger, the factory owner might remember how nice the attorney was when his kid had a problem. He smiles and says, “Bob, you’re probably right. I do some work on accidents and know all about those crazy auto insurance bills. Sometimes handling little things like this off the books is best for everybody.”

Bob smiles and says, “Thanks a lot. I won’t forget how you helped me.” Attorney walks back to his office smiling even though there’s nobody sitting in his waiting room.

A couple of months later, the helpful attorney receives a letter from the largest law firm in town announcing that the firm has been retained by the factory owner to pursue a legal malpractice claim. That claim is based upon the incorrect legal advice their client received when the helpful attorney suggested that he not report the accident to his insurance carrier to avoid a premium increase.

The accident in the school parking lot resulted in $25,000 in damages to the other driver’s new Mercedes, a birthday present from her parents. The other driver has also been seeing an orthopedist for back pain and may require back surgery.

The factory owner’s auto insurance company has cancelled his policy and is refusing to pay damages because the factory owner failed to make a timely report of the accident to the company and admitted his child’s liability for the accident while offering the injured girl’s parents money in exchange for their signatures on an agreement to hush up the whole affair.

And the son totaled the family Rolls Royce the day after the policy was cancelled.

End of over-long hypothetical lawyer horror story.

Like nearly every other attorney who has practiced for very long, PG was sometimes asked for informal advice in a non-business setting. His response was usually something like, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having trouble and I’m happy to help. I’ll have my assistant call you to schedule an appointment as soon as I get back to my office on Monday morning.”

The response accomplished a couple of things:

  1. It communicated that PG was a concerned acquaintance and was happy to help and
  2. PG was a professional and wanted to handle the problem in a professional manner.

PG did a lot of free legal work, but he wanted to choose who he did free work for and what types things he would do without charge instead of having free legal work choose him.

When PG was in his office, he was in friendly lawyer mode and did things like ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes (which included a summary of what the client told him) and treat the matter in the same way he did other legal matters when he was asked to give legal advice.

With the help of his brilliant and hard-working assistant (No sarcasm whatsoever intended – she was both brilliant and hard-working. So was his other assistant who handled billing and bankruptcies.) he would set up a file for each client that included his notes, letters or emails he sent and a record of the things he did and what he said. In some cases when he gave verbal advice, he would send a follow-up letter to the client summarizing his advice so he was as certain as he could be that the client understood the advice.

There was some CYA in this process, but it also was a way to help PG make certain that he had done his best to clearly explain and communicate his advice to his client and could remember that advice and his basis for it if the client asked him a question about it two years later.

If he wanted to be an effective professional lawyer, acting like an amateur wouldn’t help him reach that goal.

So how does this apply to a professional author (or would-be professional author), like the creator of the OP?

A couple of things come to mind:

  1. If you would like to write for an individual or organization at no charge, you choose the recipient of your charity. There are many that would welcome the help of someone who is talented in written communications.
  2. If someone asks you to provide your professional expertise at no charge, think about how you will respond ahead of time. Your planned response might include something like, “I’m flattered by your offer, but I’m a professional author. Writing is what I do to help support myself, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of extra time to provide my professional services without monetary compensation.”

(PG notes that the end of the hypothetical response included in item #2 above strayed into a bit of lawyer-speak, but sometimes he can’t help it.)

Perhaps PG was a little put-off by the OP author’s complaints about people who asked him to write for free. PG heartily agrees with the sentiment, “Pay the writer!” (and “Pay the attorney!”), but he doesn’t complain if people don’t understand everything about what he does to earn his money.

Close Encounters of the Initial Kind – Tips for When Characters Meet

From WriterUnboxed:

Here is the thing you need to understand about this post – It is not a recipe for perfecting the meet-cute scene of a new romantic comedy, at least not exactly. Simply ask Google to find dozens of suggestions for tackling that particular knot, which makes for a good writing exercise even if not your normal cup of tea. But, no, today my inspiration derives from something much simpler – an admiration I have long held for writers of stage, screen and print, across a wide range of genres, who manage to craft indelible moments when characters engage each other for the first time. Such interactions, handled deftly, add intrigue, tension and occasionally, as with the aforementioned rom-com hook, even humor to a tale. They also offer opportunities to develop character and to underscore core themes of your story.

Wow! That is some heavy lifting for what typically starts out as a checklist item while laying out a plot – Protagonist meets new boss, future father-in-law, child’s teacher, man who later tries to kill her, etc. But if such encounters are necessary on the page, shouldn’t we make the most of them to advance the story in ways beyond the perfunctory? 

. . . .

Keep in Mind Character Needs

In crafting the first encounter, it may help to start by asking yourself a few questions, such as these:

  • What do your characters want from the interaction?
  • What do they fear? What do they desire?
  • How do the characters present themselves? And what motivates them to do so?
  • Is one character more self-assured or aggressive? Is so, why?
  • How does the situation (or how can the situation) reflect a larger conflict within the story?

Remember, each new encounter is an opportunity to explore character, both for you as the writer and ultimately for your audience. 

. . . .

While even chance encounters with minor characters can provide opportunities to layer or reinforce a character’s nature, the initial moments of more complex relationships are even more ripe for exploration. This is where the “meet-cute” exercise comes into play. I may never write a romantic comedy, yet I can appreciate the skill involved. Every rom-com hinges on the moment early on when the love interests first meet. What elevates successful ones, actor chemistry aside, is when the witty interplay reveals personality traits that will drive the action – and the emotional arc – for the remainder of the journey.

In When Harry Met Sally, protagonist Sally Albright’s nearly OCD approach to life encounters, clashes with, and ultimately complements Harry Burn’s more pessimistic take, with both maturing to the point they can appreciate the love that has grown between them and commit to the relationship. In their initial meeting, Sally arrives for their 18-hour road trek from Chicago to New York City, maps and schedule in hand, only to find Harry deep in embrace with his latest girlfriend, content to linger and disrupt her carefully constructed plans. Cuteness ensues as she nudges him to pay heed to her schedule. The scene works because the personalities and stakes are seeded with an economy of words, setting the stage for a delightful exploration of how people worlds apart in philosophy and outlook can still bond, building a durable foundation for a lasting love.

Link to the rest at WriterUnboxed

Power is not a means

Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

George Orwell

Lukashenko Regime Tells PEN Belarus That It’s To Be Closed

Trigger Warning – PG spent way too long researching and preparing this post and is posting it too late at night.

At this point, he thinks there may some interesting observations, but isn’t sure

From Publishing Perspectives:

Disturbing news from PEN America, which has issued a notice to the media this afternoon (July 22) saying that the Belarusian justice ministry has sent a letter to PEN Belarus, informing the organization that it’s to be closed.

The news follows government raids on offices of cultural and rights organizations and of media outlets, as described in our article from Friday (July 16).

. . . .

Early this week, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was in Washington for meetings with the Joe Biden administration’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, congressional lawmakers, the US Agency for International Development’s Samantha Power and US Agency for Global Media’s acting CEO, Kelu Chao.

One point she made to CNN’s Jim Sciutto–an international affairs specialist [book plug for Jim’s book omitted as irrelevant – PG] –is that she thinks of herself not as the opposition leader but as a figure in the majority.

Her reference was to the August 9 election, claimed by longtime strongman Alexander Lukashenko as a victory but said by Tsikhanouskaya and her voters to have been a travesty. Tsikhanouskaya lives in Lithuania for safety at this point.

. . . .

The action reported by the PEN network of international chapters today coincides with the US-funded Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty report on Minsk’s justice ministry also asking the country’s supreme court to shut down the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) for what the regime calls “repeated violations of the law”.

. . . .

It’s reported that the message from the ministry was received at PEN Centre Belarus on the same day that the organization released one of its detailed reports on cultural rights violations.

This new report from PEN Belarus is a first-half 2021 update on issues encountered and cites 621 violations between January and June. Like the first-quarter report we looked at at the time of Roman Protasevich’s arrest, six-month report pulls together what’s known of state actions taken against the community PEN represents and lists instances of censorship, “persecution for dissent,” and more.

Image: PEN Centre Belarus

In a section on literature, the PEN Belarus staff writes, “Starting from January of this year, non-state publishing houses, publishers, book distributors, independent press, including those with content on cultural topics, authors, and often readers themselves, have come under pressure.”

Interference and suppressive action against elements of the country’s publishing community include instances of detention; interrogation; raids; confiscations of computers, telephones, books; frozen finances; blocked book exports; and censorship.

As the PEN team writes in its report, “This is a tragic time for freedom of expression, freedom of creativity, freedom of opinion. The sociopolitical crisis is characterized by the violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, persecution for dissent, censorship, an atmosphere of fear, and the expulsion of proponents of change.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

For those who seem to find dictators and autocrats behind every bush in a country governed by democratically-elected officials, this is what a real dictatorship looks like.

With respect to that general subject, PG is reading an excellent history focused on what happened in Eastern Europe after World War II, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum.

It is a well-written, highly-detailed and densely-footnoted account of the take-over of governments of all sorts, including democratically-elected ones, by Russian-backed Communists during the last days and the decade following the end of World War II in Europe.

If you have ever had a fancy to live in a Communist dictatorship, this book will put you off of that idea forever.

If you describe any Western democratically-elected government official a “dictator,” this book will help you understand you are using the term as a metaphor. (Yes, that includes Donald Trump.)

This goes down on PG’s highly-recommended list and he doesn’t believe the book falls in the literary equivalent of, “Eat your spinach! It’s good for you!”

When PG made this post, this heavy-duty book (over 1,000 pages) had 771 reviews with an average star rating of 4.6.

Sometimes, PG checks the one-star reviews to catch a flavor of the readers who didn’t like the book.

Here’s the first one-star review that appeared on the Amazon-USA site (paragraph breaks and spacing in the original):

She author is so bias against the Red Army and Soviet Union that she makes the Red Army and Soviet Union sound worse than the Nazis.
The Soviet Union due to the Nazi invasion and the war to save their country and destroy the Nazis lost at least 27 million people. Several of the East European countries (Romania, Hungary, Slovakia) that the author portrays as innocent victims supplied hundreds of thousands of troops to assist the Nazis in their goal of destroying the Soviet Union. Poland also during 1920-1 had a war with the Red Army in which the Poles defeated the Red Army. The Poles as the price for an end of the war took parts of Ukraine, and Belorussia which had few Polish residents and incorporated them into Poland. I have a question for the author or anyone else. Except for the Red Army who would have freed Poland and other Eastern European countries from the Nazis? The answer is no one. Only the Red Army was strong enough to thoroughly defeat the Nazis and force them out of Eastern European and eventually capture Berlin.
It is understandable that a nation that lost more than 15% of its’ population to invading armies would feel threatened if there were hostile nations on its’ borders. Stalin was paranoid. But it was not out of the question that the Nazis might try to convince the Western Allies that the Soviet Union was the real menace. General Patton advocated attacking the Red Army (which was an insane idea). The author is ridiculously anti-Soviet, I could not continue reading the book beyond the first several chapters.

(PG commentary – Comparison of the Nazis to the Soviets and finding that the Soviets are the better of the two is the ultimate race-to-the-bottom.)

But PG hasn’t fully delivered on the headline for this post!

Meet Alex, the World’s Most Successful Elected Official!

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, winner of the first free election in Belarus and five subsequent elections, an unbroken winning streak.
The only President Belarus will ever need!
Campaign slogan: “One Comrade, One Vote, One Time!!”
(Commentary by PG) (Sergei Gapon/Pool Photo via AP)
Lukashenko, winner of six straight elections as President of Belarus shares campaign secrets with one of his many fans. Description by PG, Photo Credit: February 15, 2019. Reuters

Here’s a link to a nine-minute PBS News Hour segment about Belarus dated July 20, 2021

Embedded Belarus video follows:

End of Belarus Update

The Point

It’s easy to consign the Belarus actions as isolated or archaic or otherwise something that real people would never take seriously.

However the tactics Comrade Lukashenko is ordering in Minsk are precisely those that were used during the the post-WWII period described in Ms. Appelbaum’s book. The dictators come and go, but the means of gaining and holding power in this part of the world haven’t changed in 100 years.

More to the point, Ms. Appelbaum sees hints of those same strategies and tactics in some Western Nations, as described in her latest book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (which PG hasn’t read, but intends to after finishing the current Appelbaum book he is reading – remember, it’s over 1,000 printed pages, and his Kindle says he’s about 30% finished.)

More than President Trump, PG is concerned about Cancel Culture, Critical Race Theory and similar movements arising as part of the backlash that lead to Trump’s narrow defeat in the last election. When PG first read much about these and other political concepts driving many activists during the last election cycle (before he started Ms. Appelbaum’s post WWII book mentioned at the top of this post), he was reminded of things he had learned from other reading concerning Soviet/Stalinist/Bolshevik strategies for taking and keeping power.

PG suggests that those who claim that western civilizations have somehow reached the end of history or that there is no chance of history repeating itself, that the arrow of progress inevitably points in the direction of greater freedom and cannot be reversed are simply incorrect. PG recalls reading that, at the beginning of the 21st century, about one-third of the nations of the world were democracies. Certainly, nondemocratic systems seem to regularly fail, but they are often followed by another nondemocratic system.

PG will point to the relatively widespread fears among certain groups that President Trump was going to be a dictator are some evidence that, even in large and longstanding democracies, there is no guarantee of continued democracy. Remember, Comrade Lukashenko began his rule by winning what was, by contemporary and local geographical standards, a reasonably open election. Around the turn of the 20th Century, China went through a period during which it appeared to be moving toward at least a type of democratically-elected government before gaining its latest Supreme Leader for Life. There were a few rulers that continued in power for a shorter period than Mao had.

Here’s Amazon’s product description for Ms. Appelbaum’s new book:

From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else. Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.


Minutiae

In the minutiae category, PG has concluded that, for him, reading a heavily-footnoted book in ebook form is a better overall experience than reading a paper version of the same. In an ebook (at least as read on a Kindle Paperwhite), the footnote numbers linking to the note are shown in the text and the notes are easily accessible, but you only see the text of the footnote if you tap the footnote number. Unless he taps, PG’s reading experience is similar to a book without footnotes.

When PG is reading a densely-footnoted printed book, many pages show only a few lines of text and a gaggle of footnotes visually dominate the page. For easily-distractible PG, the footnotes are a distinct temptation to examine and it’s not difficult for him to become involve in the fascinating details and lose track of the continuity of the text during that process.

Sometimes, his progress through such a paper book is:

  1. Read the text
  2. Examine any footnotes that include comments, quotes, etc.
  3. Go back and read the text again so he can pick up on the flow of ideas when he turns the page (odd-numbered pages are the worst, but even-numbered pages are not without the occasional speed-bump).
  4. Repeat this process for a thousand pages or so.

That said, despite being hip-deep in material filled rigid and beyond-argument doctrine, PG will not be doctrinaire regarding the ebook-vs.-print-and-footnotes question.

Comrades won’t lose their TPV Party Cards if they find fault with PG’s dictates.

(Promotional note – With your TPV Party Card, you get free delivery of Amazon ebooks to your local reading device! No more annoying shipping fees, Comrade!)

Business Musings: Expletives Deleted

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In late April, Dean and I started planning for a reopened society. We plotted our lives, the things that needed to be done for our individual businesses, and then for WMG Publishing.

Finally, we got to the workshop planning.

I wanted to start in-person workshops in the fall. I looked at the vaccination rates here in the U.S., and figured we could do some small workshops before building to something bigger in the spring of 2022.

Dean put the brakes on that. He said that the fall was too early. I asked him why he thought so, and for once, he couldn’t give me a definitive logical reason. He just said it was.

Then, a few hours later, he added that many of our students come from overseas. He was watching the vaccination rates in other countries, and noticed that they were slower than the U.S.

People won’t be ready yet, he said.

We talked some more. I wasn’t sure he was right. Things were going swimmingly on the vaccine and virus front. If the pace continued, most of the people in the U.S. who were eligible would be vaccinated by August. A lot of venues here in Las Vegas were already requiring vaccines to attend a concert or a sporting event.

But we couldn’t figure out how to make vaccines mandatory for our people without a lot of rigamarole that a small company is not set up to do.

Ultimately, it was the mandatory vaccine thing and the fact that other countries were behind that convinced me not to have Fall in-person workshops.

. . . .

The impact on our in-person workshops, which I enjoy greatly, isn’t the only thing in our business that the unvaccinated are having an impact on.

In late May, we had the final, final, final half-off sale on our workshops, figuring that yes, indeedy do, no one needed to stay home anymore, at least here in the U.S.

Heh, were we wrong.

We aren’t holding those sales for us. We’re holding them to ensure that people take care of themselves.

We actually discussed having a sale for the vaccinated only because we want to reward people for getting the vaccine.

We can’t figure out a good way to do that.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Much of Kris’s post consists of criticism of those people in the United States who refuse to be vaccinated for Covid.

PG is not certain whether this is an issue elsewhere or not, but it certainly is for an insistent minority in the US.

PG seems to recall that some countries have laws that require that all persons be vaccinated against a variety of preventable illnesses.

PG is not an expert on US vaccination laws, but understands that virtually all (or perhaps just all) vaccination laws in the US are state laws that govern the citizens/residents of those states.

A variety of vaccinations are routinely given to newborns. PG understands that some doctors and some hospitals won’t deliver babies, absent an emergency, unless parents are willing to permit at least some vaccinations. (PG could be wrong on this.)

To the best of PG’s knowledge, home births are not subject to vaccination requirements. As a practical matter, enforcing such mandates could be very difficult.

Many US state vaccination laws are focused on children. The most visible of these are vaccination requirements for children attending school, often both public and private schools. Without required vaccinations, children are not allowed to attend school. To the best of PG’s knowledge, while there are vaccination requirements that are standard for many states, there is not one law/rule that applies to all states.

PG understands that some childcare facilities require vaccinations for any children for whom care is provided.

Religious objections to vaccinations are perhaps the most common historical reasons for legal vaccine disputes. Such objections have been regularly protected by court decisions.

A long time ago, PG was involved in a case in which a family refused to permit a child to be vaccinated. The relevant state child protection agency took custody of the child on the basis of parental neglect, planning to have the child vaccinated. Under the state laws of every state with which PG is familiar, such child protection agencies are authorized to remove children from a home where they are abused or neglected.

In a conference with counsel in chambers, the judge hearing the case in which the parents sued the state agency for wrongfully taking their child into protective custody expressed substantial concerns about ordering injections of the child. He specifically mentioned the actions of Nazis during World War II when they performed grotesque medical experiments on imprisoned individuals, quite often Jews and, sometimes, gypsies being held in concentration camps.

Several years ago, PG heard part of an interesting disagreement between two brothers, one an American physician and the other a Canadian physician.

The general topic was medical care of children. The American was pointing out all the medical and chemical technologies and facilities he had available to treat children. The Canadian replied by saying something to the effect that, in Canada, all children receive proper (and mandatory) vaccinations against childhood illnesses, which had effectively eliminated those illnesses while the US still reported some cases every year due to lax US vaccination practices.

For the record, PG and Mrs. PG got their Covid vaccinations as soon as they were available. Their children, now grown, received all the medically-recommended vaccinations at the time recommended by their doctors.

On the other hand, PG does feel a bit squeamish about government agents forcing individuals to receive injections to which they strenuously object.

Finally, PG is aware of people who have strong feelings on both sides of the vaccination discussion. He requests, as usual, that comments and replies to comments be civil and non-hostile. Even if you have very strong opinions, you don’t absolutely need to reply to a comment of someone who has different opinions in any sort of hostile or offensive manner.

The Passion of Anne Hutchinson

From The Wall Street Journal:

How did a dispute within a small breakaway group of Protestants over a seemingly obscure point of theology become an iconic episode in American history? The issue was whether one could earn eternal salvation through godly behavior, or whether the gift of saving grace is bestowed without regard to a person’s conduct. To the side led by Anne Hutchinson, the difference was between a popish “covenant of works” and a true “covenant of grace.” To the other, headed by John Winthrop, “free grace” portended “antinomianism,” a world of free love and social disorder in which the laws of church and state did not apply to true believers.

The protagonists, as Marilyn J. Westerkamp shows in “The Passion of Anne Hutchinson,” (Oxford, 312 pages, $29.95) were worthy adversaries. Winthrop, the leader of the Great Puritan Migration to Massachusetts Bay, was the colony’s frequent governor and the man whose vision of a “city upon a hill” became the stuff of presidential speeches. Hutchinson (1591–1643), the daughter of a dissenting minister, was a charismatic matron with a reputation for piety. Caught in the middle was the Rev. John Cotton, a Cambridge-educated divine with a foot in each camp. Resonating through the centuries, the controversy plays out in the parties’ own voices in diaries and trial transcripts.

Hutchinson herself speaks to the modern interest in women’s history. Called by the scholar Michael Winship “the most famous—or infamous—English woman in colonial American history,” she has been cast as a martyr for religious freedom, a victim of the patriarchy, or a sacrifice to social order at a time when Massachusetts was threatened by belligerent Native Americans and a hostile Crown. She was a prophet, a Jezebel or both.

Hutchinson arrived in Boston, age 43, in September 1634, on board the same ship that a year earlier had brought her adored pastor, John Cotton, to the New World. Accompanying her was her husband, William, a successful cloth merchant, 10 of their 11 surviving children, and a handful of relatives and servants. The Hutchinsons joined their eldest son, who had already crossed the Atlantic with Cotton. Among the wealthiest émigrés, they received a house lot across the street from Winthrop, grazing rights on Taylor’s Island in the middle of Boston Harbor, and 600 acres of farmland near what later became Quincy. William soon became a town selectman and a member of the General Court. Anne became a sought-after midwife and herbalist, known for edifying religious counsel in the birthing room.

. . . .

By 1636, Anne was holding weekly prayer meetings for women in her home. At first, the gatherings followed the English custom of female “conventicles,” but as Anne’s fame spread her constituency broadened to include men. Eventually Hutchinson presided over two “public lectures” each week, attended by 60 to 80 followers. Her message—an increasingly strident condemnation of all the local clergy except Cotton—only exacerbated her challenge to the standing order.

In October, the colony’s embattled ministers held a private session with Cotton, Hutchinson and her newly arrived brother-in-law, the Rev. John Wheelwright. Cotton was conciliatory; the other two less so. While conceding that “sanctification,” or good behavior, might be evidence of salvation, Hutchinson and Wheelwright added a new point of contention, asserting that “the person of the Holy Ghost” dwelled within the justified believer. The “indwelling spirit” had been a byword for anarchy since the Reformation. It was exactly what Winthrop and the other institutionalists feared, and they swung into action. Over the next year, Winthrop was swept back into office, Cotton walked the fine line between supporting Hutchinson and placating his fellow clergy, and Wheelwright was banished for seditious contempt of authority. Then, in November 1637, Hutchinson was tried before the civil magistrates for troubling the peace of the commonwealth and its churches.

The trial lasted two days and Hutchinson clearly had the better of it, parrying wits and biblical knowledge with the colony’s best. Then, at the end of the second day, Hutchinson upended the proceedings when she proclaimed that her understanding of grace had come “by an immediate revelation.” (Scholars have long debated why she handed victory to her opponents—was she claiming her prophetic mantle, reassuring her base or suffering from exhaustion? Cotton, to his credit, argued on her behalf that such private revelation was within the Puritan mainstream.) More devastating was the public prophesy that followed: “I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things,” she proclaimed. “I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.”

Hutchinson was convicted and banished from the colony, her departure delayed until she could be excommunicated by her Boston church. In the end, even Cotton renounced her. She moved to Rhode Island but when Massachusetts threatened to annex the region, she and a small group fled to Dutch territory, not far from what is now the Hutchinson River in the northern Bronx. In 1643, all save one child were massacred by the local Native Americans. The leaders of Massachusetts Bay exulted: “The Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from our great and sore affliction . . . this woeful woman.”

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

PG notes that a great many histories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, established in 1620 with the landing of the first passengers from The Mayflower, tend to show the colonists as consistently virtuous people.

They certainly displayed substantial toughness, finally coming ashore in late December.

The Mayflower arrived in November of 1620, hence, the Thanksgiving celebration that was held in 1621 to celebrate a year’s survival. However, there was no place to live on shore, so work crews ferried back and forth from the ship until late-December.

Only very crude shelters could be constructed on shore, but they were better than staying on an intensely cold, leaky and filthy ship, being thrown about during nasty New England winter storms, which were much colder and more severe than passengers had experienced in England or Holland.

In addition to those who had died during the voyage across the Atlantic, 45 of the 102 passengers who were on the Mayflower when it sighted land died during the first winter due to illness (likely a disease called leptospirosis, caused by leptospira bacteria that is spread by rat urine) poor nutrition and housing. A number of orphan children were taken in by families whose adult members had survived.

Based on PG’s reading, no one who made it through the first winter could have thought of themselves as among the privileged classes. He suspects a great many fervently wished they had never made the voyage. Even in the spring, their lives were miserable.

The colonists would have been much more likely to have died absent the miraculous appearance of Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been captured and enslaved by an earlier English explorer prior to his escape.

Unfortunately, the Pawtuxet tribe and other tribes were not immune to either leptospirosis or other European illnesses circulating among the settlers. These illnesses caused a great loss of life (almost certainly in much greater numbers than Mayflower passenger deaths) among the Native Americans in Massachusetts and adjoining areas. These large numbers of Native American deaths opened up a lot of vacant land for use by the Plymouth colonists and those who followed.

For those who may wish to assign blame for these deaths to the English settlers and crew, no one in Europe, let alone the Mayflower passengers, had any idea about the sources and causes of these types of illnesses. Evidence that microorganisms could cause disease wouldn’t be discovered until more than 250 years later. (Robert Koch, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1905)

That said, European diseases were invisible allies of a lot of different European explorers by decimating various Native American tribes. See, for example, Hernán Cortés and 500 Spanish soldiers. They managed to conquer the Aztec capitol, Tenochtitlan, estimated population, 200,000, in 1521. Tenochtitlan ruled an empire estimated to include 16 million people. By far the most important weapon was one about which Cortés knew nothing – smallpox.

PG remembers that some wealthy New England families cited their ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower as evidence of high breeding. Perhaps this belief still circulates in some circles, but both the Pilgrims (a minority) and non-Pilgrims were nobody’s idea of aristocrats in their own minds or in the minds of anyone in England who was aware of their existence.

Both PG and Mrs. PG have Mayflower ancestors. However, while we have enjoyed learning about them, neither of us feel more elevated by them than we do by the illiterate Swedes (PG) and the illiterate and impoverished Russians (Mrs. PG) who arrived in the United states in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Further regarding Mayflower descendant’s superior breeding, it’s estimated that about one in seven Americans living today are descendants of those who arrived on the Mayflower.

PG’s suggestion (for any who may be interested) is to celebrate and be grateful for your progenitors, regardless of how humble or grand they may be.

It may help to know that however grand some of your ancestors may seem, the nature of family trees is that the number of ancestors doubles with each generation one traces back. There aren’t enough kings, queens, dukes or duchesses to fill anyone’s family tree. (And that’s not even considering the number of your ancestors who were illegitimate children.)

Evil

Those to whom evil is done, do evil in re­turn.

W.H. Au­den

The Dangers of Editing

From Writer Unboxed:

I edit books for a living, so I know it’s true that writing is rewriting. But I’ve sometimes seen clients fall into editing traps that can cause real damage to their work. Although some simply waste valuable writing time, others get so caught up in the wrong kind of editing that they either lose sight of or actually blot out their vision of the book.

Before we get into these traps, a caveat. Every writer has their own approach to writing, including rewriting. There are plenty of exceptions to everything I say here. So unless you recognize yourself in the problems I describe, feel free to ignore me.

Do not start editing too soon. I’ve written before about how all the elements of a story interconnect with one another to form a complex ecosystem. If you start delving into detailed rewrites before your story, with all of its interconnected character and plot threads, is in place, then you are probably not doing all the editing you need. You cannot know how a character’s voice should sound until you know who they become. Nor can you judge the importance of descriptive details or the relative weight of different events until you know where your story is going. And you may waste time editing scenes that you later cut.

It’s tempting to jump into the editing too early. You may have reached a critical juncture in the plot where you’re not sure what happens next, so you dive back into the weeds of what you’ve written so far, looking for a way forward. Sometimes this works. But more often, the editing is just a distraction. It’s better to buckle down and finish your first draft before you start delving into the details.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Hypocrisy

For neither man nor angel can discern Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks Invisible, except to God alone.

John Milton

Trump Is a Godsend for Book Publishers. He’s Also a Nightmare.

From Intelligencer:

The past six months have been good to the book-publishing industry. Book sales, helped along by pandemic-induced lockdowns, are up. Adult-fiction sales have risen 30 percent year over year. And most of all, Trump hasn’t been in office. “Postelection, there’s been a breath of Thank God, we don’t have to do Trump books anymore,” one editor told me.

The lull has come to an end. After a brief reprieve from the dishy ticktocks that emerged from the turbulence of the Trump era, publishers are gearing up for a flurry of books detailing the final days and aftermath of his presidency. The Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender’s Frankly, We Did Win This Election and Michael Wolff’s third Trump book, Landslide, kicked things off on July 13. A week after that came Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s second Trump book, I Alone Can Fix It. In the coming months, we will see volumes by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser and the New York Times’ Peter Baker, the Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, the Times’ Jeremy W. Peters, the Times’ Maggie Haberman, and the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker.

Most of the publishing insiders I spoke to responded to the coming wave of Trump books with an audible sigh and an eye roll. “After the first few, all of these books seemed repetitive,” the editor said. “At a certain point, you had to wonder — do readers really care about some absurd thing some aide heard Trump say? I’m skeptical about this current crop of books, but my skepticism has been proven wrong again and again.”

Publishers were initially slow to capitalize on the chaos of the Trump era. When the journalist David Cay Johnston pitched a book about Trump in 2015, he was met with silence from big publishers. (He did end up selling the book, which was released in 2016.) At first, no one thought Trump would get the Republican nomination, then no one thought he would win the presidency. Books take months, if not years, to produce — by the time Trump volumes started rolling off the presses, the thinking went, he would be back hosting The Apprentice.

The Trump boom didn’t really begin until January 2018, when Wolff’s Fire and Fury set the template for future blockbusters: full of juicy detail, mired in the swamp. Above all, it made Trump mad. Thanks in part to a pathetic cease-and-desist letter sent by the president’s lawyers, the book was an instant megaseller and inaugurated the industry’s version of a gold rush.

Success followed a predictable pattern. Excerpts and scoops would be published in tip sheets, newspapers, and magazines. Trump would respond by calling the author a hack and a liar. Sales shot upward before falling just as quickly. Fire and Fury sold nearly 2 million copies in three weeks before it faded from the headlines. Its paperback edition sold fewer than 10,000.

For people with #resistance in their bio, hitting BUY NOW was irresistible.

. . . .

The Trump boom also had career repercussions. “These last few years, if you weren’t working on the big Trump book, you’re under the radar,” one senior Simon & Schuster publicist told me.

. . . .

 For editors of fiction and “serious” nonfiction, the past few years were a nightmare. “There was a sense that people had spent their entire careers knowing how to publish serious, important books by serious, important people, and they were getting blown out of the water by trashy, [*****] tell-alls,” said the former marketing director.

It doesn’t help morale that readers don’t particularly seem to care either. “People approached these books like merch,” said literary agent Kate McKean. “We all buy books we intend to read but don’t — it’s not that the content doesn’t matter, but people buy them the way they buy a shirt, a hat, a sticker.”

“Many of these political books are bought to express support and opposition to something,” said Matt Latimer, founder of the literary agency Javelin, “to make you feel like you’re doing something. And you are! Many of the books that were published did upset the president.”

. . . .

Now, we’re entering what one Penguin Random House publicist calls the “Downfall stage” of Trump’s presidency, referring to the film. “It’s the same people who read books about Hitler’s last days,” the publicist said. “It’s victory porn.”

Link to the rest at Intelligencer

Point 1 – PG thinks this may be the first post on TPVx that has mentioned the former president, but he’s still a little Covid-crazy, so he may be wrong.

Point 2 – TPVx has not, is not and will never be a political blog, so this is not a signal of any new direction.

Point 3 – Regardless of how they voted in any presidential election, PG suspects that great hordes of Americans would not mind the prospect of never seeing Mr. Trump’s name in the newspapers (are there any actual newspapers left?) or anywhere else unless he’s building another apartment tower, in which case, they could breeze on by the story if they weren’t real estate professionals.

Point 4 – PG doesn’t expect to see the scenario described in Point 3 happen very often. Trump sells newspapers (or used to) and he attracts online clicks like Wolfgang Puck or a Las Vegas stripper’s latest blog post. After all, PG clicked on the link to the OP.

The bottom line is that stories about Trump sell as the number of books about Trump listed in the OP and the quotes therein confirm.

Point 5 – The next time anyone associated with the New York Publishing scene mentions that they and/or their employer are curators of culture, mention Trump books. (PG just checked and two out of the top-ten non-fiction bestsellers are about Trump. Those two are published by Penguin and Henry Holt, owned by Macmillan, each a giant curator of culture.)

It is impossible

It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools can be so ingenious.

Attributed to Murphy’s Law

The Mournfulness of Cities

EDWARD HOPPER, HOTEL WINDOW, 1955, OIL ON CANVAS, 40 X 55″. PUBLIC DOMAIN, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

From The Paris Review:

I am puzzled by the mournfulness of cities. I suppose I mean American cities mostly—dense and vertical and relatively sudden. All piled up in fullest possible distinction from surroundings, from our flat and grassy origins, the migratory blur from which the self, itself, would seem to have emerged into the emptiness, the kindergarten-landscape gap between the earth and sky. I’m puzzled, especially, by what seems to me the ease of it, the automatic, fundamental, even corny quality of mournfulness in cities, so built into us, so preadapted for somehow, that even camped out there on the savannah, long before we dreamed of cities, I imagine we should probably have had a premonition, dreamed the sound of lonely saxophones on fire escapes. What’s mourned is hard to say. Not that the mourner needs to know. It seems so basic. One refers to certain Edward Hopper paintings—people gazing out of windows right at sunset or late at night. They’ve no idea. I don’t suppose that sort of gaze is even possible except within the city. You can hear the lonely saxophone-on-fire-escape (in principle, the instrument may vary) cry through Gershwin. Aaron Copland. You remember Sonny Rollins on the bridge (the structure varies, too, of course). So what in the world is that about? That there should be a characteristic thread of melody, a certain sort of mood to sound its way through all that lofty, sooty jumble to convey so clear and, as it seems, eternal a sense of loss and resignation. How in the world do you get “eternal” out of “saxophone” and “fire escape”? It doesn’t make much sense. That it should get to you—to me at least—more sharply, deeply, sadly than the ancient, naturally mournful, not to say eternal, sound of breath through reed or bamboo flute.

Not too many years ago, as I began to wonder about the mournfulness of cities—its expression in this way—I brought a recording of Aaron Copland’s Quiet City concert piece to my then-girlfriend Nancy’s house on a chilly winter evening. She had friends or family staying, so we slept in the front bedroom, which, because of its exposure or some problem with the heater, was quite cold. So I remember all the quilts and blankets and huddling up together as if desperate in some Lower East Side tenement and listening to this music break our hearts about ourselves, our struggling immigrant immersion and confusion in this terrible complexity. The lonely verticality of life. And why should sadness sound so sweet? I guess the sweetness is the resignation part.

I’d like to set up an experiment to chart the sadness—try to find out where it comes from, where it goes—to trace it, in that melody (whichever variation) as it threads across Manhattan from the Lower East Side straight across the river, more or less west, into the suburbs of New Jersey and whatever lies beyond. This would require, I’m guessing, maybe a hundred saxophonists stationed along the route on tops of buildings, water towers, farther out on people’s porches (with permission), empty parking lots, at intervals determined by the limits of their mutual audibility under variable conditions in the middle of the night, so each would strain a bit to pick it up and pass it on in step until they’re going all at once and all strung out along this fraying thread of melody for hours, with relievers in reserve. There’s bound to be some drifting in and out of phase, attenuation of the tempo, of the sadness for that matter, of the waveform, what I think of as the waveform of the whole thing as it comes across the river losing amplitude and sharpness, rounding, flattening, and diffusing into neighborhoods where maybe it just sort of washes over people staying up to hear it or, awakened, wondering what is that out there so faint and faintly echoed, faintly sad but not so sad that you can’t close your eyes again and drift right back to sleep.

It isn’t possible to hear it all at once. You have to track the propagation. All those saxophones receiving and repeating and coordinating, maybe, for an interval or two before the melody escapes itself to separate into these brief, discrete, coherent moments out of sync with one another, coming and going, reconnecting, fading out and in again along the line in ways that someone from an upper-story window at a distance might be able to appreciate, able to pick up, who knows, ten or twenty instruments way out there faintly gathering, shifting in and out of phase along a one- or two-mile stretch. And I imagine it would be all up and down like that—that long, sad train of thought disintegrating, recomposing here and there all night in waves and waves of waves until the players, one by one, begin to give it up toward dawn like crickets gradually flickering out.

In order to chart the whole thing as intended, though, we will need a car, someone to drive it slowly along the route with the windows down while someone else—me, I suppose—deflects a pen along some sort of moving scroll, perhaps a foot wide and a hundred feet long, that has been prepared with a single complex line of reference along the top, a kind of open silhouette, a structural cross section through the route, with key points noted, from the seismic verticalities of Manhattan through the quieter inflections of New Jersey and those ancient tract-house neighborhoods and finally going flat (as I imagine, having no idea what’s out there) into what? Savannah, maybe? Or some open field with the final saxophonist all alone out there in the grass.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG’s in a distinctly contrary mood today. The title of the OP, The Mournfulness of Cities (which the first line narrowed to American cities) suggests sadness is embedded in their general character.

Then, the rest of the OP talks about New York City and New Jersey.

You got cold one night in Manhattan? Try Minneapolis in January!

Minnesota dogs stick to the sidewalks in January.

People plug in their gasoline-powered cars so electric engine block heaters will help to make sure their engines aren’t a solid block of frozen metal in the morning.

Minneapolis people go to Manhattan in January to warm up.

(I’m not forgetting you in January, Winnipeg. I know you go to Minneapolis to work on your tans when the Minneapolis people are all in Manhattan and hotel rooms are really cheap.)

Setting aside the weather, what about all of the other cities – Chicago, Denver, San Diego? All the same as Manhattan?

Au contraire tu es fou!!

PG has spent a lot of time in New York City, lived in Chicago, and spent lots and lots of time in many other large American cities.

He has to work hard to identify a city that is truly mournful. The only one that comes immediately to mind is Gary, Indiana. PG hasn’t been back to Gary for a long time, but it was pretty mournful when he last passed through.

You can certainly be downcast anywhere, including New York City, but PG’s memories of Manhattan (he’ll not speak to the Bronx) are filled with how much energy he picked up walking down the streets at all hours of the day and night.

He named Chicago (terrific city!), Denver and San Diego, but could have named dozens more that have an upbeat, unique vibe that isn’t really replicated anywhere else.

Outside the United States, he loves London and Paris. Oxford feels like he was born in one of the colleges. If heaven looks anything like Florence, PG can’t wait to get there. No mournfulness in Florence for PG.

Contrary and upbeat! That’s PG for the next ten minutes, maybe more!

Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia and Stories+Spells for the Dog Days – the latest from Bookshop.org

From Bookshop.org:

Bookshop.org Reaches $15 Million Earned for Independent Bookstores in Support of the Fight Against Amazon

Bookshop.org, the ethical online marketplace which supports independent bookstores, announced today that it has generated $15 million for its affiliated stores since the site launched in January 2020.

The platform financially supports over 1,200 indie bookstores across the US, with an additional 26,000 non-store affiliates contributing to the impressive results by offering online shoppers an ethical alternative to Amazon that supports local businesses. With a 17% year-on-year growth, Bookshop.org has demonstrated the value of the young start-up not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as the bookstores, and the local communities they serve, face the ever-growing threat of Amazon.

Booksellers using the platform have reported the many ways in which Bookshop.org has been a financial lifeline in a particularly challenging time, with the additional income allowing many to survive the challenges of the pandemic, pay rent, create corporate orders for e-gift cards, and even open new stores.

Fawn Fernandes, Owner of Curious Capybara Bookshop (Hendersonville, TN), said: “I opened my children’s bookstore in September 2020 – right smack dab in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. I did it because I believed our area needed a children’s bookstore, now more than ever. And I was right! But of course, with the struggle of opening any new business, let alone a bookstore, let alone during a pandemic – well, it’s not been easy. We received our semi-annual Bookshop.org funds at a time when I wasn’t sure we would be able to make rent. And while it may not make a huge impact on some of the larger stores, for my small start-up it was literally a game-changer. But it gave me more than funds in my bank account. It gave me hope. It gave me encouragement that not only could I make this work, but I had a huge network of people – other bookstores, the staff at Bookshop, people who SHOP at Bookshop.org – that had my back, that loved books as much as I did, that wanted me to succeed with my little shop. These funds mean more than money. It means community to me. And for that, I will be forever grateful.”

In addition, Bookshop.org has been offering more than just financial support to booksellers: it’s been strengthening their online presence, helping them with social media exposure, enabling them to reach wider audiences, expanding their offer and inventory, allowing them to share personalised lists and recommendations with customers, and creating a sense of community.

Link to the rest at Bookshop.org via Midas Public Relations Ltd.

PG will be happy to hear contrary opinions, but primarily positioning your company as fighting against one of the world’s most-admired companies seems to be a marketing proposition that’s much more attractive to the PR firm’s client than it will be to the general English-speaking world of readers and other book purchasers.

PG doesn’t doubt that the owners of most physical bookstores don’t like Amazon, but how much further does that attitude extend?

PG is willing to agree that most of those working for traditional publishers don’t like Amazon, even though Amazon is their largest customer, miles larger than whoever is #2 this month.

That said, as regular visitors to TPV will know, PG is of the opinion that most employees of traditional publishers are there because they can’t get a job anywhere else (excluding the fast food industry), so what would you expect?

Do most people who buy books really dislike Amazon?

Do most people who don’t buy books right now, but might consider doing so in the future really dislike Amazon?

UPDATE: PG just went to Bookshop.org to check out what the purchasing experience was like.

One of the site’s featured books was How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith.

The following editions of Mr. Smith’s book were on offer:

  1. Hardcover English$26.68, marked down from $29.00
  2. Hardcover English – Large Print$28.52, marked down from $31.00
  3. Compact Disk English – $36.80, marked down from $40.00

A quick online trip to Amazon revealed the following editions of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America on offer:

  1. Kindle – $14.99
  2. Audible Audiobook – Free with Audible trial, $29.65 otherwise
  3. Hardcover English – $17.84

All three editions of Mr. Smith’s book were ranked in the top five of Amazon’s best-seller list for African-American Studies/African American History and Historiography, which likely generated additional sales of the book.

Bookshop.org’s Bestsellers of the Week list did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books, although PG is pretty certain that Bookshop.org has a lock on the market for audiobooks on CD.

Additionally Bookshop.org’s other bestseller lists did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books. For your general information, other than Bestsellers of the Week, Bookshop.org’s bestseller lists which PG was able to find were as follows:

  • Queer Books by Black Authors
  • Special Abilities
  • Staff Picks, Summer 2021
  • The Natural World
  • All We Can Save: More Nonfiction from the Climate Anthology Contributors
  • stories + spells for the Dog Days
  • Ancient Greek Myth Retellings
  • Kristen Radtke’s Must-Read Graphic Novels for 2021
  • 100 Books Every Teacher Needs to Read 2021
  • Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia (PG’s personal favorite category)
  • History
  • Immigration
  • Pen Parentis Writers – Books adapted for the Screen and Stage
  • Celebrate National Foreign Language Month with Your Child!
  • In this Week’s Newsletter

PG finds some of these bestseller lists to be . . . whimsical . . . although he certainly knows where to go for all his fatphobia reading needs.

See even more at Bookshop.org

One Side of the Coin

Just because one side of a coin is wrong, that doesn’t mean the other side is right.

Jonah Goldberg

Political Science Has Its Own Lab Leaks

From Foreign Policy:

The idea of a lab leak has gone, well, viral. As a political scientist, I cannot assess whether the evidence shows that COVID-19 emerged naturally or from laboratory procedures (although many experts strenuously disagree). Yet as a political scientist, I do think that my discipline can learn something from thinking seriously about our own “lab leaks” and the damage they could cause.

A political science lab leak might seem as much of a punchline as the concept of a mad social scientist. Nevertheless, the notion that scholarly ideas and findings can escape the nuanced, cautious world of the academic seminar and transform into new forms, even becoming threats, becomes more of a compelling metaphor if you think of academics as professional crafters of ideas intended to survive in a hostile environment. Given the importance of what we study, from nuclear war to international economics to democratization and genocide, the escape of a faulty idea could have—and has had—dangerous consequences for the world.

Academic settings provide an evolutionarily challenging environment in which ideas adapt to survive. The process of developing and testing academic theories provides metaphorical gain-of-function accelerations of these dynamics. To survive peer review, an idea has to be extremely lucky or, more likely, crafted to evade the antibodies of academia (reviewers’ objections). By that point, an idea is either so clunky it cannot survive on its own—or it is optimized to thrive in a less hostile environment.

Think tanks and magazines like the Atlantic (or Foreign Policy) serve as metaphorical wet markets where wild ideas are introduced into new and vulnerable populations. Although some authors lament a putative decline of social science’s influence, the spread of formerly academic ideas like intersectionality and the use of quantitative social science to reshape electioneering suggest that ideas not only move from the academy but can flourish once transplanted. This is hardly new: Terms from disciplines including psychoanalysis (“ego”), evolution (“survival of the fittest”), and economics (the “free market” and Marxism both) have escaped from the confines of academic work before.

The “clash of civilizations” hypothesis is a good candidate for one of the more disruptive lab leaks in political science’s history. When the Harvard University scholar Samuel P. Huntington released his article “The Clash of Civilizations?” (note the question mark, which disappeared in later versions) in Foreign Affairs in 1993, he spread a bold and simple hypothesis about the course of the post-Cold War world: “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. … The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington’s thesis was not a conjecture based on careful empirical study—it was a speculation looking forward based on some cherry-picked contemporaneous examples. Many academic articles that sought to rebut Huntington by testing his hypothesis fell into this trap, attempting to show him wrong with sometimes quite impressive tests. But Huntington could not be disproved by mere facts. His idea was primed to thrive in the wild, free from the confines of empirical reality.

Facts, indeed, often appeared secondary to Huntington’s larger political project. In his follow-up book on the subject, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, he illustrated his argument by sketching what he considered a plausible scenario: a Sino-U.S. conflict over Vietnam leading to a racialized third world war that ends with the destruction of Europe and the United States while India attempts to “reshape the world along Hindu lines.”

This writing led not to Huntington being ostracized but enhanced his reputation, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks made his claim that “Islam has bloody borders” seem plausible to mainstream audiences. As late as 2011, the New York Times columnist David Brooks praised Huntington as “one of America’s greatest political scientists”—and even though that column ultimately judged Huntington as having gotten the “clash” hypothesis wrong, it did so with kid gloves: “I write all this not to denigrate the great Huntington. He may still be proved right.”

Another contender is the idea of managing great-power competition through game theory. During the 1950s and 1960s, political scientists and their counterparts in economics and elsewhere sought to understand the Cold War by using then-novel tools of game theory to model relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. In their earliest forms, these attempts reduced the negotiations and confrontations between the two sides to simple matrices of outcomes and strategies with names like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken, and the Stag Hunt.

The allure was obvious. Make some simplifying assumptions about what the players in these games want; specify the strategies they can employ to achieve them; assume that players know what the other players know; and calculate that they will choose their strategy based on the choice the other player will make to maximize their well-being. Voilà—a science of strategy.

It is easy to mock this approach—too easy, in fact. These simple assumptions perform pretty well within their theoretical boundaries. Every semester (when the world isn’t in a pandemic), I use in-person simulations of these basic games with my undergraduate students to show that changing the rules of the game can influence players’ willingness to cooperate, a finding well attested in generations of scholarly tests.

Yet there’s a huge leap in jumping from these general, aggregate findings to believing that such simple ideas can guide the behavior of complex states without an incredible amount of additional refinement. In international relations, the specific strategies that can be employed are vast (and new ones can be invented), the stakes of every contest are unknowable, actors have incentives to hide what they know from others, and, perhaps most important, players interact again and again and again. Even when playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a game concocted to make cooperation a fool’s strategy, simply changing from playing a game once to playing it repeatedly can make cooperation an equilibrium.

Nevertheless, the general tendency of a certain influential sect of social science was to embrace the idea that game theory (to be fair, in somewhat more sophisticated terms) could provide not only insights into general features of world affairs but specific foreign-policy recommendations to guide the United States through the Cold War. In influential books like The Strategy of Conflict and Arms and Influence, the game theorist Thomas Schelling used those tools to make the Cold War seem easy to manage—an interaction in which cool head, logic, and a steely command of risk could make confrontations from the Taiwan Strait to the Berlin Wall explicable and winnable.

All of this would have been harmless if these ideas had stayed inside the lab.

Link to the rest at Foreign Policy

Exhibit #MXWT-94837 in support of the proposition that smart people are perfectly capable of believing and doing really dumb things.

Some might argue that the conceit of thinking one is really smart will likely lead to doing more dumb things on a far grander scale than than will occur in the life of someone who is reasonably intelligent and believes her/himself to be reasonably intelligent. The second person will, of course, make mistakes, but, not extraordinarily large and incredibly stupid mistakes.

Which brings us to Hubris and Nemesis

From Greek Mythology:

Nemesis was the goddess of divine retribution and revenge, who would show her wrath to any human being that would commit hubris, i.e. arrogance before the gods. She was considered a remorseless goddess.

. . . .

One myth concerning Nemesis is that of Narcissus. He was a young man who was very arrogant and disdained those who loved him. Nemesis led him to a pool, where he saw his reflection and fell in love with it. Unable to abandon his reflection, he died there.

Link to the rest at Greek Mythology

Examples of Hubris:

The Fall of Icarus

The story of Icarus was first written down in the first century AD in the Pseudo-Apollodorus, but the tale has a much older oral tradition. In the story, Icarus’s father made him a pair of wax wings and cautioned him not to fly too high with them. Becoming overconfident, Icarus flew as high as he wanted. The sun melted his wings, and he fell to his death.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex is a play by Sophocles, which was first performed about 429 BC. In this play, Kind Oedipus defies the gods’ prophecy that he will kill his father and murder his mother. Attempting to control and evade his own fate, he kills an old man who turns out to be his father. Later he marries the queen of Thebes, who turns out to be his mother. His attempt to defy the gods was considered hubris.

. . . .

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer offers another example of hubris. Written in the late 1300s AD, it includes the character of Chaunticleer, a rich and educated rooster. His pride in his wealth and accomplishments leads him to lose track of what is real, and he is easily duped by a fox that flatters his vocal ability. The fox eats him.

. . . .

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Written in the late 16th century, Doctor Faustus tells the story of a man who is so proud of his own academic accomplishments and intelligence that he sells his soul to the Devil for more knowledge and academic superiority. He receives eternal damnation as a result.

Link to the rest at Your Dictionary

From The Rand Corporation:

[The Hubris-Nemesis] complex involves a combination of hubris (a pretension toward an arrogant form of godliness) and nemesis (a vengeful desire to confront, defeat, humiliate, and punish an adversary, especially one that can be accused of hubris). The combination has strange dynamics that may lead to destructive, high-risk behavior. Attempts to deter, compel, or negotiate with a leader who has a hubris-nemesis complex can be ineffectual or even disastrously counterproductive when those attempts are based on concepts better suited to dealing with more normal leaders.

Link to the rest at The Rand Corporation

What Authors Have Found in Substack

From Publishers Weekly:

When I first moved to California, it was a dream come true: an office right on the beach in Santa Monica in January. At break time, I ran out onto the sand to the water’s edge and stared in awe at the surf, the sun, and the people playing at the edge of the world. My colleagues chuckled and made comments along the lines of, “You must be new.”

I soon learned that the company I had joined, like so many others, was a bit of a way station for many of its employees. “What do you do?” I’d ask, to replies of, “Oh, I’m an actor,” or, “I write for TV,” or, “I do stand-up comedy.” Not a week went by without someone asking me for some time off to rush to an audition. It seemed LAX was overrun with arrivals dreaming the same dream. Nowhere did I see this more than in the restaurant scene, from Geoffrey’s in Malibu to Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica or Eveleigh’s on the Sunset Strip: everyone working the tables was an actor or writer or artist of some form.

Fast-forward to present-day Silicon Valley, land of a different dream. As venture capitalist Mark Suster recently put it, “The culture is driven by the 20-something irreverent founder with huge technical chops who in a David-versus-Goliath mythology takes on the titans of industry and wins.” The airports here disgorge a stream of would-be entrepreneurs who dream of creating the next unicorn, or billion-dollar startup. And, just like in Hollywood, reality hits soon and hits hard, with many making ends meet through side gigs in the euphemistically named gig economy, be it via DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft, Uber, or other such services.

What is a self-respecting aspirational author to do in such a world—one turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic? It takes time—an enormous amount of time—to write. It’s not trivial to be an ersatz taxi or delivery driver and write competently at the same time.

Yet most authors know it doesn’t pay much to write. Not all things beautiful, whether writing a book or painting or raising a child, are rewarded financially. The rewards are in the doing and in what the author or the painter or the parent brings to the world around them. Enter a new option: the paid subscription newsletter, the best-known version being Substack.

Originally designed to address the crisis in journalism, wherein the ad-supported business model evaporated like the morning dew and the incremental value of professionally written content drifted down to near nothing, paid newsletters give journalists a chance to be compensated directly for their hard work. Many of these writers were recently let go from their media houses. Others, with strong personal brands, believe they can be paid better as independents in control of their own work. A grand experiment is underway, with traditional media outlets like the New Yorker and the New York Times decrying the unravelling of the fifth estate. Look closer at what is actually happening and you’ll see something else—something that looks very familiar to the waiters in L.A. and the Uber drivers in Silicon Valley. For many writers on Substack and similar platforms, writing a paid subscription newsletter is the new side gig.

Take my example. Having published one book on strategy, I was looking for a way to write the next one. I had so much material and needed time, lots of time: time that was flexible enough to allow me to juggle the responsibilities of raising little children and of contributing to paying the bills, all under pandemic lockdown. Every little bit helps, and being paid while writing makes my dream of publishing the next book that much more of a reality. Or the example of JJ Ding, author of the ChinAI newsletter, who juggles graduate studies with corralling a community of dedicated English-Mandarin translators to make the world of AI research underway in China better understood outside the country, reducing the fear and mistrust between China and the U.S.

Or there’s the example of Animatou Sow, author of the Crème de la Crème newsletter, who juggles writing books, posting Instagram stories, and hosting podcasts, which all feature her incisive cultural commentary, such as, “Books are the answer to rampant 21st-century charlatanism.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG was generally familiar with Substack prior to reading the OP, but is interested to hear from those more knowledgeable about whether writing a paid subscription newsletter on Substack actually generates much money for most people (excluding extreme outliers).

Covid Literature

One of PG’s offspring, eight years old, has been writing a series of stories about two imaginary characters, Fred and Joe.

PG just learned that the latest Fred and Joe story involved an unexpected side effect of Covid vaccinations that caused Fred and Joe to develop four arms.

During a text-message discussion of this literary work, this young author’s mother, PG was informed that Covid RomComs have shown up on BookBub.

This raised a question in PG’s mind – what will the long-term effect of Covid and all its related shutdowns, shelter-in-place, AntiVaxxers, etc., etc., have on literature of all sorts?

Feel free to opine.

(Brief update on PG’s water-in-the-basement adventures: Water no longer seems to be increasing. Wet places appear to be drying out. Another visit from the good plumber expected tomorrow morning.)

I ushered at the Shubert

I ushered at the Shubert in New Haven during graduate school when plays en route to Broadway still went out of town to try out. I worked backstage at summer stock doing jobs from garbage man to strapping on Herbert Marshall’s wooden leg to fixing Gloria Swanson’s broken plumbing in her dressing room with her yelling at me as I worked the plunger.

John Guare

How to Write a Great Summary

From GrammarlyBlog:

A summary is a shorter description of a longer work, covering all of the highlights but not many of the details. It’s used for an overview so that people can get an idea of what the longer work entails without reading or watching it first.

You see summaries everywhere, from book covers to product descriptions to online review sites. However, no matter how many summaries you’ve read, it can still be difficult to write your own when you need to.

. . . .

What is a summary?

Really, a summary is a general term used to describe any writing that briefly explains, or “summarizes,” a larger work like a novel, academic paper, movie, or TV show. Summaries are usually short, from one or two sentences to a paragraph, but if you’re summarizing an enormous work, like all seven Harry Potter books, they can stretch out over pages. 

Summary writing is like a highlight reel, showing only the best parts and ignoring what’s not strictly necessary. A summary example of Hamlet would mention the main plot points like the murder of Polonius, but wouldn’t mention details irrelevant to the plot, like Polonius’s “to thine own self be true” monologue. 

The key to summary writing is to stick to the facts; do not include opinions, analysis, or bias. If it’s written for commercial purposes, such as the summaries on Netflix, it might be intentionally alluring and withhold spoilers. However, for academic papers and more formal writing, summary writing leans towards factual and clinical. 

Summaries appear in many different shapes and forms, including book reports and other school papers. Academics use summaries all the time for research papers when they write an abstract, which is essentially a summary of an entire research paper. 

Really, everyone needs to know how to write a summary at one point or another. Even finding a job requires you to summarize your own professional background and work experience. Learning how to write a good LinkedIn summary can help you land your dream job!

Summary examples: What makes a good summary

Let’s look at some summary examples of famous works to see what constitutes a strong summary. 

On IMDb, the summary for the 2008 movie The Dark Knight is just a sentence long: 

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, Batman must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Right away, you’ll notice that the specific events of the movie are omitted and replaced by a general explanation of what happens. The main characters are mentioned—at least the protagonist and antagonist—and there is some description given about the types of events, such as “psychological and physical tests.” 

However, the details are absent. To summarize a two-hour movie in a single sentence requires broad strokes; there’s only room for the bare essentials. 

Most summaries, though, are longer than a sentence, like this multi-paragraph summary example for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from SparkNotes

As you can see, this summary is about the length of a page. It’s far more detailed, too, mentioning secondary characters and adding more context to the plot events. Still, to condense 281 pages into one requires a lot of cutting, so each key event is given just a sentence or two, consisting of only the need-to-know information. 

How to write a summary in 4 steps

Summary writing uses the same best tips for all good writing. If you want to know how to write a summary yourself, we break the process down into 4 basic steps. 

. . . .

 3. Write the summary in your own words

Next, write the first draft of your summary following the lists you made in the previous outlining stage. If you’re summarizing a book, film, or other media, it’s best to use chronological order (even if the story is told out of order). 

The key here is using your own words. While you’re free to copy the occasional direct quote in your summary writing, it’s best to use original language to make it your own. Also, keep in mind the perspective of someone who’s never read or seen the source material. Do you have all the relevant points they need to understand what’s going on? 

Link to the rest at GrammarlyBlog

Although PG has created a zillion written and spoken summaries for a wide variety of audiences and situations – Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury or In short, for example – he has never consciously focused on how to create a good summary other than with some little-used portion of his reptile brain.

In the future, he’s going to see if he can bump summaries up to a somewhat more evolved part of his mind.

The justification of art

The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations.

Glenn Gould

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner

Water in the Basement

PG apologizes for light blogging yesterday.

A short time ago, PG noticed some dampness in the carpet in part of his basement. Since he had lost confidence in a previous service that sent out someone to check on heating, plumbing and air conditioning and provide preventive maintenance on a periodic basis for a flat monthly fee, PG contacted a friend who builds houses and asked for recommendations for a plumber.

The recommended plumber stopped by the next day. For PG, he had one thing to recommend him besides the referral from PG’s friend – he was a man of mature years. He was also very pleasant to deal with and happy to answer PG’s questions.

Within about five minutes, he pointed out to PG that a prior plumber had re-inserted a plug in an interior drainage access point improperly. Upon, close observation, PG could see how the prior plumber had made a dumb mistake – cross-threading the plug.

(Sorry if that’s too technical, but it’s the same thing that happens when you try to screw a lid on a jar and the lid won’t screw all the way on. You unscrew the lid, line it up properly on the jar and the lid closes as it should. The lid was cross-threaded the first time you tried.)

The earlier plumber appeared to have put a bunch of sealant on the plug which may have delayed the appearance of consequences of his error for a few months.

The new plug was properly installed and the mature plumber went on his way in a short period of time. In an act that will probably get him disinvited from the annual Plumbers’ Ball, the old guy declined to send PG a bill for his services.

All was dry for several days, but then the dampness returned. PG called the mature plumber again. After the plumber examined the situation and found the plug was still in place and working as it should, he said he would send his son to cut open the wall to see why the leak had returned.

It didn’t occur to PG that the dampness problem may have had more than one cause. Problems with more than one cause are regarded by PG (and many others) as more disturbing than problems with a single cause. They tend to be tougher to diagnose and fix.

The mature plumber’s son arrived yesterday as promised, examined the dampness and cut a hole in the wall with his saw. The hole didn’t disclose the type of problem the mature plumber thought might be easily fixable, so the son (who struck PG as a younger version of his father) began a more extensive investigation.

To shorten a long, damp story, one or more of the much younger representatives from the old plumbing service had screwed up in at least couple of different ways – after servicing PG’s central heating and air conditioning, a careless representative had left a pipe that should have been sending condensed water from the air conditioning system down the drain closed. Hence the condensed water was running toward the back of the floor in the furnace room, wetting the back wall, then draining downward to a point where it flowed back forward under the floor to soak PG’s carpet as well as a whole bunch of other things.

In defense of yesterday’s plumber’s father, the Mature Plumber, when he came to visit, PG’s air conditioning had not been running much, so there wasn’t much condensed water. In the last week or so, the weather has been very hot and the AC has been extremely active.

Yesterday’s plumber fixed the AC drainage problem by opening the drain pipe, but also discovered that, apparently due to some sort of improper installation (PG was out of the house on a mandatory task and got the explanation from Mrs. PG), one or both of PG’s two water heaters were also leaking and contributing to the dampness problem as well.

In addition to problems with more than one cause, problems with hidden consequences are also quite disturbing. PG has done some squirming around with a flashlight and confirmed the problems yesterday’s plumber discovered with the water heaters. He’s not sure where to look for the AC drain pipe.

The problem yesterday’s plumber discovered with the AC drainage valve reminded PG of a couple of reasons he quit using his prior preventative maintenance service:

  • After one of the last visits from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the natural gas valve that sent gas to PG’s furnace and neglected to turn it back on before he left. Casa PG became a bit chilly before PG discovered the problem.
  • After the last visit from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the electric switch that powered PG’s air conditioning compressor outside the house and neglected to turn it back on before he left. The fan was blowing inside Casa PG, but no cold air was appearing. PG found and fixed that problem as well.

Throw in a phone conversation with his homeowners insurance agent and with a claims representative and yesterday was chock full of things that PG enjoys less than making blog posts on TPV.

If anyone lives near PG, he has recommendations local plumbing/heating/AC people who are very good and those who are to be avoided at all costs.

Selling and Distributing Your Book: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

The road to writing a book is fulfilling, but it’s often so much more work than people tend to give it credit for. Even once the rounds of drafting and editing are complete, that’s not the end of the road. Rather, it’s the beginning of the sales and distribution process that actually gets your hard-wrangled book into the hands of readers.

This can be particularly challenging if you’re self-publishing. You won’t generally have the expertise or connections that large publishing houses do or the marketing resources at their disposal. Yet, we live in a world in which technology has broken down many of the traditional barriers to publishing. As such, self-publishing is now not only accessible, it can be a viable form of business.

Let’s take a moment to explore a few of the things that you need to know if you’re planning on diving into self-publishing sales and distribution. What strategies and methods can work for you? How can you best go about reaching your audience?

Build Relationships

One of the most important things to remember when selling and distributing your book is that you shouldn’t go it alone. Yes, you may be an independent author, but attempting to take care of everything is a surefire recipe for burnout. This doesn’t mean that you need to hire a team, particularly if this is your first endeavor. However, it’s about building relationships with people who can make your publishing experience easier and more successful.

If you can make it to the big industry book fairs —  BookExpo America (BEA) in the U.S., Frankfurt and London, internationally — this can be a great opportunity to start cultivating relationships with distributors. BEA in particular has also started to see more ebook distributors attending if you are targeting the digital markets. Major and independent businesses alike will either have their own booths at these events, or they’ll have representatives. Make efforts to get to know them personally. Be interested in what their goals are and how you can help. Even if these distribution representatives can’t take on your book, they may be able to provide you with advice and introductions that can help you move the process forward.

However, you should also make efforts to cultivate relationships with independent bookstores. If your book is in print, booksellers can make a huge difference in where it is featured on the shelves and whether it is recommended to readers. Reach out to stores, particularly if you plan a small tour with readings and events to promote your book. If you’re attending festivals, make inquiries with independents about stocking some copies and the potential for putting together an event at the same time. These relationships are mutually beneficial — you get your book into stores, and independent sellers can compete with the online marketplace.

Focus on Marketing

One of the challenges of selling and distributing your self-published book is making sure that people actually know it exists. This begins with increasing your online presence. Make a clean, professional-looking website that also has personal touches. This should certainly include a blog that you update regularly. Make sure that you are not just present on social media, but active. One of the mistakes too many self-published authors make is to just self-promote their books on their platforms, targeted at no one in particular. Engage with your followers on social media, make content that they actively want to consume — perhaps about the genre you write in or even the writing process itself. Reply to commenters, invite responses to your tweets, and go out of your way to join discussions with other authors in similar fields.

As an independent operation, you have the freedom to take your marketing down some more creative avenues. Merchandise can be a fun method here. Creating t-shirts and other apparel featuring your book’s characters or a witty quote can both cultivate a sense of fandom and also be talking points when people see other readers wearing them on the street. It’s a form of guerilla advertising. Selling and delivering apparel doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, either. If you’re printing items in bulk and shipping them yourself, you can usually save some money with prepaid postage and boxes that are provided by the shipping company. You certainly don’t want to risk paying for damaged items, either, so take the time to pack clothes securely, with the garment protected inside a polythene bag.

Diversify Everything

One of the many things you’ll learn as a self-published author is a need for agility. Without the ability to adapt to various challenges and even roles, you are unlikely to get very far. As such, you can benefit from taking the attitude that you need to diversify everything.

This should include:

●     Your Income

When you’re just starting, you’re unlikely to make a livable salary from your book. As such, it’s worth taking on freelance writing work that you can perform around your publishing efforts. There are additional challenges this presents. Negotiating pay requires some research into the current markets, not to mention confidence to advocate for yourself. You also need to devote time toward outreach to ensure you have enough work, and administrative tasks like invoicing. However, this is largely a matter of good organization, and this can diversify your income in a way that allows you to keep prioritizing your book.

●     Your Distribution Methods

When you don’t have resources, you’ll need to be more agile about how you get your book out there. You may have to make regional deals with smaller distribution companies, rather than conglomerates that also take care of overseas territories. You might also have to take care of ebook publishing on each platform. If you can’t sign an exclusive deal with a provider, this means you need to capture your ebook readers wherever they can find you.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

For quite a while, PG has operated under the belief that the ebook royalty rates Amazon pays for indie authors who are exclusive with Zon outweigh the extra money indie authors can make by going wide (remembering that every distributor has its own royalty structure).

In other words, a given indie author could make more money from ebooks (the large majority of the money indie authors make are from ebooks) by exploiting the higher rate Amazon pays than using other reputable ebook distributors (Draft2Digital is the one PG hears/reads the most about.)

As PG was reading the OP, he wondered if his belief was still correct or if something has changed with ebook purchasers, ebook distributors, etc., that make going wide a more profitable approach.

PG is happy to hear opinions and would be particularly interested in seeing blog posts and stories from successful indie authors that compare the costs and returns of going wide vs. Amazon.

PG also admits that he is a bit cautious with articles on independent websites focused on information for indie authors like the OP because he’s concerned they may have affiliate income or advertising deals with other ebook distributors that they don’t have with Amazon.

But PG could be wrong about that in more than one case.

The Most Significant Choice Of Your Writing Career

From Jane Friedman:

The most significant choice of your writing career happens long before your story makes its way into the world. This choice impacts every single aspect of your career, and it is a choice you make over and over and over again. This choice could leave you a husk of a writer, ravaged by the publishing industry, bemoaning the success of everyone else around you; or it could propel you to the next stage of your career and embolden you to try things you’d never thought possible. The funny part is this choice has nothing to do with the act of writing, but everything to do with words.

The most important choice you will make in your writing career is how you choose to talk to yourself about said career.

And for 99% of writers I know, the default setting of this conversation is: doubt, worry, and frustration. Fears on repeat include: Why would anyone ever buy my book? My story isn’t important. I’m never going to get an agent. I don’t know how to do this. Somebody already wrote a story like mine…

When we’re Uninitiated and breaking into the industry, we all have these thoughts, and we often feel powerless. But that feeling of powerlessness dissipates when you master your interior dialogue. You go from being a pawn in a multi-billion-dollar industry to an active player with a say in how your career unfolds.

You can change your default mental settings, and as you rewire your brain you may even learn to enjoy the current stage of your writing career.

But the jump from Why would anyone read my work? to My work is great is not natural. If you try to go directly from the former to the latter, you’re probably going to feel delusional, as opposed to empowered.

Rewiring progresses quietly, in stages. Mindset milestones include: That will never happen to me. Maybe that could happen to me. I can do this. I’ve already done it.

Here are a few exercises for both inside and outside your brain to lead you from That will never happen to me to Maybe that could happen to me.

Inside your head

  • Acknowledge how you think is a choice. Negative narrative is on auto-pilot by now, but someone had to turn on the auto-pilot function and that someone was you. Are you ready to turn it off? Does that idea terrify you? What about those negative thoughts are you holding on to? The choice is yours, all you have to do is make it.

For me, clinging to negativity offered a sense of security. I knew how to be an aspiring writer. But owning the fact I was a working writer put me out of my comfort zone. It forced me to realize people may actually read my work and that triggered a fear of judgment on about ten-billion different levels. But stasis equals death doesn’t just apply to our characters. And it’s only by making a choice to think and therefore act differently that I was able to move forward.

  • Notice when you’re having a crap-tastic garbage person way of talking to yourself moment and shut it down. Take a deep breath, and say out loud with your voice-box, “I choose not to participate in this conversation.” Add a physical movement, like snapping your fingers, as well. If you’re in public and catch yourself thinking negatively, you can use the physical movement to interrupt the negative pattern. That way people aren’t staring at you for uttering, “I choose not to participate in this conversation” when you haven’t been conversing.
  • Replace trash talk with a new line of dialogue. Once you’ve asserted your choice to disengage from self-trash-talk a few times, take it a step further. Replace your negative monologue with a question of possibility. I like Why not me? If somebody else has done it, there’s no reason I can’t do it too.

Rewriting your brain is hard work. It is physically exhausting to create new neuro pathways. That old wiring for negative thinking will always be there, so rewiring is something we have to practice as frequently as we practice our writing craft. And, just like mastering our craft, adjusting our thoughts and tweaking our mindset is never done—but with practice, your transition time from self-doubt to self-empowerment increases exponentially.

You can do some serious rewiring work on your own, but it has even more impact when you step outside your own brain.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Hotel California

PG is frustrated with what should be the most mundane of internet tasks – transferring a domain from one internet service provider to another.

As he ran the process a second time with a large, but shady ISP after the first one got lost somewhere in the bowels of their subnormally-automated systems, he was reminded of the following lyrics from an old song by the Eagles titled, “Hotel California.”

Relax,” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”

Imagine

Imagine that you hold in one hand an oddly shaped stone. You keep this hand closed into a fist, but still you can feel the stone’s curvature and the pointed edges, the roughness—of course, you know the relative size and weight and might even have a mental image of the color of this stone, even if you have not yet laid eyes upon it. Imagine that stone in your hand. Imagine what it is like to know everything about the way it feels, but nothing of how it looks. Hold that in mind for a moment.

Now, imagine that there is a person standing next to you who tells you that she also holds a stone in her hand. You look down and see the clenched fist and she sees yours and you confess the same. Neither of you, it seems, has yet opened the hand and seen the stone. Still, you can only trust each other’s proclamations. Standing together with your stones in hand, the two of you theorize about whether or not your respective stones are similar to one another. You discuss mundane details about your stones (not the special ones—you hesitate to make mention of the sharp point in the northern hemisphere or the flat area on the bottom). Your neighbor finally notes similarities between her stone and yours and you nod with relief and acknowledge that your stones indeed share reasonable commonalities. Over the course of your discussion, you and your neighbor finally conclude, without bothering to open your hands, that the stones you hold must indeed be quite similar.

Are they? It is only suitable to say that they are.

At the same time, and in spite of your desire not to offend, there is no doubt in your mind that the stone you hold bespeaks a greater prominence than that of your neighbor. You are not sure how you know this to be true, but it must be so! And I do not mean that this stone simply holds a greater subjective prominence. It has something of the universal, for it is, indeed, an auspicious stone! Silently, you hypothesize in what ways it must be special. It is possibly different in shape, color, weight, size and texture from the other, but you cannot confirm this. Perhaps, it is special by substance? Still, you are unsure. The very fact of your uncertainty begins to bother you and unleashes within you a deep insecurity. What if you are wrong and your stone is actually inferior to the other…or inferior even to some third stone not yet encountered?

Meanwhile, your neighbor is silently suffering in the same agony. Both of you tacitly understand that, without comparing the two visually, it is absurd to proclaim the two stones similar. Yet, your fist remains clenched, as does your neighbor’s and so you find yourselves unable to hold out the stones before you and compare them side-by-side. Of course, this is possible, but the mutual curiosity is outstripped by an inveterate pride, and so you both become afraid of showing (and even seeing) what you have, for fear that your respective stones will be different in appearance from the model that you have each conceptualized in mind. Meekly your eyes meet and you smile to one another at your new comradeship, but, all the while, remain paralyzed by a simultaneous shame and vanity.

Ashim Shanker

We find the Mayan pantheon peculiar

We find the Mayan pantheon peculiar. By our standards, suicide and human sacrifice are unacceptable. We tend not to notice the peculiarities of our own culture. We accept the thousands of children who wear braces to correct their teeth, yet we consider the Maya odd for filing teeth to beautify them. Each culture defines its own idiosyncrasies and then forgets that it has done so.

Pat Murphy

Only idiots

Only idiots are confident. It requires a great amount of wisdom and knowledge to be confused.

Abhishek Leela Pandey

Waterstones employees not expected to police mask wearing

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones employees will not be expected to intervene or attempt to police mask wearing in stores from 19th July, the retailer has confirmed, after announcing it would “encourage” customers to don face coverings and observe social distancing after restrictions are lifted across England.

On 13th July, Waterstones tweeted it had made the decision because of the “enclosed browsing environment” in stores.

However, the chain’s stance was met with some strong reactions on Twitter. Many praised the store for its measured policy, but some, including former actor and political activist Laurence Fox and Talk Radio’s Julia Hartley Brewer, criticised the move. Brewer said: “I make a point of buying books at my local Waterstones rather than ordering on Amazon because I want bookstores to thrive, but if I go into your store and a member of staff asks me to wear a mask, you will lose my business forever.”

A spokesperson for Waterstones told The Bookseller: “From Monday 19th July, the English government will remove the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public and the legislative requirement to adhere to one-metre social distancing. Whilst we will not enforce mask wearing in our English shops, we respectfully encourage our booksellers and our customers to follow the spirit of government guidance, continuing to observe the same safety measures of wearing face masks in crowded and enclosed spaces, and maintaining the social distancing that have helped to create a safe shopping environment. We also ask our staff to continue employing the three primary control measures (face masks, appropriate social distancing and cleanliness and hand hygiene) that have kept both our staff and our customers secure during the ongoing pandemic.”

Waterstones staff seemed positive about the retailer’s decision. One employee told The Bookseller: “We are glad to see a more sensible approach taken internally and that customers will be encouraged to continue exhibiting the correct behaviours. This will be done through the use of signage with much of our current point-of-sale suite remaining in place for the time being. However there is no expectation that staff intervene or attempt to police this policy themselves, indeed, we are actively discouraged from putting ourselves in a situation that may lead to confrontation.

“Staff are encouraged to put their own safety first, continue to distance from customers and one another, wear a mask where possible and continue with hygiene best practice. With a lack of clear government policy on the issue, staff have no legal backing to enforce any behaviours from our customers and as such mask wearing and distancing will be largely self-policing. Many staff would like to see a stiffening of the wording being used by the government and a U-turn on the current path, with masks and distancing in crowded spaces and public transport remaining a requirement.”

They said that the shift in rhetoric from the government had already seen an increase in the number of people opting not to wear a mask as well as visitors pushing back against the current rules and abusing and challenging staff. “Sadly we expect this trend to continue after the 19th,” they said.

“Some branches have enjoyed a busy past few days. With many customers commenting that they too are concerned about the shift in policy and are looking to get in to our stores and stock up on reading material before going into a self-imposed period of isolation and that they will look to avoid busy/crowded places such as shops and shopping centres until the effects of the changing policy become more apparent.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As an observer of human behavior, PG is fascinated with the mask/no mask situations that cause a significant number of people to become upset.

A month before Covid appeared anywhere, had one interviewed a representative sample of Americans about a hypothetical pandemic that caused government and health officials to recommend that people in well-defined areas and situations wear a face mask mask as a public as a health safety measure, PG doubts very many interviewees would have had a problem with following those recommendations.

If one then asked interviewees to consider that, after public health officials felt the danger had subsided and informed the public that wearing masks in public areas was no longer necessary for their safety, he doubts that very many of those surveyed would have hypothesized any problem following those recommendations either.

PG doubts that significant numbers of people would have responded that they had serious reservations about following either of those pieces of advice and would not comply.

As reflected in the OP, it appears to PG that at least some residents of the British isles have been behaving in much the same way as some of their American cousins have with respect to masks/no masks health decisions.

In PG’s definitely unscientific observation of human behavior among those with whom he has had interactions during the Covid Episode and news accounts he has read about the behavior of other Americans, he has concluded that there is a great deal of social conflict and argument over the mask issue that he would never have predicted.

For the record, PG and Mrs. PG each were vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and wore masks, followed social-distancing guidelines, etc., when local and regional government authorities advised or ordered that such behavior should be followed when they were in public and observed signs in public and private spaces regarding mask wearing wherever they went outside Casa PG.

After the same government authorities said mask wearing was no longer necessary for people like them, the PG’s quit wearing masks. If a business or proprietor of a public place requested or demanded that masks be worn on its premises, the PG’s complied. PG doesn’t remember becoming upset at being required to put on a mask when he entered a location that was being more cautious than the government authorities said was necessary.

What PG doesn’t view as rational behavior is people becoming upset and abusive toward those who are being more or less cautious than they are with regard their decisions about masks/no masks if public health experts and governments have ceased to mandate masks in public places.

PG has strong opinions about a wide variety of matters, but he doesn’t get upset with someone who holds differing opinions. If he were to ask his friends a series of questions about a variety of subjects and they held different opinions than he did, that wouldn’t bother him or interfere with his friendship with them under virtually any condition PG can imagine.

He doubts that any of his acquaintances hold the opinion that everyone should work hard to run over puppies crossing the street and drive accordingly or routinely insult and attack anyone who is over the age of 30 and under the age of 50, but admits he would probably steer clear of them it they acted that way.

As mentioned here before, PG has worried about the impact of long periods of social isolation imposed on groups like school children or the elderly by efforts to minimize the risk of catching Covid. But, he didn’t think to worry about what would happen to the public interactions between people once the danger was past or mostly past.

Perhaps a genre of books involving Covid horror stories will spring into being and become its own permanent category on Amazon.

Are Fictional Characters Protected Under Copyright Law?

From Jane Friedman:

Jack Ryan, the analytical, yet charming CIA analyst, made an appearance in federal court in Maryland earlier this year. The heirs to Tom Clancy’s literary legacy are fighting over him. Unlike in the movies, he’s not in a great position to fight back.

It all started when Clancy signed the publishing deal for The Hunt for Red October where Jack Ryan made his debut in 1984. In a departure from common practice, Clancy transferred his copyright in Red October to the publisher. A few years later, Clancy realized his mistake and was able to negotiate return of the copyright for the book. He immediately transferred the reverted copyright to his company.

Here’s the crux of the current court battle: When Clancy mistakenly transferred his copyright in the book Red October to the original publisher, did the copyright to the character Jack Ryan go with it? Or did Clancy retain the character copyright? In normal practice, the sale of the right to publish a copyrighted story does not stop the author from using its characters in future works.

If Clancy retained the rights to the character when he signed the initial publishing contract, then the rights that reverted from the publisher would not have included the copyright for the character. The reverted rights Clancy turned around and transferred into his company would not have included the character rights. All of which means that the character, Jack Ryan, is part of Clancy’s estate and not controlled by the company he set up.

Jack Ryan is a valuable character with his own copyright separate from the copyright in the book. Everybody concerned, the owners of the company and the heirs to the estate, wants a piece of him, or all of him. And it’s not clear where Mr. Ryan currently resides.

Fictional characters are not listed in the copyright statute as a separate class of protectable work. There’s no application at the Copyright Office for them. But over the years, the law on character protection has evolved.

. . . .

This is important because characters with independent copyright can be licensed separately from the stories in which they originally appeared. It’s another way for authors to divide their rights to create multiple income streams. That’s the beauty of copyright. It’s divisible. An author can keep some rights and license others. It’s what Clancy did and his company/estate is still doing with the Jack Ryan franchise.

Not every character can be protected by copyright. Stock characters cannot be protected—a drunken old bum, a slippery snake oil salesman, a hooker with a heart of gold, a wicked stepmother, a gypsy fortune teller, and so on. They are essentially ideas for characters, vague and lightly sketched. Copyright does not give anyone a monopoly on ideas. Protecting stock characters would prevent as yet untold stories from being told. Depriving the world of new stories is exactly the opposite of what copyright is intended to promote—the creation of more stories, more art.

. . . .

Public domain characters cannot be protected

But new characters created from public domain works can be protected. Consider Enola Holmes, the younger sister of Sherlock. The Sherlock Holmes stories have been slipping into the public domain for years now, to the chagrin of the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. The creative elements of Sherlock Holmes stories that are in the public domain can be used by others to build new stories.

Enola Holmes was introduced to readers in a series of young adult books written by Nancy Springer. Enola does not exist in the Conan Doyle canon; she was created by Springer. She has distinctive traits (high intelligence, keen observational skills and insight, skills in archery, fencing, and martial arts, an independent thinker who defies Victorian norms for women) that combine to make her well delineated and protectable.

. . . .

The “well delineated character” is the most widely accepted legal test used to decide whether a fictional character is protected by copyright, but it is not the only one. The other is “the story being told” test. Sam Spade is responsible for this test.

Dashiell Hammett created Sam Spade when he wrote The Maltese Falcon. Hammett licensed the exclusive rights to use the book in movies, radio, and television to Warner Brothers. Hammett later wrote other stories with Sam Spade. Warner Bros. complained that it owned exclusive rights to the character and Hammett couldn’t write about him anymore.

Ironically, the court protected Hammett’s right as the creator to use Sam Spade in future stories by deciding that the character was not protected by copyright. Sam Spade is just a vehicle for telling the story and is not the story itself. He is the chessman in the game of telling the story. It was the story that was licensed to Warner Bros., not the chessman.

A character is protected under the “story being told” test when he dominates the story in a way that there would be no story without him. This test sets a high bar for character protection. To protect the character, the story would essentially have to be a character study. The Maltese Falcon is not a character study of Sam Spade.

An example of character protection using the “story being told test” is the Rocky franchise. A screenwriter wrote a story on spec using the characters Rocky, Adrian, Apollo Creed, and Paulie. The work was considered to be an infringing use of the characters. The characters were protected because the movies focused on the characters and their relationships, not on intricate plot or story lines. The characters were the story being told. The writer could not avoid the infringement touchpoint of substantial similarity when he took the characters and used them in a new storyline.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG is not entirely satisfied with the OP.

He’ll provide a couple of additional items to demonstrate that court cases aren’t quite as definitive as non-lawyers might conclude from reading the OP. After the lengthy excerpts below, PG will briefly share a couple of his practical thoughts way down at the end.

Copyright designs found weak when derived from common ideas

From Thompson Coburn LLP:

The well-known song says, “a kiss is just a kiss,” but the Ninth Circuit says that some kisses are “thin” and some are “broad,” and on that your copyright lawyer can rely. As time goes by.

The court got into analyzing kisses through a case, Sophia & Chloe v. Brighton Collectibles, involving designs of “Buddha’s Kiss” earrings. A Buddha’s Kiss earring has three elements: a teardrop-shaped earring, the henna symbol for the word “kiss,” and the image of the Buddha. As you might expect, the producer of one Buddha’s Kiss earring sued the producer of another, claiming copyright infringement.

Each of the parties’ earrings contained those three elements. But was that similarity enough to prove copyright infringement? The court said it wasn’t. Because every Buddha’s Kiss earring must contain those three elements, that means that the combination of those three elements is the “idea” of the earring. And copyright law does not protect ideas, but merely particular creative expressions of ideas.

Normally, two different creative expressions are analyzed under a “substantial similarity” test. But the Ninth Circuit held that because there were only a few ways to combine the three essential elements of a Buddha’s Kiss, infringement can be found only if the two designs are “virtually identical.”

Link to the rest at Thompson Coburn LLP

Basics of Copyright 

From The Office of General Counsel, Harvard University:

What does copyright protect?

Copyright does not protect ideas, nor does it protect facts.  It protects only the form in which ideas or facts are expressed.  For example, you may read a copyrighted paper and appropriate its ideas, or facts it conveys, into your own work without violating the copyright.  However, you may not reproduce the actual text of the paper (unless fair use or another exception to copyright protection applies), nor may you evade this prohibition simply by changing some words or thoroughly paraphrasing the content.

What does a copyright authorize the copyright owner to do, or to restrict others from doing?

Subject to certain limitations, a copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work by making copies of it;
  • distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, donation, rental, or lending;
  • prepare new works derived from the original (for example, a novel adapted into a play, or a translation, or a musical arrangement); and
  • publicly perform or display the work.

. . . .

What is “fair use”?

Fair use is the right to use a copyrighted work under certain conditions without permission of the copyright owner.  The doctrine helps prevent a rigid application of copyright law that would stifle the very creativity the law is designed to foster.  It allows one to use and build upon prior works in a manner that does not unfairly deprive prior copyright owners of the right to control and benefit from their works.  Together with other features of copyright law like the idea/expression dichotomy discussed above, fair use reconciles the copyright statute with the First Amendment. 

What is the test for fair use?

The fair use defense is now codified in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.  The statutory formulation is intended to carry forward the fair use doctrine long recognized by the courts.  The statute provides that fair use of a work “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use, scholarship, or research)” is not an infringement of copyright.  To determine whether a given use is fair use, the statute directs, one must consider the following four factors:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

These factors are not exclusive, but are the primary—and in many cases the only—factors courts examine.  The following questions consider each of these four factors in turn. 

What considerations are relevant in applying the first fair use factor—the purpose and character of the use?

One important consideration is whether the use in question advances a socially beneficial activity like those listed in the statute: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.  Other important considerations are whether the use is commercial or noncommercial and whether the use is “transformative.” 

Noncommercial use is more likely to be deemed fair use than commercial use, and the statute expressly contrasts nonprofit educational purposes with commercial ones.  However, uses made at or by a nonprofit educational institution may be deemed commercial if they are profit-making. 

In recent years, the courts have focused increasingly on whether the use in question is “transformative.”  A work is transformative if, in the words of the Supreme Court, it “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message.”  Use of a quotation from an earlier work in a critical essay to illustrate the essayist’s argument is a classic example of transformative use.  A use that supplants or substitutes for the original work is less likely to be deemed fair use than one that makes a new contribution and thus furthers the goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts.  To quote the Supreme Court again, transformative works “lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine’s guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright.”

Courts have also recognized, however, that non-transformative uses may be socially beneficial, and that a use does not have to be transformative to support a finding of fair use.  The Supreme Court has cited reproduction of multiple copies for classroom distribution as the most obvious example of a non-transformative use that may be permitted as fair use in appropriate circumstances.  The Court’s emphasis on whether a use is transformative, however, makes it difficult to know how to weigh uses that are for non-profit educational purposes but are also non-transformative.  In addition, it could be argued in some circumstances that verbatim copying of a work for classroom use is “transformative,” in that (to quote from the Court’s definition) the instructor is adding “something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message” in the course of presenting the material. 

Other factors that sometimes weigh in the analysis of the first fair use factor include whether the use in question is a reasonable and customary practice and whether the putative fair user has acted in bad faith or denied credit to the author of the copyrighted work.

What considerations are relevant in applying the second fair use factor—the nature of the copyrighted work?

The two main considerations are whether the work is published or unpublished and how creative the work is.  Unpublished works are accorded more protection than published ones, as the author has a strong right to determine whether and when his or her work will be made public.  The fact that a previously published work is out of print may tend to favor fair use, since the work is not otherwise available.

Works that are factual and less creative are more susceptible of fair use than imaginative and highly creative works.  This is in keeping with the general principle that copyright protects expression rather than ideas or facts.

However, the second factor is typically the least important of the fair use factors.

What considerations are relevant in applying the third fair use factor—the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole?

Courts have taken both a quantitative and a qualitative approach in assessing the impact on the fair use analysis of the amount and substantiality of the portion used.  What percentage of the original work has been used?  There are no bright lines, but the higher the percentage, the more likely this factor is to weigh against fair use. 

Even if the percentage is fairly small, however, if the material used is qualitatively very important, this factor may weigh against fair use.  Thus, for example, in a case in which The Nation magazine published excerpts, totaling only 300–400 words of verbatim quotes, from Gerald Ford’s forthcoming book-length memoir, the Supreme Court held that the third factor weighed against fair use, because the excerpts included Ford’s discussion of his pardon of Nixon and other central passages that the court found to be the “heart” of the work.

Also important in applying the third factor is the nexus between the purpose of the fair use and the portion of the copyrighted work taken.  The extent of permissible copying varies with the purpose and character of the use.  Taking more of the copyrighted work than is necessary to accomplish the fair user’s salutary purpose will weigh against fair use.  In some cases, the fact that the entire work—for example, an image—was needed to accomplish the fair use purpose has led the court to hold that the third factor was neutral, favoring neither the copyright holder nor the putative fair user.

What considerations are relevant in applying the fourth fair use factor—the effect upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work?

Use that adversely affects the market for the copyrighted work is less likely to be a fair use.  This ties back to the first factor, and the question whether the putative fair use supplants or substitutes for the copyrighted work.  The fact that a use results in lost sales to the copyright owner will weigh against fair use.  Moreover, courts have instructed that one must look at the likely impact on the market should the use in question become widespread; the fourth factor may weigh against fair use even if little market harm has yet occurred.

This inquiry is not confined to the market for the original, but also takes into account derivative markets.  For example, if a novel were made into a movie, the movie might not harm sales of the book—indeed, it might help them—but the harm to the derivative market for movie rights would count against fair use.  This principle works in a straightforward way in the case of well-established markets, like the market for movie rights for a novel.  But it becomes much more difficult to apply if there is not an established market.  Consistent with the statutory language, courts have also looked at whether there is harm to a “potential market” for the copyrighted work.  However, if there were deemed to be a “potential market” for every use asserted to be a fair use, then the fourth factor would always favor the copyright owner, since the copyright owner would be harmed by loss of the licensing fee for that use.  One way courts have tried to avoid this circularity is by asking whether a market, if not already established, is “reasonable” or likely to be developed by copyright owners.  In keeping with this approach, courts have concluded that there is no protectible market for criticism or parody, but have considered evidence of harm to markets under development or viewed as attractive opportunities for copyright owners, such as the market for downloads of songs.  In some cases, courts have indicated that the absence of a workable market will tend to favor the fair user on the fourth factor because there is no efficient means to buy permission for the use in question.

This is a difficult and evolving area of the law.  We can nevertheless venture a few generalizations:  Uses that substitute for the copyrighted work in its original market or an established derivative market generally cause market harm that is cognizable under the fourth factor.  Where there is no established market, harm is less likely to be found, but still may be found depending on the facts, especially if the fair use case under the other factors is weak and the “market” in question is under development by copyright owners or obviously attractive commercially.  In any case, the Supreme Court has said, market harm is a matter of degree, and the importance of the fourth factor will vary, not only with the amount of harm, but also with the relative strength of the showing on the other factors.

How should one weigh the various factors in arriving at a determination whether there is fair use?

The fair use test requires an assessment of all the factors together.  The courts have repeatedly emphasized that there are no bright line rules, and that each case must be decided on its own facts.  The factors often interact in the analysis.  For example, the Supreme Court has stated that the more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use.  The more transformative the secondary use, the less likely it is that the secondary use will substitute for the original and cause direct market harm.  In reaching a fair use determination, all of the factors should be explored, and the results weighed together, in light of the goal of copyright law to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” (U.S. Const., art. I, § 8, cl. 8).[3] 

To understand better how courts have applied the fair use test in different situations, you may find useful the summaries of selected fair use cases at http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/9-c.html.  In addition, the U.S. Copyright Office maintains a Fair Use Index, which offers a searchable database of selected judicial decisions involving fair use, together with brief summaries: http://copyright.gov/fair-use/.

Link to the rest at The Office of General Counsel, Harvard University

PG’s Thoughts

PG will note that the General Counsel of Harvard, like a great many other general counsels, almost certainly prefers a quiet life to one filled with ground-breaking copyright infringement lawsuits.

PG’s bottom line on the subject of the OP is that it uses a couple of cases he regards as outliers to support a conclusion that PG thinks is presented as a more settled matter of law than it actually is.

From a practical standpoint for a non-multi-millionaire author, here are a few thoughts.

Lawyers (or some lawyers) have a general rule that some call the “Pig Test.”

Basically, the Pig Test says don’t try to push right up to the very edge of the boundary between being sued and a quiet life. Don’t try to eat too much in that part of the legal and ethical world.

Don’t call your character Jack Ryan unless he’s an elf who lives in a magical wood filled with fairies and unicorns. Don’t call him Frodo if he does.

Don’t call your character Jane Ryan if she works for the CIA and engages in international intrigue to defeat the former Soviet Union or the Chinese Communists.

Don’t paraphrase paragraphs of action sequences in a book with the assistance of a Thesaurus.

The wealthier the author and the more books she/he has sold, the more cautious you should be about even permissible borrowing of details, settings, characters, etc. Ms. Rowling has publishers, agents, lawyers, readers, etc., looking for that sort of thing.

For most authors, just being sued is more punishment in both the financial and massive distraction arenas than is good for their creative output, even if they eventually prevail in court.

Italy’s Publishers Report 44-Percent Unit Growth, First Half of 2021

From Publishing Perspectives:

Despite what’s described as lingering difficulties in “large-scale distribution,” the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) today (July 13) is reporting strong book-sale growth in the first six months of this year, both in units and in revenue.

According to analyses conducted by AIE’s research department based on NielsenIQ data, between January 4 and June 20, some 15 million more copies of printed books were sold, a 44-percent jump over the same time period’s sales in 2020. This encompasses all trade book channels, including bookstores, both online and physical, and large-scale distribution, with the exception of schoolbooks.

Even more significant, media messaging from AIE in Milan points out, is the growth compared to 2019, prior to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival. By comparison to the first half of 2019, 11 million more copies of books were sold January to June this year, an increase of 31 percent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives