Seven Surefire Ways to Weaken Your Writing

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

You undertook the grand adventure of writing and publishing a book. And now you’ve either learned, or will shortly learn, that the final page of your book is not the end of writing, but the segue from writing the book into writing about the book. Today’s publishing market is a media-content glutton. Whether you’ve written a novel or a nonfiction book, you’ll find yourself churning out essays, blogposts, presentations, interview questions and answers, newsletters, and memes.

Regardless of audience and format, your credibility is everything. You want your words to ring strong, true, relevant, and original. That’s how you grab and hold a reader’s attention, how you make them want to read more from you, how you build an ongoing readership—how you become an established author with a following.

Nothing will stamp you as unoriginal, bland, and of dubious authority as will the use of cliches that cast aspersions on your creativity and believability. Here are seven to avoid.

  1. “I’m not gonna lie”

A pediatric dental hygienist once told me, “The worst thing you can say to your child is, ‘don’t worry, it won’t hurt.’ Chances are your child wasn’t worried about pain until you brought it up.”

The same goes for telling your reader you’re not gonna lie. Before you qualified what you’re about to say by suggesting there are times when you do lie, your readers assumed you to be a trustworthy source. Now they wonder why you felt you had to say that, and whether it means that statements you don’t preface with “I’m not gonna lie” are untrue.

Gotta love one of Urban Dictionary’s definitions of the phrase: “A term that when prefixed to a statement does more damage than good.”

Whether you’re trying to establish credibility for your opinion, reveal an endearing vulnerability, or defend yourself against an unpopular stance, a strong standalone statement will have more impact on your readers. 

And beware of doubt-casting cousins like “I’ll be honest,” “In all honesty,” and “Truth be told,” and  . . . 

  1. “Trust me”

There’s good reason why writers are admonished to show, not tell. If you have to fall back on “Trust me” to gain the compliance or confidence of others, you haven’t taken actions or provided the information or perspectives that instill trust. Show us. You have to earn trust; it’s never an entitlement. We show, not tell, as demonstration of integrity and engagement. There’s no shortcut directive for that.

  1. “ . . . of all time”

The Big Bang was more than 13 billion years ago. And even that’s not all of time, because what about the moment before the Big Bang? Time is infinite, human recorded history is only a few thousand years. How infinitely silly it sounds classify something like television shows, football players, mobile apps, and running shoes as the best “of all time.” 

If you’re talking about a favorite something, it needs no qualification. “Cherry Garcia is my favorite ice cream” is quite clear. If you must qualify, “Atticus Finch is the greatest hero in film history” carries more weight than a film “of all time” when film has been around less than 150 years.

  1. “Let that sink in.”

The use of this junk phrase means you either didn’t use language clear enough to make your point, or you believe your reader lacks the intellect to know when you’ve made an important point. 

It’s condescending. Let that si . . . see what I mean?

A clear, succinct statement needs no command tag, but if you just can’t let go of the sinking-in idiom, you can take the conceit out of it by flipping it onto yourself: 

When I let that sink in, I was able to take a step back and look for solutions.

I let that sink in, and how very troubling it was. Now what?

Letting something that heavy sink in took a while.

Now your reader is empathizing with you rather than feeling irritated or patronized.

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

8 Critical Thinking Fallacies You’re Likely Falling For on Social Media

From Zarvana:

You may think that scrolling endlessly through social media is a harmless way to decompress after a long day of work and let your mind relax. And the latest research on the mental and emotional effects of sinking hours into social media suggests that it has a relatively limited effect on your well-being.

While social media may not be the cause for the increasing youth depression rates, it does have a perhaps, more insidious effect on our critical thinking skills. The average adult spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day on social media. It’s impossible to spend that much time doing a single activity in your day without the repetitive behaviors associated with that activity carrying over into how you do other activities.

How Social Media is Undermining Your Critical Thinking Skills

Said another way, the way you engage with social media is, likely without you knowing it, training you how to think when at work, when interacting with friends and family, and when running into strangers on the street. Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

When you thumb through Instagram or Twitter posts, you’re building cognitive habits around how you process and make sense of information. And research suggests that our habits for processing information on social media are far from exemplary. We know this because many people fail to identify fake or false information from true information. In one study, 44% of millennial participants failed to correctly identify whether information was true or false in at least four of nine questions.

The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to fall prey to false information. A study sponsored by the Reboot Foundation found that 36% of people who check social media hourly or more frequently held at least one wrong belief about COVID-19, while only 22% of people who checked social media once a week held at least one wrong belief.

Our use of social media limits the development of robust critical thinking skills. Professor Greenfield explains that the visual media we consume on screens “do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games.”

While identifying fake news is a key critical thinking-related challenge when it comes to social media, there is another challenge that goes beyond deciphering fact from fake. This is the challenge of determining whether the reasoning that underlies a post or article is rigorous and rationale. Unfortunately, social media is littered with posts that contain critical thinking fallacies. We must learn to identify them or we will fall prey to them not just on social media, but in every area of life.

Here are some examples of common critical thinking fallacies.

Examples of Critical Thinking Fallacies on Social Media

Our goal is not to convince you of any particular point of view found in the examples. Critical thinking doesn’t care about the answer. It only cares about the rigor behind the support for the answer. As we’ve explained, critical thinking is providing a robust answer to a question.

Undermining the Messenger Fallacy:

Many times, people on social media immediately dismiss an idea because of the person sharing it. This is a cognitive shortcut that leads to lazy thinking. There is no law of logic or nature that dictates that if people made statements that are wrong or false in the past, they can no longer make any statements that are right or true.

When you discredit ideas because of their source, you operate out of “stereotype thinking.” Stereotype thinking says that because a certain condition has been statistically probable in the past, it is true in the present. While stereotypes can help people make snap decisions when absolutely necessary, they create significant problems as we can clearly see from the stories of racial inequity that are becoming more visible.

Because most people fall prey to this fallacy, those arguing on social media often resort to a cheap and often irrelevant strategy for dismissing the ideas of those with whom they disagree. Rather than engaging in a debate around the idea shared by their opponent, they simply hurl personal attacks at the opponent. The goal is to discredit the messenger so that we will automatically dismiss the idea.

Here’s a simple, but common example:

@JoeBiden, you & your son Hunter are #MadeInChina  pic.twitter.com/0Z3eSM0Bpp— Marla Hohner (@marlahohner) July 1, 2020

The other consequence of this fallacy is that we are much more likely to reject an idea posed by someone we dislike even if we would have supported the idea had it been presented by someone we like – and the opposite is true, we are quick to support ideas shared by our friends even if they aren’t rigorous enough to warrant our support.

Correlation vs. Causation Fallacy

This is a more well-known fallacy that is beat into the head of every statistics student: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because two events trend together doesn’t mean that one caused the other. For example, let’s imagine hypothetically that you found data asserting that people drive slower in urban areas when it rains. The conclusion that most people would jump to is that the presence of rain causes people to drive more slowly. If your job is to eliminate the slow-downs, you might try to solve this problem by requiring drivers to go through rain driving training or increasing regulations on tire conditions during vehicle inspections.

However, it’s easy to see that a third factor may be the cause of reduced driving speeds. When it rains, more people in cities are likely to drive (rather than walk, bike, or take public transport and get wet), creating more traffic, which, in turn, could cause people to drive more slowly.

You can see how the tendency to believe that correlation equals causation can cause you to arrive at very different conclusions.

The logic used in this Twitter thread is that Democrats are the cause for riots and racist police brutality because the leadership in those cities and states are largely Democratic. While this could be the case, the data shared in this tweet only establishes correlation, not causation. There are many other possible explanations for how both of these facts can be true without one causing the other.

. . . .

Wrong Denominator Fallacy

Dividing the incidence of an event by a denominator helps achieve what statisticians call normalization of the data. For example, imagine you take a test that has 200 questions and you get 20 wrong and your friend takes a test with 100 questions and gets 11 wrong. If you simply compare the number of wrong answers, you would think you did worse. But you answered more questions than your friend, so you have to divide the number wrong by the total number of questions:

  • 20/200 = 10% wrong
  • 11/100 = 11% wrong

When you normalize the data by dividing by the right denominator, you can see the that conclusion is reversed: you did better, not worse.

Sometimes people run into critical thinking fallacies because they don’t normalize the data; that is, they don’t divide by a denominator. But a more subtle fallacy is dividing by the wrong denominator.

Link to the rest at Zarvana

How to stop writing a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

For the last year and a half, I’ve written nearly a dozen drafts of a novel. I wrote (or rewrote) 1,000 words every day, cancelled plans to work on my novel, and dreamed of publication. 

Recently, I decided to put my novel in the drawer and move on. It was gut-wrenching, but I know it was the right thing to do.

In this post, I’ll talk about why I came to that decision, how to mourn an unfixable novel, and how to move on. 

About six months into the writing process, I knew my novel wasn’t going to work. 

My plot was boring. I would re-read the story and find myself tuning out after the first third of the book. If reading it was boring, you can imagine how boring it was to write; I had to bribe myself with cookies to finish chapters. 

A boring plot is not necessarily the final death knell of a novel-in-progress. So I re-plotted individual chapters and added more spice, ultimately writing five more drafts and about 100,000 more words. 

Unfortunately, my characters were grieving (there’s a lot of death in the book), so a more energetic plot didn’t match their motivations. I was adding surface-level excitement to a fundamentally uninteresting story arc. The book was just a series of emotionally intense but pointless scenes. 

It wasn’t until I took a step back and evaluated the story itself — not how I told the story, but what the story was — that I realized that I didn’t have the energy to fix the novel. 

This is the key question you need to ask yourself if you’re deciding whether or not to put a novel aside: Have you lost the drive to keep pushing forward? Have you already wrestled with it for multiple drafts, to no avail? Are you in the throes of revision fatigue or are you more genuinely burned out with this novel?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Sunk Cost Fallacy

From The Decision Lab:

The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

. . . .

Imagine that you bought a concert ticket a few weeks ago for $50. On the day of the concert, you feel sick and it’s raining outside. You know that traffic will be worse because of the rain and that you risk getting sicker by going to the concert. Despite the fact that it seems as though the current drawbacks outweigh the benefits, why are you still likely to choose to go to the concert?

This is known as the sunk cost fallacy. We are likely to continue an endeavor if we have already invested in it, whether it be a monetary investment or effort that we put into the decision. That often means we go against evidence that shows it is no longer the best decision, such as sickness or weather affecting the event.

. . . .

Individual effects

In economic terms, sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.1 In the previous example, the $50 spent on concert tickets would not be recovered whether or not you attended the concert. It therefore should not be a factor in our current decision-making, because it is irrational to use irrecoverable costs as rationale for making a present decision. If we acted rationally, only future costs and benefits would be taken into account, because regardless of what we have already invested, we will not get it back whether or not we follow through on the decision.

The sunk cost fallacy means that we are making irrational decisions because we are factoring in influences other than the current alternatives. The fallacy affects a number of different areas of our lives leading to suboptimal outcomes.

These outcomes range from deciding to stay with a partner even if we are unhappy because we’ve already invested years of our lives with them, to continuing to spend money renovating an old house, even if it would be cheaper to buy a new one, because we’ve already invested money into it.

Systemic effects

The sunk cost fallacy not only has an impact on small day-to-day decisions like attending a concert. It also has been proven to impact the decisions that governments and companies make.

A famous example of the sunk cost fallacy impacting large-scale decisions was coined the Concorde fallacy. In 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee met to discuss building a supersonic airplane, the Concorde. French and British engine manufacturers and French and British governments were involved in the project that was estimated to cost almost $100 million dollars. Long before the project was over, it was clear that there were increasing costs and that the financial gains of the plane, once in use, would not offset them. However, the project continued. The manufactures and governments followed through on the project because they had already made significant financial investments and dedicated a lot of time to the project. Ultimately, this led to millions of dollars being wasted, and Concorde operated for less than 30 years.

If governments and large companies like those involved in the Concorde project are susceptible to cognitive fallacies like the sunk cost fallacy, it is easy to see that significant amounts of money, time and effort are wasted because the sunk costs would never be recovered regardless of whether the project was abandoned. Since governments are sometimes using tax-payers’ money for projects, their adherence to the sunk cost fallacy can negatively affect us all.

Link to the rest at The Decision Lab

Zorba

Not much to do with writing and PG isn’t going on another video binge, but he learned that Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis died last Thursday at 96. Theodorakis composed the music for the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek.

The terrible thing about the internet and Amazon

The terrible thing about the internet and Amazon is that they take the magic and happy chaos out of book shopping. The internet might give you what you want, but it won’t give you what you need.

Tom Hodgkinson

PG doesn’t usually comment on quotes, but, perhaps he’s missing something because he obtains all of his book pleasure from reading them. Lots and lot of them.

While one look at PG’s office would convince PG’s harshest observer that he tends to generate and work among quite a bit of chaos, there are no books buried there (he thinks). PG’s happiness sometimes arises from the chaos when he discovers a check made payable to him that he overlooked when it first arrived.

While the types of books PG likes to read change from time to time, he doesn’t think happy chaos or magic are involved in these changes.

NPD BookScan: Mystery Solved on US Thriller Sales’ Lag?

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a follow to Monday’s (August 30) update on the United States’ market, NPD BookScan’s research team has released a genre-specific look at the thriller and suspense category, finding that US sales have dropped six percent in the last year.

Thrillers and suspense are probably most popular in the United Kingdom’s market, where they reign at the top of the list, much as romance seems to do in the American market. But the category is a major one in the States, making its apparent trend toward a softening interesting.

NPD sees thrillers standing as one in eight adult fiction print and ebook buys in the American market.

To date this year, thrillers are the third largest-selling category, NPD Books reports, with unit sales for adult thrillers when combining print and ebook sales reaching 14.1 million units for the year-to-date through the end of May. But sales are down six percent in the past year.

Kristen McLean, NPD’s lead books analyst points to notable new thrillers released in 2021 and sees the category being “up slightly” over last year. However, she says it has fallen behind the pace set by the rest of the adult fiction market, which has risen by 15 percent, in combined print and ebook formats through the end of May.

“As with Christmas books,” McLean says, “there’s always room for another great thriller on the shelf. It’s a core evergreen category that’s always ripe for new energy,” which might indicate there’s some concern for those in the business working the thriller/suspense category.

“In 2021,” she says, “the category has not kept up with overall fiction growth trends, but  perhaps not for obvious reasons.”

. . . .

“Part of the declining growth in thrillers seems to be because of changes in consumer tastes,” McLean says–which could indeed be predictive of more weakening in the category.

“But it’s also true that books that have traditional elements of thriller and suspense books are now being categorized in in other hot areas of the fiction market,” she says, “like women’s contemporary fiction, general fiction, and young adult fiction, where they’re driving growth.” That trend of thriller and suspense content going into other traditional categorizations might be what’s behind the downward pressure on the category.

As an example, McLean points to Laura Dave’s recent bestseller, The Last Thing He Told Me (Simon & Schuster, May 4), which is categorized as general fiction. At this writing, the book stands at No. 2 on the Amazon Charts’ most-read fiction side, its 17th week on the list.

McLean also points out that two of the four new thriller writers topping NPD’s growth list in the category are women. Suspense and thrillers have, in the past, been dominated by male authors in the States.

“The rising profile of women authors,” McLean says, “indicates that there may be a market for more female voices in this genre,” in the American field—which, of course, could be a key for international markets looking to find a foothold with translations sold into the US trade marketplace.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Englishman trying to save American bookstores from Amazon

From FT Magazine (June 2, 2021):

On a bright Tuesday in April, the car parks at Fosse Park, an out-of-town shopping centre south of Leicester, are packed. Recently eased lockdown rules have allowed shops to reopen, and many people are enjoying their freedom. Eager customers line up in the sunshine.

One of the visitors is Oana Bacos, a 26-year-old who works nearby. Today, Bacos is giving herself a treat in a newly opened outlet of bookshop Waterstones. She stands by the shelves, holding a paperback of Convenience Store Woman by the Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata. “The bookseller recommended this, and we had a nice chat about what she enjoys, what I enjoy and all the books we have in common,” she says. “I love being here and browsing. It’s so different from ­looking online.”

Before the pandemic, Bacos was a regular at the Waterstones in the centre of Leicester, one of 286 stores run by the UK’s largest book chain. Her presence in Fosse Park is an omen: more retailers are now moving out of town. “People are happy to return to shops but bookstores are special,” says the store’s manager, Louise Walker, who joined a chain in 1987 that was later taken over by Waterstones. “They are so pleased just to be here, they talk about it like a lifeline. They want to touch the books, even smell them.”

The future of this precious experience is far from assured in the age of Amazon, ebooks and the pervasive strain on physical retailers of all kinds. A great deal depends on the benign dictator of English-language bookstores, James Daunt.

The 57-year-old executive is well known in the UK for founding Daunt Books, a quirky but much-loved group of nine shops, 31 years ago. In 2011, as the might of Jeff Bezos’s juggernaut shook publishing, Daunt was called in to rescue Waterstones from threatened extinction. Now he is attempting to repeat the trick.

In 2019, the investment fund that owns Waterstones, Elliott Advisors, purchased the ailing Barnes & Noble and its 607 US bookstores for $638m and put Daunt in charge. Then the pandemic struck.

While many stores suffered during lockdown, book sales rose sharply as people sought diversion. “I’m optimistic that people have enjoyed reading books, and they’ll continue to do so,” says Daunt, sitting by a tome-piled table at his own chain’s first store in London’s upmarket Marylebone district. “The big question is, will they find it most pleasurable to buy them in places like this?”

Another pressing question is whether Daunt can conquer the larger and more diverse US market using a formula honed in the UK. The number of bookstores in America fell from 11,200 in 2004 to 6,200 in 2018, and some doubt whether anything can halt the decline.

“If his mission is to turn Barnes & Noble into a ­successful chain, it can’t be done,” says Mike Shatzkin, a veteran New York-based analyst. “It’s impossible. The best strategy for the owners is to take out cash as long as they can, and then sell the bones.”

Daunt knows that failing would hurt more than his reputation. It would jeopardise the distribution infrastructure that supports thousands of independent bookstores across the US, with knock-on effects in UK books. “If we go bust, our world is pretty much screwed. You end up with only Amazon and the publishers,” he says. “Amazon is the predator that has culled the weak in this business and left only the strongest. If we relax for a second, it will eat us.”

When Daunt arrived in New York to take charge of Barnes & Noble two years ago, he attended a party held by Madeline McIntosh, US chief executive of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publisher. Editors were eager to meet the new B&N boss, but McIntosh thought Daunt seemed distracted. “He kept on looking around at my bookshelves,” she recalls. “When he was leaving, he said, ‘I hope I can come back to browse. That’s what I’d really like to do.’ So he’s a book nerd, like us. That’s why we like him.”

This bookishness is not an act. But it is easily misread as softness, especially by Americans. Daunt is, in fact, distinctly determined, sometimes ruthlessly so. As he puts it, “Don’t assume good fortune. Do whatever is necessary to get through.” His first step at B&N was to halve the staff at its New York head office, and he later laid off 5,000 employees. “Behind his cool exterior, there’s an emotional intensity. He’s incredibly committed and driven,” says Tom Weldon, who heads Penguin Random House in the UK.

. . . .

The iron entered his soul when he set up his first bookshop in an Edwardian building on ­Marylebone High Street in 1990. He soon discovered that it was not an easy life. He had to sit on a lot of expensive stock, which took a long time to sell. He needed large spaces in desirable locations with high rents, and he required a lot of knowledgeable staff.

“I found,” Daunt says, “that the economics of a bookshop are ­terrible, like shit.” He spent his first four years ­fearing bankruptcy. Sometimes he did not pay ­creditors because he was short of cash. ­“If there were two men in suits in the queue, I knew the ­bailiffs had turned up,” he says.

. . . .

Amid this struggle, Daunt developed his distinctive style: ­recommending books that he and his staff had actually read and enjoyed, rather than publishers’ favourites, and displaying them artfully with their covers face out, sometimes with handwritten notes of recommendation. Most retail chains now grasp the importance of creating an enticing atmosphere in stores, but he mastered it early. He understood bookshops work best if they feel like clubs in which dedicated readers can consult expert curators.

Despite the scale of the operations over which he now presides, Daunt retains the manner of his early years. He gets around his London shops by bicycle. When we meet in Marylebone, he sports a plaster on his forehead, having hit himself by accident while pruning an apple tree at his home in Hampstead. (The family also has a second home in Suffolk.)

His spartan habits extend to holidays. The family bought “a wreck of a house” on the Scottish island of Jura four years ago but have yet to refurbish it, and instead stay with old friends on their annual visits. “It’s a big, wild island, a magical place,” Daunt says. If you walk up the west side, there are some wonderful beaches. You carry a tent or stay [overnight] in a bothy, but the most fun is to sleep in a cave.”

Daunt’s distinctive personality, his charm married to deliberate reticence, can puzzle some US executives. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Is this because you’re James or because you’re British?’” says Jackie De Leo, B&N’s vice-president for bookstores. “I have to pull out what he really means. He doesn’t give you all the answers, but I think there’s a method there.”

Link to the rest at FT Magazine

A good time for magazines, a great time for books: Publishing Pandemic Roundtable

From What’s New in Publishing:

Few retailers are more important to specialty magazine publishers than Barnes and Noble. The Publishing Pandemic Roundtable (Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me) met with Krifka Steffey, the Director of Merchandise for Newsstand and Media, to talk about the chain’s recovery in 2021, and the fresh, innovative product she’d like to see.

Since we last spoke, Barnes and Noble has closed two of their New York offices, the one on 6th Avenue and the 5th Avenue office where magazine publishers have been accustomed to go for their meetings.

The majority of the Barnes and Noble personnel will have their offices in the location above Union Square, along with new office space in Clifton NJ.  While Krifka expects to be in the office many days, others she will work remote or from one of the stores.

She’s taken advantage of this time to visit the stores. While the chain was already moving in the direction of refreshing and customizing their stores by location, that change was accelerated by the temporary closings and shorter hours of the COVID lockdown. One of biggest changes Krifka finds is that the cookie-cutter approach of former years is now gone. Each of the individual stores in the chain are molding themselves into unique bookstores. The look and feel of the stores, the books set out front, the hand selling, the books recommended—all are now individualized.

Bo: I think the direction you’re taking is one hundred percent fabulous.

Krifka: It’s a work in progress, changing a direction that had been set for years.

Joe: What difference do these changes make in the product buying?

Krifka: For magazines, we’re still doing it the same; but, for example, with trade books, headquarters will do the initial distribution, and then there are district-level replenishment buyers and store managers who will make local decisions. When something is regionally focused, an author from an area, you’ll see it reflected. It’s a big shift to more local control.

Sherin: Where each store is operating almost as an independent bookstore.

Krifka: Right. On our newsstand, the way we’ve always bought has been individualized. Our work with magazines is highly curated. It’s nice that the book side is starting to mirror that.

Joe: Is store traffic increasing?

Krifka: Yes, overall. New York City has shown a slower recovery than elsewhere. But everywhere we’re seeing positive year-over-year growth week after week. We’re also comparing to two years ago and seeing positive trends even against pre-COVID sales levels.

Sherin: It’s the same with our products. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide has grown dramatically. Comparing to 2019, we’re through the roof.

Krifka: Yes, we’re seeing nice growth in Home and Garden. And we’re seeing a switch from digital back to physical. Our customer likes the experience of print copies.

Bo: Are you seeing an influence from Book Tok?

Krifka: Anything that does well on Book Tok sells like crazy in our stores.

Bo: It’s at almost ten billion views.

Krifka: And they’re the right age group, young adults turning into loyal customers. Manga, for example, is huge, and we’ve got a great assortment. Outrageous food trends are big.

Joe: How are things developing in the magazine world?

Krifka: We’re not seeing a lot of surprises. Customers are following their former patterns, buying what we’d expect them to buy. There aren’t many new launches or big things pending. I’m seeing some missed opportunities. We should have seen some publications on outer space, that could have been big. Post-COVID, they’ll be a lot of people struggling to get back into new routines; where’s the product for that?

Publishers need to dig in, to ask, what are people going to need from us, what are they going to use? People are moving back into schedules. Hotel bookings are up, people are moving around more; we need to see those publications for drives, for traveling. There are holes in our assortments, and we need fresh, new, relevant product. I can get the customers back into the store, I can get the magazines out on the shelves, but if I don’t have exciting new product sales are not going to improve.

Link to the rest at What’s New in Publishing

8 Memoirs of Women Hiking in the Wilderness

From Electric Lit:

The history of women hiking in nature is almost non-existent. Instead, Cheryl Strayed is widely believed to be the first woman to boldly walk day after day in remote, unpeopled landscapes. This is a terrible misconception.

Five years ago, exasperated by the male dominance of walking and nature writing, I began researching women walkers of the past for my latest book Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women. It seemed to me that while women had made great progress in public, urban life, the myth of Male Wilderness was harder to shift. The wilds endured as a place for well-heeled white men to prove their masculinity.

But women have always walked. And not merely to carry water and firewood. Like men, women hiked for pleasure, solitude, creativity, and catharsis. During the 19th-century, numerous women hiked solo over mountains and across plains, beside rivers and through forests. Many of them published accounts of their walks—gripping memoirs that have languished in archives or been entirely forgotten.

. . . .

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews

The first nonfiction book to excavate lost women walker-writers of the past and return them to the literary stage. Andrews spent over a decade researching women from as far back as the 18th-century in a scholarly bid to prove that women have always hiked in wild landscapes. From Elizabeth Carter to Dorothy Wordsworth to Cheryl Strayed, Andrews argues for a re-evaluation of the genre now known as literature of the leg.

A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time by Antonia Malchik

A Walking Life is a series of meanders through the many facets of walking. Malchik is one of the empathetic few to write about walking while attending to those who cannot walk. She makes a compelling case for better public transport, for greater access to wild landscapes, and for more power to the pedestrian, while lambasting the highways that have gobbled up vast tracts of American wilderness. For Malchik walking is a political act—and as someone who grew up car-less, I lapped up her impassioned prose.  

. . . .

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

The Living Mountain is quite possibly the most remarkable account of hill-walking ever written. The Scottish poet and novelist, Nan Shepherd, recounts a life spent walking in the Scottish highlands. Her prose is now considered some of the best “nature-writing” ever penned, as Shepherd shows us how to walk into the heart of a mountain using all of our senses. This slim volume was out of print for decades but is now lauded as a masterpiece.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Barangrill

Three waitresses all wearing
Black diamond earrings
Talking about zombies
and Singapore slings
No trouble in their faces
Not one anxious voice
None of the crazy you get
From too much choice

. . . .

Well some say it’s in service
They say “humble makes pure”
You’re hoping it’s near Folly
‘Cause you’re headed that way for sure
And you just have to laugh
‘Cause it’s all so crazy
Her mind’s on her boyfriend
And eggs over easy

You Just Can’t See Him from The Road

“Ridin’ Fences” refers to the requirement to continually check the condition of the fences that keep the cattle from wandering off on ranches in the American West.

Ranching has long been a business with narrow margins. If a few or many cattle get out of the often very-large fenced-in pasture, they may never be found again because there’s so much empty space for them to get lost and so many opportunities for predators, both animal and human, to make them disappear forever.

Losing or not losing a handful of cattle may be the difference between a narrow profit or a large annual loss for the rancher.

In the United States, a lot has been written about rural poverty in Appalachia, throughout the South, etc. However, there’s plenty of poverty in the rural American West. It’s just harder to find because the empty spaces are so large in many parts of the West. You can’t see the poverty from the road.

As examples, Wyoming has six people per square mile and Montana has seven people per square mile. Each of these states has cities where the population density is much higher on a square-mile basis, so rural population density is much smaller.

Looking at rural counties, Loving County, Texas, had a population of 64 and a population density of .095 people per square mile in 2020. The only community in Loving County is its county seat, Mentone, Texas, which had a population of 15 in 2000 and 19 in 2010.

Mentone consists of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a school building which has been closed since the 1970’s. The reason for the school closure was that student enrollment had fallen to two students.

Loving County, population 64, covers an area larger than the City of Houston, Texas, the fourth most-populous city in the United States.

The City of Houston has a population of a population of 2.3 million residents. The Houston metro area has a population of over 7 million. The only larger US cities are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Once you get out of Mentone, you can drive a long way without seeing another human being.

16 Tons

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, coal mines were often located in isolated low-income rural areas. Working in the coal mine was often the only local source of any sort of decent living.

It was not unusual for the mine owners to build company towns near the mines. The coal company owned everything in these company towns. Houses of varying quality (none very large) were rented to the coal miners with the rent being deducted from wages.

Often the only retailer in these mining towns was a general store owned by the coal company – “The Company Store.” Coal miners and their families could shop at the company store on credit, with the amount due to the Company Store deducted from wages.

Since it was the only store in town, whatever the Company Store charged for food and other necessities was what the miners and their wives bought. (Coal mining was dirty. Most work involved long hours of heavy physical labor in the mine where it was pitch-dark and the miners worked by lantern light and a small headlamp that consumed lantern oil. All the miners were men.

Women were also involved in heavy physical labor, including hand-washing clothing that was filthy from mine dust, caring for children who often had no established place to play, and stretching basic ingredients to feed a family until the next paycheck.

For the many mines located in Appalachia, unions would not be an option only much, much later, if ever.

Ploughing

A growing day, and a waking field,
And a furrow straight and long,
A golden sun and a lifting breeze,
And we follow with a song.
Sons of the soil are we,
Lads of the field and flock,
Turning our sods, asking no odds,
Where is a life so free?
Facing the dawn, brain ruling brawn,
Lords of our lands we‟ll be.


A guiding thought, and a skillful hand,
And a plant’s young leaf unfurled,
A summer’s sun and summer’s rain,
And we harvest for the world.
Sons of the soil are we,
Men of the coming years,
Turning our sods, asking no odds,
Where is a life so free?
Facing the dawn, brain ruling brawn,
Lords of our lands we’ll be.

4-H Guidebook

Joe Hill

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Joe Hill, also called Joe Hillstrom, original name Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, [was a] Swedish-born American songwriter and organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); his execution for an alleged robbery-murder made him a martyr and folk hero in the radical American labour movement.

Born into a conservative Lutheran family, all of whom were amateur musicians, Hill left Sweden for the United States in 1902. He drifted around the country, from job to job, and in 1910 joined the San Pedro (California) local of the Industrial Workers of the World, soon becoming its secretary. The following year his first and most famous folksong, “The Preacher and the Slave,” appeared in the IWW’s Little Red Song Book. It is sung to the melody of “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”:

You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray, live on hay,

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Most of his songs dealt with migratory workers, immigrant sweatshop workers, and railway employees; and all were tinged with humour and simple Marxism.

In January 1914, while staying with friends in Salt Lake City, Hill was arrested and charged with the murder of a grocer and his son who had been killed during a robbery. The trial that followed was very confusing. The prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence and depended almost entirely on the fact that Hill had gone to a doctor to be treated for a gunshot wound several hours after the murders had occurred. Hill claimed that he had received the wound in a quarrel over a woman, whom he refused to identify in the interest of protecting her honour. The jury found him guilty, and the numerous legal appeals made on Hill’s behalf were unavailing. Despite mass demonstrations and accusations that he had been convicted because of his radicalism and despite an appeal to the Utah governor from Pres. Woodrow Wilson, Hill was executed by a firing squad. On November 18, 1915, the night before his death, he telegraphed IWW leader Big Bill Haywood: “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize.”

Hill was commemorated in a famous ballad bearing his name, written in 1925 by poet Alfred Hays.

Link to the rest at Encyclopedia Britannica

Labor Day

Today, Friday, is the unofficial beginning of Labor Day weekend in the United States. Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September and is commonly regarded as the last big weekend of the summer. In cooler parts of the US, it’s often the last weekend to use a mountain cabin or a boat.

More than a few people wherever PG has lived have either taken Friday off or disappeared after lunch on Friday in order to extend their weekend. As 5:00 pm approaches, most large office buildings in many major US cities are pretty much abandoned. City busses and commuter trains are almost empty. Traffic to wherever the favorite local weekend destinations are is heavy.

PG will devote most of this long weekend to paeans to working men and women. In particular, people who perform hard manual labor.

Unions began forming in the US in the 1880’s as a response to the Industrial Revolution. The American Federation of Labor, a loose coalition of local unions, was founded in 1886 and led by Samuel Gompers until his death in 1924.

Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) became law. This is a foundational statute of United States labor law that guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.

This law replaced much weaker prior legislative guarantees of the rights of workers and was designed to correct the “inequality of bargaining power” between employers and employees by promoting collective bargaining between trade unions and employers. The law established the National Labor Relations Board to prosecute violations of labor law and to oversee the process by which employees decide whether to be represented by a labor organization. It also established various rules concerning collective bargaining and defined a series of banned unfair labor practices, including interference with the formation or organization of labor unions by employers. 

The 1947 Taft–Hartley Act amended the NLRA, and was passed in response to a series of massive post-war labor strikes in 1945 and 1946. Taft-Hartley weakened union power by establishing a series of mandatory labor practices for unions and granting states the power to pass right-to-work laws.

A right-to-work law gives workers the right to choose whether or not to join a labor union their workplace. It also gives workers the option to not pay union dues or other fees whether or not they are in the union. One of the rationales behind this legislation was that it protected the freedom of association or non-association of workers and their freedom to choose not to become subject to a labor union contract with their employer. Since labor unions are free to make political contributions to support candidates or causes, a right-to-work law also protects an employee from having to contribute to a political candidate or cause the employee opposes.

Right to work laws were passed by state legislatures throughout the American South, a North/South strip of states in the Midwest and also in several Mountain West states. Texas and Florida, two states which have enjoyed large increases in their populations during the last fifty years, are right-to-work states.

California has the highest number of unionized workers and New York has the second highest number. Hawaii has the highest percentage of unionized workers, almost 24% and New York has the second-highest percentage with 22%. North Carolina and South Carolina have the lowest percentage of unionized workers.

Public Sector Unions – unions comprised of federal, state and local government employees – have become much larger and more powerful in the United States within the last 50 years. At present, there are more public sector union members than there are private sector union members. Slightly less than 1/3 of federal employees are unionized. 35% of state workers are unionized as are 46% of local government workers.

As with private-sector unions, the rate of unionization of public sector workers varies greatly from state to state and from region to region.

Some people have strong opinions for and against unions. PG asks that commenters remain civil while discussing all topics over this Labor Day weekend.

O. Henry: 101 Stories

From The Wall Street Journal:

Before he was known as O. Henry and the author of “The Gift of the Magi,” William Sidney Porter wrote another yarn about a husband and wife who miscommunicate. Instead of trading Christmas presents in a touching tale of self-sacrifice, they exchange “some hard words” over breakfast. A little later, they regret their remarks and seek to make peace. When they meet again, however, they fire off a new round of accusations—painful to them in their fictional world but amusing to readers who recognize a comic mixture of spite and affection in a marriage.

Porter never published this piece of apprentice work from about 1895, titled “The Return of the Songster.” It has languished in an archive at the University of Virginia, and it might be there still (or never archived at all) except for the fact that, under the name of O. Henry, Porter went on to master a form of the short story that featured a surprising conclusion. “The Return of the Songster” is now collected, along with two other previously unprinted pieces, in “101 Stories,” the Library of America’s comprehensive edition of this popular writer’s work, edited by Ben Yagoda. The book’s appearance in this distinguished series provides fresh evidence that, despite occasional skepticism from critics and scholars, O. Henry has secured a place in the country’s literary pantheon.

Born in North Carolina in 1862, Porter worked as a pharmacist, ranch cook and land-office clerk. In Texas, he took a job as a bank teller but fled to Honduras in 1896 following an accusation of embezzlement. He returned to the U.S. after a few months to care for the ailing wife he had left behind. It didn’t go well: She died, and he was sentenced to a federal prison in Ohio.

Behind bars for three years, Porter took up his pen name, published from the penitentiary and started his decadelong run of success. After his release in 1901, he moved to Manhattan and contributed to newspapers and magazines, scribbling under deadline pressure as he invented stories about ordinary people in his adopted city.

If he had written only “The Gift of the Magi,” which appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York Sunday World in 1905, he’d still be read today. Although cynics may sneer at what they consider the aesthetic equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie, this 2,000-word celebration of unconditional love and holiday spirit remains one of the most beloved tales in American literature.

Yet O. Henry was more than a one-hit wonder, and a handful of his stories continue to appeal. “The Last Leaf” begins with a deathbed scene and ends with a message about the power of art. “The Cop and the Anthem” involves a vagrant who tries but fails to get arrested. “After Twenty Years” chronicles a reunion of friends who have fallen out of contact. Each features an agreeable jolt in its final sentence or paragraph. Harvard professor Hyder E. Rollins described the effect in 1914: “Children play ‘crack-the-whip,’ not for the fun of the long preliminary run, but for the excitement of the final sharp twist that throws them off their feet.” The pen name “O. Henry,” in fact, may be read as an exclamation of delight.

Although his characters are usually forgettable and his plots often turn on coincidence, O. Henry compensated for these weaknesses with several strengths. One is deadpan humor: “My salary as bookkeeper in the hardware concern kept at a distance those ills attendant upon superfluous wealth.” Another is a playfulness with words, such as “jagerfonteins” (a reference to diamond-like eyes, borrowed from the name of a South African mining town) and “philoprogenitiveness” (a tendency to produce offspring). When O. Henry wanted a colorful way to label a Central American nation, he came up with a term that has entered our vocabulary: “banana republic.”

He could also render the details of ordinary life in evocative prose. In “The Furnished Room,” one of his better stories, he depicted the dimly lighted steps of a low-rent boarding house: “It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.”

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

Nomadland

PG doesn’t know if stories like Nomadland will resonate with visitors from outside the United States or not.

During the past several decades, there has been a significant population movement away from small cities and small towns, often in the middle of the country, an area some have called, “flyover country” given that flights from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again pass over this middle area without stopping.

The detailed results of the 2020 US Census started being released in the second quarter of 2021. They showed the second-lowest total ten-year growth rate ever recorded in the US. (The lowest growth decade was during the Great Depression in the late 1920’s-30’s.)

37 states grew more slowly during the 2010-2020 period than they did in the prior ten-years and three states lost population. California had its lowest growth rate ever due largely to the state’s high cost-of-living and state taxes. Some large and medium-sized California employers have also moved parts of their operations to lower-cost states. States like West Virginia, Illinois and Michigan lost population.

Within states and regions, there has also been a notable migration away from rural and small-town locations to medium and large-sized cities. This trend has hit rural areas in several middle-western states hard.

During the Covid shut-down, some smaller and different patterns appeared. A few individuals, usually mid-level office employees and some professionals, learned that remote work was possible and enjoyable and moved from expensive coastal cities and suburbs into small town and rural settings, expecting to have to go into the offices much less frequently or not at all.

This out-migration has not been nearly large enough to counter-balance the longer-term flattening of population growth in the more empty places, particularly empty places that don’t feature oceans, mountains, forests, etc. Aging populations with low birth rates have also impacted growth in some areas.

Texas, Florida, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona have grown substantially faster than the average.

Nomadland is a 2020 motion picture set in the empty places of the United States. As the PBS documentary in the second video window depicts, more than a few middle and lower-income families who suffered from Covid-related job losses have left their homes, hit the road and adopted a new lifestyle, often located in those empty places.

Does Your Story Need More Conflict? Tap this Powerful Source

From Writers Helping Writers:

Conflict is such a versatile storytelling element. Not only will obstacles, adversaries, and stressors keep tension high and readers focused, they also provide characters with valuable opportunities to prove themselves, chances to reexamine what they believe and want, and even failures that teach lessons and beget growth.

Every scene needs good, solid conflict. It might be something big and life-altering, or a smaller block, complication, or disruption the character must now navigate. No matter what form it takes, conflict should further the story and offer readers insight into the characters involved.

Conflict is a kaleidoscope, offering a million possibilities for fresh storytelling. But sometimes, too much choice is paralyzing, and we struggled to choose what happens next. Or we’re writing on a day when the ol’ imagination tank is empty. In these cases, knowing where to look for conflict can guide us to scenarios that help raise the stakes and mess up the protagonist’s plans.

The #1 Place to Find Conflict

Where does most of our conflict come from in real life? That’s right: other people. Loved ones, extended family, roommates, co-workers, neighbors, friends, complete strangers—if they’re someone who will interact with your character, they’re a potential source for trouble. This is why planning your story’s cast ahead of time can be so beneficial.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Chances are, your character is connected to a variety of people in the story. When you need conflict, poke at their relationships to see what problems shake loose.

MARRIAGE AND PARTNERSHIP: All romantic relationships have bumps – good ones, and bad ones. I’ve been married twenty-seven years and there are days…well, you know. Life can be full of unknowns, including whom each person will become, how beliefs, goals, and needs may change, and if the partners will grow mostly in the same direction or not. People can also cope very differently when it comes to life’s challenges, and this can lead to resentment, frustration, friction, and fallout.

FAMILY: The people closest to your character may know things others do not…including the bad stuff. Past mistakes, shortcomings, and failures may be part of a relative’s mental Rolodex. Will they reference a “favor owed” when they want something, lay a guilt-trip, or spill a secret to others when they’ve had too much to drink? Strings tend to be attached in family relationships, so responsibilities, duties, expectations, and demands might also be a source of friction. And let’s not forget family dysfunction! Disagreements, arguments, sibling rivalries, or a family feud might help you hit your character’s soft spots.

HISTORY: Think about what kinds of people might have crossed swords with your character at some point in the past. Did your character wrong someone, or did betrayal end a friendship? What will happen if a ghost from the past shows up at a time when your character needs to really focus on the present?

Or maybe your character did something they aren’t proud of. If the partner from a one-night affair appears at the family barbecue as a cousin’s +1, will the past stay buried?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Big Business of Library E-Books

From The New Yorker:

teve Potash, the bearded and bespectacled president and C.E.O. of OverDrive, spent the second week of March, 2020, on a business trip to New York City. OverDrive distributes e-books and audiobooks—i.e., “digital content.” In New York, Potash met with two clients: the New York Public Library and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. By then, Potash had already heard what he described to me recently as “heart-wrenching stories” from colleagues in China, about neighborhoods that were shut down owing to the coronavirus. He had an inkling that his business might be in for big changes when, toward the end of the week, on March 13th, the N.Y.P.L. closed down and issued a statement: “The responsible thing to do—and the best way to serve our patrons right now—is to help minimize the spread of covid-19.” The library added, “We will continue to offer access to e-books.”

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”

In the first days of the lockdown, the N.Y.P.L. experienced a spike in downloads, which lengthened the wait times for popular books. In response, it limited readers to three checkouts and three waitlist requests at a time, and it shifted almost all of its multimillion-dollar acquisitions budget to digital content. By the end of March, seventy-four per cent of U.S. libraries were reporting that they had expanded their digital offerings in response to coronavirus-related library closures. During a recent interview over Zoom (another digital service that proliferated during the pandemic), Potash recalled that OverDrive quickly redirected about a hundred employees, who would normally have been at trade shows, “to help support and fortify the increase in demand in digital.” He recalled a fellow-executive telling him, “E-books aren’t just ‘a thing’ now—they’re our only thing.”

Before the pandemic, I had never read an e-book, and didn’t particularly want to. But, during the lockdown, I spent nearly every day wandering my neighborhood in a mask and headphones, listening to audiobooks. I wanted to hear a human voice and feel the passing of time; Libby became a lifeline. As a dual citizen of the Brooklyn Public Library and the N.Y.P.L., I toggled between library cards, in search of the shortest waiting list. I did what previously had been unthinkable and spent a hundred and eighty dollars on a Kobo. I read more books in 2020 than I had in years. I was not the only one; last year, more than a hundred library systems checked out a million or more books each from OverDrive’s catalogue, and the company reported a staggering four hundred and thirty million checkouts, up a third from the year before. (Barnes & Noble, which has more retail locations than any other bookseller in the U.S., has said that it sells about a hundred and fifty-five million print books a year.) The burst in digital borrowing has helped many readers, but it has also accelerated an unsettling trend. Books, like music and movies and TV shows, are increasingly something that libraries and readers do not own but, rather, access temporarily, from corporations that do.

. . . .

In the two-thousands, OverDrive helped publishers set up online stores and sold e-books directly to consumers through its own marketplace. The company also persuaded a few presses to license their e-books to libraries. At the time, the six largest publishers tended to sell their goods through online retailers, such as Amazon, which released its e-reader, the Kindle, in 2007. But, gradually, the Big Six began to sell digital rights to libraries under a “one copy, one user” model. As soon as one reader returned an e-book, a second reader could check it out, and so on, with no expiration date. “At the beginning, we were really trying to replicate what happens on the print-book side,” a publishing executive told me. Digital books, which could in theory be duplicated for free by any librarian with a computer, would still have waiting lists.

“We then saw the first wrinkle in one copy, one user,” Potash said. In 2011, HarperCollins introduced a new lending model that was capped at twenty-six checkouts, after which a library would need to purchase the book again. Publishers soon introduced other variations, from two-year licenses to copies that multiple readers could use at one time, which boosted their revenue and allowed libraries to buy different kinds of books in different ways. For a classic work, which readers were likely to check out steadily for years to come, a library might purchase a handful of expensive perpetual licenses. With a flashy best-seller, which could be expected to lose steam over time, the library might buy a large number of cheaper licenses that would expire relatively quickly. During nationwide racial-justice protests in the summer of 2020, the N.Y.P.L. licensed books about Black liberation under a pay-per-use model, which gave all library users access to the books without any waiting list; such licenses are too expensive to be used for an entire collection, but they can accommodate surges in demand. “At the time of its launch, the twenty-six-circulation model was a lightning rod,” Josh Marwell, the president of sales at HarperCollins, told me. “But, over time, the feedback we have gotten from librarians is that our model is fair and works well with their mission to provide library patrons with the books they want to read.”

. . . .

Libraries now pay OverDrive and its peers for a wide range of digital services, from negotiating prices with publishers to managing an increasingly complex system of digital rights. During our video call, Potash showed me OverDrive’s e-book marketplace for librarians, which can sort titles by price, popularity, release date, language, topic, license type, and more. About fifty librarians work for OverDrive, Potash said, and “each week they curate the best ways each community can maximize their taxpayers’ dollar.” The company offers rotating discounts and generates statistics that public libraries can use to project their future budgets. When I noted that OverDrive’s portal looked a bit like Amazon.com, Potash didn’t respond. Later, he said, with a touch of pride, “This is like coming into the front door of Costco.”

Alan Inouye, the senior public-policy director at the American Library Association, told me that consolidation could reduce competition and potentially drive the cost of library e-books even higher. “OverDrive is already a very large presence in the market,” he said. The company’s private-equity owner, K.K.R., also owns a major audiobook producer, RBMedia, which sold its digital library assets to OverDrive last year. But, Inouye added, OverDrive’s influence is an important counterweight to the largest publishers and to Amazon, which dominates the consumer e-book market and operates as a publisher in its own right. (Amazon did not make its own e-books available to libraries until May, when it announced a deal with the Digital Public Library of America.) When I asked Potash about the concern that consolidation could also give OverDrive too much influence over the market, he called that “a far-fetched conspiracy theory.” He cited the company’s track record of advocating for libraries, adding, “I’m a big fan of free-market capitalism.”

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

Readers of the future are likely to want even more digital content, but it may not look the same as it does now. Audible, which is owned by Amazon, has already made listening to books more like streaming, with subscribers gaining access to a shifting catalogue of audiobooks that they do not need to buy separately. “We have moved away from owning, to accessing,” Mirela Roncevic, a longtime publishing and library consultant, told me. Maybe readers will expect books to feel more like Web sites, and an infinite scroll will replace the turn of the page, as it has in the digital magazine you are reading now. Perhaps readers will want images and videos to be woven seamlessly into the text, requiring a new format. The e-book as we know it “will not last,” Roncevic insisted. Lending libraries were once an innovation that helped spread literacy and popularize books. Roncevic wants libraries to continue innovating—for example, by experimenting with new formats and license models in partnership with independent or international publishers. “Libraries have more power than they sometimes realize,” she told me.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

I was doing a lecture for a group of students

I was doing a lecture for a group of students several months ago and I was talking about how long things can take… And a young woman raised her hand at the end of the lecture… and asked for some advice, because she had started a blog and she was hoping to get some pointers on how to get people to come to the blog, to read the blog, because she was feeling very discouraged — she’d been doing it for a while and people weren’t reading it. She wasn’t getting any traction. And so, of course, my first question was “How long have you been doing it?” And very sincerely, very earnestly, she said, “Six weeks.”

Debbie Millman

I was once told I am being arrogant as an Author

I was once told I am being arrogant as an Author just because I legally protect my books with copyrighting them and trademarking my titles and names. That’s not being Arrogant. It’s about being Smart. I went to law school And I’m married to a lawyer. It’s ingrained in me to fight the sh*t out of protecting what is mine even if it is perceived as “arrogant”. I’d rather be arrogant than stupid.

Kailin Gow

Stranger in Parodies: Weird Al and the Law of Musical Satire

Why is PG posting this?

PG received a query from a non-client this morning asking about creating a parody of another work.

One of the things which wading through this excerpt from the original law review article published in 1990 (no, the excerpt isn’t close to being the whole thing) may convince the intelligent layperson that the law relating to the fair use exception to the protections included in US copyright law is that, while there may be some bright-line situations where fair use applies, where parody is involved, the decisions under copyright law tend to be a sea of gray.

A brief tutorial:

  1. Copyright is a federal law in the United States which means that the law applies across the United States regardless of state boundaries.
  2. Because copyright is a federal law, federal courts (as opposed to state courts) are where copyright law is litigated and determined.
  3. Federal District Courts are the first level of federal courts and hear all sorts of different cases that arise under federal law. (PG won’t discuss the diversity jurisdiction federal courts have. There is too much legal stuff in this post already.)
  4. If a litigant in a case heard and decided in a Federal District Court believes the federal judge made an error in the court’s decision, the litigant has the right to appeal the judge’s decision to the US Court of Appeals.
  5. There are thirteen different courts of appeal. There are also 13 different “Circuits” into which the courts of appeal are divided. The majority of the Circuits are geographical and handle appeals from the decisions of the Federal District Courts within their geographical boundaries.
  6. Those who read through this post will see two Courts of Appeal mentioned.
  7. The 2nd Circuit Court sits in New York City handles appeals from district courts located in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.
  8. The 9th Circuit Court sits in courthouses located in San Francisco, Pasadena, Portland and Seattle and hears appeals from district courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Island, and Washington. As astute observers may have concluded, the boundaries of the 9th Circuit were set many, many years ago when the population in the Circuit was much, much smaller than it is today. The 9th Circuit has a great many judges.
  9. Lots of copyright cases are litigated in New York and California because New York has been the center of US print publishing for a long time and California has been the center of motion picture creation and ownership as well as the headquarters for a great many companies that create, market and sell music recordings. PG won’t go into federal jurisdiction and venue rules, but they point most of these cases to the federal courts in those two states. Each circuit court tends to think it’s smarter than any other circuit court, but they don’t always agree with each other.
  10. Theoretically, someone who’s dissatisfied with a decision from any circuit court can appeal that court’s decision to the US Supreme Court. However, setting aside appeals that the Supreme Court must hear (a small percentage of all Appeals Court cases), the Supreme Court is free to choose which appeals it accepts from people who aren’t happy with the way the 2nd and 9th Circuits decided their cases. Generally, the Supreme Court accepts 100-150 cases each year. The 9th Circuit decides 10,000-12,000 cases per year. The Supreme Court hears very few copyright cases, so the copyright action is in the Circuit Courts of Appeal.

End of Civics Lesson. PG will have some comments for whoever makes it to the bottom of this post.

From the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal (1990):

Musical parody, both as folk art and high satire, has existed as a form of critical and humorous expression for centuries. Its popularity is evidenced by the humorous indulgences of musical giants the likes of Mozart, Gilbert and Sullivan, Spike Jones, and Allan Sherman. Not, however, until recording artist Weird Al Yankovic began making records and music videos like “Living With A Hernia”(sung to the tune of the hit “Living in America”) and “I Lost On Jeopardy” (sung to the melody of “Our Love’s in Jeopardy”), did the American music industry finally reawaken to the reality of just how lucrative music parody can be. In light of Mr. Yankovic’s startling commercial success (well over three million copies of his records have been sold), the issue arises whether such highly marketable song parodies represent “fair uses” of the lampooned underlying musical works, or whether the U.S. Copyright Act’ requires Weird Al and other aspiring musical parodists to secure licenses from the copyright owners of such works prior to plying their trade. This article will consider that question in light of the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Fisher v. Dees, and the most recent rulings of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which have substantially clarified the fair use doctrine’s application to musical parodies.

A WORKING DEFINITION

Parody has been defined as “writing in which the language and style of [another] author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or ridicule, often with certain peculiarities greatly heightened or exaggerated.”‘ In order to be effective, therefore, a parody must draw upon elements of the original work. It has been said that “the parodist utterly fails in his task if his audience does not realize that his work has as its source another author’s work.”

Thus, there is an inherent tension between copyright law (which seeks to protect original works of authorship from infringement) and parody, the legal resolution of which historically rested on a judicial determination of the relative artistic merit and literary value of parody. This would seemingly have placed musical parodists in a particularly unfavorable position, since even a judge sensitive to the value of literary parody might view song parodies as frivolous and deserving of little protection. Interestingly, such has not been the case. To the contrary, musical copyright cases have formed the bedrock of the judicially authored doctrine of parody as “fair use” in the United States, and have served as the basis for that doctrine’s recent judicial expansion.

. . . .

U.S. PARODY DECISIONS

The first American case in which the issue of parody arose was Bloom and Hamlin v. Nixon. In that case, the defendant publicly performed portions of the plaintiff’s copyrighted song without license, as part of her impersonation of a popular actress currently performing the same song in the stage version of The Wizard of Oz. The court ruled in favor of the defendant under the “fair use” doctrine, noting that she acted in good faith by singing just the chorus of the song as an incidental aspect to her mimicry of the actress, and did not attempt to usurp the plaintiff’s market for his copyrighted song through such performances.’ Thus was the precedent established in the United States that parody is an art form deserving of protection, under certain circumstances, from zealous copyright owners seeking absolute control over the uses of their works.

A. The Second Circuit “New York” View

The Second Circuit view of parody has developed through a series of cases dating from the early part of this century, nearly all of which have involved musical satire. Within six years following the Nixon decision, district courts in the Second Circuit ruled on two cases with fact patterns nearly identical to it.

In Green v. Minzenheimer9 (S.D.N.Y. 1909), the defendant prevailed against a copyright owner portions of whose song the defendant had sung incidental to his impersonation of a popular singer. Consistently, it was ruled in Green v. Luby’ (C.C.N.Y. 1909) that the defendant’s use of an entire copyrighted song as part of an impersonation did constitute copyright infringement, since the taking of the whole song was “hardly required” for an effective impersonation.

The next important parody decision in the Second Circuit did not occur until 1963, with the Court of Appeals decision in Berlin v. E.C. Publications Inc. (The Mad Magazine Case). That case involved a suit by copyright owner Irving Berlin against Mad Magazine, which had published a book of parody lyrics to popular, copyrighted songs, many owned by the plaintiff. Mad Magazine did not reproduce the music or lyrics to any of the underlying copyrights, but simply noted next to each of the parodies the legend “to be sung to the tune of . . . ” followed by the title of the particular song involved in the lampoon. Examples of the Mad Magazine brand of humor included the parody “Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady,” adapted to the tune of Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody.”

In affirming the district court’s ruling in favor of the defendant Mad Magazine, Circuit Judge Irving Kaufman stated “we believe that parody and satire are deserving of substantial freedom – both as entertainment and as a form of social and literary criticism.”‘ The court then adopted the two-tiered parody test first set forth in Nixon, focusing on the economic harm to the plaintiff and the substantiality of the defendant’s taking. Judge Kaufman wrote, “where, as here, it is clear that the parody has neither the intent nor the effect of fulfilling the demand for the original, and where the parodist does not appropriate a greater amount of the original work than is necessary to ‘recall or conjure up’ the object of his satire, a finding of infringement would be improper.”‘

The Mad Magazine Case was followed by Walt Disney Productions v. Mature Pictures Corp. (The Mouseketeer Case). In that case, the defendants had used the “Mickey Mouse March,” the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club television program, as background music in their pornographic film. The particular scene involved women performing sexual acts “on or near a pool table” with three men wearing nothing but “Mouseketeer” hats, the background music under which consisted of continuous, repetitive use of the entire Mouse March.

Relying mainly on the Mad Magazine Case, Judge Duffy ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that the defendants had taken far more of the musical composition than was necessary to “recall or conjure up” the object of the satire, a finding of infringement would be improper.” Adding a new wrinkle to the Second Circuit parody test, however, he added that “[w]hile defendants may have been seeking in their display of bestiality to parody life, they did not parody the Mickey Mouse March but sought only to improperly use the copyrighted material.” Thus, Judge Duffy ruled that a parodist has less latitude in utilizing copyrighted music as a mere element of a larger parody than if the music itself was the object of
the satire.

(PG note: Whenever a judge uses the adjective, “mere”, you can easily fill in the remainder of the ruling.)

The Elsmere and Wilson Cases In 1980, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the seminal case of E-emere Music, Inc. v. NBC, which concerned a parody of the New York State advertising theme “I Love New York” by the cast of the television show “Saturday Night Live” as “I Love Sodom.” The district court held that even though the defendants’ substantial taking consisted of the very heart of the plaintiff’s musical composition, it was still permissible as fair use since the bonafide social parody did not usurp the market of the original, or make more extensive use of the song than was necessary to conjure it up. Thus, the trial court recognized that song parodies, in particular, often require a substantial taking from the original in order to simply “conjure it up. “

The Court of Appeals (Circuit Judges Feinberg, Newman and Kearse) affirmed, taking the opportunity to further expand the fair use doctrine regarding parody. Stating that “in today’s world of often unrelieved solemnity, copyright law should be hospitable to the humor of parody,” the court commented on the “substantiality” issue as follows:

[The] [c]oncept of “conjuring up” an original came into the copyright law not as a limitation on how much of an original may be used, but as a recognition that parody frequently needs to be more than a fleeting evocation of an original in order to make its humorous point …. [A] parody is entitled at least to “conjure up” the original. Even more extensive use would still be fair use, provid[ed] [the] parody builds upon the original, using [the] original as [a] known element of modern culture and contributing something new for humorous effect or commentary.

This ruling represented a high water mark in the Second Circuit’s liberalization of parody as a fair use defense to copyright infringement.

. . . .

B. The Ninth Circuit “California” View

 The judicial history of parody in the Ninth Circuit has followed a confused route, with no cases involving musical satire having been decided until the 1986 ruling in Fisher v. Dees.5 4

 The Ninth Circuit view of parody had its genesis in two cases decided by District Judge James M. Carter months apart in 1955 –  Loew’s v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (the Jack Benny Case)” and Columbia Pictures v. National Broadcasting Co. (the Sid Caesar Case) – with incongruous results.

 In the Jack Benny case, decided first, Benny was found guilty of copyright infringement for parodying the film Gaslight on his television show. Judge Carter was extremely hostile to the idea that parody should be treated any differently than any other unauthorized taking, and ruled that because Benny took “substantial” portions of the underlying work, he had committed copyright infringement.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling based solely on the “substantiality” issue, stating “[tihe fact that a serious dramatic work is copied practically verbatim, and then presented with actors walking on their hands or other grotesqueries, does not avoid infringement …. .” In conclusion, the Appeals Court stated that “[o]ne cannot copy the substance of another’s work without infringing his copyright. A burlesque presentation of such a copy is no defense to an action for infringement. . .

Some months later, bowing to extreme criticism of his holding in Benny, Judge Carter announced a completely different parody test in the Sid Caesar case. Presented with nearly identical facts as in Benny (Caesar had parodied the film From Here To Eternity on his own “Your Show of Shows” television program), the Judge ruled that “[in historical burlesque a part of the content is used to conjure up, at least the general image, of the original. Some limited taking should be permitted under the doctrine of fair use, in the case of burlesque, to bring about this recalling or conjuring up of the original.”

Judge Carter did attempt to square the decision in the Caesar case with his opinion in Benny. He stated that “[u]nlike [the Benny case], here there was a taking of only sufficient [sic] to cause the viewer to recall and conjure up the original.”‘ Clearly, however, he was relying on the Court of Appeals to announce a firm rule for the Ninth Circuit, and went as far as apologizing for the brevity of his opinion due to his desire to “speed this case on its way to the Appellate Court.”

The Sid Caesar case never reached the Appellate Court, however, and so for twenty-three years, until Walt Disney Productions v. The Air Pirates 6 was decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979, the law of parody in that Circuit was at best vague.

In the Air Pirates case, the defendants had manufactured comicbooks which depicted accurately drawn Walt Disney cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck engaging in sexual activities and using recreational drugs. Far from denying their “verbatim” copying, the defendants asserted that “the humorous effect of parody is best achieved when at first glance the material appears convincingly to be the original, and upon closer examination is discovered to be quite something else.”

District Judge Wollenberg flatly rejected the defendants’ argument, and ignoring Judge Carter’s repentance in the Sid Caesar case, relied on the Ninth Circuit opinion in Benny to hold that any substantial taking, regardless of its satirical nature, constitutes infringement.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed judgement against the defendants, but limited the Benny case to a “threshold test” which forbids near verbatim copying (a test which the defendants failed). The Air Pirates Court also went on to adopt as a sec-ondary test the two-tiered conjure up/market usurpation test announced by the Second Circuit in the Mad Magazine case.

Ninth Circuit law on parody was less confused after the Air Pirates decision, but the Benny test had retained substantial validity as the Circuit’s parody litmus test. The Fisher v. Dees’ decision in 1986 finally established a comprehensive parody test for the Ninth Circuit, placing Benny in its proper context.

The Rick Dees Case


In the Rick Dees case, disc jockey Rick Dees recorded and released a comedy record album containing a parody of the copyrighted song “When Sunny Gets Blue” which he lampooned as “When Sonny Sniffs Glue.” The parody consisted of the first six bars of the original song (basically one half of the well known first verse), and ran for about twenty-nine seconds. Dees changed the lyrics from “When Sunny Gets Blue, her eyes get grey and cloudy, then the rain begins to fall” to “When Sonny sniffs glue, her eyes get red and bulgy, then her hair begins to fall.” The parody was also sung in a style mimicking the distinctive voice of Johnny Mathis, whose version of the original is the best known. At the conclusion of twenty-nine seconds, Dee’s recorded performance degenerates into laughter.
Prior to recording the album, Dees had applied to the plaintiff copyright owner for a license to do the parody, but was vehemently refused permission. The songwriters Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal sued Dees for infringement upon the recording’s release, but the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants without opinion.

In a comprehensive and thoughtful appellate opinion, Judge Sneed, speaking for Judges Wallace and Kozinski, affirmed the district court’s decision.

The Dees opinion first affirmed the Circuit’s view that Congress, in enacting section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act66 had in the legislative notes accompanying the section specifically enumerated “parody” as one of the examples of an activity subject to fair use. Thus, the court ruled, the four factors set forth as criteria for determining fair use in section 107 are to be applied in parody cases.6 7
Prior to commencing its fair use analysis, however, the court turned its attention to three allegations by the plaintiffs which asserted that the fair use defense was not available to the defendants.
First, Judge Sneed considered the plaintiff’s claim that since the parody was not directed at least in part at the plaintiff’s song, the fair use defense should be denied. Without rejecting the principle set forth in the Second Circuit’s decision in Wilson (adopted by the Ninth Circuit in Air Pirates) that there is no justification for conjuring up an original if it is not at least partly the target of the parody, Judge Sneed ruled that Dees’ parody was intended to poke fun at the song and Johnny Mathis’ singing style, and was not unrelated “to the song, its place and time.”
In their second allegation, plaintiffs asserted that Dees was barred from resorting to the fair use doctrine, which “presupposes good faith,” because he acted in bad faith by going ahead with the parody after the plaintiffs had denied him permission to do so.

In response, Judge Sneed ruled, as previously noted that: [tihe parody defense to copyright infringement exists precisely to make possible a use that generally cannot be bought …. Moreover, to consider Dees blameworthy because he asked permission would penalize him for this modest show of consideration … [which] we refuse to discourage ….

Finally, the court considered the plaintiff’s allegation that because Dees’ parody was “immoral,” it could not be protected by fair use. While refusing to decide whether or not an “obscene” or “immoral”
parody could be a fair use, the court ruled that although Dees’ parody was “silly” and “innocuous,” it was not obscene.

In its analysis of the first fair use factor, “the purpose and character of the use,” the court acknowledged the 1984 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Betamax case that “every commercial use of copyrighted material is presumptively… unfair. Judge Sneed noted, however, that when the parody is “more in the nature of an editorial or social commentary than … an attempt to capitalize financially on the plaintiff’s original work,”‘ the presumption may be overcome by the defendant if the parody does not unfairly diminish the economic value of the original.

The court, therefore, turned to analysis of the fourth fair use factor (“the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”), taking note of the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Nation case that the fourth factor “is undoubtedly the single most important element of fair use.” Pointing out that this economic inquiry regards only whether the parody supplants and fills the demand of the original, not whether it diminishes the original’s market potential (“any bad review can have that effect”), Judge Sneed ruled that Dees’ twenty-nine second parody could not possibly be considered a threat to supplant the plaintiff’s famous love song.74 Consequently, the court ruled that factors one and four supported a finding of fair use.

The court then considered factor three – “the amount and substantiality of the taking” – which it noted had been the central focus of the Ninth Circuit in parody cases since Benny. After affirming that the Circuit still recognized that near-verbatim copying could not be fair use, Judge Sneed clarified that substantial copying is not necessarily
unfair in all circumstances. As such, he reformulated the “conjure up” standard announced in the Sid Caesar case to include the Second Circuit’s holding in Elsmere that conjuring up was the minimum measure of freedom extended to parodists.

Judge Sneed then devised a three prong test based on the holding in Air Pirates to judge whether a particular satirical taking is excessive. These three criteria, which incorporate the Copyright Act’s second fair use factor – “the nature of the copyrighted work,” are

(1) the degree of public recognition of the work,
(2) the ease of conjuring up the original work in the parodist’s chosen medium, and
(3) the focus of the parody.

In ruling that defendant Dees had not exceeded the fair use standard, Judge Sneed wrote: Like a speech, a song is difficult to parody effectively without exact or near-exact copying. If the would-be parodist varies the music
or meter of the original substantially, it simply will not be recognizable to the general audience. This ‘special need for accuracy’ provides some license for ‘closer’ parody.

In essence, therefore, Judge Sneed’s statement limits application of Benny in musical parody cases to only the most excessive examples of verbatim copying. Since application of all four fair use factors yielded a balance in favor of the defendant, the court ruled in favor of Dees.

Link to the rest at the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal (1990)

PG’s comments (not legal opinions):

  1. If you publish a parody of a work produced by a large movie studio, a major publisher or a major music label, the chances of you being sued for copyright infringement are higher than they otherwise might be.
  2. While PG can’t say that no attorney will give the creator of a parody of a work created/published/distributed, etc., by a large media company a formal opinion about whether the parody is protected by Fair Use, PG suspects any attorney who is competent in the field will charge a great deal of money for such an opinion and that the opinion will include ten zillion qualifiers such that the opinion won’t provide a clear and understandable path for the creator of the parody.
  3. But PG could be wrong.
  4. If anyone has obtained such an opinion relating to the legality of a parody and is willing to share a copy with PG on a private basis, PG would love to see it.
  5. If anyone knows of an attorney who is willing to provide such opinions, PG would be interested in knowing who that attorney is.
  6. As usual, feel free to share comments, opinions, information, etc., in the comments to this post. If someone wishes to share anything with PG on a private basis (no attorney/client privilege, however), please click on the Contact PG button at the top of the blog.

When Yes Doesn’t Mean Yes

From Electric Lit:

This is how the story goes: Jake and I were having a playdate. We were at his house. I have no memory of where his parents were. My parents were at work, miles away in the city. Jake and I were young enough to both unabashedly adore Barney and I hadn’t yet been taught what could happen when girls and boys played alone together. My legs were scrawny and my cheeks were chubby. Jake was much, much taller than me. At some point, Jake led me into a bedroom—the bedroom belonging to his parents—and locked the door. Then he grabbed my tiny shoulders and forced a kiss on my mouth.

My parents like to tell this story because it never fails to entertain at a dinner party. People laugh and sometimes blush and almost always raise a glass to what they call: ‘Jake’s gumption’.

After all, we were children.  

I recently watched Miranda July’s Kajillionaire. The film ends with what I interpret as the protagonist’s first consensual kiss. That kiss feels transformative because it’s the first time this emotionally stunted twenty-six year-old allows herself pleasure. It’s the first time she acknowledges her sexuality without feeling like it’s wrong.  

Days later, the intensity of my feelings hadn’t waned. I felt confident that the protagonist, Old Dolio was the victim of sexual abuse. My certainty was guttural. There was something in the way she held herself that was familiar. Watching her felt like looking into a mirror.  

Kajillionaire explicitly depicts the psychological abuse Old Dolio experiences, but the presence of sexual abuse is left up to the audience. Early in the film, Old Dolio attempts to return a one-hour massage certificate for cash and instead reluctantly accepts a twenty-minute massage. Before the masseuse’s hands even make contact with her baggy top, Old Dolio’s whole body flinches, recoiling at the prospect of touch. The masseuse makes the tiniest impact and Old Dolio yells out that it’s too much. The scene ends with the masseuse holding her hands above Old Dolio’s back, keeping them there, suspended in the air, giving Old Dolio the only amount of intimacy she can bear.  

I flinched the first time I let someone kiss me. He was thirteen and his eyes were the color of ice. I said yes. And yet I was terrified. My body was already programmed to anticipate violence. My mother says that as a baby I couldn’t be soothed. That I cried and cried and cried and nothing she did could end my sobbing. She went back to work soon after my birth and shortly after that, was diagnosed with breast cancer. In every photograph we have from that time, she and I cling to each other. On some visceral level, we understood how little control we had—that safety is imaginary. When you’re deprived of comfort, your body accommodates. Old Dolio’s shoulders slouch throughout Kajillionaire. Her hair hangs almost over her face. She’s trying to make herself disappear. She’s trying to protect herself.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hunched. Sometimes I tell myself it’s because I want to make myself smaller, other times I acknowledge what feels truer: there is safety in invisibility.

When Melissa Febos’ latest essay collection, Girlhoodshowed up in my mailbox, I hid the book under my couch cushion for a week. It was too hot for my skin. I’d read her second book, Abandon Methe year I blew up my life, the year I left a six year relationship that was headed toward marriage so I could travel around the country. That book forced me to acknowledge that I was horribly unhappy. The prospect of Girlhood dislodging another piece of my certainty terrified me.   

Since the #MeToo movement began, I’ve licked my wounds quietly, unsure of how to engage with the cloudy intrusions that haunt my body. I didn’t have the language to name what happened to me. I didn’t know whether my experiences counted for anything. What I did know was that every time I entered a new space, I sought the exit; anytime I got stuck on a crowded subway car, I panicked; most nights, if I fell asleep, I’d wake from nightmares shaking; even with partners I trusted, a surprise touch unraveled me.  

When I finally read Girlhood, I learned I was right to be worried. Febos holds a mirror up to the violence of being twelve years old and having “a body like those women in the magazines.” She recounts the many men who were compelled by her because of what they wanted to take from her. “Eventually, I understood the strength that was no strength, that was a punishment no matter what I did or did not do. So I let my friend’s older brother close the closet door.” 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Computer Programs for Authors

Late yesterday, PG took a dip into the world of software created for the purpose of helping authors do their work.

He claims no expertise or knowledge of any of these programs, although he tried out Scrivener on an experimental basis several years ago.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, most authors use plain vanilla word processing programs for their writing. In the US, for all intents and purposes, that means Microsoft Word.

(Let the more mature among us pause for a moment of silence in remembrance of WordPerfect – The real WordPerfect, not the sad and hollow shell of its former self still sold by Corel.)

After his quick scamper through cyberspace, PG found the following story creation programs, listed in no particular order.

Scrivener

Dabble

Plottr

SmartEdit

Quoll Writer

Campfire Blaze

PG would be interested in comments by anyone who has used one or more of these programs and suggestions of others that PG has missed. PG did not include the several software programs that are focused on the particular needs of scriptwriters.

One of the inherent problems with creating software for authors to write stories and books is that (1) the market for such software is not particularly large and (2) virtually everyone in the target market is already quite familiar with word processing software, namely (today) MS Word or Word for Mac.

PG hasn’t forgotten Pages from Apple but is under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that most authors with Macs use Word.

Feel free to share thoughts, experiences, ideas, additional programs, etc.

Motherhood at the End of the World

From The Paris Review:

In the run-up to Thanksgiving last year, you learned a whitewashed story at school about how the first peoples of this land were happy to give their sacred spaces to the consumptive force of European men in the name of civilization and progress. You came home from school and unzipped your backpack, revealing with artistic pride a picture book you had colored and stapled yourself. Your kindergarten teacher had asked you to color in a little Native American girl, then a Native American boy, followed by a pilgrim girl and boy, each one garbed in their traditional attire. I admired the craft of your book, a swell of parental pride coursing through me as I witnessed the evidence of my progeny doing and making things in the world beyond me. And I relished that you had colored all four children Brown like you.

As you flipped through the pages of your book, you narrated a sad story about how much the pilgrims had suffered when they arrived on this land. I felt a surge in my body, an immediate, unstoppable need to explain the other forms of suffering elided by this disturbingly singular narrative. I described some of the impacts of this arrival on Indigenous peoples—the European theft of their autonomies, cultures, languages, and lands. I explained that colonial practices dramatically changed how humans live in relation to this land. And I told you that this historical moment of colonial contact was crucial to understanding how we arrived at the global ecological crisis we face today. I will never forget the way you looked at me then, your head slightly tilted to one side, your eyes wide in bewilderment. We were sitting on the landing at the top of the apartment stairs, the contents of your backpack scattered around us. “This is not what my teacher told us,” you said with unmistakable agitation. I knew that for the first time you were confronting the existence of conflicting worldviews, a vital gulf between your formal education and your maternal one. “That’s okay,” I said. “My job as your mother is to tell you these stories differently, and to tell you other stories that don’t get told at school.” I pressed on to explain that history is a story based on a version of the past. “Can you hear the word story in history?” I asked. You nodded slowly, a little body in deep rumination. “These stories need to be told from the perspectives of those who have been most damaged by history. These other stories,” I said, “can teach us how to keep living.”

From the onset of your public education, you have been learning what it means to be American through a manicured version of history that keeps European whiteness at its center. This form of education willfully forgets the lives that were destroyed, the bodies that were brutalized, and the cultures and traditions that were abolished or displaced to establish that center space. It tells you a singular and continuous narrative of Western capitalist expansion, obscuring the bleak fact that much of what we call “progress” has been a direct and unrelenting line to the wholesale destruction of the earth. Against this obliterating narrative, I glean from the fragments in an attempt to teach us otherwise. I scramble to harvest alternative histories omitted by the textbooks, the histories of those who have faced annihilation and lived toward survival. Learning to mother at the end of the world is an infinite toggle between wanting to make you feel safe and needing you to know that the earth and its inhabitants are facing a catastrophic crisis. This morning, you went off to school to learn discipline, to hone your reading and writing skills, to study official state history. I am at my desk sipping tea, turning over words. The birds are chirping outside my window. You, me, the birds. We are all creatures living as though we have a future, as though tomorrow will continue to resemble today. Meanwhile, plans are being devised to drive the marketplace forward when the earth’s nonrenewable resources are exhausted. Scientists and businessmen are plotting to colonize the moon in a relentless drive to create an alternative human habitat when this one can no longer foster us. There is no consideration of ceasing extraction, only a maniacal mission to discover other worlds to plunder.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG notes that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

He also notes that “the lives that were destroyed, the bodies that were brutalized, and the cultures and traditions that were abolished or displaced to establish” Western civilization in the United States and Canada could be said about every continent and sub-continent in the world and every race in the world during all of known history.

It is absolutely true that the US enslaved African-Americans. It is also true that Native Americans killed and enslaved each other long before any European face appeared in North, Central and South America. The Aztec and Inca empires were built on the backs of Native American slaves.

William the Conqueror was not particularly kind to native Anglo-Saxons. The Golden Horde was an equal-opportunity conqueror of both Europeans and Asians. The Ottoman Empire wasn’t regarded as particularly gentle by its subjects. Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and Timur AKA Tamerlane were not regarded as pacifists in their time.

Mansa Musa, an African, the 14th century emperor of The Mali Empire, is regarded by some as the wealthiest individual the earth has ever seen. In addition to Mali, Musa’s empire included present day Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Mauritania. The Mali Empire grew to that size through the military conquest of a variety of other African tribes and their hereditary homelands.

When Musa decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was accompanied by tens of thousands of his subjects and servants. The procession included hundreds of camels just to carry the gold to finance his travel expenses. Musa gave gifts of gold to a great many people that pleased him during his pilgrimage. He was vastly more wealthy than any of his subjects.

These encounters sometimes resulted in unintended consequences, however. Musa’s gifts of gold were so large that they depreciated the value of the metal in Egypt, and the economy took a major hit. It took 12 years for the community to recover.

Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

From Wired:

LAST SUMMER, WHEN clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.

Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.

In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”

Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.

Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin.

Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.

But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.

Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.

We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.

The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG is interested in the writing that will come out of this exceedingly strange Covid era.

PG hasn’t seen many reports from other countries, but there was a bizarre craziness that settled over more than a few people in the United States during this period. For others, the Covid-caused disruption of their ordinary daily routines provided an opportunity and incentive to take more extreme rational steps to improve their lives than might have been the case absent Covid.

One of the lasting consequences appears to be that a great many people anticipate not having to go into the office of an employer on a regular basis in the future. Some companies are offering remote work as a recruiting strategy to snare valuable employees away from employers who have announced that everyone will be coming back to the office full-time as soon as public health directives permit.

Other employees are taking retirement or early retirement rather than go back to a daily commute.

The Wall Street Journal reported that exurbs, “outer fringes of large metro areas where single-family homes mix with farms and many workers have traditionally commuted a significant distance to the core of the metro area,” have experienced substantial growth during the Covid shutdowns, driven by move-ins of people who anticipate that they won’t be making a daily commute in the future.

Per the Journal, “for the year ended in March, exurban counties outside large metro areas saw construction of single-family homes rise 20% from the year-earlier period. That was more than twice the rate for core counties in those metro areas.”

“Clearly, it will transform the South,” Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said of exurban growth. The region is benefiting from lower costs that are drawing tech companies and other businesses looking for cheaper locations.

Wall Street Journal

New arrivals Nicole O’Meara and her husband talked for years about moving away from their lifelong home in suburban Chicago, unhappy about property taxes and weather. Last year they moved with their two toddlers to a subdivision in Murfreesboro after spending only a few days in the area.

Ms. O’Meara works from home in accounting. Real-estate company  Zillow Group Inc. recently declared the Nashville metro area the No. 1 U.S. location for these types of workers, known as “digital nomads.” Stephen O’Meara works in the automotive industry and knew he would quickly find a job.

As they worked with a real-estate agent, “she would send me listings and we’d see these houses and they would be gone in a day,” said Ms. O’Meara, 43.

Wall Street Journal

Because the U.S. population as a whole isn’t growing very fast, the population increases in some areas driven by Covid are being offset by declines elsewhere.

California, by far the largest state by population, experienced a population decline in 2020, the first time the California’ had lost population since the state Department of Finance began collecting population date in 1900.