The Case Against Shakespeare

From The Walrus:

WE’VE CANCELLED six Dr. Seuss titles. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird appear to be on the block. But, if we’re on a bend to reform our approach to teaching the English language, there are bigger fish to fry. Shakespeare is the curriculum’s Moby Dick. We need a harpoon. More than any other experience, the yearly dissection of Shakespeare turns kids off literature.

I speak as a writer, teacher, and lifelong fan. My mom took me to see Twelfth Night when I was five. It was 1956, the last year that the Stratford Festival performed in a tent; Christopher Plummer played Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I went every year after that, my forehead tingling every time I heard the preshow trumpet fanfare. Before age twelve, I’d read and reread Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) a million times. And summer jobs variously included festival usher, dresser, and spear carrier.

So, no, I’m not saying Shakespeare should be beached in his entirety. But, at the moment, as Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus,” taking up a quarter to a third of each year’s high school English course. You’d think no other playwright existed—why, barely another author.

This has serious consequences for what ought to be the primary function of high school study: developing a love of reading that will last a lifetime. This is next to impossible when your major contact with literature is a guy from the 1500s who wrote with a quill in what might as well be a second language. And when your teachers aren’t theatre people who can bring the works from page to stage, for which they were intended and where they shine.

. . . .

Today’s students aren’t so much studying Shakespeare as learning to do linguistic and cultural archaeology. Or autopsies. Shakespeare is used for purposes of literary “dissection” and “analysis.” That means spotting metaphors and similes, like those kindergarten puzzle games where you find the bananas hiding in the picture. It’s like pulling the wings off flies to see how they work. Or studying a joke to understand why it’s funny.

. . . .

For purposes of analysis, it would be far better to teach one of his sonnets. For instance, “Sonnet 18”—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—is perfect for demonstrating metaphor, symbol, iambic pentameter, and a major, if now rarely used, poetic structure. For those of you with gauzy memories, read those fourteen lines and imagine you’re a teenager today. Bright students will be excited, which is terrific. For those who are lost, it’s an hour, not a month, in the dentist’s chair.

. . . .

I’d start with a film version to get students into the story and characters. After that, they can examine the text of a few major scenes, comparing the page to what they’ve seen. That will teach them how imagination can fill out dialogue, creating performances in their minds. Have them stage a few scenes for fun, living the words on their feet. Saying the words in their own voices will make them less strange. From there, it’s easy to discuss what matters—the people and their choices. That’s an experience they can remember in a good way.

Link to the rest at The Walrus

PG is of two minds about the OP.

He thinks the idea of starting with a film version of a Shakespeare play is a good idea. (A better idea would be for the class to attend a well-done stage production of a Shakespeare play, but those are pretty difficult to locate in wide swaths of the United States. PG hopes the situation is better in Britain.)

For PG, Shakespeare was one of the most skilled creators who has ever existed of characters who manifest timeless examples of human nature at its best and worst. That he did so in language that is now archaic is undoubtedly a hurdle, but one which can be dealt with.

PG is a fan of literary analysis, even detailed literary analysis. Since his high school was terrible, PG didn’t engage in any serious literary analysis until he entered college. It was great for him and excellent preparation for analyzing legal documents and other sorts of documents during his adulthood. It also helped him to integrate words and more structured thinking into the intuitive observations he was making about a wide range of people and topics.

Literary analysis helped PG to understand how written expression works, what the skeleton looks like in a body which is well-formed and one which is misshapen. It exercises the language part of the brain in the same way that algebra exercises another part of the brain.

When applied to the complex characters of Shakespeare, analysis can lead to understanding of types of people, good and evil, wise and foolish, who may be rare to non-existent for a high school student, but which show a range of humanity much broader than she or he has yet encountered.

While we can go through life without encountering a great many challenges soluble with algebraic reasoning, language use, undertanding and reasoning is important for almost anyone, at least to some extent.

But PG could be wrong. (Disclosure: PG and math parted ways as early as practicable.)

‘Rebellion, Rascals and Revenue’ Review: The Taxman Cometh, Again

From The Wall Street Journal:

Wherever they stand in their annual tussle with the American income-tax system, vexed readers in what is dolefully called tax season may agree with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill when he declared that “our tax code is an abomination.”

If it’s any consolation, your taxes might have been both abominable and even sillier than they already are. Over the centuries, rulers have imposed levies on beards, livestock flatulence and even urine (valued in ancient Rome for its ammonia). In 1795, Britain imposed an annual tax of one guinea on the right to apply fragrant powders to smelly wigs. Since pigtails were common, those taxpayers became “guinea-pigs.”

Such are the tax-free dividends on offer in “Rebellion, Rascals and Revenue,” an erudite yet good-humored history of taxation with a particular focus on Britain and its tax-allergic offspring, the United States. The authors, economists Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, demonstrate at surprisingly engaging length that, “when it comes to designing and implementing taxes, our ancestors were addressing fundamentally the same problems that we struggle with today.”

Among those problems are the search for fairness, the appearance of which is necessary for a tax to gain public acceptance; the inevitable metastasizing of a tax code’s complexity; the burden of administration, particularly when the task is intrusive (an English tax on hearths was resented because inspectors had to come into the home and count them); and the iron law of unintended consequences, which haunts public policy generally and taxation in particular. In Britain from 1697 to 1851, a tax on windows—not a bad proxy for affluence in those days—made work for carpenters and masons hired to close them up. The resulting loss of light and air exemplifies the so-called excess burden of taxation beyond the sum of money levied. So does your accountant’s tax-preparation fee.

The problem of “tax incidence”—figuring out who actually pays a tax, regardless of who writes the check—is especially fraught. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, is a reverse tax that aims to reduce poverty while encouraging work. But for every dollar that single mothers get from the EITC—at least according to one estimate—employers of low-skill labor capture 73 cents. The EITC, after all, encourages low-skill workers to enter the labor force, increasing the labor supply and presumably driving down workers’ wages.

. . . .

The Rosetta Stone, the authors note, “describes a tax break given to the temple priests of ancient Egypt.” That taxpayers should have some say in taxation was laid out (though not fully settled) in the Magna Carta. Later struggles over this question played a role in the English Civil War, the American War of Independence (remember “taxation without representation?”), and the French Revolution. “It was the ‘long nineteenth century,’ from 1789 to 1914,” the authors report, “that finally saw the emergence in the West of a stable, adequate, and broadly consensual tax structure.”

One of the book’s many insights is that taxes and war have always gone hand in hand, enabling not just each other but the social changes that often follow. “The world wars, and especially the second one,” the authors note, “created both the machinery that made the welfare state possible and the political environment that ensured it would become reality.”

Since many readers have just filed their income taxes, a word on the history of this levy may be in order. Britain’s first genuine income tax was introduced in 1799 to pay for the French and Napoleonic wars. America’s was put in place by the North to pay for the Civil War (the rate hit 10% in 1864). Eliminated in 1872, an income tax was soon back on the political agenda because of discontent with the tariffs and state and local levies that predominated in its absence.

Ultimately a constitutional amendment was required, and in 1913 a federal income tax became law. 

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

Warhol v. Goldsmith

From The Center for Art Law:

Since the opening of his retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art, From A to B and Back Again, Andy Warhol is the talk of the town… again. One of the Museum’s facades is now covered with poppy flowers, and its fifth floor is dominated by a rainbow Mao Tse-Tung. Though the visual imprints Warhol has left on the art world and popular culture are inescapable, the legal heritage he delegated to his Foundation after his death in 1987 are less acclaimed. The entity has been confronted with many litigations addressing copyright and authenticity issues related to the artist’s works and most often to his screenprints.

One of the most recent cases, The Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith et al (“the Goldsmith case”) lays an unusual scenario in that regard; one where the Foundation raced its way to court before its adversaries, photographer Lynn Goldsmith and her company Lynn Goldsmith Ltd.

The case involves Goldsmith’s 1981 photo of late singer Prince and Warhol’s Prince Series, of which Goldsmith’s photo is the basis. Her and her company had threatened to file a litigation against the Foundation for copyright infringement if they did not receive compensatory damages.

On April 7th, 2017, the Foundation (“the Plaintiff”) filed a complaint against Lynn Goldsmith and Lynn Goldsmith Ltd. (“the Defendants”) on four causes of action. The Plaintiff’s complaint offers an insight on Copyright Law, the essence of Pop Art, and Warhol’s emblematic silkscreened vision.

Lynn Goldsmith emerged as one of the first American female photographers in the “Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll” era. Her work is featured is major national collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art or The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and her coffee table book New Kids on the Block, was featured on The New York Times Best Seller list. She was one of the first artists to portray late singer Prince, as his career was just beginning to sprout. In 1981, Newsweek hired Goldsmith for their article dedicated to the rising pop star. In one of the pictures from that photoshoot, he wears a serious gaze, high-waisted dress pants and silver suspenders, a white buttoned up shirt and an untied bow around his neck. His hands are nonchalantly tucked in his side pockets. When Goldsmith was asked to describe how her subject spoke to her in that moment, she said she saw “someone who could be so expressive and really was willing to bust through what must be their immense fears to make the work that they wanted to do, which kind of required a different part of themselves, but at the heart of it all, they’re frightened.”

. . . .

Lynn Goldsmith, photo of pop artist Prince, 1981, for Newsweek.

Upon the release of his Grammy Award winning album Purple Rain, glossy magazine Vanity Fair spread his portrait across its November 1984 issue. The magazine’s photo department asked for a written license to use Goldsmith’s 1981 picture to illustrate the article, which the artist and her company delivered. As one of the backbones of an art movement that targets popular culture, fame and the media, Andy Warhol was asked to create a more colorful version of the photograph to be featured on a full page across from the article. Warhol’s screenprint featured a purple Prince on a dark orange background. The mention ©1984 by Lynn Goldsmith was featured below it.

[Above: Reproduction of pages 66-67 of the November 1984 issue of Vanity Fair, featuring one of Warhol’s screenprint depicting pop artist Prince.  
Exhibit taken from the Complaint.]

. . . .

The Plaintiff requested a declaratory judgement in anticipation of the Defendants’ “baseless claims.” The Foundation now hopes the Second District Court will consider Warhol’s Prince Series in light of its previous Prince case – Richard Prince, that is – in which the judge had found the Defendant’s work to be transformative and protected by fair use, back in 2013.

Left: Lynn Goldsmith, 1981, Newsweek.
Right: Andy Warhol, Prince Series, 1984, Vanity Fair.
Exhibit taken from the complaint. 

The Complaint supports these arguments with extensive factual background and explanations on Warhol’s artistic signatures. In order to demonstrate that his art is incomparable to Goldsmith’s, the Plaintiff relies on Warhol’s unique production process and silkscreens, as well as on the message he conveys through his work. In the same way it may feel unnatural to think of a person differently than as both a body and a mind, an artwork’s aesthetics is inseparable from its latent message, when it has one. This is especially true for a Warhol silkscreen in which, as analyzed in one of The Whitney’s walltexts, “the photograph (…) became both the subject of the painting and the means by which Warhol made it.”

Thus, the Defendants’ arguments travel from visual to symbolic language to persuade the Court of the work’s originality, while exploring the newly pushed boundaries of fair use and the more traditional equitable doctrine of laches.

. . . .

The Defendants argue that Warhol’s works transcend their subjects’ personality. While Goldsmith uses her camera to create confidential portraits, Warhol used public figures to comment upon social issues. His muses served as human billboards for the topics he denounced, and he chose them for what he believed society associated them with, rather than for who they were as individuals. Warhol’s messages were effective because he worked off images most Americans were familiar with; images that had been ingrained in the common imagination. As an example, the Complaint alludes to the artist’s 1962 silkscreen representations of Marilyn Monroe, which transformed her publicity photo for the movie Niagara (1953). Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan stated that the use of two-dimensional silkscreens in this work creates an “emotional ‘flatness’ and [turns] the actress into a kind of automaton.” Warhol hoped his use of universal photographs would lead his audience into questioning and comparing them to his alterations. His portraits would have been deprived of their essence without a clear reference to popular culture.

In his expert opinion for the Foundation, Dr. Thomas Crow explains how Warhol applied that very technique to transform Goldsmith’s photograph. According to Dr. Crow, “the heightened contrast that Warhol preferred has the effect of isolating and exaggerating only the darkest details: the hair, moustache, eyes, and brows. One conspicuous effect of these changes was to make the subject appear to face fully towards the front as a detachable mask, negating the more natural, angled position of the figure in the source photograph.”

Warhol’s litigious work merely shows the singer’s face and hair. Prince’s outfit and body language were an essential part of Goldsmith’s photo. Interestingly, Warhol was able to separate the physical body from the person’s head for most of his prints. This gives his viewers the impression that the model depicted is only half real. Though Prince is still recognizable, Warhol’s portrait cuts off parts of his personality that were focused on in Goldsmith’s work. Clearly, the two visual artists had different intentions behind their portrayals.

. . . .

Fair Use Defense

An artwork can qualify as fair use in several situations defined in the Copyright Act. For example, an artist does not need the copyright owner’s authorization to use his work to create a parody or some other form of satire of the original work.

Left: Patrick Cariou, Yes Rasta, 2000. 
Right: Richard Prince, Canal Zone Series, 2008, powerHouse Books, Gagosian Gallery. 

In Cariou v. Prince, the facts were similar to the casein question here, and practically launched the Goldsmith lawsuit. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit faced an issue related to artist’s Richard Prince’s use of Patrick Cariou’s photograph of Rastafarians. In order to declare that (Richard) Prince’s works were protected by the doctrine of fair use, the Court interestingly stated that “Much of Andy Warhol’s work, including work incorporating appropriated images of Campbell’s soup cans or of Marilyn Monroe, comments on consumer culture and explores the relationship between celebrity culture and advertising.” When the case settled, Goldsmith expressed her disagreement with the justice system on social media, acting as a spokeswoman for contemporary artists. She then decided to threaten the Andy Warhol Foundation to defend her own work against satire was predictable, yet overdue.

Surely, in 2016, Goldsmith was still motivated be the anger she had shared in her Facebook post about copyright laws not changing in artists’ favor three years earlier. Perhaps she still has hope today that the power of Warhol’s prints will fade with time once, and if, the Goldsmith case reaches the Court of Appeals. However, copyright cases involving the Foundation seem to tilt more in its favor every time.

. . . .

UPDATE: on July 1, 2019, the Southern District of New York ruled in a summary judgment that, although Goldsmith’s photograph is protected by copyright, the Foundation properly pleaded the Fair Use defense. Despite the works being commercial in nature, the Andy Warhol Foundation is a nonprofit, and gave works to be exhibited in museums – the works therefore “add value to the broader public interest.” The court also ruled that Warhol’s Prince are transformative, purveying a different message than Goldsmith’s photographs.

UPDATE: on March 26, 2021, a few days prior to PG making this post, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on appeal from Goldsmith that “The Prince Series works are substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph as a matter of law” and that Warhol’s use did not constitute fair use and was not transformative enough.

Link to the rest at The Center for Art Law

For those who have no patience with legalese, the Warhol Foundation won at the trial court level and the photographer won at the Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s decision.

PG notes that the Court of Appeals decision was released less than two weeks ago. PG hasn’t checked the rules for how quickly the Warhol Foundation needs to start the process of appealing the Court of Appeals decision to the US Supreme Court, but suspects that time has not yet expired.

Today, the US Supreme Court issued one of its rare opinions concerning copyright law issues.

This case held that that Google could legally use elements of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (API) code when building Android. As with the Warhol case the Java API case revolved around the question of fair use.

You can be certain that the attorneys for the Warhol Foundation are intensely studying the Supreme Court opinion. The attorneys for the photographer are imbibing mind-altering substances and preparing to dig into the Supreme Court opinion in a day or two. Billable hours are proliferating with blinding speed.

From the Stanford University Libraries:

What Is Fair Use?

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement.

So what is a “transformative” use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general guidelines and varied court decisions, because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: (1) commentary and criticism, or (2) parody.

Commentary and Criticism

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work—for instance, writing a book review—fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:

  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.

Parody

A parody is a work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Judges understand that, by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.

Link to the rest at the Stanford University Libraries

While PG does not contest that the Stanford summary of fair use covers a great many copyright/fair use cases, addresses the Supreme Court’s fair use decision in the Google v. Oracle case only in passing.

Transformative Fair Use

Here’s a key excerpt from the Supreme Court’s Google v. Oracle decision:

Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material as a matter of law.

Transformative fair use can be a very squishy, blobby thing for courts to deal with. There is more than a little “I know it when I see it” reasoning that gets dropped into the mix. The border between transformative and non-transformative qualifies as quite an impressive gray line.

The latest Supreme Court decision includes the term, “transformative”, twenty-seven times. Here are a few examples:

The inquiry into the “the purpose and character” of the use turns in large measure on whether the copying at issue was “transformative,” i.e., whether it “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character.” . . . Google copied only what was needed to allow programmers to work in a different computing environment without discarding a portion of a familiar programming language. Google’s purpose was to create a different task-related system for a different computing environment (smartphones) and to create a platform—the Android platform—that would help achieve and
popularize that objective. The record demonstrates numerous ways in which reimplementing an interface can further the development of computer programs. Google’s purpose was therefore consistent with that creative progress that is the basic constitutional objective of copyright itself.

[W]e have used the word “transformative” to describe a copying use that adds something new and important. . . . “‘artistic painting’” might, for example, fall within the scope of fair use even though it precisely replicates a copyrighted “‘advertising logo to make a comment about consumerism.’” . . . . Or, as we held in Campbell, a parody can be transformative because it comments on the original or criticizes it, for “[p]arody needs to mimic an original to make its point.”

Rather, in determining whether a use is “transformative,” we must go further and examine the copying’s more specifically described “purpose[s]” and “character.”

There was a dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case:

The Purpose and Character of the Use – The second-most important factor—“the purpose and
character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes,” —requires us to consider whether use was “commercial” and whether it was “transformative.” . . . . But “we cannot ignore [Google’s] intended purpose of supplanting [Oracle’s] commercially valuable” platform with its own. . . . . Even if we could, we have never found fair use for copying that reaches into the tens of billions of dollars and wrecks the copyright holder’s market. . . . .

A work is “transformative” if it “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” . . . . This question is “guided
by the examples [of fair use] given in the preamble . . . Those examples include: “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . . , scholarship, or research.” . . . .

Although these examples are not exclusive, they are illustrative, and Google’s repurposing of Java code from larger computers to smaller computers resembles none of them. Google did not use Oracle’s code to teach or reverse engineer a system to ensure compatibility. Instead, to “avoid the drudgery in working up something fresh,” Google used the declaring code for the same exact purpose Oracle did. As the Federal Circuit correctly determined, “[t]here is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform.”

That new definition eviscerates copyright. A movie studio that converts a book into a film without permission not only creates a new product (the film) but enables others to “create products”—film reviews, merchandise, YouTube highlight reels, late night television interviews, and the like.

Circling back to the Warhol case, for PG, Warhol’s creation transformed the original photo into something fundamentally different. No one who wanted to use the original photograph for commercial purposes would be satisfied with the painting. No one who wanted something with the overall impact of the painting would have been satisfied with the photograph.

PG suggests the court decision concerning the use of the Rastafarian photo (above) supports his commercial purposes discussion above. No one interested in licensing the original photo from the photographer would be satisfied with the painted version and vice versa.

For PG, the Warhol case is much stronger for transformation than the Google/Oracle case for a transformative use of the photo to create something different and which does not compete with the original or impair its commercial value.

Legal/Philosophical Diversion – Feel Free to Skip

Something about the education, background and experience of most judges makes them unusually clumsy when it comes to copyright and copyright infringement cases. Hence PG’s skepticism about some copyright decisions. He will note in passing that most judges have similar problems with patents and patent infringement matters.

In a copyright infringement case PG tried a very long time ago, a federal judge in a private conference with PG and opposing counsel said that, if PG’s client had taken the content of the publications of the opposing party and used it for commercial purposes, PG’s client was the equivalent of a thief.

The problem with the judge’s emotional response was that the US Supreme Court had recently released an opinion that clearly stated that material of the type PG’s client had copied was not protected under US copyright law.

Some writings and publication are protected by copyright and others are not.

As an example, if you take a list of the states in the United States and reorder it in reverse-alphabetical order or in the order in which they were admitted to the to the Union, even if no one has ever done so before, you are not entitled to a copyright on the results of your work.

The specific case that supports PG’s statement in the prior paragraph (and PG’s contention to the afore-mentioned cranky judge) is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the selection and arrangement of the pages in a typical telephone directory fails to satisfy the creativity requirement underlying the principal of copyright protection and is therefore not protected by copyright. (Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 111 S.Ct. 1282 (1991)).

End of Diversion

PG suggests the bottom line for authors is to be aware of whether you are creating something that was inspired by the protected work of someone else or if you are copying the protected work of someone else and making a few tweaks.

He notes that, once copyright protection has lapsed for a creative work, copying is perfectly legal and, in PG’s “freedom to authors” opinion, perfectly ethical as well.

Writing Rules vs. Writing Fashion: Should Writers Follow Fashion Trends?

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

Fashion. It sounds frivolous, but it has serious effects on us all.

Right now, women are getting beard-burn from kissing men who sport the fashionable romantic-hero three-day stubble. And mothers are stifling their disappointment when their golden-haired boys get the fashion-victim shaved-sides hairdo that makes them look like a cross between Kim Jong Un and the Last of the Mohicans.

And have pity on the people over 40 who are hunched over their computers trying to decipher text from the latest fashion in web design: a tiny, palest-gray font on a white background.

Alas, fashion favors the young.

Writing fashion is hard on us too. Fashion dictates a good deal of what gets published these days, and it’s constantly changing. Write like Thackery, Kipling, or Walter Scott and you’re unlikely to find a publisher or an audience. That’s because writing fashions have radically changed in the last two hundred years, even though the language itself has not.

The truth is that a great many of the “rules” that writers learn in workshops, critique groups, and classes are not actual rules of the English language. They may not even represent correct grammar. But they’re the “way we do things now.”

In other words:  They’re what’s in fashion.

Why Follow Fashion?

If you read a lot of classics and not much contemporary fiction, you may not realize how many changes have transpired in fiction writing in the past few decades.

Writing has become leaner and less descriptive. Maybe we can blame Elmore Leonard, who wrote in his Ten Rules for Writing in 2007, “leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

This doesn’t mean that classic books are “wrong,” but it does mean that your writing will seem old-fashioned if you follow an older, more lush, descriptive style.

This can work FOR you if you’re writing epic fantasy (hello, George R.R. Martin) or historical fiction, but it won’t please readers who expect a contemporary style.

Submitting a manuscript that’s written in an older style is like showing up to a job interview wearing a bustle or doublet and hose. It can make an impact, but not always in a good way.

A brilliant story may be rejected because the style is unfashionable. Is that unfair? Probably. But business isn’t always fair. Alas, publishers only acquire stuff they think will sell, and an old-fashioned style doesn’t always jump off the shelves.

You’ll notice the difference in writing fashion if you read a bunch of contemporary novels and then pick up a classic.

I did this recently with a collection of Dorothy L. Sayers stories. Almost every line of dialogue had a tag that included a dreaded adverb.

“I’ll have a champagne cocktail, said Montague Egg urbanely.”

Obviously, adverbs were not as dreaded in the 1920s.

Dialogue Tags

Fashion in dialogue tags has changed in the past few decades. I had a crash course in this from my UK publisher. I was asked to change about 50% of the tags in my novel The Best Revenge.

Here are three ways a writer often identifies the speaker in dialogue.

1) “Never let them see you sweat,” Serena advised the visibly nervous lacrosse team.

2) “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Serena removed her damp, aromatic socks while addressing the team.

3) “Team? I don’t know about any team,” I sweated as I blocked the door to the dungeon where Serena had incarcerated the lacrosse players.

#1 and #2 are both correct. But #3, not so much. (Not just because it’s not nice to lock lacrosse players in a dungeon.) But people can’t sweat words.

However, #2 is more fashionable in contemporary fiction. Writing fashion tells us to drop the dialogue tag altogether and identify the speaker by adding action. Yes, I know that can sometimes lead to reader confusion, so don’t do it so often it leaves readers scratching their heads.

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

Great Sunday

PG had a great Sunday that consumed all his blogging time.

He’ll be back tomorrow with bells on.

‘Hemingway’ Is a Big Two-Hearted Reconsideration

From The New York Times:

One of the more unsettling moments in “Hemingway,” the latest documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, finds Ernest Hemingway, big-game hunter, chronicler of violence and seeker of danger, doing one thing that terrified him: speaking on television.

It is 1954, and the author, who survived airplane crashes (plural) earlier that year in Africa, had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He agreed to an interview with NBC on the condition that he receive the questions in advance and read his answers from cue cards.

The rare video clip comes after we’ve spent nearly six hours seeing the author create an image of virile swagger and invent a style of clean, lucid prose. But here Hemingway, an always-anxious public speaker still recuperating from a cerebral injury, is halting and stiff. Asked what he is currently writing about — Africa — his answer includes the punctuation on the card: “the animals comma and the changes in Africa since I was there last period.”

It’s hard to watch. But it is one of many angles from which the expansive, thoughtful “Hemingway” shows us the man in full, contrasting the person and the persona, the triumphs and vulnerabilities, to help us see an old story with new eyes.

. . . .

Now “Hemingway,” airing over three nights starting Monday on PBS, comes along as American culture is reconsidering many of its lionized men, from figures on statues to Woody Allen. And there are few authors as associated with masculinity — literary, toxic or otherwise — than the writer who loved it when you called him Papa.

It’s tempting to say that Hemingway’s macho bluster doesn’t hold up well in the light of the 21st century, but it didn’t go unnoticed in the 20th either. He embraced manliness as a kind of celebrity performance. He fought with his strong-willed mother, who accused him of having “overdrawn” from the bank of her love. He married four times, finding his next wife before leaving the previous one, wanting each to give herself over to supporting him.

He clashed spectacularly with his third wife, the writer Martha Gellhorn (played in voice-over by Meryl Streep), who matched him well, maybe too well to last. A free spirit who resisted marriage at first, saying “I’d rather sin respectably,” Gellhorn would not sideline her ambitions for his. (You might find yourself wishing you were watching her documentary.)

. . . .

This is true whether we sit easily or not. “Can you separate the art from the artist?” is a heated and dogmatic argument these days. You must sever the two, in a spirit of see-no-evil, to preserve the precious product; or you must handcuff them together, so that any judgment of a life becomes the judgment on the work, and the work a forensic rap sheet against its creator.

“Hemingway” doesn’t separate art and artist. Hemingway didn’t either. He created a public “avatar” that sometimes overshadowed his work (and threatened to make him a self-caricature) and wrote his life into his art (sometimes with cruelty toward friends and peers). But the documentary also recognizes that life and art don’t always correlate neatly or simply.

The resulting biography is cleareyed about its subject but emotional about his legacy. It celebrates his gifts, catalogs his flaws (which included using racist language in his correspondence) and chronicles his decline with the tragic relentlessness its subject would give to the death of a bull in the ring.

The biggest compliment I can pay “Hemingway” is that it made me pull my “Collected Short Stories” off the shelf after years, to read his piercing, full-feeling work in a new light. This life story is not entirely a pretty picture. But to quote its subject, “If it is all beautiful you can’t believe it. Things aren’t that way.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Although it’s not fashionable these days, PG is inclined to separate the author from the books, especially if the author is dead.

Who or what the author was is a question that is subject to debate, post hoc analysis that says more about the analyst than the subject, the latest fashions in cultural heroes and villains, etc.

PG has known or met a few people about whom news reports or articles have been written and has never found the reality of the individual accurately reflected in the written descriptions of them. There’s nothing wrong with writing or reading or creating a story about a person’s life, but those who see that creation are not, in fact, seeing or experiencing the real thing.

One aspect of Hemingway, the man, is, however, concrete – the stories and books he wrote. Certainly an editor may have tweaked this and that, but here is something personally created by that individual. While it may not be an autobiography and may clearly be fiction, the creation did originate from the individual’s self.

For PG, Hemingway’s creations are quite excellent and enjoyable and he expects them to remain that way to others for a long time.

The man is dead and will be judged by God. (Or not, depending upon your personal beliefs.) In any case, while PG does not object to new assessments or insights (correct or not) of Hemingway, he still believes what Hemingway wrote is the closest PG can come to understanding who he was.

How to Publish Your Full-Length Novel or Any Other Book on Medium

From Medium:

Recently I published a full-length novel to the pages of Medium.

That is to say I took this 662-page trade paperback.

And turned it into the following 20-hour reading time online version now available to Medium subscribers.

. . . .

This appears to be a publication strategy neither well recognized nor taken seriously on the platform. But that could change.

In this article, I will explain how you can use Medium to bypass traditional publishing platforms and not only put your book online for the world to discover, but also get paid each time your book is read, either to completion or partially.

. . . .

If you are an author you ought to be able to use the information in this article to take in stride all the obstacles I faced trying to get my book onto Medium. I would say there are enough of these to deter most people from ever getting started, let alone completing the job.

But as you are about to discover, I am rather stubborn and I will figure out a way to get something done even if it means doing it inefficiently.

This was certainly the case 20 years ago after I finished up the writing of what I categorized at the time as a science thriller.

Because I failed to convince the literary agents I pursued that I deserved representation I ended up having to self-publish my book. That meant I had to typeset the entire thing, which I did in Word, before converting those pages into a publishable PDF format. The result was a hefty trade paperback (pictured above) which was made available as a print on demand title from Ingram’s Lightning Source division.

. . . .

On Medium the first part of my book is not metered, it is available to anyone to read. The second part lies behind the paywall.

If someone elects to read those latter pages, I get paid a certain (unknown) amount of their subscription fee for that month. This amount depends on how much time the reader allocates to my book in relation to how much time they allocate to other pages on Medium. The downside to this payment model is that I must assume most of the risk. Unless I have done an extremely good job with the first part of the book I am not going to make a penny on the second part of it (because readers will have disappeared before reaching it).

But this is the gamble I am making.

When publishing the pages of your own book you get to decide whether any particular page is metered or not. So it is entirely up to you to as to how your payment model will work. You could model my approach, or you could do something completely different.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG did a word search on the OP and could not find any reference to Amazon.

A Love Affair with Peru

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I was trekking the Inca trail, and the narrow, dirt path followed alongside the torrential Apurímac River. The switchbacks were jagged, cutting through wild grasses, boulders, and twisted trees. The Salkantay mountain range loomed nearby, and snow-capped peaks and dramatic ridges reminded me of the vastness of the Andes. Soon the trail took our small group of family and friends to a higher elevation, and the river looked like a small snake below. The trail had widened, and the group of chatty and enthusiastic trekkers were at a fair distance from me.

Earlier that day, we had all witnessed a condor flying overhead. The huge bird glided through a stretch of the canyon, against a backdrop of cloudless blue and sun-lit, golden cliffs. It took our breath away. Walking now in silence, thinking back on the majestic condor, I said a prayer for my book. I had finished one of many drafts, and though far from being the final manuscript, a sense of wellbeing and positivity rested in me. I felt sure my book would be published someday. What I didn’t know was that it was still only the beginning of an endeavor that would take over a decade to achieve. 

I had arrived in Peru fifteen years earlier, at the young age of twenty-two, well-traveled, fiercely independent, and recklessly adventurous–having already traveled around the globe, trekked the Himalayas, and worked with an environmental brigade in Nicaragua during the tail end of the Iran-Contra War. When I arrived, it was 1989 and red zones marred the countryside and two terrorists groups, Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA, wreaked havoc.

The economy was in shambles, and there were lines down blocks to buy staples like rice and cooking oil. Yet, the beauty and resiliency of the people captured my heart and imagination in a way I couldn’t have predicted. I was to study at La Católica University in Lima for one year, but to the surprise of everyone back home, I stayed beyond my year of studies to marry and start a family.  

My decision to stay involved a man, the father of my children, who after a twenty-five year marriage, I  have since divorced. What I understand now is at the time, and at that young age, I was falling in love and marrying not a person but a country, a culture, and an extended family. The family was involved in a small silk production enterprise in the Andes. I witnessed the life cycle of silk worms, from worm to moth, and how the silk is produced from the cocoons. This large, boisterous, complicated Peruvian family was my love, and the life and stories they shared with me became a love affair.  

Since that time, I have often asked myself,  did I always want to be a writer, or did living in Peru spark an impulse to explore life, people, and the human condition in that deep and mysterious way that writers do. Perhaps it was because my first daughter was birthed there, so far away from my native homeland, that I so deeply rooted myself to the people and culture. It was now my daughter’s birthplace, her homeland, and I wanted desperately to share it with her.

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

Tourists traveling in their comfortable rail coaches

Of course, tourists traveling in their comfortable rail coaches could only glean the vaguest idea of the conditions in which the Indians live, from the fast glimpses they catch as they speed past our train, which has stopped to let them pass. The fact that it was the U.S. archaeologist Bingham who discovered the ruins and expounded his findings in easily accessible articles for the general public, means that Machu Picchu is by now very famous in that country to the north and the majority of North Americans visiting Peru come here. In general they fly direct to Lima, tour Cuzco, visit the ruins and return straight home, not believing that anything else is worth seeing.

Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries

‘The Dispossessed’ Is Still One of Sci-Fi’s Smartest Books

From Wired:

Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed depicts a society with no laws or government, an experiment in “nonviolent anarchism.” Science fiction author Matthew Kressel was impressed by the book’s thoughtful exploration of politics and economics.

“After reading The Dispossessed, I was just blown away,” Kressel says in Episode 460 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It was just such an intellectual book. It’s so philosophical, and it was so different from a lot of the science fiction I had read before that. It made me want to read more of Le Guin’s work.”

Science fiction author Anthony Ha counts The Dispossessed as one of his all-time favorite books. “I would be hard pressed to think of another novel that made as strong an impression on me,” he says. “I was insufferable about it. I put quotes in my email signatures, and I identified as an anarchist for several years after that.”

Le Guin, who died in 2018, was one of science fiction’s most popular authors, and The Dispossessed was one of her most popular books, winning the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley notes that her themes of environmentalism, social justice, and feminism have had a profound influence on generations of readers.

“I remember when I interviewed Le Guin, one of the things I asked her about was that there had been a story in the news about how protesters—left-wing protesters—had these plastic shields on which they’d printed or painted the cover of The Dispossessed,” he says. “So it was really—in a very direct way—inspiring people.”

The book’s moral ambiguity and deliberate pace won’t appeal to everyone, but science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek says it’s exactly those qualities that make The Dispossessed so distinctive. “That’s my favorite thing about this book, is it really shows you that the process of getting to a utopia is boring,” she says. “It’s so much work, and it’s so much talk, and it’s so much thought. There’s nothing Flash Gordon about it, which I think is super-cool.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Amazon reportedly explored opening discount stores to offload unsold electronics

From Yahoo Finance:

Amazon has been examining the idea of opening discount stores or outlets selling unsold electronics and home goods at steep discounts, Bloomberg has reported. The products would reportedly be sourced from inventory in its warehouses, and the company has weighed opening permanent locations and pop-up stores in malls and parking lots. The stock would consist of smaller items that don’t take up a lot of space, like home goods, toys, kitchen items and electronics, but not clothing.

A 2019 report detailed how Amazon destroys millions of items it can’t sell, ranging from TVs to diapers — though Amazon later pledged to donate unsold goods. “It’s a way to be able to clean out warehouses and get through inventory without having to destroy it,” one of Bloomberg’s sources said.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

PG says there are plenty of large empty retail spaces around the US which would be available for this sort of operation.

OTOH, Amazon receives so much attention from its critics for its warehouse working conditions (despite $15 per hour wages (more than double the US minimum wage) plus a set of employee benefits much broader than most hourly workers receive that it might think discount stores (which often pay low wages) would attract more negative attention.

Churchill & Son

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Randolph Churchill was a young boy in the 1920s, his father Winston stayed up with him one night, talking with him into the late hours. At 1.30 a.m., Winston—then in the political wilderness and not yet the man who would come to be seen as one of the greatest Britons in history—turned to his son and said: “You know, my dear boy, I think I have talked to you more in these holidays than my father talked to me in the whole of his life.”

Josh Ireland writes of this episode very early in “Churchill & Son,” his account of the relationship between Winston Churchill and his only male heir, and a reader would have to be ice-cold of heart not to pause to take a sorrowful breath. Winston Churchill had had a loveless childhood. He was ignored by his glamorous American-born mother and, most crushingly, cold-shouldered by his father, who barely spared his son a second glance.

Although Winston pined for his mother’s attention, he worshiped his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a volatile and brilliant iconoclast who was appointed chancellor of the exchequer at the age of 36. But Winston’s filial adoration was not returned. Instead, when Lord Randolph did pay Winston any attention, it was to scorch him with put-downs and unfatherly contempt. As Mr. Ireland, a British journalist, notes wryly: The “best thing Lord Randolph ever did for Winston was to die young”—at age 45.

Winston would write a biography of his father, published in 1906, 11 years after Lord Randolph’s death. It is a book of many qualities, none of which includes, says Mr. Ireland, “the detachment of a professional historian.” As a cousin of Winston observed at the time: “Few fathers have done less for their sons. Few sons have done more for their fathers.” Reading Mr. Ireland’s book, it is tempting to conclude that the inverse of that judgment applies to Winston and his own son. Few fathers did more for their sons than Winston. Few sons have done less for their fathers than Randolph.

Winston was determined, writes Mr. Ireland, “that his son would not suffer the same neglect that had blighted his own childhood.” If his own father had poured scorn on him—describing him in a letter as “a mere social wastrel” destined for “a shabby unhappy & futile existence”—Winston constantly encouraged Randolph. In Mr. Ireland’s words, he “praised him, told him that the future was his to seize.” In the jargon of our times, Winston can be said to have overcompensated for his own desolate childhood by lavishing love on Randolph.

Did he give Randolph too much love? And was that love corrosive? “Winston was obsessed with his son,” Mr. Ireland says, and was “never more himself than in Randolph’s company.” As Randolph grew from boy to man, father and son spent so much time together, absorbed in conversation, “that they had come to inhabit the same mental space.” And when they communed, they shut out the rest of the world—including Clementine (Winston’s wife, Randolph’s mother) and Randolph’s three sisters.

As a child, the cherubic Randolph got more attention from his mother than his sisters did. “Clementine even breastfed him,” Mr. Ireland tells us. But as Randolph became as much a companion for Winston as he was a son, his mother began to resent him. She felt that Winston indulged Randolph to excess, failing to check his rudeness at table and his misbehavior in society. Winston was “consumed by his own sense of destiny” (in Mr. Ireland’s words), and Randolph was the “incarnation of his dynastic obsession.” So Winston placed him on a pedestal—one from which Randolph was wont to spit at the world, or even urinate upon it, as he did once on the heads of his father and David Lloyd George—the prime minister—from a bedroom window at the Churchill country home. Lloyd George thought it was a passing shower.

Yet the more Clementine criticized Randolph, the stronger Winston’s love for him seemed to become. Perversely, she blamed Randolph for Winston’s failure to discipline his own son. She felt that she was vying with Randolph for Winston’s attention. Ever the devoted wife, she had sacrificed her own needs to care for Winston’s many whims. But instead of paying her the attention she expected, Winston was, Mr. Ireland says, “infatuated by his glorious, golden, chaotic son.”

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

Stranger Than Fiction: Bigamy, Jealosy, and Foul Play From the Annals of True Crime

From CrimeReads:

“Well, that was fun, but it wasn’t at all realistic!” is an often shared opinion by readers after snapping closed an engrossing though twisty thriller. I always find those kind of assessments amusing because:

  1. Don’t we read fiction to escape reality?
  2. No matter how far-fetched the plot, I bet I could find a real-life example that is even more outlandish because “Truth is stranger than fiction,” as Mark Twain once said.

When I decided to begin researching for my book The Three Mrs. Greys—a novel about Cyrus Grey, a conman who marries three different women and lies unconscious in the hospital room while his wives are left to unravel his secrets and solve his attempted murder—I quickly stumbled upon plenty of real-life inspiration. It wasn’t hard to find true crime examples of bigamy, jealousy, and foul play with plotlines that would leave even readers shocked by the twists and turns.

A Wealthy Doctor, His Two Wives, and a Murder Plot

Like Cyrus, Dr. Jean-Claude Dominique’s house of lies crumbled in April 1999 in a hospital room when it was revealed that he had married two women and had two different families—one in his native Haiti and the other, in New Jersey. While Dr. Dominique lay dying in his hospital bed after a hit-and-run accident, his first wife, Eliette Dominique, and his second wife, Betsy Dominique, met in-person for the very first time.

After Dr. Dominique’s death, Eliette and Betsy were left to wrestle over his estate. A New Jersey judge ruled in Eliette’s favor, accepting the argument that she’d married him first and Dr. Dominique was only able to marry his second wife, Betsy, due to a forged divorce decree.

The judge’s ruling seemed like it would have been the logical end to Dr. Dominique’s story: A doctor’s long-held secrets are revealed, wives spar in court, and both families go their separate ways and try to rebuild their lives. But like all twisty thrillers, the story continued, taking an unexpected turn when Dr. Dominique’s brother, Aly, came on to page and decided to get involved. According to reports, Aly believed Betsy was the rightful heir to Dr. Dominique’s estate—but this belief may have been motivated by some self-interest: Police suspected that Aly thought he could gain access and control of his late-brother’s estate through Betsy, an alleged childhood friend.

From there, Aly hatched a plot to eliminate Eliette. With $10,000, he hired two hitmen to murder her, and in October 2000, the hitmen, Marvin Geden and Alexander Exama, ambushed Eliette as she left for work from her home in New York. Though seriously injured, Eliette managed to survive the shooting, and Geden and Exama were soon arrested.

Like his brother’s lies, Aly’s plans quickly unraveled. Geden and Exama pointed to him as the grand orchestrator of the murder plot, and in July 2002, Aly was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy in the second-degree. He was sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison, Geden received 19 years, and Exama got a 12-year prison sentence.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

You swallow hard

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ”It happened overnight.” But of course it didn’t. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can’t remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people’s other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.

Colson Whitehead

Trade Publishing Segments Have Fast Start to 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

A 29.2% sales increase in adult trade titles and a gain of 11.8% in sales in the children’s/young adult segment led to a 10.3% increase in January industry sales over January 2020 for the 1,359 publishers who report results to AAP’s StatShot program.

Sales in the professional publishing category rose 8% in the month, while university press sales increased 4%. K-12 instructional materials sales inched up by 1.6%. Sales of higher educational course materials fell 2.6%, and sales in the religion segment slipped 0.5%.

Within adult trade, all print and digital formats had double-digit sales increases over January 2020. Hardcovers had the largest increase, 51.5%, followed by mass market paperback (41.1%) and trade paperback (20.7%).

The sales growth of digital audio showed no signs of slowing down, jumping 35.1%. E-book sales increased by 16% in the month.

The digital formats did well in the children’s/YA segment, with e-book sales soaring 75.2% and audio rising to 25.9%. Paperback sales rose 15.3% and hardcover sales were up 7.9%. Sales of board books fell 3.4%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

10 Stories about Self-Destructive Women

From Electric Lit:

One of the greatest thrills of reading a first-person story is in the tension between what the narrator understands about themself and what we, the readers, understand about the narrator. But in these first-person stories of self-destructive women, the lies are so thin, the self-delusion and denial so absurd, the jokes so dark or so dead-pan or so sarcastic, that we get the sense the narrators, at least on some level, know they’re wreaking havoc on their own lives. Perhaps the obfuscation isn’t about how they’re making messes of their lives, but why, what pain those messes hide.

Many of the narrators in my short story collection Girls of a Certain Age behave self-destructively as a means of coping with circumstances beyond their control. In “First Aid,” the main character makes a case for self-injury. In “Human Bonding,” a college student is thrilled to be punched in the face. In “None of These Will Bring Disaster,” an unemployed binge drinker purposefully picks up smoking and keeps finding herself in unfulfilling relationships. “If you keep stepping in the same ditch over and over,” she says, “people stop feeling sorry for you because you’re either an idiot or a masochist.”

Maybe I’m the idiot or the masochist, because no matter what the women in these stories and novels do—no matter how blatantly they lie, how many mind-altering substances they consume, how easily they turn on their loved ones—I find I am rooting for them, holding out hope that they might change.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What’s the Difference Between a Thriller and a Mystery? Pacing.

From CrimeReads:

Reading has always been a great escape in my life. Books gave me joy, taught me much, but mostly, they were entertainment.

. . . .

My childhood favorites are similar to many writers in my genre: Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew; Agatha Christie and Lois Duncan. I graduated at age thirteen to Stephen King, and never looked back. I remember reading The Odyssey when was in 8th grade, not for school but for pleasure. And it was a completely eye-opener for me—the intense battles, the epic hero’s journey, the monsters and villains.

In high school, I devoured my mother’s shelves of crime fiction: Ed McBain and Lillian O’Donnell; Marcia Muller and Joseph Wambaugh. By the time I grew up, had a family, and was thinking of finally writing the book I’d always wanted to write, I was filling my shelves with Lisa Gardner and Iris Johansen, and realized that there had been a slight shift in my reading focus. I went from mysteries and horror and epic suspense to thrillers. I realized that while I still love the rich, deep, epic tales like The Stand by Stephen King, I preferred the quick, energizing reads of thrillers.

. . . .

What’s the difference, you might ask? Why is Lisa Gardner and Lee Child more “thriller” and Tess Gerritsen and JD Robb more “mystery?”

It’s all about the pacing.

Thrillers in particular provide a rich backdrop to entertain readers of all ages. Great heroes and villains; race-against-time storylines; classic, universal stories of good versus evil. They are a great escape as well as speak to our need for people to root for. We want the hero to succeed and the bad guy to be defeated. We want balance to be restored to the world through justice, a constant theme in the thrillers I gravitate toward.

I’m often asked to teach workshops or speak at writers groups, so I’ve thought a lot about what makes a thriller “thrilling.”

There are a few obvious checkpoints, which are actually important to all great books: character, for example. Most readers want a character they can root for. This person doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, imperfect characters that reflect our own imperfections and struggles make the most compelling and interesting heroes who we want to succeed. Likewise, great villains are rarely just bad. They are as complex as the hero, with understandable motivations—even if their actions are immoral or evil.

But the key to a great thriller is pacing: how the story is told.

There will be ups and downs. You can’t maintain 100% kinetic energy, never slowing, never giving time for the characters to breathe (and therefore, your reader to breathe.) But in thrillers, any relaxation will be brief; it’ll be filled with tension and anticipation, with readers asking themselves, what will happen next?

. . . .

How do you speed up pacing?

Thrillers are, by definition, fast-paced stories, whether they are crime thrillers, international thrillers, romantic, medical, or legal thrillers.

  • Shorter chapters: Short, crisp chapters focused on one scene or even part of a scene, especially when they are close together, signal to the reader that a lot of stuff is happening at the same time.
  • Short chapters interspersed between longer chapters: Sometimes, having a short 1-3 page chapter in the middle of standard-length chapters (10-20 pages) helps to pick up the pace. The chapter stands out and propels the reader to keep reading.
  • Well-executed cliffhangers. (Avoid overuse, but cliffhangers at the end of the occasional chapter works well.)
  • Shorter sentences, interspersed with fragments. No wasted words.
  • Crisp dialogue with less introspection. Use character action instead of dialogue tags to keep the scene moving.
  • Action verbs.
  • Less description or minimal description. One rule: identify three key visuals for your readers through the character’s eyes to set the scene rather than paragraphs of setting.
  • CAVEAT: avoid too many “fast-paced” or high-action scenes in a row—you need to give your reader a breather, even if it’s brief. Example from Die Hard: After a whole bunch of action, our hero John McClane sits down high up in Nakatomi Plaza and talks on the radio to his ally Sergeant Al Powell, while smoking one of the bad guys’ cigarettes. It’s a short scene, shares information and character, but also gives viewers a short breather before the action continues at even higher levels. In books, including a scene where a character is taking a hot shower after an intense sequence, or going for a run while thinking over the case, visiting an elderly mentor, or having sex with their significant other are all good ways to give everyone a “time out” before putting them into action again.

How do you slow pacing?

Yes, sometimes pacing can be TOO fast or TOO intense, and you need to find a way to slow it down. Some ideas:

  • More narrative—longer descriptions, more introspection. Let the reader know how the character reacts to the conflict and stakes. Take more time to set the scene or use descriptive phrases instead of single adjectives.
  • Some people balk at flashbacks, but when done right they heighten suspense while simultaneously slowing the story.
  • Layer details, use longer sentences/paragraphs, choose words that soothe or evoke a feeling of calm. One example: use setting strategically to create a sense of foreboding and disquiet. One of the best writers today who uses setting as character in suspense fiction is J.T. Ellison.
  • Conversations between characters with deep introspection; “quiet” action (like at a restaurant, pillow talk, driving in a car. Just make sure the conversation is relevant to the story and advances the plot—not just filler!)
  • CAVEAT: avoid adding too much narrative or description in the middle of intense action. Once you’re in that high-action scene, you want to keep spiraling up until you reach a place where you can organically take a break.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

I must still have hope

Many people seem to think it foolish, even superstitious, to believe that the world could still change for the better. And it is true that in winter it is sometimes so bitingly cold that one is tempted to say, ‘What do I care if there is a summer; its warmth is no help to me now.’ Yes, evil often seems to surpass good. But then, in spite of us, and without our permission, there comes at last an end to the bitter frosts. One morning the wind turns, and there is a thaw. And so I must still have hope.

Vincent van Gogh

The Light of Days

Comrades from the pioneer training commune in Białystok, 1938.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF GHETTO FIGHTERS’ HOUSE MUSEUM

From The Wall Street Journal:

They were nicknamed the “ghetto girls” but the label does not do justice to the defiant, mostly forgotten Eastern European Jewish women in their teens and 20s who, acting in resistance to the Nazis, undertook one mission impossible after another to disrupt the machinery of the Holocaust and save as many Jews as they could.

Now, in her well-researched and riveting chronicle “The Light of Days,” Judy Batalion brings these unsung heroines to the forefront. She has recovered their stories from diaries and memoirs written variously in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew, some composed during the war (one in prison, on toilet paper, then hidden beneath floorboards), others afterward, still more recorded in oral histories. This group portrait forcefully counters the myth of Jewish passivity, at once documenting the breadth and extent of Jewish activism throughout the ghettos—armed resistance groups operated in more than 90 of them, according to Ms. Batalion—and underlining in particular the crucial roles women played in the fight to survive. Indeed, several of the women whose stories Ms. Batalion tells also helped lead the most significant act of anti-Nazi Jewish resistance, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which is recounted here in brutal detail.

The tasks and responsibilities these female fighters took on were as myriad as the false Christian identities they adopted to avoid capture, their disguises so successful that one was even hired as a translator by the Gestapo in Grodno. But mostly they traveled, seemingly nonstop, to surrounding Polish towns and in and out of the barricaded ghettos that they managed, through bribes and stealth, to penetrate. In the ghettos the Nazis not only segregated Jews from Aryan society but also prevented evidence of the massive deprivations and punishments Jews suffered there from leaking to the world outside.

This Nazi-imposed isolation made the female couriers all the more welcome when they arrived, living proof that those locked inside the walls were not forgotten. During their visits, the couriers acted as “human radios,” carrying greetings from other ghettos, bringing warnings of forthcoming deportations to the death camps, and serving as liaisons coordinating the efforts of ghetto resistance cells with those of armed partisan groups in the forests. They also took on the grim responsibility of reporting the latest massacres and other atrocities against the Jews. The eyewitness testimonies they conveyed were harrowing. But rather than spread hopelessness among the ghetto population, the couriers often did the opposite, breeding greater determination to resist, to leave a legacy of action and defiance rather than submissiveness. As one ghetto slogan declared, “It is better to be shot in the ghetto than to die in Treblinka!”

Skilled black marketers, they also smuggled in food to supplement the ghettos’ ever-dwindling food rations; medical supplies to fight typhus and the other diseases that ran rampant amid appallingly cramped, broken-down living conditions; and as many rifles, pistols, bullets, grenades and bomb-building components as possible, to spark an uprising.

Behind all these operations lay a deftness and aptitude for creating and maintaining resistance webs and networks both within and among different ghettos, as well as with sympathetic Aryans throughout Poland. That is why they were also often described as kashariyot, the Hebrew word for “connectors.” It was through these links that they set up hiding places for Jewish children outside the ghetto, found safe houses to conceal resistance fighters, provided forged papers and plotted escape routes to Palestine, even facilitated prison breaks. Nor did they hesitate to take up arms themselves, leaving Nazi troops so surprised to see women wielding guns and grenades that one startled SS commander was left to wonder if they were “devils or goddesses.”

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

While the women who did fight endured a great many terrible travails, those who didn’t may have experienced worse.

By Unknown author (Franz Konrad confessed to taking some of the photographs, the rest was probably taken by photographers from Propaganda Kompanie nr 689.[1][2]) – Image:Warsaw-Ghetto-Josef-Bloesche-HRedit.jpg uploaded by United States Holocaust MuseumThis is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: Restored version of Image:Stroop Report – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 06.jpg with artifacts and scratches removed, levels adjusted, and image sharpened.., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17223940

How Not To Make A Book Launch Video

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

For as long as I’ve dreamed of being an author, I’ve also dreamed about the moment I first get to hold a copy of my book. 

The thrill of seeing my name on the cover of an actual book, filled with words that I wrote. The knowledge that a publisher thought those words good enough to be worthy of printing onto paper. Paper that smells like, er, paper, but in that special new book-scented way.

Whenever and however it happened, I just knew it would be magical.

Just a mere 43 years later (I don’t like to rush things), and the moment had finally arrived. My debut novel, Wife Support System, came out as an ebook with Hera Books in July 2020 and the paperback was released on March 11th 2021. A paperback hadn’t been guaranteed when I signed the contract with Hera, so this made its publication even more exciting. 

With Covid scuppering all book launch events and parties, posting videos of book reveals has become one of the main ways of promoting books. Having seen other authors do a ta-da moment, I was excited to film and share my own long-awaited magical moment with the world. (When I say ‘the world’, I actually mean my mum and a few other family members who follow me online.)

. . . .

To start with, my suggestion that playing the Star Wars theme tune in the background as I opened the box would add some atmosphere and fun, was immediately dismissed as “cringe”. To be honest, it probably was a bit cheesy, but I grew up in the eighties so being a bit cheesy is a default setting.

Eve was in charge of filming. The top of my head is missing in most of the footage, which was actually an ingenious way of getting around my lockdown roots. Elena was in charge of telling me off for trying to play Star Wars (she used her own initiative in creating this role), resulting in Eve telling Elena off. So loudly that James had to ask us to be quiet as he was on a work Zoom call. Eve then stopped filming before I’d even opened the box of books.

I managed to get the box open on Take Two, but it still wasn’t quite what the professional footage I’ve seen other authors post on social media. None of them had someone in the background telling them to hurry up or comparing them to the Norris Nuts. No sooner had I got the book in my hand then Eve stopped filming, before I had a chance to even say what the book was called, let alone what it was about or where it could be bought.

. . . .

So, my advice to anyone planning to film their own book box opening / cover reveal / launch party is to ensure you do it in what I believe is called a Controlled Environment. In other words, make sure no one else is around to help (aka interfere and mess it up for you).

On the plus side, my book launch video does sum up the plot of my book – mums struggling to juggle work and childcare. I am a genuine example here of how “challenging” it can be. (“Challenging” isn’t my first choice of word, but I’m not sure it’s professional to swear in a blog. Although the video clearly demonstrates that there is very little professionalism going on in my life.) And, of course, there’s no fear of my new ‘published author’ status going to my head. My family are definitely keeping me grounded!

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

Bookstore owner suing Amazon over alleged price-fixing scheme that makes it impossible for other retailers to compete

From The Chicago Sun Times:

An Evanston bookstore owner wants to take on Amazon.

Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends and Beginnings, signed on as the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed last week that accuses Amazon of orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with the nation’s leading book publishers that makes it impossible for other retailers to beat their prices.

According to the suit, contracts that Amazon has with the nation’s “Big Five” publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — block the publishers from giving other retailers better prices.

“I, along with most independent bookstore owners in America, feel incredibly frustrated because we’ve seen that the playing field is not level,” Barrett told the Sun-Times. “We have to talk to our customers all the time about why we can’t match Amazon’s pricing.”

. . . .

The suit, which was filed in New York, seeks to include all booksellers that bought books from the Big Five after March 25, 2017. It seeks damages and an injunction on the “anti-competitive” practice.

“It’s been very frustrating to watch the growth of Amazon and think, ‘Me, just little old me by myself, I can’t stop this, but I can see that it’s unfair,’” Barrett said.

. . . .

Attorney Eamon Kelly, who lives in Evanston and regularly shops for biographies at Barrett’s store, pitched Barrett to his fellow attorneys and then pitched Barrett, who said she “jumped on the idea.”

Barrett’s shop, with its alleyway entrance, is “a magical place to look at books,” Kelly said.

Barrett, 60, opened her bookstore in 2014.

The financial pain felt by her bookstore due to Amazon’s pricing is real, Barrett said, and would have been more acute during the pandemic if not for an online fundraising campaign that raised nearly $50,000, money her business received through the Paycheck Protection Program and the fact that a Barnes and Noble about a block from her store closed last year, funneling more customers her way.

She called Amazon a “juggernaut” and a “bully.”

“We think that being a place matters, that the browsing experience matters,” she said.

“We get up and battle and fight every day to make our business model work, and we do it out of passion. But no one of us would ever have the power to be able to take on Amazon,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Sun Times

The OP makes Ms. Barrett and her bookstore seem quite nice. PG is very familiar with Evanston and can report that it’s a pleasant tree-filled upscale university town on the shores of Lake Michigan filled with lots of people who have plenty of disposable income. If any location could support a traditional bookstore these days, Evanston could.

The OP didn’t mention whether Ms. Barrett buys the books she sells through a wholesaler like Ingram or not. At least some of Ms. Barrett’s cost of goods can be attributed to Ingram’s markup and shipping fees.

There are a lot of good attorneys in Chicago, although PG is not acquainted with any of the attorneys or firms named in the OP. If they’re not already familiar with the strange and expensive supply chain used by major publishers to get books to retail bookstores, they will certainly become familiar with it soon.

That said, regardless of how much some people think traditional bookstores “matter”, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily continue to be financially viable or have any sort of “right” to be viable.

All sorts of business that were common in PG’s youth are non-existent or effectively non-existent these days. More than a few businesses that have closed their doors during the Time of Covid are not going to reopen.

Perhaps the closure of the Barnes & Noble near Ms. Barrett’s bookstore was indicative that it had problems with a business model quite similar to the model Ms. Barrett is fighting to make work in her store.

How to Give a Great Podcast Author Interview

From Writers Helping Writers:

As an author, one of the best ways you can reach new audiences is through podcasts.

According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, there are now 62 million Americans listening to podcasts each week, up from 19 million in 2013. We have about 800,000 active podcasts available to listen to, with a record 192,000 new ones launched in 2019.

. . . .

Once you’re invited to speak on a podcast, it may be tempting to just show up and chat. But for most authors, that would be a mistake for two reasons:

  • Your goal is to attract new readers/subscribers to your platform.
  • Those readers are going to be listening to your conversation!

To increase your odds that you’ll make a good impression on your listeners—and perhaps convince some of them to read your work—keep the following tips in mind.

5 Tips to Help You Win New Readers on a Podcast Interview

1. Remember your job is to help the listener.

This is the number-one mistake most authors make when appearing on a podcast. They arrive unprepared and spend their time chatting about whatever subject happens to come up. This is dangerous because:

  • You may fail to give the listeners anything of value, missing your opportunity to connect with them.
  • Listeners may get bored!

Of course, it’s important to have fun and enjoy the conversation, but remember that you’re there to help the host’s listeners however you can. Usually, that involves sharing some of your expertise or experiences that will benefit others.

2. Ask your host what their audience is looking for.

Speaking of listeners, it’s important to understand what your host’s listeners are looking for. Why do they come to this particular podcast? What problems do they need to be solved?

You can address this question in a couple of ways. First, check out the podcast and listen to a few episodes before your scheduled appearance. Familiarize yourself with the type of issues they address and then figure out how your message can help those listeners.

Second, simply ask your host: “What do most of your listeners need help with? What are they looking for on your podcast?” Most hosts will be happy to tell you about their audiences, and you can use that information to come up with a few key points that you know will help those people.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Tell McGraw-Hill to Stop Charging Freelancers for Processing Invoices

From The Authors Guild:

We are sharing with you a letter to McGraw-Hill’s CEO Simon Allen and General Counsel David Stafford to demand that the company immediately end its practice of charging freelance contractors a 2.2% fee for processing their invoices. McGraw-Hill claims that this so-called “Small Supplier Fee” is being applied to support the company’s compliance costs, including to minimize the company’s risks of misclassifying independent contractors. Imposing a 2.2% fee for processing invoices—a normal cost of doing business—is tantamount to wage theft. What’s more, McGraw-Hill unilaterally imposed this fee during a pandemic, when freelance creators are losing work opportunities and unable to access the full scope of unemployment benefits due to their independent contractor status. McGraw-Hill’s attempt to pass its operating costs off to hard-working, struggling freelance creators is shocking and unfair.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

PG suggests freelancers get together and suggest to one another to increase their fees to McGraw-Hill by 5%, with a little less than half to cover McGraw-Hill’s new fee and a new 2.8% McGraw-Hill invoice preparation and compliance fee.

Using Novel Writing Techniques in Your Memoir

From Writers in the Storm:

I’ve spent much of our Covid year learning about, editing, and writing my own memoir. Memoir is a form I think every writer should try to tackle at least once. Everyone has a story to tell. The exercise of writing a memoir can sharpen our memories and force us to write outside our comfort zones—always good practice for a writer at any level. If you want to craft a memoir that is truly a page-turner, you can and should use many of your fiction writing tricks.

First Things First: What a Memoir Is and Is Not

It is important to know what a memoir is and is not. A memoir is not your autobiography. A memoir is a slice of your life at a particular time, in a particular place. It is literally your memories put to paper. Some memoirs cover a year in a person’s life. Some memoirs cover several years. Think in terms of a season of your life, rather than a finite block of days on the calendar.

Many new memoirists hamstring themselves by feeling they need to tell their entire life stories, nose to tail, David Copperfield-style. You do not. A memoir focuses on a theme, on a particular red thread that has wound through your life thus far. It is a not a full accounting of all your sins and wins!

A memoir is not a journal entry, even though it is your story. You must write it so that a reader can benefit from it. There must be a compelling reason to keep them turning the pages, such as a lesson they can learn or inspiration for them to find. Memoir can feel navel-gazey in the writing process, but it should never feel navel-gazey on the page. (Yes, I know this is daunting! But persevere.)

What holds a memoir together is a story—your story.

Remember as you write each page that you are telling that story, not making a police report. You can change names to protect people’s privacy. And since you are working from memory, the story will have your slant—don’t feel you have to get every single angle on it. If you ask your family about the picnic you had that one day in 1972, you will get a different story from each member about that day, told from their perspective. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.

Discover what your truth is and use your memoir to tell it.

An Inciting Incident: You Need One

Telling us about the time you went to the market after work and ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school and you exchanged pleasantries with them is not  a gripping inciting incident. Telling us about the time you went to the market after work, ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school, and found out they needed a kidney is a start. Deciding to see if you were a match to help them because of that one time in school when they saved you from being assaulted by a teacher? That is a gripping inciting incident.

Don’t invent something that isn’t true, but when you sit down to comb through the sand of your life, you are searching for the pearl that you will hand to your readers. Think of the unusual things. If you don’t think there are any of those pearls, think again. Everyone has as story.

Once I sat in a hotel bar on a business trip and met seven different travelers, from seven different age groups, seven different places, seven different walks of life. Each and every one of them had a compelling story. You do, too. And if you write it well, people will want to read it.

Build Characters

Many new memoirists neglect to see that what they are crafting are characters (who just happen to be real people). You are the “main character” of your memoir.

This is tough for many writers. Do we ever really see ourselves completely objectively? Probably not. But we must do our best. Use the same techniques to craft interesting characters in your memoir that you do in your fiction writing. Make a list of who will appear on the stage of your memoir, and sketch them out, just as you would the players in your novel.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

‘She showed what poetry can do’: young London laureates feel the Amanda Gorman effect

From The Guardian:

Cecilia Knapp

“I came to poetry by accident, through a workshop at Camden’s Roundhouse. I was 18 at the time, had no money, and was living alone in London. Poetry had not been in my life before. I was awful when I started. But I was so thirsty to get better.

I’m working on my first collection now. I lost my mum at a young age, so a lot of the collection looks at how that might impact a young woman. And I lost my older brother to suicide in 2012. He had a long battle with addiction, and also his sexuality, and I was a carer for him for a really long time. A lot of the poems in the book that I’m working on are looking at his life. I’ve always used writing as a way to figure things out: not necessarily to find answers, more to ask questions about them.

When young people see a poem or film on YouTube or social media, it gets rid of that preconception that poetry has to be this isolated, solitary act of opening a book and reading something old fashioned. I love reading poetry myself, and I believe that young people can, too, but they can also love spoken word or performance poetry, poetry on film or poetry with music.

I’ve worked with young people for almost a decade now, and I’ve experienced first-hand the impact poetry can have on them – something happens when you let yourself be free and creative, it is magic. It’s really empowering for young people to be told that what they have to say is important and valid. We need young voices contributing to the canon, because they usually reflect what’s really going on in the world a lot of the time.

Someone who I use as a springboard for young people is Danez Smith, a non-binary African American poet who talks a lot about race, class, sexuality and gender in their collections Don’t Call Us Dead and Homie.

Roger Robinson’s book A Portable Paradise responded so amazingly to the injustice of Grenfell, as did Jay Bernard’s book Surge. There are so many amazing writers at the moment.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

News Corp to Buy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Consumer-Publishing Arm

From The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp has agreed to buy the consumer arm of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. for $349 million, marking the media company’s second deal in less than a week.

The deal adds a portfolio of high-profile novels from authors such as George Orwell, Philip Roth and J.R.R. Tolkien to News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers division. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the companies were nearing a deal.

The sale would allow Boston-based Houghton to pay down debt and focus on its digital-first strategy in education, goals that the company had set when it put HMH Books & Media on the block last fall.

The deal indicates that New York-based News Corp, which in addition to HarperCollins owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and news organizations in the U.K. and Australia, among other assets, is looking to expand through select acquisitions after a period of slimming down through sales of noncore businesses.

. . . .

“Timeless writing is a timely source of revenue and the potential to create highly profitable audio and video works flourishes with each passing digital day,” News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said.

News Corp is focusing investments on growth areas including books, digital real estate, and the Dow Jones unit, a person familiar with the situation said.

In an interview, HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray described Houghton’s catalog of children’s and adult titles as a “crown jewel.” The unit’s children portfolio includes the “Little Blue Truck” and “Curious George” series, and other favorites such as “The Polar Express” and “Jumanji.”

Mr. Murray also cited Houghton’s focus on transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities. “They have a good team and it should help us accelerate our own children’s activities on that front,” he said.

. . . .

HarperCollins has been a strong performer during the pandemic, which helped propel book sales. In its most recent quarter, the unit posted a 23% growth in revenue to $544 million and 65% jump in profitability to $104 million.

Houghton’s consumer-publishing unit generated revenue of $191.7 million in 2020, accounting for approximately 19% of Houghton’s net sales. Other core properties of HMH Books & Media include the Peterson Field Guides, which cover topics ranging from birds to fish to wildflowers; lifestyle titles from Martha Stewart ; and the Carmen Sandiego franchise.

HMH Books & Media also boasts a strong line of cookbooks that includes titles by Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman and Priya Krishna.

. . . .

The deal marks the second sale of a well-known publisher in less than six months. German media giant Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, last November agreed to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. for almost $2.18 billion.

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

For PG, the key information bit was “transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities.”

Perhaps he’s biased, but this didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of books on paper. Again, he wondered whether the buyer or the seller is going to look like it got the best out of this deal in 5-10 years.

There is no hunting

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.

Ernest Hemingway

There is nothing noble

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

The Man Behind the Hemingway Myth

From The Wall Street Journal:

Early next month, timed to the sixtieth anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, PBS will air Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s long-awaited three-part, six-hour look at this most iconic of iconic American writers. In a culture where screens have beat out paper and ink as the medium for gathering information and in so doing have turned us into scanners with atrophied attention spans, it’s something of an irony that it would take the visual experience of a documentary—full of stunning archival photos and deft commentary by the likes of Edna O’Brien and Tobias Wolff—to inspire a return to the page to experience the work of the writer who, as Mr. Wolff puts it, “changed all the furniture in the room.”

Some writers write; others alter the course of literature by the importance of the ideas they express or by the style of that expression. Hemingway did both, creating an original voice that remains one of the most influential in the English language. While still in his early 20s, as a newly married veteran of the Great War living in Paris among a group of expatriate American writers who would become known as the “Lost Generation,” he codified how to write what he called a “true” sentence—a grammatically simple shard of flint that, like the stories he told with them, distilled a potent essence.

His tone was designed as a match for the awful things he’d witnessed and that test human character—war, broken loyalty, death—and for the magnificent things that restore our souls and courage: a fine painting, true love, a winning ticket at the horse races, the smell of orange rinds in a fire. First with his short stories about growing up in the woods of northern Michigan and later with novels based on his life in Europe—“The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”—he became an international literary celebrity. In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

By then, he’d played the bearded macho-man armed with a gun and a typewriter—spoiling for danger, tough women and a stiff drink—for so long that the caricature stuck. The masculine stereotype continues to complicate our ability to see the person lost inside the testosterone legend, much less to extricate the writing from the writer. So numerous are the photographs of Hemingway on safari, at the corrida, charming his next wife, hooking a big one, behind the typewriter—almost always shirtless—that the visual lore has become intermingled with scenes from his novels and journalism in a way that makes it hard to recall what’s fact or fiction.

. . . .

But all you have to do to get past the legend is to read a little of his work. “If it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it,” Hemingway once wrote. “Things aren’t that way. It is only by showing both sides—three dimensions and if possible four—that you can write the way I want to.” In terms of complexity, he was essentially describing himself and his unusually eventful life.

Hemingway, a country boy from outside Chicago, was born in 1899, astride two centuries that were divided in custom and convention not by a year but an eon. In the pages of Life, Time, Look and Esquire, he took on as a reporter many of the same subjects he had already treated in fiction, inviting readers to wonder if the first-person narrator of his novels was the self-same journalist on assignment. If his characters were his alter-egos, you can imagine him thinking, why couldn’t he be an alter-ego of his characters?

Trying to figure out what’s not being said and why; slipping into the internal dialogue of a broken mind; asking who the I in the I really is—these are just a few of the techniques Hemingway developed that changed the boundaries of fiction and how it was written. Stripping his prose of all ornament, he wrote like a member of the Bauhaus following the dictum that “form follows function.” The material he took up—rape, abortion, impotence, cowardice, suicide, adultery—were unprettified realities that literature would no longer be able to skirt. Above all, as he codified in his “iceberg theory,” he recognized that what was omitted from a story outweighed in power what was left in.

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

All Four ‘Avengers’ Movies Are Getting Shakespeare Adaptations

From Collider:

Marvel Studios and Quirk Books have announced that they are collaborating to release Shakespearean parodies of all four Avengers movies. Yes, you read that right. The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Infinity War, and Endgame are being brought back to life in William Shakespeare’s Avengers: The Complete Works, iambic pentameter included. Avengers fans can expect entertaining easter eggs, dramatic soliloquies, and a witty yet faithful re-telling of their favorite superheroes.

. . . .

For anyone who is raising an eyebrow and expecting this crossover to flop, don’t let your skepticism fool you. This ain’t Doescher’s first rodeo when it comes to parody and major franchises, especially where Shakespeare is involved. He’s also known for writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, as well as the Pop Shakespeare series (which includes such hits as Much Ado About Mean Girls and Get Thee…Back to the Future!)

This isn’t Quirk Books’ first attempt at parody, either (in case the company’s name didn’t already give that away). Not only were they responsible for publishing the aforementioned works by Doescher, but they’re also known for bringing other classic literature parodies to the world such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a dystopian spin on Jane Austen’s famous novel where Victorian England socialites try to keep calm and carry on in a world ravaged by the undead. While some literature fans may regard the source material as an insomnia cure in written form, the zombie twist in the Quirk Books version enhances the story with tongue-in-cheek humor and makes it more palatable for a modern audience.

Link to the rest at Collider

Cunningham’s Law

The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.

Ward Cunningham, American computer programmer who developed the first wiki

We can destroy ourselves

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.

Kenneth Clark

Life is not an easy matter

Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

Leon Trotsky

For the Relief of Unbearable Bookstores

From The Millions:

I’ve reached the point in life where my relationship with bookstores is—how to put this?—well, it’s complicated. I love the idea of bookstores. I smile when I see their bright windows on a block. I talk about a new bookshop like normal people talk about newborns. And after the global pandemic loosens its grip on New York, I know one of the first things I’ll do is visit a bookstore in my neighborhood. In my imagination, this means spending a long lazy afternoon browsing shelves and flipping the pages of dozens of new books. There’s just one problem: I long ago ceased to enjoy bookstores. Even before the pandemic, I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes inside one without wanting to leave; no, without wanting to flee, shoulders hunched, like a child caught trespassing.

I once burned for bookstores. And not just because I thought the right books made me look smart, either. This was a love affair that began before I knew pretension. The very first bookstore that I loved as a boy was a mall bookstore. Its name, Abbey Road Books, made no sense to me because it was located on Gull Road, not Abbey Road. The mall would be gone long before I got the Beatles reference.

Abbey Road Books was not large but it was big enough for a guileless boy: a rack near the cash register held comic books. A half dozen long rows running front to back offered popular paperbacks and—I assume—serious literary fiction. I never really looked. I was too busy with the Garfield collections, the Dragonriders of Pern fantasies or the sci-fi pulp. This was where I found my first favorite novel, Laura J. Mixon’Astro Pilots, a YA book about a teenager whose revenge on a bully is complicated by the temporal effect of traveling at light speed. Pure nerd bliss.

Years of browsing and buying books freely has produced what you would expect: my home is a book orphanage, and the unread books are almost as numerous as the read ones. Based on a recent roll call, a quarter of the books on the shelves are critically praised titles I have not yet read. Let the Great World SpinWhite TeethThe Wings of the Dove.

In the pre-pandemic era, there were six book shops within the lunchtime walking radius of my office near Union Square. The Strand, Alabaster Books, Three Lives, McNally Jackson, Housingworks, and Barnes & Noble. All of the shops except Alabaster (which was smaller than a studio apartment) had display tables at the store entrance. The intention of a bookstore display table is noble; the effect is, for me, pernicious. From the get go, I am reminded of how many unread books exist and how many new unread books are added to that list daily. All the tables and all the books take on an undifferentiated, daunting sheen. You can judge a book by its cover but what you’re judging is sometimes hard to say. To Keep the Sun AliveHouse of Stone? Great book covers, lovely fonts, and crackerjack titles; how do you pick between them? The blurb on every other book promises it is “Like nothing you’ve read before.” Or “More knife than novel.” I want to read the work of this “rising star of Arab fiction,” but I also want to read a dozen others, and in the end, overwhelmed by choice, I choose to flee.

. . . .

The global Covid pandemic put an abrupt end to this ongoing bookstore angst, for a time. Overnight, bookstores became more theoretical than real. I shifted to curbside pick up for drinks and dinners, and I pivoted to ordering books over the phone from local stores. The first time that I picked up a book purchase curbside was in the Early Covid Era, and I doused all the brand new books with rubbing alcohol before I stowed them in the trunk for a three-day quarantine. Just to be safe. By summer, I was less anxious about touching books; at a pick-up window for a bookstore in Connecticut, I waited while inside a bookstore employee searched for the title I wanted among all the books in their cells. One day, I thought, one day we’ll all be able to go inside again. Won’t that be something?

I want to believe that everything will be different when we turn life back on. I want to believe a year apart from bookstores has changed me. I want to believe I have re-learned how to be casual, how to relax, how to bathe in the bliss of booksellers. I want to believe. But here’s the truth: rather than rewire me for patience, a year at home has probably made me even less able to downshift and enjoy a bookstore properly. I spend more hours than ever each day digging into the larder of my smartphone for the fatty byproducts of the Internet. Social distancing for months has increased the hours spent as a parent mediating fights, insisting on chores, refereeing screen time. Given my jumpy, angsty, barely-nuanced attention span, does anyone really think I’m capable of slipping with ease into the heady trance that is necessary to enjoy an afternoon among books?

. . . .

The unforgivable sin of bookstores is this: so many of the books that they offer are physical reminders of passing time. Here are the Kazuo Ishiguros I read while in my fresh-faced 20s. Here are the Joan Didions of my 30s. Here are the Tracy Kidders I discovered after my kids were born. A visit to any kind of bookstore will eventually make me jealous for the younger version of me, the person who was unshaped, unaccountable, unknown. Both the books that I have read and not read all remind me that what I am is not what I was; and they point out to me that for all the work of living that I have done, there remains an impossible amount of work that I have not and cannot do. I cannot change course and pursue a life of ornithology. I am no longer a penniless apprentice writing his first novel. I cannot sell everything and live on an arctic freighter. I cannot be what I am not, and by definition what I am not remains so much larger than what I am.

. . . .

{T]hen I saw Draft No. 4, a John McPhee book on writing, and I decided, well, let me look inside that one. I scanned the first page. My insides went calm. I was like a parched man cutting open a spindly cactus and finding watery relief. I skipped to the back, read more words that struck me as perfect, and true: “It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky,” McPhee writes, “when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away.” I closed the book, realizing that I would buy it, damn the torpedoes and all the unread books waiting at home.

I brought the McPhee book to the register. A girl with dirty blond hair and a tired, guarded look was handling sales.

“Are you a member of our book club?”

“I’m sure that I was once,” I said. There was no way for her to hear the ironic undertone.

She asked for my first and last name. I told her. She typed, furrowed her brow. “Nope,” she said. “You want to join? It’s quick.”

Of course, I had been forgotten. Emptiness began to swell inside. Then, a thought: “Did you put a space,” I said, “between Van and Dyke?”

She sighed, hit the delete key lightly, then enter, and her eyes brightened. “There you are,” she said, as if she had just learned I was her cousin twice removed. They knew me. I was one of the remembered ones. I still belonged. This made me so happy that now, in retrospect, it makes me sad.

Link to the rest at The Millions

When Everything Changes – Capturing Profound Character Moments

From Writer Unboxed:

A few weeks ago, coinciding with the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, several newspapers published accounts on the early days of the crisis as drawn from the lives of everyday Americans. Essentially the reports were a contemporary take on a person-on-the-street story focused on a singular question – What was the moment you realized your world had changed as a result of Covid-19?

I approached the articles with a tinge of curiosity and, not surprisingly, with a writer’s eye. I knew my own experience, of course. In the months since, I have recounted to friends the surreal visit to see my Mom in Florida, which happened to coincide with the week everything began to shut down, including ultimately her assisted living facility. I recall feeling lucky to be in her company during those last days of seeming normalcy, even while waking to the fact that we had no idea when it might be safe to return. Only later did my partner and I acknowledge our shared yet unspoken fear at the time, that perhaps we had already been exposed and might have unknowingly brought illness with us (fortunately we had not). Saying our goodbyes was especially hard, one of those times you see the fragility of life, deeply and starkly.

Reading the recent articles reawakened those feelings. The anecdotes recounted were often simple – an exhausted nurse sitting in her car, knowing the long shift she had just completed was merely a precursor of what was to come; a worried parent in their new “remote office,” fretting over how they could possibly manage their children’s online schooling when they could barely master a Zoom meeting; a grocery clerk receiving a mask and safety briefing from their store manager for the first time. But the emotions they shared were complex and compelling, genuine expressions of the anxiety we all felt to one degree or another this past year.

All of which has left me pondering how moments of profound change for characters are captured in stories. When do those scenes work, elevating the narrative? And perhaps just as important, what causes them sometimes to fall short? Admittedly I have only begun to scratch the surface of what could be a lengthy course of study. But I have a few opening thoughts, which may stir your own instincts. So, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Stories Need Pivotal Moments 

It may seem an obvious point, but a good entry to understanding what makes a scene of profound change work is acknowledging the need for such scenes from the start. As Lisa Cron explains in her amazing book of craft Wired for Story, humans are drawn to stories because our evolution as a species springs from our ability to imagine a future and then to build it. Stories provide a means to explore possibilities and to learn from mistakes without actually having to make them in real life. In short, stories teach us how to change, how to grow.

For this reason, when we pick up a book or sit down to watch a production, we engage the parts of our brain that hunger for stories. From the first page or opening scene we begin to gather information, seeking clues and patterns, trying to understand motives of the characters. If given good reason (i.e., a worthy hook), we quickly bond with the protagonist, slipping into their lives and adopting their problems as our own, at least mentally.

But to keep us engaged, we need moments when the protagonist, faulted though they may be, takes stock of their situation. Or, if not the reflective sort, the protagonist must at times be forced to face an ugly reality they’d much rather ignore. For as the journey hardens, lessons from those moments will prove key to unlocking the true objective in ways the protagonist of page one might not even be able to fathom.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Paper beats pixels on most picture books, research finds

From The Hechinger Report:

Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. The technology allowed my daughter to read the Berenstain Bears, a classic picture book series, to a younger cousin over Zoom when a family trip was canceled. Despite my wistful sentiments for paper and colored ink, I marveled at the bond that could be sustained over screens and pixels. 

But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other?

A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare. 

In large part, the research on digital picture books for children echoes what we’ve seen in studies of e-books for adults. Reading comprehension is superior on paper but the benefit of paper appears to be stronger for adults and smaller for children. Scholars think the reasons behind the brain’s preference for paper may be different for the two groups. In the case of adults, it may be a lack of effort that we’re putting into reading on screens. In the case of children, it may be that many of the bells and whistles that are commonly added to digital picture books — buttons to click on, pop ups, games and sounds — are distracting.

Digital picture books have been around since the 1980s but there’s surprisingly little research that directly compares how much young children absorb in digital and in print and measures learning in a reliable way.

. . . .

Children up to age eight were included in the studies. Some were old enough to read independently but listened to an audio narration of a digital book with headphones. In a study of the youngest children, under two years old, parents held their children in their laps for both formats. In the digital version, a recorded voice read a book about animals aloud as a parent tapped the screen to turn the digital pages. In the print format, the child heard her own parent’s voice reading the names of the animals that were pictured on the pages, such as a horse or a koala.

By chance, this toddler study showed stronger learning outcomes for the digital picture book. Gabrielle Strouse, an educational psychologist at the University of South Dakota who ran this experiment, told me many of the children in her study had never seen a digital book and the novelty of it may have been mesmerizing, causing the children to pay more attention.

In most of the other studies, children were able to navigate the digital books themselves. Sometimes the digital texts were static just like the printed page. Other times, the text moved or changed to a bold font as the child heard the words.

Children were attracted to the many types of interactive buttons, pop ups and games that are embedded in digital books. A tap in the right place might play a noise. Children could seek treasures hidden on the screen. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood might ask the child to color the character in with a virtual paintbrush or drag the character to perform an action. “It’s fun and enjoyable but it has nothing to do with the story,” said Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.

Kucirkova, one of the authors of the March 2021 picture book meta-analysis, explained that her team wanted to learn which digital enhancements were working and which weren’t. They categorized all the add-ons as either story related or not story related. They found that the more unrelated bells and whistles, the worse a child’s comprehension was after reading the digital version of the story, compared to the print version.

Kucirkova believes that many digital books are overstimulating children and the unrelated add-ons are overtaxing a child’s “cognitive load.”

“With digital books, children get a lot of stimulation from the different senses,” Kucirkova explained, as they take in letters and pictures with their eyes, sounds with their ears and tap the screen with their fingers. “The amount of information that an individual needs to process is bigger if you have a lot of stimulation. The feedback they get from the digital device overwhelms children.”

By contrast, the researchers found that story-related enhancements reinforced the narrative and improved comprehension. Repetition of new vocabulary words that were central to the story helped. One book prompted children to use the story characters in the digital book to build their own story. “Those creativity games are very conducive to story recall,” said Kucirkova.

Another digital book asked the child to share the story with someone else. Other effective digital prompts were directed at a parent, telling her or him what to point out or ask while reading a digital book with a child. In a book about a little frog, a parent could point and ask a question, “Could the frog be here?” simultaneously connecting with the child and the story line. In other words, actively reading a digital version of a picture book with your child is good for comprehension.

“Even small digital enhancements actually make a lot of difference both ways, they can work well, or they can distract the child,” said Kucirkova.

. . . .

Indeed, when the authors looked at the books in the 39 studies by genre, the digital version was generally better for nonfiction, where there often isn’t a narrative story line to follow. Fiction, by contrast, was generally better on paper.  

I talked with Virginia Clinton-Lisell, a reading specialist at the University of North Dakota who has studied digital books. She pointed out that the slight harm to reading comprehension may be worth it if the digital books are so engaging that your child reads more books. None of these 39 studies looked at whether children read more when they had access to digital books. 

“A parent shouldn’t be overly concerned about a small difference in comprehension for a particular book,” said Clinton-Lisell. “Bottom line, if it’s a digital book that gets your kid to read, that’s great.”

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

PG notes that the title of the OP doesn’t take some of the material in the OP into consideration.

Additionally, he will note that the technology and design of modern printed books has been honed and improved for hundreds of years, generally speaking to maximize commercial success (which is not a bad thing at all). Most children’s ebooks with which PG is familiar are adapted from printed books as opposed to being born digital.

The iPad was introduced 11 years ago. The first Kindle was introduced 14 years ago. If you were to pick up the latest iPad or the latest Kindle and compare it to the first version, PG suggests that the first version would seem very outdated. Screen technology, interface design, size and weight have all evolved at a very rapid pace. That evolution is far from over.

As the OP implies, publishers of ebooks for children are all over the place with the technology they build into their content. PG would remind one and all that the trade publishers of books for children are, by and large, owned by the same people who own and run trade publishers focused on adults. Scholastic is the exception with both trade titles (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Magic School Bus) and titles marketed through school book clubs, book fairs, etc.

PG can’t speak to Scholastic (also headquartered in New York City), but the other big trade publishers are not noted for their technology accomplishments and willingness to pay the salaries necessary to hire really good tech types.

PG’s bottom line on ebooks v. print for children is that the ebooks, including both the content and the device components, are a long way from reaching their full potential. He has nothing against printed books for either children or adults (and still owns a lot of printed books for children and adults, some of which are regularly used by various offspring), but he wouldn’t bet against ebooks for children over the long run.

How Crying on TikTok Sells Books

From The New York Times:

“We Were Liars” came out in 2014, so when the book’s author, E. Lockhart, saw that it was back on the best-seller list last summer, she was delighted. And confused.

“I had no idea what the hell was happening,” she said.

Lockhart’s children filled her in: It was because of TikTok.

An app known for serving up short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, TikTok is not an obvious destination for book buzz. But videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.

These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many of the creators are just as surprised as everyone else.

. . . .

“I want people to feel what I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and now has nearly 200,000 followers. “At school, people don’t really acknowledge books, which is really annoying.”

. . . .

Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like “They Both Die at the End,” “The Cruel Prince,” “A Little Life” and others that have gone viral. There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.

“These creators are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”

The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos while bored at home during the pandemic. Many of their posts feel like tiny movie trailers, where pictures flash across the screen to a moody soundtrack.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Finland’s 2020: Audiobook Sales Doubled, Ebooks Up 84 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

As we continue to receive assessments from various international markets of coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic impact in 2020, Tiia Strandén at the Finnish Literature Exchange, FILI,  has provided Publishing Perspectives with a report from the Finnish book market.

. . . .

“While sales of printed books increased by just 2 percent” in Finland, the report tells us, “demand for audiobooks and ebooks was far greater, leading to an overall increase in trade book sales of 12 percent over 2019 figures.”

Audiobooks did particularly well, even over what’s described as strong growth for several years prior to the pathogen’s outbreaks.

In 2020, audiobook sales in Finland “more than doubled,” the report says. “While many Finns commuted less than before as they switched to working from home, they also focused on exercise and spending time outdoors, which provided more opportunities to listen to audiobooks,” per the report’s text. This brought audio up to “nearly a fifth of trade book sales” last year.

What the FILI information says was “most surprising of all in 2020” was a “whopping 84-percent increase in ebook sales. “Ebooks made up only a small share of the total market,” the report clarifies, and a smaller share than audiobooks, “but that growth far outstripped their previous year-over-year increase of 32 percent.”

One dynamic behind the advances in ebooks in Finland is thought to have been an expansion of subscription book and audio services. And the entry point—not surprisingly in the audio-friendly Nordic markets—was on the audio side. “While people usually sign up for these services in order to access audiobooks,” the report points out, “ebook libraries are included for the same fee. The ease of swapping between audiobooks and ebooks helps to diversify usage across formats.”

All of this added up to something of a leveling effect between fiction and nonfiction. “Among printed books,” the report says, “nonfiction represents a larger segment than fiction. In audio and ebook formats, however, fiction is bigger, and the gap grew even further in 2020, as sales of fiction ebooks and audiobooks increased more than sales of nonfiction in the same formats.

“Sales of printed fiction titles increased by 11 percent last year, while sales of printed nonfiction decreased by 6 percent.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

50-Cent Words Are No Bargain

From The Wall Street Journal:

Those of us who take an interest in changes in contemporary language are in a condition not unlike that of the village idiot of Frampol, a shtetl in Poland. He was assigned the job of waiting at the gates for the Messiah and was told: The pay is low but the work is steady.

Thus with three minutes left in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, LeBron James hits a 3-pointer, causing the announcer to note that “the score is 89-85, a 4-point differential.” But is it a “differential”? Cars have differentials and some equations are differentials, but do basketball or other sports scores have differentials? Why not instead use the simple word “difference?” What attracts this announcer, and lots of other sports announcers, to the word “differential”?

The same thing, I suppose, that attracts television news anchors and newspaper journalists to the word “replicate,” when duplicate or copy will do nicely. The same people are also likely to reach for replicate’s hazy neighbor “recalibrate,” when what they have in mind is usually nothing more than “reconsider.” While I’m at it, when did the word “multiple” come to replace the simpler words “several” or “many”? Perhaps, my guess is, around the time that “definitively,” a word meaning decisively and authoritatively, was mistakenly thought to be merely a more emphatic version of “definitely.”

Another semantic casualty is the useful word “disinterested,” meaning impartial, above faction, fair-minded—long confused with “uninterested.” The loss here, though not intentional, is serious. With the true meaning of the word disinterested lost, so is the worthy ideal, and soon, too, those rare men and women who wish to embody it.

H.L. Mencken mocked Warren Harding for promising a return to “normalcy,” when normal or normality would have worked, but apparently more than mockery was needed to put this awkwardly pretentious word out of use. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought “normalcy” back with a relentlessness that ought to put a cringe on the face of the whole human race.

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

A Cautionary Tale (Hollywood Part 1)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

For the sake of this particular little series, assume this: When I say “Hollywood,” I mean the movie/TV industry, and I am most likely talking about the biggest one still, the one based in the U.S.

. . . .

Let’s Start With Copyright—Again

Once upon a time in a land faraway, an insurance salesman finished writing a novel. He had graduated from a private college with a degree in English, tried to enlist in wartime and was unable to, because he was too nearsighted—although he did manage to spend his college years in the R.O.T.C. He was a military junkie who read technical manuals for fun.

The novel he had finished was an overly long, much too technical, somewhat dull “thriller” with an everyman hero. “What’s wrong with a hero who’s married, loves his wife and plays with his kids?” the author asked on the cusp of fame. “That’s what most people are.” (Put a pin in that. We’ll come back to it later.)

He couldn’t sell the novel to any of the big players in fiction, or even to any of the small players. At that point in his life, he was a failed novelist, and he did what most failed novelists do: He gave up.

But he gave up aggressively. (He was an aggressive asshole, who only got worse later in life.) Instead of putting his overly long, much too technical, somewhat dull “thriller” into a box under his bed, he mailed it to a tiny nonfiction press. The editor there saw something in it, convinced her boss to buy the novel, if the author cut 100 pages out of it.

The author did. But he still didn’t believe in the book. Or maybe, he was just too damn dumb to know better. I think he was, as most authors are, that horrid mix of ego and insecurity and the insecurity won here. (Ego would win later on.) He sold all rights to the book to the technical press for a pittance.

Then he went back to writing, hoping he would have better luck.

Well, he did have better luck. The press he sold the book to was a government-owned nonprofit, and they routinely sent their books to the White House. The president, a conservative back in the days when conservative politicians actually read, found the book and, when a reporter asked him what he was reading, held the book up and said that the book was his “kind of yarn.”

That was all it took. The book sold millions of copies. It sold to the movies immediately thereafter and actually got made into a good movie with big stars.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our damn dumb protagonist (we can’t call this author a hero. Trust me) wrote and sold more books related to the first book. The same character, actions that take place both before and after the first book—a sequel in most meanings of the word, according to the non-profit publisher. The non-profit publisher, who had already profited on their investment when they sold paperback rights to a Big New York publisher, contacted said Big New York Publisher about this sequel thing. Because, you see, the damn dumb writer had sold his next few books to that Big New York Publisher, not realizing, apparently that he had written sequels. (Sigh.)

Suddenly, everyone was in a suit with everyone else about who owned the material and who had the right to license the books and produce them and who had the right to license any part of these works to Hollywood.

. . . .

This is the turning point moment. That moment in all good stories where the protagonist (dumb or not) comes to an all-important fork in the road. You’d think this author would have learned that he needed to understand copyright and deal making and all of that stuff. Instead, he blames his error on the fact that he had no agent or lawyer to guide him.

The problem with agents is that they are often as clueless as our damn dumb protagonist. The problem with some lawyers is that they make more money in a case that drags out in court than one that can be settled quickly.

Back then, before the first movie came out, before it became clear just how much money this particular project with the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval could make over decades, there was an opportunity to settle everything.

The technical press had been cooperating. After all, they owned all rights. They wanted “a little bit of compensation.” Compensation they were entitled to, by the way. They could have been draconian about all of this. If they had been a Big New York Publisher, they would have been draconian and the author would have been screwed.

But the non-profit publisher and the writer had a deal to settle this amicably. Most likely, the non-profit would get a percentage, and our damn dumb protagonist would retain the opportunity to write and sell the sequels to the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval book. Some money—maybe a lot of money—would have gone to the non-profit press, but, honestly, in this kind of publishing and licensing movie and TV rights, there’s more than enough money to go around.

The author’s lawyer balked. The deal went into arbitration and (spoiler alert) got settled weirdly and without any clarity. The author, a well known jerk, did not make any friends (even pictures of him with the movie stars show him smiling and the stars as far from him as possible) and he got more and more egotistical over time.

The author incorporated, and did some business things to mitigate his tax burden, things that involved his then-wife. Yep, then-wife. Whoops. Because there was a divorce, and more problems and another wife, and five children, and movies, TV, more books, and lots and lots of business weirdness.

Then our damn dumb author dies. And the second wife wants everything, so she sues. Because those deals, made in the murky beginning before the first movie came out, left a lot of questions unanswered. She wanted answers—and she wanted those answers to come with money. As in, all of the money. (Or 80% of it, with the remaining 20% going to the kids.)

Here’s my favorite part. Her suit and the vehemence with which everything gets argued encourages the judge to put all of the money the properties earn into escrow, until the dispute is settled.

In other words, no one gets any money at all.

. . . .

Eagle eyes now know who I’m discussing. This is the case of Tom Clancy. I’ve oversimplified much of it, because this case also involves the 35-year rule (look it up), the statute of limitations, arcane business law, arbitration, and oh, so much more.

But it all stems from complete and utter ignorance. In the beginning, the ignorance was the ignorance of a typical writer. Writers don’t need to know business (they think) or copyright (they think) or marketing or anything else. They’ll have people to take care of that.

Clancy had no people at first. Then he hired people known to have sticky fingers. Or, at least, people known to make deals that benefited themselves as much or more than the client.

. . . .

When there was a fork in the road, Clancy always took the road that led to disaster, not the road that would clarify. His ego, never small, got in the way once Ronald Reagan gave him the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval. Every thing in this legal mess can be brought directly on Clancy’s ignorance and his unwillingness to bend.

But let’s not ignore the Naval Institute Press, which initially bought the book. They too seemed to be ignorant of a few things.

. . . .

[W]henever Hollywood makes a contract, especially when the publishers and authors involved were ignorant of the ways of movie powerbrokers, Hollywood takes everything. They want movie rights—sure—but literary rights too, and usually merchandising rights (thanks, George Lucas [insert sarcasm emoji]) and anything else their sharks…um, lawyers…can think of.

. . . .

All of this—decades of legal wrangling, an estate tied up in litigation for eight years now—could have been avoided if Clancy had understood copyright in the first place.

. . . .

[A]s I’ve often said, what hurts writers the most is success, not failure. Failure is something you can move on from.

Success can destroy a writer, a career, and an entire family. (You think Clancy’s family is one big happy huggy group? Yep, me neither.) When you negotiate a contract, you should negotiate for success, not for failure. (Although you should keep an eye on that failure side of thing.)

There’s so much money in successful publishing that leeches moved into this business a hundred years ago. Leeches can siphon funds away from bestselling writers and the writers don’t even notice. Clancy made millions on his books. I’ll wager, without looking at any numbers, that at least one of his agents (a Jabba The Hut character whom I’d met and run from) made more.

know that Clancy’s New York publishers made a boatload more money than Clancy ever did. That’s due to traditional publishing contracts. The traditional publisher makes 80-90% on the book; the writer makes 10-20%.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Nicole for the tip.

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

PG says that you definitely want to click through on the link to Kris’ post to read the whole thing. PG has a tendency to go on rants, but he is a small-timer compared with Kris.

PG will make a few comments.

Lawyers

Some lawyers truly are jerks and idiots. (This is one area where PG can claim more expertise than Kris.)

Yes, you do have to get through law school to be an attorney. Yes, you do have to pass the bar exam in some state to be an attorney.

These accomplishments don’t mean that you aren’t an idiot.

Anyone who has graduated from college knows some idiots who managed to accomplish the same thing. Law school is a bit different than college, but idiots can graduate. If you can get through law school, you can pass the bar. The bar exam is like a law school exam.

Just like graduating from a fancy college or university doesn’t guarantee that you’re not an idiot, graduating from a fancy law school doesn’t guarantee that you’re not an idiot. (Indeed, PG has known more than a few graduates from fancy educational institutions who wander into idiocy precisely because they think they’re smarter than anybody else.)

However.

If a lawyer, even a very good lawyer, has a client who is an idiot, the result is not likely to be good.

Good lawyers try to help clients avoid making dumb mistakes, but ultimately, the client is the boss.

If the lawyer strongly recommends red and the client says blue, it’s going to be blue. The lawyer might be able to negotiate a few contract clauses that are blue with a tinge of red, but the lawyer is obligated to go blue if that’s what the client tells the lawyer to do.

The lawyer can withdraw from representing an idiot (or crazy or evil) client and PG has done that on occasion in the past.

(Side Note you can skip if it’s not interesting – If a client is charged with a crime, it may be very difficult for a lawyer to withdraw from representing a crazy or evil client (particularly if a judge has assigned the lawyer to represent that client). Under the US Constitution, crazy and/or evil criminals are entitled to competent legal representation at trial and their lawyers have an ethical obligation to avoid communicating the jury by words, acts, omissions, disgusted looks, etc., that the client is guilty as hell. In a former life, PG found himself in that position a couple of times and you just (figuratively) hold your nose, push through, try to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, work to make shady witnesses testifying against your client look as shady as they really are and hope the client’s breath doesn’t smell too bad when he/she whispers to you in court.)

Since PG doesn’t know anyone who represented Tom Clancy, he’s not in a position to say whether they were good lawyers representing an egocentric idiot or they were idiot lawyers representing an idiot author.

Authors

Whether you like it or not, if you are an author who cares about getting paid for your work, you’re also a businessperson. If you’re a brilliant, superbly-talented author who cares about getting paid for your work, you don’t get a pass. You’re still a businessperson.

If you have the money to deal with smart, talented and ethical professionals, you can get help with the business side of writing. However, despite having those people helping you, you’re still in charge of your writing business.

Authors who “just want to write” are prime targets for crooks and shysters. They may luck out and hire only honest, honorable and competent people who stay that way for the author’s entire career and thereafter (if the author cares about their heirs continuing to reap the fruits of the author’s labors), but most successful self-employed people that PG knows, including authors and non-authors, who have managers/employees/helpers/etc. pay ongoing attention to how their businesses are being run.

Life

Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton: Designing the Drawing Room

Note from PG – Following are brief excerpts and a few images from a much longer online exhibition from the Yale University Library. As usual, you’ll find a link to the exhibition at the end.

PG notes that, in his opinion, the Yale exhibition is better organized and constructed than most online art/design exhibition he has seen elsewhere and is definitely worth a visit if you have any interest in Ms. Wharton or the interior and exterior architecture in which she lived and where she set many of her books.

From at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions:

One century ago, Edith Wharton (1862–1937) published The Age of Innocence, a novel that has become one of her most beloved works. Less known is her first full-length publication, an 1897 interior design treatise titled The Decoration of Houses. Wharton’s keen interest in architecture and the design of interiors and gardens remained with her throughout her career. While she published novels, stories, poems, and nonfiction, she directed the design of her homes, from her country estate The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, to her New York City residence on Park Avenue.

Edith Wharton in 1897, the year The Decoration of Houses was published

. . . .

This exhibit focuses on Wharton’s treatment of the drawing room, known to her as a female space during a period of limiting gendered customs. In the world she describes in much of her writing, the drawing room was a specific sort of sitting room to which women would traditionally “withdraw” following dinner. The drawing room was also a space in which women could spend their days and receive guests. As such, drawing rooms provide a particularly rich context for understanding Wharton’s elite New York City society at the turn of the twentieth century and the role of women within it.

. . . .

Though written in 1920, The Age of Innocence is set in the elite New York City society of the 1870s—the world in which Wharton grew up. The novel unfolds from the point of view of Newland Archer, who is engaged to May Welland but in love with Ellen Olenska, who has escaped an unhappy marriage to a Polish count and returns to the New York City community of her youth. In her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934), Wharton describes the writing of The Age of Innocence in the context of the extreme sense of loss she felt following World War I and the 1916 death of her dear friend and fellow writer Henry James. “Meanwhile I found a momentary escape,” she writes, “in going back to my childhood memories of a long-vanished America.”

Wharton recalls showing a passage of the manuscript to a trusted friend, Walter Berry, who responded that he enjoyed the manuscript, but that he and Wharton were “the last people left who can remember New York and Newport as they were then, and nobody else will be interested.” As proven by the novel’s great success, Berry’s prediction did not come true.

Wharton is best known as a writer of fiction. But her entrance into the world of writing occurred with the publication of The Decoration of Houses in 1897. Together with Ogden Codman, Jr., Wharton composed this treatise on interior design—her first full-length book.

Wharton and Codman had become friends when she asked him to help her decorate and make alterations to the house that she and her husband had recently purchased. In her autobiography, Wharton notes the unconventionality of such a choice. She writes that “the architects of that day looked down on house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field to the upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins, jardinières of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and dressing-tables.”

Wharton and Codman sought a more straightforward aesthetic for their interiors. They believed that “interior decoration should be simple and architectural.” Simplicity was crucial, in response to rooms cluttered with objects like those they describe in the colorful list quoted above. Wharton and Codman also stressed the importance of a close relationship between architecture and interior design. Rather than remaining completely separate from architecture, interiors should reference the exteriors of buildings and the structures of spaces.

With the principle of simple and architecturally informed interior design, Wharton and Codman set off to write. The only problem: Wharton found that she “literally could not write in simple and precise English the ideas which seemed so clear in [her] mind.” She eventually overcame the challenge, and The Decoration of Houses met with great success—she later referred to this publication as “a touchstone of taste.”

After the publication of The Decoration of Houses, Wharton received a message from a friend complimenting her work. Wharton responded in the letter below:

“…I want to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to know that you have read [The Decoration of Houses] with interest. I feared that it would seem rather dry reading to those who were not especially occupied with the subject and I consider it a very gratifying evidence of success that you did not find it so.”

. . . .

The Drawing Room

Wharton and Codman discuss the drawing room in a chapter titled “The Drawing-Room, the Boudoir, and Morning-Room.” These spaces are related through their association with women in Wharton’s society, but differ in terms of the level of privacy allowed. The drawing room could be both public and private, whereas the other two rooms were more personal.

In The Decoration of Houses, Wharton establishes the foundation of her understanding of the drawing room. The chapter begins by mentioning “the ‘with-drawing-room’ of mediæval England, to which the lady and her maidens retired from the boisterous festivities of the hall.”

The aristocratic European origin that Wharton and Codman identify for the drawing room applies also to the examples, shown below, that they reference throughout the book. Following the discussion of the room’s origins, this chapter charts the development of the drawing room through later examples into two distinct forms: the salon de famille and the salon de compagnie. The former was a more private space for family members and close acquaintances to gather in, whereas the latter was a more public, ceremonial space. Regardless of the type of drawing room, Wharton and Codman emphasize that comfortable, timeless furniture best suits this frequently occupied space.

The drawing room is often discussed as a foil for the library: while the former was considered a women’s space in Wharton’s world, the latter was associated with men. The way that people in Wharton’s society used and moved through these spaces plays out in much of Wharton’s fiction, including The Age of Innocence.

Link to much more at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions

Finding Your Way to the End

From Jane Friedman:

“One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye.”

—Bob Wells in Nomadland

Sound familiar? The quote is from the promotional campaign for the new film, Nomadland. Winner of the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama, Nomadland documents the itinerant lifestyle of thousands of older Americans who refer to themselves as “vandwellers.” Bob Wells serves as a shaman of sorts to these wanderers. Rather than say goodbye, possibly for good, Wells prefers an upbeat, “See you down the road!“

Given that many of us sidestep endings in real life, it should not be surprising that writers have trouble concluding book projects. If you are one of those struggling to find an ending for your novel, your novella, or your memoir, take a deep breath then take heart. Concluding takes a lot out of us. Even happy endings are hard to eke out.

I love what Jane Smiley says about finishing the rough draft of a novel in her excellent tome, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel:

…To write through to the end of the rough draft, in spite of time constraints, second thoughts, self-doubts, and judgments of all kinds, is an act of faith that is invariably rewarded—the rough draft of a novel is the absolute paradigm of something that comes from nothing.

Use a placeholder for your ending

So, as you approach the end, try not to worry about finding finality. Don’t press for profundity or go back to the beginning and start revising. Don’t leave the ending for later. Instead, settle for a placeholder this time around.

What’s a placeholder? Just what it sounds like: someone or something that takes up space until Mr. Right comes along. (Yes, it’s true. Occasionally, the placeholder morphs into Mr. Right. And if that’s the case for you, count yourself as one of the lucky ones.)

For now, aim for an okay ending. A placeholder will help you see the outlines of your story, and it will give you bragging rights: “I finished my draft!” Because you’re going to be revising, right? Of course, you are. So, trust that when you reach the end again, you will be older, more mature, and ever-so-much-more knowledgeable. Then, you can aim for a satisfying ending but not a perfect one. In truth, there is no such thing as perfect. Perfect is an absolute, like unique. Trying to be unique or perfect is the ruination of anything good. As Churchill said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.“

Pleasing yourself is paramount

What’s okay or good enough, then? Something that serves the story and, secondarily, pleases you as a reader. Pleasing yourself is paramount because in doing so, you are likely to interest a select group of others, those whose reading preferences are like yours. And, finally, writing is something you do for one person. Most often, that person is yourself. John Steinbeck said it this way:

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike in the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

At 55, Debut Author Angeline Boulley Finds Stardom With ‘Firekeeper’s Daughter’

From The Wall Street Journal:

ast century: Angeline Boulley was a young mother of three.

Last decade: She was a bureaucrat wondering if she might also be a writer.

Last year: She was a novice finishing a title that had sold in a seven-figure two-book deal.

And last week, she was a debut author with the arrival of “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” her splashy young-adult thriller. Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company optioned the title for a Netflix series and Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club. “Dear Aspiring Writer: My great idea came at 18,” Ms. Boulley recently tweeted. “I’m 55. #NeverGiveUp.”

It’s the kind of first-time stardom that is unlikely for most writers in midlife. “There is this idea that you have to publish when you’re in your 20s or 30s and beyond that, if it hasn’t happened for you, then it’s never going to,” said Tiffany Liao, Ms. Boulley’s editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

“I did not consider myself a writer,” said Ms. Boulley, whose book follows an 18-year-old Native American woman swept up in an investigation of a dangerous new drug threatening her community. “I would go through times where I wasn’t writing for a few months or even a year, but the story would keep coming back to me.”

. . . .

Now Ms. Boulley joins a small club of later-in-life literary ingénues.

Sue Monk Kidd was 53 when she launched her first novel “The Secret Life of Bees,” a bestseller and later a movie starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was 55 for her hit debut “The Nest,” about grown siblings in a dysfunctional family. “Good Company,” her new novel about an upended marriage, comes out next month.

Nancy Pearl was 72 for the arrival of “George and Lizzie,” which includes a teenage character who sleeps with the whole high-school football team. Anne Youngson was 70 for “Meet Me at the Museum,” an epistolary love story between elderly strangers—and a left turn after her career running new vehicle development projects at Land Rover.

“My first book came out when I was a couple of months short of being able to enroll in Medicare,” said Ellen Meeropol, 75, describing her 2011 debut novel “House Arrest.”

Ms. Boulley, who is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, wanted to write an “indigenous Nancy Drew.” She found her fictional sleuth in the book’s heroine, Daunis Fontaine, a high-school valedictorian turned government informant searching for drug dealers plaguing her Ojibwe tribe—another term for the Chippewa—in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Enter Jamie, a young Native American undercover agent posing as a new recruit on an elite junior league hockey team. The two pretend to be a couple, then fall for each other for real as Daunis helps Jamie connect to his lost indigenous identity.

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

Picture Books for Older Readers

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the pandemic autumn of 2020, [Claudia Zoe] Bedrick and Enchanted Lion announced Unruly, which she says is “a new imprint dedicated to making space for picture books created with older readers in mind. Innovation and genre-bending, complexity and difficult themes, philosophical ponderings and poetry have been hallmarks of Enchanted Lion from the start, but all of its titles were written as children’s literature.”

While the press remains committed to children’s literature, she says, “it still doesn’t capture the picture book’s full potential as a medium.

“Unruly titles will stand apart as visually complex works of fiction and nonfiction created for older readers.” Asked how old is “old,” she says, “Some books for readers 10 and older, others for teen and adult readers.”

There’s some evidence of this interest—can we call this a crossover title?—in Enchanted Lion’s lists. Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring, for example. It’s written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran, and on awards both as a “book for kids” (New York Public Library and the Washington Post), simply as a “picture-book biography” (Kirkus) and a “best pick of 2020” (Chicago Public Library).

And Bedrick points to a Guardian editorial from Friday (March 19) about Nobel winner Olga Tokarczuk—with whose work Publishing Perspectives’ readers are very familiar—embarking on a picture book treatment of The Lost Soul with artist Joanna Concejo. Tokarczuk says she sees the form as “able to get through to anyone—regardless of age, cultural differences or level of education.”

What Bedrick says she sees happening in “reframing the readership’s age,” is a chance for Unruly to “open up space for a more complex exploration and instantiation of the relationship between text and image, while also inviting consideration of more mature topics. And these works will push the form through hybridization of picture book, graphic novel, artist’s journal, and art book conventions, while never relinquishing narrative, however experimental.”

The first Unruly title is to appear in June, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It, a feminist retelling of a Spanish folktale written by Ana Cristina Herreros, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz, and translated from Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives