I am always interested in why young people become writers

I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.

James A. Michener

8 Notable Attempts to Hack the New York Times Bestseller List

From The Literary Hub (2017):

The bestseller list is a surprisingly complicated creature. A good and thorough explanation is here, but basically, to get on any official list of bestsellers, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a single week—which seems straightforward, except that it’s really hard to count books sold week-to-week, even harder to count books sold by non-traditional outlets, and also not everyone is looking at all the same numbers. Publisher’s Weekly uses BookScan, but BookScan doesn’t track everything. Other bestseller lists rely on reported data from bookstores (online and off), or a combination. The New York Times list is the most prestigious, of course, because it’s the New York Times, but also, at least in part, because it’s the most opaque. “The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week,” a New York Times spokesperson told Vox. “These standards are applied consistently, across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.” Which doesn’t tell us much, and the Times is notoriously hush-hush about which stores they track and how they interpret and arrange their data.

Despite all the confusion, it’s not super hard to buy 5,000 books in a single week—if you already have the money—which could send your book to the top of the charts, depending on the week in question. This isn’t illegal, but it is gaming the system, or even cheating, if you will, and the New York Times list will sometimes include a dagger next to books they suspect might owe their placement to “strategic bulk purchases.” Worse than that demure little dagger is the fact that you’ll likely be found out and raked over the coals, especially if you’re already a public figure. On the other hand, years after people have forgotten that you scammed your way onto the bestseller list, you’ll still be putting “bestselling author” in front of your name.

Not everyone will forget, though. Considering the recent spate of bestseller-list drama, here are eight notable instances of list-hacking in its various forms, from the very cynical to the very silly.

. . . .

In August, a book very few people had ever heard of shot to the top of the Young Adult Hardcover section of the New York Times bestseller list. The book, Handbook for Mortals, was published by GeekNation, a website launched in 2012, and if that sounds odd, it’s because Sarem’s book (and attendant movie franchise deal) was the geek culture site’s first foray into publishing. It all smells a little pre-packaged, honestly, and the fact that Sarem is JC Chasez’s cousin does not make it smell any fresher.

YA author Phil Stamper brought the oddity to the book world’s attention, tweeting, “I find it . . . strange that a mediocre website can decide it wants to be a publisher, and one month later hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list” and “A book that’s out of stock on Amazon and is not currently in any physical B&N in the tri-state area . . . A book that no one has heard of except for the two niche blogs that covered the [GeekNation] press release. Sells ~5,000 in the first week? Ok.” Soon, booksellers began writing to Stamper, reporting that they had been getting mysterious bulk orders of Handbook for Mortals—but only after the caller made sure that their sales were reported to the Times bestseller list. More evidence quickly began to stack up, and by the end of the day, the Times had changed the list. “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals did not meet our criteria for inclusion,” a Times spokesperson told NPR in a statement.

In an interview with HuffPost, Sarem said, “OK, I get it. I didn’t play by the normal YA rules. I didn’t […] send out galleys two years in advance, and I didn’t go talk to the people that thought I should come talk to them. I did it a different way. Do you only get to be successful in the YA world if you only do it the way that they think it’s supposed to be done?” Later, she complained, “People keep saying that they’re tired of hearing the same story over and over again. Well, start supporting new stories. Start supporting new artists.”

A couple of weeks later, she wrote an op-ed, also at HuffPost, in which she admitted to buying her own book in bulk to sell it at Comic Con events, but said this was “well within the rules” of the bestseller list. This isn’t really borne out by the evidence, though, which shows many orders and no stock to fill them with—that is, nonexistent books purchased by people who didn’t care if they ever received them.

Fun fact: Blues Traveler, whom Sarem used to manage, tweeted that they “fired her for these kinds of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering.”

Donald Trump loves to brag about how he’s a great businessman, and how he’s a great bestselling writer, and how he’s a great bestselling writer of a great book about being a great businessman. The Art of the Deal is second only to the Bible, right? But recently in the New Republic, Alex Shephard reported that when it comes to the popularity of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump may not be as great as all that. Shocker! Shephard reports that ex-Trump executive Jack O’Donnell’s 1991 tell-all Trumped! explains exactly how The Art of the Deal became such a big bestseller: the Trump organization bought “tens of thousands of copies on its own.” Shephard reports:

In his book, O’Donnell recounts buying 1,000 copies of The Art of the Deal to sell in the Plaza’s gift shop—only to be told by fellow executive Steve Hyde that it wasn’t nearly enough. “You’ve got to increase your order,” Hyde told him. “Donald will go nuts if you don’t order more books.” How many more? Four thousand copies, O’Donnell was told.

And it wasn’t just the Plaza Hotel that was buying the book in bulk. According to O’Donnell, Trump executives were instructed to buy thousands of copies for their properties. In typical Trump fashion, the boss pitted his top executives against each other: When Trump’s then-wife, Ivana, ordered 4,000 books for the Trump Castle Casino in Atlantic City, O’Donnell was warned that he needed to match her. “Hey, Jack,” a fellow executive cautioned him, “you better buy as many books as Ivana, or Donald will use it against you.”

To be fair, Shephard says, The Art of the Deal would have wound up a bestseller anyway. But only last year, Trump pulled the same thing with his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again (which I have never heard of), buying $55,055 worth of copies at Barnes & Noble. Again, not illegal—unless he gets any royalties from the purchases. “It’s fine for a candidate’s book to be purchased by his committee, but it’s impermissible to receive royalties from the publisher,” a representative of nonpartisan nonprofit Campaign Legal Center told The Daily Beast. “That amounts to an illegal conversion of campaign funds to personal use. There’s a well established precedent from the FEC that funds from the campaign account can’t end up in your own pocket.” Of course, that probably didn’t stop him. It’s Donald Trump, after all.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub (2017)

The convoluted world of best-seller lists, explained

From Vox (2017):

Over the past few weeks, scandal has rocked the august institution of the New York Times best-seller list. And it’s happened not just once but twice.

On August 24, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher rocketed its way to first place on the Times’s young adult hardcover best-seller list. But as a scrappy band of investigators who congregated in the YA Twitter community discovered, it wasn’t because a lot of people were reading the book. Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem bought its way onto the list, they concluded, with the publisher and author strategically ordering large numbers of the book from stores that report their sales to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, the Times removed the book from its rankings.

And on September 4, Regnery Books — the conservative publishing imprint that publishes Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — denounced the New York Times best-seller list as biased against conservatives. Why, it demanded, was D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left ranked as seventh on the Times’s hardcover nonfiction list when Nielsen BookScan’s data, per Regnery’s interpretation, suggested it should be first? Regnery concluded that the New York Times was actively conspiring against conservative titles, and announced that it would sever all ties with the Times.

To understand how any of this could happen — how different lists can contain different titles, in a different order, how an unknown book could buy its way onto a best-seller list, how a best-seller list could have a political bias — and why any of these things matter, you need to understand how the different best-seller lists work, what makes the New York Times’s best-seller list unique, and the purpose best-seller lists serve within the world of book publishing.

Why is it such a big deal for a book to be named a best-seller?

There are multiple best-seller lists out there, and getting named to any of them is welcome for most authors, but the New York Times best-seller list is widely considered to be the most prestigious, and it’s certainly the most well-known.

Becoming a New York Times best-seller has a measurable effect on a book’s sales, especially for books by debut authors. According to a 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorensen, appearing on the New York Times’s best-seller list increased debut authors’ sales by 57 percent. On average, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.

Besides the list’s effect on sales, it offers prestige. If your book appears on the New York Times list — even just for a week in the last slot of the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category — you get to call yourself a New York Times best-seller for the rest of your life. You can put that honor on the cover of all of your other books. If anyone ever insults you, you can say, “Well, have you written a New York Times best-seller?” (Strategy not recommended if the person who insulted you was Danielle Steel.)

And for the rare book that manages to establish enough of a presence on various best-seller lists, a self-sustaining momentum develops. Not everyone who bought a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey expected to like what they read, but Fifty Shades became such a ubiquitous cultural force that lots of people wanted to have an opinion on it anyway. That inspired them to buy it, and that meant the book stayed on the list.

. . . .

At the end of the day, best-seller lists work as shorthand for readers: “Lots of other people liked these books,” they say, “so odds are good that you will too!” 

What does it take to be named a best-seller?

The general consensus is that if you want to make your way onto a best-seller list, any best-seller list, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a week, or maybe 10,000. Beyond that, things get complicated depending on which list you’re looking to end up on.

That’s because the different lists don’t all use the same data. No one has access to all of the sales made by every single book published in the US in a given week. It takes months for publishers to assemble that data; it’s impossible to get it all in time to publish a weekly best-seller list. “At the end of the day, the publishers will have a hundred percent understanding of what was sold,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly, “but they won’t have it by the end of the week.”

So all of the different best-seller lists have established their own methodologies to gather sales data — and once they’ve got it, they break it down differently. They put the break between one week and another in different spots (ending on Sunday versus Saturday, for example); they use different categories to sort the lists; they weigh digital and print titles differently. Here’s a breakdown of how the five major lists — Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Indiebound, Amazon, and the New York Times — work.

Publishers Weekly, which Regnery has cited as the “benchmark” it will be following henceforward, pulls its data from the Nielsen service BookScan. BookScan is also the service that most publishers use to track their competitors’ sales, so it’s more or less the industry standard.

BookScan reports that it tracks 80 to 85 percent of the sales of printed books in the US, and although that claim has been contested, it certainly gets data from major sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as a number of independent bookstores. (BookScan estimates that it collects data from approximately 16,000 outlets every week.)

Link to the rest at Vox (2017)

Amazon Best Sellers Rank Explained for Authors

From Tough Nickel:

As she looked at her book’s product page on Amazon, a new traditionally published author asked me what the Amazon Best Sellers Rank means. Did it tell her anything about how many sales were being made? Why are sales rankings always changing?

When it says “only 2 books left,” what does that mean? Though this author was traditionally published, many self-published authors struggle with figuring out what it all means, too.

So let me explain what all these confusing numbers and terms mean for authors.

Author Central

Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, you can claim your author profile on Amazon through Author Central. After your identity and claim to book titles are verified, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • Establish an author profile page on Amazon where you can post your bio, videos, and links to your blog or podcast RSS feed.
  • Access reports for Amazon Best Sellers Rank and NPD Bookscan rankings.
  • See the most recent customer reviews for your book without having to constantly visit your book product pages on Amazon.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

The author who contacted me said she was checking “the numbers,” which I presumed was Amazon Best Sellers Rank, “a million times a day.” Dear authors, please don’t do this! Let me explain why.

For the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, sometimes referred to as “BSR,” the lower the BSR number, the higher you rank. Note that for your Kindle editions, your BSR shown on Author Central is for “Paid” books, meaning it doesn’t include Free Kindle Book Promotions. Also, note that this number tells you nothing about the number of books sold.

Your book’s BSR is a constantly moving target. The Amazon Customer Service documentation as of this post date had this to say about Best Sellers Rank:

The Amazon Best Sellers calculation is based on Amazon sales, and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon. [Emphasis added for hourly.]

With hourly updates, your BSR could vary widely and wildly within the span of just one day. So unless you have the iron emotional stamina of a stock market day trader, basing the evaluation of your book’s success on Amazon’s BSR doesn’t help your physical and mental health.

Here’s something that freaks out authors. Your BSR can improve, sometimes dramatically, without you selling even one book. Or it can decline dramatically, even if you make sales, because there may be a flood of sales for other competing titles. This is because BSR is a calculation based on both recent and historical sales in comparison to other books, though KDP Support documentation says that recent activity is weighted more heavily.

I could not confirm on Amazon documentation if Kindle Unlimited KENP page reads impact BSR. What’s confusing is that KDP says sales ranking is based on “activity.” So are Kindle Unlimited reads considered “activity?” Logically, it seems like it might. But only Amazon knows.

In case you’re wondering, no, we don’t know the exact formula Amazon uses to calculate BSR. Like Google, they are not going to share that to prevent gaming of the system. Since BSR is a metric over which you have zero control, you should have zero worries over it.

. . . .

Different Format, Different Sales Rank

Something to also note is that your book title will have a separate BSR for Books, Kindle Store, and Audible, depending on which formats you’re offering. On the “Formats and editions” dropdown box next to your title on Author Central, you can choose which format’s BSR you’d like to view.

Sales rank can vary dramatically from edition to edition. Looking at mine for one particular day, I had a rank in the high 600K range for Kindle, 2.5 million for the paperback print edition, and in the 300K range for the audiobook.

Again, this tells you nothing valuable.

Historical Sales Rank

You can also click the “View historical Sales Rank” link for each of your titles on Author Central to see changes in your BSR over time for that title and each format. Let’s take a look at my first book, which I first published in 2011, then moved to KDP in 2014.

Looking at the graph of the BSR of the Kindle edition of my book, SWAG, for the period of 2014 to 2022, my highest BSR was in 2017 at 2,844. That’s pretty high! And that was three years after I published it on KDP. But it swings wildly from that high point, plummeting to rankings down in the millions.

Category Rankings

On your books’ listings on Author Central, you’ll see a link that says “See category rankings on Amazon.” This will send you to your book’s product page on Amazon. You’ll need to scroll down to Product Details to see your book’s ranking in topic categories and subcategories for each format.

This is where you’ll see how your book ranks in comparison to other books in your genre or topic. This is a more valuable ranking report than the placement in the overall BSR. Amazon shows where your book ranks highly within a few of the most popular categories.

Link to the rest at Tough Nickel

Dos And Don’ts For Writing Viewpoint Voice

From My Story Doctor:

Many readers and editors state that a strong voice immediately draws them into a story, and one of the most important voices will come from your viewpoint character. But even when you’ve developed their personality and voice, it can still be tricky to actually get them on the page. Here are nine dos and don’ts to help out.

Hi all, September C. Fawkes here, back to talk more about voice. Last month, I broke down how voice works at three levels: the author, the narrator, and the characters each have their own voices. Voice is essentially that person’s personality, as it shows up on the page. In my opinion, when broken down, voice is made up of two things:

What the Person Thinks or Talks About + How They Say It = Voice

And this equation works at any level.

Most of the time these days, the narrator will actually be the same as the viewpoint character. Whether they are written in first person or third person, the majority of stories are written from a character’s perspective.

Yet even when we know the voice equation, it can sometimes still be tricky to actually figure out how to get that voice on the page. So today I wanted to share some things that do work well, and some things that don’t.

Avoid These 4 Things When Crafting Viewpoint (or Narrative) Voice

1. “Always” Sentence Structures 

(Ex. always talks in long sentences or short sentences)

When looking at developing voice, it might seem like a good idea to play with sentence structure–heck, it is a good idea, to an extent. But if you are too rigid with it, there are problems. The most obvious is that trying to read a story where every sentence is about the same length is usually a terrible experience. Beyond that, sentence structure is also used to control pacing, tone, and emotional experience. If you get too locked into a specific type of sentence structure, you doom other parts of storytelling. Besides, most people don’t adhere to a specific structure, constantly, in real life either.

2. Dominating Emotions that Undercut the Story

If you are writing in a voice where the viewpoint character almost always sounds calm or relaxed–guess what? Chances are it’s going to minimize the tension you have in your story. Because if they are calm, the reader is probably calm. If they aren’t worried, the reader probably isn’t worried. The only way you can get away with this consistently, is if you are writing a story with very high stakes at every turn, so that the calmness is a counterpoint that adds humor or irony.

Likewise, a character who is consistently sad about whatever, might start to sound melodramatic–and when you get to the really sad part later in the story, it won’t be as powerful, because we’ve already spent so much time feeling sad. In short, frankly, some dominating emotions work better as a viewpoint character’s voice than others. Avoid those that are going to undercut the power of your story.

3. Stock Voices

Once in a while you run into a character voice that sounds like a hundred other character voices of that genre. For example, YA is known for protagonists having snarky voices. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but if you do have a viewpoint character whose voice sounds similar to many others, find a way to individualize it. Lots of people are snarky. But they are snarky in their own ways. How is your character snarky?

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Miłosz’s Magic Mountain

From The Babbler:

AT THE EDGE OF BERKELEY’S CAMPUS, where concrete meets traffic, Euclid Avenue stretches up and north into the hills beyond. I usually stopped on the first block for pizza and beer at La Val’s. But occasionally, on the way to a professor’s house or a graduate student party, I continued the climb on my creaky French bike, purchased in a misguided act of aspirational hipsterdom. Along Euclid’s curves, the ascent begins to level out, opening up a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. At the top, around the corner on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, stands a dark wooden house. For almost twenty years, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz lived here in obscurity, descending to teach Slavic literature to long-haired students he didn’t understand—until one day in 1980, when the Nobel committee called to inform him that he’d won their prize for literature.

Born in 1911 to Polish nobility in Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), Miłosz personally witnessed many of the major events of the twentieth century: World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the rise of the Cold War. In Nazi-occupied Poland, he wrote poems including “Campo dei Fiori,” a haunting meditation on bystander apathy in which revelers ride a carousel outside the walls of the Warsaw ghetto as it goes up in flames: “That same hot wind/blew open the skirts of the girls/and the crowds were laughing/on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.” After moving to California in 1960, however, Miłosz largely turned away from history and politics to reflect on more internal questions. In a poem, he compared Berkeley to the setting of The Magic Mountain, the favorite novel of his youth. Thomas Mann’s hero, Hans Castorp, arrives at a Swiss sanatorium for a brief visit but invents an illness that allows him to stay for seven years, far from the war that will soon break out below. 

Miłosz is best known outside Poland for The Captive Mind (1953), his study of how Eastern European intellectuals were seduced by Stalinism. Through several character portraits, he showed how a combination of opportunism, exhaustion, and hope led Polish writers to swallow the pill of contentment in exchange for compliance. Some prospered, like “Alpha, the Moralist” (based on Jerzy Andrzejewski), a pious Catholic who became a celebrated Marxist. Others choked on their mixed feelings, like “Beta, the Disappointed Lover” (Tadeusz Borowski), an Auschwitz survivor and author of sardonic stories about life in the camp, who briefly wrote in a “socialist realist” mode before gassing himself to death at age twenty-eight. 

The Captive Mind became a classic study of “totalitarianism,” a framework bound up in Cold War narratives about the civilized West versus the backward East. I first read it in a PhD seminar in fall 2014, with little patience for a writer who seemed like a reactionary. My specialty was Soviet history, and I thought that Miłosz’s profile of Communist double-think—exemplified by the “Ketman,” who wears a mask that conceals his inner doubts—overlooked how the “free world” also ran on hypocritical conformity. We were living in a post-Fukuyama age, when trust in liberal democracy had dwindled while its slogans lived on. With President Obama deep into his second term and both parties unable to confront inequality or climate change, Miłosz’s warnings about fervent conviction felt far away. 

. . . .

With the Bay Area housing bubble reserving hillside real estate for senior scholars and the new tech elite, graduate students paid exorbitant sums to rent rooms on the city’s lower-altitude south side, which came with the earthbound awareness that we were preparing to enter a severely contracting profession. Thanks to our excellent health insurance, steady if inadequate stipends, and free food hoarded from campus events, we, too, found a degree of insular security in academia, if only for a while. 

. . . .

Recently, I returned to [The Captive Mind] in search of answers for why so many believe in systems that they know to be destructive—and how some decide to break ranks. Instead of an artist who saw himself as above the fray, I discovered a thinker who constantly grappled with the tension between engagement and resignation, certainty and doubt. The Captive Mind does not speak with the confidence of the unconverted. Miłosz wrote it to dispel his continued attachment to Communism and to his friends who remained within its fold.

From his student days, Miłosz expressed both pride and shame over his inability to commit. In his 1959 memoir Rodzinna Europa (translated into English as Native Realm), he writes that a sense of otherness as a Lithuanian-born Pole and instinctive “allergy to everything that smacks of the ‘national’” drew him toward the left. While reading The Magic Mountain, he identified with Castorp as well as Naphta, the Mephistophelean voice of ideological orthodoxy (Jesuit and Marxist alike) who faces off against the Enlightenment humanist Settembrini. Yet Miłosz’s self-styling as a revolutionary was short-lived: “Completely incapable of action, unfit for organizing or leadership or even blind obedience, I compared myself to my colleagues: they were drawing conclusions from their reading of Lenin; they were courageous and purehearted.” Convinced of the need for a more equal society but reluctant to back the Soviet Union or the aesthetics of its artists, Miłosz compared his discomfort with taking a clear position to Castorp’s retreat to the Berghof: “Did not Hans Castorp fabricate his fever so that he could stay in Davos on the Magic Mountain, far removed from the world, because the world terrified him?”  

After World War I, Vilnius had been incorporated into newly independent Poland. Miłosz attended university and worked at a radio station in this city of “narrow cobblestone streets and an orgy of baroque.” In September 1939, however, Stalin invaded Vilnius and transferred it to Lithuania, which belonged to the Soviet sphere of influence under the terms of his pact with Hitler. The following year, when the entire country was annexed into the Soviet Union, Miłosz fled Vilnius for Warsaw. There, he participated in the remarkably rich cultural life of Nazi-occupied Poland, translating plays for the Underground Theater Council and publishing illegal literature. According to Nazi ideology, Poles were racial inferiors who were destined either for enslavement or execution. Yet they were not subject to total extermination like the country’s Jews, three million of whom died in the Holocaust. In “A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto,” Miłosz expressed his sense of complicity as one of “the helpers of death:/The uncircumcised.” He wrote elegies for friends who died during the war, including in the suicidal Warsaw Uprising of summer 1944, when the Red Army stood on the other side of Vistula River and watched as the Wehrmacht razed the city to the ground. In a 1945 poem, Miłosz addressed the fallen as “You whom I could not save.”

After the war, the new Polish nation established at Yalta fell under Soviet dominion. At the time, Miłosz believed that only Communism could abolish the country’s semi-feudal social structure and rebuild the region. Yet disheartened by seeing his home turned into a “Stalinist province,” he found a middle ground by working abroad as a diplomat, serving as a cultural attaché for the Polish embassy in the United States and France. The culture of loyalty and subservience grew to be too much for him, however, and he defected to France in 1953. There, while struggling with “the corroding effects of isolation”—according to biographer Andrzej Franaszek, he repeatedly considered suicide—Miłosz wrote The Captive Mind. He had misgivings about the book’s international success, which alienated him from both the left and members of the right who still saw him as a Communist lackey. In 1960, he received an invitation to teach at Berkeley and bid farewell to Paris for a new life in the Golden State.

Link to the rest at The Babbler

Texas residents are suing their county after books were removed from public libraries

From CNN:

Seven residents in Llano County, Texas, are suing county officials, claiming their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when books deemed inappropriate by some people in the community and Republican lawmakers were removed from public libraries or access was restricted.

This county of 21,000 people in the Texas Hill Country is now part of the growing number of communities in the United States where conservative groups and individuals have pushed to control what titles people have access to and singled out books that deal with race, gender or sexuality.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in US District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, claims county officials removed books from the shelves of the three-branch public library system “because they disagree with the ideas within them” and terminated access to thousands of digital books because they could not ban two specific titles.

“Public libraries are not places of government indoctrination. They are not places where the people in power can dictate what their citizens are permitted to read about and learn. When government actors target public library books because they disagree with and intend to suppress the ideas contained within them, it jeopardizes the freedoms of everyone,” the lawsuit states.

. . . .

In the lawsuit, Leila Green Little, a mother who lives in Llano County, and the other six plaintiffs argue that county officials removed several children’s books last August in response to complaints from a group of community members who described them as inappropriate. Those titles include “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.

Months later, Texas Rep. Matt Krause launched an inquiry into whether 850 books on the subjects of race or sex that might “make students feel discomfort” were in public school libraries and classrooms. The lawsuit says Wallace eventually sent a spreadsheet with the books from that list that were available in Llano County library’s collection.

. . . .

Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, said she hopes the lawsuit inspires people in other communities to speak up.

“It is a shame that this unnecessary culture war has led to this, but we applaud the efforts of these individuals to utilize the justice system to speak up and say with a clear voice ‘enough is enough,'” Robinson said. “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we’re certainly not going to lay down and let subjective opinion and politics restrict the freedom to read.”

In a recent analysis, PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, found that 1,145 books were banned in communities across the United States from July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. The majority of those bans involved departures from best practices established by National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association regarding how books and instructional materials should be challenged in schools and libraries, the group said.

For Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, the lawsuit in Llano County could have a significant impact on the current climate and serve as a reminder of the constitutional protections that people around the country have.

Friedman told CNN there has been “a kind of abrogation of duty” to uphold the First Amendment and there has been “very little resistance” from officials when there are demands to remove materials from school or public libraries.

“Whether that’s in the school board or whether that’s in a library, somebody wants something gone and it appears to be going. At their meetings, there’s no resistance, there’s no friction, there’s no one in some of these rooms saying ‘well, hold on a minute, let’s make sure we exercise due diligence, due process, consider the kind of diversity of opinions as people who our institution serves,'” Friedman said.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG suggests that, regardless of one’s personal opinions about the library battles involving public school and community libraries in various parts of the United States, such strident disagreements are not good for the welfare of such libraries moving forward.

Schools and public libraries have budgets, generally set by one or more groups of elected officials. Budgets for public libraries can be cut to the point that such libraries become unable to serve their patrons or would-be patrons either completely or in any meaningful way.

If librarians decide to choose other ways of earning their living or move to other locations where turmoil is not a feature of their working lives, there is not a guarantee that replacements will be found.

I Believe the Man in the Attic Has a Gun

From Electric Lit:

“The Old Man with No Name” is the opening tale of Budi Darma’s short story collection People from Bloomington. He penned the set of seven stories in the 1970s, during the years he spent as a master’s and doctoral student in the English department at Indiana University, Bloomington. Except for a fleeting mention that one narrator is a “foreign student,” the stories are about Bloomingtonians and feature an all-American cast.

. . . .

Fess Avenue wasn’t a long street. There were only three houses on it, all with attics and fairly large yards. Drawn there by an ad in the classifieds, I moved into the attic room of the middle house, which belonged to a Mrs. MacMillan. She herself occupied the lower floors. Such being the case, I had an excellent view—not only of Mrs. Nolan’s house, but Mrs. Casper’s as well. 

Like Mrs. MacMillan, these two neighbors had been without husbands for a long time. Since Mrs. MacMillan never spoke about her own situation, I never found out what happened to Mr. MacMillan. But she told me that Mrs. Nolan lived alone due to her ornery disposition. As a young newlywed, she would often beat her husband. And one day, she’d arbitrarily ordered him to scram, threatening him with further beatings if he made any attempt to return. Since kicking him out, Mrs. Nolan had shown no desire to live with anyone else at all. 

Mrs. Casper’s was a different story. She hadn’t cared much about her husband, a traveling salesman who’d rarely been at home. Whether he was in the house or elsewhere, it appeared to make no difference to her. It was the same when he died in a car accident in Cincinnati. She had betrayed no sign of either sorrow or joy. 

That was the extent of my knowledge, for that was all that Mrs. MacMillan told me. Don’t try to manage the affairs of others and don’t take an interest in other people’s business. This was what Mrs. MacMillan advised by way of conclusion once she was done telling me about her neighbors. It was the only way, she said, that anyone could ever hope to live in peace. 

Furthermore, she continued, for the purpose of maintaining good relations between her and myself, I was only allowed to speak to her when necessary, and only ever on the phone. Therefore, I should get a telephone right away, she told me. And until the phone company came to install my line, I was forbidden from using hers. After all, she said, there was a public phone booth a mere three blocks away. She went on to say that the key she’d lent me could only be used for the side door. Her key was for the front entrance. This way, we could each come and go without bothering the other. Also, she continued, I should leave my monthly rent check in her mailbox—for I had a separate mailbox from hers, located on the side of the house. I must say, initially, I found these terms extremely agreeable, for it wasn’t as if I liked to be bothered by other people myself. 

The whole summer passed without any problems. I used my time to attend lectures, visit the library, take walks, and cook. And every now and then I would sit contemplatively in Dunn Meadow, a grassy area where there were always lots of people. I bumped into Mrs. Nolan and Mrs. Casper a few times, but as neither of them showed any desire to become acquainted when I tried to approach, I too became reluctant about speaking to them. 

But as summer started to give way to fall, the situation changed. As autumn approached, the town of Bloomington was flooded by thirty-five thousand incoming students—new ones, as well as those who had spent the summer months out of town. But as far as I knew, not a single one of them lived on or in the vicinity of Fess. Bloomington bustled with activity, but Fess Avenue remained deserted. Besides this, as time went on, the days grew shorter, with the sun rising ever later and setting ever sooner. And then the leaves turned yellow and, by and by, began to shed. Not only that—it rained more often, some times to the accompaniment of lightning and thunder. Opportunities to go outdoors became few and far between. Only now, under such conditions, did I pay more attention to life on Fess. All three of them—Mrs. MacMillan, Mrs. Nolan, and Mrs. Casper—spent a lot of time in their yards raking leaves. The leaves would then be put into enormous plastic bags, placed in their cars, and driven to the garbage dump about seven blocks away. 

. . . .

Mrs. Casper didn’t possess exceptional qualities like Mrs. Nolan, but it was hard to ignore her all the same. She was old and sometimes looked unwell, and when she looked unwell, she was unsteady on her feet. When she was in good health, she was capable of a brisk stride. I often thought to myself that if she ever had cause to run, she would manage a good sprint. 

All three women shopped at the local Marsh Supermarket from time to time. It was a small branch, which sold both regular goods and ready-made foods, not far from the nearby phone booth. Naturally, since it was such a quiet area, the store didn’t have many regular customers. The owner himself didn’t seem to expect much business. The main thing was that the store could keep trundling along, and he seemed satisfied on this front. In keeping with the general atmosphere of the neighborhood, he wasn’t friendly, speaking only when required. Personally, I only shopped there if I couldn’t get to College Mall with its many affordable stores, some distance away. 

To combat my loneliness, I’d sometimes flip through the phone book. In its pages, I discovered the numbers for Mrs. Nolan, Mrs. Casper, and the nearby Marsh. Over time, once we were well into autumn and the days had grown even shorter, and strong winds had become a regular occurrence, as had lightning and thunder storms, I set about killing the lonely hours by playing telephone. At first, I’d dial the recorded voice that would give me the time, temperature, and weather forecast. That sufficed initially, but over time, grew less effective. I began calling various classmates. They responded in the same way they did when I met them on campus, in as few words as possible, until I exhausted all possible topics of conversation. I began ringing up Marsh, asking if they stocked bananas, or apples, or spaghetti—anything really—which ended up annoying the owner. Mrs. MacMillan didn’t seem too happy either whenever I called her with some made-up excuse. Like the store owner, she seemed to know full well that I had no real reason to talk. 

At last, one rainy night, I phoned Mrs. Nolan to ask if I could help clean up her yard. This seemed not only to surprise her, but enrage her as well. Was her yard that filthy, that disgusting, she inquired. When I answered, “No,” she asked what my ulterior motive was. I just thought she might need some help, I said, upon which she asked whether she looked so sickly, so feeble, that I felt compelled to offer my services. Naturally, I replied that she looked perfectly healthy. She promptly told me, “If I need anyone’s help, I’ll place an ad.” 

After this conversation, I didn’t dare to phone Mrs. Casper.

One night, as the rain fell outside in a steady drizzle, something changed. There was a light on in Mrs. Casper’s attic. And it remained on every night. I soon found out that someone was living there—an old man who looked about sixty-five years old. Every morning he would poke his head out the window and take aim at the ground below with a pistol, like a child playing with a toy. But I was certain that what he was holding was a real gun. And if I was right, something terrible might happen. So I immediately called Mrs. MacMillan. She thanked me for informing her, but then tried to bring the matter to a close: “If Mrs. Casper really does have a boarder in her attic, then that’s her business. Just like you living here is mine. If he really does have a gun, he obviously has a permit for it. And if he doesn’t have a permit, then they’ll arrest him at some point.” 

I made a hasty attempt at protest before she could hang up. “If anything happens, won’t it be bad for us?” 

“As long as we don’t bother him, what could happen?” she replied. 

And that was the end of the conversation. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

We All Need to Be Defended Against Predatory Publishing Practices

From Jane Friedman:

I’ve written and spoken about hybrid publishing for years now, and it’s a nuanced and complicated issue. Some of you may know I’m not a huge fan of the term “hybrid publisher,” because sometimes it’s little more than a marketing ploy by paid publishing services, meant to make authors feel good about their choice of paying to publish. (More on that here.) But there are excellent hybrid publishers who deserve to be categorized differently than your average paid publishing service. She Writes Press is one of them.

The barriers to getting a book published have never been lower, and the consequence of this reality—that anyone can publish a book—is that predatory bad actors come out of the woodwork, and would-be authors must be on guard.

A prerequisite to becoming an author these days is self-education about the industry. The pay-to-publish space has been on a steep growth trajectory, evermore so in the past decade. There’s been a proliferation of self-publishing, but also of other non-traditional models—which, lacking any clear identifying label, have had to define themselves. Non-traditional by design, these author-subsidized publishing models have adopted labels that include hybrid (the one that’s been mostly widely embraced by the industry), partnership, subsidy, entrepreneurial, cooperative, and others.

I’m the publisher of two hybrid imprints, She Writes Press and SparkPress, and when I first launched She Writes Press in 2012, there was no right label for what we were doing. The only other presses I knew with this kind of “in-between” publishing model, where authors paid for various aspects of production, printing, and warehousing in exchange for higher royalties, were traditional publishers who cut hybrid deals with authors (often at the authors’ request because these models can in fact be in the authors’ best interest), and Greenleaf Book Group, who didn’t call itself hybrid at the time.

It was my early authors who pushed me to call what we were doing something—anything. They wanted a label because they wanted to distinguish themselves, and to explain to the outside world that their publisher was neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing. But being neither, we were in a gray zone. Many of my authors advocated for partnership, but in the end I settled on hybrid because that’s what it felt like to me—a hybrid between traditional and self-publishing, and I first wrote about this “third way” space in a Publishers Weekly Soapbox piece in March 2014.

Since 2014, hybrid publishing has exploded, but with the model’s elevated attention and reputation, the sharks started to swarm. One of the most complicated and disappointing results of naming this third-way publishing something concrete—hybrid—was how it started to be exploited and coopted. As She Writes Press and SparkPress began seeing true results, and therefore legitimacy, in traditional spaces (reviews, awards, sales), we also started seeing all kinds of entities, most of them providing services to authors to varying degrees of professionalism, who were calling themselves hybrid publishers. In the absence of any true definition for what this middle-ground was (in fact, I myself didn’t really know what it was and wrote a definition of hybrid in the first edition of my book, Green-Light Your Book, that I wouldn’t stand behind today), the floodgates opened, and all kinds of businesses were suddenly calling themselves “publishers” even when they were not true publishing companies (which involves vetting manuscripts or being selective about what you publish) and having a marketing, distribution, and sales strategy for all books.

One early response to this coopting came from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), who released its Hybrid Publisher Criteria in early 2018. It offers nine criteria for the industry and authors alike to use as a measurement of a hybrid publisher’s integrity. The problem is that human beings run companies, and human beings fudge the rules, and in the aftermath of making public those criteria, I talked to more than a few heads of “hybrid publishers” who said to me with all sincerity, Yes, we’re hybrid; we meet all but two of the criteria.

The failure to force well-intentioned would-be hybrids and bad actors alike to comply to true standards met a new point of resistance last week with the release of a report called Is It a Steal?: An Investigation into ‘Hybrid’/Paid-for Publishing Services, put out by The Society of Authors and The Writers Union. It was clearly initiated to draw attention to the degree to which authors are exploited by “pay-for” publishing services, but the underlying and wrong assumption the report makes is that all hybrid publishing is vanity publishing, and that no existing hybrids have standards they adhere to—which would include things like vetting, traditional distribution, and proven sales records. Nor does it acknowledge IBPA’s criteria, which has been around for more than five years. The report, instead, is an attack on the whole of hybrid publishing, without any nuance or acknowledgment from its authors that perhaps hybrid publishing needs also to be on the offensive because our label is being misused, and therefore hybrid publishing is being exploited too. It’s important to note that the Society of Authors and The Writers Union are UK-based, and as the US-based Authors Guild rightly notes in a statement it released in response to “Is It a Steal?”, “The hybrid publishing space is larger and more nuanced in the United States. There are some highly reputable hybrid publishers in the U.S.”

. . . .

“Is It a Steal?” attempts to address a known problem: predatory publishing practices. There are many bad actors out there, and we do need strategies to address this problem. We need to protect and educate writers. However, “Is It a Steal?” wants to strongarm bad actors by insisting that they follow a set of “recommendations.” But the bad actors won’t give a lick about recommendations; they will not be moved by a report telling them to be transparent and to produce a viable marketing plan if that’s not what they do or intend to do.

The better—and only—way to address the problem of bad actors in the publishing space, especially those who are coopting the good name of “hybrid” for their own reputational and financial gains, is to educate would-be authors. We must equip authors with the tools they need to see past flattery and compliments, to support them to think clearly when someone tells them they’ll make them a bestseller, to empower them ask critical questions about contracts and rights and finances.

. . . .

I started She Writes Press specifically because the barriers to traditional publishing are so high (too high) for most authors, and because there are many authors who do not want to self-publish, and for whom distribution and sales, reviews, and a team that supports them through the publishing process is the right combination of elements they’re looking for in a publishing experience. My own efforts as a hybrid publisher have focused from Day One on leveling the playing field for authors, to give them a fighting chance against their traditionally published counterparts and to sell more books that the average self-published author can on their own without infrastructure and publisher support.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG checked out SheWrites Press and quickly discovered that they offer one package for $8500.00. On their submissions page, they are upfront about their $35.00 Submission Fee.

As the OP states, they offer a single package which you can find in bullet-point form here. The same page notes that the press is acquiring titles for its Spring, 2024, book list.

The Our Process page provides more details about what they’ll do. Near the bottom of the page, the following information is provided in bold type:

The cost of printing your ARCs and final books is not included in the She Writes Press publishing package.

In looking through the About Us page, PG learned that in 2014, SheWrites Press was acquired by SparkPoint Studio, LLC and got a new CEO. SparkPoint Studio has its own brand of hybrid publishing called SparkPoint Press. A quick run through the website of SparkPoint Press made it appear that it had adopted the same type of hybrid publishing model that SheWrites uses.

It was not clear to PG whether there is any distinction between the SheWrites plans and operations and those of SparkPoint.

SparkPoint Press also has a couple of additional links to more related and She-prefix sites that the company appears to own, BookSparks, SheReads and SheBooks. All the About Us pages (or their equivalents) PG reviewed featured women with the exception of one guy in what looked like it might have a peon job on one of the sites, so these are definitely women-run businesses. PG didn’t notice any information about ownership, but lots of businesses don’t talk about that unless they’re a subsidiary of a large parent company that doesn’t show information about ownership.

What PG didn’t find in all the She’s and Spark’s was a copy of the publishing contract any of these organizations ask authors to sign and return with an $8500 check.

PG would be very interesting in seeing a publishing contract for the She’s or the Spark’s.

He wonders why, with all the non-predatory practices of She Writes Press and SparkPress, the publisher of those two organizations who wrote the OP didn’t include a lot more information about the contract terms of those two organizations.

If anyone says, “We don’t want others to copy our contract!”, PG’s skepticism meter would jump to Stun immediately.

Contracts cannot be copyrighted. Anyone can copy some or all of the contract terms s/he finds in a contract used by another company. Since time immemorial, attorneys have kept copies of contracts they have drafted, contracts others have drafted and contracts they may stumble across anywhere else.

This hoarding practice allows attorneys to avoid re-inventing the wheel while drafting a new contract when they already have a perfectly good wheel-invention contract in their form files AKA copies of contracts they’ve collected over the years.

One of the things that first impressed PG about Kindle Direct Publishing is that they had their Terms and Conditions (internet-speak for publishing contract) available on their website. You can see the latest version here.

Reading it won’t keep you up past your bedtime, but everything that indie authors (and more than a few publishers who distribute ebooks via Zon) are asked to digitally “sign” is right out there for all to see.

The right of the author or Amazon to terminate the publishing agreement at any time is described in Section 3. The royalty provisions for KDP as referenced in Section 5.4.1 of Amazon’s online agreement are available here. Details concerning payments from Amazon Serviços de Varejo do Brasil Ltda are found in Section 5.4.5 of the online agreement.

End of Amazon minutiae.

If anyone can provide PG with a copy of an $8500 contract from the She’s or the Spark’s, he would appreciate reviewing it and, possibly, doing a blog post about the contract. Use the Contact PG link at the top of the blog to commence that process.

John Donne, a rake-turned-cleric, is a gift to biographers

From The Economist

The centenaries of both James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” fall in 2022. Reflecting on those twin monuments of modernism, readers might also give some thought to the writers of the past whom those authors revisited or revered. Eliot famously downgraded Milton—regarded for over two centuries as the greatest of English poets—and upgraded John Donne, for most of the same period largely forgotten. As a result, many poets of the mid-20th century hearkened to Donne, who died in 1631, as to a contemporary.

What made the metaphysical poet exciting, Eliot wrote in 1921, was that “a thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility. When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience.” To give one example, Donne compares a woman lying on a bed to a map of the world awaiting exploration in “To His Mistress Going to Bed”. (“My Empirie/How blest am I in this discovering thee!”) Such unexpected pairings of the carnal with the energetically intellectual were compelling to 20th-century readers, and the map image, reminding readers that Donne lived in the Age of Discovery, brings the historical context of the work vividly close.

Do readers today still feel as Eliot did? Yes, says Katherine Rundell in “Super-Infinite”, a new biography. She proclaims that “Donne is the greatest writer of desire in the English language” and finds his love poetry sexy and appealing to 21st-century sensibilities. She argues for Donne’s uniqueness, perhaps exaggerating: Shakespeare, for instance, is equally frank, but then his sonnets are weighed down with a guilt and self-disgust quite foreign to Donne’s cheerfully boastful randiness.

. . . .

Despite her palpable enthusiasm for Donne’s love poetry and the gift to a biographer of his swashbuckling early years—he was imprisoned for marrying an underage woman without her father’s consent and went to sea on privateering missions—Ms Rundell is at her best when writing of his maturity. He became famous as Dean of St Paul’s and was an enthralling preacher and laureate of death. Not for nothing are poems such as “Death Be Not Proud” often recommended readings for funerals.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Man Who Understood Democracy

From The Wall Street Journal:

The title of Olivier Zunz’s biography of Alexis de Tocqueville—“The Man Who Understood Democracy”—would appear to be a direct appeal to readers who believe democracy is, to use one popular formulation, “under assault.” Anxiety over the fate of democracy has become the de rigueur emotional stance of the nation’s enlightened influencers. Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, asserted this week that “our very democracy is on the brink” and that one of the country’s major parties has dedicated itself to “the destruction of democratic norms.” Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times, headlined “DeSantis, Disney and Democracy,” registered the same sentiment. Barack Obama, in a speech on “disinformation” at Stanford University on April 21, spoke mournfully of “democratic backsliding” and “the weakening of democratic institutions” at home and abroad. 

In none of these or a thousand other lamentations is it clear what the authors mean by “democracy.” It is perhaps an opportune time to consider the life and work of a man who, as this book’s title has it, “understood” the thing Mr. Obama et al. want to rescue and revive.

Mr. Zunz, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Virginia and a respected scholar of Tocqueville, has written an exhaustively researched and discretely focused biography of the great Frenchman. Readers unfamiliar with “Democracy in America” are best advised to read that work first. Its two volumes appeared in 1835 and 1840, after Tocqueville and his companion, Gustave de Beaumont, spent 9 ½ months touring the American Northeast, Midwest and South in 1831-32. “Democracy in America” is, as its reputation suggests, a masterpiece of political reflection. It is also, as I was reminded by Mr. Zunz’s biography, a work of stylistic grace. Tocqueville—this is apparent even in English translations of his work—constantly revised his writing to achieve maximum clarity and felicity. 

The crucial fact of Tocqueville’s upbringing and early adult years—he was born into an aristocratic family in 1805—was that a large number of his elder relatives had lost their property or their heads during the Terror of 1793-94. Surviving nobility were permitted a gradual return, and the Bourbon monarchy was restored after the fall of Napoleon in 1814-15, though in constitutional, not absolutist, form. Tocqueville’s familial provenance led many to assume that he would defend the pro-Bourbon, backward-looking “Legitimist” cause even after the July Revolution of 1830 and the inauguration of the more liberal and reformist regime of Louis-Philippe.

. . . .

Mr. Zunz’s biography situates Tocqueville’s great treatise in its French context. Americans, this reviewer included, tend to read “Democracy” as though the author were explaining America to Americans. He was in fact asking France’s political class to consider the promise—and the perils—of political equality.

Tocqueville often used the term “equality” as a synonym for democracy, since democratic reforms by definition bring citizens into closer parity with each other. “Democracy in America” sought in essence to answer this question: Would the work of cultivating equality destroy liberty? That question haunts every modern democratic state, but the United States more so than any other.

Tocqueville, despite a retiring demeanor and ill health, would use his reputation as a first-rate political mind to press his way into elective government. There, too, as Mr. Zunz relates, he would labor to reconcile liberty and equality in French political life. In the 1840s, as a member of the Chamber of Deputies (the French Parliament’s lower chamber), he tried to find a middle path between the French left’s insistence that all children be educated by the state and the clergy’s use of education as a way to retain political influence. He didn’t succeed in that effort, but the episode reminds us that problems of educational curriculum were known to societies far less pluralist than our own. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (should be a free perma-link)

Sci-Fi for Kids Is a Missed Publishing Opportunity

From Publishers Weekly:

While taking a class on fantasy literature in graduate school, I had the idea to go to a local elementary school where a friend worked and count the books in the library to see how many fantasy titles there were. It turns out there were plenty of fantasy books, but my attention was caught by a different genre’s absence: there were barely any science fiction books. I wondered why, and I ended up pursuing the answer for years. I looked at school libraries in almost every region of the U.S., surveyed teachers and librarians, recorded readings with children, and of course read lots and lots of books. Science fiction for children, I discovered, is full of contradictions.

When I looked at very different libraries all across the country, I saw the same low supply of science fiction that I had observed in that first elementary school library, but I also saw a high demand for it. In each library, only about 3% of the books were science fiction. I expected to see a corresponding low number of checkouts. Instead, the records showed that science fiction books were getting checked out more often per book than other genres. While realistic fiction books were checked out, on average, one to three times per book and fantasy books were checked out three to four times per book, science fiction books’ checkout numbers were as high as six times per book. These libraries may not have many science fiction books available, but the children seem to compensate by collectively checking out the available books more often.

The librarians were just as surprised as I was. Library software doesn’t keep track of each book’s genre, and so librarians have no easy way of knowing that science fiction books are being checked out so often. Librarians are, however, aware that there isn’t much science fiction available. There just aren’t as many choices as there are for other genres.

My research has led me to believe that this shortage of science fiction exists simply because adults assume that children don’t want it. There are several larger cultural reasons for why adults find it easy to assume that kids won’t like science fiction. In short, adults often associate children with nature and innocence rather than science and experience, and this bleeds into what adults think children like.

Author Jon Scieszka once told me that his editor asked him to reduce the science in his science fiction Frank Einstein series because it would be off-putting for kids (Scieszka refused). An indie publisher informed me that it doesn’t acquire many science fiction books—even good submissions—because it expects low sales simply due to the combination of genre and target audience. If no adults think that children like science fiction, then no one makes it, no one sells it, and no one buys it because adults are in charge of these processes.

. . . .

Even though, based on my data, children seem to like science fiction, that doesn’t mean they are immune to the stereotypes that adults indirectly teach them about it. Because of the way it is avoided, children may not know that they like science fiction. Indeed, many of the most frequently checked-out science fiction books in school libraries—such as Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series and the Lego Star Wars novels—are often marketed primarily as something else, like adventure or humor.

. . . .

Not long ago, many adults (including professional educators) assumed that children preferred fiction to nonfiction. Around the turn of the 21st century, researchers began investigating the books taught and available in classrooms and found that teachers were avoiding nonfiction—especially science books. Yet when children were asked what genres they wanted, they were highly interested in nonfiction. Following these discoveries, nonfiction has been added to widespread curriculum guidelines and seen greater demand from educators. Publishers have met this demand with increasingly high-quality nonfiction books.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What is it Like to Be a Blind Writer Writing for Sighted Readers?

From The Literary Hub:

What is it like to be blind in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by sighted individuals? Jessica Powers, founder and publisher at Catalyst Press, spoke to George Mendoza and Kristen Witucki about crafting stories for sighted readers, finding community and release in fiction, and battling ableism in traditional publishing and publicity.

Jessica Powers: When did you both start writing?

Kristen Witucki: My favorite toy as a child was the tape recorder. I destroyed my first one by pouring water on it so that I could hear the sound of water. Once I got that life lesson out of the way (and did not kill myself, as my mother worried), it became my best tool for telling stories, writing, and revising, long after I learned how to read and write. I wanted to write because I love to read and to live in stories, and I want to create that experience for others and for myself.

I wrote (on paper) my first “novel” when I was 12. It was based on my grandmother’s life; she had to take care of her mother while her brothers could continue in school. My mother unearthed the manuscript 25 years later, and it has every literary stereotype gone amuck. (Think Caddie Woodlawn, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne Shirley mushed together.) I might never be able to fix it, but it was mine. My teacher took me the whole way through the drafting, revising, and publication-seeking process, and a very kind editor realized that a child wrote this and gently turned it down in a way that I emerged from the experience thinking, “Ok, I was rejected this time, but so is everyone else, and I can do this sometime.”

But I came to writing and the subject of disability during college in my composition classes when my professors asked me to work on the blindness stories more. And as a senior in college, I was fortunate to hear the author Jhumpa Lahiri speak as our college’s writer-in-residence. At the time she was writing about the experiences of immigrants from India and their first-generation American children and the lives they were forging here; she was also writing about love and loss, commitment and betrayal, human longing. She said that writing gave her a center and a way to be a participatory observer in the world, and I thought maybe I could try this as a blind person.

George Mendoza: I come from a family of writers and artists so I guess in a way it is an inherited gift. However, because I went blind at 15, I really had no other choice but to find my creative juice. Creativity saved my life! I grew up listening to talking books for the blind, books like The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia. Books took me away from my own suffering and doubts. I am a painter, too. I find painting very relaxing, while writing and working on a novel is hard work and labor intense.

Jessica Powers: The world of books has long been associated with sight, with the exception of books in braille. But now there are audiobooks, voice-activated text to page, software that can read emails and books to you. What technology do you two use to read books? What technology do you use to write?

Kristen Witucki: I grew up reading with braille and audio, and I still use both those methods. I write on either a small braille notetaking computer or on my laptop using Jaws, a screen reading program.

. . . .

George Mendoza: I use Jaws computer software to write with on my computer. Jaws has a human-like voice. When I type, the program reads the words back to me so am directed with my sentences as I construct them. Jaws also lets me proofread to make sure the sentences read well and make sense. When I proofread, the spell check is once again using a human voice.  It is not perfect, but it is the best thing next to a human proofreading for me. As for reading, I listen to digital audiobooks provided to the blind by the New Mexico Library for the Blind.

Jessica Powers: I know writers who have to physically write their books, others who use their computers, writers who read their books out loud to revise, writers who cut and paste physically. What is the process of writing like for you that might be different than a sighted person? How do you think that changes both your experience of writing and changes the book that you end up writing?

George Mendoza: My writing process goes something like this: I usually dream about the words I am going to write about while sleeping. Then I write down some notes in very large print, because of my blindness. I review them and then I write those words and scenes on my computer using the Jaws speech system for the blind. I dream in color and I can actually see the words on a printed page.

Kristen Witucki: I think the computer has brought my process of writing closer to that of a sighted person so that writing itself is very similar. If I send a manuscript for feedback, I still find it easier to respond to narrative comments written in the body of an email than I do to comments embedded into the text. But I’ve learned to work with all of these features.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The Complicated Ethics of Writing Violence in Fiction

From Time magazine:

There are some hard ethical questions in the writing of crime fiction.

For me, the most difficult one is how to portray violence.

For one thing, should you depict it all?

And if so, how do you do it with some sense of morality?

I wrestle with this issue all the time. It’s a fine line to walk. On the one hand I don’t want to sanitize violence—I don’t like presenting murder as a parlor game, or worse, a video game in which there are no real consequences. On the other hand, I don’t want to cross that thin line into what might be called the pornography of violence, a means to merely titillate the worst angels of our nature.

But we have to deal with it.

After all, we write crime fiction, and crime often involves violence. So either we choose crimes that don’t—the slick, bloodless heist, the clever con game—or we write scenes that involve shootings, stabbings and various kinds of murder.

And maybe that’s the answer—maybe we have come to a time when we should stop writing violent crime altogether. But if we make that choice, we say goodbye to the murder mystery, the procedural, the forensic novel.

And maybe I’m wrong about not sanitizing the violence. There is, after all, a place for the cleverly plotted, suspenseful whodunit with its witty dialogue, exotic locales, and intriguing characters. (Who am I to judge?) It’s fine, as long as we know it’s a game and we play by its rules and know its conventions. So if Colonel Someone kills Lord Someone Else in the study with a monkey wrench, we don’t expect to see the blood and brains and we don’t feel much from the grieving family except anticipation of the will.

Fair enough, I suppose.

But I write realistic crime fiction.

For twenty-three years, I wrote close-to-the-bone novels about the Mexican drug cartels. The actual violence was horrific, and I was faced with a stark choice: Do I back away from the violence, soften it, mute it, make it less terrible than it was, or do I bring it to the reader in realistic, graphic language that showed it the way it was?

For the most part, I chose the latter option.

It was hard choice.

Link to the rest at Time magazine

When PG found the OP, he realized that, after a significant number of years as a subscriber to Time and reading almost every issue cover-to-cover, he had allowed his subscription to lapse.

And he hadn’t thought about Time for a long, long time.

Things change.

Four times more male characters in literature than female, research suggests

From The Guardian:

Researchers using AI technologies have discovered that male characters are four times more prevalent in literature than female characters.

Mayank Kejriwal at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering was inspired by work on gender biases and his own work on natural language processing to carry out the experiment.

Kejriwal and fellow researcher Akarsh Nagaraj used data from 3,000 books that are part of the Gutenberg Project, across genres including adventure, science fiction, mystery and romance.

The study used Named Entity Recognition (NER) to identify gender-specific characters by looking at things including female and male pronouns. The researchers also examined how many female characters were main characters.

“Gender bias is very real, and when we see females four times less in literature, it has a subliminal impact on people consuming the culture,” said Kejriwal. “We quantitatively revealed an indirect way in which bias persists in culture.”

But the researchers did face difficulties with those who didn’t fit into a gender binary. The AI was unable to figure out if “they” referred to a plural or a “non-dichotomous individual”.

Kejriwal said: “When we published the dataset paper, reviewers had this criticism that we were ignoring non-dichotomous genders. But we agreed with them, in a way. We think it’s completely suppressed, and we won’t be able to find many [transgender individuals or non-dichotomous individuals].”

As well as the statistics on male and female characters, the researchers also looked at the language associated with gender-specific characters. Nagaraj said: “Even with misattributions, the words associated with women were adjectives like ‘weak’, ‘amiable’, ‘pretty’ and sometimes ‘stupid’. For male characters, the words describing them included ‘leadership’, ‘power’, ‘strength’ and ‘politics’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Academic Publishing: Elsevier’s ‘Research Futures 2.0’

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its second round of research-into-research, Elsevier has returned to the field of its initial inquiry in 2019, when a study sequence was begun in an attempt to look at how research might look and fare in a decade.

With input from more than 1,000 researchers in an internationally structured study, the company in 2020 (1,173 respondents) and 2021 (1,066 respondents) continued the work, releasing nine days ago, on April 20, a new set of insights targeting pressures on publishing, funding, and women in research, with an eye to opportunities developing in funding sources, technology, and collaboration.

. . . .

  • In the United States, 40 percent of researchers predict that a longer-term impact of COVID-19 will be a greater dependency on technology, such as artificial intelligence, when doing research–that compares to 47 percent of researchers internationally
  • Internationally, it’s less widely thought (than other predictions) that a longer-term consequence of the pandemic will be more higher-quality research being produced and shared (24 percent) or that it will lead to more students going to university in the next two to five years (17 percent)
  • However, researchers in the States are even less optimistic than the international average, with only 17 percent predicting more quality research, and only 12 percent predicting more university students.

. . . .

For women, a key area of our conversation with Kolman, unique challenges persist, in the purview of the new study.

“Women reported having less time to do research during lockdowns,” the company reports, “which could slow or hamper their future career prospects. Sixty-two percent reported they were finding it difficult to find a good work-life balance during the pandemic, compared to just 50 percent of male researchers—a trend that could have significant negative long-term effects on the careers of women in research.”

Ironically, women in research were also seen embracing technology “faster than their male counterparts: 53 percent of women scientists [said they] think the use of technology in research will accelerate over the next two to five years versus 46 percent for men.”

And women are deemed in this study to be more likely to have shared their research with the public than men, 60 percent women vs. 55 percent men saying they’ve shared their work publicly.

In the chart below, you see study response analysis indicating that more women and younger researchers said they’d seen project stoppages during the pandemic years.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Agoraphobia

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

. . . .

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes people to be afraid of the places or situations that could bring on a panic attack. Their fear of being unable to get help or escape during one of these attacks can make it difficult for them to navigate open spaces, elevators, crowds, concerts, church services, movie theaters, or any place where a panic attack might come on. In extreme cases, a character suffering from agoraphobia may reach the point where they’re uncomfortable leaving their home at all.

What It Looks Like
Frequent panic attacks or elevated anxiety in certain places
Consistently avoiding certain locations or situations
Making choices that enable the character to stay at home (working from home, having groceries delivered, etc.)
The character often declining social invitations to certain places (amusements parks, church services, weddings, etc.)
Only venturing outside with a companion
Clinging to the friends or family members who are supportive
Becoming isolated

Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to not be limited by a fear but it being too strong to ignore
Knowing the fear is irrational but being being compelled to give in to it
Feeling guilty for making excuses about not being able to attend certain events
The character feeling like they can’t trust their own mind or emotions
Feeling defective or broken
Becoming depressed
Slipping into despair—believing that things will never change or get better
Wanting to seek help but feeling too overwhelmed or incapable
Feeling misunderstood and alone, as if the character is alone in their suffering
Worrying about what others think

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The U.S. Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War

Not exactly PG’s normal choice of topic, but certainly relevant to the concerns of many around the world at present.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Russia conducted its first test of the Sarmat, an intercontinental ballistic missile that carries a heavy nuclear payload, on April 20. Vladimir Putin and his advisers have issued nuclear warnings throughout the war in Ukraine, threatening the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with attack if they escalate their involvement. Moscow recently threatened Sweden and Finland with a pre-emptive strike if they join NATO.

The reality is that unless the U.S. prepares to win a nuclear war, it risks losing one. Robert C. O’Brien, a former White House national security adviser, proposed a series of conventional responses, which are necessary but not sufficient to deter Russian nuclear escalation. Developing a coherent American strategy requires understanding why Russia threatens to use nuclear weapons and how the U.S. can recalibrate its strategic logic for a nuclear environment.

Russia’s war is being fought on two levels. At the military level, the battlefields have been restricted to Ukrainian and, in a handful of instances, Russian territory. But the conflict is also a war against NATO, given Ukraine’s position as an applicant, NATO’s military support for Ukraine, and NATO’s willingness to embargo Russian products and cut off Russian energy.

Mr. Putin had two objectives in going to war. First, he hoped to destroy Ukraine as an independent state. Russia planned to drive into Kyiv within hours, install a quisling government, and months later stage referendums throughout the country that would give the Kremlin direct control of its east and south. Aleksandr Lukashenko’s Belarus, and perhaps the Central Asian despots, would fall in line. Mr. Putin would therefore reconstitute an empire stretching to the Polish border.

Ukrainians thwarted that plan. Much depends on the next few weeks, as Russia stages a major offensive in the east designed to destroy the Ukrainian military’s immediate combat capacity, tear off eastern provinces, and solidify a land corridor to Crimea. But there is a serious possibility that Ukraine wins this next round of fighting. Russia has no reserves beyond its mobilized forces; its units have dwindling morale; and those formations withdrawn from around Kyiv are trained to conduct armored, mechanized, and infantry operations and poorly suited for combat. Meantime, the Ukrainians are receiving heavier weapons from the West and have begun a counteroffensive around Kharkiv, which, if successful, will spoil Russia’s attack.

If Russia’s military situation appears dire, Mr. Putin has a dual incentive to use nuclear weapons. This is consistent with publicly stated Russian military doctrine. A nuclear attack would present Ukraine with the same choice Japan faced in 1945: surrender or be annihilated. Ukraine may not break. The haunting images from Bucha, Irpin and elsewhere demonstrate Russia’s true intentions. A Russian victory would lead to mass killings, deportation, rape and other atrocities. The Ukrainian choice won’t be between death and survival, but rather armed resistance and unarmed extermination.

Nuclear use would require NATO to respond. But a nuclear response could trigger retaliation, dragging Russia and NATO up the escalation ladder to a wider nuclear confrontation.

Perhaps a conventional response to a Russian nuclear attack would be sufficient. What if the U.S. and its allies destroyed Russian military units deployed to the Black Sea, Syria and Libya; cut all oil pipelines to Russia, and used their economic clout to threaten China, and other states conducting business with Russia, with an embargo?

Each of these steps is necessary. But Russia’s goal in going nuclear is to knock NATO out of the war. The Kremlin believes its resolve outstrips that of the U.S. A conventional American response would confirm this—and create incentives for additional Russian nuclear use.

The Kremlin is resurrecting the arcane art of nuclear war fighting. These weapons have a military purpose. They also have a political one. The U.S. should reframe its thinking in kind.

This isn’t to say the U.S. should use nuclear weapons—again, a nuclear response would make global nuclear war more likely. But America and its allies can take steps against Russia’s nuclear arsenal that undermine the Russian position at higher escalation levels. The U.S. Navy’s surface ships, for example, could be re-equipped with nuclear weapons, as they were during the Cold War.

Most critically, if Russia used a nuclear weapon, the U.S. could use its naval power to hunt down and destroy a Russian nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, the backbone of Russian second-strike capability. Late in the Cold War the U.S. Navy threatened to do exactly that, pressuring the Soviet Union’s nuclear bastions, the protected littoral areas from which Soviet subs aimed to operate with safety. In a series of naval exercises during the Reagan administration, the U.S. and its allies simulated assaulting the Sea of Okhotsk and Barents Sea bastions, while U.S. submarines probed and shadowed Soviet boats in both areas. Post-Cold War evidence reveals that American naval pressure had a major impact on Soviet policy making: Despite Moscow’s priority of armaments over all other state needs, the U.S. showed it would still be able to fight and win a nuclear war.

The ability to win is the key. By arming surface ships with tactical nuclear weapons as well as attacking a nuclear-missile sub and thus reducing Russian second-strike ability, the U.S. undermines Russia’s ability to fight a nuclear war. The Soviets were deeply afraid of a pre-emptive strike by NATO. That fear has morphed, under Mr. Putin’s regime, into a fixation on the “color revolutions,” pro-democracy uprisings in former Soviet republics. Jeopardizing Russian second-strike capability would tangibly raise the military stakes. Mr. Putin could no longer unleash his nuclear arsenal with impunity. Instead, he would need to reckon with the possibility that NATO could decapitate the Kremlin—yes, suffering casualties in the process, but still decapitate it.

A nuclear war should never be fought. But the Kremlin seems willing to fight one, at least a limited one. If the U.S. demonstrates it is unwilling to do so, the chance that the Kremlin will use nuclear weapons becomes dangerously real.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Every conflict we face in life

Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth — or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.

Kenneth Cloke

Avoiding Claustrophobia on the Page: Letting Some air into a First-Person Narrative

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

I’d like to say that I deliberately chose first-person narration for my new novel In the Lonely Backwater, that this was a craft decision made with writerly forethought. After all, the book is both a psychological exploration and a mystery, in which clues are unfolded and the reader moves toward knowledge step by step alongside the narrator. It’s a natural for the first-person POV.

The truth is that Maggie’s voice was so clear and distinctive from the moment she opened her mouth that I couldn’t imagine the story being told by any other person, or in any other way: “There wasn’t anything wrong between Charisse Swicegood and me except that she was her and I was me, and with the family history and all it was just natural.” That was the opening of the book from the get-go.

As the police investigation into Charisse’s disappearance and death unfolds, Maggie will prove to be an incredibly candid narrator of her own experiences and opinions, but also an unreliable one. I’m bothered by that familiar term “unreliable narrator,” because it posits the existence of a reliable one, and when are humans absolutely factual and dispassionate in the telling of their own stories, or anyone else’s? Can even computers be trusted (see: HAL 9000)? We see what we see, remember what we remember, and shade the truth for profit or kindness or survival all the time. 

So the writer chooses to have one person tell the story. The reader is caught in that awareness for the length of a novel, looking out through those eyes. It might get a touch claustrophobic.

“The benefit of telling a story in first person is that readers discover the voice and psychology of a character as expressed directly by the character. This gives immediacy, the sense of ‘being there’. … On the minus side, first person narration can restrict your readers’ access to the inner worlds of your other characters.” Now Novel

The intimacy with the character (and often therefore with the writer) makes this the most powerful of forms, to my mind: the concentration, the “single effect,” of one voice. Of course a writer can always choose to use third-person or second-person or omniscience or multiple narrators, but whatever the decision, point of view is fundamental to the tone and structure of the work that will emerge. 

Claustrophobia may be exactly what is needed, a narrow window on the world. 

Some of the great books have depended on this: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, Gulliver’s Travels…the list goes on. And Edgar Allen Poe (whose quote introduces the novel) was a master at letting the reader fully inhabit another consciousness. Within the first-person form, writers may employ techniques such as stream of consciousness, interior monologue, letters (epistolary novels), frame stories, or even set up the whole thing as a recounted tale or a recovered document. 

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

The Power, and Freedom, to Publish and Curate

From Publishers Weekly:

I have seen the word curated used more and more on bookstores’ websites. As a verb, it indicates that something has been thoughtfully chosen and organized. Does that mean if bookstore buyers disagree with what is published in a book, they should not carry it? Is that not a violation of their customers’ right to choose which books they buy on their own? Shouldn’t the titles they carry on their shelves provide as many different points of views as possible, no matter what the subject?

Let’s consider the following. Has there ever been a time when any independent bookstore or chain did not select the books it wanted to carry? Are we as publishers required to publish every manuscript submitted to us? Are bookstores required to stock every book available? Furthermore, has there ever been a period when a commercial publisher didn’t curate the titles that it was going to publish? The answer is no. The freedom to select books that one either agrees with or not has always been the right of every bookstore and publishing entrepreneur.

At Square One, we publish a number of health books. These titles normally balance traditional medicine with complementary self-care approaches. We believe that people should take some responsibility for their own health. We know that not every bookstore and library is going to buy all of our health titles because of our approach, but what we publish is our choice, just as it is our buyers’ choice to order these titles or to pass on them.

The argument becomes louder and much more confrontational when the questions focus on titles dealing with politics, sexual orientation, religion, and race—but our philosophy remains the same. As publishers, we select the books we want to make available. Does this mean we are somehow violating the First Amendment by virtue of our business practices? Absolutely not.

The industry finally has a growing and more diverse group of publishers and bookstores willing to provide any controversial title to their own markets. We all have the right to select, or curate. Our ability to freely select the books we wish to publish, or as bookstores to carry, is not likely to change—or is it? Decades of efforts by publishers. booksellers, and others has expanded the protections provided by the First Amendment, but now it seems that the concept of book selection may be going in a different, yet all-too-familiar direction with state governments’ eagerness to ban books in schools.

For years, publishers have gone to court to overturn the censorship laws that had existed since the 19th century. Starting in the 1920s, our industry watched as James Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness masterpiece Ulysses was deemed obscene by a court. In the mid-1950s, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was initially rejected by scores of American publishers because of concerns about its content, and other so-called obscene works like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were eventually published in the U.S. despite serious opposition. In other words, generations of publishers fought for and won our right to be treated like grown-ups and allowed to make decisions about our reading tastes for ourselves.

Today, state governments are once again banning books and even certain words in schools and libraries. These actions prevent readers from making their own choices. There are no alternative school libraries for students to visit. Instead, there is a list of titles assembled by special interests and politicians to be banned from schools. For those teachers and school librarians who do not follow these laws, there is a fine and possible loss of employment. This is the real threat to the First Amendment, not accusing private businesses of selecting one book over another.

If publishers and bookstores keep making the wrong choices in the titles they select, they lose money and possibly their business. That is their right—just as it is to be profitable when making the right choices. What these state governments are doing is taking away our rights under the convenient camouflage of “protecting our children.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that one person’s curation can be another person’s banning. Public schools are ultimately responsible to the public and the government officials the public elects.

Choosing books for school curricula always entails selecting a small number of books and excluding a larger number. When politics, left, right and/or center, enters the choosing, there is likely to be conflict.

Over his lifetime, PG has seen a substantial expansion of the number of questions and issues about which vocal minorities and majorities disagree with other minorities and majorities.

“Everything is political,” is not, in PG’s humble opinion, a recipe for comity and compromise. Sometimes a book is just a book, not a life or death choice between opposing social, political, religious, etc., values. Children have been ignoring things their teachers tell them or that they read in school books for decades, if not centuries.

Why Are Regency-Era Shows Like ‘Bridgerton’ So Popular?

From Smithsonian Magazine:

The opening of “The Courtship,” USA Network’s newest foray into the canon of high-concept reality dating shows, ends with a cheekily revised quote from a beloved author: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in search of a husband must go to Regency-era England and live in a castle with sixteen eligible suitors. –Jane Austen, probably,” the words on the screen read. The “probably” appears a moment later, as a glib afterthought.

In “The Courtship,” Nicole Rémy, a Black cheerleader–turned­–software engineer from Seattle, seeks love in a format best described as “The Bachelorette” meets casual Regency cosplay. The show frequently references Austen and the time period she chronicled: the turn of the 19th century. The author lived and wrote during the reign of George III (1760 to 1820), also known as the Georgian Period. Her novels were published during the Regency, an 1811 to 1820 window in which George, Prince of Wales, ruled as regent in lieu of his father, whom Parliament had deemed mentally unfit to rule.

“The Courtship” takes its cue from the Regency period—“the most romantic era of history,” as the host informs the audience in a crisp British accent. Another spun-sugar springtime television release clearly shares the belief: season two of “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s pastel-hued, racy adaptation of contemporary author Julia Quinn’s romance novels. The Regency-set series broke Netflix viewership records and made representational strides by imagining protagonists of color as British royalty and aristocrats. Similarly, the second season of “Sanditon,” a lower-profile import from the United Kingdom that uses Austen’s unfinished novel of the same name as a point of departure, features the writer’s only prominent Black character, an heiress from the West Indies. The season premiered March 20 on Masterpiece PBS.

All three series revel in the trappings audiences associate with Austen novels: soirees where eligible singles swan about, horse-drawn carriages, the watchful eyes of rivals and family on a couple as they twirl around a ballroom, conversations over tea, ample opportunities for dramatic speeches about undying love. On “The Courtship,” where everyone is formally referred to by title and last name, would-be-husbands write “Miss Rémy” handwritten letters, and episodes end with choreographed dances that double as dismissal ceremonies. (“Farewell. Your carriage awaits,” Rémy proclaims to spurned men dressed like they’re Cinderella’s footmen.) “Bridgerton” and “The Courtship” even share a set; the same estate that serves as the site of a long montage of Daphne Bridgerton and her new husband, the Duke of Hastings, in, ahem, marital bliss, is the location where Rémy’s suitors woo her.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

Google Play Books Expands AI Audiobook Narration – maybe

From The New Publishing Standard:

Per a report in Publishers Weekly yesterday, Google Play has now expanded its AI-narrated audiobook creation option to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Spain.

. . . .

[B]y offering 35+ narative voices in English and Spanish, the Google Play Books AI-narration option means publishers of all sizes have the chance to upload an ebook or epub file and use what, for now, are free tools to tweak an automated narration before publishing on Google Play and, all importantly, exporting the finished file to be sold elsewhere.

The Google Play Books AI Narration page carries a quote from respected industry heavyweight and former IPA President Richard Charkin of Mensch Publishing saying “The technology has supassed my expectations.”

Again quite what is new here is not clear, but the PW post at least gives me an excuse to bring up AI-narration options once more.

No, AI narration will not put competent real-life narrators out of jobs any time soon, if ever.

What it will do is open up audio to authors and publishers to reach new consumers with acceptable, if not superb, narration that will being in revenue from low-profile and backlist titles that would otherwise never make it to the audiobook platforms.

. . . .

The single biggest drag on AI-narration development right now is not the technology – that’s already comfortably within acceptable limits, and can only get better – but the platforms themselves, which either discourage or outright disallow AI-narrated content.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG is a big fan of well-trained human voice boxes performing/reading literary works. That said, he doesn’t think he would feel secure if he were making his living as an audiobook narrator/voice actor.

AI in the voice area has been advancing at an incredible rate of speed over the past few years. PG suggests it won’t stop until AI provides professional-level audio from text.

What use could the humanities be

What use could the humanities be in a digital age? University students focusing on the humanities may end up, at least in their parents’ nightmares, as dog-walkers for those majoring in computer science. But, for me, the humanities are not only relevant but also give us a toolbox to think seriously about ourselves and the world.

Nicholas Kristof

10 Unforgettable Dreams in Literature

From Dreams:

1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th-Century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.

2. The Iliad

In Homer’s epic poem, which has inspired many films and books, a false dream is used by Zeus, persuading Agamemnon to attack Troy. Agamemnon is convinced by the event, which is evidence that Homer recognised the influence of dreams in our waking lives. This is not the only example in our list of false dreams being used for mischievous ends.

. . . .

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus, the hero of Hogwarts is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a dastardly villain. This link was revealed to the pair after Lord Voldemort inadvertently led Harry to the prison of Ron Weasley’s father, after their psychic connection alerted The Boy Who Lived to the entrapment.

And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:

  • It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Link to the rest at Dreams

COVID-19 infection linked to increased nightmare frequency

From PsyPost:

People who have had COVID-19 tend to report having more nightmares than people who have not been infected by the virus, according to research published in Nature and Science of Sleep.

Previous research has indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with changes in sleep and dream activity among healthy individuals. A study published in 2021, for example, found that pandemic-related stress was associated having nightmares revolving around specific apocalyptic themes.

But Luigi De Gennaro, a professor at the University of Rome Sapienza, and his colleagues noted that whether dream activity in COVID-19 patients differed from dream activity in healthy people had not yet been investigated.

Link to the rest at PsyPost

PG suspects a great many people experienced thoughts, fears, dreams, etc., etc., regarding “apocalyptic themes” during the past couple of years regardless of whether they were asleep or awake.

Bring on the ladies…

From The Legal Genealogist:

Evelyn, handling the estate.

Or Shirley, leaving a will.

So… is Evelyn the deceased’s daughter, perhaps? Maybe a sister?

Is Shirley a single woman or a widow?

Do we even know if Evelyn or Shirley is male or female?

Well…

It depends.

We might have a clue if the specific position being filled or role being played in the record by Evelyn or Shirley is spelled out in full.

Because there’s a big difference between an administrator and an administratrix, or between an executor and and an executrix.

Or between a testator and a testatrix.

Or between a whole lot of words we see in legal documents where sometimes it ends in -or and other times it ends in -ix.

Because that difference may very well tell us whether Evelyn and Shirley are male or female.

Because the -ix ending is always going to be referencing a female.

If Evelyn was appointed by the court to handle the affairs of a deceased person who didn’t leave a will, any reference to Evelyn as an administratrix of that estate is telling us that’s a her, not a him. If Evelyn was named in the will to handle the estate, any reference to the executrix, ditto.

And if we see our will-writing Shirley described as a testatrix, ditto again.

There are a bunch of terms like this we may come across in historical records:

• Actor, actrix.
• Creditor, creditrix.
• Curator, curatrix.
• Debtor, debitrix.
• Disseisor, disseisitrix.
• Emtor, emtrix.
• Orator, oratrix.
• Procurator, procuratrix.
• Prosecutor, prosecutrix.
• Relator, relatrix.
• Tutor, tutrix.
• Vendor, venditrix.

Now… particularly as time goes on, when the word doesn’t have the -ix ending, we can’t be 100% sure whether Evelyn or Shirley is male or female. The gender distinction in words begins to fade in the 19th century

Link to the rest at The Legal Genealogist

PG has followed The Legal Genealogist for a long time via an excellent newsletter, produced weekly (PG thinks, if not weekly, definitely regularly).

The individual behind The Legal Genealogist is Judy Russell. She is a genealogist with a law degree, and her “purpose here at The Legal Genealogist is, in part, to help folks understand the often arcane and even impenetrable legal concepts and terminology that are so very important to those of us studying family history.”

You, too, can be regularly educated by Ms. Russel if you sign up for her newsletter.

Vladimir Putin’s Rewriting of History Draws on a Long Tradition of Soviet Myth-Making

From Smithsonian Magazine:

History has ever been a harbor for dishonest writing—a home for forgers, the insane or even “history-killers” who write so dully they neutralize their subjects. Direct witnesses can be entirely unreliable. The travelogue of the 13th-century explorer Marco Polo, which he dictated while in prison in Genoa to a romance writer who was his fellow inmate, is about two-thirds made up—but which two-thirds? Scholars are still debating. Survivors of Josef Mengele’s vile experiments at Auschwitz recall him as tall and blond and fluent in Hungarian. In fact, he did not speak that language and was relatively short and dark-haired. The director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel has said that most of the oral histories collected there were unreliable, however honestly contributed.

Many of these instances can be ascribed to the quirks of human memory. Actual fakery, though, has a long history. As Tacitus begins his Annals, “The histories of Tiberius and Caligula, of Claudius and Nero, were falsified, during their lifetime, out of dread—then, after their deaths, were composed under the influence of still festering hatreds.” In England in the 16th century, it was common to share made-up stories about your ancestors in the hope of achieving greater social standing.

Most countries at one time or another have been guilty of proclaiming false versions of their past. The late 19th-century French historian Ernest Renan is known for his statement that “forgetfulness” is “essential in the creation of a nation”—a positive gloss on Goethe’s blunt aphorism, “Patriotism corrupts history.” But this is why nationalism often views history as a threat. What governments declare to be true is one reality, the judgments of historians quite another. Few recorders set out deliberately to lie; when they do, they can have great impact, if only in certain parts of the world.

. . . .

“I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway,” wrote George Orwell in 1942, reflecting on pro-Franco propaganda in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. “I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written.” The problem continued to trouble him. Three years later, he went further: “Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact.” Chief among the culprits were the falsifiers of the Soviet Union, in particular Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

. . . .

In her history of Eastern Europe, Anne Applebaum writes of the “peculiarly powerful combination of emotions—fear, shame, anger, silence—[that] helped lay the psychological groundwork for the imposition of a new regime,” Stalin’s Soviet Union. The completeness of the state, the pervasiveness of every institution from kindergarten schools to the secret police, put an end to independent historical inquiry. In this brave new world (Orwell described Soviet commissars as “half gramophones, half gangsters”), historians were not just to do Stalin’s bidding; if, in his eyes, they failed to do so, their lives were ruined and often shortened. For instance, Boris Grekov, director of Moscow’s Russian History Institute, had seen his son sentenced to penal servitude and, in terror, made wide-ranging concessions to the Stalinist line, writing books and papers to order.

Another leading historian, Yevgeny Tarle, was one of a group of prominent historians falsely accused of hatching a plot to overthrow the government; he was arrested and sent into exile. Around the same time, between 1934 and 1936, the Politburo, or policy-making body, of the Russian Communist Party focused on national history textbooks, and Stalin set scholars to writing a new standard history. The state became the nation’s only publisher. Orwell had it right in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Records Department is charged with rewriting the past to fit whomever Oceania is currently fighting. The ruling party of Big Brother “could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”

Stalin, too, wrote his own version of events, contributing part of a “short course” on the history of the Soviet Communist Party. In his teens, vozhd (the boss), as he liked to be called, had been a budding poet, and now he contributed verse for the national anthem, improved on several poets’ translations and even made changes to the film script of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. He was a master of what could be done with language; under him, the euphemism “extraordinary events” was used to cover any behavior he considered treasonable, a phrase that covered incompetence, cowardice, “anti-Soviet agitation,” even drunkenness. The great Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert was to refer to Stalin ironically as “the Great Linguist” for his corruption of language.

“Uncle Joe” himself died peacefully, aged 74, on March 5, 1953, after three decades of bloody rule. Three years later, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, announced a special session in which he gave delegates a four-hour “secret speech” denouncing the former leader and providing a radically revisionist account of Soviet history that included a call for a new spirit in historical work. Practitioners were admonished to upgrade their methods; to use documents and data to explain rather than simply proclaim past Bolshevik views; and to write a credible account—one that would include setbacks, confusions and real struggles along with glorious achievements.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

Why Frankenstein Still Sells 40,000 Copies a Year

From Jane Friedman:

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains an undisputed classic. It’s required reading in classrooms across the world, while artists, writers and filmmakers constantly reinterpret its man-makes-monster premise. The longer you look, in fact, the more extraordinary its success becomes.

First published in 1818, Frankenstein was released in a modest edition of just 500 copies. Some 200 years later, in 2021, a first edition sold at auction for $1.2 million, setting a new record for a book by a female author. Thomas Edison, Mel Brooks and Tim Burton all adapted Frankenstein for the screen, with the total number of film adaptations now well into triple digits. Fresh off the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro began pre-production on his own adaptation in the 2010s—his dream project, he said—only to have it killed by the studio. A huge Frankenstein mask still hangs in the entrance to his L.A. home.

There are Frankenstein-inspired dolls for sale at Build-a-Bear. Frankenstein Legos. There’s even a breakfast cereal you can buy seasonally at Target—General Mills’ Frankenberry. Any 19th century novel inspiring this many interpretations is a wonder. But maybe most enviable are the book’s “backlist” sales. As the Guardian reports, Frankenstein still moves an eye-watering 40,000 copies a year, which means it outsells 99% of all “frontlist” (or newly released) titles.

Authors dream of such long-term success. But how to pull it off? Is Frankenstein a freak, or can it show us how to make art that lasts?

“Write a classic” isn’t a strategy, obviously. It’s a goal, plus a highly contingent outcome. No one could recreate the conditions that gave life to Frankenstein—its famous origin story is itself a series of unlikely contingencies. In 1815, Indonesia’s Mount Tambor volcano exploded in the largest, most powerful eruption ever recorded. With so much ash still in the atmosphere, the summer nights of 1816 were gloomier than anyone could remember. It became known as the “year without a summer.”

Mary Shelley, then 18 years old, happened to be staying in a Swiss villa with her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, next door to the poet Lord Byron and other literary friends. To entertain themselves in the evenings, they told ghost stories, and in the grand tradition of writers everywhere, tried to outdo each other. Later, Mary Shelley would claim a certain monstrous face and form came to her in a waking dream. Two years and three drafts later, Frankenstein was published, though Shelley, fearing scandal, didn’t put her name on it. Instead, the book was published anonymously, which meant that—notwithstanding differences in copyright law then and now—its premise could essentially be pirated in stage plays and elsewhere without attribution.

The novel caught on quickly in part for such perverse reasons. To explain its staying power, however, we have to look further, seeing how Shelley’s novel demonstrates timeless truths about “perennial sellers,” to use Ryan Holiday’s phrase. As he argues in Perennial Seller, “the more important and perennial a problem” that a book concerns, the better the chances it will survive the test of time.

Frankenstein practically bum-rushes the criteria. Its characters’ problems are timeless. Victor Frankenstein, a starry-eyed scientist, is blinded by ambition, leading him to an act of creation he comes to bitterly regret. Meanwhile the monster, like all of us, finds himself here, alive and breathing, without ever having been consulted. Stranded and alone, he craves love. Denied it, he plots revenge. Shelley’s shifting POV, which veers from creator to so-called monster, poses daunting questions: Don’t we all deserve love? If bad treatment creates bad actors, what is our moral responsibility to every person and creature around us?

Helping to make these questions extra sticky is how readers of all ages may identify with an abandoned, rejected child. Impressions from our early childhood stay with us, consciously or unconsciously. Since our parents’ love is key to our survival, all of us know what it is to need it—and far too many know what it means to get something rather less than what they’d hoped. When stories touch us on such universal fears and on longings so fundamental they virtually define our species, then they can survive beyond their own epoch, fascinating no less than an Edison or del Toro.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The careful scholarship of the dedicated amateur mycophile

The careful scholarship of the dedicated amateur mycophile R. Gordon Wasson reads like an exciting scientific detective story. Moreover, his willingness to pursue the quest through the wide range of linguistics, archeology, folklore, philology, ethnobotany, plant ecology, human physiology, and prehistory constitutes an object lesson to all holistic professional students of man.

Weston La Barre

Definition of mycophile

a devotee of mushrooms especiallyone whose hobby is hunting wild edible mushrooms

First Known Use of mycophile: 1885

From Merriam Webster

Courses in prosody

Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.

W. H. Auden

What is a Philologist?

From Language Humanities:

A philologist is a type of linguist, though the exact meaning of the term has changed over the years. Philology literally means “love of words,” and the field often deals with literature more than other branches of linguistics do. In the modern academic world, the term is usually understood to mean the study of written texts, usually ancient ones.

It was much more common in the 19th century than it is today for a linguist to be called a philologist. Philology was the precursor to today’s linguistics, which has changed to favor spoken data over written data. Comparative and historical linguistics, in which words from different languages are compared and contrasted to determine the current or historical relationships between languages, have their roots in the 19th century field.

In an earlier era, this person focused his or her study on language as it pertains to literature and culture. Individual words, their history, and the common history of words in different languages were also of interest. Literary interpretations and the study of language went hand in hand; in this respect, the modern field of comparative literature can also be seen as having its roots in philology.

. . . .

In an earlier era, this person focused his or her study on language as it pertains to literature and culture. Individual words, their history, and the common history of words in different languages were also of interest. Literary interpretations and the study of language went hand in hand; in this respect, the modern field of comparative literature can also be seen as having its roots in philology.

Link to the rest at Language Humanities

Here’s a photo of a portion of The Rosetta Stone:

PG apologizes for the Object code fragment at the top of this post, but couldn’t track it down to apply a fix during the time he had to post today.

On the origin of languages

From The Economist:

In a church hewn out of a mountainside, just over a thousand years or so ago, a monk was struggling with a passage in Latin. He did what others like him have done, writing the tricky bits in his own language between the lines of text and at the edges. What makes these marginalia more than marginal is that they are considered the first words ever written in Spanish.

The “Emilian glosses” were written at the monastery of Suso, which was founded by St Aemilianus (Millán, in Spanish) in the La Rioja region of Spain. Known as la cuna del castellano, “the cradle of Castilian”, it is a unesco world heritage site and a great tourist draw. In 1977 Spain celebrated 1,000 years of the Spanish language there.

Everyone loves a superhero origin story. Spanish is now the world’s third-biggest language, with over 500m speakers, and it all began with a monk scrawling on his homework. But as with the radioactive bite that put the Spider into Spider-Man, there is more than a little mythmaking going on here.

First, while “Castilian” and “Spanish” are synonymous for most Spanish-speakers, philologists argue that what the anonymous monk wrote is closer to the Aragonese than to the Castilian variety of Romance (the name for the range of dialects that continued their wayward development when Rome retreated from most of Europe after the fifth century ad). In any case, the Suso monk’s scribblings have been pipped by the discovery in nearby Burgos province of writings that may be two centuries older.

Even those are not the origin of Spanish. The very idea treats languages like a person, with a name, birth date and birthplace. But languages are not like an individual. They are much more like a species, gradually diverging from another over many years. It would be as accurate to describe such jottings as degenerate Latin as it is to call them early Spanish—but that would probably not draw as many tourists.

Most accurate would be to call the monk’s prose an intermediate form: words like sieculos (centuries) in the text are almost perfectly halfway between Latin’s saecula and modern Spanish’s siglos. In its way, the church in which the glosses were written is a mirror of such evolution. It includes arches in Visigothic, Mozarabic (Moorish-influenced) and more recent styles, added as it was expanded. As many visitors to an ancient site find, it can be hard to date buildings in use for centuries. Little of the original remains; all is layers upon layers.

The desire to create heroic origins of languages is an urge to impose order on chaos. Students of other European languages are offered “Beowulf” or “La Chanson de Roland” as the earliest exemplars of English or French, which gives the grand story a comprehensible beginning. But literature, by its nature, requires the language to exist before poems and epics could be written. Imagining that a piece of writing represents the beginning of a language is like thinking the first picture of a baby is the beginning of its life.

A better analogy is that the first written records of a language are like the first fossil traces of a distinct species. But even this should not be mistaken for the moment at which the species emerged. After all, the neat nodes on a palaeobiologist’s tree of life are just simplifications of a messy continuum.

The urge to put dates on the founding of languages seems universal. Google “Basque Europe’s oldest language” to see how many people think this language (which evolved gradually from some now-unknown ancestor) is somehow older than Spanish, though Basque has no clear birthday, either. By quite a coincidence, the first known words written in Old Basque—just six of them—also appear in the Emilian glosses, though the site makes much less of this fact. Or to take a more modern example, a book on American English called “The Forgotten Founding Father” aims to give Noah Webster’s modest early-19th-century reforms, such as respelling “center”, the heroic role humans seem destined to seek in the birth of their cultures.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Philologists are everywhere on TPV today.

Praenomen

From Wikipedia:

The praenomen (Classical Latin: [prae̯ˈnoːmɛn]; plural: praenomina) was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus (day of lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy. The praenomen would then be formally conferred a second time when girls married, or when boys assumed the toga virilis upon reaching manhood. Although it was the oldest of the tria nomina commonly used in Roman naming conventions, by the late republic, most praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. Although both men and women received praenomina, women’s praenomina were frequently ignored, and they were gradually abandoned by many Roman families, though they continued to be used in some families and in the countryside.

. . . .

The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen, nomen and cognomen, which are today regarded as a distinguishing feature of Roman culture, first developed and spread throughout Italy in pre-Roman times. Most of the people of Italy spoke languages belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family; the three major groups within the Italian Peninsula were the Latino-Faliscan languages, including the tribes of the Latini, or Latins, who formed the core of the early Roman populace, and their neighbors, the Falisci and Hernici; the Oscan languages, including the Sabines, who also contributed to early Roman culture, as well as the Samnites, and many other peoples of central and southern Italy; and the Umbrian languages, spoken by the Umbri of the Central Apennines, the rustic Picentes of the Adriatic coast, and the Volsci.

In addition to the Italic peoples was the Etruscan civilization, whose language was unrelated to Indo-European, but who exerted a strong cultural influence throughout much of Italy, including early Rome.

. . . .

Each of the Italic peoples had its own distinctive group of praenomina. A few names were shared between cultures, and the Etruscans in particular borrowed many praenomina from Latin and Oscan. It is disputed whether some of the praenomina used by the Romans themselves were of distinctly Etruscan or Oscan origin. However, these names were in general use at Rome and other Latin towns, and were used by families that were certainly of Latin origin. Thus, irrespective of their actual etymology, these names may be regarded as Latin.

. . . .

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned to various praenomina appear to have been no more than “folk etymology”. The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers. There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its use as a praenomen have survived.

It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order of a child’s birth, although some scholars believe that they might also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December. However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus, Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.

. . . .

The Etruscan language was unrelated to the other languages spoken in Italy, and accordingly it contains many names which have no equivalents in the Latin or Oscan languages. The Etruscan civilization, the most advanced of its time in that region, was a strong influence on the other peoples of Italy. The Etruscan alphabet (itself based on an early version of the Western or “Red” Greek alphabet) was the source for later Italian alphabets, including the modern Latin alphabet.

However, the cultural interchange was not all one-way. With respect to personal names, the Etruscans borrowed a large number of praenomina from Latin and Oscan, adding them to their own unique names. The Etruscan language is still imperfectly known, and the number of inscriptions are limited, so this list of Etruscan praenomina encompasses what has been discovered to this point. Included are names that are certainly praenomina, no matter their linguistic origin. Names that might be nomina or cognomina have not been included.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Sometimes, PG simply must go off on a frolic of his own.

The sentence that really captured PG’s frolic-prone mind was:

Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since classical antiquity.

How could PG be expected to resist debates among philologists that have continued for well over two thousand years?

During the course of his long and illustrious legal career, PG has represented a handful of pig-headed clients who simply could not be persuaded to compromise over matters such as who should start the fire intended to burn down a long-abandoned house so the owner could collect an insurance settlement.

The house did burn to the ground. Before it reached that state, the two arsonists, who had encountered difficulties in actually getting the house to catch fire until they went to town, bought five gallons of gasoline, climbed up to the attic, emptied the gas can, then dropped a match. As a result of quite a grand attic fire, they couldn’t get to the attic stairs to leave. They escaped the attic by accidentally by falling through the attic floor and second-story ceiling by mistake. Thereafter, they descending the sort-of-intact stairway from the second floor to the first floor of the burning house and ran outside. The two partners in crime inhaled so much smoke, they were still sitting on the ground coughing heartily when the rural fire department and a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene. Their smoke-stained visages and shirts and pants featured burned holes where embers, etc., had landed, causing a lot of burns not severe enough to require more than on-the-scene application of ointment from an ambulance attendant who showed up shortly after the deputy sheriff arrived. The quick-witted deputy concluded that the two arsonists had been up to no good and slapped some cuffs on them before the ambulance took them to the jail instead of the hospital.

Prior to the trial, one of the arsonists decided he would blame his partner for starting the fire and the partner counter-blamed the other for actually dropping the match. For the benefit of the continuing legal education of visitors to TPV, you don’t have to actually drop the match to be guilty of arson. Carrying the gas can into the house that burned shortly thereafter is quite enough to earn you a stretch in the state penitentiary.

Waldorf Publishing: A Watchdog Advisory

From The Alliance of Independent Authors:

When a publisher or assisted self-publishing services enters a financial crisis, character can be put to the test. In this week’s Watchdog Advisory, John Doppler looks at Waldorf Publishing.

When faced with financial crisis, some rise to the challenge. They put contingency plans into action, return rights to authors, pay owed royalties from accounts that were wisely kept separate from the company’s operating funds. They face their challenges head on, they frankly and honestly confront their mistakes, and sometimes, they recover: a triumphant phoenix rising from the ashes to start anew.

Others do not acquit themselves as nobly.

Meet Waldorf Publishing, a company that appears intent on self-immolation. Waldorf and its owner, Barbara Terry, have raised alarms before. The Texas-based vanity press and its various spinoffs have been in the spotlight for their apparent ignorance of copyright, poor quality, and allegations of questionable accounting. And in typical fashion for bad operators, Ms. Terry responded to at least one of those reports by threatening a lawsuit. (I will not be posting links to those threats, as they appear on a page doxxing and harassing a consumer advocate.)

More recently, a storage unit of Waldorf authors’ books was offered up for sale by a liquidator who purchased them at auction. The storage unit went up for auction when the renter defaulted on payments. (If you are a Waldorf client who has purchased books from the company, but those books never materialized, the liquidator can be reached at cmbOutlet@yahoo.com.)

Waldorf Publishing has recently been trying to extract additional concessions from its authors. ALLi’s Watchdog Desk has received complaints from authors who attempted to confirm or avail themselves of the termination clause in their contracts, only to have Waldorf Publishing try to extract more money and additional legal concessions.

One of the more egregious examples of the latter is an amateurish, legally dubious clause asserting that “any willful slander against Waldorf Publishing” (presumably meaning any complaint about shabby treatment) will be punished by Waldorf Publishing seizing all rights to the author’s books.

It seems obvious that this tacked-on clause never passed under an attorney’s nose, as, among other things, it confuses slander and libel. Regardless of its likely unenforceability, the sheer audacity of this ploy to bully authors into silence is shocking.

. . . .

Based on its belligerence alone, Waldorf Publishing would have earned our Caution rating. In combination with its litigious threats, its alleged failure to pay its bills, and its attempts to squeeze money from authors as they head for the door, Waldorf Publishing lands in our most severe rating category, the Watchdog Advisory.

Link to the rest at The Alliance of Independent Authors (February 2021) and thanks to SJ for the tip.

PG warned about Waldorf Publishing in January, 2021, excerpting from a much longer Writer Beware post, including the following caution:

Since vanity publishers never identify themselves as such, one way to check an unknown publisher is to search for the publisher’s name on Amazon’s books section. If you find any books listed, check on the sales rank of those books. It will be a very, very large number, reflecting sales to the author’s mother.

Ask the manager (of a physical bookstore) whether he/she has ever purchased any books from the vanity press. If the manager says something like, “Who?” you’ll also have valuable information.

As a general proposition, always check out any entity you may consider doing business with online before you even contact them, let alone sign a contract. With a publisher you haven’t heard of, hit the publisher’s website and contact several of the authors of the publisher’s books to see what they feel about their experiences.

Spend thirty minutes on Writer Beware to see if your potential publisher or anyone mentioned in the potential publisher’s website is mentioned there.

Finally, don’t pay any publisher money to publish your book. If you want to publish your book, Amazon is happy to do it at no charge.

Focus Again

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The other challenge I gave myself in 2021 was to work on the Fey. I had blamed traditional publishing for the fact that the next series didn’t exist and while that was true, it’s not the whole story.

I have a lot of baggage on that series. A lot. All the bad things that can happen in traditional publishing happened to me on those books.

. . . .

An editor rewrote me horribly, and did some of the work without my permission to make chapters shorter. So the rereads were traumatizing. I did them by hand, so I had to put in the corrections and restore what I could (because some of the original files were lost). I stalled out.

But I kept writing on the Fey project. Since I write out of order, it took me most of the year to realize I was writing outlines for the next several books. I’d write maybe 100 pages of the book and then outline. I’m good at writing something that seems like fiction, but really isn’t.

That’s what I was doing.

I finally sorted out that mess, but the story just wasn’t flowing. I blamed the pandemic. Then I found the novella at the heart of everything, figuring that would solve the problem. Nope.

. . . .

Until one morning, I woke up and realized I needed to schedule my writing year. I hadn’t over-scheduled my writing year in maybe ten years. First, I was so sick that I didn’t dare. (I underscheduled then.) Then, I stopped trying to schedule at all. (Nearly died, so was focused on just finishing words.) Then we moved (always disruptive). I got better…and the damn pandemic hit and ate my brain.

So figuring out the schedule made Dean happy. (“You’re back!” he said. Yeah, maybe he’s right.)

But it also made my subconscious happy.

What does figuring out the schedule mean? It means I had to figure out what I was writing when. Then I had to figure out a realistic word count for the week/day. Then I had to do math to figure out when I would finish Project #1 and so on and so forth.

I know myself well enough to know that I can’t write the same subgenre for each and every project. So I had to switch off.

I outlined it all…and I not only mentally relaxed, the stories started flowing. I was able to get lost in them. I would wake up and there, in my brain, was the solution to some problem I hadn’t even realized I had in the book(s).

I’m excited about writing again.

I think this is because I believe I have a future. Or we have a future. Or as much of a future as the human race always has, subject to the whims of crazy leaders and stupid viruses and personal emergencies (note the word personal, not a worldwide emergency like we’ve been living in).

It’s not normal. As some grumpy pundit said about the whole returning to normal movement: there was no normal before the pandemic. There was just what we were used to.

My brain has transitioned into a world filled with Covid and other problems. I feel less of a need to be hypervigilant about the world around me, and I’m able to escape into a world I invent.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Ukraine: A Call to Buy Rights to Support Publishers

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association (UPBA) has released a new spring 2022 rights catalogue, Books From Ukraine, which features titles in six categories available from Ukrainian publishers.

The intent behind Books from Ukraine, association president Oleksander Afonin says, is to create a way for international publishers to provide financial support to Ukrainian publishers during the chaos and hardships caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Our publishing business is in an extremely difficult financial and economic situation because of Russia’s aggression,” Afonin says.

“More than two-thirds of the country’s main publishing and printing facilities are located in areas in which active hostilities are taking place. As a result of missile attacks and bombings by the aggressor, the offices of publishing houses, bookstores, warehouses, and printing houses have been destroyed. The vast majority of staff have left and are now scattered throughout the unoccupied territory of Ukraine and abroad.”

“Most publishing houses,” Afonin says, “don’t have the funds to continue their activities or to financially support their employees, to give them money for basic living expenses.”

He’s asking foreign publishers to download the catalogue and consider buying rights, which he points out is “one of the few options available to financially support Ukrainian authors and publishers in this extremely tragic situation.”

Another motivation for wanting more Ukrainian books translated, Afonin says, is to combat what he calls a 20-year “information war” waged by Russia against Ukraine, in which, he says, Russia distributed “completely distorted, false information about history, culture, art, achievements of Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Palace Papers

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of these days, barring a revolution, the barely United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will acquire a new monarch. After decades in waiting, the present Prince of Wales will become Charles III, a king as unlikely to lose his head (see Charles I) as he is to be nicknamed the Merry Monarch (see Charles II), for here is a man who eats what his family calls “birdseed” for breakfast and is prone to gloomy reflections. Some of which may be explained by the crude fact that “only the monarch’s firstborn wakes up every morning knowing that to advance to the ultimate prize, all he has to do is stay alive.”

Which is hardly a nice thing to have pointed out to one. But then Tina Brown, the writer making the comment in her new royal potboiler, is not, in that sense, nice. A sharpshooting journalist rightly admired for her stylistic accuracy and flair, Ms. Brown has several trophies to her credit including the past editorships of Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Her previous targets include the late Princess Diana, whom she sympathetically dissected in her 2007 volume “The Diana Chronicles.” Ten years later, Ms. Brown broadened her range with “The Vanity Fair Diaries,” which conjured up the “Crazy Eighties” in all their tawdriness and which also charted the author’s ascent in Manhattan, where every putdown she received was lobbed back as a challenge. “When [Robert] Gottlieb tells her that as an English person she could never understand The New Yorker,” one reviewer wrote, referring to that magazine’s earlier editor, “we know exactly where she’s headed.”

And now it’s back to Buckingham Palace, where, my goodness, that family has been through the wringer. Though the weddings, at least, went well. True, Charles and Camilla’s had to be postponed when John Paul II died (“not just any pope,” Ms. Brown points out), and the ceremony then clashed with the Grand National steeplechase (which the Queen managed to sneak off to watch). Meghan and Harry’s day was fine; no embarrassing relatives showed up though some of the famous guests were strangers. (When asked how they knew Meghan, the Clooneys replied, “We don’t.”) But the worst was yet to come: Megxit! Andrew! And the worst has always brought out the best in Ms. Brown, whose latest book, “The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil” finds her eager as ever to rummage in the royal laundry basket.

The result of Ms. Brown’s research is a handsome volume—enriched by footnotes and telling photographs—that spans 25 years of a monarchy afflicted by recurring bouts of silliness and sleaze. The players are, of course, familiar: Elizabeth and Philip, Charles and Diana, Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, Harry and Meghan, Andrew and Fergie, Andrew and, ahem, other people. Their dramas unfold in chapters with titles such as “Sex and Sensibility,” “Privacy and Prejudice.” And if some of the revelations are inevitably a little stale, all are richly seasoned. Indeed, when it comes to pithy asides, Ms. Brown can be positively Wildean. She notes, for example, that Camilla “left school with one O Level, a good address book, and the ability to fence,” and that Charles, while married to Diana, “followed the traditions of upper-class adultery by pausing while the breeding was done.” She reminds us that “until he lost his hair, Prince William was probably the biggest heartthrob to be heir to the throne since the pre-obese Henry VIII,” and mercilessly depicts Andrew’s “guffawing, boob-ogling pickup style.”

. . . .

The Queen, we are reminded, does not collaborate, grant interviews or explain herself. The Queen simply is. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she reportedly pointed out when an adviser suggested cutting back on appearances. And while the most intimate glimpses here are those of a monarch squelching happily across Balmoral in her Wellies or scrutinizing her heating bills, the complete portrait is one of a shrewd and diligent manager. In 2019, for example, with the Meghan/Harry psychodrama still feeding a tabloid frenzy, the Queen, preparing to deliver her televised Christmas speech, indicated a snapshot of them on her desk and said, “I suppose we don’t need that one.” Heads still roll, just a little more gently these days.

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

International Book Fairs Still Thrive in the Digital Age

From Publishers Weekly:

The international circuit begins each year with two spring fairs: the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the London Book Fair, typically held in March and April, respectively. The several book fairs of the summer and fall follow: Beijing International Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair held, respectively, in August or September and October. The fairs rounding out the year include those in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Sharjah, UAE. A slew of other fairs are also of some international, but primarily regional, importance, including those in Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Cairo, Gothenburg, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Kyiv, Leipzig, Montreal, Moscow, New Delhi, Paris, Prague, São Paulo, Seoul, Taipei, and Thessaloniki. One could spend the entire calendar year just traveling to book fairs.

Sometimes world affairs intervene to create challenges for the fairs, such as in the fall of 2008, which saw, first, the Russo-Georgian war in August and the global economic collapse in September. The impact of both events was apparent at the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair, where the stands of Greece, Iceland, and Ireland stood nearly empty as a result of the economic crisis, and the Georgian stand, in close proximity to Russia’s stand, staged a days-long protest in which Georgians bombarded the Russian stand with paper airplanes made from pages torn out of Russian books.

Fast forward to 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to cause ripples on the international book fair scene as well, though the full impact is uncertain at press time. For starters, nearly all the major international book fairs announced they have banned Russia’s state-sponsored publishers and booksellers from exhibiting at their fairs, though independent publishers will be allowed. The primary concern is that the war will spill over into other countries in Europe and create hesitation among fairgoers about traveling to the fairs or exhibiting; this would have significant consequences for both Bologna and London. Both fairs have been idle for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and each had offered virtual alternatives in both 2020 and 2021. Most people found these virtual events less than satisfying, however, and it is urgent that the fairs return to in-person events as soon as possible, lest fairgoers lose their sense of loyalty.

Frankfurt, Beijing, and Guadalajara also went digital in 2020, and then each returned with scaled-down in-person events in 2021. Having benefited from its late date in the year, Sharjah was able to hold a modest book fair at the end of 2020, then returned in 2021 with its full show. Thus, Sharjah could take bragging rights to being the biggest book fair in the world last year, attracting 1.3 million people, compared with just 75,000 in 2021 for Frankfurt, which would typically bring in some 300,000, and Guadalajara, which allowed in just 200,000 people, when it would usually host more than 700,000. The Beijing fair was said to be half its usual size in 2021, which generally brings in 300,000 people. All these fairs are not exclusive to publishing professionals and cater to some extent to consumers and members of the public, who account for most of the attendees. In contrast, both Bologna and London only allow professionals to attend and typically draw 30,000 and 25,000 attendees, respectively.

These large numbers of people spend a lot of money and, accordingly, represent a huge, predictable influx of cash into the community hosting a book fair. Some people take advantage of this, such as the hoteliers in Frankfurt who triple their rates during the fair. When Covid-19 shut down the fairs, national governments were compelled to step in and shore up the finances of the organizers to ensure the fair would keep going. Still, Covid did have some consequences: Jacks Thomas, director of the London Book Fair for seven years, retired, then started working with Bologna, while Frankfurt closed several overseas offices and significantly reduced its overall staff numbers.

Despite returning to live events this year, the fear remains among the fair organizers that as publishers become accustomed to doing business digitally, they will feel less and less compelled to travel to meet with colleagues in real life. Going into 2022, for the first time in many people’s careers, the relevance and importance of attending in-person events is being questioned.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amid Public Concern About Grooming Kids, American Library Association Picks ‘Marxist Lesbian’ As President

A large organization that drives the training of U.S. librarians and their use of public funds has chosen a self-described “Marxist lesbian” as its next president amid growing concern about libraries actively connecting children to sexually explicit activities and materials.

Emily Drabinski was elected president of the American Library Association last week by the organization’s members. She will take office in July 2023.

ALA’s approximately 54,000 members include librarians, libraries, library graduate schools, members of library boards and associations, and library students. The vast majority of its membership fees, therefore, are provided by taxpayer funds.

Drabinski won with 5,410 votes from such an electorate, compared to her opponent’s 4,622 votes, according to an ALA press release. The election was conducted online.

The interim chief librarian of The Graduate Center at City University of New York (CUNY), where she was previously the “critical pedagogy librarian,” Drabinski posts openly on her Twitter feed in support of sexually exposing children, union-led political strife, socialist politicians, and libraries pushing explicit and far-left material on unwilling taxpayers.

. . . .

“I so value Emily’s work in intentionally bringing a class, labor, and queer consciousness to her efforts as an anti-racist ally,” wrote fellow ALA member April M. Hathcock in a public endorsement of Drabinski.

Link to the rest at The Federalist and thanks to E. for the tip.

PG noted in the OP that the new union president received the support of 10% of the members of the ALA and the number of members who effectively boycotted the election by not voting for anyone was over 80% of the total ALA membership.

PG did a little research on the ALA website and discovered that there are about 166,000 paid librarians in the United States plus an additional 200,000 “paid staff”, so 5,410 voters for Ms. Drabinski as ALA president is not necessarily an indication that she speaks for anything close to most librarians.

PG will also note that nobody is a Marxist any more and labor unions are representing a declining number and percentage of workers in the US – 10.3% currently per PG’s research at the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Department of Labor. In 1983, about 20% of the US workforce were members of labor unions.

Effectively none of the employees of the giant tech companies in the US that are responsible for most of the economic growth over the last 25-35 years are members of labor unions.

PG further suggests that neither leader of Russia or China are Marxists/Communists that Lenin would have recognized as such, just old-fashioned thugs/dictators who are so distanced from the proletariat as to be totally out of touch with the lower-income 80% of the population of their nations.

(PG understands that he is using traditional gendered pronouns in his description of Drabinski which the Prez may not like. While he means no personal offense, he can’t be bothered with following trends in personal pronouns or labor unions.)

Ebook Services Are Bringing Unhinged Conspiracy Books into Public Libraries

From Vice:

For years, the digital media service Hoopla has given library patrons access to ebooks, movies, and audiobooks through bulk subscriptions sold to public libraries. But more recently, librarians have started calling for transparency into the company’s practices after realizing its digital ebook collection contains countless low-quality titles promoting far-right conspiracy theories, COVID disinformation, LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, and Holocaust denial.

In February, a group of librarians in Massachusetts identified a number of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic books on Hoopla, including titles like “Debating The Holocaust” and “A New Nobility of Blood and Soil”—the latter referring to the infamous Nazi slogan for nationalist racial purity. After public outcry from library and information professionals, Hoopla removed a handful of titles from its digital collection.

In an email obtained by the Library Freedom Project last month, Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski explained that the titles came from the company’s network of more than 18,000 publishers: “[The titles] were added within the most recent twelve months and, unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening.”

However, quick Hoopla keyword searches for ebooks about “homosexuality” and “abortion” turn up dozens of top results that contain largely self-published religious texts categorized as “nonfiction,” including several titles like “Can Homosexuality Be Healed” which promote conversion therapy and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. This prompted a group of librarians to start asking how these titles are appearing in public library catalogs and why they are ranked so high.

“If [ebooks containing disinformation] were on the tenth page of results it wouldn’t be as noticeable, but they’re on the first page of results,” Jennie Rose Halperin, the executive director of Library Futures, told Motherboard. “What this says to me is that vendors don’t think people who are accessing resources through public libraries deserve quality, verifiable information.”

Hoopla serves more than 3,000 library systems and is in more than 8,500 public libraries across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Hoopla allows library users to check out ebooks from their personal devices. All anyone needs to explore Hoopla’s ebook catalog is a registered public library card. Hoopla is one of a few major ebook vendors libraries use to ensure library-goers have access to digital content. But unlike other services like Overdrive, which lets librarians order individual ebooks, Hoopla only sells ebook subscriptions, meaning that libraries have little choice over what titles they’re getting from the service.

Unlike print books that libraries can buy directly from publishers, publishers only sell lending rights to ebooks using third-party vendors like Hoopla. Ebook use has been on the rise for the past decade, and vendors like Overdrive and Hoopla have claimed dramatic increases in ebook checkouts during the pandemic when many libraries were unable to operate at a full in-person capacity. Since March 2020, demand for ebook titles from lending services like Hoopla soared.

Sarah Lamdan, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law data analytics companies in publishing says many libraries choose to subscribe to bundles because it’s cheaper for libraries that are already strapped for cash.

“We lease these streams of content like on Netflix or Spotify,” Lamdan told Motherboard. “It’s more expensive to be deliberate and choose titles a la carte than it is to buy one of these bundles, and [libraries] are not given a lot of choice about it. Although libraries are super trusted and seen as so important to society, they’re not properly funded.”

“It’s just another way that the outsourcing of traditional information roles is really poisoning the well of fact and truth and reliable information sources,” Lamdan added.

Librarians also say that ebook subscription prices are unsustainable as they typically cost three times as much as a customer’s ebook purchase through Kindle. This is emblematic of at least a decade of tension in the digital library market in which librarians have little power to negotiate with publishers and vendors over prices that continue to climb. Libraries are also operating in a time loop where they have to keep purchasing licenses from the Big-Five publishers (Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Randomhouse and Simon & Schuster) through what’s called “metered access.” Typically ebook subscription licenses expire after a two-year term or after 26 circulations per purchase. Except the price keeps climbing.

Link to the rest at Vice