Computer Science

Computer science is made by ordinary people. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making computer science. It’s difficult to picture the Virgin Mary writing Python. Or Batman maintaining a database. The flawless creature wouldn’t need to make computer science. And so, ironically, the ideal computer scientist is scarcely a theoretical figure at all. If computer science is made by ordinary people, then you’d have to allow that the ideal computer scientist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real human beings possess.

David Bayles

The Art of Intelligence

From Public Books:

“The artist no longer creates work,” proclaims cybernetic artist Nicolas Schöffer, “he creates creation.” Schöffer’s remark is often quoted to describe art installations made with AI. It appeals because it flatters a classical hubris. Our species esteems itself as approaching the divine, godlike in our crafting of artifacts that then act like us. His remark also points to a consequence of expanding who, or what, is capable of artistic creation: Who gets to be an artist? How to become one?

It is indeed tempting to attribute creativity to machines. Take, for example, artist Sougwen Chung’s mechanical “arm,” D.O.U.G. (Drawing Operations Unit Generation_X). This machine was trained on Chung’s unique strokes; it roves over her canvas in live performances, drawing and painting in responsive collaboration with her. Or consider the 3D “robot artist” Ai-Da, who sees with camera eyes and sketches with a robotic arm. Her website specifies that she “is not alive, but she is a persona that we relate and respond to.”

However much it seems that D.O.U.G. and Ai-Da make art, each project has a human artist at the helm, with her own artistic vision and the impulse to carry it out. Yet whether imitating creativity or engaging in true creation, these art-making objects subvert our usual understandings of the artist as a type of author and of creativity as a uniquely human power.

Art’s relatively recent intersection with AI exposes the paradoxes of authorship, creativity, authenticity, and agency. In fact, the distinction between human and machine creation, as revealed in new books by Joanna Zylinska and Mark Amerika, is merely an artifice. The divide between the natural and the artificial functions as a device we produce and maintain. The artist too is cast as an invention: something that gets created over the course of producing an artwork, instead of asserted at its source.

. . . .

[This] called to mind Aristotle’s quip that art is the imitation of nature: the attempt by human skill to approach an ideal. His definition shaped the Greek concept of techne, referring not only to technology (Technik) but also to the “artistic” and “artificial” alike. In the art of computer science, are computer programs and algorithms then artistic objects that mimic nature? And if those objects are used to make more art—say, because they emulate the brain—should we regard them as mere tools, or as artists themselves?

AI art consists of art made with AI techniques, that is, specially trained computer models whose low-level structure mimics that of a brain. An artificial neural network like GPT-3 “learns” the patterns between words, such that it can predict the next word in a sequence or produce whole poems or news articles, for example, in the style of inputted sample text. OpenAI’s DALL∙E series was trained on text-image pairs and generates images based on text prompts. True to its etymology, the new DALL∙E 2 often outputs surrealist compositions. Users can input unusual combinations of things and abstract concepts (for example, “Bengal cat brothers sipping espresso and ruling the world”) and receive a range of visualizations in the time it takes to sharpen a pencil.

The existence of this genre poses a particular challenge. It calls into question whether art and artistic creation belong solely to humans. Zylinska and Amerika take up the challenge and champion the viability of a posthumanist art theory that views nonhuman entities as potential sources of art just as humans can be.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG has been reading various articles and items discussing artificial intelligence. He won’t bore anyone with ethical, legal or copyright implications of increasingly more powerful ai technology and systems, but more visually-oriented ai creative projects are more interesting for a wider segment of the world.

The following is taken from the website of DALL·E 2, which describes itself as a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. DALL·E 2 is a project of OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company.

Here’s an original painting that will be familiar to many, Girl with a Pearl Earring, an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated c. 1665:

Here’s a variant created by an artificial intelligence program developed by DALL·E 2

And another variant

and a third variant.

In answer to questions that may be entering the minds of those who are reading this post, PG says that ai writing tools are also in existence and will be getting much better within a short period of time.

Josephine Baker was a true hero of the second world war

From The Economist:

In modern parlance, she was a “triple threat”. Josephine Baker could act, dance and sing—and did all three at Chez Josephine, her nightclub in Paris, and in several films. After escaping the Jim Crow South, she found fame in Europe in the period between the wars and made France her adopted home. Dancing in risqué costumes, she helped Parisians remember how to enjoy themselves. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French author, likened Baker to a “most beautiful panther”. Ernest Hemingway reckoned the performer was “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.”

Perhaps Baker should be considered a quadruple threat, as she also displayed a talent for spying during the second world war. She helped the Allies as an honourable correspondent of the Deuxième Bureau, or French military intelligence, ferrying secret documents across enemy lines. (She often pinned papers to her underclothes.) Whereas the typical agent receded into the shadows, fame was her cover. As she brassily declared: “Who would dare search Josephine Baker to the skin?”

Her contributions to the war effort are now reasonably well known, described in numerous biographies, television series and films. Baker received the Légion d’Honneur and a symbolic interment in the Panthéon, a monument to French national heroes. But additional files on her intelligence activities were released by the French government in 2020 and are the occasion for a new book by Damien Lewis, a popular historian. “The Flame of Resistance” (to be published as “Agent Josephine” in America) is an entertaining, if occasionally breathless, account of a true hero of the second world war.

Baker’s early missions involved helping the British and French governments divine the intentions of Italy and Japan before they joined the Axis. With her easy glamour and charm, she earned the confidence of an attaché at the Italian embassy and got him talking about Mussolini’s plans to ally with Germany. Next Baker exploited a friendship with the wife of Japan’s ambassador to France to pick up titbits about that country’s intentions. Both efforts were cited in a later war decoration.

Her most important operation was to carry a priceless cache of intelligence from Paris to Lisbon. The documents included photographs of German military equipment, lists of Abwehr agents, details on Luftwaffe airbases and plans for the German seizure of Gibraltar. Accompanying Baker was her handler—and lover—Jacques Abtey, who posed as her tour manager. Mr Lewis narrates their train rides, airplane connections and border crossings with élan. At Canfranc, where France meets Spain, Baker beguiled the station agents, who were too dazzled to search the mountain of trunks that contained documents covered in invisible ink.

Baker lent support to the Allies in other ways, too. Her chateau in the Dordogne became an informal headquarters for the Resistance during Germany’s occupation of France. When she fell ill with peritonitis later in the war, she allowed her hospital suite to be used as a dead-drop location. After recovering, she returned to the stage to perform for Allied troops across north Africa and for prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp after it was liberated. She often stipulated that the crowds not be segregated by race. At all stops, her signature song was “J’ai Deux Amours”, the two loves being America and Paris.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Review of The Flame of Resistance: The Untold Story of Josephine Baker’s Secret War. By Damien Lewis. Quercus; 496 pages; £21.99. To be published as “Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy” in America by PublicAffairs in July; $32

Amazon Holds Bad Actors Accountable, Protects Customers and Brands from Counterfeit

From Amazon:

Amazon today released its second Brand Protection Report, which highlights Amazon’s commitment to the authenticity of goods sold in its store and to fighting bad actors so that customers can shop with confidence.

Amazon and its millions of selling partners—the vast majority of which are small and medium-sized businesses—serve hundreds of millions of customers worldwide. Customers expect that when they purchase an item in Amazon’s store, sold either by Amazon or by one of its third-party selling partners, they will receive an authentic product.

In 2021, Amazon invested more than $900 million and had more than 12,000 people—including machine learning scientists, software developers, and expert investigators—who were dedicated to protecting customers, brands, selling partners, and their store from counterfeit, fraud, and other forms of abuse.

. . . .

The second Amazon Brand Protection Report details a wide range of progress against three key areas: powerful and highly effective proactive efforts to protect Amazon’s store; industry-leading tools enabling rights owners to partner with us to better protect their brands; and holding bad actors accountable. Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Deterring and Stopping Bad Actors: Amazon stopped more than 2.5 million attempts to create fraudulent selling accounts, preventing these bad actors from publishing a single product for sale. This is down from more than 6 million attempts the prior year, thanks to robust seller and product vetting, along with efforts to hold bad actors accountable that are deterring them from attempting to sell on Amazon.
  • Increasing Adoption of Brand Protection Tools: Brand Registry, which unlocks a suite of tools to build and protect a brand on Amazon, grew to include more than 700,000 active brands, an increase of 40% from the prior year. At the same time, the average number of valid notices of infringement submitted to Amazon by a brand in Brand Registry decreased by 25% from the prior year, as continued growth in the adoption and efficacy of automated brand protection tools continue to reduce the number of issues that brands are able to find and report.
  • Holding Counterfeiters Accountable: Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit (CCU) continued to focus on ensuring that counterfeiters are held accountable—stopping them from abusing Amazon’s stores and those of other retailers across the industry. In 2021, Amazon’s CCU:
    • Filed civil litigation against more than 170 counterfeiters in U.S. courts.
    • Sued or referred more than 600 criminals for investigation in the U.S., UK, EU, and China, an increase of more than 300% over 2020.
  • Identifying and Seizing Counterfeits: Amazon identified, seized, and appropriately disposed of more than 3 million counterfeit products, preventing them from harming customers or being resold elsewhere in the retail supply chain. This includes counterfeits that were sent to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and situations where Amazon worked with brands and law enforcement to find counterfeiters’ warehouses and facilities, and get them shut down.

Link to the rest at Amazon

The Vital Difference Between Plot and Story—and
Why You Need Both

PG apologizes for originally putting this post up with the wrong excerpt when he meant to include an excerpt from a post that appeared on Jane Friedman’s site.

Many thanks to K. for pointing out PG’s error.

All he has to say in his defense is that it appears the water problem at Casa PG is on its way to being fixed, but the plumber had to go get some additional plumberish materials to finish his work.

From Jane Friedman:

Writers buy plotting books by the dozen and do their best to create the plottiest plot that the world has ever seen. They stuff their novels with action-packed sword fights, explosions, fist fights, and screaming matches. Plot points, pinch points, and grandiose climaxes abound.

But the problem is this: in the world of great novels, Plot and Story are very different entities, and every great novel needs both.

Plot refers to all the external events that happen in a novel. The plot encompasses things like sword fights and explosions. It also encompasses the logical flow of the narrative as a series of cause-and-effect events. (Plot even encompasses your Inciting Incident—you know, that oh-so-important event that catapults your reluctant protagonist into the action in the first place!) Think of Plot as the external and highly visual part of your novel.

Story, on the other hand, refers to the internal transformation that your protagonist must make throughout the course of the novel in order (usually) to become a less flawed version of themselves by the end. Story tracks the character arc of the protagonist, showing us exactly how they get from point A (maybe selfish or cowardly) to point Z (maybe unselfish or brave). Story is largely internal, and it follows the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist as they try to make sense of (and adjust to) their ever-changing world. It is here in the Story where we see the protagonist slowly transformed by the events of the Plot.

Think of Plot as what’s happening to your protagonist and Story as what’s happening within your protagonist. And certain events force them to wrestle with their internal demons, fears, misconceptions, and prejudices until (finally) they come out the other side of your Plot as a changed person. (Or, possibly in a tragedy, not changed.) When that happens, the Story is done!

Novels that have an interesting Plot but not a deep Story are dramatic sequences of somewhat related external events that would rival any Hollywood action flick. But…those action-packed events don’t seem to have a throughline, and there is no emotional continuity for the reader to grasp hold of. Plot without Story is unrewarding for readers. In fact, neurologist Paul Zak found that both plot and story must be present for test subjects to pay attention to a narrative and feel empathy for the characters involved.

Here are seven ways to infuse your Plot with Story.

1. Design a clear character arc for your protagonist. Your protagonist is an imperfect person, because they would be totally boring if they already had everything figured out from the beginning. Decide which aspect of their imperfection your story will focus on. This will be their basic character arc. Here are some common (simple) arcs, but there are many more that vary in complexity.

  • Selfish to selfless
  • Cowardly to brave
  • Mistrusting to trusting
  • Deceitful to truthful
  • Lacking self-confidence to having self-confidence
  • Afraid to unafraid

2. Create a compelling backstory that makes your protagonist’s character arc make sense. If your protagonist is selfish, have a specific and concrete backstory that supports this flaw. The backstory you create will be sprinkled throughout the narrative like seasoning, helping the reader understand your protagonist and begin to empathize with them.

3. Make that character arc clear from the beginning of the novel. The opening scenes and chapters are the perfect place for your protagonist to show off their imperfection. If their character arc is cowardly to brave, the reader should see them acting cowardly (and what effect that has on their life and happiness) early in the novel.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Jammed-Up Day

PG apologizes for the lack of posts.

His excuse can be summarized in two words: Water Problems

Casa PG needs some help with its water system.

PG tried to be that help, but to no avail. He can get only so far with innovative problem-solving approaches. There are times he needs to contact someone who actually knows what she/he is doing.

Apple Just Killed the Password—for Real This Time

Not necessarily to do with books and writing, but PG has grown to hate passwords because he has such a huge collection of them. He uses a password manager to keep track of his many long randomly-generated passwords.

However, if PG is trying to access a website from a machine that doesn’t have his password manager installed (for example when he is not signing in from a computer located at Casa PG), he hates the hassles that arise all too frequently because he has to look up a 34-character random password on his phone, they try to type the password into an alien machine without getting a single character wrong.

From Wired:

YOUR PASSWORDS ARE terrible. Year after year, the most popular passwords leaked in data breaches are 123456, 123456789, and 12345—‘qwerty’ and ‘password’ come close behind—and using these weak passwords leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of hacking. Weak and repeated passwords are one of the most significant risks to your online life.

For years, we’ve been promised a more secure, password-free future, but it seems like 2022 will actually be the year that millions of people start to move away from passwords. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference yesterday, the company announced it will launch passwordless logins across Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs around September of this year. Instead of using passwords, you will be able to log in to websites and apps using “Passkeys” with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. It’s the first major real-world shift to password elimination.

So how does it work? Passkeys replace your tired old passwords by creating new digital keys using Touch ID or Face ID, Apple’s vice president of internet technologies, Darin Adler, explained at WWDC. When you are creating an online account with a website, you can use a Passkey instead of a password. “To create a Passkey, just use Touch ID or Face ID to authenticate, and you’re done,” Adler said.

When you go to log in to that website again, Passkeys allow you to prove who you are by using your biometrics rather than typing in a passphrase (or having your password manager enter it for you). When signing in to a website on a Mac, a prompt will appear on your iPhone or iPad to verify your identity. Apple says its Passkeys will sync across your devices using iCloud’s Keychain, and the Passkeys are stored on your devices rather than on servers. (The use of iCloud Keychain should also solve the problem of losing or breaking your linked devices.) Under the hood, Apple’s Passkeys are based on the Web Authentication API (WebAuthn) and are end-to-end encrypted so nobody can read them, including Apple. The system for creating Passkeys uses public-private key authentication to prove you are who you say you are.

A passwordless system would be a significant step forward for most people’s online security. As well as eliminating guessable passwords, removing passwords reduces the likelihood of successful phishing attacks. And passwords can’t be stolen in data breaches if they don’t exist in the first place. (Some apps and websites already allow people to log in using their fingerprints or using face recognition, but these usually require you to first create an account with a password.)

Apple’s Passkeys aren’t entirely new—the company first detailed them at 2021’s WWDC and started testing them shortly after—and Apple isn’t the only one that wants to eliminate passwords. The FIDO Alliance, a tech industry group, has been working on the underlying standards needed to ditch passwords for almost a decade, and Apple’s Passkeys are the company’s implementation of these standards.

Link to the rest at Wired

James Patterson shares his formula for success. It’s pretty simple.

From The Washington Post:

Halfway into his memoir, “James Patterson by James Patterson,” James Patterson takes a moment to discuss his writing process. It’s nothing fancy, he explains, and it starts with a folder stuffed with unused story ideas. “When the time comes for me to consider a new novel,” he writes, “I’ll take down the trusty-dusty Idea folder.”

Given Patterson’s fecundity, you have to ask: Is it ever not the time? Does the Idea folder ever go back to whence it came?

Patterson is among the world’s best-selling and most wildly prolific living authors. His books have sold more than 300 million copies. His new memoir is the 10th book he’s published so far this year, and one of four books he has slated for release this month. A checklist of books on his website includes nearly 400 titles, comprising thrillers, true-crime books, contributions to various children’s and YA series and collaborations with a variety of celebrities including a former president and a former Fox News host. Patterson, 75, insists he’s responsible for at least outlining every last one of these literary creations.

Patterson’s approach to writing is unapologetically pragmatic: Give ’em something irresistibly compelling, then give ’em more of it, quickly. It’s also the MO of his memoir, filled with snappy, short chapters and a lot of name-dropping, from Dolly Parton (the unlikely co-author of “Run, Rose, Run”) to Tom Cruise (potential movie collaborator) to James Taylor (patient at a mental hospital he once worked at). His writing process is pragmatic, too. His a-ha moment in terms of efficiency, he explains, came while writing 1993’s “Along Came a Spider”: Rather than fill out the story he’d outlined, he decided the outline was the novel. He likens this approach to Bruce Springsteen’s bare-bones “Nebraska” album, as if a minimalist aesthetic were the same thing as being satisfied with your first draft. Or perhaps Patterson is just pitching himself to a potential new celeb collaborator. (Don’t do it, Bruce!)

Patterson is a man of the people, as his sales figures decisively prove. But in his memoir, he also positions himself as a man of taste. A lengthy list of his favorite books is an exercise in careful balance of brows low and high: For every Lee Child, a Gabriel García Márquez; for every John Grisham, a Bernard Malamud.

That balancing act extends to his description of his own life. He’s college-educated and spent time as an advertising executive before becoming a novelist, but refers often to his humble roots in blue-collar Newburgh, N.Y. (“I’m kind of a working-class storyteller. I just keep chopping wood.”) He’s proud that his first novel, 1976’s “The Thomas Berryman Number,” won a prestigious Edgar Award, but self-effacingly says he wrote it while “still a literary twit.” He thrills at meeting John Updike but is more deeply heartened by a reader who tells him that the first book she ever read was a Patterson novel.

After a time, Patterson’s play-it-down-the-middle approach feels less like the remembrances of a Renaissance man and more like evasive, unassertive hedging. He mushily criticizes Jeff Bezos when asked to attend one of his private A-list get-togethers: “I didn’t feel Amazon always wielded its tremendous power for the good of readers, writers, or publishers. Just my opinion.” He goes anyway. (Bezos owns The Washington Post). He recalls golfing with former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. When he spots them playing together, his prose goes squishy: “It’s the way things used to be in politics. Better, saner times.” You can feel a terrible novel about golf-based brinkmanship arrive in the Idea file.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG notes that Patterson spent a number years at a large New York advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, prior to becoming an author.

While PG hasn’t seen this work experience highlighted very much in the stories about Patterson, he believes that what Patterson learned at JWT played a significant role in his success as a writer.

Side Note: PG also worked at J. Walter Thompson, although for a much shorter time and in a different location. Patterson was in the New York office and PG was in the Chicago office.

Their paths never crossed during PG’s employment, but, many years later, PG was on a panel with Patterson in New York City – he doesn’t remember who sponsored it.

The topic was Amazon. PG only spoke with Patterson briefly on that occasion. PG was on the panel because he was an outspoken proponent of self-publishing as a way for authors to control their own business and artistic futures while making more money and was not particularly oriented towards traditional publishers.

Needless to say, Patterson and PG did not find much to agree about.

One of PG’s observations about Patterson over the years is that he does a very good job of promoting himself in part because knows more about effective advertising and publicity than all of the marketing executives in all the publishers in New York City combined.

3 Ways to Infuse Character Voice

From Writers Helping Writers:

Vocabulary and the way a character speaks are the outer layer of character voice—the icing on the cake. Instead of trying to build character voice from the outside in, get under the character’s skin by revealing how they experience and interpret the story world from the inside out.

Character voice bubbles up organically when every aspect of the story is seen through a character’s-eye view of priorities, perspectives, and agendas. It’s less like cobbling together a latticework of characters, setting, and events than it is establishing a running commentary on how the character views everything caught in that web.

“Running commentary” may sound like something suited for first-person or deep third point of view. In fact, continually inflecting the story with a character’s personal concerns is a fit for any point of view whose narrator is also a character. It’s a seamless way to write. The character voice—with all its attendant observations, judgments, opinions, prejudices, preferences, thoughts, and emotions—effectively becomes your framework for worldbuilding.

The idea of character voice often brings to mind a character’s favorite words and phrases—for example, whether a character calls something neatcoollit, or dope. That’s coming at character voice from the outside in. To build character voice from the inside out, start with what the character observes in the first place.

1. What Characters Notice

What you know is inside a room will almost certainly be different from what the viewpoint character notices. What gets noticed depends on who does the noticing. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own mindset, a potent brew of knowledge, experience, motivations, goals, preferences, hopes, fears …

A musician notes different qualities in a concert hall than an interior designer. A six-year-old child beelines right past the collection of R&B vinyl to get to the puppy. The best friend sees a comfy, lived-in nest while the exhausted mom sees dirty socks and a pile of bills on the counter.

This is where knowing your characters’ histories comes in handy. What memories and emotions are associated with the people, places, and things they meet?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

In the Shadow of the Gods

From The Wall Street Journal:

The talent that creates an empire is often in conflict with the skills that preserve it. The “recklessly heroic style” of Alexander the Great, Dominic Lieven notes in his new book, was a political dead end. Even in durable empires, a tension remains between the emperor, whose authority is supreme and superhuman, and the empire, in which power is managed by bureaucrats, soldiers, viceroys and local elites. Empires are founded by war and personal charisma, but they are sustained by paperwork and compromise.

Mr. Lieven, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, compares the Chinese emperor who bore the Mandate of Heaven to the helmsman of “a great modern family firm.” Most heirs and emperors are not up to the job, but the system sustains them regardless. The emperor is always a “captive of his officials.” Valentinian I of Rome, who seems to have found this arrangement frustrating, kept Goldflake and Innocence, “two savage and underfed man-eating bears, outside his bedroom as a warning to his entourage.”

In the Shadow of the Gods” is an instructive epic, deficient only in that the author does not pursue his subject to the present day. Mr. Lieven defines emperors as “hereditary holders of supreme authority,” ruling disparate populations over long distances. They are usually male, notwithstanding Catherine the Great of Russia, Victoria of Great Britain, and Cixi, the dowager empress of China. The modern age, Mr. Lieven argues, is a “radically new era” in which hereditary and sacred monarchy are “no longer viable.”

Imperial authority always was symbolic as well as actual. From his invention, the emperor was, if not divine, then the next best thing, tricked out in the ancient robes of “sacred monarchy.” The first emperor was Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE), a Near Eastern priest-king who found his city-state too small and conquered modern Iraq and Syria. As Elizabeth II, the daughter of the last emperor of India, heads the Church of England, so Sargon’s daughter became high-priestess of the moon god in the temple at Ur.

One of the things the Romans did for us was to define empire. Under the Roman republic, an imperator was a victorious general, and later one of two consuls. The empire began in 27 BCE under Augustus, the victor of Rome’s civil wars. A “ruthless and skilful politician,” Augustus mollified the senatorial aristocracy with a small share of his power and a “much greater helping of top jobs and patronage.” He learned from his uncle Julius Caesar’s mistakes, refusing to be “officially proclaimed a living god” in Rome, and calling himself primus inter pares, “first among equals.” But he accepted the divine status bestowed by local elites in his eastern empire. The geography of empire always includes a gulf of hypocrisy between the metropolis and the provinces.

The western Roman Empire lasted five centuries and became the template for the modern European empires. Its eastern, Byzantine heir endured for another millennium, until Constantinople fell in 1453. Yet Rome’s emperors, Mr. Lieven suggests, struggled at the basic task of succession. When Diocletian (284-305 CE) upgraded the emperor from first citizen to divine autocrat, living up to the image “put an extra strain” on an emperor. Add the intriguing of the Praetorian Guard, and the Romans got through 53 emperors in 311 years: not much different to the election cycles of the American republic, with their “never-ending” factional struggles. The Sassanids of Persia, founded in 224 CE, had 30 emperors in three centuries, and the British have had only a dozen monarchs since 1707. No wonder that the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, the most personal testimony left by a Roman emperor, advises Stoic endurance.

Russia’s Romanovs lasted three centuries, the Habsburgs nearly a millennium in various forms, but the Chinese are the long-distance champions: their first imperial dynasty, the Qin, was founded in 221 BCE. The unification of China under the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) led to “great economic advances and a superb flowering of Chinese literary and artistic high culture.” The second Tang emperor, Taizong, was “beyond question one of history’s greatest emperors,” combining military and administrative skills with a “flair for the dramatic, flamboyant gesture.” Like Marcus Aurelius, he bequeathed advice to his heirs.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Writers’ unions call for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector

From The Society of Authors:

The Society of Authors (SoA) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) have today called for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector. The trade unions, who together represent 14,800 authors, have jointly published Is it a steal? An investigation into ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing services to expose widespread bad practice among companies that charge writers to publish their work while taking their rights.

The report, supported by ALCS, is the first full-scale assessment of the relationship between writers and companies who refer to themselves as ‘hybrid’, ‘partnership’ or ‘contributory’ publishers (among other terms) but have much in common with what have historically been described as ‘vanity’ publishers. It details aggressive marketing tactics, manipulative sales approaches, unclear contracts and publishing processes and services that fall far short of expectations and value. The report also includes the findings of a survey which found that 94% of writers who had paid to have their book published, lost money typically in the thousands, paying an average of £2,000 with median royalties coming in at a mere £68.

As one survey respondent said, ‘After four months of unsuccessfully trying to get more support from the company, I gave up trying to contact them. My first royalty statement shows earnings of £30. I see the £2,000 I paid them as lost.’

Another writer paid £2,300 and ‘received the ebook, 25 physical copies, 10 posters, 25 postcards, 100 flyers and 50 bookmarks’ after which, they said, ‘the company washed its hands of me’.

A third survey respondent paid £5,000 for publication and said the process ‘completely destroyed my faith in their ability to produce a book and market it effectively, and the experience has dented my confidence in publishing in general’.

Speaking about the report’s findings, Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said:

‘This report shines a spotlight on some concerning practices including questionable marketing tactics, vast costs with no hope of returns, rights grabs and contracts which are, at best, opaque, and, at worst, misleading. There is no one right way for a book to come to market, but as the publishing industry continues to evolve, we need to ensure that authors are not taken advantage of or blindsided by blandishments that don’t translate into contractual obligations and implied guarantees that, very clearly, these companies aren’t honouring.’

The joint report, supported by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), follows a steady rise in SoA and WGGB members seeking advice from their respective unions about ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing deals they have been offered. The survey found that the average loss for a writer in a ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing deal was £1,861 with some participants reporting losses as high as £9,900. Each deal resulted in a median of just 67 books sold, including those that writers bought themselves, while 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in bookshops, supermarkets and retail outlets.

‘Fundamentally, what we’re seeing here is a hijacking of the term publisher,’ continues Solomon. ‘These companies are not traditional publishers. They provide a service and should market it as such so as not to mislead authors. We all have a role to play in ensuring people are not exploited by these deals, and that includes being clear in how we define what a publisher is. Trade bodies and advertising platforms have an important role to play here too – they have a responsibility to ensure that paid-for publishers can demonstrate their legitimacy.’

Ellie Peers, general secretary of the WGGB, commented:

‘Digital innovation is opening up new opportunities for authors but we need to ensure this brave new world does not lead to the exploitation and erosion of writers’ rights.

‘Sadly, as our joint report Is it a steal? illustrates, bad practice is entrenched, with authors losing large sums of money, relinquishing their intellectual property and falling prey to misleading marketing and exploitative business models.

‘We have seen an exponential rise in our members seeking help in the paid-for publishing arena and we will be stepping up our campaigning work to educate and protect authors and to call on ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishers, trade bodies and advertisers to step up, stamp out and stem the tide of this worrying and growing trend.

The writers’ unions are calling for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector based on a three-pronged approach and have already written to many ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing services and trade bodies. They call for:

  1. A commitment to 15 key publishing principles, listed in the report, which include clarity about their business models, production and marketing capacity, as well as notifying people who enter paid-for agreements about their consumer rights.
  2. A commitment by other organisations to ensure that companies describing themselves as publishers are just that. Specifically, the SoA and WGGB have called on the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild to clarify their definition of ‘publisher’ and investigate whether that applies to their membership and how their members can demonstrate an adherence to the 15 principles. They have also called on advertising platforms and media outlets to ensure that publishers advertising with them are doing so in line with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code of conduct and not misleading consumers.
  3. Finally, the unions have committed to raising awareness among writers of their rights when entering a ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing agreement, and of the need to have all contracts independently vetted before signing.

Link to the rest at The Society of Authors

Is Hybrid Publishing Ethical?

PG Note: He published this post prior to the one just following it chronologically. The UK study was talking about what are known in the US as vanity presses.

Vanity presses are shady operators who say they will “publish” an author’s book if he/she/they pay the vanity press a fixed upfront fee, which may sometimes be increased by additional “services” that cost more money.

In return, the typical vanity publisher will print up a few hundred books, list them for sale online, wholesale and retail, send out a canned press release, and provide the author with a number of copies of the book.

Typically, the vanity publisher only orders a short run of books because they know very few copies will sell. When the book doesn’t sell, the vanity press typically contacts the author to ask if the author wants to have the unsold books destroyed or shipped to the author.

It’s not unusual for people connected with traditional publishing to conflate vanity publishing and self-publishing, but, if the self-publishing author wants to make money, she/he/they need to spend some time learning how to do it reasonably well. All the information necessary to understand and execute the process is available online.

Although PG thinks some serious competitors to Amazon would help indie authors as well as encouraging Amazon to up its game a bit, at the moment, Amazon is, effectively, the place the indie author must be successful and the company provides financial incentives for an author to sell exclusively through them.

From Jane Friedman:

The publishing industry has been arguing for a long time about traditional vs. hybrid vs. self-publishing and which of these avenues are legitimate, and which are not, but a recent UK study that decries hybrid publishing as unethical has ruffled a lot of feathers.

Here’s the basic problem, in my view: these arguments ultimately conflate “ethical publishing” with positive ROI on a per-book basis. I’d like to take a closer look at that foundational premise, its inherent cracks, and offer a different paradigm.

Regardless of who pays for it, this is the cost to produce a book

My operating assumption is that you want to create a quality book—a book that will be on par with the quality of every other book on the shelf next to it. Regardless of who is fronting the investment (the publisher, in the case of a traditional publishing, or an author, in the case of hybrid or self-publishing), it can easily cost upward of $20,000 to create the thing.

Yes, there is variance based on the book’s contents (if you need a fact-check or an index or photo permissions clearance, for example), word count, or printing specifications. There is also a great deal of variance in terms of the pricing you can find these services for—but generally speaking, you’re going to get what you pay for. Good designers and editors have fairly standard rates, so I’m using those here to illustrate what I call the actual cost of producing a high-quality book. If you cross-check these numbers with a traditional publisher, you’ll find they expect to outlay about the same amount when such responsibilities are handled by freelancers.

Three-pass editing (Developmental, Copyediting, Proofreading): $7,500
Cover and custom interior design: $3,000

Finding great editors and designers is an important task—one that many self-publishers have no interest, ability, or time to do. Partnering with a reputable hybrid publisher or a publishing services firm who continually vet their creative partners removes the onus of team curation from the author.

Project management and back cover copywriting: $5,000

Self-publishers can and often do take on their own project management. It takes around 120 hours of professional project management to produce a book, more for the inexperienced. A lot of authors decide this is not how they would like to spend their time and hire out project management accordingly.

Offset print run (let’s assume a relatively small run of 3,500 copies, for example): $8,750

Total creative investment: ~$24,250

These costs do not include marketing and publicity. A full-scale publicity campaign, for example, starts around $10,000. The vast majority of traditionally published authors receive limited marketing and publicity support from their publisher, so regardless of publishing route, the bulk of a book’s marketing and promotion responsibility falls squarely on the author.

The earning potential from a single book

Publishers, as well as many individuals deciding on a hybrid publisher or on self-publishing, are concerned with turning a profit on the project. So, let’s look at how many copies a book needs to sell to earn out the creative investment alone on a paperback with a list price of $18.95.

  • From $18.95, we subtract the wholesale discount. If the book is being sold into bookstores, 40-55% is standard.
  • Then we subtract the distributor’s cut (18-20%).
  • The hybrid publisher and author split the net revenue (let’s call that $9.23 in this case) along the lines of their specific deal, and these vary widely. Sometimes hybrids take 15%, others take 50% of net revenues. We’ll use 30% for this example, making author earnings ~$6.46/book.

What this means is that, if all your books are sold through the brick-and-mortar channel, you would need to sell around 3,700 copies to break even on your up-front creative and printing investment. (Direct, non-retail-distribution-dependent sales channels earn more per copy.)

This sketch should shed some light on why traditional publishers are increasingly looking to acquire books that will sell more than 5,000 copies. It also suggests why publishers stress the importance of author platform: the author’s direct relationship with readers reduces the need to pile on marketing spend to reach sales goals.

Traditional publishers face ever-increasing printing costs and relatively stagnant retail prices (the market simply will not bear a $30 paperback novel, or even a $20 one). So they have little choice but to recover their margin with bulk rates for larger print runs. In other words, the sales projection threshold for a traditional publishing deal continues to move up, yoking publication to commercialization.

Is producing a book worth doing if it in and of itself is not a profitable project?

There is not a single right answer to this. For some people it is, and for some people it isn’t. A book does not always need to be an ROI-positive event to be worthwhile. Many thought leaders and entrepreneurs write book-production costs off as a marketing expense, since they recognize the legitimizing value of a byline to their authority. A book can function as a lead-gen tool to drive conversion to contract sales; a book can act as a compelling business card that helps net new clients or speaking engagements; a book can drive an individual’s community engagement and retention. Many authors prefer to work in a hybrid or fully assisted self-publishing model because those avenues offer them more control over their work and rights, greater speed to market, and increased potential for return on their intellectual property.

I echo Jane Friedman in saying that “Most writers, regardless of how they publish, are motivated not by money, but some other reason. Prestige, Infamy. Status. Visibility. A million other things.”

This insight applies not only to nonfiction writers, but to novelists, children’s book authors, and memoirists as well, for many of whom producing a high-quality book is a lifelong dream. The value writers get from publishing their book often has little to do with the royalties it generates. As Jane describes in great detail in the aforementioned article, “The writer who makes a living from book sales alone is the exception and not the rule in traditional publishing . . . what most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG was very interested in the costs estimates in the OP. He assumes that these are the costs that major traditional publishers accrue when they publish a book.

He also suspects that many of these costs are associated with getting printed books into physical bookstores – persuading the bookstore buyers to purchase a bunch of printed books (with the ability to return unsold books to the publisher for full credit) by touting all the money spent on publicity, taking book review editors to expensive Manhattan restaurants, etc., etc.

PG thinks that serious self-publishing authors are happy to get status, visibility, etc., but their primary objective is to make money from their writing via book sales through online bookstores, Amazon being the big dog.

Because indie authors sell their books online, they focus most of their efforts at gaining visibility for their books online via social media, websites, email lists, etc.

For PG, the last quote from Jane Friedman in the OP is the killer:

What most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.

So, are we to assume that everybody else in the traditional book business — publishers, employees of publishers, editors, agents, publicists, book distributors and wholesalers, traditional bookstores, Amazon — has a reasonable expectation of being able to earn “a reasonable full-time living,” while authors must have side jobs, wealthy spouses, inherited wealth, etc., in order to survive?

The author belongs at the bottom of the publishing heap?

The author is a peon and agents, editors, publisher gofers, book stores, etc., are the aristos?

Tor lands ‘masterwork’ by TikTok sensation

From The Bookseller:

Tor has landed a “masterwork” by The Atlas Six author and TikTok sensation Olivie Blake.

Publishing director Bella Pagan bought UK and Commonwealth rights with audio for Alone With You in the Ether from Chris Scheina at Macmillan US’s Tor division. It will be released in e-book by Tor UK and Tor US on 1st June and Tor UK will then publish in hardback and audio on 8th December.

The publisher said: “Alone With You in the Ether is a glimpse into the nature of love, what it means to be unwell, and how to face the fractures of yourself and still love as if you’re not broken. As Charlotte Regan works at a museum, and Aldo Damiani is a time travel-obsessed maths professor, it will appeal to just the same ‘dark academia’ audience who adored Olivie’s The Atlas Six.

Alone With You in the Ether has already been a self-published TikTok hit, with more than 13.5 million mentions of the hashtag #AloneWithYouintheEther. Atlas Six sequel The Atlas Paradox will be published this October and the last book in the trilogy will follow in 2023.

Blake is a pseudonym for LA-based writer Alexene Farol Follmuth. She said: “I wrote Alone With You in the Ether so that I, and others like me, could make sense of life from inside the constraints of a mood disorder, explore the vulnerability of art and time and wonder, and ultimately face our own fractures to find something worthy of love. I am honoured that this story has resonated with so many readers, and I’m unbelievably grateful that this book will now find a home with my incredible team at Pan Macmillan.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

This item raised the question in PG’s mind about whether he should try to be a TikTok sensation himself.

The OP does mention that the book was self-published.

A question arose in PG’s mind when he checked out the top-rated review of the book. For him, the photo used by the top-rated reviewer looked quite a lot like the photos of the author of the book, but PG could be wrong.

Neither of us was quite sure what the other meant

Neither of us was quite sure what the other meant, but, as in dreams, our words could be taken in so many ways, which was fine too, because we liked thinking they had more than one meaning, one obvious, one not so obvious, one hinted at but so muddled that neither of us knew which to grasp, because each was so laced into the others that all three ultimately meant one and the same thing.

André Aciman

The Mystery of Subtext: An Appreciation

From CrimeReads:

During my high school years, when I was at my most rebellious, my eyes glazed over and rolled with impatience whenever our beloved English teacher, the indomitable Mrs. McFadden would talk about the role of the forest in the Last of the Mohicans. Who cared about such trivia when there were more important things to be concerned with—like that cute boy in my fifth period math class or the next Saturday night’s dance.

Undeterred by our lack of interest, she would continue unabated, telling us about the literary devices authors often employ to bring a simple story up to the level of art. She would describe the metaphors and similes that enrich the narrative and give the characters depth and substance. She explained that the form and structure an author uses to create a story tells the reader as much about the plot and the themes as do the words on the page. And it is the subtext, she said, lurking just beneath the surface—what the author chooses not to say, or say obliquely—that often speaks the loudest. If we could find this buried treasure, if we could recognize these hidden gems, and unravel the mystery behind the words and images, only then would we grasp the true meaning of the story, the real intent of the author.

Despite my respect for Mrs. McFadden and her passion for literary fiction, I preferred mysteries to the heavier, more obscure texts that were assigned to us. I would open a good mystery—Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, for instance or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and know full well that whatever was presented at the outset, might not be what it appeared to be. As a reader, I was willing to second guess everything, to look beneath every word and description for the clues I knew the author had left for me. I eagerly traversed the path she laid out and followed her like a devoted acolyte to the end where I knew everything would make sense and the mystery would be solved. Along the way, I examined every event and deed, trying to discern what was true and what was false. There was something thrilling about analyzing what was really happening or who someone really was before any of it became apparent. The habitual problem solving, the act of turning over every possible scenario in my mind made me feel as if I were one with the author, that she had written this story solely for me and together we were solving this great mystery before us.

After college, when my initial rebellion against literary fiction ebbed, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the genre. It was Kafka’s Metamorphosis that made me realize I could approach literary fiction in the same way I approached all those mysteries I loved because truly, this novella had to be about something more than a bug. But what was it about? What was Kafka trying to tell me? The more I read, the more I wanted to know.

. . . .

Suddenly, as I read on, picking up the clues that Kafka offered, the story spoke to me in a very personal way. I too was an alienated young artist—a writer whose many rejections made me feel akin to this man turned insect who now spoke in a voice that no one around him could understand or was willing to listen to. As I plumbed the depths of this narrative following word by word, image by image the path he mapped, I discovered a connection with him and with the character that I had not felt anywhere else. And though we were separated by years and death, culture and gender, I was able to say to this author: Yes, I see what you see, I know what you know, I feel what you feel.

Readers instinctively know how to approach mysteries. They don’t instinctively know how to approach literary fiction. So many times, I read the reviews in this genre that run something like this: “Maybe I missed the point of this story …” or “I’m not sure what the theme is”, or “What…did I just read?!” They don’t understand that they need to look for the clues the author has left behind in the images and in the subtext, the same way they would do if they were reading a mystery. If they follow the path the author has cleared for them, if they look beneath the surface of the symbols and ponder the words, the setting, and the characters, they will understand that nothing is as it appears to be. Readers will then readily solve literary fiction’s mystery hidden in the subtext, and arriving at the end, despite time and cultural differences, they too will say: Yes, I see what you see, I know what you know, I feel what you feel.

And isn’t this why we write and read literature? 

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

From Literary Terms:

What is Subtext?

The subtext is the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message in a literary composition, drama, speech, or conversation. The subtext comes to be known by the reader or audience over time, as it is not immediately or purposefully revealed by the story itself.

Examples of Subtext

Example 1

She smiled when she heard someone else had won, but knowing what she was thinking, the smile was a façade which covered her true disappointment at having lost the election.

The subtext in the situation is the reality that what is below the surface—disappointment—does not match the surface—happiness and congratulations.

. . . .

Example 3

This mint is really delicious. It’s got a very unique flavor. Do you want one?

The enthusiasm expressed by this person is an example of subtext. As beneath this message is the clue that someone else has bad breath and should take the mint.

. . . .

Types of Subtext

Subtext can work in a variety of ways, depending on how information appears in a narrative. Here are a few key types of subtext:

Privilege Subtext

Privilege subtext is subtext in which the audience has certain privileges over the characters in a narrative. In other words, the audience is aware of something the characters are not aware of. For example, imagine a character who has three missed calls from her mother. We as readers cringe as we know she is about to find out her sister has been in a car crash which we have seen but she is not yet aware of.

Revelation Subtext

Revelation subtext is subtext that reveals a certain truth over time throughout a story, leading up to a revelation. For example, imagine a boy who has been trying to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up. He considers firefighting, being a policeman, or even being an actor. Throughout his childhood, though, he enjoys drawing, painting, and sculpting for fun. The revelation subtext here is that his hobby has been his calling all along: he will become an artist.

Link to the rest at Literary Terms

Transitions and Homes…

From House of Geek:

Well, we have a home now. What does this mean? Has it been a struggle? What’s going on?

Well, a lot of things have been going on since my father has passed. Yes, we are living with mom now, and so much more.

So, let’s catch up.

As you would probably expect, it’s had its ups and downs. There are songs I can’t listen to without losing it and becoming a blubbering fool. There are good days and bad days. We’re all taking it one day at a time.

Mom…

She has admitted a lot. The first thing she has admitted is that she misses dad more than she thought she would. I didn’t say anything when she admitted this. This year would have been fifty years they’ve been married. OF COURSE, she’s going to miss him and every annoying thing she said he did.

She has also admitted she needs a grief counselor. She’s fighting depression every day. I know because of the music she’s playing out of the tv. She’s had some really bad days. She’s been fighting the urge to dive head-first into booze and not come out. She’s doing good on that front.

ADHD, Mom, my schedule, and me

Yup, that’s been a challenge as well. I will plan out my workday only to have mom make her own and include me without telling me until the day she’s got to do anything.

So, I started asking her if she had anything planned to do so I can work it into the day. She will tell me of appointments, but not errands. She will say she’s got errands to do and then volunteer me to drive.

There’s that. Now, I have to keep an ear open to see if she’s planning on doing anything that involves leaving the house and me lightening my load.

I have no clue what she’s going to do when I find a part-time remote-work job. Can’t drop everything to take her everywhere then.

My focus makes me irritated when she does that. So, I have to take a break and a deep breath as I try to refocus. I am trying not to make it difficult for her. She’s going through enough already.

Did I mention I’ve had the first COVID stab? No, well there you go.

Fighting it with humor.

Yup, I can’t help it. I have to crack a joke or two just to break the tension. Here are some things that I came up with to make mom chuckle.

She has chocolate with booze in it, and she loves extra sharp cheddar, always has it in the house. “Would we like our evening cordial and medicinal cheddar this evening?” Said in a goofy, over-the-top British accent.

Whenever she mentions there’s mail for dad, I respond with, “We’ll forward it to the seance department.”

I have nicknamed the CR-V Bessy and I tell her to “whoa” when we have to stop in the snow.

Those are just a few of them.

Link to the rest at House of Geek

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym Review: A Modern Jane Austen

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you are familiar with the quiet little gems that are the novels of Barbara Pym, you may be surprised by the number and intensity of the writer’s love affairs—all doomed. Paula Byrne brings these mostly painful experiences to the fore in “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym: A Biography” and shows how Pym wrung from them a brisk, coolly ironic view of the relations between men and women. Ms. Byrne, the author of two novels, as well as books, on Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, among others, gives us a work that surpasses in length and detail the two previous book-length accounts of Pym’s life: the more discreet “A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym” (1990) by her friend, Hazel Holt, and “A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters,” (1984) edited by Holt and Pym’s sister, Hilary. Perhaps we can hope that now, with this huge biography and with all Pym’s novels available in print, this master of the comedy of resignation will not disappear again—as she almost did during her own life.

Among the many relics of the buttoned-up past that the 1960s kicked to the gutter were the novels of Barbara Pym. To a big, brash, in-your-face era, they were sadly outmoded, smacking of postwar privation and preoccupied with spinsters, seasoned widows, paid companions, young curates and fortifying cups of tea. In addition to the novels’ seemingly obsolete outlook, the problem was also that Pym’s genius lay in her attention to what people mistakenly think of as trivialities—sharing a bathroom, attending scholarly lectures, darning the socks of another woman’s husband, eating spaghetti—the minor travails which, in fact, make up most of life’s substance. The novels’ bleak comedy and subtle wit were lost on an age that admired provocativeness over restraint and was deaf to irony.

Pym got the message in 1963. Already the author of six well-received novels, she sent the manuscript of her seventh to her longtime publisher, Jonathan Cape—only to receive a curt letter of rejection. It stunned her. “She had been, in her own words, ‘offloaded,’ ” writes Ms. Byrne. “And the men responsible had not bothered to give her the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call. It was the most cowardly and cruellest of rejections and it affected her for a long, long time.” She tried other publishers with no success and so began what Pym called her “wilderness years.”

. . . .

Barbara Mary Crampton Pym was born in 1913 in Oswestry, Shropshire, in the west of England, the first child of Frederic Crampton Pym, a solicitor, and his wife, Irena. Her sister, Hilary, was born three years later; the sisters were very close and set up house together in later life. In 1931 Pym went up to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she studied English and embarked on a number of infatuations, affairs and heartbreaks. She was remarkably ahead of her time in sexual liberation (“I can’t help choosing my underwear with a view to its being seen”) and, as Ms. Byrne shows, men were central to her life. She courted their attention, slept with them, typed for them and mended their clothes: Being without a man, she wrote years later, was a “nice lump of misery which goes everywhere like a dog.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How fortunate we were who still had hope

How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we should have no more hope, and yet be unable to die

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy War, and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the War lasts and what it may mean, could see a case–to say nothing of 10 cases–of mustard gas in its early stages–could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes–sometimes temporally, sometimes permanently–all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Perhaps …
To R.A.L.

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel one more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of you.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet,
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

The War’s Toll on Ukrainian Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

An online survey of the Ukrainian book market undertaken by Anastasiia Zagorui on behalf of Ukrainian trade publication Chytomo was conducted from March 26 to April 8. Eighty-one publishers participated in the survey, which examines how the publishing community has adapted to wartime conditions; of those, 10% said they were forced to stop their operations, including 4mamas Publishing House, Abrykos, Booksha, DIPA, Mamino, Oleksandr Savchuk, Osnova Publishing Group, and Smoloskyp. Others, such as Blym-Blym, Ïzhak, and Klio, have been severely compromised. The majority of publishers, 51%, continue to publish but have altered their operating models, taking such measures as reducing their working hours. Thirty-nine percent of publishers had not changed their models when the survey was taken.

In one comment, the team of Creative Women Publishing said that, despite the war, they are back on track with all their projects. “Despite the fact that the publishing house’s employees are geographically dispersed—some have stayed in Ukraine and others are abroad—everyone keeps in touch,” Creative Women reported.

Many publishers responded that they continue to work normally but are allowing displaced employees to work remotely and are ramping up the production of e-books. The Nash Format publishing house told Chytomo that members of its editorial department work from different parts of Ukraine and abroad, and that the vast majority of its freelancers, including translators, are continuing to work. The publisher is focusing on titles that will be of particular interest during the war and in the postwar period.

Many publishers continue working on projects they began before the invasion, including organizing readings and events. “We are looking for ways to financially support our authors,” said Yevheniia Lopata of the Meridian Czernowitz cultural festival. “Namely, we organize our authors’ readings in front of German-speaking audiences—mostly online. We already have an agreement with the Vienna University of Applied Arts for a series of public talks and literary events with our authors”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Traveling this summer? Here are book picks for all 50 states (and then some)

From NPR:

As the summer travel season kicks off, many of us look forward to exploring new places on trips away from home. To help with this, NPR asked poets laureate, state librarians, bookstore owners and other literary luminaries from all 50 states — plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — to recommend quintessential reads that illuminate where they live.

Here are more than 100 recommendations for you — whether you want to read about somewhere you’re heading, a place you hope to go someday, or somewhere you live and want to get to know better.

. . . .

Alabama

Nominated by McCall Hardison, marketing director of the Little Professor bookshop in Homewood, Ala.

Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South by Rick Bragg: This book is a series of personal stories about the South that provide a sense of place and knowing that will make Southern readers grin and that will disclose a profound picture of the South to all others. Rick Bragg covers lots of ground regarding what it means to live in the South: caring about your mama, the importance of being for the right sports team (hint: choose an SEC team), what foods makes you a true Southerner and why the chariot of his people, the pickup truck, no longer represents what it used to stand for.

The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis and Evangeline Peterson: Once a dear friend of Alabama’s Scott Peacock, the late Edna Lewis has been called “the South’s answer to Julia Child.” Her background reflects Southern truths of slavery and inequity, and her success is a reminder of the unsung heroes who make an outsize impact on our culture and, in the case of Lewis, what we eat. In Alabama, we take our meat and threes and and Southern fare seriously and owe a great debt to Lewis.

. . . .

California

Nominated by Greg Lucas, state librarian of California

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver: The plot of this lyrical and evocative novel begins with Walker Dodge, a city-living son, returning home after the death of his father to pack up his family’s Central Valley farmhouse. Sifting through his father’s past, he comes across a mystery that has at its center a fictional version of the woman portrayed in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph. Weaving in numerous strands of California’s past and present, the novel cuts back and forth across the years from the hardscrabble life of Mary Coin to Dodge’s tenacious present-day effort to find where she fits into his history.

. . . .

Florida

Nominated by Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Fla.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: This novel captures aspects of Florida that most Sunshine State novels gloss over. As Jessa struggles to make sense of her grief in the aftermath of her father’s death, sand and sea are replaced with storefronts along rural state roads, irreverent roadkill taxidermy, and the Florida Man kind of delirium that is surely the result of the heat and humidity. Like The Florida Project, Mostly Dead Things is a sober look at the state’s diverse landscape — socially and regionally.

Florida by Lauren Groff: As a Gainesville resident of 10 years, I’m obligated to mention Lauren Groff’s story collection as a fresh take on the state. While Groff is not from Florida originally, she harnesses the state’s distinct unruliness with ease. The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is set in a historic Gainesville neighborhood. Despite the idyllic Victorian and Cracker houses that line the streets, there’s a restlessness that permeates the air. Groff’s understanding that even in the sunshine, there can be darkness makes this collection a must-read.

. . . .

Iowa

Nominated by Debra Marquart, poet laureate of Iowa

We Heard It When We Were Young by Chuy Renteria: In this poignant and unflinching memoir about growing up Hispanic in West Liberty, Iowa, Chuy Renteria chronicles not only celebratory moments such as quinceañeras and childhood high jinks, but also the violence, trauma and difficulties of being a first-generation Mexican American growing up in the cultural space between his parents’ homeland and his own home, the state’s first majority-Hispanic town.

Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase: In this remarkable book about a little-remembered chapter of Iowa history, author Rachelle Chase researches the events that led to the creation in 1900 of Buxton, a thriving coal-mining town populated largely by African American residents but where white and Black people lived and worked together. Chase documents the community’s many accomplishments, its notable residents and its ultimate demise.

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel: In this natural and cultural history, ecologist Cornelia Mutel blends lyricism and scientific knowledge to tell the story of succession on the Iowa landscape: first, the tallgrass prairie that once dominated, then the emergence of agriculture, which dramatically transformed life in Iowa. Mutel’s unique lens allows her to narrate the past and present of the state as well as project visions of an intentional future for Iowa, the land between two rivers.

. . . .

Missouri

Nominated by Maryfrances Wagner, poet laureate of Missouri

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Considered one of the greatest works of American fiction, Mark Twain’s classic expertly represents rural Missouri in the late 1800s – its river towns and backwoods along the Mississippi River and its people. It captures dialects of the time, some of which are preserved nowhere else in literature. And it provides a vivid picture of the dark side of human nature and offers one of the first Black heroes in American literature. Some find the book problematic, with its use of racist language and stereotypes. But Twain meant it as a satire, critical of the very things people accuse it of: racism, hypocrisy and ignorance.

Winter’s Bone and Ride With the Devil by Daniel Woodrell: I recommend two books by author Daniel Woodrell. Ride With the Devil (published originally as Woe to Live on) is a Civil War novel that shows a Southern-leaning state siding with the Union. It’s a layered and complex portrayal of the border war between Missouri and Kansas. Winter’s Bone examines the dark side of human nature in the southern part of the state where drugs and moonshine are a way of life. In this novel, Woodrell expertly captures the lives of the poor and desperate of the Ozarks.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles: Also set during the Civil War, Enemy Women portrays a brutal time of pillage, house burnings and murder of innocent children, women and men. The main character, Adair Collins, lives in the Ozarks with her family, which has remained neutral in the war. After Adair is falsely accused of being a spy and put in a filthy prison, it takes courage and endurance to survive. Although the book is fiction, extracts from relevant records, letters, memoirs and war documents precede each chapter.

The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell: A vital novel about racism in Kansas City, The King of Kings County is inspired by the story of land developer J.C. Nichols, whose real estate deals divided and intentionally segregated Kansas City, and the creation of the suburban empire of Johnson County, Kansas. It, along with another of author Whitney Terrell’s books, The Huntsman, brings to life racial issues in the greater Kansas City area.

. . . .

New Hampshire

Nominated by Alexandria Peary, poet laureate of New Hampshire

Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson: It’s a novel that powerfully illustrates the injustices of racism and indentured servitude likely based on the author’s similar experiences in Milford, N.H. The book is the first novel published in North America by an African American woman (a statue commemorating Harriet E. Wilson can be seen in Milford). The book asks visitors to New Hampshire to remember that the reach of racism and slavery didn’t just stay in the American South but was found in those all-white 19th century farmhouses still standing, the ones beside historic town ovals and graveyards.

Seeking Parmenter: A Memoir of Place by Charles Butterfield: A lyrical and personal investigation of the landscape of New Hampshire, infused with the author’s keen insights about the nature of change. Wilderness takes on a new context and that classic New Hampshire farmhouse seen in a passing vehicle becomes the center of a powerful and personal saga. The book speaks powerfully to what it means to know a place — to stand between the seismic shifts of history and environment, between the past and the future.

. . . .

Oregon

Nominated by Anis Mojgani, poet laureate of Oregon

So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan: While I would offer up William Stafford as the poet who best presents Oregon overall, Richard Brautigan is the Pacific Northwest poet I found first. He’s generally more associated with San Francisco, but this novel takes place squarely in Oregon and is connected to his childhood in Eugene. While it has been many years since I have read it, it is a book I loved, and I think it captures the melancholic sweetness that can run through much of what it means to be in Oregon — how this place’s grayness is drenched in a wet beauty and carries with it an often deep sadness, something So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away tenderly hands out to its reader.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: Ursula K. Le Guin is probably Oregon’s most celebrated author. The Left Hand of Darkness, while not very Oregonian in itself, was a very important book for me to read, and I think one that everyone should. I read this book while I was living here in Portland, Ore., and at a time when my relationship to this place was both cementing itself further and blossoming in different ways than it had previously. So for me it is always tied to this state I live in.

. . . .

South Carolina

Nominated by Marjory Wentworth, former poet laureate of South Carolina

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Based on real people, the abolitionist Grimke sisters from South Carolina, it tells the story of courageous women who fought the established slave-holding society they were born into to make the world a better place. It’s a book that will inspire readers to follow their better angels. Exquisite writing, as always, by Sue Monk Kidd.

Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball: This book is so powerful that after Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley read it, he decided we needed an African American Museum here. He is about to see that dream come true. It’s a book that reminds all of us of our interconnected histories. It’s also a fascinating historical account of the state.

Ukweli: Searching for Healing Truth, South Carolina Writers and Poets Explore American Racism edited by Horace Mungin and Herb Frazier: The deep, unhealed wounds created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade remain today. Charleston, the busiest and most lucrative slave port in the country, is now a major tourist destination. This book tells the truth about the legacy of racism that permeates our history. By telling the truth through multiple voices and perspectives, Ukweli can help all Americans heal.

. . . .

Texas

Nominated by Athena N. Jackson, University of Houston Libraries dean

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke: This enjoyable crime fiction by native Houstonian Attica Locke does a good job of grappling with racial politics in east Texas. Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who returns to his hometown to investigate the murders of a Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. The area’s history of racism is subtly depicted through Locke’s thorough rendering. Themes of conspiracy, lies and denial are smartly woven throughout the story, and the lush and eerie Piney Woods setting heightens the tension. Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for best novel.

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry: A novel about a movie house and the starry-eyed yet down-to-earth residents who are trying to save it, The Last Picture Show is pure Larry McMurtry. More than that, the novel represents the quintessential 1960s small town of north-central Texas, McMurtry country, and the clash between old and new, past and future, the familiar and the unknown. Read the book, then watch the movie.

Nominated by Laurie Covington, librarian and member of the Houston Public Library’s executive leadership team

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger: Nothing is more quintessentially Texas than the dreams and community involvement surrounding high school football. This epic tale, set in the West Texas town of Odessa, captures the experiences of the Permian Panthers, the winningest high school football team in Texas history. This book inspired both a hit TV show and a movie.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed: On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Galveston, Texas. One hundred and fifty-six years later, Juneteenth became an official federal holiday celebrated throughout the United States. Native Texan Annette Gordon-Reed explores the origins of Juneteenth, the narrative of African Americans — including her own experiences attending a desegregated school — and complex public significance of Juneteenth as a national holiday.

Link to the rest at NPR

PG won’t be the only person who thinks some of those called upon to name books for their state missed the most truly representative books.

He’ll pick one state – California. East of Eden, The Joy Luck Club, The Big Sleep, The Lincoln Lawyer, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,and The Maltese Falcon all popped into PG’s mind and he hasn’t lived in California for a very long time.

What book best represents your state? We want to know

From NPR:

It’s June, which means that summer plans are starting to kick into high gear. And for some of us, those plans might include travel — like a classic cross-country road trip, a jaunt to another state to see loved ones, or sightseeing at historic locales. With that in mind, the NPR Books team put together the ultimate reading list to learn more about your destinations: 50+ books for 50 states (and beyond).

We asked book-lovers — librarians, bookstore owners, poets laureate — from across the country to tell us the book that best represents their state or territory. And boy, did they deliver: the final list includes over 100 recommendations, ranging from poetry, to memoirs, to short story collections.

But, of course, no list is perfect. So NPR’s Books team wants to know which book you would pick to represent your state (or Washington, DC. or Puerto Rico), and why. It can be any genre: fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, novel or short story collection. Tell us: Why would you recommend this book to folks who want to learn more about your state?

Link to the rest at NPR

The OP has a form you can use to nominate the best book to represent your state.

My Life in Crime

From CrimeReads:

One sunny weekend twenty-five years ago, during a crime writing conference at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, I chatted with a fellow British author. This was Andrew Taylor, a novelist equally at home with writing contemporary fiction as with producing his multi-award-winning historical mysteries. Andrew and I were discussing Julian Symons’ classic study of the genre, Bloody Murder (known in the US as Mortal Consequences), which we both admired. Knowing of my lifelong interest in the heritage of crime writing, Andrew urged me to have a go at writing a book that would, in effect, be a modern version of Symons’ masterpiece.

At that time, I liked the idea, but it seemed like a pipe-dream. My career as a crime novelist was still in its early stages and it made sense to prioritize fiction. Yet I’ve been a fan of the genre for as long as I’ve wanted to be a crime novelist. In those long ago days, I kept a card index with notes on favorite books, authors, and topics. I’d written plenty of articles about the genre as well as reviews and I’d contributed essays to several reference books. I liked the idea of writing a book of my own about the genre, but my thinking was vague. But I never forgot that conversation with Andrew.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed taking part in crime festivals is that not only do I relish the company of fellow crime writers, I am fascinated by the nature of the crime writing life. Before I achieved my dream of having a novel published, I could never understand why so many established authors simply retire from the fray. After I talked to experienced novelists, and gained an insight into the ups and downs of literary life, I began to see why even apparently successful writers sometimes experience doubts about their work, or even downright demoralization. The reasons include financial pressures and changing literary fashions, but there are plenty of others. It’s a privileged life to be a published author; nevertheless, challenges abound.

I was lucky, in that I had a separate career as a partner in a law firm, so I felt I could write books that I believed in rather than those that a publisher wanted me to write. And I gave talks, as I do to this day, about ‘My Life in Crime’. In the 1990s, I focused on my juggling of two distinct careers. And I found that readers were interested, as they are interested in the lives of all writers whose books they appreciate. This set me thinking.

A decade or so passed, and I started work on the book that became The Golden Age of Murder, in essence a study of mysteries from the 1930s during the first years of the Detection Club, of which Symons was once President. My agent, whose support had been invaluable, felt such a book wouldn’t sell and that I’d do better to concentrate on fiction. But I kept working at it, and when it was finally ready to be submitted, her successor in the agency managed to persuade HarperCollins to take it. The book did far better than I’d ever dared to hope. Soon I was casting my mind back to that conversation with Andrew…

As a result, I’ve found a pleasing way to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first edition of Bloody Murder. My own history of crime fiction is about to be published, again by HarperCollins. In truth, seven years have passed since I signed a contract for The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators. So what took me so long?

Well, the history of our genre is a huge subject. You only need to glance at the essays on CrimeReads to see that. Tens of thousands of mysteries must have been written since Bloody Murder first appeared, and in any event, I wanted to cover more ground than Symons did, taking in film, radio, TV, the theatre, and true crime as well as fiction. I also aimed to travel around the world, talking about (for instance) the Far East and South America, as well as the Anglophone. Nor did I want to neglect issues of difference and diversity.

What’s more, I aimed to explore the notion of the ‘life of crime’, in one sense by writing a sort of biography of this type of writing, in another by glancing at the rollercoaster lives of some of the most interesting crime writers. I hoped to convey a sense (paradoxical as it may seem for stories concerned with sudden death) of the sheer vivacity of this branch of fiction. And I was keen to pursue one of my hobby-horses, the connections that unite authors—however varied their style or subject—from different eras, different countries and different backgrounds. Where is the common ground to be found? That’s a question that I keep coming back to.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

The Battle of the Book Cover: British versus American Edition

From Electric Lit:

We know, we know: you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. And yet, for as widely as the adage as used, we are all—whether consciously or subconsciously—judging books by their covers every time we browse a bookstore, or quickly scroll through a most anticipated list, stopping at the ones that catch our eye. Publishers put an awful lot of stock into book covers as well, following certain hot trends (cough cough, the Blob, cough) and moving away from others (such as photorealism having taken a backseat the past few years).

Whether we book people like to admit it or not, the cover is a very important part of a book’s perception, and so we here at Electric Lit think it’s a worthwhile endeavor every now and again to take the pulse of the public and see what aesthetic choices are making a splash, and which aren’t faring so well. Is the Blob still in, with publishers or the public? Is realism making a comeback? To test the waters, we asked our Instagram followers to choose between the UK and US book cover editions, to see what the hottest book cover trends are this year, and which trends are soooOOoo 2021.

Careering by Daisy Buchanan

There’s something similar going on between the two covers here: the shade of green, even the pink—which is only a flash of lipstick and nail polish in the U.S. cover, rather than the primary element of the U.K. cover—and a clearly at-her-wits-end woman, which perfectly resonates with this book about a woman who finally lands her much-desired dream job writing for a magazine, only to find burnout waiting for her there. And in a very interesting twist for our first battle, realism is the clear favorite! If you’ve followed our book cover battles in the past, you may know that realism has historically been the loser, so this clear sweep is a surprising start. Is this the beginning of a turning tide?

 

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

These two covers take different approaches to portraying this book about a mysterious inheritance a mother leaves her children: the U.K. cover opting to depict the more literal part—a spoon representing the physical black cake—while the U.S. cover chooses to depict the woman hiding behind secrets that are slowly uncovered after her death. The colorful swirls of the American cover feel very familiar—it’s sort of like those magic images where everything is a blur at first, but if you focus your eyes and stare long enough, the image beneath begins to appear. Comparatively, the British cover takes a more simplistic approach. Our voters, it seems, prefer the task of sussing out the secret inside swirls of the US cover.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Make a Pass; I Dare You: Revising Your Draft

From Writer Unboxed:

Recently, I allowed myself to type those two precious words:

THE END

I’d completed my first rough draft of my historical novel-in-progress. Of course, finishing a draft is not THE END at all.

Those two magical words are the call to arms, the rallying cry to get one’s butt back into one’s damned chair, to double down, dig deep, grovel, beg, and maybe ugly cry.

It’s time to revise.

Hopefully, one is armed with tissues as well as a stash of tried-and-true methods for honing, pruning, enriching and revealing; plus the fresh input of trusted beta readers, freelance editors, a publishing editor, and/or literary agent (if one’s agent is the editorial sort).

I asked four generous and highly esteemed fellow authors whose names begin with “J” about their tips-n-tricks for revision so that I can, selfishly, mine their ideas for my own use. And yes, I am sharing the 411 here with you.

Janet Fitch- author of the Oprah’s Book Club selection and feature film, WHITE OLEANDER; and most recently, CHIMES OF A LOST CATHEDRAL. Her Janet Fitch’s Writing Wednesday YouTube series is a gem.

“I think in terms of revision “layers”. First layer, the scenes—making sure each scene has a change, that something has good and truly happened, and the POV character can’t go back to the way it was before. Second layer, I check the senses—am I embodying the story, using all the senses, every page? I make sure the WHERE is firmly established and continues to be refreshed. Third layer, the polishing. I make sure every sentence sings—checking the verbs for specificity and flavor, that the language has texture or ‘crunch,’ and that there’s variety in sentence length and structure. I will read this draft aloud, listening for the music I’m making.”

Jane Healey- bestselling historical novelist and host of the fab webinar series H3- Historical Happy Hour. Her most recent book, THE SECRET STEALERS is out from Lake Union Publishing.

“When I’m revising I always remind myself that readers are very smart, so in the first round of revisions, I do what I think of as a “macro” review and question every chapter, every scene and every event and ask myself, does this chapter/scene/event matter enough to remain in the story? Does it advance the narrative or shed light on character enough that it deserves to stay in the novel? And if it doesn’t, I take it out (always saving it somewhere else just in case). And then the next round is the micro review – more of a line by line review of exposition, dialogue etc. to make sure that I’m not talking down to readers in any way – I’m not repeating things they already know, or annoying them with details they don’t need to know. I find reading out loud helps at this stage, it’s much easier to spot clunky dialogue or unnecessary description when I read out loud.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Some languages pay closer attention to family ties than others

From The Economist

“Merry christmas from the Family”, a country song by Robert Earl Keen released in 1994, tells the tale of a sprawling festive get-together, replete with champagne punch, carol-singing and turkey. Many listeners will recognise the chaos the narrator describes; even more than that, they may identify with his struggle to recall how he is related to the various guests. “Fred and Rita drove from Harlingen,” Mr Keen croons. “Can’t remember how I’m kin to them.”

That may have something to do with the English language. It is often joked that anyone around your age is a “cousin”, regardless of actual relation, and anyone older is an “uncle” or “aunt”. English is rather bare in its terms for family members. Other languages pay far more attention to the details.

Take “brother” and “sister”. Societies that value age-order highly often have different terms for older brother, older sister, younger brother and younger sister. These are gejie, di and mei in Mandarin (usually doubled in speech, as in didi), or ani, ane, ototo, imoto in Japanese. Though generic alternatives exist for certain situations (like the abstract concept of “siblings”), not specifying a specific person’s seniority in these languages would be odd.

Then take marriage relations. English just adds the rather cold -in-law to refer to a relationship through a spouse. French has the rather warmer beau- or belle- (belle-mère for mother-in-law, beau-frère for brother-in-law, and so on), but at least it means “beautiful” rather than implying a bureaucratic shackle.

Other European languages have distinct words for the many different relatives by marriage. A Spanish-learner must memorise cuñado/cuñadayernonuera, and suegro/suegra for brother-/sister-, son-, daughter- and father-/mother-in-law (the terms are similar in Portuguese). Spanish even distinguishes cuñado (brother-in-law by blood relation to your spouse) from concuñado, your spouse’s sibling’s husband—something like “co-brother-in-law”. It also has the term cuñadismo, brother-in-law-ism, or talking about things you know little about as though you were an authority—the phrase is akin to “mansplaining” in English.

. . . .

Finally, it is a curious fact that English lacks a word to describe the crucial relationship between the parents of a married couple. Hebrew and Yiddish, though, have mehutanim and machatunim, and Spanish offers consuegros for this critical relationship. Anglophones, meanwhile, are forced to say something awkward like “my son’s wife’s parents”.

The focus that some cultures put on labelling every possible relation with a distinct term does not mean that those who lack those terms do not pay heed to familial networks. Every English-speaking family seems to have at least one armchair genealogist who can tell you that Henry Ford was a great-great-great uncle or fourth cousin five times removed. But each family also has members who couldn’t care less, waving a hand and saying “uncle” or “cousin”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Freelance Isn’t Free Act Passes in New York State

From Publishers Weekly:

After being introduced as a bill back in February by Democratic New York state senator Andrew Gounardes and assembly member Harry Bronson, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act has been passed in New York State. The law is intended to establish and enhance the rights of freelance workers including authors, journalists, and other writers on contract.

S8369 will build upon the law previously instated in New York City, expanding the protections for freelancers state-wide. The law is intended to “protect contract and freelance workers from wage theft by ensuring all freelancers receive appropriate contracts for their work, are paid in a timely manner, and have state support to recoup unpaid wages.”

The law requires employers to provide written contracts for all freelance workers and that those freelancers be paid by the agreed-upon date or within 30 days of the completion of the work. It also permits freelancers to collect double the agreed-upon fee if employers do not satisfy those requirements. The law also lowers the threshold for mandating additional financial remediation from contractors to contract workers, and makes the New York State Labor Department the regulatory agency for freelancers in the state.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Location of Visitors

PG was checking the statistics from TPV this morning and thought visitors might be interested in where they (or their internet service providers) are collectively located.

Here’s a graph showing the geographical origin of those who have visited TPV during the last 30 days.

It’s not obvious to him if there is a way he can get Others subdivided to provide more information, but he’ll fiddle a bit to see what he can discover.

Literary Style

Every genuinely literary style, from the high authorial voice to Foster Wallace and his footnotes-within-footnotes, requires the reader to see the world from somewhere in particular, or from many places. So every novelist’s literary style is nothing less than an ethical strategy – it’s always an attempt to get the reader to care about people who are not the same as he or she is.

Zadie Smith

Content Analysis Tools

As mentioned previously, PG has spent some time examining content analysis tools available online. In some cases, they’re free and others require a subscription if you want to use them for longer pieces of content.

Here’s a sample text PG has chosen for analysis:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty dirty wet hole filled with the end of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means “comfort.”

The first tool is what the creator describes as a “Sentiment Analysis“. Here is the result of the analysis:

This document is: positive (+0.50)  Magnitude: 1.19

Subjectivity: subjective

negative neutral positive

. . . .

Detected ThemesMagnitudeSentiment Score
hobbit hole0.61+0.537
Core sentencesMagnitudeSentiment Score
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.0.380.156
Not a nasty dirty wet hole filled with the end of worms and an oozy smell nor yet a dry bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole and that means “comfort.0.81+0.441

Parts of the speech

it was a hobbit holeSubject: it
Action: was
Object: a hobbit hole (+0.537)

Auto categories [IAB QAG taxonomy]

CategoryScore
Pets/ Pet Supplies0.365
Home & Garden0.189
Sports0.116

No, PG does not understand exactly how the computerized analysis was conducted. He expects it might do better with a longer text.

Link to the rest at Text2Data.com

Next, you can make a Word Cloud to help you visualize the various words of the hobbit passage. The following is from Lexos:

And, also from Lexos, additional data about the language:

Documents Number of character n-grams occurring onceTotal number of character n-gramsVocabulary DensityDistinct number of character n-grams
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit112450.12731

And since content creation is never far from our minds (isn’t everybody a content creator these days?), there’s an online tool to allow you to get more mileage from your content.

Paraphrase-Online is that tool. You can take something you’ve already written on a topic, run it through the paraphrase generator and, voila, fresh content you can sell to someone else!

To refresh your recollection, here is the original language we’ve been working with:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty dirty wet hole filled with the end of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means “comfort.”

And here is your fresh hobbit content!

In a gap within the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a terrible grimy damp gap filled with the conclusion of worms and an slimy scent, nor however a dry, uncovered sandy gap with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole which implies “comfort.”

PG decided to try another text to paraphrase:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And the paraphrase:

When within the Course of human occasions, it gets to be vital for one individuals to break down the political bands which have associated them with another, and to expect among the powers of the soil, the separate and break even with station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a not too bad regard to the opinions of mankind requires that they ought to pronounce the causes which induce them to the partition.

Since he was on a paraphrasing roll, he tried another:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

And another way of saying the same thing:

It could be a truth all around recognized, that a single man in ownership of a great fortune, must be in need of a spouse.

One last and longer opening paragraph:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

and the paraphrase:

It was the leading of times, it was the most noticeably awful of times, it was the age of shrewdness, it was the age of stupidity, it was the age of conviction, it was the age of distrust, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Haziness, it was the spring of trust, it was the winter of lose hope, we had everything some time recently us, we had nothing some time recently us, we were all going coordinate to Paradise, we were all going coordinate the other way — in short, the period was so distant just like the show period, that a few of its noisiest authorities demanded on its being gotten, for great or for fiendish, within the superlative degree of comparison as it were.

If you go to Paraphrase-Online.com, you may be able to reuse your own content.

Getting Book Endorsements (Blurbs): What to Remember, Do, Avoid, and Expect

From Jane Friedman:

Seeking blurbs—that is, quotes and endorsements—is a pre-publication task that most writers absolutely hate.

However, unless yours is a front-list title from a major publishing house (in which case the publisher may get the blurbs for you), securing those important words of praise is up to you, the author. Not your agent or editor or publicist. You.

That means you have to ask established authors—people you may not know, who may have no particular reason for wanting to help you—to spend a significant chunk of time reading your book, write nice things about it, and affix their names to it forever-and-ever.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would say yes to such an audacious request, yet people do, all the time; hardly a book is issued nowadays that doesn’t include a quote or two. The challenge isn’t how to get authors to provide blurbs; it’s how to get them to blurb your book.

With my third novel gearing up for release, I’ve been through the process three times. In some ways, the process has been similar each time, since behavior is shaped by temperament, and I’m still me. In other ways, it’s been different, since I’ve learned from experience (that is, from my mistakes).

I’ve also been on the receiving end of blurb requests. Experiencing the “blurb-seeking” process from the both sides of the desk has been quite illuminating. As I reflect on my responses and behavior as a potential blurber, I have new insight into the impact of my own actions—and, I suspect, the actions of others like me—as a hopeful blurbee.

. . . .

Unless the blessing of a specific expert is sought, I think it’s fair to say (in general) that who blurbs is more important than their exact words. “An engaging read” from a New York Times bestselling author with instant name recognition is, for most readers, more compelling than “one of the most fantastic books ever written” from someone they’ve never heard of. At the same time, getting that New York Times bestselling author to read and praise your book is hardly a slam-dunk.

For most of us, blurb-seeking is a balancing act between the clout of the potential blurber (aiming high) and the likelihood of obtaining a usable quote (aiming safe). Certainly, there’s nothing to be lost—except time—in writing to every famous author you admire in the hope that one of them will come through. On the other hand, there are so many pre-publication tasks that it’s hard to justify spending so much energy on a pursuit that’s unlikely to yield results—and what kind of results? How many blurbs do we actually need? Is quantity just as good as an A-list quote?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG is of two minds about blurbs.

If the blurb is describing a traditionally-published book and is from another traditionally-published author, PG suspects that “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is almost certainly in operation.

The blurbs that fall in this category often sound more like headlines than any indication that the blurber has actually read much of the blurbee’s book. The blurb could be applied to almost any other book of the same genre.

For indie books, PG finds that reviews from readers are more useful for him. He looks at them with a skeptical eye because who knows what’s going on in the reviewer’s head, but a little informal content analysis leads him to quickly decide if the reviewer sounds reasonably intelligent and reads the review with that in mind.

Since PG invariably reads a preview of any book he’s going to purchase before spending his hard-earned sheckels, he feels more informed about whether he’ll like the book or not than by a blurb from anyone else, famous or otherwise.

Why Testing BookBub Ads Targets Pays Off

From BookBub Partners:

For many advertisers, choosing author targets is one of the trickiest parts of running effective BookBub Ads campaigns. Unlike other ad platforms that have a limited number of authors available to target, BookBub Ads lets you reach the fans of any author with a following on BookBub, which means you have a lot of targets to choose from!

Author R.J. Blain has developed a rigorous process for testing BookBub Ads author targets to identify the best ones for her books. Back in October, she tested 64 individual author targets for a limited-time $0.99 deal on Hoofin’ It, the second book in a series of magical romantic comedies. During the 10 days the book was discounted, she served over 1.2 million ad impressions, garnered over 10,000 clicks, and sold an estimated 2,400 copies. And when she used the top performing targets to promote a new release in the series in May, it hit the USA Today bestseller list. Here’s how she did it!

Goals

Hoofin’ It was selected for a Featured Deal in our Supernatural Suspense category on October 22. This title is usually priced at $5.99, so R.J. used the $0.99 discount as an opportunity to test out new author targets for this title and this series. She was willing to lose some money on the test campaigns if she learned things that would improve her ads and set her up for success in the long run.

I wanted to see what reader behavior was like in October, try new-to-me targets, get a feel for general performance, and test new tools like the Related Authors suggestions. Additionally, I wanted to fluff my own audience for more efficient marketing later on, so when I do release a book, the audience is warmed and I spend less money for better results.

I ultimately get better advertising on a warmer audience. The general rule of branding is it takes people 18–20 times to become ‘comfortable’ with something due to exposure to it. So, by using an off-the-wall ad with a very limited audience, my self-target becomes a hive of people who are interested in what I have to sell. They’ll click more often AND buy more often.

Campaign Setup

Author Targets

When selecting author targets to test, R.J. looked for supernatural suspense, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy authors with sufficient audience sizes. Her goal was to find individual authors to target with each campaign, but if a promising author didn’t have a large enough audience on their own, she’d group a few together to bulk up the reach.

Anything below 5k tends to be too small and won’t give good results alone. Ideally, I’ll have a healthy group size of around 25k. That gets delivery.

Even more important than audience size was whether the author wrote similar content. She investigated each potential target to identify signals that suggested their audience would like her books as well. Some of the things R.J. considered when evaluating authors in her genre included:

  • Do the tropes, tone, and mood of their books match hers?
  • Would their readers be open to trying a self-published author?
  • Would their readers like a quirky story, and be receptive to her style of humor?

I need to reach people who are open to self-published authors since I self-pub, but I also need it to be from the pool of traditional authors because my books are not in Kindle Unlimited. It’s a very difficult wire to walk in a lot of ways.

To identify authors, R.J. puts herself in the headspace of her ideal reader. She spends a lot of time reading books in her genre and browsing retailers and sites like BookBub and Goodreads that readers typically use to discover books and authors. For this batch of tests, she also tried out the “Related Authors” suggestions in the BookBub Ads form. One of her test campaigns included three new author targets who had overlapping audiences with an author R.J. had successfully targeted with books in this series in the past.

The Related Authors tool wasn’t something I’d used much, and Sarah Noffke writes quirky things similar to me. I didn’t want to use myself as a starting point, but I also didn’t want to use a trad author; Sarah is more along the indie line of things, so she made a very good foundation for readers who are open to indie titles and might appreciate my type of quirky.

Ad Creative

In order to isolate the impact of her targeting, R.J. used the same ad creative for every one of her author tests. She used an image from the book cover of the protagonist and his alpaca sidekick, highlighted the limited-time deal price, and listed a few key elements of the story (“magic, mayhem, romance, & bodies”) to attract the right audience.

I want to find readers who will like my type of book, so I use an ad that won’t appeal to the masses; I want to catch those who like my style of humor.

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

The article continues with a great many more details and tips.

PG has been doing a lot of experimenting with ads for Mrs. PG’s latest release and has discovered a number of tools designed to assist an author in improving the results of advertising one or more books. He’ll probably share some of his discoveries after he finishes. Suffice to say, there are many more tools available than there were when PG last explored this terrain.

Detention of Publisher, Bookseller in Belarus

From Shelf Awareness:

The International Publishers Association, the Federation of European Publishers and the European and International Booksellers Federation have strongly condemned the detention of Belarussian publisher and bookseller Andrey Yanushkevich and his associate Nasta Karnatska for selling copies of George Orwell’s 1984. They were reportedly detained after they opened a general bookstore in Minsk and continued to sell copies of the novel, which was banned, along with other publications, on May 19.

Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: “We recognized independent Belarusian publishers in the 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist. We know that publishing and bookselling is so difficult in Belarus now and incidents like this will undoubtedly lead to self-censorship on the part of authors, publishers and booksellers. We continue to offer our support to all those publishers in Belarus who want to publish freely.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Belarus is located in a part of the world which has a very dense history of being ruled by dictators and people who don’t reside in the country. Bordered by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, Belarus has been ruled for twenty-six years by a guy named Alexander Lukashenko, a big fan of Vladimir Putin. Signs indicate that Lukashenko has no plans to retire, ever.

The Red Prince

From The Wall Street Journal:

John of Gaunt is among the best-known figures from medieval England. One reason is the speech that Shakespeare gives him in “Richard II,” a hymn to England itself: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise.” Who, in history, was the man we know mostly from his eloquence on stage?

Shakespeare calls Gaunt “time-honoured Lancaster,” a reference to the duchy that he acquired as the result of the first of his three marriages. The liaison made him, as Duke of Lancaster, the richest nobleman in 14th-century England. He was also royal-born, the third (surviving) son of Edward III and the brother of Edward, the heir apparent, who died too young to assume the throne. Edward was called the Black Prince—no one is quite sure why, perhaps it was an allusion to the color of his armor. Helen Carr’s fascinating biography of John of Gaunt is called “The Red Prince,” a coinage meant to refer, presumably, to the heraldic red rose associated with the House of Lancaster.

As Ms. Carr reminds us, England’s 14th century was turbulent, to say the least. Two kings—Gaunt’s grandfather Edward II and his nephew Richard II—were deposed and then murdered in prison. England was intermittently at war with France. The bubonic plague—the Black Death—killed at least a third of the English population. A violent peasants’ revolt erupted.

Other aspects of the period were less disturbing. Most notably, English gradually replaced French as the language of the governing class, leading to the first flowering of English literature: Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Langland’s “Piers Plowman.” Chaucer, a government official, would become, late in life, John of Gaunt’s brother-in-law.

Maturity came early in those days. At the age of 15, Gaunt was serving in France alongside the Black Prince, who was “without doubt,” Ms. Carr says, Gaunt’s “role model.” Gaunt shared the glory of his brother’s victory at Poitiers, one of the few decisive pitched battles of the war, which was otherwise a matter of sieges and plundering raids. Exhaustion led to a treaty and a temporary peace, but war soon broke out again. By the late 1360s, the health of the Black Prince was in decline, and the king himself, Edward III, was drifting into senility. John of Gaunt became, of necessity, the pillar of the regime. He was loyal, rich and capable.

Even so, his task was formidable and at times beyond even his capacities. The taxation required to finance the French war was immensely unpopular. In 1371, Parliament became assertive, attacking the government for corruption and inefficiency. To appease the Commons, the old king’s mistress, Alice Perrers, was banished from court. According to Ms. Carr, Gaunt “was furious that the king’s dirty laundry had been aired before Parliament.” The Black Prince died in June of that year, the king a year later. The new king, Richard II, was still a child, and discontent seethed.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How to utilize exposition and context in a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

Striking the right balance with exposition in a novel is a really crucial and difficult-to-master skill.

On the one hand, the reader needs to have enough information to understand what’s happening in a story, and it’s very easy for an author to lose sight of what is and isn’t on the page. On the other hand, we’ve all read aimless and boring infodumps that feel like they were more fun for the author to write than they are for us to read.

So how do you provide just the right information at just the right time? Here are some tips for utilizing exposition and weaving context into the narrative.

Forget about “show don’t tell”

Many writers go astray with exposition because they are misapplying the old writing canard “show don’t tell” and think it’s somehow against the rules to provide exposition or context. (For what it’s worth, I think “show don’t tell” has more to do with the way characters react to things).

Let’s get this out of the way first: It’s okay to just provide the reader with the information they need to understand what’s happening.

Sometimes writers think they’re being pedantic when they explain unfamiliar concepts, but the reader isn’t going to light up a red buzzer on you for “breaking” a “rule.” They’re going to be too busy appreciating that they now know what the unfamiliar concept is so they can just get on with enjoying the story.

If you don’t provide this context, things the reader doesn’t understand can pile up and pile up and it starts to feel exhausting because we can’t get our bearings within the story.

The crucial principle for exposition

So how and when do you provide exposition and context in a novel?

Here’s the crucial principle: The information is tied to specific events happening in the plot at the time of the explanation.

In other words, the key is that the information helps the reader understand the present narrative that’s currently unfolding in the story.

If the exposition or context helps us make sense of what’s happening in the novel right now? Great.

If the information is just being dumped on us just because “it will become important later?” Chances are it’s going to feel aimless, smushed in, and confusing and the reader will be tempted to skim ahead until they get back to the actual story.

We don’t need static introductions to characters or settings just for the sake of introducing them

When I’m working with authors on edits, often the first fifty pages of a novel will feel very aimless because all we’re doing is meeting characters and places for the sake of meeting them, but the story doesn’t get going until later.

Again: if we’re only getting the information because “it will become important later,” it’s going to feel meandering and a bit pointless. This is what people mean by “infodumps.” It’s information that’s disconnected from a story.

Trust that you can introduce characters and settings when they become important to the present narrative. Otherwise, if you’re trying to show a character’s life prior to the inciting incident, consider a mini-quest to give the opening some momentum, which will feel much more active than an opening infodump.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The Grass

A poem written in 1918 by American poet Carl Sandburg.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                          What place is this?

                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.

                                          Let me work.

Over the Brazier

Robert Graves was the son of a Gaelic scholar and poet and a mother who was related to an influential German historian of those times.

Graves turned down a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, to join the British Army. While serving, he published his first book of poetry in 1916. The title was Over the Brazier.

Over the Brazier

What life to lead and where to go
After the War, after the War?
We’d often talked this way before.
But I still see the brazier glow
That April night, still feel the smoke
And stifling pungency of burning coke.

I’d thought: ‘A cottage in the hills,
North Wales, a cottage full of books,
Pictures and brass and cosy nooks
And comfortable broad window-sills,
Flowers in the garden, walls all white.
I’d live there peacefully and dream and write.’

But Willie said: ‘No, Home’s no good:
Old England’s quite a hopeless place,
I’ve lost all feeling for my race:
But France has given my heart and blood
Enough to last me all my life,
I’m off to Canada with my wee wife.

‘Come with us, Mac, old thing,’ but Mac
Drawled: ‘No, a Coral Isle for me,
A warm green jewel in the South Sea.
There’s merit in a lumber shack,
And labour is a grand thing…but—
Give me my hot beach and my cocoanut.’

So then we built and stocked for Willie
His log-hut, and for Mac a calm
Rock-a-bye cradle on a palm—
Idyllic dwellings—but this silly
Mad War has now wrecked both, and what
Better hopes has my little cottage got?

The General

Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon was twice decorated for heroism and earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his suicidal courage on the battlefield, but he was also one of the most impassioned critics of the savagery and waste of World War I.

Sassoon became very critical about the way the war was being conducted. The following is titled “The General.”

“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Atrocities

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die,
Downstairs in dug-outs. “Camerad!” they cry;
Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick
When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick
And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,
Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

On Being Asked for a War Poem

Well-known poet William Butler Yeats was asked for his response to the war and he wrote the following in 1915:

I think it better that in times like these
We poets keep our mouths shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Memorial Day

PG wrote about Memorial Day a day or two ago.

Today is celebrated as Memorial Day in the United States. Other nations also have similar traditions.

PG understands that the United Kingdom celebrates Remembrance Day on November 11, the day on which the armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed, ending World War I. He also understands that Australia and New Zealand recognize Anzac Day on April 25, as the day of the first military action by Australian and Kiwi forces in World War I.

Rupert Brooke was one of the leading English poets of World War I.

His most well-known poem had two somewhat different titles, “The Soldier” and “Nineteen-Fourteen: The Soldier”

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brook

Brooke saw his only action of World War I during the defense of Antwerp, Belgium, against German invasion in early October 1914. Although aided by a stiff resistance from Antwerp’s inhabitants, British troops suffered a decisive defeat in that conflict and were forced to retreat through a devastated Belgian countryside.

In 1915, Brooke was serving as an officer in the British Royal Navy. He died of blood poisoning on a hospital ship anchored off the Greek island of Skyros, while awaiting deployment in the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

In Flanders Fields

Canadian physician John McCrae volunteered for World War I in 1914 and served as a brigade surgeon for an artillery unit. He was involved in Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans launched an assault that included the war’s first use of poisonous chlorine gas. He cared for many wounded, including a close friend who died.

In the aftermath, McCrae wrote a poem about those he and others could not save.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I could have got more out

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.

Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.

Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…

Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.

Oskar Schindler: I didn’t do enough!

Itzhak Stern: You did so much.

[Schindler looks at his car]

Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.

[removing Nazi pin from lapel]

Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.

[sobbing]

Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t!

Link to the rest at IMDB

New Look, Same Great Look

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Color is among the most challenging aspects of our experience to describe. Spectrophotometers and colorimeters can quantify light waves, yet their measurements have little impact on our feeling for color. As the philosopher Zeno Vendler put it, “Vincent van Gogh loved the color yellow—and certainly not because of its wavelength.” Color is infamous for its variability in language and perception. How can we know that what we are seeing is the same as what someone else sees? How can we separate what we are seeing from the thing itself? Or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein asked in his Remarks on Colour, “Where do we draw the line here between logic and experience?” In the Remarks, written the year before his death in 1951, the philosopher’s thoughts about color invariably lead back to the study of philosophy. What things are knowable? How are they known? What can be determined through philosophical reasoning? Wittgenstein reflected, “Colors are a stimulus to philosophizing.”

Color can reveal the variety of experience in a way that few other subjects can. Vision, whether described in language or represented in paintings or film or virtual reality, is the quotidian version of locked-in syndrome. In literature and poetry, the personal nature of color perception often serves as a metaphor for other sweeping failures of communication. In everyday conversations, those stumbling, destabilizing references to a blue sweater (it’s actually black) or a green car (it’s blue, in fact) are both forgettable and earth-shattering. For some philosophers, the experience of color is most similar to that of pain: an internal state that resists quantification. But who wouldn’t rather philosophize about azure instead of aches and pains?

In the Remarks, Wittgenstein briefly considered color in photography, though he was quick to note that his example was “not a color photograph.” For someone born in 1889, color photography was still an exception to the rule. Wittgenstein describes but does not name an image of a scene in a machine shop. In it, he saw “a man with dark hair and a boy with slicked-back blond hair standing in front of a kind of lathe, which is made in part of castings painted black.” “What does it mean,” he asks, “that hair looks blond in a photograph?” He identifies several types of metal in the shop—the painted castings, galvanized wire, iron, and zinc, which all seem truthfully represented by shades of gray in the photograph. But the blond hair confounds him: “How does it come out that it looks this way as opposed to our simply concluding that this is its color?” Wittgenstein seems to immediately perceive color in the black-and-white photograph, rather than logically deducing that the light-toned hair must be blond.

For Wittgenstein’s younger readers, color photography was fast becoming the norm. A 1956 color film booklet enthused: “The lifelike beauty, the realism, the high-fidelity color quality that you get with your camera and Anscochrome Film will give you endless satisfaction. For you will not only record but actually reproduce and re-create the original beauty and sparkle of the subject in the finest form for future enjoyment.” As color photographic processes proliferated so, too, did boosters’ praise for them. The most common descriptors were “natural” or “lifelike,” despite the obvious differences in color rendition between film stocks. Kodachrome appears blocky to contemporary viewers, offering a limited dynamic range and low contrast. Fujifilm is known for its vivid greens. Polaroid instant color prints can seem milky and unsharp. All were touted as “natural.”

Photographers’ studios have added color to photographs by hand since the medium’s earliest days. Three of the first five U.S. patents related to photography described methods to add color to the monochrome process. Painters employed by photography studios added everything from a subtle blush tint to the lips and cheeks or dabs of gold to jewelry to create radically overpainted images. While the public apparently clamored for colored photographs, critics were unconvinced. Their most common charge was that by painting over the image, less skilled photographers could cover up their errors—and the truth of the original photograph.

Photo taken about 1850, original in the Museum of Modern Art

In comparison, mechanical color processes promised to amplify photography’s authenticity. They did not rely on the artist’s hand to add color after the fact. Some mechanical color processes, such as the French Autochrome, were available to professionals in the early twentieth century. But color photography became a widespread possibility only in the mid-1930s with the invention of Kodachrome film, first made available for 16 mm motion pictures in 1935 and for 35 mm still cameras the following year. Technicolor film stock was introduced in 1932. It was critically praised in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, which used the transition from black-and-white to color film to dramatize the shift from Dorothy’s reality in Kansas to the fantastical world of Oz. Technicolor, with its vibrant, highly saturated colors, was celebrated as better than the real thing.

Kodachrome and other films designed for the still photography market instead claimed faithfulness to reality. One very early instruction manual promised that “the introduction of Kodachrome has placed in the hands of the nonprofessional user a color medium which will reproduce color with almost perfect fidelity.” A spate of how-to books accompanied the new technology, offering instructions on everything from exposure and printing to “how to see color.” These included warnings about using “color for color’s sake” or including so many colorful elements in the frame that it became, in one Kodak editor’s words, “a veritable ‘color hash.’ ” Another author cautioned against making a very specific, but apparently ubiquitous, picture: “We are not particularly interested in a beautiful girl clad in a brilliant red bathing suit playing with an equally brilliant blue, yellow, and green beachball.”

Professional photographers remained skeptical of color film. In instructional guides, they qualified the manufacturers’ claims about natural color. A photographer for the American Museum of Natural History explained in 1941 that Kodachrome “has no subjective reactions. What it sees is not colored by previous knowledge or experience. When the color film sees grass, it doesn’t insist, as we are so apt to, that all grass is green. It may see brown grass or blue grass or other colors that look all wrong to us in the processed film.” Notable photographers, including Berenice Abbott and Louis Stettner, also took care to point out that humans and film “see” color differently. Abbott suggested that some of the difference lay in our past experiences: “When we judge the color photograph, we not only think of how the subject looked in nature, but we also remember how painters throughout the centuries have rendered similar objects. The color photograph has to satisfy a double standard—fidelity to real life and a recognizable approximation to traditional art.” These caveats beg the question: Which color is natural? What we’ve trained ourselves to see or what is out there in the world?

By the 1960s color film dominated the amateur market as well as the movies. Color negative film became available for Kodak’s easy-to-use Instamatic camera in 1963; Polaroid debuted instant color prints the same year. Snapshots in color offered a broad swath of viewers some of their first apparently objective experiences of light, uninfluenced by the brain’s adjustments. The new film, which was initially color balanced for daylight, could not make the perceptual changes that we do when we see objects in different types of light. We think of an apple as being the same color whether we look at it on a tree or on display in a grocery store. When asked to draw an apple, a child will seldom stop to inquire where that apple appears: Indoors or out? Under warm or cool light? But, as physicists will eagerly tell you, color is merely the product of reflected light. An apple doesn’t possess the color red; it reflects red wavelengths while absorbing others. We see the reflected light. But which colors are reflected is also determined by which colors are present in the light. Film prepared to respond to the color temperature of bright sunlight (6500 Kelvin) makes the lower temperatures of incandescent lights appear orange, while fluorescent bulbs render the scene markedly green. An apple is never simply red.

. . . .

Although the changing colors of sunlight had been amplified by Impressionist painters of the late nineteenth century—think of Monet’s snowy haystacks in periwinkle dawn or the Aperol orange of his Rouen Cathedral at sunset—these strange visions now began appearing in amateur snapshots. A 1962 Kodak manual recommended the warm tones of sunset and sunrise for dramatic landscapes but cautioned that they were inappropriate for portraits. The reddish light would render the family like a pot of “boiled lobsters,” according to the author, evidently thinking only of the effect on light skin tones. Similarly, the popular how-to author Fred Bond wrote of photographing during those forbidden hours, “If flesh tones appear badly ‘sunburned,’ do not blame Kodachrome. It recorded what it saw.” During this period color film privileged not only bright, white sunlight but also white skin. Kodak film labs and at-home printers used a company-provided color chart that featured a photograph of a white model, designating white skin as “normal.” Owing to the limited tonal range of color film at the time, when photographers exposed and developed for the light end of the spectrum, darker tones fell into shadow, leaving no detail or tonal gradations.

. . . .

Long before the invention of photography, natural scientists, artists, and craftspeople had struggled to communicate about color. Although Japanese artists had been creating multicolor woodblock prints since the mid-eighteenth century, printing in the West largely relied on a secondary process of hand coloring until the rise of chromolithography in the late nineteenth century. Some disciplines, such as heraldry, established notational systems to specify color in monochromatic prints. Engravers used different styles of hash marks to indicate the colors used in coats of arms. Sometimes engravings and woodblock prints were colored by teams of colorists before their sale, but others were colored by their owners, according to their own preferences or interpretations.

Top: Perspective Print (Uki-e) of the Theaters in Sakaichō and Fukiyachō on Opening Night, by Utagawa Toyoharu, c. 1780. Bottom: Plate IX from Choix de Coquillages et de Crustacés, by Franz Michael Regenfuss and Margaretha Helena Regenfuss, 1758. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

PG notes that any photographer who takes more than a handful of photos has had the experience of being disappointed because the colors in the photo are not those the photographer saw when she/he pressed the shutter button.

PG couldn’t resist linking to Paul Simon’s Kodachrome.

Mimi Reinhard typed up Schindler’s list

From The Economist:

Sometime in the early autumn of 1944 Mimi Weitmann, as she then was, added her name to a list. She thought she would take the risk. Unfortunately she had to use the horrible first name, Carmen, which her opera-loving father had given her; “Mimi”, from “La Bohème”, was the much nicer nickname they settled on later. Sadly, too, she had to add the surname of her dead husband, Yozsi Weitmann, her love since university, who had been shot by the Germans at the gate of the Krakow ghetto as he had tried to escape.

That had happened in 1942. She had been widowed in her 20s, left with a baby son, Sasha, whom she and Yozsi had managed to smuggle to Hungary with her grandmother. She was very uncertain when, or even whether, she would see either of them again. As she typed “Carmen Weitmann”, there seemed to be nothing left of herself. Her old life as carefree Mimi, in a Vienna where Jews were integrated and the word “Aryan” unnecessary, was too long ago and far away. She was now in a blank place, among the dead.

At least she was no longer in the ghetto, which had been liquidated anyway, with those too ill or old to work simply shot in the street. She was in the Plaszow labour camp, to which most of Krakow’s Jews had now been moved. There were horrors in Plaszow, too: a small child killed for refusing to take off his clothes, the digging of a mass-grave which was also meant to be hers. But she was given a relatively sheltered desk-job because, being Austrian, her German was perfect, and because she had learned shorthand from a stenography course. Not that these were much use for taking down and typing up—as she was tasked to—a list that eventually ran to 1,200 names.

The list had been growing for a while. At first it had around 1,000 names, those of the Jews who worked in Oskar Schindler’s German Enamel Factory in Krakow. Then it got longer. It was added to by Mietek Pemper, secretary to Amon Goeth, the vicious camp commandant, and by Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s accountant. Then Schindler himself (and his wife) contributed yet more, the relatives and friends of his employees and, it seemed, anyone he could think of. She typed them up as he asked her. In the end there were at least seven versions, possibly even nine, and her job was to make each one presentable.

Every name was Jewish (with “Ju.” typed before it), even though Schindler was not. These were meant to be essential workers in his factory, which he was going to move from Plaszow (where it had moved from Krakow) westward to Brünnlitz, in his native Sudetenland, and repurpose to make arms. But as Mimi typed the date-of-birth column she could see there were children on it, and as she typed the “skills” column she could spot photographers and rabbis among the metalworkers, so something else was clearly going on. Even her own qualification, Schreibkraft, “typist”, looked odd, especially as she added it with two slow fingers. Typing was something she had never learned.

She did not have much direct contact with Schindler, but liked him as a boss. He was charming and outgoing, and treated his Jewish workers kindly, not like scum. Perhaps even too kindly, for he was a great womaniser, with several pretty secretaries besides her, and got into trouble once for kissing a Jewish girl on the cheek at his birthday party. Maybe she was there because he liked her cool blonde elegance, rather than her mind. She knew, too, that he was very rich, and struck deals with the Nazi high-ups all the time by bribing them with black-market luxuries to get better conditions and more food for “his” Jews, as he called them. But that sounded patronising as well as protective, as if they were just cogs in his factory, since Jewish slave-labour was cheap. She also could not forget that he was a thoroughgoing Nazi, an ss man, who sometimes spent whole nights carousing with the officers.

In short, her boss was no angel. And there was something chilling about the list, with its constant repetition of number, race, name, skill. Perhaps he did not mean to save “his” Jews after all, but simply move them to another camp, a fatal one. His closeness to Goeth, though it was tactical, was worrying. Some people, she knew, had refused to let their names be put on the list for those reasons. She decided, though, that she would trust him. She added her name partly to be useful to him, by swelling the numbers. Then she added three friends as well.

That was a gamble, and for one terrifying moment she seemed to have bet the wrong way. Three hundred of the women and girls on the list, including her, were transferred by mistake to Auschwitz, where they endured two weeks that reminded her (from her language-and-literature studies) of Dante’s “Inferno”. With even more bribery, and threats too, Schindler got them out. In the end the list and the transfers worked, and everyone was saved.

She restarted her life then, moving to Morocco, marrying Albert Reinhard, reclaiming her son and settling first in New York, which she loved, and then in her 90s in Israel. Of the time with Schindler, and the list, she said little or nothing over those years. When Steven Spielberg’s film appeared in 1993 she was invited, with the other Schindlerjuden, to the premiere, but left before the screening. The memory was still too fresh. When at last she felt able to see it, she approved of the casting but not of the prisoners. They were too well-dressed, not demeaned in rags.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Ms. Reinhard died on April 22, 2022, in Israel, at the age of 107.

Additional obituaries can be found in The New York Times and The Washington Post.