Pinterest is Easier Now? Hah!

I’m getting less than one book sale a month from Amazon and Smashwords, so it’s time to do something about it, or just pull everything off and forget about publishing. So I’m going to experiment with Pinterest. I was on it a few years back, but got disgusted with not being able to delete members whose pins and boards I didn’t want to see any more.

There have been some improvements since then, but it’s still just about impossible to really opt out of anything. The “Picked for You” feature is particularly obnoxious, filling my front page with crap that I’m not interested in. I think I did subscribe to gardening stuff back then, but I’m not interested in that any more, and I can’t find any way to turn it off.

What makes it more annoying is that the sliders for turning things on and off aren’t labeled. Does the all-white slider that’s the general default for most things mean on or off? In any case, I’ve tried it both ways to get rid of “Picked for You,” all white, and black and white. Neither one makes it go away. And yes, I do save the new setting.

I’m working very slowly on developing some boards, but I don’t have a lot of energy to give to it, and I don’t really know if it will be worth the time I’ll put into it. Running into stuff that just doesn’t work, or seems to be meant to confuse the user, doesn’t incline me to patience.

Cart Before the Horse

You do have to wonder, sometimes. But anyone who can commit four errors in just 111 words, should probably think about doing almost anything rather than being a writer. A request on KBoards this morning, for help with a promotional site, instantly triggered my grammar nazi persona.

In that short space of 111 words, including the title of the thread, this “author” misspelled the name of the site they were interested in (not being able to spell is one thing, but not even being capable of copying something correctly…?). Then they went on to put an apostrophe in possessive “its,” identify the site as a median, and finished up, brilliantly, with a comma splice.

It’s an inevitable outcome, of course, of the mentality that self-publishing can foster. The money’s out there; publishing is easy so jump in with both feet. Do you have the bare basics of writing under your belt? Oh, that! Nobody really cares about spelling, grammar, or word usage these days.

Will anyone on the forum give this would-be author a heads up? Not in public. Let’s hope that someone does it via a private message. No, not me. Anyone with as slippery a grip on the language as that isn’t going to benefit from a polite note. I doubt that he/she even notices that all the responses spelled the site name differently from his/her mangling — correctly.

Beware the Loner

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” Aristotle

Who can argue with the great Aristotle? Doesn’t our own society show us how potentially dangerous the loner is? From regarding the non-social student as a future mass shooter, to the inane preventive measures like #walk up not out, anyone who stands out simply by not being a member of the group is being increasingly demonized. It’s bad enough that befriending a loner is considered a good deed (whether they are or aren’t interested in being befriended), but the most recent angle tossed out by some alt-right idiot is that the Parkland massacre was the fault of the survivors, who are en masse being blamed for bullying the shooter.

The bias — if not outright fear — of loners is everywhere lately. In an article entitled Can There be an Atheist Church, I find the statement: “…the church answers to another deep human need—the need to identify and belong.” It’s become almost a mantra that everyone repeats endlessly and mindlessly. Human beings are herd/group animals. They need to belong. The individual who’s not part of a group of some kind, even if it’s just immediate family, must necessarily be depressed, miserable, lonely, and potentially dangerous.

So strong is the perceived connection between failing to be part of a group of some kind, and loneliness, that Britain has arrived at the solution: a minister of loneliness. In fact, loneliness is now considered an epidemic. Granted that social change, among other factors, means that connections may be easier to lose, and more difficult to create, and is a problem that particularly affects older people. But there seems to be no interest in inquiring as to the difference between those who are alone and miserable and those who are alone and happy, or at least comfortable with their situation.

Whether it’s the young (usually male) loner who we are being taught to look at with suspicion, or the oldster whose only companion is the tv, we are failing to look beyond the simplistic idea that humans are (all) group animals. Maybe what we are overlooking is the possibility that people need to learn how to live with themselves, as individuals.

 

Not Exactly a Review: Wolf Hall

I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall a couple of days ago, and it’s still with me. Which means it’s likely I’ll read it again some time in the future. Almost as interesting as the book, though are the reviews on Amazon. An amazing 13% of readers gave it one star, 25% total: two stars or lower, a huge number for any book, really, but not too surprising, considering that most of the reviewers are probably from the US. As I expected, before I even read the first unfavorable review (and I read only a handful) the main complaint was that it was hard, if not impossible to keep track of who was currently the focus, who was speaking.

Reading reviews has told me a lot about American literacy, and it’s an ugly picture, on the whole. Readers want fairly simple storylines, clearly laid out, and characters they can sympathize with or relate to in some way. So you could safely have bet everything you own on Wolf Hall rating poorly.

It is a difficult novel. No question about that. Even if you’re a Brit steeped in your own history, Mantel’s writing style could easily put you off. It’s a book that requires close attention — very close. And a willingness to allow it to draw you in gradually, even if the first couple of chapters are confusing. Context is all-important because Mantel makes minimal use of “he said,” “she said,” leaving you to decipher who’s on at the moment.

The title, Wolf Hall, might be considered a poke at readers who expect the title to represent something going on in the novel. Long past the halfway mark, in my memory, brief mentions start popping up, but it never makes its appearance. It’s actually a setup, a foreshadowing of what’s to come, but in the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Mantel’s use of first person and present tense will be off-putting for a lot of readers, but it’s what draws the willing reader deeply into the lives of the characters. Gossip, jokes, the trivia of everyday life, are front and center. Reading it feels very much like following someone around, watching them live their lives, listening to their conversations, including the internal conversations they have with themselves.

It does help to know at least a little about the England of the early 16th century, and to be a lover of historical fiction. But as difficult as the novel can be at times, reading it is a rich experience. And if you’re a writer, there’s a lot here to challenge and inspire.

A helpful review that’s worth reading before you decide whether or not to give Wolf Hall a chance to seduce you:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/02/wolf-hall-hilary-mantel

Writing Fiction — Steps on an Unmarked Path

Still making notes for the story temporarily called Penitents. Two possible titles have popped up: A Perfect Act of Penitence and None Will be Forgiven. I always try to find the title before I’ve gone very far into the story’s development. So, either of these could be a major influence in where it goes. Until I’m well into the writing, even the smallest, most obscure fact or idea found in a book or elsewhere, can change everything. 

It really shouldn’t surprise me that this happened today. It’s the particular item that served as the trigger that is massively surprising, and the degree to which it will influence how the book develops. Start with the idea of a monastic but secular group that functions somewhat like an NGO service organization. It works out of an abandoned and partially destroyed monastery. The training is inspired by the defunct Church, while it remains purely secular.

So, today… The Passive Voice blog posted part of an article published on a site that probably none of us have ever heard of: The Jesuit Post. The article, if you’re interested, is: Harry Potter and the Prisoner

I’m slowly building the biographies of the characters, so my little journey into The Jesuit Post struck lightning. The head of the penitents’ group turns out to be a former Jesuit who left the church! I’d already started doing research into the Jesuit order in order to adapt some of the practices for my group, so I was primed, it seems. And I could hardly ignore the influence of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, which I’ve read three times. Jesuits, Jesuits, everywhere.

Here’s the kicker though. I’m a lifelong atheist. Not one of the majority who have “turned away from God.” There was very little religious influence in my early life, which meant I was left to figure it all out for myself. I did figure it out, and to this day, I honestly don’t understand the mentality that allows one to believe in the existence of a god or gods. It isn’t something I argue about — live and let live, I say, as long as you don’t shove your beliefs in my face. But it does tickle my funny bone that I can comfortably write a novel in which religion plays a part, and an important part for some of the characters.

Kim Stanley Robinson said it

There should be ways to keep this blog from stagnating completely during the periods when there’s not much going on in my head. So I’ll give a couple of things a try. First: I’ve been browsing through the page of Kindle notes and highlights that Amazon kindly gives us, and aside from reminding me about Kindle books that I’ve “marked up,” it’s full of nice quotes. So that’s where today’s snippets from Green Earth: Science in the Capitol Trilogy are tucked away, in case I need them for inspiration some day.

“…the best part of every mind is not that which he knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing, unpossessed, before him.”

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. But compassion is not just a feeling. To make it true compassion, you have to act.”

That really is a trilogy — three science fiction novels packed into one addictive Kindle book.

Considering how much time I spend web surfing, I could probably keep the blog going with interesting links, quotes, etc., without ever having to write another real post. So that’s another gap filler.

Commentary on books I’ve read or are reading. Nothing so long and intellectually taxing as full reviews — just impressions off the top of my head.

And maybe, snippets of my own writing now and then.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I’ve always had a terrible sense of timing, and my writing is no exception. With my energy and motivation declining so drastically, I’m still tinkering with Scrivener and how I use it. Not that I’m delusional and think that will make much difference in whether I actually finish any current projects. It’s sort of shifting the furniture around, hoping the room will look better and be more comfortable and functional.

Still…

So I’m adding a work journal to each project that is “live,” meaning that I’m either actively writing new material, adding notes, or asking questions. I’m keeping entries short — just dates, feelings about progress or lack of it, significant changes I’ve made or plan to make, like changing a third person POV to first person. I highlight the really important stuff, and because the entries are short, I can skim over them quickly and maintain an overall view of what I’ve been doing — and how long it’s taking me.

The second “furniture shift” is how I use the free-floating Notes feature. I like to keep the Binder clean and basic, but it almost always winds up being cluttered, and too long. I’m now reducing it to almost nothing but the actual book chapters, and sending stuff like character descriptions, settings, questions to be answered, etc. to Notes.

I need every bit of help I can get if I’m even going to make the attempt to finish anything. Desperation might be my best motivation. So I’m preparing to do Camp NaNo next month, knowing very well there’s a good chance I’ll back out at the last minute. Why bother, then? First, the possibility that I’ll actually do it has pushed me to make a decision about which project to work on. Second, it might (might possibly, with fingers crossed) give me just enough of a time framework and structure to push me over the edge into completing at least one project.

I have several short stories, most not finished or even fully developed, an unfinished novella, and a published story that I want to expand, all with a prison theme. I’ve long wanted to put them together in one book, but kept it on the back burner. I’ve now made the decision about which ones to keep, so that’s a step in the right direction. Lots of steps to go yet, with no idea whether I’ll be able to take them.

A Possible Break on the Writing Front?

It seems that most people have to make a real effort to read books, mostly for lack of time. I have to make a real effort to stop reading. There’s always another book — or several dozen — waiting to be read, and it’s the one thing I can do when I can’t do much of anything else. It isn’t an addiction; I don’t have withdrawal symptoms when the reading bug slows down or stops, and I don’t always have to make a real effort. If I’m well into writing, the reading can wait. Or I can ration it out and fit it in around current occupations.

I’ve come to the slow realization that there are really only two things I care about to any great extent: reading and writing. If I can’t write, I read, and if I can’t read, I’m in trouble. I know I’m in trouble when I spend almost an entire day on the internet, and accomplish nothing at all in the real world. So, this way too-long stretch of not being able to write is taking its toll. On a practical level, I can’t read all day every day, indefinitely. My eyes won’t take it, and my ability to pay attention and absorb what I’m reading flags.

I want to write; I need to write. But, as I’ve whined about more than once, long projects — like novels — look like boulders that I’ll never be strong enough to push uphill. I have neither the strength or the persistence of Sisyphus.

But a lightbulb went off over my head yesterday. What if my worst trait as a writer could be turned into a way to get moving again? My usual pattern is to work on a piece until I get bored, burned out, or distracted. I drop it and go on to another one. I don’t even want to think about the huge number of WIPs lying around in various stages of development. For several years, NaNoWriMo kept me sharp and focused for one month out of the year, but for the last two years, that ploy failed. Camp Expendable was the last book I managed to complete and publish. That was January of last year, and that’s when my health started to take a major plunge.

I don’t have any doubt at all that dealing with bad health, a medical system I had avoided my entire life, and the various side effects of the meds I started taking, were a causative factor. Maybe the only factor. Be that as it may, I still want, and need, to write. I’m down to the wire. I have to make something happen.

For the first time, I see my grasshopper hop, skip, jump method of writing as something that might be transformed into something useful. Instead of fighting it, corral it. Choose three or four, preferably three, WIPs that I care most about, and let them be the grasshopper’s playground. I’d still hop, skip, and jump, but only between those three. I wouldn’t commit myself to any specific number of words or any other goal. Just work however much I can on one WIP, then jump to whichever of the other two seems most attractive at the time. I’ve always looked at this as a way to never complete anything. Now I’m looking at it as possibly the only way to complete anything. Maybe I won’t be able to finish any of them. Maybe I’ll be able to finish all of them — or one, or two. If this works, I’m still a writer. There doesn’t have to be an end goal.

 

Weekend Randomness

The last year, right up to this month, has been a journey through hell. Along with the major hit to my health and the ongoing consequences, plus other highly stressful external stuff, I haven’t been able to write. Blog posts have been difficult enough. Working on long projects has been impossible. The ideas are there, and the damned things keep coming. But the mere thought of trying to make my way through the thousands of words it takes to create a novel? There’s nothing there. No ambition, no motivation, no nothing. It’s hard to even care. Any concern over the situation is faraway and abstract.

I’ve wandered from one WIP to another, hoping that one of them would be the spark to fire up my mind. No such luck. Until a couple of days ago. One of the external stressors resolved itself more or less happily. It could easily have gone the other way, and nothing I could have done about it but watch helplessly as it played itself out. However, I’ve also been slowly reducing one of my meds which is only one of those I’m taking that can cause depression. So who knows? I’m feeling a tiny bit of ambition again, but whether it’s going to continue and maybe increase is still a question without an answer.

Annihilation

I don’t understand all the hoopla about the movie version of Annihilation. Of course, I didn’t understand the hoopla about the book, either. I read the book. I haven’t seen the movie and won’t. To put it bluntly, I disliked the book intensely. I’d bought the whole trilogy at the thrift store for less than a dollar, and considered I was getting a good deal. Books that I’d take a stab at reading, just out of curiosity, if the price was right, but not otherwise. Result? I recycled them back to the thrift store, the second and third volumes unread.

The worst thing about Annihilation is that it isn’t science fiction, even though that’s how it’s categorized and described. It’s horror, and not even very well done horror. I don’t read horror because I’m not easily horrified, especially by books and movies that are designed to be horrifying. You want horror? Take a look at the real world, particularly those parts of the world that American news sources make sure you don’t run across very often. Our delicate sensibilities must be protected. But imaginary monsters are perfectly okay.

All right, that’s a rant. To continue.

There are dozens — maybe hundreds — of blog reviews of the movie. When I bother to skim a few, it becomes apparent that the writers haven’t read the book. They may remark on the fact that the movie is very different from the book — another of those “based on” attempts to translate words into a financial success. If a book is “unfilmable,” all you have to do is tear it apart, restructure it, invent new characters, plotlines, etc. Apparently, Jeff VanderMeer is perfectly comfortable with having his book chopped into little pieces and then reassembled. Given that the book comes across like exactly that — ideas smashed together in a sufficiently vague way that forbids you getting a grip on it, I’m not surprised. The book has no real substance, so it’s appropriate that the movie, from what I gather, has no real substance either. It can be interpreted any way you want, even allowing some deluded reviewers to rhapsodize over its intellectual content — a movie of ideas!

Almost as Disturbing as Bullets

Depend on me to ask questions that no one else is asking. Maybe there’s something about the handling of evacuations from shooting sites that makes sense in terms of safety or law enforcement. I’d just like to know what it is. Because the videos of students either with their hands in the air, or on their heads, or walking in a conga line with their hands on the shoulders of the person ahead of them, just adds to the horror. Maybe I’m too steeped in the awfulness of our system of criminal justice, but to me, those children appear to being treated as if they are criminals.

Or the prisoners of a military force. The sight echoes photos of lines of prisoners from WWI or WWII. Is this the normal future for the generation now growing up?

Story Ideas — 50 Shades of Transphobia

Whenever there’s something you don’t like, don’t want to deal with, would prefer that it doesn’t exist, one perfect solution is always available: sweep it under the rug. Americans are good at that. Poverty, human trafficking, environmental degradation, political corruption — the list goes on, getting longer all the time.

Transphobia — the denial that gender is more fluid than we have traditionally believed, and would prefer to go on believing — might not be the most world-shaking issue we could be dealing with, but since it’s about humans and their well-being, about their very existence, we should at least give it an honest nod. Instead, South Dakota, along  with several other states, is going to have a go at sweeping it under the rug.

It’s easy — just forbid any mention of transgender issues in school until the kiddies are in the 8th grade.  “…under Jensen’s bill, a transgender student would receive no institutional support. Educating students about the trans student’s identity and why it’s inappropriate to bully them would be prohibited under law. The many books that help explain these issues to young children, like I Am Jazz and My Princess Boy, would be barred from classrooms.”

So, what happens to the children who wrestle with a sexual identity that they know very well doesn’t fit them? How will they manage to grow up into adults who have painfully survived years of bullying and endless attempts by adults to “straighten them out?” Or not survived, as the case may be, considering the high rate of suicide among transgender children and teens.

Looking for story ideas? Be my guest.

Is Resistance Futile?

If you still have the capacity to read something that takes more than two minutes to get through and actually requires that you get your thought processes into gear, I recommend one of Charles Stross’s recent blog posts. It’s actually the transcript of a speech he gave, and provides more than the shallow analyses of social media, tracking, privacy issues, etc., that are calculated to make you gasp with horror for a moment or two before you go on to the next trivial pursuit.

Dude, You Broke the Future!

The question that always comes up (for me, anyway) when reading articles like this, is: is there any escape from the negative effects of current technologies that run the internet?

Suppose, like me, you don’t use any of the social media sites — no Twitter, no Facebook, etc. You don’t have a smart phone, or if you do, you don’t use any but the most basic apps — the ones that enable communication between two people in the form of speech or text — no internet, no movies, no social media, etc. You use an online-only name, have an avatar in place of a photo of your face, and you either ignore or anonymize demands for personal information.

Does WordPress attempt to pin down my likes and dislikes, my needs as a writer or a possible customer? I have no idea. But Amazon surely does. To a certain extent that makes Amazon my achilles heel, but there’s still very little they can do to direct my attention to consumer items they think I’d want to buy. Part of that failure is based on their having no idea exactly why I might look at items. Thus they have no way of anticipating whether I will or won’t look at them again and eventually make a purchase.

That’s the failure of algorithms that can’t deal with motivation, whether it’s about stuff to buy or how to vote. It’s also the failure of algorithms that are set up as nags, in the belief that sooner of later you will succumb to the demands, such as whitelisting sites rather than blocking their ads, because you’re guilted about using them without supporting them.

Escaping the all-seeing eyes is probably impossible unless you live in the woods and don’t use the internet or a cell phone, but you do have discretionary powers if you care to use them. If you choose not to, then you will have no right to complain when you find your ability to function as a free human being rated and limited by algorithms similar to those now being put in place in China. The United States is on the cusp of becoming an autocratic semi-dictatorship. The choice is to acquiesce or resist.