Current read: Traveling with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, by Jen Mann

Travel is one of my favorite genres. That said, travel writers don’t often get me so amped that I start describing the book to the ‘Lancer’s faithful before I even finish it.

Jen Mann has aggregated a life of travel mishaps, awkwardnesses, and random events into a fantastic, well-written volume. Because part of my work is to help people improve and repair their English usage, I’m Selfy McSelfishton when it comes to my leisure reading time and material. I have rejected quite a few books covering content I was otherwise eager to read, simply because the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ demonstrated to me that the author’s writing was not bearable. Jen can write.

What’s more, she has the gift of letting the humor in the situation speak for herself. That holds true even when, as often is the case, the joke’s on her. Here’s one good example, from a para about trying to fit into a too-small robe. Jen is in Singapore, and has a Western woman’s body but has been issued an Asian women’s robe:

I took the robe and ducked into the stall. i shucked my clothes and grabbed the robe off the hanger, but as soon as I put my arms in, I knew there was going to be a problem. I managed to get my shoulders wedged into the robe, but I couldn’t close it completely over my ample bosom. It was like putting twenty pounds of dog food into a ten-pound bag.

Who has the guts to say that in a book? Jen Mann.

I want more, and I’ll have it. She has about half a dozen other books out, and I suspect I will end up with them all.

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How to Write Rich Characterization: A Cheat-Sheet — Fiction University

[J here: I found this a nice list of quick character development suggestions. Quite a few writers struggle with character development in fiction, but non-fiction writers often flat neglect it because you can’t just make stuff up in non-fiction. No, you can’t, but you can use some of the same principles to identify what makes a character intriguing.]

By Bonnie RandallPart of The How They Do It Series JH: Wonderfully rich characters typically leads to a wonderfully rich novel. Bonnie Randall shares tips on how to reveal the depth and richness of your characters. A character is infinitely more than just who the author says they are. Like their living, breathing counterparts, fictional characters often…

How to Write Rich Characterization: A Cheat-Sheet — Fiction University

Black History Month: the first on each team

One opportunity I would never pass up would be the chance to edit a baseball book on the Negro Leagues. Hope springs eternal. What talents, what characters, what baseball.

For now, let’s celebrate Black History Month by highlighting a part of the history not everyone understands: the ultimate integration. Until 1961, the white major leagues comprised sixteen teams, eight in each league. Their integration didn’t all happen at once just because Jackie Robinson showed up, kept his temper for a year, and excelled in the face of every form of disrespect anyone could send in his direction. It actually took twelve years, and some teams made themselves look pretty bad by the length of their dawdling.

Twelve years? Seriously. Yet it’s true. Children born the day Jackie Robinson first took the field for Brooklyn were near puberty by the time the Boston Red Sox finally caved.

I do not think that most baseball enthusiasts today stop to consider what it meant that, six years after Jackie Robinson and with talents like Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, and Roy Campanella sparkling on the field, only half the teams in the white major leagues had fielded a player of sub-Saharan African heritage.

(A note on terms. Many Cubans, Dominicans, etc. are of African heritage, but calling them African American is not correct unless we’re defining everyone on both continents as American. So if you would define a black Falkland Islander or Ecuadorean or Canadian as ‘African American,’ be my guest and replace every use of “black” with “African American” as you read. My point is that most people don’t think as they replace one term with another. I once heard Nelson Mandela described as “a brave African American.” Brave, no doubt–but Mandela was an African African, for pete’s sake, and the speaker’s mindlessness was unbecoming the subject.)

No disrespect to Moses Fleetwood Walker and the other black ballplayers of the late 1800s, who played and then were barred as the whole country tilted toward discriminatory practices. The subject matter here is the integration, or re-integration on some level, of the sixteen modern pre-expansion-era (1903-1960) AL/NL teams begun by Jackie Robinson.

Let’s pay tribute to those pioneers, some famous and some not, and talk a bit about their careers and outcomes. Some are familiar only to baseball buffs, but each was a groundbreaker and deserves our respectful memory. The question is not always straightforward because, well, define “black.” If it means a single drop of subsaharan African heritage, well, that’s a lot of really white-looking people including me–but had I lived then and been able to throw like Satchel Paige, I don’t think I’d have had any trouble getting a legit shot at making a 1930s AL/NL roster. As lots of Afro-Caribbean folks will tell you, it’s quite possible to be black and Cuban, black and Dominican, black and Bahamian, and so on. At times, some Afro-Caribbean players were able to sort of “pass” in the US baseball world. The entire distinction shows up the inherent silliness of stressing over people’s racial origin, degree of skin color, and so on. The main distinction, the one society tries not to draw because it brings into focus an uncomfortable truth, is that you’re considered black if you’re treated like you’re black. Makes me wonder what sort of hassles Rachel Dolezal endured before she came out as white.

Of these seventeen (we will get into why there are not sixteen), four are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Robinson, Doby, Irvin, and Banks. I think one can make a great case for Miñoso; Howard, perhaps and perhaps not. Still, four out of seventeen is quite the haul–testimony to the level of talent of which the white major leagues had deprived their fans for decades. If you wanted to win ballgames, and knowing nothing else, you knew there was a one-in-fourish chance your new guy would become a legend, you’d give him a try yesterday. Of tens of thousands of big league ballplayers who have taken the field since the game went professional, some 300+ are Hall of Famers–maybe one in a hundred. Even if common sense told you that one out of four of those who might follow your rookie wasn’t going to be Ernie Banks, they would still have your fascinated attention. It doesn’t take very many great players to transform a baseball club.

In order of the date of first appearance, here are the first black players to take the field for each AL or NL team:

Brooklyn Dodgers (NL): Jackie Robinson, April 15, 1947. He is perhaps the player least needing introduction for the most obvious reasons, but the thing to realize is that he was 28 in 1947. He did everything well, enough to make one wonder what his .311 lifetime NL batting average might have been had it included seven more of his prime playing years. He did everything at an All-Star level except pitch. For many aspiring black American ballplayers, the Dodger jersey would become a revered symbol of everything Robinson and integration meant to them, and to grow up to wear that uniform onto a ballfield would be a motivational dream. I remember when Robinson passed away (1972, age 53), entirely too young, and one could feel the sense of loss throughout the game.

Cleveland Indians (AL): Larry Doby, July 5, 1947. As the first black player in the American League, Doby deserves more notice than he tends to receive. He deserves better. Breaking in at 23, his AL career lasted until 1959 and included seven All-Star selections. Hitting .283 with good power over that timeframe, he was an asset to three AL teams over his tenure. Not only was he the second black player in the AL/NL, but he later became the second black manager. Doby lived to be 79, standing his ground to the end of his days.

St. Louis Browns (AL; today, the Baltimore Orioles): Hank Thompson, July 17, 1947. A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, Hank debuted at the age of 21. Thompson was a capable if unspectacular contributor to the New York Giants of the early 1950s, hitting .267 for his career and having a number of notable moments; for example, very few players have hit two inside-the-park homers in a single game. By 30 he was out of baseball, and he died of a seizure at the untimely age of 43. The Browns would be the last team of 1947 to begin integration, and the last until 1949.

New York Giants (NL; today, the San Francisco Giants): Hank Thompson (previously mentioned) and Monte Irvin, July 8, 1949. Yes, they both played on the same day, making Thompson the only player to be the first African American on two different teams. (The Giants were visiting Brooklyn, so they batted first, and Thompson hit leadoff; Irvin appeared as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth). Monte Irvin, another former combat engineer veteran of the Bulge, was 30 that day he got his NL chance, but he made the most of his time with an NL career batting average of .293 and a frightening clip of .458 in the 1952 World Series. A famously pleasant man, Irvin remained close to the game for most of his very long life (96 years).

Boston Braves (NL; today, the Atlanta Braves): Sam Jethroe, April 18, 1950. “Jet” broke in at the age of 33 after a long and impressive Negro Leagues career. He played only three full seasons for the Braves, showing the logic behind his nickname by twice leading the NL in stolen bases. A better hitter and runner than he was a fielder, he was nonetheless a groundbreaker in Boston in that Boston’s other team, the Red Sox, would gain infamy by being the very last integrated AL team. Jet passed in 2001, living to be 84.

Chicago White Sox (AL): Minnie Miñoso, May 1, 1951. One of the steadiest ballplayers of the 1950s and 1960s, the Cuban-born Miñoso’s .298 lifetime batting average barely begins to tell the whole story of this remarkable ballplayer. He got his first taste of AL action at 23 with Cleveland, but became a regular with the Sox in 1951 (hitting .326, making Cleveland’s trading him look awful). He led the AL in hits once, doubles once, triples three times, stolen bases three times, and being hit by pitches ten times. Three Golden Gloves, an award that only began when he was 31. A fan and teammate favorite, he remained a steady hitter in the Mexican League as late as the age of 47. He lived to be 89, remaining close to the game and the White Sox for the rest of his days.

Pittsburgh Pirates (NL): Carlos Bernier, April 22, 1953. On this list, he was the first man I’d never heard of until I began this project. A career minor leaguer who played only one statistically unremarkable year in the NL, Bernier might be more famous for the controversy that came to attend his trip to the bigs, in that–in a classic case of “who decides who’s black?”–MLB doesn’t recognize the Puerto Rican-born Bernier as a black man. Evidently Bernier identified as black. If you want to go with MLB, the first black Pirate would be Curt Roberts (1954), but I mean no slight to Roberts or his accomplishment when I say that I’m not buying MLB’s arbiter-of-blackness authority. Bernier died at age 62, sadly by suicide.

Philadelphia Athletics (AL; today, the Oakland A’s): Bob Trice, September 13, 1953. By now, note well, it had been six years since Jackie Robinson who–like everyone else previously named on this list except Jethroe–was still active in 1953. At this point, even the most die-hard illusionist had to admit that keeping black players out of the NL/AL was not merely bigotry but self-sabotage. Trice was also the first first-timer on this list to enter as a pitcher, though he would turn out to be a better hitter (.288) than pitcher (9-9, 5.80) in a three-year AL career that began when he was 26. He didn’t set the league on fire, but neither did anyone else on the A’s staff (if one did, they farmed him up to the Yankees). A sore shoulder was a downer; not long after that, he actually asked to return to the minors. His mojo never really came back for keeps. Trice passed away at the age of 62.

Chicago Cubs (NL): Ernie Banks, September 17, 1953. Well, this one’s pretty easy. Everyone’s heard of Ernie Banks. His only detractor ever was Leo Durocher, who had a detractor or two of his own. In Chicago the churches relax their idolatry rules a little bit for Banks. Entering the National League at 22, he played until he was forty. A power-hitting shortstop (rare find, that), he rarely missed a game until his last couple of years. One Gold Glove, two NL home run crowns, two MVP awards, 512 career homers…well, it’s not hard to see why Chicago so loves this career Cub. Ernie’s talent is testimony to the kind of baseball the white major leagues could have enjoyed watching much sooner had they not been merely the white major leagues. He passed in 2015, aged 83.

St. Louis Cardinals (NL): Tom Alston, April 13, 1954. Seven years into integration, it was starting to get awkward for the holdouts. Those who owned breweries, like Gussie Busch, stood to lose a lot of business if black customers voted with their wallets. The result was the Cards signing 28-year-old Alston, a rangy first baseman. While he didn’t set the league on fire, he did play about half of 1954 and had brief returns to the Cardinals over the following three seasons. Alston lived to be 67, passing on in 1993.

Cincinnati Redlegs (NL; today, the Cincinnati Reds): Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon, April 17, 1954. I actually had to go back and dig up which entered the game first; both were pinch hitters, with Escalera hitting for catcher Andy Seminick (singled) and Harmon batting next for pitcher Corky Valentine (made an out). A 24-year-old Puerto Rican utility player (and a rare left-throwing shortstop), Escalera saw sparing action in what would be his only major league year. Hitting .159 probably explains that. He is still with us at age 91. Harmon, now, was already 30 by the time he stood in to hit for Valentine. His .238 lifetime average for three teams over four years was unspectacular but good enough to keep him ready for the call-up. He lived to be 94, passing on in 2019.

Washington Senators (AL; today, the Minnesota Twins): Carlos Paula, September 6, 1954. Breaking into the AL at 26, this Havana-born outfielder played parts of three years for the Senators. 1955 was his best, with part-time roles leading to a more than respectable .299 average. Not sure why he slipped to .183 the next year, but it was his last at the highest level. Seven years into integration, considering the demographics of the DC metro area and the team’s historic underperformance, I see only one reasonable explanation for that long delay and it’s not comforting–especially considering the later racist attitudes of then-owner Clark Griffith’s son Calvin. Paula passed on in 1983 at the untimely age of 55.

New York Yankees (AL): Elston Howard, April 14, 1955. He was 26 when the Yankees finally integrated, a catcher who did many things well–except run, which I mention here because of a horrible comment attributed to manager Casey Stengel about having finally ‘gotten’ a (person of color; you can guess the actual word that was used) and complaining that he wasn’t fast. While it’s true enough about Howard (nine stolen bases in a fourteen-year career), it testifies to the stereotypical thinking still with us today. Howard was a mainstay of the great Yankees teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was with them as they declined into irrelevancy in the Vietnam years. Once the AL MVP, twice a Gold Glover, Howard’s best showing at the plate was his .348 monster year on that great 1961 team. Little-known fact: he is credited with inventing the batting donut. Howard died younger than he should have (51) in 1980.

Philadelphia Phillies (NL): John Kennedy, April 22, 1957. Ten years and one week before, when Jackie Robinson had broken in, the Phillies and arch-bigot manager Ben Chapman were the league’s coarsest bench jockeys. Now, finally, they would become the last NL club to integrate–if you want to call it that. Kennedy, a compact shortstop, participated in five games with two times at bat for the Phils, which is more opportunity than the Giants had given him after signing him in 1953. That ended Kennedy’s AL/NL career at 30. Never a tremendous star in the minors, the choice of a fairly unpromising player raises its own set of questions. Surely they had, or could have chosen to have, more promising prospects of color given what others had been accomplishing for the past decade. John Kennedy died in 1998, aged 71.

Detroit Tigers (AL): Ozzie Virgil, Sr., June 6, 1958. The first Dominican in the AL/NL, Virgil joined the Giants for the 1956 season at age 24, but he was not their first black player. When Detroit acquired him, he became the Tigers’ first. Anyone who can catch has a good shot at a career, and Virgil mainly caught and played third, so he would remain mostly in the majors until 1966 with a single appearance in 1969. A combined .231 career average tells us he was not the next Roy Campanella, but he was the one who brought down the second to last team’s wall, and he did spend another twentyish years as a coach. Virgil is still with us, 88 at this writing, and is no doubt proud of a son who became a two-time All-Star catcher.

Boston Red Sox (AL): Pumpsie Green, July 21, 1959. And then there was one, twelve years later. Robinson was actually retired by the time racist Boston owner Tom Yawkey gave a black ballplayer a chance. Green, who was 25 at the time, at least got a chance to show what he could do. A part-time middle infielder for five years (four with the Red Sox, the last one with the Mets), he finished with a career average of .246. Much later, his place in the game’s history received some recognition as the Red Sox inducted him into the team’s hall of fame. The last man to be the first black man on an AL or NL team had a long life, passing away in 2019 at the age of 85.

Some became legends. Some are forgotten today. Most are now gone. Not a one of them had it easy. It is simple justice for fans of the sport, which becomes more global each year even as African Americans seem to drift away from it, to stop and give respect to seventeen ambitious athletes who helped to make our national pastime much more national and inclusive.

2021 Prediction #3: Get ready for more GameStops as hedge funds are no longer the only bullies in town — I, Cringely

JK here: this I found to be a useful take on the GameStop/Reddit situation we had recently. It might not have much to do with editing services, but that’s okay with me sometimes.

Today is my birthday. Thirty-five years ago today I was drinking coffee in my Palo Alto kitchen when the Space Shuttle…

2021 Prediction #3: Get ready for more GameStops as hedge funds are no longer the only bullies in town — I, Cringely

Ten pros and ten cons of living in Beaverton/Aloha, Oregon, USA

This area, which is part of Washington County, Oregon, represents the first suburb to the west of the Portland metropolitan area. Portland mainly makes the news when there is some form of protest or other confrontation, or in listings of places with good food and drink. Just as Everett and Tacoma are not Seattle, Portland’s burbs are not Portland. They just share a border.

Important note: Beaverton is an actual city with its own government. Aloha (pronounced uh-LO-ah) is simply the name of a region of unincorporated Washington County between Beaverton and Hillsboro (the county seat). In combination they house maybe 150,000 people. The only practical distinction is which police respond to emergency calls (city police vs. county deputies) and whether one is misgoverned and overtaxed by city or county officials. I have come to designate this area as Aloverton, and to go by the local chuckles, I might just be one of the first to assign it. Anyway…

Pros of living in Aloverton:

  1. Powell’s. This famous downtown Portland bookstore has branches in Beaverton and eastern Portland. While our branch isn’t as cavernous as the one downtown, it’s still the size of a Costco and much more fun than going out to buy a 5-gallon bucket of grape jam or enough paper towels to absorb a small lake. Every editor reads, and every reader enjoys bookstores.
  2. Max. This is Portland’s light rail network linking Aloverton with the rest of the metro area. It’s efficient, generally safe, and reasonably priced. You can live out here and get to Gresham (the extreme eastern burb), the airport (north, along the Columbia), as far south as Clackamas (in a different county), and to the Expo Center (way up north). Ride all day for five bucks.
  3. Great Korean food. This is Portland’s main concentration of Koreans and Korean-Americans, and the result is a very high standard of Korean dining. Nak Won (downtown Beav) is always at the top of the metro area’s Korean restaurant listings, and there’s a reason why people line up to get in when it first opens in the evening. I never knew how much I loved Korean food until I moved here.
  4. Diversity. While it is true that Oregon was founded as a racist Utopia, and still has a lot of ugly racial history to confront, I regularly hear Spanish and other languages in my local travels. I see kids in my neighborhood playing with toy cricket bats. It is not strange to meet a variety of races, faiths, and outlooks.
  5. Industries. Nike’s world HQ is about three miles from me, and many tech companies (Intel, Tektronix for example) have local presences. There tend to be jobs in Aloverton, sometimes pretty good ones, and we have lots of business parks.
  6. Coast. If you want to show that you’re a visitor, refer to “going to the beach.” Most people here say “going to the coast.” Aloverton is about seventy minutes from Cannon Beach (which I am always tempted to call Cannon Coast, just to mock the trend). Close enough to get there in an hour and a half, but not so close as to be swamped with coastgoing tourists–nice location.
  7. Beaverton library. This is large, nice, adjoins a pleasant park, and has almost enough parking plus a friends-of-the-library bookshop across the street. Comfortable, easy to use, doubles as a ballot drop box area at election times, well organized, not too many riff-raff using it to get out of the rain. I like.
  8. Nearness of natural areas. I don’t have to drive more than about fifteen minutes to see nothing but farmland. While that might get more difficult, I remember living in Seattle’s northern burbs where the countryside felt like it might as well be in Idaho. This area has a number of water control wetlands that remain undeveloped, and some very pleasant local nature trails. You can get out into the woods.
  9. Mt. Hood. While we are not physically close to this dormant andesite volcano, some urban planner had a great inspiration. Two major east/west arterials flow through town. For a short stretch, the southernmost one shoots right at Mt. Hood; the northernmost one does so for a very long stretch. So it’s a sunny day, you’re coming home from one of Hillsboro’s many strip joints or car dealerships, and you’re just watching out for the speed limit changes. And in the distance, you can see that you’re aimed directly at a beautiful snow-capped mountain set against the blue sky. Yes, please.
  10. Coffee and cannabis. If you like legal stimulants and relaxants, it’s easier to find a coffee place or dope/CBD store than it is a gas station. I’m not exaggerating. If you drive at random, you will find coffee or dope before you will find vehicle fuel. Most of the coffee is all right and some of it is great, especially a couple of the non-chain downtown Beav places. While a number of the dope places are staffed by kids who obviously qualify to work there mainly through product experience, there are enough that one can find a place with people who know more about the products than “whatever kind you want, dude.”
  11. Bonus pro: friendliness. While it’s still a suburb of a large city with the associated distancing and space bubble tendencies, there is a certain easy, polite friendliness about the area. It’s that general Western US friendliness that one finds most places, a sort of relaxed outlook. Yeah, we have some amazing jackasses, but not many. If you can’t figure out where something is, most people will be glad to direct you.

Cons of living in Aloverton:

  1. Bad Chinese and Thai food. As well represented as are many Asian demographics including Chinese and Thai, most of the local restaurants in these specialties are…forgettable. We knew of one Chinese place we thought was good, but it closed. We know of one good Thai place and we help keep it afloat. You’d expect better here.
  2. Mediocre Mexican food. We lived in former sundown town Kennewick for sixteen years, where the population of Hispanic origin was considerable (more so across the river in Pasco). Beaverton’s best Mexican restaurant in our experience would be about the sixth best in Richland/Kennewick/Pasco, which makes no sense given that absolute numbers here are greater. We know one rather good place and one street taco place, and we help keep them afloat. Most would not be missed, ranging from “okay” to “not doing that again.”
  3. Rats. A decades-old problem, significant new construction has stirred up many squadrons of varmints. Worsening the problem are people who feed birds and feral cats, and who keep chickens in their back yards (quite common here). The result is Too Much Mickey. This year we had to get serious about the battle, but not enough locals take it seriously for us to make progress against the problem. It’s the same old thing: people can’t be bothered to change anything just because it might help the community as a whole.
  4. Police. During my first week here, I had a shakedown attempt from the deputies in the form of a certified letter accusing me of a false alarm without a permit (the spot for a date of infraction was blank) and strongly suggesting I buy an alarm permit. I investigated and found there had been no monitoring here for five years. I didn’t even get an apology. Beaverton is infamous for traffic ticket cameras, traffic stings, and fascist enforcement of even the most minor laws. Speed limit changes are frequent and seem designed to encourage infractions.
  5. Property crime. Mail theft, porch piracy, petty burglary, car break-ins, illegal street races, and the like are quite common here and one should probably expect them to get worse. The police have their hands full setting up stings to catch people not stopping for pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks, I guess. When it comes to protecting your property here, you’re on your own.
  6. Downtown. Aloha, not being a town, does not even have a pretense of downtown. Beaverton tries so hard to have one, but there just isn’t much to it. The area’s two main east/west arterials roar through such downtown as there is, which contains a few interesting places and more uninteresting ones. It only gains any ground during Saturday markets, which one learns about from all the signs warning against parking in business lots on market days.
  7. Street disposal. In this area, getting rid of large junk is not simple or cheap. Very often, people’s solution is to just put the old washer or computer hutch on the sidewalk, assuming someone will snap it up; failing that, eventually the city/county will come get it. I understand this with a box of books or something else of rational value, but not with a dead refrigerator. Jeez.
  8. Street name changes. One of this area’s civic pastimes is changing street names in mid-run for no evident logical reason. I’ve alluded to two main east/west arterials, Oregon State Highways 8 and 10. OR-8 is called the Tualatin Valley Highway until the edge of downtown Beav, when it becomes Canyon Road. No sane reason. OR-10 is Farmington Road until the center of downtown, where it changes its name to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. Got it. Why? Who does this help? Another example? All right: There’s an arterial named SW Allen Street. Then it’s SW Davis Street. Then it’s SW Oak Street. This all happens within one mile. That’s some fine naming work there, Wally.
  9. Transportation infrastructure. The road system and Max park-and-ride lots have not nearly kept pace with the speed at which developers throw up apartment buildings. Combine that with a street system in which you often can’t really get there from here, and it can be annoying and difficult to navigate. While the growth is goosing our property value, it’s not making the area more livable. Or more walkable. I live in an area where there is not one single business within one mile. It’s as burby as a burb can get.

I note that I can find eleven strong pros and nine solid cons about Aloverton. I guess that fits my view, which is: While big cities just fundamentally do not appeal to me, if I have to live in or near one, this will work.

Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

I have been reading I, Cringely off and on since I was an IS professional (children, that’s what we called IT people in the 1990s), back when we fibbed to get free copies of InfoWorld.  He’s usually been very good, and my editorial eye would assess his writing ability very favorably.

Also, unlike one industry pundit, he never had to eat a soup of one of his columns at Comdex. However, here he does a retrospective (or autopsy, if you like) on his predictions for 2020. Enjoy.

This is when I typically generate a list of technology predictions for the coming year. The challenge this year isn’t coming up with predictions, it’s finding a moment of calm to share them when people are most likely to read. With a pandemic rolling along and the nation in political and economic crises to boot,…

Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

 

How I would hire an editor if I were an aspiring author

Life has taught me that quite a few of those who have appointed themselves editors and proofreaders are competent to do neither. If you could see the number of posts in editors’ forums full of bad English, requests like “I want 2 become an editor can u point me to any sites where I can learn grammer?” you might despair. If you can see them, you despair daily.

All right. Let’s do something about it. Knowing what I know now, but assuming I were not actually an editor, how would I do it? Imagine I wanted to be a published author and sought editing help. Assume that no matter my proficiency with the language, I’m sensible enough to realize one set of eyes isn’t enough. I also realize that volunteer first readers might be reluctant to be blunt with me.

In addition to continuing to write every day, even if it were only fifty words, even if all I said was “writing sucks today because…” I would start with short stories. The goal would be to get them published sooner rather than later, firing up the income stream. I’d give away the first few for free, hoping to build a following. But before I published any, I’d be confronting the hiring of editing services. Thus:

It’s not smart to hire people when one doesn’t know what they do. Rather than be foolhardy, I would read up on the different editing modes, so that I didn’t sound completely clueless when time came to have the conversation. When I did that, I would probably conclude that I needed a developmental edit. Even if I weren’t sure, I would desire such an edit in order to see my blind spots. I might later evolve my writing to a point where I ceased to need these, but I’d be planning to wait for an editor to tell me that.

I would not go to any of the sites that purport to help one hire editing services from a pool. Know what I’d do? I’d get on one of the writers’ groups on Faceplant, like Writers Helping Writers or Writers Unite. While some of the requests from purported writers might quease me out, this would provide me two benefits. One, it would show me the truly wretched quality of English on display for most of the likely competition, thus making me feel much better about my own. Two, it would let me see which editors participated in attempts to help these poor lost souls. I’d watch how they conducted themselves. I’d grade them for honesty, knowledge, and helpfulness. I’d make a list of the top five and order it according to how much each provider appealed to me.

Then, one by one, I’d contact my top five. I would not contact several at once. I would not waste others’ time or try to get them all to compete with each other; this isn’t buying a new car. I’d look the first one up, contact her, and see what her process was like. I would not ask her about costs until the very end of the discussion. I’d ask her for a sample developmental edit, presuming she did those, on just one to two pages of short story. I’d be very up front that I was starting with short stories to improve my writing, build a name, and work into the process.

The quality of guidance in her sample dev edit would be an enormous factor. If it was cold, that would be all right provided it was intelligent and honest. I’d make sure that the sample included some passive voice, ellipses, italic emphasis, and some other bad habits, just so that I could get her take on them. I could live with her telling me it was complete garbage, provided she told me specifics about why. If I didn’t get a good vibe and feel from this process, I would thank her for her time and let her know I needed to keep searching for a better fit.

If I did get a good vibe, I’d do some innocent cyber research. I’d see what kind of reputation she had, look into her testimonials. If her website offered a list of her credits, I might buy one of those books just to see how her handiwork might have come out. If I decided she was The One, I would not send her an NDA to sign (the only one of those I ever signed was for a tech editing project that involved being privy to the hiring party’s clients’ confidential information). If she sent me a contract to sign, I’d read it and decide how I felt about its provisions. If she wanted money up front, I’d examine that and decide whether I was comfortable with it. Also, to be frank, if she charged by the hour I’d assume she was more likely to be capable than if she charged a flat fee. There’s complicated thinking behind that, and it’s by no means perfect or universal, but it is my considered observation and experience.

Once I hired her, I would carefully consider everything she said. At times I would challenge her in ways, especially by asking her to explain the reasoning. If she had a process, I would follow it, soaking up everything I could. I would pay her promptly when the time came. I would not try to piggyback free work. At the end of the first project, I would decide whether her participation had improved my skills and the project. If it had, I would seriously consider hiring her again.

Any questions?

Judging a book by its . . . no, not just its cover — words / myth / ampers & virgule

For most of my life, the public was willing to trust experts—in whatever field—to render judgment on what was better or worse (an argument, a product quality, an artistic work). The zeitgeist has shifted, and now the cultural norm is to distrust experts and reject expertise as a basis for judgment. This applies to book…

Judging a book by its . . . no, not just its cover — words / myth / ampers & virgule

[J here: this I found an insightful guide to a subject dear to my heart. I believe quality in book manufacture and production matters, obviously, or I would not be part of the process. I do adore to see good quality production.]

A way of examining religion and its aspects

One of the blindest, most irritating bicker-fest categories I see is that over what constitutes religion. A good example involves Judaism, where some people who do not embrace the religious principles still identify as Jewish. I know people who don’t follow the LDS faith, and who even identify as jack (or jill) Mormons, but the point is they still consider themselves Mormon on some level. We have people who actively pray for spiritual beings to do their will, yet are careful to toss in the caveat that they hope their own will to be that of their spiritual being.

None of it would entail bickering if it were not for people trying to exclude one another from a given religious tent. I think these are akin to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, typically an appeal to purity. It does matter to writers, and not only from a philosophic or cosmological standpoint. If a writer is going to incorporate any form of religion or spirituality into fiction, that writer must surely have a sense of the components of faith and practice that combine to form what we refer to as a religion. The subject has fascinated me ever since taking Sociology 349 at UW with Prof. Rodney Stark, one of the foremost scholars in the field of sociology of religion.

Let’s look at the various components of a belief system, some of which not all belief systems may address. As I see it, it is possible for a given individual to embrace some aspects but not others. Does that make that person not of that religion? That’s where the bicker-fests come in. Rather than have another such fest, we can take steps at least to create a belief system parfait of sorts:

Cosmology: Most religions propose to explain origins. Where did the universe come from? Where did people come from? Some embrace scientific explanations but venerate specific mythos. Some will insist that their own mythos constitute science.

Divinity: If there are divine beings, what is their nature? How many might there be? Do we know? Can we ever know? Or is it all a creation of the human mind? Faiths run this gamut, but whether or how a belief system addresses divinity is key to understanding it. The question of afterlife, if any, seems to straddle the worlds of cosmology and divinity. If there is an afterlife, it seems, a cosmology defines it and a divinity performs triage.

Magic: Most religions teach that people can influence their environments and outcomes. Some teach that this is done through appeals to divine beings (prayer, ultimatums, etc.); others teach that the power is within ourselves. Some would wet themselves over the application of this label to some forms of prayer, but to my eye those are simply another form of magic: the statement that one’s own judgment or desire should prevail.

Such are the perpetually unprovable factors. Their unprovability has never stopped people from fighting about them, naturally. Agnosticism doesn’t know whether or not there’s anything to any of those. Atheism asserts that there isn’t. But there are more:

Philosophy: How should we live our lives? What acts and perspectives are morally acceptable? Which are abhorrent? Into this category falls all definition of what Judaism calls a mitzvah (good deed) or what many religions call a sin (bad deed, ranging from minor to unpardonable). This one came into focus for me because most of us at times will face ethical dilemmas. I asked myself: “If my religion doesn’t help me figure out a right and valuable handling of these situations, what the hell good is it?” I might not be the only person who ever asked him/herself that.

Ethnicity: In many cases religion defines ethnicity to a degree. In the Serbo-Croatian-speaking world, Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs share a slightly varied common language in which one’s religious identification is part and parcel of one’s ethnic identity. Judaism considers Jewish anyone born to a Jewish mother. There are those professing Asatru who allege that only those of Germanic heritage may be Asatru. (There are Asatruar such as myself who reject this notion as bigoted and ridiculous.) This matters because it’s one thing to profess a faith; it is quite another to join an ethnicity, and in some cases problematic.

Culture: If religion is not necessarily an ethnicity, I find that it always develops a culture and a sense of cultural identity. Let’s take the Latter-Day Saint movement as mentioned earlier. Someone raised in the LDS church will surely gain some cultural overlay from it; same is true of Wicca, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or Chasidic Judaism. Someone not raised in a religious culture may seek to embrace it as an aspect of embracing that faith.

Evolutionism: No, not that. By this I mean a sense of whether religion should evolve or remain unchanged. How conservative (in the philosophic meaning of the term, not the faction label) should religion be? Must today’s Lutheranism be precisely the same as that of Martin Luther? (Evidently there are several different notions of that, or where it should go. Having been raised in a branch of the Lutheran faith, I have some personal experience with this.) We might examine Islam and its varying views on the subject, and we would find that the two largest branches differ on the rightful mantle of leadership post-Muhammad, so they differ not just on evolution of the belief system, but the departure point for any such evolution. It is akin to racers who do not concur on the starting line and stance.

I find that this compartmentalization helps me to look at any belief system by removing the conflation tendency that runs rife through most such discussions. If one person is arguing philosophy, and another is arguing cosmology, and both are insisting that philosophy and cosmology cannot be separated, they can’t even agree on what they are discussing. Of course they will never find common ground, nor even understand each other. One is talking about soil chemistry and the other is talking about marketing harvested crops.

In editing, I use this outlook to develop perspective on clients’ religious presentations in fiction. While I can imagine it playing a part in non-fiction, I’m most likely to encounter it in fiction because most religious authors aren’t terribly comfortable with an editor not of their faith.

This perspective is evolving. I may feel differently two years from now.

As this is the last blog post of the 2020 Dumpster Fire of a Year, I want to thank everyone who has been a reader and commenter during this time. May you all have an excellent 2021.

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

JK here: I found this a good description of differing styles. As with editing, most people don’t know different modes exist. Enjoy.

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Your goal, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, should be to paint word pictures vivid enough to engage the theater of your reader’s mind. Readers love to be educated and entertained, but they remember forever when they’re emotionally moved. So deciding which you’ll employ of the four main writing styles is crucial to leaving a powerful…

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

 

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.