Tag Archives: fiction editor

What’s really tough in my field

Now and then I sense that many observers think I have a pretty good gig: “You fix their grammar, duh, and get paid.” I grant that I’ve had worse jobs, and ones to which I was worse suited, but it has agonizing moments. (And I don’t just “fix their grammar.”) Take for instance:

A referral contact comes in: a rambling phone call leaving a several-minute message about her manuscript. It is evident that the caller is elderly and perhaps dealing with memory issues. Her name is Ada Miller. She conveys:

  • The ms is an autobiography about Ada’s life, which has been about as interesting as most people’s (that is, not very much so).
  • Ada was referred to me by my old friend Edna, who lives in the same senior complex. Edna is a wonderful lady who is always trying to do nice things for people, and I respect her very much.
  • She has not quite finished it, but she would like a firm quotation. You know, just to get an idea of how much it will cost to clean up a few minor errors.
  • Ada is on a fixed income, and in case I don’t get the hint, more or less indicates that this better not cost much and that I should offer a senior discount. After all, how hard can it be to fix a few typos? she asks with a chuckle.

I call Ada back, addressing her as Ms. Miller (old school Kansas boy, here), and attempt to discuss the ms. That is not feasible, unless I’m willing to talk over her and be branded rude. Ada rambles about her life, her story, her two cancer diagnoses, her children, her life, her story, how to find a publisher, her poverty, some other health problems, what a great buildup Edna gave me, and on. And on.

Ada is a lonely elderly lady hoping to make a little bit of extra money and get her story out there. She is a fundamentally nice, good person who thinks of others. However, she understands little about editing, the modern world of publishing, marketing to publishers, self-publishing, or any of that stuff. She expects me to educate her about all this, in between her soliloquies, and certainly does not expect to pay me for that time. (Not that I’ve ever charged for it, but I also reserve the right to limit it.)

When Ada does not like what she’s hearing from me, she argues with me in her genteel way. Each disagreement is grounds for her to deliver several minutes of reasons why she is correct.

Okay. You want to be an editor? Here’s your job. Decide:

  1. Plan on a massive amount of unpaid effort, wading through a ms loaded with problems, knowing Ada will reject probably half the edits, all in service of a project that will never make her one dime, for what will turn out to be an effective billing rate of about $5/hour. And that’s just for the editing time, which will be the most painful editing of your entire career. That’s not taking into account all of Ada’s loneliness emails and conversations.
  2. Find a way to reject this poor, nice, elderly potential client, who has no idea what she’s doing and isn’t willing to follow any guidance that she might not agree with. Challenge: do so without crushing her soul and sending her to Edna with many humphs about how unhelpful and rude you were to her.

Yeah, I have such an easy job.

Print media aren’t being killed; they’re taking slow poison

At least, that’s how it looks and feels to me.

We used to take Portland Monthly, a print magazine of the titular subject matter and frequency. While it was very kombucha-Portlandy, with minimal relevance to us out in Burberton and especially to those of us who avoid downtown (and were doing so years before protests began), enough of its content had enough value that we enjoyed it. We’d learn about a few new places to eat, or local history, or something else fun. It was worth what we paid for it.

One fine day, my issue came with a flyer. It began by thanking us for our support of independent journalism and told us how wonderful we were. That’s when a thinking person begins to expect at least a four-joint bohica.* It then informed me that there would be a change to my subscription. In order to better meet subscribers’ needs, I’d now only get four mailed print issues per year. The rest would be available online. They urged me to give them my e-mail address, so that I would not miss an issue. There was nothing about a refund, either partial or full.

Now let’s examine this. Here’s my takeaway: “Hi. We heart you big time. However, we’re now quartering the amount of content we offer you under the terms of your original subscription. Why? Because fuck you, we think you are enough of an idiot to go along with getting 1/4 of what you paid for, and we really like cutting our costs.”

Canceling my subscription felt almost like a moral duty. I don’t want to read magazines on my computer or my flip phone (can’t anyway). If I had a more advanced phone, I wouldn’t want to read them on that either. However, they could have avoided this by offering me some form of refund, offering a subscription extension, just about anything–anything, that is, except what they did: “Because we think you’re an idiot, we will be giving you less content and no compensation; suck it.” They could even have begged: “We understand this is a major change in the terms for which you paid, and we hope you will consider that a small but valuable contribution to the cause of local journalism.”

It came down not to money (the $15-odd refund isn’t exactly enough to retire on), nor to questions about content and value. It came down to my recoiling from the tactic of first kissing subscribers’ asses, then insulting our intelligence.

They’re committing suicide. Deep down, these magazines don’t ever want to print another paper copy again, so they’re doing their best to drive away anyone who wants a physical magazine in their mailboxes.

It’s working.

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who stands up and objects to the constant messaging trend: “In order to serve you better, we are cutting staff, reducing hours, eliminating services, raising prices, decreasing portions, and trimming options. We want you to believe this is for your benefit. We think you’re enough of an idiot to buy this.”

 

* Slang of military origin, an articulated acronym for “bend over, here it comes again.” We used to measure them by joints involved, with three for example meaning the finger, four meaning the whole hand, and six meaning up to the shoulder. Up to twelve was a double bohica, and after that one counted vertebrae for the dreaded super bohica.

Why not ask the client?

This blog has become somewhat my repository for frustrations with my own profession. This is where I can say what I was thinking when I read the actual question, yet without getting me kicked off the group or making a professional enemy.

Today’s frustration is the inability to ask the client questions.

If you went where I go–to editorial forums where (the public presumes) we all gather to reload our red pens and drink ourselves blind over semicolons–you’d wonder how some folks manage. Here is one of the most common hivemind questions: “My client did X and Y. I think it sucks. How can I tell him so without hurting his feelings?”

In the first place, as a professional editor, you should be a capable enough writer to frame any criticism in a way that doesn’t hurt too much. If you cannot write well enough to do that, or are too lazy or cruel to do so, don’t be surprised at negative results because you aren’t going to be very persuasive. That said, the client also has a duty not to personalize what should not be personalized. You just have to give her a way around personalization, and hope she takes it. Doing your job means telling the truth, but it will be better received if you are skilled enough to do so without being a big meany.

In the second, if it doesn’t make any sense to you, why are you on here weeping openly about it and agonizing what to do? ASK YOUR CLIENT WHAT SHE WAS TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS CHOICE. There are loads of space between “Your protagonist is such a jerk, I hate him” and “Your protagonist’s flaws will be alienating to some segments of the potential audience; what was your reason for presenting him that way?” The first method stings. The second assumes the characterization was a deliberate device, and asks the writer to share the Master Plan. Of course, there probably is not a master plan, and the author probably doesn’t realize that the character’s so awful, but is unlikely to take the question personally.

Ask the client. Why do editors not think of this simple option? How is one to present oneself as an authority on communication if one can’t figure out how to send an email and politely say “What’s with writing the whole book in italics?” or “What’s the theory behind the informal [read: lousy] grammar in narration?”

It just is not that hard to ask the client. What does one think is the downside? In which universe do writers not like to talk about their books?

Not the one I live in.

Why it’s hard to volunteer help to beginning writers

One of my desultory ongoing marketing activities is to sort of participate on a couple of forums in which budding writers seek help, support, guidance, literary circle jerks, and sometimes editing services. I don’t post often; I’m not good at being an emotional support animal, and most of the questions just make me shake my head.

Here’s the problem: most of them can’t yet write correct English. While I do not look down on them for that as people, the idea of attempting to publish material in incorrect or broken English is dubious. Here’s the compounding problem: most of the people proposing to help them don’t even realize that the querents can’t write correct English, because they don’t know either (including plenty of self-proclaimed “editors”).

At some point, it seems, not only did garbage English become the norm, but it became the norm for literary aspirants and those who propose to guide them. The notion that all writers should at least write in reasonably educated English seems passé–and few now even seem to know the difference.

Are some of them not native speakers? Surely many are not. Okay, fine; then write in a language in which you are at least fluent, if not perfect. I speak Spanish, not fluently; I wouldn’t dream of trying to write a book in the language. I’d be an embarrassment.

Do some of them plan to hire editors to clean up the messes? I hope so…but from what I see, most aren’t willing to pay what a competent editor would ask. Many probably couldn’t afford it. It comes down to the question: will the writing receive remedy before publication? I would say the answer is a hard no.

Could I help them? I certainly could…but not for the effective $5/hour they can pay a fellow semi-literate who claims to be an editor. If editing just means fixing all the things, why pay any more than Wal-editing rates? And since the writer does not know the difference, that self-proclaimed editor doesn’t have to be any good. S/he just has to be better than his or her client. This is a low bar to clear. I see some responses that I am not sure even clear that bar.

I have some examples for you. Over a period of months, I collected the following (nearly verbatim, lightly edited to sampleize without making the English better or worse) writer/”editor” questions and “editor” answers:

===

How many words should a chapter comprise of?

How can I make my new book a best seller.

Hi Guys a relative newbie to the editing world, I was just wondering do people advertise their prices on their website at all? [Yes. This person was asking an editing group in this manner.]

Is there any good blogging sits out there. Were I can make a little bit of money and just have fun writing about random stuff.

I’m a line and copy editor. I offer free edit for the first [x] words, contained in your manuscript. It will help you get a feel of how I work. [In response to a request for editing services.]

What good for a book cover please

Tips on how to write stories?

I’m experiencing panic attack right now! And the reason is one of my friend told me not to post any of your sad feelings now.

I am writing a historical novel. I want to add artificial characters and plot within it to beautify the story. Can I ? pls suggest.

How do you guys prevent eye strain from your computer when writing?

Do you believe that Writing is inherited skill (by birth) ? Or anyone can become writer ? What are the traits of a writer ?

How do you guys think I can become famous by writing.

Is it a good idea to publish a book when you have no money?

what is the shortest length acceptable for a chapter? the longest?

why we Cannot protagonist be evil ?what is reason behind this. Can main character be the antagonist ?

What makes a plot unique?

How many books have to read if one wanna to become a writer

I want to create a female character but I’m a male any advice?

Please my people, help me with the best means to market my book or with a good marketer. Please contact us for supply or to market the book with us or in fact any means of selling the book.

===

I’m not putting these here to look down on anyone. Believe that, if for no other reason than that I don’t need to and can’t gain from doing so. I’m putting them here so that those who have been appalled by the current state of self-published English writing can peek into the kitchen and even into the restaurant supplier’s processing plant. It’s not you. It’s them. It has gotten bad.

And if many of the editors (when an editor was even involved) are barely better than their clients, how could the whole thing avoid being a leaky mess?

This is also intended as encouragement to those of you who write. If you can assemble complete English sentences with the correct prepositions, and use them to make intelligent statements and ask intelligent questions, congratulations. You are probably in the 85th percentile of aspiring writers.

Current read: _Union Now with Britain_, Clarence Streit, 1941

One way to study history is through the writings of the times, including those writings that faded quickly from public notice. An old used bookstore is a wonderful source for these, and I found this one at an antique mall. I gather it’s at least a bit rare.

Streit was an interesting guy. From Montana, he had a passion for democracy as a concept. Might sound a little odd, since until recently the US hasn’t exactly had a large contingent of open fascists, but it’ll begin to make sense later in this post. After serving in WWI and observing the way the League of Nations floundered (usually attributed to us snubbing it), he developed strong feelings about the forward progress of human government. The start of World War II brought those views into urgent focus, and Streit wrote this book in an effort to awaken his countrypeople to a Federal Union of the primarily Anglophone countries: the US, UK, Canada, Union of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.

Context is everything, and let’s establish it for this book. It was early 1941. Germany had absorbed Austria and half of Czechoslovakia (the remaining half becoming a puppet state). It had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France (puppeting part of it, occupying the rest outright). Of all those, Norway had taken longest. The USSR and Nazi Germany seemed allied, or at least friendly. Nazi warplanes were bombing the UK on a regular basis, and Kriegsmarine submarines threatened to strangle British connections to the Empire’s resources. Italian forces contended with a British Imperial force in Libya. The US was not at war, but had become something of a non-belligerent ally. Japan occupied a substantial chunk of China and was going to have to find petroleum somewhere, or else.

Dark times indeed.

Streit felt he had the solution, which was to escalate the US system up one level. Just as the thirteen original US states had more or less put aside their plentiful quarrels to form a Federal government, Streit felt that a Federal Union of mankind could begin by associating the Anglophone countries as member “states” of a greater whole. If the Germans took Britain and got the Royal Navy, he reasoned, the danger to the rest of the free world would move from severe to mortal. But if all these countries united with the pledge of never quitting until all were free and at peace, Hitler would either have to exit the war or face the mobilizing industrial might of the United States. Membership could then be offered to other non-Anglophone states, including those occupied by the Nazis, with the pledge of “we won’t quit until you’re free.”

Having advocated this solution for years well before the war broke out in Europe, Streit had thought through most of the issues and ramifications. Some he more or less glossed over as “to be dealt with later: A majority of the population governed by these states, perhaps, were not masters in their own houses; he did not propose to end apartheid and the British Raj immediately, and the colonialist chauvinism of the times is present in his outlook. He acknowledges that black Americans were not even nearly on an equal basis with whites, but doesn’t address changing that situation. He felt it quite possible that Hitler would back down rather than face such a Union (not an alliance, which Streit deprecated as temporary and fragile) alone. Japan’s intent was not known at the time, but I think he doubted Japan would square off with a united UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand. And if it came to blows, the Union would combine the best of all its sciences, locations, and populations to create a military juggernaut Japan could never overcome.

Was it viable? Perhaps, if one could get people to put aside all their comparatively minor conflicts and some major ones. With Britain standing to benefit most immediately from Union, I think Streit figured that a union with Britain looked attractive to our friendly former colonial overlords, and that the rest of the Empire would follow. He might have been right. In France’s darkest hour, Churchill offered them a political union, but the French rejected it. Churchill was still Prime Minister. Might he have advocated this, in order to assure the survival of the United Kingdom?

That telegraphs the basis of my own doubt: my cynicism about people’s willingness to put aside relatively small matters for the greater good. Every time I go to the grocery store and see a maskhole wearing it below his or her nose, or crowding me in the checkout line, I am reminded just how many people simply do not care about others. I felt that way before the pandemic and I feel more so now. Are some peoples better about it than the ones among whom I must buy food? Perhaps; perhaps not so much. I resist the tendency to imagine that people really differ at heart. Take former Yugoslavia, where not only have the former member peoples broken the country into a half dozen pieces–inflicting enormous damage and death upon each other before the matters became settled–but none of the underlying resentments and angers are gone. In fact, all have obtained new chapters of resentment and grudge. And all could join in shouting me down about it, that I misunderstand how their own people’s grudges are all legitimate and those of all the others so much noise, that I know nothing of their region and the Horrible Things Done Centuries Ago that remain unavenged. Maybe I don’t, but I do know they weren’t killing each other under Tito, and when he left, killing started. I think less killing tends to be a good thing. Prove me wrong.

The most essential key to understanding Streit’s perspective is remembering what had not happened when he wrote the book.

  • Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, or Singapore.
  • Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States were at war.
  • The public had not the faintest idea of the potential in nuclear weapons.
  • No nation had delivered the Nazi military any meaningful defeat.

A year after its publication, three of four of those ceased to be true. That’s how fast things were moving. No wonder Streit felt such urgency.

With outdated books, hindsight is an easy temptation; we have touched on some of it. Streit’s adoration of the US system as the perfect fundamental basis for Federal Union reads chauvinistic. Dismissing nearly 400 million Indians as unready to govern themselves was not calculated to please them, and glossed over the legitimate grievances of an aggregation of peoples who had done just fine until they became a “crown jewel” in someone else’s empire. We know that the war situation was about to change, and that Britain would survive the Blitz, but Streit did not. If one seeks to pick him apart, he’s no longer around to defend his proposal; he passed in 1986.

In any case, it’s worth the read not only for Streit’s take on the political and geopolitical study of it all, but for the view it provides of the way the world looked through one Montana son’s eyes in early 1941.

If you’re such a great editor, why don’t you write your own books?

We get this one a lot. There are many possible answers, and for some, multiple answers might apply.

  • The editor doesn’t want to. It can be as simple as that.
  • The editor realizes that there is more money in editing than in writing.
  • The editor knows that marketing is the difference between success and failure, and doesn’t like marketing. Or doesn’t mind it, but can’t or won’t do it well.
  • The editor has done so, either under a pen name or perhaps an unpublished work.
  • The editor takes more satisfaction in helping and guiding and teaching other people than in creating his or her own projects.
  • The editor doesn’t want the public engagement that could come with a reasonably successful book, at least not for the pittance s/he would likely earn from it.
  • The editor never got comfortable with the traditional publishing model (writer begs and begs, house condescends to accept the bulk of the revenue).
  • The editor isn’t neurotic enough to be a writer. (Okay, I’m sort of kidding. Sort of.)
  • Editing and writing require different skill sets and not everyone has both.
  • The editor hasn’t got anything original to share.
  • The editor is too busy helping others to focus on his/her own book.
  • A similar situation exists in many disciplines. Not everyone who can refinish furniture can build it. Not everyone who can repair a car can design and build a car.

Some of those apply to me to varying degrees. I’d bet some apply to most editors.

field trip

In school, did you like field trips? I always did. I’d do anything to get the hell out of the classroom.

Today the blog is going on a field trip to Kit ‘N Kabookle, the online home of fellow traveler/colleague Mary DeSantis. She has been posting visiting editorial tips for some months now, one per week, and I’m up to bat.

For my topic, I decided to talk about choosing an editing mode beginning from the writer’s viewpoint: in plain English, what exactly is a given writer seeking from an editing professional? “I need an edit” is very inspecific. It’s like saying “I need a car repair” without talking about what’s wrong.

I always think it’s nice to know the name of what one wants, myself.

Mary’s site has plentiful information resources. She was pleasant and professional in arranging and scheduling this, and I thank her for her kind e-hospitality.

Selling books on Alibris

The basic problem here is TMB.  Anyone who has been here knows that I basically live and work in a library, and though I’m not buying piles of books lately, it’s out of hand.  Imagine 13 ‘stacks,’ each six rows high, 4′ wide.  The fact is that if I want, this is enough to last me a lifetime.  If I reread them all, by the time I got back to the beginning, I would have forgotten what the first one was about.  And the older I get, the easier that becomes…

It’s bad enough that I sometimes buy a second copy of a book that looks good, forgetting that I already have a copy.  This is just stupid (worse yet, it is foolishly wasteful), and it’s time it stopped.  So I’m going to try unloading some.

The process is both easy and hard.  The basic shipping charge will mostly cover the cost of the mailer and postage for media mail, but not all of it.  The company you list with, of course, collects some profit as well.  So the first question is not ‘what are other people charging’, but ‘what must I charge for this to be worth the bother?’ After a visit to the P.O. with a couple of books, and some negotiating with my local UPS store on mailers, the basic answer to that question is:  about $1 for a small paperback, $2 for a larger trade paperback, and $3 for a hardback, combined with the $4 shipping allowance, is the ‘worth bothering’ point.  However, my books tend to be in great condition, me being so obsessive about that, so that should help.

I picked Alibris over Amazon and Abebooks because a) it seemed easier to work with than Abe, and b) I got to keep more of my money than Amazon.  Part of it also was some desire to separate my selling presence from my authorial presence at Amazon, and part was evidence that Amazon cleverly undercuts its secondary-market sellers.  Many is the time I’ve seen Amazon price books to just where the people who get free shipping would save a nickel buying from them over the poor sloggers selling the book for $0.01, and I find that to be taking unfair advantage of their position.  Alibris isn’t going to do that.

So, let’s see how it goes.  First I have to cover the $20 annual fee, which I suspect won’t be hard.  I put out five books just to learn the interface and see what sort of business I got, get through the process, then we’ll consider going forward after the first week.

Notes from the aliens’ survey, 4/13/2012

The sleek  “Tlai survey frigate ran under full stealth in Earth’s orbit.  It had arrived there two days prior, on a mission from Homeworld to investigate alien intelligences, civilizations and potential friends–or threats.  Ethnographer ‘Plaf, senior researcher, had directed the pilot to orbit for two full days while his staff gathered data.  It was the “Tlai way to be sincere, thorough, and intensely curious.  ‘Plaf had spent much of its day absorbing a great many fascinating departmental reports in preparation for the initial sharing of thoughts.

‘Plaf opened the meeting, then bade its staff present early research data in each’s specialty field.  Linguistics presented the shocking and dismaying report that Earth’s sentient species communicated in thousands of languages, which would take long enough to catalogue–far longer to understand, but they could decipher most of what was said or written in the nine or ten most widely spoken.  Fair progress.  Xenobiology had identified one sentient and several semi-sentient species, each with several racial variants.  Evidently racial variants weighed heavily on the minds of ‘Umaniti, as one widely-spoken language collectively called the sentient species.

“Very good, Xenobiologist li’Wal,” said ‘Plaf.  “Now let us examine a simple situation under close magnification, and see where the data lead us.  What issue do you feel would profit us to study?”

Li’Wal worked its keyboard.  Pictures popped onto the screen.  “Ethnographer, fellow researchers, here are two ‘Umaniti at the center of a large controversy on Landmass D.  One, the one on the left with the lighter flesh, is in the middle of their normal lifespan.  Unlike us, but like some other species, this species has genders:  one which bears young and one which seeds them; both are necessary for procreation, and in this case, both are of the seeding gender.  The one on the right with darker flesh is a youth.  There seems no doubt that the lighter-fleshed one slew the youth with a kinetic energy launcher.”

“Why would he slay a youth? Is this their norm?” asked Military Scientist Khaul.

“It is frowned upon everywhere, and prohibited in most places on the planet,” answered Judician ‘Faur.  “There is great controversy on Landmass D whether the violence was allowable.”

“Why would they consider it allowable?” asked ‘Plaf.

“It’s odd, Ethnographer,” said ‘Faur.  “There is no consensus.  A discredited fringe, all naturally of light flesh, evidently believes that persons of light flesh should justly do random violence to persons of dark flesh.  The majority of all flesh tones reject this view.  The fringe at the other end of the spectrum sees this as yet another act of war based on flesh tone, lighter versus darker, and is outraged that the killer will likely face no punishment.”

“Is it the reverse on Landmass B, where the majority are of dark flesh? Do those of lighter flesh feel the same where they are in the minority?”

“It seems so, but the historical circumstances differ,” offered Historian Xul. “South of the immense central desert on Landmass B, ‘Umaniti of dark flesh were once the sole residents.  Those of lighter flesh, mainly from Landmass A, arrived and subjugated Landmass B, carrying off many in forced labor.  No one on any of these landmasses has forgotten this captivity with the passage of time, though the practice is nearly extinct and has been for at least a hundred revolutions of the planet.  I have learned that those of dark flesh on Landmass D descend mainly from these captives.  They remain somewhat marginalized, and many resent this greatly, but not all.  A ‘Umaniti of dark flesh actually leads the most populous nation on Landmass D, though in reality he seems in between flesh tones.  However, he identifies himself as dark-fleshed, and most ‘Umaniti concur.”

Ethnographer ‘Plaf looked thoughtfully at the images.  “It makes one wonder why this leader does not correct the conditions.  Why is that, in your view, Politician Lr’uff?”

“His ‘Umaniti chose him as leader, Ethnographer, through a process that makes zero sense to me.  He has limited power.  He and his young-bearer evidently said what the population desired most to hear, in order to attain this office.  As nearly as I can see, his function is to accept credit for all that goes well, and blame for all that goes wrong.  Neither seems justified, but that is my read of their sentiment studying his predecessors.  Some have led during great scandal, some have barely bothered to do the job.  Some have spent more time in the procreational act with the young-bearing gender, one recently to great public embarrassment, especially for his mate.  Speaking of which, young-bearers are almost globally disadvantaged and deprived of power; in some factions they must cover their entire forms in sacks and have few privileges save to bear young upon command and do menial tasks.  A few of the leaders in Landmass D’s history seem to have been noble according to our values, which somewhat intersect with those of ‘Umaniti.   Most seem to have sought power primarily because ‘Umaniti value power over other ‘Umaniti.”

“Very well.  Back on the subject. Faur, please summarize the contending views regarding this slaying, and we shall see what they suggest to us.”

“Certainly, Ethnographer.  In the region where the event occurred, and in some other regions, the law allows anyone to slay another if he or she feels in fear of loss of life.  Many feel that this instance pushes the issue of slaying to an ethical breaking point accented by flesh tone, that the youth was killed simply for being in an area inhabited by light-fleshed ‘Umaniti, and his killer will now escape penalty for a death that did not need to be.  It is on nearly everyone’s speech apparatus in Landmass D, and dominates all media.  One source even made a breathless report that the killer, who is confined by the authorities awaiting the judicial process, spent money at the confinement center’s store.”

“How much did he spend?” asked ‘Plaf, bemused.  “Enough to purchase what, for example?”

“About enough to fully fuel two common fossil-fueled passenger vehicles, which would allow each to operate for 1/4 of a planetary rotation before running out.  An amount that would buy a high-quality meal for two ‘Umaniti at a dining establishment.”

“Why did this matter to anyone? Who imagined it would?” snorted ‘Plaf.  “Does not Landmass D have any other concerns of greater import than how much a confinee spent on what one assumes were petty comforts? Has Landmass D remedied all other social ills?”

“Far from it,” responded Lr’uff.  “This nation is deeply fragmented with great political hatred.  It has borrowed excessively.  Every sector of wealth believes that every other sector should pay to solve the problem, in one way or another.  It is involved in wars against two…abstract nouns.”

‘Plaf turned to Linguist Glrol.  “How would one wage war upon an abstract noun, Linguist?”

“My colleague is speaking semi-literally, but ‘Umaniti seem to take the matter almost literally.  They are at war with ‘controlled substances’–anyone associated with these substances, save legalized businesses that mass-produce the substances–and with ‘terror,’ by which they mean selected groups who launch terror attacks.  Li’wal may correct me if I err, but it seems to me that ‘Umaniti wage war against abstract nouns by means of faction-sanctioned terror attacks, which is ironic when we consider the hypocrisy.  One’s own faction’s terror attacks are a war against terror, thus not truly terror attacks.  Landmass D has no monopoly on this attitude–it seems nearly universal.  I defer to ‘Qorc’s greater consideration of that matter.”

“Philosopher ‘Qorc.  How much of ‘Umaniti’s logic is this self-serving and situational?” asked ‘Plaf.

“Much of it, Ethnographer, but by no means all.  Stripped of fancy paint and decoration, the dominant logic of ‘Umaniti seems to be that what helps one’s own faction is acceptable, and what thwarts one’s own faction is anathema.  There is limited evidence that any of this species’ leaders believe their philosophies, to go by their actions.  Theologies that ban all slaying, then condone slaying or invent excuses for it when they deem it advantageous.  A pro-young-bearer philosophy, espousing greater freedom for young-bearers, casts out any young-bearer who exercises freedom in a way this philosophy dislikes.  Several theologies that promote love, peace and tolerance fly into rages when two young-bearers, or two seed-bearers, mime the procreational act for physical or emotional pleasure–thus showing no love, peace or tolerance.”

Ethnographer ‘Plaf shut the display off.  “Our research now has valid questions to explore.  Doubtless more will arise, but let us keep our sensory apparati trained on them with greater interest:

1) How will we ever treat with ‘Umaniti, if their only ethic is to win for their faction, and an act has one value if done by them, and another if done unto them? Lr’uff’s data indicate that they jettison agreements as soon as they see advantage in doing so, and have done so since urbanization.  Can there be agreements with ‘Umaniti, as we understand them?

2) While ‘Umaniti may technically be sentient, are they of rather low-grade sentience next to other species we have discovered? Is this obsession with polarizing events, to the detriment of issues with farther-reaching consequences, a universal trait, or not? What of their selective ethics and hypocrisies?  They are intelligent enough to take seriously, but are they intelligent enough to let loose on the galaxy? Should we interdict them from interplanetary travel while we have the power to do so, as we were prepared to do yesterday when a lunatic faction launched a rocket that happily fell apart before we had to face a hasty decision?

3) I would like to know how this species has refrained from self-extinction.  Khaul’s reports indicate that various ‘Umaniti factions stockpile enough destructive radiological, biological and chemical weaponry to reduce ‘Umaniti to an even more primitive state than it exists in now.  If this sense of priorities proves typical, then why has not some emotional maniac begun a chain of destruction and reprisal that would ruin this world for thousands of revolutions around the star?”

4) My reading of your reports indicates that ‘Umaniti are obsessed with procreational acts, roles and even the sight of an uncovered ‘Umaniti form, to which we have alluded earlier.  Why? Why can they just not perform their acts as they like, in whatever harmless form, without obsessing about how anyone else does so? Or can they, and we simply have not yet discerned it?

We know little.  We have vast ignorance to repair.  We can as yet conclude nothing, merely suppose.  Before we recommend ‘Umaniti be confined to its world by armed force, let us obtain firmer bases in knowledge.”

The department heads  arose, made gestures of respect and returned to their studies.

Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret

First comes the original e-mail, a rejection letter sent to some 900+ applicants who didn’t get an online writing gig.  Read it within this Gawker article impaling it as “42 dos and don’ts from a dick.”  You can then read the original author’s logic and rebuttal at Salon.

When I look at the anger Shea’s long list of advice has generated, my thoughts include:

  • Wow.  No good deed does go unpunished.
  • These people are not cut out to be writers at all.  They cannot take constructive criticism.  I wouldn’t have hired them either.
  • This is a perfect manifestation of the “I’m So Awesome” generation that got a trophy just for deigning to show up.
  • What part of ‘follow the directions’ is so complicated?

I find this all very revelatory.  It’s helpful to me, because there are a couple of errors mentioned that I can easily see myself making, and would rather not make them.  (Thanks, Shea!)  What it reveals to me is that I haven’t been wrong about the Amazing Ego Based Upon Few Results mentality so common today.  Anything that sounds like negative feedback:  “That’s disrespecting me!”  Respect is earned, sorry.  Advice offered:  “How arrogant to think you know better than me!”  Uh, he does; he’s in a position to hire, and you are not.

Think on it.  They would rather have been ignored than receive help.  They would rather flounder in ignorance and mediocrity than take a bruise, suck it up and grow.  Anything less than “You’re so awesome!” is a boot in the groin.

How did we wind up raising young adults this way? Is this a young adult thing, or a writer thing, or a young adult writer thing? Feel free to educate me.  Because when I get a list of 42 things I might be doing wrong, I want to bless the sender.  That’s 42 things I should never do wrong again.

I promised you a dirty little secret, and you shall have it.  Truth:  I didn’t succeed as a ‘lancer because of busting my butt, nor by being a brilliant writer. That isn’t self-deprecation; I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, nor that I’m untalented.  I succeeded at freelancing because most of my competition took a look at its path ahead, sowed as many mines as possible in its path, concealed them carefully, went away for a while to forget where they were, then just waltzed on through the self-made minefield.  Over, and over, and over.  Most of my competition suicided on the way to the finish line.

I didn’t have to beat them.  They beat themselves.