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13 Jun 18:22

Machines of Losing Grapes

by LP


Hello! Thank you for purchasing our product. It is now yours to do with as you like*, but please be aware that if it is damaged, you will have to pay to replace it. Some products may be difficult to find. Changes in technology may require occasional upgrades to the product, and an initial investment in a device that will allow you to use it. Please enjoy this product, and if you like it, consider purchasing more.

*: Please don’t pirate it! Wink wink!


Hello! Thank you for purchasing a subscription to use our service, which provides temporary access to a product. You do not own the product, and we will go to great lengths to prevent you from converting into any format in which you might be said to do so. In fact, there is no actual “product”, but merely many lines of code which do not exist in any meaningful way, although this will not keep us from brutally enforcing our intellectual property rights to it*, temporary as they may be. We also do not own the product, but merely license it from another service provider, and it may disappear without warning from this service. Perhaps it will resurface again in the same or a different form on this service or a totally different one, or perhaps it will not. Who can say? Theoretically, nothing is hard to find, and you should be able to have access to any content ever made since the dawn of time, but labyrinthine licensing requirements make this a practical impossibility, and for marketing purposes, we will make it almost impossible to find anything more than twenty years old, if we even bother to make it available at all, which we probably won’t. You need no longer purchase a specific device for accessing this content; instead, you will need to purchase an entire array of them, which are governed by an inexplicable set of presentation standards that seem identical but are essentially incompatible. Also, we have freed you from the tyranny of cable, replacing it with dozens of streaming services which, if you get enough of them to equate to cable, will actually cost more than cable, and may disappear at any given time. Because of the aforementioned marketing and licensing requirements, the selection will also be worse than cable, and will manage to simultaneously have so much content you will be paralyzed with choice and also not ever have what you will actually be looking for. You can actually purchase content to keep, but it will not be in physical form, and you have no rights to it in any meaningful way; we may expunge it from the cloud or even delete it from your hard drive without warning, and thanks to the byzantine complexity of our user agreements, you will have no resource when this happens. We additionally reserve the right to delete or destroy any other content that you purchased from other providers. All subscriptions will require the transferral of your credit card and contact information, making it vulnerable to data theft, which we will respond to with a sincere promise to never let it happen again, followed by a shrug. All content will come equipped with exciting new ‘social’ features that you did not ask for and will result in system slowdowns and technical problems that you will be in no way equipped to understand, let alone solve. Our service is contingent upon high-speed internet access that may not be available in your location, and which can only be purchased through the same huge telecoms that you cut your cable to avoid having to deal with. They may, without warning or recourse, throttle your streaming speed, resulting in a situation whose badness is compounded the more streaming devices you have. If, for any reason, you are unable to access high-speed internet streams, you will not be able to use our service at all, but you do have to keep paying for it. Content may be blacked out at any time, for any reason. Programming is determined by a sophisticated and incomprehensible algorithm that will result in frustration, confusion, and, ultimately, surrender. Changes in technology will require near-constant upgrades, and may render you unable to access content on Monday that you spent all day using on Sunday, even though you are using the exact same service, platform, and device you were mere hours before. The method of compensating content creators for their work, previously dishonest and murky, is now practically occult, and may not exist in any measurable sense. Changes in weather, the stock market, or the general mood of anyone from low-level programmers to the CEO may render the service inoperable. Terms of service on your end are written with acid in solid steel; terms of service on our end are as rainbows against the clouds, and you may find that we are offering not only entirely different parameters, but a completely different business model, from one week to the next. The entirety of our operation is driven by the needs of our capital investors, who may decide to junk the entire thing if it is not profitable enough at the moment they decide it needs to be, but are much more likely to change it into something that is similar to, but significantly worse than, what you signed up for in the first place. Their number one priority is their investment, and we aren’t sure what their number one million priority is, but it’s still not you. Any cultural product old enough to rent a car might as well not exist and can only be experienced in dreams or in the near-mythological memories of the Olds. Curation of content, once done by individuals and later outsourced to masses of consumers, will now be done by a line of code. If you like something, please tell us! We’re not sure how because we have no consumer-facing outreach whatsoever and our numbers are cooked like a Thanksgiving turkey, but if you tweet something at us, our algorithm will happily recommend whatever it was going to tell you to get anyway.

*: Please don’t pirate it! Seriously we will destroy you.

23 Apr 06:37

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 22, 2019

17 Apr 13:06

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 17, 2019

14 Apr 12:47

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 14, 2019

05 Apr 11:21

Today's Video Link

by evanier

Paul Simon, a long time ago, visits Sesame Street. He does not seem all that happy that the young lady has decided to rewrite the lyrics to his song. Hers actually make more sense than his…

02 Apr 22:43

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 01, 2019

01 Apr 03:09

The filter bubble is actually a decision bubble.

The filter bubble is actually a decision bubble.
24 Mar 13:04

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 22, 2019

24 Mar 13:04

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 23, 2019

21 Mar 23:37

Business Musings: Punctuation, Voice, and Control

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

In January, while I was preparing to teach a craft workshop here in Las Vegas,  I was happily reading a lovely essay on the comma in the Oregon Quarterly. The essay, titled “For Love of the Comma,” written by Kate Dyer-Seeley, is beautifully done, and as I read, I was thinking of recommending the piece on my monthly recommended reading list—until I hit this:

…I never flinch when editors suggest changes in a manuscript….When my first manuscript went through copy edits, every introductory comma was removed. I made note and intentionally didn’t use a single introductory comma in the next manuscript. But stop the presses! Don’t make assumptions or get attached to the pesky punctuator, because the next copy editor added every introductory comma back in.

Sigh. I wanted to intervene somehow. Because Dyer-Seeley, who writes mysteries as Ellie Alexander, has a lovely voice. That’s clear from her word choice alone.

However, she lets others dictate the most important part of her voice. Punctuation.

Punctuation is the most sophisticated tool that a writer has. The writers with the strongest voices also have the most eclectic punctuation. If you run a grammar checker on a passage from those writers’ works, the grammar checker will light up with “mistakes.” They’re not mistakes. They’re evidence of a writer who knows her craft and knows how to make the best of it.

Punctuation, like words themselves, is a tool for writers to use. And as is the case for any tool, you have to learn how to use it properly before your usage can become more sophisticated.

A lot of you who felt vindicated when I said the grammar checker would light up may now pack that vindication away. Most new writers misuse punctuation terribly. Those writers have no idea where to place semicolons or what an exclamation point does. They don’t know how to use quotation marks properly and would probably get the hives if I tried to explain nested quotation marks.

Writers feel like they got enough of that “grammar crap” in school, when they probably got very little at all. And what they did get, usually, was a turgid discussion of hard and fast rules which aren’t really hard and which certainly aren’t fast.

So, (she writes, with an introductory comma and a second grammatically unnecessary comma), here’s the short version of my comma rant.

The manuscript you have just finished writing is not your story. Your story lives in your mind. The manuscript is a tool that takes the story from your head and puts it in my head.

The very best writers use that manuscript tool so effectively that readers can actually hear the writer’s voice as they read. That’s why so many readers have a visceral response to writers like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. (Oh, I hate them. They can’t write. Or Oh, I love them. They could tell me stories forever.) That’s why so many English students and unsophisticated writers will complain that certain bestsellers “can’t write their way out of a paper bag.” Those reviewers, students, readers, and writers are all reacting to upper-level voice, without realizing it.

Writing itself comes from the oral tradition. In class, I always tell writers that we’re storytellers first, and writers second. Before the invention of paper and pens, stories only lived orally. A lot of great storytellers only speak their stories to this day. (Listen to stand-up comedians some time.)

Generally speaking, though, writers are introverts. We don’t want to stand up in front of our audiences and regale them with adventures. We don’t care (and might not ever want) to see the audience laugh at our jokes or cry at our tales of woe. We want to tell stories, yes, but we want to do so in the privacy of our own offices. We want others to enjoy the story, but at their own pace, and far away from us.

Hence the manuscript. Which is nothing more than a delivery system.

We all understand delivery systems. When the system breaks down, you’ll need a new and different system. (You don’t try to patch the old system.) That’s why writers in my class learn to redraft a failing manuscript. Tinkering with the words doesn’t work. Adding stuff to a failing system only makes it fail more.

Writing the story again, from scratch, will improve the delivery system, so that the reader can actually understand what the writer wants to do.

The best writers in any language use their manuscripts to hijack the reader’s mind. The reader no longer thinks in their voice. They are absorbing the writer’s voice, at least for the length of the story.

We do that all the time when we consume stories. Listening to a friend at a party, watching a program on television, going to a movie, getting deep into a video game—all of that takes us out of our own heads and puts us somewhere else.

We call that escape.

The best writers control the escape down to the tiniest detail. And those details include voice.

So let’s discuss upper-level punctuation for a moment. Just for a moment, because I can’t effectively teach this concept through a blog post. But I shall try to give you a taste of what I mean.

Punctuation at the upper levels of craft controls voice. Readers generally don’t see punctuation unless you want them to. They hear punctuation.

Punctuation is sound. A period is an actual break. A comma is a breath. A colon is a pause. A dash is breathless. And ellipsis trail off. (We’ve all met that uncertain person who never really takes a breath, who never really ends a sentence, who never really stops talking. You know, that girl…the one who…oh, I don’t know…but you know….)

Most of my examples when I teach are spoken. But if you want to see punctuation in action, read the Emily Dickinson poems as they were first published. Her editor put in “correct” punctuation, making her poems grammatical. Then read the poems as she wrote them, breathless and heartfelt.

One example from the first publication:

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me.

Um. So polite and bland. (And puts the emphasis on kindly which is not where she intended it.) Then put in an em-dash at the end of each line, and realize that for Dickinson, the sentence isn’t anywhere near done.

I can’t reprint the poems as they’re supposed to be (although I did link to this one) because of copyright issues. Amherst and Harvard own the copyright to the correct versions of the poems. (You can see that at the bottom of the page the link takes you to.) The original publication is in the public domain, bland, and not in the poet’s voice at all (although whispers of it peek through in word choice alone).

The more craft you learn, the more tools you put in your toolbox, the more your manuscripts will sound like you. Then your peers in your peer workshop will beat all over you, telling you that you have screwed up the sentences and the grammar. Flee that workshop. You’ve graduated. Move on. (See my posts on perfection and workshops to understand this.)

As you learn more and more about the craft of writing, and how to take the way you speak and put it accurately on the page, the farther you will go from “good” grammar. Every sentence you write—from your subconscious, mind you—will be in service of the story, not in service of beautiful language and some weird concept that there is a “right” way to tell your story, which everyone knows but you.

It takes confidence in yourself to use your writing tools properly. You have to trust the process. If your subconscious wants you to write a poem about Death, and wants that poem to sound breathless, filled with asides, then write it with em-dashes.

Not only must you be creative and courageous in the act of writing, but you also need to be fierce when it comes time to defend your work. What do I mean by defend? I mean the opposite of what Dyer-Seeley discusses above.

She tried to learn what her editors “wanted” when it came to the comma, rather than telling the original editors that she believed in the introductory comma, at least for the piece she had written for those editors. Dyer-Seeley’s subconscious had believed the introductory comma needed to be there, so she had put it there. And then meekly removed it when asked by someone who “was in charge” or “knew better.”

What Dyer-Seeley should have done—what you all should do—is defend her use of the introductory comma. She should have put those suckers back into her manuscript, rather than trying to second guess the people who don’t know her voice.

When you’re working at the next level of craft, going beyond grammar to actual voice, you defend grammatically incorrect sentences. You have one-word paragraphs. You use sentence fragments. You stick periods in places that make grammarians shudder.

You realize that exclamation points aren’t there for emphasis. They’re screamers. Someone is screaming at you when using them.

Like this.


I mean it. Run!!


Look at all the ways I mangled the language. I added too many “u”s, and too many exclamation points.

You could write the same three lines like this:


I mean it. Run!


The problem with that last paragraph is that it sounds different. Ruuuuuuuuun!!! is a long drawn-out scream of panic. The all-caps italicized RUN! is a forceful command.

Both use screamers. Or rather, exclamation points. But they have a different emphasis.

You can learn some more on this by reading Stephen King’s short story “L.T.’s Theory of Pets.” After you’ve read it, listen to the audio book. He reads it. See how surprised you are (or not) by the sound of his voice. (Ignore his accent.) After you’ve listened, listen again with the story in front of you. You’ll see what he intended with each piece of punctuation because he is literally giving you the sound of the story as it runs inside his head.

Does my saying that a writer needs to defend herself against the copy editor and editor mean that copy editors and editors have no place in fiction? Not at all. They find inconsistences, dropped words, misspellings, and yes, the occasional punctuation error.

But they can change your voice terribly if you let them. My Kristine Grayson novels are deliberately filled with em-dashes. One copy editor I had at one of my traditional publishers pulled out every single one.

I called my editor and told him that I couldn’t repair that with a thousand “stets” (look it up). I was just going back to the original, and I would put in the copy edits that I believed were viable myself.

Instead, he had the book copy edited a second time (by someone who wasn’t politically opposed to a creative use of the em-dash), and from that point on, he used my books to train new copy editors. If they had more than two corrections per page on my work, they never got another job from him. Because that traditional editor knew they were messing with my voice. He understood voice and the importance of it.

Many editors do not. And almost all of the “editors” you can hire as an indie writer—those editors who call themselves “content editors” or “line editors”—they don’t understand voice at all. They’ll remove all of your voice and make it as bland as those two stanzas I reprinted from the original publications of Emily Dickinson.

Don’t let someone do that to your work. Certainly don’t look on letting people mess with your voice as a virtue.

It’s not.

Learn the upper level of craft—the stuff that takes you beyond good grammar and the dull repetitiveness of college-textbook English—and then defend your craft. Look at what copy editors do as suggestions, not instructions. If the copy editors have a heavy hand and that hand changes your voice, hire a different copy editor, one who understands you. If you’re traditionally published, don’t be afraid to tell your editor that the copy editor has murdered your manuscript.

Believe me, it happens more often than you think.

How do you learn all the tools of your craft? By reading. For enjoyment. You won’t hear an author’s voice if you read critically. Shut off the critical brain and read for pleasure. Stuff your brain full of the fiction that you love.

Eventually, you will see what others have done, and that will come out your fingers.

Sometimes a writer will stop you with a technique. You’ll get done reading a chapter of a thriller and realize that your heart is pounding, your breath is coming in short gasps, and you are shaking. That’s the power of good storytelling. When you finish reading the book, it might be worthwhile to go back to that stunning chapter, and type it into your computer. You won’t get lost in the story that way. You’ll be down in the words and the punctuation. It’ll feel awkward, because you’ll want to change things.

That’s your voice fighting with the other author’s voice. Learn  from that. Realize that the fight is a common reaction—because you don’t talk the way they do. You talk like you.

Learn your craft.

Trust the process.

Defend your voice.

You’ll be a better writer for it—and you’ll have a lot more fun.


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“Business Musings: Punctuation, Voice, And Control,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / gpointstudio.

17 Mar 17:48

On class difference

by chris

A friend tells me that when I started my first job in an investment bank I did not speak for the first three weeks. He exaggerates, but not much. What I was doing was working out the unwritten rules of how to behave in an alien environment.

I was reminded of this by reading Tony Connelly’s description* of Geoffrey Cox’s behaviour last week in Brussels: he boasted of not having visited the city for 40 years and angered Sabine Weyand by calling her "my dear." Mr Cox did not do what I did -  shut up until you've learned what to do.

Herein, I think, lies a class difference. If you are upwardly mobile from a poor background, you have to learn how to fit in. If you are posh, you don’t. You glide from school to Oxbridge to the city or bar all the time surrounded by like-minded people so you know the rules. The upshot is that in the unusual contingency of ever being outside of that environment – as Cox was in Brussels – you put your foot in it.

We should read Cox’s behaviour alongside Boris Johnson’s claim that the inquiry into historic sex abuse is money “spaffed up a wall”. (Mr J, of course, is no stranger to wasting public money). Both, I suggest, are examples of the arrogant insensitivity that results from not having to work out how to consider the sensitivities of those outside your group. (When those sensitivities are upset, of course, it is political correctness gone mad, rather than what it is – the result of crass behaviour.)Common

At about the same time I was in purdah my contemporary Mr Johnson was being sacked by the Times for lying. Which highlights another class difference. Those of us from poor backgrounds know we don’t get many chances so we must take those we get: there are no second acts in working class lives. Had I been sacked from my first job for dishonesty, I doubt I’d have got another chance. Posh people do get other chances. And both sides know this.  

My point here should be a trivial one. Background determines character, so rich backgrounds tend to generate different characters than poor ones. I’d suggest other differences, all of which should disqualify most posh people from politics:

1. If everything comes naturally to you, you don’t need to think so much about how to get it. So you under-invest in learning how to hustle, negotiate or strategize. (Is it really an accident that the western politician who most mastered these arts, Lyndon Johnson, came from a poor home?) This might be one reason why Brexit has gone badly. Having spent his entire life thinking he could get what he wants simply by asking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been disturbed to find that the EU doesn’t work like that.

2. Posh people have confidence – too much of it: it was overconfidence that led Cameron to call that referendum. Because people mistake confidence for actual ability, this lends them a credibility denied to others, which is reinforced by the dominance in the media of other posh folk. If Johnson and Rees-Mogg had thick Brummie accents, how would the media treat them?

3. The rich don’t appreciate just how important money is. For a poor family, an extra fiver at the end of the week can make the difference between relief and misery. This warps their political priorities. Whereas I regard economic growth and redistribution as the main political issues, the rich have others – Brexit if you are on the right, Palestine if on the left.

4. If you are surrounded from birth by other rich people, you lack a gut understanding of how others live. You are prone to the middle England error – of over-estimating the incomes of ordinary people. This means that even the most well-meaning are apt to conflate the national interest with that of the wealthy. What’s more, you never get a true grasp of what poverty really means. It’s not just about a lack of money, but about a lack of opportunities and role models: the first people I met with degrees who did not work in the public sector were the guys who interviewed me for that investment bank job. And it’s about insecurity too: if you are “just about managing” you are only one decision away from abject poverty. One of the greatest days of my life was the realization, sometime in my thirties, that I would never be homeless. Some of you reading this won’t understand that. As one of the key texts on class has it:

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go

5. Trust. We naturally trust those like ourselves. Which means that posher politicians are apt to surround themselves with other posh people. This isn’t a purely rightist trait: think of Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne working for Jeremy Corbyn. It also means they are more likely to take advice from other posh folk, leaving then vulnerable to undue influence from the rich.

Now, I should caveat all this. It is possible – with effort - for the rich to understand this. One or two do. But even for these, there’s something missing. Just as religious converts lack the visceral knowledge of their faith that comes from having been raised in it, so posh people lack such understanding of poverty. As Bill Shankly said: “the trouble with you son is that your brains are all in your head.” Perhaps the tragedy of Tony Blair embodies this. His success lay in an awareness of what mattered to working people: money and crime. His failure came when he forgot this and was seduced by foreign policy.

Here, though is the thing. Despite Disraeli's famous quip that rich and poor are two nations formed by a different breeding this hasn’t always been the case. For much of the 20th century there was a massive mitigation of these tendencies. Military service forced posh men into close relationships with poor ones, thus broadening their perspective. As the Times’ obituary of Lord Carrington says:

He found himself sleeping in a hole beneath his tank with his four crew who came from poor backgrounds and had suffered hardship during the pre-war years. The experience shaped his politics, he said later. “You could not have got a finer or better lot than they were. They deserved something better in the aftermath of the war.

This is not atypical: in my first job most equity salesmen had army backgrounds and so were accustomed to working with people from working class backgrounds.

One cost of living in a less militaristic society, however, is that this influence is much diminished and that posh men are therefore more distant in consciousness from the rest of us: the contrast between Lord Carrington and Boris Johnson – both former foreign secretaries – perhaps embodies this.

* an account which shows that Irish coverage of Brexit is an order of magnitude superior to the British.

17 Mar 12:31

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 17, 2019

15 Mar 13:37

Ask ME

by evanier

Terry Barrett writes…

I know almost nothing about comic books and you seem to know everything about comic books. Can you explain why there's a movie with a character named Captain Marvel and another movie called Shazam! about a character named Captain Marvel?

I can. In 1939, a company called Fawcett Publishing introduced a super-hero by that name as a quick response to debut of Superman. That Captain Marvel was created by a writer named Bill Parker and drawn by artist C.C. Beck. He was a young orphan boy named Billy Batson who could turn into the adult hero Captain Marvel by shouting the magic word, "Shazam!" The comic was a huge success with sales that sometimes dwarfed those of Superman…and so the firm that owned Superman — the company we now know as DC Comics — sued over the similarities.

The lawsuit dragged on into the fifties. By that point, sales of Captain Marvel comics had declined and the folks at Fawcett were less interested in keeping their hero alive than in ridding themselves of the lawsuit and the attendant legal fees. They settled outta-court with DC, paying a reported $400,000 and getting out of the comic book business. They later got back in but did not revive the Good Captain because they'd agreed never to publish him again without DC's consent.

In 1966, a small publisher named Myron Fass realized the name "Captain Marvel" was up for grabs. It still had a certain amount of fame and since the hottest thing on the comic racks was the new Marvel line, he figured it might be a commercial title for a new hero. He commissioned Carl Burgos (who had once upon a time created the Human Torch) to create a brand-new Captain Marvel, totally unlike the Fawcett version.

This one was an android from another world who could fly and order his arms and legs to split from his body by yelling "Split!" If it sounds like a stupid idea for a comic, it was.

Martin Goodman, who then owned Marvel, was pretty unhappy about this infringement on the use of the word "Marvel." He got his lawyers busy and he also gave the order for his company to quickly come up with a new Captain Marvel which they began publishing. There was another of those outta-court settlements and the Myron Fass version went away.  In fact, Fass never published color comic books again, publishing just about everything else, including gory black-and-white horror comics in magazine form.

Marvel's Captain Marvel debuted in 1967 shortly before the Fass version went away. This one also was totally unlike the Fawcett hero. His first story was done by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, though others were apparently involved in its development. It quickly became one of those comics that was handed around from writer to writer and artist to artist (never a good sign) with frequent revamps and format changes — some successful for a time, some not. There were many points where it probably would have been canceled had not Marvel's lawyers recommended keeping a book called Captain Marvel in print to preserve the company's claim on the title.

They had all the more reason to protect it in 1973 when, based on a suggestion from Jack Kirby, DC made an arrangement with Fawcett. The old Billy Batson Captain Marvel was revived as a DC comic…but since it couldn't be called Captain Marvel, they named the comic Shazam! and in a sub-title, noted that it featured a hero named Captain Marvel. DC later bought out every interest Fawcett had in the property.

Both Captains Marvel have appeared intermittently, not always to acceptable sales, and both have undergone changes as various creative teams attempted to find something that readers would support for a while.   DC has more or less changed the name of their Captain Marvel to Shazam but the old name pops up now and then.  Marvel's C.M. has changed more over the years with the name passing to protagonists of different races and genders. That's a long explanation that you don't need and it's one I have no interest in wading through. Perhaps the current movie versions will each establish one particular version for an extended period.

Anyway, that's how come Marvel has a comic book called Captain Marvel featuring a character named Captain Marvel, and DC has a comic book called Shazam! featuring a character that is sometimes referred to as Captain Marvel. Which is all you really wanted to know, right?

Got a question you want me to answer on this blog?
Send it here. No politics, no personal replies...
and tell me if you want me to leave your name out of it.

The post Ask ME appeared first on News From ME.

14 Mar 16:57

Business Musings: Comparisons (Writing With Chronic Illness)

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Note: I have just written a short book titled Writing With Chronic Illness. The book will appear in mid-April, just in time for my annual spring Writing Storybundle. I’ll be excerpting three chapters from the book on this blog. There’s a lot of material in the book that’s not available on the blog, but I feel this post, and the previous two are general enough to appeal to everyone.


When Dean and I first got together, we had a long discussion about careers. We were both new writers at the beginning of our careers. And we knew that our careers would not end up being the same. We had a long series of conversations about what we would do when one career was ascendant over the other.

Good thing, too. I won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer shortly after we got together. For about ten years, I was on all the award ballots. Dean’s books sold more copies, but I got more attention.

Right now, he’s the one who is getting attention. He has done videos that have gone viral. His Cold Poker Gang series sells like crazy.

If we hadn’t been aware of the potential differences in our careers from the very start, we probably would not have been together for more than thirty years.

Comparison is a natural thing. It’s how we learn. Watch toddlers sometimes. They mirror their parents, sometimes literally— trying to sit like Daddy or moving their hands (or trying to) the way that Mommy is. We look to others to see what’s possible.

It’s hard to stop doing that, particularly when we’re only seeing others from the outside. It still surprises me when I hear very successful people talk about their struggles. The skier Lindsey Vonn has been upfront about her injuries and her goals, how she managed her profession day to day while dealing with so much pain that I can’t quite imagine it. Yet to look at her, pretty, blond, smart and athletic, without knowing any of that, you’d think her life is perfect.

Writers are even more mysterious than celebrities. You see their output, but not their daily struggles to get it done. Everyone puts a good face on what they’re doing, particularly on social media. Sure, a handful of people log onto their accounts and outline how depressing their day is, but most only talk about the highlights.

I’m as guilty of that as the next person. I don’t like sharing the bad things. I love sharing the good.

But the struggles? They’re personal. Not to mention the fact that I’m not the most touchy-feely person. I would prefer to discuss books than health problems—mine or anyone else’s.

That makes comparisons even tougher.

I’m considered prolific. So from the outside, I look like a writing machine to many writers.  I’ve heard that over and over again: How I’m so dedicated and strong and am all about writing.

It doesn’t feel that way from the inside. I don’t write nearly enough. I never get to everything I want to do. I feel like I’m doing things other than writing most of the time.

It’s even harder considering that I live with an extremely healthy former professional athlete. Dean, even as he ages, gets more done in a single day than some people do in six months. If he sets a goal of 10,000 words per day, he hits that goal. He doesn’t have to stop because he got brain fog or needs extra sleep.

He did suffer from severe migraines when I met him, and that did slow him down, but he had such a healthy base that he could do amazing things on the days he wasn’t down with a headache. I never had that healthy base.

If I compare my daily word count to his, I always fall short. He can be much more consistent than I am and he can write more. He’s a sprint writer, though, so he often stops to do something else. I wish he wouldn’t, because I love his work and want more of it, but I understand.

I suspect the sprint writing is his way of resting. He goes hard and then takes time off, just like the running guides tell you to do when you’re in training for a sporting event. You work hard, then you taper. You do the event, and rest afterwards before starting hard training again.

That’s his history as an athlete and he took it to writing.

I couldn’t do athletic things as a younger person, so I learned how to write around illness, rather than the other way around.

The comparisons end here, though, because they’re not useful. No matter how hard I try, I can’t do things the way he can. And no matter how hard he tries, he has been unable to break the start/stop sprint aspect of his career (careers). That’s his work method.

Most writers aren’t lucky enough to live with another writer. They don’t get into the nitty-gritty of someone else’s routine. Most writers have the Imagined Routine of Favorite Writer or Role Model and then their own routine. And their routine never measures up to the imagined routine.

So rather than let the comparisons overwhelm, try this.

Celebrate your achievements.

Dean actually taught me that early in our relationship. I have since learned it’s another sports thing. Once I started running five days per week, I realized that all runs are not created equal. Some are great; some suck. And getting to the run isn’t easy either. Some days, that’s all I want to do. Mostly, though, the running, like my steps, is a serious inconvenience. I would so much rather sit on my butt and write and read or go to a movie or go out for a meal or spend time with Dean.

But all the running guides point this out: if you go out for 10 minutes (even if your normal is an hour), count that as a victory, especially on the tough days.

Here’s the secret: if you go out for ten minutes, you often do your usual run.

That was a great rule of thumb for me with the running because it got me out, even on rainy days (up north) and on days with the beginnings of a migraine. On the rainy days, I’d often have the most fun, because running in the rain makes me feel like a little kid. I actually run and laugh. (Even here: I did a 5K in February and it rained, and I found such joy in getting wet.)

However, with the headache, I was never certain if I could run until I tried. Sometimes I’d run for ten minutes, and the headache would get significantly worse. A few times, up north, I’d start the run and realize I would have trouble making it home. On those days, I’d run toward the WMG offices, which were a mile from my house. I could always get to WMG and catch a ride home.

That sounds like a defeat, doesn’t it? My run ended because of my headache.

But I never saw it that way. I would get a half mile of running, usually, and some walking, as well as some fresh air. Considering how ill I was, that was a victory.

A major victory.

I learned to apply that attitude to my writing as well. If I was really sick, and I managed to get 500 words on a day when I could barely crawl out of bed, then that was a victory. It wasn’t a qualified victory. It was a real victory.

What do I mean by a qualified victory?

I mean this: Considering how sick I was, that was pretty good.

No. Get rid of the qualifier. How many other people could get 500 words in a day while healthy? How many other people have the determination to write at all?

500 words that day was great. It was amazing. And I pat myself on the back for getting that much done.

Sometimes I pat myself on the back for the planning. Yesterday, for instance. I had a busy day. I had a yoga class in the morning, and Dean and I had some planned time off in the afternoon—going to see a movie. We also planned our steps at the local mall, to do some browsing.

But I want to finish this book, and I had a hunch I’d be too tired when I got home. (Turned out, I had a migraine from some perfume. Which I found ironic, given that I’m working on this book.) Since I knew I’d be busy, I got up early enough to write one of the chapters before I went to yoga.

And sure enough, that was all the writing I managed yesterday. But I was and am happy with that. I planned well, and that’s a victory.

A friend of mine has a saying about certain people. He says that they can find the dark cloud in any silver lining.

In other words, they can make any positive experience negative.

I sure get that. It’s really easy for those of us who suffer from a chronic illness to beat ourselves up for all of our body’s failings. In fact, that’s often the default for us. It’s about what we can’t do rather than what we can do.

I’m as guilty as anyone else of that.

But mostly, I try as hard as I can to savor the silver linings. And the rainbows. And the sunshine.

I like to see accomplishing things—even small things—as victories. The more victories I have, the more victories I want.

And that keeps me going, even on the hard days.

So stop comparing yourself to some imagined ideal. Start celebrating what you accomplish. Make a list of your daily victories.

You’ll be surprised, over the space of a year, just how much you’ll accomplish.

And how much fun you’ll have doing it.


As I mentioned above, this is part of the book Writing With Chronic Illness that will appear later this spring. If you support my Patreon at the $10 or above level, you’ll get this book (and others that I write while doing this blog) for free. If you support at the $5, you’ll be able to see some Patreon-only content, including one other short essay that’s part of the book, but too short (in my opinion) to be part of this weekly blog.

The next two posts will be from the book as well, unless something major happens, the way it did last week, with the whole plagiarism scandal. Then I’ll bump the chapters back to accommodate the news items.

And…since I’m mentioning Patreon…here’s the weekly reminder that this blog is reader-supported.

If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.

If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.

Thank you!!!

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“Business Musings: Comparisons,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / andrewgenn.



09 Mar 11:56

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 09, 2019

09 Mar 11:56

Why I’m Quitting Zazzle

by Deirdre

In 2014, I signed up as an artist with Zazzle. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never really put in a lot of elbow grease onto that site as I vastly prefer Redbubble and Society6.

One of Zazzle’s terms is that they won’t pay royalties if the amount’s under $50. New rule: if a company accepts orders for smaller than they will pay in royalties, they are looking to make bank off the artists, not their customers.

The $23.58 of royalties I’ve accrued were earned in 2014 to 2016, and they still have that money. Then, to add insult to injury, they send the following missive today:

Zazzle’s marketplace has evolved so much since its inception, and now our User Agreement and Policies are evolving, too!

Starting on April 1, 2019, Zazzle will have a new User Agreement, and one of the new elements is a push for an even more involved, invested community! As part of this push, accounts that have been non-contributing (that is, haven’t either (1) published a public product, or (2) had a Referral Sale attributed to that account) for the previous 15 month period will be charged a “Non-Contributing Account Fee.” 

You are receiving this message because, unfortunately, we haven’t seen any new products or referrals from you in a long while! We really miss you and would much rather have you back, adding beautiful content to the Zazzle marketplace! So, before the last day of this month, if you upload a new product and publish it to the marketplace, or have a Referral Sale attributed to your account, your account will be deemed “contributing” again for the next 15 months, and you can ignore this message. 

If you’re not able to get your account to “contributing” status again before the last day of this month, we’ll charge the Non-Contributing Account Fee, according to the terms of the new User Agreement (which is posted here) on or around April 1st. For more details, you can also check out this help center article.

Thank You

So, I can give them my labor…or more of my money. How about neither? Just send my balance due via PayPal. You’ve enjoyed it long enough.

The post Why I’m Quitting Zazzle appeared first on Deirdre Saoirse Moen.

05 Mar 11:33

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 05, 2019

04 Mar 15:50

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for March 04, 2019

27 Feb 20:39

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 27, 2019

25 Feb 22:15

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 25, 2019

25 Feb 18:47

Structure vs agency in economics

by chris

Will Davies made a typically good point yesterday when he tweeted that the “impoverishment of the ‘sociological imagination’ over decades” has left people “people unable to speak critically of systemic problems, without personifying them”.

What we have today is a crude moralistic tribalism in which people divide simply into goodies and baddies. We see this in the “two minutes hate” against Shamima Begum – which is oblivious to the fact that one’s rights do not depend solely upon one’s moral character. We saw it in the silly debate about whether Churchill was a hero or villain, much of which effaced the fact that he was a complex character who happened to be exactly the type we needed in 1940. And we see it when lefties blame low pay upon greedy bosses and the financial crisis upon greedy bankers. I agree with Will that this mentality is also behind the rise of antisemitism on the left; antisemitism is the socialism of moralizing fools. C_Wright_Mills_profile_800_801_80

What such crude discourse misses is an aspect of the sociological imagination – the ability to see that society is shaped by structural forces which can cause outcomes to differ from the intentions and moral character of agents. It was this imagination – in fact, important insight – that Adam Smith was using when he wrote that “"it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

The converse can also be true. Marx thought that exploitation and low wages arise not from the greed of capitalists but from the forces of competition*:

Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society…But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.

Chuck Prince, then boss of Citi, made a similar point in 2007 when he said:

When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. 

What he was driving at was that excessive risk-taking wasn’t caused so much by “greed” as by men responding to incentives: each individual bank had an incentive to gear up for fear of falling behind others.

Prince, Smith and Marx all agreed upon the key point for my purposes – which is that structure trumps agency, that social outcomes cannot be reduced to individual morality or character.

But is this true?

A good reason to suspect not is the existence of monopoly and monopsony. These relax competitive pressures and so give bosses room for agency, to offer better wages. Jeff Bezos would not become a pauper if Amazon gave its workers better pay and conditions.

Even here, though, structure isn’t wholly absent. When Amazon was a smaller company, higher costs and prices might well have attracted competition and thus hurt the company. Many ideas outlive their empirical base: it could be that Bezos’s desire to screw down wages is one of these.

Also, of course, firms’ ability to hold down wages and conditions is facilitated by weak aggregate demand. Is this a failure of agency – simple bad policy-making? Or is it instead structural – a result of capitalists’ political pressures upon governments?

What’s more interesting to me, though, are hybrid theories – ones which combine structure and agency. I’m thinking of two classes here, though there are no doubt more.

One is the role of social norms. These have structural origins but shape morality. We can think of the rise of neoliberalism as being in part a sign of an erosion of norms against rapacity, short-termism and rent-seeking: this is Jesse Norman’s theory in Adam Smith: what he thought and why it matters.

A second category are selection mechanisms. It’s very possible that bad character – psychopathy or narcissism – is selected for in at least some businesses, and that incompetent overconfident fanaticism is selected for in politics.  

There is, I think, a good debate to be had upon these issues. What is unacceptable to me, however, is a simple-minded attempt to blame social problems upon bad people. Such silly moralizing is a barrier both to understanding and changing the world.

24 Feb 17:41

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 24, 2019

23 Feb 14:46

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 23, 2019

21 Feb 11:14

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 21, 2019

19 Feb 16:31

The irrelevant Independent Group

by chris

The Independent Group claims to value an “open, tolerant and respectful democratic society” and to oppose Brexit. It wills the ends, but not the means. It fails to see that Brexit and intolerance are the product of economic conditions, and is silent on what to do about those conditions. It looks therefore like a bunch of narcissists complaining that people are not like them whilst offering no real solutions.

As I’ve said many times, the key to understanding politics today is Ben Friedman’s book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, published in 2005. He shows that economic growth begets liberal attitudes and that stagnation breeds intolerance. Subsequent events vindicate him perfectly. As Thiemo Fetzer has shown, pro-Brexit attitudes are “strongly and causally associated with an individual’s or an area’s exposure to austerity.” In a separate vein, Nick Crafts has blamed Brexit upon the banking crisis. 0_Labour-party-MPs-announcement

In this sense, economic stagnation is the cause of Brexit and of the turn away from the liberal values the IG claims to espouse. And this stagnation is still with us. Only today the ONS reported that productivity fell last year: this means it has risen only 0.2% a year since 2007 compared to 2.3% per year in the thirty years before then. Because of this, real wages are still below their pre-crisis peak.

The IG, however, is silent about this. Its statement (pdf) makes no mention of austerity or stagnation. In fact, pretty much its only substantive reference to the economy is to government’s “responsibility to ensure the sound stewardship of taxpayer’s money”, which doesn’t inspire hope of a firm rejection of austerity.

It claims that our politics is “broken”, but is blind to the fact that capitalism is broken too, and that this is a major cause – perhaps the major cause – of our broken politics. Phil says the IG has “learned nothing, nothing since 2015.” I’d question only the year here: it seems it has learned nothing since 2008.

Now, you might reply that it’s unreasonable to expect a new political grouping to have detailed policies. True enough. The problem with the IG, though, isn’t that it doesn’t have solutions: it’s that it doesn’t even see a problem. There’s a good debate to be had about how far capitalist stagnation can be fixed by fiscal and monetary policy alone, and how far it needs institutional change too. The IG shows no sign of entering this debate, though.

At least one of its members has form here. Last year Chris Leslie wrote a paper, Centre Ground (pdf), which also largely ignored the financial crisis. I criticized him then for failing to see that the crisis necessitated a rethinking of the relationship between the state and the private sector. He shows no sign of learning this lesson: his claim to believe in “evidence-based” policy-making is a sign of astounding lack of self-awareness.

Herein, for me, lies the great virtue of Corbyn (perhaps his only virtue). He at least sees the problem, that the economy is broken and that the Left needs new policies for new times – just as Blair saw this a generation ago. The IG, by contrast, is stuck in a 1990s timewarp, unaware that the world has changed.

Granted, Corbyn might be right in the same way that a stopped clock is sometimes right. For me, this is unimportant. What matters is that we have something like the right policy ideas for our changed economic times. I can’t say how much the IG will affect politics. But I do know that whilst they have no awareness of our economic problem, they will be an intellectual irrelevance.

17 Feb 17:22

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 17, 2019

16 Feb 20:42

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 16, 2019

12 Feb 23:31

How You Can Make Anything Sound “Science Fictional”

by John Scalzi

Be descriptive and detailed, yet vague. For example:

“The transparent portal slid open and the creature, radially asymmetrical, used its ambulatory stalks to cross the threshold. The creature, covered in keratinous extrusions and small, dead plates, swiveled its perceptual array, hoisted on a third stalk, and used its electromagnetic sensors to locate what it was searching for: the anti-entropic chamber. It spotted the chamber and moved to it. Using yet a different stalk, which divided into smaller stalks at its terminus, the creature defeated the magnetic field employed to seal the chamber.

“Therein it found its prize: A pressurized cylinder of carbonic acid, mixed with bonded ethyl and hydroxyl groups. The stalk that defeated the chamber’s magnetic field acquired the cylinder and carefully manipulated it open. It placed the contents in a staging area, where cursorial perceptual tests were conducted, before conveying those contents to a connected cavity, designed to chemically process cylinder’s former cargo.

“There, in the humid dark, the desired reactions commenced.”

Shorter version:

“A person opened a sliding glass door, walked through, located the fridge, opened it, got out a beer and drank it.”

Thank you for coming to my writing workshop.

12 Feb 19:21

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 11, 2019

12 Feb 19:21

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for February 12, 2019