Monthly Post

Writing as Microcosm 4: A Conversation with the Reader

I wish I could say that the spontaneity trap we discussed two weeks ago was the only pitfall that has to be avoided on the way to a successful career as a writer—or, for that matter, on the way to a successful life. Here as elsewhere, the writing business offers a convenient microcosm of life all through our declining industrial civilization, so I’m going to talk about writing again; you can take the same principles and apply them more generally to whatever you want to do with your life.

As we’ve seen in previous posts in this series, life in today’s industrial societies might best be described as a rigged game, in which every move that you’re encouraged to make by the shills of the status quo is intended to help keep the corporate economy going at your expense. There are various ways that this plays out, but one that affects writers most seriously has to do with the relationship between genre and audience.

Genre?  That’s a bit of French that got lured into a dark alley long ago and now works long hours in the sweatshops of the English language. (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced ZHON-ruh; I’ve heard plenty of people struggle with that detail.) Genre is the answer to the question, “So what kind of book is it?”  There are broad genres such as romance or fantasy, and narrow genres such as Regency romance and heroic pulp fantasy. There are also genres defined by the author who invented them—“Georgette Heyer-style Regency romances” and “Tolkienesque fantasy” are known subgenres in their respective genres.

Genres are as essential in nonfiction as in fiction—there was quite a peak oil genre there for a while, and books on Druid nature spirituality still form a thriving genre.  For that matter, knowing what genre you’re writing in is essential to getting published.  Most publishers focus on certain genres and avoid others, and it’s standard practice for publishers to ask an author to name a few other books of the same type or genre as the manuscript the author is sending in. If the author can’t do this, it usually means that he or she hasn’t done adequate research and the manuscript probably isn’t worth bothering with; books so original they create genres of their own are much, much rarer than authors like to think.

All this is very sensible. If you like Raymond Chandler’s mysteries, and want to read other stories like them, it helps to know there’s a whole genre of hardboiled private-eye mysteries, full of novels that send world-weary investigators down the mean streets of grittily described modern cities in search of clues to tangled, brutal, morally ambiguous crimes.  That’s also something to know if you detest Raymond Chandler’s mysteries, and would rather take in a mystery set in a pleasant small town, where the murder’s practically an afterthought, the detective’s the middle-aged woman who runs the local bed-and-breakfast, and every mystery includes another of her favorite cookie recipes. (Those belong to the genre of cozy mysteries, by the way.)

Genres are equally helpful if you want to dance across the borders that divide them. The Harry Potter novels that made J.K. Rowling famous are a combination of two rather old-fashioned genres, the classic English public-school novel and the Tolkienesque fantasy. My tentacle novels, for that matter, are a combination of two other old-fashioned genres, the Lovecraftian weird tale and twentieth-century “this-world” fantasy (as distinct from the kind of fantasy that takes place in wholly imaginary worlds). That kind of genre-blending, which can be done in nonfiction as well as fiction, is a fine way to write something interesting.  It also allows you to make ironic comments on one or both genres, if you have a mind to do so.

That said, one of the basic rules to keep in mind while navigating the swamps of today’s industrial societies is this:  no matter how useful and sensible something is, modern corporate culture will find some ingenious way to screw it up. Genres are a great example.  The clever way that the big corporate publishers have turned the genre system into a fetid mess will be instantly familiar to anyone who has to deal with the huge, corrupt monopolies that dominate computer software or the internet these days.  That is to say, the corporate publishers have stopped trying to publish books that customers want to read, and have fixated instead on trying to force customers to read the books that the publishers want them to buy.

The first post in this sequence explained one way this gimmick gets enacted: by convincing would-be writers that their only choices are to submit to a big corporate publisher or settle for self-publishing with another big corporation, they focus the full attention of the corporate media on the narrow range of genres they want to promote, while ghettoizing the rest in an online purgatory where only the most dedicated searcher can find them.  There’s another way this gimmick is worked, however, which starts from the writing end rather than the publishing end.

Let’s say you, as an aspiring author, are trying to figure out what you’re going to write. By and large, unless you listen to scruffy-looking Druids or equally disreputable sources, you can expect to be given two conflicting sets of advice. On the one hand, you can count on being told that the sensible, lucrative thing to do is to find out what the big publishers want to publish, and get busy turning out neatly machined spare parts that fit their specifications right down to the last detail. On the other hand, you can count on being told that real authors do exactly the opposite and write things that publishers won’t publish and readers won’t read, because this and only this demonstrates just how far out they are on the bleeding edge of raw creativity.

Mind you, you may not be told either of these in so many words—though this does happen; it happened to me back when I was young and clueless, and I’ve heard from many other writers who’ve had the same experience. Far more often, they’re passed on indirectly, by way of books, articles, and web pages that assume that of course you’re going to follow one or the other trajectory. Your local public library system, for example, very likely has at least one book with a title like How To Write That Blockbuster Bestseller!  It won’t teach you how to write a bestseller, just how to churn out the currently fashionable style of fiction for the benefit of your corporate overlords. Go to your nearest university library, on the other hand, and you’ll find plenty of arch volumes of literary criticism that take for granted that real literature is defined by how few people can stand reading it.

Tolerably often in my blogging I’ve mentioned the helpful bit of occult theory that picks apart dichotomies like this one. The short version is that whenever someone insists that you have two and only two choices, you can be sure of at least three things.  The first is that you’re being lied to.  The second is that both choices being presented benefit the person who’s pushing them at you, at your expense. The third is that some of the choices that aren’t being shown to you will work to your benefit, and that’s exactly the thing that the person pushing the dichotomy at you doesn’t want you to notice.

There’s a fourth thing which you can’t necessarily be sure of, but it’s worth your while if you can manage it. If you can figure out what the two choices being pushed on you have in common, you can generally use that as a springboard toward the alternative choices you’re not supposed to notice. Take the dichotomy we’ve just discussed for example. What is the thing that both those choices have in common?

A refusal to listen to what the reading public has to say.

That’s the keynote of the entire corporate economy these days. It’s not at all difficult to find out what the customer wants and then provide it, and for a good many centuries that was the way that businesspeople made their money, but for complex cultural reasons, that’s not something that today’s corporate flunkeys are willing to do. Obsessed with their own supposed status as the good people, the smart people, the people who ought to tell everyone else what to do, they can’t stand the thought that mere customers ought to have anything to say about what they buy.

That’s why it’s a waste of time to listen to what big corporate publishers say the reading public wants.  Big corporate publishers are not the reading public.  They’re subsidiaries of a handful of vast media conglomerates. Their overt goal is to make money. Their broader and more pervasive goal is to maintain a state of affairs where vast media conglomerates have the absurdly inflated power and wealth they have today. The books they choose to publish will be selected partly to make money, partly to enforce the state of affairs just mentioned, and partly to conform to whatever fashions happen to be in vogue in the airtight and oxygen-deprived cognitive bubbles of the upper end of the managerial class.

And the literary avant-garde?  Their job is to make sure that the reading public has no meaningful alternative to the slop being dished out by the big players. That’s why they get the corporate patronage that they do. For the last century or so, success in any part of the avant-garde has been measured by how much of your audience you can chase off. That’s not accidental—it keeps people who might otherwise have challenged the domination of the big boys locked up in little self-reinforcing ghettos, where they can preen themselves over how misunderstood they are by the horribly philistine public.  It’s a clever gimmick and it’s seen a lot of use.

The alternative is to listen to the reading public—not the corporate publishers, not the avant-garde, but ordinary people who want to pick up a book from time to time and enjoy the hard work and creative flair you’ve put into writing it.  Writing, when it’s at its best, is a conversation with the reader, not a lecture inflicted on a passive audience. To have a conversation, in turn, you have to listen as much as you talk.

How do you do that?  You begin with yourself. Presumably you want to write because you’re crazy about reading. (If you don’t love to read, you don’t have what it takes to become a writer; find something else that delights you, and go with that instead.) Begin with your own bookshelves. What kinds of books excite you, enthrall you, leave you panting for more?

I’m not just talking about fiction here, by the way. One often unnoticed aspect of the trap just discussed is the way that almost all beginning writers are herded into fiction.  In an average year, 80% of all books published in the United States are nonfiction, and the other 20% are fiction. If my experience is anything to go by, on the other hand, of people who want to write, 80% of them want to write fiction and the other 20% want to write nonfiction. If you’re up for writing both, consider this: you can be one of the 80% of novice writers chasing 20% of the available slots, or you can be one of the 20% of novice writers chasing 80% of the available slots. Take your pick!

(Does that matter? You bet it does.  The level of skill needed to break into print as a writer of nonfiction is much, much lower than the level you need to do the same thing writing fiction. I worked for a while as an outside reader for a nonfiction press, and you wouldn’t believe some of the manuscripts that got purchased, cleaned up by a hardworking editor, and published.)

So you can start by taking an inventory of the books you adore, nonfiction as well as fiction. Notice what they have in common. Notice where they differ.  Get a sense of the genres to which they belong, and make a point of noticing which small to midsized publishers bring out books in those genres. Read more books in those genres, and notice what seems to be selling well and what seems to vanish without a trace. If you have the chance, find out what other fans of those same genres are reading, and talk to them about what they like and don’t like.

While you’re doing this, get a sense of what’s already been done to death in the genres you like. This is a particularly serious problem in nonfiction, so I’ll take that as a source of examples here. Occult publishers groan when they get yet another proposal for yet another book on the basics of Wicca.  That’s a subject that’s already been written about six ways from Sunday, and nothing you can say about it will be new. Don’t waste your time. Plenty of other beginner’s books on familiar topics have also been done to death in the same way. Here’s a hint: if there’s a [Subject] For Dummies book about it, another introductory book on the same subject will not be publishable.

If you want to get published, you need to come up with a manuscript that does at least two things. The first is that it has to say something that hasn’t already been said; the second is that it has to say something that your prospective audience wants to hear about. Most beginning writers, once they learn to write well enough to see print, stay unpublished because their manuscripts don’t do both of these. Listen to the people who like the kinds of books you do, and notice what they want that the big presses aren’t giving them:  that’s been my ticket to a decent living as a full-time freelance writer.  Your mileage may vary, but most of the other people I know who are making it in the writing trade are doing some variant of the same thing.

You can do very well for yourself writing books, be they fiction or nonfiction, which address a subject that the big corporate publishers don’t want to address. For example, it’s been hard and fast dogma in the corporate presses for years now that romance novels have to have explicit sex scenes. It so happens that a great many readers of romance novels don’t want explicit sex scenes.  They enjoy the kind of romance that Jane Austen invented and Georgette Heyer made her own, in which the characters’ personalities and emotional lives play a larger role than their hormones, and the story focuses on how Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy get over their pride and their prejudice so they can let themselves fall in love. The big corporate presses don’t care—but there are now close to a dozen smaller firms turning out novels in the “clean romance” genre, and the better novels in that field are selling quite well.

In the same way, the big corporate imprints in the science fiction field these days have no time for space opera of the classic sort, with square-jawed heroes commanding starships in battle. Science fiction these days is very woke, and the big publishers, swept up in the latest fad, are doing the same thing to their SF imprints that other big media companies are doing: turning out a steady stream of woke morality plays and then squalling like spoiled infants because most people don’t like those and won’t read or watch them. Now of course fans of woke morality plays have every right to get their preferred entertainment, and I wish them a steady supply of the same, but the rest of us—including fans of classic space opera—have the same right, you know.

The result has been the rise of a whole industry of mostly self-published space opera, marketed via its own network of fan sites and online word of mouth. Sales of the more successful titles routinely beat those of the lavishly marketed woke morality plays lauded by the official SF cartel by anything up to an order of magnitude. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes the corporate imprints to realize that “get woke, go broke” applies to them, too, but space opera fans aren’t waiting.  It would not surprise me if someday soon somebody got the funding together to launch an indie SF publishing house aimed at that booming market, and made money by the truckload.

This is especially funny because science fiction has been through this same experience before. Back in the late 1940s, the SF pulp magazine that racked up the highest sales wasn’t Astounding or Fantasy & Science Fiction or any of the other venues critics like to talk about these days. It was gaudy, dog-eared Amazing Stories under the editorship of the irrepressible Raymond Palmer, who packed its pages with classic SF full of square-jawed heroes, nubile maidens, tentacled horrors, and the rest of it. Oh, and since Palmer was an occultist, he also laid the groundwork for the brilliant science fantasy of the 1960s and 1970s by publishing a lot of stories that had plenty of occultism in them.  (Palmer was good at that sort of thing; when he left Amazing Stories to found Fate Magazine in 1948, he promptly created the modern rejected-knowledge scene and did more than any other person to launch the UFO phenomenon into popular culture.)

Those are two examples. There are plenty of others.  The big publishers, like the big internet corporations, are obsessed with trying to force people to buy what they want to sell—with a nod to Microsoft’s clown-in-chief, we can call this the Billy Bluescreen model of marketing—rather than doing the smart thing and selling things that people want to buy. Annoying as that habit is, it leaves the field wide open to anyone who’s prepared to do an end run around the corporate economy and fulfill the public needs and wants that the big boys can’t be bothered to notice.

Let’s take a step back from writing at this point and talk about the broader picture. The illusion of consumer choice in today’s industrial economy is maintained by ringing endless wholly cosmetic changes on a narrowing variety of goods and services, which are all selected for their benefits to the corporate system rather than for whatever benefits they might offer to you. Outside that narrowing circle, there’s a growing list of goods and services that people want but that can’t be obtained within the corporate economy at all. Fortunately, the corporate economy isn’t the only option there is.

A great many people these days have woken up to the fact that there are alternatives to the corporate economy.  That’s one of the main forces driving the spiraling labor shortages affecting most industrial societies these days—a great many people have realized that they don’t have to waste their entire lives making a pittance putting in long hours under loathsome conditions so that some sleazy corporate overlord can squeeze out a little more profit. It’s also one of the main forces driving the increasingly dismal performance of the consumer economy. Out beyond the bleak wasteland of corporate jobs and corporate products, there are new conversations happening between people who provide goods and services and people who want them. You can be a part of those conversations—as a writer, and in many other contexts as well.

With that, I wish my Druid readers a happy solstice, my Christian readers a merry Christmas, and my readers of other faiths the best of the season. There’s a new year dawning, it’s by no means set in stone that it’ll be as dreary as the last few have been—and you, dear reader, can play a part in making it less dreary. We’ll talk more about that as we proceed.

141 Comments

  1. Do you have advice on how to do the sort of research you do for your non-fiction writing? That’s the thing that is currently causing me the most challenges: finding the sources I can use to bolster my case, and also finding the sources that will reveal the flaws in my thinking.

    What’s the process you use for research when writing non-fiction?

  2. Well, i would like to ask for some feedback on an idea that i have been playing around with:
    A real world fantasy with a few moderately powered super heroes in the beginning phase of catabolic collapse when it is discovered a fecal transplant from the “Offworlder” (an alien) gives ordinary people some type of extra sensory perception.

    Ecological overshoot is the “big bad” that is the source of many problems, but it is made worse by the actions of some groups. International tensions are high, the economy is convulsing, crime is rising when something magical hits the fan and things get weird in GUANOMANIA.

  3. Thank you sir, for another fine slice of the writing life. Again these essays hearten & cheer, and I take them to heart.

    The third way between the two supposed choices does sound most enticing. This past week I had two dreams about pulp fiction which I thoroughly enjoyed, so that’s one of the hints from my subcon I’ll be taking into the new year.

    Happy Solstice to you & Sara, and seasons greetings to all!

  4. I still drive a 20 year old Honda, with no power locks or windows. Also it is a stick shift!

    Try to find a new car with these features today? Forget about it! Honda even used Covid as a reason to stop making stick shift cars…..

    Beyond this I “double dare” you to go to a car dealership and ask for a car with NO gps/location “services” and NO internet connection and a guarantee of no spying on people in the car! You will be laughed out of the dealership!

    Talk about not listening to the consumer!

    On a different note, I continue to find my connection with “the one of many names who cannot be named” and continue to transcend to a place of truth and peace, which continues to make life for myself and those around me much better! (Also helps that I have quit drinking!)

    I have been procrastinating about writing my book though…. I will sit down right now and write a few pages! If I had to “genre-ize” it I guess it would be a “transcendental, soccer, Twitter, self-help, finding “God”, losing atheism, reconnecting with my dying mom, joining AA, and finding my soul memoir”. Or “How I found God on Twitter”?

    At least it is non-fiction!

    Peace to all during these short days of light in the northern hemisphere. Remember that:
    “The darkness has it’s own light” – Roethke

    Peace

    Orion

  5. A good example of big corporations focusing on making money and not on people really want or need is E-bikes. Before I go on I don’t want to offend the people to E-Bikes are a god-send but in those cases they are not really a bike but a small and inexpensive electric car to help those who want more economy ( and common sense) than a regular car at a lower price, and are not in a position to ride a regular bike. Regular bikes have always given big corporations fits. If made well, they last for a long time and don’t need much in repairs or expenses. So they have had to rely on fashionable trends to sell bikes. First it was the ” mountain bike “to get people off the durable bikes of the 70’s bike boom ( I know several people who still ride these 70’s bikes this day). Then it was compact frames ( sloped main tube lets dealers carry less inventory), then disk brakes ( a solution in search of a problem), and then carbon fiber. Now they have jumped on the E-Bike ( battery bike to me) bandwagon big time. With battery bikes they can sell bikes at a much higher price that are mostly made of cheap components from China and they no-longer have to worry about weight or mechanical sophistication. They will require a constant stream of parts, repair and regular replacement, like a car. But I guarantee 30 years from now there will be more old Schwinns, Mitzutani’s and Colnago’s on the road than battery bikes.

  6. I have the impression that reading skills are declining fast in Western societies. More people want to watch short video clips or prefer to have the text read to them instead of having to read it. That’s part of the general decline and fall of our present civilization, I suppose, and perhaps the book is dying. The few of us who still read books download them directly with no regard for copyrights and authors. Excellent writers as you have a future, but outside the antiquated system of editorials and paper books.There are several good alternatives.

  7. I’m wondering if one result of recent reluctance to work for the corporate overlords for a pittance may be governments trying harder to shut down other avenues to making a living – like making self employment and starting small businesses harder. That’s in addition to inflation making pensions, social security, unemployment, and disability less adequate.

    Barriers to self-employment and starting businesses are already a problem. Here’s a BC example:

    They really don’t seem to want people on disability to start their own businesses. In particular, if you are on disability and start a business, they count your gross revenue as your income. This means that if your gross revenue is $15,000 per year but your net income from it is only $2,000, you will get docked $3,000 off your income (you’re allowed up to $12,000 without penalty). Meaning you’ve lost $1000 by running a business that year compared to doing nothing, despite the fact that it made a profit of $2000. Meanwhile, if you worked for someone else and earned $15,000, you are up by $12,000 compared to doing nothing, and $13,000 compared to running that business. The only way you can avoid this is to be part of the BC Business Partnership Programme or whatever it’s called. Then you’re allowed to report net income.

    But you have to be able to work 35 hours a week reliably to participate. If, like me and a lot of people on disability, you can’t work 35 hours a week, you can’t participate in that program. And you don’t find out any of this information until someone in the office dealing with disability reports (whatever it’s called right now, they’re always changing it) finally notices you’re reporting net income like a year after you first did it, and tells you to join the program or report gross income. Now, I didn’t get in trouble because the gross revenue for theEcojewel was nowhere near the threshold so they wouldn’t have docked any money either way (and net was negative as many months as not). But it has played a role in my decision to sell of as much of my stock as possible and then close the etsy store. So if you want to buy handmade jewelry made with some gemstones or beads reclaimed from other items, I suggest doing so soon, as it won’t be up much longer.
    https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/TheEcoJewel?ref=seller-platform-mcnav

    I am still trying to make the music stuff work, as that should have a higher profit to expenses in any given month if I make it work, and therefore avoid most of that issue if I somehow manage to earn a decent amount. However, I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and money on things like instruments and lessons in, and not a cent so far. It is a bit discouraging. Though I have gotten crochet lessons, improved social status, multiple second hand recorders, and a box of sheet music too heavy to lift out of it. And a lot of my contributions to church this year is coming in the form of sweat equity rather than cash, which does help with the bottom line.

    If my goal was to make money in a reasonable timeframe, I would be way better off to go get a low-hours part-time job at minimum wage. Of course, I’d then have to deal with all the issues around being physically able to do specific things for the amount of time they want, at the time they want, and the tendency to end up doing things that cause me a lot of pain because I want to avoid losing said job, and having my good times go by with no work because I’m not needed right then. You know, the reason I stopped doing working part time. It hurt too much, and I could survive without it.

  8. Dear John and commentariat,

    I wish all of you a blessed Alban Arthuran, a pleasant solstice and a merry Christmas!

    Best regards,
    Marko

  9. I used to frequent a area in Southern California called “Sun Valley ,this was the area in LA in which the refuse of modern america sifted down to before being taken to the land fill or ships for export ,the waste was staggering, literally piles of engines 20 feet tale ,,,pikes of expired food ,I saw a pile of grapefruits 18 feet tale ,,those sights among many that I encoutered in “The Valley” soured the “suburban carrot” I quit believing in it .

  10. Anonymous, sure. The way I do my research is that I don’t start out with a case I want to prove. I start out by doing a lot of general reading in a field that interests me, and take copious notes, usually with pen in an old-fashioned paper notebook — every note includes the source and page number. As I proceed, a case emerges, and I begin to focus my reading on sources that bear on the case, pro or con — still taking plenty of notes. By the time I’m ready to start writing, I have ample sources, and a much clearer idea of the field than I would have had if I’d gone into the subject with a preconceived idea.

    Raymond, that’ll be a standard open post. We’re not in a situation that allows for detailed predictions.

    Gardener, you’re most welcome!

    Quin, thanks for this.

    Dobbs, what’s the relevance of superheroes to the story? One of the helpful rules of old-fashioned SF is that it’s best to make one big change to the world and watch its details play out. If you’ve already included superheroes — a cliché, btw — it’s going to be less interesting to the reader than if it’s the world we know, or close to it, but with the impact of those fecal transplants.

    Justin, glad to hear it, and a happy solstice to you and yours!

    Orion, delighted to hear it. If the regulatory state would permit it, somebody could go into business making good plain inexpensive cars and selling them for modest prices, and make a mint. Hmm — I wonder if you could make that fly in Florida or Texas? The state governments there might be enthusiastic about any project that thumbs its nose at the feds…

    Clay, another good example. I wonder whether somebody could go into business — or maybe somebody already has — turning out plain, solid, old-fashioned bikes with steel frames and robust construction generally, without the expensive horseradish.

    Justin, ha! That’s a good one…

    Per, not so. E-books were a fad that peaked and declined considerably, though it’s got a good place on the market. I still make a good half of my income from old-fashioned printed books on paper. As for reading skills, that’s been a perennial complaint for a century now, and somehow books keep being published and read by the truckload. These days, the complaints that nobody wants to read any more are mostly coming from corporate flacks in academia, and what they’re really complaining about is that nobody wants to read the garbage being churned out by the big corporate publishers — and for good reason.

    Pygmycory, of course. The corporate system can be expected to pull out all the stops in an attempt to force people to stay within their assigned roles. That’s one of the reasons why so many people are earning a living under the table these days — doing jobs for which they’re paid in cash, without letting the government know about it. That’s also why so many people are doing things for themselves rather than paying for people to do them, and otherwise beginning the process of reviving household economies, gift economies, any other means of exchange that doesn’t involved money. As a person on disability you’re in a very tight bind, because disability pensions have morphed into a way to try to keep as many people as possible out of the workforce — provisions like the one you’ve mentioned are common on this side of the border, too, for the same reason.

    Marko, and likewise to you and yours.

    Gus, fascinating. Also so California I have no words for it!

  11. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/openai-chatgpt-writing-high-school-english-essay/672412/

    The End of High School English
    by Daniel Herman
    The Atlantic, 9 Dec 2022

    I was shocked after counting the number of mainstream magazine and newspaper articles on writing + artificial intelligence (AI) over the last year. I counted around (14 per page x 9 pages) ÷ 4 (writing; visual stills; video; music) = 31. I presume there were a lot more articles left uncounted.

    I know JMG has written about the phenomenon of artificial intelligence and the arts. The above article bothered the heck out of me because the quality of their examples, if true, is phenomenal. The samples of writing are way better than my writings having toiled and aggravated for two years learning how to write a slightly-better-than-average essay. The article scared me.

    By the way, JMG, how do the words “non-fiction” and “essay writing” relate? Are all essays non-fiction? Is all non-fiction essays? Or is one a sub-set of the other? I understand most writing has a beginning-has a middle-and-has-an-ending.

    About ten years ago, at about age 60, I acknowledged one of my failings: the fact that I had somehow managed to graduate high school and college without becoming competent in writing essays. I don’t know how it happened. I am sure I fumbled but, actually, I have no memory of writing essays — it is as if I have amnesia. So, I went ahead and seriously read essays on the subject of how important essay writing is: they are absolutely crucial. ‼️Essays change the world‼️If essays disappear, so does everything else.

    I was always a good speller, and am passable at grammar (I think although not sure). I did something about my profound lack of ability to write an essay: I found online courses on how to write better sentences, better paragraphs, and how to group paragraphs together called an essay — all of it based on “meaning.” Learning these things was rough-going.

    Then I read the above-mentioned article on how artificial intelligence is influencing the writing os essays — and groaned and hung my head. What is the world coming to? Essays WRITTEN ”not by humans.” Will we also have essays READ “not by humans”? Why bother with humans at all?

    Artificial intelligence + art (in all its forms) makes me want to vomit.

    I am glad I am near the end of my life so that I don’t have to witness the next 50 years. My generation wasn’t the first generation to encourage the artificial intelligence depravity, but it certainly contributed to it. As I write this, most of my peers have retired, where they are no longer active participants of artificial intelligence degeneracy, but some of their children and grandchildren are.

    Because humans are being deemed as irrelevant and many will shortly have nothing on which to spend their time (because they neither write or read), it feels like humans are heading towards becoming Star Trek’s The Borg.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg

    What a dreadful legacy. It gives me the willies. I don’t know how younguns (“young ones”) are going to deal with putrefaction caused by artificial intelligence as applied to arts.

    Ignore what I just wrote. Change subject:

    > You can do very well for yourself writing books, be they fiction or nonfiction, which address a subject that the big corporate publishers don’t want to address.

    Is it worth today’s writers to take advantage of “artificial intelligence meshing with writing” (for the few years it will last), as long as they find a unique niche?

    💨🥺😥Northwind Grandma
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  12. Thank you so much for another thought-provoking article. This one also speaks to me because I have encountered the very same narrow-minded attitude that you talk about with regard to my own writing. As a writer of rhyming satire, you’ve been very encouraging about my prospects with small publishing houses, and I do thank you for that. I’ve yet to find success there, but I’ll keep trying.

    More importantly, the biggest issue I run in to everywhere is the “genre issue.” My satirical work covers all sorts of topics that the “powers that be” wouldn’t like, such as inequality, social control, the ridiculous idea of endless growth, etc. Publishers hear rhyming poetry and think “kids,” so I’m like Dr. Seuss, who apparently was pretty insulted when his book, “The Lorax,” was deemed “just for kids.” The joke is that adults seem to love my work as I seem to effectively disrupt the staid and serious atmosphere of poetry night to everyone’s amusement.

    The high school kids in the schools where I’ve presented my work seem to enjoy it too and have indicated its usefulness in sparking debate. “Educational publishers” likely will say no though, as if there’s one thing a bunch of educators in office towers who come up with the curriculum hate more, it’s free thought and debate.

    So, bottom line, I’m “between” genres. not one thing and not the other. Could there be anything worse in today’s writing market? The vocabulary I use and the concepts are not designed for younger kids yet, I use the silly stories of animals to make those concepts clear. So what to do? I’m a square peg trying to fit in to a round hole and I’m losing hope though I will never quit trying. Any insights would be appreciated. Thank you for all the work you do, happy solstice and all the best of the season to you.

  13. John,

    When you discuss forced monotony, I am reminded of a quote from E.M. Ciorian. I find him bleak in large quantity, but this appeared in a small collection which appeared in Harpers in the 1980s. Perhaps you have seen it:

    “Nature, in search of a pattern which might please everyone, settled upon death, which as was only to be expected pleased none.”

    JVP

  14. On the space opera note, it’s interesting to observe that Orbit Books has recently had a resounding mainstream success with its rather classic series “The Expanse.” This has even gotten some attention at the Hugos. I’m not sure whether to think of this as a non-mainstream publisher finding great success by giving people what they want, or as a mainstream publisher starting to notice that it’s actually their job to sell books; Orbit is owned by big French publisher Lagardere but perhaps being French at all lets it count as non-mainstream.

  15. The only brand-new, never before seen genre I can recall is the mashup between a classic, out-of-print novel and monsters of some kind.

    Seth Grahame-Smith published “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” in 2009.
    Apparently, he’d been playing with titles on a blackboard and this one inspired him.

    It’s actually pretty good.

    It sold buckets, the flood gates opened, and for the next few years, every classic you can imagine was mixed with sea monsters, werewolves, vampires, and the like. I remember Little Women mixed with werewolves by one author and mixed with vampires by another.

    And now it’s gone, other than copies in used bookstores.

    Subgenres go in and out of fashion like everything else.

  16. Have you been following the lawsuit between the Federal government and the proposed merger between Penguin Random House (aka Randy Penguin) and Simon and Schuster?

    Senior officials in traditional publishing admitted in open court that they don’t know what they’re doing!

    Shockingly, they admitted that 25 percent of all books published their way in a year sell less than 12 copies. I’ve heard that this number is higher but I just can’t believe it.

    A small publisher like Belt, Microcosm, or Sunbury is in business to make money so they’re much better run.

    Trad pub committed suicide when they stopped supporting midlist authors.
    Where did they think the Danielle Steeles and James Pattersons of the future were coming from? The blockbuster-selling mega-writers of 20 years ago are getting old and there are no replacements in sight, other than in the indie world.

  17. On this solstice day in the north USA, I share a haiku:

    Cuneiform geese
    wedging across wet clay skies,
    inscribing winter…

  18. @JMG, if disability pensions are a way to keep people out of the workforce, when why are they so hard to get when you need them? It took me five years from needing that support to getting it. You’d think they’d make it easier if they wanted people on disability. They’re also very low compared to the price of housing and subsidized housing is only really available to a subset of people on disability (you aren’t considered disabled in this context unless you are on the federal disability, which is stricter than provincial and large numbers of people on provincial, like me, aren’t eligable for it). The inadequacy of disability pensions working a very good idea if you can manage it.

    As far as I can tell, they want people who need help to wait ages for it, and once they get disability to find it’s not really adequate and make up the difference by working part-time for someone else at minimum wage with no benefits. They do not want you working for yourself, and they haven’t seen fit to give you enough to get by without it unless you’re good at frugality and getting along with others in tight spaces. Which many people with mental health issues and/or cognitive issues often aren’t. So they get evicted and end up on the street, where they cause problems for others and have a truly miserable time.

    So I’m not sure I buy that disability is being used to keep people out of the workforce. I think they want us there, but they want us working for pennies in dead-end jobs for a few hours a week, with zero job security or benefits. Maybe it’s different in the US, but as a disabled person in Canada, that’s what I have experienced.

  19. Agree wholeheartedly that to be a good writer, you are most likely a good and prolific reader. Writing what you want to read can make it less stressful.

    Along with the corporate influence on what books are available new, has been the unrelenting push to limit public library content to conform to pre-approved genres. I see a very disturbing trend to fill the shelves on taxpayer dollars not only with woke content, but EVERY book ever published by a subset of promoted authors.

    Needless to say, the conclusion I come to is, “no thinking outside the box allowed!”

  20. “That is to say, the corporate publishers have stopped trying to publish books that customers want to read, and have fixated instead on trying to force customers to read the books that the publishers want them to buy.

    “The first post in this sequence explained one way this gimmick gets enacted: by convincing would-be writers that their only choices are to submit to a big corporate publisher or settle for self-publishing with another big corporation, they focus the full attention of the corporate media on the narrow range of genres they want to promote, while ghettoizing the rest in an online purgatory where only the most dedicated searcher can find them.”

    Hmmm.

    This thought is easily transposed to the healthcare field as follows:
    – bearing in mind that healthcare also has its “genres” – Modern Blockbuster Medicine, Spooky Action at a Distance Homeopathy, Ancient Traditional Wisdom Acupuncture… and so on… 😉

    “That is to say, the corporate purveyors of healthcare have stopped trying to provide the kind of care that customers want to receive, and have fixated instead on trying to force customers to take the kind of care that the industry wants them to buy.

    The first post in this sequence explained one way this gimmick gets enacted: by convincing would-be practitioners that their only choices are to submit to working for a big corporate provider or settle for offering “wellness” with another big corporation, they focus the full attention of the corporate media on the narrow range of healthcare products they want to promote, while ghettoizing the rest in an offline purgatory where only the most dedicated searcher can find them. ”

    Thank you. I can relate…

  21. Hmm, thinking about it, maybe the Powers That Be are trying to keep disabled people out of the workforce, but just haven’t factored in the toll housing costs over the past 20 years, plus recent food and energy price inflation is taking when you’re very low income. If so, they aren’t paying attention, since the problem is blatantly obvious.

    It’s kind of weird – they raised disability rates quite a lot during the pandemic, then cut the increase in half in 2021 just before inflation went nuts. This year there has been nothing in the way of extra help from the provincial government for most disabled people. The feds gave a bigger GST rebate to all low income people, which we get too, but it’s not much compared to the costs. Maybe they’re trying to get all disabled people who can possibly work to go get a part-time job during the labor shortage?

    They make you do a lot more onerous reporting if you have earned income to report than if you don’t.

    My overall impression is that the government doesn’t actually know what it wants us to do. Possibly not exist at all, given the ever-increasing scope of who is eligeable for MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying, ie. euthaniasia) to people who are not dying, and to people with mental health issues, and there’s people arguing for allowing it for minors (even babies and people without the mental ability to knowledgably consent and which is outright murder to my mind), and someone in the government suggested it to a disabled military veteran recently who proceeded to inform the media.

    The situation worries me. I don’t want disabled people being pushed by the government to agree to euthanasia because they aren’t being given the supports they need to survive with a basic degree of human decency. I don’t want people pushing me to commit suicide someday if I complain about the options available to me. Or outright forcing it on me.

  22. @ Orion (#7) – Re: Cars. That reminds me, about 20+ years ago I was looking for a small, reliable car that got good gas mileage. I pretty much was l laughed out of every dealership, as they just couldn’t believe I didn’t want an oversized gas-guzzler like their overlords insisted that customers must want. And the car companies have been adding more bell$ and whistle$ ever since.

    @ JMG – thank you for this series.

  23. Thank you for your discussion on genre. This is exactly the dilemma I’m trying to find a way out of. I’m writing a novel about an actual demonic possession, that is as you described it — “hot, inflamed, confused, excited, murky.” The heroine is a possessed young woman who is emotionally masochistic, choosing abusive boyfriends. The story is how the demon was cast out of her.

    It’s a good topic, but doesn’t work as horror. First, demonic possessions have been done to death in horror. More important, horror assumes that it’s all fiction, that demonic possessions don’t really exist. The key to the horror genre is the reader’s experience of fear, and release from fear. Real demonic possessions aren’t part of that pattern. I have several dozen rejection letters to prove it. All the genres assume a secular world, because that’s what our culture assumes.

    I think the best genre for me is literary fiction, because it has some focus on meaning and spirit. I’ve critiqued an MFA grad’s short story that was driven by religious ideas that the author wouldn’t acknowledge. Literary fiction ends up the genre that most reflects our culture’s post-Christian dilemma. I agree that it’s riven with elitism, and also has very high levels of sentence-level craft that can take decades of practice to achieve.

    My friends are struggling with the same dilemma. For example, one does Reiki, and has seen forces hovering around a person complaining of headaches. She’s trying to fashion a story that somehow reflects that experience. We aren’t aimlessly imitating, but trying to devise forms that let our experiences be heard.

  24. I laughed when I saw the 80:20 ratio on non-fiction vs. fiction. It never really dawned on me that a great many of the books in my library are non-fiction. When it comes to books, I think of myself as a Fantasy and Science Fiction reader as I am a fan of Heinlein and other 50’s through 90’s authors.

    Last book I bought, not cheap either, published by one of the historical societies I belong to, Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Historical Society (COHS). They also publish 4 books per year via subscription on various aspects of that railroad.

    https://www.amazon.com/Steam-Locomotive-Energy-Story/dp/B09C2FRRB1

    COHS is always looking for authors to contribute to the sum of knowledge about this fabled railroad. After my gig as a civil engineer, I would love to volunteer and do basic research through their extensive records in Clifton Forge, WV and maybe contribute an article or two. Point being is yes there are a ton of options to get published!

  25. @pygmycory

    Agreed. I am now officially copyrighting that phrase!

    JMG – In the 60’s Isuzu made it in the US by selling cheap little pickup trucks to farmers (lots in Texas and California, remember that rural California is still very much like Texas in many ways). They were have the price of Ford and Chevy but still lasted twice as long. AND the farmers could fix them themselves! Imagine that!

    Farmers today are buying tractors from the 70s or from India because they don’t want to be under the thumb of John Deere and other US companies. So yes, someone could make a mint on a basic work pickup truck (or a basic car). I would start with the truck though because there are millions of people like me that just want a basic work truck and can’t understand why nobody makes them anymore!

    The base model F-150 starts at $33k…. No 4×4. No long bed…..

    5 or 6 years ago that same truck was around $21k…. And even then I bought a used one with about 100k miles because it was over $15k cheaper with better features for the landscaping I do.

  26. Northwind, keep in mind that Atlantic is the house organ of the cultural-snob end of the managerial class. Their people probably sorted through a few thousand passages to find those. I’d encourage you to pay less attention to corporate press releases disguised as articles, and have fun writing.

    Luke, and a happy solstice to you and yours!

    Anna, you may be one of the people for whom self-publishing is a better option, so long as you’re willing to put some serious effort into marketing. Consider putting a couple of books into print via a self-publishing venue, and then launch a blog that has a new rhyming satire on it twice a week — say, Monday and Thursday. Keep that up for a year or two and you’ll start building an audience; you might also use buymeacoffee.com or the like to put a tip jar on your blog.

    JVP, funny. I have one of Cioran’s books in the to-read pile, but I haven’t felt morose enough recently to dig into it.

    KevinA, Orbit Books is one of the SF labels of Hachette, one of the six big corporate publishers. It’s not non-mainstream in any sense — you can tell, because they only accept agented manuscripts. That shows, though, that the big boys are starting to notice that just maybe the Wokey Pokey isn’t what it’s all about.

    Teresa, I tend to call those “gimmick genres.” They don’t last long. A Regency romance that was really about monsters would be a lot of fun, but it would take much more work to make it function well — and it might create a new fantastic-romance subgenre. Yes, I’ve been following the lawsuit closely, and I don’t believe a word the big publishers say — they’re just trying to cover up their monopolistic behavior.

    Greg, good heavens. That’s a very rare thing, an English haiku that actually follows the rules of the genre — not just the syllable count, but the seasonal focus and the hinge word. It’s also quite good. Thank you!

    Pygmycory, thank you for the data point! Here in the US, things are different — I know quite a few people who are on disability who are frankly quite able to work, but their physicians and the welfare bureaucracy decided that they’re disabled and more or less sold them on the concept. (And some who cooperated enthusiastically with the process, since they’re fine getting a monthly check for doing nothing.) Yes, I also know people who are genuinely disabled and unable to work, but they’re in the minority.

    Drhooves, I know. The spaying of the public libraries is an appalling trend, and all I can do is encourage people to push back against it if they can, and look for alternatives.

    Scotlyn, I bet! Yes, exactly.

    Pygmycory, that’s an uncomfortable possibility. I admit to being horrified by the ease with which Canadians have embraced the idea that killing sick people is good health care

    Chris, gosh, you think so? 😉

    Tomriverwriter, I don’t have any experience with the literary end of the market, so I can’t help you there. I wonder if you and your friends might want to go together and create an imprint of your own, to focus on the kind of stories you want to write — and, presumably, read.

    David, do it! Nonfiction is enormous fun, and it involves just as much plotting and storytelling as fiction does — you just assemble your story out of facts, not fancies.

    Orion, I could see that. Let’s see if we can get the idea out there: a good sturdy truck, gimmick-free, at a reasonable price.

  27. JMG, I think you’re right to be horrified. When I started getting petitions and stuff asking that medically-assisted suicide be legalized, I looked at them, thought about it, and decided this was something I didn’t want to support, mostly for religious reasons. And you know, the early ones were just about cutting short the suffering of the already dying who were really determined that they wanted to end their lives. The early legislation made this option available to only a very few people, and had safeguards built in.

    But over time, more and more of the rules have dropped, and it keeps ever-widening. It’s turned into something very different from how it started out, and an awful lot scarier. And this seems to be keeping going.

    The only people who seem worried about it are a) the right, especially the religious right, and b) people with disabilities and those who are close to them or claim to speak for them.

  28. Clay Dennis – Regarding a 3rd way for bike shops… there’s one near where I buy food which is half bike shop, half cafe. The shop organizes group rides, for riders of varying interest and ability, and I assume that they sell a little coffee & such as the groups gather, and then some more after the ride as the groups disperse. I can easily see how people who have ridden a few miles (or tens of miles) together might want to linger over a post-ride conversation of the sort that can’t really be had during the ride. The bike shop gives the cafe a focus; the cafe (I assume) brings in a continuous stream of income. Perhaps it also promotes the sale of bikes and accessories for those interested in “keeping up” with the other members of the group. I wish them well.

  29. 1. Here in Montréal, it seems that the staff at supermarkets, bakeries, drug stores, restaurants and other services consists entirely of people under 25 or recent immigrants (often both at once). It seems Canadians above 25 have simply vanished from the (lower paid) job market. I asked a friend who has lived here longer than I do and who works at a health centre. She says many of her acquaintances now work four days a week or less because they can and because they prefer it. That would go a long way towards explaining the so-called labour shortage.

    2. Today I read an interview with author Helen Thompson about energy sources and politics in the 21st century. Unfortunately, it is only available in German and has now disappeared behind a paywall. I was surprised to read in ZEIT some of the things she said out loud: the gas prizes started rising already in 2021, before the war, because of rising demand in Asia; Germany has discovered that it is impossible to dictate gas contracts to exporting countries; importing rare earths for wind and solar or uranium (including Russian uranium) for nuclear makes one almost as dependent on the exporters as importing fossil fuels does – there is no “ethical energy politics”; Putin is winning the “energy war”; energy politics determines geopolitics. The interview referred to her recent book “Disorder. Hard Times in the 21st Century. I haven’t read it yet and can’t vouch for it, but I wonder if I am the only one who finds the blurb eerily familiar. Hint: she uses the word “predicament”.

    This may be one non-fiction author (and an academic one at that!) who wrote a book on things that haven’t written often enough and that readers may want to read.

  30. Northwind Grandma – What scares me about writing + AI is that I’ll invest some of my precious attention on an essay that has an intriguing topic, but come to realize that it’s a disjointed word salad assembled by an AI. I have already run across written articles in which I am unable to distinguish between “creative grammar” and “sloppy AI”. I don’t actually care if the nightly business report is delivered by a human or a robot (I’ll take the facts and dismiss the interpretation anyway), but I’m not going to risk probing for subtle meaning if a poem might be AI-generated.

    There’s a phenomenon called “the uncanny valley” in robotics (and animated film), where the line between human and artificial is blurred. Rather than regard the humanoid robot as a “very lifelike robot”, it’s seen as a “very damaged human… run away; it might be dangerous.” I think that applies to AI writing, too.

  31. I would like to find a doctor who is willing to do emergency care in secret and under the table. I would happily pay such a person a monthly cash fee just for the assurance that if I had a medical issue I could not handle that he or she would be there for me just in case. I haven’t had health insurance for the better part of a decade, but as a healthy person (knock on wood) I don’t need it unless something bad happens. During the times I’ve had no medical insurance, I had to consult a doctor for three different events: 1. Pinkeye 2. A urinary tract infection and 3. A cat bite. The UTI cost me $400 because I went to a clinic on a weekend. I only needed a simple course of antibiotics that I would have gotten online through questionable sources for a few dollars if only I had more foresight.

    And to Pygmycory’s comments, I think the shutdowns and the closures of small businesses during the last few years were perpetuated by corporate drones who were jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by small business owners like myself. I made a comment to this effect in one of my private groups on Facebook and Facebook flagged the comment for hate speech and took away my ability to post for a week. I must have hit a nerve.

  32. ” Your local public library system, for example, very likely has at least one book with a title like How To Write That Blockbuster Bestseller!

    That triggered a memory. Haven’t I got something like that? Searching through the dusty piles of ‘books to read someday’ I find Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman, literary agent, book doctor, author of two published novels, etc etc. Copyright 1994 so the examples he quotes are a bit dated, but paging through, some useful information.

    “No author sells more books than Stephen King and no author contrives more outlandish plots. But King’s skill, genius even — and that of most superior popular authors — is, on the one hand, in recreating the dialogue and details of everyday life as he experiences them and, on the other, in orchestrating his story with such a high level of excitement that despite the contrived fantasy elements we quite happily suspend our disbelief.”

  33. Alas, the automotive gimmicks are required by federal law. You must have cameras and screens and tire pressure sensors and all the other bells and whistles and flashy lights to distract you from road hazards.

    Then they wonder why accidents are increasing.

    I’ve got a neighbor selling a truck much older than any of us. I don’t think it’s in my budget right now, but I think my next vehicle will need to be a true antique. There are enough wealthy folks who like old cars there will always be a carve out for antiques in whatever laws they put in.

    Either that or a horse and wagon. Or maybe an ox. I like horses: I’d like to meet a working ox or two and see how I like them. Haven’t seen any at the pulling competitions at the fair, though, and so I don’t know if there are any around here.

    (No, walking, or biking, to town, at this distance, on this terrain, and in this weather, is not an option, and isn’t going to become one.)

  34. So that’s what’s going on! Corporations trying to dictate our tastes. When I first moved to Japan, nearly 40 years ago, every summer I would visit the US and bring back a huge stack of books. Up until about 15 years ago, I would make a beeline for the nearest bookstore, and I was like a kid at a candy store. Then something happened, and I would have trouble finding anything I really wanted to read. That was not just in the US either. I couldn’t find anything interesting anywhere. Come to think of I, I haven’t been in a Japanese book store in ages. They are disappearing, and my husband says they cannot make a profit when people can just walk in with cellphones and photograph whatever takes their fancy. You’d think they’d find some way to discourage that, but they don’t.
    The last time I perused a major US bookstore was almost exactly 10 years ago. I bought a couple of compilations of old Mad magazine content. These days I visit sites like yours and then order up recommended or offered books.
    Thank you for the tips for writers! I’m doing the 15 minutes first thing, right after morning prayers and before addressing my e-mail. It is likely to turn into two hours, but at last I am starting to make some progress.

  35. I figured out recently why I dislike most magic realism. Part of the definition is characters treat the supernatural as normal, but it can’t be understood or controlled like it might in other types of fantasy. This basically allows the author to railroad both their characters and readers into whatever scenario they like, without having to explain it or have it make any kind of sense. It’s even reinforced from the outside by literary theorists who say any explanation would ‘cheapen the magic’.

    Having said that, I really like the Steve Martin film LA Story, which ticks pretty much every magic realism box, and shows that those who say only Latin Americans can write magic realism are talking rubbish. I think it works because it’s not about helplessness. It’s more impressionistic of how when you’re in love it feels as if the world’s got your back – like when the lion statues bow to them. Also it was the absolutely perfect film for Enya’s music.

  36. I have to agree that a basic, no-frills, manual, highly efficient vehicle would do well in the current market. Only two models are really necessary: pickup truck and grocery getter.

    I bought a nice pickup a couple of years ago, complete with a Bluetooth connection that never connects to anything, since I don’t carry one of those gazing ball devices everyone seems to be so in love with, and a small backup camera that displays on the rearview mirror that is more distracting than helpful. The visibility is awkward because of all the side-curtain airbags and shale taking up visual space. And at 7 years old with 70k miles on it when I bought it, it was still fairly expensive. In short, I wish I had something else. Something more like what Orion is describing.

    I’ve taken to ebiking some instead, which I enjoy, but have found it to be only a fair weather solution, as biking without much physical effort generates a healthy breeze that isn’t terribly desirable this time of year!

    Last Friday I bought a decent pair of walking shoes…which fills in perfectly for the cooler months when I appreciate the heat generated thereby. Actually, I’m really enjoying walking, and the range that I consider “walkable” is expanding steadily.

    Hope you and the missus had a lovely Solstice. I know we did.
    And thank you for another year of brilliant guidance.
    As always, your voice is genuinely priceless.

  37. I wonder how the genre we might as well call ‘accessible high-brow literature’ fits into your views on writing? Writers like Auster, Ishiguro, Rushdie or Marquez get a lot of critical acclaim and publish with big houses. Two red flags, in your narrative. On the other hand, they sell tons of books and many people I know (myself very much included) genuinely love reading them – no corporations ‘forcing people to buy what they want to sell’ necessary!

    As for the trichotomy you present (listen to the corporations, the avant-garde or the public) – well, call me the old-fashioned romantic artist, but whatever happend to ‘Don’t listen to anyone and write that, and only that, which you [i]need[/i] to write’?
    In my experience, no human being is so unique that what they need to write does not coincide with what some people want to read.
    It’s how I made my living for over a quarter of a century, and I write in Dutch (which is the commercial equivalent of fighting with one hand tied behind your back, as you have a rather small potential audience).

  38. @tomriverwriter A non-horror stroy about demonic posssion is a great idea – sounds like you might have a promisiing career in Magic Realism ahead of you! (you may want to pick a Spanish-sounding pseudonym, but that is not compulsory) If you haven’t read Marquez yet, do so with the utmost haste.
    Alternatively if you can pull it off, you could try to do to horror what Kurt Vonnegut did tot science fiction: trim the style down to bare essentials, stand all the conventions on their heads and create works that are both moving and hilarious (“Then Kilgore wrote a story about a woman named Bella Jane Cooper. In the story, Bella Jane Cooper was posessed by a demon. The demon made her engage in all sorts of self-destructive behavior. For instance, it made her date Jimmy Huenenkampf, who was also posessed by a demon. His demon made him beat up any girl he went on a date with. And so on.” – I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself, I [i]had[/i] to Vonnegutize the concept op demonic posession for a bit!)

  39. @Clay Dennis Very interesting about the bikes, and I agree with everything you say. It has been my impression that the ebikes are mostly used for recreation and entertainment, not to replace a car as is often advertised, claimed and even tax subsidized. Which means they are not reducing carbon or waste, but rather increasing it. They are probably more part of the problem than part of the solution.

    That said, I have to acknowledge that riding an electric bike, especially the pedal assist ones, is really fun.

  40. I wonder what a 1965 VW Beetle would cost to mfgr and sell today, if the saftey regs, etc. would allow it. I owned three of them. 40 hp & 30 mpg. A breaker point ignition, & no computer chips. I’d also like to see split windshields make a comeback; you’d only have to replace half of it if it got cracked, and it’d be a flat piece, ie. cheaper to make. And I like the notion of bolt-on fenders too. Yeah there were drawbacks to the Beetle; no A/C, inadequate heater/defroster, a Corvair-style swing axle, and I do know someone who got killed in a “head-on” while driving one. But still, I’d love to have one today.

  41. @JMG, KevinA: re, Space Opera. I think Baen books is one of the imprints that continues to sell robust amounts of space opera, military SF, and alternate histories. Those seem to be the main stock in trade at that house. But I see they are distributed by Simon & Schuster without being owned by them. I suppose that is a beneficial arrangement for them.

    This is an area where the idea of a co-op might be interesting for independent publishers: collaborating on the distribution end, so as not having to ally with one of the big six. Perhaps something like that already exists.


    Re: “for dummies”

    Recent titles from the past week at work include:

    Adulting for dummies & Electric cars for dummies

    The two seem to be related.

    @Clay Dennis: re, ebikes. I had asked about them once on an open post. I was interested in buying one, but as looked at them, found myself asking why I wanted one, really. Just to buy something probably. Have a new toy. So, instead I started riding my old mountain bike I got for ten bucks for thriftstore into work for the few weeks before it got cold. Since, I put it back in the basement I’ve been riding the bus. I do have a bike I like much better than my huffy mountain bike, an 1970s era Rampar Raleigh three speed that belonged to my grandpa. I need to get it serviced again, but its lighter weight makes it nicer for commuting to work (a 30 minute bike ride) than the heavier mountain bike. The weight of the ebikes was another strike against them for me. Plus the bus is a good time to read or scratch some notes in my notebook, or just reflect. It’s just not as convenient if I miss it, or it doesn’t show up, but such is life. (It’s twice not showed up after work, which meant I had to wait 40 minutes to go home -those are the days I wished I had ridden the bike!) Since that route is a milk run, it’s not as serviced by more frequent rides.

    re: subgenres:

    I love a good subgenre, whether in music or a book.

    I had in mind for a time an Amish Urban Paranormal fiction. Here is my treatment. I may have shared a version before, as its an old idea, but still gives me the chuckles at least.

    Melvin, the son of a famous hexenmeister from Holmes County, Ohio goes on rumspringa, prepared to denounce god, the devil, and anything spiritual. After converting to atheism he decides to live a life of hedonism, debauchery and progress. He comes to Cincinnati with a group of ravers, with whom he has gotten high by drinking several bottles of cough syrup. One night he is so tripped out he can’t go to sleep at the end of the night when they come back to the crash pad and so he decides to take a walk around the neighborhood. Creeping around one of the houses he sees a blue skinned lizard man who is holding a copper magic wand that emanates a strange light. Seeing the creature makes him question his supposed atheism. When he starts hearing reports of women in the run down neighborhood of Lower Price Hill being assaulted by the lizard creature, he starts to investigate using some of the skills he picked up from his hexenmeister Father. And in doing so meets Layla Morles, part black and part hispanic, who is on the path to becoming a Santeria priestess. The two begin a passionate love affair. She convinces him to stop drinking cough syrup, and that his visions aren’t related to having become hallucinoginzed. In the course of putting a stop to those being targeted by the urban monster, they fall into the crosshairs of fentanyl and heroin pusher Jay-Bone Riddla, who puts the dime on the lust enthralled couple. Jay-Bone had found a convenient cover for his own murderous activities by blaming it on the Lizardman, and now people are starting to realize some of the dead were from Jay-Bones gun. To escape from his gun thugs in the 8th and State Hustlers, they travel back to Holmes County to live on the down low. The next book opens with Melvin and Layla opening their Sweet and Sour Pickle and Churro shop on the tourist strip in Berlin, Ohio. When Jay-Bone and his crew of homies come to Holmes county with a blood vendetta, horse and buggies clash with lowriders on gravel roads. It’s going to take more than just bullets for Melvin and Layla to get out of this pickle. When Midnight comes, the old folk ways of two different traditions combine to break the drug addled spell of a street toughened drug lord.


    I always thought this kind of thing might be too crazy to actually write, or I was working on other things. But now I think maybe there is an audience for this kind of thing. Even if this fictional fiction doesn’t become a full fleshed story, I will be sure to infuse the energy behind this into things I’m working on…

  42. Kind of reminds me of how terms like Gen-x or Millennial are really corporate marketing terms and see the world not from the interests of those groups, but what can be marketed to them. I’m fond of saying that whoever can frame the argument usually wins it, but defining the words used to discuss a topic has an Orwellian power. Galbraith said that there were two systems in play: The market system and the planning system. He focused more on big business’ ability to affect legislation, but legislation, of course, is downstream from words/ideas/culture. Thanks for another fine discussion.

  43. @Kim Steele,
    shakes head. That’s not hate speech… there’s facebook censorship for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re right about big business seeking to remove smaller competitors. It certainly had that effect in some cases. The other factor I think may be involved is lobbying of the government by big businesses getting them special privileges that small businesses don’t get because they don’t have the same clout. Sort of the way the restaurant and bar industries in my province were allowed to keep operating for months while churches were shut down by government fiat. A question of relative power.

  44. Gosh.
    I am a dedicated reader. I read 10 to 12 print books a month. I give them to the free library at our local supermarket reading corner.

    Things I have discovered as a Reader.
    James Patterson and group do not write their books. They have a whole industrial writing system going on. Yes, industrial writing to crank out those books.

    Unless you are reading Christian romances, every romance book has a sex scene in it if published by a major publisher. I have read self-published books by authors who have started writing their own romances without mandatory sex. Christian and clean romances are hot sellers these days since the romance genre (oh, that word) is about romance not exploding ovaries.

    For exploding ovaries, there is the Dark Billionaire, Dark Bully, Dark Mafia sub-genre. They have their tropes of strong women overcome by powerful alpha males. The ones that I know about are self-published, with hordes of avid fans. Authors crank these out every few months.

    I do not read mainstream publishers anymore. They always have some sort of lesson for me to learn in the area of wokeness. Also most are booooorrrrrring. Lose a reader by being boring.

    As for non-fiction, gosh that is a major deal. The books that get taken first at the reading corner are all sorts of non-fiction from Seal’s Physical Programs to Making Quilts to Flying Pterodactyls to Death to UFOs. So people crave reading for knowledge.

    As for mainstream novels at the reading corner, they languish. They seem repetitive in their themes of suspense or almost-true crime. What goes are the self-published mysteries of odd detectives such as Oscar Wilde or the Queen of Poland, self-published historical fiction of military actions, self-published science fiction, Christian romances.

    I would think that the mainstream folks would look at the self-publishing industry to see what readers want. What is interesting is the social media folks and Amazon have zeroed in on what a particular reader wants and gives it to them. Hmmmm.

  45. I notice a lot of small cities have legalized golf carts for use on their roads. I saw one that was rear ended by a car, and it wasn’t good. There have been plenty of 3 wheeled cars that were classified as motorcycles, thereby skirting onerous taxes and regulations. BMW Isseta, Messerschmitt, and Morgan come to mind.

  46. Then there are the people who feel that their story has to be read. I guess it comes from blogging, where people write what they want. I blog but I also realize that what I write is a specialized group of people. I could probably pitch a book to one of those occult publishers, I suppose. However, there are people who believe that their particular story is so universal that it must be read by all.

    I have in mind, memoir writers who write of their traumatic experiences at the hands of men and the patriarchy. Most of them seem to be doing it as therapy or revenge or both. Somethings are best left unpublished.

  47. @Justin Patrick Moore,
    that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever read. It sounds like it has the potential to be highly entertaining to someone, and like it would be unique.

  48. Teresa @ 22, can you supply a link to any reporting on the lawsuit you mentioned?

    JMG, what is the role and purpose of a literary agent? Have you ever or do you now use one? Have you been approached by agents offering to represent you?

  49. As to the cars available now. I have a 2020 and it’s a marvel of complexity, a fine example of the diminishing returns that happens when you go for the last possible increments of efficiency. Apparently I’m going to have to remove the intake manifold to change the spark plugs.

    One amusing thing it does is at random intervals a message pops up on the screen warning me to watch the road and not the screen, but you can’t read the message or clear it without taking your eyes off the road.

    As a counterpoint there is a thriving subculture of resurrecting older, simpler cars and getting them going again. The downside is the fuel economy. My modern truck gets better mileage than a small late sixties car.

    I just saw a marketing blurb about the 2023 Chevy Colorado. They are using a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine now instead of the V-6 they had been using, and added two more gears to the automatic transmission. I’m sure they coaxed another mile per gallon out of it.

  50. @JMG & the commentariat,

    I am coming from a place of significant ignorance on this topic, but isn’t the reason small businesses aren’t able to make reasonable things like new typewriters, solid bicycles, even vehicles without all the computers, etc., that they don’t have access to the manufacturing capacity in terms of molding metal and large factory functions? You can fix up old typewriters in your garage but you can’t pour the metal to make a new one, or what have you.

  51. Thank you, JMG for a most interesting article. I have mostly finished the non-fiction book I am writing on an innovative approach to exercise, and have done a lot of revisions as well. I have been looking around online as to what my next step might be (this is my first book, so I am a real novice about the publishing part). I do know that I am looking for a small press publisher, and have found about 2 or 3 which I think might be interested in my book. However, I think I should have an editor look at it first. In trying to find one, I found a website called “Reedsy” Are you familiar with it? Or is anyone else here? I’m not quite sue what to make of it. It seems to have just tons of material helpful to inexperienced writers, such as sample submission letters, editors of all kinds, etc. However, it has done something that you write about in this article: it recently sent me an email about how there are basically just two things that most beginning authors can do with their book: Get a good publisher or self-publish. They gave the pros and cons of both, but seemed to favor self-publishing. (Which of course Reedsey will help you do–I’m sure there’s a price involved). If I don’t look for an editor through Reedsy, how does one find a good editor?

  52. On AI and the Arts.

    This fall semestre, a student of mine (senior undergraduate) trained a Recurrent (Artificial) Neural Network (RNN) to create Reggaeton lyrics, using as input the human provided title for the song. Once he got the gist of it, he trained five different instances of the AI using just songs from specific authors, to see if they would produce noticeable stylistic differences.

    The student did not say it in so many words, but he strongly implied to have chosen the music genre with the expectation that the “dumb language” in the training data would be easier for the computer to grasp and mimic. As a side note, many Mexicans dislike reggaeton, and not only for woke reasons: we have plenty of music with violent, misogynistic or overtly sexual lyrics, but this import is just too blunt and too base for the local tastes. This does not mean it is not widely consumed, but (IMHO) fans are shunned in ways not seen in other low brow genres like, say, Narcocorridos.

    The results, while technically successful were anything but from an artistic point of view. To me, it did not even produce the uncanny valley effect @Lathechuck mentioned before. It was more like the mumbling of a depraved drunkard, deep in ethylic stupor: too many “baby”s and “wanna”s to figure out what the hell did the AI was talking about. If this matches JMG’s definition of demonic or not I don’t know, but it failed to give me any cringes.

    Now, this is the effort of a driven, intelligent undergraduate over less than two months. A professional team with a reasonable budget can do much better. But the lesson to derive from this is that the Machine Learning (ML) algorithms, left to their own devices, do not know and cannot know the underlying structure of the language they are trying to reproduce. In order to have anything close to passing (some weak form of) the Turing Test, we need the computer scientists to actually program the knowledge of both the language and the literary form into the very architecture of the system. This I am not sure to what degree has been done as of today. But if you think about it, it’s the Wizard of Oz all over again: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.

  53. This reply is picking up the last essay, but I found put on quora that the slogan Just Do It has a morbid origin. Apparently when Utah carried put its last firing squad execution in the 60s I believe the condemned had as his last words Let’s do it. This “inspired” Nike to paraphrase it for their ads. That truly sucks if it’s True, and means it’s basically black magic.

  54. Possibly slightly tangential to the topic of the post, but it’s literature-related so I thought I’d share it here:

    Some of the more wholesome memes that are circulating dissident, right-leaning corners of Twitter are related to Tom Bombadil from LOTR. I can’t tell how much warmth this brings to my heart, as I was always incredibly fond of Bombadil, and remember as a young reader vigorously defending him against those who thought his appearance was just “filler”. Here’s an example: https://twitter.com/TeawithTolkien/status/1292095340863205377

    In terms of the stirring of archetypal forces, though, this seems very encouraging. Some of the memes and rhetoric on the dissident-right can get rather unsavoury, so the appearance of Tom Bombadillo is most welcome. Let’s see where it goes from here.

  55. Pygmycory, I know. From what I’ve been able to gather, it appears to be turning into a system for using mass murder to decrease the public-assistant budget.

    Aldarion, thanks for both of these data points.

    Kimberly, you did indeed hit a nerve. This is why I don’t blog on a corporate platform!

    Martin, and if you want to write books like King’s, it’s probably good advice, too.

    BoysMom, I suspect one way into the market is to “rehabilitate” antique cars, using all modern parts…

    Patricia O, yep! Bookstores really have gotten insanely bland of late, and this is why.

    Yorkshire, that makes sense to me. Magic realism is like free verse — do it well and it’s brilliant, do it even a little bit less well and it stinks.

    Grover, I think a lot of people would like a nice plain simple vehicle. The question is how to get around the gatekeepers and provide one.

    Thijs, good to hear from you again — it’s been a while! With regard to the better end of corporate literature, I don’t believe I ever said that everything the big boys want to promote is lousy by definition; some of it’s fairly good, and some of the rest is at least popular. Since I was writing an essay of modest length rather than a book, say, there were various details like that which I left for readers to fill in for themselves. As for the old-fashioned romantic approach, why, if that works for you, by all means — but it’s been my experience that it doesn’t work for most people. More often than not, the writer who writes for himself or herself alone is engaged in the literary equivalent of masturbation; the writer who writes for an audience, like the lover, has to take someone else’s needs and desires in mind.

    Wqjcv, the last sentence of my comment immediately above comes forcefully to mind here…

    Phutatorius, that’s a good example.

    Justin, Baen’s independently owned but distributed by one of the big boys. (Inner Traditions, one of the occult houses I publish with, does the same thing.). Thus it wallows in old-fashioned space opera, and does quite well. If I wrote in that genre I’d probably send them something. As for your subgenre, write that puppy — far from being too crazy, it may not be quite crazy enough!

    Bradley, yep. Reframing the argument is a basic magical skill.

    Neptunesdolphins, thanks for this! Exactly; the big publishers have lost their way, and it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for them to notice. As for memoirs — oog. Yeah, an amazing number of people seem to think that everybody else is interested in their trauma. Um, no.

    Mary, I’ve tried to work with literary agents twice, and in both cases it was a total waste of my time. Agents are nothing more than gatekeepers for the big corporate presses; their sole claim to 15% (or these days, as often as not, 20%) of your royalties is that the big boys won’t look at your manuscript unless an agent sends it to them. (Agents used to do a lot more to earn their keep, but these days, not so much.) Mind you, if I could find an agent who would take over the process of marketing my manuscripts, and act as my literary executor once I’m gone, I’d be happy — but I have yet to find an agency that has even the slightest interest in working with a fringe author like me.

    Cs2, it’s a lot easier to pour metal than most people think, and many parts aren’t made of poured metal at all — they’re machined or stamped from metal stock. It doesn’t take much of a factory to turn out the parts you need for a typewriter or a bike. (Remember that the Wright Brothers were bicycle manufacturers, not just repairmen — they made bikes from scratch in their shop.)

    Lydia, I don’t know — I let the publisher do edits. Publishers are used to that. My suggestion is that you give the manuscript to a couple of friends and ask them to spot as many typos, grammatical mistakes, etc., as they can; get those corrected; and then send it in to the publisher and don’t worry about getting an outside editor.

  56. “In an average year, 80% of all books published in the United States are nonfiction, and the other 20% are fiction.”
    Well, JMG: In my country should be the same percentage; when I go to my town bookshops, their bookshelves keeps roughly that rate. Good insight, JMG!

    “Science fiction these days is very woke”
    Yeah, and it sucks!

    “I wish my Druid readers a happy solstice, my Christian readers a merry Christmas, and my readers of other faiths the best of the season.”
    Thank you, John. I wish you a happy solstice with a little delay…

  57. Dobbs#5:
    “A real world fantasy with a few moderately powered super heroes in the beginning phase of catabolic collapse when it is discovered a fecal transplant from the “Offworlder” (an alien) gives ordinary people some type of extra sensory perception.”

    That’s so delirious and scatological that could be a success!

  58. @Pygmycory & JMG: Thanks for the kind words… about being “crazy enough”. My current fiction project wades into a similar, if different, kind of territory. Sometimes I’ve found that things I started as a personal lark, had more traction and success than other ideas I took more seriously.

    This is from an old 2016 article, but I heard someone discussing it on a podcast I was listening too. So I pasted it in here. It’s about the popularity of Hamilton…

    “There’s something revealing in the disjunction between Hamilton’s popularity in the world of online media and Hamilton’s popularity in the world of actual human persons. After all, here we have a cultural product whose appeal essentially consists of a broad coalition of the worst people in America: New York Times writers, 15-year-olds who aspire to answer the phone in Chuck Schumer’s office, people who want to get into steampunk but have a copper sensitivity, and “wonks.” Yet because a large fraction of these people are elite taste-makers, Hamilton becomes a topic of disproportionate interest, discussed at unendurable length in The New Yorker and Slate and The New York Times Magazine, yet totally inaccessible to anyone besides the writers and members of their close social networks. When The New Yorker writes about a book that nobody in America wants to read, at least they could theoretically go out and purchase it. But Hamilton theatergoing is solely the provenance of Hamilton thinkpiece-writers. The endless swirl of online Hamilton-buzz shows the comical extreme of cultural insularity in the New York and D.C. media. The “cultural event of our time” is totally unknown to nearly all who actually live in our time.”

    The same could be said of a lot of other garbage foisted on the American imagination.

    Manny Grossman was discussing this on his youtube channel, an episode on Grand Royal Magazine and the Ethos of the 90’s:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l-Hj6ZXThk

    Grand Royal Magazine was a six issue publication put out by the Beastie Boys, and Manny is comparing how it was back then, when us Gen X’rs looked to things like magazines and zines to find out about bands, or ideas, or all manner of stuff. You had to go searching and looking for things. Now all kinds of crap is force fed to people who never went searching for something good in the first place. I’m glad there are others kicking back at that.

    There is beauty to be found in the seeking, in the quest. Happy seeking & questing to all!

  59. @Northwind Grandma:

    I’ve played with ChatGPT for an hour or two and it is good for “non-fiction”, such as basic legal documents: “Can you create a sample California Quitclaim Deed?”, “How do I start a Florida LLC?”.

    It works for subjects on which there is an existing body of work in digital format. So “Explain the Madhyamaka Buddhist idea that all phenomena lack inherent existence” is easy, but “Write four paragraphs about what I did last Summer” is beyond its reach. “I know what you did last Summer” – now *that* would be scary.

    But that’s not art, it’s just Google with a friendlier UI.

    That said, I asked, “please tell a joke in the style of Rodney Dangerfield”. It came up with

    I went to my doctor and told him I broke my arm in two places. He said “Stop going to those places”.

    A Google search can come up with that.

    Next: “please tell a Winter solstice joke in the style of Rodney Dangerfield”.

    “I like the winter solstice, it’s the shortest day of the year. That way I don’t have to spend so much time outside freezing my butt off.”

    That’s actually not bad. A Google search won’t find that.

    This sort of AI will be used by companies to eliminate back-office and customer service jobs -part of the ongoing tech layoffs. Mundane white-collar work may be in danger; mundane astrologers, not so much.

  60. #39 Far from the world of literary writing, I saw this article about a property chatbot called Brenda, which letting agents use for prospective tenants to arrange viewings.
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/dec/13/becoming-a-chatbot-my-life-as-a-real-estate-ais-human-backup
    This I think falls within the realm of fake AI, where artificial intelligence actually relies on real humans on the back end. In fact, users can’t even actually speak to Brenda, they ring the number but it claims to have missed their call, and then offers to have a text conversation.
    The writer of the article describes her experience of working editing Brenda’s responses to make it sound more like a human.
    One quote within the article is this: All I wanted was to glide through my shifts in a stupor. It occurred to me that I wasn’t really training Brenda to think like a human, Brenda was training me to think like a bot, and perhaps that had been the point all along.

  61. Celadon, you know, that makes a great deal of sense. Thank you!

    Luke, hmm! I was unaware of Bombadil fandom. Interesting.

    Chuaquin, it’s astonishing to me how few people notice that. Including people whose bookshelves are 80% nonfiction!

    Justin, interesting. Yeah, the only places I ever encountered any reference to Hamilton was in the mass media — I don’t think I personally know anybody who went to see it.

  62. JMG & Justin, we were gifted tickets to Hamilton when it came out. In the beginning, I was enamoured of the writing and music. As time passed, I came to realize the underlying story, of the triumph of finance over the public good, was there to reinforce our current status. Hamilton, of course, is martyr to the eventual triumph of New York. I still love the music, but the final lines “… who tells your story.” gives the intent away.

  63. Regarding chatbots, this rather dense piece from The New Atlantis may be illuminating:

    “Functionalism is nothing but a collection of vacuous metaphors — and, worse, metaphors that refer to a phenomenon that does not actually exist, and that could not do so in any possible world.
    […]
    The problem becomes only more acute when one considers the operative structure of computer coding, because even the distilled or abstracted syntax upon which that coding relies has no actual existence within a computer. To think it does is rather like mistaking the ink and paper and glue in a bound volume for the contents of its text. Meaning — syntactical and semantical alike — exists in the minds of those who write the code for computer programs and of those who use that software, and not for a single moment does any of it appear within the computer. The software itself, for one thing, possesses no semeiotic unities of any kind; it merely simulates those unities in representations that, at the physical level, have no connection to those meanings.”

    https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/reality-minus

  64. For anyone looking for an older car to rehab or to bring back for sale, consider a 1990s model. We have a 1999 minivan which has 290,000 miles on it, with its original engine and transmission (brief pause to knock on wood), which drives as well as it ever has. It has keyed doors and minimal computerization, and there are still enough parts available that we plan to take it in for some body work to extend its life. Our goal is to use it for the rest of our driving days.

    Bicycles from the 1980s also strike me as worthy machines to find and restore. My 1985 Terranaut remains road-worthy. I’m not tempted by e-bikes; it’s too much fun to pedal when the weather is decent and the distance is appropriate, and easier to walk or drive when it isn’t.

    Thanks for this series of posts! I’m taking note of the broader points you are making as I am contemplating potential new projects for the next several years.

  65. @Thijs Goverde

    I’m glad you like the idea! Magical realism is the flavor of the moment in lit fic.
    I want to do realistic magic. Exactly the wrong flavor.

    I don’t have the talent of Vonnegut, or his sense of humor.

    And Tom River is already a pen name.

  66. Cs2 and JMG, B

    Building a bike can done be on a small level with the exception of a few of the components. I am a member of the Oregon Framebuilders Guild ( which had 65 members back in 2016 when I was active) and have built about 17 bikes myself. Building the frame can be done with hand tools, some tubing ( nice chromemoly tubing is better) a brazing torch and some brazing rod. Some components are within reach of a skilled machinist like hubs and brakes and sprockets. The tricky ones are rims, tires, and a way to change gears. I built a single speed bike out of All-American components ( with the exception of tires). But the mass market component business is an oligopoly with only three big manufacturers who do not discount much to small builders, which leads to high prices for small “boutique builders. There is a guy in Portland who builds long nose cargo bikes and figured out a way around this. If you want him to build you a cargo bike you have to supply two old steel framed “sacrifice” bikes. He uses all the parts from them plus some additional tubing to build you a custom cargo bike for a reasonable price. Luckily all the bikes made over the last 50 years ( with the exception of e-bikes) can be scavenged for parts in the future.

  67. JMG, I enjoyed your Unherd article. It sounded somewhat familiar, did we address the topic here at some point? Either way, I enjoyed it.

  68. @Justin #69 and JMG #72, re: Hamilton

    I was still working with the kind of New York elites Hamilton was squarely aimed at when it was first out, and so I got a lot of folks losing their minds over how great it was. A couple years later, I watched an official recording of the production. My response was that it was “fine” if you have any taste for hip hop and founding father hagiography, but that it’s phenomenal reception among those outspoken online and in the media was wholly political (the time was right for a hip-hop musical with a black cast). I have friends and loved ones who vehemently disagree with that assessment, but they mostly don’t share my view that most folks’ tastes are more susceptible to being shaped by social/political currents than they like to think.

    I enjoy a few of the songs from the show, and I think it was reasonably well put together as a musical, but Lin Manuel-Miranda’s biggest misstep was casting himself in the lead – almost all of the other actors were more talented and charismatic. At any rate, if I want a musical about American race relations, I’d still go with “Ragtime” any day.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  69. @Darkest Yorkshire: When I was looking for some tasteful holiday presents this season, I kept my eye out for some HDP, but I guess it’s still on the black market these days, and the Krampusnacht market we were due to go to didn’t end up happening. I might have been able to find it among the artisan stalls there.

    Well done on your tale, I really liked it… and its just the kind of thing I need to read this time of year to keep a healthy frame of mind. Thank you, for the many smiles it gave me 🙂

  70. Great Khan of Potlucks, interesting. Thanks for this; I stay far enough away from mainstream media that I didn’t know even this much about it.

    Cliff, many thanks for this. That’s an important point.

    Your Kittenship, not as such, no, but Yeats’s theory of history has been a sufficiently strong influence on my thinking that it’s doubtless filtered through indirectly.

  71. Cliff #74: re “Meaning — syntactical and semantical alike — exists in the minds of those who write the code for computer programs and of those who use that software, and not for a single moment does any of it appear within the computer.”
    This is one of the reasons why old mainframe code isn’t simply converted to new coding languages – the people who coded and understood it are sometimes long gone, and without them it is really difficult to get a good understanding of what the code does in its innards to the extent that you could rewrite it. I have heard estimates that 90% of the top 200 banks worldwide still run old mainframe code. Having worked on mainframe code my view is that it is not so much something you can be taught as something you need to immerse yourself in over a long period to become competent at (and the competency is very specific to whichever application you are working on).

  72. Regarding the musical Hamilton, I don’t see it as a portrayal of the triumph of capitalism. It is mostly a story of the American Dream—a scrappy immigrant and his city rise to the top.

    The irony is that the ticket prices average something like $300 a pop. That is why relatively few people have seen it, and you won’t find scrappy immigrants in the audience!

    On a related note, the Metropolitan Opera suffered a ransomware attack last week and their ticket reservation system was totally down. They sold tickets by hand using paper ledgers for a flat price $50 general admission. All sorts of people filled opera seats that are normally $500, including working class people and families.

  73. I remember when the Internet first became a thing, Scott Adams was able to connect with his audience. He asked them which setting for Dilbert did they like the best: when he was at home, or when he was at work? The fans overwhelmingly said they liked the work comics better, so that’s what Adams focused on. He listened and he came out ahead… bigly, I guess I should say.

  74. Regarding AI, my experience with ChatGPT is that you get a bland, inoffensive and conventional reply to any query. Which is not surprising if the AI is scraping the internet for information. Specialized AIs with limited inputs might have more interesting ideas. For instance, I’m sure the military has AIs that analyze historical battles and military theorists to derive ideas on tactics, but we the general public will never see them.

    Here is ChatGPT’s reply to a question of concern to this readership:

    How does a new author get published?

    There are a few different ways that a new author can get published:

    1. Traditional publishing: This involves finding an agent and submitting a proposal or manuscript to a publisher. The publisher will then review the material and, if they are interested, offer the author a contract to publish the book.

    2. Self-publishing: This involves publishing the book on your own, either by working with a self-publishing company or using a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Self-publishing gives the author more control over the publishing process but also requires more work and often a larger upfront investment.

    3. Hybrid publishing: This involves working with a hybrid publisher, which is a company that offers a mix of traditional and self-publishing services. Hybrid publishers often offer more support and resources than self-publishing, but the author may have less control and may have to pay more for the services.

    Regardless of which path an author chooses, it’s important to be familiar with the publishing industry and to have a well-written and polished manuscript. It can also be helpful to attend writing conferences and workshops, network with other writers and industry professionals, and join writing organizations to learn more about the publishing process and get feedback on your work.

    And here’s the reply to a frivolous question:

    Who are the Kardashians?

    The Kardashians are a family of American media personalities, socialites, and businesspeople. The family first gained fame with the reality television show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which aired on the E! network from 2007 to 2021. The show followed the lives of the family members, including Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner. The Kardashians are known for their social media presence, fashion and beauty businesses, and various other ventures. In addition to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” the family has also appeared in other reality shows and have launched successful businesses in the fashion, beauty, and tech industries.

  75. Another great essay, and VERY interesting topics in the commentary!
    I will try to keep my comments brief–

    Re: Narrowing variety of offered goods;
    Where have I seen that before?
    Why, it’s in Terry Gilliam’s prophetic 1985 movie, “Brazil!” Here’s a clip of the Central Services Duct salesman, promoting colors and styles of ducts that all protrude into the middle of the living room;
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9gO01pyv24

    Or the renegade plumber Tuttle, who fixes broken pipes quickly and for a fair price, and so is hunted by the government as a dangerous criminal;
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRfoIyx8KfU

    Or the tiny, shale-a-matic car with the excellent sound system that excellently plays the same incompetently-played bad song no matter what radio station;
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTYUPuZGbes

    I had to watch it 3 times before I understood it; Thanked God that I didn’t live in such a place; Slowly realized over years that we were in fact living in Gilliam’s Brazil, and it was getting worse….

    @Kimberley Steele #40 Re: Under-the-table Doctor–
    IMHO, you have the answer to your dilemma already, and from what I know of you, you also have the resources and the chops to put it into effect– Buy a Doctor:
    Historically (and probably mentioned on this blog), a young doctor could start a new practice by renting his services out for a flat fee to the Odd Fellows lodge or other group. You too can emulate this model.
    Make a medical society, and hire a new-grad doctor to work for you for a subscription fee from your members. Let the members promise in writing that they will not sue your prospective doctor for malpractice, ever. The doctor does not have to buy malpractice insurance, so she/he can charge less. Limit the scope of your contract to simple, non-emergent practice (go to an ER if a broken bone is sticking out of your leg), and agree on a subscription fee for your members plus a low payment per visit. All transactions in cash, no insurance billing.
    I bet you can find either an old doctor who wants to keep his/her hand in, or a new grad who does not want to be swallowed up by the Med Conglomerate, to take you up on this– Or possibly a recently-immigrated doctor.
    Do not restrict your doctor from seeking patients outside of your Medical Society at his/her own risk. Make your contract renewable yearly. $400.00 for a UTI is insane, and I guarantee most of it went to insurance companies and billing staff — Cut them all out of the deal, and you can get reasonable med care at a reasonable price. Buy catastrophic insurance with a high deductible (thus lower cost) in case of hospitalisation. What do you think?

    @Pygmycory #11 re: employment
    I’m also a resident of BC, and you’re right, the regulations on business for any entrepreneur are so jaw-droppingly harsh and thoughtless that most entrepreneurs here are already operating on a cash basis, under the table. Of course, I would never suggest that you even think about doing anything like that– and all my comments are for informational purposes only– but consider the business practices of our local First-Nations Bands. Their casinos and marijuana-sold-from-a-trailer-at-roadsides are, if I am not mistaken, regulated only by the Bands that control the lands on which they operate, and they may be immune from federal and local taxes, and most regulations. Someone in your position could possibly make a deal with a local First-Nations Band to sell jewelry through one of their souvenir shops, and report your income from that to the Band Office, if they are interested. First Nations taxes or fees are likely to be a lot lower than the Federal and Provincial taxes we all endure for everything else. Just a thought-experiment, mind you– not advice!

    @Pygmycory #24 #27 re: Hard disability, Medical Asst In Dying (MAID).

    There are two small towns where I live. One has a lot of wealthy, mostly white retirees; the other is located entirely on First Nations land and has mostly First Nations residents.
    I had a meal with a pharmacist that works in the First Nations town and another that works in the Retiree Town– The First Nations Town pharmacy gets maybe 3 orders a month for Euthanasia drugs. The Retiree town has had none in the last two years.
    IMHO, the next genocide scandal to rock Canada (after the abuse and deaths of Residential School children) is likely to be documentation of the preferential killing of the poor, disabled and elderly, particularly if they are First Nations. Keep a low profile, and do not seek advice from government counselors…

  76. @JMG, you wrote “it’s been a while!” – well, actually, I still lurk occasionally, out of nostalgia for the old ADR days. ADR was mostly a kind and welcoming place.
    Unfortunately, its commitment to polite discourse seems not to have carried over to Ecosophia, possibly as a result of the political polarisation that we’ve seen these past few years.
    Also, your research – maybe for the same reason – seems to be lacking in rigour nowadays. For instance: I don’t know what ‘sources’ you used for information on the pickle that conventional farmers in the Netherlands find themselves in, but they couldn’t be more wrong if they tried.
    The Archdruid I remember would not, methinks, have looked at the tiny Netherlands being the world’s second exporter of agricultural products without smelling a rat.
    (Conventional Dutch farmers prize themselves on their ‘efficiency’, which should be a dead giveaway as to what their entire industry is based on. Hint: it rhymes with ‘fossil mules’)

  77. About cars and public wants.
    We have a 25 year old Chevy, which we are now selling to my son’s boss. My husband decided he wanted a newer car as the Chevy could not make it around West Virginia reliably. So we bought a 2020 used car for a steal. Anywhere when we were deciding whether to buy such a new car, we asked – Does it run on gas. The salesman laughed and said he would drive no other and pointed to his 30 year old Ford. Chatting awhile at the used car place, we took a poll. NO ONE WANTED A HYBRID OR ELECTRIC CAR. It was the government forcing it on us. The truck guys got all upset and ranted away about how an electric car couldn’t go the distance.

    So our betters are deciding for the customers what we want.

  78. Back to books. There is a rich and diverse ecosystem in self-published and small print books, while the mainstream publishing such as Penguin is a monoculture and boring.

    Gosh, whoever wrote their short piece on Amish sci fic mash-up with tentacles – there is an audience for that.

    In the past year, I have read books about fantasy noir detectives, reverse harems with the woman taking on several alpha males, gothic mysteries solved by Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle, and more. If you have an interesting story with viable characters and a quirky point of view, there is an audience.

    And non-fiction. If Dr. G of “Dr. G: Medical Examiner” (a show about how people died and their autopsies) could write a best seller – “How Not To Die,” anyone could. I believe.

  79. The very interesting evolution within genres, these days, appears to be “intersections.” Do y’all remember that movie “Cowboys and Aliens?” While it certainly didn’t win any awards, it took two very popular genres (westerns and sci-fi) and asked “what happens if you put these things in the same context?”

    The movie itself was certainly not great but I tend to think that the concept has legs. I find a lot of interesting ideas “at the intersection of X and Y.” You don’t have to invent a new genre; just find a couple existing ones, throw them in the mixer, mix well (but not completely homogeneously) and have fun. If a publisher has a hard time comprehending your idea for a genre, describe it as this and they can usually wrap their head around it.

    Military fiction + sci-fi has given some really good ones. “Kill Decision” by Daniel Suarez comes to mind; finding a LOT to like from that author. “Ghost Fleet” was eye-opening, as well; the Commandant of the Marine Corp put that book on his public “reading list” a while back because he felt it portrayed a very interesting, potential evolution in warfare.

    WRT e-bikes: a great many people would like to buy an electric vehicle but just can’t do it. Whether it’s supply chain issues, the higher prices ‘cuz expensive batteries, the lack of charging infrastructure (where do you charge your EV when you live in an apartment?), it’s just not happenin’. If you can knock at least one of the zeros off the price tag, it becomes more affordable. If you can either lock up the bike, and bring the battery in for charging, or bring the entire bike in, because it’s so much smaller than a car, the expensive part is less likely to be stolen. If riding it means I’m getting some exercise, but I’m not killing myself climbing that hill near my home, I’d ride it more often than a regular bike. I rode a bike 12 months of the year when I was in the USAF (riding on icy streets in Utah and South Korea was … an experience) but I’m older and less fit; something which can “lend a hand on the hills” is welcome. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to buy a Tesla S P100D (with Ludicrous Speed mode, of course) but I don’t have $100k+ burning a hole in my pocket. I might be able to afford dropping $3k on an electric-assisted cargo bike which can bring home a pile of groceries without needing to make a weekly donation to the coffers of Big Oil. If that bike also gets me to / from the pharmacy, the chiropractor and the library, even better.

    I already have an electric mower, such that I don’t need to donate to Big Oil when I need to trim the lawn and such that I get some exercise. Just wishing I could use the mower’s batteries to power the e-bike; the batteries aren’t cheap and it’s safe to say I won’t need to mow the lawn AND ride the bike at the same time. The specs on the mower battery are, if anything, greater than the specs on an e-bike battery.

    I regularly bemoan the lack of simpler, common-sense devices, where they keep overcomplicating stuff. I used to own a Pebble 2 HR. It did a decent job of tracking my steps and sleep, waking me up when I was in a light sleep phase (much less groggy than waking up from a deep sleep phase) and reminding me when I have an appointment / meeting. It would go for a week on a charge, syncing my sleep / step data off, and syncing my appointment calendar on, for a couple minutes every couple days. Those devices started on Kickstarter; talk about listening to your potential customers. They haven’t made those for most of a decade; mine finally died and I’m hard pressed to find a replacement. Most smartwatches, anymore, don’t remind you of appointments unless you’re actively synced, via Bluetooth, to a phone or tablet. They will, however, store hours of music so you can stream your playlist to some wireless headphones (I don’t care). And they will usually need to you charge every day. My Pebble was simpler, and did most of its stuff disconnected, which is why the battery lasted so long. I can buy a simpler device, which can’t remind me of appointments while disconnected and can’t do the light-sleep alarm, or I can buy a more complex device, which costs too much and does a bunch of stuff I don’t need. I can buy a FitBit and pay a monthly / yearly subscription fee just to see my stats.

    Uhh, no. Just no. As with writing, they’re not listening to the customers. They’re deciding “oh, customers want a bazillion features, including the kitchen sink, a partridge and a pear tree and will do whatever we ask to get it.” Ditto for smartphones, tablets, etc. The PC on which I’m typing this is on its 3rd or 4th CPU and motherboard, and second video card, because I refuse to go buy some pre-built system with a ton of shovelware installed (and hard to remove) and deity-only-knows what kind of surveillance built-in.

  80. @Emmanuel Goldstein,
    I would rather avoid doing stuff with First Nations political organizations at this point, mostly because the First Nations politically involved people I’ve run into seem to have giant chips on their shoulders right now and I’d rather not get in their way and get run over. Individual First Nations people who aren’t Activists fine, First Nations government organizations or ‘Activists’ I am very cautious around. The media tends to smear those who tangle with them and cries of ‘racism’ can happen whenever interests don’t perfectly line up.

    Also, I think they’d rather sell their own people’s jewelry, which is a distinctive set of styles quite different from mine, and I’m much more interested in music than jewelry right now. Time to draw a line under that one and do something else.

    re: MAID, I wish I could disagree.

  81. To add to the older car/truck conversation. I am going to suggest kit cars as a possible source for the kind of vehicle wanted. I haven’t looked, but I suspect that most of these kits currently available are for classic sports cars or other hard to find classics and they are built with modern engines and parts. I have a friend to built a Shelby Cobra from a kit and it turned out to be a fine sports car. The kit wasn’t cheap, nor was the paint job that went on to it, but it is road legal in Utah and it doesn’t seem to have any computer or electric gadgets except on the engine. He and his wife take road trips in the summer in it with the local Cobra club.

    I would think that perhaps some enterprising person could put together such a company that could supply a reasonably mechanically inclined person with a complete kit for a basic, gadget free car or truck using as many stock parts as possible. Another enterprising person might be able to make a living putting such cars together for those who aren’t mechanically inclined.

  82. @Kerry Nitz #82:

    “This is one of the reasons why old mainframe code isn’t simply converted to new coding languages – the people who coded and understood it are sometimes long gone, and without them it is really difficult to get a good understanding of what the code does in its innards to the extent that you could rewrite it.”

    I’ve read about situations similar to that, and I’ve wondered (not being very computer-savvy) such would be the case. Thanks for connecting the dots – the actual meaning of the code is in the head of the programmers, and the machines are just blindly churning through their calculations.

    This also points out a severe flaw in the techno-utopian narrative: just how likely is it that we’re all going to be living in shiny ‘smart cities’ when our banking and military infrastructure runs on fifty year old code that no one understands anymore?

  83. Samurai_47, and if they’d start selling general admission tickets for $50 a pop, they wouldn’t have to whine about how nobody likes opera any more. The Metropolitan Opera used to fill every seat in the house six nights a week over an eight month season. They could do it again if they weren’t such snobs.

    Jon, that’s a great example. Thank you!

    Emmanuel, funny. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve heard a lot about it, and yeah, here we are.

    Thijs, au contraire, I used to field comments just like this one of yours back in the days of the Archdruid Report: “JMG, you used to be so polite and well-reasoned, and now you’re being mean and biased!” It happened quite reliably when it was time for their favorite sacred cows to be gored. With regard to the Dutch farming issue, if you’d brought that up in a comment to that post, with sources linked, I’d gladly have taken that into consideration — just as I did in similar controversies on Archdruid Report. Since this post is about writing, it’s off topic here — but if you’d like to discuss the differences between the romantic view of artistic creation and the one I’m discussing, I’m all ears. My comment wasn’t intended to be a cheap shot; quite the contrary, I consider the romantic view of the writer/artist/etc. to be a seriously flawed and, for most people, self-defeating approach, which has a lot to do with the collapse of the social relevance of literature and the arts in our time.

    Neptunesdolphins, I wonder if our soi-disant betters have realized that they could end up crashing the auto industry in the process. If nobody wants a new car any more… As for writing, well, I’ve got a Gnostic deindustrial noir science fiction detective novel finished in rough draft; we’ll see how that goes over!

    Meower68, I ain’t arguing — my most successful fiction has been intersection-based.

    Monster, and likewise to you and yours!

  84. @ Mary Bennet #58

    I get much of my industry news from Kristine Kathryn Rusch (KKR). She’s a long-time writer, self-published, ran her own publishing business with her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, and so forth.

    She tends to ramble. She suffers very badly from Trump Derangement Syndrome (still!) and believes that Covid was the worst disease to hit the planet ever.

    Even so, she’s very, very good at discussions of contracts, agents (she votes “NO!”), licensing, and industry news. She links her posts to original source material. Go to: https://kriswrites.com/category/business-musings/

    The other source I use for industry news is The Passive Voice. PG’s wife is an indie author so he understands those needs. When he was a lawyer (he’s retired), he specialized in contract law. He tends to follow the legal cases and links to all original sources. Go to: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/

    His politics are almost the polar opposite of KKR but they have similar views about getting your own lawyer when negotiating, the absurdity and uselessness of traditional publishing (especially the big 5), disdain for agents, and to not quit.

  85. @ Lydia #61 Finding an editor.

    You can start by asking around in local writers’ groups. Every state has one. Ask for references. Searching online can work but you’ve got to get references.

    Reedsy’s not bad, although I think their prices are high. On the other hand, they claim to vet everyone on their lists.

    There are TERRIBLE editors out there. Anyone can claim to be an editor.
    It’s extremely important that your editor be familiar with the tropes in your genre (even an exercise manual). If Editor doesn’t understand what you’re doing, Editor will make changes that don’t make sense.

    Before you get an editor, do as much self-editing as possible. Run spellcheck, grammar-check, print out the manuscript double-spaced in a strange font so you read the words. Set it aside for several weeks to let your mind rest and then return to it. Have someone you trust read the manuscript so they can understand it. Have them look for ABCD (awesome, boring, confusing, dumb). Fix what your reader has trouble with.

    Do not pay Editor to fix 5 cent mistakes you could fix yourself.

    When you choose an editor, insist on a sample of their work. Ask them to edit a few pages of your manuscript so you can see if they mesh with you.

    Many Editors think they know better than you, the writer, do. There are abusive editors out there, just like there are editors who are such pushovers that you might as well have not bothered asking their advice. They love everything you do.

    What ever else you do, do NOT ever do “global accept”.

    You must evaluate every single change Editor suggests, down to the last comma. Editors make mistakes too, and they’re quite capable of introducing new errors.

  86. Interesting post, thanks.

    The genres I gravitate toward include spiritual memoir, Jungian psychology, self-help, and Western esotericism. The book I’m working on is a blend of all the above. It includes personal experiences, but uses them as springboards for deeper reflections on concerns that go beyond my personal life.

    I hope there might be people interested in reading a thoughtful mix of all of the above, but I’m not sure, as I’ve been the weird guy interested in all this unconventional stuff most of my life and rarely found people around me with similar interests.

    Jacques

  87. From today’s Gainesville Sun – people are buying up old cars and *fitting them out with electric motors*. I could include my opinion of that here, but it would involve some serious cussing. Am mailing the clipping to JMG in my copious spare time (packing for a week-long trip to Cedar Key, FL – a 90 minute drive – for Christmas. The entire family, 8 people. In 2 cars. Plus gifts galore.)

  88. What are your thoughts on artists who consider art a personal endeavor?

    I don’t have it in me to make a living out of my art in this lifetime, but during the pandemic I started teaching myself jazz piano. I enjoyed the problem solving nature and creativity of improv, and I enjoyed playing it. I ended up quickly getting adventurous with different chord substitutions. The combination of the sound and the direct connection to creation was awesome to me. While it was never horrible to others, others didn’t see what I saw in it.

    I sort of link this desire to the desire to be spontaneous in writing, and made me think about whether journaling or other private forms of self expression can be considered art, or does art require an audience.

  89. I had never herd of “cozy mysteries” until now. I did some Googling and was amazed that there are several dozen sub-genres, even one where NASCAR fans follow the drivers from race to race solving crimes as they go. Amazing how narrowly tailored these books can be.

    As to older bikes -Chicago made Schwinns (not modern Chinese made Schwinns) are good value as long as you don’t pay collector prices. English 3 speeds – Raleigh, Phillps, Rudge, Humber, Dunelt, Hercules …. are good sturdy bikes and not too many collectors driving up prices.

    As to old cars – they don’t make ’em like they used to, thank God.

  90. JMG,
    RE: agents

    I wonder, the agent that you would like and can’t find, do you know any other writers with the same problem? If so, would you care to speculate what one of youe readers would need to do to make a career of it?

    I imagine that some of your readers here might be interested and might even found a firm that ends up meeting you needs.

    Thanks,
    Tim

  91. For years I have wondered why one can’t find out how many copies of a book sold.

    In light of this post it is now obvious. It would be hard to take the NYT’s best seller list seriously if we could see the real numbers. It would be clear that, broadly speaking, people aren’t buying what they are selling.

  92. @everyone

    Have a blessed Holiday season, may it be Winter Solstice, Christmas, etc

    @Kerry Nitz #82, @Cliff #93.

    What a very interesting question. I do not think the meaning of a program exists in the head of the authors. There’s a whole category of malfunctions, semantic bugs, where the behavior of the program is not quite what the programmers think should be. It is not so much that the computer fails, but that it does something surprising.

    There are branches of Computer Science that formalize the “meaning of a computer program”, though not being my strong suit, I could not explain it if I tried for the whole week.

    @Kimberley Steele #40, @Emmanuel Goldstein #86.

    The idea of hiring a lodge doctor is worth exploring, but perhaps you may search in the other end of the career life. Young physicians, at least in the US, graduate with huge debts and must integrate fully with the system in order to avoid bankruptcy. On the other hand, doctors near retirement age may be grateful to escape an increasingly meddling administration. If you offer a simplified way to keep active and supplement their finances, some sympathetic doctor could be willing to work with your scheme.

    Other than that (and at risk of stating the obvious), I think it is increasingly important to be able to take responsibility for your own health. I am not advising to self medicate. But everybody should be able to patch up themselves and/or their relatives in an emergency, to stay comfortable while suffering a minor malaise, and to recognize what symptoms require rapid attention and which ones correspond to illnesses that normally recede on their own.

  93. Jacques, that’s going to be a tough one. Most publishers have zero interest in memoirs, because most readers have less than no interest in memoirs unless the person writing the memoir is already famous for some other reason. A mix of spirituality, Jungian psychology, and self-help, on the other hand, will sell very well to the self-help market — that’s a known blend. You might be able to make it work if the personal experience bits are brief.

    Patricia M, I wonder how many of them are quietly squirreling away the gasoline engine so that they can put it back once the e-car fad runs its course.

    Jack, there needs to be a label for the category of “creative activities people do entirely for their own benefit, without expecting anyone else to pay attention.” I don’t have one to suggest; that can be a very valuable part of life, but I don’t see it as belonging to the same category as creative activities meant to be shared with other people.

    Christopher, mysteries these days are one of the biggest genres and so they’ve got countless subgenres. Cozies are a very large share of the market — you can make a hefty living writing for that market, and have a lot of fun at it.

    Team10Tim, I have no idea. I don’t know a lot about the agenting biz, but it might be worth looking into.

  94. Re: cars

    I have not had a car myself for 10 years. I am now in a position where I need one, to use a few days per week.

    I am actually looking at 10+ year old Toyota Prius cars for my purchase. The hybrids (petrol-electric cars, when you come down to it) do have the virtue of fuel economy and lower engine maintenance. I have also discovered that there is a thriving after-market in reconditioned batteries, so you don’t have to pay top dollar when your battery gets worn.

    Given that my driving will be either city driving or well-paved inter-city highways, and given that I will probably drive only a few days per week (I have good public transport, which is free of charge for over-65’s like me), I think this makes sense for my situation.

    Many of my fellow parishioners in my church have Priuses, and they are all happy with them. Used models are also very affordable around here.

    Yes, I know that, ultimately, we will all be going back to horse and buggy, but I will likely be long gone before that happens.

    Just my $0.02 worth …..

  95. Since bad manuscripts were talked about, I can heartily recommend a book in German, which has a collection of excerpts from rejected manuscripts. It is “Das habe ich im Koma gedichtet. Autoren, die die Welt zum Glück nie lesen musste.” (That I composed in a conatose state. Authors, which the world luckily never had to read.” by Rolf cyriax and Peter Wichmann. It is really funny, especially for those who read German well enough to be able to enjoy the grammatical and stylistic errors.

    And for the book stores, I can, for the chain book stores at least, confirm that they have become quite bland over the last few years in Germany, too, and, in some sections, quite woke.

  96. Mr. Greer wrote:
    As for writing, well, I’ve got a Gnostic deindustrial noir science fiction detective novel finished in rough draft; we’ll see how that goes over!

    Me: Believe it or not there is a subgenre specifically that. The Gnostic part, at least as I see it, tends to be magic in some form.

    For example, “The Arcane Casebook” series by Dan WIllis uses Runes (main detectives), Tarot (his secretary), alchemy – doctors, and sorcery – the wizards that inhabit New York like J.D. Rockefeller. It is set in the 1930s New York. What makes the series work is that the main detective is ordinary but talented. He solves cases with leg work and his brain. Runes come in with the opponents. Meanwhile, he has a mentor (Conan Doyle) who teaches him. The other people involved are ordinary folks who use their brains.

    The author of the series is a devout Mormon.

  97. @JMG: Oh, I’m not saying *you* are impolite or mean. Biased, yes, but not more than you used to be and certainly not more than the average yuman bean. I was merely saying that the tone of the commentariat has become notably more harsh and intolerant.

    As to the Dutch farming debate, well I *did* bring it up at the time, citing several sources, but unfortunately no conversation came of it. No matter; I merely mentioned it here as an example of sloppy research.

    Back to the topic of the post: I won’t say you’re wrong to compare l’art-pour-l’art writing to masturbation. I’ll merely point out that it’s perfectly possible to engage in masturbation with the needs and interests of an audience in mind. Indeed, there are vast swathes of the internet where it’s practically a spectator sport!
    I rather imagine that the people who produce such videos choose their lighting, camera angles, style of personal grooming (etc.) with great care, for the benefit of the public at large.
    In a similar vein, the writer who writes because he *needs* to, will tend to choose his *words* with great care.
    He has to. Self-expression becomes a very painful exercise very quickly, if you find no one is interested in the self you’re expressing…

  98. Booklover, I wish my reading knowledge of German was better than it is! That sounds fun.

    Neptunesdolphins, interesting. My story has no explicit magic, just a lot of Japanese new religious movement stuff, and overt and covert references to Gnosticism. It’s mostly a deindustrial noir thriller set in a slightly demented post-global warming world.

    Thijs, ah, but that example simply makes my point for me. The people on that sound stage, from the masturbator to the most junior stage hand, are all intensely aware that they’re doing something to appeal to an audience. They’re not just trying to please themselves. The romantic pose in literature, similarly, started off as a marketing gimmick, but got taken literally by generations of overly naive authors, with dismal consequences for literature in general — and especially for novice writers, who so often mistakenly think that all they have to do is express themselves. Then they wonder why all they get from the exercise is sticky fingers!

  99. @ team10tim #103

    I saw that figure too, but I didn’t believe it.
    The article you linked to actually says, buried in the text:

    “But is it true?
    A lawyer from the US Department of Justice made the claims during the antitrust trial involving the largest publisher in the world, Penguin Random House, which wants to buy the third largest, Simon & Schuster.

    It appears he pulled the figures from a hat. Another example of fiction posing as facts. Manufactured misinformation to suit the message.

    In his podcast, More or Less, economist Tim Harford got to the truth — but it isn’t exactly inspiring.

    His researcher looked at the top ten publishers. There were 42,000 unique titles published in the last year. Of those, 15% had sold less than 12 copies — not 50%.”

    15% is still terrible!

  100. Justin Patrick Moore #80, the stall probably wouldn’t be called ‘family butcher’ – that would just be tasteless. 😉 Maybe that should be in the marketing copy too – Cannibalism Keeps You Sane. 🙂 Really glad you liked it.

    Patricia Mathews #99, there’s a tv series Vintage Voltage about the company Electric Classic Cars in Wales doing conversions. I get the sense there’s a code of ethics that you only do it to a car whose engine is on it’s last legs so you’re not destroying a functional original. I looked into it to save a Reliant with a failing main gasket but it’s unholy expensive – bare minimum £20,000 as far as I can tell. Though there was a happy outcome – I heard after we sold it the car was restored to pristine condition.

  101. Cs2 @ 60, you wrote: “…that they don’t have access to the manufacturing capacity in terms of molding metal and large factory functions? You can fix up old typewriters in your garage but you can’t pour the metal to make a new one, or what have you.”

    Why not? US high schools, until recently, had foundries and machine shops as standard on-campus educational facilities. You can buy textbooks and manuals on DYI foundry work, e.g.

    ‘The Charcoal Foundry (Build Your Own Metal Working Shop from Scrap, Vol. 1)’ by David Gingery (Granted this one is only good for melting aluminum), or

    ‘Backyard Foundry for Home Machinists (Fox Chapel Publishing) Metal Casting in a Sand Mold for the Home Metalworker; Information on Materials & Equipment, Pattern-Making, Molding & Core-Boxes, and More’ by B. Terry Aspin, or

    ‘Metal Casting for Beginners: Step By Step Guide That Will Help You Get Started with Metal Casting, Even If You Are a Complete Beginner’ by Charles Prince, or

    ‘Foundry Manual’ by United States Navy, and so on

    Here’s a home foundry website:

    https://www.plougonver.com/home-foundry-plans/

    And there’s a whole youtube universe of them if you look, and vastly more in the Russian internet world (I used to obsessively watch these fiendishly clever Russian DIY metalworking videos back when Yandex, the Russian browser engine, used to plaster their home page with all sorts of videos)…

    And this is a minor point, but worth mentioning: fabricating small batches of metal parts is not exactly ‘manufacturing’, you know.

    And JMG is right BTW: There are other operations of metal fabrication, such as forging, stamping, machining, grinding, etc used to shape metal.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  102. @Thijs Goverde, if I may, since you mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I once read an interview of his where he said that the book he actually was proud of writing and that he wanted to be known for was his first novella (“Leaf Storm”). However, he discovered that next to nobody wanted to read it. It was clear from the interview that the wrote his other books with much more attention to what the readers wanted. He expressed the hope that among the millions of readers of “Hundred Years of Solitude” or “Love in the Times of the Cholera” some would go on to read “Leaf Storm”.

    I don’t really classify Garcia Marquez or Rushdie as typical “serious” literature, and I think this is in part because they decided to go a considerable way to draw readers into their stories. Real “serious” 20th and 21st century literature is a genre like space opera or hard-boiled detective novels. Some of the rules of “serious” literature are that there can be nothing approaching a happy ending; that no character can be actually religious; and in the great majority of cases, the protagonist has a university education and lives in a big city. Even the science-fiction novels by Doris Lessing that I read as teen-ager because they seemed to have an interesting plot, gave me the impression that she went out of her way to avoid any pleasurable passage.

    In this, “serious” literature of the later 20th and 21st century differs from earlier periods. For example, Spenser’s Fairy Queene follows the conventions of the era’s block busters about knights errant to make its philosophical points. As C.S. Lewis wrote (paraphrasing): “Spenser was considered sweet to read. If you don’t find him sweet, don’t bother reading him”. Even much later, Nobel Prize winning authors like Thomas Mann or Sigrid Undset wrote gripping or (in Mann’s case) humourous stories.

    Not being Dutch, I admit that I don’t know your books, but it seems you have written children’s books, and in children’s books it is still (or was until very recently) allowed for a writer to please the readers because adults think anything that makes children read is desirable.

  103. @ michael martin 107
    I would talk to someone who knows more than I do before buying an old prius, preferably a reliable mechanic. If the battery pack goes out it can be a huge expense, possibly more than the car is worth. they can be great cars, but i would want to be very sure of that point.
    I would consider buying an older gasoline Toyota, Honda or Nissan in good shape, especially since you won’t be driving great distances. Again, be sure you have it checked out by a mechanic. I have a 2006 Camry with 100,000 miles on it. it should be good for 250,000 or more: long past when I will be driving it. I also have a 2011 Versa with manual transmission, roll up windows, etc with about the same mileage which should be good for almost as many miles. I would want one of the techie nightmare new cars about as much as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Good luck.
    Stephen

  104. “English 3 speeds – Raleigh, Phillps, Rudge, Humber, Dunelt, Hercules …. are good sturdy bikes and not too many collectors driving up prices.”

    I have one of those Raleighs. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub is very simple in construction. There was a five speed variant too that wasn’t much more complex.

    https://www.sheldonbrown.com/sturmey-archer.html

  105. Thijs Goverde, About the tone of the comments on this blog: If I may, for us Americans, watching with horror the freak show in DC, facing at the least national bankruptcy, and WWIII at worst, tempers are indeed becoming a bit frayed. It is, but of course, rude, not done, forbidden to ask for how much longer can we maintain on life support countries which contribute nothing to our defense or security, and which are not members of NATO, where we do have treaty obligations. We could house all of our homeless population and build roads and bridges throughout South America with what we are sending to feckless, so-called allies.

  106. @Aldarion: Interesting! I can’t think of anyone in academia or literary critcism, up to and including the Nobel Prize committee, who would agree with your demarcation of ‘serious’ literature. How do you come by it?

    As to childrens’ books: there’s a lot of stuff going on in that section that you would classify as ‘serious’, but yes, you get far more leeway – it’s not a coincidence that I write for that audience!

  107. @JMG, ah, I think I would classify that as the difference, not between writing for yourself or writing for others, but between writing well and writing badly.
    I really believe that writing should spring from some inner need, that you should do it because you can’t *not* do it. And if you take the pains to write well, – why, then there will be folks who enjoy it.
    I think the generations of authors you mention mistakenly believed that the inner need was *sufficient* for becoming a writer.
    I very much agree with you that it isn’t!

    People who please themselves by writing badly, well… they richly deserve their lack of success.

    (There are, of course, many authors who write badly but somehow do not have a lack of success. I think it’s safe to say they have probably tried to please *some* people other than themselves, and succeeded at that. Good for them!)

  108. Hi John Michael,

    Tell me truly, did you make up that genre: Gnostic deindustrial noir science fiction detective novel? That’s a new one to me. Well done. 😉

    I’m reading George Orwell’s excellent book 1984 at the moment. It’s quite interesting, and when I read it as a high school text book I had a very different take on the book back then. But now, it reads to me like a dystopian romance (which is possibly a genre all of its own). Boy meets girl, Boy loses girl. And instead of boy getting girl back, Boy loses mind. An interesting twist by the author. Can you see that narrative play in the story?

    I write with the reading audience kept firmly in my mind. A lonely cry in the dark would be ineffectual. Posted an amusing essay early this week as a Christmas pressie to the readers: Smoko. Boy did I have some fun writing that one.

    One of the most amusing pieces of writing I have read for a while was from an essay recommended to me by a lovely reader of my own writing. It was pretty good, a real gold standard effort: I Tasted Honda’s Spicy Rodent-Repelling Tape. Hope you enjoy.

    Cheers

    Chris

  109. @Team10Tim

    I know well only one writer who got an agent and was published through them. He wrote a very good Young Adult novel that showed his considerable charm. He then followed ManuscriptWishList.com until an agent called for a manuscript similar to his. He sent a query and the agent accepted it. He then rewrote his novel with the agent’s suggestions.

    His book was published, but didn’t do very well, lost in a sea of other YA novels. The publishers had renamed his book “Kind of Sort of Fine”, which I think is how they regarded it. It got many online reviews, but most only tepid. I tried to ask him how the publishing process went, but he deflected my question; I figure it didn’t go well.

    So it’s possible to find an agent for commercial books with a little something extra, but it’s hard to be successful even then. Lightning strikes, but not very often.

  110. @Thijs Goverde #122:
    My father has also published a number of children’s books, though in German, not in Dutch. Myself, I still love a number of books nominally written for children!

    My working definition of the rules of “serious” literature is of course not derived from anything authors or literary critics themselves say, since those regard their preferred genre of literature simply as the gold standard. I have observed those rules in action. If I look at the list of the Nobel laureates in literature over the past decades, I have read original works by Alice Munro, Le Clézio, Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, John Coetzee, Najpaul, Saramago, Nagib Mahfouz, William Golding, García Márquez and Elias Canetti (and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf). I liked and appreciated the stories told by Munro, Pamuk, Coetzee, Saramago, Golding, Márquez and the essays by Najpaul and Canetti that I read. Still, their works clearly work within genre constraints, though, like I wrote before, those constraints seem to be relaxed for authors who don’t write in English or other European languages.

    The works by Northern American and European “serious” authors that I have read do agree with the rules I mentioned before, and the descriptions of the laureates I haven’t read certainly suggest that those also operate within the rules. There is no remotely happy ending. The world is intrinsically meaningless and the protagonists cannot establish meaning by themselves, whether through religion or in other ways – in the words of the Nobel Prize committee: “bleak and uncompromising” (Abdulrazak Gurnah), “austere” (Louise Glück), “fear and alienation” (Herta Müller). Most protagonists are university-educated and live in cities, though this rule is not universal.

    I am sure these writers put out into the world what they needed to write, and in very well-chosen words. The reduction and stunting takes place when only authors with a certain subset of visions are selected for glory. I will be happy to know of counter-examples in addition to the ones we have already discussed!

    One only has to go back a few more decades to find laureates with different outlooks, such as Heinrich Böll (whom I love), Mauriac, T.S. Eliot, Pearl Buck, Hermann Hesse, Sigrid Undset (both of whom I love), Yeats (as discussed two weeks ago) or Selma Lagerlöf.

  111. Yorkshire, thanks for these! I notice that the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (R.A.O.B.) also had quite a presence in the Sheffield area back then — no surprises there; friendly societies were a massive presence all through England in those days.

    Thijs, well, sure, if you define “writing well” as “paying attention to the kind of thing that readers like to read,” you’ve passed all the way from arguing with me to agreeing with me. Not that I mind, you understand. Here again, the sexual metaphor comes to mind; in lovemaking, there are needs and desires on both sides of the interaction, and a good lover pays attention to his partner’s needs as well as his own. I think a lot of the confusion comes from binary thinking — the notion, as common as it is mistaken, that the only alternative to one extreme is the other extreme. As usual, the middle ground is the better place to be.

    But I’m far from sure that it’s necessary to write out of some inner need. Several of my books were written for a lark, and a couple of others were written in response to needs that were purely financial. But then I write for a living — I don’t claim to be an artist of the romantic type.

    Chris, I don’t think Gnostic deindustrial noir science fiction detective novels are a genre yet. I just started writing a story set in 2095 or so, and a first-person protagonist who works as a fixer for the de-facto ruler of a rather unusual town — and it spun off from there. The thought of 1984 as a romance works quite well, and sad endings used to be quite popular in romances until the current stereotypes got welded into place. As for spicy rodent-repelling tape, duly bookmarked!

  112. @Aldarion: Funny, of all the writers you mention liking only Pamuk writes in a non-European language!

    If we’re sticking to Nobel prize winners, be sure to check out Ishiguro. I’m not sure his endings are happy enough for you (it differs from book to book anyway, as it should); I myself, when reading, am not very interested in whether or not an ending is ‘happy’.
    Omeros by Walcott is very good, also. And Dario Fo for the laughs (you’d have to see his plays enacted, though, and I’m not sure that’s done very often anymore. Socialism is not really en vogue these days).

    But most of all, read Ishiguro. He was once described as ‘the master of the velvet sledgehammer blow’ and this descibes his work perfectly. As for religiosity: with his last one, Klara and the Sun, you’re in for a treat!

  113. @JMG: Oh dear, I see one of my comments didn’t make it through.
    I’ll have another go at it:

    I wouldn’t define ‘writing well’ quite like that. Rather, I’d say that to write well, you have to pay attention to the kind of thing that you, yourself, would like to read.
    (This requires a level of honesty with yourself that is no mean task – hence the many,. many awful writers in the ‘romantic’ school.)

    Like you, I make my living as a writer. In the Netherlands I’m certainly not a household name, but people there who are professionally interested in childrens’ books – critics, librarians, booksellers, other writers – are, likely as not, aware of my work. (Netherlands. Tiny country. Nuff said.)
    Therefore, I am sometimes approached by publishers with assignments for books. They give me complete autonomy with regard to the subject matter, near-complete autonomy as to style (no swear words, that’s all) and some parameters concerning the reading level.
    These books hardly ever turn out well. They sell better than my ‘free’ work, so there’s a market for them, but *I* know they’re not really that good. It is truly a terrible thing to walk into a bookstore and see sub-par prose with your name on it!
    So I’ll stick to my guns, and advise everyone to write only what flows from the heart, even if it’s just for a lark, even if you intend to make money off it. Only publish it if you love it, or it will hollow you out from the inside.
    Not worth it.

  114. @CR Patino #105:

    “What a very interesting question. I do not think the meaning of a program exists in the head of the authors. There’s a whole category of malfunctions, semantic bugs, where the behavior of the program is not quite what the programmers think should be. It is not so much that the computer fails, but that it does something surprising.”

    Anyone who has dealt with computers has probably encountered surprising behavior, but that’s not quite what I’m talking about here. (Or at least I don’t think it is.)

    Douglas Hofstadter, in Godel, Escher, Bach, talks about writing a poetry program. This is in the 1970s, so the program was pretty basic. It chose words at random from one or more lists, and combined them according to some grammatical rules, and the result was some poetry-like product.

    To my knowledge, this is not how poets work. They start with something they want to express, and figure out what words and what structure will best convey the subtle notion that has captivated them – a lover’s glance, the ravages of industry upon England, a leaf dripping water into a stream or what have you.

    If you find something interesting in Hofstadter’s computer poems, that’s a function of your consciousness. The machine is just churning through various electrical states (ones and zeroes), with no inherent notion of poetic construction. It’s operating according to a mathematical approximation of poetry. (I would say that if there is an inherent meaning in his computer poems, it can be boiled down to Hofstadter claiming that humans can be replaced by machines.)

  115. >it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for them to notice

    My guess, if they’re like any of the big companies I’ve dealt with – is no, it won’t. By the time they notice, it’ll be years later than now and way too late to do anything about it other than, flail around.

    It may be coming up on a time for a new crop of publishers to take over? I don’t know.

  116. @Thijs Goverde: Thanks for your recommendation of Ishiguru! I have reserved Klara and the Sun and should encounter An artist of the floating world tomorrow. JMG, I apologize for our slightly off-topic conversation, but I would like to briefly wrap up a few points.

    Yes, my wording was badly edited, I had originally written “those constraints seem to be relaxed for authors who live outside Europe or North America and don’t write in English”. It seems authors with an “exotic” origin like García Márquez are forgiven some transgressions – maybe even Japanese origins count as exotic, maybe even Russian ones (Master and Margarita, Solshenitsyn, and, more modestly, Laurus). But for European and North American authors who want to be published by “serious” editors and receive literary prizes, I think the discussion of “closed world structures” in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (ch. 15) is still appropriate.

    By the way, I found your remark on the conventional farmers’ protests in the Netherlands. I recall that somebody else also linked an explanation of the matter that went in the same direction as your links, which I read with great profit. I find it is often difficult to make JMG change opinion in the same week that he posted his original post, though sometimes he does change it later on. That may be connected to his narrative strategies and didactic aims – it seems the EU serves him as a negative counterfoil to what he desires for the US.

  117. I propose a new genre of non-fiction called “delusional non-fiction” (formerly called “journalistic reporting”, a.k.a. “news”); it may alternately be called “green fiction disguised as non-fiction”. I cannot help myself but share a prime example from “Canada’s most trusted news source”: the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC): https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-energy-storage-electricity-supply-1.6698003#:~:text=Ontario%20is%20staring%20down%20an%20electricity%20supply%20crunch,say%20could%20also%20change%20energy%20use%20at%20home.

    Such a lovely word-salad of illogic, nonsense, contradictions, hopium and outright lies all wrapped in nice “green” wrapping paper. Looks like the hapless citizens of Ontario are being setup to fund another mega-boondoggle!

    I hope that reading such garbage will not be hazardous to some readers’ (Chris at Fernglade Farm in particular comes to mind) health…

  118. I think favourite writers or best writers is a very subjective matter, and often depends on cultural fashions or worse, on cultural wars. Time is a good “cleaner”, so IMHO a few writers overcome time test…
    On the other hand, it’s not the same writing in the most extended Indo-European languages, with a big “readers pool”, than writing in “micro”-languages with very few potential readers. Being a reader from a near extinct language as Aragonese is, I know that fame in minoritarian tongues is very very relative, even when they are Indoeuropeans. So the cock’s fightings between writers/readers for fame and honours, if/when happens, are very ridiculous: “A tempest in a teapot”. (disguised as struggle for an official grammar and orthography, or other one, for instance).
    Because there are nearly the same writers as readers in these little languages, so a big part of the edition in Aragonese or Basque is subsidized by regional/central state governments.
    These aids to edition depends on governments kindness, so nationalist or regionalist governments are more fond of giving funds to their local languages, so what happens when spanish populists -far wing-governments come to the national/regional “thrones” ? That dependence on political situation is openins a can of worms…

  119. Thijs, hmm! I didn’t delete one of yours, in case you were wondering. One of the things I appreciate about you is that you can be angry withou being rude. With regard for your experience, that’s interesting. Mine is different, for what it’s worth; I also get contacted by publishers and asked to do specific projects, and some of those have turned out as well as the projects I’ve come up with on my own. (My recent book The Druid Path, for example, was entirely the publisher’s idea, but I’m delighted with the way it came out.) Equally, books I’ve written without any particular feeling of need turned out very well and are among my favorites — my book Monsters, now in its third edition and still my most popular book, is the best example here; I was simply casting around for something to write once I finished my first geomancy book, decided it would be fun to revisit my childhood fascination with monsters, ran the idea past the publisher, and then had to figure out what to do with the project. But of course your mileage may (and obviously does) vary.

    Other Owen, oh, granted. “Never” is always a possible date.

    Aldarion, no problem at all.

  120. Hi John,
    Glad you enjoyed the haiku. That particular one was the first in a quartet of haikus:

    Seasons

    Cuneiform geese
    wedging across wet clay skies,
    inscribing winter…

    My Chia pear tree
    waves its blossoming branches,
    Sadie wags her tail

    Puffy summer clouds,
    stepping stones across the sky,
    for the light-hearted

    Stand barefoot before
    the burning tree of autumn,
    touch falling embers…

    All four were drawn from my few years in southeast Michigan, a place of great natural beauty, friendly and resilient people, and the beginnings of an arts-and-crafts revival. I saw the seeds of the future civilization you see arising in this region down the road.

  121. The greatest science fiction work I think I have read is an anthology actually; The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection. The volume I cherished was published in 1990.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Year%27s_Best_Science_Fiction:_Seventh_Annual_Collection
    The stories blew my mind at the time I read them. Steve Popkes’s “The Egg” I think is a perhaps a precursor to deindustrial science fantasy… if that genre even exists yet.
    Among other stories, “The Third Sex” by Alan Brennert encouraged the reader to consider genderless people as a kind of evolutionary step forward.
    These stories were wickedly ahead of their time. I think I believed as a young man that the authors were somewhat psychic. When I read this anthology, four times at least, i felt like I was at the cutting edge of something fantastic, like I was being submerged into a world I had never been allowed to experience. It felt like raw creative science fiction at its best at the time. It is really sad that most of these stories would have been poisoned in this day and age by invasive political censorship.
    The divide and conquer strategy and censorship employed after the occupy wall street protests perhaps put the nail in the coffin for now.
    Cheers to the brave writers willing to blow people’s minds apart with raw uncensored creative writing!

  122. Like Thijs, I also had a post not come through. Perhaps it was blocked by the patented JMG moderation algorithm for not being much of a contribution and/or being unintentionally rude?

    Oh, well. Onwards and upwards!

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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