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Bring Back the Comments Section!!

 (image via wikimedia)

He’s probably not saying anything nice. (image via wikimedia)

Most news websites don’t have comments sections anymore, and it’s easy to understand why.  People call each other names and curse at each other.  Commenters hurl sexist bigoted racist insults.  Even worse, people brag about making $850 a day working from home.

National Public Radio recently made news by announcing it was removing the comment sections from its website.  For some, it was news that NPR had a website.  NPR’s website is a lot like its radio, except you can add inflection when you read NPR’s articles aloud.  If you read NPR material with a FOX News voice, then you have something that average Americans can listen to.

I can understand NPR closing its comments because everyone on their radio stations speaks in such calm, monotone voices that they don’t know how to handle all the arguing that a comments section brings.  NPR employees don’t know how to handle the raw emotion.  At least, I’ve never heard NPR hosts express emotion.  It must baffle the NPR website moderator to feel the emotion from commenters calling NPR left-wing socialist shills who couldn’t be successful without government funding and public donations.

It’s too bad that it’s so difficult to find a good  comments section on a news website anymore.  In the old days, I could scroll through CNN, FOX News, Associated Press, USA Today, Reuters, and a bunch of other traditional news websites.  The comments were more fun than the stories.  I could be well-informed on the latest current events and up-to-date on on all the new fashionable insults.

Now I have to read Twitter or Facebook for comments, and that’s inconvenient because comments are about scattered topics, and you have to follow the right hashtags.  The comments, though as vulgar and asinine, are more disjointed and disorganized.  If I’m going to read political vitriol, I want it to be organized.

News sites admit they don’t like dealing with the negativity of comments sections anymore.  Maybe it costs too much to hire a moderator to delete all the offensive material.  Then when commenters get deleted or banned, they complain about getting censored, and that causes websites even more headaches.  Maybe it was these trolls who forced news websites to get rid of comment sections, but if that’s true, then they let somebody else’s bad behavior dictate policy.

I’ve deleted comments from my own blog, but I don’t do it often.  Since I usually write about books, I don’t get too much of the controversial stuff.  If I get a “You suck!” comment, I leave it alone.  In fact, I appreciate the “You suck!” comment.   I’ve deleted comments only for extreme profanity.  And one time I deleted a lewd comment some guy made to a female blogger.  At least, I’m pretty sure the blogger was female.  On the internet, you never know for sure.  Anyway, I’m the only guy who’s allowed to make lewd remarks in my comments section.

Closing the comments section shows the reader that the website owner thinks communication should be one-way.  The reader is supposed to take in whatever the website says and like it, no matter what.  If I wanted to read something with no opportunity for immediate response, I’d buy a newspaper.  I gave up newspapers over a decade ago, partially because I couldn’t respond to it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I rarely write comments.  I only leave a comment if I have something to add that hasn’t already been said.  I don’t write comments just to say I agree or disagree, though maybe I should.  But I appreciate the chance to write a comment if I choose to.

Closing the comments means that the political arguing has moved on to other outlets.  All those arguments that are destroying friendships on Facebook?  I blame the news sites.  Arguing in a comments section might have been pointless, but anonymous rants can cleanse the soul.  Now when you rant, you lose friends.  I don’t have many friends, so I don’t talk politics to anymore, but not everybody can as good at conflict avoidance as I am.  It’s a talent.

If there’s been a breakdown of civility on social media and in our personal lives, it’s CNN’s fault.  It’s Fox News’s fault.  It’s Associated Press’s fault.  It’s USA Today’s fault.   All that hostility should have been confined to their comments sections of their websites.  Instead, it’s crept into our personal lives in social media.  For the sake of families and friendships, please… please… please… bring back the comments sections.

*****

If you’re tired of political stuff and negative comments, you’ll probably enjoy my book .

Book Publishers Might Be Spying on You

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

The world doesn’t need more ways to spy on normal people.  Governments spy on us.  Tech companies and corporations spy on us.  Pervert neighbors with drones spy on us.  This spying is called data collection now, but it’s still spying.  Even the publishing industry is in on it.

Book publishers have a good reason to spy from their point of view.  They want to accumulate book readers’ data to predict what future books will sell. For example, whenever I read an ebook on my Kindle app, I know Amazon is collecting the data and putting it into algorithms.

Amazon then recommends books to me using the algorithm, but the algorithm isn’t very good because I rarely want to read the books Amazon recommends.  Most of the recommended books are by the author whose book I’ve just finished reading or a book about the same topic or from the same genre, but I rarely want to read the same author, topic, or genre again for a while.

I don’t mean to sound paranoid (which means I probably sound paranoid), but book publishers might be spying on us without us even knowing about it.  When I skim through a book at B&M Booksellers, a camera COULD be watching me, logging each page that I turn, tracking which books I read, which books I buy, and which books I then check on my Amazon app.  It might be unlikely, but it could happen.  I don’t have proof, and that’s what makes it paranoia.

The book publishers are spying on us… “for our own good.”  They just want to… “help”… us by providing us with the books we want to read.  And if the book publishers happen to make a little money, that’s a bonus.  Whenever a powerful entity like government or a corporation (or a parent) tells us it’s “for our own good,” I get paranoid again.

Spying on me while I read would be pretty boring.  Reaction videos are popular on YouTube, but reactions while reading a book would be dull, at least if I were the focus.  Even when a book excites me, I just stare blankly at the pages.  Staring vacantly is my excited look when I’m reading.  If I curse or fidget or say funny stuff while I’m reading, that means the book sucks, and I’m probably very entertaining, but I still don’t want to be watched.

Not all spying makes me paranoid though.  Websites like Jellybooks allows consumers to read ebooks for free so that publishers can track reading habits.  If an entity is upfront about spying, then it’s not really spying, and that can decrease the paranoia (but nothing truly gets rid of it).

Publishers have learned so far that most people don’t get to the halfway point of most free books.  That makes sense.  If I have a free book, I don’t mind not finishing it.  If I purchased a book, I’m more likely to complete it because I spent my own money on it.  I have a financial stake in finishing it and not finishing it.

If books are free, I might not mind if a publisher spies on my reading habits.  But I’d get ticked off if I paid for a book and still got spied on.  If I pay for something, I shouldn’t get spied on.  The cash (or credit) should buy my privacy.  It’s not that I have anything to hide.  It’s just that most stuff is nobody else’s business.

Once I buy a book, it’s not the publisher’s business to know how much I read.  If it’s on Amazon Kindle Unlimited, it’s Amazon’s business because their payment to authors depends on how many pages of each book gets read.  But if I buy an entire book, then it’s my business.

I feel the same way about government and taxes.  If I pay taxes, then the government shouldn’t get to spy on me.  In fact, if I pay taxes, I should get to spy on the government.  I bet more people would be willing to pay taxes if that meant they could spy on government officials.  In fact, I’d be willing to let book publishers spy on me while I’m reading their books if I could spy on them while they’re deciding what books to publish.

To be honest, I wouldn’t spy on people even if I were allowed to. I’m a writer.  I don’t want to watch people just to collect data.  I watch people so I can write books and make up stories.  And you don’t need to be a spy to do that.

*****

Speaking of books, here is one of mine.   Just so you know, Amazon might spy on you, but I won’t.

Reading Makes You Live Longer… but is it worth it?

Get up and live your life, you bookworm!! (image via wikimedia)

Get up and live your life, you bookworm!! (image via wikimedia)

Everybody who enjoys reading knows there are a lot of benefits from it.  People can become more knowledgeable when they read.  People who read fiction have more empathy than people who don’t read.  Reading can also improve our critical thinking skills.  Now a study shows that reading makes us live longer too.

The study shows (supposedly) that people who read 3 ½  hours a week or more live at least two years longer than people who don’t.  There are a few more numbers in this study, but I don’t like numbers, even though I probably should like numbers because I like to read.  Then again, I don’t like to read math books, so it makes sense that I don’t like numbers.  Still, it seems like two years is the average extended lifespan for people who read books.

Wait a minute.

Two years?  That’s all we get for reading?

I feel cheated.  I’m kind of ticked off the number isn’t higher.  All that time and effort I’ve put into reading, and all I get is two years?  That sucks!

“That sucks!” is something some of my friends would say about reading.  Even though I’ve always been a reader, I’ve had friends who weren’t, and they often thought I was wasting my time by reading so much.  There were other things I could have been doing, according to them, like drinking, getting into trouble, and sleeping around.  Every minute that I was reading kept me from living my life, they said.  My most gracious of friends would admit it was okay to read, but only when drinking, smoking, getting into trouble, and sleeping around weren’t options.

It’s tough to explain reading to somebody who hates to read.  It’s not as fun explaining as getting drunk and getting into trouble and sleeping around.  Those activities are easy and fun to explain.  I can tell great stories about getting drunk, sleeping around, and getting into trouble, and I don’t even get drunk, sleep around, or get into trouble.

If I tell stories about reading, people give me blank stares.  If I explain how awesome a book is, they give me blank stares.  But if I describe my weekend of fictional debauchery, they listen, even if they don’t believe me.

I’ll be honest, I don’t always trust “studies” because researchers can always find a way to support an agenda if they want.  But I like reading, and I want to encourage others to read, so I’m less likely to find fault with a study that I hope is true.  It makes sense to me that people who read live longer (if it’s indeed true), but maybe it’s the lifestyle which goes into reading that makes readers live longer.

Maybe the study isn’t even true.  Some of us might have sedentary habits that could make us unhealthy.  We might sit around while we read.  Sitting too much is unhealthy and can subtract years from our lives.  We also might read in public, increasing the likelihood that we get our heads bashed in by evildoers looking for easy victims, and that’s unhealthy too.  But if you’re going to sit anyway, reading is probably the best activity for you.

I actually believe the study because of what I’ve seen in my own life.  Reading can be a sedentary activity, but my friends who don’t/didn’t read books have/had far more bad habits.  They tend to be the risk takers.  Like I mentioned earlier, they drink too much, smoke, get into fights, drive their cars too fast.  When they were kids, they were the ones who skateboarded off of rooftops or somersaulted off of playground equipment or rode bikes down hill through busy intersections with their eyes closed and hands up in the air.

I tell you, no kid who reads books would ever do crazy stuff like that.  We tend to play the odds more wisely.  And book reading is about the safest thing you can do.  We can read about all that crazy stuff instead of being involved in the crazy stuff.

But two years?  It just seems like we readers should get more extra time than that.

Even if we didn’t get the extra years, I’d still read.  I enjoy reading.  Two extra years doesn’t seem to be enough, but I’ll take them.  It’s better than two fewer years.  And I can read a lot of books in two years.

*****

If you enjoyed this blog post, and you want to live longer by reading even more, you’ll probably love this ebook.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter vs. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones

JK Rowling is "done" with Harry Potter.

JK Rowling is “done” with Harry Potter.

Ned Stark might be "done," but Game of Thrones isn't.

Ned Stark might be “done,” but Game of Thrones isn’t.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin probably don’t attract quite the same audience.  Both sets of books have magic and shocking sequences, but Game of Thrones has a bit more “adult” material in it and can be a little more difficult to follow, with a bunch of minor characters and meandering subplots.

When I talk about Game of Thrones, book readers get mad and remind me that the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire.  If I say A Song of Ice and Fire, people who don’t read the books get confused, and then I have to say Game of Thrones anyway.  With J.K. Rowling, all I have to say is Harry Potter, and everybody knows what I’m talking about.

The series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is not even done yet.  There are still two books left, and nobody really knows when these books will be completed and published.  Even though there have been deadlines, George R.R. Martin hasn’t been able to meet them.  Martin is lucky he’s a fantastic writer because otherwise no publisher would tolerate him.

Some fans are worried that A Song of Ice and Fire might never get finished, that George R.R. Martin will pass on before he’s done.  I don’t like to judge other people (even though I write a blog), but Martin looks like he might have some… issues.  I don’t want to list what those issues could be because I’m not a doctor, but if you look at the guy, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

If Martin dies before finishing A Song of Ice and Fire, a lot of readers will be ticked off.  Some will be angry that he didn’t write the novels quickly enough.  Others will point out that if he had lived a more healthy lifestyle, he would have given himself more time to finish his novels.

George R.R. Martin spends a lot of time writing stuff that isn’t A Song of Ice and Fire.  He writes Dunk and Egg stories.  He writes histories of his fantasy world.  To me, those are things he should write AFTER he’s done with A Song of Ice and Fire.  Dunk and Egg stories are okay, but I want to know what happens in Westeros.

Now that everybody has had the chance to read (if not see) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling claims that she is “done” with Harry Potter .  There are no more Harry Potter stories to tell.  The series is complete.  There might be other tales in the Potter universe, but that’s it for Potter.

“Done” might mean something different in the U.K.  In the United States, “done” means you’re finished with it, you’re through, you’re never going back, it’s dead to you.  Maybe in the UK, “done” means we’ll revisit it in a few years.  I don’t know.

J.K Rowling might be “done” with Harry Potter, but not all her readers are satisfied.  Some say she wrote the series too quickly and didn’t think through some of the plot developments and characterization.  In other words, they claim she should have taken her time.    Other readers complain that Cursed Child feels like fan fiction.  This shows that no matter what a successful authors does, readers are going to complain.  Then again, J.K. Rowling looks pretty healthy.  It seems like she is putting herself in a position to write a lot more books.  I guess that’s judging (which I try not to do, even though I’m a blogger), but at least it’s positive judging.

I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that J.K. Rowling will write another Harry Potter book/script/something within the next 20 years.  I’m not talking about a Tolkien-like Silmarillion.  I don’t mean something related to the Harry Potter universe.   I mean, J.K. Rowling will write something new and significant about Harry Potter.

Cormoran Strike books are okay, but they would not have been best sellers if J.K. Rowling hadn’t admitted she was Robert Galbraith.  I don’t think Strike novels will sustain her own interest for the next 20 years and beyond.  At some point, Rowling will think of another idea for a Harry Potter book.  And I bet she’d rather change her mind than NOT write a new book just to stay true to her word.

When it comes to George R.R. Martin finishing A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m not sure how I’d bet.

*****

What do you think?  Is J.K. Rowling really done with Harry Potter?  When (as in what year) do you think George R.R. Martin will finally finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire?

*****

If you enjoyed this blog post, you’ll probably like this ebook too.  It’s not a series.  Plus, it’s short and done.

Social Media Is Impossible To Keep Up With

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? Tumbl’r? I’m not bitter; I’m just lost. (image via Wikimedia)

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? Tumblr?  I’m so lost. (image via Wikimedia)

Social media is a constant mess.  Facebook and Twitter promote pointless political feuds.  Instagram causes headaches.  Tumblr sets off motion sickness.  If a social media platform leads to a physical ailment, it’s best to stay off of it.  And I haven’t even mentioned YouTube yet.

As an aspiring author, I’m supposed to do more than write. Literary agents and publishers want authors who already have a social media following.  I guess that makes sense.  A social media following means guaranteed book sales, and nothing appeals to publishers more than guaranteed book sales.

I always thought that the book publisher was supposed to provide the hype and media attention to promote books, but I guess times have changed.  But if authors have already done the hyping themselves, then the publisher is just paying for the publication and then giving the author a low percentage of profits.

If I had a following large enough to attract a book publisher’s attention, I’d wonder… why do I even need a book publisher?  I could get money from a loan to publish the book myself and keep all the profits.

Whether independent or backed by a publisher, writers need to promote, and to do that, we have to immerse ourselves in various types of social media.  But most social media platforms suck.  Suck is an imprecise word, and I actually enjoy using social media for entertainment purposes, but as a writer, I don’t want to rely on it.

It takes a long time to get good at each social media platform.  I blog and I use Twitter, and these require almost completely different skills.  I enjoy blogging and I’m okay at it, and if I spent more time on Twitter, I might be successful at it too, but I don’t have the time.  I work at a job which has nothing to do with writing.  I’m married with two daughters, and I actually pay attention to them some of the time.  That doesn’t leave much time to create new content and self-promote it.  Even on a weekend or a day off, it’s difficult to find the energy/creativity to do all of that.

I’m not complaining.  I’m just trying to figure this out, and I know other writers/bloggers are going through the same experience.

Once you get good at some aspect of social media, there’s the chance/likelihood that the site will become obsolete.  I wasn’t aware of MySpace until Facebook had already destroyed it.  I didn’t start blogging until 2011.  I didn’t get a Twitter account until 2014.  I didn’t try publishing an ebook until 2013.   I haven’t even bothered to start a YouTube channel.  When it comes to social media, I’m way behind the trends, and that’s no way to be successful.

Since videos are easy to make, I thought about becoming a YouTube star, but I’m too old, I’m not attractive and my voice is monotone.  Then again, a lot of YouTubers are bland with unappealing voices.  I was surprised how bland a lot of prominent YouTubers are.  And they’re not that articulate either.  If I were younger, more attractive and articulate, I’d really have an advantage over them.

YouTube is awesome, but most new YouTube content has little appeal for somebody my age.  The majority of original videos are too long with 30 seconds of  substance per 7 minutes of video (I came up with those numbers myself, but I’m sure they’re accurate).  I’d rather read about what YouTubers are talking about than watch/listen to YouTubers talk.  Blogs take longer to write than it does to make a video, but it takes longer to watch a YouTube video than it does to read a blog post.  Therefore, YouTube is not for me.  I watch old content (football games and pre-1980s comedians), but not much of the new stuff.

The younger YouTubers often use apps like Vine and Musicl.Ly, all of which would be useless to me as a writer.  Being a star on one of those platforms looks like fun though.    It just takes a few minutes to create and edit a 6-second video that gets millions of hits.  That must be awesome, to make a 6-second video and become famous, but if I tried, it would just be creepy. Nobody could watch me on those apps without cringing.  And I don’t want to be associated with cringing.  Plus, nobody who uses those apps would be interested in buying my ebooks, so I’d be humiliating myself for nothing.

I’ve seen authors/bloggers with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and even more accounts than that, and I wonder… how do they do it?  I guess when I see all those millenials staring at their phones while they’re in public, they’re managing their multiple social media accounts.  It probably takes up every moment of their spare time.  I’m not willing to stare at my phone in public, so I guess I shouldn’t have multiple accounts.  That might keep me from being a successful blogger/writer.

But at least I know where my children are.  They’re both watching YouTube videos.

*****

What do you think?  Which social media sites do you use the most?  Which ones are the biggest wastes of time?  Which sites help you the most as a writer?

*****

While you’re staring at your phone or tablet, you can read  one of my ebooks that has nothing to do with social media.

University Library: The One Night Stand

(image via wikimedia)

This is a university library, but it is not THE University Library.  (image via wikimedia)

Even when I was a freshman in college, I was against one night stands.

I wasn’t prudish.  I simply thought one night stands were impractical.  It took a lot of work for an average boring guy like me to get a woman’s interest, and I didn’t want to work that hard for just a one night achievement.  If I was going to put effort into getting a woman’s attention, then I wanted her to stick around.

During my freshman year at the state school, I lived on the 8th floor of a 12 level coed dorm with the women on the north end and the guys on the south.  The elevators were on the women’s side so guys had to trespass to get there, and the unwritten morning rule was not to make eye contact or start conversation with the females if they were just getting up.  Before noon, I’d just keep my eyes to the floor.  I don’t know what the morning coed etiquette is now.

My roommate Kirk was a one night stand junkie.  He didn’t want a girlfriend.  About twice a week, he’d come in drunk with a woman and would expect me to leave.

I’m not going to get into how we met or became friends.  We knew right away that we’d have to figure out some kind of arrangement.  I was a serious student, and he partied.  This was back in the 1980s, and having sex with drunk women was acceptable male behavior back then.

I’ve never liked drunk women, which was too bad because women liked me a lot better when they were inebriated.  And I really didn’t like them when Kirk brought them back to the dorm room after I’d already fallen asleep.  Kirk understood, but there was nowhere else for them to go.  The girls wouldn’t want to take him back to their place, and he didn’t have money for a hotel.

Just so you know, Kirk never slipped anything into a woman’s drink or anything like that, but there were some issues, and I’ll probably delve into those later.  I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize his behavior.  I’m just explaining my situation back in the 1980s when I was 18 and a lot of stuff was going on.

Kirk and I tried the standard communication systems of the time (before cellphones).  The rubber band on the door knob was too obvious.  One night some guy on our floor removed it and I walked in on Kirk in bed with some girl/woman.  I didn’t get a good look at her.  It was an awkward situation.  Next, some guy put a rubber band on the door when Kirk wasn’t even in the room.  When I found out that I had wasted a perfectly quiet night because of a false rubber band alert, I was pissed, and all the guys on the floor thought it was funny because I rarely expressed emotion.

It got a little frustrating.  If I went to bed early, I wondered if Kirk was going to burst in with his one night stand.  If I went to bed late and nothing happened, I felt almost cheated.  I needed to get my mind straight.

The dorms wouldn’t let us switch roommates (nobody would trade for Kirk anyway), so we were stuck until the next semester, so instead of arguing all the time with Kirk, I decided that I‘d just leave when he brought in his conquest.  I know this made me look like a chump, but I wasn’t.  I needed to keep my mind focused on school and work.  I didn’t have time and energy to get into the same argument twice a week.  Kirk was going to bring women into the room no matter what.  He never said that, but I could tell.  If he was going to do it anyway, I might as well get something out of it.

I got to use all of Kirk’s stuff, his stereo (it was a nice stereo), his television and VCR.  He was quiet during the day and wouldn’t bother me.  He had a lot more friends than I did, and he’d invite me whenever they went out, and we actually became pretty good friends for a long time, even after college.  He never gave me grief about my comic books or my bad taste in music (from his point of view) or my lack of a girlfriend.  He never bragged about how often he got laid, though he tried to give himself the nickname Sgt. Rock, but it never stuck.

In fact, the guys on the floor and I made of fun of Kirk’s promiscuous behavior.  We warned him that he’d get shot by an angry dad or beat up by a pissed off boyfriend.  We hung up posters of STD warnings on the wall next to his bed.   We told him that we had poked holes in his condoms (we never actually did it, though).  He took the razzing in a good-natured way, but I still had to leave the room when he brought in his female study partners.

Instead of slumming in a neighboring dorm room (I got offers from sympathetic friends), I spent my time at the University Library.  It was a perfect sanctuary for me while Kirk was doing his thing.  The University Library was open 24 hours, it was close to my dorm, and I could stay anonymous there.  I could study in peace, and when I fell asleep, nobody bothered me.

But something happened to me at that library, something that I’ve never heard happen to anybody else.  And I’m about to explain what it was.

*****

To be continued!

You can start University Library at the beginning with University Library: State School.

*****

And if you can’t wait until the next episode, you can read this ebook about my ONE moment of high school glory.

The Writing Challenges of an Uneventful Life

What should I write about? What should I write about? (image via wikimedia)

What should I write about? What should I write about? (image via wikimedia)

“My life is too boring to write about,” my oldest daughter said.

I knew what she meant.  Compared to other people, my family and I probably lead boring lives.  We stay at home most of the time.  We don’t travel much.  I have a monotone voice, so even when I do something exciting, it sounds boring, ( but that trait hasn’t been passed on to my kids).

To compensate for our boring lives, my daughter has a wonderful imagination and can make things up.  A couple years ago, I caught her lying in a memoir that she had written for a class assignment.  She had created a fictional brother and then killed him off, and her memoir was about the feelings of loss she had experienced.  It made her teacher cry.  It would have made me cry too, but I knew it was a load of crap.

Every year, my daughter’s school has a memoir/personal narrative writing contest, and she has come in second both years.  She probably would have come in first place a couple years ago, but I had told her to write a true story and not use the tale of her fictional dead brother.  Instead of a story of tragic loss, she wrote a narrative about  overcoming her fears, and the story came in second.  Last year, she wrote another humorous story that came in second as well.

I think coming in second twice is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment, but my daughter wants to win.  Next year is her last year at this school, and she knows this is her last chance (though there will be other writing contests at other schools).  I have confidence in her writing abilities, but if the wrong family member of a talented competing writer has something tragic happen, my daughter might not stand a chance.

“It’s not fair,” my daughter complained.

Then she corrected herself.  “You know what I mean.”

I allow my daughters to use the sentence “You know what I mean” to get themselves out of bad situations caused by poor phrasing.  They can’t stop with “You know what I mean.”  They have to find better ways to express the thought that wasn’t as bad as what they originally said.

“I don’t want anybody to die!” my daughter said.  “But I want to win the contest.”

I kept silent.

She paused.  “So…” my daughter said, “Can I just lie?”

“I don’t know,” I finally said.  “Can you?”

She rolled her eyes.  “May I lie?”

“You probably shouldn’t if the story is supposed to be true.” I said.  “But you can embellish.”

Writers have to embellish, I explained.  Most people have boring lives most of the time, so it’s okay for a writer to focus on the mundane and try to make it interesting.  It takes talent to write about the mundane.  Even reality shows focus on the mundane most of the time.  If you take away the fancy editing and background music, reality shows are filled with boring stuff.

My daughter will have to figure out how to compensate for the lack of tragedy in her life.  That’s what successful people do; they compensate for their disadvantages.  My daughter is smart.  I was confident she would figure something out.  She might not win the contest (school hasn’t even started yet), but she will come up with a good strategy.

It didn’t take long.  A few hours later, my daughter burst into the living room.

“I know what I’m going to write about,” she said with a smirk.

I asked her what her topic was, and she wouldn’t tell me.

“I’ll let you read it when I’m done,” she said.

“When will that be?”

“In about three months.”

Normally, I’m all for keeping a writing project to myself until it’s done, but in this case, I think I deserve a bit more information.  After all, I helped her talk out her problem (I think).  I should be able to know what her solution was.  Now I have to wait three months.  I’m looking forward to reading whatever it was she came up with, but I don’t think it’s fair that I have to wait until she’s done.  At least she won’t wait until the last minute.  I’m glad she thinks she has this figured out.

Now that she has her idea, the school will probably change the rules and mess it all up.

*****

If you’ve ever had a tough time deciding what to write, you might enjoy this ebook .

Independent Author Cheats and Gets Book Deal

Snowman needs a bigger carrot.

Sigh!  Some snowmen will do anything for attention.

There are a lot of ways to cheat when you’re trying to sell a book.  You can put cleavage (or a hot shirtless guy) on the cover.  You can put profanity in the book title.  You can put a humorous vulgar image on the cover.  You can give yourself a gimmick pen name, or you can even pretend to be the opposite gender.

I’m not saying that cheating is wrong when it comes to selling a book.  New authors have to do what it takes to grab readers’ attention, so I don’t have a problem with an independent author cheating to sell books.  I call it cheating because these gimmicks often have nothing to do with the quality of the book, but the cheating isn’t necessarily bad.

The book Diary of an Oxygen Thief  by some guy named Anonymous took a few years to sell enough books to attract a major publishing company.  You can read more details here , including some strategies that are NOT cheating.   Remember, I’m not reviewing the content of the book.  I’m reviewing the process the author went through to sell enough copies of his book to get noticed.

First, the author called himself Anonymous.  This was before Anonymous the hacker (I think), but there have been earlier versions of Anonymous authors.  Anonymous wrote a controversial diary(?) called Go Ask Alice back in the 1970s.  Another Anonymous back in the 1990s (who turned out to be a journalist named Joe Klein) wrote the book Primary Colors about a presidential campaign that mirrored the Clintons.   Anonymous is the pen name authors sometimes use when they write stuff so controversial that they don’t want to attach a name to it.  It’s a gimmick because the stories usually aren’t true but the author wants to pretend they’re true.

Next, the cover of Diary of an Oxygen Thief  has a snowman with a carrot in a provocative place.  Some people would say that it’s the perfect place for a carrot.  It depends on one’s perspective, I guess.

The cover ticks me off, not because it’s vulgar, but because I came up with that idea back in 1973, and I’m sure somebody else came up with it before me as well.  Anyway, I was eight, and we’d just gone through a blizzard, and some friends and I had just built a snowman.  We put a baseball cap on it, and used buttons for eyes and a carrot for a nose.  In a moment of genius, I moved the carrot to a lower spot and pointed it out to everybody.

Nobody seemed offended, so I went inside and brought my older brother out.  He nodded his approval, went inside the house, and came back out with a bigger carrot.  If I’d had foresight, I would have photographed the snowman and used it for one of my ebook covers decades later.

Getting back to the book, Anonymous made about 1,000 copies and got a few of them inside a local book store.  Once copies of his book were distributed in small bookstores, the anonymous author supposedly pretended to be a publishing company to get his book into Barnes & Noble.  Lying is really cheating.  I don’t like lying.  But book publishers can be unethical too, so maybe it’s okay for an author to lie by pretending to be a publisher whom everybody assumes would be unethical anyway.

Anonymous also pretended to be a hot chick in an online dating service and mentioned the book in “her” profile as a book that she loved.  Yeah, it’s clever, but it’s also dishonest, and I feel bad for all the lonely guys who bought his book thinking they had a chance with a hot chick who liked books.

I’ve never been a lonely guy, but I’m a writer, so I’m empathetic and would never intentionally put a lonely guy through that experience.  I guess Anonymous is NOT empathetic.  I too thought of posing as a hot chick to get people to read my blog and buy my books.  I could have done it and chose not to.

Over time, Diary of an Oxygen Thief sold enough copies to get a publishing company’s attention, and now Anonymous has a book deal.    It’s great that Anonymous no longer has to pretend to be a publishing company and a hot chick.  On the other hand, I don’t think he ever got punished for pretending to be a publishing company or a hot chick.

As an aspiring author, I’m torn about this Anonymous.  I like to read success stories, but I don’t like to see bad behavior rewarded.  His success teaches writers bad lessons, like lying to Barnes & Noble and giving lonely guys false hope is justified.  I’m a little uncomfortable with that.

At least the lesson my older brother taught me decades ago was harmless:  When you’re building a snowman, use the biggest carrot.

*****

What do you think?  What’s worse, pretending to be a publishing company or pretending to be a hot chick?  How unethical are you willing to get in order to sell your books?  What other examples of Anonymous authors are out there?

*****

Just so you know, I’m trying to sell my own ebooks without resorting to bad behavior, so if you enjoyed this blog post, you can find my ebooks  here  and here.

Old Things That Are Tough to Explain: You Could Only Watch It Once

(image via wikimedia)

If you were lucky, this was in color.  (image via wikimedia)

“It won’t fast forward!” my youngest daughter complained as she waved the remote control at the television and dvr box.

“That’s because the show is live,” my oldest daughter said.

My youngest looked exasperated.  She has been accustomed to watching recorded programs or videos uploaded on sites like YouTube.  The concept of a television show being broadcast sometimes doesn’t make sense to her.  She understands it, but she forgets every once in a while, and then she gets mad.  I don’t know if she gets mad because she can’t fast-forward or because she forgot she can’t fast-forward.

“That’s stupid,” she said and flung the remote onto the couch.

When I was a kid, I told her, we didn’t even have remotes.  You had to get up and change the channel.  And that wasn’t even the worst of it. There was no vcr or dvr.  If you really enjoyed a scene on TV, all you had was the memory of it.  You couldn’t go back and rewatch it.

If somebody at home interrupted the show, or stood in front of the television, you couldn’t go back to see what you missed.  If you disagreed with another viewer about something that happened or what a character said, you couldn’t go back and replay it to prove who was right.  All you could do was argue.

I would have stopped there, but my youngest had lost interest and was staring at her phone.  It rubbed me the wrong way, so I kept on lecturing.

Once a television show was broadcast, that was it, I kept explaining.  You weren’t ever going to see it again, unless it was on syndication years later or you caught in during a rare rerun.  I once missed the second part of a two-parter of Welcome Back Kotter, and I never saw it.  At the time, I was probably eight, I really wanted to see it.  It’s going to haunt me until I… not really.  I don’t care now.

You had the same problem with movies too.  Once the movie left the theater, it was done.  You might never see it again.  It was frustrating hearing about great movies that I’d never see. I was certain I’d never see The Godfather.  I’d never see Animal House.  Nobody knew that cable television was just a few years away.  When we finally got cable, the first thing everybody watched was Animal House.  It was great, but the nudity had been exaggerated.

At the time, theaters had only one screen, and a movie might stay for one or two weekends, and that was it.  When the multi-cinemas started getting built, that was a big deal.  Our multi-theater (when our area finally got one) had four screens.  We could select from FOUR movies on any given night!! That was awesome!

The first movie I saw more than once was the original Star Wars in the late 1970s.  A lot of people saw that movie twice.  That might have been the first movie that lots of people saw more than once.  Now I can watch it on my phone whenever I want.

While I was speaking to my daughter, I thought of a movie my older brother used to describe scenes from, a 1970s classic called Flesh Gordon.  I didn’t mention this one to my daughter.  The title Flesh Gordon tells you most of what you need to know.  My brother’s descriptions of the movie were hilarious.  I’m sure I could watch Flesh Gordon now if I wanted to, but I won’t.  It won’t live up to the expectations that my brother built up in me.

I explained to my daughter that the television networks would run movies during prime time, but those had lots of commercials.  I think I saw my first James Bond movies on network television.  They always went to commercial when the movie was getting interesting.  Late night, you could watch old black-and-white movies, but I wasn’t interested, and it was past my bedtime.

I was going to explain that back then we honed our story-telling abilities by retelling what we’d seen on television and the movies.  We used our imagination to picture what our friends and siblings had seen and what we had missed.

My daughter hadn’t looked at me the entire time I was lecturing her.  I knew I had overdone it, but I was making a point.  My daughter was holding her phone up in my direction so that it blocked her face, but then she’d peek up at me and then stare at her screen again, and I finally realized what she was doing.

“Why are you recording me?” I said.

She tapped the phone and set it aside.  “So you can watch yourself talk about how when you were a kid you couldn’t watch anything more than once.  I’ll send it to you, and you can watch this whenever you want.”

My oldest daughter laughed (I’d forgotten she was in the room) and said, “That’s very meta.”

I haven’t watched my video, and I’m not sure I ever will.  My lecture probably wasn’t as good as my memory of it.

*****

What do you think?  What movie or television show did you miss out on watching when you were a kid?  Has anybody seen Flesh Gordon?

*****

Back when I was a kid, I couldn’t write my own ebooks, so I waited until now to write them.

Here’s one of them.  If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably like this ebook too.

Why Is Shit a Bad Word?

Shit might be a bad word, but nobody's bothered by a turd.

Shit might be a bad word, but nobody’s bothered by a turd.

Most people don’t want to think about shit.  It’s kind of gross.  Some people might be fascinated with their own, but almost everybody is disgusted by other people’s.  Even though shit might be natural and necessary, it’s still gross.

People don’t like to think about shit, but we’re not supposed to say it either.  The word shit is considered rude and improper among most people.  If you’re a kid, you get in trouble for saying it.  If you’re an adult and you say shit in public, people look at you funny.

I have to admit, “Shit!” feels good to say.  When I crack my head against the cabinet, or hammer a nail into my thumb, or forget my wallet and don’t realize it until I’m at the airport, yelling “Shit!” always makes me feel better.  It’s my favorite profanity.  It’s not as bad as f#ck or modgammit, but it’s bad enough to get self-satisfaction from yelling it.

The word shit has a couple things working against it to make it a bad word.  Shit is a body function, and in much of society, it’s rude to discuss such things.  A lot of profanity comes from body parts and body functions that people aren’t supposed to talk about, and shit fits that profile.

Plus, shit is one syllable.  It’s okay to say the word defecate.  It’s okay to say defecation.  Those words are technical and multi-syllabic, so it’s sophisticated to use that terminology.  But shit is a one-syllable body function, and that often makes a word considered inappropriate.  That’s why it’s okay to say defection but not shit.  If I hit my head against the cabinet and yell out “Defecation!” I get no satisfaction from it.

A lot of people don’t know the word shit has a history.

Shit was from the Old English word scite and the Old English scītan which mean “to defecate” and is traced back to the early-to-mid 1500s.  Shit isn’t ancient like Greek Mythology, but it’s as old as Shakespeare, so it’s kind of old.  It’s not like some guy in the 1900s made up a new word and it suddenly became profane.

Shit has been around for a few centuries as a low-class word, and it’s earned its status.  For centuries, the word shit has been uttered in anger, pain, frustration, and other various forms of negative emotions.

There are several alternatives to shitPoop is not profanity, even though it means the same thing as shit and is only one syllable.  Poop is cute, much too cute to be profane.

Shucks is a better alternative because it starts the same way as shit and almost rhymes with f#ck, the ultimate profanity, but it doesn’t have the same meaning as shit.

Crap is the best alternative because it’s one syllable, and it’s not a bad word, but people think it is.  So if you want to be thought of as a rebel but still want to conform to social norms, use crap.

There are numerous variations of the word shitShit is usually a noun because it’s a thing, but shitty is an adjective because the word shitty is usually used to describe a noun.  For example, some readers might think this was a shitty topic for a blog post.

There are also a bunch of common phrases and terms that use variations of shit.

“You don’t know shit.” – That’s an insult because everybody knows what shit is, and it implies that you’re so stupid that you don’t know something that EVERYBODY knows.  It’s almost as bad as “You know nothing.”

“Piece of shit”- That’s an insult because shit is pretty low on the totem pole of status, and you’re not even complete shit; you’re merely a fraction of shit.

“You shit head.”- That means that your brain is made of shit (you’re stupid), and since you’re whole head is shit, your breath is probably bad too.

“I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.”- You’ll be pummeled so much that you shall lose control of your bowels.  You will probably urinate on yourself too, but that’s implied.

“Talking shit”- What you’re saying has no positive or productive value whatsoever.  In fact, what you’re saying is quite negative.

*****

When I write about profanity, I usually replace a vowel with a sign, like sh#t or f#ck, but I might stop doing that.  I’ve been censoring my own blog because I know that sometimes kids might read it.  However, I’ve seen what my daughters watch on YouTube, and I think I’ll stop censoring myself.  At least when I use profanity, I use it responsibly.

*****

What do you think?  What is the best alternative to the word shit?  Should a family-friendly blog use symbols as a form of self-censorship, or should I go ahead and spell out the profanity?  What variation of the word shit do you like the best?

*****

When I was a kid, I was punished for saying the word crap.  Looking back, it kind of ticks me off because now I know…

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And here is the true story of my one moment of high school glory!

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