Feds Nab Bad Writers Committing Crimes With Plot Generators

Washington, D.C., January 2, 2018, Star-Gazer News Service–Homeland Security Agents announced here today that a massive sting operation has resulted in the arrest of thousands of writers with low Amazon rankings committing crimes with the help of plot generator software rather than writing great American novels.

Chief of station Liberty Valance said that the writers were caught when the modus operandi of a “larger than usual” number of crimes matched the formal structure of short stories and novels.

“Over and over again, we were seeing exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution,” said Valance. “We also saw a correlation between writers who purchased plot generator software who were getting rich even though their Amazon rankings–with numerous one-star reviews–were in the toilet.”

Publishing insiders have worried for years that plot generator software was more likely to be used for planning perfect crimes rather than perfect fiction.

“If a writer’s any good, s/he doesn’t need a software package to create the plots for his or her novels,” said Bennett Surf, director of the American Association of MFA (manufactured authors) Colleges and Universities.

Analysts discovered that writers were launching their plot generator apps and typing in phrases like “knock over liquor store,” “make money via insider training,” “run over granny with a reindeer,” and “overthrow government” rather than using the software for the purpose for which it was intended.

“That purpose,” said Surf, “was bilking prospective writers out of hundreds of dollars by selling them a product that promised that a lack of imagination and writing skill need not keep their fiction off the New York Times bestseller list of the Pulitzer and Booker prize winners circles.”

Valance said that most of those caught designed first person crimes rather than third person or omniscient narrator crimes, making it easy for profilers to “pin the tales on the wannabees.”

A white paper issued by attorneys for the top ten plot generation applications said that the programs were dispensed for purposes of fun and relaxation, and that all of those “spending hard-earned cash” for the products signed terms of service agreements in which they promised not to use computer-assisted plotting for anything other than novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories.

“We even banned the use of plot generators for poetry because sonnets and limericks are usually horrible and potentially criminal,” said Plots-R-Us CEO Bill Smith.”

“There never have been any writing shortcuts (other than sleeping with somebody in the publishing business) and now–thanks to the Homeland Security Department’s agents and analysts–crime no longer pays as well as it did,” Valance said.

The White House praised Valance for no longer being a decorative drapery. “Today, it’s curtains for wordy criminals,” President Trump tweeted.

–Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

 

 

 

The tale of two literary forums

If you were out on the Internet in the 1980s, you probably remember that CompuServe was a major ISP, providing e-mail and forums for millions of users. In those days, almost every hi-tech company, whether hardware or software, had a forum staffed in part by representatives of the company to help people with bugs, usage issues, and other information. In addition to these forums, CompuServe also maintained forums for pets, religion, political discussions, hobbies, and literature.

Jupiter Images art

The forums all provided discussions in threads–originally in a DOS/non-graphic mode–that looked sort of like the outline-style comments on many blogs as well as on Facebook posts. As CompuServe (which became part of AOL) lost market share over time, these forums dwindled in number so that on December 14th when the remaining forums were shut down by CompuServe’s parent (a Verizon subsidiary), there were relatively few forums left compared to the old lineup.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was a regular participant on CompuServe’s Literary Forum. That name was later changed to Books and Writers. Those who participated in the forum in those days had a rare treat, seeing the birth of now-bestselling author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In those days, she was a very active participant and helped many of us get our start in the writing business. She answered questions from everything from craft issues to publication and promotion issues. While her active participation seemed reduced to me due to her busier schedule, she was still on the forum when CompuServe pulled the plug this month.

Like many early participants, I was lured away from the forum by the more cutting-edge software at MySpace and then Facebook. Also, the software at CompuServe’s forums changed so that when you replied to a comment, your reply was no longer posted beneath the message you were responding to, but at the end of the thread. For me, that made navigation a punishing task. Plus, many of the people I knew there when I was a regular had drifted away, and so I had less incentive to go there as fewer and fewer people knew me. My personal opinion was that the staff had become a bit heavy handed, though others didn’t see it that way.

Now, there are two forums to choose from

  1. The management of the former CompuServe forum, that is to say, the forum’s contract holder and the staff members (called Sysops and Section Leaders) changed the name back to Literary Forum. You can find it here: http://www.thelitforum.com/
  2. Meanwhile, a group of former-participants at the CompuServe forum who disagreed with various of the forum’s policies, started its own Literary Forum. You can find it here: https://forumania.com/      This screen is a landing page for multiple forums, one of which is Literary Forum with a button to click on to go to the forum.

Both forums are new. So there are probably software issues still to be worked out. The first forum listed here has more posts because they apparently were able to bring over posts from CompuServe. The Forumania Literary Forum doesn’t have a fan base and has fewer discussions to involve yourself with. I am a participant in both forums, but have a strong preference for the new Literary forum on Forumania.

Both forums require you to create an account if you want to respond to posts or start your own threads. Both are free. Both forums offer sections (groupings of threads) that will appeal to many readers and writers. There are discussions of current books, genres, the writing craft, and promotional matters.

I invite you to look at each of them, learn how they are organized, and see if you can find a niche there that fits your preferences for talking about the books you’re reading and/or the books you’re writing and promoting. Unfortunately, neither forum has been able for afford software that places responses to threads in the order they’re posted. I figure that if Facebook and WordPress can display responses in an outline form, everyone ought to be able to do it–and CompuServe knew how to do it decades ago. So navigation isn’t as user friendly at either place as it is at other websites.

However, I received a lot of writing help and inspiration at the original Literary Forum when I was starting out. Perhaps you’ll find this kind of help at one of these literary forums as well. They are worth the time and effort and a good place to make some new online friends.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories, many from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

 

Should our fiction focus more on why you should beware of those you love?

“Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you.” – Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

“You’re more likely to be hurt or killed by someone you know or love. And you’ll probably be at home when it happens.” – Mother Jones Magazine

“Over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, with the vast majority of the victims dying at the hands of a current or former romantic partner” – The Atlantic

“Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.” – SPCC

As I look at articles written for and about writers and their work these days, the focus of late seems to be mirroring the political issues debated in the press, in Congress, in churches, and in social media.  I am seeing more essays, poems, and short stories by writers who–like everyone else–are trying to make sense of environmental problems, personal rights, racial issues, economic imbalances, health care priorities, terrorism, immigration, and religion as it impacts governmental policies.

Some writers write to figure stuff out: the resulting poem or short story might help readers figure stuff out. And if the writer is good, this can be done without making the poem or story sound like a political tract or a news release from a social service organization. It’s been said that many people learn more history from well-written historical novels than they do from the basic history courses they were required to take in high school and college? Why? The drama of the story catches their attention. The same can be said about fiction that focuses on the issues of the day.

For those of us who haven’t yet become immune to the horrors reported in the daily news, the quotes at the beginning of this post are shocking. The thing is, most news stories about family-related abuse and murder focus on one family or one person. So, while the numbers of the dead, dying, and traumatized continue to add up through the calendar year, nothing focuses our attention on them with high amount of impact of terrorist shootings such as 58 people killed and 546 injured at the Las Vegas Harvest music festival on October 1.

We lost our innocence a long time ago, those of us who–as children–believed that the world would be better off by the time we grew up than it has turned out to be. We believed in Superman and other heroes who would find ways to prevent every potential Las Vegas horror without infringing on our liberties. And we believed in the power of churches, laws, social service institutions, education, and the general evolution of society to end the abuse and murder of family members, especially women and children.

So here we are today, focused on terrorism–which we seriously do need to sanely address–while deaths and injuries of family members stack up like cord wood with fewer headlines to remind us that those we love are more likely to hurt us or kill us than a terrorist or some other thug on the streets. I’ve seen novels and poems about this, but not enough. It’s easier to find novels about fighting terrorism than fighting child and spousal abuse. I’m not surprised: after all, a government security contractor that isn’t bound by the rules governing police/FBI fighting a group that wants to blow up Washington, D. C. is more likely to be a bestseller than a novel about a woman who keeps calling the local police department with fears about what her husband might do.

We can do better, I think. We can look at family-oriented abuse and murder and–perhaps, first–join nonprofit groups that are fighting it and educating the public about it. But writers can take another step. They can experiment with themes and plots and characters and find compelling ways to tell stories about individuals who are–so to speak–living in hell next door while we focus on people caught up in the national news miles away. We need writers creating short stories, essays, memoirs, and poetry about this as a means of figuring out why it’s happening, and of reminding readers that it’s happening closer than they think.

–Malcolm

Going into the dark

“The space Hunt’s fiction inhabits is the dark dark itself, which, she writes, is ‘unknowable, unlit, mysterious, and disappearing.’ ‘You can have one foot in a spot that’s grounded,’ she says, ‘and one foot out there in the dark, the night, the unknown, which is so tempting, and for me is the place where mystery is sighted. I can’t not go into the unknown. Where the scary music is playing and people say, ‘Don’t go in there,’ I’m the person who says, ‘What’s in there?’ I must know.”

Lucas Loredo, interviewing Samatha Hunt (“The Dark Dark”) in Kirkus Reviews

Going into the dark, I think, is the author’s first duty. That’s where our stories come from, from truths that are greater than logical, everyday world truths because they include dreams, imaginations, ponderings, and whatever goes bump in the night.

When Hunt writes in Mr. Splitfoot, “These woods are where silence has come to lick its wounds” she’s not stating anything logic can support. But we know what she means and what she means changes us the minute we consider it and know it. Perhaps, thinking of this quote, we go into the woods, hear silence at work. and understand something knew about our world, or at least, ourselves.

The writer either has to go into the woods first and discover this “truth” or s/he has to imagine going into the woods, almost like a shamanic journey, and discover what silence does. Then s/he places this discovery into a poem, essay, or story. This is not to say that writers must think and write like Samantha Hunt (though it helps); but writers must go into the unknown one way or another. That’s where the new stories are.

Whether you literally or figuratively go into the dark woods to listen to the silence or to the occasional screams and pleas that shatter that silence, you are doing something chaotic, uncontrolled, fearful, and possibly dangerous. The greater the chaos and danger, the more spectacular–and potentially transformative–the story. No pain, no gain, as people say.

The resulting story, as author Jane Yollen says–echoing Emily Dickinson–is truth told on the slant. In other words, “All storytellers are liars. We make up things to get at the truth. The truth of the story and—if we are lucky and have revised well—the truth of the world as well.”

You have probably heard–or discovered in a physics class–that when a tuning fork is struck with a hammer, a nearby tuning fork will vibrate at the same frequency. As I once wrote in a review of a book about the blues, and why that music is so powerful, “In his 1967 inquiry into the nature of man, Man in Search of Himself, physicist Jean E. Charon writes that inasmuch as the material in the unconscious is in archetypal form, works of art communicate it via an innate knowledge shared by artist and viewer in a language which ‘awakes unconscious resonances in each of us.'”

Hunt – Wikipedia photo

When a reader finds silencing licking its wounds in a poem or story and is the kind of reader attuned to such ideas, s/he will see the truth of those words at a slant, so to speak. They will convey a truth, an idea never considered, bring forth a new way of looking at wounds and woods and silence that was–in this reader–waiting to be born. Thinking of Yollen again, this is what she calls “life in truth” rather than “truth actual.” Truth actual is the apparent logical workings of the everyday world, what we expect in credible news reports and expert testimony and scientific studies. Life in truth includes the realities behind the ever-addictive illusion of a logical world.

Darkness, the place where seeds germinate to create the flowers we will one day observe, is the same place where writers’ stories germinate. As Hunt says, writers want to go into the dark to see what’s happening there and then write a story or a poem about it. Or, maybe even a blog post.

Writers seem to learn at an early age that the ability to see in the dark is a prerequisite to telling a good story.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, magical novels that are on sale on Kindle on 7/21/17 – 7/23/17.

 

 

 

Have you ever considered writing nonfiction?

“Selling nonfiction articles is most often done by pitching editors with article ideas that fit the publication’s needs, whether you’re pitching a magazine, newspaper, or online publication. It is key that you understand the needs of the specific publication and the audience, as well as the sections of the publication that need freelance writing.” – Writer’s Market

There’s more nonfiction published every year than fiction. Books aren’t the whole of it; there are also magazines and newspapers and a variety of online sites. So, where’s the biggest opportunity for freelancers? If you’ve been writing poetry, short stories and novels and are serious about increasing your published output and earnings, check sources like Writer’s Market for advice, lists of publications, and submission guidelines.

Here are a starling ideas list:

  • newsstandAs with fiction, you need to develop a platform. This includes ever expanding lists of articles in better and better magazines that show you can develop what editors want, get it finished on time, and have a certain level of acceptance in your specialty subjects.
  • Credentials are important. Think of this as resume material. In terms of subject matter, do you have college or technical school degrees to back up your writing, or profit and/or nonprofit work in your specialty areas? Working as a full-time staff member for a newspaper or magazine where you covered your specialty areas also helps. Unlike blogging, newsstand and prestigious quarterly publications don’t accept facts gathered from Wikipedia or a few hobbyists’ blogs as either research or solid credentials.
  • Follow the directions in the submission guidelines. Notice that many magazines are working on articles for issues that won’t be published for 6-9 months. Others have yearly themes or special themes. If these themes aren’t listed in the submission guidelines and/or aren’t obvious from reading the magazine, go to the publication’s web site and look for advertiser information. Quite often there will be a calendar there of one kind or another that lists the focus of the year’s issues.
  • If you can pitch an article, you’ll normally save time and have a better chance of acceptance even though competition for paying markets is tough. First, if you write an article and send it in unsolicited, the odds are about as bad as winning the lottery to expect that article to arrive in the mail at the same moment the editor is wishing s/he had such an article. If you send a query, including your credentials, focus/angle, and word count, you haven’t wasted time writing and researching anything that may not be what the editor needs; secondly, the editor may wish to ask you if you can write something slightly different than you’re proposing. Assignments, guaranteed or not, are always better than sending stuff in out of nowhere.
  • Knowing the magazine’s style, depth, and focus will help you deliver what makes sense to that magazine’s editor and readers. Articles are always written to address the needs of the readers, as in, what’s in it for them if they take the time to read the material? Some magazines like easy checklists; others use a lot of humor; some like a first-person approach; some want in-depth material that’s heavier in tone.

There are a lot of opportunities out there for freelance writers who develop their track records, specialties, abilities to adapt to editorial demands and deadlines, and a reputation for delivering high-quality material when promised.

If you go this route, you may never be as well-known as mainstream novelists, but you’ll make more money than writers who submit short stories and poetry alone.

–Malcolm

 

Authors, do you have expectations of privacy?

“When I first heard yesterday that Elena Ferrante’s legal name may have been revealed, I thought it was because she died. This thought entered my sleepy head in part because I misinterpreted a friend’s tweet on the matter, but also because I couldn’t immediately imagine under what other circumstances that information would come to light. Ferrante is internationally beloved for her novels, especially the Neapolitan series; while I knew some people were unimpressed by her work, I’d heard of no one who wanted to hurt her. Outing her or doxxing her or whatever you might prefer to call it, was so clear and unnecessary a violation that I still can’t see it as anything other than an attempt to do her harm.” – Charlotte Shane in “The Sexist Big Reveal” in “New Republic”

Salinger, Pynchon, Lee, Watterson, and Rowling are among the widely known authors who have guarded their privacy carefully, although their methods have differed. Needless to say, when you have money and are famous, numerous people will seek you out for a variety of reasons, so living at a publicized address on a regular neighborhood street might be out of the question even if that’s the lifestyle you prefer.

Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante, who writes under a pseudonym, has been more private than most because her real name has never been divulged–until now if the information about her is correct. The writer who tracked her down and told the world her name has invaded privacy for that appear to be sexist reasons. Her trauma may well be immense, especially if she carries out her promise (made years ago) that she would stop publishing if her real name was revealed.

Author Platforms

Wikipedia photo.

Wikipedia photo.

New authors, especially those without major publishing deals and the publicity that comes with them, often approach privacy much differently than those who have achieved popular appeal and critical acclaim. We’re told to establish a platform. In many ways, this platform is who we are and what our specialties are. As for who we are, we’re encouraged to interact with prospective readers on blogs and the social media. Quite often, this means saying how and where we grew up, what kinds of jobs we’ve had, notes about our hobbies and family, and status updates about the slings and arrows of everyday life.

As for our specialties, if we write non-fiction, then we’re asked to establish our credibility in certain fields so that we have potential for article-writing assignments, subject-matter-related interviews, and even questions from the press about issues we might have the credentials to address. The same might occur in fiction if we have expertise in, say, certain areas of history, social issues, police or legal backgrounds, etc. Otherwise, our platform tells prospective readers the kinds of books we like to write and perhaps a little bit about our approach. This establishes us in the minds of prospective readers has an author in the genres they like to read.

Do we say too much?

When invasion of privacy cases reach the courts, one question that’s often asked is, “Did the individual involved have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area where the alleged invasion of privacy occurred?”

Generally, one doesn’t expect privacy in public areas including one’s own yard that’s visible from the street. The whole business of camera-equipped drones and even satellites is complicating this inasmuch as both of them are capable of producing photographs of people in private backyards that aren’t visible except by air. Conversely, one does expect privacy within their own homes, especially when windows and curtains are kept closed.

Most of us who have talked about ourselves on the Internet and/or in the print media about our experiences and goals as we try to build our author platforms are unlikely to go to court five or ten years later and sue somebody for repeating what we said to the public in a Facebook status update, blog, or interview.

Yet, I often wonder if we say too much. For one thing, we’re competing with famous authors who seldom blab about their daily lives on Facebook. You don’t go to Rowling’s Facebook page and see her posting something about dropping a carton of eggs on her PC keyboard or going to the store for a new dress and not finding anything that fits. Unlike Rowling and others who are widely known, the public is NOT actively trying to find out more about us; also, we don’t have hundreds of events a year to publicize. So, what are we going to say on Facebook and our blogs if we don’t talk about ourselves?

And then, what happens if we become bestselling authors? We’ve pretty much given away the farm on Facebook and blogs if every scrap about our private lives is in print or on line somewhere. Not that we’ve said everything. Even so, do you want a rant you published on your blog 20 years ago on a bad day to be pulled out by critics and “proven” to be the gist of the plot for your latest novel? Probably not.

If our names become household names after we’ve given away the farm while paying our dues and becoming better writers and better known writers, do we have any expectations of privacy once we’re trying to maintain some semblance of a private life? Yes, but it’s going to be more difficult.

The public, and this includes the clown who outed Elena Ferrante, seems to believe that it has a right to know everything about well-known authors, movie stars, and others who are to varying extents in the public eye. Some readers believe an individual’s right to privacy ends the minute they publish a book or star in a film or TV show. Most of us need not lose a lot of sleep about being followed by voyeuristic fans and paparazzi any more than we need to worry about how our lives would change if we suddenly won a $50 million lottery prize.

For all of us who write, privacy is a balancing act. Since bestselling authors don’t write about their plumbing backing up on Monday, burning the steaks on Tuesday, feeling bumbed out about Presidential campaign ads on Wednesday, etc., the fact that newer and/or less widely known authors often do this draws a line between big time writing success and lesser known or unknown authors.  That is, to become known, we’re often told we must to the very things a well-known author would never do, and that ends us making us look like amateurs.

On the other hand, we can’t say “buy my book” every day in our blogs and Facebook updates. So, how do we engage with prospective readers? While all of us don’t say everything about our private lives, many of us probably end up saying too much. While we may not want to the privacy of an Elena Ferrante or a Jo Rowling, we might wake up one day and want more privacy than we’ve ended up with.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Emily’s Stories” (paperback, audio book, e-book, and Italian/Spanish editions) and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Webinars and Courses that Rip off Writers

The other day, I saw a promotion for an online course that claimed to be filled with secrets for increasing Kindle sales of your books to high, money-making sales numbers. The plan was advertised as being easy to implement and took so little time to keep going that it would free up a lot of the writer’s time for writing and researching future books.

I have no idea what the plan is because in order to find out, one had to sign up for a course costing almost $200.  Quite possibly, that could be the best $200 I ever spent. But I’m not willing to risk the money without more details about the plan. Apparently the course is a one-time deal before the webinars are released at a cost of $900 or more.

These prices are exorbitant.

money2If somebody has a marketing plan that’s really working for them by bringing in money like they’ve never seen before, why must it be sold sight-unseen to the rest of us rather than offering the details in a magazine article or in an appropriately priced Kindle or paperback book?

While this not be the case with the plan I’m thinking of, many no-fail plans require writers to do what they may not want to do: change genres, write shorter books, write faster, be more commercial, have a monetized website, sign-up for third party services that also cost money, attend conventions and participate in panels and book fairs, or other tasks which may not fit some writers’ lifestyles, abilities, and budgets.

My personal opinion is that a webinar is a horrible way for dispensing detailed information because it’s linear. If the information were in a PDF, a Kindle book, or a paperback, one could see large blocks of information, headings and graphics at a glance rather than waiting for the webinar/podcast to get to them. Adding insult to injury, many of these video presentations include guests and that means time is wasted introducing them and chatting with them and adding happy talk throughout the presentation. Even if you love webinars, if they’re not free, then they are more costly than reading a e-book with the same information in it. You may not agree, and that’s fine. I primarily resent the prices.

I subscribe to “Poets & Writers Magazine” and AWP’s “The Writer’s Chronicle” because I want professional advice and tips. “Writers Market” is another alternative as well as local and state writing organizations. Writers are, as many will tell you, not really competing with each other, so sharing techniques at a reasonable price (book/speech/article) rather than doling them out for a giant profits seems to me too be the professional thing to do.

A lot of promotional experts offer free PDF and Kindle files filled with tips in hopes that after reading those, the writer will subscribe for more expensive services. The tips vary in quality and application. They’re great idea generators even if you can’t use all of them. The more expensive services are described in detail so that the author knows what s/he is getting.

I might have just missed out on a money-making secret by turning down the $200 course. On the other hand, I’ve been around long enough to worry about buying a pig in a poke.

Malcolm