Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jeepers Flipping Cripes!

For those of you in writing circles you have no doubt heard about CleanReader. Much hullabaloo has been raised over this app in the past week and due to (justified) outrage from the author community this abhorrent app/reader has decided to remove its entire library completely and make some modifications to its app based on "feedback".

For those who may not be aware, CleanReader is an app that (until recently) sold books and allowed the user to set a "cleanliness" setting. Once that setting was established the app would scan through the book and replace all objectionable words at that cleanliness level (e.g. "fuck" would likely be eliminated at a low setting but you'd have to jack it up to squeaky clean levels to get rid of the words less objectionable to puritan eyes).

Image courtesy Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

Once authors knew this was going on a great many of them went completely bat shit crazy for a bevy of reasons. In the link from the previous sentence Chuck Wendig talks about consent. This comes in a couple of flavours.

First, authors/publishers weren't even asked if their works could be sold in conjunction with the app. Not so much as a single email saying:
"Oh hey there content creator/owner! We have this app that's going to materially alter the text in your work and we'd like to sell your varying levels of offensive literature alongside it to maximize the efficiency of the bowdlerization process. Is that cool?"
Anyhow, once authors/publishers started to find out the floodgates opened and requests, nay, demands started pouring in for books to be removed. The popular indie author website Smashwords demanded that ALL its titles be removed. Legally the app company had to comply, and to their credit they did so in rapid fashion. Not to their credit, however, is the fact that they had to do it posthaste because they didn't do any of the appropriate consultation to begin with.

Next there's the obvious objection from authors that the words in the books are precisely the words that were intended for the reader. No others. Order from what's on the menu please. No substitutions! Writers take their words very seriously, and they should. Words are our art. Manipulating them (and manipulating them for profit, no less) without consent is illegal (it's more legally grey in the US but it's black and white pretty much everywhere else. It's the literary equivalent of the metric system. Take a gander at Moral Rights).
"But you can buy a copy of a book and mark it up all you want." 
True. If someone wanted to buy a book and cross out all the "fucks" and write "darn" over top, that's fine with me. So if this app had a setting that let the user say something like, "If you encounter the word "fuck" in this book please replace it with the word "darn". If you encounter the word..." you get the idea. It would be the digital equivalent of taking a pen to a book they bought. I'd have to be okay with that. Of course, that's assuming that the digital copy of they book they have is actually theirs, and get this, it's almost always not.

In just about every instance you're not actually buying the ebook outright. You're buying the privilege, by way of a licence, of reading said ebook on a personal device. In this case, it's tough nuts fuckknockers, you get to read it as is, just as if you borrowed a physical book from the library. First sale doctrine does not apply.
Image courtesy adamr at freedigitalphotos.net

In summary, the not asking permission to bundle up book sales with this piece of shit app pisses me off. The fact that they're manipulating an author's words without permission pisses me off. The fact that some self-righteous app creator just up and decided what words were "bad" REALLY pisses me off. Sure, there are tolerance settings, but by whose assessment? The self-righteous app creator, that's who. They've decided not just what words to replace (and the tolerance level at which to replace them) but also what to replace them with. Chuck Wendig has a nice round-up post here with some fabulous examples. By my assessment it is censorship, and as we learned two posts ago I'm not cool with that. This debate even started a glorious pissing contest between Jenny Trout and I on Twitter in which she went all arms-waiving-bonkers (it was good times).

So, if you're one of the very few who think CleanReader is just the type of thing for you and you want books that appeal to your "sensibilities" I suggest you just go find some books that meet your morally high standards and then you can save yourself the app purchase.

Alternatively, and I'm going to borrow a wonderful turn of phrase from Chuck Wendig here, you can jolly well fucking write one yourself.

Image courtesy nattavut at freedigitalphotos.net
~ Andrew
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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Word Worms (and those other things)

Perfunctory.

This word has been rattling around in my head all on its own for two days now. I can't shake it. Worse than an ear worm (where that song you just heard has you humming the melody all day as you walk around at work) this word worm is taunting me. Taunting, I say! Those familiar with the word will notice just a wee bit of irony with the fact that I've been unable to escape it:

Google
It's as if my muse decided to implement guilt in the most creative way possible (as muses are wont to do):
"I couldn't help but notice that you're being a bit of a slacker. So, rather than bestowing great inspiration upon you I'm going to stick this one word in your head, and nothing else, until you get the damn point. Fifteen pieces of flair ain't gonna cut it in this Chotchkie's, pal! Now get writing."



To which, on most days, I would tell my muse where to stick it much like Jennifer Aniston's character in Office Space did to her boss a few scenes later. This week is different though. Off the heels of my controversial (at least in some circles) post on freedom of expression (not freedom from consequences) last week, it turns out I was in dire need of a post topic for this week. So here we are.

Not as frequently as the dreaded ear worm, but likely more frequently than non-writers, I find myself with one particular word bouncing from ear to ear literally begging me to use it properly (see what I did there?) Most of the time I can't uncover an explanation for it, with perfunctory being the exception. It's usually a random word that I have no recollection of hearing in conversation or reading in print. Eventually it finds a crack in my head (there are many) to slip out through and I'm left wondering what exactly it was and why I gave a damn about it for so long. I think I'm going to start keeping a list.

List of Andrew's Word Worms:
  1. Perfunctory

Now that I've managed to use perfunctory more times on one page than I have in the entirety of my writing career it has transitioned from a word worm into something else. Have you ever typed a word so many times that it starts to look like you've spelled it incorrectly? That's where I am now with perfunctory. Blogger isn't giving me a squiggly red line underneath the word so I know I'm okay but it still does't look quite right.

This happens with even the simplest of words too. I was writing a software "how to" document another lifetime ago and after every action I needed to instruct the user to use the mouse to click on "Exit". After typing that word dozens and dozens of times my eyes started playing tricks on me. Every time I looked at it I was checking to make sure it was spelled correctly. Exit. Exit. Can I get the definition please? Can you use it in a sentence? Exit. E-X-I-T. Exit.

http://www.oddee.com/item_96509.aspx

I tried Googling for the name of this and came up dry. We need a name for this. Any ideas?

Also, what are your favourite word worms? Let me know in the comments below, and for the record I'm looking for more than a perfunctory effort.

~ Andrew

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Consequences of Freedom

I wasn't going to use her name because I didn't want her to get any more attention, but I feel quite strongly that if I sit here twiddling my thumbs and complaining to the couch cushions that that's the same as condoning what she's doing.

So here we go...

Until two days ago I had never heard of Jenny Trout. That's actually a lie. I had heard of her but only in the context of a blog post by Chuck Wendig a couple months ago. He mentioned how he liked her blog (but didn't agree with one of her positions). Aside from that, I couldn't have told you two things about her.

Then, two days ago Anne Rice posted a comment on Facebook and Twitter about her support for the website Stop the GR Bullies (GR refers to Goodreads). It's a website dedicated to calling out authors who bully other authors (for reasons other than a negative review, which I'll take up in a future post). Anne's comment was this:

If you click the image it will take you to Anne's original Facebook post

Attached to this post was a link to an article on STGRB on Jenny Trout, who has taken it upon herself to become the self-appointed literary moral compass of the Internet.

The summary: a (once) best selling author is actively encouraging the banning and/or pirating of another author's work.

STGRB does not link directly to Jenny's website but there is a screen grab in their post that contains the URL. I typed it in manually and read Jenny's article and two things happened:

  1. I felt sick for giving her the site traffic
  2. I gave her a very unflattering nickname. One I've been talked out of using for a variety of good reasons (as an aside, I have wonderful writer friends)

In her rant Jenny freely admits that she hasn't even read this highly-offensive-it-must-be-banned book. She claims it is about the glorification of racism and rape and how this subject matter has no business on the shelves of your local bookstore or on the hard drives of your personal e-readers. It contains BDSM erotica (because that's all the rage now, with Ms. Trout even penning titles under a pseudonym). It's also about an actual President of the United States and his actual slave mistress. Oh, and in the book the characters are vampires and/or werewolves. And one more thing: this story is just one in a series with the same underlying characteristics: #BDSM, #erotica, #POTUS, #mistress, #vampires, #werewolves. (hashtag: not my thing).

Ms. Trout rightly points out that since the offensive work is protected under the First Amendment there is no legal recourse for removing the book from shelves (digital or otherwise) so she's taken it upon herself to start a crusade.
She's demanding her fans and readers demand Amazon, B&N, Kobo and the like remove this content immediately. If that doesn't work, and you feel you absolutely must read this book, then go pirate it so at least the author and publisher don't get any money. 

Um.... excuse me?

I wonder, what would Jenny Trout's publisher think if another author from another house took issue with one of her books and started a campaign to pirate them?

Let's be perfectly clear: racism and rape are bad. Together they comprise the Daily Double of humans at their absolute worst. However, in a free society, no one person / group / organization / government gets to take away the right for someone else to write about it - and by my assessment that's exactly what Jenny is trying to do.

Express your displeasure with the book to your heart's content. Tell people it's not worth reading, that it's a glorification of All Things Terrible, that they are bad people for even reading the synopsis. But don't you dare go down the road of book banning. Book banning is half a step removed from book burning, and we all know what history (and Ray Bradbury) has to say about that, now don't we?

Free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences of saying or writing things to which others object. For the book and author Jenny Trout saw fit to attack, the consequences will be determined by the reviews it receives, the number of sales, the number of future sales or publishing deals for the author (or lack thereof), and so on... The system is already set up to self-regulate in this regard. Time and reader response will tell.

As for Jenny Trout, her consequences appear to be the ostracizing of  a whole swath of readers (and probably publishers) that aren't going to touch her books or her blog with a ten foot fishing pole - myself included.

~ Andrew

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Real Black Friday

Being born on the thirteenth of a month (in North America at least) can be fun. It means that throughout your life you'll have a Friday the 13th birthday. My first was in 1981 (7 years old). I honestly don't remember it. The next one was in 1987 when I turned thirteen on Friday the 13th. That day was awesome; everyone was so nice to me. For one day I was the coolest kid in school.

The next one was just as memorable: in 1992 I turned 18, my birthday present was sex for the first time, and even though I was all grown up I still couldn't watch the Friday the 13th movies (too scary!) My 24th birthday in 1998 was uneventful unless you count the fact that it was around then that I quit smoking (haven't smoked since!)

Then began a nice stretch of more than a decade without a birthday on a Friday. That stretch ended in 2009 at the age of 35. It also marks the loss of my wife's brother and will forever be remembered as the worst. birthday. ever.

Every birthday since has been bitter sweet. On one hand I am reminded of all the truly wonderful people that I have in my life. I'm also still having birthdays, and that's a good thing. On the other hand it's tough because Ryan meant so much to everyone, and that day is just one more reminder that he's gone.

This year marks the first Friday the 13th since that fateful day six years ago. My wife and I are taking our daughter for a follow-up with her surgeon and the family will go out for dinner that night. We'll celebrate my life for a few minutes and remember Ryan's as well. Last year the cat died on my birthday so this year we're hoping either the frog or the hamster will take one for the team.

My next Friday the 13th birthday won't be until 2020 (when I turn, wait for it... 46). After that I can look forward to that special birthday in '26, 37, '43, '48, '54, '65, '71, and '76 (where I'll be a ripe old 102). I hope to make it that far and beyond, remembering Ryan on every Friday the 13th birthday, every other birthday, and each and every day in between.

Live. Laugh. Love.

~ Andrew

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daylight Stupid Time

There has been a lot of talk about Daylight Savings Time lately, but I only have one question: Who does a guy have to bribe around here to get rid of it? [political snark] I'm looking at you, Kathleen Wynne [/political snark]

The concept of DST has been around for centuries, with one notable Englishman pushing for it quite heavily at the turn of the century (the previous century, for all you millennials thinking about 15 years ago). It wasn't until WWI, in an effort to conserve energy and keep people from wasting those precious early daylight moments, that it established a stronghold on Europe and North America.

Every year around this time articles start popping up about the effects of DST on the people. Trust me, it's a real thing. I've been suffering from insomnia for years and am basically a (reasonably) high functioning idiot. Anyone with children also knows what kind of havoc DST can have on a sleep schedule, but it's more than just about giving up an hour of sleep. Daylight Savings Time is almost 100 years old. This concept was conceived before there was widespread electric light and it was propped up by an energy crisis more than 40 years ago. If there's a better example of doing something "because that's the way it was always done" I have yet to find it. It's archaic, and it's pathetic.

I used to think it needed to be an all or nothing sort of thing but take a look at this map:

Wikimedia Commons


Blue represents places that use DST and red the places that never have (and presumably never will). The orange parts are all the places that used to implement DST but chose to stop. So it can be done. It HAS been done - many times - and even from states / provinces / territories within the same country, and regions within those!

We are beyond needing that daylight to save coal or "conserve energy". The world has fantastic ways of conserving energy ALL THE TIME, not just at some ungodly hour of the morning. And don't tell me that the golfers like it because they can play longer. No one gives a shit about whether or not they can get in 4 more holes. No one.

"It will cost so much to fix it!" people will say. No it won't. Estimations for what DST costs us every year are astronomical. Plus, anywhere that uses it already has mechanisms in place to handle switching it back and forth. Just "forgetting" to keep switching it is a trivial exercise when you compare it to something like, oh I don't know, changing the dates on which the change occurs.

So what's the problem? Why can't we change? It's as if there is a collection of nations out there all getting dressed in the morning and putting on the latest trend in clothing and calling each other to make sure their outfit meets with everyone's approval. International time management powered by peer pressure. At this point there's a greater chance the United States will switch over to the metric system, but that's a rant for another day.

All I know is I want it to stop.

Please make it stop.

Just stop.

~ Andrew




Sunday, March 1, 2015

Based on a True Story

Being a writer, especially one without decades of experience under his belt, is always an interesting experience. Every time I sit down at the keyboard to write, edit, or research I come across something new that either challenges me, alters my perspective, or sends me scrambling to the corner in tears. Lately, I've come across something that touched on all three: 

Non-fiction. Thankfully they were tears of joy and not fear or agony. 

Now, I have written non-fiction before. It was actually creative non-fiction in the form of a short story titled Losing Vern that was published in the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology. It's a great anthology with all royalties going to another writer, Karen DeLabar, to assist her with some pretty hefty medical bills. You can read all about it here. My contribution was an embellished version of the story of the death of my wife's brother and the few strange days that followed. As I mentioned, it was more creative non-fiction than anything else. 




The piece of non-fiction that has me excited to be a writer this week is more of a documentary than anything else. There are no embellishments or creative licenses taken to sensationalize otherwise mundane events. It is not a "how to" or instructional. It's just a story. A true story about real people sharing their true emotions and real experiences. It also happens to be the story of my daughter and how she, my wife, and I navigated through the scary waters of an 11 hour scoliosis surgery as well as the months of agonizing waiting before and agonizing recovery after. 

One thing I discovered was that this type of story was much easier to outline. I'm smiling as I type that because the outline was pretty much already written. With over 60 blog posts over at our family scoliosis blog over the past 5 months or so all the major plot points are laid out quite nicely. 

Another thing I discovered was that there will be a lot less dialogue. This frightens me slightly as everything I've written to this point (blog posts excluded) has been quite dialogue heavy. If I were to evaluate my skills as a writer (not comparing them with anyone else) I'd say that near the top of my list would be my ability to write dialogue. In fact, it's the most frequent compliment I get from people who have read Losing Vern (which includes my father the English major, retired educator, and voracious reader who is not known to throw around literary compliments all willy nilly). This story will rely on the power of narrative to keep the reader engaged, which isn't my strong suit. With my fiction novels I sometimes embark on the familiar "show don't tell" struggle, so this will be a good exercise for me. That being said, I open this latest book with dialogue (in some circles this is an egregious no-no). 

The last thing I discovered is that this book will not be finished for another 11 months. To be fair to myself most of it will be written before the middle of this year, but I wanted to follow the story from diagnosis (March 31, 2014) through to a full year post surgery (January 20, 2016). That leaves quite a bit of story left to tell, but trust me, it's compelling stuff. Any story that contains a war wound like the one my daughter is sporting is worth telling, and worth waiting for. 





At this point I think I'll do something I haven't done on the blog before - share an excerpt. Without further ado, here's the opening to my latest work in progress:




Bent But Not Broken

One Family's Journey from Scoliosis Diagnosis to Surgery and Beyond

By:
Andrew F. Butters (Dad)

With Contributions From:
Jodi Wilks-Butters (Mom) Avery Butters (Patient)




"Daddy, so Avery has screws and rods now."

"Yes. Two titanium rods and 27 screws."

"Are they on the outside or the inside?"

"They're on the inside."

"And they had to cut her open to get them in there?"

"Yes, they did."

"They sewed her back up though, right?"

***

Ah, to be able to see the world through the eyes of an 8 year old boy. That was a conversation I had with my son, AJ, two days after his 12 year old sister, Avery, awoke from an 11 hour surgery to correct her scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine. When viewed from behind, the spine looks like an "S", but the actual deformity is much more complex. It occurs in three dimensions. Avery's spine was bent and twisted like a helix. Left uncorrected the condition would have impacted her internal organs, squeezing them into places they were not meant to be. Digestion would have been impacted and breathing would have become difficult. Her spine would become increasingly deformed, squishing her torso like an accordion. There would have been pain; a whole lot of pain.

What caused it? We don't know. No one knows, not even the doctors. "Idiopathic", they said. Which is just a fancy medical term for, "we don't know".
  • How did we find out?
  • How long did you have to wait for surgery?
  • Was she scared?
  • Were you scared?
  • What exactly did they do to fix it?
  • How long does it take to heal?
  • Will she be able to do everything she did before?
  • Will she beep when she goes through airport security?

Those are just a sampling of the questions my wife and I have been asked since we decided to go public with this diagnosis (with Avery's permission, of course). I suggested that my daughter start a journal to capture her experiences and thoughts in an effort to help her process everything. Her mother and my wife, Jodi, immediately went looking on the internet for other people's experiences and didn't quite come up with anything she found particularly useful. There was a lot of medical information, most of it from the United States, and a whack of case studies, but very little in terms of what we as a family or Avery as a patient would be experiencing. So, she stared a blog where we could all contribute and share our perspectives on this life changing event.


To answer the first question, “How did we find out?” we, naturally, have to start at the beginning: with a suspicious mole on our son's neck.