Fisking an Anti-Amazon Article From the New Republic

Oh boy. I woke up this morning to see this article on the front page of r/books, and you  know … I’ve never fisked anything … but this piece couldn’t be ignored. For those not in the know, a “fisking” is when someone replies point by point to the salient points of an article, offering a piece by piece rebuttal. I’ll let you read the original article first, so you can get it in your mind, but it’s just part of the continuing—You know what? You be the judge. Read the article, then check this rebuttal.

The quoted article bits are both quoted and italicized. My responses are the normal text.

So, let’s get started.

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A Fantastic Quote Concerning Shame Culture

This thought-provoking quote was brought to my attention this last Sunday at one of the LDS General Conference sessions, where it was quoted from a 2016 New York Times article on “Shame Culture.” I’m sharing it because of its insightful look into why the current “shaming” trend doesn’t work, and isn’t a basis for a stable society. Just thought-provoking.

“In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. …

“… Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. …”

“The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”

         —David Brooks, “The Shame Culture,” New York Times, Mar. 15, 2016

Being a Better Writer: Taxes

Fair warning, this is not going to be a happy post. A lot of times I try to deliver good news or positive vibes with my posts, but today? Well, today you’re probably going to leave unhappy. You’ll see why in a bit.

So, you’ve been published! Your book is out in the wild, selling copies and making you dough! Success! You’re on the way to riches, watching with glee and satisfaction as money slowly funnels into your bank accounts or arrives in publisher’s checks.

For many young authors, this is “the end” of the line as far as they are concerned when it comes to money. They wrote the book, and now royalties roll in. End of story, right?

No, unfortunately. It’s the end of the book’s story, but it’s not the end of the writers. Even if they create a one-hit wonder and call it quits afterwards … they can’t just sit back and relax. Because sooner or later, the IRS will come calling.

Now, from my mention of the IRS, you may rightfully realize that yes, I’m speaking about taxes as a US writer, and any specifics that I’m going to offer are going to be focused around my experiences with the US tax system. Which isn’t to say that if you’re not a US citizen you won’t find something to gain from this post, but it may be more general advice than specific. Regardless of where you live, after all, you’re going to have taxes of some kind. They may not be exactly like what I speak of here, but they may be similar.

Anyway, first things first. You will pay taxes on your book sales.

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Merry Christmas From Unusual Things!

It’s that time of year once again.

Okay, so it has been for a while now. This post is probably a little late to comment on the “arrival” of the season, seeing as Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and Christmas Day—Well, it comes right after Christmas Eve. That’s kind of a given.

The season isn’t “coming.” It’s here. And I’ll be honest, it’s one of my favorite seasons. For a lot of reasons. Like hot chocolate. The wondrous drink known as eggnog (non-alcoholic, just to be clear). Upbeat music about finding happiness and joy in family, faith, or even just the most ordinary things (I mean, think about it, what other season gets music that urges us to look at the weather and enjoy it so wholeheartedly?).

But those are all … elements. Things. And to be fair, I can enjoy them any time of the year. So while they’re part the pieces that make up the Christmas holiday … they’re not Christmas itself. They’re not integral. They’re signs of Christmas. By-products.

Because Christmas is about more than just hot chocolate, pretty lights, music, or snow. Thankfully, since I don’t even have that last one at the moment. Or the lights. But I don’t have to, because Christmas isn’t about those things. They add to it, but only because we let it.

Christmas is built, not on those, but on something grander.

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Advent Beware: X-Com Character Pack Preview!

Ever played X-Com? It’s a pretty classic series, hailing from the early 90s, that puts the player in the boots of the “Commander” of an anti-alien task force, tasked with countering an alien threat to life on Earth.

The original trilogy is well-known among PC aficionados as one of the golden series of the early 90s, offering steep, punishing gameplay, plenty of challenge, a brutal-but-rewarding sense of success as you learned to carefully juggle research, politics, and—most importantly of all—your soldiers to beat back the alien threat. Later sequels continued the trend of working with highly interconnected systems that gave players a vast array of freedom (though not success) to work with to counter the alien threat.

Of course, this series is now over two decades old, making replaying some of these older titles more than a bit difficult (not that it was ever easy in the first place). Thankfully, sometimes good things do get to come around again, and in our modern day and age, the series has been rebooted with X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and then the more simply named X-Com 2.

Like all good sequels, X-Com 2 built on the foundation before it, including one of X-Com‘s most popular ones: the ability to create and customize the soldiers under your command, right down to their names, looks, and their biography.

In other words, a determined player could create themselves and their friends in a game, then send them out against the alien threat to see how things shake out. Or create very creative likenesses of favorite characters from other sources.

X-Com 2 seized on this popularity both by giving players more customization options than ever (except when it came to faces, sadly), and by making incredibly easy to import and export character files. Meaning that anyone can invest a bit of time into the character creator and not only enjoy watching friends, family, or heroes try to save the earth in their game, but can share them with others as well so that those they know can do the same.

Right, that’s the background. Mostly for those of you who don’t play X-Com and would otherwise have no idea what this post was referring to.

You can create replications of anyone. Including characters from books. See where this is going, yet?

Yeah. Within hours of acquiring X-Com 2 for myself a few months ago, I’d spent less than three hours playing the game, and more than five hours sitting down and recreating a bunch of characters from my books and work in X-Com‘s character creator.

I’m pretty happy with the results. They’re not perfect, but I’m entirely accepting of that since I get to watch Colony‘s Anna tear through the Advent like there’s no tomorrow.

And you know what? You should be able to too.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure out a way to host the Character Pools so that anyone who’s curious can download and import them (WordPress won’t let me do it without some technical trickery might not even work, and even then would have to be undone by anyone who downloaded said packs), so they’re not available just yet, but I figured I’d give you all a quick look at what you can expect when you add said packs to the game. So far I’ve got two ready for deployment, one for Colony and one for the Unusual Universe (One Drink, etc). I just need to figure out hosting, like I said. I may end up working them through the Steam Workshop. Anyway, let’s give you that look I promised. Some of it may not make sense if you’re not acquainted with X-Com, but a look at a visual rep of some favorite characters can still be fun, right?

And, for legalese, I don’t own X-Com or claim any of the rights to it. Duh.

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A Quiet Weekend

This weekend is Conference weekend.

For many, that doesn’t mean much. Sands, most of you probably have never heard of it. That’s fine. It’s a religious event.

Ah, see? Some probably ran in a panic right then and there.

Anyway, it’s pretty simple. Conference weekend, known among the members of my religion as General Conference Weekend, is a bi-annual (twice yearly) event in which the entire church comes together in a conference, to hear the religious leaders of the church speak directly to the entirety of the church. Given that this leadership consists of a Prophet of God and twelve Apostles, this is a pretty cool thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like they’re not carrying out their duties as special witnesses of Christ and his gospel the rest of the year. They do—they put some serious travel in going around the world and meeting with members of our church all over. But twice a year, they all gather—Apostles, the prophet, seventies (Exodus if you’ve not heard of that), etc—for this General Conference. And then? They teach. And that teaching is broadcast via the internet, radio, television, etc, all across the world, and the members gather and watch it. Five broadcasts, each 2 hours long, over two days.

Ten, awesome, fulfilling hours.

Right, why am I talking about this? Well, for starters, because you don’t have to be a member of our church to enjoy it. This isn’t some cliche “The end is nigh” monologue given by a man with a crazy beard in a robe. So far, in the first session we had today I’ve listened to an Apostle give counsel on how not to take the many gifts of God for granted, and how to learn to see how many truly wondrous gifts we’ve been given. Another spoke on prayer, and how it is an act of humility before God. You don’t have to be a member of our faith to get something out of it. There’s a spirit of holiness and tranquility that surrounds each message, a gentleness you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

And even if you’re not a member of my faith, well, a little bit of peace and tranquility might feel pretty welcome. Which is why I’m mentioning it (well, also and so you guys are kept up-to-date on my movements, since Saturday is normally fanfic day). Maybe you’re wondering what to do with your day. Maybe you’re feeling a little down. Maybe you just want a pick-me-up and have found that the usual isn’t doing it for you.

If so, well, this conference gets streamed live on Youtube. Feel free to listen in. Regardless of where you are in life, there’s something for everyone that gets said at these things. They talk about God. They talk about Christ. They talk about our purpose on Earth, the atonement … a plethora of topics that many people wonder about, even if they don’t put voice to those wonders.

So if you’ve got some time and you want a pick-me-up, feel welcome to check it out.

 

 

NOTE: And if you despise my religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and want to start a big controversy, or are thinking about posting “the truth” in the comments below in some vain attempt to save my “misguided” soul … please don’t bother. I’ve been an open member of my church online for years now; screaming, shouting, ranting, accusing, or even trying to get my books taken down from Amazon as some sort of “revenge” isn’t anything new. It’s been done before, there are better ways to spend your time, so please, go and do something productive elsewhere.

Reader Feedback: How’s the Ad Experience?

Right, so here’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while with regards to improving the site: How’s the ad experience? I ask because while WordPress informs me that ads appear, I don’t see them. Probably a combination of being the site creator and having adblock running 24/7.

But those who aren’t me, or perhaps do or don’t have adblock … how’s the ad experience? What kind of ads are you seeing? Are they loud? Distracting? Not applicable to the site and subject matter?

I ask because if I up the domain subscription, I can remove ads entirely (or have control over them), and it’s a step I’m considering taking.

So, I ask you, readers: What do you see? Is it annoying? Complimentary? Clashing?

Comment below.