Saturday, July 31, 2021

Group RX For Writers

If you are a member of Authors Guild or SFWA, and based in the USA, you have until August 15th, 2021 to find out if LIG Solutions might be right for your health care needs.

SFWA links:

AG link:

If you are not a member, there might still be time to join.

All the best,

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Internet of Trees

An old song laments, "I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me." Apparently, however, trees listen to each other. Some of them communicate among themselves by means of a symbiotic fungus connected to their roots:

Plants Talk to Each Other

Mycelia—thin threads that make up the underground portion of mushrooms, far more extensive than the part we see aboveground—"act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants." In a symbiotic relationship, mycelia that colonize the roots of plants "help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen," while the host plant supplies the fungus with nourishment in the form of carbohydrates. The fungus also enhances the host's immune system. In addition, through their mycelial connections some plants "help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network." By transferring nutrients such as carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen, large trees have been found to "help out small, younger ones using the fungal internet."

The article compares this network to the global communication among trees in the 2009 movie AVATAR. The fungal internet also brings to mind Clifford D. Simak's 1965 novel ALL FLESH IS GRASS, which portrays an invasion by a "planetwide biological computer that works through photosynthesis," manifesting in the form of purple flowers, as discussed on this website:

Intelligent Plants in Science Fiction

Do plants in fact have some form of intelligence? A few scientists think they might, according to this article about plant neurobiology:

New Research on Plant Intelligence

Of course, plants don't have neurons. They do, however, display reactions analogous to memory, learning, and response to stress. Their roots shift direction to avoid obstacles without coming into physical contact with the obstruction. Experiments have shown plants producing defensive chemicals when they "hear" a recording of a caterpillar eating a leaf. So it all depends on what we mean by "intelligence."

If we visited a planet dominated by a global hive-mind composed of sentient trees, would we be able to communicate with it? Or would the time scales on which our thought processes operate be too different for mutual comprehension?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, July 25, 2021

APP Your Peril

Can an app wreck your life?

Apparently, so. From Electronic Freedom Foundation to RedState, dark cautionary tales abound. At bottom, it is data brokers to blame, and you really cannot stop them. Even if you pay them to remove your info, it seems to get re-upped with regularity.

You can be wrongly tagged as a terrorist, and you have little recourse, as Cindy Cohn explains a Supreme Court ruling.

You can gaily go around town browsing online for so-called sinners to seek out and perchance to save, and be judged.
Time was, if you had a Ring in your door, you could be subpoenaed by the police. Now, at least, the use of your app to surveille your street may be voluntary... if you use another Amazon app. Matthew Guariglia has it covered.

Matthew Guariglia assembled a horrifying graphic and article to demonstrate the thirteen wonderfully overlapping ways that unlucky urban citizens are watched by Big Brother. It really is a must-read compilation, and --even better-- it includes some suggestions on how to fight back.

Legal bloggers Carrie Dettmer Slye and Julie Singer Brady for Baker & Hostetler LLP discuss (doubtfully) whether all this tracking and spying and brokering of data may meet the standards necessary for class action lawsuits.
Pandora's box was filled with apps, it seems.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

No Time Like the Present?

What accounts for the current fad of present-tense narrative in fiction? Most of the time, it makes my teeth grind with annoyance. Even a recent urban fantasy novel by Charles de Lint veers onto that strange byway. The traditional convention of writing fiction in the simple past demands no mental contortions from the reader. Its familiarity makes it "invisible," allowing the story to come through unfiltered from the author's mind to the reader's, or at least producing the illusion of unfiltered immersion in the story. Present tense draws attention to itself and away from the characters and plot, until the reader manages to shift mental gears and adjust to that technical oddity.

Now, the writer might have an artistic motive for purposely directing the audience's attention to the narrative technique itself. Even so, in my opinion, doing this for a longer span than a short story is usually so off-putting as to defeat any such purpose. I can think of a few circumstances when present-tense narrative serves a legitimate function: In the case of an experience told in the first person by a protagonist of horror or suspense, writing it in the present could avoid the near-certainty that the narrator will survive until after the end of the adventure. Unless he's speaking from the afterlife, the reader will assume that if he narrates in the past tense, he lived to tell the tale. Another reason for the use of present tense by a first-person narrator might be that the narrator's mind is somehow clouded or she has some other cause for extreme confusion. Present-time narration could give the impression that she's groping her way through a strange environment. Also, I've read a few novels with lots of flashbacks that distinguish in-story past and present by alternating the verb tenses accordingly. And, of course, if a text is framed as a diary or series of letters, parts of it might legitimately consist of a stream of consciousness in the present. In the case of the rarely used second-person narrative voice, past tense—a blow-by-blow account of what "you did"—might sound peculiar unless (as in an effective horror story I once read) the "you" has amnesia and the story is telling the protagonist about his or own past experiences in an attempt to awaken memories. Present tense therefore has some advantage in a second-person narrative.

Fiction written in the second person, however, foregrounds the narrative technique itself so emphatically that it seems to me suitable only for short stories. At novel length, I'd think it would be intolerable. Many years ago, I read a horror novella I liked very much, except that the whole thing was told in second person, present tense. That choice still puzzles me, unless the author hoped it would draw the reader into the deepest possible intimacy with the protagonist. It seems to me that the writer was taking a serious risk; readers might be repelled by the narrative voice, viewed as an annoying gimmick. I was enthralled enough by the plot that I stuck with it despite the odd style of narration, which combined two distracting techniques in one story.

What do you think of present-tense narrative? Legitimate writing tool, a pointless variation from the norm that hampers suspension of disbelief, or something in between?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Influence This

If we publish, we promote. There's no avoiding it.

If we have assistance, increasingly, it has to be willingly given (or subcontracted), and the willingness has to be properly defined with waivers and contracts.

We cannot --or should not-- snag or take an image of a famous person or character, and exploit it without permission for our own profit and fame.

Take broadly smiling Borat, for example. Or to be more precise, do not take Borat.

Edward H. Rosenthal, blogging for for Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz PC   discusses a variety of copyright-related claims brought by the actor Sacha Baron Cohen against a Massachusetts based Cannabis dispensary which used his image as the Borat character on a billboard, in total disregard for Mr. Cohen's rights, reputation, and feelings.

Motorists glimpsing the billboard might be given the false and misleading impression that Mr. Cohen willingly and probably profitably endorsed the dispensary's product.

As Edward H. Rosenthal points out, "No matter how this one turns out, it is very risky to make commercial use of a celebrity's image...."

For what it is worth, it is probably risky to profit from any photograph or video taken of an unwilling subject.

Most authors have blogs specifically for marketing/promoting our works.

David O. Klein  of   Klein Moynihan Turco  LLP  has some very good advice about using blogs and social media for marketing which is well worth reading.

Beware of posting fake or paid reviews of your own work. Or of someone else's work!

Proper disclosure will protect the blog or website owner from the appearance of deceptive marketing. Bloggers are not expected to be paid spokespersons.  Is this a concern for hosts of blog tours?  Presumably, it is not, if the hosts are not paid, but what if they are paid?

Mr. Klein's focus is not an authors, but he summarizes the most interesting updates too the FTC's  Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Authors must disclose clearly and quite prominently what the author stands to gain in connection with writing/posting same.

Also, "The guidelines also make clear that fake testimonials are strictly prohibited and, when using an authentic testimonial, the blogger or writer must not edit or change it from the original in any material way."

What does that do to the long-standing tradition of taking the most fulsome "snip" from a lengthy review?

Not many authors can afford to hire an influencer, but, if one does so, one must do it right. 

Finally, from the UK, legal blogger Astrid Arnold representing Stevens & Bolton LLP  shares a bit of good British news for someone who contributed mightily to the development of a movie, but did not get credit or a fair share of the writing royalties.

All the best,

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Monopolies and Interoperabilty

Another LOCUS article by Cory Doctorow on monopolies and trust-busting:

Tech Monopolies

He begins this essay by stating that he doesn't oppose monopolies for the sake of competition or choice as ends in themselves. He cares most about "self-determination." By this he means the individual consumer "having the final say over how you live your life." When a small handful of companies controls any given field or industry, customers have only a limited range of products or services to choose among, preselected by those companies, even if this limitation remains mostly invisible to the average consumer. Not surprisingly, Doctorow focuses on this constraint as imposed by Big Tech. He recaps the growth of "the modern epidemic of tolerance for monopolies" over the past forty years. In the present, technology giants tend to crush small competitors and merge with large ones.

To some extent, this tendency—e.g., the situation Doctorow highlights in which everybody is on Facebook because everybody else is, in a feedback loop of expansion—provides a convenience to consumers. I'm glad I can find just about anyone I want to get in touch with on Facebook. As a result of such "network effects," a system becomes more valuable the more users it has. As a reader and a bibliographer, I don't know how I'd manage nowadays if Amazon didn't list almost every book ever published. I resent the brave new broadcasting world in which I have to pay for several different streaming services to watch only a couple of desired programs on each. I LIKED knowing almost any new series I wanted to see would air on one of our hundreds of cable channels. (Yes, we're keeping our cable until they pry it out of my cold, dead remote-clicking hand.) On the other hand, I acknowledge Doctorow's point that those conveniences also leave us at the mercy of the tech moguls' whims.

Half of his article discusses interoperability as a major factor in resisting the effects of monopolies. Interoperability refers to things working together regardless of their sources of origin. All appliances can plug into all electrical outlets of the proper voltage. Any brands of light bulbs or batteries can work with any brands of lamps or electronic devices. Amazon embraces interoperability with its Kindle books by allowing customers to download the Kindle e-reading app on any device. Likewise, "all computers are capable of running all programs." For self-published writers, services such as Draft2Digital offer the capacity to get books into a wide range of sales outlets with no up-front cost. Facebook, on the other hand, forecloses interoperability by preventing users from taking their "friends" lists to other services, a problem that falls under "switching costs." If it's too much trouble to leave Facebook, similar to the way it used to be too much trouble to change cell phone providers before it became possible to keep your old phone number, consumers are effectively held hostage unless willing to pay ransom in the form of switching costs (monetary or other).

Doctorow concludes, however, with the statement that the fundamental remedy for "market concentration" isn't interoperability but "de-concentrating markets." Granting a certain validity to his position, though, how far would we willingly shift in that direction if we had to give up major conveniences we've become accustomed to?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Recipe For Disaster?

Sharing favorite recipes is a great way for authors to reach new audiences, and ever so subtly to promote a book that perhaps mentions a particular dish.  Often, authors will get together to publish a multi-author recipe book, or blog series.

Can that get one into legal hot water?

That depends. A published recipe is generally fair game if treated as a list of facts... that is, the list of ingredients, and the sequential list of actions necessary to assemble, mix, and otherwise prepare those ingredients.

However, it would not be prudent to lift several consecutive recipes from the same publication. Just as a photographer can copyright a photograph because of the unique choices made by the photographer about light quality, angle, shadow, time of day, exposure, and other ephemeral elements, so the creator of an anthology of recipes makes unique and artistic choices about what to include and in what order.

One is asking for trouble if copying and publishing someone else's images of the ingredients or the dish. Much better to take ones own photographs (and copyright them in bulk). Try to use unique and original illustrations.

Unique and original words are always good to use in the description and specification of ingredients and in the instructions... assuming that the unique words are your own.  Perhaps avoid the appearance of a product endorsement of a trademarked kitchen implement, even if you do use a miniature hockey-stick/mashie (golf-club) hybrid to fold, lift and pummel your pastry.

Canadian law blogger Kiera Boyd  for Fasken offers some interesting "Takeaways" on whether or not recipes are protected by copyright in Canada, also insights into US case law. 
Katharine Stevens, partner at the UK law firm Bird & Bird LLP, discusses intellectual property rights in recipes and food (in the UK), with especially interesting analysis of trade secrets and patents for unique creations.
For the aptly-named Chip Law Group (pardon the pun) Pramod Chintalapoodi covers specific samples of food trade secrets, food patents, food trademarks, recipe copyrights in the USA and offers great tips for those who would write about other peoples' recipes.

The original is an AWS document.

Watching the movie Julie & Julia from a copyright enthusiast's perspective, it is not so hard to understand why Julia might not have been a fan of Julie.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry
PS. Publishing early owing to past and expected power cuts.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Educating the Passions

Over the July 4th weekend, columnist David Brooks wrote about the importance of storytelling:

America Has a Great Story to Tell

Skipping past the explicitly political content, I was particularly impressed by the discussion of "propositional" (intellectual) knowledge versus "emotional and moral knowledge." Brooks quotes 18th-century philosopher David Hume: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” My first reaction, as many readers' might be, was, "Huh?" But Brooks goes on to explain:

"Once you realize that people are primarily desiring creatures, not rational creatures, you realize that one of the great projects of schooling and culture is to educate the passions. It is to help people learn to feel the proper kind of outrage at injustice, the proper form of reverence before sacrifice, the proper swelling of civic pride, the proper affection for our fellows. This knowledge is conveyed not through facts but through emotional experiences — stories." I would add, by the way, that poems and songs perform the same function. Think of "America the Beautiful" or "This Land Is Your Land," to name only two examples.

The importance of educating the passions (i.e., emotions) forms one of the core messages of C. S. Lewis's THE ABOLITION OF MAN (1943). He adopts from Plato the metaphor of the human personality being composed of three parts, the head (reason), the chest (spirit, in the sense of emotions), and the abdomen (basic appetites). Reason should rule the whole person, including appetites and desires; however, it does so, not directly, but through the "chest." One of the chapters in THE ABOLITION OF MAN, in fact, is titled "Men Without Chests." The "proper" attitudes alluded to by Brooks develop not through intellectual study, important as that is, but by osmosis, so to speak, permeating a child's world-view before he or she has any idea what's happening. And that happens through implicit assumptions that may never be explicitly stated. For instance, in Lewis's book he analyzes passages from a pair of English textbooks for pupils at British elementary schools (as we'd call them). Both of them convey the underlying, taken-for-granted idea that there are no such things as objective values. The authors of the texts may not have even consciously realized that's what they were doing. Lewis covers similar ground in his PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST, where he refutes the disdain of one of his contemporaries for "stock responses." The attitudes and emotions dismissed by some critics as "stock responses," Lewis maintains, are not innate and automatic. They have to be deliberately shaped through years of growth. Good preconceptions as well as bad have "got to be carefully taught" (to quote the song from SOUTH PACIFIC).

As writers, we should be heartened to recognize the vital importance of stories in that process.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Monday, July 05, 2021

Downside of Anonymity

Privacy is very important to many individuals, creators, artists... and erasing privacy is highly profitable for crooks, advertisers, copyright infringers, data miners, evil-doers.

In 2018, legal bloggers J. Alexander Lawrence and Siena Sofia Magdalena Anstis  for Morrison Foerster LLP sent a warning flare over the bows of  pirates who surfed the internet. 
Lawsuit losers may lose their anonymity. Also, copyright infringement is not protected "speech".  It's well worth re-reading.

Then, there are witnesses who wish to be anonymous: whistle-blowers, or persons who are not so proud of their private lives that they want judge, jury, and court reporters to know the details of who offended whom with an allegedly offensive comment. The jury is still out on this case.

UK lawyer Michael Halsey, blogging for the law firm VWV  discusses sympathetically the arguments for accepting anonymous testimony in British employment law.
And then, there's Banksy. 
Jennifer Heath, blogging for  D Young & Co explains why Banksy's preference for anonymity cost him his standing to sue for trademark infringement.
On the same issue, senior art law associate, Becky Shaw, on the Boodle Hatfield "Art Law & More" site discusses what the Banksy trademark losses mean for street artists at large.

The bottom line appears to be that creators of all stripes cannot sue those who infringe their copyrighted works as long as the creators are unwilling or unable to give up their anonymity. Or, to be pedantic, artists can sue, but it appears that they cannot win.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry   


Thursday, July 01, 2021

Talking with Aliens

When extraterrestrials visit our planet, or vice versa, will we be able to communicate with them? This article discusses the issue of learning alien languages:

If We Ever Came Across Aliens...?

Many linguists and psychologists maintain that the human brain is hardwired with a universal grammar. All human languages we know are built from variations on a few basic structures. Would intelligent beings who evolved on other worlds share the same innate grammatical structures we've developed? If not, an unbridgeable chasm might exist between the two species. The other theoretical framework, the cognitive view of language, places more emphasis on meaning—concepts and semantics—than on sentence structure. In that case, we might expect any sapient creatures to share certain "building blocks" of meaning. The difference between these two theories brings to mind the two main SF approaches to telepathy. In one view, mental conversation works like silent talking. The people communicating telepathically have to understand a common language. So there's no possibility of immersing oneself in another's mind and learning things he or she doesn't want to reveal. In the other approach, whole concepts are transferred from one brain to the other, and the receiver "translates" the transmitted thought into terms he, she, it, or they comprehend.

The article mentions the possibility that inhabitants of other planets might communicate in sound ranges inaudible to us. However, we might find more radical differences. Suppose the aliens' language consisted of flashing lights, bands of color, carefully modulated odors, or hand (or tentacle or pseudopod) signals? They might not recognize our mouth noises as attempts at communication. In CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, an incident in the early life of orphaned Cro-Magnon child Ayla illustrates problems that might occur even between two human subspecies. The Neanderthal shaman, trying to teach Ayla the Clan's language, worries because she's so slow to catch on. Maybe she's mentally impaired? Meanwhile, Ayla wonders why he keeps waving his hands around, distracting her from hearing his words. The breakthrough occurs when she realizes hand signals constitute the core of the Clan's language, with oral speech in a secondary role.

The classic story "A Martian Odyssey," by Stanley G. Weinbaum, features a friendly alien whose language doesn't contain words with any fixed meaning. Every sentence is unique. While I can't quite visualize how that would work in practice, it's a fascinating idea. In one of the most thought-provoking episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, Captain Picard deals with a species who converse in metaphorical allusions to cultural myths and legends. (As I've heard someone mention—probably Jean Lorrah—this mode of discourse can't be their only language; at the least, there must be a children's dialect for communicating with offspring too young to know the metaphors. Also, in my opinion they have to possess a straightforward denotative dialect for scientific and technical use.) In Robert Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS, the highly intelligent dragons of Venus wear electronic devices that translate their mode of communication into grammatical sentences in a Terran language. (In the case of the dragon who becomes a friend of the hero, it's English, of course.) I have faith that no matter how aliens converse, we'll figure out ways to bridge the linguistic gaps.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt