“How the hell was my 8th grade Social Studies teacher NOT fired?”

As you know if you have been visiting me here for a while, I have not used Twitter for about 2 years and have no plans to use it again. (If you don’t know why I left, I explained here.) But I do like to check in now and then on writers’ talk and I did so again the other day. Time for another visit (at times light-heartedly) to Twitter’s #writingcommunity:

“Critique group?” “Critique partner(s)?”

About 3-4 people (including an editor) read my manuscript pre-publication. I know since they are not authors themselves that they are not in competition in any way with me and so read my manuscripts as “ordinary readers” would. Being in-person close to me, they also do not want me to make a fool out of myself, so if they don’t like something I have written they tell me.

James Fenimore Cooper’s (The Last of the Mohicans) main proofreader and “critique partner” was his wife (and she even took dictation from him of several chapters when he was too ill to write himself), and that is, I feel, more than good enough for me and my writing.

As I wrote above, only a few trusted people see my manuscript pre-publication. The biggest reason is I do not want a “bazillion” opinions telling me how to “perfect” it – because too many opinions is actually, I believe, in fact, unhelpful and confusing. I also have never forgotten seeing how among my (now late) uncle’s writing “circle” that not every writer is a “chum.” So I look mostly to fewer people who I know also have absolutely no ulterior motives other than support for me – “four” trusted people’s opinions are far easier to take into account than “20” most of whom I would probably barely know (if at all), while having no hints as to what may motivate their “suggestions.”

I also simply don’t like electronically passing my near-finished (often after a couple of years’ of work) manuscripts around to “random” strangers for whom I have only an email and/or some Instagram/Twitter account (all of which could disappear tomorrow, and I may not even know a real name) for contact purposes. I think doing that is terribly misguided not only from the “too many opinions” standpoint. This is another reason:

It appears most book piracy that ends up on free sites is downloaded by those who would never have bought the book anyway and just want to get free stuff. Indeed, they may well never even read it. There is no point getting all worked up about it because authors have had to endure this sort of thing forever.

Yes, it is certainly possible to steal off the Kindle just as someone can smash a window to break into my house even if the doors are all locked. If someone is determined to steal, they will always find a way to do it. And if it happens and you see it, you just have to deal with it.

Still, one should at least not make it wildly easy for a manuscript to be stolen by casually emailing it around. After all, once you send it to “20 beta readers” naturally you lose control of it. You have no idea in whose PC it may ultimately end up, which certainly makes theft way easier.

Stealing an entire book would be absurd and far too obvious. However, “interesting” bits from it could get lifted. There have long been charges – which can sometimes seem credible – that “big” publishers and TV “mine” from lesser known works that are now readily more available than ever, knowing chances are nothing will happen in response if the author even notices.

Indeed, a few years ago I heard some decidedly uncommon lines disturbingly similar to what I had written in one of my first three novels years before turn up in a U.S.-made television drama episode also set in France. Likely it was just a coincidence – which is how I have chosen to view it because honestly I don’t really have much choice. But, wow, even if it was innocent hearing the lines my stomach went queasy; it was a truly unsettling feeling.

[Photo by Alex Gu00e1llego on Pexels.com.]

One long-time close friend has read all of my novels pre-publication. She downloads the book file from my email, and then password protects it. (I never asked that she do that latter; she just told me at some point that she does it.) She then deletes my entire email with the manuscript attachment and PRINTS out (both sided) the manuscript and binds it together for ease of reading (and scribbling in the margins, etc.) while lounging around.

I have had offers from people to read my novels pre-publication. I am sure most are genuinely just interested and want to help. However, I trust she above and others long-close to me – especially my wife – far more than I would ever trust “input” from anyone else.

Because ultimately my books are my responsibility. As I have said before, only my name is on the cover. If some persuasive “beta reader” gives me c-appy advice and I accidentally incorporate it into the book, that “beta reader” then just vanishes into the internet ether and I am left feeling like an idiot.

That’s a great question.

And I will never answer it. LOL!

Honestly, I don’t have just one. I like a whole bunch. It depends on the reading mood I am in.

For starters, try writing under a “pen name” – thus making yourself someone else calling yourself an author. It all becomes then less about “you,” and more about the writing. You can distance yourself from it to an extent… because the writer is not “you.”

Much like “Cary Grant” was not Archie Leach.

I highly recommend it. 🙂

True. But “rarely” is the operative word there. They clearly haven’t seen me at my desk dressed up like a gentleman in an 18th century portrait – cocked hat and breeches, etc. LOL!

I started writing Capture The Cause during the pandemic. Sitting at my desk (in my breeches and cocked hat – LOL!), what was happening in 2020 “outside” for those writing hours did not then really matter. Keeping my mind on two centuries before was a useful escape from the stresses of the (then) present.

And by early 2022, I had the completed novel. 🙂

It is hilarious how authors are willing to write thousands of words…

…but often cannot sum up themselves in a paragraph or two.

Usually, yes. Or some combination of two or more of them. I don’t really believe any writer who says they invented their character(s) completely, because every character has characteristics that come from someone, somewhere, that the author at some time encountered in some way.

In the narrator, by the standards of 2023, yes, that is offensive language.

However, in dialogue, it is merely what a character says. And sometimes what they say is not all that nice. Much as we know is the case in real-life even in 2023.

I never “self-censor” in what I consider an inauthentic manner.

Again, conversation is not description. It is just the characters talking. So the narrator – to me at least – is going to be different-sounding than dialogue.

It also depends on the character and situation. Chances are a character would in 2023 say “I was very sad.” In comparison, “I was sorrowful” sounds rather unnatural – even old-fashioned – in 21st century English conversation.

Indeed. I love it when some writer on Twitter lectures us about not, for example, using adverbs… and then I find three of them in the first paragraph of their Amazon free book sample. (That actually happened not too long ago. I laughed aloud to myself.) I know then that writer either has a complete lack of self-awareness or doesn’t even know what an adverb is.

In either case, I know immediately: Stay away from that author because…

…that author is probably a waste of reading time.

See, I think I handle criticism fairly well. 😉


If everyone dies, how will readers know what happened to them all?

Escape, entertainment, and maybe a bit of new knowledge.

Okay, so what nasty and insulting thing did he write that he did not have to write?

You are reading it now: my blog here.

I don’t do “newsletters” or a “substack.”

I don’t see a reason to when I have the (regularly updated) blog here.

Maybe they use Twitter?

I have no idea. What I think about such doesn’t matter anyway. I leave such opinions to my readers. (Of course, I hope they are good opinions.)

It is pleasant to hear from readers. Some have dropped me detailed notes over the years. Some have also related to me things they took away from my novels that even I did not realize I wrote in them.

I take the view that if someone is willing to put themselves out there in writing directly to an author, that truly means something.

I have no idea why that is hash-tagged “#writingcommunity” when it seems to be some carefully worded shot at something that person does not like about #publiceducation. That said, while we are on the subject I never as I recall had a teacher in some way encourage me to “close” my mind and accept something “uncritically” – which is the definition of “indoctrination.” In fact quite the opposite.

For example, I will never forget my Social Studies class of entirely white kids at age 13 was taught by a Black woman. I don’t know what all the other kids might have really thought of her (what I do recall among us was she had a “scary” reputation for being “tough” – translation, “demanding” – in class, and she was). I do remember she did lead me occasionally to think about American history in ways that maybe my parents (who did not hold graduate degrees in American history) did not – in particular, I think for the first time I realized that American history was not kiddie-simplistic-introductory “Schoolhouse Rock” from Saturday morning television.

I don’t know if she was the one who somehow inspired me to read (on my own) my first adult novel (The Last of the Mohicans) at 14, but her class may have had something to do with it. Gosh, that a professional educator with a graduate degree or two might know a bit MORE about U.S. history than my high-schooled degreed (although fairly well-read) parents? And worse, that she actually would try to impart such knowledge in a SCHOOL?

[1929 memorial to the enslaved persons of Mount Vernon. At George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, Virginia. Photo by me, 2011.]

Today also being Presidents’ Day, it is worth recalling that our first president, while one of great accomplishments, was certainly also no saint.

Would a teacher in Florida, for example, now get into hot water for using, say, that pic above in a lesson about American history (as it mentions race and slavery obviously)?

Given the assertion that children in a class of, say, 25, should be taught only what ALL of their parents 100 percent agree their own child be taught, that nothing that comes near their child’s ears or eyes may even slightly “conflict” with their “family values” at home, thinking back now how the hell was my 8th grade Social Studies teacher NOT fired?

Judy Blume’s Forever novel was recently removed from a 50,000 student Florida school district library.

Apparently, some parents did not like it… because, I guess, it “closed” their children’s minds.

And on that (excellent) poetic note, have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

[At Haytor, in Dartmoor National Park. Photo by me, February 19, 2023.]

I continue to rest and refuse to write anything new for a new novel before March, at the earliest.

That’s possibly also why this post was so long. LOL!