Like Fire is a Medium Novel: Where I’ve Been

Asta_Kirbi_Fagan

It’s not like I quit writing or anything. I have spent the past two years, and most intensively, the last year, learning how to most-effectively use Medium. You can find me on Medium here. I am using it because of its ease of access to any and all readers on any device.

Why am I publishing the work I most believe in for free on Medium first?

Many reasons.

First, because everything published on Medium can be read on any device at any time. It also looks great on any device.

Second, because the recently-completed U.S. election has made it crystal clear that money is not the answer to anything.

And third, because we already know that many people are shut out of the careers, education or jobs they would like to do because of racism, gender bias and class bias. This book is what I most want to do, have most wanted to do, and believe in with 100% of my mind, body and soul.

It’s who I am, and it’s what I did. As I recently commented on Medium regarding a person’s unwarranted criticism of writing by a diverse author, “I don’t care if only one person reads my work here on Medium. It is what I believe in, it is what I want to do, and I know it is the right path for me.”

As recently as early 2015, I believed that if I just worked hard enough, I would have sufficient opportunity to pay my basic bills and earn a basic living as a writer. In the past, I have absolutely paid my basic bills and provided many things for my daughter through my writing. I believed that the self-publishing revolution was a good thing, and that it enabled people to reach an audience. I knew there were some problems; for example — I could see that self-publishing worked best for people who were writing a type of already-recognized or popular fiction. I saw that the “successes” were those associated with established fan or other types of internet communities.

If you think “Mainstream Media” is messed up and not working, reporting only what corporations or the wealthy .00001% want the rest of us to see and hear, the same is true of popular “Entertainment” from books to television to movies. And then some.

Up until this past year, I spent my entire life thinking if I just worked harder and “got good enough” I could be “successful” like other writers I knew who had $20,000 book contracts, or who had large empires “selling” instructional material, newsletters, e-book omnibus editions, and so-on. I had stopped believing the common wisdom that “getting good enough” was a matter of copying other writers’ work or known formulas years ago.

Is She Available HardcoverI built a whole publishing company and motivated others. Years ago, I agitated with my writing friends that we could combat the collapse of the midlist writer and other egregious problems in the publishing industry that seem quaint in hindsight, and was a co-founder of Book View Cafe (I am still the treasurer). I convinced Igor Goldkind that his poems were good and motivated him to get all of his friends, the best comic artists of their generation, and unbelievably gifted fine artists like Mario Torero together to make the beautiful, groundbreaking e-book Is She AvailableIgor and his friend Addie printed a fantastic hardcover version and had two big presentations at the San Diego ComicCon.

I did everything humanly possible to send Igor’s legitimately spectacular, groundbreaking book out to reviewers. Two major publications reviewed the e-book, both in Chicago. Igor got mentions from various others in the comic industry. Nobody reviewed the hardcover. The Washington Post was among many publications to sell the hardcover to used book dealers. Igor is a new poet, but the art is by Eisner-winning artists, one of the founding members of the Chicano movement in America, and the e-book had music by a British album of the year Jazz artist. It wasn’t an unprofessional “self published” book.

It was new, different, unusual, represented a man’s voice and journey that didn’t include war, death and destruction but love for family, heritage and history (and there is an anti-war, gorgeous comic panel in it).

So it was sold to used book dealers and not even looked at. I have two downloads of the e-book by reviewers and I know who each of them are. Joe Wikert featured us on his industry blog. Other than that? Jack Diddley. If you are reading this as a second-language speaker, this means “nothing” happened.

We do learn more from our failures because instead of my best work and Igor’s best work, and the best work of award-winning, influential artists who have made millions for their corporate masters, but whose own work of their heart is hidden in back of their studios or must be given away free –

We have this.

Kindle Worlds

The whole system is broken. Book sales were down by 4% during the recent U.S. election not because of the election directly, but because of this picture I show above. This type of repetitive, derivative, unoriginal material that purposely encourages UNORIGINALITY for a quick buck isn’t going to bring new customers through the door.

As I pointed out previously in articles read by no more than 1,000 people, and to audiences at writing events numbering no more than 500 people total, 20% of North Americans regularly buy and read books. 80% do not, yet 100% of people are literate, and can read, and DO consume written content on their mobile devices. Before you Corporate Media Troll me, everything I learned about that I did through independent market research, relying primarily on the Pew Center. People also discuss and interact with each other through, primarily the written word, on social media. There are more texts sent than voice or video calls.

It is about the content. It’s about what is provided.  Sales are down because the content doesn’t meet the needs of the people who currently buy and read books who are good with the corporate media slant: violence, certain types of sex, certain types of “addictive” content, and simply reinforcing the current status quo in any imaginable way.

The current publishing system cannot create books to meet the interests and needs of the 80% of people who don’t regularly buy and read books; it is increasingly failing the 20% who do.

I’m not telling you “I am the content provider.” As I said; I am happy if only one person reads what I have written for free on Medium and enjoys it.

I’m telling you that I, who have written under the “old system” for a lifetime, who believed in it, who did everything “right” –

  • I have a BA in Literature from Scripps College, where I won the Claremont College writing prize not once, but twice, a blind-judged contest.
  • I was admitted to, but chose not to attend, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the UC Irvine MFA program.
  • For reasons of time, cost, and wanting to be a sci-fi writer, I applied to, was admitted to, and successfully completed the Clarion Sci Fi Writers Workshop in 1984.
  • I gave up writing as “impractical” about two years after that. I did not write for another eight years.
  • I returned to writing in 1996, and applied to and attended the nearest MFA program to my home (Chapman University in Orange, CA). I completed this program in 1999.
  • I published my first sci fi story professionally in 1996 (“Jonny Punkinhead, F & SF).
  • I did the usual drill with short science fiction and published my first novel in 2001.
  • I was also nominated for a Nebula Award that year.
  • Now – where I am today is related to my not going the route of $5,000 novel “advances” and selling 4,000 to 6,000 books and so-on.
  • I worked with Alan Rodgers as he established Alan Rodgers Books (and there wouldn’t be Chameleon Publishing if Alan hadn’t spent the last 10 years of his life doing that).
  • I worked with the others to set up Book View Cafe, the largest author publishing cooperative.
  • In between all the rest of that I am sure I’ve published well over 2 million words, about 75% of it nonfiction.

A troll on Twitter said, “anybody can publish a book these days.”

Until we can somehow reinvent the system of publishing as it stands, an unhealthy, struggling system, the books will be selected and published for that ever-dwindling 20% of readers and never, never will get beyond that. And above all, they won’t be written by people who are generally willing to say and do what I have:

I do not care if only one person ever reads what I’ve written. That is enough for me because I have done what I believed was right, what was right for me, and what is the best path for me and best work I can do.

That person has read what I have written. Others I am close to also have read it. I am okay. I know I have done my best.

It shouldn’t have to be that hard. People shouldn’t have to work for free for a lifetime just to express a story with emotional truth, of meaning and worth to at least one other person.

Storytelling is important to people at a level beyond money and more than momentary “entertainment.” It helps us imagine our world and future. It helps us to make choices about ourselves, and it helps us to understand people who are different from us.

Our society and economy has now made it so it is the province of a very limited group of people.

And — it’s creating things like this:

Kindle Worlds

I’m not saying there is not a place for commercial genre fiction, fan fiction or related work. Of course there is. Just not to the exclusion of there being something new, different, and individual or expressive of individual human creation and nature. The majority of what is out there right now is similar to these “Kindle Worlds,” not to things like Alice in WonderlandDavid Copperfield, or War & Peace. Of these three books, each author was male, each author was white — in Dickens’ case, he was a poor boy and self-made man. The other two: they had some money. Leo Tolstoy was Russian nobility.

Imagine what stories the young woman who did his laundry may have told.

This is what I’m saying and as I have in the past few months told others “I was at some time, the one who did the laundry.” And as she told her friends, so now I tell others.

You can start reading Like Fire for free here. (Medium Publication with additional information and links to all chapters – I will also be putting some short fiction suitable for kids and young adults by request).

Direct link to Chapter One is here.

If you like it you can join Medium and follow the publication. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, got me on that damn thing in the first place.

Stuff Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Have

Envy and contempt: hella things.

colombia picadillo in pot

I looked at this and I could “feel sorry” for myself. The pot is at least 10 years old. I think it cost about $13 and it’s a Mexican rice pot. The spoon is “poon” – my grandmother’s spoon. It’s a wooden spoon of at least 50-60 years of age. So far, so good. The end is burnt and hardened like iron.

This is stuff Hillary Clinton doesn’t have, never did have, and likely never will have. Worthless items, of no meaning or import to anyone. Except me.

bowl and zucchini

Then there is this. An enamel bowl, at least 33 years old. It was one of my wedding gifts. I still use the Henckels Eversharp knives I received as a wedding gift from my aunt and uncle as well.

Again, things Hillary Clinton doesn’t have. Things of no value to anyone else, of no import, of no worth.

Cooking at home, cooking simple, nutritious food: this is a pleasure I think, that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have.

When people are so damn greedy, they might take things from others. But they cannot take from us that which we, intrinsically and essentially, are. They cannot take away from us our families, our heritage, our memories and our culture. The thing is these days, we are sharply aware now, of what has happened, of what is happening, of what will come if we do not act to stop it.

Here is this little woman, who cooks and cleans and folds and works 10-12 hours a day. Who has laughed and loved and done her very best. That cannot be bought or sold. But neither can it be bowed or destroyed. The greedy, the empty and the shallow have just gone too far. And it’s up to those of us who really have families and pride and life to stop them and to take it back. For our children, grandchildren and all those who will come after us.

The same as my grandmother gave me that spoon.

An English Teacher Parses Bernie V Hillary Language

Bernie Sanders is all about “us” and “we.” Hillary Clinton is all about “I” and “you.”

Why is this important? In English class we work on the different meanings of those words and how they are best-used. As a class, we learn together the skills needed to read, understand, learn and communicate required today and on into the future.

Because of my students, because of my daughter, and because of her friends, and because of the work I’ve done for the past five years, and because of how hard it has been getting our publishing company off the ground even with the very best possible writers, mission and work, I started listening to Bernie Sanders. Based on what I heard once I opened my ears, eyes, mind and heart, now I support his candidacy for President. Above all, I support the message that we’re all Americans and it’s about time America worked for everyone, not just people who …

Communicate like Hillary Clinton.

How the candidates communicate is an accurate reflection of how they operate right now. And, as they say in a lot of environments, “past performance is the best indicator of future behavior.”

The messages being sent by the Sanders campaign vs. the Hillary Clinton campaign could not be more divergent. I am not referring to the “issues.” I’m referring to how they communicate on the most basic level.

Some people respond to Hillary’s constant use of “I” and “You” in that order. This is a very traditional type of campaign language. I am aware that a certain number of people respond to being told “You do this for me” with the implication of later, “I will reciprocate on your behalf.” This sometimes works in kindergarten (“You clean up those toys and I’ll give you juice!”), and it also exists in the fake world of business and customer “families.”

im fighting for us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammatically, the Hillary poster is a fake “us.” As a slogan, “Fighting for us” has what English teachers call an implied or elided subject. The full sentence written out would be “I am fighting for us.” The message may not be clear: “Fighting for what?”

“Us” exists in the Hillaryworld only in the same sense customers exist for Cox Cable. Can’t pay your ginormous, ever increasing bill for spotty service? You are no longer part of the Cox family.

Business. English. Life.

not me usI believe that many more people are responding and even more in the future will, when they see and hear the messages of Bernie Sanders, respond, because he is using the words “we” and “us.” When he uses the “I” word, it is in an appropriate sense — the way we work on in class. He refers to others and their ideas, then responds with his own. For example, when he is asked a question about his position on an issue, he responds with a simple sentence like “I believe ______________” or “I think _____________.”

How Different is Bernie?

This being the era of the listicle and endless streams of data, of course someone has compiled a list of past Presidential slogans (1828 to present). In nearly 200 years and 200 slogans, the word “us” only appears three times: “Grant us another term” (Ulysses S. Grant), “He kept us out of war” (Woodrow Wilson), and “He’s making us proud again” (Gerald Ford). The word “we” only appears once: “Yes we can” (Barack Obama). Of the group, only two were successful — Si se puede (2008) – which, unironically, was coined by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, people who got some work done; and He kept us out of war” – Woodrow Wilson, which was essentially untrue (over 116,000 American lives lost in WWI – a staggering 11 million other lives lost in military conflict alone; 30 million total including ‘collateral damage’).

We do not work on history in our English classrooms per-se, but we do talk a lot about context. And the context here is that, despite the historic nature of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy — she is by far the most serious, full-on female candidate for the office of United States President, just as Barack Obama was by far, the most serious, full-on African American candidate for that same office in 2008 — she’s running, walking and talking as retro as any on that 1828-2008 Presidential slogan list. Maybe even more retro.

cox logoLet’s consider another of the limited “us” examples — when Woodrow Wilson was running for President, women couldn’t vote. The ever-brutal Ann Coulter has famously said that “Women should not have the right to vote” as traditionally, womens’ votes have gone to candidates of whom Ms. Coulter disapproves.

The first election in which women could vote was the 1920 election, between Warren G. Harding (R) and James Cox (D). I just learned for the first time that Cox’s VP running mate was a young, pre-polio Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harding and his VP Calvin Coolidge won. Three of these guys are on Presidential dollars, but Cox, sadly, did not make it. However, you totally do know who James M. Cox is. Every month you are lining the pockets of his descendants and Cox shareholders. (I am putting this mostly because that Cox logo says everything I am saying about Hillary Clinton’s grammar messaging from a business perspective – the fake “you” and fake “friend” and just ugh. This is where that 1% comes from, what it is today, and it has been with us such a very long time).

But Professor Casil, what does business and history have to do with pronouns?

Today’s powers-that-be and pundits are all on about how “uncivil” the campaigns are and they’re paying special attention to how lousy candidates are speaking of each other (but really – they’re mostly complaining about Donald Trump). Historical campaigns were a lot worse than today’s campaigns, as a number of historians have pointed out.

But those old-time candidates didn’t have Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, none of it, in 1800. People had to either tell others stuff or they had to print it in broadsheet newspapers that cost a lot of money and time and trees. Later on, Abe Lincoln spoke from the back of trains, and wrote his speeches like the Gettysburg Address on the back of envelopes … probably to save paper.

It gave them time, I think. Time to think about who they were, who the voters were, and what they were doing. I’ve read quite a bit about the time Presidents like John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln spent on their speeches. I know about President Nixon’s yellow legal pads, and Ronald Reagan’s notecards. President Reagan goes up in the historical rankings each year; they called him “The Great Communicator.” By the way I am writing about language and its relationship to communication with the American people, not political parties.

im youve always had my back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This message isn’t unique, it’s pretty much every Tweet sent out by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Someone thought about this. They think it is a great thing to say to voters.

So, let’s break this message down. If someone said that to you, like, oh, say, your friend, your co-worker — how about your spouse? Your spouse says,

“You’ve always had my back and I’ve always tried to have yours.”

What do you anticipate they are about to say next? You don’t have to be a professional writer or English teacher to know that answer in the “real world.” This message has been sent out thousands of times to over 5 million Hillary Twitter followers.

The next statement after that “I’ve always tried to have yours” is  “I _______________” – I cheated, I lied, I let you down etc.

Im with her

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OMG for free! Really? I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to use my limited text messages to let Hillary know I’m by her side all the way! But when she gets there, where do I get to go? I get to stay right where I am until the next campaign when I get to text her again!

Two research psychologists at the University of Texas, Austin have been keeping track of Presidential campaign language. They analyzed the way candidates have been speaking in debates and Town Halls, using a quantitative system – as one of the researchers, Kayla Jordan, says,

For each debate, we looked at the percentage of each candidate’s speech that were I-words. For example, if a candidate said 100 words and 10 of them were I-words, then the frequency would be 10.0%. For the analysis in this post, we then averaged these frequencies across debates for each candidate to determine on average how often they use I-words.

I words past Pres comparison

The system the professors are using is a blunt instrument that just counts words. Reference to “I” alone isn’t a measure of self-centered-ness. It’s “I” in conjunction with “you” or any other noun or pronoun.

What is the difference in these two sentences:

“I want to tell you people something,”

and “I want to listen to you.”

Bernie Sanders’ messages do include the “I” pronoun. But it is in a very inclusive context.

i cant do this alone bernieI leave it to you to parse the meaning of this message, created by Aaron Bowersock. The thing about creative art is, it becomes something new and different to everyone who views it. I see this as a true message. No candidate can govern alone.

This isn’t about who says “I” more. It’s about the meaning of what the candidate says and how their language reflects their capabilities and who they are.

One candidate isn’t just in control of what he says and does, able to communicate well and clearly with others. He isn’t just making people think he cares. One candidate has truth echoing in every message, visual, verbal and combined.

The elided subject or object in

“A Future to Believe In”

is either “We [have]” (subject) or “[for] us” (object). We and Us.

This could just be about words. But it’s really about our lives, our values, and how we want to live. A lot of people who haven’t shared my experiences think that Bernie Sanders just wants to spend a bunch of money, take their tax dollars, and waste them.

cost of free college

He would not be that candidate. And yes, these figures are true, not even counting the money we will need to pay to care for our veterans over time. We did not question one penny of this; and to what benefit? Well, we have recently seen some “benefits” in Paris, and in Brussels. We don’t hear much about all the other countries and suffering because *Cox Cable and all their friends.

As to how much is paid for college, it’s worth considering what the ROI is on our existing schools – with our public colleges and universities already providing a poor or negative ROI and student loan debt totaling a whole lot more than that $760 billion estimated cost. Where do people think the interest on those vast $1 trillion+ student loans goes? It goes to the 1%. There is not a government-involved program developed in the last 30 years where a significant amount does not go to the wealthy around the world. It isn’t government in isolation, it is what every establishment person and entity associated with each of the main parties is fully and completely complicit in. Student loans? Does the word “SallieMae” sound familiar? Home loans? “FannieMae.” In what way would flat out paying one time for college be so much worse than this backdoor method which is ruining students’ futures and lining the pockets of the rich like a 1% cash back 24% interest credit card?

abortion tweetIs it really so important what your “issue” is? Maybe you truly feel that whether or not a total stranger of a different religion to you has an abortion or not is the most important thing in the world. Maybe that will dictate how you vote, how you go to work every morning, what you eat, where your kids go to school, what type of car you drive if you can afford one …

Hell that’s the way Mr. Cruz thinks, isn’t it?

That’s the way he speaks to others.

But this tweet didn’t come from “Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” it came from Hillary Clinton two days ago.

Because like 1976. The Bicentennial year.

It’s 2016 and more women are going to college and graduating now than men. We do not need equal pay to the dollar. We need pay. We do not need to protect a woman’s right to choose. We need to treat each other like human beings. I wouldn’t talk to a dog (especially not!) like Hillary Clinton speaks to me and I certainly would never address a student in that manner.

But that’s just me. I don’t know – yet – about the rest of us.

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You, but What You Can Do for Hillary”

I first heard of the way Hillary Clinton’s top female supporters were talking about young women who supported Bernie Sanders from my 23-year old daughter.

madeleine-albright-quoteA strong Bernie supporter, she was steamed that Gloria Steinem had said on Bill Maher’s show that young women were flocking to Bernie’s rallies because that was where the boys were. Steinem doubled-down by adding that women become more “activist,” (I believe that was the word used) as they grow older, because they “lose power.” There is no other way but to interpret that statement as “When you’re young and hot, like me, you’re powerful!” You’re where the boys are, honey. Burn your bra so they can see your titties better!

My biggest memory of Steinem was that she was a Playboy Bunny. I thought for real, but I was told no — she’d gone “undercover” to expose the dark underside of Hef’s Playboy palace of pulchritude. That’s some play-literation. When I’m not showing my titties and ass to old men in my dating age range (85-95, like Sumner Redstone) sometimes I like to play around with words. When I turn 54 next month, I’m anticipating I’ll be limited to dating gentlemen in the Willard Scott birthday age range (100+). And how lucky I’ll be! Why hardly any woman my age even goes out in public any more, much less has any “power.” Not Hillary-type-power, anyway. Not Gloria Steinem level muscle.

Then, out came the public information that at many of Hillary’s rallies, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was lecturing audiences that women, especially young women, should vote for Hillary because, and I quote, “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.”

She prefaced this by saying, “We can tell our story about how we climbed the ladder and young women — you think it’s been done — it’s not done.”

Here’s the thing, Ms. Albright — there’s not a young woman in the audience for Bernie or in my classrooms who thinks it’s “been done.” And, dear lady, even in my powerless age range — hardly any of us think it’s “been done,” either. If you, or your candidate, had taken even five minutes to listen (I do use my words carefully, – I usually do a bit of reading and writing before I wash my hair, put on my go-go boots, and go out and snag some of those older boys) to women under age 30 and especially under age 25, you would hear what is important to them. Listen. It takes time, energy and commitment to listen.

It takes time, energy, caring and commitment to engage with the American people and listen to them, not just stand up in front of audiences and repeat the same sad, tired, retread talking points about abortion, raising the minimum wage, and free birth control pills over and over again. Most Americans have respect for the first two female Secretaries of State, no question; I certainly did, but it shrinks by the day. These most recent incidents point out something glaring in our entire culture. The people we often (not always) turn to as leaders, may not be deserving of those roles.

Based on the behavior of both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Albright in these recent events, and just looking at their demeanor at these rallies — at the vast gulf between their reality and the reality of most Americans (especially young women) — I sit here and say prayers of gratitude that we weren’t all incinerated while these women were the our country’s top diplomats.

Hillary and madeleine albright

I’m sure about 50 billion pundits will point out that if a conservative man introduced Donald Trump at a rally and hollered, “There’s a special place in HELL for men who don’t vote for Trump!” this would not only be SNL skit fodder for years, it might even surpass the “Dean Scream” moment for radio and TV replay.

Did these three women get this way because they are older? I was absolutely stunned to learn that Gloria Steinem is 81, Madeleine Albright is 78, and Mrs. Clinton, 68. I note that Mr. Sanders is 74 years old. Gloria Steinem is certainly too old for him; besides, everyone knows that powerful, rich guys like Bernie date women in their late 20s and early 30s. You know – like Sean Penn dates girls in high school.

Wait. Back to what occurred to me. See, Ms. Albright and Mrs. Clinton were both our top diplomats, serving several years each — and in fact, one of Mrs. Clinton’s top arguments against her opponent Mr. Sanders and all of the Republican opponents, is that she is the most-experienced foreign policy candidate by far.

That well may be, but it makes me feel cold and afraid, if she was the best and would still be, in representing our country among other nations, and in tense negotiations or circumstances where our troops or nation would be at-risk. Because she doesn’t seem able to even take 5 minutes out of her busy day to engage with actual young women and discern their concerns on even the most basic level. She can’t take another 2-3 minutes to determine why younger women would support Bernie Sanders.

I have now read approximately 12 interviews with Mrs. Clinton. Not once, in any of those interviews, did she use the words, “I listened,” or “I heard,” followed by a specific example of any American’s concern or interest. She certainly uses “I” a lot, but she never says, “I listened to __________________ and heard that ___________________.” She merely asserts her opinion as if it’s obvious. Just as did Madeleine Albright. I listened to what she said (ha ha ha ha ha – sorry). I can discern that she strongly believes the reason many younger women are supporting Bernie Sanders is that they think the “battles” she and Mrs. Clinton “fought” are no longer needed.

Unfortunately, neither of these two former top diplomats, nor Ms. Steinem, the Ms. Lady, seem like they are very good listeners. As I am 53, I don’t really remember any of them showing strong listening skills at any time. It isn’t for reasons of sexism, as asserted by TV performers like Lena Dunham, that many people are referring to Mrs. Clinton as “shrill.” She does raise her voice when she believes her message wasn’t heard.

I have, throughout my life, heard many people assert that their political opponents were “dumb” or “stupid,” and often “evil” when they had positions or opinions in opposition to them. Or, often – they were just their opponents, perhaps agreeing in most circumstances.

I only read part of The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and only watched a few episodes of the many Apprentice shows. But even Donald Trump emphasizes listening skills, and discerning the other person’s interests and motivations. And I’ve seen him demonstrate this and make assessments of his observations of the people trying out to be “The Apprentice.” I’ve watched his daughter Ivanka listen acutely and think about what she says before responding. Certainly, I see these behaviors in action every day in the classroom, in the business environment, and they were the primary determining factor between success or failure in the social service programs I used to work with, raise funds for, and manage.

Not once, would I ever make any decision without consulting others, nor would I ever make any announcement or pronouncement in any class, without ensuring I had listened to people and gotten the best understanding I could of their opinions, needs, desires and concerns.

I have no doubt, since I am 53 years old and have been around the block, including volunteering for Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign in 2010, as well as a number of local campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s –

I can’t believe I’m writing this, that it’s even a question. Does no one even question that their local mayor has better listening skills than Hillary Clinton or Madeleine Albright? This is way beyond “out of touch,” this is never in touch. Never, ever, never.

I just read an interview with Bernie Sanders where he was confronted with the problems caused by some of his male supporters with harassing women who don’t follow their “party line” about Bernie, using extreme sexist language and being jerks. So, Bernie said, and I quote, “We have heard about this.” He then expressed strongly that could not be a part of his campaign and that was not what they were about. I am sure his campaign will take steps to stop it.

So I guess there’s a special place in Hell for me. And how lucky our country is that these two top-notch listeners didn’t get us all killed by their assumptions and bullheaded forging straight ahead with whatever they want to say, just raising their voice when they experienced disagreement or others were not doing exactly what they wanted.

Leadership isn’t about yelling until people cave or just talking louder or saying the same thing over and over, or about “guessing” what people want because you find it impossible to take even a few moments to listen non-judgmentally. Really – it isn’t.

But what would I know? I’m 53. I have no power. Not like powerful people like sexy 81 year old women’s leader Gloria Steinem.

 

 

Dear Individuals on the ASD Spectrum and Others: I am Sorry

I am sorry that my manner of expression indicated to you that I do not want to understand or respect what you experience and feel, and think that people who state they are “normal” should have accommodations rather than those who have lacked them for so long. I am sorry that what I said was interpreted to mean a very direct expression that the experience of those our society commonly identifies as “normal” or “non-disabled,” have the same experiences as people who experience the vast array of barriers, disrespectful situations, assumptions and general awful behavior experienced by those with any type of disability, self-identified, or identified by others.

I also did not say what I said to indicate that those with painful physical disabilities, chronic illness, and other barriers to pain-free lives are experiencing something “good” that should be encouraged and increased.

My thought process is different to others. I thought I indicated that but obviously I did a bad job. My manner of expression that is legitimately mine, may be and apparently is, misunderstood.

I DO understand that people on the ASD spectrum are as diverse in their thoughts and experiences as those who are NOT. They may well be moreso. I understand that those on the spectrum have deep feelings and are incredibly empathetic to others. I learned that people who state they have autism, have had similar experiences to me, possibly much stronger and more intense. I did not know this before, and now I do.

That said, what goes on with me does not mean I “understand” everything, including others’ thoughts and feelings at all times. It means I am frequently overwhelmed by the thoughts, feelings, desires and motivations of others. This can include strangers encountered while shopping, but of course much more so – close family and friends.

So, people interpreted the story I told about the young autistic man who asked me if there would someday be a cure for autism. I wrote in shorthand, because as I stated in the beginning of the article, I was going to do it differently: my way, the way I am learning for my self. Obviously since people who are formally identified to be like me are no more than 1% of the population …

There ya go. Nobody understands what the fuck I say so I usually don’t say anything. For years and years I made stuff up copied from what others thought and felt.

So the statements that made autistic people angry and made them think that I thought autistic people had no feelings or empathy: those were my thoughts in my circumstance at the time. I could tell how fearful he was and I sensed he feared I would not respect him or his perspective. My mind interpreted that as the statements I wrote in the article. I thought at the time, “He won’t care your baby had Down Syndrome.” The reality of the situation, I realized over time, was – he was afraid that I would not care about what he had to say and his situation. The best I could do at the time was, “God means for people to have autism.”

Now – what I genuinely believe, and what I think, has a chance of being for real, true – is that nature and humanity does have a purpose and need for those with autism and many other cognitive differences and physical differences and what are often termed “disabilities.” People in the past have been so twisted that they called some far on one side of ASD spectrum, combined with abilities that seem “miraculous” to many, “Idiots Savants.” These words alone show the level of respect others had for Blind Tom, described in An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. To this day, some who are called “savants” sometimes “perform” for others who exclaim how miraculous they are. I just don’t like this. I’m sorry. I do not like people being viewed as performing animals. I don’t think animals should be viewed as performing animals either – but you already knew I was C*R*A*Z*Y and making shit up, right?

And that’s the case for me. I’m not a “great empath” – though I have been at times, somewhat shrewd. It isn’t just that I don’t know what to make of 90 percent of what comes in this door. It’s that it overwhelms me. Overwhelms me to the point that for most of my life, I didn’t know who I was. Like many others, I reeled from situation to situation, job to job, project to project. I took on things that I should not only never have taken on, they were things I could not change nor improve. All I could do was hurt myself and expose others I cared about to potential harm as well. One person described today they had stuck with a sociopathic college friend who treated others horribly because they didn’t want the friend to be totally alone, to the point where they almost had to drop out themselves. Like that. This person’s experience has validity, right? Mine does not.

In terms of “unwanted perceptions” or feelings from others – one aspect that’s been identified in isolation is called hypercacusis or hyper-acute hearing. Two people I am very close to experience this. I only experience it if I’m very close to either of them, and then immediately go out and hang around with others. It is terrible.

As to all the rest, the statements that people who say they are “empathetic” aren’t, and there is no problem of this nature, everything I said is a lie, they are certain of this –

I have heard many similar things, for many years. I was told, when I was raped 11 days after my 21st birthday, “Just pull yourself together. It happens to a lot of women.” I am 53 years old. I am 10-10 on the ACE scale (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I was treated to a nice web page that asserted I had murdered my baby with Down Syndrome. It was as a result of Alan Rodgers’ decade-plus custody battle, nothing to do with me, really; our family and son just caught in the nasty crossfire. Anthony died in an accident at home. He died in my arms before the ambulance, which went to a wrong location, was able to come back the right way and try to help. When I disclosed that a well-known writer had slapped my face, groped my ass, and announced “With an ass like hers, you just know she loves to be spanked!” I was told I was lying and besides, there was no independent corroboration, I hadn’t pressed charges, it could only be found anonymously told on the internet (by me): I wasn’t even saying his name!

Doesn’t this sound crazy? Oh my god, how could someone have so much go on with them? What a liar, she just wants attention.

Please tell me I do not hear other people’s thoughts.

There are far too many of these types of statements made about others who express many different truths about themselves. Each is saying “Please hear me, Please understand me.” That is 100% what I was saying. There are so, so many people whose go-to is to put somebody else down, blame them, or try to shame them for whatever cause.

My situation is that I had 10-10 on the ACE scale and that these unwanted and overwhelming perceptions of others’ thoughts and emotions  ran in my family on both sides, just as did many other things.

I teach from the book An Anthropologist on Mars by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks writes, in the introduction, of realizing that the human brain, including his own, as his right arm has been injured and is immobilized, forcing him to use his left hand and even foot, was so flexible and malleable. He writes, movingly, of observations by many neurologists that individuals with “disabilities” in fact, had strong abilities as well as the deficits they faced. Current neuroscience is now discovering that theoretical “disabilities” are in fact present among nearly all people in a variety of cognitive areas. If we valued the ability to listen to others and put one’s own self aside as much as our society values those who can economically, socially, and physically exploit others, we would have a different world. Yes, that is what I am saying.

I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in June 2007 as a final result of four precipitating causes. The death of my son in my arms, the death of my stepmother where I could not help or change the course, being raped and thinking he was going to strangle me to death, and the least, last cause: the false web page accusing me, my daughter, or Alan, of killing my son.

This paints me as a “victim.”

I am not. Concurrently, reeling, confused, all unknowing, I have written all these things I have and done my best at them. There are hundreds of formerly homeless families with decent homes and good jobs that I was able to raise funds to help. There are buildings built with funds I raised, and education and economic programs employing people and improving communities in places that otherwise, might not have accessed them. Hundreds of former students have had encouragement, education and above all, respect for who they are, their voices and their words.

There are many writers I have worked with and encouraged to excel and achieve. I do not wish to draw other friends into this because my purpose was and remains to help make things better economically for other writers – in particular those who are economically and socially marginalized.

I overtly stated that in my article, right up front, that I just couldn’t do what others expected any more. I stated as clearly as I could, “I can’t express myself like what others say and you are used to reading.” It’s part of figuring out who I am and what is important to me. My cognitive situation means that is very hard for me.

So, formally, I do not believe that individuals with self-identified disabilities or medically-diagnosed disabilities are the “same” as those who do not identify as disabled or present to others as “non disabled.” I do not understand a lot of terminology used but I try to speak in ways using terms that I do understand. My understanding of reading what others have said and listening to them is that some people are working to help others to understand that there are “invisible disabilities.” I have been a college teacher since 1998 and I know there are many students with learning disabilities: they do NOT want to be visible to other class members as “the learning disabled student.” I am not writing about that, but I can understand learning disability as well as other illnesses being categorized as “invisible disabilities.”

Because I do know what I have faced and what those I love also face: I do not care if you make fun of my stating I have empathic traits or telling me those are not disabilities. I would be interested to hear why PTSD is no problem. I need education on this because it was a big shock to me when I applied for new insurance and they not only stated it was a “pre-existing condition,” it was also regarded as a permanent disability.

Yeah, I think I will definitely state publically on the internet that I was diagnosed with PTSD. It’s so helpful in obtaining medical insurance or interviewing for executive jobs. Then to make things more positive, I’ll state publically on the internet that I have empathic perceptions and even sometimes hear what seem to be “others’ thoughts” they do not intend and I might not really understand. Nobody ever diagnosed anyone with a different mental illness and gave them things like lobotomies and shock treatment because they said they heard voices – especially ones that the supposed speakers vehemently denied. Nobody many generations ago EVER burned people at the stake or gave them the drowning test due to similar statements.

I could just copy what others say and do. Then I wouldn’t have any trouble.

Like Shane.


I came to understand while learning about Tourette’s Syndrome, that Alan Rodgers, whom I loved, who died, likely had a mild form of the Syndrome. He was not aware of this, nor was he diagnosed, as he soon had other illnesses that took precedence, for which he was treated for the last three years of his life. He was not only viciously mocked for the “Touretty” things he did and said (and some of them greatly upset me in terms of echolalia and similar behaviors), part of this was used in his nightmare custody battle.

The way I was treated growing up was designed to 1) make me into someone I wasn’t, including forming and guiding my statements, movements, posture and appearance; 2) enforce my speaking, when permitted, what others wanted to hear. Because of this, I am highly attuned to others’ expectations, while at the same time, my default is to assume no one wants to see me, hear me, or even could or would. That’s part of the ACES. No I was not saying “bad things” about the young autistic man and what was important to him. It was about me.

What do you think?

In Praise of What’s Real

I noticed this morning that the top story on Medium is basically a poor man’s version of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.” Thousands of people read this adaptation thinking it was a true story and a real person telling his thoughts as he acknowledged he was dying. It was just a 27 year old guy who may or may not have thought he was “being original” and who may or may not have realized he was paraphrasing a famous end of life message from a fully-realized person.

eastern sierras

So I went out yesterday on an adventure.

It was real.

Me, too.

amy january 2016 I’d rather have 5 people read my work for real than 500,000 read something I ripped off. I’d rather be me, than someone with tons of cosmetic surgery. If I am dying, I want to die at home with my family and friends.

If you are my friend, you are truly my friend. If you are my student, you are truly my student.

I wish for everyone to know who they really are, to be grateful for the immense gifts we are given each and every day of genuine life, of this beautiful world we live in, and of our true friends and those we love, and who love us.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900

How Did I Get 14 Science Fiction Stories About Women in One Book?

I wrote them!

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues. Or you can read stories about the future of women…

Fourteen sci fi and fantasy stories all about women by FEMALE SCIENCE FICTION WRITER author Amy Sterling Casil. This collection contains the Nebula Award-nominated story “To Kiss the Star.”

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind.

In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimers patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her.

Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose?

The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan, wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city.

Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.”

And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

Available directly from Book View Café Publishing Cooperative (EPUB and Mobi), as well as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple and GooglePlay.

“Amy writes like Ray Bradbury on real sci-fi …” Tom Easton, Analog Magazine

“‘To Kiss the Star’ was up for the Nebula Award, but didn’t win. I haven’t read the work that did win yet, but, again, it must have been absolutely unbelievably fabulous to beat out “To Kiss the Star.” This is a beautiful, poignant, moving story of a soaring mind trapped in a damaged body. Read it.” – Hugo, Campbell and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, author of Flashforward and other bestsellers

This is my own personal website so I may answer this question: What did win? It was about teenage boys. One critic said about “To Kiss the Star,” — “It’s like a Lifetime movie.” Why YES – YES IT IS.

The Instrumentality of Women
First eBook Edition Book View Café 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99
Trade Paperback Chameleon Publishing 2016
356 pages
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
$15.99

The Path to Publication May Take Many Forms

Shannon Page is putting a book together covering different writers’ “paths to publication” and I told her — I’ve got one!

If you’ve read my essays about the Writers of the Future Contest, you’ll recognize parts of this story, but I tell the complete tale here for the first time!

FSFJUN96I didn’t change any of “Jonny Punkinhead,” my first professional science fiction sale, which appeared in the “New Writers” issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1996. Yes – here it is – the infamous “Nazi Clown” issue. The painting is by my now-friend Kent Bash, who also did the cover for “Chromosome Circus” – somewhat of a sequel to “Jonny” (a much nicer clown!).

So here is a draft of my “Path to Publication” …

My path to publication would have been very different, and may never have happened, if I hadn’t entered the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest between 1995 and 1998. Eventually, I ended up winning two prizes and attending the Writers of the Future events in Hollywood in 1998 and 1999. But my first professional publication wasn’t a story entered in the contest, it came as a result of it, especially help from the head judge: Dave Wolverton (who also writes fantasy novels as David Farland). Another judge of this contest, Kathy Wentworth, was a writer and editor beloved by many. Kathy suffered from cancer and died in 2012. At that time, Dave Wolverton returned as the head judge, so he is also currently the judge of this contest, which continues to help new and aspiring writers and artists.

Back in those long-ago days, we still sent work in the mail, whether on submission to a print publisher, or to a contest like Writers of the Future. The idea of “simultaneous submissions” was very important. Most publications didn’t want them. What if you sent a physical story to six different publications, and more than one of them agreed to publish the work? You ran the risk of “being banned” if editors learned you were trying to save time and postage by taking a “simultaneous submission” shortcut.

The preferred method was to laboriously put the printed story in a manila envelope and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the response – you could either include a large manila envelope in which the editor could return the actual manuscript, or a small, regular white envelope, which would be big enough for a form letter response. The understanding with the small envelope was that the editor could throw away or recycle the manuscript you had sent and just return a note or form letter.

Think about the cost in time, effort, postage and paper!

So, why was I doing this? Starting in Junior High, I had the crazy idea I “wanted to be a science fiction writer.” By the time I was in college, I read an article in Asimov’s Magazine urging young writers to apply to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop – at the time held at Michigan State University. I completed a storylike document by mixing and matching what I understood (not very much!) of a literary story by the well-known author Paul Bowles with the plot of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I sent this thing to the workshop and they let me in!

Many of the others at the Clarion Workshop were writing fantasy or horror, so I decided, “I want to be a horror writer!” Stephen King was very popular at the time – it seemed like the thing to do. This outstanding thought process resulted in my “Pudding I left in the refrigerator came alive and ate everyone!” phase.  One of my Clarion classmates convinced me to send my stories to the high-paying, and to me – very intimidating – Twilight Zone magazine. I sent three stories to them. I also sent several others to less-intimidating, low paying publications and all were rejected. Considering these tales were mostly about deadly pudding, I can’t blame these editors. I got used to seeing a big manila envelope in the mailbox that I had addressed to myself. Rejection, rejection, rejection.

Because I knew no other writers to talk to after Clarion, I didn’t know that I was “getting close” and receiving personal rejections even for malevolent pudding tales – so when I got a rejection card from Twilight Zone editor Alan Rodgers*, I decided, “You don’t have what it takes, Amy – just forget about it. Devote your time to a real paying job and your family.”

I quit writing for eight years.

After my daughter Meredith was born, her father Mike encouraged me to start writing again since it seemed like my life was consumed 100% by our daughter, my ailing father and grandmother, and job/household duties. I needed something to take my mind off of these heavy responsibilities. Mike reminded me, “Didn’t you want to be a science fiction writer?”

“Yes,” I told him – that was true. I had and did.

Mike pulled out some of his old paperbacks, including Tales of Known Space by Larry Niven. As I read, I realized I remembered reading most, if not all, of these stories from the old days. I discovered the ability to complete an actual story text – and I didn’t have to combine a literary writer’s tale with Star Trek, either. I plugged along, writing from 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. before it was time to take Meredith to school.

Rejection. Rejection. Rejection.  42 of them. But they were “personal” – i.e. written notes from various editors. I knew enough by this time to know that this meant my work wasn’t completely abominable.

I also learned about the Writers of the Future Contest, and the prizes looked great. A lot of writers I respected and admired were either judges, or had won the contest. So I developed a policy: I’d send a story to all the high-paying professional sci-fi markets in order of which ones I thought had the best potential of buying it. If, by the end of this laborious procedure, the story still hadn’t sold – then I’d enter it in the contest.

The first story that fit in this category was “Jonny Punkinhead.” This story is also my first professional science fiction and fantasy sale.  It appeared in the “New Writers Issue” of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in June, 1996.

When I finished “Jonny Punkinhead” in early 1995, I knew that I’d “done something.”  From what I could determine at that time, it was “publishable.”  Inside, I knew that I’d done the very best that I could do.  Through this story, I began to learn what I was really good at as a writer.  It was about a subject very close to my heart:  inspired by the homeless, desperately poor children I worked with through my day job at that time — the director of a charity devoted to helping people in need.  I invented the idea of “changed children,” and did much research on slow viruses and genetic mutations to come up with a scenario by which such a disaster might occur.  I left all of this “background information” out of the story and instead wrote about what might happen if somebody . . . oh, somebody like me . . . had to try to take care of these kids who were throwaways — the unwanted, the unloved, the bizarre.  Kids with heads like pumpkins and three eyes.  Kids like “Jonny Punkinhead.”

For reasons that are clear to me today (but unclear to me at the time) I made the protagonist a male doctor – Dr. Hedrick Arlan.  But at the time, I didn’t really understand what I was doing although I knew the doctor’s problems with “taking his job home” were similar to challenges I also faced in my real-world job with homeless, very low-income people.

I put “Jonny Punkinhead” in a big manila envelope, along with a self-addressed, folded large manila envelope for its return, and sent it out (one at a time) to every reputable science fiction and fantasy magazine that existed at that time.  Guess what happened?

Yeah – same as the Malevolent Pudding stories. Two of the editors, who shall forever remain nameless, actually used these words: “This is an award quality story, but . . .”

But – they still rejected it.

“Jonny” was rejected by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, at that time, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

After all these rejections, I entered it in the Writers of the Future contest. One day, I went to the mailbox and here was another big manila envelope.  I trudged back inside and put the envelope on the kitchen counter. I figured, “Another rejection.” The same thoughts I’d had eight years before flooded my mind. “Just quit. You’re no good. You’ll never sell a story.”

I cleaned the kitchen before opening the envelope, quickly recognizing “Jonny Punkinhead.”

Then a letter fell out. It was pretty long—several pages and typed, single-spaced!

The letter was from Dave Wolverton, head contest judge.  “Fred Pohl and I both thought that this was the first prize winner,” he wrote.  Dave went on to discuss my story in detail, my writing in detail, and by the time I finished, I could hardly breathe.  Even then, though, I was still thinking, “You didn’t win anything and they’re sending the story back, unpublished.”

Dave said that the story was “publishable.”  That was great! He urged me to send it to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where he felt it would be a “good fit.”

He had no way to know that the story had already been sent to that magazine and rejected.

Keep in mind this was before regular use of the internet and I didn’t know what to do. How could I send a story “back” that had already been rejected even if Dave Wolverton said it was good and right for the publication?  Then I read Fred Pohl’s letter.  You may not know who Fred Pohl is, but if you love science fiction, he was the author of The Space Merchants, Man Plus, and the Gateway novels. He was also the editor of Galaxy magazine, and considered to be the best editor in the field for many years.  As I read this letter, I knew that Fred Pohl had picked a number of incredibly successful, wonderful writers of short science fiction out of his editorial “slush pile.” Among them, he had “discovered” Cordwainer Smith — and as far as I was concerned, Cordwainer Smith (real name: Paul Linebarger) was a genius.

Fred Pohl’s letter was much shorter than Dave Wolverton’s, but he said, “Being able to read stories like this is why I have continued to judge this contest over the years.”  He called my story “award-quality” and my writing “beautiful,” and I believed him.  That was when I decided not to quit.

As far as my “but the story was already rejected” dilemma, I wrote Dave Wolverton back. Following his guidance, I put the story back in an envelope, wrote a new cover letter that said, “Dave Wolverton suggested I send this to you,” and sent “Jonny Punkinhead” back to the editor Kristine Rusch at the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Honestly, I didn’t change a word though the cover letter probably said “I revised this with Dave’s advice” (in fact, I’m certain I said that – he told me to!).

And this time, she bought it.

I kept writing.  It took me a long time — two years, probably — to recapture the feeling I had when I wrote “Jonny Punkinhead.”  I wrote competent, even moving stories in the meantime.  But stories like “Jonny” don’t come every day.  Stories like that come from heartfelt honesty, caring, and sincerity.  How many words had I written before I wrote “Jonny?”  I’m not sure.  It wasn’t the “million words” that I heard bestselling author Harry Turtledove speak of — he said that writers had to write “a million words” before they became publishable, professional writers.  I racked up a total of eighty rejections before my next professional sale.

No one can take “Jonny Punkinhead” from me, or tell me that he’s “not a winner,” because I know that little boy is a winner, even if he lost hope in his own story.  Even if he smashed his own head against the wall just the way I wanted to do back then.

My grandfather always told me, “You have to take the bad with the good.”  When I was growing up and reading science fiction, my ultimate dream was to be a part of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was the place where all the writers I most loved and admired published their work.  Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Daniel Keyes, Walter M. Miller.  Writers like that.  My writing has been sandwiched in issues between writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Joyce Carol Oates.  That’s not “the bad.”  That’s “the good.”

And that *asterisk? *Alan Rodgers, the Twilight Zone editor? I met him in 1998, not realizing who he was until quite a while after he and I had fallen in love. We were either a couple, or very close friends, until his untimely death after a series of strokes in 2014. I had kept the little card he’d sent as a rejection – the one that convinced me to quit writing way back when.

When I showed it to him and told him the story of how the terse, small card had inspired me to quit, he said “Amy, I only wrote 6 or 7 of those the whole time I was at Twilight Zone. That was meant to encourage you.

If you had sent another story as good as that one, I probably would have bought it!”

Amazon Customer Help Unhelpful, Trollish and Bad

With Amazon, it’s not just troll reviews, it’s also their “customer help” that’s a problem.

Most of us who do business online may have asked ourselves more than once: “Just who is writing these online reviews?” Well – some see themselves as self-appointed “brand ambassadors,” according to a 2013 study of thousands of online reviews conducted by Eric Anderson and Duncan Simester—professors of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Anderson and Simester studied Expedia, Amazon and other companies, but of the group, no company is so associated with online reviews and the “5 star system” than Amazon.

Amazon-logo

I’ve told my friends, “YES there are some writers who pay for fake 5-star reviews,” and some who’ve probably paid people to put fake 1 star reviews for competitors. In the writing community, we go around and around about these problems. It makes legitimate writers question the reviews they receive. I have experienced a self-appointed “brand ambassador” who seems to have decided that a novella I published as an early experiment was the worst sort of self-published book (when it was not). I fought back. After my recent overview of many Nebula Award-nominated authors’ e-books, including single, standalone stories and collections (so, sorry online “Brand Ambassador” reviewer lady – I don’t think that other award-nominated authors you may not have heard of are as bad a writer as I am) — fighting back was better than sitting on my hands. I have more reviews and sales of Shakespeare in Hell than the majority of other single-story e-books or short story collections that I saw when I did the survey.

I didn’t realize until today that the problems in the online review system also extended to the “help community” for Amazon. Amazon’s Kindle message board help community is supposed to provide specific help to self-publishing authors: it’s nearly unusable, I discovered a couple of years ago. The Kindle message boards are dominated by trolls, weirdos and what-have-you. They seem to exist for some self-published Kindle formatting advice authors to troll and advertise their “How to” books, and for others to spam regarding their self published titles. For the average person seeking formatting answers: they’re a disaster!

The motive for this is obvious: most of the people who spend their time spamming others, slamming newcomers or exhibiting other forms of Web 1.0 behavior on these message boards make money from it. They sell their “How to” Kindle or other books by means of their online “help community” advertisement.

But what would the motive be for other commenters to be unhelpful, creepy and even abusive on the regular Amazon.com “community help” message boards? I recently experienced a double charge from Amazon. In attempting to rectify the problem, I clicked on the “Customer Help” message board option. It’s a lot easier to find than the customer service telephone option! Just one of the message threads I saw was this. I was motivated to respond because I’d seen answer after answer from the same small group of people saying “Click on the blue help button.” Well, there is no such button, it isn’t blue, and it isn’t located in the same place on mobile devices. In addition, the “help” link takes the customer to a page where a variety of help options (also web pages and FAQs) are located. There are no less than 3 clicks required to get to a page where the customer could answer questions and get to a telephone customer service option.

This may be a joke to these Amazon customer “help” weirdos making fun of or abusing average customers. But I saw one customer referring to overcharges on his bank account, and a second one referring to two $60 overdraft charges on her bank account. She stated she was a mother of two and they were only receiving small holiday gifts as a result. People like this guy like to inform others of exactly how their bank account works — instead of advising customers how to get duplicate or other wrong charges refunded. I finally broke and responded after seeing him and other commenters being downright rude or mean to regular customers one too many times.

These message boards aren’t hard to locate. They are listed before any paid Amazon customer service option, and long before the web page routine that will result in the telephone customer service. If people comment there, they get either repetitive, insulting or downright creepy and weird answers from a small group of “regulars.” It’s very similar to the same bizarre weirdos who go around clicking “unhelpful” on average or ordinary reviews of books or other products.

Amazon review seller

The only reason I’ll post an online review is if I think the product, restaurant or other business, or book, is really fantastic, or in very rare cases — really awful. I am reviewer #870,251 on Amazon and it is mostly books, dating back to 1998. I was tremendously tempted to review the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, but I resisted.

I know that Amazon.com has its own problems with employee morale, and probably, its customer service message boards are far down on the list as compared to new product launch, driving advertising revenue, and convincing people that ordering online is better than in-person shopping, up to and including getting products within an hour of placing an order.

But I have a hard time thinking that putting the “Customer Help Message Board” button first in front of an actual Customer Service representative method of contact (phone, chat, email) is a great business strategy. The “help” customers would get is non-existent. One of these people informed me that she had been “helping” people on the Amazon customer service help message boards for seven years. Her “help” that I saw consisted of telling people who were complaining about a duplicate, triplicate or otherwise incorrect charge needing to be refunded was to “click on the blue help button.” She persisted in disputing with me approximately 4 hours today and I have no doubt the weirdo crew there is Googling me to their heart’s content, just like some of the others did with the Canadian businessman who had an unusual concern/complaint.

I do not think you have to be an internet, mobile or new media genius to figure out there is a problem when that is your go-to “customer service” method. Some of it is a sort of misperceived value on the commenter’s “reputation” — representing about 1% of people who comment. A very different 1% to the “one percent” we have heard about in the news, but a bullying 1% all the same.

Amazon recently made news for suing over 1,000 fake reviewers. It turns out that auto review website Edmunds.com preceded them by two years. But Edmunds doesn’t directly sell anything: Amazon does. They should take control of their help and advice sections. Misinformation, disinformation and abuse that is rewarded by the company’s ill-considered 5 star review system is not “customer service” or “help.”

Don’t Mistake What I Am Saying About Women …

First off, I just finished doing some work I really do not have a lot of extra time to do, but I did it anyway. Second, I doubt too many male writers would share my experience of having to slack off to go get some items for dinner. It’s cooking right now. Of course there are some: single dads and others.

So hell I sit around and way more often than I should, I feel sorry for myself. I just counted up all the Nebula Award nominated stories and authors since this award began in 1966. I wanted to make the case that “who the story is about” is more important than “who wrote the story.” I discovered that my betters, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Vonda McIntyre, Nina Kiriki Hoffmann, Carol Emshwiller, Lisa Tuttle (who has ethics – she did not want her award, the only person to so-decline to date), Esther Friesner, Ursula Le Guin, and Jane Yolen – had all written stories with female protagonists who received the award.

I only dealt with the short story category. It would drive me insane to deal with all the other categories. And then there’s the Hugos, with which there is some, not a lot, of overlap.

So here’s who these babies are about – by year:

1966 The Harlequin and the Ticktockman
1967 Geology assistant/WWII Vet (“The Secret Place”) and “dead boy’s sister”
1968 Neutered Spacers (Chip Delany)
1969 Dr. Darin (male), monkeys, mentally deficient boy (Kate Wilhelm)
1970 A man (“Passengers” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1971 – no award –
1972 A man (“Good News from the Vatican” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1973 Janet Evason – this story is “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ about an all-female planet
1974 Moggadeet – an alien who is eaten by his female mate (by “James Tiptree, Jr.” – “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”)
1975 Laia Asieo Odo, an elderly woman (aka Odo, in male form, in “The Dispossessed” – by Ursula Le Guin)
1976 Dolf, a man running out of time, who must catch that Zeppelin
1977 A man (“A Crowd of Shadows” by Charles L. Grant – first person narrative)
1978 Jeffty – he’s five. He is always five.
1979 Rob (a guy, a musician)
1980 “An old scientist” and “young female reporter” and giant ants.
1981 Boyd, a male archaologist who discovers his acquaintance Luis is an immortal
1982 An unnamed woman (Lisa Tuttle “The Bone Flute” the only author to refuse the award, due to problems with another author campaigning)
1983 A girl and her dog (Connie Willis)
1984 A young boy who survives a global flood
1985 An old man and a young boy (Williams and John)
1986 Sally Gourley, a truck stop waitress of indeterminate age (by Nancy Kress!)
1987 Pal Tremont, a Korean boy
1988 Gordon Sills (male), Avery Roda (male), love object “Anna” (female)
1989 Sheila, a prostitute rescued from the Biblical Flood, and mother
1990 Male physicist who discovers time travel
1991 Guy who observes that bears have discovered fire
1992 Vietnam guy, Charlie
1993 Three women discuss menstruation (Connie Willis!)
1994 Vietnam guy, first-person narrative
1995 Anli (female) and Derren (male) (Martha Soukup)
1996 The Librarian and Death (Esther Friesner!)
1997 A woman who has the day off for her virtual child’s birthday (Esther Friesner!)
1998 Sister Emily (Jane Yolen!)
1999 Vietnam guy (my dear friend Bruce Holland Rogers – but this theme is starting to look like “Never go full-retard” as stated by fake black guy Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder)
2000 Professional (female) victim (Leslie What)
2001 Investigator of Victim Rights Closure Statements (anti-death penalty story by Terry Bisson)
2002 Maria, African albino women
2003 Mother with a creature for a child (Carol Emshwiller who is better than all)
2004 Female narrator hunting gorillas (Karen Joy Fowler “What I Didn’t See”)
2005 Daughter coming to terms with elderly dying father
2006 A succubus-type of indeterminate gender who lives with a typical middle-aged working woman
2007 An abandoned mistress
2008 17 year old, formerly youngest female resident of Always
2009 Alanna and Ylva (by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann)
2010 “Nameless female survivor” of spacewreck
2011 A man who creates a tiny man
2012 A little boy with a paper tiger
2013 Quy an “older sister”
2014 A narrator of indeterminate gender
2015 Grandma, Eva, a Jackalope wife

Now, nerds and dweebs and geeks – this is who I am. The majority of these winners are either my friends or friendly acquaintances. Some of them have been my teachers and mentors.

I started feeling unholy sorry for myself. Some of my friends, acquaintances, teachers and mentors have unbelievable Publishers Weekly reviews for their work. They have loving retrospectives, and in-depth reviews, story-by-story, of collections of their work. And I saw book after book, whether single, standalone story or collection, with one, two, or three reviews on Amazon. I saw the same b.s. (maybe not the same “quality” as me – but I am “special”) on their work — two star reviews, etc. Judging by Amazon, my dreadful crap has even outsold some of their outstanding work.

So, what I wrote about was this:

To Kiss the Star
Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight
The Renascence of Memory
Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor
This Monster
Grendel’s Dam – ageless
Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair
Jenny Julian – 35 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery
The Color of Time
Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31
Smiley the Robot
Miss Gia – 85
Everything I Have is Yours
Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter
Heart of Jade
The Lady – 30 – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan
Shakespeare in Hell
Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets
The Ruined Gods
Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73
The Gods That Men Don’t See
Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist
Digger Lady
Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist
Incandescent
Paperwhite – a newborn
Her Name is Jacqueline
Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney

The thing is, I might not write very well. I might be crude and maybe not very talented.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900But I think I am honest. And I listen. So.

Disabled people really will go to the stars, once it is time. Women will continue to use extreme cosmetic surgery to get what they want, although it doesn’t work. There will be a sub-cellular level treatment for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases – even a reversal of the aging process. People will come to understand that time and space are artifacts of our sensory perceptions. Some day, a robot will fall in love with and care for an old lady, because he knows no better. A woman will one day win the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award as a film director. Some day, a woman will write better than Shakespeare. A woman likely did co-found today’s Mayan community. Some day a woman who lives only a short time will travel faster than the speed of light and save many lives. There probably were early humans here in North America 100,000 years ago. The Mayan howler monkey god is real. Gender reassignment will become much more common and complete. People will so seriously clone for companionship and then – some – the scummy few – will use for organ donation.

There is a hot trade in Altoid mints, intergalactically-speaking.

“Don’t write about your little life,” said Toni Morrison. Open your ears, open your eyes, open your heart –

FREE YOUR MIND

I didn’t know this advice over the years. I know it now, and I’m glad I took it, instinctively. As I say to students, why should we become so upset about abortion, when medical science can and will solve this? Why should we become so angry about the death penalty, when the crimes to which it is the penalty will cease due to evolution?

You think I am wrong? I am an optimist; I am a listener.

Are you?