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Friday News: Amazon’s wacky algorithms, Fandom and corporate publicity, writers v....

The (Unintentional) Amazon Guide to Dealing Drugs – For those of you who routinely give the side eye to Amazon’s algorithms, here’s a true story that is both absurd and frightening. It seems that a pattern of purchases for a certain scale has resulted in a recommended buying list that amounts to what Alexis Madrigal refers to as a “quickstart kit for selling drugs.” That’s the absurd part. The frightening part is that Amazon does not make clear in its TOS how it responds to requests from law enforcement for customer information.

So, how long until police departments find an AWS-100 scale and request account information from Amazon?
. . .
Privacy, such as it is on the web, is collective. Beware who you share purchases or click-patterns with. –The Atlantic

Inside the corporate fandom marketing machine – As I was reading this piece on the way fantoms are being tapped to produce free publicity — often spontaneously produced content that is exploited by publicists and other corporate marketers to promote their media products — I couldn’t help but think of some of the debates we’ve had in the Romance community about the way reader-produced content can serve as publicity for an author or publisher, even though the reader did not produce the content for that purpose. There’s very much a question here, of who’s controlling whom, though, because fans can drive the popularity of a movie or television show or book, or their voices can be used by corporatized media to build popularity.

During the two- or three-month media tour for a big movie like Avengers, every interview will be copied onto YouTube, discussed on social media, and GIF-ed and quoted across Tumblr and BuzzFeed and a thousand other sites. The machine of audience-driven Internet publicity isn’t just dedicated to the hardcore fans who work their way up the Hunger Games Explorer leaderboard, it also includes everyone who casually retweets a Tom Hiddleston GIF. This kind of thing is easier to consume than a 10-minute segment on Jimmy Kimmel, and it’s far more likely to reach that all-important early adopter audience of social media addicts. –Daily Dot

Are You Really a Writer … Or Just a Copyist? – As I read through this piece, I could actually feel my jaw dropping. It sets out to distinguish what it means to be a “real writer” from a mere “copyist,” culminating with a set of criteria for one to define themselves as an actual “author.” Copyists, for example, are not passionate about writing, don’t read for pleasure, don’t write in their free time, and are not proud of their writing — among other things. Authors, by contrast, love reading, research, and following trends, have a professional portfolio of published work, and have “original thoughts” to offer. As much as I would love it if everyone writing was doing so out of a passionate commitment to the written word and to all that entails, this feels a little to much like trying to identify the artiste as distinctive from the commercial writer, in the most insulting way.

A copyist can be defined as a person who:

  • Wants to be paid to write a certain number of words
  • Is drawn to writing as a job, not as a calling
  • Is not trained or highly experienced in any specific writing style
  • Doesn’t have any industry specializations
  • Doesn’t have a unique perspective to share
  • Isn’t expecting to be highly compensated as they don’t expect to provide high-quality work

Merriam-Webster defines a copyist as “a person who transcribes” or “an imitator.” –Copyblogger

Belle: A Lesson About British Slavery Buried in a Love Story – For everyone who thinks that historical Romance set in 19th C Britain has to feature white protagonists, here’s a true story for you: Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave and whose father was a British Royal Navy officer, was raised by her great uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield. The same man who adjudicated the famous Somerset case, in which a slave who escaped in England sued for his freedom on the basis of English common law. “Belle,” the film produced on the basis of the story, will be released in the US in May.

Somerset was freed. Though Mansfield could have gone further in his decisions, both laid legal groundwork for the abolitionist movement and eventually led to the slave trade being outlawed in Britain in 1807 and slavery being abolished in the British Empire in 1833. And as the filmmakers and many historians argue, Dido Elizabeth Belle must have had an impact on Lord Mansfield’s thinking. He didn’t have children of his own and had afforded Belle what was an unheard-of degree of privilege and status for an illegitimate black child at the time. –The Root

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

22 Comments

  1. CG
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 07:15:52

    Tried to comment but got this msg “Sorry, but our system has recognised you as a spammer. If you believe this to be an error, please contact us so that we can rectify the situation.”

  2. CG
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 07:16:21

    Tried to comment but got this msg “Sorry, but our system has recognised you as a spammer. If you believe this to be an error, please contact us so that we can rectify the situation.” Used a couple html tags in the post but only for italics, not links.

  3. Lostshadows
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 08:57:10

    I got pinged as a “spammer” a couple of days ago. The only link was in the “Your Website” field.

  4. Ani Gonzalez
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 09:02:46

    Whoa! I bought that scale last month for my Science Olympiad team. Seriously creeped out right now.

  5. Lil
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 09:17:52

    A propos that writer/copyist distinction. Samuel Johnson once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
    I guess he wasn’t a real writer.

  6. Mzcue
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 09:28:10

    Wasn’t Dickens paid by the word?

  7. Isobel Carr
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 09:29:52

    So a copyist “Wants to be paid,” “is drawn to writing as a job,” but “isn’t expecting to be highly compensated.” Seriously? Who came up with this tripe?

    I’m incredibly excited about Belle. Finally saw a trailer for it when I went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last week. I’ve been obsessed with Dido’s story since I read about her in BLACK LONDON. She’s part of the inspiration for the heroine I’m planning a couple books out (paired with a hero inspired by the Chevalier St-Georges that I put into my series because I’ve wanted to write his book for a decade now).

  8. pooks
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 11:39:24

    Not sure if you’ve seen Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog entries about the falacy of all-white casts in historical fiction:

    http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/look-jane-austen-included-characters-color-stop-citing-historical-accuracy-white-cast/

  9. Erin Satie
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 12:10:10

    I think there’s a sliding scale in a lot of creative professions–you can be paid in money or ego boosts. Let them have the ego boosts.

  10. Aoife
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 12:29:06

    I’m so excited to see “Belle.” I’ve loved the portrait ever since I saw it for the first time online, which I think was when it was linked at the Two Nerdy History Girls site, and have wanted to know more about Dido. The movie is certainly loaded with a lot of the top names in British acting, and the trailer is intriguing, so my fingers are crossed.

  11. Tina
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 13:54:57

    I am also excited to see Belle. The website Shadow and Act which keeps a great eye on film and tv from around the African Diaspora has been tracking this movie since casting sides first went out. There is also a portrait of the real Belle on the medieval POC tumblr site.

  12. Carolyn Jewel
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 14:11:08

    I guess I’m a copyist because I was too dispassionate to click through to the article.

  13. Mzcue
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 14:32:32

    @Lil:

    Okay, this academic site says that Dickens was paid by serial installment rather than by the word: http://dickens.ucsc.edu/resources/faq/by-the-word.html, but it seems quite similar to me.

    The line of reasoning that separates artists as those who create only in the absence of compensation leaves a very small club. Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh are the only two names that spring to mind. Confusing in the consideration of authors, especially with the way we anoint best-sellers as being somehow more worthy. Screwy business, if I may say so.

  14. txvoodoo
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 16:54:42

    A few years ago, we bought a similar scale on Amazon for measuring chemicals for our fishtank. Cue the onslaught of dubious “related items.” Then, we bought another, when I turned diabetic and had to start measuring all my food. DOUBLE DOWN TIME!

    I’m sure they think I’m a total druggie now.

    These kind of things aren’t unfamiliar to people with reef fishtanks, though. We often use a lot of electricity, or we have very bright lights on at strange times of the day. It’s not unheard of for power companies to talk to law enforcement, and for homeowners to get a visit from them later to prove they’re not a grow lab.

  15. Robin/Janet
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 23:12:20

    @CG: Did you try without the html tags? My comments with links almost always get thrown into moderation.

    Re. @Tina‘s reference to Shadow and Act, they posted two clips from the movie just today: http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/i-had-no-idea-shed-be-so-black-watch-2-new-clips-from-amma-asantes-acclaimed-period-drama-belle

    This article from Mixed Race Magazine contains her portrait: http://mixedracemagazine.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/dido-elizabeh-bell/

    @Mzcue: Whenever people slam serials, Dickens is the first writer who comes to mind. I doubt we’d have his books at all were it not for the opportunity (and installment-based payment) of serialization.

  16. Mzcue
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 23:34:56

    @Robin/Janet:

    I seem to recall that the Sherlock Holmes stories were also serialized. I guess those are not literary achievement of the highest flight, but I’ve enjoyed reading and rereading them throughout the decades of my life.

    The more I think about it, the more such distinctions about what constitutes writing and what is only copying seem like poppycock. In fact, like elitist poppycock. Of the sort that represents a sort of parasitic regard for actual creativity. To paraphrase, “Them that can, do. Them that can’t come close, pontificate.”

  17. Robin/Janet
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 00:07:25

    @Mzcue: Yup. Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes as serials: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_(literature). There are some more recent examples of books that began as serials here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/4-great-books-that-started-out-as-magazine-serials/.

    I’m not an indiscriminate fan of serials (like everything else, they can feel like a gimmicky or manipulative), but I think people forget how many fine, well-respected writers have written serial fiction.

  18. pooks
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 08:11:39

    Not serial fiction, perhaps, but many of Larry McMurtry’s contemporary Texas novels are overlapping from the same world. I recall being surprised to see Aurora Greenway [Terms of Endearment] show up in one of them, for example, though the title escapes me after all these years.

    Not sure where he falls in the pantheon of serious fiction, but he did win the Pulitzer Prize.

  19. pooks
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 08:41:48

    Re: the Dido Belle clip [I had no idea she'd be so black] — the link I shared above to Mary Robinette Kowal’s site [and other links] mentions that both Jane Austen and one of the Brontes had secondary characters of color who were considered heiresses with good prospects, and no comments whatsoever about any problems. Also, that Austen on several occasions referred to a heroine’s skin as brown rather than pale, with no reference to ‘unfortunate’ or any indication that not keeping her white complexion would be looked down on.

    I really wonder how all this fits together. I do want to read about Dido Belle’s life.

  20. Robin/Janet
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 23:42:23

    @pooks: As much as I would love to see Austen as subversive in this way, I cannot sign on to the way Robinette Kowal is reading those references and passages. In regard to Sanditon, in my opinion that passage can easily be read as an insult toward Miss Lambe. Precious, for example, is one of those words that embodies two opposing meanings – one that means worth a lot, and one that means worth nothing. To me it’s not at all clear that Miss Lambe isn’t being portrayed as a pain in the arse and even mocked somewhat by the text, especially since she has no presence beyond secondary reference.

    I also think it’s important to remember that in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, color did not have the exact same connotations as it did as the 19th century moved forward and scientific racism took hold. It’s true that a lot of the Naturalism of the 18th century aligned color with phenotype and genotype, but “black,” for example, was a term that could be applied to people we would definitely classify as Caucasian, depending on their economic standing (Theodore Allen’s The Invention of the White Race is good on this). Whiteness was often the color sought by the social elite, but brown, for example, could merely mean suntanned or even slightly olive-skinned. I’d need to give some thought to how I think Austen is or isn’t valuing whiteness in her books, but I’m very, very wary of seeing her as revolutionary or even very subversive in her views on color and race, especially given the fact that a woman such as Miss Lambe doesn’t even have a voice in the text.

    I love, though, that Robinette Kowal references Euphemia Toussaint’s portrait, although I wish she had noted the fact that the Toussaints settled in New York. Also, I’m not sure I’d characterize Euphemia as a purely Regency figure. However, I do think Euphemia (and her uncle/adoptive father, Pierre) speak to Robinette Kowal’s larger point that moneyed people of color were present alongside moneyed white people, and that the whitewashing of Western history belies this fact.

  21. FD
    Apr 21, 2014 @ 06:39:53

    @Robin/Janet: I’ve come back and looked at this thread a dozen times; your comment encapsulates neatly what I wanted to say and was struggling with, and does so far more succinctly than any of my attempts to boot!

  22. cayenne
    Apr 21, 2014 @ 09:26:28

    I had the opportunity to see “Belle” at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I thought that it was an interesting look at a period that most people have no idea of (Georgian), with a very unique heroine. I also felt that the film tried to do just a teeny bit too much (Dido’s family, anti-slavery, racism in general, romance), but overall was well-presented, and lovely to watch. For viewers who are casual fans of history, it’s very good, and I would also suggest they watch “Amazing Grace” as a complementary story.

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