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401

No, not the Web Error 401. This is post number 401, meaning, 400 blogs have been posted to date on the Writers Co-op. So let’s look at post number one and judge how we’ve done. Here it is, from APRIL 26, 2016, by Curtis Bausse. How do you think we have fared over the years?

co-op stuff

The first post. And to me has fallen the honour. Seriously, it is an honour. Firstly, because it’s a vote of trust from my fellow co-operators, secondly because this post is the first of a long, rich and innovative series (no point starting a blog otherwise, right?). As more posts come, this one will slip out of sight and mind, but it will always remain the first, the one in which the Writer’s Co-op became public. So thank you, Amber, Atthys, GD and Mimi for putting your trust in me.

Let me begin by explaining. The five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a website where writers post their work for peer review and critiques. Though lately it’s become very sleepy, it’s not a bad site, and it has a discussion board where I’ve found many a useful piece of advice. And some time ago a thread was started by GD Deckard, in which he wrote the following: I’m thinking of a site that new writers can use to promote their books. How, exactly, depends on what the writers themselves want. Writers are creative people, so together we could come up with creative ways to help one another that we might not think of on our own. How would you like to see a Writers’ Co-op work?

Well, it took us a while, but here we are – The Writers’ Co-op. Five people who write in different genres but who all share a similar commitment to the craft and the graft of writing.

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The craft…

Building Stonehenge

and the graft

But why come together? What can this site do that a personal one can’t? Well, as GD says, for a project like this, many minds are better than one. And the method is in the title – cooperate. This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. Especially beyond. Because who wants to write a book and then not promote it? That’s like a painter working for years on a picture, then turning it to the wall. So here in the Co-op we try things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and tell each other about it. And not just each other, obviously. We happen to be the five that started it off, but we don’t intend to stay whispering in our corner. The Co-op welcomes anyone who’s willing to invest a little time and effort into promoting books worth reading.

What can you expect to find here? Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I do admit the innovation bit could be a challenge, but we’ll try our best, I promise. There’ll be anecdotes and analysis, thoughtfulness and humour, awards and recommendations, opinions, rants and wackiness. We don’t expect to work miracles and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But what we do take seriously is writing itself. Which means we’re also keen to help writers explore whatever path might lead somewhere interesting, and help readers find good writing. If that sounds like a programme you could tune in to, you’ve come to the right place. Drop us a line, tell us what you’re up to. Maybe we’ll end up travelling the path together. Whichever one it turns out to be.

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About Writers, editing, Stories, writing technique

Show Me

While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.

So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?

Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.

Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.

“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”

Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
-Steven Wright.

What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?

Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.

“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”

It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.

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editing, Writers Co-op Anthology

Thoughts on Editing and Rabbit Hole V?

By Tom ‘DocTom’ Wolosz

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a…editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

-Mark Twain. Letter to Henry Alden, 11 November 1906.

First you have the writer who can write but can’t spell. Then you have the editor who can spell but can’t write.

-anonymous

Well folks, Curtis Bausse is currently putting the finishing touches on Rabbit Hole IV, and we hope to have it published in October.  Since this was the first time I’ve ever edited an anthology, I thought I might offer some thoughts on the experience. Especially since this will all lead to the question: “Will there be a Rabbit Hole V?”

           Let me start by thanking Curtis and Atthys Gage for all their help and hard work on RH IV.  They read through close to a hundred submissions, helping with the accept/reject decisions, and also were kind enough to edit some of the accepted stories.  I definitely learned one thing from them — it is very important to have feedback from multiple sources in making these decisions.

            Why? Well, each reader sees stories in their own unique way.  I can say that among the stories included in RH IV those we all agreed on initially constitute a distinct minority.  But there’s nothing wrong with that! With the publication of an anthology, we seek to engage a diverse readership, and you can’t do that when only one editor makes all the decisions.  I’d say that each of us saw stories we liked go to the reject bin, just as each of us got some of our choices approved (I should also point out that there were no intense disputes — we discussed, agreed, and moved on). The result is like a candy sampler, lots of delicious variety. It’d be a pretty poor sampler if all the candies were the same, eh?

            Another reason for multiple input is we are all apt to look at different aspects of writing. I, for instance, tend to read the story for plot, for ideas.  The result is that I end up ignoring a lot of the mechanicals of writing on a first run through.  In at least a couple of cases I was all in favor of a story based on concept, only to be alerted to the fact that the writing was particularly sloppy, or the overall structure was poor.  After re-reading I came to agree that the amount of line editing required would be enormous, so into the reject bin it went.  On the other hand, there are stories that are quite nicely written, but go nowhere, or are simply stories you’ve read a thousand times before with nothing special about them.  Again, these get weeded out when a few people are contributing to the decisions.

            So having three editors working on the decisions makes a big difference.

            Some other thoughts on editing:

            I am mainly a line editor. If a story has major structural flaws, has pages of extraneous material, etc. I just vote to reject it.  My guiding principle is that it is the author’s story, not mine.  I try, in small ways, to help make it better, to make it as presentable and polished a work as possible, but I don’t try to rewrite it.  I have some small experience with editing extremes, both from reading through stories by friends that appeared in independently published anthologies like ours but where no actual editing appears to have occurred (typos, etc., by the dozen), to dealing with an editor so impressed with their own credentials that their orders to rewrite character, plot, etc. where like bolts tossed from on high by Zeus himself.  Let’s just say I find it best to be in the middle.  Offer helpful advice, but if it’s rejected just remember that my name isn’t under the title of the story. Also, never demand, and never, ever argue with the writer (it’s their story!).

            Let me end this by just stating that the above is my personal philosophy. There were no bad experiences editing RH IV. Working with my co-editors and all the writers involved was a real pleasure.

            Last thought (I can hear your sighs of relief!). If there is an RH V, a theme is okay, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive.  While it might sound cool, a very, very, specific theme is literally asking writers to come up with a story specifically for this anthology — which basically pays nothing.  I think the result is fewer submissions than might otherwise be received, with many of them ignoring the theme totally.  Remember, a broader net catches more fish.

            Okay, so think about it. Should there be a Rabbit Hole V?  If so, I’ll be happy to take on the editing chores again, but I will definitely need two volunteers to read submissions and help make decisions.  Also, they should each expect to be asked to edit three or four of the accepted stories (the anthology generally contains about thirty stories, so I’d be doing twenty-two to twenty-four of them). 

            Thoughts? Comments? Volunteers?

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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About Writers, book promotion, Uncategorized, writing technique

A Heroine’s Journey

  • by Mike Van Horn

I just started reading “The Heroine’s Journey” by Gail Carriger. I opened to the Intro and read this:

Here is the Hero’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.

Here is the Heroine’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.

This brought tears to my eyes; then I laughed out loud. The heroine’s journey is the way I write my stories. Her second sentence could be a blurb for my trilogy.

Hey, I even have a heroine—singer Selena M, who sings real songs. My stories are told from her perspective.

I’ve been so frustrated trying to cram my stories into the framework of the hero’s journey, and they just don’t fit.

I write science fiction. The standard sci fi trope is to fight the nasty evil aliens who are out to invade Earth and destroy humankind. Ray guns and blasters and dogfights in space using World War II tactics. Stories like this no longer grab my attention.

My heroine Selena is a renowned singer who’s reluctant to sing her most meaningful songs because they make her feel vulnerable. She rescues an injured alien whose spaceship crashed on her hillside. The alien is also a singer, who ran away from home because she wasn’t allowed to sing her heartfelt songs, and set out with friends to explore the galaxy. The two help each other recapture their passion for singing.

A theme of my trilogy is Selena’s efforts to come to terms with her singing. How to honor it as the passion of her life. How to balance performing with flying off into space. How to perform her music on other worlds.

On this journey she forms multiple partnerships. With the alien that crashed. With two other women; they become the Three Spaceketeers. With several powerful men, including one modeled after Elon Musk. With a raunchy country singer and a brash New York agent. With two aliens who rescue her when she’s marooned in deep space. She trains a small AI device to develop a personality so it can be her companion when she’s alone in space. All of these help her on her adventures, help her when she’s in a jam, and saves her life multiple times.

Her antagonists are not bloodthirsty alien monsters but officious government bureaucrats who want to grab the alien technology for themselves. She doesn’t kill them; she outsmarts them.

She strides around with good friends, and they prod each other to victory. Yes, I like that! Heroine’s journey.

*   *   *

I explore several ideas in my stories that I may share with you in future posts:

— Why are aliens friendly? What happened to the hostile aliens?

— If aliens come to Earth, what do they want?

— What do aliens look like? Not too humanoid, not too weird. Why? How does convergent evolution play out?

— Why haven’t alien races spread throughout the galaxy, including Earth?

— Do the aliens evolve higher and higher intelligence?

— How does one plausibly leap between stars?

*   *   *

Mike’s trilogy includes:

— Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard

— My Spaceship Calls Out to Me

— Spacegirl Yearning

He’s now working on “book 4 of the trilogy”:

— Alien Invasion: There Goes the Neighborhood

Check these out on galaxytalltales.com. Available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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Why, I Write!

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg
[This essay derives from a prompt: “Why I Write,” which I’ve slightly altered.]

Yes, I do. 

George Orwell tells us that it is important to know the background of a writer in order to understand his or her “emotional attitude,” which influences the subject matter the writer chooses and is the impetus that sends the writer forward in writing. He also says that he knew he would be a writer when he was just a child.

I did not. I did not know what my future might be, and instead opted to chase crawdads in the creek with my best friend, Brian. We spent our days playing a great variety of games, some we made up ourselves. My emotional attitude was all about play. Writing came much later, but it is all about play, too.

I recall an early love for reading, and as a means to impress my eighth-grade teacher, Ms. Oleanor, I tried wading through The Brothers Karamazov, knowing little about Russia or that each character had around five different names. I wrote for her a short story that involved a Formula I race track and a very tall pagoda (liked that word) that toppled over onto the contestants.

After this magnum opus, I went fallow in my literary efforts, and wrote the required assignments without great lust for the work. I wrote a senior thesis on censorship, and learned how not to develop a research paper. When I attended college, at Purdue U, as an English major I was in a minority among the throng of engineers and sciency types. In my junior year, I wrote fluffy features stories for the college student newspaper, the Purdue Exponent. Other college writing? Well, of course essays and term papers, and when I look back on these I’m embarrassed by the level of mechanical error. I clearly did not think correctness was all that important. It is not lost on me that as an English composition essay teacher, I would be correcting student writing, and that if I had been my student, I probably would have failed myself. Cosmic payback.

My own college English composition course experience was dismal. For instructor, I had lucked into getting a real professor instead of a TA, Dr. Leslie Field. He was a Thomas Wolfe scholar, and smoked a pipe in class, leaning back, long legs extended, while he regaled us with stories about drinking with the great author himself, and his time as a soldier in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Field’s pedagogic strategy was mimicry—read essays then write in the style of that author. It was an old strategy. I later learned this was a fairly mindless way to generate compositional expertise. He first assigned us to read a series of essays by none other than George Orwell—“Shooting an Elephant,” “A Hanging,” and “Politics and the English Language.” We read these and he told us what we should understand from them. We nodded our heads. Then he had the audacity to assign us to turn in our first essay of the semester.

I was flabbergasted, gob-smacked, and describable by lots of other funny sounding words that denote complete and utter dismay. I had no idea what to do, what to write about, and the damned thing was due on the next Monday. I looked around for the equivalent of an elephant in “must” that needed shooting. The former corn fields of West Lafayette, Indiana, were not offering anything comparable. I sweated proverbial bullets, finally drafting something that could best be described as “lunatic,” about my dorm living conditions, and worried about flunking out in my first semester. Surprisingly, he liked it, and I got a solid B for the sheer wackiness of my idea.

And I really loved new words. Don’t recall where the advice came from (Mortimer J. Adler?), but it was that we should keep a note card as book mark, and when we see a new word, write it down and find a synonym definition to write next to the word. If the word pops up again, we are to play a game to see if we can remember it, and then check on the card. I did this with the somewhat fusty Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and added a couple dozen new words to my tacit vocabulary. I remember Stowe used the word “vociferously” several times.

Still, I was not much of a writer. I was a vociferous reader, and a pretty good teacher, even though I did not take up the quill myself.  It is impossible to completely avoid hypocrisy, I believe, but I made the effort. In one advanced writing class, I told the students that if they found places to submit their writing, I would write and submit along with them. My student, Patricia, had found that the regional NPR radio affiliate, WKMS, out of Murray, Kentucky, would accept contributed essays from the listening public. She sent one in, it was accepted, and she drove to Murray State U to record it. Then it was my turn. I did it, too. It was good fun. She quit after writing a few, finding it to be too much work and hassle. I kept going, recording around 120 such 3-4 minute spots. The following, heavily edited and excerpted, is my 22nd radio commentary, from June 12, 1999:

It was with great surprise that I nodded my head when I was recently introduced to a stranger with these words: “This is Scott—he’s a really good writer.” I had never before been assigned that label. I did not know how to wrap my mind around it—a vocation, an occupation, an obsession? In any case, I found the moment absolutely delicious. My chest expanded in egotism. In spite of the prevailing anti-intellectualism and the pop culture of distractions, as a people we tend to admire our writers. We grant them a special status in our secular hierarchy, as though they possess special wisdom, sages who open their hands and reveal words the readers try to snatch away, like when the young “grasshopper” Kwai Chang Caine tried to snatch a rock from his master’s palm in the television series, Kung Fu. I yearned for that kind of attention….

I want to tell stories and be the guy who magnetically attracts others to listen, the fellow who is always ready with a joke, always the one who must be invited to the party. Judging from the novels and movies about writers, such as in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, publishers would probably disagree and think the authors are a burden and a curse. Ironically, the industry depends on writers, though it doesn’t always treat them well.

Lastly for you listeners, I write now because I just can’t stop myself. Robert Frost was asked why he wrote poetry, and replied that it is because he had one hell of a good time doing it. Yes, it is something that is fun to do—for those who have acquired a taste for it. It is work, hard work, but it is fun work (for me). This is fun in a deep and meaningful sense, a way to assert my essential humanity. Words and word-play are a manifestation of an internal dialogue between me and myself, the auto-pilot Bloomian stream-of-conscious that runs on a loop in the mind. Writing provides an inner game of signification that is the difference between the dream of life and the sleep of death. I am the words I am, the “I am” of who I am, or as Popeye says—“I yam what I yam!”

I dissertated in 1993, a work on thematic self-reflexivity in the poetry of John Donne. I read up on Donne and Donne criticism for years, and started to put together an extended essay in the previous summer. It failed. I learned the next spring that my dissertation director, Dr. John T. Shawcross, was planning to retire. It was push-time. I began writing as soon as the spring semester concluded in early May, and by mid-August had around 180 pages drafted. Generally, I would go to the college and work in the evenings, finishing at two or three in the morning. I began submitting chapters and with revising, and completing the draft, it grew to 340 pages. While this may seem rather plodding information, what I want to convey is something that I was surprised to learn: that there was great joy in the act of sustained writing. I loved it. I was so caught up in my writing that it accompanied me when I drove home. One time, at 3 a.m., I realized I was blowing through a red stop light at a major intersection, completely captivated by thoughts of what I had just drafted. It was all-encompassing and I was all in. I found joy in writing. Since then, I write when I can, because I love doing it.

In an effort to better inform the other faculty, who also had dim understanding of what we taught, and the staff and advisors, I started writing humanities “nuggets”—brief explanations of literary or artistic things going on around us. I sent these via the email system at our college. After the first few, I realized these nuggets might have a home in the local newspaper. The newspaper’s editor agreed and I began a column, writing articles of just a couple hundred words on a weekly basis. I kept them light and friendly. After writing a hundred of such, I retired the column, though the editor wanted me to continue (it was an unpaid gig).

The take away: When asked why I write, like Orwell I can come up with several reasons. I think the better question is why in the world wouldn’t I write? It is such serious fun to play with language, to orchestrate the essay, to paint with words—when I am thus engaged, I am at my very best. To me, writing is simply the most intense playfulness I can find. In the middle of the Twentieth-century, Jean Piaget studied how children play and from what he learned developed theories about education, his genetic epistemology. The process approach to teaching composition that I was led to use in some ways derived from this.

In my study of the varieties of literary criticism, I was attracted to phenomenological or reader-response theory. It may be more of a sociological brand, but in some ways I think play-theory, because of its similar interactive nature, appeals to me even more. In 1938 a Dutch historian and cultural observer, Johan Huizinga, wrote an investigation of the way that mankind is involved in play, titling his work Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. The Latinate first words of the title mean ‘mankind playing.’ With a nod to his idea of playfulness, I give you, Homo Scripturam, ‘mankind writing,’ or for me in particular, Homo Scribbler.

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Uncategorized

You Are Invited

To formally join the Writers Co-op, simply submit a blog of up to 1600 or so words. The subject can be anything having to do with the writing life. Feel free to promote your own work. Or share an insight. Or opine. We’re easy.

Once your blog is accepted, we’ll post it on the first open Monday or Thursday. And, we’ll grant you author’s rights, allowing you to write, upload photos, and edit your own posts. Thereafter, you can put blogs into the draft section and they will be published on a first-in first-out schedule.

We are adults who write, edit, publish & market books. We believe strongly in supporting one another’s work. We have no formal set of rules. Just good people.

Submit your initial blog to
GD<at>Deckard<dot>one

And, Well Come!

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About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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Uncategorized

A Writers Co-op Forum?

In last Monday’s post, Carl E. Reed was wondering if there were any other forum where writers could interact besides social media. I instantly thought of Book Country, Penguin’s old site where we posted multiple threads about any aspect of the writing life, including current works, requests for critique, thoughts, ideas, and general tomfoolery. The point is to allow for discussions beyond a single weekly blog.

Googling for possibilities, I came up with bbPress, a project of WordPress.org.
It is a plugin that adds a forum to an existing WordPress site. You can take a look at it at:
https://bbpress.org/

We may need a domain name and a hosted WordPress website. I already have the domain name, WritersCo-op.com, and website hosting is cheap these days.

The forum would be easy to add. We simply log in to our WordPress admin area and go to Plugins » Add New. Search for bbPress and then select bbPress from results. Install and activate the plugin. Upon activation, the welcome screen for bbPress comes up.
https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-add-a-forum-in-wordpress-with-bbpress/

Do you think we might benefit from having this? Members could post threads for open discussion whenever they liked. A forum would allow members to post excerpts from their WiP for critique, Carl’s poetry to flourish, Mimi’s drawings to delight & entertain, facilitate Tom’s anthology updates for Rabbit Hole 4, etc. and ect. It’s an idea worth kicking around and I for one am all for more general tomfoolery.

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book promotion, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Writers Co-op

Goodbye Facebook

In 2017 I discovered Facebook as a mecca for networking. Recently, Facebook has become a censored banality. In between, I was fortunate to find over 3,000 “friends” living the writing life. Many taught me, some edited and published my stories. I cannot thank Facebook enough for the opportunity to interact with so many talented people. But all things change and now the politicians have infested Facebook to get around the First Amendment and promote their own agenda while censoring that of opponents.

“U.S. Code § 230, (2)Civil liability, permits social media to censor content “whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
Yet, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians have used their regulatory and financial relationships with big media to exert a control over public opinion that is otherwise denied to them.

The result is a leveling of public discourse to the lowest common denominator.

And then, of course, Facebook algorithms ensure that writers who don’t buy ads get scant exposure for posts promoting their books. I left Facebook after scrolling down my feed to find any “friends” book promotion to share on my own timeline. I spent literally forty-five minutes enjoying posts of pets, whines, humor, look-at-me-chit-chat, amazing science (I’m a sucker for amazing science,) and feel-good platitudes. Abruptly, it dawned on me: Not one book promotion! This is all gossip! Critical thinkers have crept away while I wasted my time pretending that I was still networking.

What a waste of time. Goodbye Facebook. Gossip bores me.

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