Shark Tank
Shark Tank

I cancelled my cable when I moved and am now living that Netflix and Hulu Plus life. When I made the change I thought I’d watch WAY less TV because my options would be scarce (they barely even carry Bravo shows on Hulu!) but I was DEAD WRONG. I’m basically a full-time binge-watcher now. I’m covered in the “everything” from the bagels, I am surrounded by Caffeine Free Diet Coke cans, my dog keeps looking at me like, “really, sis?”

The greatest gift that these unlimited limited options have given me is a show by the name of Shark Tank. It’s five super rich people on a panel deciding whether or not they want to invest an assload of money into a variety of contestant’s businesses. It’s great.

On the panel is Mark Cuban and his haunting schoolboy smile, Barbara Corcoran and her glazed Veneers (does it not look and sound like she JUST took a bite of cream cheese?), Daymond John the genius behind Fubu, Kevin O’Leary AKA Mr. Wonderful who plays the heavy and Lori Greiner from QVC. She has over a hundred patents which I guess is a huge deal. And then there’s Roger Herjavec, the son of an immigrant factory worker who created a digital empire worth millions.

I have actual feelings (largely positive) about each of the judges because I’m past the point of undressing them via their TV-ready personalities and (YOU GOT IT!) shark-like negotiation skills. I watch the show and think about their childhoods, what lead them to be so shark-y, what makes them tick and what makes them cry.

Just recently I realized that Herjavec is the most fascinating Shark in the tank. He’s typically a nice guy and attempts to be somewhat of a joker. His behavior around the rest of the group is what gives his truest colors away and oh man, there’s some darkness going on in there.

Let’s say there’s a contestant who is presenting his new line of bath salts for men. The packaging is sleak, minimalist and the man-oriented scents (like bacon-Christmas Tree) pack a punch. The dominant guy’s guy Marc Cuban has already removed himself from the negotiation process after laughing in the contestants face. Barbara has removed herself because she can’t imagine her seventeen year old son using such a product. Mr. Wonderful is still in but tugging on every thread in the contestant’s business proposal. Before taking himself out, Daymond makes a joke about not wanting to “deck the halls with bows of bacon.” The panel erupts with laughter. Herjavec is the last one laughing once of the rest of the panel is down. He looks to the contestant and says something like, “Screw Christmas Vacation, you’re talking Christmas Baca-tion!”

His joke is met with a smattering of pitty giggles by Lori and Beth. He adjusts his jacket, looks down at his notebook and asks the contestant a practical question about long-term growth.
These are the moments that haunt me. It doesn’t matter that Herjavec has earned enough money to keep his grandkid’s grandkids in private schools and summer homes. In his heart, he is still the son of an immigrant factory worker. He has never learned how to feel fully accepted and confident in his persona because he’s still working overtime to be told he belongs. And that’s just fucking sad, man. It really says it all.

Anyway, I think Shark Tank is on tonight for people with regular cable, so watch it if you’re around and let me know if you see the mix of hunger and sadness in Roger Herjavec’s eyes. I’d also like to know what you think Lori’s had done and if you have no doubt that Mr. Wonderful is a serial cheater. I’d really like feedback on my theory that Cuban is basically Patrick Bateman with a family, a loud personality and an ever-present grin. Also— how gay is Daymond? TC mark

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The best part of Halloween is the scary movie marathons, dressing up in hilarious and terrifying costumes, and the spookiness that lingers in the air the entire month of October. The second-best part, though, is the knowledge that none of it is real. The monster under your bed isn’t really there. But some monsters are. TC mark


“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
Stephen King


“The real world is where the monsters are.”
Rick RiordanThe Lightning Thief


“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Stephen KingThe Shining


“There are no heroes…in life, the monsters win.”
George R.R. Martin


“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
Primo Levi


“But these weren’t the kind of monsters that had tentacles and rotting skin, the kind a seven-year-old might be able to wrap his mind around–they were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.”
Ransom RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


A monster. You and your friends, all of you. Pretty monsters. It’s a stage all girls go through. If you’re lucky you get through it without doing any permanent damage to yourself or anyone else.”
Kelly Link


“Not all the monsters have fangs.” 
J. A. London


“Adults are the real monsters.”
Stephen King


“The monstrous act by definition demands a monster.” 
Rick Yancey

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It struck me the other night that if I didn’t look in the mirror, I would never feel fat. How I only just realized this I don’t know. Now don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not fat, in fact I’m quite slim for someone my age and height, logically I know that, but like most girls out there I too have “fat days.”

You think that sounds ridiculous, right? Well yes you are right, it is ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real and it’s not relevant. And I know I’m not alone in this. So before you tell me to shut up because I’m a model and therefore I must be skinny and all that bullshit, that doesn’t mean I’m not just like almost every other girl out there who is, at times, insecure about their body.

Isn’t it interesting how what we see in our reflection can determine our relationship with how we feel about the way we look. I say “how we feel” because it really is just how we feel. For many women (too many women) it’s these feelings which form the basis of what we believe is reality. What we see is what we are. We feel fat therefore we are fat. How ridiculous is that?

There’s a scale of extremities in reaction too; for some it’s a fleeting moment and they just brush it off, for others it’s enough to ruin a day, and for far too many it’s enough to send them into a tailspin of anxiety. Why? Because they think their legs look fat, or their arms are flabby, or their hips are too big. But realistically, are they any of these things? I’m guessing probably not, or at least not nearly to the extent they believe themselves to be.

My revelation really got me thinking about the topic of body image and young women. With summer just around the corner in the Southern Hemisphere and girls everywhere declaring war on their bodies before bikini season hits, I thought it timely to open a dialogue about some of the things I’ve learned, observed, and realized in my seven years as a model and 24 years as a girl on the subject of body image.

Please bear in mind while reading this that these are just my opinions and observations based on my own experiences and the experiences of those around me; in other words, this is based on MY world and there are, of course, always exceptions. Remember also that I have spent the last seven years working in the modeling and fashion industries (in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and the United States) to some degree, both of which thrive on a superficial level. I don’t necessarily mean this as a negative thing, but it is a fact in this type of work that looks are everything. Who knows, maybe if I was an accountant or a lawyer or a vet I would feel differently. Either way, these are things I’ve noticed and learned along the way which you may or may not agree with.

Another point to note — I’m mainly referring to body image issues in otherwise “normal” and “healthy” young women. Even using these words ‘healthy’ and “normal” is fraught with tension because to some extent that’s subjective and open to entire debate on its own (and yes I do think you can be bigger and still be healthy — but that’s a talk for another day), but you know what I mean for the purposes of this discussion.

Okay, so these are some of the things I have learned about body image over the years.

Mirrors are anything but a reflection of who you are.

Mirrors, money, men. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. No, but really, mirrors are the root of so much negativity related to body image. What you see in your reflection may or may not be what you are in reality. Learn the difference. Be rational. Chances are you’re not anywhere near as “fat” as you think you are.

It’s all in your head.

You create how you think your body looks in reality with thoughts based on irrational feelings which you believe to be facts. Okay, that’s a mouthful but you get my point. Stop blowing it up in your head and drop the negative words. Change your thoughts, change your behavior. Why not say I look fucking awesome in this dress and wear that confidence as well as you wear that LBD. That’s looking and feeling great!

There is no such thing as normal.

How can there be when everybody (and every body) is so different? Yes there are parameters of healthy, but I don’t think it’s fair to say this is normal or that is normal. Change the dialogue. Drop the word normal and replace it with the world healthy otherwise as soon as you fall outside that category your negative body talk is amplified. Healthy is aspirational (and healthy doesn’t mean skinny), normal is just stupid.

Skinnyfat definitely exists.

This is something I have noticed a lot in the modeling world, you get a lot of girls who are very thin but they’re not in good shape. They have no muscle tone and they don’t eat well. Just because someone is skinny doesn’t mean they’re toned (or healthy). Maybe it should actually be renamed skinnysoft. They’re ‘soft.’ It exists.

Boys think you’re either skinny or you’re fat.

I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve met who describe girls as either “skinny” or “fat” (yes, I have met a lot of douchebags). To them there’s no normal, healthy, toned etc. It’s just the one of two options; skinny (i.e. has a thigh gap) or fat (size 10+). This is so beyond ridiculous and it makes me so mad. Every time I ever hear a male make a comment like this I call them up on it and point out how in fact that girl is what I would call healthy/slim and then proceed to tell them how its comments like these that perpetuate body image issues in women. At this point they usually shut up. Of course there are a lot of wonderful men out there who would never speak like this, but I’m referring to the shallow boys (you can still be a boy at 35).

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

This is mainly aimed at guys, especially those who are overweight, but unless you’ve got the body of a male Dolce & Gabbana model please do not comment on that girl’s “fat ass” when you look like you just ate an entire bucket of KFC. Thanks. And likewise don’t call a model fat when a. she’s anything but, and b. she’s a lot smaller than you’ll ever be. Just because she’s a model doesn’t mean she’s perfect. We’re all human. We all have flaws.

Never date a guy who makes you feel insecure about your body or comments on what you eat.

This is pretty self explanatory but your boyfriend (or girlfriend) is supposed to make you feel like the you’re the best person in the entire world. If they make you feel bad about yourself, especially when you have nothing to worry about, or they nitpick at everything you eat then please drop their ass before you get a complex. You want the guy who wants to have a three course meal with you and brings you ice-cream when your sad, not the guy who says “are you sure you want to eat that?” Douche.

Models do eat.

Nothing irks me more than when people assume models don’t eat, or even worse when they make stupid jokes like “oh you wouldn’t eat that because you’re a model.” I mean, PUH-LEASE. Sure there are a few girls here and there who take it to an extreme (more often than not the international runway models who are subject to minuscule measurement restrictions), but of the countless models I know (especially in the Australasian market) and in the numerous model apartments I lived in internationally I can assure you that the girls do eat. Their eating patterns may be a bit different to your average person’s (when you’re earning that much to look a certain way of course you’re going to watch what you eat a little more carefully than someone who doesn’t have to parade around in lingerie to make money) but for the majority of girls I know, this is not an issue. Case in point: have you ever been backstage at a fashion show? Put out some food out and it’s like moths to a flame. Fun fact: I would say in New Zealand the most common form of food given to the models is pizza. Do they eat it? Hell yes, they do.

Hangry is a real thing.

Hangry = hungry + angry. Models become very hangry if you don’t feed them. Please feed the models!

Cellulite is a fact of life.
Ew is what you’re probably thinking. I’ll admit, I hate cellulite as much as the next girl, or should I say every girl. “I love cellulite” — said no one EVER. But do you know what I’ve learned? It’s a fact of life, so get over it. The way I see it is you have two options: either deal with it or feel like shit every time you take a shower or go to the beach or have sex or try on lingerie or whatever else requires you to bare all. Sure there are things you can do to reduce the appearance of it — eat well, drink lots of water, body brush, exercise etc. — and in fact all these things fall under my ‘deal with it’ category, but the fact of the matter is that it all comes down to your fat cells and your genes. So, despite your best efforts at reducing its visibility, you still might be stuck with dimpled skin. In this case, rather than dreading the fact that you can’t wear your opaque stockings at the beach, just get over it and realize that at least half (probably more but this is just an estimated guess) the females around you are in the same bumpy boat. Skinny (models included), slim, healthy, overweight — no body type is exempt and I’ve seen it all, and chances are you have too. Eat well, exercise, and drink plenty of water and the rest is up to Mother Nature…

Boobs are awesome.
I used to hate having big boobs. I can remember being 14 and 15 and being mortified by the fact that I had a C-cup, and feeling even worse when people would state the obvious. Duh, you think I didn’t notice I had these massive lumps of fat glued to my chest. Cue some serious insecurity. It wasn’t really until I spent time in Europe as a 22 year old that I actually started to appreciate being genetically blessed in that department. What changed? The fact that every girl I came across seemed to want big boobs or have a boob job certainly helped shift my perception. Yes, I needed that validation, but that was enough to change my mindset and I’ve been happy ever since. Oh and make the most of it, not only are there are plenty of clothes out there that will only look good on you, but guys think your boobs are goddamn sexy.

Don’t judge a book by its cover and yes you can be skinny and eat whatever you want.

Just because someone is slim doesn’t mean they’re healthy, just because someone is bigger doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, and just because someone is skinny (like model skinny) doesn’t mean they don’t eat. I know countless girls who are in great shape, some even super thin, and can eat whatever they want. Do you know what the difference is? These girls tend to have a healthier relationship with food than anyone else I know. Take note of what I said — they can eat whatever they want. Therein lies the difference — what they want is not mountains of crap. These are the kinds of girls who actually listen to their bodies and they eat accordingly; if they’re hungry, they’ll eat. They eat a balanced diet and tend to make healthy choices because that’s what their body craves. They don’t deny themselves of treats; if they want cake, they’ll eat cake). They certainly don’t have emotional binges, however they will sometimes have a blowout (had a few too many treats at a shared afternoon tea — no biggie. IT’S OKAY!). They also exercise to a normal degree. On the flipside, I also know a lot of girls who may have a so-called ‘banging body’ but they are far from healthy. You know the types — they’re the super strict, no carbs, no dessert types. We all know that doesn’t last. Fuck that.

Exercise should never be a chore.

Exercise should be about feeling good and being healthy. It should be something you look forward to and enjoy and pumps you full of energy. It should not be a chore. How many girls do you know who dread going to the gym or force themselves to exercise even though their body is telling them to rest? My advice: find something you love and do it for the right reasons. Don’t force yourself to do it because you feel like you have to. I think exercise is crucial to a healthy lifestyle, but in saying that I think the motivation behind it is what makes it a healthy vs. unhealthy. Think about it.

Models are the worst gauges of a healthy body.

Whatever you do, do not compare yourself to the 16-year-old girl in the magazine who’s barely been through puberty when you’re 26 and wondering why you don’t look like she does in a bikini, or those shorts, or that dress. Chances are when she’s 26 her body won’t look much like it did in those pictures. Don’t forget it!

And lastly, I’ve never personally met a single girl who’s genuinely said “I love my body!”

I left this until last because I think it’s the most disturbing realization of the lot. Maybe you know someone who can say with 100% confidence they love their body, but to this day I am yet to come across such a person. To me, that’s pretty devastating.

Every single female I know has insecurities to some degree. Of course there are the kind of girls who don’t like a certain body part but they get over it and it’s all okay, but the fact is they’re still dissatisfied with something, to some extent or another. What do you think? For most young women to truly love their bodies 100% — is it possible? I’m not talking about just being satisfied or comfortable, but really, truly embracing exactly what they are so that it’s not even a case of having “flaws” and brushing them off, but genuinely not even seeing any “flaws” in the first place. Body beautiful? I’m not sure, but I’m hopeful…

Well, there you have it. Women are crazy and irrational when it comes to their bodies. So, what’s my advice?

Firstly, take a step back (from the mirror too). Be realistic. Listen to your body and ask yourself honest questions — how do you feel physically? How are your energy levels? Do you ‘feel’ healthy? Are you exercising because you want to or because you feel like you have to? Do you realistically think you’re going to gain the 2kg you swear you did because you ate the whole packet of biscuits?

If you’re craving something, just eat it. It’s not like you’re going to be lying on your death bed thinking man, I’m glad I ate those grapes instead of chocolate cake. In fact, chances are you’ll be like damn, I wish I ate more cake. Just eat the fucking cake.

Maintain a “healthy” lifestyle — eat well (that is eat a balanced diet and don’t deprive yourself of treats. I like to think of it as an ‘everything in moderation’ kind of thing), exercise for vitality, make sure you get enough rest, don’t smoke (ew!), and try not to drink too much (it’s hard, I know).

Tell your friends how ridiculous they’re being when they make irrational and incorrect statements about their bodies. Don’t turn around by saying something equally as stupid about yours.

And finally, tell that guy to please shut the fuck up when he tells you that maybe you shouldn’t have that ice cream, or when he calls a skinny girl fat. Or throw your drink on him for being a pig. I would. TC mark

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I’m at that point in my life where everyone I know is dating someone and I’m over here contemplating whether or not it would be illegal to marry wine.

It’s like going fishing with all your friends and one by one, they all catch something, some are impressive, some are just meh, but either way, they catch something. Turns out, if I don’t truly want a fish, it’s going to be even harder for me to catch something, especially since I am by ZERO means a natural fisherman. The fact of the matter is, fishing is hard. It takes time and patience, there’s a technique, and an art to it even, but you didn’t really want to go fishing in the first place so now you are stuck holding your pole halfheartedly hoping to catch something just so that they won’t all take selfies with their fish together, without you.

I have this serious FOMO nagging at me all the time. I’m trying to smile and be happy for everyone but I’m actually chipping away inside knowing that this is the first step where everyone starts leaving you behind. My dad was always paranoid that it was going to happen in middle school with algebra.

Everyone is figuring their life out and I’m just trying to cling to my youth as much as I can. I am straight up Peter Pan status at this point. I swear if I watched this movie now I would pretty much be bawling the entire time. I know I don’t want to be in a relationship right now. The mere thought of it gives me the heebie-jeebies because we’re at that age where people are starting to get “serious” about their lives. Not just with their significant others, but also in their jobs, and their hobbies.

I don’t have my life figured out and I shouldn’t feel the pressure to. It’s not like I’m a mess that’s falling apart at the seams, I just don’t have a specific plan. Moreover, I don’t want a plan. I think it’s silly to think that my life is going to turn out a certain way just because I say it will.

There’s definitely a slippery slope of adulthood. These people are going to start hanging out with more people that have their crap figured out, because they’ll be able to relate to them. You know, they’ll be able to talk to each other about their mortgages and health insurance and last night’s episode of the West Wing. And I’m still going to be watching Phineas and Ferb in my robot onesie talking about Hilary Duff’s new album (true story.) They are going to start talking about their weddings together and how their kids are driving them crazy while I end up buying Scooby Doo fruit snacks in bulk and binge watching sitcoms while being forced to babysit so that they can have “just one night of freedom.” Ironically, with every additional time I watch all ten seasons of Friends, the fewer I may have in real life. Sometimes I feel like if I don’t board this “adulthood” train I’m going to end up getting the short end of the stick a lot.

It happened with drinking. In college I didn’t drink until I was 21. It was a personal choice and I’m glad I did because it proved to me that I had some manner of self-control in my life. But that meant for the first 3 years I was watching everybody go shopping for an outfit, or do each other’s hair and makeup, or take group pictures looking gorgeous and maybe one pity picture with me in my Christmas old navy pajama bottoms in any given season. It’s even worse when I decided to go. I usually ended up being sober sister who gets to hold everyone’s hair back and take pictures of people all night long while having to deal with people who think that you are judging them for being drunk. I felt obligated to go to clubs or parties even though that “wasn’t my scene” at the time. It was either go to the party, or not be able to relate to your friends. This is an exceptionally tough thing for a very extraverted person to make — by the way. I couldn’t count the number of times I felt like everyone was hanging out without me and eventually gave up. I had to get on the bandwagon otherwise it would speed off without me.

To this day, my biggest fear isn’t that everyone’s going to start going to symphonies together and I’m going to end up at a Ke$ha concert alone — but rather that I end up going to symphonies and never buy that Ke$ha concert ticket in the first place.

I don’t want to abandon my youth at the expense of not being able to relate to my friends. It seems like a pretty unfair trade.

It’s definitely cool to be classy sometimes. Like be able to go to brunch and ordering mimosas. Or eat artisan cheeses and crackers from whole foods. My fear is the one day when doing things like that stops being special. When you do “grown up things” so often that it stops being a novelty and just integrated into your life.

I feel like the opposite happens to people who think they are grown-ups. One day they wake up and they do something that reminds them of their youth and they feel special. Like they’ll go see Tangled in theaters and then be like “haha, hashtag still a child.” I would rather be a child that does grown up things every so often, than a grown up that does childish things. The latter just seems way more sad and depressing than the other.

I just don’t like the idea of this unspoken social pressure to grow up. I shouldn’t be forced to do things just because all of my friends are doing them. And I know what people say, find better friends. The thing is I love my friends. More than anything. They are actually great and would never consciously make the decision to leave me behind, I just feel like it’s a natural part of life. There’s always the idea that one day people are going to look down on me for not having a clue what I’m doing with my life. I just know that the only thing you can count on is things not going according to plan, so it just doesn’t make sense for me to bother with one. Getting “serious” and “buckling down” for some reason seems like the most immature decision a person can make. One day a cup of coffee is going to spill all over that plan and it’s going to be the most difficult thing to ever deal with. As Jodi Picoult once said, “There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.”

I know I’m being dramatic. I know my friends are not going to abandon me. I just can’t shake the feeling that this is all the first step — the tipping point- so to speak, and I’m just not ready to admit what this really all could really mean — that I, once again, will be the shining example of an extroverted only child with nobody to play scrabble with. Compromising my youth just doesn’t seem like something I’m prepared for and I struggle with the concept that everyone one around me is eager to make that sacrifice already. TC mark

featured image – Scarleth Marie

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When You Review A Book, What’s Your Motive?

Next week, I’ll be leading a session on criticism — “When To Listen And What To Hear” — at Writer Unboxed’s “Un-Conference” event in Salem, Massachusetts…where they know a few things about being critical.

That session and this column are not about the more extreme moments in consumer review that have been so avidly discussed lately.

Laura Miller
Laura Miller

You’ll be familiar, for example, with the strange case of the YA novelist Kathleen Hale whose stalking of an online detractor is given (finally) some sober, contextual consideration by my colleague, the Salon critic Laura Miller. In her piece, Battle Of The Trolls: Kathleen Hale Reveals The War Raging Between Authors And Readers.

And among the simplest but most important points Miller makes is a parenthetical line having to do with the online element of that tawdry business. Miller points out:

So much of the Internet’s nastiest manifestations come from those who view themselves as underdogs striking back in the only way they can.

While Miller goes on to reference the myriad dust-ups on the huge Goodreads site (which became so insupportable at one point that they triggered administrative intervention last year), for me the key concept she has introduced in her good essay is animus — as in intent, an objective. Sometimes it’s the negative ill will of animosity, but not always. In many cases there are ostensibly and apparently positive intentions behind some of the worst excesses of reviews encountered by readers and writers today.

I can give you a sense for what I’m talking about in a religious reference of all things. Among the great faiths, Christianity is sometimes said to be characterized primarily by its evangelical tenets: the mission. Trying to persuade others to believe what one believes and behave the way one behaves (“one way”) is not essential to all doctrines.

And what marks a lot of consumer review is mission. A purpose. An intent to cause one reaction or another in the reader of the review. Many people writing reviews today either consciously or unconsciously are trying to sway those who read their reviews to do one thing or another: read the book or don’t read it; see the film or don’t see it; buy the music or don’t buy it; eat at the restaurant or eat somewhere else; etc.

It might surprise some of those consumer reviewers to know that this is not, in fact, a part of traditional critical practice.

No one is talking about consumer reviewers’ rights here, by the way. Having the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do, but each of us has the right to mount a little mission as he or she sees fit.

Nevertheless, the noise and bad blood around a lot of reviews and reactions could be eased if everyone involved stopped trying to trigger one reaction or another in everyone else. A real critic doesn’t instruct you to go to a play, read a book, avoid a concert, or try a new gym. A real critic simply lays out what she or he thinks about something, then steps back and lets the reader of the review make up his or her mind.

And while this won’t be the crux of what we discuss in Salem next week, the Writer Unboxed community is the kind that will understand this point: asking yourself what your motivation is for writing a review can help you sidestep a lot of the troublesome tone that makes consumer reviews such a swamp.

Writers Unboxed in Salem

9780142437339BNo better place than Salem to be reminded of how easily a kind of pack mentality can overcome individual discretion and drive people to behave in ways they’d never entertain alone.

The late Arthur Miller, whom I had a chance to meet and interview late in his life, wrote an articulate precede to his playscript for The Crucible. His drama is about the madness that produced the Salem witch trials in the 17th century, and he wrote, in part, about the setting for such atrocities this way:

The people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived
on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time
a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which
was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of
joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated
as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to
believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and
darkling forces.

Needless to say, there’s an acute “out of joint” sense attached to many elements of the digital dynamic which has made it possible for books so many fine people to publish books. Most are amateurs to the professional world of publishing — not quite the Mayflower elite of the so-called “legacy” industry, at least in the eyes of many traditionalists.

And while they frequently celebrate their capabilities of self-expression in self-publishing untold numbers (we truly do not know how many) books of one kind or another, they also approach their own and their cohorts’ work with few of the guidelines and shared values that over many decades have outlined the rigors of a deeply flawed but highly organized publishing industry.

This is why the choice of Salem as the setting for the Writer Unboxed conference is of note.

Moon SistersThe event is organized and led by the author and Writer Unboxed co-founder Therese Walsh. Her The Moon Sisters has just been named a “best book of 2014″ in the women’s fiction category by the Library Journal.

And one of the most adamantly staged characteristics of this inaugural doing of the conference is that “there are no sessions on the business end of things,” as she puts it to me. “No sessions on finding an agent, self-publishing your book, platform, how to tweet, Amazon, etc.”

The primary interest of the Writer Unboxed community is craft. Probably no more than 30 percent or so of the daily posts blogged to its highly trafficked site in a month relate to business issues. Most articles are craft-oriented, many focusing on the struggle for inspiration and fortitude presumed or experienced by many of their readers.

In fact, so different from this group’s overall norm in its blog life are my own pieces — heavily informed by events in the industry! the industry! — that a special bit of branding has been created for my articles: “Provocations in Publishing” is meant to make it clear that my journalistic bent may indeed provoke some regular readers in ways that a piece on nurturing one’s protagonist’s sweeter nature might not.

Walsh’s development of the Salem program has some fun components relative to its challenging social setting.

Therese Walsh
Therese Walsh

For example, some if its 95 or so delegates will engage in sessions at the Nathaniel Hawthorne House of Seven Gables visitor’s center.

In one instance, the author Brunonia Barry will hold forth on the topic of setting in one’s fiction while walking the historic Hooper-Hathaway House property with the group. Barry will lead another session in “method writing” (as in Method acting) in which attendees will have lunch “in character” as one or another personage from his or her work.

In some instances (including my own about criticism), instructors will take a standard, programmed workshop approach. In others, attendees will drive the discussion with their own questions and interests — the source of the “un-conference” term being applied to the event, reflective of gatherings that are designed to be agenda-ed by their participants.

Lisa Cron, John Vorhaus, Liz Michelski, Meg Rosoff, Kathleen McCleary, Ray Rhamey, Heather Webb, Catherine McKenzie and Donald Maass will join Walsh, Barry, and me in the corps of session leaders. Maass’ series of several independent workshops will be followed on November 7 by a full-day presentation based on his seminal book — a tremendous advance, even in his own already well-regarded work — Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling.

With luck, I may have a chance to work one-on-one with a couple of attendees, as well,  on the #MusicForWriters material I use in my series of columns here at Thought Catalog.

The Critical Connection

21st century fictionNo, I anticipate no court being established at the Hawthorne Hotel to determine which of us has truly seen Goody Therese with the Devil.

However, it’s worth looking once more, briefly, at Miller’s timeless work’s opening essay:

The edge of the wilderness was close by. The American con-tinent stretched endlessly
west, and it was full of mystery for them. It stood, dark and threatening, over their
shoulders night and day, for out of it Indian tribes marauded from time to time, and
Reverend Parris had parishioners who had lost relatives to these heathen.

In our own time, we stand at no more than the edge of the digital dynamic’s ham-handed overtake of our media. Publishing, we like to say, is the last to go. As the wise Henry Volans at Faber Press said to me this summer in London, “publishing has taken the digital disruption very hard.” And so it has.

Few shoulders have no chips on them these days. Everyone is mad about something, most frequently an expectation unmet by the reality of a business all but pulled apart in the siege of aspirational effort crashing in from that “edge of the wilderness.” The Net itself can appear to stretch into infinite dark corners, “full of mystery” for us, “dark and threatening.”

And at times, surely, the sorts of unchecked rudeness, vulgarity, and undisguised hostility encountered in the consumer review setting can look to us very much like an assault. Discussions rage in many parts of the conversational arena online about “the tone” of online discourse today. It takes no sociological cleverness to realize that for some reason the electronic distance of our interactions on the Internet cause many people to dismiss the sort of self-restraint they’d probably (we have to hope) exercise IRL, in real life.

In my session on criticism, as I said, we’ll be focusing  not on the bad-part-of-town nature of customer reviews online but on the actual writings those things contain and on what to do with it — I did not say where you can put it, thank you.

 Donald Maass
Donald Maass

It’s worth just a moment going in, however, to consider that organizational preference among the Unboxed Writers for craft over the special attention to business that digital developments require. Digital is an engine of distribution, not of art or aesthetics. And while it’s just fine for this conference to eschew business considerations for a concentration on craft, surely Salem is a place in which we will know that we skirt “the edge of that wilderness” at our own peril.

The next time you get ready to write a comment on a post or a review on someone’s work, asking yourself what your intent is can help you clarify what’s really important.

If you’re interested in getting into words something of your own reaction to an author’s writings, an artist’s vision, a composer’s concept, this can be of immense use both to that maker and to your fellow consumers. The less emotion you bring to the task, the better.

But if you find that your instinct is animated by a desire to either promote sales or suppress sales of the work — if there’s something going on for you that makes you want to affect what others do in response to your review — taking a little time, mulling it over, checking what’s triggering that response for you can help you look for that mission, that ideology, however informal, that can skew your commentary and reshape its best values with intentions you haven’t considered.

I am a professional critic trained in critical theory and practice — a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, and I’ve worked as a critic in masthead positions with The Village Voice, The Dallas Times-Herald, The Sarasota Herald Tribune, The Tampa Tribune and other mainstream media.

And for the first time in history, our once joking line — “everybody’s a critic” — is devastatingly true.

How many acting in that new guise might see themselves, as Laura Miller says, as “underdogs striking back in the only way they can”?

If we can be of help, call on us, the folks who have sat in these aisle seats for so many years and learned to juggle what we really saw or heard or read vs. how we felt or thought or wanted something to go. Some of us, I’m sure, would like to be of help.

After all, my name — from the Latin, port-arius — means “gatekeeper.” TC mark

Thought Catalog

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