Short News, Reclusive Scriveners Edition

Interior (Model Reading) by Edward Hopper, 1925

Don’t Engage. At Litreactor, Cina Pelayo, author and editor of Gothic Blue Book, offered her advice to writers regarding social media.

There are some authors who only tweet about writing. There are some authors who tweet about writing, and just a little bit about themselves. Then, there are some authors who tweet about their work, themselves, and are very active in social and political causes online, engaging opponents, and being vocal overall. What image are you trying to present? Think about it and frame yourself as such.

Pelayo confines herself to Twitter and Instagram, which coincidentally are the only two platforms I use beyond this blog. I find Twitter helpful for learning and sharing news but impossible for any kind of meaningful communication unless I already know the person, so my hat’s off to anyone who can build a following there.

Instagram is, I think, a better platform. I attended a social-media panel at StokerCon 2018 and Paul Tremblay offered some good advice: He suggested people may not want your links to buy stuff but they may be interested in your life as a writer, so consider showcasing that. This is my approach toward Instagram. Alas, 90 percent of my life is cooking meals for the fam, sitting at the keyboard, exercising, or working on household projects, and the internet doesn’t need more food porn, gym selfies, or shelf blogs. So I don’t post often.

Pelayo is a little more cautious than I am. I believe writing, whether it’s journalism, novel writing, or whatever, is inherently a political act and thus writers shouldn’t necessarily shy away from putting their opinions out there, assuming those opinions aren’t superficial or impulsive. Our worldviews are already hardwired into what we do — it’s just a matter of how on the nose we want to be in public.

In the last few years I’ve made an effort to be positive on Twitter, something I’ve been working on IRL as I strive to be more optimistic and grateful. But I also aim to avoid letting fear drive my interactions. As Philip K. Dick wrote, “If you’re afraid you don’t commit yourself to life completely. Fear makes you always, always hold something back.”

Piranesi. Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — which I consider to be the greatest fantasy novel written in my lifetime, if not ever — has a new book out, her first in 16 years. She discusses it in this terrific New Yorker interview.

Rest in Peace. Charles Saunders, author of the Imaro and Dossouye series of African-based sword-and-sorcery novels, passed away in May but his death was only announced this month. Saunders was a very prolific journalist and author, writing four nonfiction books in addition to his novels, as well as numerous essays, columns, and short stories. He was 73.

Tales From the Coronapocalypse

The pandemic has sharply increased demand at food pantries:

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in California has built “pop-up” pantries after some of its previous 275 or so sites had to stop operating during the pandemic, spokeswoman Keely Hopkins said. The new sites, many of which are serving hundreds of people per day, stay open for longer hours and use open spaces such as parking lots to facilitate social distancing, she added.

Paid staffers are diving in at many food banks to stock, sort and bag food for either delivery or drive-thru pickups, a measure they realized was necessary to protect volunteers, many of whom are older and particularly at risk for complications from the virus. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee limits volunteers to 10 per room to fill boxes.

The board of the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry has proposed closing because so many of its volunteers are elderly, including Judy Wahlstrom, who runs the program.

[Associated Press]

For the past two weeks I’ve been volunteering via CERT at our local food pantry, which has switched to drive-thru service to maintain social distancing. I can testify to many of this story’s main points. The first few days we had plenty of fresh produce and frozen meat to give away, donated by restaurants who had more than they could use and a local country club cleaning out its freezer. Now most of that stuff is gone, with little promise of future donations. The only thing we have in abundance? Easter candy — boxes upon boxes of donated Easter candy. Meanwhile, one long-time pantry volunteer told me that several pantries in neighboring Bridgeport have shut down because they were staffed by elderly volunteers who didn’t want to risk going to work.

Pork and beef will likely become scarcer at grocery stores too:

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, indefinitely shut down a slaughter plant in South Dakota this week after hundreds of workers tested positive for Covid-19. The plant typically accounted for 4% to 5% of total hog processing in the U.S.

Two people who worked at a Tyson Foods Inc. pork plant in Iowa died and two dozen are ill, with operations down. Three people died who worked at a Tyson poultry plant in Georgia. A worker at a Cargill Inc. plant in Colorado also died. JBS USA delayed the reopening of a Pennsylvania beef plant from Thursday to Monday.

[Bloomberg]

One of the survivalist lessons I took away from Sandy was to learn to cook vegetarian. Without power for a week, the meat in our fridge went fast. A few times I bought meat in the late afternoon, then took it home and immediately grilled it (we had our Weber charcoal grill plus a little propane stove), but as I boiled my umpteenth pot of ramen noodles I realized I needed to round out my menu options with ingredients that didn’t need refrigeration. While my vegetarian repertoire is still small — my two mainstays are eggplant curry and tarka dhal — it sounds like it may be expanding soon.

In Europe and Canada, farmers are flying in foreign workers to pick their crops. Here in the States, the problem is lack of demand:

At C&E, restaurant and business closures have led to an estimated 40% decline in demand for the farm’s green beans, Colson said. With the drop in business in Florida, Colson says the farm has had to leave beans out in the field — meaning they will die off.

In an interview last week from his farm in Florida, Colson said they’d had 3 million pounds of green beans that weren’t able to go to fresh market. Most of that was sold at a reduced price to canneries.

The rest, roughly a quarter million pounds, was left in the field.

[Daily Press]

My solution: ask volunteers to pick a portion of the crops on behalf of local food banks and pantries, then allow farmers to take the full market value of the donation as a tax deduction.

And people would volunteer to pick green beans because, in general, they’re helpful:

In the wake of a catastrophic earthquake in Turkey in 1999, the emergency relief expert Claude de Ville de Goyet berated media organisations for propagating what he called “disaster myths.” “While isolated cases of antisocial behavior exist,” he wrote, “the majority of people respond spontaneously and generously.”

[Financial Times]

I’ve run into the disaster myth too. After Sandy, the National Guard was deployed in our neighborhood, patrolling the beaches in full tactical gear — like something from Smedley’s era, there were rumors of boats coming across the Sound full of thieves targeting the abandoned houses along the shore. Even today I’ll still hear someone talk about the alleged looting that took place during Sandy. Yet there wasn’t a single documented incident of local looting or vandalism during Sandy or its aftermath.

Not only are people generally decent and courteous in bad times, they often look for ways to help. Our local firefighters have been turning away people who show up at the station asking to volunteer: they’re untrained and unvetted, so they direct them toward private charities instead (which is a good point — if you’re looking to volunteer, then recognize it helps to be something more than a summer soldier or sunshine patriot). But the fact that our first responders have to decline offers for assistance rather than patrol against window-smashing pillagers speaks volumes about human behavior during crises.

Short News, Tinfoil Hat Edition

I’m a member of my town’s CERT chapter. One of the priorities of our team leadership has been countering the misinformation and conspiracy theories that are circulating. These days, it’s a noble ambition: I myself have heard the most crackpot utterances from people whom I otherwise consider to be sane and rational human beings. If we’re going to get through this, it’s because we washed our hands, not because we derailed trains into 5G towers.

So to that end, here’s a quick list of articles useful in debunking those folks in your life who’ve taken one too many bong hits around the lava lamp.

No, people are not hoarding toilet paper. The disappearance of TP from store shelves is due to more of it being used at home than at work. Commercial TP is a very different product than consumer TP and cannot easily be repurposed for home use. [Marker]

No, COVID-19 is a not an engineered bioweapon. Analysis of the spikes on the coronavirus has shown they’re so effective at penetrating human cells that their intentional creation is beyond modern technology — only Mother Nature is capable of it. COVID-19 is very similar to viruses that infect bats and pangolins, and it probably passed to humans through an unknown third-party vector. [Forbes]

No, we can’t just isolate the elderly or vulnerable. Not only is it logistically impossible, but concentrating at-risk populations would just make it easier for a contagion like COVID-19 to burn through them. Also, the fact that seniors and people with existing ailments are usually cared for by younger, healthier people makes strict isolation unworkable. [Washington Post]

No, it’s not too late for social distancing. This particularly irrational theory posits that because we didn’t begin social distancing back in January, it doesn’t matter what we do now and therefore the disease should take its natural course. The incubation stage for COVID-19 is 2 to 14 days and a carrier infects an average (the R0) of 2 to 2.5 people 5 to 6 people (updated by the CDC). If you can’t figure out that math, I can’t help you. So yes, regardless of what happened months ago, what we do right now has a large effect on how quickly we get through this and how many wind up dead. [CDC, Business Insider]

Update, 8 April: After further reading, I now realize the above is part of a bigger misrepresentation which supposes that COVID-19 has been present in the United States for months and therefore has largely saturated the population, and because a majority of people are asymptomatic, social distancing and quarantines are pointless since most of us already have the virus. If this was true, however, we would expect to see antibodies present in a majority of the populace, which we’re not finding. Complicating matters is a new study out of Shanghai that counted low levels or even no levels of antibodies in recovered patients, suggesting they could be re-infected. Update, 9 April: The Shanghai study looked for an unreliable marker. Other studies searching for better markers suggest a strong presence of antibodies in recovered patients.

No, Lamont did not lie about an infant dying of COVID-19. During one of his daily press conferences last week, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont stated that a six-week-old infant in the Hartford area died of the virus. This may or may not be true: the unresponsive infant was brought to a hospital, where he/she died. Currently, anyone dying in a hospital is tested for COVID-19 and the infant tested positive. Was it causation or coincidence? We won’t know until the medical examiner announces the autopsy results, but if we don’t assume that all deaths of positive people were caused by the virus, then we risk under-reporting the number of deaths and throwing off calculations of the disease’s mortality rate (among other things). Some anti-vaxxers/pandemic disbelievers, spurred by conspiracy theorist and all-around wingnut Candace Owens, have accused Lamont of lying about the death in an attempt to scare the public, introduce Communism, establish UN concentration camps, etc. While announcing the infant’s death by COVID-19 may have been premature, there’s zero evidence that Lamont or other officials lied or misled the public. Until the autopsy results contradict the cause of death, the infant is being tallied as a casualty of the virus. [Hartford Courant]

Short News, Fighting Neverland Edition

Averoigne and Its Malcontents. Inpatient Press, a small publisher in New York, has produced a trade paperback of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories set in Averoigne, a medieval French province haunted by vampires and sorcerers. Even better, they’ve published it in the style of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series from the early 1970s, with the line’s distinctive art and minimalist typography. Ballantine editor Lin Carter published four books of Smith’s work in the series and planned a fifth — Averoigne — but the series was canceled before the book could appear anywhere except the Sandman’s library shelf.

For years I’ve chronicled various attempts to produce the missing fifth volume. In 1995, publisher Donald M. Grant began advertising a hardback edition edited by Ron Hilger, but for decades that book remained vaporware. It finally appeared 21 years later, published by Centipede Press as an expensive collector’s edition that ran only 200 copies. Hilger says a paperback version is forthcoming from Hippocampus Press, release date TBD. Meanwhile in June, Pickman’s Press published their own e-book collection of the stories.

Hilger is none too happy about the Inpatient Press paperback, labeling it a “pirate edition,” an “illegal publication,” and a “fraud” because it wasn’t authorized by Smith’s estate, which is operated by Smith’s stepson. Inpatient informed me, however, that the book is perfectly legal — they used the Weird Tales versions of the stories, which are in the public domain.

Place Settings. I like to listen to podcasts about pirates, vintage RPGs, and 19th-century history, but for awhile I’d been searching without satisfaction for a podcast about utopian intentional settlements. Then, lo and behold, along came Curbed with their series Nice Try! An early episode discussed the Oneida community in upstate New York, which is one of my favorite examples of the utopian arc: what began as voluntary social experiment eventually devolved into a dysfunctional, if not horrific, cult. Not to mention an internationally known tableware company.

Coincidentally over at LitHub, author Caite Dolan-Leach discusses how she used Oneida as a template for the modern-day utopian commune in her new novel. Likewise I used Brook Farm and Fruitlands as models for Bonaventure, the setting for A Season of Whispers — although as far as I know, Dolan-Leach’s book doesn’t involve whispering walls and mysterious disappearances.

Watching the Detectives. CrimeReads has a list of three post-apocalyptic detective novels sure to brighten anyone’s year-end round-up of post-apocalyptic fiction. If, you know, that’s something you do.

No Time to Explain. Over at Fast Company I found some tips on how to be a better storyteller. The big takeaway for me: keep your anecdotes to 90 seconds or less.

The Latest

Over at the Yankee Institute blog, I interviewed Frank Cortese, operations manager for a Greenwich-based fuel and energy company, who said the installation of tolls on Connecticut’s highways would cost him more than $57,000 during the winter months and maybe even $72,000 a year — a cost he will pass down to his customers.

Separately I also reported on a bipartisan movement to eliminate Connecticut’s Business Entity Tax, which is a tax businesses pay simply because they, well, exist.

Short News, Post-Election Post Edition

In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.

— Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt

We can’t stop here, this is bat country. Are you experiencing anxiety, depression, and terror after last week’s election? Congratulations! Now you know how it feels to be a libertarian after every election! As a veteran of such emotional swings, might I suggest a period of self-reflection? During this time you could consider the libertarian idea of opposing government’s — and specifically, the executive’s — possession of far-reaching powers; as well as the possibility that blaming white people for all the world’s ills is unproductive, and that better ends might result from outreach toward America’s rural working classes. Following that, I propose sampling my daily medicine. Work out. Run. Read. Write. Help settlements. Don’t assume someone else will fix a problem. Keep a sense of humor. You’re not alone.

Let us not have such a machine any longer. Earlier this week LitHub published a list of 25 books for resisting the coming Trump junta. Notably absent was Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Thoreau’s full-throated cry has been out of favor with some on the left ever since Ronald Reagan (who was raised a Democrat) co-opted the radicalist idea that government is the problem and not the solution, but maybe it’s due for a comeback. Open Culture has a nice backgrounder on Civil Disobedience, an essay I find supremely inspirational and evergreen.

Truth is weirder than any fiction. If instead of nonfiction you’re in need of a politically relevant novel, I really enjoyed Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country.

By the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto. Doctor Strange was a fun but fairly mediocre experience with its main strength being the excellent interpretation of Steve Ditko’s vertiginous artwork from the character’s early days. While not a 1:1 translation, the visuals conveyed that same MC Escher sense of distortion and confusion that disconcerted this young reader. Over at Vulture, Abraham Riesman has a great piece about stalking Ditko (still alive — who knew?), and along the way details Ditko’s feud with Stan Lee and his gradual withdrawal from the world in anger and bitterness. It’s a fascinating and yet scary CT scan of an incredible talent consumed by mental illness.

Just say nyet. Probably because the Russians and Chinese are inside all of our servers these days, I’ve been flooded with spam through the phonetically rendered e-mail address that used to be on this site’s About page. I’ve removed the address until I can determine a better way to present it. In the meantime, if you want to contact me the best way is either @ing or DMing me through Twitter.