Fanthology 9.30.2020

Check out these interesting and helpful tidbits I came across this week:

  • Matt Ott, one of my colleagues, penned this timely and thought-provoking piece on personal resilience.
  • Every writer has questions from time to time. Writer’s Digest has some publishing FAQs with answers.
  • Why have your characters walk into a room when they can amble, shuffle, stagger, and so on? One of the readers of Go Into The Story provides a PDF of 115 words for “walk” and a bonus PDF of 90 words for “look.”
  • If you’re planning to do National Novel Writing Month (held in November) this year, be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Planning for NaNoWriMo by writer Savannah Gilbo. This comprehensive guide is chock full of good info on novel-planning for any month.

I Do Declare: The bots are connecting some weird dots on my job searches

The artificial intelligence (AI) bots are mucking up my job search and, I suspect, trying to mess with my head. True story.

Like many these days, I have turned job searching into a primary activity, and the job posting sites have became acutely aware of this. Lists of companies looking for someone like me land in my inbox all the time. And I do mean All.The.Time.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that the specific jobs included in the listings are getting more and more … how shall we say? … outside of my wheelhouse. And by that, I mean sometimes the job post and I are not even on the same boat, nor indeed even on the same planet.

I’m a writer/editor. I work with words. The job market for me is not hard to understand. Content manager, copywriter, copyeditor, technical writer, proposal manager, reporter, grants writer: These are the types of job postings I expect when I open the email.

But not long ago, along with writer/editor jobs I started to get job postings like the following, which I am not making up:

  • Home Care Aide
  • Paint Shop Manufacturing Engineer
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • PT Night Trash Collector
  • Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Restaurant Biscuit Maker
  • Naval Aviator

Now, these are fine jobs. But trust me when I say there is nothing on my resume that would point to my being qualified for any of them.

Unless Monster, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn,, were just throwing things out randomly to see what would stick, I figured there had to be a broken algorithm somewhere. I bent thought on how to fix it.

Earlier in my career I did a bit of programming and database work. One thing I learned is that when you’re troubleshooting a database because it has – and please forgive the jargon here – gone all wonky, it helps to start with a simple question:

What does the database think I’m asking it to do?

That often helped me track down the error and fix the code. I tried applying that logic here.

Q: What do these job sites think I’m looking for?

A: Uh…haha…no clue.

And then I gained some insights into this mystery when I came across the new docudrama “The Social Dilemma.” If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend. It’s up on Netflix, which gives this description: “This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

I found it both eye-opening and chilling. But I also think it explained a lot, especially when I learned just how much the AI bots were tracking my online movements and storing them as data.

Sure, I had an inkling this was going on, what with having a conversation – in the presence of my smart phone or smart TV – that I was thinking about going to Home Depot and then :::BOOM::: a Home Depot ad pops into my Facebook feed within minutes.

That can be a bit unnerving, depending on the details of the conversation and how much of a smarty-pants the smart devices are, but overall, I get it. The closer you target, the more likely you can close a deal, which means you need to gather data so you can zero in and hit the target. Sure, fine.

Except that these AI bots – at least according to this film – are measuring everything: the people I’m friends with, the lists I follow, the videos I watch, how long I stay on a certain site before scrolling to something else, my Google searches. And then they use these bits of data to come to conclusions about me, which might be wildly off-base.

Take the time I spend on a site, for instance. That’s easily explained. If I pause for an unusual amount of time it’s probably because I stumbled across a bizarre political story and I’m shaking my head in disbelief, whispering “What The What…?”

My Google searches, though. This might be where it starts to go off-rail, because connecting those dots would draw a totally different picture.

You see, I write historical novels. These often require some digging, hence the occasional online searches that can be … well, let’s just call them a bit odd.

For example, when I was writing my book “Turning August,” which is set in Germany during World War II, I needed to find out a wide range of details, such as the euthanasia program, how fast one could travel from Munich to Berlin in a 1940s vehicle, images of members of the Resistance movement, and which French cities were bombed first.

For the cover photo shoot, I ordered a vintage 1940s needle/syringe and an authentic Wehrmarcht uniform on eBay. (I worried what my credit card company thought of me and wanted to send them a note of explanation: “Don’t judge me! These are just photo props!”)

My current work-in-progress is set in the Renaissance period. Thanks to Google, I can tell you where Cordoba is located, when Isabella and Ferdinand took over Alhambra, what happened when Columbus sent his brother to talk to Henry VII about funding his trip to the new world, how long it takes to sail from Marseille to the Port of Palos, exactly how fast a peregrine falcon can fly, and the French word for balcony.

Given my overactive online researching, I really shouldn’t wonder that the AI bots are confused about my capabilities and interests. Though I am curious to see what pops up next. Sword-carving apprentice? Lady-in-waiting? Falcon trainer?

After being invited to apply for Border Patrol, FBI Special Agent, and Naval Aviator, I’m up for anything.

Even making biscuits.

~ ~ ~

Update: Moments after I posted this, another email dropped in with new jobs, including this one:

  • Firearms Instructor for the Department of Homeland Security

Seriously, bots, you’re starting to worry me.

Fanthology 9.23.2020

A few interesting and helpful things I found this week:

  • Running short of ideas? Check out this list of 300 story ideas from Go Into the Story. The blog is written by Scott Myers, who is the most generous man on the planet.

I Do Declare: The Autumnal Equinox is upon us and it’s time to turn, turn, turn

As soon as the calendar says it’s September, I start getting impatient for autumn.

When we close the books on August, effectively saying “seeeee-yaaa” to summer, what’s needed right then is a celebratory moment (especially as 9/1 is my unofficial new year).

Why wait? What else is there to do but bring out the pumpkins and winter scarves and apple cider?

Yes, autumn is my favorite, but there’s something elegant and serene about the changing of all the seasons.

Unlike calendar months, with their brusque starts and ends (Not ready for October? Too bad, it’s here.), seasons get eased into.

Introspection and meditation abound. Journal books get filled with thoughts of what has passed and hopes of what will come.

The chill of winter thaws before a flourishing spring that lounges its way through summer until it gears up for the autumn harvest, which gives way to the chill of winter … and so on.

And each season has its own distinct personality. The poets and writers have always known this and have metaphored* the heck out of them. (*Grammarcat will forgive me for verbing “metaphor.”)

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York. (Shakespeare, from “King Richard III”)

In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. (Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “Locksley Hall”)

Summertime and the living is easy. (George Gershwin, from “Porgy and Bess”)

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
(Shakespeare, from “Sonnet 18”)

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. (Albert Camus)

Trivia time: equinox and solstice

The seasons are also known by their equinox or solstice status.

The equinox (from the Latin meaning “equality of day or night”) occurs twice a year, at the onset of spring and autumn. In each case, the sun crosses the equator and makes daytime and nighttime roughly equal. The spring equinox (or vernal equinox) occurs around March 21, and the autumnal equinox (or September equinox) occurs around September 22 or 23.

The solstice (from the Latin solstitium, made up of sol – “the sun” – and sistere – “to make stand still”) represents the exact moment when the sun reaches its northernmost point (June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year) or southernmost point (December 22, the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year).

Another turn around the sun

Besides their Latin language background and an opportunity for contemplation, the changing of the seasons also serves as reminders – primarily that life is cyclical.

The reminders are inherent, like the air we breathe. To acknowledge or study or attempt to control them, we must draw attention to them. And in doing so, we see that their truths are eternal:

  • That time is fleeting – and increasing in speed. The days stretch out, weeks drag on, months take forever. Finally a year has passed. Then you notice that today is the first day of autumn, except that yesterday summer was starting and a week earlier than that you were heralding the start of spring and that was practically minutes before you felt the first nips of winter. If nothing else, the changing of the seasons reminds us that time moves on – but it does not stop.
  • That this too shall pass. Or as it happens in some years (2020 especially), these too shall pass. As mentioned above, time does move on. And there are times when we are so glad that it does. We all have moments – well, more like days, weeks, months – when we’ve been pushed to the limit. The seasons remind us that often things happen only for a season and that in time, things will change. Thank goodness!
  • That there’s a season for everything. Sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t make it work. Then later, without much effort, the whole thing comes to fruition. What was that about? Just this: Things happen in their season. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 goes into this in great detail. So does the 60s band, The Byrds, with their hit, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Whichever version you choose, it’s really the same message. When it’s time, it’ll happen.

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn. The Autumnal Equinox. A nip in the air. Time for bonfires and oyster roasts and hot chocolate.

I’m ready.

Fanthology 9.16.2020

A few interesting things I found this week:

  • Over on his website, Steven Pressfield discusses the need for historical fiction and its ability to portray notions such as honor and integrity in a way that contemporary literature cannot.
  • While you’re on Pressfield’s site, take advantage of all the expertise he imparts. I recommend starting here.
  • Writer Melanie Roussel has an informative and entertaining post on technobabble. This is a must read for those who write science fiction or speculative fiction.

I Do Declare: A good historical work is better than a DeLorean

Did I mention that I love this guy?

I am about to take a trip back in time.

My favorite historical novelist, Ken Follett, has a new book out tomorrow – The Evening and the Morning – and I will be at Barnes & Noble when the doors open so I can purchase it, after which I will be immersed in Medieval England until I turn the last page.

In my opinion, Follett is the perfect storyteller. He has a way of weaving a tapestry of time and place that incorporates all your senses and keeps you on the edge of your seat with anticipation, even if you’re an expert in that period of history and know what’s coming.

I fell under Follett’s spell long ago with The Eye of the Needle, a spy thriller involving a German spy in 1940s England. The book stirred in me a passion for World War II that led (years later) to my writing a historical novel about the German resistance.

Follett also created the world of Kingsbridge and its marvelous cathedral in The Pillars of the Earth and the sequels, World Without End and A Column of Fire, and I was so invested in the stories that I feel like a resident of the town revisiting with each book. His latest book is the prequel to these stories, and I can’t wait to see the origins of “my town.”

There are many other historical novelists who are just as gifted – Herman Wouk immediately comes to mind, as does Anton Myrer (more about both of them in a future post) – but Follett is my favorite.

And it’s not just books. I feel the same about period TV shows and movies that are done well. It’s fascinating how a good historical movie or TV show or book can transform me to a different period and hold me in thrall.

That may sound peculiar, but when it comes to entertainment, in both cinema and literature, I have two great loves: history and time-travel.

Though they’re two sides of the same coin, really.

As much as I love historicals, I adore time travel stories, especially in cinematic form. Whether it’s a fun frolic (Back to the Futureand by that I mean I, II, and III, because they have to be taken as a whole) or a serious narrative (The Final Countdown) or a bizarre travel-industry-turned-dystopia (Thrill Seekers) or a zany yarn (Midnight in Paris) or hundreds of other stories.

TV too. The madcap antics of Quantum Leap or the juvenile capers of Voyagers kept me glued to the set every week.

Does it come as any surprise that the time travel episodes of Star Trek were my favorite? (Apparently I’m not alone. They gathered all those episodes and sold them in one boxed set.)

I don’t even mind the plot holes or conundrums. How did Gil get back to his own time? Why didn’t the time gadget get damaged when Phineas and Jeffrey fell into the next time? Why didn’t Doc and Marty use the undamaged car (which still had gas) that was buried in the cave?

Who cares? If you have people slipping into a different era, I’m there.

I can hand-wave inconsistencies away because it’s all about transporting to another time. Living inside history. Seeing it firsthand.

Which is where I’ll be tomorrow. As soon as Barnes & Noble opens.