Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here?

Guest post by Lorraine Devon Wilke

The following blog post caught my eye, and I thought I had to do what I could to bring it to more readers. The author, Lorraine Devon Wilke, graciously agreed to let me re-blog it.

Read the original on her blog, After the Sucker Punch. And if you agree, please share and promote this post as much as you can.

The cheers of indie authors who’ve FINALLY found outlets for their books—whether Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, indie bookstores; wherever—can be heard far and wide from every corner of the globe. It’s been loudly exclaimed by everyone in the know that it’s the dawn of a new day for writers everywhere. After years of dismissal and disrespect from traditional publishers and their gatekeepers across every element of the literary landscape—from query letter browbeating, ice-cold rejections, overly possessive editors, and blasé publishers with no marketing budgets—independent authors have now taken control of their destinies and ventured forth, filters, limitations and grumpy gatekeepers be damned.

Good, right?

Yes, in some ways. In others, we indies are still very much the ugly stepsisters to our more vaunted and valued legacy colleagues. Don’t think so? Just today I clicked on the website of a “recommended book blogger” (whose name I will leave out for the sake of decorum) who seemed hell-bent on insulting those self-published writers who’d had the audacity to contact him for reviews. His FAQ page not only went out of its way to discuss how unreadable he found most self-pubbed books, but his hissing condescension about “amateurish” writers incapable of even understanding the word “no” led to a sneering pronouncement that he didn’t want to read, hear about, or otherwise experience the books of said authors and, therefore, please don’t waste his time by contacting him.

Sheesh. The fumes of disdain emanating from his page practically choked me.

And he’s not the only one. Media sources abound with snitty-toned announcements that they DO NOT TAKE SUBMISSIONS FROM SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS (caps are theirs). Review sites that cover legacy authors free-of-charge gouge self-pubbers in the hundreds of dollars. Feature writers who ooze admiration for the latest debut novelist from the Big 5 have actually figured out how to roll their eyes on Twitter over the pathetic shenanigans of indie writers trying to get their attention.

We’re definitely the “not cool” kids on the playground and this persistent — and, in many cases, undeserved—marginalization makes launching an indie book all the more difficult. When the overriding presumption is that your book is—to put it bluntly—a piece of shit (a presumption with which I personally take umbrage), you’re not only starting from zero in the world of marketing and promotion, you’re climbing from less-than-zero.

Fair? No. But let’s face it; we kinda dug our own hole, we self-published writers. Despite the fact that the industry is changing and evolving on a daily basis, with increasing numbers of options and outlets available, and more and more authors—even some from the traditional world—opting to go the self-published route, the rickety stage set early-on was built largely by anxious amateurs eager to define themselves as “authors” before availing themselves of the various elements of true professionalism. 

There are still far too many self-pubbed books that are amateurishly written, with poorly edited copy and covers that fairly scream “I’m a self-published writer!!!” And, unfortunately, still too many authors who relegate those necessary services as negotiable rather than essential—a professional blunder akin to a restaurateur opening a bistro without a qualified chef, a decent waitstaff, or a well-designed room. The resulting customer and industry response (see above) is the sad and subsequent remnant of that miscalculation.

We are all, every one of us, tarnished to some extent by the mistakes of the early (and prevailing) corner-cutters, but those mistakes are, hopefully, being mitigated by the growing number of independent authors who do approach their work, their books, and their presentation with impeccable and unassailable standards. And that growing number (of which I count myself) deserve to NOT be automatically generalized into a category of “subpar” by media, reviewers, bloggers and the like. 

Just as many traditionally published books (to once again put it bluntly) suck, yes… so do many self-published books. Conversely, just as many traditionally published books are profound and not-to-be-missed works of literary wonder, so, too, are many self-published books.

That the aforementioned blogger and his snarky cohorts refuse to consider that is evidence of literary shortsightedness. Like geezers who discount useful technology as “newfangled” or antiquarians who bemoan penmanship while ignoring heartfelt emails, they’re missing out. On a gem. A “stunning debut.” A “keenly executed character study.” A really good book.

Their loss. But the unwillingness of the wider media to explore indie authors with the same open-mindedness—and vetting and reviewing protocols—implemented for those traditionally published, is creating a literary ghettoization. And the resulting deficit is felt not only by the writers being dismissed simply by virtue of being self-published, but by readers who have less access to those authors and their work because of that ignorance.

Just as self-published writers are obligated to evolve and demand of themselves the highest levels of professionalism, so, too, must accompanying media evolve away from their myopia and literary bigotry. If they do not, what is being wasted is far more than their time; also lost is the cultural embrace of much talent and many good books being written by courageously independent authors who deserve at least a look.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com. Stay current with her books at Author Central, and if you a member of Goodreads or Shelfari, be sure to stop by and connect.

To pick up your own copies of After the Sucker Punch andShe Tumbled Down,” click titles and check back for updates at her Amazon Author Page.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We are entering the Negative Zone

Annihilus, copyright Marvel Comics
Parliament has reconvened in Ottawa, and the buzz is already about the next election—which could be more than a year away.
I’m bracing myself for a year of public negativity to come. In Canada, all the parties are already in full campaign mode. And in the US, the presidential election process will get going in 2015 for the 2016 election.
I know. It’s waaaayyyyy too long.
But that’s not the worst part. Worse is the tsunami of negative messaging that comes with elections these days. Politicos in the 21 century seem to believe that it’s a lot more effective to criticize your opponent than it is to put forward your own ideas. So we can expect a lot of messages like these:
·         “All my opponent’s programs have failed.”
·         “That’s socialist!”
·         “That’s fascist!”
·         “That’s against the spirit of the constitution.”
·         “That’s contrary to our shared values.”
·         “That’s tax-and-spend.”
·         “That’s catering to the corporate elites.”
Image courtesy Canadian Press
And even worse than that is the tendency to get personal. Then, it’s not even about policies that you disagree with: it’s a worse-than-useless, distracting pseudo-debate about “character”:
·         “My opponent is a lightweight.”
·         “My opponent has been in office too long.”
·         “He/she’s a dreamer.”
·         “She/he is corrupt.”
To me, that’s not politics, it’s a middle-school screaming match.

The negativity dilemma

Most people I have spoken to, and most political commentators I have read, say they do not like negative messages. Yet, they must work, because all political parties use them. Some use them even when there’s no election campaign going on.
I find this whole process aggravating. It does not help me to decide whom to vote for. Sure, I may admire one candidate’s character, loathe another politician’s personality, but since I’ve never met them, I don’t think that’s any basis on which to judge a person.
But I’m unusual. It seems most people don’t make political decisions rationally. Well, we humans don’t make many decisions rationally. We “go with our gut,” fall in love and respond to a huge number of non-rational (not the same as irrational) impulses when making a decision.

Last week, I listened to a call-in radio program about Rob Ford stepping away from the mayoralty race in Toronto, and his brother Doug taking his place as a candidate for mayor. Callers were both in favour of and opposed to this series of events, but one caller in particular stood out for me. She said she favoured Doug Ford’s candidacy, because the actions of the two brothers showed the Fords are a “family that supports one another.” This spoke to their character, and apparently, means these are the kinds of people she wanted to be her city’s mayor.

What’s even more surprising was that this caller said she previously opposed Rob Ford, based on his policies. Her one-hundred-eighty degree turn was based on an emotional response to a candidate falling ill, dropping out of a political race and his brother taking on the role.

Image Creative Commons
It makes a romantic story: one man stricken by disease has to step away from a contest, so his brother steps into his place.

Personally, I try to make my political decisions rationally, based on the issues I believe important in the day, and which way the candidates will move on those issues.

I know. That makes me weird.



Thursday, September 04, 2014

A very proper proposal: boycott Fox News — and not just them

The only kind of fox thinking people should pay attention to.
Photo Red Fox #3 by Rylee Islit Photography. Used under Creative Commons licence.

Last week, the satirical site The Daily Currant ran a story saying conservative ranter Ann Coulter recommended that the US government purposely infect refugee children who arrive at the border with ebola.

It was a satire, sure, but it was shocking partly because it seems only a little more extreme, stupid and disgusting than the things Ann Coulter has already said. Like “…college campuses serve as sort of internment camp for useless leftists in wartime. We know where they are, this way. And, as General Patton said, 'I love it when they come out and shoot at me because then I know where they are and I can shoot the bastards.’” (Source: http://terryturtletuthpaste.tripod.com/Quotes.htm/)

Coulter never advocated (at least publicly) deliberately infecting people with Ebola, just shooting them.

The far-right crew spouting regularly on the Fox network and similar outlets has a habit of making comments and suggestions that collapse under the weight of their own stupidity, let alone a single fact.

Sean Hannity: “Here you are, you're a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.” October 2009 (Source: http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/foxnews/a/Stupid-Fox-News-Quotes.htm)

Bill O’Reilly: “Asians aren’t liberals because they’re industrious and hard-working”—2013 (Source: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/26/fox_news_5_worst_moments_of_2013/)

Fox doesn't have a monopoly on stupid lies, of course. 

Rush Limbaugh: “So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” March 1, 2012, saying that a woman who wants health insurance to cover contraception is a prostitute.

Sarah Palin: "Why are you even worried about fast food wages?"—on her own Internet TV channel.

Fox Noise—What does the Fox say?

In short, Fox News and their ilk of right-wing US commentators are not a viable source of information or analysis for anyone who likes to think to decide how to feel about the world.

They are great fodder for comedy, but that raises a problem: does commenting on them, even making fun of them, raise their profile even more? Give them credence?

The uproar that Rush Limbaugh causes every time he makes an especially horrible comment feeds his ego and his career, proving to advertisers that he can draw an audience. And encourages him to say even worse things.

Very proper foxies

“Very Proper Charlies” was a novella by Dean Ing, published in 1978 about journalists thwarting terrorism by refusing to report it. Terrorism in the 1970s seemed almost innocuous compared to today: it usually involved hijacking a plane and threatening to kill passengers one by one until their demands were met, as opposed to the mass killings of the 21st century.

In the story, journalists theorized that if the goal of terrorism is to attract media attention to a cause, then the solution would be to ignore it. The logic was “if we didn’t report it, the terrorists would have no reason to spread terror.”

Journalists around the world stopped reporting any terrorist attacks. In the story, when the terrorists realized their antics were no longer effective, they gave it up.
I don’t think this a realistic approach to solving terrorism. But it may be a useful approach to silencing the verbal bullies. Let them talk; just don’t listen. Tune out.

They’re all on various commercial media and dependent on advertising. If thinking people stop reacting, and more importantly, stop listening and watching them, their sponsors will notice, eventually, that the audience is declining and stop paying them. And finally, they’ll be silent.

So this is my proposal: to counter the hate-filled and false prophets such as those I’ve listed, but not limited to them, let’s boycott them. Thinking people everywhere, ignore the Coulters, Limbaughs and their ilk in all languages. Don’t tune in to Fox News, read the newspapers or visit the websites of those who use lies and made-up bullshit to mislead people.

This strategy may take a very long time to have an impact. It may not work at all. But it’s an experiment I’d like thinking people to try.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Inspiration from the natural world

The Canadian Shield. Trees down to the water's edge.
I've made it back from the wilderness!
A typical "Canadian sunset" picture. 

Actually, I've been back for three days now, and it wasn't that wild. While the Mattawa is significant as part of the original "river highway" of Canada, used by the fur traders as part of the route from Montreal to the Great Lakes, today it's paralleled by a highway, dammed and is home to many summer cottages.
A rapids on a small stream as it enters the Mattawa.

Still, it's an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 
The Stepping Stones reach about halfway across the river as it leaves Trout Lake. 

I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Into the near(ly) wild




As this post goes live, I'm on the highway toward North Bay, Ontario, to begin a canoe trip down the Mattawa River. It's going to include some white water, a few short portages and more white water, all in the great Canadian wilderness.


Actually, it's not all that wild. There are provincial campsites all along the stretch of river, the route is marked and mapped, the portages are long established and marked, and there is human habitation, even towns, along the way. We'll even be within cell phone range for most, if not all of the trip.






The pictures here are from that trip with Super Nicolas and the Rovers. They'll give you an idea of the kind of territory I'll be going through, and maybe inspire you, too.











Talk to you next week.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rules, shmules

Photo by: Scott Kleinberg, Creative Commons
Writers are always teaching me, whether they know it or not. I’ve been editing and beta-reading manuscripts for a number of people this summer, and their words make me re-evaluate some ideas I held firmly for some time. And I keep coming to the same dilemma: at what point does trimming text and adhering to the current stylistic conventions begin to trample legitimate expressions of writing style?

Every writer has heard of Elmore’ Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Good Writing.” You can Google them easily enough.

And it seems to me that the “rules” thrown around by those who claim to be publishing professionals and insiders are often contradictory. For instance, real professional authors don’t use adverbs much, if at all. I once heard an author in a radio interview claim proudly (there’s another adverb, damnit!) that he only had three or four adverbs in his whole book.

Then there’s the dilemma over dialog. “Never use a word other than ‘said’ to describe dialog,” advised Mr. Leonard. Also, never modify “said” with an adverb.

Meanwhile, I read some time ago that a large number of grade-school teachers across the US encouraged their pupils never to use “said” in their compositions. They could use “exclaimed,” “asked,” “replied,” “retorted” or anything else that made sense, but not “said.”

In providing a beta-read for a good friend’s new manuscript, I couldn’t bring myself to follow either rule. Now, there were times that I thought “said” was the right word, and I suggested that to my best-selling friend. But sometimes, as a writer, you want to describe how someone spoke. So you need either a stronger verb—which breaks Mr. Leonard’s Rule #3, or you need to describe with an adverb, which breaks rule number 4, or longer description, which breaks rule number 9 (“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things”).

Probably Leonard’s most famous rule is “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose.’” Usually, it’s good advice. If something happens suddenly, then you can usually find a stronger verb to describe it.
He came in suddenly.He burst into the room.And you never need to write “it burst suddenly.” A burst is a sudden thing.
But sometimes, “suddenly” is the right word. Here’s an example from my first book, The Bones of the Earth:
[Photius’] staff was glowing white, and [Javor] suddenly understood it had been the source of the white flashes.
I suppose I could have written it differently, but this phrase most efficiently conveys the meaning to the reader—that the character understood a cause-and-effect relationship in an instant, after a period when he did not. I could have written “the glowing stick made him realize in an instant….” But that would have taken more words.

In praise of the cliché


In my own writing, I try to avoid clichés (like the plague, right). For a new client, I explained that removing or replacing clichés was part of my standard level of service, and she stopped me immediately (damn, another adverb). Clichés are part of her style. They’re part of the way she speaks and she wants her little expressions in her written work, too.

 Speartoons, Inc. is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
That made me think about clichés, and alter my opinion. Really, they’re a form of jargon. Words can have more than one meaning, and any phrase, sentence or longer writing works on several levels. It conveys the literal message, as well as memories and associations. That’s how advertising works—by associating a word, a message or an image, or a combination of them, with positive feelings. “Buy this stuff and you’ll be happy.”

We can think of clichés as our modern social jargon. Jargon does more than convey a specific meaning within a narrow group: it identifies the speaker or writer as someone in the know, part of the club. Current slang and clichés serve the same purpose. They tell the audience that the user is up to date, part of the in crowd. Using last year’s slang is also dangerous—it tells the audience you’re out of date.

In fact, using a cliché well may be the most efficient way to achieve your communications goal: to get a particular reaction from your audience.

And the way people use quotation marks in writing, or air quotes when the say a well-used phrase, is akin to a bibliographic entry. Quotation marks essentially mean that the words they contain are not the writer’s original work, but someone else’s. The writer or speaker who uses them is giving credit, or at least, admitting they’re using another person’s expression.

Maybe there is room in the professional, credible publishing world for description, for using clichés and words other than “said.” If we all follow the same style conventions, isn’t all writing going to seem the same? Isn’t diversity what we want?

Have I blown my credibility out of the water by daring to support that pariah of the writing world, the cliché? By arguing against Elmore Leonard?

“That’s just the way I roll,” I thought suddenly.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A lovely award

Every time this blog gets one of these spontaneous, friendly “awards,” I’m surprised and delighted. It still makes me happy not only that people read Written Words, but like it enough to give it some public recognition.

Thank you, Rosalind Burgess and Patricia Obermeier Neurman of the Roz and Patty Write blog for nominating Written Words for the One Lovely Blog Award.
Roz and Patty are co-authors of the Val Kit Mystery series, which includes The Disappearance of Mavis Woodstock, The Murder of Susan Reed, Death in Door Country and LethalProperty. Follow the links and check them out.

The One Lovely Blog Award is one of those award chains. Now that I have gladly linked back to the writers who nominated me, it’s my turn to nominate some of my favourite blogs.

But first, I have to share seven things about me. Here goes:
  • I like my coffee black, and after all these years, I’m still searching for the ideal ratio of coffee grounds to water.
  • I am enjoying this cool summer. It makes it so much easier to ride my bike to work when the air isn’t hot and muggy. On the other hand, it’s been windy most days, and for some reason, the wind always seems to be blowing exactly from the direction I need to go.
  • I have more ideas for stories and books than I believe I will ever have time to write down, even in rough form.
  • I once tried starting my own religion, but it’s really hard to rally fanatical followers with the phrase, “Think for yourselves, you self-deluded fools!”
  • I used to do book paste-ups using waxed galleys. I also used actual glue to do rough paste-ups of a magazine I used to work for.
  • I hate pomegranates. Just hate ’em.
  • I love the prairies, and wish I had more time to visit them.

Now it’s time for me to nominate the blogs I think are lovely. Remember, nominees: in accepting this award (you have no choice), you must follow through by acknowledging your nominator (me), confessing seven facts about yourself, and nominating 15 “or so” other bloggers. And you have to let them, and me, know about all this!

It probably won’t surprise you that most of my favourite blogs are about writing and writers. Here you go:
  • BestSelling Reads—a collective of authors whose books regularly hit the best-seller lists—not because of a huge marketing push, but because they know how to appeal to an audience.
  • Rachel in the OC—the blog of Rachel Thompson, bestselling author and one of the driving forces behind BestSelling Reads. There always something to get out of this blog.
  • Van Brown’s Journal—Van is one of my first fans, an actor, writer, funny guy and all round good person. I haven’t found I disagree with him, yet. Except maybe about motorcycles.
  • Seb Kirby’s New words for new times—Seb is an excellent, best-selling writer, author of the Take No More series of thrillers as well as the sci-fi book Double Bind (which evokes my favourite old-time science fiction author, Philip K. Dick).
  • WriteHook by my brother from another mother and father, Scott Morgan—one of the best writing stylists I have ever found.
  • Cinta Garcia de la Rosa’s many blogs, like Indie Authors You Want to Read, I Can’t Stop Reading and Cinta’s Corner. I don’t know how she manages to produce so much every day.
  • Guild of Dreams—a collective of independent fantasy authors who always produce something worth reading.
  • Rob on Writing—the blog of my friend and bestselling author in his own right (grrr…), Rob Guthrie.
  • Because Life is a Reallly Good Story—the website and blog of writer, designer and photographer David C. Cassidy, author of Velvet Rain, Fosgate’s Game and the upcoming The Dark, and designer of some terrific book covers (including two of mine).
  • Author Unplugged— Frederick Lee Brooke’s blog about writing and life.
  • Ms. Cheevious—the blog of “Ms. Cheevious,” Lisa Jey Davis, Hollywood publicist, author, health speaker and personality. Yah, I know I’m not the target audience for this blog, but it’s fun to read and educational, too.
  • The Thoughts and Opinions of a Writer on the Rise—Bruce Blake is one of the most original fantasy authors out there, and someone like me who doesn’t seem to want to be constrained to one genre. I just wish I could be as successful as him!
  • Indie Universe—Gary Henry is an excellent writer, and he’s a proponent of indie authors, to boot!


These blogs are all more than worth your time, so click on the links and spend a few minutes every day.
Creative Commons

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where do you stand when the boundaries blur?

The boundaries between the different types of publishing just keep getting more blurred and more porous.

Amazon and Hachette’s dispute has reached a new plateau, with the respective CEOs writing mass emails to explain their respective positions over book discounting. Amazon is also in a dispute with Time Warner, and has blocked pre-orders of some Disney movies.

About three weeks ago, Amazon spurred news attention yet again with rumours that it’s in negotiations with another Big Five publisher, Simon + Schuster. Some speculated that it may lead to Amazon purchasing this publisher from its current corporate parent, CBS.

In addition to the publishing operations that Amazon already has, this would make Amazon one of the biggest publishers as well as the biggest book retailer.

Is this really new, though? Remember the Doubleday Bookstores, which were the most prestigious in the US until they were bought by Barnes & Noble in 1990.

Major corporations straddle boundaries

One of the raisons d’être for the commercial publisher is to provide those essential selection, editorial, design and manufacturing services that ensure audiences get quality books. Self-publishing, according to this argument, just cannot measure up to the professional standard of major publishers. I’ve ripped this argument apart a number of times already, so suffice to say now that it’s not backed up empirically.

But several major publishers have invested millions and more in self-publishing platforms. Penguin launched Book Country in 2011 and then bought Author Solutions a year later. Simon & Schuster has Archway Publishing, a vanity publisher. And they’re not the only ones.

So, now we have vanity publishers owned by major commercial publishers, in an embarrassing and disingenuous pissing match with the biggest retailer, which also owns the most successful self-publishing platform.

Neither side in this argument is being open

It’s kind of hard to understand just why Amazon is going to such lengths in this dispute. After all, they make a lot of money reselling publishers’ products. Why should they care what price the publisher sets? But remember that Amazon also sells a particular brand of e-book reader. Lower prices for e-book versions of the world’s favourite, bestselling titles will encourage Kindle sales.

The dispute between Amazon and Hachette or Time-Warner is over how much of the money readers pay they get to keep. The author isn’t part of the dispute, even though both sides like to repeat how important the author is to them.

“Brick and mortar” bookstores are another trope in the sympathy pleas of both sides. “Amazon is putting brick-and-mortar, physical bookstores out of business.” It’s hard to argue against that, particularly following the loss of Borders and uncounted independent booksellers.

As for the independent booksellers, though, they’re getting squeezed not only by the Internet, but also by the growth of big-box corporate bookstore chains. And if it weren’t Amazon, it would be some other company that uses the efficiency of the Internet to grab market share.

Amazon, for its part, does what it says it will do, and efficiently. Whenever I have ordered anything from Amazon, it’s arrived in a breathtakingly short time.

In this light, I have a hard time finding sympathy for big publishers, multinational corporations that are self-appointed gatekeepers of the written word.

What if we change the question

What if we shift our focus from the publisher and bookseller to the author? What if the authors, the people who put most of the work into producing a book, got the greatest part of the proceeds? What if publishers and printers and retailers were only incidental to the value chain?

It would be an ideal world. But I’m not hopeful it will arrive.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rules that are written and those that are real

Highway speed limits were the topic on the call-in radio show a few days ago in my home town. The show asked, since people routinely drive 20 kilometres an hour (at about 75 miles an hour for American readers) above the posted speed limit, maybe the province should just raise the posted speed limit to 120 km/h.

It's an interesting debate. On one hand, the law would acknowledge what people, drivers as well as police, are actually doing, anyway; on the other, raising the speed limit may encourage people to drive even faster.

Would someone who exceeds the speed limit—breaks the law, in other words—persist in unlawful behavior and drive 140 kilometres an hour?

The debate illustrates the difference between what people say and what they do, and between the stated laws and the rules that people really obey. John Irving explored this idea in his novel The Cider House Rules. Much of it is set on an orchard farm, whose owners post rules for the pickers who stay during the season in the “cider house.” Rules like "Please don't go up on the roof if you've been drinking—especially at night."

Of course, all the orchard pickers went up on the roof at night, with beer, because it was cooler.

The pickers disobeyed nearly all the written rules, but they obeyed very firm rules. Mr. Rose, the head picker, made the real rules that governed the cider house, rules that were clear and understood, if unwritten.

I think John Irving got it right: the real rules are unstated but clear.

We can see this phenomenon playing out all around us. The written rules say "no bullying tolerated," but bullies always have ruled every playground.

Writ large, we see this in eastern Ukraine today. The United Nations' rules proclaim the sovereignty of states, yet Russia supports its proxies in prosecuting a rebellion. Then official Russian government sources deny this, in writing, and decry Ukraine's use of force.

The written rules tell us not to commit adultery; in former centuries, the penalties were fierce. Yet there was probably as much sex unauthorized by religion or society going on in previous centuries as there is today.

Why the conflict?


The phrase "put it in writing" supposedly means that written communications is more credible, more reliable, more likely to be true. “Unwritten rules” is a cliché in itself. But the unwritten rules are more accurate.

The written rules tell us what we should do.


To me, the bigger question is not why we don’t follow the written rules, but rather, why we feel compelled to write down rules that go against what we normally do.