Saturday, October 26, 2013

Covenant House offers booklet on its services for homeless children

Recently I received a “free” unsolicited booklet in the mail from Covenant House, (link  ) titled “Sometimes God Has a Kid’s Face”, by Sister Mary Rose McGeady.
The paperback runs 110 pages and does not carry an ISBN.
The fourteen chapters give the stories of various abandoned homeless children, many of the in New York City. There was a variety of circumstances, including having been reared in gangs, sold into sex slavery, or simply left at shelters.  One girl was a promising writer.  One boy, on the other hand, struggled with image problems over obesity.

The booklet has an epilogue, and a variety of tips, aimed at parents.  They sound like common sense. 
But this booklet comes from a charity taking care of OPC, that is, “other people’s children”.  I wondered, do non-parents share a moral responsibility for this situation?  The book, however, did not try to take a position on that.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time's booklet "The Science of You"; ideas about character for people "in the twilight zone", as reflected in my own novel manuscripts

Time offers retail outlets another color, heavily illustrated primer, “The Science of You: The Factors that Shape your Personality”, edited by Stephen Koepp and Neil Fine.
The oversized album comprises several sections, called “Nature”, “Nurture”, “Types”, “Disorders”, and a closing essay by Joel Stein, “The Theory of Humor”. 

The earlier essays would complement the book reviewed on June 1, “I Am a Strange Loop”, as they try to get at what makes a person “me”, and have a focus of consciousness that can experience (and take the responsibility for) free will. It all starts with the introductory piece, “What Shapes Us”, by Jeffrey Kluger.

The essays, while pondering “nature v. nurture”, don’t delve into the biological aspects of sexual orientation.  But they do maintain (as in a piece “Born to Be Wild” by Alice Park (as if to suggest the David Lynch film “Wild at Heart”) that genes account for personality traits only by acting together, and probably by execution from chemical catalysts in what we call “epigenetics”.  The longest piece in this section is “Make Yourself at Home” by David Bjerklie.  In the book “Oddly Normal”, reviewed here Oct. 1, the author noticed the intractable paradoxes of sexual orientation.  Sometimes it seems connected to physical developmental issues, but then you run into a gay make capable of playing professional sports, and all the stereotypes fail. 

Jeffrey Kluger offers a piece, “The New Science of Siblings”, with more analysis of birth order.  Having opposite sex siblings, especially older siblings, may well shape personality.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s unusual social techniques may have developed because he was surrounded by three sisters, at least one of whom helps run the finances of Facebook.  Kluger writes, on p. 40, “The family is a survival unit. Parents agree to care for the kids, the kids agree to pass on the genes, and they all so what they can to make sure no one is eaten by wolves.” The second clause is controversial.  Maybe that explains why, as an only child, my homosexuality was so controversial back in the early 1960’s when I was thrown out of college for admitting it.  In fact, family responsibility, in practice, goes way beyond the requirement to support and raise the children one sires.  One will wind up with the responsibility anyway.  Parents expect older siblings to learn to take care of younger brothers and sisters, and also expect kids to be prepared to take care of parents when they age.  That sort of “power” is a perk of having a family within the societal social structures (children within a legally recognized marriage).  People do become responsible for persons who come into being because of the sexual intercourse and fulfillment of others, not just themselves.

Further into the book, there is an essay “The Myth of the Alpha Dog” by Michael Q. Bullerdick, without a a tattooed image of Justin Timberlake.  Social carnivores vary in social structures, by indeed in some groups (wolves, lions) only the most endowed males pass on their genes, and the other obey to meet the needs of the herd.  But in humans, leaders are made as well as born.  Generally, larger animals (like big cats) are not dependable “friends” because they have not been bred to cooperate with man, but there is no reason that they couldn’t be. 

Jeffrey Kluger has an essay “Disorders”, about personality problems and mental illness.  These split into three areas, the “dramatic”, the “anxious”, and the “odd”.  The dramatic includes “borderline”, “narcissistic” and paranoid schizophrenic, and seems to represent the least intact people, including those responsible for rampages and perhaps terrorism.  The “anxious” have an “intact core” but comprise both OCD and OCPD, the distinction between which Kluger doesn’t clarity.  The “odd” includes “schizoid”, and “schizotypal”, the lone wolves who might become dangerous if they lose their intactness.

At NIH, I was labeled both as OCD and “schizoid personality”.   When I sat down with filmmaker Gode Davis (“American Lynching”) for dinner in Providence, RI on New Year’s Night of 2003, he immediately diagnosed me as having Asperger’s, which he said he had himself to a mild degree.  You know, the lack of spontaneous body language.

The schizoid personality seems emotionally aloof and isolated, and disinterred in the social bonds people typically take for granted.  It’s hard to separate this from mild autism or Asperger’s.  The OCD can come from the person’s being concerned about his own performance and a sense that others may barge in and force him into various forms of social obligation that seem to be required by the social good.  Parents try to impose that on siblings.  The schizoid sees this as a moral demand from others, not intrinsically necessary for the self.  I think it is possible to relate all this to the polarity axes in the writings of Paul Rosenfels (April 12, 2006) – masculinity v. femininity, subjectivity v. objectivity, balanced v. unbalanced.  The personalities that society regards as disordered may most often be unbalanced, but is that because of society’s need for some conformity?

Kluger follows with an ample piece about self-absorption (“But Enough About You”), with a picture of a trim, handsome young man.  On p. 82, he offers a sidebar on humility, “A Modest Advantage”. All of this fits into the philosophy of Rick Warren’s “A Purpose-Driven Life”.  Kluger writes “Evolution suggests that submitting one’s needs is a trait likely to preserved only in species for which cooperation is necessary for survival.”

David Bjerklie asks if people can change in “Amending Your Constitution” (is that like being “born again”?)   Then Sherry Turkle looks at the impact of social media and whether it inhabits real world socialization in “Once Upon a Screen”. 

I can recall a Sunday night youth program at the First Baptist Church in the City of Washington DC, in the early spring of 1959, when I was in tenth grade, when a precious teen, a year older, from Florida, gave a talk based on the anagram "YOU".  

This may be a convenient place to mention something that happens in many of my unpublished novel manuscripts, going back to the early 1980s.  It’s true that in “The Proles” (1969) the “me” character starts his purification in Army Basic.   But in several documents written in the 1980s, leading up to “Tribunal and Rapture” (1988), the “Me” character gets sent to a “re-education” Academy in some rural location (whether West Virginia or west Texas) after losing his job in a minor economic setback.  He meets his “ideal man” there, but at the climax of the novel, when he leaves, the whole world blows up.  But what’s interesting is that I regard “someone like me” not as “disabled” (at least mildly, according to modern values) but as morally compromised, because “I” am in that gray twilight zone where I can understand the harm to sustainability of the “common good” if the example I set if followed by others, which it well might be. 

In the novel that I want to present for eventual publication – and I will get back to it when I get “DADT III” submitted  (Oct. 1, 2011 here) – and that book is “Angel’s Brother”, I have a layering of this idea.  The novel is told from the viewpoint of a male couple, a CIA agent (married, with a front of being a high school history teacher) and college student, who develop a relationship. There is a character “Bill” who has an embedded novel manuscript called “Rain on the Snow”.  That embedded story has an “Academy” which happens to exist in the world of “Angel’s Brother”.  In one subplot, the college student (“Sal”), who works at the Academy as a language instructor, approaches Bill, also a student there, and intervenes, giving Bill “what he wants” so that Bill doesn’t go over the edge and ruin everything.  The world approaches a purification (in the form of a mysterious pandemic) anyway.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two books on self-publishing

In anticipation of a formal release of my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, I picked up two recent short books on self-publishing.
The larger book is “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know About the Costs, Contracts and Process of Self-Publishing”, Fourth Edition, by Mark Levine, published by Bascom Hill, in Minneapolis, 2011, with ISBN 978-1-935098-55-3, 274 pages, paper.
The Amazon link is here
The book classifies various self-publishing companies as to their reputations with authors.  I won’t go into repeating these here, but I can make some general observations.

Self-publishing support companies have a variety of business models.  Some of them offer an enormous range of services, charge a lot, and tend to pay low royalties.  Authors have been particularly concerned that they can’t claim the publisher galleys to take to other publishers, at least without paying a lot more.  However, some authors may need the extensive services and may have a low sales expectation, and be publishing more as a “reference”  for cultural or political impact on debate of some issue.  But some try to push sales promotion packages onto authors.
Other publishers charge less, pay higher royalties, and allow publishers ownership of galleys. But these publishing companies are more selective.  They do not accept titles that they do not expect to sell well, because these companies derive more of their profit from actually selling book copies than from just supporting authors.  They are more like traditional publishers, and the right word might be “cooperative publishing” than self-publishing.  This model may work better for fiction than political or technical writing, and may suit only authors with established public relations contacts in other fields.  Examples of these companies include BookLocker and BookPros. As of the time of publication of this book, BookLocker considered five copies sold a month the minimum acceptable transaction volume for an author. It's hard to see, at least from any reasonable math, how this setup would support a business model really based on selling books.  It would seem to appeal only to authors who could get published (maybe even with an advance) from traditional publishers, but really are motivated by short-term "profit".  It sounds improbable for most writers, even relatively established authors. The question brings up the idea of being hired as a ghostwriter or to assist with someone else's work or life narrative. 
I would seem that whether a publishing service is "selective" or "non-selective" would have a big impact on whether the service would have a good rating with authors, a point that the book glosses over -- but that cuts both ways. 
A few of them are faith-oriented, and only accept content agreeable to their religious beliefs.  These companies might appeal to authors who benefit from a publisher brand name associated with evangelical or other faith.

The early part of the book explains all the general principles of self-publishing, and gives some advice on what kinds of books do sell and others do not. 

The book explains the publishing contracts in detail.  One controversial issue is the indemnification clause, which gives the publisher the right to sue the author for legal expenses should there be a tort claim (like libel) against the publisher.  These are quite standard in the industry, and shocking to authors.  In practice, they are rarely invoked-- although I can imagine that an unscrupulous plaintiff (and attorneys) could file a frivolous SLAPP suit against a self-publishing support company on the "deep pockets" theory, forcing the author to defend the company (and this is a good reason we need a federal anti-SLAPP law).   I didn’t see any mention of media perils insurance, but I wonder if that could become an issue in the future (although it has never gotten far off the ground in the “amateur” world, as discussed in my main blog in the fall of 2008).  Most publishers allow the author to keep ownership of the work and move to other publishers, but they don’t own the actual galleys.  Most don’t appear to care if the author places content on the web, but some could see that as potentially driving down sales. 
 The smaller book is “Self-Publishing Books 101: Helping You Get Published and Noticed”, by Shelley Hitz, with imprint by the same name, 2012, ISBN 978-1475104592, 48 pages, paper.  This booklet covers the mechanics and basics (like getting an ISBN).  It pays particular attention to the self-help process provided by one particular company, Create Space.  The website for the book is here

There are folks who see self-publishing as controversial.  I don’t know if it’s true now, but Author’s Guild used to accept for members only those authors would could get advances from publishers and actually make a living from writing. Ponder why that would be.  

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

John Schwartz: "Oddly Normal": a memoir by a father about raising a gay son

Author:  John Schwartz
Title: “Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with this Sexuality
Publication: Gotham, ISBN 978-1-59240-728-8, 300 pages, paper
Amazon link  Available in many formats, including Kindle. 
First, a note on contents.  The book includes an illustrated story by the son, Joseph, titled “Leo” The Oddly Normal Boy”, and a short essay by Joseph, “July 4th, or “A Treatise on the Courtship of the Awkward”, as well as a new Afterword by the author (the father).
The book is an account by the author of his third child’s coming to terms, as he grew up, not only with his sexual orientation, but also with being “different” in some ways that other people, especially in school systems, find challenging.
This other difference is hard to pin down.  It sounds related to milder forms of autism like Asperger’s syndrome, but that isn’t exactly correct.  It seems to relate to a physiological issue in the way the central nervous system processes sensory information and attaches significance to sensory impressions, and the way these in turn connect to motor skills, like those necessary in playing sports or manual labor.  I experienced the same issues as I was growing up, as I have explained often in these blogs and in my own three books (check Aug. 20 and June 27,  and May 30, 2013 on this blog, for starters).  From a purely medical point of view, there has never been a clear explanation.  I am seventy years old now, and had to deal with these issues at a time when they were viewed through a moral lens, like that of mooching or getting out of physical challenges that other men have to face.  The world looked at sexuality this way when I grew up because in part there was a belief, maybe partly founded in religion but not entirely, that for a society to survive, men had to protect women and children according to gender roles.  Having grown up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, I did not have the benefit of a social climate willing to tolerate open mention of homosexuality. 

The father notes that in his experience many gay men grew up perceived as gender non-conforming, and sometimes exhibiting “The Sissy Boy Syndrome”, actually the title of a controversial 1987 book by Richard Green (Yale University Press”.  The subtitle of that book was “The Development of Homosexuality”.  I certainly did fit that stereotype.  But in general the stereotype often does not apply.  A few gay men have played professional sports, even football.  I have known a few who might have played had there not been quasi-military aversion to their presence in team sports – let’s say, one in a particular a pitcher would not want to hang a changeup to.  In fact, the author notes that his son appeared to develop physically a little earlier than average.  There is practically no correlation at all between sexual orientation and aspects of physical appearance or secondary characteristics.   

Schawrtz does discuss immutability, although not to the point of explaining "epigenetics", which would give a biological explanation of why a gay man could indeed win an MLB batting title.   The question that remains is, if it were a "private choice" rather than innate, why does society make it other people's business?   I've never thought that the immutability argument was enough/
The parents were quite supportive of their son’s exploring his own individuality, and they found the school systems, in northern New Jersey, less so, not out of ill will, but simply the lack of program and coherent response to students with hard-to-assess special needs.  

Nevertheless, the boy, in his tween years, made a suicide attempt, and wound up in psychiatric care.  This is understandably a difficult episode for a parent to write about publicly. The son had a good experience with a special summer camp and high school was much better than middle school (as it was for me, too).
The author does give some synoptic history of “gay rights”, with a discussion of the history of sodomy laws, gays in the military, and especially same-sex marriage.   He also discusses the difficulty school systems have with bullying, and the fact that “curriculum neutrality” policies, like one tried in a Minnesota school district, don’t work in practice.