Fan Fiction Is an Act of Reading Not Writing

Terry Pratchett's The TruthI’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s The Truth each night in bed. And I love it. I still hold a certain romance for the news industry, even if it is reserved to fiction. And I love the two main characters in this novel. First there is William de Worde, the founder and publisher of The Ankh-Morpork Times. And then there is Sacharissa Cripslock, his star (and at this point only) reporter. And they work so well as a team, there just has got to be romance in the air. And that got me thinking of fan fiction.

According to online sources, the books were never explicit about this. But it was implied that the two of them eventually married. And then there was this tweet by Pratchett himself back in 2011, “Sacharissa Cripslock married William de Word but keeps her maiden name for professional purposes.” (Interesting: even though he is dead, he still have over 143,000 followers; I’m sure a lot of people just can’t let go.) This got me thinking that it’s too bad he didn’t write more about it. I can see a very good novel focusing on William and Sacharissa. And I could write that! And for the first time in my life, I understood the nature of fan fiction.

The impulse to fill in the details left by the unjust death of a beloved author is different. It is effectively an act of reading. And I don’t say that as a slight. Reading is an enormously creative activity.

One of my personal annoyances as a writer is having people give me ideas for stories and articles. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the ideas are actually rather good. But I’ve never known a writer who wasn’t overwhelmed by her own ideas. I’m the same way. There are too many things to work on. And the process of writing begets ideas for other things to write about. It’s only the would-be writer who struggles for ideas; actual writers struggle with the actual writing.

But the impulse to fill in the details left by the unjust death of a beloved author is different. It is effectively an act of reading. And I don’t say that as a slight. Reading is an enormously creative activity. Writing is necessarily incomplete. It is like a screenplay for your mind. It is only fully realized in the reader’s mind. And so I have my own clear image of William and Sacharissa and the little subtle things that indicate that they are meant for each other. So to write a story about their courtship would be a continuation of that. And it would clearly be quite different than anything that Pratchett ever imagined.

I feel much the same way about Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart, even though they are such different characters with a far more (in my mind) colorful marriage. But obviously, I won’t be writing about either. Fan fiction doesn’t lead anywhere. And I’m sure there are writers of fan fiction who are far better than I would ever be. If some good writer has created a story about William and Sacharissa or Moist and Adora Belle, I’d definitely read it. But I’m not going to be writing it.

In my day job, I was recently working on something that went over different writers’ attitudes toward fan fiction. Some hate it and some love it. But one of them (I think it was Stephenie Meyer, the writer of the Twilight books) said that she thought it was a shame, because the best fan fiction writers were very good and they should be working on their own stuff. I obviously agree, because I think writers should get paid. But I do understand the impulse in a way I didn’t before.

Republicans’ New Twist on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Paul KrugmanThe Republicans are back with their bad old idea on improving the economy: tax cuts for the rich. But you’ll never believe their new twist!

Paul Krugman published two short post that I thought were very interesting. The most recent one was a comparison of the economic recovery under Obama and Bush, Obama The Job-Killer. As you can see in the graph below, the Bush recovery was much worse than the Obama recovery. Don’t worry about the recession at the end of the Bush administration. Just look at the main trend line. Obama’s trend is faster than Bush’s. That’s amazing. I’m the first to admit that the Obama recovery has been mediocre. I don’t blame Obama for that; the Republicans have stood in the way at every turn, pushing policy that only hurts the economy.

But there was Bush. During his first two years, he had a Republican House and a compliant Democratic Senate. From 2003 to 2007, he a Republican controlled Congress. So he got to do pretty much what he wanted. And the results were meh. Because that’s what Republican policy does. It is designed to help the rich, and it does that brilliantly. But it doesn’t help the economy generally. And that would be fine if that was what the Republicans campaigned on. But they know that if they campaigned on their actual agenda, they would never get elected anywhere.

Here is the comparison of private jobs created during the two administrations:

Private Job Creation: Bush vs Obama

So what are the policies that we are talking about? Basically, we are talking tax cuts for the rich. The Republicans only have two policies that they push. They are the same policies that they have been pushing for four decades. The first is deregulation of the finance and oil industries. I’m not going to go into it here, but these are policies that give more money to the already rich without helping the overall economy. The second is focused tax cuts that give more money to the rich.

Under the right circumstances, tax cuts can be helpful for the economy. It is certainly true that the temporary payroll tax cut during the first term of the Obama administration was helpful. That’s a tax cut that helped all working people, allowing them to spend more money. But you will note that when it came time to lift that tax cut, the Republicans didn’t complain. They had “reasons” why it didn’t matter. Grover Norquist was okay with it. He didn’t have a reason for it. But we know why he didn’t care: it didn’t affect the rich.

Giving tax cuts to the rich does not help the economy because they will just sit on the money. If the government had it, the money would be put to use in the economy. Alternatively, it could be given to working people who would also put it to use. But giving money to people who already have too much money does little good for the economy. But what do you think the new breed of Republicans think we should do to help the economy. Let’s all say it together: tax cuts for the rich! Here’s a graph from the second Krugman article, Doubling Down On W:

Republican Tax Cut Distribution

The only think that has changed is that the tax cuts of the establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, and the “crazy” candidate, Donald Trump, are even more lopsided than the very lopsided tax cuts of George W Bush. This is what we get from the Republicans. I constantly hear from Republicans how Democrats want to do the same old stuff but that the Republicans have big new ideas. But they don’t have any ideas. Sure, some conservative thinkers have some ideas. But they are only around for window dressing. If they ever became politically possible, the Republicans would turn on them in an instant.

So time and again, giving the rich huge tax cuts has not helped the economy. So the new group of Republicans is back with the same old idea. But with a twist: the tax cuts will be even bigger!

Morning Music: Show It at the Beach

Songs and StoriesToday we listen to a prototypical Shel Silverstein song, “Show It at the Beach.” It is off his 1978 album, Songs and Stories. It has this usual folk formulation, which may have been one of the reasons he was popular among the listening audience; he isn’t too demanding in that way. And the focus is always his wonderful words.

“Show It at the Beach” is really modern in what it talks about. He’s making fun of the odd fact that you can’t be naked on the beach, but somehow it is fine to wave guns around in front of others. One especially interesting lines is, “You can show it in the most sophisticated magazine.” Silverstein was a longtime writer for Playboy. I wonder what he would think now that you can no longer even show it there!

It’s also funny at the beginning of this clip. In introducing him, Ray Sawyer says, “I’d be surprised if he hasn’t written at least one or two of your favorite songs.” And Silverstein interrupts, “I’d be surprised!”

Anniversary Post: Endangered Species Act

40th Anniversary Endangered Species ActOn this day in 1973, Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act. It has been of limited success. But it has been successful nonetheless. The biggest problem is that plants and animals are not going extinct primarily because of our direct abuse of them. They are mostly going extinct because of loss of habitat. And that is something we aren’t willing to do much about, even though the law says that we should stop species extinction “whatever the cost.”

There are two things that I find fascinating about the Endangered Species Act. The first is that there is just no way that it would ever pass today. I can’t find the roll call on the vote, but it had 8 sponsors, 3 of whom were Republicans. I know that today the Republicans would vote against it just because it was an environmental law. I don’t exactly understand it. It’s part of this image that conservatives have about themselves as being “hard” and “tough.” And so caring about the natural world is just something they are against. Indeed, Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post reported, Since ’01, Guarding Species Is Harder. Throughout the 2000s, the Bush administration put up bureaucratic obstacles to limit the reach of the law. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the modern Republican Party is made up of a bunch of bastards.

The other interesting thing about the law has to do with Nixon. The normal way people describe him is to note that he was fairly liberal, but only because he didn’t really care about it. And it is true that Nixon’s focus was on international policy. But I think the man has to be given his due. Yes, what he did in Vietnam and thereabouts was terrible. But he did open up relations with China. And he really eased up on the Cold War.

But he didn’t just let domestic issues slide. In particular, he pushed for the Endangered Species Act. Other than being paranoid, I find it hard to think that he was a particularly bad president. And he was clearly head and shoulders above any of the Republicans who are now running for the office.