Tag Archives: research

Ghostwriting: The Great Fallacy

I often see on Craigslist and other places where someone wants to write the story of their life or perhaps their one great novel, observations on the mating rituals of hummingbirds, or the meanings of shadows cast by the great pyramids. Anything. Everyone does have a story in them and if there is only one it is the story of their life. However, many people write their novels without comprehending the writing and publishing process, without taking training or otherwise learning the ropes. Would you want a pilot who had been trained first? Would you want a surgeon who just knew he had it in him? Writing, like any craft or skill takes training and practice. Few of us are naturals.

Some people recognize this. They realize they don’t have the skill to write the story they want to tell, or they don’t have the time. So they want a ghostwriter, who is someone that writes the story but someone else’s name is put on the book. Ghostwriters are also used for a lot of those novels that have a famous movie/rock star’s name attached. In very few cases has that star actually written the book. In some cases the star may have actually come up with the idea but has no clue how to write the story. William Shatner’s Tekwar books were not written by him though I believe he did give input or supply at least some of the plots. But his name will sell whereas George Smith might not.

Some people who want someone to write their life story (or other interesting event) might post for a writer. And they’ll often offer, as compensation, a percentage of sales. I wonder how many people actually ever get someone naive enough to fall for this venture. There are several things wrong with undertaking such a job. If you’re an aspiring writer, you want to write your own ideas. If you’re a writer, who writes articles or even books, well, you want to make a living off of your writing. If Jane Doe got George Smith to write her biography, George not only has to be a good writer himself, he has to devote a great deal of time to listening to Jane’s ideas and life history going back and forth with her to get or clarify details as well as probably her reading over the manuscript and making him change piece upon piece. She might also have scrawled notes on all sorts of scraps of paper that have to be deciphered and put in order.

The hours involved in such a venture can be astronomical and to work on spec is highly unlikely and pretty well stupid. If someone says to me well, I’ll give you 50% of the sales or what I get paid, you better have a contract and a good fairy. Here are the factors to consider on the way to getting published. Is the writing good enough? Is the story interesting enough with the right amount of information and detail? Is it something others will want to read? Is it a story that a publisher will want to buy? Will it sell many books? Presume that you won’t sell more than $2,000, work out the cover price after looking at other books that are similar, then subtract 40% right off the top. After that, consider that the publisher still has to pay the printer and their staff and you get only a small percentage. Perhaps it is a percentage against royalties. Perhaps it’s a flat rate. Perhaps it’s print on demand and they only print ten copies at a time at $20. You get maybe 40% of net earnings. I’ve sold ten at $200, which means that 40% is $80. What percentage does that writer get and is it worth it?

The problem is, unless you’re writing a famous person’s bio or have signed a deal with a major publisher who guarantees you this much to write the novel, writing someone else’s story is a crapshoot. I would never do it unless I was paid a rate, a very high rate, either by hour or by page. And if I’m writing my own novel, just how much time do I want to devote to someone else’s? I can’t say I would never do this but I certainly would never be a ghostwriter for the dream of sales.

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Bog People and Mummies

I’ve been fascinated with mummies since I was about nine. These husks of a former life, reamed, cleaned and packed were then embalmed, smeared with unguents, wrapped in yards of cotton and placed in several sarcophagi. They were sent well prepared into the next life with canopic jars for all the important organs, gold and jewels and food. What a amazing world. And some of those mummies, richer in death than you or I could be in life, continued to grow nails or hair.

Is it any wonder that these bodies, preserved for millennia, fostered a whole host of reanimated mummy movies? Disturb the grave, steal from the dead and they will come back to exact their curse upon your person. And they, like zombies, will be powerful, single-minded and unstoppable. There was a more romantic mummy in Anne Rice’s The Mummy but on whole they are unnatural forces of death or evil that try to destroy the powers of life.

It is that sense of disturbing the dead that spawned so many mummy movies, which is also the heart and soul of many belief systems. Most spiritual paths indicate that there is a transmigration of the soul at the time of death, that in fact we leave the corporeal vessel that can serve us no longer and that our ethereal, quintessential selves move on to another state of being. Whether that is heaven, reincarnation, or a great unknown depends on the belief.

So it is interesting that in all these belief systems, which of course have funerary customs for the dead, that there is sometimes more concern placed on the decaying corporeal remains than on the soul’s departing. Many people agree that the soul is what matters, that that person no longer inhabits the fleshy shell, so then why do we place so much emotion into something that no longer resembles the person we knew?

We see this over and over again, where someone was cremated but the family received the wrong ashes. That a nation’s people died maybe a century ago and for whatever reason the remains are in another country (or museum) and great efforts are made to get those people back. But it’s not a person any longer; what defines “person” is gone. It’s as if we all live a two-faced belief, one where we agree the soul is what matters and the other in which we cannot let the material aspects go, no matter whether they’re rotted, embalmed, ashes or missing.

Does the respect and superstition for the remnants of the dead extend only as long as there is someone who cares? Most likely, yes. It may be family or friends, or in some cases a nation asking for a great hero, artist or politician’s body to be returned. It might be an ancestral thing or something to do with spirituality. But how far back should such a re-appropriation of remains go? Should the primitive man found in an iceflow before there were nations be claimed by one? Should he be buried with dignity? Should he be used in research? Which religion presides over his burial (or cremation) when none existed when he was alive?

Sometimes such requests for very ancient remains have little to do with sentiment and emotion. Sometimes they are levers for politics whether to further a nation’s claim or to purport ongoing indiginities. (No one has said a thing about the two dried out husks that reside in the curio shop on the wharves of Seattle.) It’s hard to say what is right when you think of the millions (maybe billions) of dead over millions of years (yes, humans have been roaming the earth for a very long time). Not everyone is claimed or cared about and really, we’re talking about a husk of old flesh here. Don’t get me wrong. I live this conundrum too, believing that which made the person human and real dissipates at death.Yet I have a reliquary necklace with some ashes of a dead friend in it, even though I know that his soul does not reside there.

Which brings me from mummies to bog people. Bogs have a unique chemical balance that preserves organic materials far better than anything else. People who have died in bogs turn leathery, whereas most bodies will decay to just the bones. Even their fingerprints are noticeable, as well as the foods in their stomachs and intestines still being discernible. Clothing decays fast under most conditions but the bogs preserve fabrics indicating that these early peoples wore leather and woven wool. All of these things can tell us how people lived, what level their culture was at, what techniques they had and how they died.

Denmark has some of the most interesting historical bogs where clothing and bodies have been found. As well, the Netherlands, England and other places in northern Europe have bogs that hold snippets of history. A few years ago (2004) the Glenbow Museum in Calgary exhibited “The Mysterious Bog People.” I had a chance to see it where the lighting was low, but bright enough on the bodies. There were displays of jewellery and tools and reconstructed fabric from the original finds. Also, there were reconstructions of the heads of some of the bodies. The exhibit talked about where they’d been found, when they had lived, how old they were and what had probably happened to each person.

As with most bog finds, many people died violent deaths, stabbed or strangled or possibly drowned. It may be that they were robbed or that they were sacrificed in various rituals. In most cases their lives were cut short in a brutal and sudden way. After I saw the exhibit and mentioned it to someone she asked if it was right because it didn’t show respect for the dead. I found this odd as I knew her belief was the same as many people’s, that the soul leaves the body and the body nourishes the earth in an endless cycle. So I said, in fact they had gained more respect than they had in death, lying in a bog. They died a brutal death and were forgotten. Here they were remembered and we learned something of who they might have been. And that the exhibit as a whole wasn’t a spectacle so much as educational and even reverent in treating the people of long ago.

It is an interesting conundrum we have in many aspects of our lives. We know that it is love and relationships that matter most. Yet we continually grab and procure more goods. Many of us believe the soul leaves the body and that part is the person, yet we hang on to the rotting remains. I’m not sure why we do this, if perhaps we need something tangible to trigger our memories and sentiments, but it is an intriguing aspect of human customs. And it is through funerary customs that anthropologists can chart when civilization began.

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Weird Science: It’s all About the Brains


We have a few years to go until brain or head transplants are carried out, and long before they’re common, if ever. However, serious research was done on transplanting heads in the 50s. Bizarre to think of but then heart transplants were once unheard of. This fascinating article (below) opened my eyes.

The article asks near the end, but would we want to do this? Earlier it raises the possibility of such science being used for someone whose body is dying but the brain is alive. Would it be beneficial to paraplegics who cannot use their bodies because of spinal cord injuries? In theory, with enough scientific research, head transplants could become possible.

Would the the person pick up phantom memories from his/her host body or have phantom pains from the old one? Would there be a disembodied or disassociated feeling? Since phantom pain is a very real phenomenon and there is some indication of people with heart transplants having memories that belonged to the host’s heart, it’s an interesting realm of the unexplored.

Vladimir Demikhov was one of the pioneers, in Russia, where Stalin was trying to beat the West in medical science. A no-holds barred approach ensued where Russian doctors dreamed the unthinkable. Demikhov, in the height of the 50s, believed any organ could be transplanted, like hearts and lungs. We have now seen many of those and in the last few years, people getting heart, lungs and stomachs transplanted all at once. Now that a face transplant has been done, who knows how close we could be, but sometime just maybe, your head could end up on another body.

Transplanting a head is probably easier than transplanting a brain, since there are less very touchy nerves and such to reattach. Still it’s a formidable thing, to put a head on another body. However, Robert White, in the US, then took up the challenge and transplanted a brain into the neck of a dog. The brain lived for several days but no one could ask it if it still thought. The freakish Frankenstein dog with the puppy’s head attached lived for six days, both dogs panting if hot, drinking and retaining individual personalities.

White went further and replaced one rhesus monkey’s head with another. It could drink, bite and watch what was going on. But it couldn’t move its body. Since there are still a phenomenal number of nerve threads that would have to be reconnected, it was beyond the doctors’ abilities. White argued that a paraplegic whose body was dying could at least have another body to keep the head alive, even if they still couldn’t move.

Dr. Frankenstein may have been a bizarre imagining of Mary Shelley, but only time will tell if science can transplant our heads. I joke about having my brain put into a new body and someday it could be true. However, I do have to say the whole two-headed dog head thing is kinda gross and creepy, to say the least. Shades of Mars Attacks.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=426765

or: http://static.scribd.com/docs/kewb70kz1183c.pdf

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Quacks, Doctors and Outmoded Thinking

I had a short discussion today with a naturopathic doctor who pointed out that doctors are scientists and as scientists they should always be exploring, knowing that our knowledge base can change. We were talking about books from the 70s and how the information on nutrition had changed a great deal. However there are doctors who make their practice religion as this person said.

And he’s correct. Those that learned one thing and have never changed it, challenged it or sought to find new information on it have indeed moved the medical sciences into the realm of their unchanging belief and tradition.

I had a doctor like this. He was our family doctor and as a child I suffered from constant tonsillitis. I’d get about four infections a year, and had colds all the time. When I was about eight I was scheduled to have my tonsils out but my parents, whose relationship was always bad, had a huge fight and the surgery was never rescheduled.

I continued through teenagerhood, suffering the same problem. By the time I was nineteen and in art college I had such a bad bout of tonsillitis that I couldn’t talk, my tongue was swollen and I had cankers all over the inside of my mouth, which negated eating too. I went to the college doctor and said I had tonsillitis. They didn’t believe me (because I wasn’t a medical professional) but scheduled me in. Of course the doctor took one look and said why didn’t you come sooner? Well, I was a student of course, working on projects with no time and not getting the right amount of sleep.

Through those early childhood years of tonsils being tortured, they actually grew holes, complicating things and making those colds linger. It got so bad that I could feel them when I swallowed because food would get stuck in the holes. I know, gross. Bad breath and infections. When I opened my mouth and looked in the mirror I could see a few of these holes and the white bits in them.

So I went to my doctor, my childhood doctor who knew my history, and told him the problem. He didn’t even look in my throat but said it was nerves. I’ve never been a particularly high-strung or nervous person and I said outright, It’s not nerves. Then he told me that all sorts of people got that. I was younger and politer but I left and went to another doctor, who took a look and couldn’t see anything but sent me to a throat specialist. He took a two-second look and said, when do you want to be scheduled for surgery?

That first doctor had not only lost his perspective but presumed he knew everything without looking at his patients. He did the same thing when I said I had a bladder infection and didn’t take a urine sample but told me I didn’t wash myself properly. WTF? That was the complete last straw. He should have been dropped by the profession and my mother surmised that he had grown to tired to practice properly. In some ways it’s too bad it’s so difficult to sue doctors in Canada.

But most of all this guy was working on the tenets of his medical religion, going on the faith of what he knew and no longer even investigating the physical condition of his patients. Or as my current doctor put it, someone has to graduate at the bottom of the class and those people practice medicine too. Go figure.

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How a Blog is Different Than an Article:By Me Anyways

Last year I researched and wrote a blog for a marketing company. They knew they wanted a blog but they didn’t know really what a blog was or what the different types were. So I did up a paper and printed off different blog sites to show them. I wrote a blog for the length of the contract where, because of what they marketed, they found the blog wasn’t really helping them a lot. It was also very specific and I warned them that there was a limited life on what could be written about.

Blogs can serve several purposes. There are the dear diary, hello my friend styles that are personal, chatty and set for people who know the writer. There are blogs done by companies, which can be troubleshooting or informative, advertise and raise sales. These might be in an informal style or have a particular voice. There are blogs that are for entertainment (gossip of the stars, humor, trivia) and blogs that are opinion pieces (or rants). Of course, you can have a blend of entertaining and informative, or opinion and chatty, or whatever.

I write a blog for several reasons. As a writer, when I can’t get to writing fiction every day, it gives me some exercise in writing. With a keen interest and opinion on many things I like to write about them and share my knowledge or insights, sometimes see if there are like minded people out there or if I’m just off the wall. Sometimes it’s to inform and sometimes to entertain. I also post some previously written articles that had a limited exposure on sites long gone.

What I don’t do with a blog is research very long. These are often personal interest, comments on current events or informative pieces. But the way I see it, I don’t have time to do a lot of research, unless I’m being paid. When I write an article for a magazine I do more in-depth research that might include interviews, going to the library, and some good ole fashioned legwork on top of internet research.

An interesting observation that I’ve noticed in general with my blog pieces. Since I started this blog in April, the entry “A Whole Rainbow of Possibilities” (on gay pride) probably had the most hits in a day. The “Fuel Efficient…” article had a lot of interest at first. The “Stones of Ireland” has been my most consistently read piece and the “Teenage Sex and Teachers” has skyrocketed over the weeks since I wrote it. I can conclude only that if you have sex in the title, especially coupled with teenagers, you’ll get many hits. Maybe I should title everything with sex. Sex Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sex Looking for a New Car. Sex Shopping for Clothes. Etc. I wonder how that would skew the views from those just looking for sex.

But in general, when I’m writing a blog entry I’m going on my memory and knowledge and some internet searching. Usually some Wiki and a few other sources, such as reliable newspapers or specific sites to do with the topic. So a blog satisfies my need that people will read it. Maybe not a thousand hits per day (yet! Unless I put sex everywhere) but still I’m one small voice in the cave. And of course I write because it’s fun.

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Writing: Advice on Getting Published

A little while ago someone asked me:

 I am here desirous to find a faithful publisher for my book…. What useful counsel can you give to me.

I’m not sure what is meant by faithful publisher but finding a publisher is a mixture of you wanting them and them wanting you. There are literally thousands of publishers. There are some that publish all types and genres and others that specialize. So the first thing to do is figure out if your book is a how-to, a biography, history, fantasy, romance, literary, sports, spiritual, etc.

Once you know who your reading audience is, you can then research publishers. Writer’s Digestputs out a series of books on markets. They’re specific, such as, literary markets, short story markets, romance markets, etc. These books give good information on how to write a query letter, which is the first step to what to include in your submission package. Some publishers only want a query letter. Others want a letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters. Some only want agented submissions, which means you must go through the process of querying agents first. It’s best to read up on what the publisher wants first. They received hundreds of manuscripts and someone who hasn’t bothered to research the market and sends something in the wrong format or way is likely to piss off an editor and have their manuscript tossed.

Writer’s Digest also lists publishers and markets, giving short descriptions, addresses and editor names. It’s good to read up on the advice and then to start submitting. It’s important to make sure you submit your manuscripts in the proper format, which in most cases is double spaced text, no extra space between paragraphs, regular font and size, no right justification, word count, page numbering and name. There is enough information out there that tells you what to send and what not to.

Outlines by chapter, or synopses also are often required so make sure they’re laid out well and contain what is the main action/point of each chapter. Taking courses or workshopping manuscripts as well as outlines is not a bad idea. And of course, making sure your manuscript is polished and free of as many grammatical and spelling errors as possible does improve your chances.

Besides researching the right publisher for your manuscript, it’s not a bad idea to check the legitimacy and publishing record of a publisher. Find out what they’ve published and do internet searches both on the publisher name and the book titles they’ve put out. There are vanity presses that charge you to put everything together. Your chances of making a profit are small. There are print on demand publishers that will work out a deal for self-publishing but depending on how they’re set up, you will need to figure out how to advertise and distribute your book. Unless you know what you’re doing, you could have some very expensive doorstops and going with established well known publishers with marketing departments and established distribution is worth it’s weight in gold.

I once edited a book for a friend who was writing a guide on places to walk your dog. He did his own layout and found a printer. Then he found a local book rep who would market it to the bookstores and see to distribution through a local book distributor. That worked well but the book was locally focused. In most cases you’re going to want national distribution if you hope to make any money or sell your book.

Then all you have to do is keep submitting your book to publishers until they bite. Sometimes they’ll ask to see a few chapters, and then they may ask to see a full manuscript. This process can take months. Expect the average of three months before seeing a reply to even a query. It’s best to send out query letters to many publishers at once. Persevere. Like writing it takes work to get published and some is just the persistence of sending out your manuscript until you hit the right publisher at the right time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/GeneralMenu/

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A Caveat (or 2) About the Technocopia Articles

For clarification, from time to time I will be posting some articles here that I originally wrote for Technocopia.com (now defunct). This web magazine was owned by Hillary Rettig http://lifelongactivist.com/ and covered new technologies of many sorts and how they affected us in day to day life. A what-if of possibilities. Hillary has given me permission to print these here.

The articles were written in 1999-2000 and Hillary held them to rigorous standards. They went through many drafts before being published. It was fun and I learned a lot. I haven’t bothered to update these to 2008 information. I thought it would be interesting to show what was happening in 2000 and how some things have changed or progressed. Consider them historical articles.

It’s up to the reader to do further research. Should I do more research I’ll probably write up articles and sell them as opposed to posting them here for free. However, most of what I write here are opinion pieces…mine. The Technocopia articles are articles. They were researched at the time and written with what we knew and what the experts knew. I’m not an expert in any of the fields I wrote about, so if anyone else wishes to get all grumpy pants and feel superior, and post insulting comments, go for it. Maybe these will inform. Maybe they’ll be entertaining. Maybe they’ll make you think.

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