Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

How do you deal with reality, when it trumps your fiction? When it threatens to make it obsolete?

Three weeks left to the release of my next book. Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story where Korea plays a major role, not just the Koreans depicted in the plot. When I first began to write about Martin, an octogenarian in America, you realize quickly that people in his age were very likely to have been conscripted, or “drafted” as we normally say. Given his age, the Korean War was also a given, not that all drafted young Americans would’ve ended up there, but Martin did, and the story took its course. Mind you, at the time I began to write the book, Korea was in the news almost daily. And not in a good way.

Trump v Kim

One was called “dotard”, the other was insulted with regards to the size of their “buttons”, and for a while, it seemed as if the fragile seize-fire at the 38th parallel was seriously threatened. North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles even had some of my friends in California afraid for their personal safety. I remembered the eighties and our fear for Russian missiles raining over Europe. War, a world war even, seemed suddenly possible. Having visited Korea in the past, I was afraid for my friends in Seoul, who live less than fifty miles from the border and who can be reached by conventional artillery fire from the north, let alone nuclear weapons. I later learned what Kim’s grandfather did to Seoul during the first days of the Korean War, and it scared me.

My trip to Korea

When I began to write the story about Martin, it was not meant to be a novel. I quickly realized that there was more to the story and let it take its course. I also realized that my knowledge about Korea wasn’t good enough, that I needed to know more. When I set foot in Seoul in Mid-January, things were quickly changing on the ground. All of a sudden, North Korea seemed to be interested in detente with its southern neighbor, and as I watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Seoul, we learned of North Korean delegations coming to PyongChang to attend the impending games, and eventually, even Kim’s sister showed up, and Mike Pence was glad his wife never left his side…

Kim Jong-Un surprises the world

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

As I was watching the images on my TV screen last week, of the quickly arranged summit between the two leaders of Korea, of Kim crossing the border (last time a leader from the north “visited” the south was Kim’s grandfather, when he rolled into Seoul after more or less having flattened the city in four days) at Panmunjom, I had tears in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a softie. I watched on as the two men shook hands, all smiles, how Kim – unscripted apparently – invited President Moon to take a step back across the border into the north, have pictures taken before they anew crossed the border to the south for their meetings.

At the end of the day, the two leaders had agreed on a range of topics, including negotiations to finally put an official rubber stamp to the war, which officially was never ended at the ceasefire in 1953.

How this affects my novel…

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

I finished writing my book in February, which says a bit about just how fast things are developing on the Korean peninsula. Because when I wrote the book, the Olympic Games had ended, and the symbolic visit of Kim’s sister had been a success. But the thirty-head cheerleader group had drawn more chuckles and head-shakes due to their weird behavior, than being perceived as a serious step toward detente. The story ends in early April, just a few weeks ago, and I don’t mention any of this in the book. And just last week, we worked through the edits and sent the book into proofreading.

Now I’m wondering if I need to rewrite it. Not a lot, but do I need to mention the detente? It may not need more than a sentence or two, but on the other hand, we’ve seen this political tango in Korea before, two steps forward, two steps back. But Kim Jong-Un is a different person. Raised and schooled in Switzerland (his Korean accent raising eyebrows in Seoul), he is the first dictator in the family, only the third leader of North Korea, to be “protected” by a functioning nuclear deterrent. He’s young, he’s healthy, and he knows about the west in terms of how much better our lives are compared to what his citizens have to live with. Who knows, he might even miss walking the streets of Berne…

It’s the uncertainty of it all that is the biggest dilemma…

Not knowing what the future holds is making this so difficult. Not that we ever know what the future holds, but here in Europe, we can at least assume that the next years will be similar to the ones we have behind us. Development, not revolution. In Korea though, right now? I honestly don’t know. I’m always a skeptic, but even I have to be honest and admit that Kim’s moves have me surprised. Is he serious or what is he up to? Motivation in the south is different. The official stance of all politicians in the south is unification, just as it was in West Germany before 1990. That the population in the South, particularly the young, see things differently, is a different thing. They see just how big a sacrifice from the South would be needed to bring the North up to par. I’ve written about this before.

So what do I do? What if I write the detente into the novel only to have reality suffer another setback? As a writer, I want my books not just to mirror my time, I’d like for my stories to be “timeless”, not primarily for commercial reasons, but because timeless stories are more relevant. It’s why we still read Shakespeare. His stories, the conflicts he describes are truly timeless.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do. I’m still thinking, talking to my publisher. If you have any recommendations, thoughts, please let me know. We have about a week or ten days to come up with a solution to this conundrum.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority: good intentions often pave the way to hell

First of all, what do I mean with “cultural superiority”. It’s this idea that “my” culture is somehow better than someone else’s. It’s similar to the term ethnocentricity but differs from it in that you actually DO know about other cultures and still think your own is superior. Let me exemplify the difference: ethnocentricity is e.g. studying psychology at a western university and not seeing the name of a single researcher from China or Asia, not reading a single book about the history of psychology on different continents. Cultural superiority is when you think that the way your culture handles certain aspects of life, e.g. the number of vacation days, is better than that of another country. Both may have common roots in preconceptions, racism even.

As a writer, I often come across cultural superiority in the books that I read, and in my own writing, I have to be careful not to judge other cultures based on my own views, but to be balanced in my views. That isn’t always easy. Allow me to exemplify with a couple of examples with regards to my coming novel Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm which plays out in the United States and South Korea.

Eating cats and dogs

Last night I read an article that the United States Congress wants to officially make it illegal to eat cats and dogs. So far so good. I’m sure felines and canines across the U.S. will all sigh in relief. Congress is finally taking action on something. However, the legislation has a catch, not just because it’s not really needed. It’s not about making sure that poor Americans who’ve been denied food stamps won’t turn to their pets instead. No. It is a signal to South Korea and other countries, where the consumption of cats and dogs is still a thing. This becomes a thing for a few months before and after every major event in Korea, before the world moves on again. And with Korea currently being in every news cycle, it’s not likely to go away any time soon. But seriously, if you think about it, why is eating a dog different from eating a chicken? Or a calf? A lamb? Or a piglet?

Imagine the uproar in America if Muslim countries and Israel suddenly decided to chastise the U.S. for its consumption of bacon and ham? Or if India, where the cow is considered sacred, began to pressure the U.S. to outlaw hamburgers? Surely, 1.4 billion Indians outweigh the views of 400 million Americans?

Equality and marriage laws…

As a gay man, I’m all for equality, and I will voice my views wherever I can, including this globally (except Russia when Putin’s angry with me) available blog. And yes, I’d love for every human being to be able to get married in every country on Earth, not just nineteen or twenty. Wouldn’t it also be great if countries who do not allow single-sex marriages to accept such unions entered in other countries (as the EU demands of its member states), the way we accept unions from other countries which may greatly differ from what we allow here? But no such luck.

Most Western countries will accept marriages between children if the was legally married in their home country, and we’ll also not consider wives two to four “single” if they were legally wed in a Muslim country, as difficult as it may be to stomach for us. There have been calls to stop such unions, but I’m afraid it would only make it more difficult for us to work with those countries to accept our views of the world. Cultural superiority goes both ways.

Criminalizing behavior elsewhere

Last week, Swedish lawmakers decided not to pursue a proposed legislation that would’ve made buying sex illegal even abroad, at least for Swedes and residents here. Norway is currently the only country with such a law on the books. In Sweden, it’s been illegal to buy sex for many years, while it’s perfectly okay to sell it (in an effort not to stigmatize sex workers.) The reason for the abandonment was simple: fear of retribution.

Imagine if countries suddenly felt they could prosecute their citizens and residents for actions in other countries. It would be a serious breach of a state’s sovereignty. Please note that we are only talking about democracies here. Non-democratic regimes have no respect for the rule of law anyway… The country that has most such “elsewhere” laws on the book is the United States, with their taxation laws at the forefront. As a Swiss living in Sweden, I don’t pay Swiss taxes here. Americans in Sweden, however, get to pay twice, forcing many to give up their citizenship because they can’t afford it.

But it goes beyond financial means. What if Ireland (where e.g. abortion is still illegal) were to punish women for getting one in the U.K., or in Sweden? Or what if an LGBT person from Russia were to be thrown in jail for going to a gay club in New York while on vacation? Borderline case, since Russia isn’t a democracy, but still. You get my point.

The risks of cultural superiority

The biggest risk is of course that it can backfire, as the example with the meat shows. But more than that, it also shows a lack of in-depth knowledge, of why some cultures do things differently. Why is child labor still a “thing” in South Asia? Hardly because parents think it’s a “good” idea… Severe poverty along with different definitions of child- and adulthood are more likely the real reasons behind this phenomenon. And when you look at the bigger picture you’ll also be able to do something about it in a way that doesn’t make it worse or aggravates people. Child labor is a great example of how our western views make things worse for millions and millions of people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should work either. They should go to school. But we’re doing it all wrong today, simply cutting off suppliers who use child labor.

In my coming novel, I ran the risk of being guilty of cultural superiority as well, and it was an effort to make sure to depict both American and Korean society on equal footing, despite my personal convictions. This also affected the story itself, the plot, and how the book ultimately ends. Not that I can go into any details here (spoiler alert!)

What are your experiences? A problem? How can we address it? Let’s hear it…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Growing comfortable with your creative vacuum #ASMSG #amwriting #amreading

Growing comfortable with your creative vacuum #ASMSG #amwriting #amreading

Celebrate your creative vacuum, make the most of it

I’ll be the first to admit: I panic when I can’t write. I tend to descend into the depression that is the emotion of feeling that not only am I not writing period, not producing that next great novel that will bring me fame, glory and – above all – finally some money to provide for my family… No, instead I do household chores, from doing dishes, folding clothes, get the garden ready for summer, [add any household chores] etc. Recently, though, I’ve grown tired of falling into this pit after every submitted manuscript, I’m naming the monster. My creative vacuum is no Voldemort. I have named it, I’m calling it out and I’m fighting it.

Name your demon…

Creative vacuum. That’s my demon. It visits me every time I finish a manuscript. I feel empty, literally. I have this screaming voice inside me informing me that I’ll never write another story. Ever. Only nobody can hear it through the emptiness of space. Good thing about vacuums… With that voice comes the obligatory depression. No, not medical in nature. But I do feel down. My life slows down and everything I do (and do not), feels amplified because I have this thing called “time”. Time to think, contemplate, ponder. Why am I not sitting down and writing? Why am I folding towels rather than writing? Why am I doing my mother-in-law’s taxes instead of writing? Why am I worrying about my dad’s lungs and a potential cancer when I could be writing? Should be writing? Why?

Why indeed?

It’s debilitating. It’s useless, yet it’s life. I’m not “just” an author. I’m also – and maybe even more so – a father, a husband, a member of society. And as such come obligations. I’m not sitting alone in my ivory tower writing stories. Alas, life has its demands and I need to meet my obligations. However, I also have those when I’m not stuck in my creative vacuum, so why does it bother me so much now? And what can I do to fight it?

I think the most important thing for me is to relax. Accept it. Embrace it even. I will never be able to defeat it. My creative vacuum is like a purging fire across a steppe. When we were in Australia, we learned that the Aboriginals purposely light fires to burn the land, because like a Fenix, what is reborn is fresh, vibrant and full of life. I had to accept that my creative vacuum is the wait for rebirth.

I slept miserably last night…

 

creative vacuum

Some people have more time than others… Now that I’m returning to the zone, can I have a day, please?

Toward the end of my creative vacuum, I sleep badly. Once I wake up, I can not go back to sleep. My son woke me up at 1:25 last night, asking for water. After that, I didn’t sleep. I was thinking, and oddly, my thoughts circled a lot about stories, that idea I have of writing twenty-four short stories, about a character representing each of the letters of the alphabet. I’ve had ideas about a sci-fi story involving a mercury sea, fantasy stories, a story about a bisexual character etc.

 

And all of a sudden, despite being exhausted, I have this strange energy pulsing through me. And my fingers ache to write. And once I’m back in the zone, I could go for days, weeks without eating, drinking, personal hygiene. Luckily, I know better…

More than just accepting

My creative vacuum, I’ve learned, is more than just mourning the end of a story, letting go of beloved characters. It’s also a chance for me to learn, to read and do something else, something that is not related to my author life. Peek outside my writing bubble, and the small community surrounding me. There’s such a thing as “ordinary life” out there. I need to learn more about it, to better reflect it in my books. And who knows, earn a buck, or two? Wouldn’t that be nice?

What else is new?

Short, but sweet: first feedback from my publisher on my new book.

This week is going to be busy. And as the realization has dawned on me that my creative vacuum has evaporated, it will be even busier. Unlike some, I only have seven days at my disposal. I have a newsletter due this week, and that needs to be written. If you haven’t subscribed, feel free to do so top right here on the website. Thank you.

My coming novel is in the editing phase and it seems my editor likes it. In a short statement last week, they’ve told me that I have nothing to worry about. That was nice to hear, and it shows how well we work together. I didn’t even have to tell them how anxious I was. They know me well enough by now…

Finally

Do you ever feel that way? Is this creative vacuum something all artists go through at times? I look forward to your comments.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

“Self”, “indie” or “trad” publishing: what are you? Does it matter? #ASMSG #amwriting #author

“Self”, “indie” or “trad” publishing: what are you? Does it matter? #ASMSG #amwriting #author

Publishing labels still matter still, but why? Are they useful?

When outsiders (readers, marketers etc.) look at my writing, they usually refer to me as an “indie author”, and I’ve not really questioned that assertion, not until I read an article the other day from an author who more or less put the equal sign between self-published and indie. That had me wondering. Am I really an independent (or indie) author? I am, after all, published by a publishing company, four to be exact since I first began writing in 2000. I started to look for definitions of what the different terms stand for, and how different people used them, and tbh, it’s a mess out there.

What say the experts?

Here are a few of the articles I’ve read. They have all been published in the past couple of years:

  • Katherine E. Hamilton, a fellow author, makes a difference between indie and self as a form of proclamation of independence. In her eyes, self-publishers are published through what I would call “vanity publishers” or “hybrid publishers”. What she considers “indie” is what I’d call “self-publishing”, i.e. you do it all yourself using online tools available. Read her post here.
  • 1106Design introduce new terms into the mix: “small press”, which I find useful. On the other hand, they seem to throw indie authors and self-published ones into the same bowl. They are more interested in distinguishing author from a publisher in terms of money making. Not much clarification there… Read their post here.
  • This interview, found on The Balance, was interesting, as it basically equated (as several others did) self-publishing to indie publishing, and she really makes the case for going “trad”. This article highlights some of the reasons why readers to this very day attribute a higher value to books published by a publishing house v those from self/indie publishers, highlighting the passage through the eye of the needle (acceptance from a publisher) and the quality assurance process from traditional publishers. Read it here.

My take…

There are a great many other articles (google them) which are variations to the theme. It seems that most people shun the word “self-published” for the hipper term “indie” (re Hamilton.) For an established author, I certainly see the allure to sell your works on Amazon and reap up to 70% royalties compared to the 15-20% they might get from a traditional publisher. If you’re not established with a large customer base, beware of the traps!

For me though, the issue is a lot more complex and involves quality aspects as well. I wish we could just focus on the mere aspects of the actual publishing (or go-to-market) aspects, or focus on creative control, but sadly, the public’s perception is important. Even if you disregard the readers, there are a great many companies that differentiate between indie and traditional publishing in their approach, e.g. distributors newspapers and library services. When I was recently reviewed by Kirkus reviews, it was in their indie section, even though I’m published through what I’d call a “small press”. That distinction, and people’s (mostly) false preconception of all things indie being of “lesser quality” can’t be disregarded.

Today’s publishing world can be viewed from different aspects:

Publishing aspects

You could create this really complex flow diagram of how this all works. My point is that simply because we live in a world where it’s cheaper to print your books using POD (print on demand) solutions, e.g. because you have no warehouse cost, doesn’t mean that such a press automatically is “indie” or non-trad. Even traditional houses use modern go-to-market technology. I find the entire technical aspect not helpful in distinguishing traditional from independent publishing. The more important aspects revolve around “control” and “quality” much more interesting and valuable.

The more independent you are as an author, the greater control you have over the creative aspects of your work. To some of us, this is very important. I often talk to authors who are frustrated when their publishers expect them to rewrite this or that, not because of bad writing (we all hope that our editors catch that, trust me), but because a publisher believes that a character or a scene (even an entire premise) must be made more sellable.

Control and money go hand in hand…

Money. Any author economy depends on the influx of money.

Don’t be angry at a publisher for expecting you to write a book that sells! If you write romance, your publisher will expect you to include aspects they know sell well, from explicit sex scenes to mind-boggling misunderstandings what will have readers cringe and characters that are en vogue (one day it’s alphas, the next it is touchy-feely nerds.)

If you feel that your story is too important, as a work of art, then maybe you should think twice if such a publisher is the right fit for you. They don’t expect you to be “salesy” because they may not love your manuscript as it is, but because they know how readers will react. And if a book doesn’t sell, you won’t get a second contract, because no business is in the business of losing money…

If control is important to you, you will want to go toward indie, no doubt. But luckily, these days, there are many different options available. That doesn’t mean you have to go self-publishing or create your own indie publishing company. You can find an indie press that values your work as is and has the readers that appreciate it. Or, if you just want to see your story shine in a book, go hybrid or vanity.

Perception still matters…

Sadly, to this day, readers value books from traditional houses higher than those of indie publishers. While this is changing, the preconception that self-published books are of lesser quality is still affecting the entire indie side. And here’s the brutal truth: the worst books on the market are published by self-published authors. That’s just a fact. This isn’t necessarily just due to bad stories per se, but book covers from hell, lack of editing, proofing, paginating etc.. Services like CreateSpace et al offer a great service to people who want to get their word out, but their minimal machine proofing is no better than the tools included in Word or Pages, and we all know they don’t catch even half of it.

I’ve sometimes ended up in discussions about “right to be published” as if it were a human right, and while I accept that some people feel that way, I do not. Some say “poverty shouldn’t stop people from being published” No, it shouldn’t. But if a story isn’t good enough for a publisher, what makes you think people will want to read it? Will it be better without even being edited or proofed? You think?

Being published is no human right, it’s not an entitlement. Some writers will choose self-publishing because they can’t be bothered to actually research their genre market and find a good fit in a publisher (small, hybrid or whatever) to help them get their work out. The market usually takes care of such books. I’ve had people complain that their books are returned on Amazon, finding that deeply unfair. Well, if you write crap, that’s what you get in return…

Having said that, I also firmly believe, and I’ve said it before, that the very very best books are published independently these days. These are artistically beautiful books, with great stories, editing, and proofing that just weren’t good fits for publishers. The Big 5 and their publishing is so extremely focused on what sells that they tend to ride on waves, much like commercial “top hit” radio stations, where they all pretty much play the same. You’ll see book after book in the same genre after a big hit, and the quality of the story is secondary. Which isn’t saying that these are bad stories, just that they do not have the same artistic value as some of the more niche ones. You rarely see Nobel Prize winners being best-sellers, to put it differently.

This all amounts to what exactly?

If you’re thinking about going indie, consider this: do you have an audience? Do you know how to reach them? Do you understand the market in depth? If you don’t, I’d seriously recommend you go through a traditional publisher. Not necessarily the Big 5, but find a niche publisher, a small press, someone who understands the genre you write in. They will have that market knowledge. But even if you do have all of the above, as an indie published author, you’ll still sell fewer books, simply because of the perception I’ve described above, the “stigma” Hamilton speaks of.

I’m lucky in a way. I’ve found a small press that allows me to retain most of my creative control, and my royalties are larger than those normally paid by traditional publishers. On the other hand, given that the term “small press” has mostly disappeared from public use and “trad” is often equated to the “Big 5”, my publisher is usually considered “indie”, and they are, at least from the perspective of the owners (who are also authors.) So no matter how you twist and turn this beast, it ain’t easy.

Does this help or make matters worse?

If you are new to all this, it can be complicated, confusing. I’ve created this table, and I’m in no way claiming it to be complete, but I hope it may help you understand the publishing industry a bit better:

Publishing comparison

A larger full-size version of the chart can be found here. What is your take?

One more thing: (financial) stability

In this changing industry, I’ve seen a number of small presses go belly-up in recent years. Some of them had achieved a significant size and reputation in their genres. That is a risk you take when you sign up with a small house. Small house, small muscles. Authors have lost a lot of money from bankruptcies and not a few have been forced into indie-publishing with their entire catalogs (imagine the pain and work…)

For those who have significant followings, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For others, a disaster and many published titles have forever vanished from bookshelves, physical and electronic because no new publisher could be found and the author couldn’t or didn’t want to self-publish.

Times are changing, fast and I see no slowing down…

But it’s not just financial stability that bigger houses bring to the table. It’s also traditions, rules and processes in place for things like ethics etc. Just recently, a small house in the LGBT industry got into a hot mess over their alleged racism. While this could happen to anyone, the likelihood of things being caught early are greater the more eyes a book sees, and the better processes a house has in place. Size matters in this regard. And even when things blow up, chances are that a big house has better and more professional resources to handle the fallout.

The author of this post was first published in 2000, for a non-fiction book about e-learning. But he’s also gained experience self- or indie-publishing and still has one non-fiction book about his and his husband’s journey to fatherhood out that way. He also indie publishes his audio books. His fiction is published by Beaten Track Publishing, a British small press. Photo: Alina Oswald, New York

The publishing industry is changing. More and more people write and publish books, while fewer and fewer actually sell any. Let’s not even talk about being able to make a decent or even passable living from your writing (of books.) Most authors I know have day jobs or supplement their income writing for magazines etc.

Finally…

I’m curious to hear from you:

  • Do labels bother you?
  • Does the lingering perception of self-publishing/indie affect your decision-making process with regards to what avenue to take?
  • How important is creative control to you?
  • A house’s reputation?
  • Sales?

Let’s hear it. Feel free to comment and contribute.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook turned us into products: there’s not much we can do about it…

I resisted Facebook’s lure, for a long time, but when my husband turned thirty, and most of his uni friends were on Facebook, I caved in to pressure and signed up, mostly to be able to invite them to the party. But I was instantly hooked because I had dozens of people waiting for me. It should’ve been a warning sign: for years, Facebook had been creating a shadow profile for me, with everyone’s search for me added to it. When I finally logged on, all those searches were friend requests waiting for me. All I had to do was accept and my timeline began to populate. I was hooked…

That was then…

That was 2009. Nine years later, my relationship with Facebook has changed. With almost 2,000 connections, my timeline is no longer a reflection of my real friends and their lives. The Facebook algorithm will make sure you only see the people you recently talked to (or liked one of their posts), while the rest slowly fade into oblivion.

Facebook interests

Here are some of the “interests” that Facebook assigned to me. Stick figure? Ink? Come on Facebook… Really?

In the years passed, I’ve always followed Facebook rules, creating business pages for my company, and an author page (rather than a profile) for my author persona. Most of my writing colleagues have author profiles instead. Against the rules, but smart, as pages don’t work anymore unless you have a significant monetary budget. I noted that my final posts on my page were seen only by a handful of the thousand followers. No reason to keep at it. I deleted it, as I had my company page.

 

Facebook doesn’t give a shit about us…

They’ll never admit it, but it’s a fact: Facebook doesn’t care about us. Mr. Zuckerberg said as much when he first launched the site, something along the lines of how “stupid people were to offer us their data for free…” And indeed, we are. A while ago, I began to notice the details of how Facebook’s many algorithms serve me advertising. Sometimes you’d click on something and suddenly you’ll be served ads for weeks. I travel a lot, and for weeks after searching for a flight, I’d be served flight ads from all kinds of sites and airlines. Odd, after you book. But I guess even algorithms are limited in their intelligence.

I began to look at the “interests” Facebook thinks I have, and as of today, I’ve deleted 549 interests. Mind you, they’re still all there! But at least I see a lot less advertising. I’ll keep at it! But it takes a lot of work. And the algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think. Just a few days ago I got two new “interests” about “Ted”, one for the organization that does the talks and one for the movie. They claim I “liked” different things, but I know for a fact that I never clicked on the movie because I never even heard about it.

As an author…

Living in Sweden, writing in English, Facebook is pretty much the only tool I have at my disposal to reach my audience. Sure, I have this blog, but we’ve all seen a reduction in blog readership in recent years. There’s YouTube, but that requires so much work for so few viewers. And there’s my newsletter, but we all know how many of us actually read them. I do, the numbers are in the low single digit area, nothing new under the sun here.

Facebook interests

I’ve removed hundreds of so-called “interests” that Facebook assigned to me, but most of those were bogus, to begin with. The Facebook algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think…

Twitter you say? LOL, I say. If anyone else is like me, they’ve long ago stopped looking at their feed. A Twitter user following more than a thousand users has a timeline moving so fast you can never see much of anything. It’s only through searches you can find stuff. I do it once every blue moon. Twitter has long ago lost its appeal to me. Pinterest? I never really got that, and like Facebook, the algorithm is weird. All I ever got to see were naked men, and yeah, I’m not buying. Instagram? Another Facebook spider… But it’s my favorite one, my personal indulgence. I get to watch beautiful nature pictures, and I upload (mostly) nature pictures myself. I don’t use it professionally, with very few exceptions. Who’d follow me if I only uploaded book-related images? Natasha’s covers are amazing, but yeah. It gets old very quickly.

Facebook is still the main tool

For now (and the foreseeable future), Facebook seems to be it. I don’t see any alternative. I post publicly what pertains to my writing, and in various degrees of privacy what is personal or private. There have always been posts that aren’t meant for the public eye, but sadly, Zuckerberg’s creation sees it all, reads it all, apparently even posts we write and never post, messages we type and delete without sending away. It’s disgusting. But legally? Watertight, I’m sure. And we all signed off on it when we quickly accepted the small print when we signed up. Who reads that stuff, ever? I don’t. Because you don’t have a choice. Want to use XYZ you have to sign off on their terms. You can’t say, “hey, I’ll take this, but not this…” It’s all or nothing.

Personally, I’d be happy to pay for Facebook, to get better features and to get rid of the Kraken that constantly monitors my every movement. But I also know that I can’t trust Facebook. I’m convinced that even if I paid, they’d still monitor me, so why should I pay? In the end, it’s a matter of trust, faith to a degree, and while I do have faith in some of the companies I work with, I cannot trust a company whose business model is based on data mining. I don’t trust Google, I don’t trust Facebook.

So what can I do? What could you do?

Not that much. I have limited the data I have on Facebook, sadly they already have it. Removing e.g. your political interests now is too little, too late. They’ve already stored what you once posted. And to limit visibility to yourself? LOL Remember, they even read what you don’t post… My basic assumption for all things Internet is this:

only post what doesn’t shy away from the light of day!

Facebook algorithm

Further proof that Facebook’s algorithm is stupid. I was in Switzerland, yes, but that was several days ago, for two hours… It’s a blunt tool, for better or worse. As an advertiser, I’d think twice to use the more detailed info for my ads. As a former Facebook advertiser, I also know that they don’t work as well as Facebook claims.

If you don’t want someone to read it, don’t post it. In the end, whether it’s Facebook or a nemesis of yours, doesn’t matter. This policy has served me well, although I’ve made mistakes of my own. Apart from that, I have removed all likes of pages on Facebook (and won’t like any new pages.) I have removed all my advertising preferences and will keep doing that. I’ve limited the number of groups I’m a member of to the ones I really want to be a member of, none of them public. I don’t like as much anymore, most certainly not clickbait posts (from various humor pages that people share). I don’t do tests (and will unfriend people who do and thus risk sharing my data with other Krakens.) I’ve also begun to hide most of the news posts that appear on my newsfeed.

Not so much because it’s about data mining, but because it’s so toxic. Mind you, that’s an entire post of its own… I’ve also uninstalled Messenger from my phone. Three Facebook apps are enough: Instagram, FB & WhatsApp, the latter I only use because of my dad and sister.

What do you do? How have you reacted to the recent Facebook news?

In a way, the friends of mine who are offline are avenged, but at what price? Social hermits? We all need to be smarter about how we use social media. We need to fight back and be smart about what we share, throw the Kraken off-track. What do you do? Have you resigned? Given up or are you employing active tactics of resistance? Let’s hear it! All tips are welcome.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans

Saying that final goodbye to a loved one is the hardest thing…

Saying that final goodbye to a loved one is the hardest thing…

Today we are taking our leave from Blyger, a beloved family member

He’s sleeping on the bed in our guest room. He’s been doing that a lot recently. When he doesn’t go to the bathroom countless times. Or dip his nose in the water bowl because he can’t really see the water surface anymore. Blyger would turn nineteen in just two months. He won’t celebrate that birthday. We have an appointment with the vet for this afternoon at three pm, to let him go. Euthanasia. The hardest thing you can do: to say goodbye to someone you’ve spent so many years with. Adultin really sucks at times.

How do you say goodbye to a loved one?

A young Blyger looking into the camera. He was the littlest one in the litter, and with this grayish coat, no one wanted him, so we let him stay with us. We never regretted that decision.

Blyger was born in our house on May 2, 1999, and he’s spent his entire life here. Born to a not entirely purebred Persian and a Norwegian Forest father, he’s a big cat. Or was. Named after one of the seven dwarfs because he was the littlest one in his litter, the shy one, the one who’d always be the last to get some milk.

These days, he barely clocks three kilos, and when you pet him, you can feel every bone in his body, compliments of hyperthyroidism. He’s been in treatment for years, but while we’ve been able to manage the disease, it’s not gone away. And with his advanced age, he’s having trouble moving and cleaning himself. For an animal as obsessed with cleanliness as a cat, a tough thing. Three weeks ago, he suffered an eye injury and we were afraid “this is it” already then. But he refused to give in, fought and demonstrated his will to live.

Seems he got onto his ninth life. This is it. But how do you say goodbye? How do you make that decision? When is enough, enough? I was away for the weekend, on a business trip, and I could tell he didn’t approve. My absence worsened his overall well being. The fact that we’re going away for a week of Easter vacation is foreboding.

Sometimes he looks at you like…

After Blyger’s mother had passed away from cancer, Victoria moved in with us, and Blyger looked after her. She still spends a lot of time near him, and I’m sure she’ll miss him terribly.

I’ve tried hard these past days and weeks to get any sort of clue from him. With Haakon, my best friend who passed away six years ago, it was easier. His entire system just shut down and the decision was thus a lot easier. He didn’t eat for days, didn’t drink and all of a sudden, he lost control of his stomach, bladder, and bowel. Hard to watch, but it made the call to the veterinarian easier. With Blyger, who’s always been the quiet one, it’s so much more difficult. But every now and then, I seem to be getting a look from him to indicate a sort of “help me!” or “time to let go…” but I can’t be sure of course. He is a feline, after all, and me superimposing my emotions on him isn’t helpful.

To preside over life and death isn’t any easier. You’re never really ready for this sort of decision. I know it’s going to be the best for him. No more pain, no more suffering. On the other hand, there won’t be any more shrimps to enjoy off of our table, no more begging for a piece of fresh chicken in the kitchen, or to lick a few drops of milk out of a bowl of cereal. With death comes the end of life, irreversibly so.

How do you tell your child?

Albin is our youngest, and he and Blyger are very close. It’s impossible to describe Blyger without using the word “kind”. I fear our house will be echoing with emptiness for quite some time.

We sort of came to the decision, my husband and I, last night, after Blyger had a bad day. He barely ate, barely drank, and before they left the house this morning, we asked our son to say goodbye. We tried to explain that Blyger would be going away today, that the vet would give him something to help him fall asleep. For good. It was heartwrenching to see my son cry and fall into my arms. “I don’t want Blygis to leave…” No, neither do papa and I, but it’s for his best. We’ve always felt that honesty is the best course of action when it comes to kids, but we’re treading on loose ground. Then again, he would’ve noticed his absence upon returning from school tonight. He will see the empty carrier in my hand. We felt it would be better if he could say goodbye than to simply see Blyger (or Blygis as he calls him), gone.

It’s also a way to prepare him for other difficult things to come in the near future, as my mother in law is once again in the hospital, and we know that her days are numbered. In a strange way, saying goodbye to our old cat is a training exercise for him to steel him for the day he’ll have to say goodbye to his grandma.

Not the first, not the last time…

This will be the third time I’ve had to do this as an adult. It doesn’t get easier. I’ve been thinking what I can do to make Blyger’s final day in life easier, more “pleasurable”, and I quickly decided to not do anything. I don’t want to excite him needlessly, so I just let him be. Sleep, roam the house for a bit when he wants to, eat or drink. He came to me early this morning and sat in my lap for a while. I’ll miss that, but I know that no matter what, this afternoon at three pm, Blyger will leave this plane of existence to move into our hearts, forever. While I’ll miss his physical presence, while I know I’ll see his shadow for months to come roaming the house, I also realize that he’s not really gone. Not as long as we remember him. And remember him we shall, fondly:

Our three feline family members together. Blyger will leave a gaping hole, I’m sure.

At the age of four, here he is enjoying a bit of sunshine.

Haakon and Blyger helping themselves to roast beef off of our breakfast table…

Time to let go…

One thing is certain though: adulting is overrated.

Hans M Hirschi
high priest to feline deities for most of his life