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Beth Cox Report: March 2013
Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,
Another round of political elections is coming on April 2, 2013! In Wisconsin, where the MBR is based, the most critical position on the ballot is the race for a seat on the State Supreme Court; other local positions and issues are also at stake. My understanding is that just about every eligible American will have the opportunity to vote on offices, referendums, etc. specific to their state and municipality.
Individually, each of us at the MBR hold disparate political beliefs, and our volunteer reviewers span the entire political spectrum. As a review writer and the MBR's managing editor, I strive to maintain a degree of objectivity when considering submissions of politically charged books for review. I'll never reject a book for review (or a review submission from a volunteer) solely because its politics are too liberal, too conservative, or too radically off-the-wall, and I've reviewed multiple books for the Political Science Shelf that I partly or wholly disagreed with! My philosophy in such cases is always to give as complete and accurate a "snapshot" of the book's ideas as possible, often supplemented with a relevant quote taken directly from the book's text. The goal is to enable any reader of the review to quickly get an accurate picture of what the book is trying to say, so that they're in a good position to judge whether they wish to investigate the book further.
It's not the purpose of this monthly newsletter to endorse any specific political philosophy or candidate. But there is one thing I do want to endorse, and that's turning out to make your voice heard at the polls! In the age of the Internet, becoming an "informed voter" is quicker and easier than ever. Here are the basic steps:
First, look up a sample ballot for residents in your voting district. Simply go to Google (or your favorite search engine) and type
"[date of election]" + "[your town]" + "[your state]" + "ballot"
For example, if you lived near the MBR, you'd type
"April 2 2013" + "Oregon" + "WI" + "ballot"
From these search results, you should easily find an official government website with a picture of what the election day ballot will look like. Next, examine the names of the politicians on the ballot, and do Google searches on each of them. (I prefer to do this only for contested elections, though most ballots allow write-in candidates for otherwise uncontested elections.) Look at the personal background, stated principles, experience, qualifications, and endorsements for each candidate; memorize the names of the people you feel are most worthy of your vote; and you're good to go.
Doing all this can take as little as fifteen minutes. That is a paltry price to pay for participating in the most fundamental expression of democracy - government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. And don't forget that since America's voter turnout rates are abysmally low for smaller elections and primaries, the importance of your vote will be drastically magnified!
On to March's Link of the Month. This link has been on our website for some time under "Miscellaneous Websites", but I've recently decided that it deserves to be moved to our "Writer Resources" section, where it will stay. It's
a wiki known as "Television Tropes & Idioms", or simply "TV Tropes". This is not solely a site about TV - it's an immense resource celebrating creative works in every form of media, from books and movies to music, video games, comic books, web originals, and much more. "Tropes" are writing devices that form basic building blocks for constructing a story, and not to be confused with cliches (a "cliche" is a trope that has become so heavily overused that it feels stale and boring - but most tropes are not cliches).
Browsing the TV Tropes wiki will teach any aspiring or practicing author a multitude of tips, tricks, and techniques for writing fiction. For example, the "Discredited Tropes" page warns against painfully outdated narrative devices (never have a character say "It's quiet... too quiet,"); the "Useful Notes" pages are packed with stereotype-debunking, easy-to-digest background material on nations, religions, history, cultures, etc. around the world; and the "Did Not Do the Research" page will teach one about the some of the most glaring and omnipresent science gaffes to avoid when putting together a plot.
There is a down side to browsing the TV Tropes wiki, humorously referred to in the running gag "TV Tropes will ruin your life". Once you become intimately familiar with some of the most common tropes in fiction and media, you'll be better able to predict the plots of your favorite TV shows... perhaps to the extent that you'll see "twist" endings coming well before they happen! The good news is that people who engage in media studies (including authors, moviemakers, critics, and everyone in between) eventually find new ways to enjoy their favorite shows, even when they understand how those shows work from the ground up.
Oh, and you just might lose several hours of your life in an "archive trawl" when you first discover how addictive the TV Tropes wiki is. I recommend visiting TV Tropes only when you don't have any pressing responsibilities due, especially if you think you might desire to add new material - like any good wiki, TV Tropes is open to contributions from the public!
Now for March's Review of the Month. This time, it's actually a preview, destined for the Reviewer's Choice column of the April 2013 Small Press Bookwatch. But it's about such a "must-read" title that I wanted to offer everyone a sneak peek:
Social Media Scams
1450 Chestnut Street #102
San Francisco, CA 94123
9781938831027 $14.95 KTMObooks.com
Second in the "Internet Scams Revealed" series, Social Media Scams is an unequivocal "must-read" for anyone and everyone who uses the Internet. Chapters focus on common social media scams that make use of Facebook, Craigslist, Twitter, LinkedIn, dating sites, and more. Auction websites such as eBay are also covered. There are scams designed to directly steal money, perhaps by faking a PayPal email, or by "overpaying" for something with a fraudulent check or credit card, and requesting that the victim wire the difference (by the time the victim gets the chargeback, any wired money is lost). There are scams to trick one into clicking on links to websites that will install spyware, keyloggers, or viruses on one's computer. Bogus "job offers" are increasingly common - scammers recruit people to be "envelope stuffers" or "payroll assistants", but it's just a dupe to trick the victim into mailing forged checks, leaving them unpaid for their work and possibly arrested when the mail fraud is traced back to their address! There are even schemes connected to renting or selling homes, such as when scammers break into a foreclosed house, possibly pretending to show it like a real estate agent would, and collect a "down payment" for its sale. The barrier to entry for criminal behavior on the Internet is lower than ever, making Social Media Scams an absolutely invaluable gift for friends and family members (especially teenagers, net newbies, and parents teaching their children how to be safe), as well as an excellent addition to public library collections. Also worthy of the highest recommendation is the previous book in the series, "Top 10 Email Scams" (9781938831003 $14.95).
No one using the internet is too old, too young, too tech-savvy, or too tech-incompetent to learn more about how to protect themselves from ever-evolving scams and scam artists. "Social Media Scams", "Top 10 Email Scams" and other books like them are crucial vehicles for spreading the word against opportunistic criminals and parasites.
I also wanted to review another book on the topic for April. The book was titled "Scammunition: How To Protect Yourself From Con Artists: A Guide for Baby Boomers and Beyond" by Colleen J. Pallamary (9780615697024, $14.95), and it covered a broad range of common cons, from how to spot an unacceptably vague estimate for construction work to troubling telephone scams (for example, NEVER give out your check routing number, bank account number, or anything like that over the telephone. Your bank already knows these numbers, and anyone asking for them most likely wants to use them for identity theft).
However, this otherwise excellent book did not meet one of our most basic criteria for review selection. There was no contact information for the author or the publisher; this particular title was privately published, but we've had similar problems with very small publishers. The inside of the book didn't list an address, and neither did the cover letter. We had neither a physical address nor an email address to send the review to. Going to the book's website yielded only a on-site contact form, and we at the MBR don't use those arcane things as a matter of policy - we simply can't spare the man-hours for it. It's already quite time-consuming to send out physical tear sheets and email notices.
[NOVEMBER 2015 UPDATE - THIS POLICY HAS BEEN REVERSED. Going forward, the MBR will accept website contact forms in lieu of a physical or email address, if necessary.]
We are keenly aware of the privacy concerns of small presses and self-published authors. I've made it standard policy to remove all email addresses from reviews before posting them on our website, so that spambots don't harvest them. We also remove all addresses from privately published books or POD published books that appear to be an author's home residence, before publically distributing the review. But we still need some sort of contact information to produce a review, even if it's only an email address!
That's all for this month's Beth Cox Report. I hope you enjoy the Easter holiday; it comes early this year, on March 31st. If you're in the Madison area from April 12-14, you might want to check out Odyssey Con at the Radisson Hotel, featuring guests of honor Alex Bledsoe, Kevin Hearne, and Lynn Laakso. OddCon's website is:
I personally am looking forward to attending OddCon, as a panelist and creative writing contest judge!
The Midwest Book Review
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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