Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pangs, part III: conscience

I've been lucky enough in my professional life that I've been able to choose assignments that I could support. I suppose that may not be all that unusual. How many writers work against themselves? But I feel lucky about it, and that's enough for me.

It helps to keep an open mind. I'm very much a rationalist, and James Randi is a hero of mine. I've met him twice, once when he spoke at Rice University and a second time at the Ig Nobel ceremony in 1998. I don't believe in the supernatural, ESP, or that aliens are flying around Earth. Last summer, Reader's Digest (Canada) gave me a book section on poltergeists to check. My first impulse was to tell them there's no way that I'd do that, but like I said, I try to keep an open mind.

I went through the excerpt and verified the anecdotes. I spoke to eyewitnesses - all of whom didn't actually see the event, but the results of the event. It's one thing to see a bowl fly across the room; it's quite another to see whether it flies off spontaneously, after the table rocks, or by hand. Some of the "evidence" could not be tracked down except in 200-year-old books or in obscure Polish publications. My favourite was the mention of Nina Kulagina, the alleged Russian telekinetic. This (downloading) video shows her using an invisible thread or hair to pull objects toward her (note that none of the objects ever moves away from her). This video shows what I like to call the magnetic bra trick.

The magazine killed the story upon my preliminary report.

Boy, that was long-winded. I had no intention of writing about that when I started. The point was supposed to be that I find myself with a dilemma. I noted last week that I have a new editing contract. A Web site that is trying to grab its piece of the Web 2.0 pie has outsourced the writing of personal essays to central Asia. My job is to take these amateur efforts and edit them into the voice of American baby boomers, then post them under fake American names.

The site doesn't claim that it contains no fiction, but it certainly cultivates that impression. I thought a bit about doing this, but I figured there's nothing really wrong with it, and somebody's got to do it, so it might as well be me. Work's work, and nobody's harmed by this masquerade. Plus, it helps hone my fiction tool set. Oh my gosh, am I going to be able to get back to screenwriting soon?


Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

They're hiring Asian amateur writers and then you're supposed to edit them into sounding like American Baby Boomers?


April 30, 2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Webs said...

It's cheap content - well, it is until I get my hands on it. Then it becomes inexpensive content.

Near as I can tell, the company wants to seed its site with contentso that it appears occupied and will draw other (baby-boomer) users, like seeding a nascent MySpace with fake accounts.

April 30, 2007 10:21 AM  

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