Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help

Alright peeps! It's Book Review Wednesday.  I just made that up.  I probably won't do this every Wednesday.  But for now, let's pretend that this is a regular thing.  Ahem.


A couple weeks ago I snatched up The Help by Kathryn Stockett as soon as my wife had finished it.  If you haven't read it, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers at all cost because I really think you should pick this one up.  While I am definitely a Science Fiction and Fantasy geek, I can appreciate a cultural, semi-historical fiction novel with the best of them.  And on a personal note, I love the Civil Rights Era of American History.  Ever since I went to the hotel where Martin Luther King, jr. was assassinated in Memphis, I've been infatuated with that movement in our country's history. 

In spite of that, I was naive enough to be disappointed by this book.  I'll explain that in a minute.

First of all, the characters in this book are so strong.  I love a book with good strong characters: characters whose voices you can hear in your head as if they were standing next to you and shouting.  I love being able to imagine a character's posture, clothing, nonverbal communication, all of it.  Ms. Stockett has her characters DOWN.  I also loved the story.  The humor, the intrigue, the old Southern charm.  It was all great.

The ending, however, left me feeling empty and dejected.  I found myself wanting a more definitive ending.  I wanted the characters to succeed.  I wanted more justice.  I wanted more recognition.

That's when I remembered... Kathryn Stockett couldn't write that ending because it would require a complete change in history.  The Civil Rights movement wasn't over in a week.  It wasn't over in a year.  It didn't wrap up neatly and nicely in a tidy little package where everybody, all of a sudden, got along.  In fact, the ending I found myself wanting would have been ridiculous.

"Now, I know I treated you like trash yesterday because you are black.  But now, I see that was wrong."
"You're right, it was wrong.  Wanna play Gin Rummy?"
"Oh yes."

Yeah. Stupid, I know.  This story ends with a handful of questions because that is what the lives of these characters were full of during this time.  Questions.  Questions about survival.  Questions about society.  Questions about change, about solutions, about unmet needs, about fear, about anger.  Some of us are still asking these questions today.  Some of us throw a huge temper tantrum when an African American man gets elected president.  Some of try to mask our prejudices by hurling stupid accusations about birth location and religion.  Some of us have forgotten the journey that our ancestors traveled. Some of us have forgotten our destination.

It may sound odd, but after reading this book I decided that I am proud of our President.  Not because he is black.  Not because he is the first president elected to this country that isn't as white as the signers of the Declaration.  But because, to me at least, he stands for another step on a journey that I think is well worth traveling.  I know that wasn't the intention of Kathryn Stockett.

Still, we can learn a lot from reading about the past.  We see where we've come from.  We see where we are going.  I see where I am.

Textbroker: Counting Pennies in Hell

I've been putting this post off for far too long.  I really want to discuss the beginning of my personal freelance journey and the important differences I discovered between two of the biggest freelance writing communities: Elance and Textbroker.

When I decided to try my hand at freelance writing, I didn't really know what an important and widespread field I was getting myself into.  A friend of mine told me she had made a few extra hundred dollars a month with a site called Textbroker.  Extra hundred dollars?  Ok, yes I'm trying this out.

Textbroker is a website where clients post their writing needs in different categories and writers can choose to complete these articles for a rate of less than two cents per word.  Categories include jewelry, home, business, computers, family, travel, etc.  Depending on how your writing rates with the Textbroker editors, you have access to different levels of writing jobs that pay different amounts of money.  The highest rating you can get as an "amateur" is a four star rating.  That's where I started. 

Here is the problem with Textbroker.  Er, there's more than one.  First, the jobs are first come, first served which means that there is no bidding process or freedom in deciding how much you are going to make.  If you write a four star article, you get paid 1.7 cents per word.  Every time.  No exceptions.  The second problem is that the a lot of the articles are filled with REALLY COMPLICATED guidelines that you have to complete before the article can be written.  Sometimes, just reading the guidelines for each article would take me fifteen minutes.  Then, the article would only pay about $5-$8.  Not exactly cost effective. 

The last problem I had with Textbroker freelance writing was the process by which they moved you from a four star writer to a five star writer.  Ideally, once you have written ten articles in a row with a four star rating, you can apply to be a five star writer which gives you access to better paying jobs.

Well, I've written about a hundred articles with all four star ratings.  I applied to be a five star writer.  I was rejected.  Why?  Because in ONE of the hundred four star articles, the editor at Textbroker didn't like some of my phrasing.  It wasn't wrong.  It wasn't grammatically incorrecct.  She just didn't like it.

After that, I abandoned Textbroker for Elance.  And I absolutely love Elance.