Saturday, July 17, 2004


It started when I was looking up quotes from Shakespeare. I have a
tendency to remember the gist of the quote and not always the exact
words, sort of like shorthand . . . the representation of the words but
not the exact words.

The subject was music and two quotes immediately sprang to mind, one from Much Ado About Nothing and the other from Twelfth Night.
Benedick wonders at how sheep's guts can "...thus hale a man's
spirit..." from his body and Count Orsino is lamenting his lack of
success with Lady Olivia. Orsino is in love with love and Olivia is in
love with grief. Olivia has decided to spend the rest of her life
mourning the death of her brother and Orsino wants an end to suffering,
an end to his need to love.

I looked up the quotes just about
the time Diogenes, the eye of the needle, Freddy Mercury of Queen, Mah
Jong, and Michael Moore roamed thru my mind. You think they have
nothing in common? Not so. They are all examples of mental (and
historical) shorthand.

For instance: Diogenes roamed the
streets of Athens in search of an honest man. Or at least that's how
the story goes. Historical shorthand is what we remember. The fact is
that Diogenes, a wealthy peacock of a country boy, came to Athens and
fell as wholeheartedly for the school of cynicism as he did for
fashion. He wore the coarsest clothing, ate the meanest food, and
railed about everything. It was said Diogenes was so overboard with his
asceticism/cynicism that he roamed the streets looking for an honest
man in the daylight with a lantern. In other words, he took great pains
to find something to gripe about. He was a cynic. He hated everything,
unlike Mikey who actually loves Life cereal.

In the Bible
Jesus tells his followers it is as difficult for a rich man to get to
heaven as it is for a camel to pass thru the eye of the needle. He
wasn't talking about a real needle, but something that was well known
to all his listeners--a gate in Jerusalem called The Eye of the Needle
because it was so narrow and short. It's not impossible for a camel to
get thru the gate, but it takes work and a bit of foresight.

was playing Mah Jong at the time all these thoughts coursed thru my
mind and it struck me that it is possible to win every game if you can
see the larger picture. Of course the game I play is timed and the idea
is to make points, lots of points, not to solve the puzzle. For me that
is frustrating because I'd rather solve the puzzle than garner points.
The exercise of the mind is more important to me than score keeping.
It's like playing the word games at Merrian-Webster
every morning as part of my waking ritual. Some of the games are
impossibly easy, but they wake my mind and let my brain know it's time
to get to work. I prefer the difficult games, like Dictionary Devil and
(sometimes) Bee-Cubed. I need a challenge, not for the sake of the
challenge but to hone my mental and physical skills. I work against the
clock on Webster because it keeps me focused, but there are no points
for winning, just the satisfaction that I have beaten the devil or
figured out how to spell words I've never before heard.

Freddy Mercury of Queen had seen the big picture and known he would die
from AIDS, I doubt he would have been so free with his sexual favors.
Listen to Too Much Love Will Kill You and you can hear the
regret in his words and his voice. If he had only known what would
happen it is doubtful he would have been so promiscuous . . . or he
would at least have been much more careful about condoms and safe sex.
Who knew? We don't see the big picture. We don't see what lies ahead,
especially when we live in the moment. It is the double-edged sword of
Zen belief. The same country in which Zen Buddhism and Mah Jong are
part of the culture offers up enigma, a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.

Mah Jong for points with a time limit and you end up choosing the most
visible and immediate matches to win the game, but that's not the real
point of the game. Sometimes the closest and most visible match is not
the best match if you are to solve the puzzle and carry off all the
tiles. You can't see the values and pictures of the hidden tiles and
thus don't know if that match you just made would be better to have
left until later. You could end up blocking yourself later on. You
don't see the whole picture, which brings me to Michael Moore, the
liberals answer to Rush Limbaugh.

What do all these things
have to do with Michael Moore? Historical and mental shorthand, rich
men, and the nature of truth and cynicism. Didn't think all this had a
point, did you?

Michael Moore started out with a vision, to
uncover the rot at the heart of the apple barrel. He succeeded . . .
too well. He has made some good points and uncovered some truths, but
not the truth, and he has become very wealthy in so doing. We
go back to the Eye of the Needle and that camel again. Does Michael
Moore care about truth any more or is he more interested in funding his
private issues and animosities? Is he Diogenes come again to look for
truth in the daylight with a lantern and really looking for nothing so
much as something to prove there is no truth and no worth in humanity
and government? Does Michael Moore really see the big picture or is he
focusing his lens on what he wants to see, what he wants to show?

Moore is a showman and could very well be Rush Limbaugh's soul mate,
each the other half of P. T. Barnum's soul. A sucker is born
every minute and both of them are making millions on that simple truth.
That is not to say both of them don't have valid points, that they
don't have some truth to impart, but they are not seeing the big
picture. They are grabbing the easy matches, the ones that serve their
immediate purpose, and will end up ruining any chance to solve the
puzzle and bear off all the matched tiles.

What all this means
to me is that we have to take Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, and
everyone else who says they have the truth and use their information as
a jumping off point, a bit of string to follow thru the Minotaur's
lair. Don't take any of it at face value if all you're going to do is
bash the opposition. Moore and Limbaugh are cut from the same cloth:
showman with a political agenda. They are not furthering the pursuit of
truth; they are lining their pockets and laughing at the suckers while
they take the quick match. Do you really want to end up blocked from
solving the puzzle by following them or do you want to solve the

Would either Moore or Limbaugh change the way they
play the game if they saw the big picture? Only they can answer that
question. But what about you? Do you have time to look for the big
picture or are you going to follow whoever has the best historical,
political, religious, or economic shorthand? Your life and continued
existence may depend upon it.

It's easy to take the first answer you find, to misremember a quote or take someone else's word for what they believe to be true. It's much harder to take that information and look for the story behind the easy answer and it takes more work. Take the easy answer, the quick match, and you will rack up lots of points, make lots of money, and never have to think for yourself again. Each person's opinion is a marker on the path, a possibility, but not a road thru the forest or the way to the center of the maze. Easy answers are easy and nowadays it is so simple to take someone else's opinion and make it your own. Think about it. Are you spouting someone else's opinion, someone else's quoting of someone else, or are you going to the source? Truth is out there, but you'll never find it with a lantern in daylight if what you're really looking for is something to gripe about, someone to support your prejudices and opinions.

If you want someone famous and recognizable to support your liberal opinion, go to Michael Moore. If you want the same for your conservative opinion go to Rush Limbaugh. If you want the truth, look for it yourself.

Music is not love and the pursuit of love is not love. Both are tools, markers along the path. Choose wisely.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Stick it to the consumer

Time for another round of Stick it to the consumer

While reading [info]scimon's journal on my friends page, I came across a link about second-hand books that led me to a NY Times article. (You'll have to sign up to read the article, but at least that's still free.)

I'm surprised and I shouldn't be, especially when greed is the main focus of business these days.

When it's all boiled down to basics what remains is publishers upset that they're not getting the original price for books and that second-hand bookstores and resellers are making a big profit and asking for more books. is the focus of much of the article because, since 2000, Amazon has had the audacity to list second-hand books at bargain basement prices right next to the full priced books. *Gasp of horror* What's even worse is that people are buying the cheaper books. Is it any wonder publishers are beginning to worry about their profits leaking to co-ops and second-hand bookstores like Abe Books, Alibris Books, and other private sellers listed on eBay and Amazon? Their profits are being diverted to intelligent people who know the market.

Text book publishers thought they had the problem of second-hand books being resold licked by putting out new editions every two years, forcing poor college students to purchase new books in order to complete their education, but even they have noticed a dip in their profits, a dip of 3%. *another gasp of horror*

Publishers want the whole thing stopped. They want their profits and consumers, canny customers that they are, refuse to play by the publishers' rules. They are seeing the book equivalent of Napster haunting their bottom lines.

What publishers need to do is buy a clue. If they paid attention to the trend in second-hand books, books that someone bought at full price and is reselling or books that publishers gave up on and sold to a remainder bookseller, they might see greater profits. Of course, that would cut off the supply of available books to second-hand and remainder booksellers, but business is business and publishers expect to make a big return on their investment.

If you're not into publishing, here is how it works. Publisher decides to buy a manuscript from an author and print out many copies of the books. If the author is considered a mid-list writer (someone whose books sell about 30,000 - 100,000 books) they order a small print run. If all those books sell they order another print run of a similar amount (or larger if the books are selling quickly) and sell those. If, however, all the books do not sell and remain in their warehouses, they sell the books to someone at a much reduced price (usually for the cost of materials and labor, which is very cheap) and that buy resells the books at rate that includes a small profit margin, but is still much cheaper than the cover price. Those books are called remainders.

However, lots of people buy books at the cover price, or on sale at bookstores when they can't move the stock in a specific amount of time, and they read the books and sometimes sell them again to a second-hand book buyer for half the cover price or less. Those enterprising booksellers then resell the books and make a little profit on it. With the advent of the Internet and eBay and easy access to advertising and information, regular people who bought the books at the cover price or on sale are reselling those books themselves and making back some of the money they spent to buy other books or even other things, like paying rent and utilities or saving for a trip to the grocery store. And publishers do not like this trend. They feel they have been cheated out of their profits. Right!

Second-hand bookstores have been around since the beginning of publishing. The problem is not the secondhand bookseller, but the fact that s/he is making a hefty profit from what has always been a marginal living at best. Stores like Half-Price Books, Abe Books, Alibris, etc. have latched onto the Internet and turned a marginal business into a multi-million-dollar enterprise that is taking small bites from publishers' caviar and now publishers are sitting up and taking notice. Well, I have news for them, if they want a bigger piece of the pie there are other remedies that do not include lining up second-hand booksellers in their sights.

First, they should keep authors' books longer instead of dumping them after a few weeks. It also wouldn't hurt to actually publicize the books and give each author the attention and publicity they deserve and which will result in more sales of those books. Second, they should consider charging more realistic cover prices for their books, prices more in line with what they spend to produce the book and not try to make all their billions in the first batch. This will mean they will have to print more books at the outset, but it's better to sell a million books for a dollar than it is to sell one book for a million dollars. The amount is the same, but the impact is greater and more noticeable. Third, if they can't get with the first and second programs, they should continue what they have been doing and let second-hand dealers and individuals make a little money at the expense of the publishers' short-sightedness and stupidity. What's next, forcing libraries to charge for each book checked out? After all, this is America and the name of the game is FREE enterprise.

Publishers have no right to complain that books are being bought and resold and sometimes even resold again. It is a sure indication the book is worth reading and consumers want their own copies. Pay attention, publishers. If a book is being sold and resold and resold again it means people really like the book and they should have kept selling them in the first place. Such sales is an indication that a mid list writer, someone who has performed well over a long period of time, is worth more than the publishers gave them. Publishers should rethink their strategies and put out new and inexpensive editions of books that are hot tickets on the second-hand shelves. The wheel does not have to be reinvented all the time. If it works, use it. If it sells, make more of them.

Publishers should realize they can't have it all and if they are going to let big pieces of food drop to the floor with the crumbs the food will be eaten.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Starry days

There are days when I just don't feel like getting out of bed and then there are days when getting out of bed is the best thing I do. Today was one of those days.

I got up rather late (for me) and checked e-mail and downloaded music before I took care of my plants. Took a cool shower and got ready to pick up the mail. I can't walk down the driveway or out the front door to check the mail. I have to drive into town. But I had something on my mind besides Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Cheetos. I wanted to talk to the clerk at the Snooty Coyote, which is a combination quick stop shop and liquor store. It's the only real store in Tabernash. I live in a rural mountain community. What do you expect?

Anyway, I talked to the clerk whose husband is the groundskeeper of the golf course at Sol Vista in Granby about 14 miles down the road. I have ideas for articles running around in my mind, marketing ideas, slick magazines that pay fat checks for well written articles and pictures (someone else will have to take the pictures - I suck at it). I hit the jackpot.

Sol Vista is owned by a woman who inherited mega millions and operated the golf course at Berthoud pass about 20 or so miles up the road. She is from Brazil and moved up here when she fell in love with the skiing and some canny guy. She stayed. She pumped millions into the failing Berthoud Pass golf course and finally gave it up to open up the golf course at Sol Vista, which has been renamed to something more in line with the neighborhood. I won't give away everything just to keep you hungry vultures from stealing my ideas, but I have the basics for at least six, and probably ten, articles in various magazines: golfing, travel/tourism, airlines, enterpreneur and women's magazines for a start. That should make enough to live on for the rest of the year and I have an in with the groundskeeper's wife. Not too shabby. I may even do a series of articles about the triangle here--that's my idea, too. I live in the center of a triangle formed on the west by Denver, on the east by Vail, and the north by Steamboat Springs, all of which are well known tourist stops. The area is pretty rural and very beautiful with wildlife and plants and trees you can't see anywhere else in the same way.

For instance, I was driving up the mountain to my cabin and stopped to watch a doe grazing on the side of the road. I turned off the radio and watched/talked to her for several minutes while she ate. i know. It's a little rude to talk when another is eating, but I just couldn't resist it.

Today has been very productive, but it has also been very pleasant and fulfilling. I received my $3.00 copy of Much Ado About Nothing and turned it on while I read a quick note from my father that contained a little green surprise.

I had already sent my check for the ghost story to be banked and checked the rest of my packages. (There were quite a few) I received two copies of Five Points magazine to study so I can submit what they want to see, some self burning charcoal for home made incense, a sample copy of Commonweal magazine to check them out, another horror book to review, a fifty-cent copy of the collected works of Jane Austen, and a few more magazines. Halfway thru the movie my mother called to say hello and congratulate me on another good article (I send her copies of everything) and I just got off the phone with Beanie who was on her way home from a college course on writing.

After the movie, I transplanted some very tall and burgeoning tomato plants, basil, thyme, and mint and watered the plants again since the promised thunderstorm has not dropped its wet burden yet. At least my sinus pressure headache is gone, which means the low front is moving away and I can quit worrying my right eye is about to explode from the socket. Ever since I moved up here I have had sinus pressure headaches before big storms. I've become a better barometer than the glass and fluid-filled kind.

Beanie and I talked about focus in writing, the use of the word "you", and how to show versus telling a story with description and sensory details. I so enjoy talking about writing, so much so you'd think I was a writer or something.

Queen is on the computer and I feel absolutely energized and excited. The hummingbirds are buzzing the deck and greedily slurping the new syrup I put out this morning and my plants are finally growing in the summer sun that has at last deigned to make a daily appearance this week. All in all, networking has proved to be quite lucrative and I live in the most wonderful spot on this earth. How could this day be anything but wonderful?

Okay, I'll shut up now, but go outside and enjoy the sunshine or the moonshine or just the air that ruffles your hair and think about me picking out a constellation with my telescope to research and write about for a new magazine on beginning astronomy. Life is wonderful and I'm blessed.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Learning magazine speak

I received my first bid for printing Living Voices and I realize I don't know anything about card stock and weights. There are so many choices in cover finishes: lacquer, glossy, UV, etc. All pages have to be figured in multiples of four because there are four sides to a folded sheet of paper. I don't know how many stories I will have or if there will be any stories at all. The printer offered a bid based on 24 black & white pages with full color covers inside and out. I'm not even sure I want to go with something the size of a magazine like Writer's Digest or The Writer or if I want to go with something more like a literary magazine. I asked for further information, but I am a little out of my depth yet. It's like swimming for the first time when your feet don't touch the bottom. There is that instant of breathless shock and momentary panic before you remember you can actually swim and you're not going to drown. I'm still feeling for the bottom.

Beanie sent me the first draft of her essay about Dad and I marked it up in color . . . my usual mode of editing. She wrote things I didn't know and it was an interesting essay, but she needs to work on run-on sentences and the use of ITS versus IT'S, not to mention removing the ubiquitous THAT from her sentences, but most people have that problem. All in all, I'd say with a little judicious pruning and refining she'd have a very publishable essay where the wonderful story doesn't get lost in the grammar shuffle.

Then I received an SOS from a former colleague at R&T. She was given an August 1st deadline to finish editing an essay from someone I edited in the summer issue. No big deal. The essay was pretty clean and in the author's usual style of tongue in cheek comparisons of writing to food, which is always fun to read . . . like looking thru someone else's mind for a moment or two. It took about 20 minutes to edit and I sent it back. I guess I'm on an editing jag, but hopefully I am done for the day. I need to focus on my own writing and I'm on a writing high right now. Must be the nightmare I had last night and the energy that galvanized me into action.

I finished my essay for Parabola and got the confirmation they received it and would notify me in a month whether or not my words would appear on their pages. Strangely enough I have had several queries accepted by them, but this is the first time I have been able to break thru the block/barrier that kept me from being able to write anything at all. I just dried up on the vine as if the acceptance was some sort of cork to my energies and words. It has been very difficult for me to break thru the barriers for a while and I despaired of being able to break into print in Parabola despite my fondness for and study of myth and tradition most of my life. I'm sure you have read my thoughts and mental wanderings on these pages (and if you haven't then you should if for nothing else than a quick laugh) so there is no lack of desire and volubility, but when push came to shove and money was a possibility from my writing I froze. The thoughts swirled and drifted but I was unable to catch them and put them into any kind of coherent form until the deadline was long past. I pray that I have reached the end of that stop-gap.

I sent out queries to editors of several print magazines, some that I respect and to whom I have submitted my work, and received an answer from one of the founders of Glimmer Train. They are far too busy to respond fully but offered to answer specific questions and that is good news. I really respect the two sisters who created and run Glimmer Train. Lord knows I have entered enough of my writing in their contests and have submitted for publication. Haven't broken thru that barrier yet, but I think that time is coming soon. I am getting closer to their tone and type of writing.

I also received a positive response to a query for an interview. I snagged James Redfield of The Celestine Prophecy fame. I want to know about his self publishing and how he feels about the self published to mass published success he has attained, how he got there, and some info about the movie being made from the book which is finishing principle photography at this moment. I guess that means he will grace the cover of the debut issue of LV and should attract a sizeable bit of attention and readership, if for nothing else than his celebrity status.

If my luck continues, I should be able to line up quite an impressive cadre of well known authors to tell their stories and give us all a peek inside the publishing world. They can show us all what it really looks like to be a successful author living on the fruits of their literary labors. Who knows? I may take this is as a good sign and go after John Grisham, John Updike, and a few of the other notables, although Ray Bradbury is at the top of my list. I would love to have him on the cover of the debut issue of LV, but I'll settle for having him on any issue.

Now I have to figure out how to entice subscribers to buy something they won't be able to read until December and that what they're buying is worth the price of admission. I also have to figure out a price. Any hints or suggestions? There are also advertisers to approach and convince they are buying into a promising and lucrative market and I'm thinking about airlines who service the destinations where the stories and characters in those stories, essays, and articles live and have lived. Nothing like giving a place a bit of character, a place where life has been lived and continues to be lived in every day obscurity.

Oh, well, I'll shut up for now. But I'll be back.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


This entire weekend I have focused on nothing more than pleasure and relaxation. There has finally been some heat and little rain, for which my plants were panting, and a whole lot of sunshine. I have taken a small share of the sunshine, but mostly have been playing mahjong and trying to increase my pattern recognition abilities. I really should give it up though since it takes too much time from other more important things like writing.

I have been wrestling with Cupid and Psyche and C. S. Lewis's version of the story, trying to tease some sensibility of friendships and obsessions out of it all with very little success, and yet it still bugs me. I need to just forget about being intelligent and write, but that is one of my failings . . . I actually expect to be able to write something--anything--intelligible. I have become spoiled and arrogant and probably should just forget about making sense.

The whole premise of my article is that the question that arises from the pairing of ugly and beautiful people. Ever notice how some people tend to gravitate toward their opposites, either in order to make themselves appear more beautiful, more talented, or just more while others just want the leavings that fall from the beautiful partner's table? To be sure there are those who don't care so much about appearances, but those outside the friendship usually see the pairing as advantageous . . . and not a little sad for the ugly one . . . and desirable, especially if they are of the more appealing looking kind of observer. They say opposites attract, but you seldom see a handsome man with a plain or ugly woman, especially nowadays when most people focus on the superficial beauties and forget there is more to a person that should matter. It is not uncommon to see a fat or ugly man in the company of a beautiful woman, although that happens less and less as men become more aware and obsessive about their appearance and how they are perceived by society. It seems we as a society are becoming more superficial in a time when we should be more aware of and trying to develop deeper and more lasting qualities. Ah, well, as they say, beauty is fleeting, but sometimes I wish it would flee a lot faster until we are all reduced to a more level playing field.

It occurs to me that beautiful people often tend to ignore more lasting and substantial abilities of intelligence, wit, etc. in favor of ways to make themselves more beautiful, relying on that beauty to smooth the way and get them whatever it is they desire. I wonder if that means as a society we are becoming more stupid and less substantial. There is always room for improvement, but if we continue on this downward spiral we will soon find ourselves ignorant children bred to sustain ugly underground dwelling Morlocks.