Saturday, May 23, 2009

The high cost of electrons

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence.
You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.

.....Abraham Lincoln

Amazon Kindle readers are balking at the cost of David Baldacci's latest book, First Family. As a reviewer, I don't have to worry about the price, but as a fan, I have to say that Mr. Baldacci's response that an E-book's lower price " not sustainable" is about as bright as saying that a paperback book should cost as much as the hardcover. In the New York Times article Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Shuster argues that “What a consumer is buying is the content, not necessarily the format.” Would that not also hold true for the paperback version? The content is the same, but the format is smaller and less expensive to produce, and it is cheaper. As an E-book that eliminates the need for paper and shelf space, should not the price be commensurately lower, especially when considering that the only cost for production is selling a file that is already formatted for downloading?

What the argument boils down to is revenue. If publishers don't make money, then authors don't make money and lucrative publishing deals won't be made or offered. Bigger prices mean the author will earn back his advance and the publisher will make money and be able to offer a best selling author another big, or even bigger, advance for the next book. It's a crap shoot that depends on name recognition and often fickle fans .

Which is worth more, a book that sells for $1000 that only one person will buy or one that sells for $1 that a thousand people buy?

When it comes down to numbers, it costs less to produce paperbacks and even less to produce an E-book and the price should reflect that. Granted, the E-book has a limited appeal to some people, but it took a while for record companies to realize that pricing a downloadable album or single at the same price as the disk and jewel case would not fly . . . and it didn't.

This is an issue that affects me as well since my novel will be released as a paperback and an E-book and will be available for Kindle and E-book readers. A lower price means more people will buy the book and, although the royalties will be lower, getting the book into more hands is preferable to the book being priced out of the market. I'd rather sell a thousand books at $1 than one book at $1000 because the thousand who bought will likely buy another thousand books when a new novel is released. The idea of 999 books being remaindered gives me nightmares of bargain tables stacked selling my book at a penny a pop. Sometimes greed must take a back seat to common sense. What authors lose in immediate revenue will be made up in numbers and those numbers translate to actual readers that put authors on the best seller lists, and that is a bankable commodity. Want to lose money, make sure to piss off the fans and they will find someone else's books to buy. What authors and publishers should focus on is a sustainable fan base. Publishers and authors will find it difficult to sustain anything when books are priced out of the market.

In the current economic climate books will quickly become a luxury item as the cost of producing hardcover and paperback books will continue to rise. Getting books into the hands of readers is the ultimate goal of every author and publisher. Making books affordable and immediately available is the only way to weather the economic storm.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, May 22, 2009

There can be only one?

I was asked this morning if I believe in monogamy.

French monogamie, from Late Latin monogamia, from Greek, from monogamos monogamous, from mon- + gamos marriage, from gamein to marry
1archaic : the practice of marrying only once during a lifetime
2: the state or custom of being married to one person at a time
3: the condition or practice of having a single mate during a period of time

What's not to believe? Monogamy is keeping only to one person and it happens all the time. It is unfortunate, however, that philanderers get more space in conversations and in print than monogamists. Chalk it up to the public's addiction for excitement and dirty laundry, an addiction fed by sensational journalism and modern media from fact to fiction. People want to see heroes' bright armor tarnished and idols with cracked feet of clay.

I am a serial monogamist, giving my affections and attentions to one man at a time even if the man isn't monogamous. That's the way I'm wired. I can be courted and flattered, flirted with and cajoled, but once my attentions are firmly engaged on one man I don't stray, no matter what. I look, but I don't touch.

Some of my best friends are monogamists who have been with one man their whole adult lives and some of my best friends are philanderers who are trapped in bad relationships but feel they cannot or should not get out. The philanderers get their emotional needs met outside their primary relationship, but in a sense they too are monogamous because they no longer, or seldom, have sex with their primary partner.

Until Spencer Tracy met Katharine Hepburn, he was a married Catholic who cheated openly on his wife. As a Catholic, he didn't believe in divorce, and his wife wouldn't give him one anyway had he asked. She knew her standard of living would suffer and she'd only get half of Tracy's earnings instead of a free meal ticket the rest of her natural life if she agreed to a divorce. When Hepburn and Tracy met and fell in love, Tracy became monogamous. Hepburn and Tracy were married in their hearts but not in reality and it didn't matter to Hepburn that she was not Tracy's legitimate wife. She was his wife in spirit as his legal partner was wife in name only. Love transcends the bonds of matrimony, especially in a society where divorce is so costly and the problems (emotional and societal) so great.

Okay, I think I've answered this one.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Twilight in the Zone

You were not here last night
And I could not sleep.
Will you be here tomorrow?

Egyptian poem -- 7th Dynasty

Last night I received the galleys for Past Imperfect and a compliment from my publisher in capital letters about how I did a great job and how much better the book is. That's due to having a great editor who made me see my story from a different perspective and a publisher who asked the right questions. I actually rewrote several scenes, added some layers to the characters and shifted the motivation slightly. I've just begun to go through the galleys, but so far it looks really good. This is the part of the publishing process that always makes me feel like a marathon runner in sight of the finish line.

The feeling that this is real and the book is about to hit the shelves is intoxicating. One friend said he could almost understand, that it must be the way he felt when he finished his Masters of Science thesis. Then, in typical fashion, he said it wasn't really the same. But it is. It is all about accomplishment. He worked hard to write his Masters thesis just as every writer whose words are immortalized in print between covers works hard to write a book or story. Seeing all those hours of frustration and single-minded concentration come together as a homogeneous whole is the same.

For me, the next step is the copy edit, followed by the typeset version and then the book with its cover art, which I still have not seen. What I have seen is the ISBN number. The book is real and it is just the first of its kind. I knew the day would come and now it is here. My book has an ISBN number. That is something only my writer friends can fully appreciate. To the rest of the world it is just red tape. To a writer, it is tangible proof of reality. Win or lose, the book is a reality that has measurable dimensions. It is intoxicating.

Into this rosy afterglow comes another reality: work and reviews, the staples of my daily life. There is also Don who wants my full attention this weekend to help him look at more properties. I feel like whining, "Aren't you done yet?" I want to enjoy my little accomplishment, read my words and make the final changes before I dive back into the latest book to review and finish polishing the review I've been working on for a week. I also want time to polish the next book and write a few stories with looming deadlines. In short, I want to spend my time in the Writing Zone where the world narrows to the arena where I wrestle ideas and words to the page.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fizzled fireworks

As I was on my way out to get a salad from Mountain Mama's (and spend more than I planned, as always, because I was hungry), I nearly tripped over the door mat. Something was underneath it. A package. A white package. I picked it up and checked the label. It's here! The latest addition to my rapidly filling personal book shelf arrived. I tossed it into the foyer and headed out, wanting to savor the moment fully with some food in my stomach and time to call the important people in my life and share the news.

When I got home, had my hummus and salad, nibbled a couple pieces of crystallized ginger that is supposed to end up in ginger cookies for a friend, I ripped open the package and checked the table of contents. Page 39: Amanda's Seeds by J. M. Cornwell. That would be me. I reread the story and it's still good. Page 39.

I called my mother and the phone went to voice mail, so I tried again. I have to call her first because she's threatened to visit with her Chihuahua, Dink, and stay for two months if I don't. I like my quiet cottage and enjoy sleeping in my own bed with my books and journal and laptop computer. All of them and me won't fit on the sofa in the living room and I always get a cramp in my neck when I sleep on it. Besides, there's no room to turn over or sprawl out and I have to actually get up to turn out the light. It's easier to call Mom first.

After three tries and nothing but voice mail, I called Beanie. I would've thought that after eight other books, she could summon a little more enthusiasm for my accomplishment, for another book with one of my stories in it, but, no, the best she could do was, "That's nice. I was taking a nap." The unspoken part of her overly emotional response was that she's like to get back to her nap because she had a headache, as if my news were nothing new and nothing special. Well! I called Mom again. At least she'd be enthusiastic.

"Where's my copy?"

"Mom, I just got my copy of the book."

"Well, send it to me."

"This is my copy."

"What's the title again?"

I repeated it. A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families. Amanda's Seeds, the one the editor kept for four years and contacted me to be included in the book.

"I'll have to go buy a copy. You'd think they would at least include a copy for your family. What's the title again?"

Since it took her six months to get the first book last year, I said, "I'll send you a copy."

" I'm going to need to move Carol's books so I can have a whole shelf of just your books. Make sure you sign it. I want to take it out to Bob and Lois's. I'll take all your books when I go for the graduation party."

"They have all the books. I sent the first two and they bought the rest. Ellen went out and bought all of them."

"That's nice. What's the name of the book again? Dink, I didn't know you were outside. Come on in, sweetheart."

At that point, I knew Mom would fawn over her dog, so I said I had to go. We were done.

"When is your other book coming out, the novel?"

"In July, Mom. I have to go to the bathroom. I'll talk to you later."

"Dink, come here, sweetheart."

We were definitely done.

My family is definitely not effusive or overly emotional, at least not when it comes to my books. They are getting bored with the whole "I got a copy of my book today" news. After nine anthologies and numerous articles and short stories, they have lost their enthusiasm. They can barely remember how many books there are or the titles because they didn't see it on Oprah and it didn't hit the front page of the news or get a feature line on CNN or MSNBC, but they're family.

The ladies at the deli counter in Mountain Mama's were more excited, and they've been through a few of these. One lady, an artist, suggested a book signing at Black Cat Books in Manitou for my upcoming novel. She said to mention her name and asked if I'd come in to sign their copies if they brought them in. They are still as excited as I am about the news. I'd cut Mom off my list if the thought of her and Dink moving in with me for a month or six didn't make me consider moving to the Arctic Circle, but I'm definitely considering crossing Beanie off the list. Her priorities are screwed up. Since when is her nap more important than my news?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The politics of writing

Mary Ann called me Sunday. She was having a difficult weekend and was a little upset. Add to the mix the rain and writing only six pages in two days and I couldn't help but phone when I got home and saw that she called. She's a good friend and a fellow writer and we writers can be a neurotic bunch at times. Death and pressing deadlines do that to us. Well, that and the constant rejection. I called. We talked while her cell phone cut in and out (mountains + rain + lightning = lousy cell phone service).

I called again last night to see how she was doing. No rain, sunshine and three more pages in a day, pages she won't have to edit. We talked about her book and the characters and where the story is going and I got an idea for another book. Like I really need help in that area when I'm fleshing out two books, editing two more and writing another. I always have a project or two going -- in writing and reading. I jotted down the idea because it's unusual and may be interesting for a story line or I may add it as a twist to a work in progress. Such is the exchange that happens between friends who are also writers.

We also talked about politics, that subject, along with sex and religion, that one should never discuss with people one wishes to retain as friends. Mary Ann isn't like that. Yes, she's a liberal. Yes, we often disagree about political ideology. No, we're still friends because we are both old school. We believe in the freedoms set down in the Constitution and we are both appalled by the current idiocy that in politics in the two parties signified by the elephant and the ass.

Discussions of current works with writers and friends provide fertile ground, not only for discussion, but also for new ideas. The same goes for reading. Reading is essential for writers who want to write and continue to be published. Many writer friends refuse to read anything in their chosen genre when they're writing, and some go so far as to refuse to read anything in their chosen genre at any time. I read everything: fiction and nonfiction, when I'm not reading books for review, which also run the gamut from fiction to nonfiction. It's the same for political material.

I read from all sides of the political spectrum to be able to form a balanced and informed opinion, and I am very opinionated. That is not to say that I don't respond emotionally as well as intellectually. One thing I have learned is to trust my instincts even when they're telling me that the person I call friend is not really a friend. Every time I shrug off that tap on the mental shoulder and the whispered voice in my mind that says to beware I end up on the wrong end of a rope dangling over a cliff and into the abyss. That isn't to say that I am a slave to instinct, just that I have learned, often the hard way, to pay attention to red flags. When a friend isn't willing to agree to disagree or table a heating discussion or accept that there are some areas you will never see eye-to-eye, something is seriously wrong. Not so with Mary Ann. Did I mention we are often on opposite sides in politics?

One thing we rediscovered is that we are not polar opposites. She a little left and I'm a little right of center. The distance is pretty minimal. When it comes to writing, however, we are on the same page. Although I don't write a great deal of horror, Mary Ann does, but what she writes is always from a fascinating perspective that makes me think. Here's hoping she has another good writing day with lots of sunshine and plenty of clear paths through the murky spots.

Even though it's only three pages a day, it's forward movement and that's what all writers need to remember. There are no hard and fast rules to writing. Anyone who tells you so wants to sell you something. What works for one writer will not necessarily work for someone else. We're all different and we approach a problem or a story from the angle that works best.

In a recent discussion on a romance writing blog, the topic was pantsers or plotters. Pantsers write in the heat of the moment by the seat of their pants and plotters outline and plot their stories beforehand. The author of the post wanted different words for pantsers and plotters and I came up with barnstormers and aviators. Barnstormers fly by the seat of their pants and aviators fly by the book, taking no chances. They both get where they're going, but barnstormers take chances and aviators leave nothing to chance. And then there are barnstorming aviators and aviators who occasionally barnstorm.

It's all about the goal -- a finished story -- not about how you got there, so enjoy the trip and and the people you meet along the way. Even in divergent methods and ideologies there is plenty to share and to learn whether the subject is politics or writing.

No thunder in the night

After a very warm day when no breeze shifted the blinds, the western sky darkened and a hint of rain traveled on the winds and through the window where I wrote the first of the reviews I needed to finish. Breathing deeply, I smiled, got up and took off all my clothes to better enjoy the cool, moist breeze. Rain. Wind. Black sky lighting up and forks of lightning ripping the gathering clouds, but no crack of thunder followed. The storm was too far away. A little after eight, gold flushed the horizon where the following edge of the storm lifted as the sun went down. A spatter of drops marked the screen and night filled the flaming gap where the sun vanished. The winds picked up and the blinds clattered against the window frame, but no rain fell. Only a few spattered drops pregnant with promise and empty and hollow as a miser's heart shattered against the screen, taunting and dancing out of range while night cloaked the clouds and lightning took its show elsewhere.

The rain fell somewhere last night, not here, teased and taunted, but failed to give up the goods. Even the cool, moist breeze failed. I finished another book and turned out the light, covers thrown back to avoid the rising heat of sleep. I finally slept and dreamed, but the wraiths of night failed to linger long enough to leave me with anything but rest. Not such a bad trade-off considering the pace of the past few days. I woke a little while ago, hungry but rested, before the night gave ground to the rising sun.

The sky is pale lavender and the street lights have faded. Birds sing the sun up to the horizon and into the vaulted sky while the morning breeze whispers through the window with dew on its breath. Too soon I'll have to rise and dress and begin another day, write another review, work a few more hours and make the daily rounds.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Picking and choosing

I didn't get much writing done last weekend, but reading is a different story. I finished all the books I needed to review and now have to finish writing the reviews, but it's hard to get anything done when you're not home, and I don't read in the car because it makes me nauseous. I begged off early yesterday and missed a bunch of calls. The family drama could wait until this morning and the other calls I returned when possible. Nothing strains a relationship more than calling at bedtime the night before a work day. Sounded like Lynn has a cold or the flu and I'll bet she went to be early since this is her last week before the summer break.

One good thing was that instead of hovering over the sourdough starter for the semolina bread I wanted to bake yesterday, being out of the house gave it time to get good and sour. Ten minutes of kneading and another five minutes of chafing left my arms a little wobbly, but I'm out of practice. What I ended up with was two lovely flat round loaves of bread with a crunchy exterior and a soft interior that will be great for bruschetta. I had a couple pieces with the mushroom and barley soup I made yesterday with the last of the mushrooms. It was a lovely and light dinner and I have quite a bit of soup left over to freeze. I'll definitely make those two recipes again.

I've been in a domestic mood lately, nesting a bit, working out how to get all the books from under the coffee table and up onto the high shelf in the living room. I'm going to have to move the furniture around, but that's a good thing because I can't stand to leave things in the same place forever. I like shaking up the ant farm from time to time. I usually don't move furniture and nest until I feel really comfortable with my surroundings and I'm getting there. Even though there's no air conditioning and baking tends to heat things up a bit and the roof over my office still needs to be repaired, I'm contented. No place is perfect, not even the cabin of my dreams, and I've been missing the cabin a bit these days. Must be all the properties Don has dragged me around to see. I don't know if I can handle two weeks of looking at properties. Thank goodness for work and deadlines or he'd probably drag me out again today and every day he's here. I'm really tired of looking. I'd approach the whole thing much differently.

Five years ago I came down to Colorado Springs with a friend, Brenda, and we met at a realtor's office to look at properties. We checked some listings and chose the ones that seemed possible and then drove around with the realtor to look at four or five places. I liked the last one. It was perfect for Brenda's massage business with separate work and living areas and a big yard out back filled with flowers and a sense of peace. There was a dog run on the side for Keekee and out front the deck was built around a towering tree surrounded by a bench. Even the garage was nice. The great thing was not having to spend days and days driving all over the country, up mountain and down dale, looking at properties. I keep telling Don he has to please himself not me.

Mom thinks I'm playing hard to get, but that's not it. I'm not playing. When you find the one person that drives you to distraction and makes every moment together worthwhile, it's not easy accepting a substitute. I've explained that to Don, but he is determined to change my mind. It's a waste of time. I've been here before with other less persistent suitors over the past three three years. Don says he's willing to wait and I keep telling him there's nothing to wait for. I've made up my mind. It's not fair to make do with someone when your heart and thoughts are on someone else. Unfortunately, my someone else has been so bogged down with work that he hasn't had time to visit as often as I'd like, but that won't always be the case. There's only one person for me. I won't settle for anyone else. Now, if I can only get Don to understand that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In an insane world

What do a lemon drop, teaspoon and a soccer game all having in common?

"It's most likely a mix-up with the bar codes," offered the manager of an Asda chain store in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. A shopper had purchased a set of teaspoons and, when rung up, the register ordered the clerk to check the buyer's identification to ensure she was at least 18 years old."Why?" asked the shopper. The clerk informed the woman that someone had once been murdered with a teaspoon, and therefore identification was now required. "I'm not aware of an age restriction for spoons," the manager said. (London Telegraph) ...When teaspoons are outlawed, only outlaws will have teaspoons.

In our politically correct world where even an innocuous teaspoon is regulated and students researching the Constitution about guns are reported to the police for contemplating how to conceal a gun, freedom goes by the wayside. The name of the game is zero tolerance, but it is one more step along the road to fascism and the police state where all freedoms are outlawed or rationed by the same people who keep telling us that it is possible to pick up manure by the clean end and it is disrespectful to call a sanitation engineer a janitor. It doesn't stop there.

A little boy was eating lemon drops on the playground when one of his friends came up. Being a polite and well mannered child, he offered his friend a lemon drop and the friend took it. A teacher watching the exchange reported the boys to the principal and they were both suspended for possession of drugs. A lemon drop. The box, which came from a local healthy food store, was unfamiliar to the teacher, but zero tolerance means no tolerance and, obviously, no intelligence. A lemon drop. In what sane world does a lemon drop look anything like illegal or illicit drugs?

A woman's children were taken from her by social services when someone reported her for negligence. What happened? Mom let her son walk to the soccer field 2-1/2 blocks from their house and on the same side of the street. The boy was 12 years old. Mom planned to meet him at the soccer field in 30 minutes. The police picked Mom up at home and held her until social services arrived. The reasoning for this situation was that the boy could have been kidnapped or molested in his 2-1/2 block walk. Zero tolerance. No intelligence and no common sense. This is what our world is devolving into, and it makes no sense because children are snatched from their fenced and gated back yards and from their beds in the middle of the night. What's next? Parents arrested and their children taken to foster homes because they were asleep when their children were sleeping? It sounds ludicrous, but this is where we're headed.

There are moments when a nosy neighbor is handy, like when you're on vacation and a moving van pulls up to your house and steals everything. That's when a nosy neighbor is a good neighbor. When neighbors are worried that you allowed your child to walk 2-1/2 blocks to the soccer field alone while you got your toddler fed and changed tells me that the neighbors have too much time on their hands and their nose stuck way too far into your business.

I'm a dinosaur. I grew up at a time when I walked over two miles to school every day in all weather after my parents both left for work. I came home to an empty house every day after another two-mile walk from school and started dinner, did my homework and watched my younger brother and sister until my parents returned home several hours later. I took a bus once a week five miles away to my piano lesson and in the fall and winter came and went in the darkness alone. On weekends, I played in the school yard or walked over to friends' homes to play for hours at a time. I wasn't much older than the 12-year-old soccer player who now lives with foster parents. I stayed after school for play practice and special events and came home in the dark alone and I did the same thing for plays, choir and other events, few of which my parents attended, and I didn't feel deprived or overlooked or neglected. I was trusted and given a measure of independence suitable to my age and maturity.

As a small child of 7 and 8, I walked all over the military base where we lived, miles and miles, going to ballroom dancing and ceramics classes, the movies, the swimming pool and sometimes to watch the Green Beret practice jumps and run the obstacle course. I played for hours in the jungle where a chain link fence I could climb separated me from the Panamanian natives. I climbed trees and fell and ripped open the back of my left arm when my parents were at the commissary and I was playing in the jungle with friends. One of them ran to a neighbor's house and he called the ambulance while he helped stanch the bleeding with his best bathroom towels. My parents met us at the hospital and no one called social services or had them arrested for neglect. Why would they? Kids play. Kids get hurt. Parents aren't always there. Shit happens.

When I got out of the hospital and had to go for physical therapy, I walked there and came home alone. No one worried that anything would happen to me because I knew what to do and we lived on a base. No, a military base isn't the same thing as a city neighborhood, especially not nowadays, but it would have been no different if it had been in a residential neighborhood.

When did parents begin chauffeuring their children everywhere instead of allowing them to walk a few blocks or a couple of miles to soccer practice or dance lessons, etc.? Was it because one over protective parent refused to let her children out of her sight or was it during the '60s when everyone went into therapy and decided that they were psychological messes because their parents didn't see them hitting the winning run in a crucial ball game or watch them in the fifth performance of Death of a Salesman in high school? What happened to teaching children independence and allowing them to mature? How do we expect children to be able to handle themselves in social situations if the only situations they are allowed happen at school or under parental supervision?

Some mothers refuse to allow their children out of their own yards and sleepovers are only allowed if the other child comes to their home, even when the child is a teenager. What does that say about the parent that allows their child to sleep over at the friend's house? Does that mean they are negligent and taking chances with their child's life? Does social services need to be involved, or the police? No wonder some children never leave home and others prefer to return home after college and fail to launch. The umbilical cord doesn't stretch that far.

Don't kid yourselves. Living this way is fascism. When a parent can no longer correct their children in public for fear of being arrested and their children put in foster homes or allow a child to walk a couple of blocks without being chauffeured or when an adult must prove they are old enough to buy teaspoons, the world has gone insane. Living a life in fear of what the neighbors or a stranger will say or do is no way to live. That is not freedom. That is fascism. Freedom is dying a slow and painful death, leaching away into the sands of corruption and the black hole of public opinion. Each day we lose a little more, but people are adaptable. They keep pace with the current trends and social expectations without realizing that what is at stake is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's the trickle down effect. The government sticks their fingers and laws into every part of life for our own good, but it isn't a cookie that could spoil dinner they're regulating, it's our basic freedoms. In such a world, terror and fear rule and the masters of terror and fear gain more and more control until we end up as prisoners in our own homes. It was the state of things in Germany when the Nazis came to power and it is the unstable world ruled by Islam, and now it is here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Don't blink. Fascism is getting closer and freedom is strangling to death.

You blinked.