Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why I am reading "Ulysses" Instead of "Fahrenheit 451" and other thoughts on the publishing industry. (Sundays with the Classics)

About six months ago, I began staying increasingly late at work.  I used to leave at 5:00 most days, but I began to leave at 6:00 and then even 7 or 8 o'clock at night.

The reason I was staying so late was the flood of new clients coming in -- an onslaught of mostly-foreclosure related clients who were all but knocking down the doors of our firm trying to hire me to represent them.  I simply couldn't fit them all in during the day and so I began seeing clients at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and one at 8:00 p.m. and one I saw on a Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Those people were desperate for help, and I'm one of the few lawyers in our state who really knows what to do and has a good track record in foreclosure work, so I really wanted to help them.  But I won't pretend it wasn't good for us, too:  Based on the new work the last few months have brought in, I have hired another litigator and a couple of clerks to work for me -- which means I've created three jobs this year.

I was thinking about that this week when I had this exchange:

That might be kind of hard to see.  It's an exchange of tweets with a literary agent who turned up in my timeline, retweeted by someone else, announcing she was telling people not to query her for two weeks.

So I asked her Why? and added whether she wasn't afraid of missing a bestseller, and she responded by saying "If you were in my shoes you'd understand," which is a cop-out answer ("You can't possibly know what it's like to be a literary agent," is what it means) and that lots of agents miss lots of best-sellers.

That agent, as it turns out, is one that is a friend of a friend and I had in the past queried her with a book back when I was still trying to get other people to publish my work -- back when I was more interested in getting one particular kind of reader (in publishing) than readersShe had been nice to me, and made some suggestions on editing the book, and I'd done that off and on for the past few years.

(That agent also, I will note, passed on the After, saying that she thought it sounded more like a farce than it should have.)

So anyway, this agent, Kate McKean, then emailed me separately.  She didn't opt to make that email public, so I won't, but I will say that she took offense to my questions to her, finding them too aggressive.

(I responded that I hadn't meant them that way, and I hoped she had a nice summer, and that she got all the best sellers on her desk.)

But Kate McKean, and publishing, kind of show one thing I think is wrong with publishers and literary agents and the publishing (as opposed to reading) world, which is:  why would you tell people not to hire you?

That's what I asked her and that's what I'm still wondering.  I didn't want potential clients to not hire me, not just because I really do want to help people, but also because that's how I make my money.

So why, I wonder, would any writer go to any agent or publisher who actively tries to keep them from coming in the door?  If I were an agent, or a publisher, I would want millions of queries a day, and millions of books to read.  I would be so worried that one day I wouldn't be needed, or that someday the next Twilight or The Firm would end up on the next guy's desk that I would never stop soliciting queries, and, if I got too busy to read them all, I'd hire someone to read them with me.

But publishing -- and I don't mean to turn Sundays with the Classics into a repeated diatribe on publishing and writing, as I'm generally opposed to blogging about those things -- publishing is so intent on closing that door, on limiting the amount of books that get made and the number of people that get published -- that it (Big Publishing) tries to keep people from hiring it to do stuff.

The stuff it exists to do.

This has been going on a long time: remember, Dickens as a professional writer was looked down on: writing was the province of the aristocrat, back then, not a way to earn a living.  And nowadays, writers and publishers still want to keep the bar high and the door closed, because that keeps the money being spent going to them (they ignore the fact that the more people read, the more they read, and that a dollar spent on a book tends to create three dollars spent on a book.)

I get why writers want to treat people that way: Most writers fear competition, from what I've been able to judge, and even as they pretend writing is an art they treat it like a business.  (John Grisham is among the many longtime adult artists who are putting out YA books, ostensibly because they like the connection they get with younger readers who are more actively engaged, but I suspect because YA is hot right now and as at least one would-be "artist" admitted in Entertainment Weekly this week, if you want to sell a lot of books, call your book a YA book.)

That's in part why I make an effort to take in any new clients I can, too: I don't advertise, but instead get all my work from other lawyers, lawyers who send their trusted clients to me.  The moment I turn one down, that lawyer will start sending their clients to someone else.  So I don't want my potential business going to someone else, and you'd think an agent, especially, would fear that.

But they don't have to, is the message I got: This agent, who had once been kind of interested in a book I wrote, felt that she could not only tell potential customers "Don't bother me this summer," but also could write me an email trying to insult me.

And why?

Because for the most part, potential readers and potential writers take it.  People let Big Publishing control the books they read and limit the books that get published because they figure that's the best way to do it.  You can read a zillion articles making light of ebooks and indie books, and efforts like Stephen King's to delegitimize indie/epublishing are part of that.

When music went digital and became more freely available than ever, Big Music responded in two ways: trying to stop people from spreading music, and trying to make it easier to buy the music you wanted for a price that was reasonable.

You know which one won that battle: Napster might have disappeared (I was never a big supporter of free music) but the record companies had to drastically change the way they do business, a move that most figure began in 2002 with "360 deals," which tapped into revenue streams traditionally held by the artists.  That, in turn, made it possible for such "non-traditional" but semi-popular types of music, such as jam bands, to begin getting major label support.

Movie studios have been fighting a losing battle for years against the increasing digitization and easy spread of movies; while it's still relatively difficult to get a movie into the theaters, the advent of Youtube and Hulu and Netflix means that filmmakers, comedians, and actors can bypass the big studios and then opt-in to the majors when they feel like it.  I still haven't watched The Foot-Fist Way, but I've seen Danny McBride in major studio films, and that type of thing is far more common now than when Kevin Smith did it with Clerks.

Publishers haven't yet grasped that traditional publishing, as stupid as it is, is also dying.  There won't be paper books in 10 years: I feel confident in saying that.  Or at least, no more so than there are vinyl albums or CDs now.  The first e-book reader was launched in 1998, and cost $500.  Today, I was given by my kids for Father's Day a Kindle Fire, which not only reads e-books but works more or less like a laptop computer I can hold in my hand.  It cost $199.

Judging by Kindle prices over the past few years, that Kindle Fire will be costing about $75 in two years, and for $80 a year I can borrow from Amazon's library of books, so for less than a quarter a day I can have access to any book in the world any time I want it.

How can book books compete with that?

They can't.

Publishers, though, especially hate Amazon and generally hate e-readers, because publishers are tied to their traditional model of stacks of books in Barnes & Noble with buybacks and signings and lots and lots of jobs in publicity and editing and preplanning and catalog sales, and most people fear change in their employment, and that's why publishers haven't been exactly rushing to embrace the e-reader market (and don't tell me they are, because I haven't gotten to point two of the problem yet.)

And a big problem with Big Publishing is that the digital age makes it easy for anyone to become a big deal.  A guy on Reddit got a movie deal by posting to a comment thread.  The Shack became a bestseller when three guys got together to make a publishing company to publish the book.

Then let's look at 50 Shades Of Grey, because that leads into point two.  Point two is, generally, What happens when authors leave publishing, because right now that isn't happening and Big Publishing is trying hard not to let that happen, but it's going to happen.

Lots of authors already dump books online: Stephen King, the ersatz champion (to some) of epublishing, chose to epublish only those books he didn't think worthy of publishing "for realz".  That's not great for reading: an author who admits a book is crap but indie publishes it just to milk readers is bad for reading the way rock stars who dump crummy B-sides and John Lennon answering-machine recordings on us for money ought to be shunned.

What Big Publishing is worried about is that it will not exist, period if authors ultimately realize that there's no reason they should limit their incomes by sharing it with Big Publishing or limit their sales by keeping prices artificially high by sharing their profits with Big Publishing.  The first time John Grisham or J.K. Rowling decides "Screw Random House" and does it on her own, there's going to be a watershed moment in publishing, and that'll happen about when book books die for good.

But for now, Big Publishing is jealously guarding the doors and inviting a select few into the henhouse, like what they did with E.L. James and her Fifty Shades Of Grey -- now published by Random House.

Ask yourself:  Why is this published by Random House?

And why is it $9.99?

50 Shades, remember, has appeared twice online before, once as a fanfic and once as a free read on the author's website.  Then it was picked up by an online-only small publisher and split into three books and available only as an ebook or print-on-demand.

After all three books were fully published and the book had become a hit through word-of-mouth and bored reporters who suddenly realized they could read erotica as part of their job, only after that did Vintage Books, a division of Random House, pick the book up and redistribute it.

So now you can buy 50 Shades online at Amazon for $9.99, a price "set by the publisher."

Tell me: What did Random House have to do to justify taking its cut?  Why is that book $9.99?  If Amazon follows the same rules for big publishers that it does for me, Random House gets either 70% or 35% of those sales: $3.50 to $7 of each ebook goes to Random House and/or the author.

But Random House had no costs in this book.  They didn't edit it, print it, ship it, publicize it: They just jumped the train after it had already arrived and took a cut, and kept that book $9.99.

I don't know why James signed with Random House -- I suspect it was the desire to legitimize herself, become a big player in writing and be seen as more than a fanfic erotica writer, and for that legitimacy, bestowed by Big Publishing and coveted by (it seems) every writer except me, she gave Random House a bunch of money.

In other words: James paid Random House to let her sell her book.

Big Publishing is the new vanity press.

Now that anyone can publish a book, it's become the mark of high society to have a "real" publisher for your book, and Big Publishing is catering to that.  They're the Sneetches With Stars Upon Thars, and James couldn't wait to hop into Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Star-On Machine.

Which is great for Big Publishing, until the people with stars decide to hop off, as I said:  When the big authors start to forget about dumping books and instead just release their own stuff directly as Radiohead and Louis CK are doing, then what will Big Publishing do?

The other side of midnight, as it were, is the reason I'm not reading Fahrenheit 451 today.  I was going to buy the book, which I only fake-read in 10th grade, because Ray Bradbury died and Andrew Leon mentioned the book and I thought it would be a good classic to start on.

But when I went to get the ebook, it was $9.99.

$9.99 for a book that was written a half-century ago (on a typewriter Bradbury rented for ten cents an hour) and serialized in Playboy and which has been read in every high school, I bet, in the country.  A book that has no marketing costs associated with it whatsoever, and which long ago had paid back the publisher for its editing costs and distribution costs.  Fahrenheit 451 is paid for, is the point: and yet, the publisher is charging ten bucks for it.

The story behind that is compelling: Bradbury hated electronic books (for some reason) and didn't want his book to be available on e-readers.  But when his contract rights were expiring, his publisher bullied him into accepting e-publication anyway, and paid Bradbury "seven figures" for the rights to the book (plus rights to The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man).

In other words, the only costs the publisher had was the money it paid Bradbury, somewhere between $1,000,000 and $9,999,999.  And because they did that, they've now got to sell the books for $9.99.

What, I wonder, would have happened if Bradbury had retained the rights to the books and died? His estate could have honored his wishes, never making them digital, or they could have hired an editor and put the books online themselves and kept the proceeds, without cutting Big Publishing in on the deal -- a deal that Big Publishing didn't deserve.

I think $9.99 is the most one should pay for a book, period, but I draw the line at simply donating my money to Big Publishing.  $9.99 for a book that has paid for itself over and over again for a half-century is $9.99 that I'm just giving to keep it so that agents can take the summer off and complain about how hard it is to have to read a bunch of books, and keep it so that copy editors can get the expensive horn-rimmed glasses to set on the table at the coffee shop in Tribeca.  A fair price for Fahrenheit would be about $5, and I'd have paid that, but I won't pay $10 for a book just to keep Big Publishing feeling good about itself.

So I got Ulysses, instead.  It was free, and it's been called one of the greatest books of all time.  I'm pretty sure that by getting a free book about a guy in Ireland I haven't done anything to make literary agents' jobs much more comprehensible -- I'm sure I still would never be able to understand how they work -- but I also am pretty sure that I haven't contributed to the lingering, lumbering dinosaur that is the publishing industry, sucking up your money and spitting out books that suck.  (Honestly: A John Grisham YA series?  Was there some kind of antidote for creativity given out the last few years?)

And so far -- 33 pages in-- I like it.  I'd always heard Ulysses was almost incomprehensible, but I find it enjoyable so far.  It's more poetic than I'd imagined; I find myself re-reading passages just for the lyrical quality of them, and while I'm occasionally lost in the use of Irish-isms, I'm muddling through.

(It helps that I'm reading it as an ebook.  I can stop and look stuff up whenever I need to.)

The book rolls along amiably, if a bit confusingly, as Stephen Dedalus wakes up and eats breakfast and goes off to teach school, all that happening in the first 33 pages, as he talks with his friend Buck, who had my favorite line of the day, when asked whether he remembers what he said when Stephen told him his mom (Stephen's mom) had died:

I can't remember anything. I remember only ideas and sensations. Why? What happened in the name of God?

I like that: I remember only ideas and sensations.  I feel like that's how my memory works, and it's a fitting place to end this post, which has only tangentially been about Ulysses, but, then, a lengthy discourse on minutiae before getting to the point seems an apt way to begin a series of posts on Joyce's work, if everything I've heard about it is true.

Friday, June 15, 2012

30 Things "The Scream" Is Screaming, 18 (Is This Art?)

Let's talk art experts, briefly.  Here's a funny quote from an "art" "expert" that was interviewed by CBS just before "The Scream" sold for the outrageously stupid price of $119,900,000:

Sue Prideaux will be in the room when "The Scream" is auctioned. She wrote a biography of Munch. The painting is expected to fetch up to $200 million at Sotheby's auction in New York.

"If you look at the billionaires, there are only so many private islands they can buy, private jets, private yachts. There's only one Scream," said Prideaux.

Sue Prideaux wrote a biography of Munch, and yet she didn't know what I, a lawyer who blogs, knows about him - -that there's not only one The Scream, there are four.  Sue Prideaux should read my blog, and then she might have something to back up the Ph.D. in Whedonology she's flaunting.

The Scream sale was a bit of a disappointment, it turns out: It was expected, according to that article that predated the sale, to bring as much as $200,000,000.  More from that article:

New York art dealer David Nash said the piece could sell for much higher than its auction estimate of $80 to $150 million.

"A dealer said you can always re-make the money. You can never re-make the painting," said Nash.
 Okay, first of all, if there's anything more deceptively stupid than the Four Degree Guarantees that the nation's weatherman give out (guaranteeing the temperature within 4 degrees either way gives you an 8-degree window, virtually impossible to miss if you have the National Weather Service's forecast, which they do) it's an estimate of $80,000,000 to $150,000,000.

That is a range of $70,000,000.  That's not an estimate; that's just saying how high numbers go.  "I estimate that in your lifetime you'll earn between $1 and $1,000,000,000."  NAILED IT!

The "art" "experts" opinions, pre-sale, were worth reading this article today, as Sue Prideaux, Humorously Erroneous Munch Biographer, established her credentials in that world by adding

"There aren't many works of art that are blow-up dolls, are there?" Prideaux joked.
CHALLENGE ACCEPTED:  While I wasn't able to find a Night Watch series of blow-up dolls (it's only a matter of time), I was able to find blow-up doll art, and that's close enough to prove Prideaux even more amusingly wrong:

Sander Reijgers is, to quote this site,

 a dutch artist based in Utrecht who create[s] assemblage sculptures using pieces from plastic blow up dolls. In his latest work Reijgers has created a series of objects made by cutting and sewing together pieces from the sex dolls, including soccer balls, gloves and pieces of clothing. the works also comes with explicit titles that point out where the materials originated; ‘sexball’ and ‘titball’ are among these titles.

And while not quite art, there are also clothes made from blow-up dolls (clothes can be made from anything, so we can probably stop having "news" stories about people making clothes out of prom dresses and math homework, just as we can stop having stories about cars that run on grease from the local diner; if it can burn, a car can run on it.  It's not that remarkable.)

The clothes are not actually all that great,

but perhaps if your wearing that "8-Ball" jacket didn't get enough of a snicker from your hipster crowd, that one would do?

There is also a short story, available for free online, called "The Secret Lives of Blow-Up Dolls," by someone named Robyn Art, which is a pretty neat way of twisting Prideaux the Expert's words around and making her feel silly, again: Since literature is art, there is a piece of art that is about blow-up dolls, made by someone named Art.  (You can read that story here.)  I read it while listening to Enya, which made it seem pretty poetic, and I liked it. 

Today's caption:

 If it lasts long enough,
someday the BLOW UP DOLL
version of me will be worth 
$119,900,000... or more!

Caption 17.

Caption 16.

Caption 15.

Caption 14.

Caption 13

Caption 12

Caption 11

Caption 10

Monday, June 11, 2012

What if Gandalf Fought Luke, pt 4 (The Star Wars Blogathon)

Installment 4 of

What If Gandalf Fought Luke?


Read PART TWO here.

Read PART THREE here.

The best part is: it is so simple the beings will not see it coming, Luke thought.

The energy swirls around them, the beings that had so long served Luke instead trying to destroy him, and Luke feels his hold on the shield falter one second... two second... and he can hold it no longer and the pent-up forces that he has been pushing out, as well as the laser bolts he was holding in, escape, all the barriers he can erect dying at once.

Almost at once.


"There is a reason," the man says at the head of the classroom, "Why there are no stories written which use omnipotent beings as a protagonist or antagonist."

"OH MAN" stage whispers a boy in the back of the classroom.  "Now we're learning storytelling."

The other students around him snicker, except for Jndr, who cannot laugh at all because he does not breath air.  He instead makes a thumping sound with two tentacles.

Luke looks at the boy, who sits in the back everyday, slumped in his chair, an attitude that is affected to impress the other students, he knows.  The boy looks back at him.

"Perhaps you want to teach, Monie?" he asks.

Monie says:  "I'll teach," and he reaches out with his mind, manipulating what he thinks are tiny unintelligent blots of life but which a few short days hence will reveal themselves to be anything but unintelligent, and the styluses that the students use to take notes all lift, in unison, and fly at the teacher from nearly every direction and every height, some of them faster than others, some of them dipping and raising to make it harder to catch them.

It's an impressive display.

All of the styluses stop, though, and neatly line themselves up in a row in front of Luke.  They then appear to hop back, on thin air, until they stand in front of Monie.  They form a wall in front of him, and then they climb up higher, hopping on their ends, until they are above his head.  He looks up at them.

They drop.

He flinches, only slightly, but it is visible to everyone but Jndr who sees in chemicals; a moment later, Jndr will get a whiff of the scent of fear that Monie emitted and will tap his tentacles lightly in amusement.

The styluses stop a centimeter short of Monie's face, and hang there for a second.

Then they disappear.

The class gasps.

Monie waves his hand threw the air in front of his face, certain they are being cloaked.

They are not.

They are gone.

The class stares, and chemically sniffs at Monie's area, for a few seconds longer, and then turns back towards the teacher.

"Where are they?" asks Senna.  Like all of her people, her skin betrays her emotions and they are roiling like the colors that swirl on her face and hands.  Luke has made her wear clothes to attend the Academy.

"I was doing some reading in the Library last week and I came across an old story," Luke says quietly.  "I thought at first it was fiction.  But..." he pauses and looks at them meaningfully "... I decided that it's only fiction if I don't let it happen."


So much is so simple, Luke muses, and dives in.


BACK TO THE BLOGATHON: Andrew, you've been replaced as leader!


What two real-life sounds make up the lightsaber noise in the movies?

Today's rules:

1.  The question is worth 10,000 points.

2.Mention Andrew Leon's class' book on your blog, get 10,000 points (leave me a link.)

3.  If you HAVE NOT answered a question at all in the past two weeks, leaving a comment gets you 75,000 points. 


 P.T. Dilloway: 164,121. Author Patrick Dilloway blogs here, and wrote the excellent book Where You Belong, available here.)

Andrew Leon: 150,411 1/4. (Andrew's the author of the great YA book, The House On The Corner. Click here to go to his blog.)

Michael Offutt, 16,3021/2, author of  the great sci-fi book Slipstream, which you can read about on Goodreads)

Rusty Webb: 4,022, Blogger at The Blutonian Death Egg, author of the great novella A Dead God's Wrath.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wherein I Inadvertently Insult Dickens Without Meaning To. (Sundays With The Classics)

I am, according to my Kindle, about 94% done with Great Expectations and as I sat down to write this I thought "I don't really have anything much to say about it," which shouldn't surprise anyone who reads anything I ever wrote: not having much to say about something has never ever stopped me from writing; in fact, not having much to say about things is more or less the only thing my writing exists to prove.

I'm kind of torn between going on and on about how we choose what we read, on the one hand, and going on and on about how much of a soap opera Great Expectations turned out to be, with the kind of plot twists and turns that we would groan about if they weren't coming from Charles Dickens, so let me just abandon the whole how do you choose what you read line of thought wherein I was going to talk about how on Sundays I only read the classics but today I added in that I can read the comics on Sunday mornings (I get my comics on my phone now: I'm almost completely off paper and when I can afford a Kindle Fire I might never go back) but I'm really kind of sold on the soap opera thing.

So: The soap opera thing.  Man, is Great Expectations a potboiler.

Which I mean in a good way but which having looked it up I see is not considered a good thing, not at all:  According to Wikipedia, a pot-boiler is typically a story written by a hack writer and done just to pay the bills, something a writer whipped out to keep the pot boiling on his stove, a stupid expression if ever there was one because water is free (if you put that pot outside and it rains), but I suppose you have to pay for the wood or coal or whatever to heat the water, so maybe the expression isn't as stupid as it seems.

Weirdly, this site says that a potboiler was originally a stone that was heated up and dropped into a pot of water to make it boil back when pottery was too fragile to expose directly to fire, which doesn't seem possible.  How hot would a rock have to be, to be able to be dropped into water and bring it to a boil before losing all its heat?  You'd have to bring the water up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so the rock would have to be a lot hotter than that, because you're going to average out the temperatures, aren't you?  That seems scientifically valid, that if you drop a rock of mass X into water of mass Y, to get Y to 212 degrees X has to be a lot hotter than 212 degrees, with however hot the rock is depending on the amount of water you want to heat up.

But I digress.  A pot-boiler, I'm surprised to learn, is considered somewhat disgraceful, writing for money instead of artistic impulse being seen as somehow demeaning or making the writing less worthwhile, which is strange because Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest writers ever...

...Bleak House, which I wasn't terribly fond of, ranks 12th on one list of the 100 most important novels ever,with Great Expectations at 16 and The Pickwick Papers 76th, so Dickens has three books on that list alone...

...and Dickens proudly wrote for money, trying to make writing a profession rather than the province of amateurs and gentlemen, breaking with tradition to do so, and Dickens is revered in English classes.

So why would a potboiler be considered a derogatory term?  It seems to be because we don't trust the masses:  If something is designed to be popular, we distrust it.  George Costanza wasn't going to dumb down Jerk Store to appeal to the masses:

and it's common, almost de rigeur, to assume that anything that's superpopular must also be watered-down, lowest-common-denominator type of stuff that doesn't have any redeeming qualities.

The converse of this is the Thirty Rock/Mad Men genre, which is assumed to be superhighbrow but which nobody watches.  The other day, I made a Mad Men reference.  I've never watched the show.  The coworker I was talking to hadn't ever watched the show, either, but she got the reference.  I don't know anyone who watches that show, or even anyone who's ever seen a single episode of it.

So we have two competing forces:  quality, which nobody pays attention to but everyone knows about, and popularity, which everyone knows about but which in an of itself is taken to mean that the thing you're dealing with is low quality:  you can be popular, or good, but not both, at least in the artistic world.  (Unless "you" are a Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan movie.)

But Great Expectations really is a pot-boiler, in the best sense of the word.  The wrap-up to the book is phenomenally soap-opera-ish and over-the-top with revelations and twists and even some action and death and more:  Estella is revealed to be the daughter of Pip's actual benefactor, a complement to the fact that she was adopted by his assumed benefactor.  Orlick confesses that he actually did kill Pip's sister, Mrs. Jo, and tries to kill Pip, too, for getting him fired from Miss Havisham's and for interfering with Orlick's dancing himself at Biddy.  Magwitch is ratted out by Compeyson, who was Miss Havisham's mysterious suitor, the man who set this all in motion, really:  Had Compeyson not existed, Magwitch might not have gone to jail and might not have been recaptured when Pip fed him on the marshes, and Magwitch might not have given Pip his expectations.  Meanwhile Compeyson, not existing, would not have wrecked Miss Havisham, and she would presumably have not been looking for an orphan to adopt to wreak her revenge, so she would not have brought Pip to believe that he was being set on a course to marry Estella, and her family might not have become so estranged and Matthew Pocket may have been able to set Herbert up on his own business, so Pip's entire existence, as it was, is owed to the fact that Compeyson set up Magwitch, and then Pip is brought down again when Compeyson catches him trying to spirit Magwitch out of the country and although Compeyson is killed, Magwitch is mortally wounded, too...

...and there is a fine bit of social satire in the fact that the British government wouldn't delay Magwitch's trial a month for fear that he would die before he was sentenced to death for returning to England, and the care they take to keep Magwitch from being poisoned before he can be hanged, but of course, there's a reason, too, in that if Magwitch were to die before being convicted, Pip, rather than the Crown, might inherit Magwitch's estate...

...and it's all tied up neatly with some really great scenes, including Orlick's attack on Pip and his salvation by (among others) Trabb's boy, Pip being rescued by the very people who he used to resent and be mocked by, as Dickens lays it on in slathering layers of ending.

It's almost impossible to put down, and the ending of the book with Miss Havisham's fire and Orlick's attack and Compeyson's denouncing of Magwitch and the unraveling of Estella's lifetime is almost impossible to put down, and so for 151 years -- a century and a half -- Great Expectations has managed to not only exist, this book that Dickens wrote to pump up sales of his magazine (and which he changed the ending to, to be more crowd-pleasing, a happy ending meant to pump up sales done a century and a half before Fatal Attraction would do the same thing (so now, when people change the ending of a movie to help make more money, we can say they're being Dickensian) -- it's managed to not only exist but to be a page turner, a book that you can't help but want to keep reading to get to the end.

If that's what you get when you write for money rather than art, then everybody ought to write for money, and forget art.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Must... finish... (The Star Wars Blogathon)

More pix like this on PWNST.
The more I work, the busier I get.  Your question is at the end of

Installment 3 of

What If Gandalf Fought Luke?


Read PART TWO here.

And they do not like threats. A fist pulls back, an arm rears up over the beings' collective head, and then the fist, cocked, thrusts forward.

"This one," the beings whisper in a million voices and Luke knows they mean the man he came here to talk to, the wizard, "never understood the full range of his powers."  And as the sentence is complete, the thrusting-forward fist opens wide, the hand splayed seemingly in surprise, but the surprise is only on the face of the recipients of the blast, who cannot see how it is the beam is formed -- the molecules around them giving energy up and it is channeled to a point just in front of the palm, where it coalesces into a tiny dot, a fusioned furnace of power that takes the energy and pushes it together to make more energy, the spot growing hotter than white hot to transcend color before the energy is pushed back out again in a widening fan of heat and light and radiation, powering into Luke and his friends behind their tenuous shield, a shield the beings understand before they even begin their attack and which they pull enough energy from this world to ensure the decimation of.

But Luke, again, is one beat ahead.  He saw the fist cocking before it did, and saw the palm opening before the beings knew they would do so and he has been taking energy, too.  He must draw it from them, from his very enemy, and they are now using some of their power and sentience to keep him from doing that but he is patient, and he is strong, and he layers and layers his shield and wraps them around them. 

He remembers his friend, the man who crouches by his leg now, out of his league, saying Here's where the fun begins and he grimaces with the strain of adding more and more layers to his thin barrier as the energy does not just blast past them but instead loops back around them to surround the bubble of force that keeps them alive.

All around them is swirling energy, plasma roiling and striking and being forced over and over to attack attack attack and Luke knows that if Han or Sam looks up at him, they will see him sweating not with the heat of the assault (which is considerable) but with the strain of keeping them from succumbing to it.

They do not look up.

He hears in his mind Han say "Enough with defense" and then he hears Han say it in real life, Luke is still slightly in the future, and he hears the blaster unclick and he cannot tell Han that a blaster is useless in this situation, but he does not have to.  Han has nothing to shoot at; they cannot see outside the tiny bubble that they now stand in, a carefully-controlled spiraling sun of energy twisting around and around them.   

How far out does it go? Sam wonders.

Han stands with his blaster pointing at nothing in particular.

Luke has his head bowed, his eyes closed to keep the sweat out of them.  He holds his sword before him, the light feeble in the glow of the forces the beings are still directing at them.  He is concentrating.

"We need to attack" and Luke hears Han say that twice, too, his attention on what the beings will do next, a trick even his master didn't know.  But he is having trouble reaching through the energy and changes his focus to attempting to fathom that.

His mind still working at a speed Han or Sam could not comprehend, most of his attention on the shield, Luke begins to parse the energy around them the way he saw the beings do with the air.

If they can do it, so can I, he thought.

There were stories, after all, of other beings who had been able to do the things he and his young students could do, who could master the arts only he right now was a living master of.

We work through THEM, Luke thought, in the part of his mind that could focus on this, the shield stabilizing.  But what do THEY work through?

He sent his mind among the fiery death the beings were trying to smother him with and felt it touch his consciousness.  He could almost sense its structure, could almost feel his way into picking it apart... he is almost there when Han says, twice, once in the future and once a second later

"I see 'em!" and Han shoots as Sam yells no and Luke must abandon the searching and instead find the bolt from Han's blaster as it leaps out of the muzzle towards the beings, only to strike the wall of the force field and begin ricocheting around it.

Luke cannot touch light, not yet, he was so close but he can channel it and he begins to build, furiously, new walls and tunnels and channels in the shield, forming a maze in which he can guide the bolts that Han is squeezing off with each pulse of his trigger finger.  The shots careen around in a pattern that only seems random, guided by Luke's mind now forming their road, and they begin to coalesce into their own globe of blue energy.

Luke feels his control on the shield that protects them from the beings begin to falter as he must divert more and more attention to the lasers that are stored behind him now.  Even though Han has stopped his attack, the energy requires a great deal of attention. 

He drops his glimpse into the future, and feels blind.  He must focus on now to keep them alive.

And he knows that will not last more than a second or two more.


Hey, that was kind of fun.  FOR ME, anyway.  And I'll get around to finishing it no matter how sarcastically PT Dilloway, with his "organization" and "ability to do things when he says he's going to do them" and all those other high-falutin' habits, gets.

Here's question 93:

What did Luke look strong enough to do after Han rescued him on Hoth?

Today's rules:

1.  The question is worth 1,000 points if you answer it in the first comment spot, but doubles thereafter up to the fifth comment spot: So answer it in the second spot, it's 2000.  Third spot, 4000.  Fourth spot, 8000.  Fifth or later, 16,000.

2.Mention Andrew Leon's class' book on your blog, get 10,000 points (leave me a link.)

3.  Recast a "Man Walks Into A Bar" joke as a Star Wars joke in your comment, and get 5,000 points per such joke. 


Andrew Leon: 100,411 1/4. (Andrew's the author of the great YA book, The House On The Corner. Click here to go to his blog.)

 P.T. Dilloway: 57,121. Author Patrick Dilloway blogs here, and wrote the excellent book Where You Belong, available here.)

Michael Offutt, 16,3021/2, author of  the great sci-fi book Slipstream, which you can read about on Goodreads)

Rusty Webb: 4,022, Blogger at The Blutonian Death Egg, author of the great novella A Dead God's Wrath.

Monday, June 04, 2012

What if Gandalf fought Luke, pt. 2 (The Star Wars Blogathon)

Briane Pagel on Staree


Dark, bottomless pits of pitch-black, his eyes appeared to be as the tiny bits of light that formed what used to be Gandalf whorled around, growing and dimming, pulsating and throbbing, always in the shape of the wizard but never the wizard himself.

"I don't like this,"  Han says.

Sam agrees but doesn't want to admit it.

"Steady," Luke says, and his hands remain in front of him, held up, palms forward.  His face, calm, impassive, conveys no nervousness.

"Are you still there, wizard?" He asks.

There is no immediate answer.  The bits of light grow dimmer and seem to wane, and almost the shape of the older-than-old man they took over can be seen through the shape they have become.  The kitchen is gloomy and dark in the candlelight.

"Are you still?" Luke persists.

Then many things happen at once, there is a flash, many flashes, more flashes than one could count: in the span of a millisecond a billion beings have all become enraged and engorged with their own power and they have realized that they have that power and more, drawing power from the very air around them -- for where must the power come from that fuels them? -- and commanding it to be a part of them, bending the energy contained in the atoms that themselves are only slightly smaller than the beings, bending it to their own whims, and the flashes are those beings cooperating with each other at a speed greater than any person could think, and holding more energy than entire planets have consumed in their existence, those beings use in that millisecond an infinitesimal portion of their power and blow the top off of the Hill, destroying the home that has stood for generations and destroying a good portion of the Hill with it and sending a bowcrested wave of force pushing dirt and rocks and trees out from the epicenter, which is the form of the old man who is no longer an old man, towards the rest of the Shire, centuries-old trees uprooted and smashing into centuries-old houses and crushing the people who live in them, walls falling on sleeping wives and mothers, on fathers and sons just getting up to begin their farming day in the hour before the sun rises -- the sky, which had begun to turn a hazy violet now blotted out by the cloud of dirt sent into the air by the explosion that has rent the world.

But just before that happens, Luke senses that it will happen and pulls Han and Sam to him and calls on the same power -- the same power that is blasting outward and upward and downward, that is roaring its anger at having been entrapped -- Luke calls on that power, siphoning an even smaller amount of it away from the billion tiny souls and using their own destruction to protect himself and his friends from the terrible eruption.

And just before that happens, Luke knows it will happen because he is able to see, in the black of the eyes of the used-to-be-wizard a glimmer of warning.

For long minutes, the dust rains down on them, larger clods pelting the force-field that still stands, making visible the invisible energy lines that are shaped not by Luke's outstretched hand but by his mind, which knows how to wheedle the power away from the beings that now want him to stop using them.

"You steal from US still?" a billion voices say as one.

"I work with you," says Luke.  He stands, then, and slowly, gracefully, takes his saber from its hilt. A touch, a flick, and a shaft of solid light that does not depend on these beings for its existence springs up, sizzling and crackling as dust motes swirl into it.

"That is, if you want me to," Luke says softly.  "If you want me to."

The beings understand that Luke's words are both promise and threat.


So I'll probably be posting these about every other day to finish up the questions, God willing and the river don't rise.

Question 92:

What famous person was the Russian astronaut in Armageddon referencing when he said that he didn't know the man because he'd never seen Star Wars?

Also: Andrew found the link for the hilarious commercial for "Blue Milk." Watch it or you'll regret it forever.  Well, for like 15 second  until you move on to something else.

  Today's rules:

2.Mention Andrew Leon's class' book on your blog, get 1,000 points (leave me a link.)

 UPDATED STANDINGS including points from Rhyming Day:

Andrew Leon: 95,411 1/4. (Andrew's the author of the great YA book, The House On The Corner. Click here to go to his blog.)

 P.T. Dilloway: 62,121. Author Patrick Dilloway blogs here, and wrote the excellent book Where You Belong, available here.)

Michael Offutt, 16,3021/2, author of  the great sci-fi book Slipstream, which you can read about on Goodreads)

Rusty Webb: 4,022, Blogger at The Blutonian Death Egg, author of the great novella A Dead God's Wrath.

It's okay to say all this stuff about Lucy Lawless. Sweetie never reads this blog.

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Kia Rio for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Does Lucy Lawless still live in Los Angeles?

That's not just a moderately-difficult tongue-twister, it's a question I ask PURELY OUT OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOUSITY, Sweetie, my musings, which again are PURELY INTELLECTUAL and have very little to do with Lucy Lawless wearing a leather miniskirt, being brought on by this video:

Kia Rio, which apparently was unaware of my PURELY INTELLECTUAL desire to track down and meet Lucy Lawless and maybe discuss some key scenes from "Xena: Warrior Princess" or "Spartacus" with her, sent two sets of best friends on what they call a "Zip and Dash."  Armed with new Kia Rios that have Bluetooth features, navigation systems, USB jacks, rear camera displays and such, these pairs were sent on a "geocache" through Los Angeles, looking for Christina Milian.

Wait, who?

I only vaguely know who that is.  She was in "Head of the Class," right? Whatever happened to Arvid?

Seriously, what did?

Back to Lucy Lawless. I mean, back to the "Zip and Dash."  These lucky pairs got to cruise around LA in cool new cars, seeking Christina whatshername and looking at historic sites like the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round (which has been there since 1937, and used to amuse Walt's kids before Disneyland got built) and Rodeo Drive, home to great shopping that I can't afford but would mention to Sweetie while I went to find Lucy, and other sites, like "Pink's Hot Dogs," where they serve hot dogs named after celebrities.  (I'll have a "Ryan Gosling." It's served COOL, with the relish on the side.)

(I don't know what that last part is supposed to mean.)

And they got to do all that while driving what looks to be one of the best new high-tech cool cars: UVO Technology and more (you can find out that MORE on the Rio Explorer Page)
So this "Zip and Dash" is something I'd very much like to try, and on the offchance that Lucy is NOT in LA, then, Kia, I will give it a shot in Australia. Or New York. Or Europe.  Or wherever Lucy ... what's this?  What does that say at the top of that paper... "temporary restraining WHAT?"

Visit Sponsor's Site

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Wherein I decide to make more public my new feud with Stephen King (Sundays With The Classics)

Hey, remember this post? I do, but maybe you don't.  Just about a year ago I got word that Stephen King was going to only publish his new book in hard copy, not as an ebook. Today -- May 21, 2013 -- Stephen King got yet another bump of publicity out of that stunt, which surely cannot be his plan, right? I mean, why would an author want places like NPR, Huffpo, and the Daily News Books Blog to write about him and his book just before it comes out?

Or, to ask it another way: is it possible that Stephen King's now-much-more-publicized "stance" against ebooks is simply more hype?

SURE, it is possible.  Consider this new quote from Stephen King:

King told the Wall Street Journal that he hopes to inspire fans to buy the print edition in bookstores and said he does not know when he will make the book available digitally. “I have no plans for a digital version,” King said. “Maybe at some point, but in the meantime, let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Source.  Hero of print? Hero of talking out of his butt, I think.  Let's focus on that:

I have no  plans for a digital version... maybe at some point.


What King really wants, as I pointed out in the essay a year ago, and below, is to control your experience of his book, something no author can do.  What he wants, as a corollary, I suspect, is to crack down on e-publishing, which authors think costs them money by keeping book prices down and by letting indie authors in.  They are barring the gate, these legacy authors, and using their market power to try to keep any new writers from getting in, because they like sucking up 90% of the book-buying public's money.  Garrison Keillor once lamented that once everyone can publish a book, all authors will make a couple of bucks.  What he meant was what King means now: once everyone can publish a book, legacy authors will make less money, and they are doing what they can to stop that.

Here is what I wrote about King a year ago:

Today, I sat in my air-conditioned house, with a half-full pint of Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake ice cream and a Diet Coke, reading Great Expectations.

Not the book; I was reading a screen, on my phone, propped up on the table on a molded plastic stand.  I'd eat some ice cream, read a page, swipe a finger and move on.  Ice cream, sip of soda, swipe the finger, move on.

Would Charles Dickens approve of that?

Stephen King would not, I know.  Stephen King thinks I should sit in a sod-roofed hut reading books on paper and if I eat ice cream at all, it should be ice cream I made myself in a still or churn or whatever it was they made ice cream in when ice cream was first invented, and then stored in an ice house under blocks of ice carved out of lakes in the winter and kept under wraps until the summer when the iceman bringeth me some cold.

Stephen King thinks that humanity should never progress and that only certain experiences are authentic enough, is what Stephen King would have you think.

Picking on Stephen King, which will not matter at all to him but matters to me and to people who like to read, expecially people who like to read what they want to read, as opposed to what Stephen King and his publishers want us to read, is difficult for me, as I am a fan of his writing and am in the process of writing an essay lauding one of his works.  But I have to do it, because Stephen King is a big phony who is posturing about how great only his experiences are, and/or Stephen King is also choosing sides in the burgeoning battle between indie authors and Amazon, on this side (a/ka/ people who want to let you read whatever you want to read) and King and Garrison Keillor and old-line publishers on that side -- a/k/a People who cannot figure out how else to save their jobs other than to keep books rare and expensive.

Recently, Stephen King announced that his next book, whatever it will be, is only going to be available in paperback, at least at first.  King announced this and said that he is doing that because he liked reading pulpy thrillers in paperback and wanted his readers to have that authentic experience.

This came as a surprise, kind of, in that King has in the past been at least interested in trying to e-publish his books.  He tried taking one old book he'd never gotten around to finishing and serializing it, charging people about $1.00 per 5,000 words.  The experience, from what I read of it, was less than satisfying, with King being upset that people were illegally downloading his work and limiting the production of new installments, which then caused fewer and fewer people to buy the new installments because they worried that it wouldn't get finished, that he'd quit.

Imagine, a writer quitting writing because not enough people pay him to write!

Perhaps it's that Stephen King isn't really a writer so much as he is a salesman, which is fine -- he sells people a service (storytelling) and I'm okay with that; I sell people a service (suing other people) and make no bones about how expensive that can be.  But I don't pretend I'm doing a public good, or that suing other people is an art that is a higher calling for me*...

*... I don't, also, insist that all lawsuits be carried out with a powdered wig in courtrooms where stenographers take notes with a charcoal pencil, because I'm not as interested in the authenticity of the experience; I just want people not to be harassed by big banks...

...and so when I say something like "If you won't pay me, I won't write that brief," which I don't actually say that much (I'm softhearted) it's at least honest.  When King says If you won't pay me I won't finish this story he's pretending that he's something other than a merchant and that what he's doing is art, and it's too bad he's gotta make a buck at it, but etc. etc. and in the end, he's still a salesman wrapped in wolf's clothing.

Or something; my indexterity with a metaphor is possibly one of the reasons my sales lag behind others.*

*(Another reason? Nobody ever gets my symbolism.  Dear Elizabeth Tecca: I rarely comment on my own writing because it should stand on its own, but I will go so far as to say (a) thank you for the 4-star review of Eclipse and (b) the reason all the nouns are capitalized in those parts has a lot to do with how Claudius thinks.)

King later on tried to e-publish another book, with only about 40,000 copies being sold, a disappointing number for him and his publisher, although only his publisher admitted it.  He's also expressed interest in multimedia-type presentations of writing.

So why the sudden switch away from higher-tech and innovative presentations?  Is it really because King thinks the act of reading a paperback book makes the appreciation of the book so much the better?

And who is he to decide?

Let's assume that King is being honest (he's not, I think, and I'll explain why) and that he honestly believes that his book will be better if you can hold it in your hand, turn a real page with a real finger and smell the ink or the pulp or something, that it will enhance the experience.

In the first place, it is highly unlikely anyone will be reading that book in the same world King read it in, a world where there were only three television channels that didn't even broadcast around the clock, a world without laptops and the Internet and before flying became easy and common, a world that exists now only in reruns of Stand By Me on cable TV.  So King is setting himself -- yourselves -- up for failure:  you cannot be a young Stephen King reading in a hot house at night under the covers while the transistor radio beams staticky news of Tom Gordon into your ears.

In the second place, can the artist dictate to the viewer how his work must be appreciated?  Only, and at best, to a limited extent, and often I find that to be a pretext.  The Beatles, for example, held out and held out making their work available on iTunes, agreeing to do so only at the 11th hour.

Literally: they agreed to license their work exclusively to Apple just before the copyrights were set to expire on their earliest songs.  So was it artistic integrity that caused The Beatles to hold out against digital reproductions of their work?  And if so, why did they change their mind... just before they would be unable to stop anyone from putting Love Me Do online?

One reason I almost never comment on my stories, period -- this post excepted -- is that I think that a work of art must stand on its own.  A painting, a poem, a book, a t-shirt... all of them must be appreciated for what they are, and, as I've posited many times before, the My Aunt's Dog Theorem means that an artist ultimately cannot control what the viewer brings to the work.*

*The My Aunt's Dog Theorem posits that no matter how much time and effort and energy you put into a work, the viewer's own interpretation, based on that viewer's own experiences and mood at the time of consumption, ultimately warps your work into something you may not have intended.  It gets its name from the idea that if you spent a dozen years crafting an abstract painting that attempted to, through the use of pointilism and dadaesque found art make a wry comment on man's inhumanity to man, and finally had it ready to go and unveiled it at the Louvre in front of the entire world, someone would look at your masterpiece and say "Kind of looks like my aunt's dog."

Trying to control the way a viewer sees your art is not only futile but demonstrates a lack of faith in one's ability to actually convey the message through the medium.  One time, when I wanted Oldest Daughter to watch The Amityville Horror, a movie I've always found frightening, I made sure she would have the best chance of being scared, too: we watched it in the dark, with no commercials and no cell phones and no interruptions, my attempt to control all those elements betraying my fears that a 1970s movie might not prove frightening to her when it terrified younger me.

If King was truly comfortable with his writing, he'd trust the reader to get the sense he wants to convey, without having to fret about whether I'm reading it on paper or my phone.  Great Expectations remains thrilling and amusing and interesting even though I read it in spurts between going outside to play water balloons with Mr F.

And trying to control the medium, the message, is bullying -- when Jack White insists you listen to an album on vinyl, he's not just admitting he can't give you gravelly,  bluesy authentic rock and roll any other way, he's insisting that you enjoy things the way he enjoys things, or get the heck out of here and leave him alone.

As I asked on Twitter the other day: Do people who insist books be paper insist also that music be played only on wax cylinders and view only magic lantern shows?

Or does Stephen King go see The Avengers in 3D in an air-conditioned theater even though movies, when he was a kid, had none of those special effects and were shown on small screens in black-and-white?

There's an intellectual dishonesty to the paper-only people; they don't churn their own butter or weave their own clothes but they would deny technological advances to the rest of us, making me read on paper when I'd rather not, because they deem it better.  Paul McCartney wants me to still have a record player.  Stephen King won't let me use my laptop to read his book, and they want me to believe that's because they think it's better that way, but I don't think they believe it, really.

 As I said, if The Beatles really felt making their songs available on iTunes cheapened them, why'd they cave?

I have a trick I use on clients who come see me for foreclosure advice.  I ask them if they want to save their house and they say yes.*

*there is a reason I ask that, but it's lengthy to get into.  Suffice to say it has to do with strategy.

 When I ask why, they say sentimental reasons, often, and I say "What if I were to give you $5,000,000 for it right now. Would you sell?" and they always say yes, which means that it's sentimental value up to a point.  Sentiment's great and all but five million bucks is five million bucks and the kids'll understand if you have to move.

Stephen King thinks his book can only be appreciated in paperback... at first: he's saying later on you might be able to buy it digitally, so apparently after a couple of months pulpy fiction ages just fine onto a Kindle Fire.  How's that for an artistic statement?  Is that one silent movie that won all the Academy Awards now having words and color added?

What's really going on is some combination of contrived scarcity, added value, and a fight against Amazon and other indie booksellers like Smashwords.

Contrived scarcity is what Disney and the makers of Westvleteren 12 beer do (although the latter, being monks, deny that's what they're doing.)  Disney won't let you buy The Lion King whenever you want; you have to wait until it comes out of the vault.  The monks who make "the best beer in the world" carefully limit access to it, although when push comes to shove both open up their doors -- the monks started shipping their beer because they needed money to fix their abbey, which is understandable and they're still doing God's work but they're doing it for a profit.

Making your book available only through a small publisher and only in paperbacks guarantees scarcity, which can drive up demand.  (Westlveteren sells for over $500 a case on eBay).  It guarantees people pre-ordering the book and lines when King goes to the bookstores for signing -- and it guarantees stories about the book for months in advance, free publicity being the best kind, especially if it's authentic free publicity (which is why I'm not naming the book.)

The added value comes from the scarcity of the experience:  when you get that The Lion King DVD, or King's book, or a plain brown bottle of beer, you had to work for it and it's something not everyone has and that makes it more valuable to you.*

*I had an idea for a line of t-shirts once: each one would be simply a plain t-shirt, colored some color, but each would have, up near the collar, a small symbol, say a rocket ship or perhaps a tree or maybe, in some cases, a car.  The symbol didn't matter; what mattered is that there would be a wide array of symbols but only an arbitrary number of them made. I might make, say, 100 rocket-ship-t-shirts, so that if you had one, you were special and people would really want the rocket ships.  I still might do it, once I finish all the other things I'm doing.

The added value also, these days, comes from the feeling that something is authentic: Slow-churned ice cream, organic foods, restaurants that aren't chains, all these things that seem a throwback to something simpler and nostalgic.  There's a diner near us, where Middle Daughter works. It's a mock-1950s diner that people think is a small business and it does a bang-up job of selling that.  It's part of a chain of restaurants in our city owned by a corporation, but very few people know that part or that the owner likely is a Mitt Romney backer.  It feels authentic and that's enough for most people, who never experienced a 1950s diner in the first place.

King's book is supposed to be like 1950s pulpy books and so it'll be more valuable if it feels authentic.  No matter if it is or not, but it can't be, because it was written and produced with modern (i.e., non1950s) processes.

The value is important, as is locking the door to that world of value.  Publishers are running threatened and, don't kid yourself, so are the writers.  One of the people on Twitter who saw my comments said Stephen King has very little to fear from indie authors, and he doesn't but not for the reasons he thinks, and that's why Stephen King and publishers fear indie authors.

King doesn't have to fear indie authors because reading begets more reading.  People who buy books buy lots of books.  Read a good book and you're likely to buy  more books.  E-readers aren't slowing this down: they're increasing the consumption of books -- of all kinds of books. But ebook readers read more: Ebook readers read 24 books on average last year, as opposed to 15 for hard-copy readers.

So if indie writers make more use of electronic formats and people like them, that means that people will buy more books.  What's not to like about that for King, and his publishers?

Aside from the fact that the people on top always fear competition.  King, who likely has enough money to never need to sell another book, still also likely fears someone else outselling him -- whether for monetary or pride reasons.  It can't be fun to be a best-selling author and get beat by Amanda Hocking or that girl who wrote Fifty Shades Of Gray, just as it can't be easy to watch Wool get indie published and then optioned for a movie when nobody's making Stephen King books into movies anymore.

So Stephen King has little to fear from indie writers fiscally,  but much to fear from pride and relevance: Stephen King isn't ready to stop being Stephen King, and rather than take indie writers as a challenge, King has decided it's Katie Bar The Door*

*not sure I'm using that right

time and decided to close the door behind him:  King's publishing method for his next book can be seen not as a way of sharing what it was like to be lil' Stephen reading the pulps but instead a way of proclaiming this to be a "real book" and Kindle Indie Authors to be nothing of the sort.

The real music movement with vinyl adherents has a long tradition*

*long and stupid

And I suspect that King's move is traditional publishing co-opting that to help promote itself and keep writing, and the profits, to themselves.  Real Books By Real Writers is a slogan that has to have been kicked around publishing houses in Manhattan (go ahead and use it, Random House) -- because real books by real writers means the traditional publishing structure with all its inefficiencies and stupidities continues: they get to select who will be published and what, and the rest of us are reduced to bloggers and fanfic writers, assuming the public can be convinced that it makes sense to give up the ease, speed, and inexpensivity*

*probably not a word

of e-readers.  Publishers already hated that Amazon was selling books for $9.99, and that's why Apple and other companies are being sued by the feds, but that's also why you have to pay $15.99 or more for a book that has zero production costs, really.  You know how long it takes to convert a file to a Kindle reader? Five minutes.  Cost of delivery, production, etc.? Whatever five minutes of electricity is plus the cost of storage on Amazon's servers, which is getting cheaper all the time.

So why are we paying $15.99 or more for ebooks?  Because we're paying publishers to produce them in the traditional sense even though no traditional publishing is needed anymore.  Louis CK made a million bucks producing his special himself and Jonathan Coulton doesn't have a record label, and I'm publishing writing every day, on my blogs and in ebooks.*

*Full disclosure: I like to get a hard copy of my books and hold them in my hands, but only because I fear the Internet is just a passing fad.

If King sold his books as ebooks for $9.99, he'd make, under Amazon's pricing model, about $3.50 per book.  If he sold just 40,000 copies, that's $140,000, decent money but not enough to make him a millionaire.  After taxes, that's less than $70,000 take-home (an amount of money that puts him in the upper half of all income earners in the US' most expensive place to live, New York City)

But the publisher wouldn't make hardly anything -- not off Amazon's model, because Amazon takes the rest.  So either King splits with the publisher (in one sense or another) or someone's losing money.

Does King need the publisher? Probably not.  But he wants them -- because, remember, he still wants to be Stephen King and it's harder to be a big name when your name isn't in big letters in all the Barnes & Nobles in America.  Stephen King probably has the muscle to do that on his own -- he could self-publish a book and do a tour and get the posters and the displays and the interviews, but he'd have to arrange it all himself, which means he'd have to spend all that time doing that, or hire someone to do that, and then he'd have to pay that person, which means he's essentially just becoming his own publishing house and why do that when his publishers already have all that stuff just waiting around for him?

So to keep on being Stephen King, King needs publishers -- and publishers desperately need Stephen King to need them because otherwise they don't exist.  If all the authors in all the Starbucks around the world decided that by gum they will go it alone and hire their own publicists and arrange their own tours and design their own covers and etc., Random House goes the way of Lehman Brothers but much more quietly, and all those underpaid editors with BAs in English and hipster glasses grousing about the slush pile suddenly have to be independent contractors hustling for another author and who wants that?

So Stephen King will work to convince people that real means tangible and a whole lot more because Stephen King doesn't want to stop having lines at book signings and because his publisher wants there to be a slush pile, and the alternative is that both me and Stephen King have an equal chance at being the top seller on Amazon come July 1, with the results being dictated by not just writerly skill with a metaphor, but by how hard we work to sell the book and by the fickle demands of the public that right now wants housewife-y BDSM but a year ago wanted dragon tattoos and in July, God only knows.

Stephen King's got an edge in that battle -- neither he nor I nor you know what we'll be reading in July, and our talent is for you to judge, but he's got a whole war machine that's gearing up to puff smoke and steam and charge and make sure you know about his book and see it and hear about it everywhere, real paper and all.  He's inside that machine, and he'll be damned if he's going to let you join him.

Or come outside.

Would King, I wonder, approve of me typing this post on my laptop?  JK Rowling, remember, wrote her books on a legal pad sitting at a coffee shop.  Is writing more authentic when done by hand?  Should I have scratched this on the back of a shovel with charcoal, the way Lincoln wrote his homework, so that you'd know how heartfelt the plea is?

And back to the original question: would Dickens approve of my reading Great Expectations on a telephone, while I ate prepackaged ice cream in a house where the air was being cooled for me?  That's a far cry from the pamphlet-style books Dickens shipped out as serials for people to crowd onto the docks to get.

Dickens serialized his books in part to make more money writing them.  He understood that by selling them as serials he could reach people who might not buy the whole book at once, and that he could thereby broaden his audience and make more money.  Dickens did readings, for profit, too -- charging people a second time to hear his work.

I take that to mean that Dickens was both honest -- he was a salesman, selling stories -- and understood something that King, who apparently fashions himself more a literary artiste than the great Charles Dickens, does not: that the medium is not the message.

Then again, if you've got no messages left in you, then maybe the medium is all you can rely on to keep making a buck.


I've always been big on Indie books and publishing, and down on authors who try to crack down on newcomers.  Read here my 2011 best of indie books and predictions for 2012, as well as a discussion of publishing.

30 Things "The Scream" is Screaming, 17 (Is This Art?)

It's as if they read my mind... or my blog.  Or both: given that we live in an era where people can tell from an MRI whether you are suffering from a mental disorder, is it so hard to imagine that technology being used to scan people's minds as they walk into a Wal-Mart store, determining if they're happy or sad or thinking they need a new grill set.  (Hint, Wal-Mart: I never need a new grill set. I don't even have a grill-set.)

(Confidential to society: I'm sorry that I just openly suggested Wal-Mart bombard you with magnetic rays as you walk through their door just so they could get you to buy more pillows, but really, do you think they hadn't thought of that already?)

Anyway, the people reading my mind/blog who aren't Wal-Mart (I'm thinking... peanut brittle? really?)(Actually that seems about right) are the folks over at NPR and NYU, with the former reporting on a study the latter did in which an NYU professor found that "the more expensive the painting, the less the return on investment," that result coming as a surprise to people who don't, you know, know about stuff.

Of course the more expensive something is the less there's a potential for return on your investment.  If you buy something for $1, all you have to do is find someone who's willing to pay you $1.10 for that thing, as I did to this kid who bought the rest of my peanut brittle yesterday at Wal-Mart, and you've got yourself a 10% return on your investment.  And lots of people have a dollar, so your market is huge.  To use Drake's Equation in a novel way, if 10% of all the people in the world have $1, and 10% of those people are looking to buy something and 10% of those people looking to buy something are interested in your thing, you've got 6,580,657 potential customers.  (There being 6, 580,657, 003 people in the world as I type this.)

But if you spend $119,900,000 on something and want to make just one percent on your investment, you've got to find someone to spend $121,099,000 on that painting.

There are only 56 people in the United States worth over $100,000,000, so your market is decidedly more limited.

On the other hand, there are fifty-six people in the United States alone worth over $100,000,000, a number that seems kind of staggering to me.  In the US, the most expensive place to live is New York City, where the median income is just over $63,000.  There are 8,175,133 people in New York City, and that means that 4,000,000+ people in New York city make less than $63,000.

Just for fun (?) let's think about something.  What if you were a $100,000,000-aire, like, say, you had selfishly bought a painting for $119,900,000 because you have no soul, but you decided to do something nice and bring those 4,000,000 people up to the median income line in New York? Could you do it? And for how long?  Remember, you've got to leave something for yourself, so let's leave you, Selfishy McSelfishson from Selfishville, $1,000,000 per year so you can still go clubbing, and let's assume you're 25.

To live 75 more years -- you've got medical insurance, you'll make it -- you need $75,000,000.  (I'm assuming you've only invested in art and so get no return on your money, Mr. McSelfishson).  That leaves you with only (?) $25,000,000 left to dole out, really not so much when you think about it.

What can you do with that $25,000,000?  Giving it away just in dollops, like that millionaire who literally throws money out the window because people have forgotten what happened in the French Revolution, gets all those 4,000,000 people just $6.25. 

If, though, you invested it in safe, long-term investments in a trust and directed the trustee to pay out the income each year to the 4,000,000 people we're theoretically saying have nothing, you would be able to give away about $500,000 every three months. (T-Bills, a safe investment that would make you a patriotic person, Mr. McSelfishson, pay about 2.04% every 90 days.)  Or $2,000,000 per year without ever cutting into the principal.

So what if you were to take that whole $100,000,000 and put it into T-Bills and live off 1/2 the return?  Why, then,  you could give away a million dollars a year and still have $1,000,000 per year to live on and all that money you have would never even be touched, so your son, Selfishy McSelfishson, Jr., would inherit it completely unscathed.

That million per year wouldn't, again, help directly, not everybody -- but that million per year could provide grants for kids to go to college, or matching funds to open small businesses, or perhaps rent assistance, or funding legal services, or buying text books for a school.  That million per year in found money would do a lot of good, Mr. McSelfishson.

Or, you know, you could blow it on a painting you have to keep in a vault and never ever let anybody see plus the painting's ugly anyway.

(PS:  "Eleven of the 20 highest prices ever paid at auction have occurred since 2008, when the global economy all but collapsed," says this article, which goes on to note that many art buyers aren't buying the art for an investment.  They're just getting it because they like it.  In the worst economic conditions anyone alive can remember, people have money to throw away on pretty pictures.)

Wait, wait! What 
happened in the French 
Revolution? Was it bad? 
Tell me!


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