Monday, July 31, 2006

Stop By And Visit McSweeney's

Okay, so we're going for three posts today. I couldn't resist.

Thanks to Bookseller Chick and POD-dy Mouth for drawing attention to Timothy McSweeney's blog. McSweeney has a series of posts purporting to be from the editors for various songwriters giving feedback on lyrics for best-selling songs. They're hysterical.

Here's the link for Axl Rose's "Sweet Child O' Mine":

But be sure to check out the others. I was particularly fond of the letter to Carly Simon regarding "You're So Vain." There was a lot of speculation as to whom Carly was singing about in that song. The consensus seems to be Warren Beatty although Mick Jagger and Kris Kristofferson were also likely suspects.


Another Internet Tool

Everyone who surfs the Internet on a regular basis has to find his/her way to manage that experience. If you have favorite websites, you can bookmark them, or you can use a service like Bloglines.

You can find Bloglines at It's simple and it's free. Once you open an account, you list all the blogs or websites that you regularly read. Then, each morning, when you sit down to your computer, you click on Bloglines and there they all are. You can pick and choose among them, or go right down the line, taking a quick look at each.

I have about thirty websites indexed in my account. It has made my life much easier. I have a mix of newspapers (like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Miami Herald); magazines (like Time, Slate, and Salon); news sites (like the BBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corp.), websites and blogs.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week that said that Bloglines lists 1.2 million blogs. The top 10% of feeds grab 88% of all subscriptions.

The site itself says it lists 1.9 million articles.

I highly recommend it.

Industry Matters

This is going to be another two-post day.

Some of you may recall that I do a quarterly article in the newsletter for Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA. I call it Industry Matters.

The July installment of Industry Matters is now posted on my website at:

I'll come back with another post later in the day.



Sunday, July 30, 2006

Catch the Rain

It's Sunday--the day of rest. I'm going to spend it straightening up my office. I've delayed attacking the stacks of books and paper that I tend to accumulate around my desk. I've come to think of it as the nest I build for myself when I'm deep in a project. Today I plan to listen to NPR and dismantle that nest.

So--an easy blog for the day.

Regular readers know that I love thrillers. I don't mind violence or gore as long as the story is fast-paced and well-written. Lee Child, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Carol O'Connell, and Andrew Vachss are all favorite authors of mine. I've now added another author to the list: Barry Eisler.

I've mentioned Eisler in this blog before. That first post on June 22 was not an especially flattering one. I wrote about his feud with a bookseller's son during the author's latest tour to promote his new book. Frankly, I felt that Eisler could have behaved better.

That incident led to my picking up Eisler's first two paperbacks. I started with Rain Fall. The novel introduces Eisler's ongoing character: John Rain.

I immediately gave Eisler points for originality. John Rain is half-Japanese and half-American. The book takes place in Tokyo. And Rain is a professional assassin who specializes in making his kills look like natural deaths.

For some reason, I had a very hard time with Rain Fall. Maybe it was the foreign-ness of the book's setting. Maybe it was Eisler's tendency to do long narrative passages (I have the attention span of a demented flea). Maybe it was my mood. I don't know. I got about a quarter of the way through and put it down. I should probably mention that my putting it down coincided with the arrival of The Hard Way, Lee Child's latest novel.

A few days later, I was talking with my youngest brother, who was getting ready to leave for Wimbleton. He was bemoaning his lack of good reading material for the two-week trip and asked what I was reading. I had just finished the Child novel and mentioned it. He reminded me that he does not travel with hardcover books. I added that I had been reading a novel by Eisler, but couldn't get into it.

Although my brother didn't recognize Eisler's name, when I mentioned the book title, he instantly remembered it, even describing the book cover and plot line. He said that he had also had a problem with getting into that first novel and had never finished it.

I didn't give any further thought to the matter until one day last week when I stopped for lunch while out running errands. I usually keep a book or two in my car for emergencies--getting stuck waiting on line for tickets or at a doctor's appointment, etc. For months, I'd been reading Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. It was the perfect "car book," made up of short stories about salt.

As an aside: the history of salt is fascinating. It has been used for currency and, according to one book reviewer, "provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions." I'd thoroughly enjoyed the non-fiction book, but had recently finished it.

I wanted something to read while I ate lunch and was disappointed to remember that I'd finished Salt. I was toying with the idea of picking up a newspaper, when I found Eisler's second book, Hard Rain. I'd done what I often do when purchasing two books by one author. Brought one into the house to read and left one in the back seat as a car book.

A little annoyed, but not enough to go find a newspaper to purchase, I brought the book along with me into my local Chinese restaurant.

Hard Rain begins with this line: "Once you get past the overall irony of the situation, you realize that killing a guy in the middle of his own health club has a lot to recommend it." The book was a terrific, compelling read. I stayed put at my table long after I'd finished my won ton soup just so I could continue reading.

I finished that second Eisler novel in two days, and immediately started on the third, Rain Storm. It was every bit as good as Hard Rain. I am now working my way through the entire list of Eisler's books.

Even though the main character is an amoral assassin, he is disarmingly attractive. He is brutally honest about himself, his chosen profession and his self-imposed loneliness. Falling in love makes him question everything about his life. His execution of his lover's father adds complications to the relationship :)

If you're looking for something different--fast-paced and exciting--give Hard Rain a try. I'll probably go back and read the first book (Rain Fall) again at some point, but--until I do--I'm not going to recommend it here.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Literary Game For the Weekend

Since it's Saturday, I thought it might be fun if I directed you to a quiz I took a couple of days ago.

POD-dy Mouth ( is a writer who blogs about the world of POD books. She reviews self-published books, looking for the gems hidden among the dreck.

On Tuesday, PM posted 24 excerpts from a variety of novels--both POD and those released by major publishers. Her instructions to readers were: "You must pick which ones are from POD novels and which ones are from commercially published novels."

I was surprised how difficult the task was. There were a half dozen that were so bad, I had no difficulty in identifying them as unedited POD. There were two that I was confident were commercially published (accurate punctuation was the key). However, that left sixteen excerpts up for grabs, and I didn't do very well with those. My total score was less than 50%

Perhaps you'll do better. POD-dy Mouth announced that the average for correct answers was 63% for editors, 60% for agents, 53% for writers and 46% for all others.

If you're interested in taking the quiz, you'll find a link to POD-dy Mouth under the links to the right of this blog. Be careful when you click on it. The answers are the first thing that pops up. Scroll down to Tuesday's blog to take the quiz entitled "Mid-Term Exam."


Friday, July 28, 2006

The Subscription Revolution

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I believe that successful authors must do more than be good writers. They must also educate themselves about the publishing industry. Otherwise, they work hard, but not smart. And, in the worst case scenario, they run the risk of being shorn by lamb-fleecing scam artists.

Today, as I cruised the Internet, I discovered a new article by Richard Curtis. For those of you not familiar with him, Curtis is a New York agent. Back in 2004, he wrote three articles on "Publishing in the Twentieth-First Century." On October 7, I recommended the series as a must-read for any new writer trying to understand the publishing industry.

While it's not necessary to read Curtis' series before you read the new article, it does give you the background material. The series explains how the "returns" system that permits bookstores to return unsold books for credit developed. It's Curtis' contention that this system is today strangling publishers.

Curtis says the old system worked while the returns were kept at 10%.
Now that they are at 50% or more, publishers are choking on the losses created by the returns.

The latest article is entitled "The Subscription Revolution," and it describes a new economic model for publishing.

Curtis begins by talking about and its rankings. He draws attention to those books that already have rankings on Amazon although they are not yet in print. This is possible because fans anxious to read upcoming releases are pre-ordering the books. He describes this dynamic as a subscription model similar to that of book clubs.

What's revolutionary about this? The fact that we now have two separate systems: First, the traditional process in which books are shipped to bookstores, and then the 50% of books left unsold are later returned for credit. The second, newer system has books being ordered online and shipped from the publisher to Amazon AFTER THE SALE. No returns and no additional shipping fees are incurred in returning the books.

Which system is the most efficient and least expensive?

Readers of this blog will remember a post entitled "Amazon's New POD Initiative" (May 23rd) in which I described Amazon's plan to use its new POD company, BookSurge, to print books upon receipt of an order from a consumer. Curtis points out that the addition of BookSurge to the equation eliminates the need for publishers to ship the book to Amazon. Now, when the order comes in, Amazon can print the book and ship it--saving even more money. Amazon acts as the middleman for the transaction between the publisher and the consumer.

Curtis points out that an even more efficient system would have the publisher cutting Amazon out of the equation by taking the orders and using POD technology to print the books themselves. This way, they would have no need for warehouses to store books because there would be no excess books. They would only print and ship books when they had an actual order in hand.

He's talking about the death of bookstores. Is this possible?

I've been nattering about delivery systems for months. Delivery systems change. Don't believe me? Think back in time. Fifty years ago, milk was delivered to your door, meat was sold in butcher shops and physicians made house calls. The current bookstore model, which allows for returns,
is inefficient and costly. The new subscription model--virtual bookstores--is more efficient and certainly more profitable. Curtis believes--and I agree--that smart publishers will begin moving in this direction.

To read Curtis' articles, go to:

To read my previous blogs on delivery systems, go to 10/30/05, 10/31/05 and 1/2/06.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Follow-up On eBook Readers

On Monday, I reported on a rumor that Apple was thinking about getting into the e-book device business. This at a time when consumers have been eagerly anticipating the release of e-book readers from both iRex and

Sony responded to the Apple rumor by announcing yet another delay in the release of their PRS 500 Portable Reader. Engadget reported on Tuesday that the Reader's release, already delayed from spring to summer, will now be available "in time for the holidays."

The PRS 500 is expected to retail for about $350--in contrast to iRex's iLiad, which retails at $811. I got to wondering what on earth the iLiad was offering that could be worth $450 more. In searching the Internet, I found a post on that does the comparison for me:

Sony: 6.9" by 4.9" by .5"
iRex: 6.1" by 8.5" by .63"

Sony: 8.8 ounces
iRex: 13.7 ounces

Sony: 6-inch SVGA 800X600 4 grey scales (same like the Sony Librie)
iRex: 8.1-inch XGA 1024x768 16 grey scales

Internal memory:
Sony: ? "approximately 80 unillustrated books"
iRex: 64MB RAM, 224MB FLASH

Expansion slots:
Sony: SD, Memory Stick
iRex: SD, CF II

Support e-book formats:
Sony: BBeB Book (Sony Librie), Adobe PDF, JPEG, MP3
iRex: Adobe PDF, XHTML, TXT, MP3, others in near future

Others interfaces:
Sony: headphone jack
iRex: headphone jack, WiFi 802.11b, 10/100Mb Ethernet

Sony: USD $299-$399
iRex: ? (We now know it's $811)

The iRex is bigger and heavier. But it also features the better screen,
better support for open formats, and better connectivity (which the Sony
obviously lacks in).

All of this is probably moot. If Apple releases an iPod that can offer consumers music, film AND books, both the Reader and the iLiad are going to have a tough row to hoe.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Tool For Authors

Blogger has been messing with me tonight, and I'm running out of patience. I'm going to do one small, quick post. If Blogger lets me post it, I'll try again with another, longer second post.

Miss Snark called attention today to a beta test for a new site. The site is called TitleZ, and it is a database with a sorting feature for book rankings on

Most authors compulsively check their books' rankings within Amazon on a regular basis. This website makes the task easier. You can search by keyword, title or author and get a listing together with historical ranking data.

Right now the site has lots of disclaimers, explaining that it is in beta testing (pre-release) mode so they make no guarantees as to the validity of the data. However, you can sign up now and play with it. The programmers are asking for feedback from the people registering during the pre-release period. When they go live later this year, you'll be able to purchase the service on a monthly basis for an "affordable" fee.

Here's the website:


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A New Look At An Old Subject

Once again, we're going to talk about self-publishing. But, rather than retrace the same tired ground, let's take a look at the subject from an entirely different perspective.

Disclaimers and definitions first: All the posts on this blog reflect my opinion. If you don't agree, read another blog. Also, when I refer to traditional publishing, I am talking about print publishers. When I talk about a subsidy press, I am using the politically correct term for a vanity publisher. This post does not refer to electronic publishing, which is another critter entirely--a new and exciting development in the publishing world.

I'm going to begin with a broad generalization, which may offend some people: In my experience, self-publishing is often the direction taken by writers who are unfamiliar with the publishing industry. Focussed on their manuscripts, they neglect the important (in my opinion) work of educating themselves about how publishing works.

Let me hasten to say that there is also a tiny contingent of very savvy writers who choose to self-publish--with full knowledge of what they're getting into. However, they are a very small segment of the overall group of self-published writers. Read my blog of 6/20 to find the group I'm talking about. I'm referring to writers who have produced a work that is either cross genre or targeted for a niche market.

But, the vast majority of writers who opt to self-publish are a separate group of frustrated and impatient people. They've grown tired of receiving rejection letters from agents and publishers and are looking for alternatives to traditional publishing.

Lured by the promises of the subsidy presses, these naive souls start down the yellow brick road toward self-publishing, hoping to find the validation they so desperately seek.

Unfortunately, they know so little that they fail to identify the chief impediment to their success. They see their problem as finding a way to get their manuscript into printed form, thinking of that as the ultimate goal. They're wrong.

The technology is here today to easily accomplish the task of getting a manuscript into print--whether you go with a standard printing operation or with a subsidy press. The technology is called POD (print-on-demand). It is a technology, not an economic model--no matter what the subsidy presses tell you.

The writers' real problem is what comes AFTER the printing: marketing their books. Traditional publishers still have a virtual chokehold on the two most important markets in publishing: Libraries and retail outlets. Most libraries, bookchains and stores like Wal-Mart will not consider buying a self-pubbed book although some individual stores and libraries will be gracious to a local citizen as a gesture of community good will.

Someone once said to me that all authors are expected to market their books and that publishers don't spend money publicizing new authors. That's true and, at the same time, isn't.

Authors represented by traditional publishers do not bear the onus of marketing to libraries and retail outlets. The publisher does that job for them. Traditional publishers produce seasonal catalogs, which are used to promote their new releases to the enormous library and retail markets. Too frequently, authors forget that the expenses involved in producing those catalogs represents an investment in the author and a form of marketing the author's books.

With the publisher doing the big task of selling to the macro market, the author's job then becomes to sell him/herself to micro groups of individuals and specific booksellers. If the publisher did its job, the book will already BE in the bookstore and libraries. The author is just juicing up the bookclerks and librarians to recommend the book and trying to connect with readers during tours and talks.

The self-pubbed author has an entirely different task. S/he must get the book INTO those libraries and bookstores IN ADDITION to attracting attention from individuals. It's a herculean task. That's why the vast majority of self-pubbed authors never sell more than a couple of hundred books.

Do I believe the system is changing? Yes. Absolutely. Self-publishing is becoming easier and easier, but in my opinion is not yet to the place where it is the ideal solution for a writer. For one thing, libraries and bookstores use the traditional system to save them from vetting thousands of books. They assume (rightly or wrongly) a certain level of quality/professionalism from books purchased through those publishing catalogs.

Let's face it: a lot of self-pubbed books are dreck. If you don't believe me, read this post from Poddy Mouth's blog:

Until a mechanism is developed to separate the grain from the chaff, libraries and bookchains are going to avoid self-published books.

And, yes, this isn't fair, but it's reality. The subsidy presses' greed led them to "publish" anything--no matter how bad it was. If you want an example of what I'm talking about, read the "Atlanta Nights" entry on Wikipedia here:

The failure of the subsidy presses to exercise even minimal control over quality has poisoned the pool for self-published authors.

Are there good self-pubbed books out there? Of course, there are. However, they have an uphill battle because of the negative connotations created by the subsidy presses.

However, in the same way it is changing every other industry, digital technology is changing publishing. If mechanisms for quality control and marketing can be developed, I believe that self-publishing will become a more viable alternative for writers everywhere. And, hopefully, the subsidy presses will go the way of the Betamax and buggy whip.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Update on eReaders

Back on January 5, I did a blog about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. There was tremendous excitement there this year surrounding the preview of the new handheld eReader by Sony.

I pointed out that, to date, there hadn't been an e-book reader that consumers had embraced. Because these devices have been hard to read or large and bulky, they haven't caught on. Most people who download e-books are still reading them on laptops and PDAs. But Sony had hopes of changing that dynamic "this spring."

"Around the size of a paperback but only a half-inch thick, the Sony Reader has a 6-inch gray-scale screen and is easy to hold at less than 9 ounces." Its retail price was expected to be between $300 and $400.

In that same post, I mentioned a little company called iRex ( that was also scheduled to launch an e-book device. According to iRex's website, the iLiad device was due to be available as of April, 2006.

Earlier this month, I checked back on both devices. The Sony Reader's launch date had been pushed back to late summer while the iRex was scheduled to be released on July 11th. I was shocked to see the advertised price of the iLiad was $811. In my latest column of Industry Matters due out this week, I said that I didn't picture them selling many of those babies.

Well, things are a-changing. This morning Engadget reported that they had been told by two "separate, trustworthy insiders that Apple's not satisfied merely vending Audible's books-on-digital-audio solution.

"With the iRex iLiad and Sony PRS-500 Portable Reader both right around the corner, is it possible the next iPod might catch the eBook bug? We'd say the possibility is very real, since according to a source at a major publishing house, they were just ordered to archive all their manuscripts -- every single one -- and send them over to Apple's Cupertino HQ."

Imagine that! An iPod on which you could store and listen to your music and movies AND read books. How competitive would that be?

After reading the Engadget article, I immediately visited the iRex website to check on how the iLiad's release had gone two weeks ago. I noted two things: (1) There is now a form on the website by which a potential client can express interest in the iLiad AND (2) There is no longer a mention of the $811 price.

I suspect that tidbit about Apple has all its competitors taking another look at their own products.

Rejoice! This can only be good for consumers. Providing more choice and more competitive pricing.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Do You Know Jodi Picoult?

It's the weekend, and I've been indulging myself by reading just for fun.

I recently participated in chat on a loop where we were discussing our favorite authors. Jodi Picoult's name came up, which reminded me to mention her here.

I bought my first Picoult book, Keeping Faith, in 1999 after reading a review in the Dallas Morning News. I was so taken with the book that I emailed Picoult and was tickled when she responded. Like a total fan geek, I asked her about her writing process.

She was very gracious, saying that most of her books begin with the question, "What if . . ." In Keeping Faith, the question was "What if a child began holding conversations with God?

For those of you not familiar with that book, it's the story of a Jewish woman named Mariah who is going through a painful divorce (she found her husband in their bed with another woman). Her seven-year-old daughter Faith suddenly develops an imaginary friend that she calls "Her Guard." Mariah is at first baffled and then frightened when Faith begins quoting passages of the King James Bible--a book that the non-believer Mariah has never made available to the child. When Faith develops stigmata, a custody battle starts between Mariah and her estranged husband who blames Mariah for their daughter's "health" issues. Then miraculous healings
seem to occur in the vicinity of Faith, and all hell breaks loose. Does the child need a psychiatrist, a priest or just to get away from her feuding parents?

Jodi's 2004 book was My Sister's Keeper about a young woman named Kate who has leukemia. To keep Kate alive, her parents deliberately conceived another child named Anna from whom they could harvest what was necessary. The book begins when Anna--now thirteen and tired of being an involuntary donor--walks into a lawyer's office to ask for help in stopping all the medical procedures. The book is written from multiple POVs--a common device in Picoult's books--so that you can follow how Kate, Anna, their mother, father, brother and the attorney are thinking and feeling.

Jodi's fourteenth book, due out in 2007, is Nineteen Minutes about a Columbine-type shooting in a high school. Her fifteenth book will be Change of Heart, which Jodi describes thus: "It features a Death Row inmate who wants to donate his heart to the sister of his victim. . .which means petitioning the state for a less 'humane' form of execution than lethal injection. When he starts performing miracles, the press labels him 'Messiah'. After all, people are always finding Jesus in prison. . .what if he were really there? And what if the things he said didn’t match what you’d been told your whole life. . .but instead, matched verbatim the text of an ancient gospel that was excluded from the Bible as heresy?"

As you can tell, Jodi operates a bit like the television show Law and Order, taking themes directly from the news.

I really recommend her books to you. Start with the two I've recommended here, and I promise you'll be hooked.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Manga, Manga, Manga, Part IV

The more time I spend exploring the world of manga, the more interesting the subject becomes in terms of potential implications.

I took some time today to visit two large bookchains in a nearby town. In each case, I talked to employees about manga. It was clear that either they didn't know a lot or were fearful of providing too much information.

Aside: I live in north Texas. A clerk named Jesus Castillo working at Keith's Comics in Dallas was arrested in 1999 for selling a sexually explicit adult manga-style comic to an adult undercover cop. Castillo was charged with two counts of selling sexually explicit materials. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) stepped in to defend Castillo. One count was dropped, but the D.A. pursued the second charge all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in 2000. The CBLDF (and fund-raising efforts) paid Castillo's $4,000 fine, and the clerk did not have to serve any time in jail (his 180-day sentence was converted to unsupervised probation).

Still, in today's conservative climate not far from where the Castillo arrest occurred, I can understand the clerks' hesitancy to speak to me. I have to admit that, if I were a clerk in a bookstore in Texas, I'd be careful about discussing sexually explicit manga with a stranger. Of course, in one case, I think the clerk knew less than I did about manga.

Manga and other graphic novels live under the constant threat of legal action in some states. Part of the reason is that Japan does not set the bar for cultural taboos involving child porn as high as we do in the United States. Japanese manga, with its depictions of teenage girls in sexualized situations with older boys, walks a fine line legally.

Back on January 20-22, I did a three-day series of posts entitled "Alberto, Google and the Right to Privacy." In those posts, I explained the history of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and how that act had consequences for Google's recent battle with the Attorney General over online privacy.

COPA was not Congress' only attempt to battle child porn. There was another law--the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) of 1996--which had huge implications for graphic novels. According to CNN, "The law had banned a range of techniques -- including computer-generated images and the use of youthful-looking adults -- which were designed to convey the impression of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct."

The Act was was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2002 in a case called Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition. A MSNBC story quoted Frederick Lane, III, an attorney: "The court said the reason that a computer-generated or animated image is not prosecutable under the Constitution is that there is no harm to an individual.” The Court pointed out that artistic expression included many portrayals of teenage sex (Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" leaps to mind), and that this law was overbroad and infringed on First Amendment protections of artistic material.

While in one bookstore today, I did talk to two young adult women (21-year-olds who have been reading manga since they were 13). They were very helpful in pointing out the different series and ratings for graphic novels. I'm gradually beginning to learn my way around the genre and was pleased that I understood most of what my young friends told me.

One thing is clear. Most baby boomer parents who grew up with comic books are tolerant of manga--either not knowing or not caring that many of these graphic novels are not the stuff of their own childhoods. The range of material is enormously broad from sweet cartoons for small children to blatantly sexual content that makes me wince.

I'm gradually building a glossary of Japanese terms. I have over a hundred by now.

We'll talk more about this subject again.

Friday, July 21, 2006

HarperCollins To Publish Graphic Novels

The public is very familiar with novels that become movies and movies that spawn novels. Tie-ins between books and films date back to 1919 when film pioneer D.W. Griffith first adapted Thomas Burke’s collection of stories, Limehouse Nights, into his production of “Broken Blossoms.” Since that time, the film and publishing industries have developed a symbiotic relationship where each benefits from the success of the other.

Wednesday's New York Times had an article about HarperCollins and Fox Atomic (a division of Fox Filmed Entertainment) teaming up to publish and distribute graphic novels.

The first one, called 28 Days Later: The Aftermath will "bridge the gap between the original 2002 film and its sequel, '28 Weeks Later,' planned for 2007." The original horror film had told the story of a bicycle courier who spent 28 days in a coma after being hit by a car. When he awakes, he finds a deadly virus has swept the world, creating a population of zombies.

Future graphic novels will be based on "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street."

In related news, Marvel released Halo: The Graphic Novel this week, based on the popular video game.

Also, Wednesday night marked the preview opening for the 37th Comic-con International San Diego. More than 100,000 comics fans are expected to attend the four-day event.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Latest in POD Technology

The New York Times had an interesting article this morning. Entitled "Technology Rewrites the Book," it talks about how the latest POD (print-on-demand) software is making it easier for consumers to print their own books.

Author Peter Wayner says, "The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book."

Wayner points out that the technology has gone far beyond aspiring authors. Now anyone needing a polished document can produce one. This includes professionals like architects, builders, designers--anyone who regularly works with clients and makes presentations. It also includes people interested in selling top-of-the-line consumer products like coin or stamp collections.

Other uses include community projects like Junior League cookbooks. Hobbyists would also benefit from the technology, which permits them to show family and friends their photos, model airplanes or recipe collections.

The latest POD technology makes it relatively easy to produce a quality, bound book at a reasonable rate.

Notice I am not including aspiring authors. The reason I am not is because, even if they now have a way to produce printed copies of their work, there is still no system by which they can successfully market those books. I personally do not believe in selling books by hand out of the trunk of your car--UNLESS you are doing so as a part of a publisher's marketing campaign during a book tour.

I think that day is coming. Sooner or later a viable system will evolve by which authors can self-publish AND market their work. That day is not now, but it is probably not too far in the future.

And, please, do not email me with the address for PublishAmerica, Xlibris or any of the other vanity presses. Yes, they can produce a bound volume at a hugely inflated cost. No matter what they promise in their sales pitch, they cannot provide a valid sales mechanism. Most bookstore chains will NOT touch a self-pubbed book although you might be able to talk your local store into carrying a few copies.

The one thing I celebrate is that, as newer desktop technology becomes available at a reasonable rate, those vanity presses with their outrageous fees will die a slow death. Thank you, God!

Here's the link to the story:

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Manga, Manga, Manga, Part III

I ended my first post with this title at the point in the '60s where manga had exploded onto the market with new and more popular shonen (boy's) magazines. Demand for fresh material created weekly editions instead of the traditional monthlies. The first two weeklies were Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday in 1959.

There were shonen devoted to humor, action and fantasy. Themes included sports, samurai warriors, aliens, robots and androids. The importance of technology was a popular subject as well as stories that took place in the future. The superheroes so beloved in the U.S. comic books did not seem to take hold in Japan.

As Japanese boys matured, so did their reading material, giving rise to a new genre called seinen, which Westerners might consider "young adult" for male readers. Targeted at university-aged men and older, this genre included more mature themes as well as pornographic material.

A fair amount of effort has gone into dissecting why manga became so popular in Japan. Paul Gravett had this to say, "In many ways, readers turn to manga for the sorts of vicarious experiences and solid visual storytelling that people in the West expect from the movies." Movie theatres were not as common in Japan as they were in the West.

Another contributing factor may be the long commutes many Japanese "salarymen" take each day from home to work and back again. Manga provided a quick, easy read to make the trip more bearable. Gravett says, "Samurai warriors, sportsmen, yakuza (gangsters), assassins, charismatic mavericks--these are some of the defining images of masculinity in manga, which people millions of men's daydreams during their meal breaks or long commutes . . ." He also suggests that, in a somewhat repressive society, manga provided a "safety valve . . . for the frustration and testosterone of hard-working 'salarymen' ground down by the cogs of big business."

Whatever the reason, manga became an intrinsic part of the Japanese male experience. Women and girls, too, became interested in these magazines that could briefly take them away from their everyday lives.

Initially, all manga was written by men--even those magazines that targeted girls and women. Girls' magazines were called shojo, the equivalent of the shonen for boys. The goals for females were very passive, emphasizing marriage and motherhood as the ideals to strive for.

In the early '60s, women began to aspire to become "mangaka"--creators of manga. Their influence gradually changed the direction of manga for females. An especially well-known group of female mangaka were the "Year 24" group. They were dubbed the 24s because many of them had been born in the year Showa 24 (1949).

Gravett describes the influence of these new mangaka this way: "Men's logic and linearity were overruled. This generation of mangaka unchained their panels from the uniformly regimented rectangles and rows beloved of male creators. They gave their panels whatever shape and configuration best suited the emotions they wanted to evoke . . .time and reality were no longer always locked up inside boxes, and narratives could shift in and out of memories and dreams . . . Their exploration of the fluidity of gender boundaries and forbidden love, in particular, allowed them to address issues of identity of deep importance to them and their readers."

I'll stop here until next time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Manga, Manga, Manga, Part II

Two days ago, I started to recount the history of manga.

This exercise is not as purposeless as it might first appear. I'm working my way up to try to understand a question that interests me: why is male homoerotic manga so popular among teenage and young adult women?

Assuming these young women are heterosexual (or will be if they are not yet sexually active), one would think they'd be more interested in heterosexual romance stories. Yet the popularity of male homoerotic manga cannot be denied. What's that about?

I write erotic romance, not homoerotic fiction. Erotic romance intended to be read by adults. While I don't write homoerotic fiction, I have nothing against it as long as it is written by adults for adults.

I spent a good portion of my professional career working in the behavioral health field. I'm intrigued by this phenomenon and would like to understand it. I welcome any serious comments or thoughts on the subject. My email address is: mayareynoldswriter@ sbcglobal. net.

I have a couple of working hypotheses, but I'd be interested to hear from others.

Various and Sundry Publishing News

This morning, both Publishers Marketplace (PM) and Publishers Weekly (PW) had interesting items.

PW reported that bookstore sales rose 1.2% in May to $1.11 billion. This was the first increase in four months and brought the year-to-date sales ending May 30 to $6.29 billion. This compares with $6.28 billion for the same period last year.

When you compare these results with the rest of the retail segment, you realize bookstore sales were practically flat. May retail sales were up 9.5% while YTD sales for the period ending May were up 7.9%.

This follows on the heels of the Reuters report last Thursday that the Borders Group changed their expectations for their second quarter loss. The original projection had been for a loss of between $.10 to $.20 per share. The revised loss is projected to be between $.28 and $.32 per share.

In other news:

"In its first significant move into the digital publishing business, Ingram Industries has acquired the electronic publishing company Vital Source Technologies. Based in Raleigh, N.C., Vital Source develops software that allows publishers to publish book content in a variety of electronic formats." (PW)

PM adds, " Vital Source specializes in delivering electronic educational content delivery in specialized areas including dental, nursing and law."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Manga, Manga, Manga

I've been interested in manga for some time, but only recently got serious about trying to understand the genre. It's fascinating, and I'd like to share what I've discovered. I'll probably do more posts on the subject as my learning curve grows.

The Japanese word manga means "whimsical pictures" and is said to have been coined by a wood engraver named Katsushika Hokusai who produced a sketchbook called Hokusai Manga in the early nineteenth century. The process of producing prints using a wood block, ink and paper (called ukiyo-e) had been around for hundreds of years when Hokusai's sketchbook came out, but he appears to be the first one to actually combine the characters "man" and "ga."

In the United States, comic books (as opposed to comic strips) began being produced in the early 1930s. The field quickly became dominated by super-heroes. The character of Superman was introduced (1938) about the time World War II broke out in Europe. By the time World War II ended in 1945, the Golden Age of comic books was well underway in the U.S.

About the time the war ended, a teenage artist by the name of Osamu Tezuka was making a name for himself in his homeland of Japan. Tezuka is credited with creating story manga, using the manga format to tell a tale. Heavily influenced by Western movies, particularly those of Disney, Tezuka became famous in 1947 for doing the artwork for the manga book Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island). The 60-page action adventure was a runaway hit, selling 400,000 copies. From that moment on, Tezuka's output was amazing. Before his death in 1989, he drew 150,000 pages for 600 manga titles and another 60 animated works.

Tezuka's style was cartoonish with wide-eyed characters, and his audience was primarily children. As the demand for his stories grew, inflation began to hurt the industry. An ingenious solution emerged: rental libraries for manga. Instead of paying 100 yen to buy a manga, Japanese children could pay a library 10 yen to have use of the book for two days. This made the monthly publications affordable for everyone.

Most Americans know Tezuka because of his character Astro Boy, who was introduced in Tezuka's series Captain ATOM around 1952. Astro Boy was the first anime (animated) manga character. Called Tetsuwan Atomu in Japan, he became the star of a Japanese animated television show in 1963 and later came to U.S. TV in the '80s as Astro Boy.

At the same time Tezuka was drawing manga for children, another manga artist emerged. Yoshihiro Tatsumi, seven years younger than Tezuka, coined a new term gekiga ("dramatic pictures") for his work, which was intended for more mature audiences. Artists like Tatsumi addressed grittier, tougher subjects and, instead of Disney, took their inspiration from film directors like Kurosawa.

Where the typical manga book would contain a dozen titles, the typical gekiga contained a single, more complex storyline with much higher production values. This style of book was extremely popular in the late '50s.

The arrival of the '60s changed the landscape. Television was taking hold of the population, and teenagers had more disposable income. They no longer relied on the rental libraries for their reading material. Even so, according to Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett, "Starting in 1959 . . . the Japanese comics industry experienced a remarkable period of growth. This was fueled by the dynamic expansion of the economy and the increase in the available audience."

Like the United States, Japan experienced a baby boom after the war. The teenage boys of the '60s were demanding more frequent fixes of their favorite heroes. Thus was born the weekly shonen (boy's) manga. This was the beginning of the manga we know today.

I'm going to stop here. I'll pick it up another time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Kiss of the Pirate Man

I've gotten really interested in manga and will probably do a posting on it in the next day or so. However, since today's Sunday, I'm taking a break to talk about the last movie I saw: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Things you need to know: Johnny Depp kisses Keira Knightley, the film is long (150 minutes), it's definitely not for small children, it pays homage to about ten other movies, Johnny Depp kisses Keira Knightley, its ten-day total box office take stands at $258 million dollars, and Johnny Depp kisses Keira Knightley.

I actually liked this film more than I did the first one, which I thought was way too repetitious. I was so tired of the fight scenes in The Curse of the Black Pearl that I was ready to scream by the time the credits finally rolled around. Although this film is seven minutes longer than the first, it held my interest much better than The Black Pearl did.

This film also bears the burden of transition; it must act as a bridge between the first and the last. You'll definitely enjoy this one more if you've seen the first one because they don't explain anything. Without having seen The Black Pearl, you'll miss some of the gags. For instance, when Captain Jack Sparrow initially sees Elizabeth, he says, "Hide the rum," a reference to her destroying his entire cache of rum in the first film.

Dead Man's Chest has its own charms. Disney spared no expense in the making of this film. The CGI makeup of Davy Jones and his scruffy crew is absolutely fantastic. And they brought back the Kraken, the sea monster from The Clash of the Titans (1981), although in a different form.

Warning: There isn't much original material in this movie, and the critics will probably damn it for being far too derivative. However, I found it way more humorous than the first film. And my friend and I had fun throughout, naming the movies from which various scenes were taken (like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Moby Dick, Jaws and Star Wars).

I suspect director Gore Verbinski must have been scared by a gerbil as a child (there were two sequences eerily familiar of the toys in a gerbil's cage: the round ball and the spinning wheel).

Johnny Depp's performance wasn't quite as on target as it was the first time, but--come on--it's Johnny Depp. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom weren't required to do much more than look beautiful. My favorite two performances were Bill Nighy as Davy Jones (he of Locker fame) and Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma, a swamp witch. Both will be back in the third film, I'm certain.

Be sure to stay through the closing credits. My friend and I were the only ones left in the theatre when the credits ran. I was complaining bitterly about wanting to know the fate of one of the characters when a final sequence popped up, answering my question.

If you go, plan to be entertained and not too critical and you'll enjoy it. Have fun!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Long Tail, Part III

This is the third and last in a series of blogs about Chris Anderson's new book, The Long Tail.

When we left off yesterday, we were talking about today's society being obsessed with hits. According to Chris, "We're stuck in a hit-driven mindset - we think that if something isn't a hit, it won't make money and so won't return the cost of its production. We assume, in other words, that only hits deserve to exist. But . . . the 'misses' usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market."

Chris compares the hits to islands in the ocean: small bits of land protruding above the water like the tips of mountains. However, below the surface of the water, the bulk of the mountain remains out of sight. For every single hit, there are thousands of misses that will still bring in money over time.

Even a giant retailer like Wal-Mart is not taking advantage of The Long Tail. Wal-Mart stocks only 1% of the record albums actually available.

Chris says that companies like eBay, Amazon and Netflix escape the paradigm of scarcity. In order to succeed, such companies must follow three rules:

1) Make everything available. "Netflix has made a good business out of what's unprofitable fare in movie theaters and video rental shops because it can aggregate dispersed audiences. It doesn't matter if the several thousand people who rent Doctor Who episodes each month are in one city or spread, one per town, across the country - the economics are the same to Netflix. It has, in short, broken the tyranny of physical space. What matters is not where customers are, or even how many of them are seeking a particular title, but only that some number of them exist, anywhere.

As a result, almost anything is worth offering on the off chance it will find a buyer. This is the opposite of the way the entertainment industry now thinks."

2) Cut the price in half. Now lower it. Chris suggests that you can pull consumers further down The Long Tail by lowering prices the further down the tail they go. So that 99 cent download for a single music track may actually be too much for a really obscure track. With digital technology, the retailers' costs are cut. Chris suggests they can inflate their business by decreasing their prices.

3) Help me find it. The successful Long Tail business will include BOTH hits and misses. A company with just The Long Tail misses will not attract the mainstream business. A company with just the hits misses out on The Long Tail business. The success of Amazon and Netflix depends on offering both parts of the bell curve. "Their huge libraries of less-mainstream fare set them apart, but hits still matter in attracting consumers in the first place. Great Long Tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown."

Sixty percent of Netflix' business comes from recommendations while Amazon has increased its business enormously by the simple mechanism of "If you liked this, then you might want to look at _____." In each case, "the aim is the same: Use recommendations to drive demand down the Long Tail."

Chris suggests that the new markets will be based on a paradigm of abundance rather than scarcity. Why am I interested? As a writer, I begin thinking ahead. Books need never go out of print, and deals negotiated may last for a VERY long time.

It's a different way of thinking. Spend some time musing over what it could mean to you.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Long Tail, Part II

Back to our discussion of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. The non-fiction book hit shelves on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Saturday that, "Hyperion . . . is so excited about 'The Long Tail' that it has gone back to press three times prior to publication and now has 150,000 copies in print, a significant number for a business title."

Let's start by returning to the story I recounted yesterday. In a conversation with the CEO of a digital jukebox company a couple of years ago, Chris was astonished to learn that 98% of the exec's 10,000 digital albums sold at least one track per quarter.

This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of the 80/20 Rule, which suggests that 20% of the albums would account for 80% of the sales. In this case, total sales of the less-popular items exceeded the sales for the most-popular items. And THAT is The Long Tail effect. Over the long haul, a less-popular product can outsell a more-popular product as long as the distribution network is large enough.

Chris' original article in Wired made the point that, "we live in the physical world and, until recently, most of our entertainment media did, too. But that world puts two dramatic limitations on our entertainment."

The first limiting factor is the need for a local audience. Chris says that your local theatre needs 1,500 bodies to buy tickets over two weeks to cover the cost of screening a film while the local music store needs to sell two copies of a CD to pay for the shelf space used by that artist. And the reality is that the vendors need to pull those dollars (signifying local interest) from perhaps a ten-mile radius. "In the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all."

The second limiting factor is physics itself. The physical world has just so many hours in a day that a store or theatre can remain open, just so much radio spectrum for stations to broadcast over, etc. "Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programs, not enough radio waves to play all the music created, and not enough hours in the day to squeeze everything out through either of those sets of slots."

Chris is essentially making the argument that the past has been controlled by a paradigm based on scarcity. "Now, with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance. And the differences are profound."

In the past, publishers and movie producers dreamed of finding the blockbuster book or movie that would sell millions. While that dynamic certainly continues today, the market itself is shifting. With digital files, POD technology and companies like Amazon to bring the publisher and buyer together, books never have to go out of print. The same is true of films. With companies like Netflix that have a huge distribution network, small obscure films can be made available to consumers indefinitely.

I referred readers back to my post for Monday which talked about another WSJ article entitled "Novel Ploy: Market Fiction to Niches." Huge distribution outlets like Amazon and Netflix are permitting generations of niche consumers to rediscover the same obscure works over and over again. "Technology has allowed such niche interests to thrive, finding steady customers and rising levels of interest." (WSJ)

The WSJ review of The Long Tail says, "niches now seem to have an economic logic they never would have had before . . . a wide palette of culture to choose from . . . In short, the shared experience of a 'mass' culture is fading with ever greater speed . . . In the executive suite, this shift is referred to as 'audience fragmentation,' and it is often a cause for worry . . . After all, touchstones like 'I Love Lucy' and top-40 radio once attracted half the country's consumers only because there was no real alternative. The new media, in contrast, offer nothing but alternatives."

Looked at another way, a store like Blockbuster caters to the mass culture. Blockbuster needs to keep 50 copies of the current best-selling film on hand to meet the local demand for the movie. This makes it impossible for them to surrender valuable shelf space in order to stock smaller, more obscure movies that are not in demand.

The flip side is that Netflix appeals to the niche market. A consumer wanting the most popular film out in release may have to wait in a queue at Netflix because the vendor cannot possibly meet the demand for that film across their huge network at one time. However, they can easily meet the demand for a smaller, less popular film.

Chris argues that we need to move away from our hit-driven mindset. We'll talk about that more in my next post on The Long Tail.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Tale of The Long Tail, Part I

A new non-fiction book hit the stands on Tuesday. Entitled "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More," it's by Chris Anderson, the Editor-in-Chief of Wired, the online magazine (

The book grew out of an article Chris wrote back in October, 2004 for Wired in which he talked about a new economic model created by the Internet. That article generated a lot of interest and discussion. The new book is sure to do the same.

To understand The Long Tail (both the concept and the book), picture the standard bell curve. You know, the one that looks like . . . well, a bell, with two long tails on either side gradually trailing off, becoming increasingly smaller and thinner the way a tail does. Where most statisticians concentrate their attention on the larger bell curve, Chris is fascinated by that small, thin tail. To follow his thought process, we'll start with an example from the world of books.

For the last fifty years, most of the publishing industry has been focused on finding the next best-seller--the book that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies and dominate the best-seller lists. However, a recent study concluded that, "The average number of weeks that a new No. 1 bestseller stayed top of the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List has fallen from 5.5 in the 1990s, 14 in the 1970s and 22 in the 1960s to barely a fortnight (two weeks) last year." This phenomenon results in a much flatter bell curve.

What's that about? Are the books today not as interesting or as well-written as the books in the past? Considering that we're talking about Valley of the Dolls and Love Story, that's probably not the case.

What it IS about is the fact that today's consumers have so many more choices than their counterparts in the '60s or the '70s had. In his book's introduction, Chris puts it this way: "Contrast my adolescence with that of Ben, a sixteen-year-old who grew up with the Internet . . . He’s got a Mac in his bedroom, a fully stocked iPod (and a weekly iTunes allowance), and a posse of friends with the same. Like the rest of his teenage friends, Ben has never known a world without broadband, cell phones, MP3s, TiVo, and online shopping."

All these choices mean that it's harder for any one option to develop a commanding lead over its competitors. Another example: In the late '60s, my family's choices for television on Sunday night were Bonanza, Ed Sullivan or one other program. However, today's families have 150 channels to choose from when they sit down to their cable television. Chris says, "TV shows were more popular in the seventies than they are now not because they were better, but because we had fewer alternatives to compete for our screen attention."

What does it mean?

"This shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards is something that upsets traditional media and entertainment no end. After decades of executives refining their skill in creating, picking, and promoting hits, those hits are suddenly not enough. The audience is shifting to something else, a muddy and indistinct proliferation of . . . Well . . . 'everything else'."

It's the "everything else" that Chris focuses on in The Long Tail. He tells of a conversation he had with the CEO of a digital jukebox company who asked him to guess what percentage of his company's 10,000 albums sold at least one track per quarter.

The usual wisdom (the 80/20 rule) would suggest that 20% of the albums would account for 80% of the sales. Chris, suspecting a trick, thought he could avoid a trap by responding with an outrageous 50%. To his astonishment, the jukebox exec answered that 98% of his 10,000 albums sold at least one track per quarter. That's the "everything else" confined in the two long tails of the company's sales curve.

So, what does that mean for business? Especially the business of writing? We'll talk about that in my next post. In the meantime, if you haven't read Monday's post (Mining the Niche Markets), you might want to go back and read that one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wretched Writers Welcome

Today's a two-post day. If you're interested in my experience trying out for "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," read the post that follows this one.

The results are out. San Jose State University has announced this year's winners for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

This is the 24th year the contest has been held. Entrants submit "the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." The worst opening sentence wins $250.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, for whom the contest is named, was the author of that famous phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night."

The winner of this year's contest was Jim Guigli of Carmichael, California. He submitted sixty entries, but this was the winner:

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

While I agree that was a great bad entry, my favorite was the runner up:

"I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' - and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' - well do you, punk?"

Go to to read more.

My Big Moment

Another two-post day.

Today was completely dominated by the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" tryouts in Fort Worth, Texas.

I got up at 6:30 AM and drove to Fort Worth, arriving at 8:30. The tryouts were being held in the Bass Performance Hall from 9 AM to 4 PM. When I arrived, the line was wrapped around two sides of the building. By 10:00 AM, the line was double wrapped around the entire building. The emcee said that it was the biggest turnout the show had ever had for a tryout.

I'd brought a bunch of reading material to pass the time, but didn't get a chance to read it because the people on line with me were so entertaining. I was right behind two sisters--one a CPA and the other a cop. We had a lot of fun during the four hours we were in line together.

The show's producers did a great job of managing the line. People came by offering refreshments every fifteen minutes or so, warning us that--once we were inside the Hall--we would not be permitted to eat or drink. I turned down cheesecake, donuts and soft drinks. What I didn't turn down was an opportunity to get my picture taken with a celebrity--Travelocity's Traveling Gnome. I got to hold him and have a Polaroid taken.

Turns out the show was testing for two different shows: the regular one and a special Netflix Movie Trivia one. The producers divided the line into smaller groups of 200 people each, and we took our turns sitting in the large performance hall auditorium to take two tests. When the numbers of people outside the building kept growing, realizing the heat index outside was getting dangerous (it was over 100 degrees today), the show began testing two groups at once. I was #30 in the fifth group. That means I was the 830th person on line despite arriving thirty minutes before the tryouts began.

Each test was 30 multiple choice questions. We were given ten minutes. I was more leery of the movie test than I was the regular test. Turned out I *think* I did better on the movie test than I did on the regular one. Here are some of the questions from the regular one:

What is coulrophobia? Fear of cemetaries, fear of feces, fear of clowns, fear of tunnels

What is Laura Bush's maiden name? Welch, Davis, Coltrane, Mercer

Where is the Great Red Spot? Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, the Moon

Out of our group of 200 people, eight were selected for the movie group and ten were selected for the regular group. The winners were overwhelming male; both in our group and in Group #4. The breakdown was pretty consistent over the two groups and the two tests. 70% male; 30% female. The people who had passed the test were then led away. We were told they would each get a 45-second interview to determine whether they would be named a contestant. Of course, no one found out today if they were named (to avoid ugly scenes). The show mails postcards in another three weeks telling you whether you are in the contestant pool or not.

I didn't win a spot. The producers refused to tell us how many questions you were permitted to miss. As the wannabees debriefed together afterward, we decided you had to score a 90% to pass.

Even though I didn't get a spot, I learned that Meredith will be back in the fall despite her new morning gig, that the 50/50 lifeline is really random (yeah, right), that contestants must pay all their own expenses in New York and be prepared to stay for several days and that the show no longer uses the Fastest Finger to select that day's contestant. If you are called to New York, you will definitely be on the show.

I was glad I went. I'd go again, given another chance.

Oh, yeah. Answers to the three questions: fear of clowns, Welch and Jupiter. I got two out of the three. I knew one, guessed one right and missed the third.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Harlequin Bringing Its Manga Line Back In-House

One of my earliest posts to this blog on September 27, 2005 was about manga, the graphic novels inspired by Japanese-style comic books.

I also reported when Harlequin began its distribution arrangement with Dark Horse Comics to produce two lines of manga in this country. Harlequin already had experience publishing manga in Japan; they have about 250 novels available in the graphic format in that country.

Now Harlequin has made another announcement: they are taking back their manga line. According to today's Publisher's Weekly (PW), "This fall, Harlequin will relaunch the line under a new imprint called Pink Ginger Blossom. The imprint will debut with four titles in September."

Reportedly, the typical Harlequin readers were not gravitating to the American manga. Harlequin began doing its own research to find a "target audience." After establishing focus groups of teenage girls 12-15 and 16-18, Harlequin discovered a new audience between the two groups. They are describing this audience as the "young potentials." Harlequin plans to market Pink Ginger Blossoms to these young women through bookstores and discount stores like Target as well as through their own website (

Harlequin is not breaking its connection with Dark Horse entirely. "Dark Horse will continue to translate and package the books."

This announcement reminded me that it was time for me to delve deeper into the world of manga. I'm taking tomorrow off to go to Fort Worth. The "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" show is doing tryouts all day at the Bass Performance Hall. I'm going to see if I can join the tryouts. It will probably be a mass mob scene. I'm bringing along a lot of reading material to pass the time. Included are a number of articles on manga. Hopefully, I'll be able to produce a post from my forced waiting time.

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mining the Niche Markets

This is a two-blog day. Be sure to check the post that follows.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story today entitled, "Novel Ploy: Market Fiction to Niches." The article by Robert J. Hughes summarized what writers have known for some time now: getting published is tough and getting tougher.

Hughes says: "With sales of fiction slowing--and more than 5,000 novels appearing every year in the U.S., according to book tracker R.R. Bowker LLC--getting even one of them noticed is a challenge and a clear call to revise the marketing playbook."

The article says that publishers are getting more creative in their use of the Internet, interactive games and viral marketing targeted toward small niche groups. "The trick is finding their market."

I've talked about viral marketing on this blog before (see the post for 4/5/06). Viral marketing is based on Bernoulli's disease propagation model. Bernoulli postulated that an epidemic begins with an infected host. The host comes in contact with other persons. Those who are susceptible to the disease become infected; those who are resistant do not. The newly infected persons then go off to interact with a new generation of people, and the process is repeated again and again, spreading the disease.

Viral marketing works in the same way: placing a germ of an idea in a population thought to be susceptible. Hughes gives the example of a novel by Marti Leimbach about a child with autism. "Doubleday approached groups involved with autism research, counseling and support...the strategy worked." Leimbach made appearances and signings at autism groups, donating 10% of sales at those events to the cause. Word of mouth spread in the autism community as more and more people were "infected." "The novel is now in its fourth printing, the publisher says, with 44,000 copies in print."

Hughes offers multiple examples, including sending out more ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) than usual on upcoming novels to people who might be expected to be susceptible to that particular subject matter.

He also described agent Jenny Bent's strategy of mailing postcards to niche markets. She, the authors and publishers sent postcards to scrapbook fans to advertise a murder mystery featuring scrapbooking.

Again, it's about being creative and aggressive in marketing.

A Giggle to Start the Week

Don't think I'm going to get in the habit of doing two posts in one day.

However, I couldn't resist this. Miss Snark directed attention to POD-dy Mouth's blog. If you're not familiar with her, she does reviews on POD books and keeps an eye on that market. Sometimes her blog is hysterical.

Try this one:

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques,

It's a beautiful Sunday in north Texas, and I'm anxious to get outside to enjoy it. Since it's the weekend, I'm going to save the next writing/publishing post for Monday and share a bit of personal news today.

My household has a new member. A very muscular, very handsome black male named Jacques.

Last winter, I noticed a stray German shepherd running my neighborhood. He didn't have a collar and had obviously been abused because he would not allow anyone near him. I saw him most often very early in the morning or very late at night, heading toward the creek that runs northwest of my house. That creek attracts all sorts of wildlife from coyote to fox.

Over the months--especially since February--the dog developed a habit of passing my house between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning. I often wake up early to write and would occasionally see him when I was outside activating my sprinklers. I could tell that he was growing steadily thinner and thinner.

Last month, I saw him trying to catch beetles to eat. I couldn't stand it any longer. I purchased smelly wet dogfood and started setting the alarm to get up early to leave a dish out for him on the edge of my property.

It was a long, slow process. At first, he would not approach the food if I was outside. Then he would gradually tolerate my presence as long as I was far enough away.

Once he got in the habit of waiting outside my property for breakfast, I began to change the rules. Every couple of days, I shifted the time breakfast was served fifteen minutes later, and I started to move the dish toward my backyard gate. He learned to enter the backyard, but would still not permit me to approach him.

Recently he showed up in the company of another dog. That dog ran up to me to be petted and, to my surprise, the shepherd came up alongside me. He would not let me touch him, but came within two feet to sniff at my extended fingers.

Until that morning, I'd resisted giving the shepherd a name--not wanting to let either one of us think I was doing any more than lending a helping hand to a stranger in need. That day, I called the other dog Frere (French for brother) and the shepherd Jacques.

That morning was a major breakthrough for both of us--an acknowledgement of the inevitable. Jacques soon let me pet him and began approaching me willingly. He also started showing up at the house at times other than breakfast. I began to feed him twice a day, reducing the wet food and adding the healthier kibble.

It hasn't been easy. The first time I shut my backyard gate closing him in, he immediately jumped over the hurricane fence to get out. Recognizing I was moving too fast, I started to leave the gate open all the time so he could come in and out at will without any added pressure.

Last week for the first time he let me put a collar on him, and I took him for a walk on a leash. He is clearly untrained and does not recognize any commands, but he's a quick learner. I started closing the gate again. He began staying in the yard for longer and longer periods (still jumping the fence to get in and out). Friday, we had another big breakthrough. He arrived at 7:00 AM and stayed until 10:30 PM without leaving my yard. When he returned at 4:00 AM, he put his paws on my bedroom window and huffed a greeting: "I'm back."

Since 4:00 yesterday morning, he has not left my yard without me to accompany him.

Getting him into my car for the first time on Friday was a battle. He WOULD NOT jump in. I finally picked his front paws up and put them on the carseat, then picked up his back legs and slung him in. He did a half somersault, but didn't object--once I climbed in after him. We went to visit my vet, Timm, who is one of my favorite people.

Timm said Jacques is pure German shepherd, about two years old and weighs 68 pounds. The dog is still ten to fifteen pounds underweight. He was heartworm negative (thank you, Jesus!). He now has rabies tags, and we're working on his flea issues. Jacques also fell in love with my car. I cannot get in it now without him asking to go along.

He is a delight. Solid black except for brown feet and brown eyebrows, he's a beautiful animal. Although he is still cautious around strangers, he has completely accepted me. When Timm offered him a treat to eat, he refused to take it. Timm gave it to me and said, "You try." Jacques immediately accepted it from my hand.

He is supremely confident around other dogs. At the vet's, dogs lunged at him and growled threateningly. He completely ignored them, but in an assured way as if he had no need to acknowledge lesser beings. A puppy whined, and Jacques tugged on his leash to allow him to lean over and lick its head.

We do have one serious issue. He chases things that move: cars, squirrels, CATS. Until he can learn to behave around my two cats, he cannot enter my house. As I've said, he's a quick learner, and he's VERY anxious to be with me inside. I suspect that, if he has to declare a truce with Tribble and Bob to get inside, he'll do it.

I didn't want a dog right now. I certainly didn't want a behemoth like Jacques. However, I firmly believe that God gives us what we need. It's clear that Jacques needed me. And maybe--even if I didn't know it--I needed Jacques.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I'm back and doing a second post for today.

My friend M and I went to the movies this afternoon to see "Wordplay," a documentary by Patrick Creadon. The film focuses on Will Shortz, the most famous puzzlemaster in the world, and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which Shortz founded.

I first became aware of Shortz in the early '90s when a friend gave me a subscription to Games Magazine for Christmas. I love puzzles of all kinds and, back then, Shortz was editor for the magazine.

In 1993, Shortz moved to the New York Times where he became its fourth crossword puzzle editor. According to Wikipedia, the Times' crossword, which has been running continuously since 1942, is "the most prestigious (and among the most difficult to solve)." In addition to his duties at the Times, Shortz has been the puzzlemaster for NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday for nearly twenty years.

Shortz is unique in that he is the only person in the world who holds a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles. After being accepted into Indiana University, Bloomington, he convinced the school to let him design his own own major program focussed on puzzles. In 1978, at age 25, he founded the American Puzzle Tournament, now in its 28th year.

"Wordplay" interviews Shortz and some of his most famous fans (Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, Mike Mussina and The Indigo Girls). It also interviews some of the authors who construct the Times puzzles and the super stars who participate in the annual puzzle tournament.

The film is fascinating. It's a look at a funky, quirky crowd of very bright, very obsessive people, all focussed on the world of crossword puzzles. One of my favorite moments was when Shortz read the letters he has received from people who do the Times puzzle. Some were complimentary, some complained and some were downright scary.

I LOVE the Times Sunday puzzle. I start it Sunday evening and work on it a little bit every day until I finish it or until the next puzzle comes out the following Sunday. To give you a sense of the people starring in this movie, they complete the daily puzzles in approximately two minutes and the Sunday puzzle in less than fifteen minutes. Unbelievable!!

If you like puzzles or documentaries or just odd people, this is a great film. We enjoyed it enormously.

Saturday's My Fun Day

I'm due back at the Care Now clinic today to have my puncture wounds checked (see yesterday's blog). Then I'm off to meet a friend to see the movie, Wordplay.

While I'm gone, I thought I'd leave you something fun for the weekend. This article has been the most popular story on the New York Times website since it was published on June 25th. Titled "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage," it's worth a read.

Go to:

You won't be sorry.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Just Another Day in Paradise

Be forewarned. This is an angry tale of personal woe. Nothing even vaguely related to publishing or writing.

As I've mentioned lots of times before, I live in a heavily wooded, hilly area of north Texas. The houses sit at all different elevations. I have neighbors who have to drive fifty feet straight up a driveway at a forty-five degree angle to reach their houses, and I have neighbors whose roof lines are even with the road because their houses sit in a hollow.

Most of us are comfortable with the wild look of our neigborhood. There are trees and vines and wild figs everywhere. A truly manicured look would require cutting down lots of very old trees, and there's an unspoken agreement not to do this. Hell, just keeping up with the dead trees is a big enough job for me. I have Jaguar Tree Service on retainer to come out every winter to handle the bigger dead trees (between two and three a year). I cut the smaller ones down myself.

This is definitely Texas. We all have pets, and we're pretty tolerant of each other's animals. It's fairly common for dogs to escape yards while giving chase to rabbits, possum or squirrels. No one really minds. No one EVER calls Animal Control. It's just not done.

That is, with one exception: my neighbor across the street to the west. He has two large lots completely fenced in. You have to ring a bell at the gate to be admitted to his property. He does not socialize, and he keeps four large dogs. Two pit bulls, a German shepherd and an especially nasty chow. His pit bulls are constantly escaping the yard and terrorizing the neighborhood. Almost everyone has either phoned him to complain or reported him to Animal Control. Two years ago, he was forced to get rid of two pit bulls. He waited a while and then bought two more. The new dogs have recently started getting out, too.

Since my border collie's death last year, I only have two cats: Tribble the Paperweight and Bob the Hunter. When the days are nice, they spend a lot of time outside. Last night, both of them were on my front porch, lolling on the glider. I know because I could see them from my study which overlooks the front porch.

You know where this is going. About 8:00 PM, all hell broke loose on my porch--barking, hissing and screaming. Bob flew up a tree and Tribble backed into a corner growling and slashing at the damn dogs who were closing in on her, snapping angrily.

I know it's stupid, but I didn't stop to think. I began screaming at the dogs and kicking at them. They were so surprised, they froze. I took advantage of the moment to snatch Tribble up. I held her over my head and started back past the dogs to the door.

Of course, the dogs quickly recovered. One ran off while the male pit bull began leaping for the cat. Tribble responded by sinking her fangs into MY forearm. Ungrateful little sod.

I had to push on the dog to keep him from following into my house. Tribble took off for the bedroom, and I immediately went out again to find my neighbor. He was already outside (probably heard all the screaming and barking) and came to collect the male pit bull still on my porch. I heard him beating the poor creature all the way home. I could hear the dog's snarls and yelps for another five minutes after that. Great. Now we'll have VICIOUS pit bulls terrorizing the neighborhood.

I had to go to the Care Now clinic for the puncture wounds. They took me right away, gave me Augmentin and told me to come back in two days to make sure my arm is not swelling. Charming. My blood pressure, which is usually my best subject, was so high they made me stay there until it came down again.

This is so wrong. Tribble now has a criminal record. I had to fill out an Animal Control report on her and was told to expect a follow-up call from the County. Between the clinic and the pharmacy, I had to fork over almost $200 for my freaking puncture wounds. I'm still trying to decide whether to write a demand letter to my neighbor or not. I'd hate to have bad feelings with a neighbor. Of course, right now, the bad feelings are all one-sided. I'm the angry one.

My arm aches, I'm ticked off and, underneath it all, I keep hearing that poor stupid pit bull screaming while being beat. This isn't the way things should be.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

For Romance Writers

One of the three top review sites for romances is Romance Junkies ( Run by Cat Brown, an entrepreneur if I've ever known one, the site has steadily grown in popularity since it begin in 2003. Three months ago, they reached a goal they've been aiming for since the first of the year--one million hits in ONE MONTH.

I first encountered Cat Brown last summer when I was named the winner of the Romance Junkies contest for 2005.

The contest was structured so that writers were invited to submit the first chapter of their romance novels. Each week, the chapters were posted on a special website ( where readers could vote on their favorites. At the end of the open period, the top 18 vote-getters were submitted to a panel of judges who selected their favorite three. Then a print publisher selected the Grand Prize winner. In 2005, I was first selected the winner by the panel of judges and then, Tova Sacks of Berkley also selected my Witch Vampire? as the Grand Prize winner, for which I won a digital audio player.

I am telling you all this because the new contest for 2006 is going on right now. You can go to each week to read and vote on the 2006 entries. The Grand Prize winner this year will be selected by Kara Cesare of the Penguin Group. And the Grand Prize this year is an AlphaSmart 3000.

One of my favorite things about the 2005 contest was the fan letters. I had so much fun receiving emails each day from readers who liked my chapter. It was my first experience with fan letters.

I'd really encourage you to submit a chapter (maximum of 5,000 words). I promise you; you'll be glad you did.

Even if you don't enter the contest, visit Romance Junkies. They now have a critique co-op and an opportunity to participate in telling a group story.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Go Visit the World eBook Fair

This is a reminder that the World eBook Fair started yesterday. As many as 300,000 books are available online for free download for a one-month period from July 4 to August 4 at

The books include fiction, nonfiction, and reference books, most of which are no longer protected by copyright.

This initiative is sponsored by Project Gutenberg, the oldest digital library.

For the World eBook Fair, more than 100 e-book libraries are donating books for download during the month of July. Among these is the World ebook Library (, which normally charges $8.95 a year for access to its library of over 250,000 ebooks.

Stop in and browse.

Animal Dreams

My critique partner, Jeanne Laws, has a new e-book out at Loose Id. Do yourself a favor and buy it. It's terrific!!

Animal Dreams is a love story and a fantasy and the first in a trilogy about a prophecy regarding the Gateway to . . . Well, you'll have to read the books for that.

Here's a blurb:

A prophecy and a spell have kept Mandy away from horse-shifter Jacob Morgan for eight years. Now, she’s trying to make up for lost time, but things get complicated when it becomes clear that someone wants her dead.

Go to to buy Animal Dreams. You won't be sorry that you did. You can read an excerpt here:

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!!!

On this, our nation's birthday, I pray that America will always enjoy the blessings of liberty that our forefathers fought so hard to attain.

Here's the last verse of our national anthem:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Vamping It Up

Two new fantasy novels came out this week: Danse Macabre, the 14th Anita Blake adventure by Laurell K. Hamilton and A Fistful of Charms, the fourth outing for Rachel Morgan by author Kim Harrison.

I bought both books on Saturday morning and, as I write this, I'm about halfway through the Harrison novel. I should add that last week I finished the latest Charlaine Harris novel, Definitely Dead, the sixth book in the Sookie Stackhouse chronicles.

All three authors--Hamilton, Harris and Harrison--feature heroines living in alternate universes in which vampires figure prominently.

I know. I know. You're asking why I'm mentioning these three authors when there are hundreds of authors churning out vampire novels. Without even trying, I could reel off the names of a dozen romance writers penning a vampire series, including MaryJanice Davidson, Christine Feehan and Maggie Shayne to name just a few.

The reason I mention the three Hs (Hamilton, Harris and Harrison) is that I believe all three are exploring new territory in the sub-genre of vampire fiction. Each has developed an intricate universe with unique characters and world rules.

Laurell K. Hamilton: I first encountered LKH when I read Guilty Pleasures sometime around 1994. I was so taken with the book that I ran out and bought her previous novel, Nightseer. Big mistake. Nightseer is godawful. However, with the Anita Blake series, LKH hit her stride.

The early Anita Blake novels were mostly adventures. Anita is a necromancer who works raising zombies and executing rogue vampires for a living. When she finally yields to her lust for Jean Claude, the Master Vampire of St. Louis, the novels begin to move toward erotic romance. As the books progress, I would cease to describe them as erotic romances. They cross the line into erotica--passionate sex without any promise of a permanent relationship with one partner. In fact, the hallmark of the series is now multiple sexual encounters with multiple partners while still providing adventures on the paranormal wild side.

Charlaine Harris: I was so tickled by the first Sookie Stackhouse novel, Dead Until Dark, in 2001 that I bought a second copy for one of my brothers to read. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress living and working in the little town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie is a psychic being slowly driven crazy by the chatter in her head from all the minds she cannot block out. She is thrilled to realize that she cannot "read" a vampire's thoughts. That alone is enough to tempt her into an affair with Bill the Vampire. Meanwhile, the vampires' power structure is delighted to learn of the existence of a psychic whom they can employ for their own purposes. Sookie's life becomes a balancing act as she is introduced to the underworld of paranormal creatures existing secretly alongside humans.

Harris' series was the first vampire novel with a chick lit voice I'd encountered, and I loved its understated humor. Three years later, MaryJanice Davidson did a straightforward chick lit vamp with her "Undead" series. However, the difference is that Harris' series is, first and foremost, a vampire story with a chick lit voice (as opposed to MJD's series, which is primarily a chick lit novel that just happens to be about vampires).

Kim Harrison: In some ways, Harrison's books are the biggest surprise of all. The first in the series, Dead Witch Walking, came out in 2004. The book I'm now reading is the fourth in the series. Rachel Morgan, the heroine, is a witch who makes a living tracking down rogue witches, Weres and vamps with the help of her two partners: Ivy, a living vampire, and Jenks, an aging pixy. The novels take place in Cincinnati after The Turn, the time when humanity was almost wiped out by a bioengineered tomato gone bad. The world is now evenly divided between Inderlanders (magic folk) and mortals.

Like the early Hamilton novels, Harrison is edging her way along the erotic continuum. Ivy's passion for Rachel is an intriguing mix of bloodlust and old-fashioned lust. I anticipate that Harrison will cross the line from heterosexual f/m romance to f/f before long. She is certainly ratcheting up the passion meter in A Fistful of Charms.

It was Lord Byron who first merged the legend of the vampire with lust (and regret) in his poem The Giaour in 1813. Byron's own image as a sexy aristocrat prompted his personal physician, John Polidori, to write what is usually considered the first vampire novel, The Vampyre, in 1819, modeling the character of Lord Ruthven on Byron himself.

Two famous vamp works--the 1816 poem Christabel by Coleridge (he of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and the 1871 novel Carmilla by Joseph le Fanu--both had strong lesbian overtones.

All these early works have been nearly forgotten, overwhelmed by the celebrity of Bram Stoker's 1897 Dracula. That novel stood alone and unchallenged as the premier vampire novel until 1976 when Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire returned the genre to its earlier sensuous and sumptuous roots.

There have been many articles written about why vampire novels are so popular. The more obvious reasons are the attraction of the forbidden, the seductiveness of the dark lover and the yearning for eternal youth. At its most basic, vampire novels are about Eros (the impulse to connect) defeating Thanatos (the death instinct). However, the glut of similar material on the market means that something new and fresh will always stand out from others in the field.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Revisiting LibraryThing

If you've been reading this blog over the last few months, you already know about LibraryThing. I first wrote about it on March 5th in a post entitled "My New Favorite Thing."

On June 27, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) did a lengthy article on LibraryThing called "Social Networking for Bookworms." I thought this would be a good time to revisit the website located at

The theory behind LibraryThing is that users can log on and catalogue their personal libraries for others to browse online. It's incredibly easy to do. You click on "add books" and enter whatever you want--the author's name, the book name, the ISBN number. LibraryThing will then offer you a list of suggestions from which you can select the appropriate volume. Other users visiting the site can pull up a list of your selections or a graphic display of the book covers.

To get an idea of what I'm saying, you can visit my catalog at

LibraryThing also tells you the most popular books on the website, which users' libraries have the most books in common with yours, and recommends books that you may enjoy. Users are invited to rate books for other users. You can even email other users to chat.

According to the WSJ, the site was created by Tim Spalding less than a year ago. "Ten months later, his concept has blossomed into a vibrant community with 47,670 registered members--some paying--and a user-created catalog that includes more than 3.6 million volumes. In theory, that makes LibraryThing the 58th largest library in the U.S."

In May, Spalding sold a 40% stake in the website to, the network of independent booksellers. That has permitted him to hire a full-time librarian named Abby, as well as two more programmers.

LibraryThing will allow you post 200 books for free. After that you can register for unlimited access for a year for $10 or forever for $25. The WSJ says that the largest LibraryThing user library has 9,218 books.

I have 195 books listed and now need to decide whether to purchase the additional access. I'm in no rush. These days, I enjoy cruising the site for suggestions of new books and authors to read. Probably one cold winter night when I'm iced in, I'll add the additional access to my account.

Do yourself a favor and visit LibraryThing.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Falling Star (Jones)

Usually I try to use this blog to talk about writing or subjects that touch on the publishing industry. However, since this is a holiday weekend, I'm going to spend the time talking about whatever strikes my fancy.

Today that means Star Jones and The View.

My experience of The View is limited to a specific three-year-period from mid-2002 to mid-2005. During that time frame, I watched the show most mornings. I loved Meredith Vieira's honesty and Joy Behar's sharp tongue.

While I recognized Star's narcissism, that "me-me" focus was more than outweighed by her enthusiasm, astute comments and good heart. I admired the dignity with which she handled the really nasty late-night jokes about her weight. I liked her far more than I did Barbara Walters' oily obsequiousness or Elisabeth Hasselbeck's knee-jerk responses as a self-appointed Bush cheerleader.

That changed for me with the approach of Star's wedding in November, 2004. I watched with dismay as she transformed from an articulate attorney into an unrelenting Bridezilla. I was frankly disgusted by the poor taste, unrestrained excesses and the poor judgment she displayed in turning a sacred moment into a commercial spectacle.

In my opinion, ABC made a crucial error in 2004 in devoting so much time to segments on wedding planning during the period leading up to Star's nuptials. Initially, I was disappointed; then, irritated. More and more frequently, I began switching over to the radio to listen to the Diane Rehm show on NPR instead of watching The View. I simply fell out of The View habit.

Apparently, I was not alone. ABC acknowledged this week that Star's credibility with viewers plunged dramatically during this period. They gave that as the reason for not renewing Star's contract.

I'm amused that ABC did not anticipate that Star would plan to handle her departure "her way." I suspect they were lulled into complacency by her usual professionalism. They should have remembered that Star has demonstrated a consistent pattern of poor judgment when it comes to dealing with more personal issues. That poor judgment was in evidence again when Star shot back at Barbara Walters after the show's creator announced she would not be back.

Toward the end of this week, however, Star had begun to display the business acumen I associate with her. On Friday, she said, "I think I used, and some would say abused, my celebrity in planning the wedding." According to a Reuters' story, "If she had it to do over again, Reynolds added, 'I would be more humble.'"

That's certainly a good start.

I hope to see Star recover her footing and move on to success once again. If she can curb her narcissism, I believe she can do it. If not, she will be reduced to a permanent late-night joke.