Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holiday

I can think of no better way to wish you all the blessings of this Holy Day than to share a video, which you have probably already seen because it's been viewed almost 27 million times. A flash mob descended upon a food court in a mall in Canada to share a bit of Handel's Messiah with the shoppers.

The Messiah was first performed in London before King George II. The king stood during the Hallelujah Chorus--either in tribute to the Lord of All or in tribute to Handel. Since then, the tradition has been to stand during that chorus.

Wishing you the joy of this Season.



Monday, December 20, 2010

A Memoir on Life with Stieg Larsson

Last week, Publishers Weekly reported that an independent publisher, Seven Stories Press, has signed Eva Gabrielsson, the long-time companion of author Stieg Larsson, to a book contract.

Larsson who died six years ago last month was the best-selling author of the Millennium Trilogy which included The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Larsson and Gabrielsson had been together for 32 years, but never married. Six months before he died, he was offered a three-book contract with a Swedish publisher. When he died, because he and Gabrielsson had never married and he did not have a valid will, his estate--now estimated at $30 million--went to his father and brother.

Gabrielsson's relationship with her lover's family has been stormy. After Larsson's death, they offered to give her Stieg's half of their apartment if she would turn over his laptop, which supposedly held an unfinished fourth novel. She refused to give in to what she called "extortion." Bad press led to the family finally signing over Larsson's half of the apartment.

According to Publishers Weekly:
The memoir, which will be published in French, Swedish and Norwegian in January 2011, recounts Larsson and Gabrielsson’s 30-years together, traces sources of episodes and characters in [Larsson's books], discusses Larsson’s sudden death in 2004, and describes the ongoing saga of the lost fourth book. It’s sure to be a huge seller among ravenous Larsson fans.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Ruling in Costco v. Omega

Back in early August here, I talked about Costco v. Omega, a case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court during this session, which could have a huge potential on the publishing industry.

JCK, a jewelers' website, summarized the case here:

The case began in 2004, when Omega sued Costco in federal court in California over its sales of grey market watches. The term refers to a practice in which retailers buy brands from unauthorized dealers located overseas and resell them at lower prices in the United States.

The case differed from past fights in that Omega used copyright infringement to fight its case. Since Omega watches sold by Costco carry the watch company’s copyrighted icon, the company argued that selling them without its authorization violates U.S. copyright law. But Costco argued that the case could impede the ability of retailers to sell products without authorization ...

Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the decision, leaving eight justices, who split 4-4 in a decision handed down on Monday, December 13.

A split means the lower court's ruling is upheld, Omega wins, and this case did not create a precedent.

According to Publishers Weekly here:
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) had "filed an amicus brief in September urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit ruling in favor of Omega, maintaining that allowing Costco to sell the watches would in essence 'legalize the importation of books that were manufactured abroad for distribution in foreign markets and never intended for sale in the United States'.”
As I explained in my previous post, a decision passed by the Supreme Court on June 1, 1908 established what is called the "first-sale doctrine":
... one who has sold a copyrighted article, without restriction, has parted with all right to control the sale of it. The purchaser of a book, once sold by authority of the owner of the copyright, may sell it again, although he could not publish a new edition of it.
Publishers Weekly shared consumer groups' perspective on the case who wanted Costco to prevail:
“What happens to Netflix, Amazon and eBay if they have to find out where each item was made, whether it has a copyright logo made outside of the U.S., and then buy licensing rights from the copyright owner if the item was made abroad?"
Although this case did not establish a precedent, it is likely another case will come along to do so.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Survey on e-Books

Wednesday's Publishers Weekly had an article here about a survey of 600 publishers conducted by Aptara, a company that specializes in providing technical expertise to publishers.

The survey revealed that 74% of trade publishers now offer e-books while 64% of all publishers are offering e-books. That 64% is up from 11% earlier in this year.

The largest gains in number of houses offering e-books were in the trade and STM (scientific, technical and medical) sectors.

When the 36% of all publishers who are not releasing e-books was asked "Why not?," 71% of them gave no reason for sitting out.

To me, the scary part of the article was this:
The profitability of e-books has been a point of contention between publishers and authors, and according to the survey 66% of trade houses have no clear picture if the return-on-investment from e-books is better or worse than for print books; 15% said the ROI was better, but 13% said it was worse.
You can go to the Aptara site here to read additional details about the survey. Aptara says:
The main eBook production challenge facing publishers is still eReader/content compatibility issues. Even with the near universal EPUB eBook format standard, today’s fragmented eReader market makes quality eBook production a moving target, with expert, manual manipulation required to retain consistent formatting across device-types.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

In Cold Blood Revisited

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb ... But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises--on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them--four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.
Those words are found in the early pages of a twentieth-century classic: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Capote described the book as an "unexplored literary medium" which he called the "non-fiction novel." In Cold Blood tells the story of the real-life murder of a wealthy rancher named Herbert Clutter, his wife and two teenaged children on November 14, 1959 by two killers who entered the house in the tiny town of Holcomb, Kansas while the family slept. The book spawned entire generations of true crime books.

When I was my mid-twenties, I encountered a man who scared me. One of my best friends met and married him in less than a week. All she could see was his remarkable good looks and his expensive car; all she could hear was his smooth patter.

I had never met anyone like him before. He lied even about details that didn't matter, he believed he was entitled to anything he could take or swindle, and his casual brutality startled even me--who had grown up around alcohol-fueled violence. Part of the reason he scared me was because he was cruel without cause or reason.

I began reading true crime books to try to understand where people like this came from. Eventually my burgeoning interest in psychopathy catapulted me into graduate school. But, before then, I amassed a library of over two hundred true crime books.

Of course, I purchased In Cold Blood, which had been released many years earlier and was regarded as the gold standard in the "true crime" genre. Of all the true crime I read, that book stands out because it was one of a half dozen I could not finish. There were a couple of books I didn't finish because the gory details were so disgusting that I had to put them down. There were another couple so badly written that I put them down in frustration. In Cold Blood did not fit into either of those categories. Masterfully written and not gratuitously violent, the book was in a class of its own.

I didn't have the writing experience back then to recognize why the book bothered me so much. I just knew I couldn't finish it. And I've never gone back to pick it up again, not even when the film Capote came out in 2005. In Cold Blood sits on my shelf, untouched and unloved.

Recently a website I visited directed me to a 1966 interview the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did with Truman Capote. I found the interview fascinating.

When the film Capote came out, there were lots of old TV inter-
views with Truman Capote replayed in order to compare Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal to the real man. I was not terribly impressed by those old interviews. To me, Capote seemed superficial, self-aggrandizing, and frequently a bit malicious.

However, in the CBC interview, you get to see Capote, the writer. The contrast is startling.

Capote is initially very defensive of his "non-fiction novel":
People keep confusing my book with the subject matter … they keep talking about ... crime books ... Well, the subject matter of my book was purely incidental. I mean, it’s the least interesting or important thing about the book. The interest of the book is in how it sets out to explore what I consider an unexplored literary medium and what one does with it ...
Although Capote never went to college, he clearly spent a great deal of time thinking about his craft. At first, when he begins talking about "reportage," as he calls "journalism," I thought, "What a pompous little man." But then he said this:
... there is a great difference between fiction and journalism that is almost irreconcilable ...

In journalism … one is moving horizontally. One never moves vertically. You almost never go down inside. You are moving horizontally on a … superficial surface, [in a] horizontal narrative.

The whole point about fiction is … that you start out horizontally and, at the first opportunity, you go vertical. You’re inside of the characters, deep inside the situation… You’re [like] God moving … vertically and horizontally at the same time, simultaneously … All reportage that I can think of moves horizontally. One is always on the surface.
Perhaps because I had been so dismissive of the man, I was profoundly struck by Capote's analysis of the two mediums.

His next words suggested to me why I had instinctively recoiled from In Cold Blood:
The other thing is that the technical innovation in that book … is that I, the reporter, never appear... This is the most single most difficult thing of the whole thing and the reason I did it. It was almost a technical impossibility ... I wanted to prove that the reporter could be completely absented from the thing as a person.
I spent a good part of this weekend reading In Cold Blood. I found myself admiring Capote's skill as a writer and as an artist. How- ever, this time around, I could clearly identify the two issues that probably prevented me from finishing the book years ago.

First, I still find it creepy to have the last day of the Clutter family's life recreated in novel style so that whole conversations and feelings are included as fact. As an example, here's an excerpt from a phone conversation between the teenage Clutter daughter Nancy and her best friend Susan:
“What are you eating?”


“I know-—your fingernails,” said Susan, guessing correctly. Much as Nancy tried, she could not break the habit of nibbling her nails, and, whenever she was troubled, chewing them right to the quick. “Tell. Something wrong?”


“Nancy. C’est moi. . . . ” Susan was studying French.
Capote said every conversation in the book has its basis in an interview with one of the involved individuals. However, he also claimed to have recreated from memory all the interviews he did with the people of Holcomb. He said he did not use a tape recorder and found that note-taking during an interview inhibited his subjects. He would do the interview and then sit down to write his notes. So we have his recollection of what his subjects told him, not a word-for-word account.

And Capote selected which interviews and which comments to include and which to exclude from the book. Over the years he was in Holcomb, he amassed a huge amount of material. I found an interview he did with George Plimpton here for the New York Times in 1966. In that interview, Capote says, "My files would almost fill a whole small room, right up to the ceiling."

I think Capote was either being disingenuous or kidding himself when he claimed that he was completely absent from the book. He said it himself: "You're God" when writing a non-fiction novel. The underlying dishonesty of his approach bothered me as much today as it did when I first read the book. I'd far rather read a book by Jack Olsen or Ann Rule where the writer openly acknowledges his thoughts on the crime being recounted.

Neither of my complaints diminishes Capote's accomplishment in producing a remarkable narrative, although I would call it a fact-based novel. I will always wonder whether the confessed killers Smith and Hickock had a homosexual relationship as writer J.J. Maloney claimed, and whether Capote's own homosexuality led to his burying that fact. Maloney believed that it was Smith's jealousy over Hickock's interest in the sixteen-year-old Nancy Clutter that acted as the catalyst for the needless murders.

The CBC's rules won't let me embed the interview on my blog, but you can listen to it if you go here.

You can also read In Cold Blood online. It was first released as a four-part series in The New Yorker in September, 1965. Part I is here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time Out

I've been fighting a sinus infection and finally gave in to it today. I'll be back soon.

In the meantime, I've been listening to music while I nap. Tonight it was Leonard Cohen.

Here are two of my favorite songs of his, the first a cover by Jeff Buckley:

The second is a cover of another Cohen song by Tori Amos:

They both take their time getting into the song, but the wait is worth it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Spider Just Lost a Leg

If you're bored and looking for something to do, listen to the podcast of this week's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR. It's a Best of the Animal Kingdom show, featuring all kinds of excerpts about wallabies, giant spiders, squirrels and ostriches.

Go here to download the show. I promise you won't regret it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Small Town Texas Tale

I heard a story this week, which I wanted to share on Thanksgiving. The story illustrates why I hold both Texas and its people in such high esteem.

Lucas, Texas is a small town (11.73 square miles, including lake water) with less than 1,000 households in north central Texas, close to the Oklahoma border (Map and stats courtesy of Wikipedia).

Lucas is an affluent little town with a median household income of just over $100,000.

Lovejoy High School is the only high school in Lucas. Lovejoy opened in the fall of 2006 and graduated its first class this past spring. Among the statistics the school has racked up over its short history:

  • In 2010, Lovejoy High School won the Lone Star Cup as the most successful 3A school in the state of Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Lone Star Cup "recognizes high schools based on their overall team achievement in athletic and academic championships."

  • The volleyball team has won three state titles in 2008, 2009, and 2010

  • The football team reached the state semi-finals in the 2008-09 football season, which was the school's first year to ever have seniors

  • The men's and women's cross country teams both won the cross country state title in 2010

Jim Bob Puckett is the Athletic Director and the head football coach for Lovejoy. According to his CV here, Jim Bob is a native Texan, around 50 years old, and has been a part of Lovejoy since the school was in its development stage five years ago. The photo below comes from the school's website:

The 2009-10 football season has been a good one for Lovejoy, and the team was looking forward to making their division finals.

Earlier in the month, on November 5, Lovejoy was scheduled to play Nevada Community High School in their final regular season game. Prior to that game, Coach Puckett told the team that, if Lovejoy had a comfortable lead at half-time, he planned to pull some of his starters to allow the kids who had not gotten much time on the field a chance to play.

At the half, the score was 47-0 with Lovejoy in the lead.

I should probably mention that November 5 was Senior Night. And, kids being kids, three of the senior players broke a team rule during the half time.

I'm not going to identify the players by name nor the team rule they broke. If you've ever been eighteen on Senior Night, you can probably guess which rule it was.

Another student told his parents who, in turn, reported the violation to the school's administration. The administration advised Coach Puckett of the rumor.

And make no mistake. This was a rumor. No police officer had spotted the kids; no school official had noticed the violation. The Lovejoy Leopards won the game 68-0. Coach Puckett could have swept the mess under the rug and gone on to the playoffs with his very winning team intact.

Instead Jim Bob Puckett called a team meeting and demanded that each player provide a written AND SIGNED response to a number of questions. Those questions included: Have you ever broken a team rule? If so, which one? Do you know of any other player who has broken a team rule? If so, who and which rule?

Many of the players--including two of the November 5 miscreants
--answered honestly.

Coach Puckett kicked the three starters off the team, they were suspended from school for 45 days, and they will not be permitted to graduate with their class. Instead they will have to return to school in the summer to take another course before graduation.

Did I mention the positions the three boys played? Quarterback, tight end and wide receiver.

When the news hit the streets on November 12, Coach Puckett was asked who the students were. He declined to answer. However, when the team lineup changed that night, in a game with rival team A. Maceo Smith, the answer was pretty obvious.

Here's an excerpt from the school website's description of the 11/12/10 game:
... following on what has been an interesting week, to say the least, the Leopards came out as a team and thoroughly thrashed the Smith Falcons 56 to 22. Even with some lineup changes, Lovejoy showed its depth at all positions ...

Numerous distractions during the week could have derailed Lovejoy’s hopes for a deep playoff run. And while the Leopards’ dominating 56-22 victory over A. Maceo Smith seemed like the next logical step for this 9-1 state ranked unit, the win encompassed far more than just numbers in a box score. With fierce determination, the Leopards proved to everyone, and more importantly themselves, that adversity and defeat do not always go hand in hand ...
The McKinney Courier-Gazette quoted Jim Bob on Monday, November 15:
“It’s never good when you have to remove players from the team,” he said, “and obviously it’s even worse now because we are at playoff time.”

But Puckett’s concern goes beyond just the playing field.

“Football is just a game,” he said. “We want the boys who come through this program to learn about more than just football; it’s about being great young men and learning life lessons. And make no mistake, those three are still our brothers. Even good kids make bad decisions and this will be a life lesson for them.”
The McKinney newspaper asked Puckett to talk about the upcoming November 19 game against the Celina Bobcats and quoted him again:
“Our guys have been really upbeat over the last week and we had some good practices ... We told the guys that it is like losing players to injury and this will give some different guys a chance to step up.”
Puckett's team did step up and the Lovejoy Leopards beat the Celina Bobcats 17-0 last Friday night.

Living in Texas occasionally gets on my nerves. The politics here are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun, and football is almost a religion. But, when they talk about "values," Texans are absolutely sincere. Imagine a high school coach who is able to say, "Football is just a game ... This will be a life lesson."

I salute Coach Puckett and the Lovejoy Leopards.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you and yours enjoyed many blessings today. I am so grateful for the people I love and the people who love me. I thank my readers for their support and wish all of you every blessing of this holiday season.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fewer Posts Through the Holidays

Most holidays I've taken a month off from blogging.

I'm going to try something different this year. I'll post every other weekday.

We'll see how that works.

McQuivey Explains His Thinking

Thanks to Teleread for pointing me to a new post by James McQuivey of Forrester Research. I've mentioned both Forrester and McQuivey here on this blog before.

On November 8, McQuivey had a post here on Paid Content titled "Why The Book Business May Soon Be The Most Digital Of All Media Industries." A couple of lines from that report have already been widely quoted online:
... 2010 will end with $966 million in e-books sold to consumers. By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.
Last Tuesday, McQuivey did a post on his Forrester blog that's worthy of mention. In a post titled "On The Certain Economics Of Relegating Paper Books To The Margins Of The Business" here, McQuivey contends that paper books will not disappear completely; paper will simply not be the dominant medium:
... publishers will think of their eBook strategy first. Paper decisions will be made as an adjunct to digital decisions. Many, many books will be published without paper versions at all, at least until they get enough critical mass to justify going to paper. Bestsellers from proven authors will always get both, launched simultaneously ...
But that wasn't the part that interested me. It was this line: "Ultimately, we're talking about a change in economics, not formats."

He reminds readers what happened in music when the "dominant retailers" found their economic model "drying up," which naturally lead to less shelf space. Dedicated retailers like Tower Records went out of business while the big box stores like Wal-Mart cut shelf space dramatically. McQuivey predicts:
This will mean an automatic retraction in how many books are printed because publishers won't get the massive bulk purchases they used to get ...
The natural consequence will be fewer (and lower) advances for authors, which will naturally push them toward e-publishers and/or self-publishing.

Economics, not technology.

Read the whole article. It's worth it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Any New Books?

Thanks to Paul Biba of Teleread for alerting me to a service I had not heard about previously.

Any New Books? is a service that sends free, weekly emails to subscribers, alerting them to new books being published in the categories that the subscriber selects.

You can select general categories like "fiction" or "nonfiction" or you can choose specific categories like "horror" or "biographies & memoirs." I picked seven specific categories.

You can change your selections at any time.

Give it a try.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Promise of Bruce Springsteen

Okay, I promise we'll get back to publishing tomorrow. However, today I want to talk about an interview that the actor Edward Norton conducted with Bruce Springsteen in September at a Canadian film festival in Toronto.

The interview was part of the premiere of the film The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story.

The story behind the documentary began with the release of Springsteen's breakthrough album Born to Run in the summer of 1975.

Springsteen had hit it big, but found himself sidelined for the next three years by a legal tussle with his former manager. Unable to return to a studio, he spent his time touring (trying to keep the E Street Band together) and writing songs. He produced more than 70 songs during this period. He and the band selected ten of the darkest songs for the album that became 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Among the sixty+ discarded songs were the following:
  • Because the Night recorded by Patti Smith
  • Fire recorded by The Pointer Sisters
  • This Little Girl recorded by Gary U.S. Bonds

Today, a double CD titled The Promise was released. It includes a lot of the discarded music from Darkness. A deluxe box version which also includes the film The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story is available, too. The film includes rehearsals in a barn in New Jersey and studio sessions.

Some of the interesting parts of the interview for me included comments about the history of rock:
You forget, the Beatles made all their records in about eight years. You know, I think it was '63 to '72 ... and also the oldest rock musicians ... say, when "Darkness" came out were 32 or 34. Those were the old guys. You know, ... people were looking for a new Bob Dylan when Bob himself was only about 30 years old.
But I was also interested in his observations on writing:

I was interested now in writing music that felt ... I wanted to bring in the landscape of the whole country ... but the writing ... and the imagining of a world, that's a particular thing, you know, that's, that's a single fingerprint ... all the filmmakers we love, all the writers we love, all the songwriters we love ... they have ... they put their fingerprint on your imagination, and on your heart and on your soul.

And, of course, his family influences:
My own history. I was interested in my parents' lives. I was interested in a sense of place ... I felt that my own identity was rooted in that sense of place and that there was a narrative there. And I was interested in having a narrative. In other words, I had a story and wanted to tell it. And I knew it was caught up in my childhood, and my parent's lives and my own young life, but I had no real clue as to the broader picture.
I highly recommend listening to the interview, which you can find on NPR Music. Go here and scroll down to the photo of Springsteen to listen.

After you finish the interview, go here to NPR Music First Listen and scroll down until you see the Springsteen songs. There's 15 songs from Promise, including Because the Night and Fire.

I hope you'll enjoy the experience half as much as I did.

As I write this, I'm listening to Springsteen perform Because the Night on the Jimmy Fallon show and listening to a line I've always loved: "Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe."

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Almost) 8 Tips to Avoid Computer Armageddon

I'm taking a blogging day off in order to celebrate the release of Bruce Springsteen's Promise album today. My friend Maria Zannini has agreed to fill in as guest blogger while I'm off communing with the Boss.

Here's Maria:

(Almost) 8 Tips to Avoid Computer Armageddon

Uploading new software. Please stand by.

Although my latest novel, True Believers, is pure romance with a side of world domination, it also relies on two AIs (artificial intelligences) called Bubba and FAIA. These computers are so smart they become sentient.

Think twice before downloading Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' as a ringtone. You might get more than you expected. Like maybe Cyber Gaga(Italics). (Though you might be hard-pressed to tell them apart.)

It's Computer Armageddon, folks! Coming to a network near you.

Did you know that major retailers know how much product to reorder the moment you leave the store? The sister of a friend of mine helped developed that technology.

Today, computer chips are embedded in everything from clothing, cell phones — even your pets. We are no longer in charge.

Much like the zombie apocalypse, Computer Armageddon is no laughing matter. If you see code monkeys from your local Best Buy store packing up and heading for the hills, that's your clue that Armageddon has already begun.

Here are some tips to help you out.

  1. Your cell phone can track you anywhere on the planet. If you plan on doing any subversive activity be sure to trade phones with your great Aunt Edna first. So what if the Feds catch up with her? She might like prison.

  2. Your dog is a snitch if he's been microchipped. This leaves you with one of two choices. Trade Sparky in for a hamster, or zap him with a Taser in the hope the shock might destroy the chip. —of course, Sparky might not like you after that. (Down, boy.)

  3. If your computer monitor suddenly comes on and you see a naked Gerard Butler inviting you to join him on a white fur rug, avert your eyes immediately. It's a trap!

    ….you didn't listen, did you? :sigh: Moving on.

  4. Trade your body for Code Monkey favors. I know. Some of those boys have pimples. But it's Armageddon, woman! Do it for humanity.

  5. If you manage to disable your computer before it alerts the authorities, make sure your kids do not witness your sabotage. If your kid ever realizes you were responsible for interrupting World Of Warcraft, he will rat you out in a heartbeat. Never mind you were in labor for 72 hours bringing him into this world. You're history, Mom.

  6. Learn to make the perfect margarita. It won't slow down Armageddon. But after a few drinks, you won't really care.

  7. Computers are privy to your finances, your medical records and every email or Facebook photo you've ever uploaded. Just remember you still have opposable thumbs. If push comes to shove, pull the plug.

  8. And finally Tip #8. If your computer suspects—

Download complete. User Terminated.

Have a nice day!


Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS. Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

Follow Maria here:


Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link ( to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

Fallout From the Cooks Source Debacle

By now, you've probably heard the plagiarism hullabaloo over Cooks Source [Ouch! Where's the apostrophe?] magazine, which broke on the Internet twelve days ago.

If you haven't, here's a summary: A food writer, Monica Gaudio, wrote a post on her blog at Live Journal here on November 3. She explained that a friend had pointed out that an article Monica had written in 2005 (see here) was reprinted in the October, 2010 issue of Cooks Source [Damn, I really want to insert that apostrophe], a New England magazine supported by paid advertising, with attribution but without informing her or offering reimbursement.

Assuming an error had been made, Monica both phoned and emailed the magazine, asking for an apology online and in print and a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

This is where it gets crazy.

The editor of Cooks Source [I need to quit being so freaking obsessive], a woman named Judith Griggs, responded to Monica who posted an excerpt of the reply on her blog:
"Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades ... I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"
[Shakes head sadly]

And the rest is history. With the help of bloggers Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid); John Scalzi (Whatever); and Neil Gaiman, Monica's [Thank God, an apostrophe] story went viral. Twitter had all kinds of hash tags with the best comments at #buthonestlymonica and #cookssource.]

The Smart Bitches recommended here that the Internet Google bomb Griggs by redefining "griggs" as someone who plagiarizes.

As of this morning, the Cooks Source's [Are you happy now?] Facebook page here has 6,037 comments and Judith Griggs says she has had to shut it down.

Griggs has posted an official comment here where she says her Facebook account was "hacked" and--apparently without intending to be ironic--recommends readers "go to How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement," to report the abuse.

I'll admit, I was flabbergasted by how vitriolic the Internet response to Griggs became. It was the virtual equivalent of the populace advancing on the Romanian castle with pitchforks and rakes.

The thing that bothered me most was the onslaught's unintended consequences. One of Cooks Source's advertisers, Laura Puchalski
--owner of 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turner Falls, Massachusetts--cancelled her advertising contract with Cooks Source , but posted here how devastating the experience of being bombarded by the Internet was for her small business.

When that Romanian castle got burned down, did anyone make sure all the servants got out safely?

I'm sure all of Cooks Source's [No! No! I'm not satisfied] advertisers were equally inconvenienced and perhaps even harmed by the tsunami of reaction.

Laura's post reminded me of just how powerful a force the Internet is and how destructive it can be if things turn nasty.

I'm going to try to be more responsible in my kneejerk reactions in creating a fuss when I have been inconvenienced. I just deleted a post from this weekend along with a Tweet. My inconvenience is not worth the risk of harming someone else.

Cooks' Source, Cooks' Source, Cooks' Source!

P.S. If you're in or around Turner Falls, please stop by the 2nd Street Bakery Co. and buy something. I've already checked; they don't ship.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Disturbing Image of the Morning

Hearing a noise in my walk-in closet. Turning the light on to find my neutered male cat humping one of my shoes.

Oh, is there no end to my attractiveness?

Will Amazon Dominate the eBook Market?

I'd forgotten how colorful painkiller-induced dreams can be. Last night I dreamt I was moving into an apartment that looked a lot like a Mexican restaurant sans tables and chairs. Someone offered me a housewarming gift: a wooden figure carved and signed by Neil Gaiman. I kept trying to show it to people, but the only person who appreciated it was this guy playing Farmville on the tiled floor. He turned out to be Gordon Lightfoot.

My Alice-in-Wonderland adventure ended there when the alarm went off.

The Business Insider had an article on Wednesday titled "Here's How Amazon Took the Lead in the Billion-Dollar e-Book Market--And Why They'll Dominate."

Here are some quotes:

  • [reports indicate] "the ebook market will reach $1 billion this year ... Amazon has a full 50% marketshare there thanks to its Kindle platform."

  • " letting people read Kindle books on any device, Amazon has preserved, and even arguably gained, marketshare."

  • "... we think Amazon's marketshare will end up closer to 90%."

  • "... even though the Kindle is useless for general computing, it is great for heavy readers ... By designing their Kindle for this market, ... Amazon locked up very important early adopters."

  • "Publishers want ebooks to sell for the same price as paper books, which is ridiculous. The marginal cost of selling an ebook is basically zero, whereas you have to actually print paper books."

  • "If [Amazon] wanted readers to adopt the Kindle and ebooks, they needed to price them lower, especially to make impulse buys more attractive."

  • "The Kindle didn't just set price expectations for ebooks below those of paper books, it also set them at a level above zero, which is much more important for publishers over the long run as they navigate the transition to digital."

Go here to read the entire article.

By the way, BI's claim that "the marginal cost of selling an ebook is basically zero" is almost as ridiculous as publishers' claim that they should price ebooks at the same price as paper books.

While my personal belief is that both Amazon and Walmart will prove destructive to the American economy, I do believe that Amazon's $9.99 ebook price point is on the mark.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Next Round in "Writing with the Stars"

Sorry to be AWOL yesterday. According to my internist, I pulled my shoulder and back muscles while hauling rocks across my yard on Halloween. I went to a clinic on Saturday morning, com-
plaining of shoulder and arm pain and received a script that put me to sleep for four days without doing anything to ease the pain. Thankfully now I'm on the good stuff and feel like a new woman.

Last month I did a post here about Kensington Brava's "Writing with the Stars" contest:
In conjunction with RT Book Reviews, Brava is sending out a call to unpublished writers of paranormal, historical and contemporary romance, as well as romantic suspense: We’re looking for a hot debut novel to be published in 2012 under the Brava imprint at Kensington.
I was thrilled to announce that my friend and critique partner Maria Zannini had made the list of the ten contest finalists.

Two finalists were eliminated, and now Maria is one of the eight remaining entrants. Literary agent Miriam Kriss is the judge for the next round.

Help a fellow writer out and go here to read the entries and vote for the winner of the next round.

Of course, Maria's pirate Luísa Tavares and Mistress of the Stone gets my vote. I'm hoping you'll love Luísa and Xander, too.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Grisham's e-Book Sales

Today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ)has a story on John Grisham's latest thriller, The Confession.

The WSJ reports that The Associate, Grisham's last legal thriller, which was published in January of 2009, sold 223,000 hardcover copies in its first week (stats courtesy of BookScan).

Contrast that with The Confession, which was released October 26:
"The Confession" is the first of Mr. Grisham's adult hardcover novels to also be available simultaneously as an e-book. Doubleday, an imprint of Bertelsmann AG's Random House, says e-book sales were about one-third of week-one hardcover sales, or around 70,000.

The novel ... also sold 160,000 hardcovers through Oct. 31, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks approximately 75% of general retail book sales in the U.S.
Go here to read Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg's article in The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Time to Every Purpose Under the Sun

The Wall Street Journal had an article on Saturday titled "Big Book Publisher to Reduce Its Offices":
Random House Inc., the world's largest consumer book publisher, is seeking to sublease as many as nine of the 24 floors it now occupies at 1745 Broadway ...
The story says that Random House hopes to sublet as much as 250,000 of the 645,000 square feet it occupies in its headquarters building.
... Random House (RH) currently has a 30% vacancy rate on its floors. Many publishers, including Random House, have had to lay off staffers in the past few years because of the poor economy and its impact on book sales ... Random House now has too much non-productive space for the publisher to ignore.
A Random House spokesman indicated that the unused space came about as the result of layoffs, but insists RH does not intend further reductions in staff.

I have to admit that I find this an encouraging sign that the Big Six are starting to recognize that their world is changing and they will need to change, too. Downsizing is a great place to start.

Go here to read The Wall Street Journal article.

Friday, November 05, 2010

WarGames in the Book Industry

I really enjoy the Teleread website here. It is one of my must-read sites each day because it is chockful of news about e-books, e-readers, publishing and copyright.

About a week ago here, Teleread published an open letter to the publishing industry from a prolific reader named Joanna.

Joanna describes herself as a person who reads 100+ books a year. She is fed up with the Big Six's efforts to control the e-book industry and says:
I am sick of the price fixing. I am sick of the head-in-sand burying. I am sick of publishers or agents or authors ... who are mucking up what should be a simple money-for-product transaction ... Enough! I am no longer dialoguing with you on this. My decision? I figure it will take you maybe two to three years to come to your senses, and while I am waiting, I am opting out of this whole thing.

Play whatever games you want to—I am ignoring it all. I will not be the guinea pig for any more of your ridiculous experiments.
She goes on to explain that, until the Big Six come to their senses, she will limit her e-book reading to those she can get for free or for under $10.
If you (sic) book is too expensive or too geo-restricted or too format-restricted or too darned complicated for one of the above scenarios to both apply ... it will languish on my wish list forever. I am prepared to take that loss and not read your book.
Of the fifteen comments posted in response to Joanna's "opt out" letter, all but two are in agreement. One of the commenters referred Joanna to the latest edition of the New Yorker in which James Surowiecki has a financial op/ed piece here on the decline of Blockbuster.

I read the Surowiecki article with interest because of the parallels to publishing. I hope Mr. Surowiecki will forgive me, but I'm going to reprint a couple of paragraphs from his op/ed and substitute the publishing equivalents in brackets for "Blockbuster" or "movie rental" or "Netflix":
The problem--in [the Big Six's] case, at least—-was that the very features that people thought were strengths turned out to be weaknesses. [The Big Six's] huge investment, both literally and psychologically, in traditional [print books] made it slow to recognize the Web’s importance: in 2002, it was still calling the Net a “niche.”

But, once [Amazon] came along, it became clear that you could have tremendous variety ... and, thanks to the [Amazon's] recommendation engine, actually get some serviceable advice.

Why didn’t [the Big Six] evolve more quickly? In part, it was because of what you could call the “internal constituency” problem: the company was full of people who had been there when bricks-and-mortar stores were hugely profitable, and who couldn’t believe that those days were gone for good ... The familiar sunk-cost fallacy made things worse. Myriad studies have shown that, once decision-makers invest in a project, they’re likely to keep doing so, because of the money already at stake. Rather than dramatically shrinking [its infrastructure], [the Big Six] just kept throwing good money after bad.
Surowiecki is exactly right. I did a post on the publishing industry's thinking errors here last year as part of a series on "The (Publishing) House is Burning."

When I was a kid in New York, I was fascinated by the street vendors--particularly the ones who played the shell game with passers-by. My grandfather taught me that no matter how slick the patter or how fast the hands moved, it was a sucker's game. The ONLY way to win was not to play. Joanna has figured that out.

If you need a more visual explanation, try this scene from one of my favorite movies released way back in 1983:

By the way, a headline in yesterday's Publishers Marketplace read "At Simon & Schuster, Profits Rise Even As Sales Slide."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Agent Sues Author and Loses

In 2004, mystery writer Martha Grimes took on the publishing industry with her novel Foul Matter. Here's an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly (PW) review:
When Paul Giverney, a hot suspense novelist, seeks a new publisher, he decides on the house of Mackensie-Haack under the condition that they dump their highly respected and award-winning author, Ned Isaly. Ruthless president Bobby Mackensie will stop at nothing to sign Giverney, even though breaking Isaly's contract is a legal impossibility. His solution? Sign another contract--this one with two hit men, who are hired to knock off Isaly.
The novel was a wicked satire about the publishing industry written by an author who had once been "fired" by Knopf when her books failed to earn back their advances. The title was an inside joke. Foul matter is an industry term for an unedited manuscript.

I don't own any of Grimes' other novels, but I have two copies of Foul Matter on my shelf--one to keep and one to loan out.

At the time the novel was published, Martha Grimes' agent was Peter Lampack of the Peter Lampack Agency. Grimes signed with Lampack in 1996 and remained with him until 2007. According to PW, she earned more than $12 million from book sales during those years.

Six months ago, Grimes published a new novel, Black Cat. And, a year ago this month, Lampack sued Grimes, claiming she owed him for the forthcoming release. According to court documents:
“PLA [Peter Lampack Agency] alleges the agreement for The Black Cat arose out of the Option on Next Work clause and that Grimes violated the terms of the 2005 Penguin/Viking-Penguin Agreement by refusing to account PLA and refusing to pay PLA the sums due for The Black Cat.”
According to Publishers Weekly:
But the court found that under the "commission provision" Lampack was entitled only to proceeds from the sale of her literary works, and didn't have an interest in the literary works themsevles (sic), making it possible for Grimes to revoke Lampack's "agency" which she did in May 2007, thereby removing any obligation for Grimes to pay Lampback for future works.
The important part of that ruling is that Lampack was entitled only to proceeds from the sale of her literary works. He did not have an interest in the literary works themselves.

I've seen a fair number of literary contracts--both agent and publisher--over the last six years. Many of my writer friends forward me copies of their contracts. I've found wide variance in wording.

For example, an agent contract which states that the agent is entitled to proceeds from the sale of any book written during the term of this contract is very different from a contract which states that the agent is entitled to proceeds from the sale of any book on which he brokered the contract with the publisher.

If a writer signs a contract giving the agent rights to a book written during the term of the contract and the writer later moves to another agent, it might be possible that she could end up paying a 15% commission to two agents (the one who she was with during the time the book was written and the one she was with during the time her new agent sold that book).

I asked my attorney to vet my agent contract before I signed. My agent was open to clarifying a couple of clauses that my lawyer wanted tightened. And I've been thankful for how diligent my agent has been in policing my publisher contracts.

In 2004 (the same year in which Foul Matter was published), Publishers Weekly warned writers against an "interminable rights clause" here:
The contract provision ... means that even if the original publishing agreement has ended, the book has gone out of print or the author's agent leaves the agency, the agency continues to be the agent of record for the work. The practice contrasts with that of some other agencies, which give up their claim on a work once the publishing agreement the agent negotiated ends.
Writer Beware! also warned against contracts where "the agency claims the right to remain the agency of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates, but for the life of copyright. In other words, once the agency sells your book, it has the right to represent that book for as long as the book is in copyright (currently your life plus 70 years)."

Lampack has made a motion to the New York Supreme Court to reargue the case. This case has huge implications for the author-agent relationship.

Go here to read Tuesday's article in Publishers Weekly.

Go here to read the 2004 PW article on the interminable rights clause.

Go here to read the Writers Beware! blog on interminable rights.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Great Hero Needs a Great Sidekick

I saw a question in Shelf Awareness: "What makes a good sidekick?" along with a sub-heading: "The Top Ten Sidekicks in Literature."

I decided to try and create my own list of ten sidekicks before reading the article. Here's what I came up with:

1) Sherlock Holmes and Watson

2) Robinson Crusoe and Friday

3) Hawkeye and Chingachgook

4) Don Quixote and Sancho

5) Prince Hal and Falstaff

6) Spenser and Hawk (I have a crush on Hawk)

7) Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood, III (I have a bigger crush on Win)

8) Batman and Robin (does a comic book count?)

9) The Green Hornet and Kato (ditto #8)

10) The Lone Ranger and Tonto (were they ever in a book?)

As you can see, I started out strong, but rapidly lost steam. Here's the list from the Flavorwire website here:

1) Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes)

2) Samwise Gamgee (Frodo)

3) Ron and Hermione (Harry Potter)

4) Lacey Rawklins (John Grady Cole)

5) Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer)

6) Sancho Panza (Don Quixote)

7) Horatio (Hamlet)

8) Dean Morarity (Sal Paradise)

9) Phineas (Gene Forrester)

10) Friday (Robinson Crusoe)

I was surprised that the two lists only had three sidekicks in common. I was seriously annoyed to have forgotten Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I wasn't impressed with #4 or #9 from Flavorwire's list, but then they probably wouldn't think very highly of my #8, #9 or #10 either.

Can you think of any famous sidekicks we missed?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Painting on the Page

My critique partner Linda is in "polishing" stage of her W-I-P. Last night I re-read the first 138 pages of her manuscript.

On the last go-round, I thought she'd done a great job, but yesterday she blew me away by the subtle nuances she'd added with just a sentence here and a few words there.

I've talked before about my painter friend M. We had dinner together nearly two years ago and, after our meal, spent another hour drinking liqueur and talking about our respective processes. To my surprise, I found that we shared a number of things in common.

When M gets ready to do a landscape, she begins by blocking out the prominent features--like mountains and buildings--to insure that she gets the perspective right. Once she has the larger attributes distributed across the canvas, she goes back to begin filling in the detail. Her final step is to add the light and shade. She contends that it is this step that separates the amateurs from the professionals, and that lighting and shade can make or break a landscape.

I was interested because I essentially follow the same process in my writing; only I do it chapter by chapter. This is largely because I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants. I get an idea for a story, sit down and begin writing without knowing much more than how the plot will begin and how it will end.

My usual process is to begin the story, but not to curb my natural tendency to wander off into backstory. I allow each of the characters to natter on as much as they like about their pasts. I don't try to stop them for two reasons: (1) It's how I warm up to a story, and (2) This is how I learn who the characters are.

Plus I know I'll lop all the backstory off when I get to that first moment of action. {smile}

Once I get to the moment of action, the real novel begins. I start the action in the old journalistic tradition: who, what, when, where and just a hint of why. I do this primarily through dialogue, which is probably my strongest skill as a writer.

When I have finished "blocking" out the prominent features of my chapter, I go back and begin filling in the detail. This usually means some narrative (often taken from that backstory--but only a line or two at a time) and some description. When I am writing that first run through above, I don't stop to describe the setting. During my second pass, I fill in a bit of detail to help anchor the reader to time and place.

In Linda's case, she does such a great job with descriptions that I've learned an enormous amount from her. She uses wonderful metaphors and odd word pairings to describe her settings and her characters.

My last pass on a chapter will be to fill in the emotional color. What are the characters thinking and feeling? This is the hardest part of the job for me. I do it mostly through internal dialogue to keep from drifting from "showing" into "telling." Without emotional color, your readers fail to connect to your characters. Too much and the story becomes soppy.

In reading Linda's pages last night, I was in awe of what a great job she did with feathering in emotional content. Her novel is a romantic suspense. Through previous drafts, she'd focussed on maintaining a tight pace. This go-round, she zeroed in on the romance. Despite the fact that I've read three previous drafts of her novel (and the fact that I was dog-tired), I found myself sliding into a pleasant gooey emotional mood as her hero and heroine drew ever so inevitabley toward each other. THAT'S great writing.

I've found that many newbie writers get so busy with their narrative and description of action and settings that they completely ignore the emotional side of the story. I always include both the hero and heroine's POV (in different scenes, of course). If you can get inside your characters' heads, you can listen to their reactions and express them on the page for your reader. Like my painter friend said about lighting and shading, emotional color can make or break your novel. Linda instinctively understands that.

During each of my passes over my works-in-progress, I re-read and clean up the language and grammar. The result is, when I reach the end of the novel, I have very little more to do in terms of editing. That is, of course, until my editor and copy editor get their hands on the manuscript.{grin}

Every writer needs to find his way through his story. But, as Linda reminded me last night, ignore action, dialogue, narrative or emotional color at your own risk.

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Harlequin

November is the month that the NaNoWriMo gets underway each year.

If you're not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is for writers to start and complete a 50,000-word novel in one month. The goal for participants is to simply write the novel, not try to do any editing or researching.

This is the 12th year for NaNoWriMo. And Harlequin is getting into the game. Beginning today, Harlequin is hosting "So You Think You Can Write Week." Here's how they explain it:
We are hungry to find talented new writers for Harlequin Books. Through podcasts, blogs, and discussions with our expert editors and current authors, we’re going to help you understand the appeal of the romance genre. And there’s a special daily challenge with feedback that will give some great insights into crafting the perfect story. So for the next week, come by to hone your skills and get started on the path to publication. So you think you can write? Here’s your chance to show us!
For five days, Harlequin will host all kinds of activities on their site. You can follow along on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #SYTYCW.

If you've ever thought you could write a Harlequin novel, now your chance to prove it.

Go here to see the tentative calendar for Harlequin's SYTYCW week.

And go here to read about or join NaNoWriMo.

What have you got to lose? Start writing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

SIXTY MINUTES to Profile Zenyatta

For over three months now, I've been nattering on about the fabulous filly Zenyatta.

Sixty Minutes is going to do a profile on Zenyatta Sunday night prior to her trying next weekend for her 20th win in 20 races.

Here are some of my posts on Zenyatta:

Next stop: The Breeders' Cup--the 2010 World Series of American Thoroughbreds--will be run on November 6 at Churchill Downs. Zenyatta is already the only mare to ever win the Breeders' Cup. November 6th will give her the chance to become the second horse in the race's history to win it twice.

Here's the Sixty Minutes preview.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Vampire in Literature and Film

About twice a week, I close my office door at noon and eat my lunch while listening to KERA's Think program. KERA is the National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate in Dallas, and you can listen to it live here. Think is locally produced, and its daily podcast is here.

Yesterday's show was titled "Vampires in Pop Culture." Host Krys Boyd's guests were Rechelle Christie, a gothic literature specialist from the University of Texas at Arlington, and Rick Worland, a film professor from Southern Methodist University.

Krys set the hour up by saying she wanted to explore:
What is the meaning of vampire stories and why are they so popular right now? ... What makes vampire literature and films such enduring favorites and how do they reflect the deepest fears and desires of the eras in which they are conceived and consumed?
The two guests quickly established that Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897, is the quintessential text for all later vampire novels while F.W. Murnau's 1922 German horror film Nosferatu did the same for films. Worland explains that Nosferatu was an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Murnau did not even ask Stoker's widow for permission to film her husband's novel; he simply used the word "nosferatu" instead of "vampire," changed the characters' names, and relocated the story to Germany.

I was interested to learn that the character of Dracula helped Victorian England to express both its fear about disease (the contamination of syphilis) and its anxiety over its political fortunes ("reverse colonization" and the sense of invasion).

Krys asked when the character of the vampire began being portrayed as a tortured individual, powerless to control his urges, rather than a horrific monster. Rechelle Christie believes the vampire became more sympathetic as our society became "more accepting of otherness." She believes the idea of the vampire became a metaphor for "difference" in today's world.

Worland agreed and pointed to a moment of pathos in Béla Lugosi's film portrayal of Dracula when the character says: "To die, to be truly dead, that must be glorious."

Krys asked about the more modern portrayals of vampires, which could be dated from Anne Rice's 1976 novel, Interview With the Vampire. That novel was not made into a film until 1994. Christie pointed out that the character of Louis (Brad Pitt in the film) displays the human side of his nature and begins the trend toward more sympathetic vampires.

Worland indicated that the "family" created by Lestat, Louis and their "young" daughter Claudia is a great example of the fictional mirroring reality since American society was also experimenting with alternative family structures at the time.

Krys opened the line up to callers, and one asked about the rivalry between vampires and werewolves. Both guests indicated this was a metaphor for class issues. The vampires represent royalty and the supernatural while the werewolves represent the common man and humans.

The interview repeatedly returned to the subject of the gothic novel as an expression of social anxiety. Christie indicated that the gothic is a cultural text that emerges during times of social change.

A listener emailed, asking how Bram Stoker's Dracula reflected England's loss of colonial power. He wondered whether the novel was an anti-immigration allegory.

Christie reminded listeners that Dracula was published nine years after Jack the Ripper began his killing spree in Whitechapel, a Jewish slum in London. At the time (1888), England was struggling with a "changing cultural landscape" as waves of immigrants entered the country. She pointed to the metaphor of race, ethnicity and blood in which races intermingled and mixed their blood. Worland added that the basis of the novel was, "You become the thing you fear the most."

During the last ten minutes of the interview, the discussion returned to feelings and how these novels can allow us to express parts of ourselves that we keep hidden from others. When we identify with a killer, it is an uncomfortable identification. A caller suggested that the story lines address society's shifting moral compass, and Krys replied that the message might be, "Don't get so comfortable on the moral high ground."

Christie said that the gothic genre plays with the concepts of good and evil and allows us to fantasize.

I was reminded of a post I did two years ago following a NPR Fresh Air interview with Alan Ball, the creator of the True Blood series on HBO. My favorite part of the interview was when Ball described the series as a metaphor for the terrors of intimacy. He said he saw the program as being about breaking that wall that keeps us separate and safe from a savage and dangerous world.

You can read that post here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Penguin UK Exploring New Digital Frontiers

Today's post comes to us courtesy of the UK's Telegraph which, on Tuesday, ran a story titled "Penguin to Launch a Social Network for Bookworms."

Penguin Digital founded the content website Spinebreakers three years ago as a place "where teenagers write about books and authors."

Anna Rafferty, the managing director of Penguin Digital, said teenagers cannot use the website "to communicate, which is why I want to transform the site into the first social network dedicated to books within the next six months."

In addition to reworking the Spinebreakers website, Penguin Digital is exploring other digital frontiers. Last month, Penguin Digital launched Stephen Fry's autobiography, The Fry Chronicles, both as a hardcover and as an "interactive ebook" along with an iPhone app called "myFry." The app enables:
... users to read sections of The Fry Chronicles in any order using a colour-coded index ... “This non-linear structure allows you to create your own personal narrative,” promises the app ... myFry’s unique visual index encourages users to discover and interact with Stephen’s story in new and unexpected ways.”
A little over a year ago, on September 17, 2009, I said:
Today reading is primarily a solitary experience, even for those people in book clubs who join together after the fact to discuss a book they've read ...

In the very near future, people will be able to read a digital book in a social networking environment. They'll be able to comment on the material being read in real time ...

Think about a thousand teenagers reading the next Twilight in a virtual reading room with the author available to talk about the characters and plot.
Good for you, Penguin!!

Go here to read the entire Telegraph article.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Texas & N.C. Going After Amazon

Two states' disputes with made the news this week.

On Saturday, the Dallas Morning News (DMN) reported here:
Texas has sent Amazon .com Inc. a $269 million bill for uncollected sales taxes on purchases made by state residents from the Seattle-based Internet superstore over a four-year period ...

The uncollected sales taxes are from December 2005 to December 2009 and include interest and penalties.
The DMN took credit for the investigation that led to this bill being sent to Amazon. The newspaper asked why Amazon wasn't collecting sales taxes in the state despite operating a distribution center in Irving, Texas. The Texas comptroller agreed and started an investigation into "Amazon's taxing status" in May of 2008.

Amazon's response is that "the assessment is without merit."

Bookstores have long claimed that Amazon has an unfair advantage when it comes to state sales taxes. Bookstores are forced to collect these taxes while Internet companies use strategies to avoid paying taxes. had an article about this subject in late December here:
In its Saturday, December 19, editorial, "The Web gets a pass: Online shoppers should pay the same sales tax, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted, "While legislators tried to plug a deficit that came with the dour economy, $300 million in sales taxes on Internet purchases go uncollected annually," according to the state Department of Revenue" ....

"The Internet is everywhere -- that is the whole point. It is its own nexus. To heap absurdity upon absurdity, a retail Internet company can have warehouses in a state if it is owned by a subsidiary, which is what does in Pennsylvania."
And that is exactly Amazon's defense in the Texas case. According to the DMN:
Amazon contended the distribution center [in Irving, Texas] was owned by one of its subsidiaries called KYDC LLC, which is located at the same address as its corporate headquarters in Seattle.
The DMN indicates that Amazon has other distribution centers in the states of Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In these tough fiscal times, those states might also find it useful to send a tax bill to Amazon.

Yesterday Publishers Weekly reported here:
... Amazon won a round regarding North Carolina, where ... [a] federal judge ruled against North Carolina’s request for Amazon customer data, stating that the request is unconstitutional, violating First Amendment rights.
North Carolina has been trying to collect data on the customers who made purchases via Amazon in order that the state could begin to collect sales tax. U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle ruled that information already collected on customers in North Carolina should be destroyed.

Two weeks ago, the Seattle Times reported here:
Amazon has no offices or warehouses in North Carolina, so state lawmakers last year decided the company's relationships with local marketing affiliates amounted to a physical presence. Amazon responded by severing ties with its North Carolina affiliates, a move it also made in Rhode Island and Colorado.
Stay tuned to see how these two cases turn out ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A New Color Nook?

Pay attention to the news today.

Last Thursday, CNET News reported here that they'd talked to a source who indicated Barnes & Noble would "unveil a new Android-based full-color touch-screen e-reader" today. The source claimed that the Nook Color would retail for $249.

On Friday Digital Trends announced here that "Engadget reports that “” was purchased by Barnes & Noble in March." Digital Trends also indicated that "Though it’s running Android, the Nook Color won’t have all of the features of a full tablet like the iPad, but it will be half the price."

On Sunday, CNET News had a story here reporting that "a second tipster has alerted us to an image on Barnes & Noble's Web site that appears on a product page for the Nook Color Screen Film Kit, an accessory." The film is a protective cover for the glass screen on the Nook Color. The mock-up, which you can see on CNET News confirms the earlier source's story regarding a touchscreen device.

An Android device suggests an agreement between B&N and Google.

Stay tuned. The Nook "event" is scheduled for this afternoon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Both Sherlock and I Are Back

I'm back from a wonderful couple of days in Tucson. The Seguaro chapter of RWA was very welcoming, and my talk was well received. I got to meet a writer I've corresponded with online for some five years as well as see a writer friend who moved to Tucson. After the chapter meeting, Sherrill Quinn and Suzanne Moore took me up into the mountains around the city. The views were spectacular. I think of myself as being well-versed in plant life, but I saw species of cacti I never knew existed.

I came home to the first episode of the new BBC production, Sherlock. It's a contemporary reworking of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. The Daily News described it this way:
Moffatt and Gatis [the show's adapters] have said they loved the original stories, and fans can expect to see the new adventures highlighting details, places, idiosyncrasies, plot elements, phrases from the original stories, but with 21st-century twists. For example, in tonight’s first episode, “A Study in Pink,” watch for the clue “Rache,” which was pivotal in the first Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” published in 1887.
While the plot lines use details from the original stories, they are not slavish duplicates. Here's the description for tonight's episode from the Daily News:
A wave of suicides grips London, but Sherlock suspects the victims are not, as the police believe, voluntarily swallowing poison capsules. “We’ve got ourselves a serial killer,” he declares. “I love those!” With his newfound friend and flat mate, John Watson, he seizes on the minute details of the most recent victim, a lady dressed entirely in pink, to reveal a mastermind with the perfect cover—and a diabolical motive. But can Sherlock escape becoming the next “suicide”?
Benedict Cumberbatch does a fabulous job of portraying a young (34-year-old) Holmes who is constantly borrowing Dr. Watson's cell phone in order to send text messages that will allow him to stay anonymous. Cumberbatch has the lean, hawkish look that we've come to expect for Holmes. He's also mastered the arrogant attitude, but possesses a more engaging sense of humor than Conan Doyle's "consulting detective" did.

When one of the police evidence technicians calls Holmes a "psychopath," he responds with disdain that he's a "higher functioning sociopath" and advises the tech to read the literature on the difference.

John Watson (Martin Freeman) is a much more fully-fleshed out character than the bumbling sidekick in the stories. He blogs about Holmes' adventures instead of writing them in a journal.

Here's the trailer:

The BBC originally filmed three episodes of Sherlock. After watching tonight's episode, I'm hoping for many more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nielsen Survey on Connected Devices

I'm leaving today for Tucson where I'll be speaking at the Saguaro Romance Writers Chapter of the RWA on Saturday. Returning home Sunday and be back online Monday.

The Nielsen Company just issued their fourth State of the Media survey titled The Increasingly Connected Consumer: Connected Devices:
[They] recently surveyed more than 5,000 consumers who already own a tablet computer, eReader, netbook, media/games player, or smartphone to get a better sense of who is using these devices and how they are using them.
They began by identifying which connected devices the survey respondents owned. The survey indicates that, "Connected devices figures represent household penetration."

Not surprisingly, 25% of the respondents owned a smartphone. For the record Wikipedia defines a smartphone as:
... a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a contemporary basic feature phone ... we can consider a smartphone as a Personal Pocket Computer (PPC) with mobile phone functions ...

The breakdown of the respondents' connected devices:

  • Smartphone 25%
  • Portable game players 21%
  • Portable media players 16%
  • Netbooks 8%
  • eBook readers 6%
  • Tablet computers 4%

Many of the respondents own multiple connected devices with the tablet owners having the highest average number of devices at six.

The survey spent a lot of time looking at Apple's iPad. The iPad stats I found most interesting were those related to the type of content that the iPad users in the survey are accessing. News tops the list as the most accessed content at 44% with music following closely behind at 41%. I was encouraged that the iPad users put book content in third place at 39%. TV shows (33%) and movies (32%) were practically tied for fourth place.

Equally interesting was the amount of time the respondents say they spend on average in a weekday session reading books on their iPads:

  • Less than 15 minutes per session: 22%
  • Between 16 and 30 minutes per session: 32%
  • Between 31 and 60 minutes per session: 24%
  • One to two hours per session: 16%
  • More than two hours per session: 7%

Nielsen also addressed the issue of paying for content versus downloading free (public domain) content.

Games came in at #1 as the top content purchased with 62% of iPad owners in the survey indicating they had purchased a game. I was pleased to see books at #2 with 54% of iPad users indicating they had purchased a book for the device. Music was in third place with 50%.

Nielson described their methology for the survey:

The Connected Devices Playbook surveyed more than 5,000 connected device owners who completed an online, self-administered survey in August 2010. The study tracked 54 different devices.

Go here to see the release information from Nielsen.

Go here to see a summary of the study's results.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Amazon, B&N and Dorchester Acting Badly

I got rear-ended on my way home from work last night. Pulled over only to see the other driver take off like a bat out of hell, weaving and dodging through traffic like a running back moving down the field. I gave chase while dialing 9-1-1 where I got a busy message. My goal was modest--get a license number to give the police--but I gave it up when I realized how dangerously she was driving.

The sheriff's department took 40 minutes to get to me. The deputy was very kind but dismissive. He handed me a card with my case number on it saying, "You do know that this is going to go on your driving record, right?"

When I protested, he said, "An accident is an accident whether you're at fault or the victim."


Then I came home to read a blog post that depressed me even more.

In August, I did a couple of posts about the troubles Dorchester Publishing was experiencing. Rumors had been circulating for months that their writers weren't getting paid in a timely manner. Then, Dorchester sold both the frontlist and backlist titles of some of their top authors to Avon, a division of HarperCollins. That author list included titles by Christine Feehan, Marjorie Liu, Nina Bangs and Lynsay Sands.

In mid-July Dorchester was disinvited from attending the 2010 RWA Conference because of their failure to meet contractual obligations to their authors.

Finally, on August 9, they announced that, effective immediately, they were moving away from a mass market paperback format to a totally digital format with selective print-on-demand.

Ten days later they terminated Leah Hultenschmidt and Don D’Auria--two of their three editors--leaving only Chris Keeslar.

The Internet has given a voice to the feelings of the Dorchester authors: bewilderment, anger, fear, dwindling hope.

My last blog on the situation was here.

Last night, reading the post on the Smart Bitches/Trashy Books blog made me feel sick, even worse than the woman who hit-and-ran had made me feel: Dorchester Reverts Rights But Continues to Sell Digital Books.

Two authors described the experience of seeing Dorchester still selling their books even after the rights had reverted.

My first reaction was disbelief that such a thing could happen. Author Jana DeLeon described how her agent Kristin Nelson had contacted Dorchester three times since September 23rd, demanding the e-books be taken down. Dorchester has responded that they will do so, but nothing has happened to date.

Leslie Langtry, another Dorchester author and Kristin Nelson client, has a story that is equally depressing. After her rights reverted, her book Guns Will Keep Us Together was offered as a free download for the Kindle:
[They] offered it free for three weeks, despite my agent’s repeated attempts to get it taken down. GUNS debuted as the #2 free download for a while and stayed in the top ten for about a week and a half ... GUNS debuted in the top ten on the Paid kindle bestseller list and stayed in the top 50 for a while. All of my books are still being sold by Dorchester on Amazon ...

I’ve had my rights since mid-September and to this day, Dorchester is still selling my books and profiting from them. I truly believe I won’t even see a royalty check from this.
What really ticks me off is that Amazon and B&N aren't responding either.

I just checked. Here's the Amazon listing.

Here's the B&N one.

I'm going to tweet about this. If Dorchester won't respond, maybe enough Internet outrage will force Amazon and B&N to do so.

Go here to read the whole story.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Burning Out of Control

Yesterday's The Millions blog had an excellent essay by children's author Gail Gauthier titled "Burned."

After publishing eight children's books through Putnam (including an American Library Association Notable), she was "let go."

Gail is remarkably honest about the mistakes she made. Among these were:

1) Publishing without an agent

2) Writing a book on spec, without her publisher's buy-in

I'd strongly recommend writers reading this post here.

The post also indirectly answered a question another writer asked me yesterday. She was trying to understand why an author would choose to self-publish. She complained that she knew several writers who had been traditionally published who then chose to self-publish because they wanted more "control." She could not understand that response.

When you are published by one of the Big Six, you make an implicit bargain to allow your publisher to okay your proposals for future books.. It can be incredibly frustrating to have a book in mind, but have your editor want to make major changes to your vision or to turn down your proposal altogether.

When I was writing my second book BAD BOY, my editor and I simply were not speaking the same language, and both of us were frustrated. She had the good sense to call my agent, who promptly called me. I explained that I did not understand what the editor was asking for. Jacky acted as interpreter, finding examples of what my editor was saying.

I mentioned my concern that I wasn't sure I could write the book my editor wanted. Jacky laughed and said, "You write the book YOU want. If Penguin doesn't like it, my job is to find a publisher who does."

Her easy confidence got me over what seemed to be an insurmountable hump, and I was able to finish the book without further problems.

I know several writers who, after writing four or five books, complained that the JOB of writing had destroyed their JOY in writing. One stopped writing altogether; the other is self-publishing.

Control can mean different things to different people.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Such a Small World

Publishers Marketplace directed me to PR Web yesterday to read this announcement:
Samhain Publishing announced today that Heather Osborn has been named as Editorial Director, reporting to Christina Brashear, effective November 1, 2010.
My first thought was "it's a small world."

Let's go back to May 11, 2008. Here's an excerpt from my post for that day:
Back in the late '90s, Tina Engler was a single mom with two daughters living in Tampa, Florida and trying to get a contract for her romance novels. Unfortunately, she couldn't find a traditional publisher to buy her work because it was so explicit. Traditional publishers were convinced that women would not want to read such detailed sexual descriptions.

After beating her head against dozens of agents' and publishers' doors, Tina decided to publish her own work. In 2000, she started a website called Ellora's Cave and began publishing e-books under the pseudonym Jaid Black.

Tina did no advertising in the beginning. News of her site spread by word of mouth. Soon she had other authors wanting to join her ...

According to an article in Crescent Blues, "In 2003, the company grossed over $1.2 million and paid over $500,000 in royalties."
Among the employees Tina Engler hired to work at Ellora's Cave were these three women: Angela James, a proofer; Heather Osborn, an editor; and Christina Brashear, who began as an editor but worked her way up to become EC's Chief Operating Officer.

Christina Brashear went on to found Samhain Publishing where her title is Publisher. She hired Angela James as her Executive Editor. Angela is now the Executive Editor for Carina Press, Harlequin's digital-first imprint.

Heather Osborn left EC and became the acquiring editor for Tor, a sci-fi and fantasy imprint owned by Macmillan. And now Heather will go to work for Christina as Samhain's Editorial Director.

A small world indeed. One in which four talented women started out from the same place and went on to become successful in the hard knocks world of publishing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bookstore Sales Down

On Friday I reported here on e-book sales for August.

Friday's Publisher's Weekly had an article on bookstore sales:
Bookstore sales fell by their largest rate of 2010 in August, declining 6.5%, to $2.29 billion, according to preliminary estimates released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to PW, August should have been a strong month for sales because of back-to-school college textbooks.

For the eight months ending August, 2010, bookstore sales were down 2% compared to a rise of 6.1% in overall retail sales for the same period.

Go here to read Publishers Weekly.

This reminder comes in a note from Shelf Awareness:
Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Grinning Death Down

I'm reprinting an old post this morning because I had an email from the granddaughter of the deceased, who is also the daughter of the man who prompted my post.

I enjoyed re-reading David Cully's work so much, I'm sharing it again. From June 30, 2006:

I read this item in the comments over at Miss Snark today. It made me laugh out loud. I did a little research and thought I'd share the story with you today.

This is an actual death notice that appeared in the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer (N&O) one year ago on July 2, 2005. I'll tell you more about it after you read the notice.

"On June 3, 2005 at 10:45 p.m. in Memphis, Tenn., Dorothy Gibson Cully, 86, died peacefully, while in the loving care of her two favorite children, Barbara and David. All of her breath leaked out. The mother of four children, grandmother to 11, great-grandmother to nine, devoted wife for 56 years to the late Ralph Chester Cully and a true friend to many, Dot had been active as a volunteer in the Catholic Church and other community charities for much of the past 25 years.

"She was born the second child of six in 1919 as Frances Dorothy Gibson, daughter to Kathleen Heard Gibson and Calvin Hooper Gibson, an inventor best known as the first person since the Middle Ages to calculate the arcane lead-to-gold formula. Unable to actually prove this complex theory scientifically, and frustrated by the cruel conspiracy of the so-called "scientific community" working against his efforts, he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert. Calvin was not.

"Native Marylanders and longtime Baltimore, Kent Island and Ocean City residents, Ralph and Dot later resided in Lakeland, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va.. Several years after Ralph's death, Dot moved to Raleigh in 2001, where she lived with her son David.

"At the time of her death, Dot was visiting her daughter Carol in Memphis. Carol and her husband, Ron, away from home attending a "very important conference" at a posh Florida resort, rushed home 10 days later after learning of the death. Dot's other children, dutifully at their mother's side helping with the normal last-minute arrangements -- hospice notification, funeral parlor notice, revising the will, etc. -- happily picked up the considerable slack of the absent former heiress.

"Dot is warmly remembered as a generous, spiritually strong, resourceful, tolerant and smart woman, who was always ready to help and never judged others or their shortcomings. Dot always found time to knit sweaters, sew quilts and send written notes to the family children, all while working a full-time job, volunteering as Girl Scout leader and donating considerable time to local charities and the neighborhood Catholic Church.

"Dot graduated from Eastern High School at 15, worked in Baltimore full time from 1934 to 1979, beginning as a factory worker at Cross & Blackwell and retiring after 30 years as property manager and controller for a Baltimore conglomerate, Housing Engineering Company, all while raising four children, two of who are fairly normal.

"An Irishwoman proud of and curious about her heritage, she was a voracious reader of historical novels, particularly those about the glories and trials of Ireland. Dot also loved to travel, her favorite destination being Eire's auld sod, where she dreamed of the magic, mystery and legend of the Emerald Isle.

"Dot Cully is survived by her sisters, Ginny Torrico in Virginia, Marian Lee in Florida and Eileen Adams in Baltimore; her brother, Russell Gibson of Fallston, Md.; her children, Barbara Frost of Ocean City, Md., Carol Meroney of Memphis, Tenn., David Cully of Raleigh, N.C. and Stephen Cully of Baltimore, Md. Contributions to the Wake County (N.C.) Hospice Services are welcomed. Opinions about the details of this obit are not, since Mom would have liked it this way."

This death notice created a sensation in Raleigh. Most people recognized the dark humor being expressed by David Cully, the 60-year-old son of the deceased. However, some readers assumed there was a rift in the family and complained to the News & Observer for publicizing it.

There was so much fuss over the story that the N&O's Public Editor, Ted Vaden, did a column on the death notice a week later on July 10th. He explained that it was a "paid" notice, similar to a classified advertisement. When he contacted David Cully, the son assured him that "the Cully family harmony was fine."

Vaden also quoted the N&O's obituary manager saying he "regretted that the notice had not been edited before publication because it may have not met the paper's standards for taste, decency and appropriateness."

The story didn't die there though. Two weeks after the notice was published, the Chicago Tribune ran a column on Mr. Cully's tribute to his mother.

I've mentioned more than once that I am the result of a marriage between an Irish woman and an Italian man. That--plus the Catholic Church's attitude toward birth control--meant that I spent a fair amount of my childhood either at baptisms or wakes. Although the family did not approve of children at funerals, we were always a part of the wake held in the days before the actual burial.

These events were the only times that both sides of my extended family came together, and I was endlessly amused by the wary way in which they eyed each other.

The fact that we were talking and eating and drinking with an open coffin in our midst was treated as so commonplace that I never feared death. Everyone knew that Uncle Paddy (or Uncle Vito, as the case might be) would have felt left out had he not been a part of his own wake.

The aunts always made an effort to keep liquor out of these events, and the uncles always managed to get around that prohibition. More than once, I was recruited to play whiskey runner and carry a small bottle past the aunts into the wake in a pocket of my dress.

I remember those events with fondness. It was sometimes hard to tell if the tears that fell were from sorrow or laughter. And maybe that's as it should be.

Mr. Cully's humorous tribute to his mother provided a measure of immortality to a woman whom, I suspect, would have appreciated her son's Irish levity.

Over this holiday weekend, a year after the notice ran, raise your glass and toast Dorothy Gibson Cully.

And for the rest of us:

May the road rise up to greet you
May the wind be ever at your back,
And may you get to Heaven thirty minutes
Before the Devil knows you're dead.
You can read Melissa Cully Anderson's comment on the post here. Thanks, Melissa, for reminding me of this.