Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Less-Than-Excellent Adventure

I'm too tired to take on a heavy subject tonight so I'm just going to tell what happened today. This tale will probably give a psychologist pause, but ...

I'm prone to allergies twice a year: hayfever in October and mountain cedar in February. There are years when allergies absolutely lay me low. However, February had seemed mild until very recently. I've had a nasty post-nasal drip which alternated with a pounding sinus headache all week.

I'd soldiered on until today when I had both the headache and stomach issues from the post-nasal drip. I emailed my boss to say I'd be at home, took a handful of meds and went back to bed.

I woke up to the sound of the garbage truck rumbling down my street. Like Pavlov's dog hearing the bell, I responded instantly, leaping out of bed. Grabbing my garbage, I ran out the back door. I flung the plastic bags over my fence to the curb on the street.

Pleased that I hadn't missed trash day, I returned to the house to find my back door locked.

There I stood in my Lanz of Salzburg blue-and-white full-length nightgown and my purple slippers ... without a way inside ... because I had used the spare key stored outside the house when I locked myself out about a week ago and had not yet returned the key to its hidey hole.

My next-door neighbor used to have a key to the house until I recently changed out a key cylinder that had begun to stick in the dead bolt. I'd been meaning to have extra keys made, but hadn't gotten around to it yet.

I was not crazy about the idea of traipsing across the lawn dressed as I was to a neighbor--especially one with teenage boys--to borrow a phone.

I am an impulsive soul. I decided the fastest way to get back into my nice warm bed was to just break a window and worry about the repairs later. I picked up a decorative concrete cat from a flower bed and swung it at the bottom half of my double-hung bedroom window.

The cat bounced off the window.

I should mention that I'd broke into my house once before. I'd replaced the demolished glass pane with shatter-proof glass. I just hadn't realized how strong the new glass was.

I slammed the concrete cat into the window twice more before giving up. I viewed the rear of the house, trying to decide on a new plan.

Replacing the glass in the decorative French doors would be frightfully expensive. My bathroom has horizontal windows only a foot wide and ten feet above me.

That left the guest bathroom. Again the window was rather high--shoulder height for short me--and not really very big. I guessed each half of the double-hung window was about 18" X 22".

But beggars can't be choosers. I pulled a cast iron patio chair over and climbed onto it. Then I slammed the concrete cat into the top half of the window.

The glass shattered in a very loud and satisfying manner. I picked shards of glass out of the window frame. Once it was safe to reach in, I unlocked the window--grateful the alarm wasn't activated--and slid the window open.

The next problem was that the window was still too high and not wide enough for me to climb in feet first. I would have to go through face first, which meant a drop of about four and a half feet on the other side. Oh, well ... in for a penny, in for a pound.

I removed the planter sitting on the window sill along with my large bottle of Vita Bath (Original Spring Green Scent) and stuck my head through.

Fifty-four inches never looked so far. Especially since I would be landing on hard ceramic tile ... head first.

Making like a lizard moving down a wall, I slowly edged through: head, shoulders, chest, waist. I was VERY grateful for the privacy fence behind me. I didn't want to think about the rear view I was offering the world.

Once my hips made it through, I was over-balanced and things speeded up. I tumbled, tucking my head into my chest as I rolled.

Touchdown was painful. I heard a crack which I believe was my left thumb. Somehow my nightgown tore in multiple places, and the tops of my bare feet scraped across the bricks outside the window. I also cut my forehead and scratched my chin on the stray bits of glass on the floor.

But I was inside. I lay on the floor, assessing my injuries while Bob The Cat licked my face. He had been quite frantic watching my assault on his home from the hallway.

I suspected I'd broken my thumb but, like Scarlett O'Hara, decided to worry about it later. I washed my hands and face, put on a warm flannel nightgown, took some Motrin, and went to bed.

When I woke, my thumb was still painful and pretty swollen, but I've broken fingers before. It didn't hurt as much as some have, and I still had a window to fix. The weatherman said the temp would be 39 degrees overnight.

I measured the window: 21" x 16 1/8". Headed to Home Depot, which no longer cuts glass. Grrrr. Went to Lowe's where a teenage boy cut three different panes before he got one right. Came home, slapped the window in--perfect. In less than an hour, I had caulked the window and cleaned up the mess in the bathroom.

Still have to address the extra key situation. The only window left for me to break on the rear of the house is the bottom half of that bathroom window ...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hey, Rush Limbaugh!!!

I hear you're taking swipes at the First Lady's diet and waist size.

I haven't heard that low-level commentary since I was back in the elementary schoolyard ... when I was maybe eight or nine years old.

Not only were your comments juvenile, they said a lot about how hard up you are for material. Against the ropes, are you? {LOL}

And I'm not going to take the low road I would have taken when I was eight years old. Back then, I would have laughed and said something about the pot and the kettle.

It's frightening how far my Republican Party has sunk into the mud. Sarah Palin's mocking breast milk and here you are, right down there with her.

Yuck! I'm going to take a shower.

If you can't argue ideas, don't get into the debate.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tools of Change 2011

Last week from Monday to Wednesday (February 14th thru 16th) the Tools of Change for Publishing 2011 took place at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. This was the fifth year that O'Reilly Media presented the TOC.

I headed over to YouTube to see which presentations are offered and found a variety of interviews.

Margaret Atwood was the keynote speaker. Here is the ~30 minute talk titled "The Publishing Pie: An Authors View":

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired did a ~26-minute presentation called "Better than Free: How Value is Generated in a Free Copy World" here:

Kassia Krozser of BookSquare was interviewed. Here's the ~6-minute video:

You can find other interviews and presentations on YouTube by entering TOC 2011 in the search window.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Meet Jane Yellowrock

A couple of years ago, I read Skinwalker, the first book in an urban fantasy series by author Faith Hunter.

The protagonist of Skinwalker is Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee shape-changer. Hunter's novels have some similarities to Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series. Both have Native-American skinwalkers as protagonists. Both heroines believe they may be the last of their kind.

But there are differences, too. Mercy is an auto mechanic who owns her own shop in the Pacific Northwest where she was raised by werewolves. Jane grew up in a orphan home and works as a killer-for-hire of rogue vampires.

Mercy changes into a coyote, but Jane is able to change into other forms if she has an object to help her suss out the creature's DNA. Her main form is that of Beast, a mountain lion who shares her body. When Beast is ascendant, the plot is told from her point-of-view in an untutored voice with her memories and sensations.

In Skinwalker, Jane is hired by New Orleans' vampire council to hunt down and kill a vampire serial killer. We meet a number of interesting characters: Molly, Jane's best friend who just happens to be a witch; Katie of Katie's Ladies brothel; Leo Pellissier, the Master Vampire of New Orleans; George Dumas, Leo's prime blood servant; and Rick LaFleur, a NO police detective.

I found the Beast sections of Skinwalker a little tiring, but liked Jane and the story enough that I purchased the second book in the series, Blood Cross.

In Blood Cross, Jane is still in New Orleans and has been hired by Leo to hunt down and kill a rogue vampire who is creating new, unchained vampires. Newly-made vampires are insane during their first ten years of existence and must be kept chained to protect both them and humankind.

Either Blood Cross was superior to the earlier book, or I'd gotten more comfortable with the Beast's POV because I thoroughly enjoyed Jane's new outing. I added Hunter's name to the calendar which I keep to track the forthcoming books of a short list of authors.

This past week I read Mercy Blade, the third in the Jane Yellowrock series.

Hunter just keeps getting better. I thought this was the best book of the three. The novel is nuanced: Hunter expands on her world-building, and Jane learns more of her heritage.

Vampires and witches are the only creatures who have "come out" of the supernatural closet. In Mercy Blade, Jane is still on retainer to Leo, and werewolves are about to come out to humans. When they do so, they allege Leo is a murderer.

Leo phones Jane with this instruction: "A persona non grata is encroaching upon my territory ... Meet with him, find out what he knows, and then send him packing." Booger's Scoot is the biker bar on the west bank where Jane goes to find this "persona non grata" and encounters a pack of very unfriendly werewolves.

The action is fast and furious, and I'm recommending this book and the series.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

I just reviewed the list of the 200 Borders stores that are scheduled to close. There are seven in North Texas:
  1. 10720 Preston Road, Dallas
  2. 1601 Preston Road, Plano
  3. 2403 S. Stemmons, Lewisville
  4. 5615 Colleyville Boulevard, Colleyville
  5. 1131 N. Burleson Boulevard, Burleson
  6. 2709 N. Mesquite, Mesquite
  7. 3600 McKinney Avenue, Dallas

Dallas will retain the store on Greenville Avenue, Fort Worth will keep its store open, and the location at the D/FW Airport will continue to operate along with the stores in Allen and in Arlington.

Of the 28 stores operating in Texas, eighteen will remain open, including all three locations in San Antonio and the four locations in Houston.

You can see the entire list of 200 stores scheduled to close here.

Today's Shelf Awareness reported this morning that:

While Borders plans to close 200 superstores in the next several weeks ... it may close up to 75 additional stores after that.
Don't forget that Borders still operates a lot of Waldenbooks in addition to a fair number of other non-superstores.

Shelf Awareness also said:
Borders estimated that it loses about $2 million a week combined on the stores set for closing.
I'm always sad to see a bookstore shutter its windows but--with numbers like that--it's not hard to see why Borders is taking this action.

So what do all these bookstores closing and Borders filing for protection under Chapter 11 mean?

Well, this is not great news for the publishing industry at a time when publishers are still trying to figure out how to make money in the brave, new digital world. In addition to having fewer venues in which to sell their wares, the Big Six publishing houses are Borders' largest unsecured creditors. You can go here to read Borders' bankruptcy filing. Scroll forward to the list of the 30 largest unsecured creditors. Borders owes Penguin (#1) $41 million, and Macmillan (#6) $11 1/2 million.

A friend called me today to say that this would just escalate the move to e-books. I'm not sure there is a direct correlation between the two although I'm intrigued by the fact that all three Austin Borders are closing. Austin is the Silicon Valley of Texas with a very young, very e-savvy population.

On the other hand, Austin still has five Barnes & Nobles stores.

According to Publishers Weekly here, most of the 200 stores being closed have over 20,000 square feet including a 42,770 sq. ft. operation in Chicago and a 42,600 sq. ft. store on Park Avenue in New York.

But, let's face it, consumers in Chicago and New York are not as likely to be hurt by this the move as those living in more remote locations with less access to bookstores. Those consumers may have to turn to the Internet for their books.

But will they order physical books from Amazon or e-books? Either way, this event is likely to benefit Amazon's business.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported here:

The Ann Arbor, Mich., company's $505 million bankruptcy debt from GE Capital to fund its operations while in bankruptcy comes in many tranches, and includes both a $55 million term loan and a $410 revolving loan ... The filing comes after Borders unsuccessfully sought to avoid bankruptcy by striking a tentative deal with GE Capital for a new $550 million secured line of credit. But the retailer first had to hit certain benchmarks, such as negotiating more favorable store leases with its landlords and finding other lenders to take on $175 million of the credit line.

The fact that GE Capital is willing to risk $505 million suggests that Borders has a least a chance of being able to successfully manuever out of the hole it's dug for itself.

Borders previous management made huge mistakes--not the least of which was handing over their Internet business to Amazon to manage for them. B&N was much quicker in trying to adapt to the new reality of the Internet and digital books while Borders focussed on building more and bigger bricks-and-mortar stores.

Stay tuned ...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hey, Governor Perry!

I love Texas. I love the people, I love the friendliness, I love the place.

What I don't love about Texas are the knuckleheads the citizenry regularly elects as governors. I couldn't stand George W. Bush and feel the same way about the current guv, Rick Perry. Both men spent their time in office focussing on how to grow their public profiles so they could make a presidential run. Both were described by Texans as "a great guy"; neither impressed me as a governor.

And we all know what a fabulous prez George Bush made. Writer Molly Ivins called him "Shrub" and once said about him, "Everyone knows the man has no clue, but no one there has the courage to say it. I mean, good gawd, the man is as he always has been: barely adequate."

Fast forward to today: Rick Perry is slicker than goose poop, but routinely makes me wince. He's got great hair and little else.

Case in point, on Friday, the Texas governor did an interview with the Washington Examiner:

Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, told The Examiner in an exclusive interview that Amazon's decision to leave the state was a result of a wrong decision by the state comptroller, and that he will work with legislators to make sure Amazon
can stay.

This is my open letter to Governor Perry:
Dear Gov. Perry: PLEASE spend some time learning about an issue before immediately knee-jerking to what you believe is a "pro-business" stand.

Texas has a number of great bookstores. You'll be spitting in their eyes if you allow Amazon to avoid paying state taxes while forcing bricks-and-mortars stores to do so.

Amazon is hiding behind a tax dodge. They have created a subsidiary to operate the distribution center in Irving and claim that this means Amazon is not operating in the state. Give me a break.

PLEASE think twice and act once. Don't remind every Texan that you are the successor to George W. Bush.
And for everyone else. Please remember the name Rick Perry.

Publishers Bundling e-Books

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday's Wall Street Journal had an interesting story by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg titled "Publishers Bundle e-Books to Boost Sales, Promote Authors."

The article offers an overview of the e-books being bundled by a variety of publishers. Some bundle early books by one author, others bundle e-books by genre (i.e. romance) or by subject.
"'By bundling titles at a discount we're raising their visibility and making them more price-attractive,' says Mr. Klebanoff," chief executive of RosettaBooks.

Mr Klebanoff also says "a bundled price of $9.99 or less 'is definitely in a consumer sweet spot'."

Maja Thomas, Sr. VP of Hachette Digital, explained that her company has begun to bundle titles from an author's series together. She gave the example of three early Michael Connelly e-books being bundled for $17.99, which represents a savings of $1 off each of the three.

Sony Corp. agreed. They indicated that series bundles are selling very well.

On the other hand, Penguin refuses to discount. They put eight of the Sookie Stackhouse e-books together in one bundle and priced it at $55.99

Go here to read the article.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Amazon Strikes Back at Texas

Beginning in May, 2008 here, I wrote half a dozen posts about the kerfuffle between Amazon and a number of states around the U.S. on the subject of collecting state taxes.

Amazon has an "affiliates" program where people advertise Amazon on their Internet sites and then earn sales commissions on each purchase visitors to their sites make at Amazon.

Individual states have been complaining that although Amazon is paying these people around the country who are, in effect, their representatives, Amazon does not pay the states' sales taxes. This gives Amazon an unfair advantage over those bricks-and-mortar bookstores who both contribute to local economies AND pay the sales taxes. Amazon is not playing on a level field.

In July, 2009, I posted here that:
Bloomberg is reporting that the price of Netflix shares jumped on Monday on speculation that Amazon may be planning to buy the mail-order movie
service ...

A security analyst was quoted in the Bloomberg report saying that Netflix is an "unlikely target for Amazon" because it has distribution centers all over the U.S. Those distribution centers would mean that Amazon would have to collect sales tax in each state where one existed.

... Forbes reported that Amazon had "notified associates in Rhode Island and Hawaii that the company was no longer working with them . . . because [those] states have passed laws to collect sales taxes on these transactions." Shortly afterward, Amazon also cut off their associates in North Carolina.
This past October here, I reported on two states--North Carolina and Texas--which were actively pursuing their demands that Amazon pay state taxes. North Carolina argued when Amazon paid their affiliates in North Carolina, that transaction triggered sales tax.

Texas argued that, by operating a distribution center in Irving, Texas, Amazon had a local presence and needed to pay sales taxes. According to the Dallas Morning News:

"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."

Amazon has now struck back at Texas. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported here: Inc. is closing a Dallas-area fulfillment center and canceling a planned expansion of its operations in Texas after the online retailer failed to reach an agreement with the state over taxes.

In an email to staff, Dave Clark, [Amazon's] ... operations chief for North America, said the state's "unfavorable regulatory climate" prompted the decision ... The closure will occur on April 12.

I think Amazon is overplaying its hand. Article I of the U.S. Constitution says that interstate commerce is regulated by the federal government. While the Internet was growing, Congress was reluctant to take any action to harm its burgeoning businesses. Now those businesses are mature, and Internet sales are well-established. It's a different world.

The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, spent a lot of time in Texas while he was growing up. His grandfather had been the regional manager for the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque. "Pops" Gize retired to his Lazy G Ranch in Texas. Jeff spent a lot of time with his grandfather on the 25,000-acre ranch, learning to fix equipment, dig ditches and brand cattle.

We have signs on our roadways down here that say: "Don't Mess With Texas." Apparently Jeff has forgotten those notices.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

News From Charlaine Harris

Almost ten years ago, in May of 2001, I picked up a book titled Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. The cover art didn't appeal to me, but the subtitle "The Southern Vampire Mysteries" did.

I laughed my way through the novel, thoroughly enjoying it. The protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, is a telepath 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.

Dead Until Dark was the first vampire novel with a chick lit voice I'd ever encountered. Now, of course, they litter the bookstores. And with the premiere of the HBO series True Blood, based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries, millions of people are familiar with Sookie's adventures.

I was so taken with Dead Until Dark that, when I visited Florida a few months after reading the novel, I dragged my mother to Haslam's Used Books to find a copy of the novel to give to my youngest brother to read.

It was nearly a year before the second Sookie Stackhouse novel was published. In the interim, I sampled other books by Charlaine Harris. I loved the series starring Lily Bard, the survivor of a brutal rape, who runs off to build a new life for herself in Shakespeare, Arkansas as a cleaning lady. She frequently finds dead bodies and must solve the mystery of their murders.

Alternatively, I hated the series starring Aurora Teagarden, the librarian of Lawrenceton, Georgia, who also solves mysteries. The Aurora series was just too precious for me [gag]. I forced myself through the first book and stopped a few pages into the second.

I liked the Harper Connelly series, which falls midway between the light voice of Sookie and the much darker voice of Lily Bard. Harper was hit by lightning as a young girl, which gave her the weird ability to locate dead bodies and to access their final memories. Harper has monetized this ability by selling her services to municipal governments and private individuals trying to find missing persons or figure out what killed them. She and her stepbrother Tolliver travel wherever they are called in the U.S. She makes me think of a psychic Have Gun, Will Travel.

In the ten years since Dead Until Dark was published, I've continued to read the series, which used to release new book every May. I don't subscribe to cable television because it diverts way too much of my time from my writing, but I keep up with True Blood via visits with friends and family.

Last week Charlaine Harris announced that it was likely she would only write two more novels in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series. According to the Los Angeles Times, she said:
“I still love Sookie, but I’m beginning to want to write something else, and Sookie’s kind of taken over my life. I was able to write other things for the first few years I was involved in Sookie, but then after the start of the television show she took over so much of my time because of my increased publicity obligations that it’s been very hard to write other things, and I really need to do that.”
I also was surprised to learn that Harris has created an on-line game through i-Play. The game features Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, "a ruthless, fashion-conscious vamp." who wants to find a potion that will allow her to spend time in the sunlight. Go here to visit the i-Play site.

Go here to read the L.A. Times article.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Long-Lost Hammett Works Uncovered

Last Friday, the UK's Guardian had a story that warmed my cockles:
A cache of unpublished works by famed writer Dashiell Hammett, often seen as the father of hardboiled detective fiction, has been found and is set to be unveiled in America.
Andrew Gulli, editor of the crime magazine The Strand, was doing research in the archives of the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas in Austin. He found fifteen unpublished short stories of Hammett's.

Hammett was the author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man series. He had worked for The Pinkerton Detective Agency for seven years while in his 20's and drew on that experience when writing his crime fiction.

Gulli's magazine has been successful in publishing other unpublished works by well-known writers. In 2008, French scholar Francois Gallix found an unpublished 23,000-word novella which Graham Greene had written at age 22. "The Empty Chair" was unfinished, and The Strand serialized the existing five chapters. Ironically, Gallix found the manuscript in the Harry Ransom Center at the UTA Austin, the same place Gulli found the Hammett work.

In 2009, Gulli learned of HarperStudio's plan to publish Mark Twain's stories in time for the hundredth anniversary of Twain's death, which occurred in 1910. Gulli convinced HarperStudio to let him publish "The Undertaker's Tale," a previously unpublished story found in the Twain archives at the University of California.

Later in 2009, an Agatha Christie fan searching the archives of her holiday home in Devon found two unpublished short stories among her notebooks. The Strand announced it would publish the 5,000-word "Incident of the Dog's Ball."

All his success in publishing previously lost works must have encouraged Gulli to do some of his own research into the Dashiell Hammett archives.

I liked this quote from the Guardian about Hammett's writing:
Hammett, along with other writers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s such as Raymond Chandler, defined a new fictional world with their gritty portrayals of urban America. They eschewed straightforward heroes and villains for chancers and grifters who worked both sides of the law. These low-life characters and anti-heroes were a ground-breaking development for most mass fiction and still influence crime novels today.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Wintertime And the Super Bowl

Sorry, I didn't post on Wednesday. The weather here in Texas has been occupying my time.

My youngest brother, a sports columnist, is in town for the Super Bowl. He arrived on Sunday, mocking the way Dallas handles bad weather. One of his first text messages to me was:
I came here from Pittsburgh where 12-year-olds drive cabs in the snow.
When the ice storm hit Monday night, I urged him not to drive to the stadium in his rental car, especially since the NFL was providing buses for the teams and the media for Media Day.

Tuesday morning, DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) was not operating its buses for the residents of Dallas, but the Super Bowl nobility were chauffeured to their destination. A caravan of NFL buses and police cars trailed behind a sanding machine en route to the stadium. I sent my brother a text saying I was watching him on television. Frustrated by the slow progress, he responded that the ice would melt before they got there. And, in homage to O.J. Simpson's low-speed televised car chase, he added that Al Cowlings was in the seat in front of him on the bus.

I stayed home from work Tuesday, but went to the University on Wednesday and Thursday. I warned my brother to be careful on the ice. I told him I had used my breakfast chair to balance me on the ice when I went outside to feed the cardinals (I have four nesting pairs in my backyard). He laughed at me. And then he slipped and landed on his back when he went out to dinner with his colleagues late Wednesday night.

Last night, six inches of snow covered the ice in my backyard. It's gorgeous, and I'm staying home again today because Dallas does not own a single snow plow.

Six inches of snow is nothing to people in Chicago and Boston, but when your city doesn't even have a supply of salt, it paralyzes traffic.

P.S. My brother is now expressing concern that he will be able to get home Monday morning.