Wednesday, October 07, 2015

My Latest Story: The Cowboy Who Studied Yoga

My Latest Story is now up on Amazon: The Cowboy Who Studied Yoga.

Jackson Smith is a frustrated self-published author. Despite his skills as a novelist, his books aren't selling and he can't find an audience. He becomes jealous of a successful romance author whose novels, though not examples of great literature, are nevertheless bestsellers. Her book signings are attended by hundreds of her adoring fans. Jackson wonders what he needs to do to become a successful author like all the famous names he sees on the bestseller lists. 

This work is about 12,000 words in length.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My New Story "The Moon Colony Inspection" Now on Amazon

My new story "The Moon Colony Inspection" is now available on Amazon.

After a close call with another spaceship during his flight, the inspector arrives at the Moon Colony. All seems in good order until a mysterious illness breaks out among the colonists. Did the inspector bring a germ with him? The malady threatens to wipe out the colony as the robots begin to bury the dead. Can the doctor identify the problem before it's too late? This work is about 8,000 words in length. 

I'll have it up on iTunes and Barnes & Noble shortly.

I'm working on a few other things that should see the light of day soon:

Novels: Drone Fever, Attack of the Manikins, The Elevator
Nonfiction: Mysterious death of a spy
Short Stories: The Lighthouse (horror), The Rebel Plot (dystopian), Fracture (dystopian)
Anthology: Top 50 classic short stories ranked

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Obama's Supposed Summer Reading List

President Obama is off for another vacation in Martha's Vineyard, and his "summer reading list" has just been announced. My immediate reaction is:

  • Who picked out these books for Obama?
  • What kind of books did Obama indicate he wanted?
  • What's the real point of releasing this list to the public?
  • Will Obama actually read these books?
  • Does Obama have a secret reading list hidden from the public?
  • What books should be on Obama's list?

Here is the list:
  • All That Is by James Salter
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

I'm skeptical Obama knew of any of these titles before his staffer decided on them. To me, this list smacks of legacy building, of the I-read-Pulitzer-Prize-books variety.

Obama said, I need a book on global warming. And the find was The Sixth Extinction.

Obama said, I need a book supporting Black Lives Matter. And the find was Between the World and Me.

Obama said, I need a book that portrays me as a reader of great books. And the find was All the Light That We Cannot See.

Obama said, I need a book on George Washington, because I want to be seen as the black George Washington. And the find was Washington: A Life.

How much of these will he actually read on his vacation? My guess: very little. He doesn't seem to be the sort of person who learns anything new from either books or personal experience.

What books would be on Obama's secret reading list that he wants hidden from the public? I believe he does have such a collection of books, and has reasons for not wanting them made public because they would reflect poorly on him and his legacy.

Here are the books Obama should read as soon as possible:

1984 by George Orwell
Plunder and Deceit by Mark Levin
Code of Conduct: A Thriller by Brad Thor
Adios, America by Ann Coulter
The Planetary Emergency by Stephen Leary
Where Is the President? by Stephen Leary


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Actors, Mannequins, and Spies in Starbucks

Every person I see in cafes like Starbucks plays the same role day in and day out.

The barista wears her Starbucks uniform and stands behind the counter taking orders and providing drinks. A barista has a limited set of repeated physical movements: taking orders at the cash register, filling cups with coffee behind her, moving around behind the counter.


A customer uses a different set of movements. He stands at the front of the counter until he orders his drink, then he moves over to the side table and adds milk and/or sugar and either leaves the cafe or sits at a table. These are the movements of a customer, not a barista. Rarely if ever do you see one behaving like the other. Everyone in the cafe plays his role and knows his role without needing a script.

If you see a barista acting like a customer, the effect on you is something like "role shock," because the actor isn't playing his expected role and that causes you some amount of surprise.

Whenever we go to a public gathering place, like a cafe, we are tempted into thinking that everyone else we see is what they appear to be based on these expectations. A barista stands behind the counter. A customer sits at a table. When we see what we expect to see, we make assumptions about that person. But you never know who those people around you really are. They could be multi-millionaires. Famous is some field that you know little about. Maybe they just got out of jail after serving a 20-year sentence for murdering someone?


But sometimes assumptions are wrong. For example, real people sometimes work as living mannequins. They sit or stand inside store windows and don't move a muscle. You stand outside the window and think they are just non-living mannequins and you don't realize they are real people pretending to be fake people. Street artists can be living mannequins at times as well, pretending to be statues in public places in large cities. You expect a statue or a mannequin, but you're wrong. It's a real person playing that role and defeating your assumptions.

Stores have mannequins in their windows, but cafes like Starbucks don't use such things. I've never seen a mannequin inside a Starbucks window. Real people in Starbucks are baristas or customers and that's it. You would never see something like a mannequin sitting at a table with the idea that the customers would think it's a real person. You would never see that in Starbucks because why would they? They're more into shaping behavior and so forth with messages on coffee cups. It's the sort of thing an eccentric local cafe owner might do for fun. One could ask, why do those fashion stores employ living mannequins?

Would you expect to see that in your favorite cafe? A person seated at a table, but you notice something peculiar about her. If you could inspect her at close range, you would discover she's just a mannequin. I suppose a group of customers could bring a mannequin into Starbucks and try to persuade the others around them that it is a real person, for their own amusement.

In the future, robots will look very much like humans and will at times be programmed to pretend to be one of us and we won't even suspect the truth.

The regulars in a cafe play their roles. The homeless guy. The computer nerd. The girl typing her emails. The game player. The old people reading the print newspapers. It's as if they are playing a part in a movie with an unstated script. They perform all the expected physical movements and social behaviors you would expect from someone in that role.


But suppose they really are playing a role? Suppose they want you to think they are one kind of person when they are another? Suppose they are spies pretending to be a typical person sitting in a cafe? Suppose they are collecting information on you? What would they be after that you want to remain hidden?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Robots As Bestselling Authors of the Future?

Dartmouth University has announced a "Turing Test in Creativity" wherein a panel of judges will attempt to determine if a short story or poem was written by a robot or a human.

Computers are already better than humans at many things, such as chess. But in the realm of creativity, humans still reign supreme. The typical human reaction of robot supremacy over humans in any field is one of fear rather than happiness or relief.

Apparently robots are already writing newspaper copy. A company called Narrative Science uses a computer algorithm to generate short (nonfiction) news stories for the Associated Press. This I find is a welcome development. The problem with journalism today is the unreasonable bias of the typical reporter who writes for newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

In many news stories, you don't get the facts so much as you get the reporter's opinion on the story of which he writes. And for newspapers such as those, and most others around the country, that means you are receiving the same liberal spin on current events. A robot, I should hope, can be taught to write straight news without that downpour of bias I'm accustomed to seeing on all the news websites.

Newspapers of the future chock full of unbiased news stories? Can it be? That's a far shore from where the media stands today. Will those newspapers demand bias in their robotic copy anyway? Humans demand bias, so yes.

Fiction demands far more creativity than news copy. What do the bestselling authors offer to the reader that a robot could never hope to match? I think a robot could be taught to write:

  • Thriller stories with nonstop action
  • Romance novels with a standard formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl
  • A murder mystery with the standard formula of a murder, a short list of suspects, a detective who interviews them all and then reveals the solution

Any type of fiction based on a tried-and-true formula I think can be written well by robots of the future, because they require the least amount of pure creativity.

It's those types of narratives demanding the personal touch of an imaginative writer that can't be distilled into a formula that would remain beyond the reach of robots.

But could it be possible we will be thinking of the "personal touch" of a future robotic author and his next book with more anticipation than today's bestsellers such as James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, and John Grisham? Will those names be replaced by robots in about the year 2030?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Ghost Town: Washington DC

Thousands of people travel through the Washington DC Metro system every day, so it's an odd feeling to go down the escalator to the platform and no one is around. The next train arrives, the doors open, you walk in and no one is there.

It's not often three things converge that result in a ghost train:

  • The empty train with no one in it
  • The station where no one else gets on
  • The time of day where no one else is around yet

It reminds me of my own story I'm working on, called "The Ghost Subway Train" in which the narrator goes on a ride on a ghost subway train around the world.

I also had the feeling that "everyone is somewhere else," something like that scene from Woody Allen's movie Stardust Memories when he sees a party on a passing train.

The Ghost Town theme was in the air all morning. For long stretches on the Mt. Vernon Trail, I saw no one else around, even though hundreds if not thousands of people use it every day.

Afterward, I went to a Starbucks that used to be bursting with customers at every table. This time, just a few seats were taken.

Everybody is somewhere else and wherever I go is a "ghost town."

I could chalk it up to a coincidence, and no doubt the long odds against all this will come up every once in a great while, like hitting the lottery. That would be the rational, scientific way of looking at it. All variations will arise over a long period of time.

It makes no sense to say that "unseen forces" are at work and the "ghost town" aspect is the result of someone's deliberate plan.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Secret Report: Climate Change Poses Serious Threat to Democrats

WASHINGTON, DC (Leary News) - Climate change poses a serious threat to Democratic candidates for public office in the coming decades, according to a secret political report circulated within the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress.

Psychologists warn that the effects of climate change will benefit Republicans in future elections, as a percentage of those identifying as liberals are projected to gradually adopt more conservative political opinions.

"The consensus of opinion is that individuals will be much more flexible in terms of political affiliation and willing to shift from long-term beliefs about social and political issues as a direct result of the effects of global warming, such as rising temperatures and scarcity of resources," said a political insider familiar with the report who wished not to be named.

President Obama recently listed climate change as a top priority of his administration and an "immediate risk to our national security." In February, a report on Obama's national security strategy called global warming "an urgent and growing threat."

However, the urgency behind Obama's war on global warming has more to do with politics rather than national security, according to the insider. "Consider that Obama's policy of allowing more and more illegal immigrants into the country is based on the calculation that most of them will become Democrats," he said. "Now, a report suggests that unchecked global warming will result in more Republicans. Obama needed to protect his goal of a permanent Democrat majority. But he can't talk about these issues in terms of politics because that wouldn't fly with the public."

A recent poll discovered that minorities are strongly in favor of President Obama prioritizing job growth rather than climate change, as many fear new environmental regulations will raise utility rates. "But that poll doesn't take into account that the emphasis on global warming is about politics," the insider said. "And those ramifications are far more important to Obama and the congressional Democrats than rising electricity bills."

Pope Francis raised eyebrows by taking a strong stand against global warming, with some accusing him of playing politics rather than religion. "Francis was lobbied hard behind closed doors by Obama's diplomats to say something about climate change, and he obliged," he said.

According to the secret report, the implications of global warming are staggering from a political and electoral viewpoint. "Democratic Party leaders are scared out of their minds," he said. "Some are skeptical of the report's findings, but many are worried and felt the effects of global warming might nullify all their efforts to bring more illegal immigrants as future reliable Democratic Party voters into the country."

Congressional Republicans contacted for this story said they were unfamiliar with the report and could not comment.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Hemingway On Killing Cecil The Lion

Much ink has been spilled lately over the blood of Cecil the Lion, killed by an American safari hunter/dentist in Zimbabwe.

In 1935, Ernest Hemingway wrote The Green Hills of Africa, a nonfiction novel published 30 years before Truman Capote kindled a literary genre with In Cold Blood.

Hemingway recounted a safari trip to Africa and his killing of a lion. It wasn't named Cecil, but what's in a name anyway. A lion by any other name is just as dangerous. What's it like to shoot a lion? Hemingway's narrative gives us some idea.

From Green Hills of Africa:
I remember seeing the lion looking yellow and heavy-headed and enormous against a scrubby looking tree in a patch of orchard bush....Then there was the short-barrelled explosion of the Mannlicher and the lion was going to the left on a run, a strange, heavy-shouldered, foots-swinging, cat run. I hit him with the Springfield and he went down and spun over and I shot again, too quickly, and threw a cloud of dirt over him. But there he was, stretched out, on his belly, and, with the sun just over the top of the trees, and the grass very green, we walked up on him like a posse...guns ready and cocked, not knowing whether he was stunned or dead.... 
I was so surprised by the way he had rolled over dead from the shot after we had been prepared for a charge, for heroics, and for drama, that I felt more let down than pleased. It was our first lion and were were very ignorant and this was not what we had paid to see.
This novel is often ignored and not even mentioned as an early example of the "nonfiction novel" genre which became integrated into literature several decades later. Hemingway's most famous story of a lion hunt is his short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," considered one of his best.

I think people sympathize with lion deaths because they are seen as an animal that has been encroached upon by humans and are becoming endangered as a species. We don;t hear much about lions mauling people, but instead about safari hunters arriving from the West and shooting them for fun. Contrast that with the way we view sharks. The only time we hear about them is when they are biting off the arms and legs of swimmers. They seem to have the "upper hand" in a way lions don't. You don't hear much in the way of remorse for the killing of a shark.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Long Lost F Scott Fitzgerald Story Found

A "long lost" short story written by F. Scott Fitzerald has been found. The story is called "Temperature" and was written in 1939, long after Fitzgerald's star had faded.

He had mailed it himself to the Saturday Evening Post, but it was rejected. Is it any good? Readers of The Strand can read it now; it will appear online in 3 months. The Strand specializes in mystery stories, but apparently this isn't one.

How was this lost story found? The managing editor of The Strand had been rummaging around in Princeton University's rare book and manuscript archive. It seems odd that someone would walk in the door, look through their boxes, and Eureka! discover lost or unknown items by one of the most famous authors the US has ever known, but there it is. Anything else lurking in that archive that hasn't been cataloged or noticed missing to the world--Bach's lost compositions perhaps?

Lost stories or writings by famous authors are always turning up. Just recently a new Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle was found. And a short piece by Ernest Hemingway. So missing things are sometimes found--including musical pieces by Bach.

What's needed by humanity is a SciFi "Wayback Machine" to go back and discover all these things that have gone missing over the ages.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Writer's Diet: What Foods To Eat

Can your diet improve your writing? What foods should you eat to better brainstorm ideas for your next novel?

I've been looking into this question and it seems hard scientific research has given us some leads.

Tyrosine is an amino acid thought to promote creativity. Foods with the highest levels include spirulina seaweed, egg whites, salmon, and lowfat cottage cheese.

Alcohol boosts creativity by blocking analytic "working memory" for the benefit of creative problem solving.

Dark Chocolate boosts the brain's blood circulation for about 3 hours while the caffeine in Coffee/Tea keeps you alert for a couple hours.

Complex carbohydrates provide the brain a steady stream of glucose throughout the day, for example,
whole grain bread, quinoa, oats, and brown rice.

Antioxidants keep the brain oxygen flowing. For example, berries, kale, and broccoli.

The smell of cinnamon-vanilla is said to enhance creativity.

Foods that Inhibit Creativity

Artificial Sweeteners
Junk Foods with Simple Carbos (store-bought cookies, oreos, etc.)
Foods High in Sugars

List of Foods/Drinks in the Writer's Diet

Spirulina Seaweed
Egg Whites
Lowfat Cottage Cheese
Dark Chocolate
Whole Grains
Brown Rice

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Many Possible Futures of Cafe Patrons

Impossible Cafes #2

I'm often searching for words that don't exist to describe things. The latest example, one word to describe a café habitué. Caféer? Cafénian? Cafénik?

Of the dozens of customers I see in the cafe, will any one of them do something dramatic in their lives? Accomplish a a feat few others do? Can you tell somehow that one of them will stand out from the crowd in some way?

 Every caféer is in search of a dream that may or may not transform into a nightmare. Because dreams aren't easy to catch.

Sometimes when I focus on a person in the cafe, whoever they are and whatever they are doing, the act of attention causes me to see through their current situation, their looks, their likely occupation, and consider their possible futures, as if they are transparent people, through which the future shines.

Will they plant their personal stamp on the world, or in a hundred years will they all be forgotten by all but a few close friends and relatives who don't remember them too well either?

These people seated in the cafe. Which one would someday:

  • Become a billionaire?
  • Pull out a gun and kill a store clerk?
  • Raise a family?
  • Go to Syria and join ISIS?
  • Become a famous novelist?
  • Say I've had enough of DC and go back to the Midwest?
  • Become a singer in a successful band?
  • Die of a drug overdose?
  • Go on a trip to Europe and never come back?
  • Find a career job and stay there for forty years?
  • Buy a Mercedes to impress the neighbors?
  • Go to Vegas and lose a lot of money?
  • Eat dinner in a diner at midnight in a strange city?
  • Pay hundreds of dollars to shake the hand of a celebrity?
  • Buy an 80-inch TV?
  • Donate time and money to a political candidate that wrecks the country?
  • Walk up and down the streets of a trendy neighborhood because that's what everyone else does?
  • Swim across the Atlantic?
  • Take a one-way trip to Mars?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My New SciFi Story 'Daybreak' Now on Amazon

My new SciFi short story "Daybreak" is now up on Amazon.

Rivenlann is a world that has known only darkness and the thousand gentle stars in the night sky. The advanced Aarpions live on one landmass and dominate the primitive Towahs who reside across the sea on the other. 

An ancient prophesy of the Towahs called the Day of Reversal they believe is expected soon, though the Aarpions dismiss it. According to the prophesy, a bright god will suddenly appear in the sky and never leave, bringing cataclysmic changes in the relationship between the two cultures. Readers experience the fallout of the event through the eyes of Aarpion scientists, their political leader, and the Towahs. One side sees the bright star and the end of night as an answer to their prayers while the other believes it heralds the death of their culture. The Aarpions ask themselves how to survive under the new reality while the Towahs’ behavior suggests intrinsic changes have occurred in their traditional thinking. 

“Daybreak” explores the human’s psyche’s ability to cope with calamitous changes in the world and the effort to find a way to survive in a completely different environment. 

“Daybreak” is a science fiction short story about 8,000 words in length. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. 

You'll like "Daybreak" if you like Isaac Asimov's short story "Nightfall," which some call the greatest science fiction short story ever written.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Writing in the Cafe of Babel

In the not too distant past, Panera opened a new coffee shop in Washington DC's Chinatown. I somehow found myself in the area one early Saturday morning and so went in and discovered it was easily the biggest Panera I had ever seen.

Beyond the ordering counter near the door was another level where sat a large number of people, even though it was so early in the day. I placed my order and was given a small electronic device to take with me. I ascended the steps up to a second level and found an open table. A few minutes later, a waiter found me--guided to my location by the electronic device--and gave me my order.

What struck me about this visit was the crowdedness of the cafe given the early hour, its unusual size, the waiters arriving at your table without knowing where you went except for the electronic homing device, and the various sorts of people there.

I saw guys in business suits, young suits of races I couldn't identify, languages I had never heard before. People from all around the world had congregated in this Chinatown cafe early one Saturday morning.

It goes without saying that "there are no Chinese in Chinatown," and I didn't see any here on this occasion. That was the one missing ethnic group.

The varieties of races mimicked the varieties of coffee on the menu. Standard coffee, lattes, espresso, tea, smoothies. And once the drink has been decided, there are the breads and bagels.

The Café of Babel, with its infinite choices of drinks, suggests a certain frustration and impossibility of satisfaction, since there are so many variations than one could never live long enough sample them all even if one drank something different every day of his life. A person could simply order a drink at random and hope for an enjoyable experience. But it's like blindly throwing a dart at a world map and expecting to hit your hometown.

I know many visitors to the Café of Babel who pick the first drink they see on the menu and then order the same thing every day, simply as a method of avoiding the chaos and nadir of the impossible menu. Others will choose something different every day and claim they are on a journey to discover the tastiest drink, but it's clear from their demeanor and tone of voice that they don't believe what they say and know it is a futile endeavor. And of course, they long ago forgot which drinks they had already sampled.

As I write in the cafe, I see someone look at his drink in a funny way, take it back to the counter, and pretend that it isn't what he ordered. He returns with a different drink but seems no more pleased with that one than the first. He visits several different cafes every day, repeating the same ruse, with the same unsatisfactory results.

I overhear a conversation among several old timers complaining of too many choices, and their plans to write a petition, to be signed by thousands, demanding that the number of drink choices be reduced to only three to avoid confusing everyone.

As for myself, I order the same drink every day, because I long ago recognized the false allure of infinite choices that are essentially the same after all, despite their exotic and enticing titles. By drinking the standard coffee, all possible variations are contained within it. By drinking one, one drinks them all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Almost Killed While Writing At Starbucks

Impossible Cafes #1

I write at several different cafes in my area, most of them Starbucks. I have a favorite table at one of them, right next to a large window and the parking lot. Lately I've been writing my upcoming novel "Drone Fever" and a short story called "Daybreak" while there. I'm often there in the mornings.  But I had gone elsewhere one day.

So when I returned the day after, I was surprised to see a large piece of cardboard where a window had been. I assumed as anyone would that someone had thrown a rock through it overnight. I didn't even mention it when I approached the counter for my coffee.

The barista waiting for me told me how lucky I was that I didn't come in the day before as usual. Because a car had driven right through the parking lot, onto the sidewalk, and smashed through their front window! On the other side of that window was the table where I always sat. She said the car hit the table and it landed on the other side of the wall. I would have been killed if I had been sitting there!

As you can see from the picture, the window has yet to be replaced.

Ever since the barista told me about it, I've wondered what would have really happened if I had been sitting there. Would I have noticed the car approaching and jumped out of the way in the nick of time? Would I have suffered a broken arm but still managed to survive? I suppose in another universe, I was sitting there when the car smashed through. But in this universe, I was somewhere else.

If I were a little more paranoid, I would suspect someone had put out a contract on me and the driver had been paid off to do the job. But who and why?

I've been waiting for weeks for them to replace that window. Why? For one thing, I don't worry about another car smashing through the window, contract on me or not. But there's more. After they had inserted the cardboard into the empty window, I returned and sat at that table again. After some time, I smelled something funny, and then the odor became overpowering. It was the strong smell of cigarettes! I looked around to see who was smoking a cigarette inside a Starbucks cafe, as I had never seen anyone do it before. But I saw no one smoking.

Then I looked around past the cardboard to the sidewalk outside. Right in front of the cardboard stood a man smoking a cigarette. The smoke was entering the cafe from around the sides and the bottom. On top of that, he would drop his still-lit cigarette on the ground right next to the bottom of the cardboard and then come back into Starbucks and sit there for a while at his laptop. Then after a few minutes, he would go outside again and continue smoking that lit cigarette he had left beneath the cardboard. So the effect of not having a window was that the cafe around my table was filled with strong cigarette smoke coming from outside.

I've decided not to go there until the window is fixed or I don't see the smoker around. It's been weeks since the window was busted, yet it still hasn't been replaced. The barista said they would fix it a couple weeks ago, but still no window.

Having narrowly escaped death at Starbucks, it reminds me of the story I wrote here earlier called "Unearthly Entities Haunt Starbucks." Some sort of other-worldliness is around these cafes, but it doesn't seem to affect or threaten anyone but me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How Fast Should You Write a Book?

Lately I've read advice from self-published authors on how fast to write books. Some suggest no less than 3 novels a year. Others say you need to publish something regularly--every few weeks--so your audience stayed interested and doesn't leave. One prominent author claims to write short stories in 24 hours and then publish them.

Earlier I blogged on authors suggesting a book needs a certain word count for best effect on potential readers. 80,000-90,000 was considered ideal for novels.

The ideas of spending a fixed amount of time on a book, and aiming for a fixed word count, seem to work against achieving the best results in terms of literary quality. Clearly, a well-written book isn't the primary aim here, it is producing a lot of books and stories in a short period of time.

No doubt the advice that an author needs a lot of books on Amazon to get noticed and sell a lot is good counsel, and these recommendations on time and word count fit in with that. Unless somehow you write one book and it becomes a bestseller. That's not unknown but is the exception to the rule.

I find it tough to spend a very short amount of time on a story, because I know the literary quality will suffer. Perhaps I shouldn't mind so much as long as I am publishing a lot?

So far, I've published 4 stories in 2015 and hope to finish at least one novel and maybe two over the next 5 months. Fast enough? I suspect some of these authors are full-time writers.

My latest publication, the science fiction short story "I, Manikin."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Snowden Leaks Continue to Aid US Enemies

Islamic State has used National Security Agency documents stolen by Ed Snowden to change their operations in an effort to prevent the US from gathering intelligence on the group, according to new reports:
The Islamic State has also studied revelations from Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about how the United States gathers information on militants. A main result is that the group’s top leaders now use couriers or encrypted channels that Western analysts cannot crack to communicate, intelligence and military officials said.
I've mentioned here several times that Snowden and his friends continue to leak NSA documents long after he has made his point about government intrusion. The leaks serve no purpose except to aid the interests of the enemies of the US, such as ISIS, Russia, China, Iran, etc.

Whatever Snowden was when this all started, he is now no different than a mole working for the other side stealing the crown jewels. No logical case can be made at this point for divulging more classified documents on "behalf" of the average US or world citizen.

See my recent short story "The Flurry Abduction" based on the Snowden case.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New York Times Finally Adds Ted Cruz's Book to Bestseller List

Responding to the firestorm of controversy that erupted after Republican conservative Senator Ted Cruz's book was left off the New York Times' bestseller list, the politically liberal newspaper caved in and the book will appear on their list tomorrow.

Cruz said public pressure led to the decision:
“They don’t want people to read the book, ‘A Time for Truth;’ they left it off and then an amazing thing happened. Number one, they accused me of bulk sales. I said that is a lie. ... Then my publisher Harper-Collins came out and said that is a lie. We have all the sales data. There are no bulk purchases,” the Republican senator told Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Wednesday.
The newspaper, unable to admit politics led to the book's exclusion, said nothing was changed in the selection process:
“This week’s best seller list was arrived at using the same process as last week’s – and the week before that,” said Murphy. “That process involves a careful analysis of data, and is not influenced in any way by the content of a book, or by pressure from publishers or book sellers.”

Without question, this entire episode will continue to raise questions in the public's mind about the Times' journalistic integrity.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Amazon's Bestselling Books 1995-2015

Amazon sold its first book in July 1995, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies by Douglas Hofstadter. They have now posted a list of their bestselling books for every year from 2015 (so far) going back to 1995. Here are the top books for each year:

  • 2015 Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  • 2014 StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
  • 2013 StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
  • 2012 Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E L James
  • 2011 Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  • 2010 The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • 2009 The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  • 2008 A New Earth: Awakening Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
  • 2007 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  • 2006 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins
  • 2005 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
  • 2004 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • 2003 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  • 2002 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins
  • 2001 Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
  • 2000 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
  • 1999 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
  • 1998 A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
  • 1997 Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • 1996 Creating Killer Websites: The Art of Third-Generation Site Design by David Siegel
  • 1995 How to Set Up and Maintain a World Wide Web Site by Lincoln Stein

12 are fiction, 9 are non-fiction. The internet was just starting to grow big in the mid-90s, explaining the website design books. Once a character like Harry Potter becomes popular, he stays popular, reflecting the passion readers have for a series of books starring the same character.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Authors Accuse Amazon of Antitrust Violations

A long list of authors and the American Booksellers Association are requesting Obama's Justice Department investigate Amazon for antitrust and anti-competitive behavior.

From Authors United to the DOJ:
In recent years, Amazon has used its dominance in ways that we believe harm the interests of America’s readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, damage the careers of (and generate fear among) many authors, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society.
What I think is curious about this dispute is the expectation that Obama's infamous Justice Department is expected by all these writers to deliver some sort of fair and equitable ruling. I find that beyond belief, whether we are talking about books or people of any race or occupation. There is something surreal about appealing to this Justice Department for a fair solution.

I see famous names on the list, but many noteworthy authors are missing as well.

These same groups have tried to interest the Justice Department in this Amazon dispute before with no success. Perhaps that's why the ABA included in its letter:
We are concerned that the mega-book-retailer has
achieved such considerable market power with such questionable business tactics that it is undermining the ecosystem of the entire book industry in a way that will be detrimental, especially to mid-list authors, new authors, and minority voices.
Call me cynical, but alerting Obama's Justice Department to a "minority" angle on this is probably done with a view that there is no other way to capture their interest.

Should Obama's government intervene in this case? I suspect not. But it will if it sees one of its pet issues at stake here, such as minority rights or something along those lines.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Amazon Calls Out New York Times on Cruz Book

Amazon has called into question the assertion by the New York Times that sales of Senator Ted Cruz's book were driven by "strategic bulk purchases." That was the reason given by the Times for refusing to include the Republican's book on their bestseller list.

From Politico:
"As of yesterday, 'A Time for Truth' was the number 13 bestselling book, and there is no evidence of unusual bulk purchase activity in our sales data," Sarah Gelman, Amazon's director of press relations, said in an email.
HarperCollins, the publisher of Cruz's book, has already called into question the omission of Cruz's book from the NYT list.

The New York Times remains silent amidst the uproar over their obvious political bias. The New York Times is a liberal newspaper unofficially affiliated with the Democrat Party. Cruz is a conservative Republican running for President.

I've mentioned before that the New York Times is not an independent newspaper and is living off its reputation from 50 years ago. That's not hyperbole. With each passing year, the newspaper slides further and further leftward. I think most readers are aware of it and those that stand by it simply agree with its promotion of a liberal agenda.

Friday, July 10, 2015

New York Times' Dishonest Book Bestseller List

The New York Times isn't the newspaper it was in the old days. Today, its editorial and news outlook is something like a far-left blog. The radicals have taken over. It's not independent but is part of the Democrat Party. It almost seems illegitimate that it should have the same name as it did in days gone by.

The latest example of so many: Ted Cruz is a conservative running for the Republican Party presidential nomination. He has written a new book called "A Time for Truth."

According to Politico (left of center!), the New York Times refuses to list this book on their bestseller list despite the fact that it has outsold all but two titles on their current list. The reason?

According to an NYT official:
"In the case of this book, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases," she wrote.
HarperCollins, the publisher of Cruz's book, has refuted the New York Times' claim that Cruz attempted to game the bestseller list. From Buzzfeed:
“No evidence of bulk orders or sales through any retailer or organization,” says the publisher, in a rare rebuttal to the all-powerful Times.
The New York Times, again, is running away from its responsibilities as a news source. It is certainly politically biased against Cruz and all conservatives. No one can seriously doubt that. And now a reason has been found to keep a conservative political candidate off their list. I defy anyone to cite a case where this happened with a liberal.

In light of the HarperCollins statement, the New York Times needs to provide evidence of "bulk orders" and such or admit the exclusion of Cruz's book was politically motivated, and place it on their bestseller list.

The New York Times has a lot to prove as an honest news source. Everything is slanted toward the Democrat Party and the far-left side of the political spectrum. No pretense to objectivity or independence that I can see. I could say just about the same for other prominent mainstream media sources, such as the Washington Post and USA Today.

A new poll shows that only 24 percent of the public believes the news media reports without bias. Ken Paulson of USA Today said:
"These are discouraging results for those of us who have spent our careers in journalism. In 23 years in newsrooms, I saw consistent and concerted efforts to get stories right. Clearly, the public's not convinced."
I find that an odd statement from someone associated with USA Today. I follow their news and they are just as biased, as liberal, and as juvenile as any other major mainstream newspaper. If he doesn't see that, he's in the wrong business. He's blind, but the public can see what's up.

I assume most others in the newsrooms of the New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post are well aware of their own bias but somehow they think of it as a good thing and somehow what they are doing is good for journalism and the country. People can convince themselves of anything, even that.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Cafes Wish Lingering Customers Would Leave

It's never really been an issue for me, but I see in a recent news article that some cafes, at least in the Washington DC area, are trying to encourage customers who stay a long time to get up and leave. The idea is that their table could be used by a new customer and the cafe could make more money.

It's not an issue for me because most of the times I go to cafes, few people are there. I'm usually in Starbucks or some other national chain. I haven't seen them telling anyone to leave, ever, although there are times I wished they would toss the bums out.

The article on Washington DC quoted a bunch of local cafe owners. I've never once been to any of those cafes, so I can't say what goes on there. But apparently people go there to telework and stay all day because they find it a more pleasant environment than staying home.

At Starbucks, I've sat next to guys in business suits having a meeting but it doesn't last long. I see some people sitting for hours at their laptops but I can hardly believe they are working. A lot of them seem like they are either students or unemployed. And they seem to be wasting time surfing the internet and composing emails, not that I've watched them that much to really know for sure what it is they are doing. I'm too busy with what I'm doing to notice.

My biggest concern with the laptop crowd is that they aren't trying to hack my own connection. This worried me at one particular Starbucks cafe so much that I will no longer use my iPhone app to buy anything there but instead always pay cash on the rare occasions I go to that one anymore.

As you can see from the 2 photos I've posted to this article, few people are around when I'm in Starbucks. In fact, there's nobody in either photo. And these are well-trodden places. I'm not in South Dakota. Apparently those teleworkers sleep in every day.

So I don't think cafes mind that I stay for a couple hours and write my stories. It's not like a bunch of potential customers are waiting for tables. It's just the reverse: the tables are waiting for customers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

This Is What I'm Up Against As A Self-Published Author

I have to be honest and admit I've never respected genres of fiction such as "Romance" and what is euphemistically called "Erotica." Lousy writers titillating readers for very cheap thrills and profit. I hardly consider these people "writers" in any meaningful sense of the word, except they put words on paper.

I'm reminded of what Truman Capote said about Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation: "It isn't writing, it's typing." I've always thought of these genres as typing, rather than writing. The word "writing" means more to me than someone who puts words on paper. I guess if Capote can look down on Kerouac, I can do the same for people who publish Romance and Erotica fiction.

But the punchline to the story is this: everybody reads Romances and Erotica, no matter how bad the writing is.

A recent story I found from Google News has brought to my attention that stepsibling Romance novels are now a staple on the best-selling Amazon charts. As I noted recently on this blog, so many people read Romances and Erotica that Scribd had to change their business model so they could make a profit and not pay out so much to authors of these books.

I've always been hopeful that Amazon would toss the Erotica out their door and into the sewer but that would take a huge chunk out of their book sales, so I'm not holding my breath.

For those authors such as myself whose literary aims are a bit higher, it's tough to check the bestseller lists and see what kind of trash the public feverishly consumes. Without question, high quality writers make their way onto the bestseller lists as well, but I think it must give pause to anyone who cares about good writing to see what sells these days.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

My New Story: 'I, Manikin'

My brand new story "I, Manikin" is now available on Amazon.

In the near future, rebel cell group members confront the reality that they have been infiltrated by a government manikin sent to spy on them. But who is it? The manikins are indistinguishable from humans. One of their group has recently died from a supposed accident that they believe was orchestrated by the government. They must identify and destroy the manikin before he can do them any further harm.

This short story is about 6,000 words in length. It is the first of a number of envisioned "manikin" stories and novels. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, July 06, 2015

I Republished My Story 'The Smartphone'

My short story "The Smartphone" has been republished is now available on Amazon again. I've decided to keep it as a standalone single for $0.99.

From the Afterword:

Does Rory's new smartphone possess an unusual power to see things others can't? Is his estranged son a terrorist? And are the FBI visiting again? What does his wife think about all this?

The Smartphone was inspired by two famous short stories: “Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov and “The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever. I hope you like my attempt to merge the two into my own narrative about an unusual smartphone (a descendant of Cheever’s radio) displaying strange videos of extreme personal interest to its owner.

Nabokov’s story is short but powerful, and I attempted to duplicate that effect here. The Smartphone is intended to be short and not dwell on details.

I hope readers aren’t upset about the seemingly abrupt ending. I’ve always been a fan of what Ernest Hemingway called the “Wow” ending and I tried to achieve that effect here. But I was also echoing Nabokov. In his story, the phone rings one last time at the end of his story. And from the “signs and symbols” Nabokov placed in the narrative, the readers is supposed to understand that the final call is not another wrong number but something deliberate and sad. With the same idea in mind, when the FBI approaches the house a final time at the end of my story, the “signs and symbols” within the narrative are intended to lead the reader into understanding that it isn’t just the FBI asking about their son again, but something else entirely. I ask myself, how would I continue the story if I wanted to do that, and I can only laugh at the idea, since that would take the story into a kind of alternate reality!

This work is about 3,000 words in length, which means about 15 minutes to read.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Scribd Dumping Erotica, Romance Titles Must Be a Good Thing

As someone who has never written or read a single Romance or Erotica book, I'm not shedding any tears over the news that Scribd is dumping something like 80-90 percent of the Erotica and Romance novels available at their site, including those written by best-selling authors.

Apparently Romance fans are voracious readers, and Scribd is paying authors and publishers of such novels far more than their business model can sustain. It's not a problem with any other genres.

I've noticed whenever I search a book title in Amazon, the top results come up with book covers of men without shirts and women with their hands on the men's bare chests. The top bestsellers seem to be these types of books. So it's plain to anyone that Romance and smut are what many people are reading.

If these titles are to be reduced and their peddlers paid far less handsomely, I consider it a good thing, because if there are fewer Romance titles around, maybe some of those readers will look elsewhere, to fiction genres where the writing and the plots are far superior.

A problem with self-published authors is that so many writers are doing it; therefore, it's tough to get you and your books noticed, unless you write Romance and Erotica where the public's appetite is so powerful and all-consuming, an author is not in much danger of being ignored. But if you write books with any kind of quality to them, you struggle.

Scribd plans to eliminate Romance/Erotica that are the most popular and have the highest word counts. I blogged recently about writers who write with a certain word count in mind, no matter what, and this is a big reason why some choose to do that--an economic payoff from book subscription services such as Scribd when a lot of readers read all those words. But now Scribd is worrying about how it will make a profit in a world dominated by Romance titles and readers and authors.

If others, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, want to reduce their Romance holdings as well, no tears from me. Imagine all those frustrated Romance readers with noting left to read except different genres such as Science Fiction, Mystery, Literary. Poor things.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My Upcoming Novel 'Drone Fever'

My next novel will be Drone Fever. I'm arranging all the scenes and chapters in order now (as usual, not writing from beginning to end in sequence). The word count at the moment is about 70,000 and the finished book will likely be about 80,000.

The story is about a man who develops a strong interest in drones as a hobby. But he becomes nosy and uses his drones to watch his neighbors through their windows. In a house down the block, he sees what might be a murder.

Is he spending too much time on drones instead of his job, and did he see a murder or not? More questions and strange happenings proceed until the final resolution.

I can't compare it to any novel but it reminds me of two movies: Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and Vertigo. Think of Jimmy Stewart's binoculars replaced by a recreational drone. As for Vertigo, the identity of some of the people in Drone Fever is unclear. Are they who they seem to be or are others pretending to be them for unknown reasons? The genre is Suspense/Thriller I suppose, though I'm always having trouble defining my stories like that.

I expect it to take another month or two. Stay tuned! I think it's the best of anything I've published so far (but they all say that don't they).

After Drone Fever, my next books will be:

Attack of the Manikins
10 people visit a resort island for much-needed rest and relaxation but instead are attacked by manikins. What really happens to the 10 visitors? And who or what are the manikins? I think of this book as a literary novel masquerading as a pulp thriller due to the sensationalistic plot.

The Sucker List
A shady investment company uses a sucker list to contact new clients and drain their bank accounts. But that's where things start. A second sucker list emerges with a different set of names and nobody's gonna bother to call.

The Elevator
A new skyscraper with a shopping mall is built in a small town and everyone attends the grand opening, but the strange security guards and their boss have their own plans for the building and everyone in it. An elevator that seems to be alive and thinks for itself.

Here is my Amazon Author Page.

Anti-Confederate Hysteria Sweeps the Nation

Don't you get the impression a virus is sweeping through the United States that causes Confederatephobia?

All of a sudden, everyone is treating the Confederate flag and all things Confederate as if they are worse than Nazis or Satanists. Walmart, Amazon, Apple, Sears, Ebay, politicians, everybody is jumping on the anti-Confederate bandwagon in the space of a few days. Many have noted that Nazi memorabilia is still available at some of those companies.

The trigger was the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. But that had nothing to do with the Confederate flag. But somehow, that flag is equated with mass murder of blacks by whites, if I'm reading the situation correctly.

As someone from the north (Ohio), the Confederate flag to me means the side that lost the Civil War. That's what I think of when I see it. The side that lost.

Groups on the liberal side of the political spectrum have been itching to get rid of the flag and the church deaths provided a means to latch on to that and equate the flag with murder of innocent people.

Wiping the Confederate flag off the map is historical revisionism, cultural cleansing. Are we supposed to pretend it isn't a significant part of our national history? I've noticed a lot of times, when something is banned, it tends to give it more power.

Whenever this national hysteria ends, we'll see that banning a flag didn't help anything, and is counterproductive in the long run.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Do You Add Words To Your Novel So It Will Sell Better?

The topic of Word Count is popular on message boards for self-publishing authors. How long is a novel? Novella? Short Story? Short Short Story?

The word count for each can vary widely depending on who you listen to. Wikipedia tells me a mystery novel (60,000 to 80,000) is typically shorter than a thriller (100,000+). A Novella could be anywhere from 7,500 to 40,000. A Short Story is between 1,000 and 20,000. Shorter than 1,000 words is now called Flash Fiction or a Short Short Story.

A popular commentator for Writer's Digest says any novel under 70,000 words is "too short" and the ideal range is 80,000 to 90,000. I can't buy these numbers because they would rule out many of the greatest novels ever written. For example: Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby, As I Lay Dying, The Scarlet Letter, The Sun Also Rises, The Stranger, and probably every single one of the ~400 novels written by Georges Simenon.

On the message boards, writers talk about an ideal word count that sells better than shorter or longer books. So each book is then written with that word count in mind. If the count is too short, more words are added until you arrive at the "sweet spot" that sells so well.

Is this really true? People who buy books are looking for a certain page range and word count? Books of a certain length sell better for no other reason than the word count? I can hardly believe it.

How do you have any integrity writing primarily for a certain word count because you think you need that many for the most sales? Or am I thinking in the wrong terms? How can your book be worth reading if you padded it with an extra 25,000 words that were completely unnecessary for the narrative but might help it sell better? Aren't you just writing a load of crap?

It seems to me from reading those self-publishing author boards that a fair number of writers do this. Write 125,000 words, for example, and that sells better than a mere 100,000. It all sounds silly and ridiculous to my ears. 25,000 words of garbage because you think a longer book will sell more copies?

In which genre do they write? Erotica? Romance? So many authors who self-publish on Amazon are writing for no reason than to make a profit, not because they have anything to say or want to write a good book. But how do you acquire that kind of mindset where your only concern is sales and not the internal qualities of your narrative? And how do good books become noticed amidst all the trash? No one seems to have figured that out yet. The answer is well off in the distance.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

UK Says Snowden's Secret Files Cracked by Russia, China

The UK Sunday Times reported that Russia and China have cracked the top secret files stolen by Ed Snowden, forcing Great Britain to withdraw their spies from ongoing operations in hostile countries, as their lives were now in danger. No word yet from US officials.

Snowden's supporters question this news story and question its timing, coming 2 days after the UK's terrorism watchdog published a review into terrorism legislation, which was set up amid public concerns over surveillance sparked by Snowden's revelations.

Is this news story fake? Is it possible the encrypted files have not been broken? And are we to believe those who say Vladimir Putin and China don't even have a copy of them?

Opinion Polls on Snowden

April 2015: 64% of American familiar with him held a negative view, but 56% of those between the ages of 18-35 regard him in positive terms. Young Americans think he has served the public interest, while older people think the opposite. These findings are similar to a poll taken about a year ago.

But in Europe, Snowden approval ratings are much higher--84% in Germany and Italy, 80% in France, Netherlands, and Spain, and 54% in the UK.

Will this news turn world public opinion against Snowden?

The PR Battle Over Snowden

If the intelligence community here and in the UK are waging a PR battle against Snowden, they are doing a very poor job of it. You hardly hear the CIA/NSA side of the story. Michael Hayden is the only person I can think of stating the CIA/NSA case against Snowden.

Imagine a 3-way presidential election between Snowden, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. He would likely win the millennial vote over Clinton and Bush.

Young American millennials (you know, those who gave us Barack Obama twice) continue to overlook the damage Snowden has done to his country. They choose to see only the positive side of it: NSA was spying on everyone and no one knew and who approved of it and what about potential abuses of that power? They forget about the danger to their own security and those around the world who are fighting to keep it but have been compromised by Snowden making a point that could have been made without giving Russia and China the crown jewels. Only a tragedy with Snowden’s fingerprints all over it will change their view of him.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Apple iBooks Scam: Why Are Classic Novels Cheap On iTunes But Not On Amazon?

Update 06/27/15: The answer is that these cheap editions of classic novels are often pulled from the Apple iBooks store. Either by Apple or the publisher over copyright, I'm not sure. But when they are pulled off the store, you are no longer able to read those books that you purchased from Apple.
The only way you could maintain access to the books is if you download them to your computer. How would a person do that, I asked Apple support. You would need a Mac, was the answer. I don't have a Mac, I didn't have one when I bought the books in question, and I have no plans to buy one.

So if you're like me and you bought any cheap editions of classic books, eventually you lose not only the ability to read the books but whatever you paid for them. No refunds from Apple, I'm told. It's in their terms of service (as if that's an acceptable practice!).

I'm sticking with Amazon to buy my books in the future. I have no way of knowing if a book I buy on Apple iTunes will disappear along with my ability to read it and the price I paid!

Warning to all readers who might buy something on the Apple iTunes iBooks store!


I've noticed some famous, classic novels (in e-book format) available on iTunes (iBooks) at prices you normally expect from old books in the public domain, yet I'm not sure that's the case with any of these. And I see no attempt at price matching from Amazon Books. And the prices of these books on Barnes & Noble's Nook bookstore are in line with Amazon. Are all these English versions from different publishers on iTunes legal, I ask myself. Hmm.

For example:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
iTunes: $0.99; $2.99; and $9.99
Amazon: $9.99
Nook: $9.99

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
iTunes: $0.99; $2.99; $3.99; and $11.99
Amazon: $11.99
Nook: $11.99

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
iTunes: $0.99; $2.99; and $13.99
Amazon: $8.85
Nook: $13.99

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
iTunes: $1.99 and $2.99
Amazon: Not available as an e-book
Nook: $9.99

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
iTunes: $0.99; $1.99; $2.99; and $8.99
Amazon: $8.99
Nook: $11.99

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
iTunes: $0.99; $1.99; $2.99; $3,99; and $8.99
Amazon: $8.99
Nook: $8.99

And there are more examples. I'm just asking the question why so many cheap editions can be had on iTunes but not on Amazon or Nook. You would think Amazon would price match unless some legal issue is involved. It's unusual to see such a price disparity, but the iTunes cheap editions can be had for only certain authors and not others. I don't see anything cheap for, say, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, or Robert Ludlum.

Seems a bit strange to me, that's all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Famous People: Stay Away From Me

I was in a bookstore in Washington, DC's Georgetown neighborhood some time ago. Checking out the new books and bargain shelves and whatnot. I felt someone looking at me so I turned away from the book covers and standing at the end of the book range was a man in a suit with sunglasses, an earpiece, and packing heat. He wasn't in there for the books. Then I looked to the other side of me and I suddenly noticed not five feet away was one of the most famous and powerful men in the entire country.

My immediate reaction was to slowly but surely put physical distance between me and the celebrity. The last thing I want is to be in the crosshairs of a security detail with itchy trigger fingers.

After I had extricated myself from the danger zone, my next thought was, What the hell are you doing in here? This place is for normal people. Famous people like you don't belong here, so go home! I've wondered what prompts such people to temporarily think of themselves as commoners and pretend they can shop and browse like anyone else. And the dude in the bookstore actually seemed uncomfortable that I was so near him! It made me think that power can twist the human mind in a knot, for those who aren't suited to handle it.

It's always a problem when powerful people of the kind who walk around with security details following them decide they are going to mingle with the common folk. Think of President Obama and Joe Biden going out to lunch at a local eatery. The traffic jams. The security. Everyone has to get out of the way. It's hell for everyone but them. And for what? Pretending is what politicians do, along with actors and entertainment folk. They have that in common.

I don't get a thrill from meeting celebrities. I consider them a nuisance. And I don't want them around me because a lot of things can likely happen and none of them are good. But I'm aware that a lot of people love celebrities so much they are willing to pay for the privilege of shaking their hand and snapping a photo. I mean the "Meet & Greet" events that are usually associated with entertainment acts.

I wouldn't know because I've never paid for such a thing, so I went to Google and it seems these Meet & Greets can cost anywhere from below $100 to at least $1,000--for example, a photo op with Miley Cyrus. It all depends on whether the artist is A List, B List, C List, or lower.

I've thought of all the people in the world I admire and can't come up with even one name of anybody I would be willing to pay to see up close and shake their hand and snap a selfie. A hundred bucks? A thousand? Somehow I'm immune to this celebrity virus that causes so many others to go bonkers at the sight of such people.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

I Don't Need A Personal Library Book Embosser

I was going through some used books the other day and noticed some of them included a personal library book embossed stamp on the first page. And the books had been owned by a few different people.

It occurred to me at that moment that it had never occurred to me in my life that I might want my own book embosser so I could include one of those round stamps in all my books that said, "From the Library of Stephen Leary."

What's the value of such a stamp, I'm now wondering. Vanity? A way to claim ownership of the book so everybody knows it's mine, unless a thief steals it and tears off the embossed page?

After perusing Amazon, I see these embossing devices sell for about $20, which I think is pretty cheap. But no matter what the price, it seems pointless and a waste of time and effort. Unless you are a famous author, the stamp doesn't add value to the book, it detracts from it. And anyway, a book's value is enhanced by a famous author's signature, not his embossed stamp. Nothing stopping me from buying an embosser and stamping "From the Library of Ernest Hemingway" in all my books. Doesn't prove Hemingway ever owned my books.

I expect somehow "digital embossers" will appear soon so those of us who own e-books can emboss them with our digital stamp. But who would see the stamp besides me, the owner, so who cares?

Supposedly Apple is working on a way to digitally sign e-books, which seems more useful and exciting.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Price of a Painting Versus the Price of an Ebook

Over the weekend I stopped by a Farmer's Market in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. In addition to the food vendors were several artists selling their paintings.

The prices, I knew before looking, were steep. $100 for a small painting. Bins with small prints inside plastic wrappers: $50. I wish I could support local artists and buy their paintings but my wallet screamed at me to stay away. I'm not doubting for a moment they are talented artists.

When I saw the price tags on the paintings, I immediately thought of my own ebooks on Amazon's Kindle store, and those of so many other writers. $2.99. And $0.99. Heck, skilled authors are giving away their books free of charge! Some very talented writers are selling their creative output for a mere fraction of what you must pay for a small work of art--and we're not even talking originals, but just prints and things of lesser value than the original.

I think the writers (myself included) who sell on Amazon are as talented at what we do as those painters are at their chosen artistic medium. Yet 50 of our ebooks could be bought for the price on one small work of art at that market. Ebooks are a far better value than paintings. How many authors can put a price tag of $100 on their ebooks and expect to sell any? How many copies of their paintings do those artists sell?

Even the most popular writers on the planet sell their books for somewhere between $5-$10 and lower prices can be had through regular sales promotions.

Ebooks sell much better than paintings, I suspect. Millions of books are sold every year. Paintings? Far fewer. Suppose they were priced the same as ebooks? Why aren't they?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My New Story "The Planetary Emergency" Now on Amazon

My latest story "The Planetary Emergency" is now on Amazon.

Floyd Anvil is upset. A planetary emergency threatens the Earth yet people go about their normal lives as if nothing is wrong. Why aren't they taking action? Don't they recognize the impending danger? The mainstream news media understands the problem but isn't doing enough. An army of deniers is turning public opinion away from the reality of the crisis. How will we save the Earth if no one cares, Floyd wonders. This is Volume 2 of the National Security Short Story Series.

Soon I'll have another volume in the series and then my next novel, "Drone Fever."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Latest Story "Where Is The President?" Now on Amazon

My latest story, "Where Is The President?" is now available on Amazon.

Riots. Cities are on fire across the United States. Police are shot and killed by thugs. But the President of the United States is nowhere to be found. Where is he? Why is he silent? And when will he appear again to calm the nation and provide leadership during this time of extreme crisis?

This is the first volume of my National Security Short Story Series. More to come.

My next novel is "Drone Fever" which I expect will take another month or so.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Traditional Versus Self-Publishing Your Books

If there is one giant motivator for self-publishing books rather than trying the traditional route, it's the success stories from writers who hit the jackpot on their own.

Mark Dawson is one of the latest. After his first-self-published book failed, he embarked on a new plan:
“I wanted to put together something that was a bit easier and quicker write and something a bit more contemporary. So I started writing a series about a character called John Milton who’s an assassin.” 
Since Dawson started the John Milton series in June 2013, he has sold 300,000 copies. There are six books in total at around 80 to 90 thousand words per book. Most of which were written when Dawson held down a full-time job and raised two young children.

I've always thought traditional book publishers offered a writer something extremely valuable: instant credibility as an author. If you were backed by an agent and publisher, you must be good. You were now a member of the elite writing establishment. But Publishers Weekly says the "stigma" of self-publishing is a thing of the past:
The view of self-publishing as an outlet of last resort for desperate authors is also changing—the negative stigma that’s long been associated with the industry is being discarded for a more progressive outlook, along with the acknowledgement that self-publishing and traditional publishing can coexist and even benefit one another.

With self-publishing for anyone comes a glutted market and the question of how to stand out in such a large crowd. The ground has shifted radically in just a few years says the New York Times:
For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel. 
Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.
The traditional publishing route is for those who can afford to wait a long time from finished book to its publication--apparently about a year. If you self-publish, you can have it online tomorrow. Books published the traditional way easily find their way onto bookstore shelves, while for self-published authors, that is a rare event--unless you walk in and place your books on the shelves yourself.

I think it would be much easier to get noticed and sell books if I were to become a famous person. Name recognition along the lines of some old-style literary media stars, like Norman Mailer or Gore Vidal, to name 2, er, mediagenic writers of days gone by. Name recognition. Once people know your name, the sales will follow. But in today’s public arena, how does one go about that objective when everybody in all walks of life scream their heads off in an attempt to gain attention? My problem is that I don’t feel such behavior is natural to me and therefore it’s tougher to join in on the fun.

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