Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holidays ramblings 2012

Been a helluva year, hasn't it?

I often sit back and think about what I'll remember about any given time period. In the fourteen years I've been living in Pennsylvania, here are the things, in no particular order, that really stand out for me:
  • The first sight of my new home, and my future wife Mona, after twenty-four straight hours of driving a U-Haul with a cranky cat in the passenger seat. 
  • Turning on the TV on a September morning and hearing about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, and watching live as another one hit it. And seeing both towers crumble a short time later. 
  • Stopping at a house in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania to see about buying a dog, and watching as the seller opened a cage and this little furry sausage shoot out with her ears flopping like Dumbo on take off. That was our first meeting with little Emiko Marie Meyer, eternal puppy extraordinaire. 
  • Digging a hole in the backyard and placing the lifeless body of my dog Buster in it. Never was there a more faithful mutt.
  • Watching footage of the remains of the Columbia plummeting to Earth, and agree with John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon that it was indeed a beautiful way to die. 
  • My wife, having heard chirping outside our living room window, bringing in a tiny gray-and-white kitten that barely covered the palm of one hand, which the mother had abandoned under a bush; and the phone call at work saying she'd found two more; and the months of hand-feeding three little furballs that was so bloody expensive yet so bloody joyful.
  • Finally getting to see Blue Oyster Cult in concert, after decades of enjoying their music. And wishing that my best friend Dave had been there to raise his beer with me to the strains of "Golden Age of Leather."
How's that for morose holiday remembrances? Yeah, it can be that way sometimes. That's life, and I calls them like I sees them. I really should've been an umpire. 

On happier notes, I look at what I've managed to do over this same time period. I've got a family, at least the kind of family I've always wanted. I've got a loving wife and I've got a load of children; they may be furry, but they are my children - anyone out there would be well to remember that. You touch my wife or kids and I will seriously fuck you up.

I've kind of started a new career. Well, at least it's a hobby. This writing thing isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, since I can't get as serious about it as a lot of writers do, but at least it pays my cable internet bill. And it keeps me off the street. I'm even blogging every week, something I figured I'd never do because I could never think of ever having enough to say to do it regularly.

I've managed to get back in contact with a lot of old friends. By my personal definition of "family," I consider them as such. I hope they appreciate how much I've enjoyed their friendship over the years. My sincerest good wishes to Larry, Jim, and all the others and their families for the coming year. 

There have been a lot of new friends as well.

Some have already left, like Johnnie Sninsky and Joe Pinkasavage, two men I feel honored to have been able to know. Johnnie and his son Dennis have, from Day 1, made me feel like I was welcome here in this little town; Walking into the gas station Johnnie ran (and now Dennis runs), it was like I had always been there, part of the gang. Joe was the same, and was such a font of knowledge about the area, and everything, that it is still so hard to to imagine him walking into the station even now.

I've met a lot of people on-line as well, mostly as part of this burgeoning "career" I've started. Like I said, a lot of writers take things real serious; luckily, a lot of them also don't. Dan, Kristina, Kat, Laurie, David, Stephen, Jen, Laura, Erin, Karen, Susan, Jack, Nancy, Cathy, Jennie, Melanie, Jo, Carol, Nickie, Audrey, Nick, Connie, Alice, and all the others I've forgotten and will edit in later after someone sends me a note later, I hope you all have a great year coming up. And thanks for putting up with my eccentricities. 

Ten things that people should know about me:

  1. I don't take things seriously. Unless, like Dalton in Roadhouse, it's time to take things seriously.
  2. I make jokes. A lot. And I will joke about anything. So don't take offense. Or go ahead; that's your prerogative and it's no skin off my nose. 
  3. I am an agnostic, leaning toward atheism. The hope that I will spend the afterlife fighting Ragnarok with the Justice Society is the only thing that keeps me from going completely anti-deist. 
  4. I am a liberal, but I don't like considering myself a Democrat. I also see nothing wrong with Socialism per se, as long as it's purity is maintained. 
  5. I mean what I say. I'm not a completely tactless bastard, but I usually call things for what they are. 
  6. I fear no man or god.
  7. I listen to Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Motorhead, and Rick Springfield on a regular basis. 
  8. Seven Samurai is the best movie ever committed to celluloid. 
  9. I share cat pictures on Facebook. Deal with it. 
  10. And this is the single most beautiful piece of music ever written by mankind:

Naturally, that was "mankind" as a whole, and not Mankind, the wrestler. 

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever happens to trip your trigger. Try to look out for each other in the coming year, okay? Remember Karma can be a bitch, so do something cool now and again for somebody else. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It was fifty years ago today...

September 30th, 1962 was a pretty normal day for most people. The Cubs beat the Mets, but back then almost anyone could do that. I suppose most folks didn't realize that day marked the end of a truly momentous era in US history. September 30th, 1962 was the official end of the Golden Age of Radio.

It wasn't "the day the music died" or anything like that. It was the day the music almost completely took over the airways of the country. The final two episodes of the last two network dramatic radio programs aired on September 30th, 1962: Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Until the recent days of on-demand video on the Internet, there wasn't anything that came close to the entertainment, advertising, and informational value of radio. Radio was the first medium that touched almost every single American household at the same time. The raw immediacy of the form struck a nerve that soon formed a powerful industry out of a fledgling hobby.

The Golden Age of Radio, from the thirties to the early sixties, saw media and entertainment dynasties formed, many of which still exist today. Powerhouses like the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting Company (now NBC and ABC) down to fan favorites like American Bandstand owe their longevity and socio-economic impact to those glory days.

There was so much wonderful content produced back then: Comedy by the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and drama by Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and Orson Welles. You can still hear the report of the destruction of the Hindenburg, FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech, and Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series.

We're lucky that there is a large number of old-time radio programs that still survive. There are literally thousands of them that you can find on the Internet and listen to for free. But there is so much that either was not transcribed to record or tape, or that had the recordings carelessly or callously destroyed over the decades that it is almost criminal; A lot of creative people, a lot of daily events, a lot of life that deserves to be remembered is gone forever.

Perhaps this won't happen again. I'm constantly amazed at the old TV shows I can find lurking in dusty corners of the Internet. Maybe we're finally in an era where everything about our society will be kept, either for nostalgia's sake or whatever. When I think about the end of radio's Golden Age back in 1962, I have to wonder if that's something that could happen to radio again. Talk radio is still growing and pushing music stations off the air - political pundits are apparently much more soothing to people than pop music now. One would really hope that America has learned its lesson and will stand up and support free entertainment.

One would also think Honey Boo Boo wouldn't have become a hit either. We do seem to like to watch the train wreck instead of taking the logs off the tracks.

For those of you interesting, here are the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, courtesy of archive.org.

Two other links I'd like to post in commemoration of this day:

WJSV Complete Broadcast Day: Also available on archive.org is this unique broadcast. WJSV in Washington recorded their entire day of programming on September 21st, 1939. I've always thought it was one of the truly unique moments of radio, as you can listen to how it was done, from 6am sign-on to the final sign-off at night. .

Lum and Abner Comic Strip: Lum and Abner was a popular program of radio's Golden Age, and one of the funniest. Artist Donnie Pitchford has created a syndicated comic strip based on Pine Ridge, Arkansas' premier citizens, which is posted every Sunday at firstarkansasnews.net.  To my knowledge, it is really the only radio-related property being used in any form right now, and is a great strip to boot.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Why is what I think funny funny and most of the crap you see on TV right now just that – crap? I honestly have no clue.  I just know what makes me laugh.

I can guffaw at the right Three Stooges short, but really the Marx Brothers were THE movie comedy team for me. “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” is a song that always brings back memories of good times. Animal Crackers is up there with Cary Grant’s Father Goose as my all-time favorite funny flick.

You know what really makes me laugh? Let me tell you the three comedy masterminds that have most influenced what I perceive as "funny."

Monty Python. My mom took me to the drive-in once and it happened to be showing a double feature of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and And Now For Something Completely Different. How’s that for the proverbial defining moment. The prosaic humor of Happy Days and Mork and Mindy would never quite ring true again.

Buddy Hackett. Yeah, that Buddy Hackett, the short, fat little guy from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and numerous other movies and talk shows. You know why he’s on this list? Because of one routine. At one show, Buddy picked a very straight-laced-looking lady in the audience and proceeded to tell her a “dirty” joke that he said she could tell anyone. I don’t even remember what the joke was, other than it was quaint and almost syrupy. After the prerequisite laugh, he asked her if she’d like to hear another one. A nod and “Okay, there were these two fags fucking a dead alligator in the back of a bus…”  Yeah, yeah, not P.C., I know. But I know at least four people who watched it with me that were rolling on the floor laughing after the punch line. I mean, Buddy Hackett? C'mon!

Following that, there was only one option: Seek out the Master … the original shock comic. The “sick” comic. Lenny Bruce. 

The bastards fucked that man over so badly. Sure, some of it was his own doing, as part of his own marketing scheme gone awry, but as time went on there was no way to tell where promotion ended and Lenny began. His albums were blandly vicious, as a lot of things just could not be put to vinyl back then. Hell, half of his first album isn’t even Lenny – it’s some other comic that barely sounds like him.  The parts that are his are masterful; such as the bleeped-out Lawrence Welk auditioning an addict of a jazz man for his band, and Father Flotsky’s Triumph, a parody of thirties’ prison flicks, which are wonderful and funny bits that transcend most of the comedy that was available at the time.

Many fans criticized him for never doing most of the bits from his albums in his shows. I could never understand that. Why would you pay to see someone recite comedy shticks you’ve already heard? Maybe you can enjoy the five hundredth millionth “You might be a redneck” routine, but I’ve got better ways to spend my time and money rather than hope for one new gem out of a dozen of rehashed throwaway lines.

It is the live performances that strike the nerves. We’re lucky in that several of them still survive unedited. The Carnegie Concert and The Berkeley Concert are available in audio, and you can probably find the Lenny Bruce Performance film around. Lenny Bruce was the master of observational humor, and he didn’t really tell jokes or do shticks. He made observations and brought forth a lot of basic truths in a manner that made them both understandable and got them right in your face. The Berkeley Concert’s opening bit about religion and the growth of society is masterful in its simplicity. And then he’d throw a counterpoint out like wondering if Bela Lugosi liked smelling his own armpits when he lifted his cape to scare someone. Lenny just talked to his audience, and had them eating out of his hand.  One of my single favorite observations he made was “Everyday people are straying away from the Church and going back to God.” If that isn’t prescience, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, the many legal problems Lenny Bruce had, as well as his addiction to drugs took their toll on him. His concerts, as somewhat evidenced in the Performance film, became personal indictments leveled at the system that had attacked him, and Lenny became the joke rather than seeing it. Once that happened, there really was no alternative to his eventual fate. He was a product of a changing time that changed a little faster than he was allowed to follow. His death by overdose was preordained; as much of a waste as it was, I would like to think it was his own choice - to end things on what was left of his terms rather than let the forces against him take even that from him.

Lenny Bruce once said “The only honest art form is laughter … comedy. You can’t fake it. Try to fake three laughs in an hour – ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha – they’ll take you away, man. You  can’t.”

Funny doesn’t have to make you laugh. Funny can also make you think, and usually that’s the very best kind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Week 12 The Next Big Thing Blog Tour

Here is Week 12 of The Next Big Thing Blog tour. And you get the privilege of me. 

Okay, these blog tour things ... meh. I got tagged by Laurie E. Boris. If it hadn't been someone I knew, I probably wouldn't have done it. 

I'm not the kind of person who blogs just for the sake of blogging. Too many people think they have to yammer every day about anything just to keep their name in the search engines and on Twitter. Bleh. I don't have to feed that kind of ego. 

Why is there a pic of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs here? If you have to ask...

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Blog and keep your name out there! Exposure is the key!" Well, I try to blog only when I have something somewhat reasonably interesting to say. I'll go months without posting, or post every day for six weeks, but never just because I want to read myself talking. 

So on that note, here we go with das questions! Too-dah-doo-doot! Huzzah!

1.      What is the working title of your book?
I'm currently working on six books semi-actively:
  • Ruby's Story, an illustrated children's book based on the recent adoption of my blind kitten.
  • Lost Voices, a cyclopedia of information and trivia about 101 near-forgotten old-time radio programs. 
  • A sci-fi superhero novel that I'll probably call Pandora City
  • And three of my ubiquitous quiz books, Horror Movies, Comic Books and a general one with ten separate subjects. 

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
They all just seemed like good ideas at the time. I was inspired by a couple of Facebook friends and their children's books for Ruby's Story. I'm a lifelong fan of old-time radio and do what I can to make sure that the wonderful programs from that era aren't lost to the winds of time and memory. Pandora City is a super-hero tale that I've been working and re-working in my head for several years now. I keep starting it and then decide "no, that's hokey" and restart it. It's gonna be a tad derivative, at least to me, but then what isn't?

The quiz books are quickies ... usually I can write a hundred good questions in a day, so even my longest books take less than two weeks on average. 

3.      What genre does your book fall under?
Children's, Reference, science fiction/superheroes and Games/Puzzles

4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No bloody idea. Wouldn't really care, either, since once somebody would buy my work, it's out of my hands.  

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ruby's Story: Life through the experiences of a kitten who born blind.
Lost Voices: A compendium of information about old radio shows.
Pandora City: A team of super-powered heroes battle an ancient thaumaturgist to stop all time from falling apart.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published. Only fools use agencies in this day and age.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Two hours (not counting the artwork, which will probably end up making it two months), two years, and two to ten days, respectively.

8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Not really sure yet. . 

9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Kat Brooks and Dvora Swickle's children's books, my enjoyment for old-time radio and hatred of incorrect anecdotal information, my life-long enjoyment of comic books and super-hero squabbles, and my fascination of trivia and spending money, respectively.

10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think all of them will be interesting, family-friendly, somewhat enlightening, all in different ways. Ruby's Story and Pandora City I hope will be as fun to read as they will be to write. 

Next Week, the Next Big Thing Blog Tour will be going to the much more urbane and upbeat blogs of Aaron Speca and Stephanie Brown Myers. Be sure to give them a look-see!


Rules for the Next Best Thing Blog Tour
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) ***
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. It’s that simple.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing
1.      What is the working title of your book?
2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?
3.      What genre does your book fall under?
4.      Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
9.      Who or What inspired you to write this book?
10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Does it take someone special to adopt a special-needs pet?

The short answer to that question is “No, not really.”

Special-needs pets. The term itself sounds foreboding in a politically correct sort of way, doesn’t it? The phrase has become a name tag for thousands of pets awaiting adoption in shelters and rescues across the country and indeed the world. The term is also broad and covers a lot of ground, much like we have many similar phrases for similarly-problematic human beings. We do need those phrases though, don’t we? In the cases of special pets, they can be a great way to drop a barrier between a pet and a prospective forever family.

Special-needs pets can fit into a large range of situations. They can be formerly abused animals, neglected animals, physically-challenged animals, deaf and/or blind animals, and even simply older or elderly pets. They are all pets that either haven’t been given much of a chance by humans, or have been hurt by humans, or have been simply abandoned by their former masters, either through malice or economic need.

Long before the phrase became a catchword, back when I first got out on my own, I adopted an older cat from the local Humane Society in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I could have gotten a kitten; believe me, there were plenty of them there. But instead I decided to opt for a little less active cat that I saw there; I just wanted the cat for companionship, as I have almost always had pets around the house.  I also knew that there were loads of families who would want to adopt kittens, but not that many who want a "pre-owned" pet, if you know what I mean. Her name was already Lu, so I kept it that, and she came home with me. As you can see in the photo below, she was a big fluffy girl, very lovable and was wont to tell me she wanted attention by plopping herself on top of whatever book I might happen to be reading.  She and I moved to Pennsylvania, but unfortunately I had to have her put down back in 1999, due to kidney failure. It was the first time I had to face that bleak prospect, and it isn’t one that I wanted to go through again. My little girl had been with me for eight years, and I suspect she had been at least six to nine years old to begin with, so at least she had a relatively long, pain-free life.

After moving to Pennsylvania, my wife Mona and I decided to adopt a dog. We had two cats at the time, Lu and Mona’s pet Whobee. Into that mix came Buster, a Jack Russell terrier mutt who we were told was only a year old, but later discovered was a few years older. Buster was definitely a “special-needs” animal. He had been abused by former owners, who burnt him with cigarettes, and he spent a large period of time outside in the wild and the elements.  He wasn’t a very well-adjusted dog at the shelter, getting into fights and all sorts of things. But there was something about him that really clicked with me; Mona was a little more reticent, but she eventually came to love him as much as I did.

Buster had a habit of hoarding food. He would collect as much of it as he could when offered, and then run off to some little hidey-hole and stash it for later. He once put two dog biscuits in his mouth the long way, and nonchalantly pranced off to hide them. I am so glad he usually only did this with dry dog biscuits, because I’m betting I still haven’t found all his little doggie caches around the house. One time outside on the patio, we tossed him an ice cube, which he quickly crunched down. The next one we threw him, he took into the backyard and buried it for later. I was quite literally rolling on the ground laughing when I saw him do that. He was such a sweet little hound. 

Buster’s main problem was his excitability. I believe that from living in the outdoors for so long, he developed an intense fear of thunderstorms, and would howl and fret and pace frantically throughout the house. We gradually learned to stay calm with him, and even got some herbal medication to calm him from the local naturopath for when he was getting too rowdy. You could see in Buster’s eyes that he was sorry for what he was doing, but he didn’t have any control. We’d just give him his meds, talk to him calmly and hug him as much as we could to get him back to normal.  Buster has been gone for a few years now, having died at home from an undiagnosed illness (we believe it was kidney failure, and it struck very quickly).  He wHe

As you might notice, Buster got along with everybody.

The newest member of the family is the only one who shows any outwards signs of being a special-needs animal. But you probably wouldn’t even notice at first. Ruby Xev is a black kitten we adopted from the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA in Pine Grove, Pennsylania. We had gone down there one Saturday to donate some pet food, and decided to wander around the pens, looking at the cats and kittens, with no intention of adopting any.  Well, both me and my wife couldn’t get little Ruby out of our heads afterwards. Ruby’s only problem was that she had a major eye infection and was blind (initially, we thought she had some sight remaining in her eyes, but I don’t believe that was the case).  We went out and got all the accoutrements that a young kitten requires, including a cage to keep her in when we were gone. Then, about two weeks before we were planning to adopt her, we got a heart-rending email from the shelter saying that one of Ruby’s eyes had ruptured and she was heading to Allentown for emergency surgery. She came through that fairly well, but ended up with a case of pneumonia. Luckily, she responded well to treatment, and we ended up taking her home about a week sooner than we normally would have, just so she wouldn’t have to stay in the shelter and mix with all the normal contaminants in the air from the other cats and kittens.

Mona about to put Ruby Xev in the carrier for her ride to her forever home.

Ruby Xev has been a literal eye-opener. Three quarters of the time, it is so very hard to believe that there’s anything at all wrong with this little fireball of fur. She has a better memory than I have, remembering the layout of the rooms, heights of chairs she likes to climb up and jump down from, and where the litter boxes are. She still occasionally runs into things, usually if she's chasing one of the other cats. It took maybe a week, but she soon came running with all the other cats at the first release of air from a cat food can by the opener. There are times when I think she’s got something more than sight; you can wave your fingers at her from a yard away, and she’ll act like she’s noticing them and often leap and actually grab them.  Ruby’s a little more physical in her dealings with other creatures, I assume because she’s making up for the missing sense.  Her little Wolverine-claws are always out, but almost always to swipe playfully, not painfully. She’s one of the more amazing individuals it has been my luck to know.

Certainly there are special-needs animals that need more personal care than the three that we’ve adopted.  Many dogs and cats require special trolleys and carriers with wheels so they can move around when their spines and legs don’t work properly. Many don’t adapt nearly as well as Ruby did to blindness or deafness. They take a little more care and understanding than your average pet, at least at the beginning. Once you both get into sync with each other, you won’t even notice a problem. There are millions of pets out there in the world who are looking for families to stay with. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a regular pet, but anyone can do that. If you have just a little more time and love to give someone, why not adopt a special needs pet? The end result is the same: You help a creature in need, and in return you get a new member of your family who will love you as much as you love them.

 A "too-much" loveseat soon to become a "one-cat" loveseat, after a cloud of fur and claws.

Some excellent special-needs animal pages on Facebook:

I’d also like to give a shout out to the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA. They do FANTASTIC work and deserve all the support you local folks in Schuylkill County can give them. You can find them at their Facebook page and at their regular website.  Please stop by and give them a “like” if you get a chance.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fear-mongering Among the Indies

Indie writers, over the course of the past two years, have been the victims of what I term “fear-mongering” from many sources. One could look at it as a paranoid pattern of hatred for independent writers by those who are frightened by what their blatant freedom from the constrictions of the traditional publishing formula brings to the industry. Unfortunately, I don’t buy that particular explanation; there are, quite simply, a lot of stupid and arrogant and spiteful people out there.

Let’s look back to late 2010/early 2011. Someone noticed that an author had self-published a book on Amazon championing pedophilia. The national media got a hold of the story and things went viral with hatred for this book, and e-book authors in general by association, with screams for a monitoring system. Personally, I could care less if someone publishes a story featuring bondage, discipline or what not; it’s just a story. Raptor Jesus knows there are plenty of proponents and opponents to that sort of fiction, all with the proper justification. But the book in question was one of a number of similar titles that laid out plans for a pedophile to actually meet up with a child. That’s NOT okay. I am a proponent of the First Amendment and the right to Freedom of Speech. People who want that right also have to remember that with any right comes RESPONSIBILITY. Say what you like, but don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater; you also don’t tell creepy men how to rape children. 

Then we had a minor shakedown by Paypal when the on-line payment service refused to process payments on Smashwords for books of an erotic nature (oh, let’s face it: 90% of them were out-and-out porn).  Mark Coker got his name in the news battling for “the rights of his authors” on this one, even though the no pornography thing had been a part of Paypal’s terms of service for years. Score one for Mr. Coker for getting it solved; score two for making the mainstream media think all indie writers do is scribble down wanking material. 

Last month, a blogger posted that they had used a photographer’s picture without permission and that said photographer was making their life miserable wanting money for the use of said photo. The case in question was being arbitrated between lawyers for each party; it had never gotten to the court stage. Suddenly, it was posted all over Facebook and indie authors were in an uproar. "Oh my God! I’ve got to delete all these photos! Everything I’ve ever stolen for use on my website! They’ll take my house, my car, my kids! Swing loooow, sweet chaaaaariot!"  Ahem.  Sorry. People started worrying about that. Instead of simply using some common sense and trying to understand the basics of copyright and trademark law, or simply e-mailing some artists and photographers for permission, or even just giving their pics a line of attribution, they went into frenzies and deleted photos right and left.

We had a rumor that Amazon was stealing reviews. The company was going around and deleting reviews that they could substantiate as having been “paid for.” Yes, apparently there is a sub-class of indie author that are so incredibly wealthy that they can pay people to review their books. They also might just be incredibly stupid, and I’m not ruling out both.  FYI, I was not given the key to that particular clubhouse, and I don’t know anyone who has been. But apparently there have been enough people willing to consider paying $400 for what may be a bad review that folks believe this to be something that is happening. Who knows? I suppose it could actually be true, but considering the difficulty it usually takes to just get an email from someone at Amazon’s KDP program, I just can’t see them wasting the manpower or computer time doing this. There was another rumor floating around at the same time that Amazon was going to get rid of every author who didn’t have at least three titles published. Yeah, they’re going to get rid of what, a million books in their catalog like an after-thought? I think not.

Conversely, there is an elite tribe of idiots who supposedly troll the Amazon listings just to give bad reviews and ratings to the books of indie writers. This is apparently actually happening, or at least there are a lot of morons taking credit for it. There are also a lot of people out there who can’t deal with a bad review and thus, that review is automatically from one of the “Amazon Trolls.” Get real, folks! You are going to get a bad review now and again. I’ve got them, and I’ve given them. I have no compunctions about doing so if a book is mediocre to outright stinky, and I will do my best to explain why I think that, just like I will try to explain why I think a book is the cat’s pajamas. But you have to remember: Not everyone likes cats.

And then, we now have Bloggers Gone Wild! There are a number of bloggers out there who are perplexingly attacking indie writers, even though sometimes they themselves are indie writers. They usually fall into three categories:
  1. Writers should treat us like GODS, for that is what we are – we have the power of our blog review in our hands to bestow glory upon them, or smite them down like the dogs they are! 
  2. Writer-bloggers who rant about the fact that they’ve given their books away for free to people to review, and they didn’t jump with a smart click of their boots and read and review that book the instant it was sent into the ether to them. A couple have even gone so far to publish lists of “bad reviewers,” apparently not caring which foot they shoot off, since they figure how many feet do you actually need to ride a unicycle going backward? On the other side, some blogger-writers felt they shouldn’t EVER give away their work for free, since it cheapens everyone in the industry. Sure. 
  3. Writers are pretty superfluous and a dime a dozen. I’ll get to this review, which will be mediocre at best, after I make sure my own agenda is put forth in glowing, mile-high letters on the internet.
We also have the viewpoint that is championed by Mark Coker at Smashwords that everything Amazon is bad. Amazon is evil! Amazon will steal your firstborn in the dead of night! Amazon sparkles like lame vampires! More power to you and your opinion, dude. It’s a free country. I have statistical proof that for me, my sales have more than tripled using Amazon KDP and KDP Select. I will also say that my sales on Smashwords have increased, since I did actually have a single sale on the site this year, as opposed to let me see … carry the one … none last year. When Smashwords and its “premium channels” have the distribution and promotional firepower of Amazon KDP, and the KDP Select program in particular, drop me a line. Hopefully, I’ll still be alive then, and the sun won’t have turned into a frozen ball of ice.

We’ve also got a lot of less-than-attentive authors out there, and the fear-mongering has given them paranoid trigger fingers, for guns that are shooting in the wrong direction. Recently there was a major e-book bootlegging operation working out of Canada. Besides getting Paypal to stop taking payments for them, nothing much was done about it. At the same time, people were concerned and started Googling their books and noticed they were showing up on a site called Lendink.com. Jumpin’ pie-jiggers! People are getting my book for free! Everyone, gang up and let’s shut this bastard down!

Had anyone actually gone to this site, they would’ve found it was a simple site that facilitated lending of Kindle books between people. For those of you who don’t know, most indie Kindle books (and quite a few from other publishers) can be lent out. Once.  For fourteen days. You buy a Kindle book that has the lending option and you can lend it to someone else ONCE. That’s it. There have been numerous sites that have sprung up over the past two years that support this and help people get together and find books they want. It is NOT PIRACY. It is, in fact, not a big deal at all. 

Unfortunately, the guy who created Lendink.com was hounded, his family was threatened, and his host service finally was forced to drop him because of all the extra work they had to put into his account. All for doing something that a lot of authors apparently didn’t read the small print about when they saw that little box about lending that was clicked right above the “Publish” button they pushed with wild abandon.

There is a LOT of simple hatred for indie writers out there on the internet. The Kindle forums on Amazon are full of it. People think indie writers are not as skilled as “proper writers,” that they don’t bother editing their books so there are hundreds and thousands of errors in them, and even big-name mystery author Sue Grafton calls them lazy.

It is true. We ARE lazy. We don’t jump through the hoops that everyone else had to in order to get started on their stellar, if alphabetical, writing careers. And that’s the thing: WE DON’T HAVE TO. We are here at the start of a dynamic new paradigm shift as the immediacy of the information age meets the eternally stodgy print world. We don’t have to worry about making sure there is a market segment for the books we create – WE make those segments and we find our own audiences. The old axiom that “everyone has a book” in them should soon be replaced with “everyone has published a book” as there are no barriers to what we do or create.

Don’t let the fear-mongers chase you away from the playing field before you get a chance to realize your dream.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Immortality and how to keep it.

I was thinking today about Frank Zappa. Most folks know I'm a big fan of his music. There's just something about the surrealistic feel of some of his numbers; the ideas he managed to convey through sound were simply amazing. If The Powers That Be were in tune with the real world, he would easily be one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century, and not just remembered by the mainstream for a couple of novelty songs in the late seventies and early eighties.

A friend of mine told me he had died back in December of 1993. It was so sudden to me, back in those days before the prevalence of the Internet. I don't think I've ever really come to terms with that bit of bad news, simply for that fact. But I continue to listen to his music almost every day. With one exception.

I have all of Frank's studio albums except one, and all the albums he intended to put out while he was living. In the grand scene of Frank's "Conceptual Continuity", I currently have everything he put out in which he made the listener part of that continuity. Bootlegs of concerts don't really count, as they were part of the conceptual continuity of the band and THAT particular audience. Unless Frank released them himself, they aren't his composition. I hope that's easier to understand than it is to explain.

The album I'm currently missing, "The Perfect Stranger" is one I've heard. But I still haven't played one album. "Thingfish" was one of Frank's pseudo-rock operas, much like "Joe's Garage" or "Billy the Mountain." I've read the lyrics and it is hilarious at times. But right now, I have no inclination to listen to it.

Why? Because once I listen to that final album, there's no more. The conceptual continuity that I'm in will be finished. My part as a receptor for this long-running piece of aural art will be over. And Frank will finally be dead for me.

Can you understand the idea I'm trying to relay here? I love pulp magazines from the thirties and forties, particularly Doc Savage. He was basically Batman-without-a-cape, for you youngsters in the crowd. I've been reading reprints of his books since I was about ten years old. There are 181 original stories featuring Doc. I'm only up to number 157. Why? Again, because when I finish them, there will be no more. Sure, some other writer will occasionally put out a short series of books (there's actually a new series out right now), but no matter who writes them, the feeling it rarely the same. I've had the whole series on my Kindle for about four years now. I read a Doc Savage novel, and then read about ten or fifteen other books before going to the next.  I think that for as long as there is still another adventure to read, I'll be as ageless as Doc and his men. "An indubitably ludicrous apprehension" as Doc's wordy assistant Johnny would probably say, though with much bigger words.

I think I grab onto these little things like many people do, to have some semblance of control over their lives. Things change far, far too quickly nowadays. People come and go. Just a little anchor can help keep a person sane, even if it seems completely meaningless to someone else. Everything has some meaning, some value to someone out there.


Edited by L. B. Clark

Here is a collection of excellent short stories, all with the theme of music running through them.

Reading this book to review it inspired this post, and all the proceeds go to the MusiCares Foundation, which helps musicians through hard times.