Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dear Voters

Dear Voters,

 If you are as anti-deficit as you say you are and as fiscally conservative as you say you are, then you should have no problem raising revenues on the richest 2% of the country. They don't pay those taxes now, but boy are they creating lots of jobs. (That is sarcasm for the literal minded.)

It isn't Entitlement that I want from my government, it is Protection. Regulation that protects Wall Street from creating risky financial instruments that suck all the money off of Main Street, out of employer's pockets and puts it into Goldman Sachs bonuses.  I want  protection from predators trying to take away my hard earned money.  We were so worried about the terrorist wolves abroad that you have allowed the economic terrorists at home to take your jobs, your money and your retirement funds.  

Now those recently elected are promising us less government.  Let me spell it out for you simply -- less government, equals less protection for you, the citizens.

I don't know about you, but I work with people employed by the government every day.  It is the individuals working for the government that make my life much easier and much happier.   Our local economy here would be devastated if you eliminated municipal workers, Hill Air Force Base, IRS employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters, court personnel, public defenders, prosecutors and the local university. If you eliminated all of those great people, who I guess you could say are on the government dole, the whole system would collapse and three quarters of the population wouldn't have a job.

What exactly are you railing against? If you are an independent business person, where are the wages coming that are buying your goods and paying your services? This isn't a pyramid scheme, this is society and civilization.

Most economists I've read feel that given the great economic engine that is the United States, the debt is fixable. The biggest problem we face and why we look at huge budget deficits is because for the past ten years we've been spending our money on blowing things up and pissing people around the world off, rather than building productive things.

Everyone seemed to have such glee watching Tomahawk missiles spray down on Baghdad, but we all seem to forget that each one of those missiles cost $1.4 million dollars. And when you spend that $1.4 million all you have left is a pile of rubble. What could your community do with just say, one Tomahawk missile? Granted the folks in Tuscon that make them see some of that benefit, but it is still $1.4 million gone in 60 seconds. What if you had used it to build a community center or park? The income would still have gone to Tuscon workers, but you'ld still have the community center. Or even better, loan the $1.4 million at little or no interest to local entrepreneurs to build a new business in the community, then you get the money back and have a new business.

And what would this argument be without all the health care scare tactics. The health care reform bill is an imperfect piece of legislation because that is what our system is designed to create. The compromise isn't creating bigger government. Apparently you are OK with large private insurance company bureaucracies that are designed to make money and deny you health care. That is the free market economy at work, but make damn sure you never get sick or have a chronic condition -- or at least make a lot of money so you can pay for your health care. I don't see why we should differentiate between police and fire protection and health care protection. These are necessary for all of us. The health care reform was a small step in eliminating some of the corporate bureaucratic costs associated with health care.

Here is the best argument I can see for heavily government regulated health care system (like you can't be denied for pre-existing conditions and rates are subject to government review, like we got in the new legislation) -- I can't vote for a new Insurance Company. I can vote for legislators to refine the health care system to make it even more equitable and affordable.

Do not forget, while propounding the Founding Fathers, that this is a government by the people and for the people.

We are the government and we have it to do things for us.

I say that we have it do some nice things for us (and to borrow a two year old phrase) for a change.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saul Bellow to Philip Roth

An interesting missive on why author's write.  I give much thanks to my brother Dave for sending me the letter.  I'm going to go get the book of all of Bellow's letters.

To Philip Roth:

January 7, 1984

Dear Philip:

I thought to do something good by giving an interview to People, which was
exceedingly foolish of me.  I asked Aaron [Asher] to tell you that the Good
Intentions Paving Company had fucked up again.  The young interviewer turned my
opinions inside out, cut out the praises and made it all sound like disavowal,
denunciation and excommunication.  Well, we're both used to this kind of thing,
and beyond shock.  In agreeing to take the call, and make a statement I was
simply muddle-headed.  But if I had been interviewed by an angel for
the Seraphim and Cherubim Weekly I'd have said, as I actually did say to the
crooked little slut, that you were one of our very best and most interesting
writers.  I would have added that I was greatly stimulated and entertained by
your last novel, and that of course after three decades I understood perfectly
well what you were saying about the writer's trade - how could I not understand,
or miss suffering the same pains.  Still our diagrams are different, and the
briefest description of the differences would be that you seem to have accepted
the Freudian explanation: A writer is motivated by his desire for fame, money
and sexual opportunities.  Whereas I have never taken this trinity of motives
seriously.  But this is an explanatory note and I don't intend to make a
rabbinic occasion of it.  Please accept my regrets and apologies, also my best
wishes.  I'm afraid there's nothing we can do about the journalists; we can only
hope that they will die off as the deerflies do towards the end of August.

- Saul Bellow, Letters

So what are your trinity of motives for writing?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Packing Books

I'm moving my physical library.  I'm at 30 boxes and not even half done.  I've read countless articles on digital books and I love my 350+ digital library that is with me all the time, but I've never once read anything about whether an important metaphor will be lost with the digital flood.

Words are so heavy.

Words overwhelm me, press down on me.  I pick up a box of books and the muscles strain and my breathing quickens.  I hold in my arms the lives of people -- authors, actors, translators, editors, typesetters, booksellers.  Their words are heavy.

Dust has accumulated on the shelf were they sat.  No book burning ash, but they have returned to dust.  I could start reading my library today and if I did nothing else, I would be dust before I finished.

Tomes are tombs where we bury our dead.   And the tombs are made of heavy granite.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Everyone Has Ink By the Barrel

Now everyone has ink by the barrel, the power will go to those who can hold our attention.

The changes in publishing are exciting, but how do you get past the narcissism of an audience of one?  The CEO of Border's stated, " “Everyone has a story to tell, pictures to share or advice to give."  Yes, we want to hear other people's stories, but even more so, we want our story heard, often to the exclusion of everyone else.  The paradox is we want connectivity and individuality.

Facebook quickly turns into numbing sameness.  Everyone may have pictures to share and advice to give -- and most of it is bad or mediocre at best.

Places like Borders, Amazon, B&N, Apple that allow us to self-publish are cashing in on our narcissism -- post your stuff for people to buy.  Maybe only 3 people will buy it, but hey, that is OK, because we publish everyone and 3 times everyone is a lot of money for us.  This is vanity publishing exploded into tiny little profitable bits.

I am in the race, but not the publish everything race.  I'm in the filter race.   Even the filter world will be fractioned, but the filter pie is the pie I want to eat -- not the crumbs of self-publishing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Problem with Retail

I wanted to buy something, so I went to Best Buy, Staples, Office Max, and Target.

Every response was the same: " This is only available on-line.  I could order it for you."

Uh, I can do that myself.  I wanted it today, not tomorrow.  Retail needs to be re-thunk.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Publishing Pendulum

Traditional publishing is restrictive.  The restriction comes from economic constraints on the publisher. Publishing has always been a few hits to lots of misses and the only way to eliminate the economic risk was an extreme conservative approach. Yes, many authors are feeling the liberation of not having to answer to those conservative publishing enclaves, but economics still govern.

The problem isn't being "branded" as a self published author, but rather the author never gets a brand. JA Konrath has a brand, "the self-publish" brand, which he has been cultivating for a couple of years quite successfully. This is why his books sell. Everyone knows who he is, even people who don't read his type of books.

Somewhere there is a happy in-between, a sweet spot where the author has freedom, the publisher allows it and readers get what they want and a lot of books get sold as everyone plays off each other's strengths and needs. I think that is the future and that the self-publishing pendulum will swing back until it is resting somewhere in the middle -- which is good news for the middleman.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Content, Content, Content

What makes a book last?
To play off the old real estate adage -- content, content, content.

I can't even keep up with the stuff I write, let alone anyone else, and I read -- a lot. As a publisher, I hope I can direct my readers to the types of content they desire. Desired content is as varied as humanity, so directing the reader to what they may be interested in feels like an overwhelming task.

I feel the tension as I've begun the publishing company in a whole new way. Immediate gratification seems to drive the human compulsion to buy. And motivating the compulsion to buy is what a business is all about. Content, however, is what gives the book legs. A great book is not like a great feast. A great book can sit on the shelf for decades and it will still be a great book. A great feast can sit on the table for about four hours before it starts to go bad. The battle between immediacy and longevity is just one paradox the writer and the publisher must face, but it is a biggie.

As a publisher, I hope I can provide great books and great feasts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Flood of Words

Authors and writers are finding themselves in a similar position to musicians, except that is hard to go on tour and play to large crowds. The entire blog tour idea is somewhat analogous, but no T-shirts and beer.

I'm not so sure how it will all work out either. It is a great time to be a reader is a little bit like saying it is a great time to be swimmer during a flood. I'm not sure what the landscape is going to look like after the flood, but everybody needs to be finding an ark.

I think the easiest way around the pandering of self-promotion is a straightforward, outright declaration of what your self-interest is. I just got finished reading Christopher Hitchen's memoir and his friendship and relationship with Martin Amis and Salaman Rushdie didn't stop him from commenting fully on those authors or praising their work.

Taste is taste. If you like someone's taste, odds are someone with similar taste will like yours too. Think staff recommendations at the indie book stores. It won't matter if it is a book written by them or a friend or relative. Influence comes from the reader's taste and finding other reader's with similar taste. Think of it as the log you grab as the Titanics of publishing sink.

So What Does It Take To Be Officially a Publisher?

I'd say four books is a start.

Falling Back To Earth
The Fourth World
Twisted Sister

The crazy thing -- this is going to be over ten within the next week or so. I will also be adding four or five more authors.

I love my new job (and I still have that attorney day job).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Books v. eBooks: A Non-Argument

Too much time is wasted on the argument over books versus eBooks. Formatting has always changed. The fact that Shakespeare may have wrote with a quill and his plays were originally preserved in folios doesn't much matter today. The only thing that mattered is the words that dripped off his pen -- and the word's impact on audiences, culture and the language.

What matters today is the same as the 1600s -- whether the words will last. Any real writer will strive to have words that impact. The only real discussion about formatting should be about how to reach the widest possible audience for words that truly need a wide audience.

This comment brought to you by my sponsor: Binary Press Publications

You can buy the first two publications:  here and here.

No Kindle? Free reading apps here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Classic from The Trial

Defining Publishing

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, the attempt to label a publisher is an attempt to categorize quality for marketing purposes. The more accurate the label, the better indication of the quality of the product.

The problem isn’t with the vocabulary. The problem is that publishing is an industry in flux. At one stage in publishing history pamphleteer was a pejorative, but pamphleteers also produced classics, ie Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” Recently, so called traditional publishing applies as much to celebrity drek as to quality literature, so this isn’t really about quality either.

The identification by the public of the publisher “type” is the duty of the publisher. The publisher has to communicate to its audience who they are and what they do. A good publisher will be able to do that. A poor one won’t.

Publishing is about providing words to the public. The hope remains that despite the categorization of the publisher, in the flood of words, quality will still float.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How To Read And Drive Safely -- At The Same Time

The bus driver caught in Portland reading his Kindle while driving his bus originally peaked my interest, because I read my Kindle all the time when I'm driving. I didn't see what the big deal was until he turned the page. This was a dead giveaway that the bus driver didn't have a clue how to use his Kindle. If you are going to drive and read, let the Kindle read to you with its text to speech function, then when you are done driving, you can just start reading where the text to speech voice left off. It turns the pages for you, so you can drive.

Maybe Amazon can do that for the next commercial -- How To Safely Read Your Kindle and Drive At the Same Time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

5 Benefits of the Kindle over the Nook

I bought a Nook this weekend so I could compare it to a Kindle and so I could review the books we will be publishing in both formats.  All in all, I still prefer the Kindle.

  1. Touchy Touch Screen.  My biggest beef with the Nook is the touch screen.  Oddly enough, when I was buying the Nook, the sales person at B&N tried to convince me that the Kindle had all these buttons that were easily pushed and made stuff disappear.  I've used the Kindle now for two years and haven't had a problem, ever.  The touch screen on the Nook was so touchy that I lost an entire Sudoku game, just as I was about to finish it.  My fingers were too big/clumsy to type as quickly as I can on the Kindle, plus I had to keep changing the keyboard to access numbers, which made typing in my WiFi password a monumental pain.
  2. The Digital Toggle v. A Real Toggle.  The other thing the sales rep told me was it didn't have Kindle's annoying toggle switch.  Yet, I had to push about four buttons on the touch screen just to get to a touch screen toggle on the Nook.  
  3. Ease of Purchase.  I guess if you are trying to conserve your book purchasing dollars, the Nook might be better for you, because it takes a bunch of clicks to find and buy a book.  I'm into click conservation and the Nook is click heavy.  Amazon is evilly brilliant in its ease of purchase.
  4. Color Touch Screen.  I'm offended by the Nook's implication that I need color.  As a reader, color isn't high up on my need list.  The clarity of print is in the black and white, I'll go to the meaning of the words for color, ambiguity and depth.  I'm a reader and I have an imagination.  If I want color and computer graphics, I'll buy an iPad.  I don't need the smell of a book, I just don't need distractions on my reader.  I guess that makes me a traditionalists out of the eBookers.
  5. Selection.  The selection of Amazon blows B&N away.  I know they say they have a million books, but that is only thanks to Google Books which gives everyone a million books, including the Kindle.  I ran a few quick searches and for what I was looking for I was glad I had the Amazon store.
On the plus side for the Nook, it is a functional electronic reader and a great Sudoku game (when the touch screen works).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Future of the Book -- And It Is Now

I read an interesting article by Hugh McGuire in Forbes about the future of the book. In the article, he mentioned numerous things you can’t do with a book that you can do with a web page on the internet. McGuire muses that books must merge with the Internet and in so doing will become even more valuable.

Much of what he posited as needing to take place is happening. I can easily cut and paste anything I’m reading digitally and post the quote to Twitter and Facebook. Amazon is more than happy to direct anyone clicking on my quote right to the page to buy the book. This is cut and paste. This is deep linking to the book. And it maintains an economic novel that rewards the individual author.

McGuire gets lost in his own argument however when he writes: –You cannot query across, say, all books about Montreal written in 1942–even if they are from the same publisher. Wait a minute, I thought books and the Internet would be interchangeable. What McGuire is actually arguing for here is a more refined search, not the merging of books and the Internet. These are two different things. The digitization of books will merge books with the Internet. Accessibility will be the duty of the author and publishers.

The new job of a publisher is SEO. As McGuire pointed out, API’s are applications to make sure that people access your data and not someone else’s data. The future of books is incorporation into the digital mass of information. In an age were anyone can publish anything and have it remain forever, the future of publishing is search engine optimization.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Publishing 0101

One month ago I began an adventure.  All my life I've loved books.  I'm not even sure how many books are in my personal collection.  I know I haven't even come close to reading them all.  When people ask me how many I've read, I say "About a third."  But I really have no idea.

I do know one thing.  Reading has changed me in a fundamental way.   At one point in my life, something like five minutes ago, I would have said that the changes were "metaphysical", but I've read too much neuroscience to say that it is metaphysical.  Reading has created me in a physical way, carving out my neural pathways in a way that is unique.  The authors who have influenced me have allowed my brain to run down their neural paths, so I'm part Aristophanes, part Chaucer, part Shakespeare,  part Philip Roth, part Henry Miller, part Jack Kerouac, part Dostoyevsky, part Tolstoy, part Camus -- well, you get the idea.    I would be remiss if I didn't mention my wife, JulieAnn, the author that I met because of her book and writing -- talk about positive and passionate changes in my neural pathways.

So as an attorney and lifelong bibliophile, I decided to do something.  I decided to start a digital press.  In a way it was my response to the problem I saw that was addressed in Book Glutton this morning.   How do you write and read in the age of Facebook and Twitter?  The interplay of ideas and thoughts are what make us and I wanted to pass out the building block of deep, rather than superficial ideas.  My press is barely a month old and we will begin publishing within the week.  (Website, a week or two away)  I have the rights to publish  over 40 books, all by authors who have been previously published.

I feel the weight of trying to wrestle even a small portion of the unruly stream of words into a channel that can be used to irrigate the thoughts, feelings and lives of potential readers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writing for Money

Question and Answer with Christopher Hitchens in the New York Time Magazine:

Did you write the book for money? 
Of course, I do everything for money. Dr. Johnson is correct when he says that only a fool writes for anything but money. It would be useful to keep a diary, but I don’t like writing unpaid. I don’t like writing checks without getting paid.

I'm reading Hitchen's memoir, Hitch-22 and found the above quote about why he wrote the book.  Now, if writing for money means I get to hang out and play word games with Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, then definitely, I need to make sure that I write for money.  

For an author, money can be a motivating force to improve your craft.  In our society is also the economic indicator of how many people the writing reaches.  More money = bigger audience.  Hitchens the journalist understands this well.

Yet, I personally like David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen's reason for writing fiction, because I think they are correct. 

[Fiction is the] ‘neutral middle ground on which to make a deep connection with another human being’: this, we decided, was what fiction was for. ‘A way out of loneliness’ was the formulation we agreed to agree on.

Writing is about creating a connection with other people.  No writer I've ever met is content with their words being stuffed in a drawer or a hard drive (although they often end up there).   Pleas to artistic desire or writing compulsion are nothing more than screams for connection.  No artists writes a book so no one else can read it.  

No audience, no art.  

No audience and it is artistic masturbation, while possibly pleasurable, much more productive and fun if shared.   So in an indirect way Hitchens is correct, money means more connection and that is what writing is all about.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I finished a book this week -- Hell by Rob Olen Butler.  I don't write much about the books I read, probably because I read more than I write.  My brother (who is also reading it, as is my wife) described the book as Dante's Inferno for the 21st Century -- a more accurate description after finishing the book would be Dante's Divine Comedy for the 21st Century without the terza rima.

A theme throughout Hell is the inability to actually get inside someone else's subjective, interior thoughts.  Satan in all his anticipatory sadistic power can't do it.  The denizens of Hell certainly can't do it, but with Butler's post modern irony, the reader of Hell gets to spend a lot of time in everyone else's head -- well at least Butler's head.

This isn't the first time Butler has played around with the concept of what is going on in someone else's noggin.  An earlier foray takes the phrase "in someone else's head" quite literally in Severance, a compilation of short 240 word epigraphic epitaphs of the last words going through the minds of the beheaded (apparently you have enough oxygen after being beheaded to get through 240 words before it is lights out.).  Butler goes a step further in Intercourse giving the reader the internal monologue of participants in the sex act.

Writing itself is an act of disclosure, an act of placing at least a portion of one's thoughts on the screen or page.  Imagine your last 240 words after the knife slices through your neck.  Remember your last internal monologue in the throes of passion.  Imagine what your own hell and your own redemption would be like.  Remember the darkest or scariest thought you don't dare speak.

The writer's hell is the rejection of the interior.   The writing gets thrown out in a desperate attempt for readers to accept the internal and often fractured offerings of the author.  Every time I type a word, I want someone to read it and even more importantly, understand me, but somehow writing and reading is more transformative.  Intaking the words through reading alters the words into a new subjective reality that is far beyond the author's control or ability to anticipate.

My wife is a writer.  She's married to me because she is a writer, because she put her words out there for me to read.  For a bookish soul like me, maybe that was the only way to change me, by getting her thoughts inside my head in a form I was used to.  This week she finished her latest novel, TDTM.  The book has been created from out of the mist of our daily life together and  those pieces are scattered throughout.  Our discussions about the book have influenced the plot.  When I read it, my internal thoughts will register something different because of that experience, but it will connect me to other readers as we share the communal aspect of having heard the same story.

A book is the closest a human can come to entering someone else's mind.

Great writing organizes the subjective thoughts of the author, but remains true to the interior mind as the thoughts are edited on to the page.  The trick of great writing is to create enough flow with the reader that you hijack their thoughts.  The writer also wants to create a parallel thought pattern in the reader -- See, here I am writing, you are reading, we think similarly and you know where this can go and you know what it means and you listen to what I write, knowing this isn't your thought, but mine, but you understand because you think like this too at times.  Pulling it off with one stream of conscious sentence if easy.  Maintaining it for the length of a book is hard.

JulieAnn's friend, Emily Pearson, has written a memoir, Dancing With Crazy.  Of all the writing, a memoir is by its nature the most personal.  Every word in the memoir has impact and meaning for the author, because the author knows what every word represents -- an entire interior reality is constructed around each word, each paragraph, each incident.  The problem is that the reader doesn't have access to all of that interiority.  As the three of us discussed her memoir, there was agreement for the need for an edit from the right editor to give her work its full impact.  The editor would help bring her distinctive voice to a much wider audience.

I'm nearly 50 years old and for the first time I think I finally understood why an editor is so important for a book.  The great editor, like the great writer, helps organize the words so the interior thoughts of the author come through on the page.  The editor points out the author's own internal blind spots and brings to the book something  the author doesn't have -- an external point of view.  The combination of the editor's external and the author's internal is the bridge from the writer's mind to the reader's interior.

Again, with a writer for a wife, I get to see this editor/writer dance.  JulieAnn recently finished line edits on her book that is about to published, Falling Back to Earth.  The editor's comments and changes at this juncture are the fine tuning on the book's ability to connect to the reader.  The occasional editorial aside that a scene is suspenseful or moving makes me realize that something magical is taking place with JulieAnn's words, someone else is seeing the beauty, depth and struggle that I have become so familiar with in our marriage.

Which brings me back to Hell.  All week long a phrase that I have uttered often and with heartfelt meaning has been transformed by another human being.  Robert Olen Butler has taken up occupancy in my head.  He appropriated a word and amplified it for me, so that I hear nuances I was deaf to before.  I don't know that this is what he intended or even if it is what he meant, but it is what he did to me.  For a writer and for a reader, this type of Hell is heavenly.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Bankruptcy of Publishing

Ok, I'll admit that the title of the blog is for one primary reason -- I'm testing out how Google works. I really do want to talk about how I perceive the publishing industry is changing from my perspective in Ogden, Utah, but I also want to see how titles and labels effected Google's search engines. Which actually is a great segue way into what this post, inspired by a blog post by my lovely and talented writer/wife, is actually about --- How does a writer get heard in the digital age?

When I was growing up (a long, long time ago in a county pretty dang close), musical taste was dictated by two things -- Kasey Kasem's American Top 40 (the morbid Seasons in the Sun at the top of the charts week after week) and the Friday Night Battle of the Records which lead to the perennial champions -- Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, Cherokee People and much to my adult chagrin and childish delight, The Bay City Roller's Saturday Night. It frightens me that I remember that.

Musical tastes were spun out of the mass media, record label machine into my head through the only radio station that played anything remotely young and pop-ish in the early 70s. If you wanted to make it big in the record biz, you were going to need to sign with a big label. Today, we have Pandora and the record industry is a lot like a very nice vase that got dropped on a very hard floor from a very high height. Forget labels, American Top 40 and Friday Night Battle of the Records and think DRM (Digital Rights Management), iPod, indie and bit torrent.

From what I can see, the publishing industry is also a vase that is hitting the floor and it is as if I'm watching the pieces scatter in slow motion. Terminology has not caught up. The Wall Street Journal just this week called digital publishing "Vanity Publishing." Digital publishing is the same as regular publishing at least to the extent that it has vanity and non-vanity versions. J.A. Konrath sells some self-published books, but authors have often self-published and that is technically different from vanity publishing. Konrath is also published by -- and this is a very important point -- Amazon Encore.

What did traditional publisher's do? They prepared the product for mass marketing. They mass marketed the product through the current media -- TV, print and radio. They sold the book to libraries. Libraries were the repositories for the community's books. We shared books as a community. The books we read were determined by teachers, friends and word of mouth.

Amazon is acting just like a traditional publisher. Only a couple of things have changed. The cost of distribution has shrunk to pennies if it is digital. The mass market is disappearing. Traditional advertising has diminished and fractured. Libraries have shrunk. Amazon steps in and is not only the publisher, but the book warehouse, the delivery truck, the book store and the promotional advertising media promoting the books and even a really massive pay as you go library -- all rolled into one digital company. Amazon also changes the community so that you can connect with a community of your very own idiosyncratic tastes. Your friends and word of mouth aren't relegated to a quiet little rural town in Utah. The writer's reviews and Amazon rankings and referrals carry more weight than the publishing equivalent of American's Top 40 -- The New York Time's Bestseller List.

The rules of the game have changed, but the ultimate game for the writer has not. The writer must write. The writer must write words that other people want to read -- and other people need to talk about it so that the writer gets read. The task of writing (and reading) is as David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen concluded -- an act to assuage loneliness and separateness of being human and provide connection with someone else, somewhere at sometime who felt the same way.

The words are the only salve for mortality.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A 220 Volt Plug

The compulsion to write is really a compulsion for connection. My initial thought was that I'm a 220 plug in a 110 volt world -- no connection is actually possible. In the scrambled mass of neurons that is my brain, this thought took me to one of my more ill-fated home improvement efforts.

I was working on a basement apartment in a house I'd just bought. I turned off the power to the entire house at the circuit breaker because I was going to be working around a 220 volt electrical outlet. Why? I have no clue, it was too long ago. What I do remember is that I stuck my rubber gripped pliers on the wires and got knocked back across the room from the electrical jolt. I hurt my hand landing on some tool, but was otherwise unharmed physically. An inspection of the pliers showed that the live wires had melted a nice pattern on the metal pincers. For some unknown reason the house had been wired with this solitary 220 plug separate from all of the power at the circuit box, thus leaving the wires live unless turned off at another circuit box hidden on the side of the house.

Long story for a stretch of a metaphor, I suppose, but I'm coming quickly to the conclusion that writing is a lot like that 220 plug. You throw words out there and you don't know if the power is connected or not and whether the words will shock and repel the reader, melt themselves onto the reader's psyche or if there really just won't be any juice in them at all.

Nothing like hanging out at a writer's conference to question whether words can conceivably have any impact at all. Mostly we are all hanging around, hoping for the happy accident of writing something that can melt metal.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Author as a Commodity

This week I'm attending a writer's workshop in New Orleans with my wife, who is the real writer in the family. I rather hate being the living cliche of attorney who is a wannabe writer, but I'm finding that it is easier to aspire to be an author than it is to take the attorney out of my psyche.

For example, the instructor of our class is filling in our little workshop group on the travails of the publishing world. Specifically, She claimed that authors are "brown leather pumps" to the publishers. She said it to make the point that authors were mere commodities to the book industry and the fickle reading public will burn through a book and it doesn't matter much whose book it is. If you don't write it, someone else will. My poetical version: authors are the meat that is ground up to make book sausage.

I don't doubt the wisdom of the instructor's comments. From what I can see, commercial fiction (and non-fiction) on a visceral level work in this way. The formulaic novel, the ghost written celebrity book, the tough life memoir and the motivational/spiritual tome really could be written by anyone and consumed by the undiscerning hordes as the corporate book manufacturers scoop up the majority of the cash.

The best example of this is James Patterson, who doesn't even write all his own books. He hires would-be authors to write them for him. This is the final end game of creating books as entertainment (a game that has sadly been encouraged by "cut and paste" technology -- How much of the Harry Potter series was cut and pasted back story?) The brand supercedes the art. Sure there is quality control and a formulaic sameness that soothes the reader, that is why it works.

Looking at the entire process through the legal lens, I see a supply chain of author to agent to editor to proofreader to printer to book distribution company to book retailer with every participant sucking off the teat of the writer's words. In much the same way a lawsuit bleeds the litigants dry, the publication process bleeds the author's work dry.

And if this really is how it works, why would an author (attorney or not) want to be treated like a pair of brown leather pumps chewed on by the book industry puppy?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Morning Musings

It is so quiet -- birds chirping, sun rising as I see the contours of the ridge line cut across the scrub oak as the mountain's shadow sneaks towards me. Unbelievable as it may seem to those of you who know me, a little kitten is perched on my shoulder, purring softly, asleep. Maybe not quiet so unbelievable is that the kitten's name is Henry Miller.

This week I've been thinking a lot about writing. My wife, JulieAnn, is an exceptional writer -- and she writes. Boy, does she write. One of her greatest skills as a writer is her tenacity. I've watched her develop her talent and watched her in practice. I envy her ability to just dive in and work on her novel of the moment. Her first published novel is why I'm married to her in a very real way, since it was the catalyst to our meeting.

Books (and thus writing) seem to be headed in the same direction that music went ten years ago. Books are becoming more and more a commodity and the price for the book is dropping, creating an economic pressure on both authors and publishers. They can be easily copied and transferred, even with some DRM encoding. I find myself gravitating towards author's I know and still pick up on new authors and hot books from the Sunday New York Time's Book Review, so I'm strongly in the traditional publishing realm as a consumer.

Yet, I can feel it all changing underneath my feet. I'm worried about it from a dual perspective -- as a potential author and as the husband of an author. Who do you listen to if you want to get a good recommendation for a book? How do you develop an audience? How big of an audience is enough? How do you hone the writing craft when the ability (and the compulsion) is there to spew out your thoughts onto the Internet in a blizzard of uncensored typing?

I'm sure my day job makes me look at writing from an economic perspective. Writing takes time. Time equates to money. How much money do I need for myself and my family? How do I increase the time I have for writing?

Sunday morning and I have all the questions and none of the answers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Future of Reading

One of my favorite new blogs that I read daily is Kindle Review. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am in love with my Kindle and in love with books. Today there was a post on the future of reading -- or more accurately the future of books. (I don't think reading is going anywhere, books appear to be in a state of flux however.)

The post raised a couple of questions, especially when it was combined with my wife's post about literature yesterday. So here are a couple of questions and my random musings on them.

1. What is literature?

Harold Bloom, the literary critic, sees the literary tradition as agon -- a conflict or contest of artistic style and morals. (Agon is the same root as agony, which seems completely applicable to the writer's craft.) Being the male combative that likes rugby and the law, this theory of literature appeals to me greatly. Obviously literature is a game and as a writer it is fun to play the game. The problem is that there are no rules -- or at least you need to pick the literary game you want to play. Literary fiction is a different game than writing mystery novels.

Before you answer the question as to what is literature, you must look to see that you are comparing tradition to tradition.

2. Will books become more than words on a page?

No -- and yes. No, because books are words on a page. Yes --think David Foster Wallace. His books become words on different pages through an old technology, footnotes. eBook technology is going to open up artistic possibilities to authors that have been tried before, but the tools weren't really there until now -- split narrative streams, collage, asides, merging of various texts/authors, alternate endings and whatever an artistic mind can come up with to use the brush strokes of eBooks and digital technology. Depending on what literary tradition forms around these uses of technology, then yes, books will become more than words on a page, but it won't replace the century old progression of other literary traditions. This is an addition, not a subtraction.

3. Time to go to work

The problem with books is not the form, but the quality.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The $ Value of Words

Contingent and non-contingent interests in the estate of a decedent -- mysterious words like these are responsible for my livelihood. I joke around with my clients that if it weren't for words like this attorneys couldn't charge outrageously hourly sums. If you ask someone do you have any contingent or non-contingent interests in the estate of a decedent, the eyes glaze over and catatonia ensues. If you ask the question this way: Is anyone dead or dying that is going to leave you money or stuff? The eyes light up, the laugh comes and often, they gush, "No, I wish." To which I respond with a chuckle, "Glad I'm not your relative."

Computers and Google make words much less mysterious. I don't know that words are how I'm going to be able to keep making my income. The change is that people are not going to want to pay simply for my ability to interpret mysterious words. I get paid not for my understanding of legal jargon, but for my ability to pilot people through a legal system that I just happen to know from doing it 8000 times. Nothing mysterious.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pricing Ourselves Out of Existence

One of the struggles I've had with being a lawyer from the very beginning is how much we charge. Usually, the cost of legal fees far exceeded the benefit we provide. This is probably why I ended up in the consumer bankruptcy realm where the cost/benefit analysis of fees and benefit to the client is so clear and so definitive -- I feel like I'm worth every penny of fees based on the benefit to my client.

I was speaking with another attorney yesterday and told him that a couple of my daughters are considering law school as an option. He shook his head and noted that by the time they got through law school, attorneys will have priced themselves out of existence. He then went on to quote several other attorney's hourly rates and noted how ridiculous those rates were. I bit my tongue because one of the rates is what I charge -- and earn.

The demise of my profession may not be eminent, but with technological advances, the free flow of information and the infiltration of money and power into the legal system, financial access to the attorneys for the poor and middle class is in fact threatened. Solutions need to be found, so that the Courts remain Courts of the People and not Courts of the Corporate.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Love of the Kindle

The last week or so has had plenty of hullabaloo about the new iPad and everyone seems very concerned about what Apple is going to do to the Kindle. Hate to break it to you Apple folk, but you are a little late and on the wrong side of the eReader game.

I'll never use the iPad for reading. I use plenty of Apple products, but the Kindle -- at this juncture is the dream book.

Those issuing the death knell of the Kindle obviously don't read, so they don't have a clue. The virtues of the Kindle have been expounded by its acolytes, but I'd like to offer five great reasons that the Kindle is here to stay in a Gutenberg-ian sort of way --

1. Real bibliophiles are ecstatic about not needing to lug thirty books with them when they travel. My carry-on is so light these days.

2. I actually get the newspaper delivered to me without the annoying and unreliable paper boy -- and it is the New York Times.

3. As I'm reading my NY Time's Book Review on Sunday Morning in my slippers and bath robe, I see a book I want to read and I click the convenient shop button, type in the name of the book and two clicks I'm reading the book instead of the review. I spend more money on books (and I spent a lot before).

4. I can lay in bed and read without flipping back and forth like a rotisserie chicken -- just hit next page.

5. Oh, did I mention that I like being read to -- even in the mechanical voice?

Actually I think one problem with the Kindle and "Death of the Kindle" crowd is the people saying this aren't really readers. How the hell would they know what a good reading experience? This is the same crowd that was saying reading was dead just before Harry Potter sold a gazillion copies and every adolescent girl on the planet purchased Twilight.

Seth Godin in his marketing blog encourages marketers to "disaggregate" and he starts off his blog post with this gem, "The typical American buys precisely one book a year". He points out the obvious that based on the statistical analysis, between Seth and me at least 950 Americans didn't buy a single book last year (Seth bought about 400 and I bought about 450-(250 on the Kindle)). Ok, that may have been a little hyperbole.

The people who say the Kindle is dead or dying are the same people that haven't bought a book of any kind for a long, long time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Writing and My Job

Most of what I write is crap.

"I love my job."

Now that sentence is simple to the point and probably crap. It loses all nuance in a bold, white declaration of affection. I do get a thrill out of my work, but love is a word that is devoid of meaning in this context.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them "I Robin Hood for a living, taking from rich, evil creditors and give back to the poor and destitute, while skimming a little off the top for myself."

Now, that is a more accurate description than saying I love my job, but again -- crap. Not all creditors are rich or evil. Not all clients are poor and destitute. I don't really skim, but take court ordered and disclosed fees for my work. I am trying to create a persona, a facade -- to make my job and myself, way more glamorous than I really am. I know, because when I tell people I am a consumer bankruptcy attorney I get one of two reactions -- 1) Eyes glaze over and the subject is changed or 2) A smile, a nod and "Wow, you must be really busy these days. Glad someone has work." Much better to describe my profession by turning Robin Hood into a verb, but while greasing the social skids, the words are still crap.

Writing is an attempt to connect with other people on a non-physical plane of existence that removes time from the coordinates and takes the physical and transforms it into the mental. Maybe this is why I think everything I write is crap. Writing is a modified and socialized form of what the psychics call "remote viewing." I think psychics are crap.

Take the word, "crap." I am using this word in a metaphoric sense, as well as the colloquial meaning of "not good." As a metaphor, physical crap is the detritus of biological functions and metaphoric writing crap is the detritus of my mental functions. This is also why we refer to excess material possessions that have become useless as our consumerist version of crap -- the shit we have left over from our spending.

Another thing about crap is that no one is really interested in crap -- their own or others. Although you may check out your own crap or grouse about how much crap you have or how your writing is crap, you never check out anyone else's crap or care how much crap someone has (unless it is bigger and nicer crap than yours) or you rarely read someone else's crap, because after about two sentences, or if the writer is lucky, two paragraphs, you say, "This is crap" -- and stop reading.

So I'm stopping -- for today.