Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge is Back in Print

I’m not shy about letting people know that Kelley Eskridge’s debut novel Solitaire is possibly my favorite book I’ve read in the last decade. It was shocking to me that it was her first novel because it was so firm handed that I’d have easily believed it was her dozenth. She had opportunities to soften the blow and let her protagonist off the moral hook and she never did. I was impressed with her courage as an author to never take the easy way out and the book is stronger for it.

I wrote up a review on this very blog in 2002, and now that book is back in print from Small Beer Press. I own the hardcover of the book but I bought the Kindle copy yesterday as well, just to always have it with me. I never reread books and I’m going to reread this one.

Kelley is one of my favorite people in this world and she is one of my favorite writers in this world. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in science fiction or tough minded psychological fiction to pick this book up. It is a tour de force. In fact, I’ll go ahead and offer my money back guarantee – if you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll buy the book from you. I stand behind it that firmly.

You can buy it from Amazon, from Weightless Books in electronic format, from Barnes and Noble or from your local store. However you choose to go out and get it, I suggest that you do it. This is a book that will leave you with a different world view coming out than you went in with. The number of authors who’ve done that to me is vanishingly small: J. G. Ballard, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kelley. Read the book, you’ll be glad you did.

Weightless Books Sitewide Sale

Indie ebook retailer Weightless Books ran a 25% off sale for the week between Xmas and New Years Day. However, they still have the sale banner up and I made a purchase yesterday and was still able to use the coupon code, which is “25off” . There is some good stuff in here, particularly for fans of fantasy, science fiction and romance genres. If you like ebooks yet decry the Amazon hegemony, there is no better way to fight the power than doing a little business with the little guys.

For most books, you can choose to download in ePub, Mobi, Lit or PDF formats, and they are all DRM free. Even though I have a Kindle I download in ePub and put them in Calibre to let it convert them. Thus far, it has turned out great every time.

The Authors with No Web Presence

As I write blog posts for my side project Ebooks From TV, I boggle practically every day at a phenomenon that shocks me. As I try to gather web links for authors, I frequently run across fairly high profile authors with absolutely no web presence that they control themselves. These are authors you have heard of, that write bestsellers and award winning books. The pattern seems to be most often that they are writers with big publishers whose day job is also writing for a big media company. High profile columnists at New York based publications who then write books are frequently in this position.

I think it is now past the time where that is a profoundly bad decision. These authors have whatever sites their publishers and employers put up for them, and as far as the indexed web is concerned that is their identity. Putting up your own site costs $100 a year plus a case of beer for your niece or nephew to set the damn thing up. Your publisher might drop you or you might leave them. You might get laid off from your newspaper or magazine. Do you really want the first page on a Google search for your name to to include no sites that you control? This is not hard work nor an expensive proposition. I know your career has involved you outsourcing such things to publishers. I’d suggest that that you learn to pack your own parachute because if this plane goes down you really don’t want to go down with it.

Writer Jeffrey A. Carver’s DRM Pledge

I saw something very intersting on the Mobile Read forums yesterday. Science fiction author Jeffrey A. Carver posted his DRM pledge. Basically it is his promise to not let customers of his books down, even when the DRM his books are wrapped in fail them. The key portion of the pledge:

If you buy one of my ebooks from a store that uses DRM, and you can’t download or read the book on your chosen device—whether it’s the reader you originally bought it for or another—I want to help. Email me, preferably with some evidence of your purchase, and I will provide you with a copy that works for you. If you want to share it with a family member or a close friend the way you might a paper book, that’s fine with me. If you want to convert the file to work on a different device, feel free. I trust you not to share it indiscriminately. I figure if I treat you with respect, you’ll respect my need to earn a living, so I can continue to write. And you’ll get to read my book and own a copy of it, which was the whole point to begin with.

This is a highly respectable thing to do, and a move that I suspect will engender some goodwill amongst potential readership. Back when I was doing my mobile reading on a Handspring device, I purchased some books from Fictionwise and Peanut Press. Every book I ever bought from Fictionwise I still have access to, and most of those are sitting on my Kindle right now because they had no DRM on them. The Peanut Press books are useless. I suppose I could find some sort of cracking program or a Palm device emulator but really, I don’t care that much. It would be cheaper to me to buy the books again than spend that kind of time recovering access. In practice, I’d never do that because I still feel burned most of a decade on. Having someone make an assurance to me that won’t happen is a very good thing. Even better, I’ve found at least one other author making the same pledge. I’d love to see this become a movement.

I appreciate Jeffrey Carver’s stance and his willingness to short-circuit one of the biggest impediments to getting involved in ebooks from big publishers. Even as they are arguing why they should be charging more than the $9.99 price for the electronic versions, they insist on locking it with DRM that prevents you from using it in the future. Big publishers choose to reduce value to consumer while raising prices.

I’ve come to believe that over the 20 years I’ve had some small dealings with this kind of stuff that publishers are the businesses that are the very worst at business. “Hey, this new product has come along with zero marginal costs to us per copy sold. I can’t see how we can possibly make any money on that! Let’s jack up the prices and fiddle around with customers whose primary interest is reading our books.” Oh boy, I’ve been on this train before and I remember how it comes into the station. When your authors have to put their own balls on the line to protect customers from your business practices, that’s an indictment of a whole industry. One of the interesting side-effects of the pledge is that it strengthens the relationship between Carver and his fans, and weakens even more that between the customers and the publishers. It’s one more step down the trail of publisher irrelevance. The wise publishers would notice that and change business practices to keep themselves in this loop.

I applaud Jeffrey A. Carver for making this pledge, and I condemn all the executives and decision makers who have made it necessary.

An Ebook/POD Based Bookstore

I’ll admit that the very first thing I thought when I read this post from Pablo Defendini was “Damn, how can I come up with the capital to start this business?” The opening salvo paragraph:

If I were a rich man, I’d buy B&N, get rid of all the mass market shelf space, replace it with an Espresso Book Machine, start strong-arming publishers to print and bind really, really nice hardcovers at lower print runs and stock the hell out of those, and open up the B&N in-store ebook store to all devices and platforms (fuck it; even license mobi from Amazon if I can).

There is in fact an empty Barnes and Noble building in Myrtle Beach left over from when it moved two years ago. It’s been sitting idle ever since. It was always jumping before, so the location is capable of sustaining a thriving bookstore business. However, as cool as I thought this idea was, today I saw this story on MediaBistro about a bookstore actually using the machine.

Oddly to me, the story is written triumphantly as if this is a success story. Looking at the numbers, it looks pretty dismal to me. They paid for a $118,000 Espresso Book Machine and in 5 months have sold 1,500 books with it. Let’s say they sell those books at an average of $12, they average 250 pages long. My understanding of the variable costs is that they’d be spending $2.50 in licensing fees per book, about $2 per book in materials and at this point, $79 per book in amortization of the cost of the machine. In 5 months, they are 10% of the way to breaking even on the costs of the machine. At this rate of sales, in another four years they will have finally recouped the cost of the machine and can begin to profit from it. At that point, it will generate $80/day profit, which would be at the low end of a living wage for a single employee. This sounds like the opposite of a sucess story to me, it sounds like a rough start and possibly the early days of a boondoggle.

As cool as the technology seems to me, at this point one would need a lot more volume than this to justify the machine or a real eye to the long game. It’s possible that if one were to open a store with Pablo’s model in mind, that both the volumes would be higher and there would be enough revenue from the other sources to keep the business viable. However I’m reading that MediaBistro story not as the “booyah” it seems to want to be but more of a “Warning: potential loss of ass ahead” warning sign.

Seth Godin on the Future of Publishing

This morning I listened to the audio of this talk that Seth Godin gave to the Independent Book Publishers Association. In 20 minutes, he laid out a way the publishing industry can adapt to changing landscapes and thrive in the future. It’s a 45 minute talk total, 25 minutes were question. 20 minutes was all he needed to throw a lifeline to publishers. He took an analytical look at what publishers actually do and which of those functions can be done better by other business entities and what value propositions that leaves with publishers.

I find it amazing that the big publishers fail to understand the lessons of The Innovator’s Dilemma including the company that published that book. They have and continue to use the relatively small market share of electronic books and POD editions as a reason why they shouldn’t care about them. That’s exactly the process that happens according to Clayton Christensen – a company defines itself too narrowly and avoids the hard decisions to change direction because the old direction is too lucrative, up until the point that market collapses and they are screwed.

I sometimes give Seth Godin static for his blog posts that seem to come straight from the autopilot, but I highly recommend this talk. This is top shelf Godin from when he brings the A game. If you have any interest in publishing or the future of books, give it a listen.

Reading List for my Social Media Vacation

I have purchased a few books on my Kindle recently that I’m going to read during my “social media vacation.” Like almost every Kindle purchase I’ve ever made both of these were impulse buys. I still need to write up my big post about how big publishers are completely missing the impulse buy potential of the ebook platforms but that is for a later time.

It wasn’t intentional but both of these books are consistent with the theme of slowing down social media, stepping back, focusing more on creative output. The first is Jaron Laneir’s book You Are Not a Gadget. I’m a few chapters in to this one and it is exactly what I was already thinking about, an examination of what the effects of adapting humanity to their machines can do to us. Not only am I stepping back but at the same time I am completely and totally perplexed by the iPad fever of people I know. I’m reading this book with an eye to understand what is it we are trying to gain as we search around these technological spaces.

The other book is Jeff VanderMeer’s book Booklife. It was recommended by Mur Lafferty at last week’s CREATE South and so I impulse bought it and will check it out. I met Jeff 15 years ago when he was riding along to the WREK studios on a day when I interviewed his now wife Ann for Reality Break. He’s a great guy and a great writer so I have no doubt reading this book will be a mystically introspective experience. More about it later after I’ve read it. Dobbs help me, I hope it straightens me out a little in my creative life.

PS – before those who want to hoist me on the irony petard about reading You are Not a Gadget on the Kindle, the thing I like best about the Kindle is that it is the anti-gadget piece of consumer electronics. I keep reading reviews saying the iPad will take over as the book reader because it is so much sexier than the Kindle. I like the Kindle because it is not sexy! I use it to read books, and nothing much besides. That is a selling point. I want less distraction, less flashiness. It’s a boring little thing that does one job well and that’s why I use it.

Walk/Talk Mismatch

A month or so ago, I saw Annie Leonard get interviewed on The Colbert Report about her book The Story of Stuff. I was interested and went to buy it for my Kindle. Hey, guess what? This book about how Americans buy more physical goods than they need and fill their houses up with it is not available as an ebook, only as a physical good. Nice job completely undermining your own message by the way you do business, Annie Leonard and Free Press (Simon and Schuster). I’m trying to wean myself off of filling my house up with more stuff and am receptive to your message of less stuff, yet that’s the only way I can get your book.

Update: After digging a little more, I see the book is available for the Nook as DRM ePub, not available for Kindle. That’s a little better, but still out of sync with the message of the work itself.

Publishing 2010: Addenda 1

When you come out in favor of self-publishing, the first question people push back at you with is “If everyone can self-publish, how do I find the things worth reading?”

My answer: Walk in to any Barnes and Noble, Borders, indie book store. Pick the section that most interests you and start picking up books at random. From reading the first page and cover, how many of these would you actually be willing to pay for? I’ll bet you money that number is lower in reality than you’d guess it would be. Let’s be honest, a large number of books put out by big publishing aren’t of interest to you or me. It’s just the nature of a big selection, some will hit and most won’t.

So, given that reality – how do you find what you want to read today? In a future where most works are self-published, you’d do approximately that.

Update to an Addendum: Here is Michael Stackpole’s musings on self-publishing. Rock on, brother.

Publishing 2010: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

This post is my attempt to distill together many different threads into a common tapestry. There is a lot of turbidity in the publishing, podcasting, music, film, television worlds right now. I have these feeling that every bit of this is all part of a larger whole and I’m going to take a stab at defining it. This post will either be awesome because it succeeds or a miserable failure. There is no middle ground. Off in to it. This will be long, you have been warned.

First, let me inventory the raw materials that got me thinking this way. Recently JC Hutchins posted that he had been dropped as an author by St. Martins Press and that they would not be publishing the 7th Son sequels. The post lives between a gut-check and a crisis of faith from one of the pioneering new media creator/ novelist hybrid guys. He also posted about monetary realities of writers pubishing via ebooks. Not that long before this, I had listened to JC’s Hey Everybody interview with Pablo Defendini and Ami Greko from The New Sleekness blog. It’s a really interesting discussion about the future of book publishing by industry professionals young enough in their careers to be less invested in the status quo and more willing to help a new future emerge. (Side note 1: I met Pablo and Ami at last year’s Dragon*Con in the classic SF con fashion – I wanted to meet them, saw them in a hotel bar, asked if I could sit with them, introduced myself and hung out for an hour. Try it, it works! ) Much in my thinking was informed over the last month by the Amazon/Macmillan ebook pricing wars of far too large a trail to link to anything. In that debate I did first run across Joe Konrath, his fiction and some of his posts with amazingly open and detailed statistics of what he sells and what he makes from digital publishing. (Side note 2: I bought, read and enjoyed his book Whiskey Sour as fallout from the debate).

There are many other bits of thought in the mix, such as my feelings about beginning my own novel during NaNoWriMo and thinking about hiring my friends at Sterling Editing to work on it and what I might choose to do with such a book when)it is finished. That’s enough of a prelude, though. Time to hit it.

JC Hutchins struck a nerve when he basically waved the white flag on his current way of working.

Creating podcast fiction does does not generate direct revenue for me. Based on anecdotal and statistical data, very few people are willing to pay for general podcast content, much less podcast fiction. Since my goal is to make a living wage with my words, the current monetization models — including in-show advertisements — will not deliver this. Dedicating time and effort to my non-fiction podcast projects will deliver equally underwhelming monetary results.

It is also apparent to me that using the Free model to promote a tangible product, such as I did with 7th Son: Descent and Personal Effects: Dark Art, does not deliver sustainable sales results. I have friends — some of whom are my best friends, the most talented people I’ve had the privilege to know and work with – who have absolute faith in this model. I treasure their trailblazing efforts and enthusiasm. My faith, however, has been fundamentally rattled.

Put simply: The new media model viably supports only the most blessed and talented of authors. The time, effort and money I invest in entertaining you for free pulls my attention and talent away from projects that can generate revenue. While podcasting, podcast fiction, and — most importantly — your support and evangelism has positively impacted my life and career in ways I’ll never be able to fully express, I cannot continue to release free audiofiction if I wish to make a living wage with my words.

This is pretty big stuff in the world of podcast fiction. Hutch was one of the pioneers of the form and his getting picked up by St. Martins was considered a watershed and a validation for the medium. So if he can’t make it in this world, what does that say about all the other podcast novelists who are less engaged, have less of a fan base, less sheer horsepower? Does it mean this medium is screwed?

I am positing that Hutch had a terrible misfortune of timing, that he arose as a viable author at exactly the wrong moment in publishing history. As he started down his path it seemed like the end game was to get a book deal with a major publisher. For writers of the last 100 years, this was the reasonable career success path for authors, and practically the only one. In the last few years though a sea change has happened so rapidly and thoroughly to flip that Hutch got his boat capsized in the process and he will be far from the only one. As crazy as it may sound, for a certain kind of author at this point I think a major publishing contract may seem like winning the game but is in fact losing it.

The red flags I got from the JC Hutchins post started here:

Examining the lead up to, and release of, the novel, I cannot see how I could have promoted it any better than I did. I literally went broke promoting this book and Personal Effects: Dark Art (another novel that will not have a sequel; it also underperformed). I conceived numerous brand-new online marketing campaigns that dazzled you and others. I asked you to purchase the novel, and many of you did.

If JC is literally going broke promoting 7th Son and Personal Effects book, I think a reasonable question to ask is “What is St. Martins Press’ role in this?” If JC is willing and able to put so much of his own time and money into the promotion of the books, what value is he getting from the big publisher that is worth giving away 90% of the sale of the book to them? 50 years ago, and 20 years ago and 2 years ago, this made sense. It was pretty much impossible to get a book published and into the hands of the world in any significant way – especially in a way that a writer could make a full-time living – without a major publisher contract, especially one paying advances at a level to be a livable wage. Nowadays, especially due to the markeplace enabled by the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader et al, that’s a different equation.

Joe Konrath’s post about the money he makes from the Kindle store shows a really clear pattern that he summarizes with:

My five Hyperion ebooks (the sixth one came out in July so no royalties yet) each earn an average of $803 per year on Kindle.

My four self-pubbed Kindle novels each earn an average of $3430 per year.

If I had the rights to all six of my Hyperion books, and sold them on Kindle for $1.99, I’d be making $20,580 per year off of them, total, rather than $4818 a year off of them, total.

So, in other words, because Hyperion has my ebook rights, I’m losing $15,762 per year.

For a writer with an engaged audience, like JA Konrath has and like JC Hutchins has, there may well be more money in their books self-published primarily through the Kindle and other ebook stores. An interesting bit from the Konrath numbers above, that’s from making 35% of the sales price for his direct books. When it changes to 70%, he’ll be making twice as much per book as he posted above for the self-published ones.

Let me say it again: for a writer who is engaged with their audience and reasonably prolific (because you need new books to keep this engine turning), we may be at the turning point where a better living is available through self-publishing than a big New York publisher book deal.

There are certainly authors that this model will not work for. During my preparation for last year’s “Podcasting for Working Writers” panel at Dragon*Con I talked to both James Patrick Kelly and Kelley Eskridge on this topic and they both raised the point that for a number of old school writers, the idea of engaging at the level of podcasting and doing large parts of their own publicity is anathema. A reasonable chunk of authors don’t want to get out in the limelight and picked this career specifically so they don’t have to engage. They write their books, maybe do a few conventions a year, do some bookstore events and that’s it. Back to the keyboard where the serious work happens. That’s fair enough and those writers will always need a publisher to do the parts of this business that would make them unhappy to pursue.

I think of the classic big publisher and big record label model as basically serving the function of the bank or maybe as VC. The manufacturing and distribution of the creative work was too capital intensive for an individual so this company would lend that money to the process, make the books or records show up in the store, do some publicity and keep most of the money. They insulate the creator from the process and from the retailers and fans. What publicity efforts exist, the big media company acts as a semi-permeable membrane to let a little of the public through, but not a lot. Ultimately in this model, the relationship with the fans of the buying public is owned mostly by the retailer and the publisher or label, very little by the writer or musician. For the author that doesn’t want to feed and water that relationship, that’s perfect.

For the other kind of author, a JC Hutchins or Mur Lafferty or Scott Sigler, going with a major publisher outsources to a third party a relationship with their fans that these writers are really really good at maintaining. When Hutch is paying his own money to publicize his books and his his own direct line into his own fanbase, what can the big publishers do for him? They could give him large enough advances to keep his bills paid while future books are written, but obviously they aren’t willing to do that because sales aren’t high enough. JC’s books earn money, but not enough money to keep him in that system. For me, the real question is “Did St. Martins Press do 9 times the work than JC did to get the work promoted?” If not, what did they do to deserve a 90/10 split?

Last November for NaNoWriMo I began a novel that I have literally been thinking about since 1991 when I was 23. While I came nowhere near finishing it that month and am nowhere near finished now, I have a goal to finish this novel in 2010. I’ve already been thinking about what happens when I finish the book. Do I try to find an agent and then try to have them place it with a major publisher? Since I don’t have any plans beyond that one book and thus don’t necessarily have a writing career in mind, how does that affect my decision making? At the moment I’m leaning towards not bothering to place the book with any publisher at all. I’ll pay Nicola and Kelley at Sterling Editing to work with me to get it publishable and hire a book designer and/or artist to hone the final product and then publish it to the Kindle store, Smashwords, the Nook store and whatever else seems reasonable at the time. I’ll probably release it via Podiobooks.com at the the same time, do my publicity via that and the other usual online suspects and let it ride. The key point to me is that the energy I could spend in placing my book at a big publisher could be spent selling the book to readers and I’ll probably make more money that way in the long run. This isn’t the way things worked for the 19th and 20th century and it may not be the way it works in the future, but March 2010 it is the way it looks to me now. The validation of having a “major publisher” decide I’m their sort of writer doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t need the book contract to pay my living, I’d end up doing mostly my own publicity anyway so what the hell does the publisher have to offer me anymore? Rather than have them put out a $15 Kindle book that I see a buck or two from and no one buys with a print version that is on and off the shelves in head-swimming time on a death march to the warehouse remainder store, I’d rather put out a $5.99 ebook version that I see $4 from each one and more people buy. I have a whole rant on how the true function of ebook platforms is to enable impulse buys, but this current post is already too long. That must come later.

When I interviewed Cory Doctorow in 2006, one of the things he said is that the generation coming of age now is the first one to arise “without a stigma attached to self-publication.” Since I’ve been paying attention to the world of science fiction and writers in general, a giant shift has happened. When I joined GEnie in 1992, the notion of self-publishing your work meant that it was unreadable tripe and the very thought of it was risible to any serious author. Nowadays, it might well be the most rational economic choice available. If you aren’t already in the system and earning livable wages from advances on your books, and you are the sort of writer and person with that drive – a JC Hutchins, a Scott Sigler, a Tee Morris, a Mur Lafferty, an Alec Longstreth, someone willing to do more than thrown the manuscript over the wall and wait for finished copies to return – it might be time to take the reins yourself and just do this. The costs are low which means the cost of failing is low. The traditional publishers aren’t paying that much anyway so the opportunity costs are low. Just do it. Lynne Abbey, CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher did. The writers at Book View Cafe did. I will. Don’t pin your hopes on a big publisher with economic drivers that are different than yours. Just do it yourself, work the people yourself and keep as much of the money as you can.

RIP, Kage Baker

Possibly lost in the publishing world brouhaha of the weekend, science fiction writer Kage Baker died of cancer on Sunday. I didn’t know her well and only met her once in real life, but I interviewed her several times and read many of her novels and stories. I found her an utterly charming person, a delight to read and a delight to talk to. I wish I had been able to spend more time in her actual corporeal presence but I’m glad for what interaction I did get.

I wrote her an email on Thursday expressing my sympathies and gratitude that I ever got to meet her. I don’t know if it was too late or not to get read to her, and it doesn’t really matter that much. This sucks that she had to die so young but she did have loved ones around her and many that love her in this life. What more is there to ask for?

You could do a lot worse than to go read some of her work. I’m a particular fan of The Company stories that were the majority of her output, but everything is great. Goodbye, Ms. Baker. You will be missed.

NaNoWriMo Second Draft Special

My friends Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith are writers who between them have written a significant chunk of my favorite books of the last twenty years. Earlier this year, before I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo and before they formed their agency, I had already reached out to them as first readers to help me with my novel draft. Not only am I a first novelist, but I haven’t written much fiction of any length so I wanted to get some critiques of the general structure of the work. I wasn’t looking for a line edit, but more along the lines of answering the questions “Does this book achieve what it tries to? Does it pay off what it sets up? Does this thing flow like a novel?” My novel has two timelines running in parallel, which Nicola did with three in her novel Slow River and I’d like to know how successfully they think I pull that off. It’s scary stuff for a dilettante writer to attempt and I definitely want a second opinion on it.

Now they they have formed their agency Sterling Editing, they are doing that sort of work for a wider clientele. They have decided to offer a NaNoWriMo special. If you are a participant (have to be able to point to your progress page and results), they’ll offer an evaluation of your book at a deep discount from what that service normally costs. I’ll be taking them up on this in the post NaNoWriMo editing madness of turning my first draft into something that will get published, either by an existing publisher or by me myself. One way or another, this is going out into the world and I want their help tuning it up.

November is all about losing the excuses, getting motivated and putting some words on paper. When you’ve done that and you are looking for taking your NaNoWriMo novel from first to subsequent drafts, I’d suggest looking at Sterling Editing. That’s who will be helping me.

Why I am Doing NaNoWriMo This Year

Punk List for Manzanar Dreams

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I made the decision late in the game that this year, I would be a participant in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m publicly kind of a non-joiner, so why did I join in this? When I was in college and my early twenties, it was my goal to be a full-time professional writer. I was a big reader of science fiction, and I could think of nothing better than to spend my days as a writer of it. I did write short stories in that time period, and even had a poem published in the magazine Aboriginal SF. None of my short stories were ever published, as I never submitted any of them to any publications.

In 1991 I started taking notes for a novel idea I had. It was titled Manzanar Dreams and concerned the 1970’s California punk scene, the Japanese internment during World War 2, the spread of corporate radio, mind control and a little good old fashioned homicide. I’ve got character notes, plot outlines and even drawings of the characters that date back 18 years. I’ve never gone a week without thinking about this book in that whole time, but in 18 years there is one telling thing I have failed to do. I haven’t written one word of the actual text of the book.

I had actually emailed my writer friend Kelley Eskridge earlier this year to tell her I was stealth attempting to write the book. Then I shelved it in favor of a different project that seemed timely that equally didn’t happen, with the final result of me doing nothing on anything. I decided to change gears and rather than stealthily attempt the book, I’d publically do it as part of NaNoWriMo. It really is time to either do this thing or admit that I’ll never do it, so here I go.

One of the structural challenges that faced me is that I have three main characters: a hero, a fairly sympathetic villain, and a love interest vertex of the interpersonal triangle. When I have thought about the book for these years, 98% of my energies have gone towards the villain. He’s the character that I personally find compelling, which begged the question – if I cared about him more than the other characters, why should I expect the readers to care about the others? Why isn’t the book solely about him as the anti-hero? I had a breakthrough a few months ago, where a very small change in perspective towards the hero made the themes of the book more tangible and also gave me a hook into why I should care about him just as much as the bad guy. From that point, I felt like a bull waiting to get released from the chute.

Yesterday (notably day two of the month, I left the first pass by completely) I wrote the first two chapters of this book, including a scene I’ve been thinking of for most of that 18 years. It flew by. I write the first 1000 word chapter in 30 minutes on my lunch break. I don’t expect all of them to come this easily as I’ve thought a lot about the beginning and end of this book, but the tricky middle where all the story and character arc happens needs much fleshing out. Looking back over the 2350 words I wrote yesterday, it lacks a lot of sublety but I can live with that at this point. I need to get something down on paper to be fixed later, and I’d rather have imperfect, unsubtle prose today than perfect and wonderful words at some indeterminate point in the fuzzy future. This whole month long exercise is about turning off the inner critic, tabling all the excuses for failing to produce and just going for it. That’s what I’m doing, I’m going for it. I have an Amazon wish list for the project that I’m not begging for people to buy me stuff so much as is a resource list for what I’m thinking about. I’ll be buying some of the music on that list to listen to as I attempt to pound out this book.

Merlin Mann actually covered some of the points that bother me about the whole NaNoWriMo infrastructure. You can follow along with me at my author’s page, but be warned I’m not doing much of the social stuff. Like Merlin says, that time you spend on the forums is time you aren’t writing and with my full-time job and a lot of other crap going on, I don’t have much ability to spend my free time not writing while still making it to 50,000 words this month.

I’m scared, I’m exhilarated, I’m happy to be making tangible something about which I have thought so much. That’s the part that matters to me, making it real. See you in December, with my nearly completed or completely completed manuscript. For November it is mostly periscope down, full bore ahead.

Sterling Editing

I frequently blog about my friends Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge because not only do I love them very much but they are both ridiculously talented. I love all their writing, and now they have a new venture in the world. They’ve formed Sterling Editing, a service for editing, mentoring and coaching writers. These ladies know their stuff, having many awards and nominations between them and having written two of my favorite books: Slow River and Solitaire.

In a world where we have an increasing number of podcast fiction writers publishing directly to audio and then their own book release via Lulu.com or the like, it makes a lot of sense to get some editorial eyes on your work in that process. They do overall assessments of generalized things to work on, line edits, mentoring and coaching. Basically, this is the stuff you need to move your writing into the next gear.

I can tell you personally that I’ve had the opportunity to get their critical eyes on my own writing, and it was a terrific and helpful experience. It never failed to improve the work at hand and also to step up my skill level. Particularly in the cases where you are going the self-publication route or think you need just a little bit more to get your novel across the hump to getting purchased, look into their services. It will be well worth your money.

Douglas Rushkoff and Life, Inc

The other day on impulse I bought the Kindle version of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Life Inc . I heard two interviews with him, one on Bat Segundo and another on Tech Nation. I’ve long since dropped Tech Nation but this is the rare episode I actually didn’t delete out of hand and actually listened to.

Both interviews were interesting and in aggregate they sold me the book. I’m interested in the basic question of “When did we decide that these legal constructs that emulate a person are more important than actual people?” The Bat Segundo interview had one of Ed’s trademark conflicts of premise with Rushkoff. I swear to god, I’ve never heard any interviewer get more guest pushback than this show, but it was entertaining. One of the insights that interested me in the book was Rushkoff’s tackling of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, specifically that “self-actualization” is the highest peak of human enlightenment. As he points out, that’s actually a (by definition) self-centered viewpoint, and one could argue that the highest point of achievement is something like “community actualization” where you not only are secure and fulfilled in yourself but also with those around you.

Until Dragon*Con and beyond, I’ve got every second of reading time committed to books I need to read for interviews, but as soon as that is passed I’m reading the Rushkoff. It sounds right in my wheelhouse.

Update: I forgot to mention that in the Tech Nation interview, Rushkoff lamented that people are trying to earn more money so their money earns more money, and then to retire ever younger. Let me be the first to say “Guilty as charged!” I have a very good job that allows for a very secure life that I enjoy going to most days (I’d be lying if I said “every day.”) Even so, the idea of having all day every day to pursue whatever crazy idea occurs to me, to read books and comics and watch old movies, that seems like a damn pleasant existence. I’ve said for many years that if I ever get the point that my money and investments earn as much as I do, I’m going to get out of the way and let it do the work. Rushkoff seems to think that’s a weakness in character or morals or something. That’s what I call “the master plan.”

RIP, Dale Hudson

Sadly, Dale Hudson, a local author was found dead this week. As it happened, I met the guy a few years ago and blogged about it. He was giving a talk at my local library and I just happened to go and to buy a copy of his book Dance Of Death. I was a little shocked when hearing this story of a man found drowned when they showed the picture and I recognized him.

He went missing Wednesday and was found in the Pee Dee River Saturday night. The police report says there were no signs of foul play. This doesn’t look good and seems to be a sad story. I wish peace to his family.

Today is Kelley Day!

Today is Kelley Eskridge day at this Author August thing happening on the Science Fiction Message Board. Kelley is one of my favorite people in this world, one of my favorite writers in any genre and a person who makes things better. Check it out.

There are only a few posts on her thread as I type this but it’s early on a Saturday. I guess I’ll have to create an account on that board so I can join in. For those interested in her, I humbly point you to the Reality Break interview I did with her a few years ago around the release of her collection Dangerous Space. These are all good ways to spend your weekend.

Learning from Kindlegate and Amazonfail

I ran across this article at Podcasting News which reference this original article about trying to get multiple copies of purchased eBooks on multiple Kindle readers. This is being dubbed “Kindlegate” apparently. At first I was confused as to how this was a DRM issue because it sounded like an access to download issue, until I realized the core of the problem was trying to get the same book served out encrypted to various Kindle IDs.

Both “Kindlegate” and “Amazonfail” have one big commonality. Both original raisers of these issues cite the initial response from front line customer support as if it were gospel and then take umbrage when later on company policy is stated to be different from that first response. I am shocked, shocked I say, that Skip from Mumbai or Chad from Guangzhou may not be clued in to the exact ins and outs of company policy. To think, the people whose primary advice is to reboot and reinstall the OS may lack critical information? The mind boggles.

I want to stress that I am not a Kindle or Amazon apologist. I think they are screwing up some basic things but a lot of this issue is pure expectation. It does not seem unreasonable to me that there is a limit to DRM serving out of a single purchased download to different IDs. If there is not, then one person can effectively buy one copy and then serve as an unauthorized middleman for an infinite number of other users if he is willing to take the effort and be a scumbag.

However, in a world where MobiDeDRM exists, I don’t think this is such a huge issue. I would have thought much harder about buying a Kindle had this tool not existed. In the cases where it matters to me, I do not strip the DRM and store it away because that would be wrong. For others who might want to have access to their purchased documents under any circumstance, I’d strongly recommend not seeking out that tool.

I’ll admit that I have a certain lack of empathy for this issue. Those affected tend to be the ones with multiple Kindles and/or multiple iPhones, aka people who are already gizmo loving spazmos with more money than sense and kind of up the curve from mainline users. If there is a standard procedure ala iTunes to say to Amazon “I know longer have device with ID XYZ, please remove it from my authorized list and increment my allowed downloads by one” then that seems like it would be reasonable for 99% of users. It certainly seems reasonable for me and my usage patterns.

And for the record, I’m sick of people saying the Kindle is a “closed system” just like I was sick about them saying the same for an iPod. Devices that allow you to put arbitrary files on them in variety of unprotected formats and use them at will cannot possibly be closed. At least 50% of the documents on my Kindle are ones that I downloaded for free from Project Gutenburg or got emailed as review copies or otherwise did not pay Amazon for. That doesn’t fit with my definition of “closed”. You can buy unencrypted books at Fictionwise or other places. In fact its reasonable to do as much shopping in places that sell unencrypted books as possible so you register with the business that a marketplace exists for such things. You are voting with your dollars, kids.

The Kindle Criticism I Reject Out Of Hand

Shortly I’m going to post my review of the Kindle. I had held off because I wanted to have actually read some books to completion on it. I’ve done all the major functions at this point. I’ve read books I’ve purchased from Amazon – both from the web page and directly from the device. I’ve read my own documents, I’ve read review copies I got in AZW format, ones that I’ve had to convert, etc. At this point, I’ve done most of what you can do.

Prior to writing that, I want to head off one criticism that I read or hear at least once in any discussion of the device. In any Kindle conversation that goes any length, in person or online, you are guaranteed to hear the statement “The Kindle doesn’t appeal to me. I just love paper books.” That’s an admirable outlook. Paper books need people to love them. I love books too, I have a house full of them and no intention of getting rid of them. However that’s a statement about you, not about the device and it is completely irrelevant.

I love horses. They are fine, majestic animals. However, I’m going to keep driving my car to work. I love vinyl albums but I’m going to keep my CDs and my MP3 player, and despite the fact that vinyl sounds superior I’ll keep buying MP3s from the Amazon music store. I think a pork butt that is smoked over mesquite for 24 hours is about as good as food gets, but I’m keeping my microwave.

Unless your bibliophilia is driven by pure collector mania, you are reading some of these books. The Kindle is a fine, convenient device for reading. It’s not something that will subsume all reading ever under any circumstance. It has its uses and affordances and strong points and weak points, just like anything.

If your big opening salvo against the Kindle is “I love paper books” don’t be surprised if I ignore you and your input. If your big criticism of eating hamburgers is that you love sushi, you’ll get the same reaction from me. If you can’t understand different things have different usage patterns and that one pattern doesn’t negate the others, we’re unlikely to have a basis for this conversation.

PS – As I am composing this post, I just heard Pat Conroy on TV saying very similar things to those I reject. He doesn’t understand why anyone would want to read on the Kindle. Simmer down Pat, it’s a lower friction way for people to pay you. Be magnanimous enough to let them pay you for your writing. I have no doubt that if you were saying this in 1939, you’d be decrying the uncivilized form factor of the paperback book because you just love your hardcovers.