David Kubicek

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Internet is Flat-Lining

This week a Federal court overturned the Federal Communication Commission’s Open Internet Order.

This means that now Internet Service Providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T can decide which websites you will be allowed to visit. They can slow down or block access to certain sites (read: smaller, poorer companies and bloggers), and they can speed up access to sites (read: large, well-funded companies) who can afford to pay hefty access fees.

Net neutrality isn’t dead yet, but it is very sick; the FCC can still reassert its authority over broadband.

To read more about this latest blow to a free internet, check out these articles by Craig Aaron

Net Neutrality is Dead–Here’s How to Get it Back

Does This Ruling Mean the End of the Internet? Maybe.

New Interview

Smashwords has just posted a new interview with me. Check it out here: https://www.smashwords.com/interview/DavidKubicek

Leprechauns: Mythology of the Little People

Leprechauns are often stereotyped, misunderstood—especially in the United States—and even maligned, as in a series of 1990s horror films in which the leprechaun is a malevolent little beastie.

Leprechauns have been used to sell cereal (Lucky Charms) and as mascots for sports teams (the Boston Celtics). They have been portrayed as pyromaniacs (in an episode of The Simpsons), and their musical taste has been impugned—sentimental Irish music is called Leprechaun Music. And, of course, it is common knowledge that leprechauns have a pot of gold.

How does all of all of this “leprechaun lore” stack up to the leprechaun’s real place in Irish mythology? As with most fantasy figures, leprechauns have evolved over the years, and the most romantic aspects of their legend have stuck.

A commonly accepted image of a leprechaun is of a small, old man with a red beard and wearing a top hat. He is often intoxicated, but never so drunk that he can’t ply his trade as a shoemaker or a tinker. The first sign that a leprechaun is near usually is the tapping of his hammer.

It’s unclear where the name “leprechaun” comes from. It may be from leath bhrogan, Irish for shoemaker, or it may derive from the Irish word luacharma’n for pygmy.

Leprechauns have not been around that long. They rarely are spoken of in folk tales, those stories that usually concern a human hero and are given a more formal telling. Leprechaun tales usually are told casually by locals and contain local names and scenery.

Only since the early 20th Century have leprechauns been depicted as wearing emerald green; the first leprechauns wore red, and their physical appearance varied depending on where in Ireland they lived.

Unlike the malicious creature in the Leprechaun films, leprechauns like solitude and usually avoid human habitations, although some have adopted human families and have even followed them abroad.

In general, though, leprechauns don’t have much use for humans, whom they consider foolish and greedy.

Leprechauns are cunning, mischievous and sometimes cranky, but they generally don’t harm people. They have a “gift for gab” and would be the life of the party, if you could get them to attend human parties.

Leprechauns do have a treasure, left by the Vikings when they plundered Ireland in the eighth and ninth Centuries A.D., which they bury in crocks of gold.

Because leprechauns are honest, if you capture one, he must tell you where he’s hidden his gold, but beware of his tricks. You can hold a leprechaun in place with your eyes, but if you glance away, he will vanish.

Each leprechaun carries two leather pouches, one containing a silver coin and the other a gold coin, to bribe captors to set him free. But both coins are bewitched; once the leprechaun has paid his ransom and gained his freedom, the silver returns to his purse, and the gold turns to leaves or ashes.

Wail of the Banshee: Harbinger of Death in Irish Folklore

A mournful wail shatters the stillness, rising and falling like ocean waves, echoing through the dark, lonely hills. It is the cry of the Banshee, an omen that someone will die.

According to Irish folklore, the Banshee wails, or “keens,” for only the five major families of Ireland: the O’Neils, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys, and the Kavanaghs. Each Banshee attaches itself to a mortal family and follows that family wherever it travels, even across the ocean.

When someone in the family is about to die she stalks the hills around their home, her silver-grey hair streaming like a gossamer waterfall to the ground, her face pale and eyes red from weeping, her grey-white cloak as fine as cobwebs clinging to her tall slender frame. If you catch a Banshee, she must reveal the name of the person for whom she is keening.

The Banshee can take many forms. She may appear as a beautiful young woman, as a stately matron, as an old hag, or as an animal Irish folklore associates with witchcraft, such as a hooded crow, a hare, or a weasel. Some legends maintain that she is a ghost, often of a murdered woman or woman who died in childbirth.

In Ireland she is called Bean Sidhe (Sidhe pronounced “shee”), which literally means “woman of the fairy mound.” Her Scottish counterpart is Bean Nighe, or “washer woman,” which is another form she can take. The English word “keen” is derived from the Irish caoineadh, which means “lament.”

Traditionally, a woman would sing a lament, which was said to be an imitation of the Banshee’s cry, at peasant funerals.

According to legend, Banshees would appear before the death of a member of the five major families and sing their laments. If several banshees appeared, it foretold that someone great or holy would die.

The Banshee herself often attends funerals, her wails blending in with those of the mourners.

An American Valentine Story

She launched a business empire when she was nineteen years old. Her New England Valentine Company grossed $5,000 in its first year and was earning more than $100,000 annually when she retired in 1881 at the age of 53.

Her name was Esther Allen Howland (1828-1904), and today she is often called the Mother of the American Valentine’s Day card. Her alliances with two other early valentine makers, Jotham Taft (1816-1910) and George C. Whitney (1842-1915), would build the company she started in her home into an economic powerhouse.

In 1847, Worcester, Mass., native Esther Howland was a recent graduate of the 10-year-old Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Mass., when her father received a supply of English valentines to sell in his book and stationery store. She marveled at their lacy paper and floral decorations, but she thought she could do better.

Through her father’s store she imported the materials from England and set to work. Her brother was so impressed with the results that he took samples with him on selling trips and brought back orders—so many orders that Howland had to recruit friends to help her keep up with the demand.

Soon the enterprise moved to the third floor of the Howland home where there was enough room to set up an assembly line, with each employee contributing a piece to each card. Later she rented commercial space.

By the mid-1860s Jotham Taft and George C. Whitney also were building reputations as valentine makers.

According to family lore, Taft was creating valentines as early as 1840; however, 1863 is the first record we have of his efforts. Taft collected materials while traveling in Europe, and when he returned to the United States he and his wife made valentines at home.

Taft later partnered with Howland but sold his company to George Whitney when he retired.

Like Howland, George C. Whitney began selling valentines out of the stationery store he and his brother, Edward, owned in Worcester, Mass. Edward left the partnership in 1869, and in 1881, Whitney bought New England Valentine Co. from Howland.

Combined with Taft’s and Howland’s Companies, Whitney took his firm to the next level in American valentine manufacturing. He installed machinery to make lace paper and floral decorations so the firm no longer would have to import materials from England. By 1888, the company boasted stores in New York, Boston, and Chicago.

After George Whitney died in 1915, his son, Warren, took over the business. When it shut down in 1942, a victim of the World War II paper shortage, the company that had grown out of the efforts of Esther Allen Howland, Jotham Taft, and George C. Whitney was the largest valentine producer in the world.

Annual Report: 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Silent Night

The following story is based on true events that happened on Christmas Eve in 1818.

**********

An icy wind gust slammed into Father Joseph Mohr, but he leaned forward and pressed on through the night, snow crunching under his boots. The wind drove frail waves of snow skittering through the streets, deserted at this hour except for one lone plodding figure, Father Mohr. In his overcoat pocket his hand pressed the folded sheet of paper against his side, as if protecting it.

He stopped beside the schoolhouse and looked up the stairway to the apartment of the school teacher, who was also the church organist. Feeble light flickered behind the windows. The wind shredded the chimney smoke to ribbons that dissipated into the black sky. Low clouds hung like a shroud over the Austrian village of Oberndorf.

His body numb from the cold, his feet like blocks of ice, Father Mohr climbed the stairs and rapped on the door. Shuffling sounds from inside. The door opened. The man who stood in the doorway seemed startled to see the young priest.

“Franz, I need your help,” Father Mohr said.

“Father, come in. Warm yourself by the stove.”

Father Mohr stepped into the tiny room, and Franz closed the door. Against the opposite wall was a bed, neatly made up. In the center of the room was a small table with three chairs around it. A lantern hung from a hook above the table. The faint smell of Franz Gruber’s dinner lingered on the air.

“Can I get you some tea, Father?”

“Thank you, no. I can’t stay long.”

“How can I help, Father?”

Father Mohr motioned to the table, and the two men sat down. The stove radiated an abundant amount of heat, but it did little to combat the cold draft that stirred in the room whenever the wind battered against the walls.

“The organ will not play,” Father Mohr said. “I worked on it all afternoon, but it is no use.”

“But mass is in less than four hours! What will Christmas Eve be like without music?”

“I prayed for guidance, and after a time it came.”

From his overcoat pocket Father Mohr drew a crinkled yellowing piece of paper and handed it to his friend. Franz unfolded it while the young priest continued.

“While I prayed, I remembered the poem I’d written two years ago when I was at Mariapfarr.” Father Mohr licked his lips. “I hesitate to ask this of you, good friend, but could you write music for this poem? Could you write it for guitar? Could you do it in two hours?”

Franz looked down at the page and read the poem. Then he looked up at Father Mohr and smiled.

“I can do this, Father.”

Father Mohr gripped his friend’s hand.

“In two hours? I must learn the melody and the chords, and the choir must learn its part.”

“In two hours, if not sooner. I’ll be at the church with the song an hour before midnight.”

Father Mohr thanked his friend profusely and stepped out into the restless night. There was a spring in his step as he walked the few blocks back to St. Nicholas Church. The cold no longer bothered him, and an occasional star peeked out from among the clouds.

Shortly before 11 p.m., Father Mohr was tuning his guitar in the candlelit sanctuary when Franz came in. He showed his work to Father Mohr.

“This is perfect!” Father Mohr said.

“We’ve got to get busy,” Franz said.

While Father Mohr learned the chords, Franz gathered the members of the choir who were just beginning to arrive. He sang the song for them.

“You must come in on the last two lines of each verse,” he said.

Father Mohr had been musically gifted since he was a child, so it didn’t take him long to learn the song. Then he and Franz worked with the choir until it was time to begin mass.

Shortly after midnight, Father Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber stood before the main altar, and Father Mohr began to play. The notes rang out crystal clear like bells on a still night. The two friends sang their composition for the first time in public.

“Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright . . .”

When they had finished, there was complete silence in the chamber. Father Mohr looked out over his congregation and saw more than a few moist eyes. He set his guitar aside and in a hushed voice led the congregation in prayer.

**********

I’ve taken some liberties with this story. The facts are all true, the names, the locations, the time frame, Father Mohr having been a gifted musician since his childhood. But facts alone do not a story make, so I wrote up something that I believe is a pretty good approximation as to how these events played out. Also, Father Mohr was the assistant priest of St. Nicholas Church (ironic, but the real name of the church—I swear), but history seems to have buried the name of the main priest—at least I never ran across it. For the sake of the story I put Father Mohr in charge. So sue me.

In January, 1819, organ builder and repairman Karl Mauracher came to St. Nicholas Church to repair the organ. Father Mohr shared the song with him. Impressed, Mauracher wrote down the lyrics and learned the melody. He shared “Silent Night” wherever he went. Traveling folk singers and singing groups spread the song through Europe. One of those groups, the Rainers, performed the song in New York in 1839. By the time of the Civil War “Silent Night” had become America’s most popular Christmas song.

Many legends grew up about the song’s origins. One that persists to this day is that mice gnawed through the organ’s bellows, but that tale is like the urban legends and conspiracy theories of modern times; it makes an exciting story, but the truth is that the organ was old, the winter was bitterly cold, and the instrument just broke.

Other legends attributed “Silent Night” to Beethoven, Handel, and Bach. These stories were put to rest after Franz Gruber launched an extensive letter-writing campaign to newspapers and publishers and made public one of his early arrangements. Unfortunately, Father Mohr died in 1848, before he and Gruber were recognized as the composers of “Silent Night.”

For an excellent rendition of “Silent Night” as it might have sounded when Father Mohr played it to his congregation, check out Dave Colvin’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOzEG4i0hPo

Copyright 2012 by David Kubicek

All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Izzy’s Christmas Song

Izzy Baline published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy,” when he was 19 years old and working as a singing waiter in a Chinatown restaurant. During a career spanning more than eighty years he wrote thousands of songs; he published 812 of them, and 451 of those became hits.

During his most productive years Izzy wrote a song a day. One critic even called him a writing machine. It must be remembered, however, that he usually did not write his songs in a day; he just finished them. His songs had gestation periods of months or even years.

Izzy wrote many of his songs for the Broadway stage and for motion pictures. Some of his best-known songs are “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “A Pretty Girl is like a Melody,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America.”

His songs were performed in the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, among others, and Al Jolson sang “Blue Skies” in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first “talking picture.”

Izzy completed his most famous song, “White Christmas,” on January 8, 1940, and Bing Crosby introduced it to the world in Holiday Inn (1942), for which it won the academy award for Best Song.

Reportedly, Izzy began composing the song during a five-year stay in sunny southern California, where he was working on films, and finished it after returning to New York.  Some of the many artists—besides Crosby—who recorded “White Christmas” include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, Fats Domino, and Michael Bolton.

More than 30 million copies of “White Christmas,” composed by a Russian-born Jew named Izzy Baline, have been sold worldwide. But Izzy Baline is not the name under which he published his music. Professionally, he used a different name, one he adopted when very young. We know him as Irving Berlin.

Writing a Dystopian Novel: Balancing World-Building with Character-Building

Occasionally I’ve heard science fiction writers complain that in order to create a future world or alternate reality they have to sacrifice characterization; to create a world and to create characters would take too long, be too wordy, and might bore the readers.

That is crap. It’s an excuse used by 1) lazy writers who don’t want to bother with characterization, and 2) inexperienced writers who haven’t yet learned to “show, don’t tell.”

Ray Bradbury created an unfamiliar world populated with well-defined characters in Fahrenheit 451, as did Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, as did Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, as have many other science fiction and fantasy writers.

You don’t need to waste lots of words describing your futuristic world; a few well-chosen words will do. In one of his stories, Robert A. Heinlein has doors that operate like camera shutters; they open automatically when someone approaches them and close after the character has passed through. To communicate this concept to his readers, as his character approaches a door, Heinlein writes three words: “The door dilated.”

Similarly, don’t waste words describing your characters; show them in action. The best way to engage your readers is to create characters who are like them, characters who want the same things and who react emotionally in the same ways. This establishes an emotional bond between your characters and your readers.

To create a dystopian world, find something that may be slightly wrong in our contemporary society and exaggerate it so that it is has caused your future society to be seriously out of whack. For example, Ray Bradbury took censorship to the next level in Fahrenheit 451 when he envisioned a future in which firemen seek out illegal collections of books and burn them.

So you have characters to whom your readers can relate, and you have a society in which something is broken. Now combine the two.

Remember that, although the characters have an emotional tie to contemporary readers, their thoughts and actions must be consistent with the society in which they live. In Fahrenheit 451, for example, at the front of the characters’ minds all the time is the knowledge that possessing a book is a serious crime. They know also that speeding 100 miles per hour down the freeway and trying to hit anything that moves is a good, and accepted, form of recreation.

That’s it in a nutshell. Writing a solid dystopian story is as easy as writing a contemporary story if you follow these three guidelines:

  • Create characters of the future to whom contemporary readers can relate
  • Exaggerate a flaw in contemporary society until you’ve created a world that is seriously broken
  • The thoughts and actions of the characters must be consistent with the society in which they live

Good Luck!

The article originally appeared on BEAUTY IN RUINS on April 12, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon

It should not come as a surprise that a book of little literary quality (and I use the word “literary” in the loosest sense) should top the New York Times Best Seller List, but it is irritating when one considers all of the excellent novels that don’t even come within hailing distance of the hot 100.

I haven’t read the complete novel, but I did read the first several pages. Basically, I read it as an agent and editor would if it showed up their slush piles (i.e., “hook me in the first few pages or I pass on it.”) The opening didn’t hook me because the prose was not polished, the dialogue was wooden, and the scene did not interest me enough to continue reading. I didn’t even get to the porn, which seems to be the primary reason sales of this book are challenging sales figures of such authors as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, who actually are excellent writers.

Since I can’t speak to the content of Fifty Shades of Grey because I got bored, here’s a video of a an all-woman book club that did read the complete novel–apparently to the regret of some members in the group. The novel (and I use the word “novel” loosely) has already resulted in many parodies, one of which has been getting much press. Although I haven’t read Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, it certainly piques my interest more than the book at which it is poking fun.

Don’t Waste Time Dwelling on Bad Reviews

It is never pleasant to get a bad review. In fact, reading a review that savagely eviscerates the novel you’ve spent months nurturing is one of the most unpleasant experiences a writer can have.

This might help: Getting a bad review often means that you have missed your audience.

Even if you haven’t thought about writing to an audience, one exists for your book. If you’re successful at finding your readers—and assuming your book is well written—most of your reviews should range from 3 to 5 stars, which is where you want to be.

But every author who has collected lots of reviews has picked up some bad ones—even the most popular books by the most popular writers.

Try this experiment. Search Amazon for your favorite books. If they have enough total reviews, I guarantee that some reviewers will rip them apart. Most of the reviews may be 3, 4 or 5 stars, but there will be the inevitable handful of readers who rate the books as forgettable, a waste of time.

The bottom line is: You can’t please everyone. This also is true of “professional” reviewers,” those folks who get paid to review books and movies.

For example, one criticism of The Hunger Games is that the novel is not original, that a screwed up future world and a reality TV show where the contestants kill each other has been done before—the novel to which it usually is compared is Stephen King’s The Running Man.

Technically, everything has been done before. A fellow named Georges Polti analyzed lots and lots of literature and concluded that every story that has ever been written or will ever be written can fit into one of 36 dramatic situations, or plots. What makes each story fresh and different is what the author brings to the telling. Although The Hunger Games and The Running Man use the same basic plot elements, they are vastly different novels.

Does any of this make you feel better about getting bad reviews? Maybe the following chart will help. I’ve listed five popular novels and the reviews they’ve gotten on Amazon (as of 4:30 p.m. Central Time on July 22, 2012):

1-star 2-star 5-star Total Reviews
11/22/63 by Stephen King 88 80 1,268 1,871
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 96 76 787 1,505
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 247 193 6,156 8,220
The Help by Kathryn Stockett 182 123 4,450 5,639
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain 17 19 256 455

Remember two things:

  • Don’t give much weight to ratings without reviews telling why the readers didn’t like your book.
  • Don’t give any weight to mean-spirited reviews in which readers seem more interested in attacking you and your book than in giving constructive reasons why they didn’t like it.

A review is just someone’s opinion, and as long as you’re getting mostly positive comments, don’t waste time dwelling on the bad ones.

This article was originally published April 16, 2012, as a guest post on Wise Words. I’ve updated the information in the table.

Ray Bradbury Embarks On His Last Great Adventure

Ray Bradbury once said that there are three great adventures: being born, living, and dying. Last night Bradbury embarked on that last great adventure when he died at his Los Angeles home at the age of 91.

Bradbury not only had a profound influence on my writing style, but his book The Martian Chronicles inspired me to start writing in the first place. We exchanged a few letters in the 80s and early 90s, and I found him to be an approachable and generous man.

The first time I wrote him, I sent him a copy of the college thesis I’d written about him and his early work: Ray Bradbury: Space Age Visionary. In less than a week I received a note of thanks along with galleys for a new book of criticism of his work another author was publishing.

My first inclination when I heard of Bradbury’s passing was to take time off and read some of his stories in honor of his memory. But I immediately realized that the best memorial to a man who got physically sick if he didn’t write at least two pages every day would be to write. So as soon as I post this, I’ll go back to work on my novel. I’ll read some of his stories later.

For more about Ray Bradbury’s life check out his Washington Post obituary and his video Ray Bradbury on Writing.

Learn to Write Novels by Writing Short Stories

When I was in college a well-meaning English professor read one of my short stories and encouraged me to expand it into a novel. I wholeheartedly agreed. I thought it would make a good novel then, and I think so now. But at that time I wasn’t ready to write a novel. I’d only been trying to write professionally for a short time and was just becoming comfortable with the short story form. I didn’t realize that a novel is an entirely different animal, and it takes much longer to write.

So I started pounding the keyboard to transform my 5,000-word short story into a 50,000-word novel. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Just add scenes. Piece of cake. Unfortunately, at that time I had never heard of Elmore Leonard or his one-sentence explanation of the driving force behind his writing: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Long story short, my first novel was mostly made up of parts that even I skipped. I finally put it out of its misery at 47,000 words because I couldn’t stand working on it another minute, not even to reach my goal of 50,000 words. I never submitted it anywhere. I tried to throw it away, but the garbage man rejected it. He suggested I call the hazardous waste people. I put it on a shelf in the closet where it gathered dust and dead flies–who died instantly once they landed on it . . .

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But the best thing I can say about my first novel is that it stunk to high heaven, and the worst thing I can say about it cannot be published on a family blog. Mercifully, the thing was lost over the years as I moved from one place to another. I hope it won’t show up to haunt me when I least expect it.

Why should you care about my first novel-writing experience? I’m glad you asked.

Regular readers of this blog know by now that I have a man-crush on Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s advice to aspiring writers is to write short stories to learn their craft. You can write one short story per week, 52 short stories per year, but it will take you months to write a novel. You get more practice, and more chances of getting it right – and you learn more about writing – by writing short stories.

Except for my one deviation described above, I followed Bradbury’s advice. I wrote 200 short stories before I wrote my next novel. Most of them were clinkers, but among the coal were some gems. I finally got it right and was prepared to tackle a longer form.

And judging from comments I’ve gotten from readers and reviewers, I did a much better job with my second novel, In Human Form, than I did with my first.

A Friend of the Family Blog Tour Ends: And the Winners are . . .

At Midnight April 20 – in whatever time zone you’re in; I won’t be anal about it – my virtual book tour for A Friend of the Family ended. It was a fun three weeks, but it was also lots of work, so I’m ready to move on to other things.

Today I conducted the final bit of business for my blog tour, awarding two $25 Amazon gift cards. One card went to J.A. Beard, whose Unnecessary Musings blog received six comments, the most of any blog stop. When deciding on a winner I included my own comments, which consisted of thanking my host and responding to any comments posted by readers, hosts, etc. This wasn’t an unfair advantage; if I took my comments out of the mix, J.A. Beard still would have won.

To award the other card I put the names of everyone who left a comment on the tour into a bowl. I didn’t put in my own name, of course. If a commenter left more than one comment I put his/her name in for each comment he/she left. I thought this was fair for two reasons:

  • I believe the people who left two or more comments should have improved odds, as if they had bought more than one lottery ticket
  • It increased the pool because even with the duplicate names, there were only 17 chances to win

I wrote each name on a piece of paper, folded it, and put it in a bowl. I held the bowl above my head, and my son Sean drew a name. The winner was Louise Wise. Louise is the owner of Wise Words, a stop on my blog tour. She also left two comments – the most comments any one person left was four, so in this case the greater odds weren’t that great of an advantage.

The good thing about doing a virtual blog tour is that the interviews  and guest posts will be anchored in cyberspace until time itself comes to an end.

Okay, maybe I’m being  melodramatic. The interviews and guest posts will be anchored in cyberspace until (and if) someone takes them down. So if you missed any of the stops, here is the schedule.

Now I’m taking a break from my novel work long enough to write a short story. We’ll talk again soon.

Ray Bradbury on Writing: Essential Advice for Aspiring Authors

As  most of you who have followed me for very long know, Ray Bradbury was my mentor. After reading a 25-cent copy of The Martian Chronicles that my mother had picked up at a thrift store, I decided to try to write like Bradbury and to get my stories published.

When I was in college I wrote a thesis about the connection of Bradbury’s early life to his stories. I called it Ray Bradbury: Space Age Visionary. Although I never published it, and the only publicly available copy I know of is in the special collections section at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Love Library, somehow Amazon got wind of it and listed it on their site.

I just came across an online video of a commencement address Bradbury gave in 2001. It’s 55 minutes long, so block out a good chunk of time to watch it. As I listened to him speak, I realized that I had followed his advice. I’d never heard him speak while I was learning to write, but while researching the man I’d turned up most of what he talked about in this commencement address.

Ray Bradbury is one of the great storytellers of our time. This video is essential for aspiring writers – for all writers. Watch it, bookmark it, and watch it again from time to time when you need inspiration: Ray Bradbury Commencement Address.

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY Book Tour Schedule

The virtual book tour for my short novel A Friend of the Family kicks off on March 29 and runs through April 20. Here’s the schedule:

March 29 – Meet & Greet at VBT Cafe’ Blog
March 30 – Interview & Excerpt at BooK ReviewS
March 31 – Interview at Unnecessary Musings
April 2 – Guest Blogging at Mass Musings
April 4 – Interview Immortality and Beyond
April 6 – Interview at Writing Innovations E-zine
April 10 – Interview at Reviews & Interviews
April 12 – Guest Blogging at Beauty in Ruins
April 16 – Guest Blogging at Wise Words
April 16 – Interview at BlogTalkRadio

April 18 – Interview & Excerpt by Louise James
April 20 – Review at Ereading on the Cheap
Visit the blog stops on those days and leave comments. There will be e-book (for Kindle) giveaways, and everyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card.
See you around the blogosphere.

Dear Morality Police, Let Us Choose What We Read

Payment processing giant PayPal recently gave Indie publisher Smashwords an ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape, and incest or have your PayPal account deactivated.

In an email to Smashwords authors, CEO Mark Coker said “PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations.”

PayPal didn’t mention any names, but these “banks and credit card associations” are most likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.

This is a major assault on free speech. It is an attempt by financial institutions to censor an author’s writing without due process (i.e. – going to court). Basically, the morality police are deciding what they don’t like and refusing to allow others the opportunity to choose to read it. And with the clout the financial companies have authors and publishers – especially Indie Publishers – find themselves between a rock and the proverbial hard place.

One thing you must realize is that books with adult themes or adult material usually are labeled as such so the reader can make a decision whether to read it or not. It’s unlikely that material readers find objectionable will be sprung on them without notice.

If a reader doesn’t want to read erotica, it’s best to stay out of the Erotica section. If a reader doesn’t want to read a book examining pedophilia, the cover copy for Lolita should send up red flags.

In fact, almost every classic novel you can think of, at one time or another,  has been challenged or censored.

What I ask is that the readers – not the credit card companies and banks, not citizens groups with names like The Moral Majority – be allowed to choose what they read and, just as importantly, what they don’t read.

For more information on this topic be sure to read: Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read and a letter from The National Coalition Against Censorship, and a follow-up letter from The National Coalition Against Censorship.

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY Surges onto Two Amazon Top 100 Lists

A Friend of the FamilyI extend my  heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make yesterday’s launch of my short novel A Friend of the Family a success. Your downloads propelled it a long way up the top 100 most downloaded books in two of Amazon’s categories.

On the Science Fiction list A Friend of the Family peaked at #26 and on the Literary Fiction list it peaked at #21.

For those of you who aren’t into the digital book thing, never fear. The paperback is in process and will be available by mid-March.

Thank you again for participating in yesterday’s event. Enjoy the story!

Runt of the Litter

Our nephew’s dog had puppies. My wife Cheryl and son Sean went to see them. They fell in love with the runt of the litter.

He was such a little thing, half Labrador and half hound dog. He spent most of the visit curled up on Cheryl’s chest, sleeping.

They wanted to adopt him, so they called home to ask my opinion.

“It’s fine with me,” I said, “but what do you think Whiskers and Kabella will think?”

Whiskers was our four-year-old blue-eyed gray and white tom cat. Kabella was our black Labrador, nine years old at the time.

“Whiskers will have to adjust,” Cheryl said, knowing that the cat didn’t care for dogs, barely tolerated the one we had. “Kabella has never had puppies. Maybe she’ll be a good mother.”

We had to wait a month before the puppy was old enough to leave his mother. During that time we debated possible names.

Cheryl suggested “Cuddles” because he liked to snuggle.

“With a name like Cuddles,” I said, “every dog in the neighborhood will beat him up. He’s already the runt. We don’t want to add to his troubles.”

We searched for a more masculine name. “Skippy” was proposed and just as quickly discarded.

I don’t remember how we settled on “Scooter,” but we agreed that it sounded butch enough so that the neighborhood bully dogs probably wouldn’t tease him.

Finally, we brought Scooter home. He spent the hour-long drive curled up on Sean’s lap.

Cheryl had over-estimated Kabella’s maternal instinct. Mostly, Kabella ignored Scooter, but if he pestered her too much she quickly put him in his place. And if he dared to eat from her bowl, she sent him yipping away to the living room where he cowered behind the couch.

Whiskers was indifferent to the puppy, but Scooter already had a fully developed bark-at-the-cat instinct. He would bounce around yapping at Whiskers, who was more than twice his size. Whiskers would sit serenely and watch this macho display. Finally, bored, he’d lift his paw and cuff Scooter on the side of his head. The puppy would fall over, and Whiskers would stroll quietly away.

Scooter didn’t stay tiny for long. Soon he was bigger than Whiskers, but he’d long since learned to get along with his adopted brother. Although Scooter thought of the cat as his buddy, Whiskers interacted with the dog only when he had no other choice.

Cheryl and I would sit on the couch and watch Scooter chase Whiskers down into the basement. After a moment of silence we’d hear thumping on the stairs, and Scooter would charge across the room and down the hall with Whiskers in hot pursuit. Scooter was playing, but Whiskers was serious; like Kabella, he was establishing boundaries. 

Kabella never got in touch with her maternal side. She was top dog in this house, and she never let this scrawny intruder forget it. They got along fine, but Kabella continued in her role as dominant dog even after Scooter had grown larger than her.

Whiskers also came to accept Scooter. As long as the new dog didn’t violate his space too aggressively, he was cool with it. Whiskers even tolerated an occasional rear-end sniff when he came in from outdoors; he understood that Scooter was just making sure he was the cat who belonged in this household, not an imposter.

Later, when Scooter was full-grown, we visited Cheryl’s family and met two of Scooter’s brothers. Cheryl’s sister had adopted them when they were puppies. We were surprised that both dogs had short legs and were a little chunky. They were closer to Kabella’s size than to Scooter’s.

The runt of the litter had grown into a lean, long-legged powerhouse who dwarfed his siblings. And Although Kabella and Whiskers challenged him from time to time, he had managed to fit in with his adopted family. 

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Bookstackreviews.com Review of IN HUMAN FORM

IIn Human Formn Human Form got another 5-star review, this time from bookstackreviews.com:

“It’s very difficult to portray the brilliant aspects of this book without giving plot spoilers . . . It’s wonderfully written and the early parts of the book portray the small town atmosphere perfectly.” 

Read the complete review at bookstackreviews.com

Author Interview

In Human FormUp Close and Personal with David Kubicek, Author of In Human Form

Author interview on Patti Roberts’ Blog: http://paradox-theangelsarehere.blogspot.com/2011/10/up-close-personal-with-david-kubicek.html

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

The Ox-Bow IncidentThe Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ox-Bow Incident is not your standard western. This is an excellent examination of mob justice and its consequences. Clark was a really good writer. He develops the characters and settings much better than many of the westerns I’ve read. The descriptions of western life sound as if he’s writing from experience, as if he were there, which is not the case.

Clark was born in 1909 in Maine. In 1917 his father accepted the position of President of the University of Nevada and moved the family west. By that time the west described in The Ox-Bow Incident was well on the way to extinction in the face of 20th century technology and civilization, but I’m sure there were still many remnants visible in the buildings and the landscape and many people still alive willing to tell stories of those times to an eager youngster. Even in the late 1930s, when Clark wrote this novel, he could have still found many people who remembered the west of 1885.

Not long after its publication in 1940 The Ox-Bow Incident was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda. The film is good, too, considered by many to be a classic. Read the novel, then see the film, in that order. I recommend both most highly.

View all my reviews

Red by Kait Nolan

RedRed by Kait Nolan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As young adult paranormal thriller/romances go, Red is page-turner. It tells the story of how love grows between Elodie and Sawyer. Neither of them knows the other is a werewolf when they first meet. Elodie, it turns out, is working with Sawyer’s father on a project to re-introduce the red wolf into Tennessee.

Sawyer’s dad also is a werewolf. His mother was shot while in wolf form–in Sawyer’s family, werewolves mate only with their own kind. Elodie’s father, who isn’t a werewolf, raised her after her mother supposedly killed herself when Elodie was three because of the curse on her family. Although Sawyer is a seasoned werewolf, Elodie, at age 17, is a late bloomer–she has yet to undergo a full transformation.

One night after working late, Elodie’s car breaks down. As she is walking home, a vehicle tries to run her down. Her assailant is a werewolf hunter who will not stop until she is dead. Elodie and Sawyer–who has appointed himself as Elodie’s unofficial protector–risk death as they search for a way to discover this hunter’s identity and stop him.

Red  has everything a good story should have: twists and turns and surprises, characters we can identify with and cheer for, and a pace that makes us hunger for what is coming next. I highly recommend it.

Available as an ebook from: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

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The Rose and the Lily

The Rose and the LilyThe Rose and the Lily by Susan R. Ross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this fairy tale picture book King William is desperate to marry off his spoiled daughter, Princess Rose. She is so demanding that he finds himself hiding under furniture (we first meet him when he’s under the bed) whenever he hears her coming.

As in most fairy tales, he invites suitors to compete for the hand of the beautiful princess. Prince Sterling is one of those who applies, and she sends him on a quest to find her the perfect hairpin.

He tries three times before he brings back a hairpin Princess Rose will accept. By then he has lost his enthusiasm for the beautiful but spoiled princess, and although she agrees to marry him, he turns her down and returns to Lily, a not-so-beautiful commoner he met while on his quest for the hairpin.

The Rose and the Lily carries a resounding message: character trumps beauty every time. The story is smartly illustrated by Megan Stiver. At the end of the book, Susan Ross provides instructions on how youngsters can make a crown.

View all my reviews

Love and Other Four-Letter Words by Carolyn Mackler

Love and Other Four-Letter WordsLove and Other Four-Letter Words by Carolyn Mackler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love and Other Four-Letter Words is a well-written and engaging story about a teen caught in the middle of marital problems between her parents.

When Sammie’s parents decide on a trial separation, her father (a Cornell University professor) leaves for California on sabbatical while her mother sublets their home in Ithica, NY, and moves with Sammie to New York City.

Her mother, a frustrated artist, regrets leaving the big city for an art teaching job in Ithica when she got married. When she can’t find work immediately, she falls into a deep depression, leaving Sammie to take care of both of them while also trying to rebuild her own life. But before things get better, they will get worse, much worse, eventually leading to a melt-down.

This coming-of-age novel contains some profanity and mild sexual situations but nothing that would be surprising or disturbing to most teens. I highly recommend it for early teens on up.

Read my review of Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

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Australia’s Minister for Small Business Predicts Demise of General Bookstores

Nick Sherry, Australia’s Minister for Small Business, said he believes that within five years online shopping will effectively kill general bookstores, and only specialty bookstores in major cities will remain. This prediction upset lots of people, especially since the Minister made the statement at an event that was designed to encourage small businesses to expand their online footprints.

As you may know, I predicted in an earlier post that ebooks eventually would phase out paper books. But the Minister is not suggesting that people will stop buying paper books; he’s saying they’ll buy their books online.

I think five years is pushing it, whether for phasing out paper books or bookstores. Although people are buying more and more merchandise online, changes this radical happen slowly. I’d give it 50 to 100 years. The younger generation, those youthful whippersnappers who grew up using computers (like my son, Sean, who was computer savvy before he entered kindergarten) will drive this change. Five years seems awful quick. Fifty to 100 years will give society the time it needs to adjust.

For more about reaction to the Minister’s announcement, read the Sydney Morning Herald article.

 

Introducing My Short Story “Elevator”

This is the introduction of my just-published short story, “Elevator:”

I am a fan of the original Twilight Zone series, hosted by Rod Serling, who also wrote a staggering number of episodes. Because of my love for the show, I tend to write a story now and then of the TZ type. This isn’t intentional; it’s just how my mind works. Apparently, it’s fairly noticeable that “Elevator” belongs in that class. After my number one Beta Reader, my wife Cheryl, finished it, she observed: “This is like a Twilight Zone episode.” So I dedicate this story to every fan of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.

“Elevator” can be downloaded for $0.99 wherever e-books are sold. Check my Books page for links.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Help is a page-turner.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1962 to 1964 the novel unfolds against the backdrop of the segregationist society at that time. It is told in first person by the three main characters in rotating segments. Aibileen and Minny are black maids, and Skeeter is the white woman, recently graduated from Old Miss, who convinces them and ten other maids to tell their stories for a book she wants to write about what it is like to be black maids working for white families.

Given the social climate, Skeeter is risking ostracism, but the maids are risking not only their jobs but the prospect of being black-billed so they will not be able to support their families. After much work, Skeeter manages to gain the trust of Aibileen and the tentative trust of Minnie, but the other ten prove to be impossible to get.

Until some things happen.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s first novel, tells the story of writing this book and of what happens after it is published. It has been made into a movie – due out in August – which from the looks of the trailer seems to follow the novel quite well. But I encourage you to read the novel first; they have to do lots of trimming and condensing to fit a 444-page book into a two-hour film.

I most highly recommend The Help.

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Self-Publishing and Book Reviewers

Although self-publishing is less stigmatized now than it was even ten years ago, we still have a long way to go before we stamp out every form of prejudice against self-published books. For instance, book reviewers – other than local reviewers in the author’s hometown – refuse to review self-published books. They won’t even open the book and read the first few paragraphs, which is enough for people who make their living reviewing books to determine if the writer is good, or if he’s publishing prematurely.

Once upon a time, I edited a book called October Dreams: A Harvest of Horror. I received an average of 240 submissions per month. I had lots of other things to do besides read 240 submissions per month, which would have taken a substantial amount of time. After reading a couple of paragraphs, two pages at most, I knew two things: 1) If the writer was ready for publication, and 2) If the story was the type for which we were looking. That’s not difficult to do, and it doesn’t take much time. There is not an editor anywhere who reads every word of every manuscript he or she receives.

When I was a student at the University of Nebraska, one of my English teachers brought in an arm load of self-published books. They weren’t difficult to find. UNL’s English department publishes The Prairie Schooner, a prestigious literary magazine. The Schooner receives many review copies of books from traditional and self-publishers. At that time they dumped the self-published books on a table where anyone who wanted them could pick them up.

My teacher read excerpts from the books, and we all had lots of laughs over them – until he came to one written by a fellow named Thomas M. Disch. That piqued my interest because, being a reader of speculative fiction, I was familiar with this author’s name. My teacher, with a smirk on his face, started reading. Slowly, the smirk dissolved. He stopped reading, and in a voice that clearly communicated his astonishment, he said: “This isn’t funny.”

He seemed almost let down, as if the Prairie Schooner had cheated him by putting this book on the rejects table.

The reason that book wasn’t “funny” might have been that Thomas M. Disch had a long history of being “traditionally” published. I don’t know why he chose to self-publish the book my teacher picked up. There are many reasons writers choose to self-publish, and it is a mistake for a critic  to dismiss a book because of his or her own misconceptions, his or her own prejudices.

Reviewers who have a rule that they will review no self-published books, would not have reviewed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which Mark Twain self-published because of “the foolishness of his publishers.” That’s one reason some writers self-publish. Other writers self-publish because the pay is better (a royalty of 60-85% vs. 10-25%), and they are paid more quickly (many traditional publishers withhold an author’s royalties for three pay periods – 18 months – after the book is published). Other books may be self-published because, for whatever reason, they failed to find a publisher who thought there was a market for the book.

And yes, many self-published books are not ready for publication. But this is true of traditionally published books as well. I’ve been an avid reader for many, many, many years, and 99% of the books I’ve read were published by traditional publishers. And I’ve read lots of crap. Lots of crap. I’ve read fiction by writers who weren’t ready for the big time or who had ineffective editors or both, and I’ve read nonfiction books that did not support their hypotheses with good evidence. I’ve also read many good traditionally published books.

On the flip side, I’ve read some good self-published books as well as some that were not ready for publication.

My point is, to borrow an old cliché, you can’t judge a book by its cover. A reviewer who refuses to even look at a book because it is self-published not only is failing to do his job, but he’s also doing his readers a disservice, readers who might like Amanda Hocking’s stories, for instance (for those of you who may not have heard, Hocking found her audience by self-publishing, then was offered a $2 million deal from a “traditional” publisher).

For a look at some famous authors who self-published, check out my earlier blog post Self-Publishing: Is It For You?

Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy

Torn (Trylle Trilogy, #2)Torn by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Switched, Torn and Ascend make up the Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy. Although each book has a beginning, middle, and end, they all fit together, so this review will cover all of them.

The story is about a girl named Wendy who learns, as a teenager, that she is a troll. Not like the ugly irascible creatures in fairy tales. These trolls look like humans, but they have peculiar qualities that distinguish them–such as hard-to-manage hair, a distaste for foods humans like (such as soda pop and pizza), and a preference for going barefoot. They also have mental abilities like being able to move objects or control the wind. Wendy has the ability to persuade people to do things, although as Switched begins her persuasive ability is in a very rudimentary form because it hasn’t been developed yet.

The story begins with Wendy learning that she is a changeling–her mother switched her with a human infant–and now a “tracker” has come to return her to the Trylle. He comes for her early because the villains of the story, another tribe of trolls, is planning to kidnap her.

That is the start of the story which will span three books before reaching its conclusion. The Trylle trilogy is a fast read, and Hocking is an excellent story-teller. Her narrative is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The only thing that prevented me from giving it four stars is that some of the dialogue is distracting.

For example, when two characters are arguing Hocking tends to use lots of exclamation points and uses phrases like “he yelled” or “she shouted,” which is similar to killing a fly with a sledgehammer; the dialogue is written well enough that the reader probably would picture them arguing without the added emphasis.

Also, instead of relying on “he said” or “she said,” Hocking uses words like “he smiled” or “she laughed,” when it might have been better to say “he said, and smiled” or “she said, and laughed.” I stood in front of the mirror and , just to try it out, talked while I was smiling; it looked creepy.

But those were minor distractions. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the Trylle story, and I think you will, too.

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In Human Form Book Trailer

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space KapowJacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacob Wonderbar has one of the coolest log-lines I’ve ever seen: “Space travel is all fun and games until someone breaks the universe.”

That sentence sets the tone of this zany novel for young people, ages 9 and up. Jacob – general troublemaker and the terror of substitute teachers – and his friends, Dexter and Sarah, buy a spaceship from a disgruntled alien for a corn dog and set off for adventures in outer space.

In trying to prevent their spaceship from crashing, they fire a missile that causes a chain reaction of explosions across the universe (which Jacob dubs “the spilled milky way”), which blocks the path to Earth. Miraculously, no one is injured, no inhabited worlds destroyed, but in the words of two cosmic police officers the kids just caused a “big mess.” Unfortunately, that mess will prevent them from returning home for one or two thousand years (according to a construction worker when they try to head home), and there is no detour around the chaos.

The novel contains a pirate, a planet that smells like burp breath and has a day one minute long, a planet populated by scientists, a planet populated by substitute teachers, and a king of the universe.

Nathan Bransford is a former literary agent whose blog is an excellent resource for readers, writers, and anyone remotely interested in the publishing industry. I’ve been looking forward to reading Jacob Wonderbar ever since Nathan blogged that he’d sold it. I like the book, kids in the tween and early teen years will like it, and adults who are fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (which I am) will like it.

View all my reviews

Please Look After Mom: A Review

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please Look After Mom is a must-read. Told from the viewpoints of four people – a daughter, a son, a husband, and Mom herself – it is about a family’s reactions to Mom’s disappearance at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea. The family reports Mom’s disappearance to the police, and they post fliers asking if anyone has seen this woman. At first they get a few calls, but soon the calls stop coming. It is as if Mom has vanished into thin air.

But the search for Mom is only a loose framework on which hangs a story of self-discovery as each viewpoint character reflects on what Mom meant to him or her. Please Look After Mom is full of surprises. It is a character-driven story that engaged me from page one, and I highly recommend it.

Kyung-sook Shin is one of South Korea’s most popular novelists and has won many literary awards for her work. My only disappointment is that Please Look After Mom is the only book by this exceptional writer to be translated into English. I hope it does well enough so there are more to come (as of this date it is number 27 on the New York Times best seller list).

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The Future of eBooks and Publishing: Things Change

This is in response to a blog post in which Laura L. Cooper suggested that the popularity of  ebooks will plateau within a few years and that ebooks will never replace physical books.

I’ve already seen a response or two to that post, one person comparing ebooks to automobiles; no one ever thought cars would catch on, either. I agree with that assessment.

One certain thing is change. Technology will change, culture with change, people will change.

I started writing on a Remington portable typewriter. When I was in high school, the school had a computer. A computer. It was kept in a room in the office. We were taken down in groups to look at it.

At that time, who could have predicted how computers would permeate our society?

Who could have predicted that automobiles would replace horses and carriages?

Who could have predicted that big-box stores would replace neighborhood groceries, dry goods, and hardware stores?

Ebooks are not a passing fad. They have many advantages over physical books:

  • They require little storage space.
  • They are relatively inexpensive. I need to give a shout-out here to indie authors, who usually price their books below $5, sometimes way below $5 – which is a fair price considering there is very little overhead in publishing a digital book.
  • When you travel, you can take your entire library along in a space the size of a trade paperback book.
  • Instant gratification – you can browse online and download immediately, no trip to the bookstore, no ordering online and waiting a week for your book to be delivered.

People today (and this will be even more true in the future) are pressed for time, they are mobile, they like to do all their shopping in one place, and they are impatient – they want something, and they want it now. This is why the big-box stores like Wal-Mart and ShopKo have become such fixtures in our society. This is why computer technology is an integral part of our lives. This is why we drive cars instead hitching horses to buggies.

For now, many people prefer physical books; printed books still  account for 80% or more of book sales. At one time you could make a similar statement about the horse and buggy in relation to that upstart, the automobile.

Today, physical books are the choice of the majority of readers. But let’s revisit this question in 100 years.

Ebooks are not a passing fad. The popularity of ebooks will not plateau.

Ebooks represent the next stage in the evolution of publishing.

IN HUMAN FORM Available in Paperback and Digital

In Human Form

For those of you who prefer to curl up with a good book rather than a cold, emotionless digital reading device, my novel In Human Form is now available as a trade paperback for $14.95. The ebook, however, is regularly priced at $2.99 (but is specially priced at $.99 through May 31, 2011; enter coupon code BN99Y).  The excellent cover for In Human Form, like the excellent and creepy cover for The Moaning Rocks, was designed by Joleene Naylor, who also has written several novels.

This is In Human Form in a nutshell:

Wendy Konicka survives a mysterious fire that destroys her home and kills her father. When she awakens three days later, her memory is gone. She doesn’t even remember that she is an android and that the man known in the community as her father was her creator. And the few around her who have learned her secret keep it from her, misleading her to think she is human – which puts Wendy and the people she has grown close to in danger from ruthless conspiracy theorist Earl Vaughn.

The Moaning Rocks and Other Stories Available in Paperback and Digital

The Moaning Rocks and other stories“David Kubicek deals with the most profound of emotions, betrayal in a small community, and does so wonderfully.” – Lincoln Journal Star,1988, reviewing “Ball of Fire.”

For those of you who prefer a physical book, rather than digital,  The Moaning Rocks and other stories is now available as a trade paperback. At $12.95 it’s a bit more expensive than the eBook because a paper book has significant manufacturing expenses compared to a digital book, which doesn’t. Remember, the eBook is still at a special introductory price of $0.99 until May 31, 2011, at which time it will revert to its regular price of $2.99. To get the special price enter coupon code SH37D.

The Moaning Rocks and other stories contains 13 short stories and 1 novelette ranging from the commonplace to the bizarre. This collection showcases a wide range of my storytelling including contemporary, science fiction, and horror. Following each story is the my commentary on how it came to be written.

From the back cover of the paperback edition:

  • “Ball of Fire:” Jill Tanner’s UFO sighting makes her a laughingstock in this small farming community—until everyone starts having close encounters of the weird kind.
  • “What’s Wrong with Being A Nurse?:” Many children want to be police officers, firefighters, doctors, or nurses when they grow up. Why does Chris’s seven-year-old daughter Suzy want to be a human sacrifice?
  • “A Friend of the Family:” In a desolate future where doctors have been replaced by Healers who practice primitive treatments like bleeding, one medical man risks his freedom to help a member of a Healer’s family.
  • “The Moaning Rocks:” Is the old legend about death coming to town just a story? George Winterholm is about to find out.

…and 10 other stories.

Some of the stories have been previously published, and others appear for the first time in this collection.

Self-Publishing: The Pros and Cons

In the past couple of weeks two newsworthy events have occurred in the self-publishing universe. The first was when, as I reported in an earlier blog, thriller writer Barry Eisler walked away from  a $500,000 advance to self-publish his next novel. The second was when self-published bestselling author Amanda Hocking signed a $2 million four-book deal with St. Martins.

The Hocking deal inspired the post “Advice for Amanda Hocking From Authors and Agents” on book editor Alan Rinzler’s Blog. As the title implies, Rinzler asked several authors and agents to put in their two-cents-worth about whether the deal would help Hocking achieve her main goal, which she said was to concentrate on writing rather than split her time between writing and publishing duties.

I won’t summarize the post here. It is a good one, and I recommend that you read it, especially if you’ve flirted with the idea of self-publishing. But I will make a few comments about some of the pros and cons that were mentioned.

  • The success of any book, whether you publish it yourself or through a traditional publisher, requires that you commit a great deal of your time to promote it. While it is true that publishers may pay for things like book tours, it is also true that not every book will have a hefty promotion budget – or even a small one. That depends on decisions made in the board room. But if an author tells his or her publisher, “I want to concentrate on writing; you handle the promotion,” that author’s book will probably be put on the list for a skimpy promotion budget – if it gets one at all – and may even make the publisher less likely to release future titles from the author.
  • With self-publishing you control the look of your book – the cover art, the cover copy, the book design, etc. But if you’re comfortable leaving those duties to others, traditional publishers generally do fine design work.
  • Traditional publishers have the weight to get their authors wider distribution than if they self-published. To some extent this may be true, especially with printed books; however, services like Smashwords publish books in a variety of digital formats for a variety of digital reading devices. You can buy Smashwords books from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Sony, and Apple. You can even buy them in PDF to read on your computer. That’s a lot of distribution. Plus, any book that has an ISBN number (which Smashwords provides) can be special-ordered, in case you create demand for your book in areas where it isn’t available (this isn’t a problem for e-books).The Moaning Rocks and other stories
  • Self-publishing is faster, which is good if you’re impatient. Most traditionally-published books take at least a year – and may take up to two years – to appear in print. A book published through Smashwords will populate its distribution channels in a matter of weeks.

It may seem as if I’m jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon. That’s not entirely true. Like Amanda Hocking, I would take a traditional publishing deal if it felt right for me; however, also like Hocking, I would not give away the rights to books I had already published, and I would retain the right to self-publishing other books.

It may also seem as if I’m promoting Smashwords. To some extent that may be true. My book, The Moaning Rocks and other stories, is being published by Smashwords because I investigated the company and liked what I saw (and so far I’ve been pleased with my experience). My novel In Human Form will follow shortly. Smashwords is also up-front with writers; they say that although some of their books have sold lots of copies (Amanda Hocking’s among them), some authors haven’t sold a single book. It all comes down to how well the author can promote his or her work and how good of a writer he or she is.

But that’s true of traditional publishing as well.

Learning To Swim: A Review

Learning to Swim: A NovelLearning to Swim: A Novel by Sara J. Henry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Learning to Swim begins when freelance writer Troy Chance sees a child plummet from the deck of a passing ferry into Lake Champlain. Instinctively, she dives in and saves him, then begins the long swim back to shore.

The child, who speaks only French, tells Troy his name is Paul. Other than that she manages only to get sketchy information from him. He tells her he was kidnapped and held in a room somewhere, and that the kidnappers shot his mother.

Troy becomes attached to Paul and, instead of going to the police right away, uses her internet researching skills to do some preliminary investigating of her own. She wants to find out to her satisfaction that the boy will be safe if she turns him over to the authorities and he’s returned home. She wants to make sure the father wasn’t involved in his abduction.

Her investigation leads her into deeper involvement with Paul and his father and puts her under suspicion of a local detective who thinks she had something to do with Paul’s initial disappearance.

After an attempt on Troy’s life, she really hits the investigation trail, determined to find the two men who kidnapped Paul. But what she stumbles into is a twist that I never saw coming.

Learning to Swim is Sara J. Henry’s debut novel. It is a relationship story as well as a mystery, and on both levels it succeeds very well. I highly recommend it.

Visit Sara J. Henry’s blog at Sara in Vermont.

View all my reviews

Thriller Writer Barry Eisler Turns Down Half Million Deal to Self-Publish

As little as a decade ago self-publishing was a stigma. The industry and the public viewed it as something one did out of desperation, when one could not get one’s books published by traditional means.

In the past few years, particularly with the growing popularity of e-books, that has been changing. And now thriller writer Barry Eisler, author of the popular John Rain novels, has given self-publishing a tremendous boost. Eisler turned down Minotaur’s $500,000 offer for two books and plans to self-publish his next novel as an e-book because, he said, he believes in the long  run self-publishing will be more financially lucrative.

In a conversation with self-publishing guru Joe Konrath, Eisler talks about his reasons for his decision. It’s a lengthy conversation but well worth the time for anyone who is considering self-publishing.

Net Neutrality: Congressional Panel Votes to Repeal New FCC Rules

A Republican-controlled House panel has voted to repeal the new FCC rules that would prevent cable and phone companies from dominating the Internet by setting priorities for web traffic. This would result in slower load times for competing services and for smaller websites that can’t afford to pay to have their priorities upgraded. It would be a major blow for free speech on the Internet, with a few major communications companies dictating what websites the rest of us are allowed to access. We could, technically, still access any websites we wanted, but we would become frustrated with the long wait times and click on to something more “user-friendly.”

The reason for repealing this rule, according to the Republicans, is that it would prevent the big cable companies from making costly upgrades to their networks. That is not true. We have had net neutrality since the Internet was opened to commercial traffic in the mid-1990s; it hasn’t prevented the big communications companies from upgrading during that time, and it’s unlikely that making net neutrality the law now will prevent them from making future upgrades. If they want to be competitive, they’ll upgrade. That’s the way it’s always been in business, even before the Internet, and that’s the way it will always be.

For a more detailed look at the panel’s decision see the Huffington Post article.

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