The Lineup #3, Edited By Gerald So, Anthony Rainone, R. Navaez, And Sarah Cortez

Annually, Gerald So, the fiction editor at Thrilling Detective, heads up a volume of crime-related poetry called The Lineup.  As National Poetry Month draws to a close today, I thought I’d take a look at the latest issue.

The Lineup #3 begins strong with co-editor Sarah Cortez’s tale of a ride-along gone wrong.  An officer is shot, and his civilian rider is unable to call for help.  James W. Hall ponders the women found murdered from time to time, never where they were taken from.  And Carrie McGrath wonders if the crimes of men cat-calling her might cause her to commit a crime herself.

It’s Amy McLennan who provides the strongest pair of poems.  In “Prowling,” she gets into the head of a burglar who never leaves any sign of his presence, despite not wearing gloves.  In “A Life of Vice,” a woman has no regrets over her life of using lovers and drugs, even if she’s reached the end of her rope in a bus station john.

The Lineup is largely blank verse and free verse, which works best for this type of subject matter.  It’s poetry that has a spoken feel to it, almost as if it’s reaching toward the poetic prose of some of its writers.  This is especially evident with veteran poet and author Reed Farrel Coleman’s effort, “Victim’s Kiss.”  Like many of the poets in this volume, their verse reads very much like their prose.  It’s a dark eye-opener.

I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, chief flunky to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, thinks he knows why there are so many earthquakes lately.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

So let me get this straight.  It’s not that the regular movement of tectonic plates seems to be striking dry land more lately than under the sea where we normally don’t notice it.  It’s because women are showing off their tatas?


Kfar Saba, (C) 2011, Creative Commons

This is like letting Pat Robertson give a weather report.  It leaves me with one question.  Why does Sedighi fear tits?

I think  Sedighi’s afraid of boobs.  Why?  Straight men love boobs.  We love them.  Round and bouncy.  Yes, ladies, we know you hate it when we stare, but you know those twin orbs on your chest put us in your power.  In the Western world, this is not a problem.  We’re used to dealing with women as something more than cattle.  Mr. Sedighi, on the other hand, wants the women in his country treated exactly like that.  Why?  He’s afraid.  He fears the boob.  Boobs make him weak, hypnotize him.  They may make him do bad things.

But let us not blame boobage for the sins of magma.  After all, boobs never sheered off the top mile or so of a mountain.  Boobs don’t dump volcanic ash on half a dozen states and provinces.Boobs never shut down the air traffic in Europe.  Boobs never flattened cities in California, though many in California would mind if Pamela Anderson tried.  Boobs don’t cause tsunamis.

Instead, boobs give life.  For many of us, boobs gave us our first breakfast.  I know looking at my wife’s boobs prompts me to do things to them that make her happy.  (Note:  Don’t do things to women’s boobs without their permission.  That does not make them happy.  That only makes you an asshole.  Like Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.)  Women like to sculpt their boobs.  If they’re too big or too heavy, they get them reduced.  If they’re too small, they make them bigger.  The best boobs are boobs that make their owners happy.  And when she’s happy, everyone’s happy.

Mr. Sedighi fears boobs.  I love them.  Let us not fear boobs.  Let us give thanks and praise for them.

Boobs, a wondrous part of creation.

What Won’t I Read

Last week, Lynn Viehl posted about what sort of books she won’t read. It wasn’t so much a dis of those particular genres but how she reacts to them.

I actually had to codify that here in the review policy.  I have a limited amount of time and need to focus on certain types of books.  On top of that, I really want to read something other than what I’m being asked to review.  So what won’t I read?

  • Cozies.  I’m just not into them.  I seriously doubt you’ll find me prowling Malice Domestic.  Crime is a bloody, brutal, ugly thing, and cozies have a tendency to sanitize that.
  • Political screeds.  Let’s be blunt.  90% of them are written by screaming ideologues who don’t have the expertise to write a pamphlet about what they talk about.  Some of them are just yanking chains.  Glenn Beck?  Every tear compounds the interest in his bank account.  And the gold promos?  Designed to draw in millions from the black helicopter crowd.  Thanks, but I’ll pass.
  • Romance.  Come on.  I’m a dude.  It’s just not dude lit.
  • Hard SF.  It’s not that I don’t believe a writer needs to get his science right.  I just don’t think scientific principle should be the crux of the story.  I know gravity holds me to the Earth.  That should be a plot point, not the whole plot.
  • Celebrity bios.  I read Nick Mason’s Pink Floyd memoir.  (I kinda wish he’d gotten Syd Barrett’s input now that we know Syd would have made a day at the park of carving it up.)  Beyond that, I don’t care.  I don’t care about Britney’s breakdown or how P Diddy became the CEO he is today.  Most of these tomes are ghost-written, and very badly.  Plus, the whole celebrity worship thing drives me batty.
  • Conspiracy theory books.  I work with a proud conspiracy theorist who tries to rationalize this to me almost daily.  The problem is most conspiracy theories are put forth or followed by people with an almost-pathological inability to comprehend the premise that shit really does happen.
  • Self help books.  I had a weakness for them once.  My life has gone so much better since I stopped reading them.
  • Vampires.  OK, look, vampires suck the blood of the living.  They are anthropomorphized mosquitos.  They are not angsty, erotic tragic heroes trapped between life and death.  Seriously, the original Dracula was this dirty, filthy thing with no redeeming qualities.  All Bela Lugosi did was make a walking corpse seem charming.  His Dracula was still a monster.  Makes me want to stalk Lestat and Edward with a sun lamp.

So what won’t you read and why?

Coming Soon: Winter The Ebook!

No, I’m not going to sell Northcoast Shakedown or Road Rules on Kindle.  The rights to Northcoast are only available for an obscene amount no one will ever pay.  It’s all part of Homey’s master plan to keep that abomination out of print forever.  Road Rules was not intended to be sold, though my agent got a few good looks trying to do just that.  Unless someone makes an offer, that will continue to be a freebie.

Instead, I’ve decided not to try and sell short stories individually.  Too many writers are putting their book-length work on Kindle for barely a dollar.  With the market flooded with dollar books, who’s going to pay that for a single short story?

So instead, I will be putting together a collection of what I’ve written so far.  Look for The Compleat Winter soon, compleat with a really cool cover.

War Of The Worlds By HG Wells

This story changes with every retelling, but the basic plotline remains the same.  The protag has his life interrupted by something falling out of the sky.  It’s a spaceship that promptly starts frying anyone and everyone with a heat ray or laser or something that incinerates its human targets.  The Martians then appear in giant tripod machines and proceed to exterminate the human race.  The narrator or protag runs for his life, usually escaping by ferry as a tripod attempts to destroy the boat.  When it looks like mankind is finished, the machines stagger and come to a stop.  The Martians are dead or dying because they didn’t prepare for that flu bug you didn’t think you needed a shot for last year.

I recently read the original 1898 novel.  It’s amazing how well it holds up.  In HG Wells’ original telling, our protag is a scientist who witnesses flashes on the surface of Mars.  Almost every astronomer picks this up as guns firing something at Earth.  At the time, this was considered the most likely way to put an object in orbit or on the moon.  Within days, one object crashes in his London suburb.  Very soon, he is fleeing to London, only to have the Martians follow.

Wells’ Martians are even scarier than the subsequent movie versions.  Instead of ugly midgets with trifurcated eyes, they’re basically giant brains who feed on blood.  Reading the story in its original setting gives it a strangely contemporary feel despite the spotty use of electricity, lack of phone service, and the horses and buggies.  London is the epicenter of the invasion instead of New York.

Surprisingly, the 2005 Steven Spielberg version is closer than the 1958 Cold War classic or Orson Welles’ panic-inducing radio play. Tom Cruise’s dock worker replaces Wells’ unnamed scientist.  In that movie, the Martians collect humans for food as in Wells’ story.  He meets up with a crazed man planning to fight the aliens.  In Wells’ version, though, it’s a vicar having a nervous breakdown whom the narrator leaves to the aliens when he panics and threatens to get them both killed.  Cruise’s half-crazed victim is a blue-collar man like himself who threatens his daughter.  Both the novel and the movie have the ferry scene.

But what was spectacular in this one is the British artillery in the pre-World War I era taking out a tripod and a British warship blowing up two more in a suicide run.

War of the Worlds often reflects the fear of its time.  When originally written, Britain faced uncertainty on the Continent with the dying royalty of Germany, Russia, and Austria threatening go to war with the modern democracies.  Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater play rewrote the story for a Depression Era America nervous about the rise of Hitler and a newly belligerent Japan.  In 1958, the Cold War was in full swing, and even the threat of nuclear annihilation is imprinted on that film.  Spielberg’s updates the story, simply calling the invaders aliens since Mars has since proven lifeless.  War of the Worlds is a mirror that’s constantly held up on modern society’s fear.

Your Politics Don’t Have To Be Stupid…

This is neither a liberal nor conservative rant.  In fact, I’ve often made a lot of noise about rejecting those labels that seem so hard-wired into our consciousness.  Yet political discussion seems too often to be about who can scream the loudest.  The problem is I am an independent voter, and screaming often makes me want to change the channel.

My problem is the demonization that exists in politics.  We live in a nation that actually has a very narrow political spectrum.  Yet throughout the 1990’s, conservatives waged a successful campaign to paint their liberal counterparts as weak, amoral, and communist.  Never mind that the only true communists left in the world live in Cuba and North Korea.  (Hugo Chavez is communist like China is communist.  It’s not a people’s republic.  It’s Chavez Oil, Inc.)  Of course, for the longest time, liberals cooperated by responding with “Please don’t hurt me!” and curling up into the fetal position.

Then came George Bush, who’s presidency was, to put it mildly, controversial.  Soon, conservatives were painted as fear-mongering bigots who pandered to big business.  Like the liberals putting up their hands and crying like babies, conservatives were (and still are) complicit in their own demonization:  They scream like a bunch of fear-mongering bigots hiding under the skirts of Big Business (TM).

Neither of these pictures are accurate.  George Bush was not a fascist.  Barack Obama is not a socialist.  If you want to argue those points, go look up the definitions of those words first.  Then prepare to be schooled on how stupid hyperbole sounds.

At it’s core, most people’s politics are based on frustration.  If you want to boil down the whole liberal vs. conservative thing into terms that don’t involve calling the other side communist or bigoted or Yankees fans, it’s real simple.

Americans are frustrated when things don’t go their way, kind of like right now.  And based on a 234 year tradition of sticking it to The Man, most Americans still want to stick it to The Man.  But who’s The Man?  Liberals rightly believe it’s big business.  Conservatives rightly believe it’s big government.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what Man you want to stick it too.

Now quit watching Michael Moore movies or buying Ann Coulter’s books.  Nobody ever achieved mediocrity, let alone greatness, listening to a willfully ignorant fear mongerer.

That includes Glenn Beck.

Study on it.  Pray on it.

Did I Ask?

Whenever I go through the checkout line, I often hear a cashier saying, “Oh, I like [insert purchase here].”  I generally shrug and ignore it.  I’ve already made my picks.  By the time I get to the checkout line, I’m good with spending my money on that particular haul.

Which is why I found Ziggins’ assessment of which High Fidelity character I was so disturbing.  For years, I thought of myself as Rob, the mix-tape artist played by John Cusack.  I was angsty and wondering whatever happened to the might-have-beens in my life (which should have been a red flag for the starter marriage).  Ziggins informed me that, no, I was not Rob.

I was Barry, played by Jack Black.  Now you might think being Jack Black is cool.  But Barry?  Oh, yes.  I was very much that guy, the rabid music snob who judged people on which Beatle was their favorite.*  I bought Keith Richards first solo album to blow away nights of really bad, screaming R&B while working a factory job in the late 1980’s.  I walked out on a Graham Parker concert when he said, “It’s blues, if that means anything.”  Suggest that Thomas Dolby did interesting things with synthesizers, I’d shout in your face “Who cares?  He’s not Rick Wakeman, dammit!“**

Yeah.  I was that guy.

So this past weekend, while driving to rural Holmes County*** to visit my youngest brother, I stopped to pick up some tunes.  Journey, the Stones, Steve Winwood, and Led Zep’s Coda.  Old familiar music to kill time on the highway.  I picked up Winwood and Zeppelin in Delaware, soon to be a borough of Columbus.  The cashier noticed Zeppelin and said, “Ooh, good choice.”

Not really, but without my iPod, I didn’t have access to Led Zeppelin I, Houses of the Holy, or Physical Graffiti. But to each their own.

Then she saw Winwood****, made a face that suggested someone had broken wind.

“The Winwood not so much.”

Excuse me?  No, I wasn’t offended by her dislike of Steve Winwood.  Steve was really, really poppy at that point in his career, but I liked that album anyway.  No, I was mad because some truckstop cashier took it upon herself to pass judgment on my tunage, essentially telling me she didn’t like how I passed money to her employer.

Yes, kids, I was pretty pissed.

Then I realized I’d been “Barried.”  She pulled a Jack Black on me and dissed my music.

Some days, I hate karma.

Good thing they don’t sell Tom Waits in much in truckstops.  I would have had to kill her if she dissed him.

*If you’re answer is anything except Ringo or Pete Best, you’re a pretentious snob who loves the sound of your own voice and wants everyone else to love it, too.  Just sayin’.
**I’ve since burned out on Yes.  Man, have I burned out on Yes.
***So rural, on a quiet night, you can hear the cows snore.
****Yeah, I paid money for Roll With It.  Sue me.

Ebooks: They’re Booming. What’s Next?

We’ve all seen the experiments with ebooks lately.  Authors like Lee Goldberg are finding new life with their backlists.  JA Konrath is positively giddy about the novels he’s released as ebooks.  So that’s the end of publishing, right?


While the new platforms – Kindle, Nook, Sony, and iPad – certainly give new life to out-of-print backlists, the go-it-alone model for new work is in a bit of a sweet spot right now.  If you have an established name, releasing new material yourself – properly edited and using your marketing already in place – is a no-brainer.  And why not?  With the publisher out of the equation, it’s almost pure profit.  Hence, Joe Konrath is a very happy man these days.

But if the POD explosion a few years ago taught us anything, it’s that as soon as you make it affordable for anyone to publish, anyone will do just that.  In the not too distant future*, the ebook platforms will be flooded with slapped-together manuscripts, poorly edited and laid out.  When you get a flood of books that have not been edited properly or put together cleanly, people are going to say, “No, thanks.”

So is that the end of ebooks?  Are we back to depending on the Big Six in New York?

Unless the Big Six halts its march in the footsteps of the poor, deluded recording industry, that’s never going to happen.  On the other hand, I do firmly believe the epublisher is going to rise.

It’s not like this hasn’t been attempted.  Up until now, though, the effort isn’t very well funded or the stakeholders believe that ebooks are basically free money requiring no work on their part.  Many simply came and went too soon, before Amazon led the charge with the Kindle.

But now that viable delivery systems are here, one thing becomes apparent:  All those things that publishers do for you?  You’ll still need someone to do them.  No less an authority than John Scalzi can tell you why, and much better than I can.  The time is right for an epublisher.  But…

Remember, I’m one of those writers who signed with what looked like a savvy independent press exploiting print-on-demand technology to its full potential only to discover…

Yeah, they still sell print books in bookstores, which my former publisher had issues with finding.  And those stores expect you to make it easy for them to buy your book wholesale, which his printer did not.  If you think it was easy when all you had to do was upload a PDF file to a Lightning Source account, then throw together a web site to call yourself a “publisher,” think how easy it will be for someone long on ambition and short on business skills to simply upload to Smashwords and set a price, and implode a hundred times more efficiently, sending his or her authors tumbling into a careening vortex of career oblivion.  Not pretty.

That’s not to say this is not a viable model.  Quite the opposite.  The market is very good at culling the self-published and poorly published drek.  What will rise to the top are the outfits that can market an author’s work.  They will pay their authors.  And they will work with the writers associations to find the right balance in their business models.  So what will a legitimate epublisher look like?

  • Capital, capital, capital – Think about your favorite small print press.  Someone’s backing it.  The Big Six?  They’re all arms of big media companies that have cash on hand to work through the lean times, and volume enough to fund themselves through the booms.  So it will be with epublishers.  The viable epublishers will have the backing to pay editors, pay their authors, and pay for marketing.  Now, all this might be cheaper than at Random House or St. Martin’s Press, who have to buy store coop and pay editors enough to survive in New York on something more than top ramen, but ebooks will require a different type of marketing, especially if the authors are new.  So if the publisher is working out of his basement, it’s best to find out whether it’s his parents’ basement.  If so, look elsewhere to shop your manuscript.
  • Advances – A good publisher ponies up an advance, which goes back to capital.  Granted, more money should flow to both author and publisher from today’s ebook model.  But advances are a show of confidence.  Now, the days of stupidly large advances are likely over – though any author who gets one should still cash that check.  (To quote Gene Simmons, if you think it’s not about the money, guess what.  It’s about the money.)  Still, some sort of payment upfront needs to be hammered out.  Authors and their agents want to be paid sooner rather than later.  We enjoy paying bills.  Well, we don’t enjoy it, but we do enjoy a third-notice-free existence.  We also like eating, keeping our cars, and sending our kids to college so they can support us in our old age.
  • Agents – A legitimate epublisher will work with agents.  This should not even be a question.  They should, of course, take unagented submissions if that’s feasible, but agents exist to manage an author’s business transactions.
  • Fees – Like print, there should be none.  Period.  End of discussion.  Money flows to the writer.  Do not EVER pay a publisher for ANYTHING! Did I mention you don’t pay a publisher for anything?
  • Editing – Duh.  That’s why you go to a publisher, is it not?  Editors are paid to make a manuscript better, especially with newer, inexperienced writers.  This is the big knock against self-publishing.  When you’re JA Konrath and have a circle of buddies who will edit your stuff in exchange for their bar tab, then you can self-publish.  (Or you can throw some work to Clair Lamb if your budget permits.  She’s quite good.)  Again, for new authors, readers are going to want to know the material’s been vetted before they spend their money.  Just because your book is $5-$10 vs. $30 for a hard cover doesn’t mean the reader wants to buy crap at that price.
  • Marketing – The ebook market, at least for a few years after the floodgates open, are going to be swamped with anyone and everyone who thinks they can write uploading their deathless prose.  And an alarming majority of them are going to make readers regret the deathless part.  Buy your cousin’s niece’s brother’s roommate’s erotic vampire steampunk remix of Jane Austen, and you’re going to wonder why won’t this just die!!! Marketing will help make the legitimate epublishers standout.  Once again, it goes back to capital.  A good epublisher will have the resources to promote a book.  And they’re not going to waste them on something they don’t think will make them money.
  • Print partners – A good epublisher will find a print partner.  Joe Konrath pondered this recently and admitted he’s not sure of the answer.  Is print a subsidiary right?  If you go electronic first, it is, which is one more reason why you should have an agent.  Most writers, even experienced best sellers, can’t keep track of all the various first rights and world rights and electronic rights and foreign rights…  Dizzy yet?  But as print is still the primary means of delivering book content, a smart ebook publisher will find a way to partner with their print counterparts.  This could even be a boon to small independent presses looking for a new outlet.  If the tires have already been kicked, why not buy the print rights to a successful ebook?

It’s a brave new world.  A lot of questions are going to need answered as electronic books become more and more mainstream.  The main writers organizations – particularly the MWA and SFWA – will likely steer the debate.  So how soon will we see this come about?

Soon enough.

*Next Sunday, AD is not a stretch.  20 minutes into the future is, but still possible.  Your MST3K and Max Headroom references for the day.  You’re welcome.