Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shall We Blog?

As I've mentioned in the past, I have a toe in the Harry Potter fandom (and, yes, we are talking about a Galaxy Quest type of fascination and wackiness), and part of being in fandom these days is interacting with other fans. And while it can be a fantastic place to meet other like nut cases, there are hierarchies--who is more popular than whom; fandom is a lot like being back in sixth grade. Unfortunately. Just when I'm at the point when I think, oh, this is really beyond the pale, I am done, something happens, some remarkable act of kindness, and I stay. The hierarchy nonsense does bother me to no end, and what is so insidious about it is that the rules are different for different fandoms and even within subsets of cliques the rules are different. Naturally, these are unspoken rules because then it wouldn't be as much fun to exclude people when they make unintentional mistakes.

Digressing, we are. So we come to the issue of blogging. I don't get that many comments from what I write down here, and actually I'm good with that because I loathe, LOATHE, the interface here on blogger. There is no easy way to respond to people, and if Google were listening I would say to you, THIS SUCKS! I'd like more readers, naturally, but you get what you get and if I posted more and had pretty pictures, I'd have more readers. So I tell myself.

Anyway, what this post is truly about (finally, she gets to the point) is that I have stumbled across a blog of a person with whom I don't have much in common, however, said blog is well written and amusing with very pretty pictures, and while our life experiences are polar opposites, from what I can gather we are about the same age, and that often creates a type of bond that transcends a lot of the differences. And this person culls out their responses. Said person only wants responses from certain elite types from a certain strata of life. Because of trolls, all we bloggers have the option of editing which comments appear, and said blogger wants a certain look to said comments. If I were being catty I would say that said blogger cares as much about who comments and what they say as the blog itself, but let's not go there. Whatever the motivation, clearly, my comments don't rate. I find this highly amusing. Not that they aren't germane to the subject of the day, just that I'm a nobody and I have no "currency." It's just like fandom.

Of course, being the sort of pugnacious person that I am, I'm debating whether to comment on every single solitary post said blogger makes, but then that will only cause said blogger to block me. So, I'm going to be stealthy about it and only comment once in a blue moon. Keep said blogger on said toes and wondering. Should I block her or not? Is she a crank? Does she really think that I care about what she thinks? Because then you see I've won. Because then said blogger will devote much more time to thinking about the "unworthiness" of my comments than the more "worthy" comments.

Hmmm, does this sound like a sixth-grade girl? Nah. Machiavelli, perhaps.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing and One's Ego

I have just finished a book by an author that I have previously adored and this, well, this book is thin. I'm not going to review it here because first of all I'm afraid that I'm in danger of appearing a crank who is never satisfied by anything (except that's not true, I adored "The King's Speech). Anyway, as I internally grumbled through this book, wondering why I wasn't more wowed, I came to one of my epiphanies about writing: the balancing act you must do with your ego.

The book in question has far too much ego. There really was such a plethora of the "I" that it left no room for me, the reader. That is always the danger of writing in first person, where you feel you're at a performance, but the artist is only playing for themselves. And yes, there is a certain truth to the notion that you have to write for yourself. But honestly, what we're really talking about is not writing for the market because the second you decide to write for the market, the market you're writing for has changed. If you wrote only for yourself then you wouldn't try to get published, or set up stat counters, or obsessively check your amazon numbers, or any of the above. Not that I've done that, you understand. That was the real strength of Keith Richards' autobiography: he articulated so perfectly that bridge we all strive for between the artist and the audience.

Now Keith Richards is a much, much better guitar player than I am a writer, but I do understand what he means. Every once in a blue moon that happens to me, where the "I" in me becomes a "we." And let's be honest. It's the people with the ego up the ass who tend to succeed as artists. Because they tend to be pugnacious and driven and a little obsessive. Although usually a mass of insecurities, they also have a balls-to-the-wall quality about them that ignores the nagging insecurities that stop most normal people. They really want to reach all those anonymous people. At least I do. I want you to read something and experience it the way that I want you to experience it. In some ways it's all ego and it's also ego less, because when you put your art out there to share, it's about the we. Aren't we having fun? Aren't we both so sad? Aren't we both just in awe with what's happening on the page? It's no fun with just one.

And I think when a book doesn't work is when the artist trips over that line. Where the "I" stays an "I" and doesn't ever turn into the "we." Where that divide between what is in your brain and your heart is never bridged. It's as if you're still standing on one side of the abyss and your audience is on the other side of the abyss, and although you ordered that bridge, it hasn't come yet. But I'm sure that FedEx will deliver it any second now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Life by Keith Richards

In my day (god, I cringe when I type that)  there was a distinct division between those who were Beatles fans (count me among them) and those who were Rolling Stones fans. I also understand there was some competition between the Beach Boys and the Beatles but for heaven's sake, this isn't even worth two seconds of our time. The smack down is completely Beatles versus Stones, with no exceptions.

After having read a cursory review of "Life" by Keith Richards I thought, hmmm, sounds interesting, and put it on my birthday list. Heavens to Murgatroyd, what a fantastic, exhilarating read. This is extremely similar to the Agassi autobiography that I pimped earlier this year in terms of a wonderful read, but the voice in this book outshines even Agassi's compelling voice. In short, this is one of the best books I've read in the last five years. Absolutely.

Okay, we need to spell out some caveats here. I was born in '56, so the musicians that Keith Richards talks about in his book I know. And what could possibly be more endearing to an American than to go "Ahh" when Richards describes his ever-lasting fascination with rock and roll because he heard an Elvis single or a Chuck Berry single?

What stands out in this book is not the drug busts, the somewhat amazing constitution of these guys, the inevitable overdoses and deaths, but Keith Richards as a musician. Yes, a musician. This is a book about a guy who loves to create music. I've been to a few Stones' concerts, I have most of their albums, and like all people I've asked myself the question, when in the hell are the Stones going to pack it up? Aren't they sick of singing "Satisfaction"? You read Richards' book and you understand that this isn't about a grab for the filthy lucre. Yeah, that's part of it, but it's about going on stage and playing Satisfaction and saying that he's never played it the same way twice. And you believe him. I don't think I'll ever approach a concert the same way again.

Also part of what seals this book's place as one of the best reads in a very long time is how he articulates his never-ending quest to create the best music he can create. This is pathetic to admit, but he writes about music the way I feel about writing. Except, sadly, he articulates it much better. He writes perfectly about the triangle between the artist, the art, and the audience, and that high you get when you connect. When the triangle is a perfect isosceles and each point just keeps pinging as your vision is exacted in your art and resonates with your readers (or in his case, his audience).

This has one of the best "voices" I've read. Funny, insightful, honest, irreverent, reverent (when talking of his children  and his wife he is especially endearing), and above all so honest that you think, wow, way to lay it out. I don't suppose he has anything to hide, but part of the power of this book is a take it or leave it sensibility. He doesn't make excuses for who he is or what he's shot up. For him it's all about the sound. Part of the real strength of his book is his discussion of how he plays, how he makes the "sound." I put sound in quotes because to him it's as important a factor as "voice" is to me. He's absolutely honest that the Stones are a bunch of white boys who parlayed the Chicago blues sound in a mega-band, and he's equally honest about his reverence for musicians, those both known and unknown. His constant tributes to his fellow musicians is yet another strength of this book. And while I think you need a healthy ego to be an artist, Richards never lets that get in the way. Because, really, it's about the band. Always. It's about making and nailing the sound as a "band."

I walked away from this book thinking that Keith Richards is a hell of a musician and a storyteller.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Part II on Piracy

So some judicious digging has revealed that these sites that provide illegal downloads are most likely an e-mousetrap, designed to infect your computer with Trojans, Malware, etc. Apparently the gross numbers of hits is not an indication of sales but of trolls using lesser-known authors, probably with the expectation that their publishers don't have the financial or legal muscle to make them remove the material from their website. Indeed, this particular site has a section in their FAQS that stipulates that you can request material to be removed, however, the request must come from the owner of the copyright, which is your publisher.

The word is that the entire ebook isn't generally available, but I'm still as curious as hell. I won't do this on my laptop, but I going to use my old laptop and see if I can't try to download a book just for the hell of it. I still think this raises huge issues regarding sales, royalties, and just how vulnerable authors are. Because what is to stop me from ripping the spines off the books in my sizable library, buying a high-end scanner, scan them, turn them into PDFs, and then sell it for pennies? When I get a cease and desist letter, then I move to another Internet company with a different ISP and then start all over again.

The comments on Joe Scalzi's blog when Macmillan and amazon went head to head revealed to me that not only is there a huge group of readers who want cheap ebooks, they don't care if amazon's business model is based on predatory pricing in a move to capture the ebook market (like they did the book market); plain and simple they wanted cheap ebooks and they didn't care how they got them. And lots of them. I read comment after comment by people who were furious that Macmillan was determined to control the pricing of their product. The argument that creating a false market sets the stage so that publishers and authors were becoming locked into a pricing structure that was economically unsustainable (not to mention affecting their royalties like whoa) meant nothing to these readers. Comments about how they didn't want to pay for the Rolls Royces of the publishers were plentiful enough, and even when people came forward to explain exactly how much money it takes to produce a book even before it leaves the warehouse (much more than you think!) fell on deaf ears. Even more astonishing, they could have cared less that the person whose blog they were commenting on might be a victim of this predatory pricing war (and, indeed, as we know, amazon pulled ALL Macmillan titles--paper and e-titles--for a few days).

Basically, what I gleaned from this discussion was that some entrepreneurial jerk who wants to sell ebooks really cheap has a willing and able market. Based on the discussion on that blog, I don't imagine any of those people would care that a book was pirated.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Please Stop Now

I had a lovely holiday, thanks. Daughter came home from college for a wee visit, presents were exchanged, I got a lot of books, chocolate was eaten, and my plans for cleaning up garden debris were pointless as we had nothing but rain for two solid weeks, so, hello, slothdom, my old friend. I did very little in two weeks other than re-read le Carre's Smiley/Karla trilogy. Life could be worse. I love those books. The Honourable Schoolboy is the weakest of the three, but then again, le Carre's worst would be my genius so there you are. Unfortunately, upon my return to work I was greeted by a SEA OF ANTS. For PC reasons they can't spray. I am going into work in the morning armed with a can of Raid and basically blasting them with harmful chemicals. For heaven's sake, I work next to what used to be a fertilizer plant (we NEVER drink the water from the taps), so the blowback from a vigorous spraying of Raid is the least of my worries.

So aside from ant invasion, I'm feeling fairly upbeat, thinking about novel no. four, and then on DorothyL today I read about illegal downloading of books. I thought, well, I'm totally small fry, I doubt my books are available for free. WRONGO! In fact, my books have been uploaded several times and with each upload there are over a thousand hits. I wish I could say that I didn't immediately start tallying the profits I have lost due to this, but I did. To add insult to injury, the hardcover of my second book, Roux Morgue is now virtually worthless. Yes, worthless. You can buy used copies on for one cent. Three years and countless hours of horrific writer's block later (that book was a bitch to write--not because it's particularly brilliant or anything, just because of other issues in my life--plus that small cancer scare), I find it a not little galling that it's worthless, however, what I find even more stroke-inducing is that it can be downloaded for free. Just because. They can. And some jerk(s) did.

I have sent an email to publisher in the hopes of them getting all lawyer-ish and ugly. Sadly, I think we are at the point where copyright is an arcane term. It's always been that when you sign away your rights to a publisher there was this tacit understanding that they had your wishes sort of at heart because if your book doesn't sell, then their investment is worthless. Now, the second you put a book out there it belongs to everyone for free. Hello electronic age! I guess Google had it right all along. Copyright is now pointless. I wish I felt the same way about royalties. And sure, I write because I love to write, but I would also like to write and have the freedom to one day not squeeze my writing in the left over pockets of my life. And that means getting paid for my efforts. If I'm not getting compensated then it becomes much harder to justify NOT doing all the other things that I put on hold to write.