WHAT MAKES A BOOK?

I read a lot and almost entirely on a Kindle. I feel about my Kindle the way I feel about computers: it’s a better way.

Especially as I’ve gotten older and my eyes tire quickly, being able to adjust size and style of the fonts has become increasingly important. Kindle is lighter than a paperback and has its own light. My Kindle isn’t a book — it’s a portable library that I can take with me wherever I go.

A while back, I had to read a “real book” because it wasn’t available on Kindle. I found it heavy and worse, I had to turn a light by which to read. I’m not used to that! Kindle HDX 1When we travel, I no longer need to haul a trunk full of paperbacks. My Kindle fits neatly in my shoulder bag, camera bag or laptop case. My wrists don’t get tired from holding it. I can read one-handed. The Kindle keeps my place for me, even if I’m reading more than one book at a time. And the bookmarks never fall out.

75-MyBooks-NK-05 I grab my Kindle on the way out when I’m off to the doctor. Having stuff to read takes some of the sting out of waiting. At home, I don’t have to figure out where to put books. For the first time in 30 years, there’s a bit of wiggle room on my book shelves.

I get annoyed by people who tell me electronic books aren’t “real books.” I’m sure when books replaced papyrus scrolls, a lot of people complained. And when the printing press replaced scribes, whew! That was major change. For me, it’s contents that makes a book, not format.

A couple of years ago, we gave away hundreds of books. They went to our local library, two high schools, the senior center and to any friends who wanted them. And there are plenty more where they came from if anyone wants them.

Yet I still love old-fashioned paper books. There’s nothing like the smell of paper and ink when you open a new book. Nothing sounds sweeter than the soft crack of a book’s binding as it loosens for the first time. The rustle of paper when you turn pages is music to my ears.

If I had unlimited room, I’d have a library with every book I love filling the shelves. But I’d do my reading on the Kindle anyway. Because it weighs almost nothing and it’s lit from within. I’ve gotten spoiled by the lightness and the light.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of things. Paper books will never be obsolete. Buy them as long as you have room in your bookcases.

For everything else, there’s a Kindle. Or a Nook or a tablet or whatever device you prefer.

Reading is important. The rest is semantics.

THUMBS DOWN ON KINDLE FIRE HDX – THUMBS UP ON PAPERWHITE

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They were supposed to be pretty much the same as the Fire HD, but with better graphics, battery and sound. A few other perks like really great support and cameras front and back. Gadget junky that I am, I resisted until December, but my Fire was slowing down. Probably from all the stuff I was doing on it. Mind you, it never stopped working but it didn’t work quite as fast or smoothly as it had. When Amazon dropped the price by $50 before Christmas, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest. Nice.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new, improved interface for email and the calendar is better too. I know the audio and video were technically better, but they weren’t noticeably different to me. The audio and video on the Fire HD are great and if the HDX is a little better, it’s not a big difference.

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I loved my Kindle Fire HD. I figured I would love the new one even more. And I did. For a day. Maybe two. That was when I realized the battery was draining phenomenally fast. At one point, I was on the phone with Kindle support complaining about the battery — and it was dropping at about 1% every two or three minutes. She said video uses up a lot of battery and I said I’d been able to watch movies on the Fire HD, but at this rate wouldn’t make it through a movie on the HDX without plugging it in.

In about 40 minutes, it dropped more than 50%. I plugged it in before it went flat. It also drained while it was not in use — sleeping — at approximately 5% per hour. Reading — not using audio or video — drained it at 15% per hour. As the battery hit less than 20%, it became unresponsive. Customer support suggested I let it drain all the way and recharge it. Which I did.

No improvement. Part of the problem is you can’t turn off apps except by forcing a stop. This is an awkward process which merely slows (but doesn’t stop) the battery from draining while the device sleeps. If you are using the HDX, it chews through the battery at warp speed. You can actually see it drop.

Back at customer service, she suggested I return it and try a different unit. I had an itchy feeling in my brain the problem was NOT my unit, but a design issue. I’d been reading reviews. Too many people complaining of battery problems to be just a coincidence. I noticed the reviews before I bought but couldn’t believe Amazon would knowingly market a seriously flawed product. The Fire HD didn’t get weeks from its battery as does a plain vanilla Kindle, but it gets a solid 12 hours. That’s twelve hours of actual use. On the HDX, you’d be lucky to get 4 hours of simple reading. Nonetheless, after being assured I could return it if I didn’t like it, I agreed to try another one. A couple of days later, the new HDX arrived.

The second HDX was worse than the first. Not only did it eat its battery, but it took forever to connect to WiFi — and sometimes wouldn’t connect at all — a problem I hadn’t had on the first unit. In a house with 9 working computers, I knew it wasn’t my WiFi. It was the device. The connectivity problem persisted even when plugged in. And even when it found the WiFi, it would rarely open a website, even Amazon. This pushed me over the edge. I’m not eager to return things. I hang on to all kinds of things with which I’m not entirely satisfied, but I couldn’t afford to do it this time. I need a working Kindle.

Maybe I could have lived with the awful battery performance, but not with the useless browser too. After less than a week, I called Amazon and said “That’s it, I’m done.” In the meantime, in a fit of totally unwarranted optimism, I had given my Fire HD to my daughter-in-law and couldn’t bring myself to ask for it back. I wouldn’t have gotten it anyhow because she really likes it.

Which left me without a Kindle. Not good.

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I bought the Paperwhite — the model with WiFi, not 3G. It arrived yesterday. I set it up late in the afternoon. It went live as soon as I plugged it in. At blinding speed it connected, displaying all my books and documents sorted into categories I’d created on my original Kindle. The Paperwhite reminded me why I fell in love with Kindles.

It’s a great reader. It has a just a few bells and no whistles. It’s light, small, easy-to-use. It has a touch screen, virtual keyboard and its own light, but retains many things I loved about the older Kindles, mainly that it’s a wonderful device on which to read a book. Paperwhite is a dedicated reader, not a tablet. Flat, non-reflective surface — easy on the eyes. Adjustable fonts and lighting that won’t wake your spouse. It weighs almost nothing, even with a cover.

I settled in to read last night. For the first time in a long while, I could focus on a book. The Fire HD was a fine tablet, but it was forever teasing me away from reading to play a game, hear a tune, or watch a movie — things I can do on my laptop.

Perhaps this is what I should have bought in the first place. I cannot recommend the Kindle Fire HDX, but hey, if you want a reader? The Paperwhite is fantastic.

GAME CHANGER

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was altogether vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align my expectations with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

movie-set-bostonBut extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, we waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. While we waited we were required to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom – without permission. Permission you had to get from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing to say the least. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment and your presence or absence was life and death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case. I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.” Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one. Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but (supposedly) better and faster.

I can’t even imagine life without my Kindle. I’ve got hundreds of books on it. It goes everywhere with me … literally everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand.

And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal.  After all, it’s just another toy, one more electronic doohickie. But it isn’t. For me, it was a life changer. Because finally, I could always have books with me.

If you were to take away everything else, all my toys, gadgets and widgets — but let me read, I’d be okay. I can live without TV, movies and games. I can’t live without books. My Kindle has become a magic doorway into that world of dreams called literature, the place where everything is possible. Where I go to live when life in the this world is too real.

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REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.

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Daily Prompt: Bookworms in a Bookish Home

Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS. And here are books. Audio books. Hardcover books. Paperbacks. Kindles. Books for everyone in a home full of books.

3 FREE Prequels to THE RETURNED – From Audible and Amazon Kindle

The First, The Sparrow, The Choice

Prequels to The Returned, by Jason Mott

These three short story are prequels to The Returned. All are available right now — free — on Kindle and from Audible.com in celebration of the publication — August 27 — of Jason Mott’s highly acclaimed first novel.

You can get them as audio from Audible.com and for Kindle from Amazon.com. You can get either or both. I’m greedy and I really liked The Returned, so I got both.

Each of the audio versions runs between 30 and 45 minutes and are beautifully narrated. The price is right and the stories are pure poetry. Jason Mott is a poet, an award-winning poet and these stories shine with prose so elegant it is poetry in its own right.

The price is right and I strongly recommend you pop on over to Amazon and Audible and get your own copies as soon as possible!

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The First, as the title suggests, is the story of the first of the dead to return.

The First: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]A year after her fiance’s death, Emily has barely begun to make peace with Edmond’s abrupt demise. He was killed in a freak bus accident only one day after he had proposed and she had accepted. The couple never had the chance to live their dreams, to celebrate their love.

One day, Edmond Blythe shows up at work. As far as he is concerned it’s just another day.Only when fear, panic and chaos break out around him does he realize something else is going on. It isn’t merely any day… it’s a day like no other before or again.

Edmond is the first, though far from the last to return. Having returned, it seems everything and everyone is conspiring to keep him from reuniting with Emily.

- – -

The Sparrow: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]The Sparrow is the poignant tale of a returned girl, murdered in her tenth year in Sierra Leone. Showing up by the side of an American road, she is picked up by Heather and Matt Campbell. They take the little one home. They’ve heard about the returned, but now, suddenly, they have one. In their home in the middle of their lives.

Heather finds herself immediately drawn to ten-year-old Tatiana Rusesa. Matt cannot see anything but thing. Not a child, but a potential ticket to fame and maybe fortune.

Dodging the bullets of her husband’s unexpectedly crass reaction and sinister governmental plans to deal with the returned, Heather uses compassion and intelligence to navigate the rocky shoals of a situation for which she is completely unprepared.

- – -

In The Choice, a man’s childhood love returns after going missing twenty years before. Peter Galvin was The Choice: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]seventeen when the great love of his life vanishes without a trace. No body was ever found and though he grieves, life has inexorably moved one.

Married, with a family of his own, he is suddenly confronted with the girl he loved, apparently in the flesh. Will the call of past be stronger than the commitments of the present? It a love story … the love of a man for his wife, his daughter and a girl he lost and never imagined he would ever see again.

- – -

The Returned will be available as of August 27, 2013, on Kindle, as an MP3, in both hard and softcopy, and as an audiobook (audible.com).

About the author:

Jason Mott holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina. The Returned is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @jasonmott.

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES – At Winter’s End, Robert Silverberg

Original Publication date: October 1, 2005, Kindle Publication date: May 14, 2013

At Winter’s End: The New Springtime, Volume 1. By Robert Silverberg, .

The falling death stars came again at last. Long predicted, the recurring catastrophic collision of earth with the world-destroying celestial bodies arrived on scheduled. In its last pass, it had killed the dinosaurs, brought the ice ages and ultimately, the ascendency of humankind as Earth’s dominant special.

It is many hundreds of thousands of years in the future when the cycle recurred. By then, Earth had not only humans, but other intelligent species — vegetals, mechanicals, hjjk (insect-like) and emerald-eyes (heirs to the dinosaurs) sharing the planet. Of the intelligent earth-based species, only humans and the hjjk were destined to survive the longest cold winter of the Earth. The others either could not or would not endure the 700,000 years of the Long Winter.

Simians who will become heirs to humanity have survived in an underground cocoon. Within this highly structured, rigidly organized society, they are driven by a singular goal. Endure until the New Spring comes. Survive until the sun warms the Earth. It’s an unthinkably long wait.

When finally signs portend the arrival of spring and The People are led by their chieftain Koshmar and chronicler Taggoran from the cocoon into the Outer World, it’s terrifying to many. The odds against survival are formidable. There are but 60 of them in total, the exact same number who entered the cocoon. This number has been maintained through ruthless reproductive control and pre-scheduled death dates. The number of tribe members has never in all 700,000 years been allowed to grow by a single member. But now, it’s a new day. The rules are gone and from where will the new rules come? robertSilverberg

Earth does not exactly throw the People a welcome party. Many are glad to see them, but not for the happiest of reasons. The rat wolves, the bloodbirds, endless vermin, bizarre predators and hideous insects await them … hungrily. With the warming has come the yearning for a taste of warm flesh.

The hjjk — those strange, cold insect like beings — have survived, to no one’s surprise. But there seem to be no other humans or humanoids anywhere. Koshmar’s band is so small and the earth so huge and empty. Losing Taggoran, the Old Man and Chronicler — preserver of the People’s knowledge and history — to the rat wolves means Koshmar must anoint a new Chronicler. She chooses the 9-year-old prodigy Hreesh-of-the-questions. It’s never been done before … but nothing is as it was. Everything must change.

Can this small doughty band of survivors fulfill the age-old promise to become the masters of the new-born Earth?

This is a long book with a lot of philosophical content. I enjoy the speculative nature of science fiction. That’s why I read it and that is, in my opinion, what sets sci fi apart — as a genre — from other kinds of fiction.

Sci fi is concept-oriented rather than centered on personal and emotional stuff. This is classic science fiction. There is a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here, much of it about the importance of following rules — and when rules no longer apply. How to know when it’s time to change and when it’s better to stand fast. If you are looking for a novel that explores the personal feelings of people and their relationships, you’ve come to the wrong book. If you like to give your brain a little exercise, don’t mind philosophical meandering (better yet, you enjoy it), give this one a read. And then read volume 2 — The Queen of Springtime. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

 At Winter’s End is available in hardcoverpaperback and now in Kindle. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking novel of world’s end, world’s beginning. Robert Silverberg is a  master science fiction writer. Earth and its people reborn.

Gadget saturation.

Pointy shoes hurt

When I was a young woman, I refused to wear pointy shoes. They hurt my feet. It took some hunting, but I found round-toed shoes. I wore comfortable sandals, even having them made for my feet — simple, flat and strappy. I owned boots with square toes made in England or Australia. I would not wear shoes that caused me pain.

I still won’t wear clothing I don’t like or is uncomfortable. I didn’t care about fashion when I was 20 and I care less today.

I am equally resistant to gadget fads. I’m geeky enough to understand the latest gizmos and old enough (and poor enough) to think long and hard if it would be useful enough to be worth the cost. What I buy, especially tech stuff, is driven by what I need rather than what’s new, trendy or sexy.  I don’t have an MP3 player because I don’t need one and I hate earphones. When I’m not near a computer, I use my Kindle.

Being unfashionable has advantages. It saves money. If you don’t need the latest thing, you need not replace your wardrobe when what was “In” goes “Out.” I have a pea coat  made for the U.S. Navy as warm and attractive as it was 35 years ago.

My computers were bought with an eye toward running everything I have now plus anything I might need in the near future. I bought computers with as much memory as I could get. I got the highest resolution monitors available. I bought fast hard drives and big external drives as back ups. I got the best video cards the machines would support, Blue-ray reader/writers, and sound cards to support any system I want to hook up.

If we aren’t hit by a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake, as far as computers go, I’m set for a while, a few years at least. And most everything is upgradeable.

“The sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little. “PC sales have flattened out!”

I’m surrounded by desktop and laptop computers that run smoothly and on which everyone depends. Meanwhile, ZDNet is predicting the end of the PC.  This deduction is worthy of Chicken Little or maybe, Turkey Lurky. Computer sales having flattened out while mobile device sales remain brisk from which the author concluded everyone will do everything on mobile devices. We no longer need hard drives or embedded applications. We can pick up apps from the app store and everything we need can be accomplished … on the telephone? iPad? Chromebook? Android tablet? Having made an earlier and even more baseless pronouncement that we don’t need dedicated GPS’s because you can use your telephone or iPad, I should not be surprised, but stupidity always surprises me. For some reason, I expect better of my peers.

Others have said we don’t need cameras. If you are a photographer, you’ve probably bumped into these people on forums. They don’t understand the difference between photography and snapshots. “We can take pictures just as good on our phones,” they shout. Shall I take their advice? I will just throw away my cameras, lenses, filters …everything. I mean, Hell, I have a telephone. What more do I need?

They have declared anything I use for work or art obsolete. However, before I start editing a 16 X 20 photograph on my telephone, there are a few issues to work out.

Who are these pundits?

In what world do these predictors live? Do they work? As in, for a living? Are any of them musicians, authors, or photographers? Book designers, engineers, developers? Accountants, financial advisors? Movie makers? Are they aware that most professionals rely heavily on powerful installed applications, like Photoshop, Acrobat, Framemaker and CAD?

Or are they kids who think playing games on their iPhone is the ultimate technological achievement?

People aren’t buying PCs because they have computers … and they don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like Windows 8. I want to like it. I just can’t.

Sooner or later, everyone has enough and they don’t need another, especially if buying a new one means having to relearn everything they already know.  Microsoft made a huge miscalculation when they banked on touchscreens as “the next big thing.” Hubris is dangerous, whether you’re a Greek demigod or a corporation. I think until they back off, Microsoft is in very troubled waters.

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You aren’t going to see a buying surge for microwave ovens or refrigerators either. People usually replace what they have when it no longer does the job. The market for expensive new toys is not limitless. One day, everyone will stop replacing their almost new cell phones with the next generation that has a new bell or whistle. Everyone who wants a tablet will have one, two or three of them.

Right now, almost everyone who wants a PC has one. Most have several. In this household, with 5 computer-using adults, we have 12 laptops, desktops and tablets. None is obsolete. Plus a couple that are in working condition but no one uses.

Like other families, we tight for money. Bad economy. We buy things, but only when something else breaks or becomes too old to do the job. We can’t afford mistakes.

A few years ago, we ran out of space for books. I bought Kindles for my husband, son, and me. Later, I got a Kindle HD Fire that plays audiobooks, music, videos, collects email and can be hooked up with Facebook and Twitter. It’s my compact media center and it didn’t break the bank. it’s not a full service computer, but I knew that before I bought it. I’m addicted to audiobooks. Since I no longer commute, listening has tied me to the computer in my office. The Kindle has freed me to roam.

But I still wanted a lightweight compact computer. My netbook was supposed to fill this niche, and it tried. Like “The Little Engine That Could” it mumbled “I know I can, I know I can.” The Kindle will do many of the things I did on my Netbook – which moved down the line to my daughter-in-law — but the Kindle isn’t a computer. It is what it is, so I got an Ultrabook. I also have an iPhone but don’t use it even for phone calls. I hate it, actually. I have yet to figure out what people find so great about it.

I took a long, hard look at Chromebooks, but lacking a hard drive, its limitations exceed its value.

Lies and suppositions

Not long ago, an equally ill-informed ZDNet author announced the death of dedicated devices, in particular, the GPS. The author (I use that word advisedly) surmised that since we all own tablets and smartphones and will use them for navigation. The idea of using iPads, iPods, or smartphones for navigation attaching a 10-inch or 7-inch iPad to my windshield is hilarious. Having tried my phone as a GPS, no thanks. I can barely understand what someone is saying on a phone call. As a GPS, it’s useless. I wouldn’t be able to read the map or hear directions. Just because a device has a technical capability doesn’t mean it really does the job.

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These same pundits have repeatedly announced the death of personal computers and the replacement of standard application with mobile apps. They y think free apps will replace everything. Really? Or do they believe that we are all going to sign up for expensive monthly subscriptions? I’m not. Are you? I can barely afford my current overhead: I’m not going to up the ante.

We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! 

Instead of professionals producing thoughtful articles about technology, we have a bunch of stooges for big corporations. They are not working for their readers. They are trying to sell us on whatever their sponsors want them to push. The articles are nothing more than slightly reworded corporate PR releases. I would say they are badly researched, but I no research is more accurate. How do I know? Because I used to be a tech editor. I got those releases too.

They got a PR packet, picked some information out of it, did a little tweaking, and voilà, that’s the article. If I’m going to just take the manufacturer’s word for it, I don’t need them.

I assume whoever wrote the last article saying we are all going to do everything on mobile devices has never tried to do anything working people need to do. He certainly never tried to do it on one of the devices he was touting. He probably thinks his telephone is a fine precision camera and he is welcome to his opinion so as long as he doesn’t ask me look at his pictures.

Anything that can do everything doesn’t do anything well.

In the realm of small dedicated devices, from cameras and MP3 players, to telephones, DVD players and book readers, dedicated devices perform far better than equivalent “add ons” to general purpose devices. A modern computers is not a dedicated device: it’s a platform with power to drive a lot of different things, rather like a big empty room. It does many things, but it won’t do everything well. You can use it as a TV, but sitting in your living room, feet up on the recliner and watching a movie on your big-screen TV is a more satisfying experience.

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You can use a computer as a GPS, but a small dashboard or window-mounted unit works much better. Nothing takes pictures like a good camera. Nothing reproduces music better than a sound system with quality speakers. Book readers are great for reading books and if you want to make music, learn to play an instrument.

I don’t want to read on my computer or take pictures on my phone. I am a photographer and I use a camera. If you are positive your iPad is just as good as a camera, if you believe your cell phone or android tablet is good enough to fill your picture-taking needs, you’re probably right. Don’t show me your pictures. Please.

I own cameras. I edit in Photoshop. I write books. I design books and I use Framemaker, the world’s most anti-intuitive software, but also the only software that does the job. In the ZDNet fantasy world, we are going to do everything on our telephones or tablets. Where do I fit into this portable society?

The answer is simple: I don’t. Maybe you won’t, either. Many of us have been declared obsolete.

“There’s an app for that!”

No, there isn’t. There is no app by anyone anywhere that can come anywhere near any version of Photoshop. There is no application other than Framemaker that will create indexes across chapters. For creating PDF books for reading online, you need Acrobat. What? You don’t need to do any of that?

I do. So do others. Spread sheets and other office applications need screen real estate. Before you declare the PC obsolete, you might want to try really working on a tiny devices you want to sell me. You’ll be shocked to discover a spread sheet is invisible on a telephone. You might be able to create a small one on a tablet, but if you are a serious number cruncher, you aren’t going to do it on an iPad or any other tablet. You may use a tablet to display the final result, but you won’t use it to do the work. If you are editing pictures, you’re not going to use a little screen on a pod, tablet, or telephone. You want a big high-def monitor.

Some people take their jobs and art seriously. They want real tools. If you think games are the height of technological achievement, get a job.

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How come people are still buying small mobile devices but not computers? Aw, c’mon. You know why. They don’t need another computer. If they do, they are hoping Microsoft will come to its senses and give us a real operating system before they have to decide what to buy.

Meanwhile, technology for telephones is changing fast too. Telephones are subject to more abuse than other devices. They get rained on, dropped, and sat on. Crumbs and coffee make the keys sticky. Touchscreens become unresponsive. But, people will not always buy a new phone twice a year. They’ll demand sturdier phones that are waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof.

Eventually, everyone will have enough telephones, tablets, and other gadgets. No doubt there will be new gadgets, but if they want us to buy, they’ll have to come up with new needs. Otherwise, they will create sexy, cute and trendy gadgets and manufacturers will expect a rush to buy them but no one will care. They will be gadgeted out.

Computer sales will stay modest until the expensive high-powered laptops and desktops we recently bought break down or are obsolete. Are personal computers going the way of dinosaurs? Mine aren’t.

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No amount of salesmanship will convince me to buy stuff I don’t need or like.

I like gadgets. I like cool devices. If someone gives me a toy, I will play with it but I’m not going to spend a lot of money to get it. Free is my price on anything I don’t need.

It would also be great if magazines and journals that supposedly provide information to the trades would really do it. I resent them trying to sell me stuff. The only reason I read trades is for impartial information on technology. I can no longer trust what they say so, so other than finding out what’s new on the market, they are useless. They might at least test the products before they tell me how great they are.

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Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

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These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.

 

A happy slave to books

Half a dozen times during every month of the year, I see the sun rise and hear the birds sing the morning in. It’s not insomnia. I am in the thrall of a good book and I just can’t stop reading. I’ve been a book junkie since I was a very young child and its an addiction I have no interest in breaking. It has been my inspiration and my refuge, my world away from reality, my alternate universe of choice.

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It’s my all time favorite drug. It’s not illegal, although it has cost me a lot of sleep and a fair bit of money.

I read. Constantly. I read on my Kindle, I listen to audiobooks. I read regular books. I often read several books at the same time: an audiobook by day, a print or Kindle edition at night in the delicious comfort of my bed.

I’m addicted to books and not just a single genre. I read straight history, with a particular passion for the 14th century, perhaps because it seems to have been the turning point of western civilization, the rise of central government, the creation of free peasantry and what we now call the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism the created two popes … one in Avignon and the other in Rome … which for the Christian world was calamitous. There was endless war, brigands who roamed the countryside, burning, raping, despoiling and destroying what pitiful remnants of communities that survived other simultaneous catastrophes. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were effectively depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops … and famine followed. The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that strangely comforting.

I read thrillers and mysteries and police procedurals. I read courtroom dramas … lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and trials. Then, when the world is more  real than I am willing to bear, I read science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in places that could never be, in futures that might be, and vicariously pursue magic and sorcery. Books are my escape. Take away everything else, but leave the books so if I cannot physically fly away, I can escape in spirit.

Ever since I got my first Kindle, I feel like I’ve been given ultimate freedom. I’ve spent my live traveling with trunks full of books. Now, I can bring a whole library with me to the dentist’s waiting room. And since I got my amazing Bamboosa Lap Log, I have achieved electronic reading Heaven.

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I am, for the moment, discovering new favorite authors. All of my previous favorite writers seem to be in that never-never land between the last book and th next in the series. Since they are still creating and waiting has never been something at which I excel, I put these months to good use and seek out more authors to feed my hunger for books, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore. In case you are looking for something to read, here’s an updated bunch of my favorite authors and books. Please feel free to tell me about your favorites because they may very well become mine, too! It’s through readers’ suggestions that I’ve discovered most of the authors I love best. I count on you!

Bamboosa with closed Kindle HD in its hard case.

Bamboosa Lap Log with closed Kindle HD in a hard case.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, though by no means the only history author I love. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin are rapidly overtaking her, however … especially Ms. Goodwin who writes very serious history, but also some wonderful memories of growing up in Boston with the Red Sox. I always have a special place in my heart for local kids who made good!

Don’t miss the Hollows Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison. I think it’s the finest of the all urban fantasy series. If you haven’t discovered Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series – a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case — dive in. Check our The Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7") open and on.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7″) open and on.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. Her humorous short stories and novels, from Bellwether to All Seated On the Ground are among the funniest, smartest books and stories I’ve ever read.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

In the sometimes grim and gory world of fantasy, take a look at Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant series, Richard Kadrey whose Sandman Slim keeps me fascinated and also awake at night. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor in a world filled with the dead and demons.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book.

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series was one of the significant influences on my life,. Angelique lived a life she chose and never accepted defeat. Her story piques my interest in history and she also inspired me to a personal courage I might not have found without her. The English language versions of the books are long out of print (though you can occasionally find them on Ebay and book search sites) but recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and maybe some other languages too, but sadly, not English.

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I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose world I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

There are so many way to keep yourself up at night … and I recommend them all. Books are still, page for page, the best entertainment of all because no one can do special effects like you can with your own brain.

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Abracadabra Moonshine And Other Stories, Stephen Halpert (Kindle)

Abracadabra Moonshine And Other Stories [Kindle Edition]
Stephen Halpert (Author)

Digital List Price: $4.95
Length: 181 pages

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I’m not sure what I was expecting, but whatever it was, this was different. In fact, Abracadabra Moonshine is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. These quirky stories are fairy tales, but not aimed at children. These are designed to intrigue a mature adult sensibility. I don’t mean mature in the sense that the stories are rife with sex and violence, but rather that characters have logged some time on earth and gained some perspective from the experience.

The stories are charming, witty and clever with unpredictable endings. There’s a little something for everyone … a perfect book for bedtime. If you live in or around Boston, you’ll enjoy the local settings, too. My favorite, Abracadabra Moonshine (in two parts, non contiguous) made me ponder whether or not I should start going to more craft shows. Maybe check out the leather goods.

The stories are  mostly quite short, some a bit too short for me. I am a fast reader and occasionally found myself at the end before I had entirely absorbed the beginning. Rereading solved the problem. The longer tales were more satisfying for me, but I still wanted more. I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, literarily speaking. The brevity was surely an intentional choice on the author’s part. There is nothing wrong with the stories or their endings. I just prefer longer form literature and always have. Recently I have I begun to read short story collections and I am in the process of readjusting my reading speed to suit the medium. That’s not easy after a lifetime of flying through books.

On the up side … and it is a very big up side … the stories are perfect bedtime stories. A single tale was just right for reading in its entirety as I was preparing to drift into dreamland. The subject matter was captivating, but not ugly or disturbing. I read a lot of fantasy, much of it violent and sometimes ugly. It was a treat to have an opportunity to dig into stories that were interesting and creative, but not gory or grim. I do not mean every tale has a “happily ever after” ending. Not at all. But at worst, characters get what they deserve. No one is tortured or dismembered.

The writing is elegant, the twists and turns of the plots are clever. The dialogue is believable. It’s a delicious book for grown up children on their way to sleep. If you have never lost your fondness for fairy tales, these will remind you of the stories of your childhood, but set in the modern world. I plan to reread the entire book again. Abracadabra Moonshine is too good to read just once.

It is available from Amazon.com in Kindle format. Enjoy!

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Happily Reading Myself to Death

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sun rise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. More typically, the reason is both more mundane and more reflective of who I am. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

Cover of "Song of the Beast"

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central government, a free peasantry and what became the middle class. There was the Black Death, the schism when two popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Christian world. There was endless war, brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had  survived the other catastrophes of those years. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that oddly comforting, though I can’t imagine why.

I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and prisons. Then, when I need to escape, I turn to science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in other worlds, other realities that could never be, in futures that may yet be as I pursue magic and sorcery.

Cover of "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

In an ironic turn, I’m giving Jane Austen another chance. I hated her books in school, but felt that 40 years having passed, it might be time to try one more time and so I find myself in the middle of “Pride and Prejudice.” I will never be a Jane Austen fan, but I am recognizing much of the wit that eluded me when I was younger and although it isn’t my favorite fiction, I can see where it might be someone else’s.

It is indeed the ultimate drug for me. Take away everything else, but leave me books so that if I cannot fly away in body, I can escape in spirit.

I am, for the moment, between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the process of creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set … in the future … and waiting has never been something at which I excel. Now is my time to search for new writers, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore.

I thought I’d make a short list for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. I am also a very big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and cannot recommend her books too highly: they are wonderful. Her tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals which became at least in part the basis of Spielberg’s Lincoln, or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. Her most recent book, Ever After is the best yet … and they are all marvelous.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. Great in print, on Kindle and as an audiobook. And you can get an autographed copy. It’s a series that has been getting better with each new book and I’m expecting great things.

Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series … a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case. His most recent book, Cold Days was better than ever and is taking the story in deliciously creepy directions.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories I’ve ever read including All Seated on the Ground, Bellwether, and a bunch of others.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

Dave Robicheaux Series

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her few books that isn’t part of a series, may I recommend Song of the Beast. Hint: I hope you like dragons!

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary, but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day, and she also inspired me to a personal courage I doubt I’d have otherwise found. The English language versions of the books are long out of print, but the recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and a possibly other languages. You can get more information through the Friends of Angelique.

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I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose worlds I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fford writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

Blood, Gore, High-Tech and Architecture

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I knew it was going to be one of those days from the moment I got up this morning. There was no guesswork involved. It was all arranged, scheduled.

  1. Drop terriers off for grooming.
  2. Come home, drink coffee.
  3. Drive to Dana-Farber for a day of tests.
  4. Be reassured I’m not dying of cancer.
  5. Drive back home.
  6. Pick up terriers.
  7. Eat!

Those of you who suffer from serious medical problems that don’t go away and can kill you, know what I mean. Regular checkups are high stress events until you (hopefully) get the word that all is well.

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Even though you have no immediate evidence that anything is wrong above and beyond the “usual” which is something like a Chinese menu of interrelated ailments and conditions, you always harbor a not-so-secret belief that something ugly is going on and you just haven’t found it … or it hasn’t yet announced its presence.

There are people — Woody Allen leaps to mind — who feel this way through most of their lives with no evidence that anything is wrong. The good part of this approach is when something ugly actually does show up, they can say “See? I told you! I KNEW it!”

Pessimism saves you from a lot of disappointment. It also keeps you from enjoying the good stuff that happens along the way. I guess for the hard-core pessimists, it’s a small price to pay. Fear of fear, fear of bad news, fear of being too happy then being let down? I can almost (but not really) understand.

Days like this always starts at the lab. This is the scene of my first battle of the day, as I try to convince them to treat my one working vein with gentleness and subtlety. Do not attack it with a spear. Cajole it with a tiny pediatric butterfly needle because if you blow it, finding another live one will consume half the staff of the labs of two hospitals. They got blood, but it took two nurses and a lot of jiggling that needle around to find the magic spot.

“You think maybe it’s deeper?”

“Let’s try going deeper.”

“Ouch”

“Sorry”

“Ouch”

“Hey,, I think I see a flash … “

“Grab it before it rolls”

“Ouch”

“Blood!”

Phew.

I frequently slice pieces of my fingers off while preparing food. I bleed like mad — blood on counters, floor — blood everywhere. I suggested to the nurses that next time, I bring a kitchen knife and slash myself, like I do at home. There’d be more than enough blood and it would be quicker than all this probing with needles. For some reason, they didn’t think it was such a good idea, but I thought it was brilliant.

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I had brought the little Canon Powershot S100, my Kindle, and more importantly, Garry. They are my defense against losing my mind. This is how I avoid excessive cranial activity, i.e., thinking. Usually I’m in favor of thinking, but under this particular circumstance, nothing good can come of it.

As you can see, I shot a few pictures, some of which turned out rather interestingly.

75-StructureHPCR-7

Blood having been taken, it was time for the long wait for the CT scan. I was originally supposed to drink some kind of dye solution, but I can’t because I have no stomach and I’m not up for massive nausea today. I’ve gotten to the point where they say you have to do “this” and I say “No, I don’t.” We go back and forth and eventually, they acknowledge that no, I actually don’t have to do it. But they really wish I would.

They were determined to get dye into me one way or the other. After taking a look at my so-called veins, the CT tech sent me to the chemo people who presumably can put an IV into a turnip. The lab had already mutilated my good vein, so it was now a retired vein. Even using the newest, grooviest high-tech equipment, they couldn’t find a live vein. An electronic vein finder is totally cool. It looks like a flashlight, but when they point it at you, you can see all your veins like a blue network under your skin.

If you want to distract me from pain and misery, give me a high-tech toy to play with. I’m like a kid at Christmas. So they let me point the light and together we hunted the elusive usable vein.

75-StructureHPCR-20

High tech tools notwithstanding, my veins defeated the chemotherapy staff. No small achievement. After a full hour and three nurses poking holes wherever they thought a vein big enough to take an infusion might be hiding, they gave up.

The CT scan was performed sans dye.

Then, off to the oncologist. He looked sympathetic. He always looks sympathetic. Only psychiatrists and oncologists ever perfect that look of total sympathy. I often suspect it covers a deep ennui. Best not look too closely.

Mine also looks sad, perhaps slightly troubled, but deeply sympathetic. Oncologists are always very nice.They speak softly, gently, kindly, not wishing to upset you since they figure (true) that you are upset anyhow. He looks at my labs, tells me everything is absolutely normal. (Yay!)

He looks at the CT scan, which was a big one, chest to hips. He says nothing is there that shouldn’t be. Lungs clear, everything clear. Except my spine. Which even Garry and I can see is so encased in arthritis it doesn’t look like a human spine. No wonder it hurts.

The dogs weren’t finished at the groomer when we arrived at home, so we had to make a separate trip to get them. Worth it. They look so much better and incredibly cute. More importantly, they smell better. They had gotten seriously stinky.

75-WaitingHPCR-3

Eventually, I get my reward: a big family dinner featuring a roast leg of lamb. This doesn’t happen very often. Even when we weren’t quite so poor, it was a rare event, but these days? It’s an “almost never” event.

We, the couple who traveled the world and hung out with stars mostly now hang out with doctors and sit, waiting in sterile rooms. What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, right. It’s the getting old thing.

Have a nice day, y’all.

How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire — The 12-Foot Teepee and Me

Every once in a while, much to my surprise, Amazon informs me someone bought my book. It happened a few times during 2012 and just happened again … wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a genuine voluntary reader. This is cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any money from this. Hell no. The Kindle version of my book yields a whopping $1.87 per sale (or loan) and Amazon won’t send money until they owe at least $20. I guess that would require the sale of 11 electronic books? Something like that. Since my 2012 sales totaled 2 and there have been 2 more this year, I have now broken the $5 barrier and need only 6 or 7 more sales, downloads, or borrowers to earn enough for a trip to McDonald’s. If we order from the dollar menu, we could even afford a small beverage. I can barely control my excitement, but Garry has warned me not to count on it.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_Kindle

I still get buzzed when anyone buys or reads my book and delighted when they let me know they enjoyed it, but next time, I think I’ll write about dogs.

I wrote it in 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” — so to speak — until 2008. I did author things, television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got some nice local press. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends. I sold a few hundred books which isn’t bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got regular royalty checks, sometimes large enough for a cheap dinner at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing did not materialize. So much for Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. When it first came out, I had dreams of glory. My husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as time passes, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

English: Grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone ...

When you write a highly personal book largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Books like this become popular only if written by celebrities  revealing scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a sexual nature, or if someone pumps it up on a national television, which did not happen to me and doesn’t happen to most authors.

Unless you have a recognizable name, there’s no market for this genre. The ones that get published because they are written by a celebrity don’t sell well either, usually going from a  display in the front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s not likely that me or you, unknowns that we are, would be able to convince a publisher we are worth the ink and paper to produce even a trade paperback. And don’t even think about an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

Lately, I had the task of reading a lot of books that were deemed among “the best of 2012.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of the year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask about least half the entries: “What were you thinking?” There are okay books amongst the dross, a couple of great ones and a few pretty good ones.

Unfortunately, there are many awful ones, books so bad it’s hard to imagine how this could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing at all. The worst book I had to slog through was J. K. RowlingsThe Casual Vacancy.” If you buy this book, you will want your money back. All I can think was she had a contract, got an advance, the due date came around and she threw this together to satisfy a contractual obligation. I certainly hope that’s the scenario because I cannot believe that even she believes this book is good.

After Rowlings dreadful novel, my next three top suggestions for your “don’t read this book” list, all of which should carry large warning labels saying Bad literature!! Keep away! – include:

Any of these books will cause you gastric distress and could lead to existential despair and a desire to read something involving wizards and vampires, or worse, Jean Paul Sartre. Don’t blame me. I warned you.

Then, there are a whole lot of books that are — at best — okay. Not so awful that maybe there might not be someone who likes it, but I find it hard to imagine who it might be. Some of these are may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. I didn’t like them, but I suppose you could. Some others had redeeming qualities, but not enough, making you wish the author had given the manuscript one more edit … or considered including a plot and a few interesting characters.

Which brings me back to my book. I will say, in advance, that it is not a piece of deathless literature, but it’s not bad — and a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2012. In fact, comparatively speaking, my book has features that used to be traditional in books: characters, humor, the semblance of a plot, and a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I highly recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever you are, you’d really like having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cop and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at paying jobs, raise children who lack magical powers, don’t have access to time travel nor are likely to rocket into space to explore other universes are becoming rare.

Are we no longer able to find the real world sufficiently interesting to write books about it?

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason that there are so few good books set in the real world because we find our lives completely uninteresting? Are the day-to-day battles regular people go through every day so dreary that we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Having someone buy a copy of my book today was a big deal. If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe a half-dozen or so people will buy or borrow an electronic copy (or, be still my heart), a hard-copy trade paperback of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage loaded on our backs when we are too small to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump  them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m  a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos.

Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also hard to proofread your own manuscript: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is there. 75-BooksHP

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

You can buy the hardcopy paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. I get the same $1.87 in royalties whether you buy it or borrow it.  Go figure.

I have serious concerns about the state of publishing. I am convinced there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who get published. With the opportunities offered by the electronic publishing, I would think the potential profit has increased exponentially. Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until it has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Perhaps publishers should consider taking a chance on more newcomers who don’t write in trendy genres. I love science fiction and fantasy more than most people, but I also enjoy books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I fear the best of America’s writers are being lost in the scramble to publish only best-sellers. It doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just like they always have.  From what I’m seeing, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the nose. It’s not that I’m such a fantastic author and couldn’t get a reading,  publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that does get published is so bad. It’s not a healthy sign for literature or the publishing industry.

The 12-Foot Teepee … How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire

Every once in a while, much to my surprise, Amazon informs me that someone bought one of my books. It happened during 2012 and just happened again … wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a voluntary reader. This is cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any money from this. Hell no. The Kindled version of my book yields a whopping $1.87 per sale (or loan) and Amazon won’t send money until they owe at least $20. I guess that would require the sale of 11 electronic books? Something like that. Since my 2012 sales have totaled 2 and there have been 2 more this year, I think I have now officially broken the $5 barrier and need about 6 more sales, downloads, or borrowers to earn enough for a trip to McDonald’s. I can barely control my excitement.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_KindleFor all that, I’m always a little tingled when anyone buys or reads my book and especially happy when they tell me they enjoyed it. I’ve been away from it for quite a while already and I don’t think about it often. I’m unlikely to go back that way again. If I ever decide to write a new book, it will be something entirely different. Dogs, maybe.

I wrote it in 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” — so to speak — until 2008. I did those authorly things, some television interviews on local cable, some pretty heavy-duty radio interviews with pretty big guns, locally and regionally. I got some good local press, not as much as I might have wished, but not bad. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun to do and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends. I sold a few hundred books which I’m told, for a self-published book, is not bad. For a while, I got regular royalty checks, sometimes large enough for a very cheap dinner at a local fast food restaurant. I briefly thought I was going to become a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing did not materialize. So much for dreams of Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. When it first came out and I still held some dreams of glory in my aging brain, my husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as the years pass, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

 

When you write this kind of book, a book that is highly personal and largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list. The only time books of this kind will become wildly popular is when they’ve been written by some celebrity who is revealing scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a sexual nature. Or some other celebrity likes it and pumps it up on a national television show, something that did not happen to me and doesn’t happen to most people.

Unless you have a recognizable name, there’s no market for this kind of book. The ones that do get published on the basis of existing celebrity don’t sell very well either, usually going from the front of the store display to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s not likely that me or you, unknowns that we are, would be able to convince a publisher that we are worth the ink and paper to produce even a trade paperback first release. Don’t even think about an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

Lately, I have had the assigned task of reading a lot of books that have been judged to be among “the best of 2012.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of the year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask them — about at least half the entries — “What were you thinking?” There are some good books amongst the dross I was assigned. There are even a couple of great ones, as well as a bunch of pretty good ones.


Alas, there are also many really awful ones, books so bad that it’s hard to imagine how this literary effort could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing in any form. The absolutely worst book I had to slog through was J. K. RowlingsThe Casual Vacancy.” If you buy this book, you will want your money back. All I can think was she had a contract, got an advance, the due date came around and she threw this together to satisfy a contractual obligation. I certainly hope that’s the scenario because I cannot believe that even she believes this book is worth reading.

After Rowlings dreadful novel, my next three top suggestions for your “don’t read this book” list, all of which should carry large warning labels saying Bad literature!! Keep away! – include:

Any of these books will cause you gastric distress and could lead to existential despair and a desire to read something involving wizards and vampires, or worse, Jean Paul Sartre. Don’t blame me. I warned you.

Then, there are a whole lot of books that are — at best — okay. Not awful enough that maybe there couldn’t be someone somewhere that likes it, but I find it hard to imagine who that might be. Some of these are may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. I didn’t like them, but I suppose you could. Some others had redeeming qualities, but not enough, making you wish the author had given the manuscript one more edit … or considered including a plot, storyline, and a few interesting characters.

English: Grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone ...This brings me back to my book. I will say, in advance, that it is not a piece of deathless literature, but it’s not bad — and a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2012. In fact, comparatively speaking, my book has features that used to be traditional in books: characters, humor, the semblance of a plot, and a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I highly recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever you are, you’d really like having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cop and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at paying jobs, raise children who lack magical powers, don’t have access to time travel nor are likely to rocket into space to explore other universes are becoming increasing rare.

Are we no longer able to find the real world as it exists in the here-and-now sufficiently interesting to write books about it? Perhaps we bore ourselves and find our neighbors and families equally uninteresting.

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason that there are so few good books set in the real world because we find our own lives completely uninteresting. Are our struggles to keep a roof over our heads, get to a doctor, be treated by society with respect … are the day-to-day battles that regular people go through every day so dreary that we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Discovering the other day that someone bought a copy of my book was a big event for me. It couldn’t be anyone I know. They’ve already got copies, either bought them or got them as gifts from the author, who gets to buy copies at cost (gee). The purchase, which may actually have been a “borrow,” was in Kindle format, so if I sell another 9 books, I will reach the threshold at which Amazon will pay royalties (still hoping to hit that $20 threshold) . So, right now, they own me $3.74, which isn’t close. It’s possible in theory that more people will buy or borrow books, isn’t it? If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe 9 or 10 more people, will buy or borrow an electronic copy (or, be still my heart), a hard-copy trade paperback version of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage that gets loaded on our young backs when we are too small to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump  them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the heavy load of bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m  a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos. Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also really hard to proofread your own copy: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is really there. 75-BooksHP

So, in case there are nine or ten people out there who might want to splurge for an e-book or a paperback, you can find the books on Amazon:

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

You can buy the hardcopy paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. Oddly enough, I still get the same $1.87 in royalties, even if you read it at no cost. Go figure.

Note: There is some weird version of my book that comes up indicating that the paper book as no longer available. It’s an Amazon error that I have asked them (sigh) to fix. You get the correct information if you search in Amazon under “books” rather than as a general search. Maybe they’ll fix it, but it’s there, I promise. the links I included here are correct, even though Amazon thinks I published at least one version of this book in 0001 … which would make me a VERY old author.

I have some serious concerns about the state of the publishing industry. I am convinced that there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who have gotten published. With the opportunities offered by the electronic publishing services, I would think the potential profit in publishing has increased exponentially. Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until you print one that has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Perhaps publishers should consider offering opportunities to talented newcomers that don’t necessarily write in safe and trendy categories. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I also enjoy good books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I’m afraid the best of America’s writers are getting lost in the scramble to print only best-sellers. It isn’t working, either. Most books flop, just like they always have.  I’m not sure, from what I’m seeing, that most acquisitions editors would know a really good book if it reached up and bit them on the nose. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, much less a publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that gets published is so awful. Not a good sign for literature or the publishing industry.