Two Wrongs

Paul Krugman, an economist I usually find myself agreeing with and a dude whom I maintain a cache of respect for, has been getting a lot of author traction on the internets of late. Why? His recent opinion piece in the New York Times Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K.

This morning no less than five author-peers reposted or reblogged Krugman’s opinion. Paul’s point “Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America” is arguably a valid point. Arguably as there have been a number of well reasoned collections of words published of late which completely justify what Amazon is and has been doing in its ongoing struggle with Hachette. It’s arguable that Amazon is a monopsony (go ahead I had to look it up). It too is arguable that in a battle where the limits are drawn by the boundaries of the publishing industry that the suggestion of breaking up the whole company using heavy handed FTC tactics is justified. It is even arguable who, exactly is getting hurt in this interminable struggle.

America, really? Seems a bit over the top to me. Let’s take a brief moment and identify specifically who is being hurt right now. That demographic is authors and more specifically authors who publish through the publishing giant Hachette in one way or another.

People who publish through groups that are not Hachette are not harmed. Consumers who buy books through Amazon or any other distributer are not harmed. The only people taking a physical hit for this are unwitting leverage. Most likely they woke up one morning to find that their books weren’t where they thought they’d be on a list or release day and are arguably pissed they’re not getting their promised place of prominence.

Do I feel bad for someone who published through a Hachette imprint only to discover their master work subject to a “new” gate on its way to the consumer? Yeah sure, traditional publishing has occupied the role of tastemaker time out of mind. Who wouldn’t enter a publishing agreement with a company assuming that they could pull all the strings necessary to build all that delectable buzz. And Krugman has it right, Amazon is being a colossal buzz kill. So when I see statements like this from the esteemed Chuck Wendig I have to stop and think.

Well, even without the facetiousness, I get it — I’d rather be done with this topic, too. But here’s the reality: Amazon is hurting authors. Maybe they’re doing good business for themselves and no, I don’t think they’re evil or unjustified. But I don’t care, either, because authors are getting fucked over. And, to be selfish, given some of my future publishers, no reason to think that this fight isn’t coming down to come of MY books, too. I have friends here who are hurting, and it may hurt me in the future, so fuck all of that.

I don’t believe that it is possible to take note of how bad Amazon is being to these authors without also commenting on the ease with which Hachette sacrifices these people to this fate. For the better part of a year now these two business entities have been causing too much friction in publishing, hurting authors and for what? The right to determine who is and is not successful within the publishing industry. This battle isn’t about margins or money it is about who gets to play tastemaker in the medium. Amazon has been successfully usurping that role from traditional publishers for a while and Hachette is jealous of it’s loss. Jealous, but unwilling to alter it’s own behavior in the same way that Amazon can and has.

And what of the rest of us? Those seemingly few who went with a different imprint or turned the whole row on their own? I’m not in possession of any numbers here, but four of the Big Five and all the world’s independent publishers use Amazon for distribution still and with some success. It is possible that Hachette published authors represent a minority of of those who write.

If Amazon is to be blamed and/or reprimanded for anything than equal sanction should be imposed on Hachette. Krugman is right when he draws parallels between Amazon and Standard Oil, but only in as much as they are big, powerful companies in possession of weight to throw around. Rather, they are all very large business entities behaving badly.

New Things

Admittedly, I am a far happier person when I stick to the predictable. Want to take me out for something to eat? Take me to someplace I know well enough to avoid looking at the menu and I’ll be a happy. I usually ignore alternative driving directions because they might take me along unknown roads and into unexperienced traffic messes. And I spend the greatest effort in my day-to-day affairs sticking to a predictable schedule so that both Aral and I can exist in the tranquility that results from that sort of routine.

I’ve played World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer on-line role playing game of great fame, since people actually role played within the confines of the world. When it was new I got sucked into it because a friend was playing and because it was arguably the climax of a pursuit I had invested a lot of time and effort into previously (starting way back with DiKU MUDs). So, for nearly a decade now, I’ve ponied up about $15 bucks a month and slogged my way through dungeons, guild politics, griefers and hackers while seeking purples and legendary orange tokens indicative of my dedication to this collective suspension of disbelief.

After a while this became sort of a habit. Something I kept doing because I have done it before, because I scheduled my life around this game. “Leave me alone, it’s raid night,” was a common refrain heard in my household. I don’t think I ever over did this indulgence, but I certainly invested my time and effort into it. Often gladly, some times even with great joy.

But here is where my story finds a kink. Last January, while attending Legendary Confusion, I met a representative from S2 Games. Unfortunately I don’t recall the guys name, but I imagine I could pick him out of a line up if pressed. Hopefully I can be forgiven, there were a lot of new faces and names and likely some drinking mixed in. Anyway, he handed me a short comic book about the new game he and his compatriots were working on.

I thanked him and tucked it into my bag next to a growing stack of interesting hand outs. There it sat, forgotten until just a few days ago.

Sometime this summer, when I was increasingly frustrated and bored by the same old slog I have labeled Pandarian Summer Funk, I somehow made it into the closed beta for Strife. I downloaded the game and played a little. Game play was exciting and new, tactically challenging even. Most matches were over in an average of seventeen minutes, which meant that I could pop open the client, get a quick game fix and return to real life satisfied. Compared to the cluster events that even Looking for Raid imposed upon me this was an exceptional advantage. Write a thousand words, play a quick match, fold some laundry — my days and life are not consumed by a little escapism.

As time wore on and the beta opened up I started looking into the story. The artworkS2 commissioned, both in game and for the game, is excellent. A very rich and involving world with just enough visual zing to keep the GPU warm. The character and world development feels a lot like looking over the edge of a crevasse on a deep glacier. You don’t see much on just over the surface, but you get the impression of depth. And the story itself, that the heros gather on the fields of Strife to practice their martial arts, requires no more disbelief than WOW ever did.

By September Strife had replaced all other games. Today I composed the basis of one of three new heros that have been floating around in my head (a werehippo named Hadiya, she if freaking awesome). In some small way, a way that I thought never to see repeated after WOW entered my life, my imagination has been captured once again by a game.

I’ve recently canceled my WOW subscription. Ostensibly it’s because I just don’t have that much time to play games these days, but you can add to this that I think Blizzard has lost the all too critical thread of their own story. They seem more focused on improving graphic rendering in game and concocting media sell-out events designed to pander attention than hiring good writers who can continue their formerly strong tradition of story telling. Seriously, Azeroth Cycles? This is some of the shit I am trying to escape while playing people.

Going through some of my convention stash recently I came across the comic I had been given last January. I pulled it out of its plastic and thumbed through the pages. Mostly inked over pencil work, nothing stupendous as far as a comic book goes, but in these pages I saw a group of people in love with an idea. Taking time and effort to perfect their craft and, more importantly, to tell a really cool, new story.

That’s gold, no tropes being repeated here, golden story telling.

EDIT:

If you’re interested in trying (and Strife is free to play) if you could use my referral link than you’d be buffing a true fan of the game. Click on through from here.

A Question of Etiquette

So, right now I’m feeling a tad bit confused and maybe a little stuck. I’ve been submitting short stories to a variety of venues in the SF world. Eventually, I get back a rejection notice. And while this is perfectly okay with me — I’ll simply move on to the next venue with the story to see if I can find a better fit — I feel a desire to reach out and thank the editor in question for their time.

I’ve done a bit of research. The “do you write a thank you note after a manuscript rejection?” query has been run on Google, but there seems to be a decided lack of advice on this one point of protocol.

So, are you an editor? Is a thank you note for your time and consideration something you’d appreciate? Are you a writer who sends thank you notes? Does this work for you?

Truth be told not having an answer for this one question is going to bug the crap out of me all day.

I Cannot Think of Nothing that Might Go Wrong

Yep, nothing…

Okay sarcasm aside, let’s take something like this to its logical extreme. One-hundred ton road trains crossing vast uninhabited Western wastelands of the west. Crowded stop and go traffic of over-populated urban areas. Stoned hackers who desire nothing so much as a truckload of fresh Chinese Twinkies. Man, talk about mash-up potential. Road warrior meets Minority Report. This has potential.

Need Some Space

I just knocked out about seven hundred words on a new Dispatch. Well maybe this one isn’t a Dispatch, maybe it is just a short story. Already it is 3,000 something words long and I’ve only gotten to the first reveal. But what ever it is, it is fun, and I’m enjoying writing it.

That said, what I wanted to talk about today has more to do with parenting. This week has been a challenge for me. Tess has been in Ohio all week solving software problems. I’ve stayed at home with the little guy and the dog. As the days have progressed I’ve found myself wanting for even a little time alone. Time to myself.

Aral has been doing his best to be a three year old. And most often that means that Dad gets absolutely no time to himself. For instance, yesterday I crawled through 283 words of this story that should have written themselves. While he is at school today, I breezed through nearly a thousand in the same amount of time and with this blog post I’ll likely double that word count before I need to go pick him up and feed him lunch. Clearly I am not as effective as a writer when I’m distracted by parenting responsibilities.

Aral has recently started asking to do things independently. For this I’m super glad, but often he wants me to watch him doing these things on his own. I get to play audience, but Thor help me if I offer to help. Today he put on his own shoes — three times — before we made it into the car. I patiently watched him put the same pair of shoes on each time, commenting only about what a good job he did all on his own.

Friday is here, Tess is on a plane back to the Puget Sound, and the pair of us have made it through yet another week. I’m a pretty proud Daddy most of the time and while my parenting has a palpable impact on my writing I am super glad that I get the opportunity to do this. Yesterday, after a particularly challenging parental situation (kids arguing over toys) Aral walked over to a sign hanging on the wall of the coffee shop and said “Dad, that’s an ‘E’.” Later in the day he was knocking out letters I’m certain we haven’t yet covered. The whole time I’m standing there in awe saying “Fuck yea” to myself because he’s three and I get to appreciate his accomplishments vicariously.

So yeah, I need a little time to myself, but I get to give him my time and attention, and feel that much better for it. Right now, Aral is teaching me a new kind of patience. Often I have to delay my own gratification for extended periods of time. The pay-off, however, is amazing.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Rock Landing

Three days and nearly no sleep. The solo crossing from Makah Bay to Ucluete had turned out to be much more of a challenge than Paul had expected. He had stuck with it, dodging the huge cargo craft entering and exiting the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Avoiding La Migración where they had staked out safe bays and inlets on the south side of the US border waiting in ambush for the unpapered.  And in sticking to the open water he had even landed a pair of salmon that would fill his larder for weeks. If only he could make it to shore and smoke them before they spoiled.

Now Paul was reaching as hard and as fast as Brosings’ Necklace could cut the current. He needed a beach, one with a high waterline, because a very low pressure hyper-dynamic Rossby circulation was headed his direction. The Navicom had raised an alarm that morning, but thankfully the broadcast described a storm front moving at an average and predictable speed. That he had even bothered to re-check the device had more to do with the wind-driven waves he had spent the afternoon negotiating, big haystacks with plenty of foam crashing down one after the other on the cramped deck house of the single handed sloop. Fortunately he had taken the time to sort through all the new information that had been disseminated by the weather service. The storm front had picked up energy and speed as the day had progressed and now it was rolling into the coast like a train without breaks.

Paul was tired and wet, but most of all he was worried. He was having a difficult time making out the lighthouse beacon that stood on the end of the little peninsula which would protect him and his tiny boat. The wind driven waves were threatened to capsize his boat and they were now driving snow and icy spray into the little craft.

Brosings’ Necklace had become the cradle of Paul’s life. He had traded in his on shore past months before, imagining that life at sea might prove more liberating than the existence he had inherited within the dense confines of the city. So far, the little boat had exceeded all his expectations. Coasting up and down the Puget Sound had been enjoyable and sometimes profitable. He had been scared once or twice. Belligerent immigration agents rounding up illegals near Anacortes had passed over Brosings’ Necklace twice despite Paul’s lack of a valid visa or a boat registration. He was a very small fry swimming in the same sea as Los Tiburones. Paul was just another undocumented barnacle with nothing of value and no one to ransom him from the clink, and he liked that about this lifestyle. No one cared about him, he had no one to care about.

And then Vera had sailed into his life. Late on a a sunny August  afternoon she had slid into Mail Bay. Paul had been fishing, or, depending on how you looked at it, patiently waiting for the sunset. Her long-distance rig had rounded the shallow inlet on the east side of Waldron Island. He had flagged her down before she made landfall. Paul had been lucky enough to catch a PirateNet broadcast earlier that day about the county sheriff nabbing “boat people” who made landfall anywhere on the San Juans. Vera had seen him waving her down and had dropped her traction kite. She had paddled the rest of the way to Brosings’ Necklace on the polymorphic hydroplane she called home.

Vera’s companionship had been a wonderful break from the lonely existence to which Paul had escaped. They had remained mostly autonomous since their chance meeting at Mail Bay, but, perhaps more so when they were apart, Paul felt his growing connection to this strange woman. Their instant attraction, perhaps a byproduct of their shared nomadic lifestyle, had seen Brosings’ Necklace rafted next to her polymorphic hydroplane in pod form night after night. Night after night they shared their food and conversations around a tiny fire brazier on the pilot house of Brosings’ Necklace.

One morning, he had woken to the tide slapping the side of her hull and wondered if all this was sustainable. Vera was as undocumented as they came. Paul wondered what he might do when La Migración caught up to her, how he might feel when they carted her off. Deportation for him meant transport back to Hansen-Seattle Arcology number 12 with the possibility of indenture. Paul lay there attempting to justify leaving; for Vera, a citizen of the Mayori Nation, capture was a fate he was unwilling to contemplate.

When he had worked up the courage to talk to her about his feelings she had proposed that they move up the coast separately. Spend some time on their own and the regroup. “Maybe we could meet up near Port Hardy”, she had suggested. Paul’s sloop had never been wetted in open water and so he decided that he’d take the outside passage. Vera had been talking up an open water crossing, plus all that space was sure to give Paul some isolation to think things over. Terrified of his growing attachment to this woman, Paul had set sail into the Pacific.

Since then Paul had weathered two lows always running to shelter from the open before these storms made landfall. The hyper-dynamic Rossby circulations were now acknowledged as a permanent climate feature of the North Pacific. Very large, slow-moving high-pressure fronts pushed up into the fast melting arctic followed by very large, lows dipping down from the pole creeping across the middle latitudes. The destructive capacity of each cyclical system had become the norm. Sailors knew to find shelter before a low crashed into the coast. This was Paul’s third Rossby wave and he had not stayed ahead of it.

Now Paul was cranking on the rudder hoping that the light off his port was the right one. A big windblown wave crashed into the left gunnel of the Brosings’ Necklace, threatening again to capsize the sloop. Paul scrambled up the deck and leaned over the side, trying to bring the keel under her. Another wave smashed into his back and water obstructed his breathing for a moment. The boat’s heel lessened and he dropped down into the pilot’s well able to breath in the calmer air. A beam of light, still to his left, cut across his bow this time definite and sure. Checking his Navicom mounted on the backside of the deck house, Paul saw that he had slid into the channel south of Ucluete. Wind poured over the rocky spit of land that now separated Paul from the raging storm front and the rigging of Brosings’ Necklace rattled above his head, but he was safe behind the wall of sand and riprap. Paul sailed up the narrow channel enjoying the calm. On the starboard light from the little settlement of Ucluete slit the salty spray rolling over the storm wall. There in the harbor, before his prow, lay Vera’s polymorphic hydroplane.