New Years Resolutions 2017

For Us, and this is the Imperial “Us,” last year was a full-fledged, no-holds-barred goat rodeo. Lots of famous people died, even more, not-so-famous people passed away, and then we elected the first Ompah-Lompa to the highest office of our country. And let’s not forget that 2016 is expected to clock in as the hottest year in more than 136 years of direct atmospheric measurement.

Despite the fact that we could be looking back at the burnt and tangled wreckage of our cluster event that’s not what this post is about, is it? Nope! We’re looking forward, because gosh darn it, 2017 should be better.

So, without further adieu, here are a few of my New Years resolutions.

Take Aral Backpacking

Have you any idea how troublesome it is to locate appropriately sized backpacking gear for a six-year-old? Seriously! As a result, I’m banging the rust off some of my ill-used sewing skills. Our first box of supplies showed up yesterday, and I’ve opened up the Pfaff.

I’ve read a small collection of articles lately that all center around the “problem” of young people staying indoors too much. First, this makes me feel old, namely because now aged enough to see two generations of young people growing up under my branches. For instance, this article in Outside — “The Outdoor Industry Has a Millennial Problem” — posits a number of causes for the drop in younger people being involved in Wilderness, but my older son Justin recently informed me of the only reason that really matters.

In a recent phone conversation, he told me that he doesn’t really know “How to plan a bike tour.” In his possession, he’s got some of the best gear for this purpose ever constructed. He’s been on a couple of nice long ones, enough to know that a bike tour is largely just an exercise in improvisation between disparate locations. I about sprained my eyes rolling them, but I listened all the same. That’s what old people are supposed to do.

It seems that I may have made some mistakes raising the first one. Go figure. I let him labor under the misunderstanding that getting outside requires precision planning and forethought. It doesn’t.

Rather, what you need, he has in spades. An ability to learn from your mistakes, an abundant sense of wonder, and a warm jacket. Alright, maybe some warm socks too. But seriously, that’s the bar of entry to this and many other outdoor endurance sports.

Aral and I have been walking a lot. He just completed a 4-miler (long for him at 6) without even noticing that it was indeed longer than most of the walks he’d previously done. He finished with a smile on his face. So, Mr. Thyer, how to you teach a kid that he can pass the bar-to-entry for backpacking. We’ll you put a pack on his back and march him up the trail.

Continue Primal Lifestyle

I probably need to write up a review of this, but yeah wow, I’m doing so much better. Last Septemeber started a “diet” which essentially got me out from under the consequences of the Standard American Diet. I’ve lost a lot of weight, I’ve kept this weight off too, but even better, I’m not always inflamed. My face, my foot, my sinuses, even my fingers are significantly less bulky. My joints move easier, even when they’re cold.

Tess bought me a pressure cooker for Xmas, and she’s been saying that she wants to join in the fun. Now all I need to do is teach Aral to like eating nuts.

Recover and Publish Short Stories

John Hancock's Recovered Short from Immortality Chronicles

John Hancock’s Recovered Short from Immortality Chronicles

One of my favorite things about publishing through Windrift Books is that after a pretty short period of time all rights revert to the author. Amazon’s relentless expansion of lists means that there’s a place for short stories. Great Stories In One Sitting breaks down reads, based on their length, by the approximate time it will take most people to read them. A lot of Samuel Peralta’s authors have been floating to the top with stories they’ve published previously through him.

GOAT (“Greatest of All Things,” in case you didn’t know) was my contribution to the acclaimed Doomsday Chronicles. It’s gotten great reviews next to the other PA fiction in that collection, and I had the best time writing it. Consequently, I’ve begun to develop one of the supporting characters from that story by writing more about him. Murray Biyaal is a sort of MacGyver hero of the Navajo Nation in a crumbling Western future.

I’m going to start with GOAT and plan to self-publish a whole series based on this cast.

 

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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.

I Hate Conflict

Yep, this author really does not like it very much. My problem with conflict is that it gums things up, making it more difficult or impossible to get anything done. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that there is no escaping it, and eventually, if you’re involved in any pursuit where conflict is happening you may actually need to chose a side. I hate that most of all because I usually find myself not agreeing with any particular party. If party A is busy bickering with party B over something that ultimately just creates obstacles for me, why should I line up with either?

The whole Amazon v Hachette cluster event has once again taken center stage. Instead of focusing on some highly anticipated releases, the ring leaders are begging for all the attention. They want to know that we support them in their cause. They’re writing open letters, building grass roots media campaigns, and waving big banners.

Friday evening, what should appear in my inbox, but a letter from The Amazon Books Team with the subject “An Important Kindle request.” Within this multi-page tome (and I possess a big monitor) I’ve been obliged to take Amazon’s side in this contemporary cluster event of monumental proportions. If we just hold hands, sing songs, and spam our adversaries with emails we can eventually go back to pretending to be nice to one another. After reading this letter I felt dirty.

Amazon would love for you to buy into the idea that they’re on the side of readers. Hachette wants you to trust that they’re on the side of creatives. In my opinion, both of these companies couldn’t give less of a damn about readers or writers. Here’s why.

  • In Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors they liken the rise of ebooks to the historical shift in publishing between hard bound and paper backed books. Their history is on the fuzzy side, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Amazon’s claim that the ebook can revolutionize book sales the way that paperbacks did somewhere between WW1 and Vietnam.I find it perplexing that as a distributor of books, Amazon fails to realize that words have value. People, good people in fact, spend lots and lots of time and effort collecting those words into big piles. They’re banking on the notion that a lower price point will increase sales volumetrically. Fast and cheap is what they’re going for in their segment of publishing, but this is incredibly shortsighted of the company. As an author who first bleeds on the page and then slaves away at revisions until I’m cross eyed, I don’t want readers stuffing their Kindles with my work. This does me absolutely no good. That kindle stuffed with cheap words will never get read and the return I can expect regardless of how I publish will always be much, much lower. Amazon is pushing writers to produce more if they want any hope of maintaining financial viability. You get to choose two: fast, cheap, or good. By chasing cheap, and pushing fast, they’re losing good.

    The whole Readers United bit seems concocted. It’s like eating soylent green snack cakes. Amazon is clearly trying to win my support in their corporate struggle but they are not actually doing anything to gain my support. So like a big, self-interested, for-profit company.

    If you’re a reader and you think this is a good thing, think again. Short term, with the ever-decreasing value of the printed word, each time you buy a mobi on your Kindle Paperwhite™ you’re likely wasting your hard earned money. You’ve given me a sale, but I’ve lost a reader because Kindle-stuffers don’t read, they collect. Long term it is actions like this that push down prices on everyone’s works, thereby devaluing the cost of the written word to the point where it becomes a worthless pursuit for creatives. I’m not motivated to write and then jump through hoops to publish something at a net loss.

  • Hachette has brought out their honor guard to make the point that Amazon is an evil, multimillion dollar, monopolistic company whose only concern is hurting Hachette’s precious writers. “It’s not our fault that Amazon chooses to behave this way,” they’re saying. “Be on our side because we’re the good guys, ebooks at a slightly higher price point ($14.99 instead of $9.99) just means that much more money will end up in the hands of the people who really deserve it.”I’m not buying this line either. Hachette has its own turf effort underway. A bunch of big name authors have published an open letter in which they “respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and tell him what you think.” Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you lost agency when you sold the rights to your work. Sure, what Amazon is doing is craptastic. Refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books, slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, and indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on some titles is the opposite of what any company formed around the idea of efficient, low-cost distribution of goods should be doing. This is how the bully behaves, but Hachette seemingly hasn’t seen fit to make any move to help these authors. Amazon is stoking the fire, Hachette is making certain that the shackles are nice and tight.

    The painful part of this effort is that each and every one of the people that signed this open letter seems just fine with the heat. By bandwagoning Hachette’s efforts you’ve effectively let this company off the hook for their part in this kerfuffle.

Neither of these companies is doing anything for the people that they say they care about. Authors don’t make any more if either of them win. Reading doesn’t get any better if either of them win. From the perspective of the people that matter, this is all lose-lose. We lose because attention within a saturated media market is necessarily diverted to business matters pertaining solely to middlemen.

What do I want? Amazon and Hachette to sit down and work things out; both of these companies need to solve this problem sooner than later. They’re hurting everyone who creates or consumes. These business entities are losing business. Do I hate either of these companies? Not so much — they both have a lot to offer. I’m a businessman working at the creative end of this funnel. When things go wrong, when things get stopped up, I notice. But that’s just it, I am interested in selling my stories, not winning some sort of imagined moral battle.

We’re not on the verge of some epic ebook publishing breakthrough, neither are we at the threshold of some amazing renaissance of traditional publishing self distribution. Rather we seem to be hopelessly bogged down in some sort of middleman mire. Amazon, you’ll never get anywhere bullying Hachette authors. If you want to win authors over to your way of thinking, offer them a better deal. Hachette, you’ll never get anywhere pretending you hold some sort of moral high ground. If you want to win readers over to your way of thinking, give readers a better deal.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

PopSci recently debuted a collection of very short shorts from “Ten of the brightest minds in science fiction.” It’s a very worthy read if you’ve got a couple of minutes to kill. Lots of humor packed into very few words. Plus, I love the idea. In part, because I love short stories. In part, because I love flash fiction. Also, writing something is a whole lot more fun than vacuuming or revisions, and that’s what I’ll be doing otherwise. So I’m turning it into a writing exercise right here on FeetForBrains.


 

Avacado

I was super excited to head home to my gallery apartment today because in this week’s grocery shipment I fully expected to find a lovely box of HAAS avocados waiting for me along side all the usual. When I was a kid I recall heading off to the super market with my mother and walking away with loads of these little buggers. They were so tasty. She’d cut them in half, pull out the pit, and hand me a spoon. But it’s been an age since there was such a thing as markets, and avocados have become about as rare as ice in the arctic.

Unfortunately, I let my anticipation of this delectable treat and the nostalgia for old-timey unprocessed food stuffs come before any sort of reasonable, contemporary assessment of the status quo. This despite the fact that I’m constantly surrounded by swarms of pilotless delivery drones. They dodge through crowds of people at the train station. They zip past my head when I take the skywalk from one end of the arcology to the other. They’re every where and always moving at a tremendous speed, performing amazing aerobatic feats that would turn a mere mortal into jello.

So it should have been no great surprise that the box I received on the door mat before my apartment was little more than the final resting place for the once delicate fruits of one Persea americana tree. The cardboard coffin contained only a greenish-brown slush resembling guacamole that had gone off. It’s truly amazing what 10 gravity turns will do an avocado.

Writers, Choose Your Side

Good morning world. I’m sipping coffee brewed in a melitta funnel and really enjoying that caffeinated buzz. And I need it too. Yesterday I ran to the top of Granite Mountain (West) in some very muggy, hot weather and then wrote a pile of words for COUNTERFEIT HORIZON. Oh yeah, and we got the washer-dryer stack replaced on the third floor of our townhouse. Good grief, I was productive.

During all of that doing I was patently unaware of the storm brewing in writer-land. It seems that authors all over the world were drawing lines in sand while I slept and now I’ve been asked to choose a side. Yes, we’re talking, once again, about the Hachette/Amazon battle that is still smoldering.

“What has changed?” you ask. A number of prominent, traditionally published authors have recently gone public. They are asking for reader condemnation of Amazon. Then, this morning, Hugh Howey published this petition asking for reader/writer support of Amazon.

Everyone is currently engaged in the truly enduring past time of second guessing one another via public media outlets such as Twitter. And I, I am left scratching my head in bewildered and somewhat misanthropic cloud of confusion. Some days, I can’t not hate you guys.

Where do I stand on this critical matter of the day? When I examine my soul, I find that I just don’t. Hachette and its army of apologists haven’t done anything that has made me like them any more. No book deals offered, not even misleading and unfruitful interest expressed. Amazon, despite being a key component of my “success” as a writer, isn’t making nice-nice with anyone either. The fact of the matter is that two really big corporations are acting worse than poorly raised and regulated toddlers at the play area. And making matters worse they’re both bandwagoning decisive and vocal support for their poorly articulated positions within a darkroom debate.

The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk.
— Dalai Lama

People, here is a really fine example of the exact wrong moment to express your tightly held beliefs. Amazon and Hachette are using you and your incessant flame wars as an excuse to avoid solving their problem. And you fools are just playing into that dumb game. These corporations need to come to the table and fix their problems. Not you, traditionally published authors, and not you, independent published authors. Both of you are making resolution more difficult and the market much more hostile. This is not your fight, not your problem, and definitely not your job. Authors, your jobs are to write more and learn how to play well with others who write.

(negative 10 points for derp, and minus 40 points to House Indignation for snarky bullshit)

Do I like and thank Amazon for providing me the opportunity to be published? Hell yes, but that has nothing to do with them manipulating the sales of books for others. Do I care overly much about Hachette teetering no the brink of insolvency? Not my worry either. I’d really appreciate it if both Amazon and Hachette could, henceforth, avoid forcing authors of any publishing imprint into the unenviable position of having to chose between divorcing parents.

Interesting Cola Flavor Alpha or Beta?

Readers, I want to assure you from the get-go that this post is about Jason Gurley‘s soon to be released book ELEANOR. I recently got to beta-read this specfic masterpiece and what can I say? Despite moving, toddler-rearing, driving from Colorado to Washington and then up and down the coast a couple of times, potty-training, job-searching, job-finding, running, house-searching and procurement, and a number of other life changing and arduous tasks at hand I still found the energy to crack this opus magnum every night until I had read it cover to cover. In fact, I suspect that Gurley may have embedded some sort of emotional power source between the lines because I haven’t the faintest how I managed. Other than I really wanted to finish it; it’s that good.

The book is extremely well done, and his prose, in standard Gurley fashion, sparkle with polish. I wouldn’t want to give too much away so I’ll leave you with only my highest praise and the advice you should put this on the top of your summer reading list. Also, go read the prologue.

1985. The death of Eleanor’s twin sister tears her family apart. Her father blames her mother for the accident. When Eleanor’s mother looks at her, she sees only the daughter she lost. Their wounded family crumbles under the weight of their shared grief.

1993. Eleanor is fourteen years old when it happens for the first time… when she walks through an ordinary door at school and finds herself in another world. It happens again and again, but it’s only a curiosity until that day at the cliffs. The day when Eleanor dives… and something rips her out of time itself.

And on the other side, someone is waiting for her.

But, now, I’d like to bifurcate this post. Mind you, it is still about ELEANOR, but in our recent travels I’ve noticed a brouhaha bubbling into media attention and subsequently throughout the writing community. That’s right Amazon v Hachette. Blogs have lit up with team chants. Everyone seems to be content to pick a band wagon and hop aboard for the ride. And much because I am an independent author for the time being, and most, if anything, I might make on my writing will inevitably come through this platform I’ve felt somewhat protective of their position.

But this afternoon, because I prefer to know more about these sorts of market altering situations than to blissfully write in a vacuum, I spent considerable time looking into the mess. Here’s what I think.

A. I’ve read a great deal of opinion, but parts of this one piece in Forbes ring true to me. Both Amazon and Hachette are at fault for manufacturing a situation that is, at best, fractious and seems to be entirely predicated on greed. Amazon has been manipulating their platform to twist Hachette’s nipples hoping they’ll back down from a bigger piece of pie. Hachette has been rousing the rabble in an attempt to shame Amazon into giving up the plate. Neither of these business entities seem to care a wit for the very many creatives that power their machines of business. We make the cherry filling for their pies, but they seem, at best, disinterested in what’s happening in the kitchen.

There is no theoretically correct answer to this question. A demand that publishers must make 75% on e-books cannot be supported: they take more risk with physical books and yet gain lower margins on them. So we cannot say that as a matter of divine right the current publisher margins on e-books are correct. But equally, we can’t say that Amazon deserves a greater piece of the action either. There’s simply nothing to support such an assertion: after all, even Amazon isn’t arguing that all people who sell e-books should get better margins if Amazon does.

B. And that is where this whole damn thing should fall apart. This is all about money, and not the kind of money that helps support artists of any sort. I noticed this comment from Jacqueline Carey, and she’s spot on in my opinion. Hachette its fans have tried to characterize their side of the conflict as some sort of David and Goliath, populist movement. But that’s not the case, Hachette is simply interested in a bigger piece of ebook sales, they’re not going to reimburse their creatives despite the damage this kerfuffle is currently causing (both short term, in lost sales via Amazon, and in the long view, damage to author platforms). And they’re not raising payouts or incentives to their authors. Not even offering a bigger cut of the pie should they “win” in this conflict.

 

So, here’s some advice to both of the big boys fighting in the school yard. Bad behavior is bad. You don’t make friends by fighting. This may be business, but on both sides, its extremely short sighted and malignant business. It’s only too bad King Solomon is a myth because I’d love to see what he’d do with the extra pie these big mothers are fighting over.

Where do I stand on this compelling issue of the day? Right where I always do. Go support your favorite artists. Make sure you buy their works. If you can, support their efforts by leaving reviews and kudos. Write them a letter telling them how much you appreciate what they’ve made. Do what you can to help them grow, mature, and flourish, because, the marketplace is full of parasites and power mongers.

Hint: This means you should go pre-order ELEANOR.

First Day of Free

We’re nearing the end of the first day THE BIG RED BUCKLE has been on Amazon for free. As of this moment more people have down loaded the book in the last 24 hours (actually less) than everyone who has purchased the book, print or ebook, since I published it last December. Currently it is rated number 3 and 4 in its two primary categories.

First, this makes me feel pretty good. I mean, the fact that hundreds of strangers have taken the relatively risk free step of downloading my book while it is free at the very least means I am likely to get some new eyes on. Maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t, but at least there are new people reading it and that makes me happy. It seems a low bar, but getting anything like a ground swell of new readers has been a serious challenge for me thus far. So it goes without saying that I now see the value in offering free works.

Second, I want to thank all of you who supported this book before I took this opportunity to give it away. Seriously, it means a lot to me that you were willing to fork over your hard earned cash. Your support, perhaps of me more as friend than as author, means a ton and it is humbling to know that someone loves you at least that much. I’ve never been very good at showing my gratitude, but I have great quantities of it, especially for those few who have gotten me this far in my career as a writer.

Third, there are still four more days of free. The promotion ends next Tuesday and now that THE BIG RED BUCKLE has made cloud base, I’d like to take it the full distance. See how far we can make this go cross country. So, please tell your friends, tell your coworkers, tell your mailman, tell anyone and everyone. It’s free.