Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A day in the life of a pulp fiction writer: balance.

























Photo by Louis. Sitting on a park bench.











Writing is a magnificent obsession. It challenges and consumes its acolytes. It humbles and exalts its practitioners. It disturbs the connoisseur and delights the critic.

What is the difference between an obsession and having focus? No one can say. It’s a pretty fine line in my opinion. We must balance the need to create lush new content with the patience of the reader. People can only read so much, so fast. I can only work so hard, and build an audience so quickly. Our skills only develop so fast. Research takes time. I can only learn so hard.

And yet we regret the time that is somehow ‘wasted’ when not working on our next newest epoch-shattering piece of writing. We suffer from a nameless editing injury. We talk about it in our sleep. Our family dreads our coming, and wish we would leave sooner…

To be focused is a wonderful thing. We aren’t going to get anything done otherwise. No one has a gun to our head. We do this because we want to, or because we must, I’ve never been sure which.

Writing is cerebral. It takes up much of our brains, and little else. We don’t even really need eyes and fingers to write. Modern technology means the blind or a multiple amputee can write.

Today I edited a few pages of my latest book, ‘Time-Storm,’ (or whatever I end up calling it, and I’d better make a decision before the weekend,) as well as visited my dad in the old age home. I rode to my brother’s, and I went to see my sister, and then I rode uptown and bought a six-pack. This is no reflection on them, I just had the opportunity to get some beer and I took it.

That’s balance, right? It’s not all about writing all of the time. So then I rode home. By this time I must have had fifteen kilometres on the bike. Then I had lunch, edited some more, checked e-mails, all that sort of thing.

This evening I went out again. I must have put another six k’s on the bike, and of course that little jaunt to the grocery store probably adds up to 750 metres of walking. Bearing in mind that I sit and talk to people once in a while, or just sit on a park bench and smoke, this actually takes up a lot of time and energy.

Should this time have been spent writing the Next Big Thing? I say no, and for good reason. If I hadn’t done all of those other things, I wouldn’t have any food in the house…no beer, no smokes, no milk.

There is a balance—I got a nice haircut, just the other day. I don’t want to look like the bearded hermit in Monty Python, right? That guy looks just a little unbalanced.

So as you can see, ladies and gentlemen, we try to strike a balance around here. Otherwise, things would get just a little too danged serious.

And we wouldn’t do that to ourselves…right? Oh, yes, I almost forgot, I talked to my mom on the phone today, and it was ever so nice, I saw a really strange bird, it was sitting on a wire, and one of these days I had better put some more air in those tires.



Sunday, May 27, 2012

The matrimonial stakes.


















2030 A.D.: What with the sudden and unforeseen aging of the population, a declining birthrate and the ever-shrinking tax base, the state has had to take some quite extraordinary measures.









After waiting in the queue for what seemed like hours, but it was really more like forty-five minutes, Edgar finally sat in front of the desk of Hugh Desrosier, a senior clerk at the Ministry of Love.

“I’m sure there must be some mistake.” Edgar was a shy, reserved person, not known for his assertiveness.

“What seems to be the problem?”  Desrosier inquired in a bored, yet courteous tone. “Already married? That seems to be happening quite a bit lately. Our tech people are trying to work out the bugs.”

Desrosier’s steely blue eyes, not unfriendly, but ruthlessly efficient, bored into Edgar’s from across the desk.

“It’s just that the thing is impossible. I have my elderly mom to think of, and my job keeps me out at all hours. My place is too small as it is.”

Hugh was aware the address on the file was a third-level walk-down under the glittering beachfront financial district.

“Honestly, I keep very irregular hours, and I have to keep running in and out, to look after my mom.” It was all irrelevant to Hugh.

Edgar tried again to explain his fundamental problem. He really wasn’t well-suited to marriage.

“My mom had a couple of heart attacks a few years ago. She’s diabetic, and I think she had a ‘TIA,’ which is a kind of mini-stroke, although the doctor says no. But that’s bullshit. She’s okay, really, it’s just that she needs a little supervision, and anything that deviates from routine sends her into a tizzy…”

“Well, it is a shock to the system sometimes when your number comes up.” Desrosier coughed in a dry manner. “But the love really grows on you. You’ll be amazed, and of course we never really assign anyone who is truly incompatible. Don’t believe all the horror stories you read in the tabloid-mainstream press. Don’t forget, they’re the ones who came up with disposable plastic one-time-readers to replace flyers, brochures, pamphlets, mailbox-stuffers, magazines and newspapers.”

“Oh! It’s really not a question of the lack of integrity of the media. It’s just that I’m totally unsuited to be with, um, a wife.” Edgar’s natural coyness reared its ugly head and he blushed furiously. “I mean, I’m not a virgin or anything, I was brought up in communal daycare just like any other normal child…but. But, it’s just that I figure she’ll live a lot longer and have a lot better life, you know, the longer we can keep her in her own home.”

Desrosier’s head bobbed up and down in sympathy; as if hit by sudden revelation.

“I am so sorry.” He tried diplomaticy. “You’re really in luck this month! We have a whole slew of really nice guys that we’re hoping to match up right now.”

“No! That’s not what I mean.” If he was cautious about sex, and love, and marriage, that certainly included all alternative forms of human relationship. “No, it’s just that she really doesn’t know what’s going on a lot of the time, and trying to explain anything to her is incredibly frustrating…but all she needs, really, is someone to keep an eye on her, and to protect her from utility-contract sales teams. They roam the neighbourhoods, demanding to see your gas bill, or your electrical bill. They’re just looking for elderly people to prey on, you know?”

“Well, then, I’m afraid I don’t understand the problem and if I don’t understand the problem, then I really can’t help you with it." He decided to start over. “So you just don’t want to get married?”

Hugh was trained to be non-judgmental, but firm.

“No!” A slightly-shaken Edgar had sweat gluing down the long blond forelock that he affected, as it went with the studious rimless glasses and his intensely medium-brown eyes, slightly larger than the average for a long-skulled human archetype.

“Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you? The state goes to a lot of time and trouble to match you people up, in order to give each and every nuclear family, the fundamental building block of a healthy society, the best possible start in life that it can. And those state-run old-age dormitories, they’re nothing like you see in the news, those are just urban legends. Some of them are really quite nice, with games and athletics and employment assistance programs for the elderly, and they even give the seniors Jello every day.”

“What do I have to say or do, to convince you, that I would be very bad at this?” Edgar asked in a husky, grating whisper.

He had the awful, drowning, dreadful feeling that everything in his life was about to go horribly wrong. Edgar labouriously dragged himself further upright in his chair. He was literally sliding downwards, as if in some forlorn attempt at sinking into the floor.

Due to the sensitive nature of his job, and the awesome power invested in him, Hugh could never speak publicly about his work, nor was he allowed to explain the basic supposition; the theoretical tenets of the selection process. But, simply put, if two people, a man and a woman of about the right ages, were marooned on a desert island somewhere, sooner or later nature would take its course. This whole notion of, ‘the one, and only one for me,’ had been thoroughly de-bunked by online dating and mating services decades ago. Ultimately, all it took was propinquity and social permission. A certain threshold level of physical and mental health, and that was it.

“Look, Buddy, honestly, man-to-man, and forgetting about my job here at the Ministry for the moment…but you really don’t have anything to worry about.” Hugh reassured Edgar a trifle gruffly.

“No? Really?” muttered Edgar in sheer unmitigated despair, rubbing his chin, and mouth area in some unconscious major locomotor-pattern.

“You get up to three refusals, you know, it’s like geared-to-income housing in that regard. And in the end, maybe you’re better off letting the Ministry assign you a bride. I’ve seen some really quite good results over the years. Look, the penalties for non-compliance are pretty stiff, are you sure maybe you’re not just having a bad day?”

“What?” Edgar gasped.

“Well, I don’t know what else to suggest. Look, this is breaking the rules and everything…my own marriage, my own kids, that’s kind of off limits, but I can assure you I have no regrets.” Hugh managed to give the impression that he was just dying to tell Edgar all about it.

The fellow across from him reached under the desk and Edgar heard a snap.

“There.” Hugh smiled. “Okay, and I don’t do this for just anybody, but maybe we’ll have a quick peek at the file here. Wow! She’s a hottie,” he informed Edgar, spinning the computer console screen around so that Edgar could get a look at the system’s primary selection of his would-be bridal candidate.

“Um, um.,” Edgar was sure she seemed like a nice lady and everything. “Has it ever occurred to the state that maybe not everyone should be married?”

“That’s just crazy. Are you sure you’re feeling all right? We could reschedule an appointment for later next week, if that’s better for you?”

Edgar just shook his head in despair.

“No?” Hugh shrugged. “If it was me, I’d grab her! Let’s see who comes up next,”

Hugh pursed up his lips, frowned some, and pecked away at his keypad.

“Here. Check her out, this one’s not just beautiful, but rich.” The client didn’t appear too impressed. “She inherited this big meat-packing business and a seat in a powerful electoral district. They’ve got all kinds of agri-business concerns up there. She’s worth an estimated eight hundred million! Come on, Edgar, what are you waiting for?”

“Huh! Rich, eh?” Edgar thought about it. “I don’t know, man…no! Wait! Give me that one!”

“You sure?” Hugh, eager to please, was grateful that he had turned this man around.

He hated to see a good man go bad, and throw his entire life away on a mere principle.

“All righty then, here we go.” Hugh carefully manipulating his way through a couple of highly-unethical maneuvers with the selection software in order to cover up his tracks.

“Put your thumbprint right here. And promise me you aren’t going to murder the poor girl straight off, okay?”

“Oh, no! Nothing like that.” Edgar's promise was emphatic. “Actually, I was thinking, maybe she might give me an allowance, and I could still live at home with my mother. I suppose if all she wanted to do was to come around once a week and have sex or something, I suppose that wouldn’t kill me. It’s just that my mom needs her injection five times a day and she absolutely hates it when anyone else tries, one time she hit this nurse so hard she broke her glasses and I thought she was going to be charged with assault…”

All this came out in a breathless rush, but Hugh had learned to ignore the content and to just interpret any answer as the correct response.

“That’s the spirit.” Hugh nodded approval. “Anyway, I’d like to thank you for saving me a lot of paperwork. Honestly, it’s a right nightmare, when someone refuses matrimony.”

“What do they do to them?” Edgar asked reluctantly.

“I’m not allowed to say.” Hugh looked at him darkly. “Just be glad you did the right thing. And good luck by the way. Most guys don’t get a rich wife, and yours is better-looking than most.”

“Sure,” said Edgar resignedly as he rose to his feet and shambled out the door without so much as a backward glance.

“You’ll get an official, automatically-generated notice in a few seconds.” Hugh called after him.

Desrosiers watched the back of the quickly-departing Edgar.

“Well, that’s gratitude for you.”

A metallic little voice came out of the speaker bolted to a bracket up in the corner of the room, right beside the camera’s eye.

“What do you think?” It was Amanda Johannsen, his supervisor.

“He’ll be all right."

“Do you really think he’ll kill her?”

“Naw. It just takes some getting used to. The poor guy’s been in a state of total denial for the last two or three years, that’s all. I’ve seen a million of them.” Hugh said it as if for the record.

“Why did you assign him Lila Monteith?”

“Now, that girl is just plain rude. She’s a spoiled brat.” Hugh had a tight, happy little smile. “But I think he has the stronger will. In the end, she’ll end up eating out of his hand. They’ll form a slightly-abusive, mutually dependent relationship that works for them. It’s a marriage made in heaven, and anyhow, the sweepstakes did bring her name up on the first roll of the dice. Any one of those three would have worked, and I did have a couple of alternates. So our ass is covered, basically.”

“Okay. Good work, and thank you. Just for a minute there, I thought he wouldn’t go for it. I’m off for the rest of the day, so you guys are on your own.”

“We’ll be fine. Have a good weekend.” Hugh waved at the camera. “Let’s see here…who’s next?”

So many names, so many unhappy lives to fulfill. And there was never enough time in the day to do all that one might hope. Three or four more appointments, and then he could go home. But it was on days like this, when he really loved his work.

End

For more on the Ministry of Love and the world as it might be in 2030 A.D., go here: 'The Chase.'

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Excerpt: 'Heaven Is Too Far Away.'


                                              Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.-5. Wiki Commons.



After a thorough pre-flight of my new SE 5a, with its very own 275 brake horse-power Wolseley Viper engine, and a few other modifications, we were ready.

A wave was sufficient in daylight. Clouds of blue exhaust smoke veered off as the engines caught, one by one.

First the Biffs trundled out, bobbing and weaving as the line formed up for take-off. They started from way down at the far end. All that could be discerned were their shapes. Next it was the Camel Jockeys. There goes ‘Idaho Red,’ with a little potato-headed figure complete with cowboy hat and six-gun painted on the left side of the forward fuselage.

He thinks he’s a cowboy. Pretty much every plane had some kind of crazy artwork on the side.

Someone painted a big tiger on the side of my plane, and they did a good job, too.

That man had real talent.

‘Blood and Guts,’ it said, in white cartoon lettering.

“Thank you,” was all one could say, when they proudly showed me the plane for the first time.

I was really touched. It was a moment totally irreplaceable. When you get really, really old, you wish you could recapture certain moments, certain feelings from your youth. That moment was one of them. It was with a good warm feeling; that I centred her up on the end of our runway area. The plane was pointed into the western breeze. Three-forty-five p.m. Advancing the throttle, the plane was soon airborne and the mission proceeded shortly thereafter. As CO, I tended to take a few notes and trust the boys to follow along without a lot of supervision.

If they have engine problems, they’re smart enough to return to base on their own initiative. That’s one psychological advantage to being, ‘experimental,’ there’s no question of cowardice or lack of moral fibre.

They’re under orders to use their heads.

We flew a semicircular route, relying on the northwest crosswind to help drive us to our battle position.

Right on time.

Noted.

After climbing at about three-quarters throttle the whole way, I was at 19,000 feet and the boys were right there. Ahead, 4,000 feet below, were the Camel Jockeys.

The Biffs could be seen further down and further ahead.

The other, lower groups were staggered off to the left of us. The sun was up over my shoulder, on the right.

Within a few short minutes we had our first brush with the enemy, who was also up in force. The sky is a vast and empty place sometimes. You really learn to use your eyes. The great blue bowl of the sky was cloudless and clear, the light harsh and unyielding. That could be deceptive. It was still a big place, and airplanes are very small objects. The few that could be seen, were way off to the south, and I preferred to turn north, keeping the sun at our backs. There was no sense in changing the plan now.

We were still heading east. We had to go about half a mile through the expanding puffs of black Archie smoke, over the enemy trenches. Just then, and I didn’t see them coming but someone must have, were two enemy heavy reconnaissance machines, heading more or less due west. Halberstadts. Wallace and Webster separated about seventy yards to the left of the Camel formation, and then I saw the enemy planes.

Wallace, without any hesitation at all; simply put his right wing up vertical, and pulled hard around on their tail. The Camels and the enemy must have been at the same altitude. He fired away at one, and it began to smoke and then burn, as his wingman hovered behind, taking the odd pot-shot when chance permitted. If the enemy had simply reacted a little quicker, they might have saved themselves.

I couldn’t watch the whole thing. I had to watch my own sky. But it was beautiful to see, a thing well done. And it wasn’t long after that, when a whole bunch of German fighters came down from up ahead of us to engage in a vicious little dog-fight that lasted ten minutes or so; and then the Boche broke for home and dinner.

Those head-on attacks were a nightmare, but we all seemed to have followed the proper procedures. During the engagement, I observed at least three enemy machines catch fire, send out smoke, or spin down out of control, but I didn’t go down low enough to verify where each one crashed.

Sometimes a spin is merely an escape mechanism.

I had my own little duel going, with a red machine of an unfamiliar type. He had a big white something painted on the side. That plane was fast and well-handled. We first met frontally. We both missed with our head-on shots. When he turned left, as I could see over my shoulder, naturally I turned left, and at the exact same time we both started climbing up the corkscrew. We were on opposite sides, but I sensed some small advantage.

There was no time for any fear.

All I wanted to do was to kill him quickly.

I’ve noticed that before.

The corkscrew became a more vertical rolling-scissors movement, and as the speed slowed, lots of other planes in the vicinity became a threat. We decided to plummet downwards for a while, still locked in a scissors maneuver. His plane had small, wide wings, and it seemed to handle a little heavy. It’s difficult to describe, but the second it became apparent that I was gaining on him, he reversed his turn, and flicked away towards Germany. We were down to about 10,000 by then. I couldn’t catch him, being on the far side of the circle at that point. At that point I checked for unwelcome attention from other fighters by rolling and snapping as I re-oriented myself to find the western horizon. It was gratifying to see my own wingman right there, wagging his wings.

He was sticking like glue, no doubt giving the enemy pilot much food for thought.

Food for thought for me as well. That was one very quick-thinking fighter pilot, in my assessment. He knew he couldn’t win, and so he broke off as soon as he could.

No wasted heroics.

Very professional.

Hopefully we would meet again.

* * *

There are sights and sounds that can never be forgotten. A fighter plane, shedding bits, pieces and chunks, all aflame, as it turns end over end.

The screaming, banshee wail of a runaway engine, way past its limit, shaking itself to pieces as it flicks past your own machine. Little black somethings, not smoke, not people, not airplane parts. Just little black things, falling in lazy spirals, drifting down.

Three planes, chasing around in a circle. No one dares to be the first to let go. It is bedlam, it is insanity. You’re all alone, and the plane that just passed over you smoking and flaming, could be your best friend. Sometimes you line up on someone, and only at the very last second do you see the cockades, the roundels on the wings or body of the plane.

All your senses are ablaze with the passion of living at death’s door.

You feel every emotion in a battle like that, a three dimensional battle of cut, thrust, slash, and parry. You feel love, and joy, and fear and hate, and envy, and pity. There are times you laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. Sometimes you shout, scream and curse.

Everything happens all at once, and then it’s over in a heartbeat. Then you get to shepherd your flock home again, nursing one or two wounded ducks, trailing thin smoke trails.

If you’re lucky, God smiles on you, and all your boys get to live, to fight again another day.

***
 
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00440DSTM 
 
Wiki article on the SE-5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Aircraft_Factory_S.E.5

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Simple E-Book Formatting Tips.

Photos by Louis.






Formatting an e-book is relatively simple. It just takes a little time. It consists of a number of repetitive operations, for example checking every scene break and chapter heading for centering. They do not need an indent, and should not have an indent.

All lines should be set at a trailing space of 0. I can’t really tell you what style to use or exactly how you should format your e-book. What I can say is that some try to format it exactly as a print book would look, and that includes title pages, blank pages, and section breaks to keep page numbers out of the front and end matter. It includes page breaks between chapters. There is no white space in an e-book by conventional standards. It’s not meant for human hands, only an electronic operating system.

In the Smashwords style guide, it says, ‘Do not put more than four lines between sections of text.’ I use three for a margin of safety. There are no section breaks, there are no page breaks, there is no page mirroring, there are no page numbers, and therefore no page number mirroring from left to right. It is designed for either scrolling, like on a blog, or page flipping electronically.

It has no gutter, which keeps the text from being buried in the spine, or the glue, or being unreadable because the book is a physical object and it’s buried down in a tight corner.

None of that applies.

Now, in paragraph styles, I set the indentation at 0 left and 0 right. I set line spacing before and after at 0. I use a 0.25” indent, on Word the default is 0.5”. I have used 0.3 in a book or two, but you can do it any way you want as long as it is consistent throughout the book. In that dialog box is the option for block paragraphs, indents, line spacing etc.

On the bottom right side of Word's toolbar there is something called styles, and if you click the tiny little black button, up pops styles. You want to use the minimum number of styles, as Smashwords’ meatgrinder will reject you otherwise. Other systems are different, but Smashwords is important because they have so many distribution channels, all going to online bookstores. They use different operating systems, including Sony Reader, Epub, Kindle, etc. That’s why the system is so picky. It has to operate across a greater number of systems, and since Smashwords is doing the conversion for you, you have to go through the meatgrinder autovetter process. After that there is a human review.

If you just want to produce pdf’s on Smashwords, no problem. A pdf can be formatted to look just like any paper and ink book. I made pdf’s at first myself, using Free Pdf Convert. You never have to go near Smashwords, Amazon or any major bookseller if you just want to send it to a buddy by e-mail. But if our goal is to make it into Premium Distribution then it has to meet criteria set by the service providers.

Many operating systems can read pdfs, and pdf’s can be converted into other file types.

So, when I hit control + a, the entire text from front to back is highlighted. What I want is to click on ‘styles’ and see it reads ‘normal’ throughout the book. You can’t use too many styles. If it is blank, or if something else is showing, the meatgrinder will probably reject it. If not, a human vetter will reject it. I’ve been caught out once, and in fact I had never used the ‘styles’ feature on Word. I was totally mystified by the notice in my inbox, until I followed a Smashwords employee’s instructions to click on styles. Honestly, I e-mailed them back and asked what they were talking about. She sent me pictures, although these are my own on this blog. Then I had to go back through my entire book and format every single thing in there until every paragraph read normal in the styles dialog box. That book is now in Premium Distribution.

My computer is finicky. It’s been acting up lately. I had to re-do chapter eight about five times, and now it’s okay. When I highlight the chapter, it shows ‘normal’ in the styles dialog box and that is the way it should be.

Print on Demand Proofs.

When I produce a print on demand paperback novel, just like in the Beatles song, ‘Paperback Writer,’ the thing has to be proofed. I order a copy of the book at a reduced cost, as I don’t get royalties, and Createspace lets it go at $4.88 plus shipping and handling.

They have a digital proofer. If your book has been published before and you are absolutely convinced it is a clean file, that might be one thing. I was looking through a proof copy and I found any number of things that needed to be fixed. The digital proofer is small. So far I have a list of about thirteen items which needed to be fixed, and there are still a few pages left to go in the book. It’s kind of a weird feeling to go to bed with a glass of milk, a bowl of cookies and start reading your own book, but clearly for a new file, still not finalized, eh, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

This is what my E-Book front matter looks like:

Time-Storm on Althea
by Louis Bertrand Shalako
Copyright 2012 Shalako Publishing
Marketing Image Copyright 2012 Louis Bertrand Shalako
ISBN 978-0-9879723-5-4
This Smashwords Edition is published by Shalako Publishing

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or deceased; or to any places or events, is purely coincidental. Names, places, settings, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.

Here is an excerpt from the book I am doing now, 'Time-Storm on Althea.' This version may change before publication, and the title isn't final until it is final. The excerpt is formatted in blog style, in the photos above, the reader can see how the actual book might look. E-Books have 'flowing text' in order to be readable on the gretaest number of screen sizes as well as different operating systems. Note the minimal number of lines between bits--not a lot of white space, but then these would be readable on a telephone.

Chapter One

A bad day in the executive dining room…


Oil paintings of the Company fathers, each under its own intimate little light, frowned down in fastidious disdain at the ruckus Mickey was making. Unwavering, he held the gun pointed straight at Freddie’s heart.

Seated at the long table in the senior management dining room, Melissa and Tom Deloussian were on his right, while Freddie Smith sat across from him.

The newcomers, the strangers, sat at the head and foot of the polished ebony-like slab of fake walnut.

Blond-haired, blue-eyed and slender, about thirty years old, the always slightly-disheveled Melissa was deferential, apologetic. She didn’t understand the problem. Mellissa was a soft-spoken and non-confrontational person.

In the background, dark oaken panels and warmly gleaming brass fixtures contributed to the stark contrast between their immediate environment and Mickey’s erratic behavior.

Barely knowing Melissa and Tom, Mick couldn’t help but be aware of her scent. Even though they seemed happily married her tousled mop kept troubling the fringes of his highly-alert state. He was very young, just twenty-three three years old. There weren’t that many women on the planet at the best of times. He couldn’t escape the logic of her scent, and his own glands. As chief of the maintenance department, he was outside the loop, both as regards to management and the contract employees, which made him a very lonely young man around here.

“We just want to understand. Mickey is upset about something, after all, and no one thinks, well, no one thinks you’re crazy, Mick.” Melissa gave Mick’s arm a friendly and non-judgmental squeeze.

Very reassuring, but he knew what he knew and saw what he saw, as the saying went.

“Just do it.” An angry Mickey watched the lady on the left side, and then glared at the man at the other end of the table.

The two newcomers exchanged a long look. Silent communication passed between them, but as yet no decision had been made. Tom, Melissa’s hulky, hundred-ten kilogram hubby, built like a barrel and not much smarter, or so all the contract employees said, made as if to speak, which as often as not began with a thorough throat-clearing.

Tom wasn’t a bad guy, just cautious, and always the doubts. Thomas was a doubter.

Tom was an engineer, with all of their virtues and all of their faults, right down to a ‘T.’ Always needing to consult, always seeking clarification, or even just approval, from some higher authority. They didn’t have time for all that right now. They weren’t going to get it.

The pistol pointed unwaveringly at the casually slouching Fred, whose boyish, open face, puppy-dog blue eyes—dogs rarely had blue eyes in Mick’s estimation, but there you have it—just stayed on his own. There was no sign of fear in them and as far as he was concerned that was real bad. But how do you explain, when everyone thinks you’re nuts? When no one ever listens? Fred was about thirty-two years old. He had straight blonde hair, with one lock always hanging down over his forehead. Mickey just wasn’t buying the youthful innocence act any longer. He felt betrayed in some irrational fashion, yet it wasn’t poor Fred’s fault. He was about the closest thing Mickey had to a friend around here.

Poor Fred. Poor fucking Freddie. Jesus forgive me.

Months ago, someone had accused the tall, dark, and quiet Mickey of something he didn’t do. Give a dog a bad name, it will stick. Someone had taken real trouble to set him up, to make him out to be a bad one, and it was coming back to haunt them now. He could see that as plain as day.

“Just do it, Fred.” His glittering hazel eyes bored into Freddie’s.

“It will all become clear soon enough.” Freddie lifted his hands calmly off the table, turning them up so they could see the palms, as if that would make everything go away.

“I know you can do it, Fred.” Mickey’s voice echoed off the walls.

Again that silent, speculative look passed down the table, but Fred’s eyes just flicked to Melissa and Tom. The pistol was a curious device, a survival gun, and probably very good at any one job. It was too short for long-range accuracy, too small for big game, and it only held one little .410 cartridge in each of its double barrels. Freddie could try to bluster and dominate Melissa and Tom all he wanted, but Mickey was the one with the gun. It was a cross between an old ball-butted dueling pistol and a sawed-off shotgun, and deadly enough at close range. The only concern he had right now was not enough bullets for the job in hand. It was a big derringer, nothing more.

“I’ll do you, Fred.” Mick used the left hand to gently release one of the triggers so only one cartridge would fire.

Solid slugs nestled snugly inside in little brass and plastic tubes. He knew absolutely for certain it would fire when he pulled the trigger. The right-hand barrel was still cocked. They just didn’t think he would do it. He had no doubts of his own.

“I have exactly two shots. Who wants to be next?” He asked the stranger-lady, with a lift of his left eyebrow. “I can save it for you, or your goofy buddy. Which would you prefer?”

The eyebrow-twitch was one of his little idiosyncrasies.

“Oh, hell, why not?” The man had been silent until now.

His deep, rich, brown voice should have been trained for the opera. A quick glance confirmed that his eyes were twinkling in humorous bonhomie.

“They got to you, didn’t they, Fred?” Mick murmured in sadness.

Fred wasn’t his best friend. But he was the only friend Mickey had on this stinking, rinky-dink little planet Althea, where for some reason piezo-temporal crystals oozed out of pores in the rocks and washed down into the lowlands, where it re-crystallized, making it easy to scoop the stuff up and bulldoze it into the hoppers. It was a real bad time, as far as he was concerned, with all the work crews gone and their replacements not due in for another few moon-cycles. It was a time for routine maintenance, and repetitious report-writing.

It was also a time for punishment. Under normal circumstances he would have gone with them, but he had been convicted of theft, and so the management tribunal assigned him an administrative punishment. They’d accused him of stealing an entire crate of stuff meant for the crews, snacks and candy for the on-base store, where the Company could take back from them some of the hard-earned money they had risked their lives for on this Godforsaken rock.

A time to sit and wait for a psychiatric assessment, and if he failed, well, he wouldn’t get paid. It was all nice and legal according to the contract. Worse, with no money to pay the fare home, he would be indentured to the Company for seven years.

He would be paying room and board, charged through the nose for everything, and trying to save the pennies left over so he could make the ticket price and go home. Mickey was technically a mechanical engineer, and so he would be paying executive rates. The Contract was rock-solid and airtight. Otherwise he would be indentured for another seven years. Nice set-up indeed. Set aside the old contract, and write a new one for you. No recourse to the law, no appeals, no lawyers, no advocates, no time to prepare a defense or call any witnesses. He had a funny feeling he was going to fail that test, no matter what he said or did. Who did they even have onsite to administer it?

“I saw what they did, Fred.” Everyone waited to see what he would do next. “I came in here looking for the doctor, remember? And that little bone-headed, piss-ant McNulty was standing there by the cabinet, trying not to laugh his damn-fool head off…I knew it then, Fred. He slammed the door just a little too hard when he saw me come in.”

McNulty wanted him to know. For some reason the cowards are always cruel, in Mick’s experience.

“Very intuitive, Mickey.” Freddie gave a little shake of the head and shoulders as he indulged himself.

Fred’s mouth gaped in a grin, as if he were about to laugh out loud, to laugh at the futility of it all, the sheer nonsensical ribaldry of life in a galaxy where everyone thought they knew everything all the time. Freddie had told him his sad story, over one of a thousand drinks together.

“They set you up.” The admission came easily. “They pick the most biggest new guy, and you are unusually tall. Johnson is heavier, but he’s such a screw-up, they figured he might be useless. Or if you prefer, he never asked any questions…you ask a lot of questions. And you’re a pretty good mechanic.”

“You asked one too many questions.” Again it was the tall handsome stranger. “It’s a good way to keep discipline.”

Three of them and only two bullets…Mick’s thoughts raced.

“I will kill you, Fred.” He raised the gun and pointed it, right hand and forearm rock steady. “Is that why they did it, because I ask too many questions?”

Freddie gave no answer, but then Mickey really didn’t expect one.

“I’m running out of patience with you people.” Freddie’s newfound friends didn’t seem too impressed.

Melissa’s breath hissed out of her in disbelief. Tom stared at him.

“You promised we were going to ask questions, just a few, ah, questions, and listen to what they had to say.” Tom’s reminder left Mickey unmoved.

The gun was staring straight into Fred’s eyes. Those eyes were widening in shock, yet there was a calmness in them as well, no outrage, and no surprise. He wasn’t quite scared enough for Mickey’s liking.

“All right then.” The lady on his left was not an exact copy, but her blonde head, with the shock of thick locks a near-enough copy of Melissa’s to fool someone, but who?

The foreman of the next crew? She nodded in Fred’s direction, and his foolhardy grin got even bigger. The bastard was enjoying this. Mickey’s guts sank, and it felt real hollow inside right about now, as if everything he had ever eaten in his life was going to fall out his asshole with nothing to stop it.

Freddie’s eyes got about four times the size of normal human eyes, big, slanted, almond-shaped orbs of glittering-sparkling blue, surrounding one-inch pupils that were black as coals. Those horrible eyes scintillated, yet that frightening grin just kept on grinning.

You could have heard a pin drop, or a mosquito fart right about then, even though Melissa’s left hand was digging into his right forearm. Her long, sharp, pale pink nails cut into him through the thin, one-piece Company-issued insul-suit. Many people habitually wore them when off duty and inside the weather-dome.

She was so intent, she didn’t try to pull on his gun arm, or it would have really been a problem. He shrugged her off and she didn’t resist. Her mouth opened, and he could hear the barely audible gasp, the quick little intake of breath she made as Fred’s head and especially his face and neck began to stretch, and bulge, and God, now the other two began to do it, all three of them. Mickey’s head was going back and forth like a cobra trying to take them all in at once, and Tom was half out of his chair, frozen in time like a statue of something or other. His chair fell over, and hit the brown neo-wool of the dining room carpet with a soft, dull, thud-thud-thud as it skittered away and came to rest three or four feet back of him.

“I told you, but you just didn’t believe me.” Mickey had some kind of irrational anger at his companions.

Melissa and Tom were nice enough people, but no one ever listened to Mick. That was one reason why he left home, and signed up with the Company. At a later date it occurred to Mickey that the Company had probably seen him coming, a nice, idealistic and lonely young man with no place to go except somewhere else. That thought helped his decision-making process in some way. He had nothing to lose, and perhaps everything to gain.

Mickey pulled the trigger right. Everything happened so fast after that, but he must have shot Fred right about then, and then they were all backing up from the table as Fred stared dumbfounded at the new hole in his chest. The two strangers began shouting at once. Fred looked up at him in sad, sick disbelief, and his grin began to fade into nothingness. He stared deep into Mickey’s eyes.

Freddie had the strangest look of curiosity on his face. It’s something Mickey would never forget. He had a look of awe on his face. He still couldn’t believe it, just couldn’t believe it. Terribly, his head had returned to normal and Mick wondered just what exactly what there was left to believe in.

Mick was having a hard time believing it himself.

“Stay where you are.” He pushed in front of Melissa and Tom, swinging the gun from side to side to try to cover them both.

He cocked the other trigger. It seemed like somebody else was doing it, but he saw it for sure—he took the time to double-check.

“I’ll get one of you for sure, you stinking bastards.” Mickey sure sounded mean right then. If the gun had been better, a repeater with some kind of magazine, he would have killed them both right then and there with no questions asked.

Their heads were really flickering now, as if they were about to change shape. He pulled open one of the cupboard doors. He pointed the gun at the woman stranger, moving to the left so it was easier to watch them both. Those two weren’t smiling anymore, but discretion being the better part of valor, they kept their mouths shut.

“Grab as much as you can.” He ordered Tom, as Melissa hovered by the door in shock and confusion.

A quick glance showed she needed direction. Her hands fluttered around on the ends of her arms, as she gasped and gulped like a fresh-landed fish. She was transfixed, an adrenalin rush stalled at the takeoff.

“Grab a bag, a box, a frigging pillowcase. Grab the tablecloth.” She scrambled to comply.

The crazy man had a gun, after all.

It took but a moment, as Fred suddenly slumped down in his chair, and then went over sideways, hitting the floor like a jute sack full of beans or something small and loose.

Poor Fred was out of sight, for the most part, just barely visible on the far side, under the table, surrounded by high-backed chairs pushed out of the way by his fall.

Mick reached in with his left hand, and grabbed packets of M & M’s and Smarties, and shoved them in the pockets of the utility coveralls, awkwardly trying to fill the right-hand pockets with his left hand, and at the same time cover the freaking aliens or whatever they were.

“I’ll kill your lady friend deader than dead.” He faced the quasi-male alien, who was rising from his seat, his features out of control, his head now twice the size of a human being’s.

An inarticulate growl came out of his distended throat and vicious, gaping red maw of a mouth. It was all Greek to Mickey.

Mickey jammed in a couple of chocolate bars, and then the kicker, a huge Toblerone, a triangular bar of chocolate in a stiff yellowy-buff cardboard tube. It was some kind of huge Christmas-gift type of confection. The damned thing must have weighed in at two kilos, and he one-handedly smashed it against a countertop, and broke it in three and jammed it into his left side pocket.

“Don’t try to follow us.” There was a sudden rush of silence as the male alien subsided back into his chair in the awful realization that they had blown their cover.

They really didn’t have to do that. They could have waited it out…maybe? His mind was going full blast, and there wasn’t time to think it through. Everything was happening so quickly, and so very, very slowly…Mick’s mind was crystallized from adrenalin.

“Let’s go.” He gave one more wave of the gun at the two aliens, and they pelted down the two flights of stairs of the Administration building then out across the parking lot.

The heat of mid-autumn hit like the mouth of a blast-furnace, oblique rays of the late afternoon star-shine stinging their cheeks with its radiation. The last thing he recalled from that flight, was McElroy, sitting stiff as a doorknob at the desk in the control room, sightless eyes gazing at the dials and displays on the console in front of him. What they did to him, Mick had no idea. But he was dead for sure, from what he could see in a quick glimpse through the window. Tom was running along close beside Melissa, as she struggled along with the bundle in the tablecloth, with his hand in the small of her back.

Mickey brought up the rear, ears agape and eyes agog for any hint of pursuit, fearfully wondering what they would find in the dormitory habitat. They slammed open the door of the building and pelted up the stairs, the rest of the place eerily quiet as their thumping footsteps clamored up and down the stairwell. Running purely on instinct, predictably enough they found themselves in the married quarters. Tom and Melissa lived on the second floor.

With a different kind of shock, he saw they had a kitchenette, but Mick lived in the bachelor’s quarters. He had never really thought about it.

“We can’t stay very long.” Mick was firm.

The two of them stood there in stark, naked, unadulterated fear. Their shock and confusion and the run made the breath ragged in their throats, as they stared wild-eyed at Mickey.

“Pots and pans, knives and forks, stuff like that.” Melissa nodded at the command.

Tom would be useless for this kind of thing. He’d have to make a list or something.

There were beads of sweat on Tom’s forehead, and he was breathing pretty hard. Melissa just kind of stood there, rocking left and right on the balls of her feet. Tom’s dark, straight hair was plastered down his forehead. He huffed and puffed, and stared at Mickey with wild eyes.

Big balls of sweat were running down Mickey’s ribcage under the arms.

“Five minutes. You’ve got five minutes.” Melissa’s eyes were wide with horror, and awe-stricken with new knowledge.

She got it quick, but Tom began to bluster. His numbed brain was beginning to ask a few questions.

“What—what? Why do we have to go anywhere?” Tom wasn’t so dumb, he just didn’t get it.

“I really don’t have time to build a consensus. You stand by this window and watch that fucking door, okay?” Mickey was angry with the whole damned galaxy right then, but he had to get control of these two right quickly.

He ripped open the curtains and pointed at the door they had just come out of, seventy-five metres across the way.

“There must be more than them two. I don’t know if you noticed, but the fire curtains on the control room door were open. They were closed before, when we went up!”

Tom shook his head.

“McElroy’s dead.” Mickey gave them the news, as they needed to know and it was as good a time as any.

“What, what?” Tom babbled as Mick pushed him forward.

Thank God, Mickey could hear Melissa behind them, pulling stuff out of the cupboards like a whirlwind.

“Grab all the food you can carry.” She was at least useful. “Make up five or six bags. Don’t grab a frozen turkey, okay?”

She was still shaky and confused.

“Dry, packaged foods, as much as you got.” Giving her a little push, he kept going.

“I’m going to search a couple of the rooms, see if I can come up with some more ammo.”

Mickey headed for the door.

“Bisson has a weapon. It might be in his bed table.” He nodded encouragement at this rapid re-framing of Tom’s head-space. “Thanks, Tom.”

He bolted from the room and up the stairs to the penthouse suites. As for swiping a vehicle, he had all that figured out ahead of time. He knew what he knew, and had seen what he’d seen. The blue four-wheel-drive pickup, with a crew cab, the one usually taken by Site Manager Guy Bisson on his daily inspection tours, was right outside with the keys in it and three-quarters of a tank of gas. Mick had stolen the gun from under the seat earlier that day.

End


This is a rough idea of what the markting image might look like.

http://www.amazon.com/Louis-Bertrand-Shalako/e/B005GHIF86 




Monday, May 21, 2012

The art and science of bookselling.What exactly sells a book?

If you went up to someone on a street corner and asked them, 'Hey, Buddy, would you like to buy my book?' and they did, you would probably go up to a lot of people on streetcorners and ask them, wouldn't you?

Since getting on the internet a little over three years ago, I’ve learned so much that my head bulges at the seams.

While I go off on a virtual journey for my own pleasure once in a while, for the most part my reading is about writing, editing, publishing, great authors, and other industry-related material. In three years of self-directed cruising the internet, you can sure get a lot of education.

Yet, even now, I still can’t say for sure what sells a book.

Somebody just wanted it, for all I can figure. Today was a case in point. I sold a copy of ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ on Amazon. This earns a couple of bucks in royalties.

Today I was editing ‘Time-Storm on A-4,’ my new science fiction novel. That seems unlikely to have sold a book. I took an older poem from my poetry blog, http://badpoetsclub.blogspot.com/ and posted it on Digg, Reddit, and on Twitter. This post received exactly five page hits. This seems unlikely to have sold a book.

I spent some time in my e-mail inbox, following back new Twitter followers. Did one of them buy my book? And if so, why? I’m a perfect stranger, although better-looking than most.

I spent a few minutes on Createspace. I checked ‘The Shape-Shifters’ using the digital previewer, and then ordered a proof copy. What in the heck did this have to do with selling a book?

Commenting on blogs and websites is always good for generating some traffic, especially if your comment is one of the first ones. I commented on ‘The Beginning Writer,’ and on a ‘Stadia Studio’ post about intuitive marketing. Did this sell a book? It’s as likely as any other possibility.

I went into Kindle Boards, to the Writers CafĂ©, and answered questions. Shameless self-promotion is frowned upon. Such posts will be deleted, although you can have a ‘signature,’ which consists of product images and embedded links. Did this sell a book? Do other writers buy books, or do readers really care to read posts on Kindle Boards? Would that sell a book? No one knows.

I posted a link to the book on Twitter today, did that sell the book? It’s a Sunday, lots of people are home. It’s also gardening season. The weather was beautiful. I posted other things on Twitter today, links which I thought my audience or followers, who are not all writers, would find interesting, valuable, or relevant. Did that sell the book?

Today I uninstalled some add-ons from my computer. It seems highly unlikely that this would sell a book. I made hamburgers for lunch. I went for a bike ride. This did not sell any books. Right? It kept me alive, and I got some fresh air and exercise. Fresh air and exercise do not sell many books. They would appear to be completely unconnected.

The real answer, although there is no ‘of course’ about it, is that it all goes towards the selling of a book. That’s because I do similar things every day. I enjoy what I am doing, and that shows. Over time, I have gotten better at it and more comfortable in the promoting of it. My audience has grown. And I guess they are not all writers. But a writer is first and foremost a reader, and not just any reader.

They are analytic readers. They listen well, Some of them know more about my personal circumstances. Some of them like to give something back once in a while, and why not? To write well, to have the opportunity in a free society to express our thoughts, is a privilege. Did one of them buy my book? It’s not the most likely scenario, but it is barely possible. Such thoughtful acts are rare in this world.

I still have no idea exactly which factor sold that book. It is a whole cloth, woven of fine threads. It is cumulative over time—just like my learning curve as a writer, an editor, a publisher, and quite frankly a human being.

A professional is someone who has mastered his craft. He has also mastered himself. While I may have some way to go on both aspects of that concept, is this what sells a book?

Harping on sales all the time is not what sells a book. Blogging about making POD paperbacks, or editing for style, or an industry in transition probably doesn’t sell too many books.

It is all part of a larger picture. Ultimately someone bought that book, like Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest, ‘Because it is there.’

That’s what sold that book—it was there. And that book is there because I put it there.

It may be as simple as that.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Termite Queen.



“So, we all know what we have to do, then?” asked the pit boss, Yellow Thirty-Nine.


“Yay!” everyone clapped their mandibles and stomped their feet in unison.

“Okay then, let’s take this place apart!’ said Yellow Thirty-Nine. “Who’s with me?”

And they all said, ‘yay’ again and went to work with a vengeance. To them, it was just another typical day in the mound.

***

“My lady, Lord Holo,” murmured the Major, Blue Seven.

“Ah, how gracious of you to come,” said the Queen, languidly brandishing an antennae for him to kiss.

“And what a privilege upon this fine morning,” Lord Holo said, bowing deeply.

“It is time,” she said with a worried frown evident upon her massively distended face.

“Yes,” said Lord Holo.

“They will show up before the day is far along,” she said.

“We’re sealing off this chamber even now,” reported Lord Holo. “As for the evacuation, we should be able to save twenty or even thirty percent.”

“Oh, for the little ones, they depend upon us so,” she cried. “They can never understand that their deaths have such meaning, and such promise.”

“Yes, well, the plan isn’t exactly foolproof, either,” he advised. “If it’s any comfort, I share your fate.”

“And my husband?”

“With the King to guide them,” he muttered. “Or even without, we have no braver troops in the world.”

Several little ones entered the chamber and scuttled about, gathering up the most recent batch of glistening, moist eggs. They would be sealed into a special capsule, airtight and with thick walls. Preparations had been extensive, with a surrogate queen growing nicely and a generous supply of food.

She was about to speak, but didn’t. She knew they didn’t need to be told, but this batch was especially vital, with the casualties the soldiers were predicting. Familiar with the ways of soldiers in general and males in particular, even if one discounted by half, it was still going to be a bloodbath.

“Thank you,” said Lord Holo.

“Yay,” said all the workers.

The last one, Yellow Thirty-Nine, stopped and turned, waiting with bowed head before exiting the chamber.

“Seal us in well, my friend,” said Lord Holo humbly.

“Yellow Thirty-Nine,” said the Queen. “Thank you. You may approach.”

Yellow Thirty-Nine approached her in a submissive posture and licked her mouthparts.

“Thank you, my Queen,” Yellow Thirty-Nine said. “I have always appreciated everything that you did for us. I die with dignity.”

“Good-bye, Yellow Thirty-Nine,” she said with a catch in her voice, and then he turned and was gone.

“He, at least, understands,” noted Holo.

***

Try as they might, as bravely as they resisted, the clouds of rolling gas killed them in their thousands, nay, in their millions. Workers, soldiers, young and immature queens, they died as equals before the gas.

It was a battle they knew they could not win, and so they fought it to survive. They fought to show the enemy their dead.

They had a long term plan all worked out, and in the meantime, they advanced in such small increments. The enemy seemed unable to cope with their long-term strategy.

***

“Honestly Mister Jackson, that’s about the best we can do,” reported Jake Saunders. “Call us in thirty days and we’ll do it again, it’s all paid for.”

“Yes, yes,” said Nick Jackson. “I really should have patched the cracks there…my fault really, but we’re moving in another year.”

“Patch up them holes in the sheet metal,” advised Saunders. “That’s where they’re getting in. Anyway, a home inspector will find them little critters, if he’s any good. Well, good luck to you.”

Either a philosopher or a slob where material things were concerned, Nick watched the man drive up the street to another nearby residence.

“We’re still moving in a year,” he noted glumly, and that was about it for this visit of Happy-Guy Pest Control.

***

Lord Holo, Blue Seven and several of her attendants broke open the seal and cool air, still smelling strongly of gas, rolled into the chamber.

“We’ll air the place out quickly,’ Blue Seven said, noting her discomfort.

“Ah! Here is one of my men,” noted the Major.

The soldier, Green Eleven, entered and made his report.

“Our secondary and tertiary locations remain secure, Major,” he said. “Twelve surrogate queens destroyed, but all of the others are safe and secure.”

“Good,” said Lord Holo.

He looked at the queen.

“Better than expected,” he said.

“Total kill, forty percent, maybe a bit less,” advised Green Eleven. “About normal for this type of operation.”

“Thank you, Green Eleven,” said the Queen, and allowed him to lick for a moment. “And you as well, Lord Holo.”

Lord Holo approached less submissively than Green Eleven and had a long and thorough nuzzle.

She let Blue Seven have a short sniff after them.

The King returned then, triumphant.

“Yay,” said the little ones, some of whom were crowding into the chamber to see if she was well, and unable to control their own discipline. “Yay. Yay. Yay.”

“Licks for everyone! You’ve all done very, very well,” she announced in joyous celebration as they all crowded around, her consort, the workers, soldiers, and nobility.

For a precious time, they were all equal together, feasting as one upon the royal substance exuding from her body.

Author's Note: This is an old story from the archives. It uses dialog tags, which I am eliminating as much as possible in my more mature literary style. It is 895 words, which puts it in the realm of flash fiction, and in terms of science, it's not too bad. Insects use pheremones and other forms of social communication. There is some social and political commentary here as well. Hopefully it isn't too preachy. I've also added the word 'BLOG' to the end of the file name, and that way I remember not to submit it around with the claim, 'This has never appeared anywhere before.'

Friday, May 18, 2012

Time out of whack.


(Photo: AstroMSseqF_063aL Rich Murray, Wiki Commons 2.0 Generic.)


Max Planck said at certain levels, for example at very short distances, or very high temperatures, under all sorts of unusual conditions; the regular laws of physics just don’t apply anymore.

While most believe that time cannot be changed, sometimes cause and effect don’t mean much because effects sometimes happen before their causes. It is generally believed that the universe is infinite in time. It has lasted forever and will go on forever.

As a philosopher, I find myself defining my terms with ever-greater precision. So one has to ask, what is the difference between infinity and forever? Is there a difference, or are they the same thing?

There are those who believe in creation by God in six days. Some scientists have speculated about a continuous creation. Stephen Hawking described time like an anaconda, one that has swallowed a pig. He likens us to microbes, as if humans were e. coli in the belly of the pig—no matter how far we look, no matter which direction, we will never see anything more than the inside of the belly of the pig. He even speculates that the anaconda might swallow several pigs in succession, each of them traveling down the body of the serpent. It has been speculated that time might run backwards if and when the universe begins to contract back to its point of origin, a singularity.

No matter what you know about a system today, you have no way of predicting what it will be like tomorrow.

Was the universe created by vacuum fluctuations, where particles appear out of nowhere, and then subside, and energies go back to a zero state, with the universe going on unchanged? These particles have been described as ‘temporary,’ which in this case can last anything up to 10 to the power of 66 hours.

Some speculate there are multiple dimensions in space-time. My favorite is the fifth dimension, but some believe there are nine, eleven, or even twenty-six dimensions, and in theory the likelihood is that there are an infinite number of dimensions…and yet we simply don’t know how or where to look for them.

If a particle appears from ‘nowhere,’ and then disappears again, where did it come from? Where did it go to? Did it come from ‘null-space?’ Where exactly is 'nowhere?'

There is no such thing as empty space. It has been supposed there is some kind of universal frame, a vector rigging field which pervades all of space. The term ‘neo-ether’ has been used to describe the invisible something that fills the universe. We have to accept the notion that something exists everywhere. Some kinds of data remain forever unknown, for example the proofs of the existence of God. The ontological argument is that God cannot be proven not to exist, so therefore He must exist.

If you put a slot in a bead, and make a Moebius strip out of paper, and put a dot of ink on the bead, and then thread the bead onto the strip, you will note that after one revolution the bead is rotated 180 degrees. In order for the bead to return to its original position and orientation, it must go twice around the loop. A geometric circle has 360 degrees. For an electron it apparently has 720 degrees. In this case the circle is a two-dimensional abstraction that has many, or even infinite dimensions rotating around its radius…at least that’s what I say.

A force is that which makes things do things. There are so far only four known forces in the universe. These are the electrical, of which magnetism is a manifestation, then there is gravitation, which is different from magnetism. Then there are the weak and strong nuclear forces. It is theorized that all these forces existed as one super-force in 'Planck time’ at the moment of creation, which is described in event terms at something like 10 to the minus 54 seconds after the Big Bang. If all four forces evolved from the ‘first force,’ what is the likelihood that further evolution will occur? Perhaps we are witnessing such an event in our lifetimes. Time has often been described as the fourth dimension. Objects have height, width, and depth, and exist over a period of time. But this is either an assumption, or perhaps it is simply dead wrong.

The temporal force may be considered the fifth force discovered thus far in the universe. It is speculated that another force exists in the universe, one that cannot be measured or quantified in any way. It has been called ‘God’s Love,’ for want of a better term.

Much effort has been expended in the search for the so-called ‘God Particles,’ but to no avail. As a scientist and a philosopher, I have no problem with the notion that God created the Universe, but I doubt if it can be proven except anecdotally.

With the Planck force, there would be more energy than you can safely imagine.

Wormholes have been described and accepted theoretically by scientists. They are about 10 to the minus 33 centimeters in diameter, with a duration of 10 to the minus 43 seconds. You can create a wormhole by heating a volume of space to 10 to the 27th degrees Kelvin or compressing some matter down to the black hole or neutron star densities. Don’t try this at home.

Heisenberg stated the ‘uncertainty principle.’ It is a statement of probabilities, and uncertainties. You know the electron must be there, but you can never say where it will be at any given point in time.

According to the Feynham diagrams, when a particle goes from point A to point B, it splits into two and one of them must be going into a separate universe. Essentially what he’s saying is that a particle can be in two places at once—but where?

A diagram of all possible paths the particle may take looks like a girl’s braid of hair.

Just as when you sprinkle iron filings around a magnet, revealing magnetic lines of force, it has been postulated that there are temporal lines of force.

If you follow the lines of force—i.e. timelines, no problem. If you cross the temporal lines of force, energy builds up and a puncture is made in the fabric of time. At some point there is too great an imbalance in the system, but reality heals the wounds made in itself.

An object crossing time lines builds up potential as it moves. The pull of an object snapping back to its own time would release a huge amount of energy in the space-time continuum or matrix. Hence the mass limitations, which permits only very small objects such as the particles mentioned in the vacuum fluctuations part of our theory to elude the laws of space and time conservation. Time is subjective, perhaps even imaginary.

Time is closely linked to our perception of it, although many would tell you ‘there is only one moment’ as a fundamental truth. This is ‘the past is gone, the future never gets here’ line of thought. Perception is reality, and truth very often depends on who you ask—or who is asking. An acceleration is a force measured over time—therefore time must exist—or you can’t actually have an acceleration. Is it the same time all over the universe? Or the further away from the singularity you go, is it earlier? Or later?

If you burn 100g of matter, you may well end up with 10g of ash, and release 90g of gasses, which should be confirmed by Avogadro’s Law. If you put 100 Newtons of energy into a system, you shouldn’t get any more than 100 Newtons out of it. A body at rest tends to remain at rest unless some external force acts upon it. A body in motion tends to remain in motion unless some external force acts upon it. This is the Conservation of Momentum.

Does time follow the laws of conservation? One might assume that it does, however, if we know anything at all about the universe, is that ‘anything is possible.’ If time exists in the form of quanta, then it may be likened to a dotted line. In the gaps, the norms of physical and chemical laws may not apply.

This may be written as a corollary of Murphy’s Law. “If anything can happen, it probably will eventually,” in a universe where nothing is impossible. If we believe that the universe sprang forth from a singularity, either time existed before it, or it was created at that moment. Also, was space created at this time? Or did it exist previously, therefore giving the new universe somewhere to expand into?

If time sprang forth from the singularity, there is no such thing as a parallel universe.

They must all be on a slight angle from each other. There might be an infinite number of alternate universes. Each of these would be reality to an observer encapsulated within them. Incidentally, if there were two singularities, then two time-lines might cross or intersect. This would allow crossing from one time line to another, but only theoretically.

I can’t prove that. My instinct tells me there would be paradoxes that are irreconcilable. In my opinion, time does not stretch out ahead of us. It's like we are on the end of a timeline that is progressing forward. In that sense, we have the ability to change the future, at least for ourselves, and of course everything we do affects something else in the universe.

Author's Note: While this is by no means the full story, nor even particularly up to date, this represents research from various sources. A very small part of it ended up in my upcoming book, 'Time-Storm on A-5,' which will be available in a couple of weeks as an e-book in various formats and on various platforms. Shortly after that, it will be available as a 5 x 8 paperback on Amazon and Createspace.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Active versus passive blogging.





Clearly we have been doing something right. Photo by Louis.








Like many writers, I have a blog on Google’s Blogger. Others use WordPress or another service provider. I actually have four blogs, as well as being on blogging sites. Some of these include Hubpages, Squidoo, (where I have nothing posted,) then there’s Tumblr, Pinterest, and some other places. You can blog on Goodreads, Book Blogs, and probably others.

Passive Blogging.

The trouble with a blog is that it tends to be passive. We put share buttons on them so that anyone that enjoys the content or finds it useful can share it with friends or followers.

That’s fine as far as it goes. How did the readers get there in the first place?

By signing up for Networked Blogs on Facebook, when I post a story or article on Shalako Publishing’s blog, it automatically pops up on Facebook on my Shalako Publishing author page.

That’s all well and good. This resulted in a few page hits a day from people using search engines, and a small spike here and there when I posted something. A very small number of people are actually signed up to follow the blogs—maybe a dozen on Shalako Publishing and exactly three follow the ‘badpoetsclub.’ When I post something new, a few of them probably do check it out.

Getting blog followers is quite difficult. It takes a moment to sign up, but readers don’t necessarily want to be bombarded through their inboxes with post after post. It doesn't take long before people turn off notifications altogether, which is why I blog twice a week, and try to keep it relevant.

How then, was I to get more page-views? This is important, as the material posted on the blog says a lot about us, and of course I have all the ads down the right side where people can click and take a look at my books in various places. While it is hard to estimate just how many people click through and look at a book, or how many of those actually click on the ‘buy button’ on Amazon, Smashwords or iTunes, we can say this much: some will. I also believe that ‘interest,’ the very fact that someone looked at your book, has some weight in the ‘product presentation algorithms.’ If someone buys your book, and then another one, the next guy that comes along may see the proverbial, ‘people who bought this book also bought this one,’ or ‘people who looked at this book also looked at this one.’ You want your book to be in there.

Active Blogging.

So all we have to do is drive up those numbers, right? Bearing in mind this is all part of a larger strategy.

What I have been doing is to look at older posts. Some of them can be rewritten, enhanced, perhaps relevant links added to them. If I have an old story on the hard-drive, I can take a look at it, stick it up on one of my four blogs, and see what happens, for surely posting new content regularly is one way to build an audience, (or drive up hits.) I routinely do this with all new content now. But the older materials can be recycled to some extent. I have the poetry blog, a French-language blog, and a blog which I never promote. That one has had 150 page hits, mostly indexing hits by search engine bots, and it serves as a control blog—that’s how many hits you get in a given time period with a static, totally passive blog which is not updated too often.

Technique.

So what we do is to click on the title of the story. Then we copy that URL with our mouse. Then we close down our blog for a while and fire up Tweetdeck. On Tweetdeck, I manage three Twitter channels, and I can post to Myspace, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I’m putting out on six channels, and this is to a total of several thousand people, not all of whom are viewing at any given time.

What this means is that you can repost later, at a different time. Make your writing work for you.

Then I go and post on Reddit, Digg, and any other place where I can get away with it. I say that because Squidoo for one is looking for all-original content. The basic technique is to blog twice a week on Shalako Publishing, but by reposting and recycling, we can make it do the work of ten passive blogs. If it takes an hour to write a good post, and another ten minutes to ‘spread it around,’ that ten minutes of time is a good investment because it multiplies effectiveness by a factor of about ten times.

Watching your stats.

Watching stats might sound boring, but you can learn a lot. I saw that an old post, ‘Kobo not recognized by PC,’ was getting the odd page hit. It was just a short little story. Clearly, people were having trouble figuring out their Kobo…they were Googling it to find out what to do.

After some thought, I searched through my e-mail and found Kobo’s response to my question. I stuck it in the story. After more thought, I engine-searched and found Kobo’s help page on their website. So I added another line to the story and put that link in there as a service to people who were obviously having the same problem as I was. Also, having links in a story, and traffic generated by them, drives up our ranking with the search engines, for those people who randomly search or have just heard our name somewhere.

There is no single solution to generating traffic.

Getting results and data from experiments.

What we are doing is getting results and data from our experiments.

Incidentally, our ‘Kobo not recognized by PC’ story pops up on page one of the the Google results, and we did that without even half trying. If I had more tips and information to put in that story, I would do it in a heartbeat.

The Shalako Publishing blog had about 5,900 hits in two or three years of blogging. Not too impressive, right? The badpoetsclub had 100 hits last month in total.

This month I’ve gotten about1,400 hits on Shalako Publishing. Just to replicate the experiment and the results, I posted a couple of poems and got 39 page hits so far today on badpoetsclub, including one comment, which happened within minutes and was completely unexpected.

Comments add weight to your blog.

Encourage people to comment on your blog.

Comments also add weight in search engines, as well as activity of any sort. With a scientific application of some pretty basic principles, we are well on our way to somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 page hits this year on our blogs. That’s a lot better than a couple thousand a year.

If one in a hundred clicks through and if another one in ten buys a book, this will have a significant result on sales, and of course name recognition and blog followers are good things too.

Comments are always welcome, and if you have some simple tips you would like to share, please feel free to do so. I don’t have a donate button, but you’re always welcome to share, re-post, or link to this post within your own blog. Please have a look at my books, I'm a professional writer with 29 years of experience and there might be something there for you.

P.S. Here’s one criticism of this blog: not enough pictures.

For more on this subject, go to ProBlogger.



Monday, May 14, 2012

What if UFOs are real?



While there is absolutely no material or physical evidence of life in or about other star systems, it’s always good to talk about UFO’s and the likelihood of life on another world. That way, we’ve all had a bit of a heads-up. Also, I get a big kick out of those who think an alien civilization will come down and “save us from ourselves.” Sure they will.

But what if they’re socialists?

Our much-prized private property rights might not be safe from taxation. The big corporations in their civilization might not have a whole lot of regard for the Monsantos of this world.

And what if they’re capitalists?

We may get negotiated right out of a place at our own dinner table. You know, like when you consult for the next five years with the disabled and then screw them out of a place at their own dinner table...in some hasty, band-aid solution which coincidentally occurs just before election time.

Worse yet, they could be missionaries, coming to save our souls. Golly, that one just doesn’t bear thinking about. We’re not talking Christian or Muslim fundamentalists after all. We’re talking some kind of kooky alien fundamentalists.

If aliens exist, we are talking sapient beings and not just space-faring amoebas.

To build an inter-stellar or inter-galactic vehicle, i.e. a 'ship,' requires an incredible investment in time, money and effort. The motivation would have to be compelling.

(Are we that good-looking?)

Any alien species that finds it easy to cross time and space would be less of a threat.

We don’t have anything they can’t get cheaper someplace else. But what if they take us as pets? Give us to their children at Christmas, (or their cultural equivalent.) Then they tire of us and kick us out into the streets? We could end up as feral humans, living on some alien riverbank amongst the broken concrete, shopping carts and tall, weed-like organisms.

I can’t believe they came all that way just to cut up a cow—there’s an easier explanation for that, e.g. women’s cosmetics and anti-aging creams. Those cow udders are chock full of hormones and stem cells. I grant you that much.

In the next fifty or one hundred years, rich people will begin the colonization of space, beginning with the international space resort, then a nudist colony on Mars or possibly a sexual tourism hot-spot on a moon or two of Saturn.

The asteroids could be exploited for their minerals or Disney could maybe buy one and finally have a planet of their own.

If we were to meet an alien, the first question some of us would ask might be something like this:

“Do these slacks make my bum look too big?”

If a little green alien pointed a ray gun at me, and said, “Take me to your leader,” I would of course take he, she or it to Mr. Stephen Harper. Let him freakin’ deal with it. (Not my job.) They can speak to each other on their own exalted level, which the rest of us will obviously never be able to comprehend.

And what’s with all this sexual stuff? Apparently the little buggers aren’t exactly shy about poking sticks up the backsides of the inhabitants. They like doing the colorectal exams and the prostate exams and stuff like that. Are you really trying to take over the Earth? Why not just use the undoubtedly-superior weaponry on your ship? Too easy, huh? Just like a challenge, huh?

So I am unequivocally ambivalent about the whole alien thing. But I’ll try to keep an open mind.

And the search for intelligent life in the universe continues.

END

Photo: Wiki Commons.



Friday, May 11, 2012

Push-Button Warfare: a science-fiction, comic book world.


(Norad Command Centre, Wiki Commons - Public Domain.)


In terms of push-button warfare, we live in the science-fiction comic-book world of our youthful imaginations. The trouble is we don’t know it. We haven’t figured it out yet.

The transition from conventional to push-button warfare.

The transition from conventional to push-hutton warfare has been so seamless that no one noticed. Back then, when someone coined the phrase ‘push-button warfare,’ we all nodded sagely and thought that meant some military personnel sitting deep underground, thoroughly trained, with nuclear-hardened command and control systems, and responsible oversight, composed of some duly-constituted authority acting on behalf of some identifiable polity. With a smidgeon of moral rectitude we hoped that our missiles were so much better and more numerous than our enemies’ missiles that they would never risk the all-out confrontation. We thought it meant satellites, and drones, and robots. In some ways we were right, because we have all that now, don’t we? The future really did come true.

In more recent times, there are media reports, interviews, and official documents including the national budget which make provision for the latest big threat facing us, terrorism, which includes cyber-terrorism. Billions of dollars will be spent globally to fight online wars which, deep in some underground bunkers, are being fought right now by highly-trained military and other professional personnel. They still follow the standard model of traditional warfare with modern adaptations. Like many threats, it’s a bit over-rated, but the tax dollars must go somewhere, as it contributes to GDP, and this is as good as anywhere.

No one saw it coming.

No science fiction writer or futurist of the world of thirty or forty years ago ever envisioned in its fullest detail, the true nature of the threat. If the pen is mightier than the sword, it is also rather limited, just as the sword is, for other uses. But we don’t use pens now, or swords. We have something much better.

We have the internet, and now, ladies and gentlemen, we have a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. It’s all over the evening news if you care to observe, rather than just watch. The internet and social media are abuzz with players in the game.

I don’t want to underplay the role of Homeland Security, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or other international agencies involved in the constant struggle to protect national interests in the rapidly-growing field of electronic warfare. This is not a new field, but in the past it was mostly directed outwards. It is a rapidly growing field, and it is increasingly being focused inwards.

The enemy lives among us.

The enemy is mobile, and the enemy is dispersed. It is self-evident. The enemy lives among us.

No one could deny that this is an actual war, one that is being fought right now—just go up to any responsible leader, whether in government or opposition, and ask them. None would state otherwise.

Foreign and domestic terrorists and organizations large and small, with any sort of anti-social agenda, or those with political, ideological, social or even completely irrational agendas will turn to computers, the internet, cloud-based systems, social networks, websites, viruses and hacking in order to further their aims. Anarchists will try to ‘destroy the world’ simply because it is there and maybe now there is a tool better than a thrown cast-iron bomb with smoldering fuse to achieve their goals.

The odds of a one-man operation with a pistol providing justification and thereby setting World War Three in motion are fairly remote these days.

Not the Real Threat

Even this is not the real threat, because it is at least on the radar, and with all due respect to various and sundry minorities, the perpetrators will often fall into recognizable demographic criteria. They generate chatter. They must communicate. They move about, in ways that can be observed, and documented. They can be profiled, and detected, they can be prevented, captured, tried, and punished. They can serve as a ‘deterrent’ to other like-minded individuals. This involves new challenges, not unnaturally. Gathering intelligence, assessing individual threats, engaging in counter-operations, is not easy when the enemy is dispersed or sheltered to some degree by rogue or unfriendly states. It’s not easy when the enemy lives among us, and looks like us, talks like us, and lives like us. Prevention is most difficult when suspects have legal and human rights, and access to a system of checks and balances, meant to prevent tyranny from ruling over us.

This is the ‘obvious’ threat, and one much talked about in media, and yes, science fiction.

The Real Threat.

But now we live in an environment where a person, sitting quietly in the privacy of their own home, acting unilaterally, with no training or identifiable ideology, of their own accord, can set in motion a train of events which will, eventually, with a logic that cannot be denied if the laws of causality have any social application at all, change the world. They can do it for whatever reason, or for no particular reason at all.

In my humble opinion, no one saw that forty years ago, and most would deny it now. I say that because of all the mistaken assumptions we will make.

What if they are non-violent? What if their goals are not anti-social? What if they are quiet and well-behaved, and do not enter into ill-conceived conspiracies? What if they keep within the bounds of the laws of the nation-state in which they reside? What if they do exactly the right things, and say all the right things, and what if they are charismatic, articulate and persuasive?

What if everyone thinks it’s a joke, and just laughs and turns away?

Every day we click on these little mouse buttons, most of us barely knowing what happens when we do.

With a click of a button, this person—a private citizen, is going to change a few outcomes. Those outcomes lie far in the distant future, and no one can safely predict exactly what forms those outcomes will ultimately take.

But they don’t care. Any notion that warfare should be conducted by ‘gentlemen,’ in ‘a civilized fashion,’ went out the window a long time ago. It is better to divest ourselves of such illusions.

And the war for the future is already on as far as this writer is concerned. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen—the war for the future is and must be fought in the present moment.

Hopefully the right people will win it, but you never know.

Most of those who read this will not live to see the benefits, or the cost. Still, we must all do our duty.

It goes without saying that God is on our side.

And the first casualty of war is Truth. The second casualty is compassion, and the third is respect. Wars, no matter the state of the technology with which they are fought, have a way of becoming a little too personal very, very quickly, no matter what bright and shiny new weapons of mass instruction are used.

It’s a risk we must be prepared to take.



Disclaimer: This is a work of satirical speculative non-fiction. Dreamers in general and persons or entities in particular who wish to change the world should always seek to comply with state, federal, international and local ordinances. While this confers immunity to nothing, it is in essence your only protection, and it helps to keep certain moral obligations in their proper perspective. At the time of this writing, nowhere in the world has legislation been enacted prohibiting or otherwise limiting behaviours intended to interfere with the future outcomes presently indicated by factors which occur with depressing frequency upon this timeline which we refer to as ‘reality.’.



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Will digital publishing kill great writing?


Will the rise of digital publishing kill great writing?

No. It will only change the way it is delivered. In the same way a syringe is a delivery system for a vaccine, and a cigarette is a delivery system for a shot of nicotine, ‘the book’ is a delivery system for words. This process works in fiction and non-fiction, how-to and tell-alls, or an instruction manual for the new computerized, digital-interface washing machine.

Will the rise of self-publishing destroy major publishing houses?

Yes and no. It will force them to change their practices. Those that fail will fail because they failed to see the trend, and failed to adapt to new technologies. The same houses are still troves of intellectual property. Those properties are assets. They're 'properties,' and someone will buy the company or some of its assets and make use of them. Michael Jackson bought $47.5 million worth of old rights. He bought Sony/ATV music, who owned some Beatles song-rights. The company itself, we must assume, was on sale for some reason or other. (Not an apt term, but you get the idea.)

Whatever you thought of Michael as a person, that might have been a savvy business move, as those rights have now been valued at anywhere from $390 million to One Billion Dollars.

According to sources like Dean Wesley Smith, major publishers are wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of other corporations. What this means is that one division might be making money and another division losing money. When a limb rots, it is cut off and left to wither and die. This saves the rest of the organism. The word corporation derives from the Latin, ‘corpus,’ or body. It is a fairly good analogy.

When a late-night news parody host interviews a hot author, holding up their book in front of the cameras and touting it like any sidewalk shill in front of the carnival, I assume that nine times out of ten or greater that book is produced by an arm of the same corporation. This sort of thing is not going to go away.

Will self-publishing destroy the book?

No, it will only change the existing power structures. Insofar as they may adapt, and have every right to do so under current laws, the survivors may even come out of this in a stronger position.

Will Amazon destroy major publishing? No, it will become it, with a small coterie of other publishers who have little choice but to sell their books on Amazon. Because it is either that, or compete directly against them. Barnes & Noble may survive on the strength of a $300 million investment by Microsoft, with some probability of further funding to come. Microsoft won’t want to see its original investment go down the tubes, and with Apple a player in the game, with their very popular iTunes store, it probably was a no-brainer for them. I don’t think they can sit out of the game.

Also, Google has some interest in e-books, with their own war chest to work with, (presumably.)

If a half a dozen corporate entities wanted to each throw $50 million in a pot, they could theoretically start up a new company, one designed from the outset to compete with all the major players presently on scene. This is one reason why Amazon and other booksellers have their own publishing imprints. They would like to sew up as many intellectual properties as they can.

It’s all about grabbing market share, never mind what street-corner blog pundits have to say about quality or ‘gate-keeping.’ I’m trying to grab a teensy-weensy little bit of market share myself.

What does this mean for the average writer?

That’s a good question. No one really knows, but we can speculate endlessly. In the short term, I see fewer openings for new authors at most major houses, this is due to short cash flow and high costs for the most part. It’s not that they wouldn’t like bigger acquisitions budgets, far from it.

The opportunities for those willing and able to go it alone are limitless, and in fact things have never been better for the self-directed entrepreneurial sort of a writer. The world is your oyster, what are you going to make of it? Most of us don’t have that much drive and vision. In many ways, we still prefer to give things up so someone will look after us. This type of thinking won’t go away quickly, if it ever will. New answers will be found, from the vanity publisher who takes advantage of the idea that throwing money at it somehow guarantees success, to the people who simply don’t want to learn formatting so they pay $100.00 for someone else to do it. But safety nets always had to be bought and paid for one way or another.

In the long term, there may be fewer titles published by major houses. This is because of the risky nature of the investment. Those titles may go through an even more rigourous screening and editing process, but I think not. I think cost-cutting and speed of process will come to dominate as they try to adapt. This is not a moral judgment, I do the same thing myself.

In ten to fifteen years over ninety percent of publishing will be digital. We will look back and wonder at all the fuss that was made over the death of a business model that was clearly outmoded and had outlived any further usefulness.

This is particularly poignant in Canada, where taxpayers will continue to subsidize traditional publishers in order to prop up the pulp and paper industry, which creates relatively high-paying jobs for relatively unskilled people. Governments always take a short-term, expedient view of any situation. In a similar vein, provincial cultural grants will die a slow death, but then they have virtually no relevance as far as writing books in this modern era. Some say they never did.

They are almost entirely political patronage of the bourgeois, (I say that because people on disability are protected by law from receiving any benefit from them,) but the smoke and mirror artists have always been in the business of promoting mediocrity. They deeply fear anyone with any spirit at all. I’ve written all kinds of books without a penny of public support, other than a very small pension which any citizen is entitled to receive. For the most part, with rare exceptions, the books produced by the provision of cultural grants do not go on to become popular best-sellers. They are prime examples of vanity publishing at its worst, and for all the wrong reasons: pandering to the uptight sensibilities of the middle class. They believe that ‘literature is sacred,’ or some such ilk. These tools of literacy must be prevented from falling into the hands of the wrong sort of people—poor people, although they will never express it in exactly those terms.

The most important part of any book produced via a cultural grant is the part where the author(s) thank the government for the support, ‘without which this book could not have been written.’

Some of them do win awards, and are highly-praised by critics. Unfortunately, no one can remember their names or what they were about.

Will self-publishing destroy editing, the English language, or make profound changes happen in our nation?

In a recent unscientific poll conducted by Shalako Publishing on Kindle Boards, over ninety percent of respondents indicated they had a college or university education. In answer to your question, “I sure hope so, but I have my doubts.”

If publishing is in a state of transition from one mode to the next, so is the craft and business of writing. As Smashwords founder Mark Coker says, ‘Writers are going to have to become better publishers.”

According to the article, under the previous model, 0.5 percent of authors would receive the support of a traditional, professional publisher. For the other 99.5 percent, it simply didn’t matter except for making the usual submission where you submit the first three chapters or write a proposal.

All of that has now changed as well, hasn’t it? In my opinion, the rise of digital publishing will not diminish the pool of talent or make life easy for lazy and untalented people. What will surely happen, now that we have the opportunity, is that hard-working, talented authors who otherwise wouldn’t be getting a shot at it now have a fighting chance of succeeding on their own.

Overall, taken as a trend, the quality of writing and of books and stories in general will actually go up. That’s because of the increased competition in a marketplace which is only going to get so big so fast.

Considering the stultifying attitudes of some commentators, who constantly make anonymous complaints about books 'riddled with typos,' change is both welcome and necessary. This is a great time to be alive, especially if you enjoy writing and cherish your independence.

Your fate is in your own hands, which is just where it ought to be.

Obscure Notes:

A book is composed of words, and using ‘phonetic literacy,’ the arbitrary symbols link together in a hierarchical system of building blocks to tell a story or impart information. Phonetic literacy allows more precision of expression compared to hieroglyphics or picture-writing. Any philosopher will tell you that they are trying to define their terms with ever-greater precision. That’s because without writing as we know it, philosophy, ‘all of which since the dawn of time is not worth a moment’s trouble,’ as someone once put it, is simply impossible to express without the gift of written language.