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  • I had a bunch of stuff to do today which meant I rode around a lot in my car. Is there anything more soothing at any time or any place than Ripple? That came on the shuffle-play and I just had to stop and soak it in. “That path is for your steps alone.” Uh-huh. Absolutely.
  • I’m thrilled beyond belief. My local Kroger has begun importing Coca-Cola from Mexico. Big deal, right? Uh, yes. Yes it is. This Coca Cola is made with pure cane sugar and comes in 12 oz glass bottles. That’s the way God intended for Coke to be. I usually try to stock up on Cane Sugar Coke at Passover (Cane Sugar is Pesach-Kosher; Corn syrup–made from a grain–is not), but this year I was to busy having a sort of legal crisis to bother. So I’m psyched. Actual Coke!
  • There is no way on earth that I will be able to add all the books I’ve read to my Facebook Books application. It just won’t happen. So I’m adding the ones I really recall fondly, but I’m sticking them in piecemeal. I just get so excited to see the little coloured picture of the book cover–it brings it back home. I have this philosophy that books are not meant to be kept, unless you intend to reread them on a regular basis. (Harry Potter, anyone?) So I give my books away to whomever would like to read them. Better out in the world than sitting on my shelf gathering dust. So I like these applications that allow you to “keep” a book in your own way while not hanging on to the actual thing itself.
  • I’m really quite busy grooving on the fun that is Damages on the F/X network. If you haven’t caught it yet, FX is running a Labour Day Marathon, so you can catch it in all it’s backstabbing glory. I will say, though, that there are several of you (Brittney Gilbert, Aunt B., Cheryl Richardson) who might want to skip the last 10 minutes of the first episode. I wish someone had warned me that it was something I would have nightmares about. Because it is, and I have been. Other than that, it’s been a great show.
  • What was the other thing I meant to write about?  Dang.  I can’t think of it now.  Oh well.  It was probably just as pointless as everything else I’ve got up here this morning.

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Rape Novels

The Grumpy Old Bookman tells me that the infamous Gor books have been resold to Dark Horse Press.

You may not have heard of the Gor books; they aren’t exactly Harry Potter. They do, however, have quite a loyal following. Why? Well, because

Elaborate set pieces of sexual torture and slavery are the essential core of the stories; they are not plot devices insomuch as they become the plot. Sadism, rape, and violence are repeated ad nauseum, pushing the storytelling narrative into a place at the back of the whole enterprise.

The libertarian author in me is quite pleased to see someone exercise their freedom to write this trash. The libertarian woman in me is quite pleased to exercise mine own freedom by letting as many people as possible know what horrific trash the Gor Novels really are.

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This man appears to be striving hard to beat Salinger at his own game. The author bio for John Twelve Hawks says only that he lives “off the grid”.

Both John Twelve Hawks and his American publisher state that he has never met his editor and that he communicates using the Internet and an untraceable satellite phone, usually employing a voice scrambler. No photograph of Twelve Hawks has ever appeared and all biographical information about his background is based on four sources:

Now, that’s kind of cool. Especially since it’s the best publicity gimmick you could think of when you’re publishing a dystopian fantasy cyberpunk trilogy about evading The Grid.

But you wanna know the funny part? The part that has me laughing right out loud? Here’s this guy who doesn’t want anyone to know a thing about him. He doesn’t even take face-to-face meetings with his editor. (Can you blame him for that? Not really.) He takes great pains to avoid letting any information about himself become public. He’s become a folk hero to a lot of libertarians and dystopic geeks, and those of us who follow publishing rumours have been gorking over who he really is. Because, I’m sorry–his first book in the series is NOT the work of a first-time author. So for the past two years there has been much discussion over who he really is. Theories have been tossed around that it’s anyone from Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame, to noted scientist Steven Hawking.

Now here’s the funny part. One of the rumoured “true identites” for Twelve Hawks was Dan Brown–he who was responsible for The DaVinci Code.

And in one of a small handfull of public statements made about Twelve Hawks, he and his publishers deny that he’s Dan Brown. That just cracks me up. It’s like this dude saying “look, I don’t care what you say about me, or what you think about me. But for heaven’s sake, don’t compare me to that witless hack!”

Hee.

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Amy reviewed this a few days ago. She even sent me an email, which I forgot to respond to until it was too late. So I’m writing this post, instead, to let all of you know what I thought of The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio.

Or, at least, the first 15 minutes of said movie.

Because I’m sorry…I could not sit through it.

Here’s the thing. I love my husband, and he’s a man. I love my dad, and he’s a man. I love my brothers. Yep, you guessed it. They’re both men, too. Heck, even my DOGS are men. Well, male anyway.

And from what I saw of PWODO, it was yet another Carnival of Misandry disguised as a “fun family film.” You know what I mean if you’ve seen a single episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. It’s all that business about how men are duffers–at best they’re goofily incompetant. At their worst, they’re raging alcoholics burning through life at the expense of long suffering family.

Now, I don’t doubt the existence of these men who are dullards and drunks. But I feel more and more as though the last ten years of popular culture has put forth the idea that all men can only be one or the other. (Okay. They can sometimes be both.) PWODO was no exception. The father, played by Woody Harrelson, was a raging alcoholic who couldn’t keep his family of twelve in shoe leather. The mother, played by Julianne Moore, was a wise woman who kept the wolf from the door by “contesting”–writing jingles for soap, appliance and food companies. Once again, a smart woman has to bail out her family after the stupid man keeps ruining things.

I believe in smart women. I am one. I know many. But you know what? Brains are not a zero-sum game. There are smart, good, hard-working men out there. Well, everywhere except in the movies.

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No spoilers.

I promise that I’ve seen the last page of the book.  It’s real.  I won’t say another word about it, because if I do those of you who know me will be able to guess where it goes.

But I’ve seen it.  I got my way–like a kicking and screaming baby.

I’d post it here, but that’s very much against JKR’s wishes.   I suppose reading the last page ahead of the release date was also against her wishes, but frankly it’s in no way going to keep me from buying the book on Friday.   And I had wished for her to release the book on the 7th.  So there’s that.

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Back in May I said I wouldn’t read the Warren Zevon biography. I had good reasons. But then I saw the book in the store on my birthday, and the heavy slab of words on Warren would not be ignored. I made a compromise with myself and checked it out of the library.

Frankly, I wish I’d listened to my first instinct.

Hanging out with the Warren Zevon in the book was one of the least enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in my lifetime.

I do need someone to explain something to me, though. I do not understand how women–and according to this book there were A LOT–can let themselves be treated like toilets by another human being. At one point, Zevon tells a girlfriend that having sex is for him merely a physical release on par with defecation. (He uses a different phrase, but my mother reads this blog.)

Granted, I’ve not talked with any of the women involved, so maybe they’re all fine with having a guy call them up on occasion for some random boinkfest. But given the number of “Girl X is stalking me now” entries in Zevon’s journals I’m guessing there were more than a few who pinned big fairy-tale hopes on their rock star “boyfriend”.

Yes, I may be the world’s biggest prude. Even as I write this I feel like I sound like some old grandma warning the young’uns to save themselves. But after spending chunks of a week dragging through the cyclone of anger, recrimination and deep psychic pain surrounding Warren Zevon I honestly wonder if sex without love is worth even the momentary thrill.

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I’m going to answer some (book) burning questions in today’s post, because I really want to talk about these things. The newswires are full of stories about the Death Of Books, and as Harry Potter draws ever nearer to its end, I’m betting we’ll see more coverage about the dire straits of the publishing world. Of course, these answers are just coming from me–an avid reader, author and former marketing brand manager. I’ve only ever worked on the fringes of Publishing, so I don’t know that I’m anything close to an expert. But boy, do I have opinions! Buckle up…

Why don’t people read for fun anymore?

I think there will always be readers, just as there will always be surfers, motorcycle enthusiasts and folks who collect dolls. Each one of these hobbies has enjoyed a rennaissance of faddishness at one time or another, but has then settled back down into a more realistic following. Leisure reading is a hobby about which many people can be very passionate, and other people can be occasional dabblers. For every book freak like me I’m betting there are a dozen folks who limit their leisure reading to a couple of paperbacks on the beach in summer and an occasional book throughout the year.

A few years ago I was in a bookstore with some friends. One of them came up to me and asked–very earnestly–how I knew which books were good and which ones I would enjoy. He had NO IDEA how to shop for a book. So he never went book shopping, until that day I dragged him into Barnes & Noble. It got me to thinking, because they were very good questions. I’m an avid reader. It’s gotten to the point that I can tell pretty closely whether or not I’ll like a book.

  • Did I like the author’s previous work(s)?
  • Do I like other things from this publisher/publisher’s imprint?
  • Is this in a genre or vein which has appealed to me in the past?
  • Are both the opening paragraph and a random paragraph from the middle appealing to me?
  • Does the back cover blurb sound intriguing?

Yeah, those things help me, but how do we make book-shopping more pleasurable for the more casual reader? Some ideas:

Clearly identify genres in shelf and table displays.

Different casual readers enjoy different things. Some prefer mysteries while others groove on books where floridly-named women have sex with vampires. (Go figure.) It’s got to be very frustrating to face an unlabled book display with sixty or seventy titles–none of which are clearly labeled as to genre. It’d be like walking into the frozen food section, seeing a bunch of boxes labeled “Ice Cream” and having to then open each one to decide what flavour is inside.

Do A Better Job of Cross-Marketing

What little cross-promotion currently exists is good, but is mostly limited to displays of authors’ backlists. The newest Patricia Cornwell will be on an endcap, surrounded by several older Patricia Cornwell books. Barnes & Noble and BAM have been doing a few genre-endcaps (“New In MYSTERY!”) but that’s still very limited and doesn’t do anything to burst out any center-shelf titles. How about a database of “if you like this [book/movie/tv show/style of music] you might enjoy X book by X author”? Affinity sorts work very well for most cross-promotion. As people have become more comfortable with computers and databases have evolved, this type of thing should find a home in brick and mortar bookstores. It does work to Amazon’s advantage–at least in my case.

Embrace Genre Fiction

It’s what people will buy. It’s what people enjoy. I think it’s dirty pool to complain about people not reading for fun and then refuse to publish the types of books which people think are fun.

Kill The Oprah Book Club

Yes, I know it blows out a dozen or so books a year. If you’re one of the Oprah Book Club picks, you’ve got it made. (Unless you lied about being an addict.) But, frankly, if we’re trying to encourage people to read for fun, the books Oprah chooses are NOT going to win many people over to long-time leisure reading. They.are.de.press.ing.

Create More Serialised Fiction

The books that tend to be the best in sales are the ones which have recurring characters who develop over time. People develop an affinity for the characters and spend money to find out if Charles and Mallory ever get together, if Peter and Rina Decker successfully remodel their kitchen and if Harry lives or dies. Dickens was the master of serialised fiction, and every bibliophile knows the story of the folks waiting on the docks for last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop to find out the fate of Little Nell. The two genres which traditionally have been best at exploiting the serialisation format in recent years are Science Fiction and Christian Fiction. Guess which genres are doing the best in terms of sales? Of course, I still have major issues with the way Christian Fiction Publishers are bursting their serialised material. They’re putting the least amount of story in the largest possible font and large trade paperback format; marketing a $3 minibook as a $15.95 Serial Novel. A happy medium would be nice.

I think elitism and failure to understand the casual reader are the twin enemies of modern book sales. I’m not a genre snob, but I’ll freely admit that I don’t ‘get’ people who aren’t avid readers. Sometimes in my mind it’s still recess and I’m the dorky kid with the Nancy Drew on the front porch and the non-readers are the ones trying to knock off my glasses with the kickball. But really, if the kickball kids can be convinced to part with a few ducats in exchange for the written word, I will feel quite vindicated indeed.

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Knowing

About 82% of Everyone in Blogland is upset about Richard Schickel’s cranky dismissal of bloggers’ critiques. Lileks did a fairly good job of fisking the fellow, so I won’t bother.

I would, however, like to point out that I think pieces like Schickel’s are fantastic. They’re the writerly equivalent of one of those scenes in a civil rights movie where the politely restrained white person breaks (around act three or so) and unleashes a diatribe of racist invective–leaving no doubt in the viewers’ minds that the Kindly White Character’s niceness was a facade and that the heart of bigotry is pumping undiluted poison through the system.

Folks like me talk alot about the Great Snob Divide in our culture. Some of that may be sour grapes on our part. We didn’t get into Harvard and we didn’t get into UCLA film school, so we have to whine about how great those schools aren’t. Really, though, I think one of the scariest things about the world of Blogs is how it gives lie to the Myth of Betters. It’s got to be intimidating to the Schickels of this world that there are puppies without pedigree who are just as cute.

But the real dilemma here is the value of knowing. What is knowing in post-modern culture? The gist of Schickel’s piece* is that some people are better-suited to be critics because their opinion is formed through education, experience and erudition. Those opinions are then of more value and should carry greater weight. What an insecure position to hold! And how bullying!

Opinion is one person’s evaluation of an experience. It is not fact. The danger of our over-educated, self-satisfied culture is that too many people mistake their opinion for the ultimate in truth. They attempt to validate this by offering their opinions’ curricula vitae as though that makes fact. “I didn’t like this movie. I’ve studied movies for years at the Greatest Movie School Ever and have read 800 books about movies, many of which I will quote to ensure you that I do, indeed, know things about movies. That means this is a bad movie.” Of course, all the people who bought tickets to the last Pirates Of the Caribbean film disagreed with those critics. They thought it was a good movie. So is the movie good or bad? Who knows. It’s a matter of opinion.

To be sure, there are still facts. The sun is hot. Water boils at 212 degrees celsius fahrenheit. But so much of our dialogue is comprised of opinion–both filtered and unfiltered by education–and it’s a shame that some of us don’t realise that we’ve skated for years on offering our wordy opinions for money. Don’t look now, Schickel, but for every one of you being paid to snoot all over the paper there are about twenty-five thousand of us who realise that opinions are exactly like a…holes. Everybody has one and most people don’t get paid to show theirs in public.

*I’m not linking directly to the Schickel piece because why should I? Who wants to participate in the irony of the LA Times getting increased web traffic by insulting the web? Not me, thanks.

update Magniloquence asks the question “Who gets to have an opinion” about a completely different topic. Yet, still, eerily the same.

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Big Orange Michael has a post today that reminded me of a rant I’ve been meaning to have. Since I’m having a krep day, I figured now is as good a time as any.

According to an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, TV networks are courting bloggers for some much-needed publicity for their shows.

My first, big question is–why in the world isn’t there a message in my in-box from one of the myriad of networks? I will totally and completely sell-out to you if you’ll send me screeners of things or swag…So, any shows that want to reach out to me (esp. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 24) and have me shill for you…drop me a line!

And here we have the problem with Viral Marketing versus Opinion. To me the true value of having a blog is in having a platform where your opinions and experiences can be accessed by anyone with a search tool. Viral Marketing compromises the worth of a blogger’s opinion. In my opinion.

My first real brush with Viral Marketing came from the Relive the Magic DVD folks. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I started seeing Disney World bloggers and podcasters just raving about these wonderful DVDs. Just imagine! For only $250 you too could have the entire Walt Disney World universe on DVD, to revisit whenever you like. Now, these were bloggers, reviewers and podcasters I trusted. I trusted them because I’d been reading them and listening to their shows for years. So, as a combined birthday/anniversary present we bought a set last year. And they were awful. Come to find out, nearly everyone who recommended them did so because they received up to a FIFTY PERCENT CUT of all sales which came from their readers. In short, they were paid more than as much as $100 a pop to recommend a terrible product, so they did it.

I no longer listen to one of those podcasters and have stopped going to most of those blogs for that exact reason. They blew their trust with me.

::Ooops. I hit enter, then the phone rang. Bloggus Interruptus. Back to the tale::

So anyway, I think it’s great when bloggers’ opinions are taken seriously by the media. And I think it’s great that if you’re really a fan of something and blog well about it that the Powers That Be will occasionally send you a t-shirt or DVD out of gratitude. But it’s dangerous to rave about something that isn’t good just because you’re paid for it. I’ve had more than one occasion where I really liked something and wrote a raving blog review about it–only to find that later I didn’t care for it as time went on. My new policy is try something for an extended period of time before praising it here. If it’s a restaurant I’ll eat there more than once. If it’s a show, I’ll watch it more than once. If it’s a book I’ll only praise it once I make it to the end. Some writers just can’t sustain. (Lincoln Child, I’m lookin’ at you, kid.)

In the past I’ve learned that people take blog opinions very seriously. So I’m trying to be more serious about what opinions I put out here. And they are not for sale.

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Jeffrey started this conversation over at his blog, not knowing that he’d strike at least three of my nerves simultaneously. How can I ignore any conversation that deals with

  1. The heresy of the “health and wealth”/”name it and claim it” false teachers
  2. The death of mysticism in the Christian Church
  3. The complete misunderstanding of the nature and practice of Wicca and paganism

do you have any insight as to where the idea that if we “all pray together”, “pray enough times”, etc, about something that those things somehow have an affect on whether God honors that prayer or not?

Ohh boy. Don’t get me started on a tirade that will go into why I think Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” is a hideous malformation of Christianity [1] or why so many Christians mistake God for a cosmic vending machine that just occasionally eats your change.

The modern church has managed to be both far more pagan and far less spiritual than it should be. In our rush to sanitise the Church from being sullied by any actual religious experience we’ve turned it into a cultural ghetto.

Our relationship with God is intended to be just that. A relationship. Paul talks of Jesus being our High Priest. Those aren’t just words. Jesus’ death created a mystic bridge whereby we humans can engage directly in a communication with the Divine; hence some of Satan’s anger with us. He strove to be like God and failed. We, ironically, have a closer communication with God than Satan ever could.

Unfortunately in our rush to strip all mysticism out of the Church, we’ve also stripped most of the power out of our relationship with God. We’ve turned God from a mystical communicant into a sort of sugar-daddy.

Prayer always gives us answers, but mostly by opening our minds to that bridge of communication with the divine. We aren’t to be praying toward humanly-directed outcomes. “Ask and it shall be given” is often misunderstood to mean that if you ask hard enough, long enough or loud enough for a car or a pony or a baby or a new job you will get those things–and if you don’t get them, well, you just didn’t do your best askin’!!!

That’s wrong. Very wrong. The act of asking is an act of engaging God. In talking WITH God (as opposed to yelling AT God) you achieve an understanding about what He wants for you. You may not get the car or the pony or the baby or the new job, but you will see how your life is a better one for you than what you thought you wanted.

Many of the “health and wealth” teachers of this present false age have seized upon this heresy. As a devout Christian with chronic illness I’m convinced by God that one of the very purposes of my illness is to act in testament against the false teachings of those who would say that you are only sick because you didn’t pray hard enough. Or that you are only poor because you didn’t ask God for money.

Our prayers are not about acheiving OUR desired outcome. They are about remaining in constant communication with God. God then gives us the eyes with which we can see Divine Wisdom play out in our earthly circumstance.

[1] Why I Hate This Present Darkness:

(more…)

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