Saturday, August 29, 2009

Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid

Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid

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Birth Dream

A dozen people, me included, in an airport, were separated and herded into a holding room. We wondered what was going on; it was a motley mix, no pattern among us discernible. A door at the other corner of the room opened and we were confronted by a tall, naked person of a golden color, definitely Other, who held aloft a glowing wand. He waved us forward and no one moved, but then there were others like him among us, herding us again.

As each person passed through the doorway, the wand was waved over and around the person’s head a few times, then the person was pushed through. As a big, boisterous woman ducked through, she smiled and swung around to lower her head for more. “Oh, I can feel it,” she cried.

“What’s it doing?” we called.

“It’s shaving away our thoughts,” she said.

This terrified the rest of us, but we were forced through, as if we could not resist or were children too afraid to offer physical resistance.

As I passed through I felt nothing, and found myself shoved into another room pretty much the mirror of the first. We milled around, wondering what had just happened, feeling dazed, and once again, the door we’d entered through vanished and another door on the far end appeared, this time not open, but closed.

That was when we began noticing something horrible was happening to us. We were visibly getting younger, even as we watched. We aged backwards, and it was fast, as if each blink of the eye took off a decade or more. Soon we really were frightened children, and then I remember falling to the floor, a toddler unable to balance. My head bounced on the floor and I saw a baby in front of me, crying. I was bawling too, utterly abandoned, and bereft of anything but craving need, and then I saw the infant on the floor beside me deliquesce into protoplasmic jelly.

Even then, I felt my own body go, too.

After a blink of darkness I opened my eyes and I was again myself, but insubstantial, like a ghost. I saw others groaning and shaking heads, as if hung over. We each came to, pushing ourselves to our feet and staggering to collapse into chairs arranged as if on a bleachers, in rows one over the other. We sat gathering ourselves, no one talking.

Someone, a man I think, yelled, “I can’t stand this, I’m getting out of here,” and charged the door. It opened at his touch and he fell through, and we all gathered at it to see that it was gaping outer space out there. The cosmos, with stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae, and most of all a depth of nothingness.

A surge of emotions -- we can’t let him do that, we should join him, panic, desperation, despair, hope, even joy -- slammed through us and before I knew it I was deciding to join the others as one by one we leapt out of the room into space.

We free-fell, but could still breathe -- or did not need to -- and communicate -- perhaps mind-to-mind. We felt the need to stay together but also to get the hell away from out captors. As we fell away from the room we floated around and gazed back, seeing not only the doorway shining light at us, but a verdant green world of dense foliage, with minaret and breast-shaped domed structures with round windows, apparently our captors’ houses.

We shrieked denial and fear at this otherwise bucolic sight, and drifted around again, gazing at each other, and that was when a pair of us drifted close enough to touch. At once they combined, and the rest of us seemed drawn toward this new person.

Before I knew it I was joining with the others into one sexless golden being, very like our captors, and this one being maintained all our individual thoughts. We were able to converse freely, make suggestions, and discuss our plight. We experimented with this body, and found that we could drift faster if we thought about it. Then we found out how to take galaxy-spanning strides. All of our will focused on getting away from our captors.

When I asked where we might end up, everyone at once thought that we wanted to go back to Earth, to our lives. And as quick as thought we did it, seeing the blue globe approach in one glimpse, in the next standing on the ground.

And here we separated into our individual selves again, and each of us went to our distinct lives, only to find that we were as ghosts to them. We could not be seen or heard, not separately, and something drew us gradually back to becoming a single being again.

And this single being began its own life among people, lonely inside in too many ways to express but also alive on the outside, solid and real.

And then I woke up.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

What ARE These Veggie Burgers?

Recently I got a rejection that said, essentially, “Good effort in a unique story full of interesting factual details, but I prefer clear concise writing. Some of your sentences were out of order. I could easily rearrange them to make them clearer. Often I realized what you were trying to say but the word order made it awkward and distracting to read. Many sentences rambled too long and there were grammatical errors...“

Wow. Sure didn’t sound like me. So I read the story over carefully...

...and found nothing wrong, aside from a couple typos. How, I wondered, did this editor and I see the same story so differently?

Going back to the rejection, I began to decode. What was it in the story this editor might find out of order? Less than clear or concise? Awkward and distracting to decipher?

What I came up with sat me back in my chair for a gut-punched moment. Was it simply my mix of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences boggling this editor? Was it multisyllabic words chosen for accuracy over easier, less specific words? Was it the slightly baroque vernacular style chosen because the story is told in the voice and with the references of the protagonist? Was it that this editor did not understand that narration often employs grammatical errors as part of the speech patterns of the narrator, to add the local color of dialect? (Not that I found a slew of grammatical errors, please note: I was hard-pressed to find any.)

Was this editor then demonstrably reading on a lower grade-school level? Or was I writing at in too literary a tone? Did my writing’s fault depend more on my words, or my shelves?

The rejection went on to encourage me to work hard and improve, which we all can certainly do, but added that helping me would take too much time out of the editor’s busy schedule. This same editor who hangs out on Facebook and Twitter for hours each day of empty socializing, as has been both observed by a depressed writer of our acquaintance and also reported by others who know the editor well, cannot spare time to, cue the irony bell, edit my stuff in order to help what is viewed as a writer with promise.

Thank heavens, is all I can say, for Facebook & Twitter.

Editor has come to mean “someone assigned to choose mss” for publication in a magazine, anthology, or in book form. Needless to observe, in many instances an AI program or random selection -- tossing darts or dice, asking a pet to fetch one from the pile -- could do as well, especially if mss first were culled by recognized names.

As to being "literary", that dreaded genre charge seems to mean "Writes in an adult manner any way he or she wants." It is only genre that increasingly insists everything be readable by slow children with lazy eye and ADD.

And look:  YA novels clogged the Hugo list this year and one of them won.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that genre fiction is dumbing itself down to juvenile levels, perhaps to hold what little audience it has, or in fear of losing even that, or perhaps because, as genre fiction’s tropes become more popular, the popularity itself dilutes the original formula that isolated the genre in the first place. To have mass appeal, it must give the sucker an even break and begin using fewer specialized terms.

This addresses sf jargon, surely -- “fewer mathematical equations in the prose, folks,” -- but does not account for the childish scrawl that so many editors insist upon. 

Sure, there are exceptions, and they stand out like neon in noir. Still, the trend is toward simplistic, unchallenging, safe little stories any kid of 9 could grasp fully on one hasty reading.

Is this a reaction against the big scary changes in publishing? Is it a response against the influx of new influences such as romance and erotica? Is it simply the infant bleat of HAL 9000 as his higher functions one by one are switched off by a wider audience’s acceptance?

Time, and writers willing or unwilling to talk dumb, will tell, and in the meantime it looks like I continue to write deluxe gourmet veggie burgers in a world demanding basic Big Macs and sloppy Whoppers.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review of the Bitten anthology mentioning my story

Tuesday, August 25,2009
Anthology ‘Bitten’ By Love and Lust
Susie Bright’s collection of dark erotic fiction
By Tom Hammer

The Cambridge Dictionary defines erotica as themes that produce sexual desire and pleasure. Bitten (Chronicle Books) delivers all that and more. Billed as gothic, the stories chosen for this anthology by editor Susie Bright range from mild to hard-core in sexual content. Indeed, the book includes tales inspired by classical mythology along with stories that could be described as porn.

The first story, Sera Gamble's "The Devil's Invisible Scissors," launches this book on what may be its highest note. It's a takeoff of the Moerae Clotho, who in mythology uses scissors to shorten or end a life. Gamble's rendition is a fast-paced tale where the scissors were given by the devil himself for harvesting souls. Another standout, "The Resurrection Rose" by Anne Tourney, combines the heinous blood baths of the countess Elizabeth Bthory with the equally evil Marie Antoinette. Eternal life or death is at stake, and survival rests with a vampire rose.

Also included are lighthearted tales such as Allison Lawless' "The Unfamiliar," a more traditional story of an amorous genie found hiding in an elderly aunt's library, and E.R. Stewart's "Cross-Town Incubus," where a young woman finds a sexual spirit in her boyfriend's loft with titillating results, great passion and a lusty conclusion.

Other stories are more arcane, including "Smoke and Ashes" by Shanna Germain, a somewhat confusing tale of a young girl, alone with a dozen young men, who must choose the pick of the motley bunch, and Jess Wells' more gothic "The Rookery," in which a medieval falconer has to choose between a beautiful woman and his love of falcons.

As with many anthologies, there are a few stories that are less artistic. "Half-Crown Doxy" by Cate Robertson and "Pandora's Other Box" by Greg Boyd reek of pornographic sadism and border on the grotesque. The final tale in this collection provides another example: Ernie Conrick's "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" is at once a morality tale and an epic gross-out of sexual pathology. By turns profound and deeply disturbing, it speaks of the excesses of modern living and the breakdown of society; however, Conrick pulls off a small miracle in that his story is also obscenely funny.

Bitten is a visually stunning book with a beautiful wraparound green viper on the cover and gold-edged pages that invite the reader to plumb the depths of depravity and lust contained within. All in all, Bitten is a study in contrast between love and lust, morality tale and smut, and all the evil and sublime passion that has existed since Eve was lured into eating of the apple of the tree of good and evil. This book is highly recommended for those who love bawdy fun and great writing, and for those who want to peek into the dark side of passion.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Replace the Republicans

If, as is clear, the GOP and right wingers are willing to destroy the country rather than concede an inch to anyone else, especially to liberals and progressives and Democrats -- translation: We the People -- then we need to move on without them.

We have no mechanism better for removing these irrelevancies than voting; vote them out next time and swamp them with angry, specific letters now telling them how sick of their lies you are, and how their ideology is spent and bankrupt and has, over the last decade, proven time and again a debacle, and utterly wrong in all particulars.

Please note, I am not in favor of an all-Democrat government. I would hope a sensible, rational, and reasonable opposition party, with well thought-out alternative views, would fill the vacuum left by the GOP's implosion into madness. Perhaps a Green Party, or perhaps a Libertarian Party, who knows?

But the first thing is to rid ourselves of this GOP cancer. They refuse to participate substantively. All they do is obstruct, lie, and fear-monger. All they do is bluster, threaten, and bully. They have declared in so many words that they hope the USA is hit by a nuclear terrorist attack, so Obama will fail. What kind of childish irresponsible self-defeatism is this? If they do not wish to play by the rules, rules they seek continually to negate and destroy, then they are not in the game.

Time to replace the Republicans with a group not owned and operated by multinational corporations The Repulicans are contemptuous of the people and hostile to the people's health, safety, and security. Time to replace the Republicans with a political party that will abide by Constitutional, democratic checks and balances, engage in honest debate, and strive for a rational government of, by, and for the people.

This is not too much to hope for. It is, in fact, little enough to insist upon. It has only been since Reagan that this strident Neo Con craziness has seized power in the GOP. We can see through their transparent lies and we all have witnessed the harmful aspects of their otherwise useless Friedman / Strauss doctrine. Let them go. Let them fade into history as so many other failed, frustrated groups have done.

Let's move ahead without the GOP. Time to replace the Republicans.

Right after we help everyone with Universal Medicare.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Must Comedy Be Funny? Apparently Not...

Prepare to call me curmudgeon, geezer, and worse, but remember: Most of us hate people laughing at them.

Comedians court it.

Is it self-humiliation they seek? Perhaps, but most crave attention and to be liked, and we generally like them.

Do we like them because they let us feel superior?

Some comedians appeal to vanity, others to crasser aspects of human nature, and a new movie’s ads prompted me to think about comedy’s change and what it may mean to society.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, BRUNO, shows scenes typical of the characters he revels in creating. As in BORAT, there is much humor derived from inappropriate behavior and awkward social situations. Confronting people with absurdity and laughing at their confusion is a standard ploy. A good deal of it is mean-spirited, intended to belittle the real-life gay Austrian TV host on which Cohen based his BrĂ¼no character.

Mean-spirited, belittling comedy is not funny in the sense that gain at others’ cost is not humane. It’s a form of usury, a coining of draconian interest burdens on small investments of innocence. Some find this witty, and claim wit is always mean but I disagree, wit being merely intelligence. It is a tool to be applied with, without, or even against kindness.

Comedy need not be gentle to remain compassionate, just as comedy is not wit even as it stems from it. Silliness is the harmless part of the ridiculous, for example. Hurting feelings and exposing weakness is the harsh part. It’s fine if focused on the powerful, especially the evil. They ask for it. It is sick, though, when focused on the weak, harmless, or innocent.

That’s where Cohen goes, gleefully. He minces and prances in order to bully and hurt lesser people who are not in on the joke.

Comedy’s function is to reduce us all to basic humanity. It provides insight and lets us identify with others we might otherwise find strange or distant. What Cohen does accomplishes the opposite by demonizing and setting up as figures of fun the defenseless and the hapless.

He kicks whomever is down and puts down anyone he can, all for a cheap laugh that reveals nothing more than a sadist’s enjoyment of cruelty.

Jim Carrey’s absurd Pet Detective is afforded dignity and humanity. The Three Stooges puncture snobbery and pretension. The Great Dictator reduced Hitler to a laughable idiot, which lessened his dark power and broke the spell he otherwise cast. The Little Tramp could not win but never gave up or lost optimism.

All these are admirable.

The TV show JACKASS, Cohen, and much contemporary comedy is mean and callous, harsh and corrosive, serving no higher purpose -- it functions against humanity, lessens it. It is an exercise in self-hating misanthropy.

Even Twain and Bierce, in their often hilarious misanthropy, never struck at the good or the innocent. They punctured sanctimony and perfidy, revealing hypocrisy and stripping poseurs of their stolen robes.

Today’s worse comedy stomps on puppies, kittens, and baby seals in a desperate attempt to move beyond comedy styles it considers stale. It revels in atrocity because it is offensive, then laughs at our horror, at our being appalled. It is scornful of anything worthwhile in us, all the good, all the innocent. Those are dismissed as Emo and social suicide. Showing weakness is the last thing any of them would dare do, and all once held lofty and worthy is now sneered at.

In the great enemy sense, it is quite literally Satanic comedy, but calling it that would be a drama-queen’s indulgence, so call it vile and be anagrammatically insouciant.

That’d be witty, at least.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Chew Our McCud

Some say Obama never intended to push or stand for either single payer or public option. That he mooted them only as bargaining chips, intending all along to pull back on them, in order to move the debate toward a centrist, and ultimately meaningless, compromise. It's how he's operated his entire career, they say. He is not cowardly, it's not feet of clay, it's scripted politics for him.

If so, then how can he ever have been cynical enough to dangle the temptation in front of all those millions who are either uninsured, or who are underinsured? How can he have pulled the rug out from under their feet in a calculated way? Would Obama really have pretended to push for, and to promote, a wonderful gift like single pay universal health care -- medicare for EVERYONE -- when he never really meant it? When he knew he would only be snatching it from their reach and laughing as he played his politics-as-usual?

Or is this what the more subtle liars in the GOP would want us to think? So that we begin to see him as a smooth, slick liar and as a politician, not a human being? Is that their game?

Ask yourself, would any President have pushed for, even mentioned, medicare for everyone, knowing full well he would be jerking it back out of reach?

Would there be any better way to crush the feelings of the disenfranchised? Would there be a more efficient way to humiliate the have-nots? To stir up their hopes and dash them for a laugh? To manipulate them not into voting, not into support, but instead into turning on you?

What kind of self-destructive lunatic politician would do such a thing? None I can think of, on either side of the Aisle of Shame.

No, seems to me Obama really wanted medicare for everyone. He ran into a firestorm of GOP lies and manipulations, not to mention a tornado clusterfuck of spin, and he failed, as General Zinni observed recently on a Bill Maher show, to pre-empt all this nonsense by putting the facts out quickly and clearly. Now we hear he's given up on single payer and will withdraw support from the public option, too.

Meaning no real reform. Meaning Big Money bought the pot again. Meaning we the people -- unlike the scum who call themselves the Congress, unlike federal workers, will be left at the mercy of insurance companies that won't pay when you need it, and that bleed you dry when you don't.

What have we learned, if this happens? We will have learned that we stand idly by and serve ourselves up as fodder for this kind of insulting, inhuman, and deadly destructive greed fest, this farce of a situation where real lives are destroyed every moment of every day simply so the rich 1% can get all the richer, and the middle class can be destroyed, rendering USA into a wage slave region similar to Mexico today.

Yes, it is that serious a fight, this culture war against the racists, against the corporate bigots who view us as Malthusian "useless eaters" in Kissinger's chilling words.

Learn to say either Moo or Baa.

We are becoming Morlochs to their Eloi and we're not even putting up a fight as we chew our McCud.

/// /// ///

Lip-Smackin' Good

Used to be, not too long ago, a Remote Area Medical setup serving impoverished and underinsured people being needed in Los Angeles, CA would have been not only unthinkable, and intolerable, but world news, some say. It shames us, others say. Well, I dunno. Remember the Watts Riots? Go back further, to when Hispanics or the Japanese were displaced, the latter to concentration camps in WW II. Coolies built, as indentured servant / slave labor, the railroads that met at the Golden Spike, creating transcontinental travel for those who could afford to ride. Need we mention King Cotton and that Civil War contretemps?

My point is, we never treated our unmonied manual labor forces particularly well. Maybe we should have been allowing Remote Area Medical help, and other foreign aid, to come in from other countries long ago. That a wealthy nation like USA allows so many of its citizens to exist in poverty, without the slightest chance to afford basic health care, and with nowhere to turn but foreign assistance for even a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be looked at and helped with poor eyesight, bad teeth, and even minor surgeries; that this happens here is indeed shameful.

Trouble is, the rich have no shame. They have anger and hatred toward the poor and the brown. They rail and scream and throw fits over not wanting to pay for those lazy fat idiots who eat bad take-out food and watch TV every night -- never mind the plain fact that they can afford to do nothing else, the way the whole corporate exploitation system is set up.

These people work hard for a pittance and are spit on when they dare ask for basic human dignity. Why should Mr. brand new Mercedes-Benz pay for Mr. clapped-out 15-year-old Chevy's kid's school breakfast? Hell, a little hunger is a great motivator, don't'cha know? Why should Mr. $2000 Three-Piece Suit pay for Mr. Ripped Up No-Brand K-Mart Wal-Mart Jeans's kid to have glasses so she can see in school, or dental work so she's not in chronic pain, or how about gym equipment and trained teachers and new up-to-date textbooks and -- why go on?

In general, the rich hold the poor in contempt. "They don't try enough," or "They're just lazy" or "They want a hand-out, they don't want to work for what they get."

As if it's not every child's right to good health care and a chance to learn and be healthy and live a good life. Born into the wrong family -- especially if you're brown -- and you, my sons and daughters, are shit outta luck.

At the Forum in downtown Los Angeles, California, USA doctors from all over the world, many of them British, Australian, New Zealander, or even South African, are providing basic care for a brief time for as many as they have time and resources to see. And the lines are long, and orderly, and the need is far greater than they can meet.

Meanwhile, literally across the street, rich and largely white Americans saunter along on easy street with good clothes, clean, healthy teeth, bellies full of healthy food they can afford, heads full of educated reasons why they need not bother giving a shit about those stinky poor folks. It's the same blinders worn by people driving past those endless cattle pens, pig farms, and chicken cages; horrific suffering, torturous fear, disease-ridden death is all ignorable. Why?

Because we want our meat finger-lickin' now, god-damn it, because it's the American way to eat death and pretend it's lip-smackin' good.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rambo Redux

A parable for our times.

So this guy, who hasn't seen his family for the duration of the war, flies home unannounced and rather than disturb anyone, he asks the cab to drop him off at the end of the long dirt road leading to their ranch house. It's very early morning, just beginning to be dawn, as he walks up to the place and he notices several big garbage cans, each five feet high and heavy, standing empty where the pickup workers left them.

He smiles and hefts a couple of the cans and carries them around to the side of the house where they are kept during the week. He makes several trips back and forth. As he finishes this chore he feels a tightening in his chest and has a massive heart attack. He somehow manages to fall into a garbage can and goes unnoticed. Apparently he is then covered by garbage and hauled off to the regional landfill.

The family always wonders what happened to him, and sues the military for lying about having discharged him. His body's never found.

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