Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

DROP DEAD PUNK named Finalist in Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards

March 7, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DROP DEAD PUNK named Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalist

SEATTLE — Today, Camel Press is pleased to announce DROP DEAD PUNK has been recognized as a finalist in the 18th annual Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. Here is the complete list:

https://indiefab.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2015/

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd. In the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

“The 2015 INDIEFAB finalist selection process is as inspiring as it is rigorous,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher of Foreword Reviews. “The strength of this list of finalists is further proof that small, independent publishers are taking their rightful place as the new driving force of the entire publishing industry.”

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida in June. We will also name the Editor’s Choice Prize 2015 for Fiction, Nonfiction and Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Publisher of the Year Award during the presentation.

About us: Based in Seattle Washington, Camel Press is an imprint of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc. We publish genre fiction: romance, mystery/suspense, science fiction, and fantasy—the books that grab you and hold you in their grip long into the night.

About Foreword: Foreword Magazine, Inc is a media company featuring a Folio:-award-winning quarterly print magazine, Foreword Reviews, and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, it features reviews of the best 170 new titles from independent publishers, university presses, and noteworthy self-published authors. Its website features daily updates: reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists, and bloggers. The print magazine is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription. The company is headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.

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LAST WORDS wins Bronze Medal for mystery/thriller ebook in IPPYs

 

Last Words tied for the Bronze Medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the IPPYs, the awards given by Independent Publisher. Here’s the release:

(May 6, 2015 – Traverse City, MI) – The world of book publishing keeps changing, as technological progress brings instant access to news, knowledge and entertainment. All of this information overload can make us yearn for the old-school technology of the book — but how to find the best new reads? The 19th annual “IPPY” Awards will spotlight the year’s best independently published books at a gala celebration on May 27th during the annual BookExpo America publishing convention in New York.

Gold, silver and bronze IPPY medals will be awarded in 78 national, 24 regional, and ten e-book categories, chosen from nearly 6,000 entries from authors and publishers in all 50 U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, and 34 countries overseas. The winners make up a reading list that is extensive and diverse, featuring new voices and viewpoints passionately expressed through soulful memoirs, insightful self-help books, and penetrating critiques of our social and political systems.

National category winners include breath-taking photographs from around the world, such as those of gold medalist Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe (Earth Aware Editions); delicious recipes from cherished neighborhood restaurants like the ones in cookbook gold medalist Backstreet Kitchen, by Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega (Inwood Publishing); and charming drawings used to tell an intimate life story in Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir (Zest Books), by Liz Prince.

The Regional categories highlight books from all over the U.S., Canada, Australia, and for the first time this year, Europe. The inaugural non-fiction gold medalist is The Glow of Paris: The Bridges of Paris at Night (Marcorp Editions), a dreamy new take on the 35 bridges that span the Seine, all photographed at night. Gary Zuercher, an American businessman, pilot and commercial photographer whose wife is French, spent five years on the project.

E-books are the new frontier of publishing, and the gold medal-winner in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror category is Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus (East India Press), a refreshing take on cyberpunk that calls to mind sci-fi greats with a thoughtful allegorical streak. In another pioneering effort, one of this year’s Outstanding Books of the Year, Super Power Baby Project (Evie’s Book Club) portrays toddlers suffering from genetic disabilities and malformations — in exquisitely photographed settings and poses that bring forth all their beauty and joy of life.

Congratulations to all the medalists for their independent spirit and dedication to excellence in an always-changing world of publishing and bookselling. See the complete results listing at http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=1936

The Independent Publisher Awards are presented by IndependentPublisher.com, “THE Voice of Independent Publishing,” operated by publishing services firm, Jenkins Group of Traverse City, Michigan.
For more details about the IPPY Awards, please contact:

Jim Barnes, Managing Editor & Awards Director
IndependentPublisher.com / Jenkins Group

Ph: 1.800.644.0133 x 1011 / JimB@BookPublishing.com

Camel Press announces release details for DROP DEAD PUNK

My publisher has put out the release on Drop Dead Punk. Here it is:

Seattle, WA—On August 15, 2015, Camel Press will release Drop Dead Punk ($14.95, 254 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-209-2), by Rich Zahradnik, book two of a mystery/suspense series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor and set on the mean streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs in 1975. As New York City teeters on the edge of financial ruin, Taylor falls for a policewoman who is a key player in a crime story he is investigating.

The first book in the series, Last Words, was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2014 Book of the Year Contest. It was enthusiastically received by the critics:

drop_dead_punk_300“A fast-paced, deeply entertaining and engrossing novel. Last Words is the first book in a mystery series featuring the intrepid investigative reporter. Readers will be glad these aren’t the last words from this talented author.” —Robin Farrell Edmunds, ForeWord Magazine

“Mr. Zahradnik did a great job portraying the color and culture of the time. If you want to read about a slice of New York history during the 1970s then you’d probably enjoy this mystery for that reason alone. It’s fast paced and the dialogue is natural sounding and I felt true to that era.” —Long and Short Reviews

Coleridge Taylor is searching for his next scoop on the police beat. The Messenger-Telegram reporter has a lot to choose from on the crime-ridden streets of New York City in 1975. One story outside his beat is grabbing all the front page glory: New York teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford just told the city, as the Daily News so aptly puts it, “Drop Dead.” Taylor’s situation is nearly as desperate. His home is a borrowed dry-docked houseboat, his newspaper may also be on the way out, and his drunk father keeps getting arrested.

A source sends Taylor down to Alphabet City, hang-out of the punks who gravitate to the rock club CBGB. There he finds the bloody fallout from a mugging. Two dead bodies: a punk named Johnny Mort and a cop named Robert Dodd. Each looks too messed up to have killed the other. Taylor starts asking around. The punk was a good kid, the peace-loving guardian angel of the neighborhood’s stray dogs. What led him to mug a woman at gunpoint? And why is Officer Samantha Callahan being accused of leaving her partner to die, even though she insists the police radio misled her? It’s hard enough being a female in the NYPD only five years after women were assigned to patrol. Now the department wants to throw her to the wolves. That’s not going to happen, not if Taylor can help it. As he falls for Samantha—a beautiful, dedicated second-generation cop—he realizes he’s too close to his story. Officer Callahan is a target, and Taylor’s standing between her and some mighty big guns.

Says Zahradnik, “When I wrote the first Coleridge Taylor novel, I touched on the pending New York City financial crisis. I wanted to set the next book during the critical weeks when the city almost collapsed—a period kicked off with the now famous Daily News headline ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead.’ Taylor being Taylor, he remains obsessively focused on his next crime story, a double murder with one of the victims a cop. He thinks the city will survive no matter what. Eventually he realizes the financial disaster could impact him in a big and personal way. It may even be wound up in the crime he’s trying to solve. Sometimes not even journalists are aware of the historical importance of events as they unfold. The release of Drop Dead Punk coincides with the 40th anniversary of the financial crisis—a good time to remind the public how close NYC came to disaster and how badly it had deteriorated at that time.”

Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches elementary school kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, go to www.richzahradnik.com.

Drop Dead Punk is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. After August 15th, it will also be for sale in both eBook and 5×8 trade paperback editions on BN.com, the European Amazons, Amazon Japan and select independent bookstores. Bookstores and libraries will be able to order wholesale through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners West, or by contacting info@camelpress.com. Libraries can also order from Brodart Company. Other electronic versions will be available on Smashwords, BN.com, or at any of the major online eBook stores.

 

ABOUT Camel Press—Based in Seattle Washington, Camel Press is an imprint of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc. We publish genre fiction: romance, mystery/suspense, science fiction, and fantasy—the books that grab you and hold you in their grip long into the night.

– END –

An interview with William Gibson travels through time from 1994

Neuromancer_coverThis is a story of data traveling through time, which is appropriate, since it’s about William Gibson, the man who turned data into a place, a space—cyberspace.

In 1985, I was 25 years old and had given up what I thought childish things. Specifically, science fiction. I’d read SF from childhood through my teens and young adulthood, and I’d come to the conclusion that Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov and the other giants had shown me the mountain tops. The new writers coming along wouldn’t take me anywhere really new. (This was presumptuous and false, but that’s where I was at.) I was also in the middle of my march to greatness as a reporter (another false assumption) and my reading time was filled with tons of journalism.

I worked in the New York bureau of The Hollywood Reporter, which was located on the 19th floor of the Paramount Building in Times Square. Our seedy offices could easily have doubled as the place of business of a $50-a-day-plus-expenses PI. One day in ’85, one of the co-founders of Cabana Boy Productions came into those offices to pitch a story. He was literally a cabana boy, or had been, to a rich Long Island dentist and his wife. The wife and the cabana boy had gone into the film business together with the dentist’s money and optioned Neuromancer by William Gibson. He gave me a copy of the book, which, having banned myself to ignorance, I didn’t know about. It had won all three of the top prizes in science fiction for first-time novelist Gibson. I decided maybe it was time to check out science fiction again. I was transported by the story in a way I hadn’t been since my teens. I gave up being snooty, bought each book Gibson put out and his and science fiction by other authors returned to my reading mix.

The impact of Neuromancer is hard to calculate. It changed science fiction. The movies. The cultural view of the digital world. As the book celebrated its 30th anniversary of publication last year, many have tried, some in essays better than I would be able to write. Gibson coined the term cyberspace, but more importantly defined the idea as a “consensual hallucination” where “console cowboys” (aka hackers) jack in and swoop through data arcologies, glowing, neon landscapes of information and power. He did this when the Internet was still nothing more than an email protocol used by the Defense Department. Many programmers admit they read the book and then spent all their time trying to make Gibson’s fiction a reality, ignoring the irony that his world is a dystopia, albeit a very cool, action-packed one. Hollywood got in on it too. “Matrix” owes everything to Gibson. It’s not the only film.

Fast forward nine years forward from 1985. I’m living in London. I score a magazine interview with Gibson, who’s promoting his latest novel, Virtual Light. I spend a great afternoon asking about the book that brought me back to science fiction. I turn the piece in. And the magazine spikes it. They’d decided to go in the dreaded a different direction that month.

Fast fast forward again—21 more years. I’m plowing through files on my computer. I’ll admit I’m obsessively organized, but I’m not a hoarder. When I get a new computer, I only move over the stuff I really need to keep. Over those 21 years, I’d moved the William Gibson feature from computer to computer so I now found a Microsoft Word icon so weirdly out of date and odd looking, it was like a fossil from, in Gibsonian terms, an earlier data arcology. I couldn’t even get Word to convert it until the most recent edition of the program came out.

I’m going to publish the feature here, not changing anything from that final 1994 version, so it might have the full impact of a story that traveled that far in time. Some things may be out of date. But none of Gibson’s observations are. Read as he invents Google Glass for Google before there was a Google.

In parting, a note if you need further proof of Gibson’s lasting contribution to the culture: the current issue of The New York Review of Books reviews Gibson’s newest book, The Peripheral. That publication reviews science fiction books about as often as I read any of the other books they cover.

My 1994 feature story:

William Gibson ushered us into the small mirrored elevator to go up to his room in the Franklin Hotel. The doors didn’t shut. After a few seconds, Gibson reached down and pushed one of the buttons on the control panel. The elevator’s doors stayed open. Gibson pushed the button again.

“Maybe there’s too much weight in here,” he said. There were three of us in the elevator, none of us that fat. And the doors still weren’t closing.

He pushed the button again. It was then that I realized I was going to have to tell one of science fiction’s reigning geniuses, the man who invented a future world of cyberspace cowboys and globe-spanning digital data nets, that the reason nothing was happening was because he was repeatedly pushing the wrong button. I pointed out the “door close” button was the other one, the one with the little sign — icon even — for two elevator doors coming together. The doors slid shut and we were on our way.

William Gibson defined the new wave in science fiction — nicknamed cyberpunk — with his first novel Neuromancer back in 1984. The nickname may have lost its edge now that its even being used by Billy Idol as the title for his newest album, but the ideas haven’t. In Neuromancer and the two novels that followed, data junkies “jack into the net,” a three-dimensional world where information is represented by glowing structures, shapes and pathways. Console cowboys hurdle through cyberspace, hacking their way in and out of corporate databases. If you watched the film “Lawnmower Man,” you saw a glimpse of the cyberspace Gibson writes about, even conceived. In his world, giant multinationals kill for the right bits of data, female assassins sport retractable razor claws and folks regularly stick chips into slots in the back of their heads to learn a language, or just get high. Gibson’s books are about social collapse, physical mutilation and techno overdrive.

He’s provided another look at that world with his new novel Virtual Light. It tells a story of the near future — nearer than the earlier three books — that is at once more human and more realistic than his earlier work. But the elevator episode should really come as no surprise to those who’ve followed his career: Gibson is concerned with the technology that may come, rather than the technology that is. He doesn’t use electronic mail or trawl the pathways of existing computer nets. He only started working on a computer when he was in the middle of his third novel — up until then he wrote on an ancient Swiss-made typewriter.

“I don’t know, I think I would get squashed by the incoming e-mail, or the time I’d spend just flipping through it to try to see if there was anything there, ” Gibson says. “I have to sit in front of this computer all day. The last thing I need is to be connected to this network.” But he likes what the networks represent. “Basically, people are kind of doing this cracker barrel routine. They are just sitting around chewing the fat. It’s incredible. These guys in Texas are chewing the fat with people in Helsinki and Moscow simultaneously. That’s very appealing. But I just think I don’t have the time. Maybe when I’m older, when I retire, and when the interface technology is infinitely more elegant.”

The author who first described much of what today’s virtual reality pioneers are still trying to invent has only used a VR rig once. For a half hour. But Gibson has strong views on where VR is headed. The helmet-and-gloves set-ups in use today are already antiques, he says. “My real hunch on VR is that all of those gloves and goggles — and all of that stuff the Sunday magazines all over the world have been telling us is the VR for so long — it’s started to look old-fashioned, started to look kinda quaint. That stuff is going to be like all of those wonderful Victorian gizmos that immediately preceded cinema. I think the drawings of pretty girls in goggles and gloves are going to go right into the kitsch classic category of sci-fi future imagery. And what we actually get as virtual reality is something much spacier.”

Something perhaps like the Dream Walls described in Virtual Light. These let people sculpt 3-D holographic images that they can see and others can look at from different angles, without the aid of helmets or goggles. Or if we do have to wear anything, it won’t be a helmet, but the pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that the characters in Virtual Light are killing each other to possess. In the novel, the glasses can pump “virtual light” directly into the brain via the optic nerve. One scientist Gibson’s read up on claims such a device would let us see the real world and things that aren’t real at all, side-by-side. Hallucinations would become reality. “So that everybody can walk around in the environment with the glasses on,” explains Gibson, “basically in Tune Town. You’d be walking around with Bugs Bunny and Jessica Rabbit and all these characters. We’d all be wearing the glasses, and we’d all see the characters from our perspective. And we’d all be seeing them do the same thing.”

Now that he’s written about it, someone will probably try to invent it. The odd — even scary — thing about Gibson’s writing is that his biggest fans want to create the dystopian worlds he describes — something akin to lovers of George Orwell forming a political party to get Big Brother elected.

“It baffles me,” Gibson says. “I spend a lot of time in interviews with people like that, trying to disabuse them of this tendency. It’s just baffling; I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people who read — I don’t know if it’s people who read science fiction or people who just have a particular interest — are completely deaf to metaphors and irony. They just don’t know what that is!… There are lots of people in the United States who just don’t get irony; irony just doesn’t register.”

Or maybe Gibson made it hip to be square, and readers identify with that. Matt ffytche, writing in The Modern Review, said, “The real breakthrough of cyberpunk writers such as William Gibson was in meshing street talk with electronics jargon to produce an inconceivably hip image for computer buffs, In reality, the closest any of its readers get to inhabiting electronic space is a fractal T-shirt.”

Gibson laughs, calling the comment “cruel, cruel,” then adds, “There’s something there, yeah. I don’t necessarily agree that was the real achievement. It was a breakthrough to some of these guys to realize that, they too, could wear a leather jacket.” Then he points to Case, the drug-addicted console cowboy in Neuromancer. “I wouldn’t want to run into Case. He’s a sociopath. He’s so badly addicted that his pancreas is going to fall out in the next 15 minutes. I thought I’d made it abundantly clear that this guy’s relationship with cyberspace was pretty problematic.”

Addicted sociopaths don’t come to mind sitting in Gibson’s small hotel room in South Kensington. High tech it isn’t. He is silhouetted against the window, behind him Victorian red brick houses across the street and in the nearer-distance the hotel’s Union Jack hanging from a flag pole bolted to the outside wall below the room’s window. He looks the author in beige chinos, a dark Levis jacket and trademark small round glasses. He’s almost professorial in demeanor, spinning tales in his quiet Virginia accent.

The whole look seems out-of-place when the conversation turns to new-tech weapons of personal destruction. Like any Gibson novel, Virtual Light is a thriller as well as a glimpse into the future. The story is punctuated with high-impact gun battles whose realism is assured by Gibson’s diligent weapons research. His approach is take what is possible now, set in the future and then try to scare us with it.

Berry Rydell, the ex-cop and sometime security guard who is Virtual Light’s protagonist, drives a Hotspur Hussar, patrolling the Los Angeles neighborhoods that can afford private policing. The vehicle may seem incredible, advises Gibson, but it “is what the British troops in Northern Ireland toddle around in. It’s an exact model, with the electrified bumper. That’s just taken from a book on riot control technology, as is the Israeli gun that fires recycled cubes of rubber tyre.”

In the novel, the latter is aptly called a chunker. And the ultra deadly handguns in Virtual Light are simply the next generation of military small arms, again all researched by Gibson out of catalogs and magazines. “The bullets — some of them are square — they’re not even bullets. They look like wax, hard wax crayons, that project over the side of this solid piece of explosive — a thing like a nail, like a machine gun firing these huge nails. The projectiles just pour out of one of those things like a stream of water. You could cut cars in half just like — whoosh!” he finishes with emphasis.

Gibson’s crackling mix of weapons, weird tech, next-century street talk and computer warriors would seem ready-made for Hollywood moguls looking to make the next “Terminator II” or “Total Recall.” Yet so far, a Gibson story has yet to make it to the screen. That will all change soon because a British production company has shot a short film based on Gibson’s story “The Gernsback Continuum.” Channel 4 will broadcast it.

Gibson has just seen a screening of the short while on his visit to London, and he’s pleased with the film, pleased as a kid on Christmas morning. “It’s a hip thing. They did a wonderful adaptation for the story. It’s almost entirely my writing, which is an incredible kick, and I didn’t even have to write the screenplay. The other bits are dialogue which are taken straight from the story.”

The first Gibson story to hit cinema screens will probably be an adaptation of his short story Johnny Mnemonic. He has written the screenplay and one star has already been signed. It’s set in a world without guns. One guy — a gangster — has the last .357 magnum, and that’s locked away in a vault. “All the other combat sequences are executed with this variety of spring-loaded, compressed air weapons.”

The so-called Sprawl trilogy of books that made Gibson famous — Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive — are all optioned out to different Hollywood companies. None seems near getting in front of the cameras. Abel Ferrara, who directed The “Bad Lieutenant” and a new version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” is developing another Gibson story, “New Rose Hotel,” as a feature.

Gibson has had a mixed experience with the movie business so far. He took a year and a half off from novels to write screenplay adaptations of some of his own stories. He was also one of many to get a crack at the script for Alien3, a film whose development and production was more tortured than its hero Ripley. A dozen or so writers worked on the script before shooting started. In the end, Gibson was turned off by the Hollywood approach: five or six people telling him what to do, so he ends up writing something no one’s really happy with.

Gibson’s own tv viewing — he subscribes to cable in Canada — is an eclectic mix of Canadian broadcasts, the BBC World Service and a daily dose of news, Japanese-style. He catches a newscast from Tokyo, in English, every morning at 11 am. “You see what happened that day in Tokyo, all the crime stuff, and everything. You kinda get inside what’s going on.” The Canadian version of MTV, called Much Music, brings him videos, including the Québécois pop music of French Canada, a genre he heartily endorses.

“Have you seen Québécois videos?” he asks. “They really ought to show them here — maybe they could show them here with different music. They’re kind of like the tabloid girls gone to video. They’re ridiculously up-front, super-soft porno, set to often totally wacky Québécois music that sort of sounds like Eurovision song contest stuff in French.”

The show that’s most affected the new novel is Cops, the grit and edge reality program that video tapes the activities of American policemen. The show’s view of cops doing a tough job helped Gibson create the character of Berry Rydell. The book even contains a futuristic version of the show called Cops in Trouble.

“I got a sense that the show gives a different, a kind of funky, down-to-earth sense of police procedure,” Gibson says. “It’s these poor crazy guys having to go out — guys with a bad job. I can’t imagine that it’s entirely honest, because they are invariably presented in quite a positive light. But it’s very hard to watch without gaining some sort of image of people who are doing just an ugly job that has to be done.”

And in the future of William Gibson’s imagination, ugly is just the beginning.

LAST WORDS is a finalist in INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards

Last Words was named a finalist in the mystery category of the 17th annual Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards on March 12. Here is the complete list of finalists.

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd.

In the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

“After 17 years, our awards program has become synonymous with quality because our editors set such a high bar on the finalist round, which makes it especially tough for the judges who select the winners,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher of Foreword Reviews. “In every genre, our judges will find an interesting, high-quality selection of books culled from this year’s entries.

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco on June 26.

You can read Foreword’s review of Last Words here.

Foreword Magazine Inc. is media company featuring quarterly print magazine Foreword Reviews and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, it features reviews of the best 160 new titles from independent publishers, university presses and noteworthy self-published authors. The website features reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists and bloggers.

‘2001,’ ‘Interstellar’ and Howard Johnson

1968HowardJohnson2001-01Collisions that happen in my mind: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Interstellar” and Howard Johnson. Okay, the first two are obvious for the way the first movie informed the second. (How many “2001” references did you count in “Interstellar”?)

But Howard Johnson?

Easily explained. I happen to be working on scenes in my work-in-progress set in the HoJo that once operated in the heart of Times Square. In researching colors and menus and other details, I came across a wonderful blog Dreams of Space —Books and Ephemera. That blog features what I’ve pictured here, a free comic book telling the story of “2001.” Given out by HoJo as the children’s menu! Howard Johnson received a brief product placement in the movie itself. Still, I’d love to meet the person who convinced perfectionist Stanley Kubrik to sign up for the HoJo comic book children’s menu. Here’s two other pages:
1968HowardJohnson2001-061968-2001Howard02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book to the future: what’s to come for readers and writers

Most everything I read about the future of the book takes on the didactic nature of all online debate. Amazon good. Amazon bad. Self publishing good. Self publishing bad. Big 5 good. Big 5 bad. You’re wrong. You are. Shut up. No you.

As counter to that, The Economist published a brilliant essay a week ago, “From Papyrus to Pixels: An Essay on the Future of the Book.” The Economist doesn’t fear complexity, but that doesn’t mean it fails to produce clarity. The essay starts by taking one book, Cicero’s de Officiis (On Duties), from the papyrus scroll to codex to illuminated manuscript to books printed on the Gutenberg press to the book technologies we know now, right up through to the ebook. It does that in just the first few paragraphs to make a point.

Technology always has an impact, the magazine admits. Gutenberg died almost penniless.

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes in cased in dead cow,” as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.

It wouldn’t be right to quote too much from the essay. People need to read it, rather than having the usual binary debates I described in my first paragraph. Anyway, I honestly can’t do the piece justice here, particularly as it examines self-publishing, digital, Amazon and shifting publication technologies. Once upon a time blogs (weblogs) were supposed to point you to articles and pages worth reading. This is one of those times. If you care about reading, if you care about writing, if you care about books, read this essay.

The Economist does a nice little trick with the online version by letting you listen to it or read it like a scroll or a book (with virtual pages flipping), so experiencing three different book technologies. The magazine always finds the best people to quote. Take this from Niccolo Perotti on certain scourges of publishing, “Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would be best forgotten, or better still, be erased from all books.” Perotti was a humanist scholar complaining to a friend. In 1471.

The chapters of the essay give you a feel for where this essay will take you:

  • Chapter I: In which something old and powerful is encountered in a vault
  • Chapter II: In which deaths foretold do not unfold
  • Chapter III: In which new sorts of author meet new sorts of reader
  • Chapter IV: In which standards are always in steep decline, and life gets ever better
  • Chapter V: In which ideas from the past move on into the future

You don’t, on the other hand, need to give much attention to another thinking person’s magazine, New Republic, as it takes on one piece of the debate over the future of the book with a tabloidy cover story by editor Franklin Foer headlined “Amazon Must Be Stopped.” Foer wants the anti-trust laws to be twisted around somehow to stop Amazon from being big, even though it hasn’t tripped any of the actual rules that I know of. The key damage to the economy that Foer can find will be the loss of publishing advances to writers. “This upfront money is the economic pillar on which quality books rest, the great bulwark against dilettantism. Advances make it financially viable for a writer to commit years of work to a project.”

Like 95 percent or more of authors, I’ve not benefited from this mighty pillar. Nor am I a dilettante. Sounds more like Foer is.

I do have a conflict of interest in this discussion. As a debut author writing for a smaller publisher, I can’t bite the hand that might squash me, so everything I write about Amazon might be seen as suspect. So maybe you should read the article yourself to see if Foer makes a real case.

I’ll finish with novelist Anthony Horowitz quoted on Amazon in the better Economist piece: “They really are evil bastards. I loathe them. I fear them. And I use them all the time because they’re wonderful.”

At the crossroads of America

The crossroads of America is right outside my Super 8 room in Ticonderoga. The Walmart in the rear is in full view of the window. Catty-corner across the intersection are the remains of a grocery store the Walmart must have cratered. McDonald’s, at Walmart’s entrance, advertises the kinds of job America is being built on these days. “Closing shifts, 8p – 1a, $6 an hour.”

There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in a faux Colonial house-type building with faux chimney. Subway, the great bottom feeder of American retail, is in a building that definitely looks like it was something else before. Nearby are boarded up, run down and creepy, Pyscho looking motels of the old school. You know, the kind with an office at one end and a line of rooms—each with door, window, small bit of porch. At one of these, the weeds and vines grow up and around the motel section as two kids play in the grass in front. Looks like a family is living in the office part.

My favorite place is the 24/7 massive mini—so not really mini—mart and gas station across the street from the Super 8. I get all the candy, beef jerky, iced tea and other provisions I need to work. What work am I doing here?

In the mornings, I’m writing work-in-progress DROP DEAD PUNK, the second in the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series. In the afternoons, I shuttle the Boy Scouts of mighty Pelham Troop 1 to activities the troop does away from the camp. They need the dads to provide transport for some 40 or so scouts, so I turned this into a one-week writer’s retreat. Things are pretty productive here at the crossroads of America. I complete four chapters in one week, an all-time writing record for me. I get real motivation from having to finish a certain amount if I want to participate in the scout activities.

The second day I didn’t get to kayak, sitting instead at a picnic table at base camp banging away at the word count. That was motivation the following two days. I really wanted to attend the rodeo and go white water rafting.

This crossroads, symbolic as it seems of the recession the country’s been through, is appropriate to one of the themes in the book, which is set during the October and November days of 1975 when New York City almost went bankrupt and nearly dragged the country—and perhaps the world—into something far worse than what was already a bad recession. The only difference is other trusted institutions dragged us into this one.