The coming Author War

I believe there will be a war between the writers who want agents and traditional publishers to “take care of them” and indie writers who want to control their own careers. — Dean Wesley Smith

I’ve been worried about this for a while now. I’ve noticed people choosing up sides on blogs and Twitter. Folks like Smith, Konrath, Hocking, Barry Eisler and myself on one side, and traditionally published authors like Lilith Saintcrow and Maureen Johnson on the other. One side wants, even needs, publishing to change so we can control our own destinies and write whatever we want. The other side needs publishing to remain the same, or at least stable, because that’s how they feed their families. They’re invested in the status quo.

So far, both sides are getting along, agreeing to disagree. But this tolerance is starting to slip. Debates are getting more heated. But it’s starting to look more and more like familiar political structures, taking on the flavor of unions versus freelancers. I fear that like American politics, the two sides will diverge to the point where they can no longer talk to each other, no longer respect each other’s point of view.

Barry Eisler’s defection to the indie side has shaken a lot of people in traditional publishing. When a New York Times Bestselling author walks away from a half million dollar advance to go indie, it makes indie publishing real. We’re not the lunatic fringe anymore. We’re the competition. The disruptors. The heretics.

Not that it’s all smiles and bunnies in the indie camp, either. There is dissension in the ranks. While some indie authors race to the bottom to sell their books at 99 cents before they lose their competitive price advantage, others decry how 99 cents “devalues” the book as an art form and demand their peers price their books higher, lest readers get too accustomed to paying a buck a book. I suspect this argument will settle out when the 99 centers figure out that they can’t sustain that price, and that their market dries up too fast. But I hope we get it ironed out before traditional publishers, along with the authors that depend on them, mobilize against the threat indie publishing poses.

We interrupt this blog for a reminder from a veteran

As many of you know, I am a veteran. I wore the uniform of the United States Air Force for six years, and did so proudly. While I was not deployed to Iraq in the first Gulf War, I was active duty and I could have been. I joined up knowing we were headed for a conflict with Saddam and his, at the time, fourth largest army in the world. So every year on Memorial Day, I think about the oath I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, and how we’re all doing with that.

My dad and I agree on a lot of things, and we were equally vociferous in our opposition of Bush 43 and his administration’s reckless disregard of the Constitution. But while I think the anti-immigration sentiment that led to Arizona’s unconstitutional “papers, please” law is fundamentally unAmerican, he thinks we need to get rid of all these “illegals” who are wrecking his country. This morning, he sent me this.

This is very interesting and if Arizona can do it, why can’t the rest of America ?
Three cheers for Arizona
The shoe is on the other foot and the Mexicans from the State of Sonora,  Mexico doesn’t like it.   Can you believe the nerve of these people?  It’s almost funny.
The State of Sonora is angry at the influx of Mexicans into Mexico . Nine state legislators from the Mexican State of Sonora traveled to Tucson to complain about Arizona ‘s new employer crackdown on illegals from Mexico .
It seems that many Mexican illegals are returning to their hometowns and the officials in the Sonora state government are ticked off.
A delegation of nine state legislators from Sonora was in Tucson on Tuesday to state that Arizona ‘s new Employer Sanctions Law will have a devastating effect on the Mexican state.
At a news conference, the legislators said that Sonora, – Arizona’s southern neighbor, – made up of mostly small towns, – cannot handle the demand for housing, jobs and schools that it will face as Mexican workers return to their hometowns from the USA without jobs or money.
The Arizona law, which took effect Jan. 1, punishes Arizona employers who knowingly hire individuals without valid legal documents to work in the United States .
Penalties include suspension of, or loss of, their business license.
The Mexican legislators are angry because their own citizens are returning to their hometowns, placing a burden on THEIR state government. ‘How can Arizona pass a law like this?’ asked Mexican Rep Leticia Amparano-Gamez, who represents Nogales .
‘There is not one person living in Sonora who does not have a friend or relative working in Arizona ,’ she said, speaking in Spanish. ‘Mexico is not prepared for this, for the tremendous problems it will face as more and more Mexicans working in Arizona and who were sending money to their families return to their home-towns in Sonora without jobs,’ she said. ‘We are one family, socially and economically,’ she said of the people of Sonora and Arizona .
New Immigration Laws:
1 There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools.
2 All ballots will be in this nation’s language..
3 All government business will be conducted in our language.
4 Non-residents will NOT have the right to vote no matter how long they are here.
5 Non-citizens will NEVER be able to hold political office
6 Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers. No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, or other government assistance programs. Any burden will be deported.
7 Foreigners can invest in this country, but it must be an amount at least equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage.
8 If foreigners come here and buy land… options will be restricted. Certain parcels including waterfront property are reserved for citizens naturally born into this country.
9 Foreigners may have no protests; no demonstrations, no waving of a foreign flag, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. These will lead to deportation.
10 If you do come to this country illegally, you will be actively hunted and when caught, sent to jail until your deportation can be arranged. All assets will be taken from you.
Too strict ?
The above laws are current immigration laws of MEXICO!

My reaction was, “Yeah? So?” I think it kind of proves my point. America is supposed to be better than this. We were founded on the idea that this was THE place, the one place on Earth that anyone could come to for a better life. We were founded on immigration. Even the “native” Americans migrated here from Asia thousands of years ago. The United States of America is supposed to have open, welcoming borders, so that those “huddling masses yearning to breathe free” can get here and start anew. So telling me that Mexico’s immigration laws are far stricter than our own tells me that we’re getting it right. The people complaining that the country is being overrun by Latinos sound just like—and just as stupid and fundamentally unAmerican as—the people who complained we were being overrun by the Italians, or the Chinese, or the Irish.

Note the references to the “nation’s language” in the rules above. America doesn’t have an official language. We don’t. Never have. There was a fierce debate almost 200 years ago whether the official language of the United States should be English… or German, which was spoken in much of Pennsylvania, at the time the largest state. After a long drawn out fight, they agreed that America wouldn’t recognize an official language at all. English is by far the most common, but people who insist that it’s “the” language of the United States don’t know their history. We’re a melting pot. We’re supposed to be. The fact that the ratio of white people to everyone else in America is dropping is what is supposed to happen. (For the record, I’m white.) Now the same people in Arizona are trying to pass a law stating that people born in the United States aren’t citizens if they’re born to undocumented parents, a blatant violation of the 14th amendment.

I carry a copy of the United States Constitution on my iPhone, and refer to it from time to time as a reminder of what this nation is supposed to be about. That we’re supposed to be free from unreasonable search and seizure—which Arizona’s “papers, please” law contradicts—and we’re supposed to be dedicated to making sure the first amendment’s freedom of expression and assembly is sacred.

Phil Plait, of the popular blog Bad Astronomy, gets this.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, where we take time to remember those who have died, and specifically those who have fought and died for the country. In my opinion, they didn’t fight to protect our country, they fought to protect the idea of our country. The principles for which it stands, the ideas and ideals that give people the chance to reach their full potential. That’s what America is supposed to be about, and the framework that provides that chance is the Constitution.

The issue Phil links to is about a Christian high school student objecting to an official school prayer at his graduation ceremony, because the kid knows his Constitution and knows that religion is supposed to be kept separate from government-sponsored organizations like schools. It’s galling how often we forget this, or choose to ignore it.

So today, in honor of the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, read over our Constitution, or at least refamiliarize yourself with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments. These are the founding principles of our Republic, and they are not optional. This is what we fight for, and what so many have died to protect. Respect their sacrifice.

Maybe you should try not lying, then

Republican Congressional hopeful Ari David is livid that Apple has rejected his iPhone app due to “defamatory statements” about his competition, Democrat Henry Waxman.

As you can see not only are none of the statements defamatory, they are all factual.

By denying me this application Apple is now making an in-kind contribution to Henry Waxman by denying his competitor a modern tool for political communication. They are stifling my right to free political speech and they are carrying water for the Obama administration.

Apple Denies Free Political Speech « Yes, But, However!

Let’s take a look at a few of these “factual” statements, though.


SUPPORTED Cap & Trade legislation that would have brought us $7 a gallon gas and as President Obama has stated would make electricity rates “necessarily sky rocket.” (This one is well known considering that Waxman sponsored the bill in the House and President Obama is famous for making the statement about the need under his plan for “skyrocketing” electricity rates).

Now, maybe I’m using a different definition of “fact” than Mister David, but where the hell did that “$7 a gallon gas” thing come from? Is that a fact? No, it’s a prediction, and an obviously cynical, worst-case prediction about one of the potential side effects should Cap&Trade pass.

VOTED AGAINST missile defense funding, which jeopardized the US and Israel (Waxman is famous for voting against missile defense program funding going all the way back to 1983 when Reagan first proposed the SDI system).

SDI was a boondoggle in the 1980s and it’s a boondoggle today. Missile defense has never been successfully tested. So if it doesn’t work, how does defunding it “jeopardize” anyone?

Apple was right to reject this app, and politicians—on either side—need to get used to the idea that the same lies and half-truths they get away with on TV won’t work in this market. Try telling the truth, Ari, and see how far you get.

We offered, you refused

Dear Republicans and/or conservatives,

I don’t know how to break this to you, since you obviously haven’t figured it out yourselves yet, but it’s starting to become a problem. So here it goes.

You lost.

Last November, the American people took a good hard look at where your ideas and policies have taken us, and decided, as they say in showbiz, “to go a different way.” It’s not that we didn’t understand your position, it’s just that, well, we’re just not that into you.

I know it hurts. I know you’re used to throwing your weight around and getting your way. But that’s just not going to happen anymore. Democrats, liberals and other folks you’ve spent the last three decades demonizing are calling the shots now. It’s over.

It didn’t have to be like this. President Obama (gee, I just love saying that) and the rest of the Democratic leadership tried to reach across the aisle. They asked for your input into how we should go about fixing the mess you put us in. We tried, so very hard, to be not bipartisan, but post-partisan. We wanted your help.

What we got instead was a bunch of petulant prima donnas stomping their feet, holding their breath and shouting “NO!” at the top of their lungs at anything and everything. In the greatest crisis most Americans have seen in their lifetimes, Republicans have opted to act like three-year-olds. Well, that’s your call.

But here’s how it’s going to go down. We’re going to fix this country with or without you. We’re going to do what’s necessary, even if it’s not popular. We’re going to raise taxes to pay for necessary infrastructure. We’re going to spend taxpayer money to create jobs. We’re going to negotiate with other countries rather than just waving bombs at them. And we’re going to see if just maybe you create fewer terrorists by building schools than by blowing them up.

And as we do this, you will have no input and no choice. This is entirely your own doing. We asked for your input, and the only thing you offered was the same tired and thoroughly discredited ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. Let me be very clear. Neocon ideology, of prosperity through tax cuts for the rich and peace through belligerent nationalism, is has been proven just as wrong as the flat Earth theory. We don’t believe the sun revolves around the Earth, and we don’t believe in Reaganomics. The extreme version of conservatism espoused by the Republican party has been proven to be wrong. It simply doesn’t work. So we’re not going to do that anymore.

And as long as that’s all you’re willing to bring to the table, you will remain in exile, ignored and irrelevant. If we have to, we’ll start forcing you to actually filibuster the bills you want to force to 60 votes and show the Americans you supposedly represent how you’re trying to hurt them for your own political gain. It’s sad, but it’s your own decision. When you’re willing to act like adults and have a serious discussion about our serious problems, we’ll be here. But we’re not holding our breath.

The paradox of thrift

Really good article explaining how recessions work and why tax cuts and “letting people keep more of their own money” may sound nice, but doesn’t actually help anything.

Now we’ve entered “paradox of thrift” territory. People are saving more. And the increased saving isn’t being cycled back into the economy as new investment. In part, that’s because of problems in the financial system. But in part, it’s because with short-term demand slumping so much, there’s not a lot of worthwhile investing to be doing. The economy needs someone to decide to borrow some money and start a new firm that employs these newly unemployed people. But with the volume of consumption going down so rapidly, nobody’s really in the mood to start a new business. And existing businesses are busy scaling back production, not interested in borrowing money to ramp it up. The result of this is an overall fall in the average level of income. And that means that even with the share of income being saved going up, the actual level of savings can be going down and we can truly end up in the toilet.

The ultimate point of a fiscal stimulus policy is to avoid that toilet scenario. To get money flowing in the economy again, so that savings gets translated into investment which gets translated into jobs which pay salaries which, in turn, are spent and saved in ways that create jobs.

Calm down, Chicken Little

Calm down, liberals. Take a deep breath. I know that trusting your elected officials and being skeptical of the press feels alien and wrong, but times have changed. It’s really okay. Ease down. You’ve blown the transaxle, you’re just grinding metal.

I woke up this morning to a cacophony of Chicken Littling about the possibility that Obama might not roll back the Bush tax cuts! OMG! How could he do such a thing?

Well, if you slow down and read the fine print, he didn’t. Here’s what he actually said.

“Whether that’s done through repeal, or whether that’s done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed, is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.”

So the question here is whether the tax cuts for the wealthy are repealed in 2009 or allowed to expire on their own in 2011. And he’s not saying he won’t repeal them, just that all options are on the table to be considered along with the rest of our economic policy. That doesn’t sound as scary. It actually sounds kind of, you know, rational.

I’ve seen this happen almost daily since the election. The media, and their audience, is so used to everything going to hell sans handbasket that they immediately jump to the worst possible consequence of anything coming out of Washington. But the new guy is such a fundamental change from the smirking chimp currently occupying the Oval Office that this approach doesn’t make sense anymore. I find myself in the distinctly uncomfortable place (no, not the backseat of a Volkswagen) of having to trust the politicians and be skeptical of the press. Because every time I’ve seen this happen, it sounds horrible until I actually read what Obama said and say, “Oh, well, that sounds okay.”

It really does come down to trust. I trust Barack Obama to be smarter than me and do the right thing. I’ve trusted Bush for eight years to be dumber than me and try to screw me over, but that different. I know that Barack Obama knows everything about politics that I know, plus a lot that I don’t know, even stuff, with apologies to Rummy, that I don’t know I don’t know. And I trust him to weigh all of that against itself and make the right call for our long term prosperity and security.

And the key to that is “long term.” Politics is the science (and art) of compromise, and if we want the changes we get in an Obama administration to endure, a simple numeric majority in Congress isn’t enough. We need Republicans who might, even though it looks more dubious with every Sarah Palin photo op, be back in charge someday to have some sense of ownership over these changes.

Think about this like a chess grandmaster, looking several moves ahead. Obama knows that historically, our economy has tanked after every tax cut on the rich and rose after every tax hike on the rich. But he also knows that we’re going to be running a serious deficit for at least most of his first term as we try to spend our way out of this recession (the only proven way to get out of a recession), so the money lost to the Bush tax cuts between 2009 and 2011 is just a factor in the size of the deficit, not the cause of one. So if he extends this potential olive branch to the Republicans (and their super-rich constituents), does that grant some Republicans the political cover they need to step across the aisle and pass universal healthcare or a new New Deal to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure?

So stay calm, trust that Obama has his eye on the big picture, and don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s going to be okay. Rational adults are in charge now, give them room to do their jobs.

The skeptic and the believer

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Obama winning the election, about my writing, why I washed out of NaNoWriMo this year (more on that later), and the passing of one of my favorite authors last week, Michael Crichton. I’m also rereading Jurassic Park, my favorite Crichton novel. And in so doing, I’ve come to realize something. My whole life, I’ve served two masters. Worse, two seemingly mutually exclusive masters.

On the one hand, I’ve always been a skeptic, a questioner. While I understand the historic significance of the United States electing an African-American president, I’m still baffled at the racism that, yes, still exists in the south where I grew up. To me, racism never made sense. I learned at an early age that the amount of melanin in one’s skin is a simple genetic trait, not more significant to the organism overall than eye color or handedness. Discriminating against people for skin color was just as ludicrous to me as saying that blue-eyed people were naturally superior, or than left-handed people were possessed by demons. It was only years later that I found out the latter two assertions had also had their turn, and resulted in millions of deaths. I still think it’s stupid.

I’ve always wanted to know why. Why anything. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is never a good reason to do anything as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always had a scientist’s natural curiosity and determination to find a rational explanation for things, even things that, like racism, aren’t rational. This was, I think, what drew me to Crichton’s books. Looking back over his collected works, including those I fundamentally disagree with like State of Fear, the constant thread that unites nearly everything Crichton produced is a healthy mistrust of science and technology. Not from a luddite perspective, but an awareness that with the wonders of new discovery and technological advancement we must always keep a careful eye out to make sure it’s not accidentally or even deliberately misused. Most of Crichton’s books are about science gone wrong, about modern day Daedaluses and Prometheuses reaching too far or playing with things they didn’t truly understand. I think this is an important theme, especially as our technological pace continues to increase, and I hope someone (even me) picks up where Crichton left off.

But the other reason I was such a big fan of Crichton’s work is that his books also reached out to the edge of science and technology, pushing the boundaries of what we considered possible. and while part of me is a skeptic, the other side of me deeply wants to believe. While I have a scientist’s thirst for rational explanations, I also have a storyteller’s sense of wonder and magic. And so I’m willing to give some things the benefit of the doubt.

Keeping in mind Crichton’s constant warning that we never know as much as we think we do about the natural world, I note that until one century ago, 1908, the gorilla was considered a mythical creature. So is the existence of a fifth species of great ape, one more closely related to humans and fully bipedal, but which avoids us and sticks to the most remote parts of the world so hard to find possible, if not plausible? Tales of rare encounters with these shy creatures are so widespread and consistent that there must be more to them than myth. And, if they are descended from the so-called “missing link” they could fill in an important gap in primate evolution. So with all this mind, I’m inclined to believe these creatures exist more than not, whether you call them Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Yeti.

For similar lines of reasoning, I’m also open to the existence or continued survival of Mokèlé-mbèmbé (what sounds like an apatosaur deep in the Congo rainforest where no human but pygmies has ever gone), megalodon (a 60-100 foot ancestor of the great white shark that I think might be no more extinct than the coelacanth) and other things that “rational” people dismiss as imaginary. Because we don’t know. We can never know everything.

So as I bid farewell to Michael Crichton, I’m going to keep both the sense of discovery and wonder he brought me over the years, and the warning skepticism behind his books. And I thank him for helping to shape the reader, writer and thinker I am today.