Monthly Archives: August 2014

A tale of two reads – VIRGIN by F. Paul Wilson and LAMB by Christopher Moore

I recently came across LAMB by Christopher Moore in a bookstore in Michigan, and, well...I bought it.  Again.  I'd lent my copy out and it lost its way home.  I've read it before; it was my introduction to Moore's work and I went on to read several more of his titles.  I have liked them all but LAMB remains my favorite. I also bought a "boxed set" collection of ebooks (6 for $0.99) and the first one in that set was F. Paul Wilson's VIRGIN.  Wilson is another of my favorite authors; his Repairman Jack saga gave me a lot of exciting reading pleasure.  After reading it, I found out that it was an early work written under a pen name. The reason I'm writing about both of these is because I read them back-to-back, and both deal with biblical themes.  VIRGIN is sort of DAVINCI CODE meeting grave robbers.  Due to a series of "chance" happenings, an ancient cave is opened up in the deserts in or near Israel, and an ancient scroll is stolen.  When the scroll turns up in the United States, it is determined to be a fake - the ink is only 12 years old, even if the papyrus is 2000 years old. But the truth of what it says cannot be hidden, apparently, and a priest and a nun go off in search of a religious treasure - the body of Mary, mother of Jesus.  And when they find her, things go off the rails.  It was a fun story that got a little preachy at the end, even if some of the preachiness felt...well - right! - in today's world.  Seems the remains of Mary have a lot of power over people, and they signal a second coming... LAMB is a very funny take on the life of Christ, told by his childhood pal and BFF Levi, who is known as Biff.  Biff takes us through the time of Joshua's (Jesus') childhood, how they come to be aquainted with Mary Magdalene, and what they do for those years between age 13 and 30 (or so).  (Hint:  It involves those Eastern wise men who came to seek out Joshua when he was born.)  Josh stays pure and on point and in character (for the most part), though he is also a normal kid in many ways.  But Biff is totally a normal kid, a lot like kids of today - interested in girls and...well, girls.  Biff is totally devoted to Josh, and travels with him as a sort of protector and someone who is able to deal with the world as it presents itself to them, on the world's terms. Turns out Biff checked out before getting to the end of the story, and is brought back to life by the angel Raziel to tell the story that only he can tell. I may have found it funnier because, as a Catholic, I got the references.  A lot of bits in this book made me laugh out loud, and parts of this story were touching enough to bring a tear to the eye.  In some ways I wish this wasn't fiction. So while both stories get thumbs up from me, LAMB gets the far stronger thumbs-up.  I loved it.  I liked VIRGIN too, but not nearly as much as LAMB.  And now I'm done with reading religious themed books - until I find another, that is.  Or until I decide that a reread of LAMB is in order. *****

Yes, I like physical books!

I guess I'm one of those few remaining readers who actually like to have a physical copy of a book.  So now I'm gonna get all mystical on you and give you a couple of reasons why I like them.  And maybe a couple of things that people mention that they like about them that I don't really care about. First, I don't care about the smell.  Book paper does, somehow, have a different odor than, say, a ream of copy paper from Office Max, but I have never grabbed a book and just held it to my nose and basked in the glory of the scent of the book.  Nope, smell doesn't do it for me. Second, I don't care about taking notes in the margins.  Of course, I can do that easily on my Kindle.  But I was never one to take a pencil or pen to a book.  A lot of my books look as good after I read them as they did when I first brought them home from the hospital...er, ah, the bookstore.  (Sorry, got books and babies confused for a second there.) Now what I do like about them.  I like the way they look on the shelf.  I have a room in the basement, and I have far more books than I have shelf space.  But the shelving I have...well, I really like the way that all of the Stephen King books look when I line them up.  I like the way my Kellerman books look.  My Asimovs and Cards and my Evanovichs and my Connellys and Wilsons and Cobens and Crais's and Whites and Graftons and Clancys and Deavers and...well, you get the picture.  They're colorful and they just look elegant, to me at least. I also like browsing in that room for books.  There's something about being surrounded by books that gives me a warm feeling.  (Some readers probably know the feeling; it is the same feeling you get at the bookstore or the library...except with prettier books (no clear plastic dustcovers) and all books that I love or have loved at some point in my life.)   Even searching through a box of paperbacks brings back memories as I come across forgotten books that I had a passionate fling with...oops, now I'm getting books mixed up with girlfriends... I also like that I can resell them, easily lend them, donate them, and otherwise share them more easily (sometimes, the exception being sharing with my kids) than I can with an ebook.  I feel like I have an asset.  Like my 1969-1973 baseball cards, they don't cost me anything sitting there, and they could return at least a few pennies.  I consider the dollars spent to be money I spent on the story.  Having the physical book is pure value in my view. I like ebooks, too.  I publish ebooks.  I buy a lot of authors' ebooks, especially independent authors.  I certainly spend more on them today than I do on physical books, in part because they're so easy to read and obtain and in part because I don't have any more space for physical books (my kids are contributing to the p-book collection now, so even though we don't have room, we continue to build the collection).  I love the fact that I can cart my Kindle to a park or a restaurant (yes, when I get out of the office for lunch once a week, I take the Kindle and part of the attraction of going out is that I get an hour to read in peace).  I love the fact that I can store hundreds of books on that device, and pick and choose what I feel like reading. For example, I just finished two books by author Sean Hayden (one was a collection of short fiction with Jen Wylie, the other was a short novella called LADY DORN), and didn't know what to read before starting Bobby Adair's fifth SLOW BURN book, and I decided to read something that was on my Kindle for a long time.  I found a book by Jon Jacks called WYRD GIRL, and it was a wyrd (weird) story that I didn't love but I didn't hate either.  It was a quick read and I was glad to clear it from the queue.  With a physical book, I probably wouldn't have done that. But I still love physical books.  I like the way they look.  I like the feeling of them when I'm reading.  Even so, I have enough of them to last me many years.  Ebooks are about the story, and while p-books are about more than that (at least for me), the story is what I really love. *****

Amazon vs Hachette again?

It seems every other article on The Passive Voice and on Joe Konrath's blog (okay, it's every article on Konrath's blog) is about the Amazon/Hachette dispute.  Most of them center on the 900 or so successful authors who signed Douglas Preston's letter (I'm not bothering to link to it; it will be easy enough to find from TPV or Konrath's blog if you want to find it) and their accusations against Amazon, who they feel is holding their books hostage, and therefore costing them money.  How it's costing them money, I don't know.  You can still order their ebooks at the click of a button, and you can still order their physical books as well - apparently their pre-order buttons are gone and so people aren't able to buy their books before they're out and then they don't get listed as highly on the NY Times bestseller list the day their book is released and... Well, you sort of get the idea.  They're complaining about the fact that the dispute between their publisher and Amazon is costing their publisher sales - presumably sales that will be held against them in the future, since they've pretty much already been paid for their books with their seven figure advances.  I mean, Stephen King is a very rich man.  If he never wrote another book, he'd still be a rich man.  If his SON never wrote (or sold) another book, his SON would be a rich man, simply by inheriting his father's estate (or a third of it).  Is King Koch Brothers-rich?  Probably not, but he's so much wealthier than the rest of humanity, he certainly falls into that 1%. But that's neither here nor there.  The hard fact is that most people who write a book will NEVER be published by a large publisher.  Most will never be published by a publisher of any size...unless said publisher is themselves.  Who has made it possible for anyone with a book to get it published?  Amazon.  I suppose you can give some credit to iBooks/Apple, Kobo and Sony, and even to Barnes and Noble's Nook.  But Amazon's the big fish in this pond. So Amazon's publishing anyone and everyone...right?  No, not right.  The writers are publishing themselves.  Amazon (and B&N and the others) are distributing their works.  They are making it possible for a writer to reach readers.  In some cases, like mine, it might be only a couple of readers with each book.  In other cases, it's hundreds, maybe even thousands.  In still other cases (we're all looking at you, Mr. Hugh Howey), they sell enough to basically get rich.  Cool, huh? Well, I suppose it isn't cool if you're Stephen King, or James Patterson, or Douglas Preston.  If you're those guys, you want the club to remain closed to new members.  Only those approved by ... by who? ... can get in.  Meanwhile, every dollar spent on a Scott Dyson (or an Edward J. Robertson, or a Steven M. Moore, or a Bobby Adair, or a D.J. Gelner, or a J.M. Ney-Grimm, or a Lindsay Buroker (I'll stop there) is a dollar not spent on a book by King, or Patterson, or Preston.  Maybe, instead of buying books by all three of those guys, and supplementing the purchases with more purchases by Coben and Evanovich and Child and Connelly and..., this buyer only buys two of those authors' new books. Plus, we write trash, swill, whatever.  We must write swill, because no agent or editor at a big publishing house, ever got to look at our work, and no one could tell us that we sucked.  Except the reader.  The readers can tell us we suck.  And apparently they do, in blogs and in Amazon reviews and such.  But they also tell King and Coben and Patterson and Preston and Evanovich and Child and Connelly and... that they also suck.  Sometimes. Because the reading experience is subjective, what one person likes is not necessarily what another person likes. Well, I went a little off track there. The truth is, Amazon  is not always a publisher.  What it always is, is a RETAILER.  Just like T.J. Maxx and Walmart and Target and Macy's and Walgreens and Michael's and Barnes and Noble and...wait, Barnes and Noble...they're the ones Amazon is competing with, not the publishers.  They're a purchaser of supplied product, in this case, books. Why is that so hard to understand? They aren't paying a 70% royalty to KDP writers, they are taking a 30% cut for distribution from KDP author/publishers.  30% is their margin between $2.99 and $9.99.  Above and below those numbers, their cut is far worse for the author/publisher- 65%.   But when you think about it, what is being sold at that lower number?  It's short stories and short-ish novellas, works that were otherwise unsellable.  I'm sure they do it that way because that is how they want these ebooks priced.  So those are their terms.  As an author/publisher, it's take 'em or leave 'em. What happens to RHP or Hachette or whoever, when they price above those lines?  I'm not sure, but I have a feeling they're getting more than 35% of the profit.  I really don't know. Nor do I care.  While it bothers me to see misinformation getting bandied about, and authors saying things about Amazon that do not appear to be grounded in actual facts, in the end, it doesn't affect me as a writer. I have seven short (ish) stories priced at $0.99, and three collections/longer works currently priced at $2.99.  I just would like to see myself move more copies. As a reader, however, I can unequivocally state that I refuse to pay more than $9.99 for an ebook.  Actually, I refuse to pay more than about 6 bucks for an ebook for myself.  I might go higher for my kids' books.  I also will never pre-order a book (or a movie or just about anything else).  I don't see the need for it.  It's not like there is suddenly a shortage when it comes out, and it's not like I don't have enough books to read.  If they are successful in pushing up the price of ebooks to the reader, I will simply buy even more independent fiction.  There are plenty of authors I like writing plenty of books I like.  I'm not all that picky when it comes to a good story.  I will buy less traditionally published fiction.  What I do buy will likely often be remaindered copies. So there.  That's the extent of what I can do about higher ebook pricing. *****