Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Good Parts Version

Do you remember The Princess Bride by William Goldman, or the excellent film version of that same story? I read it decades back, as a young woman with plenty of summer and a library card. The frame for it stated that it was “the good parts version” and I had never read anything like it. By that, I mean I hadn’t read a story within a framework. Of course, I hadn’t quite read anything so funny and yet so filled with adventure. Doing a “good parts” version did work for that piece.

That said, I found out on Monday that my son’s teacher skipped the end of Romeo and Juliet. Yep, you read that right. He said they were reading it aloud and their reading became laborious, so the teacher summarized the rest of the play and showed them the movie version. I asked when they stopped and he said just after Friar Lawrence gives Juliet the vial. That means he didn't get to hear the fourth act, with the magnificent soliloquy by Juliet as she debates whether or not she should take the potion. That scene is also omitted in the film version most popular with teachers.

As a former high school English teacher, I was appalled. Oh, I usually relied on a tape of professional Shakespearian actors rather than ninth graders for the reading, but by gosh, we read the whole play. Indeed, I’ve struggled with Julius Caesar and Macbeth from time to time, but anyone ought to be able to teach ninth graders (kids who are 14 and 15) a play about a pair of rebellious teenaged lovers. If you can’t, I do believe it is time to find a new line of work.

The Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta does Romeo and Juliet each year, in February , of course, so I must get tickets to that. My son deserves more than the good parts version, and so do most young people. Great stories deserve to be told, and R & J qualifies as great in my mind.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Separating the Sheep and the Goats

The Judeo-Christian parable of “the sheep and the goats” pictures the final judgment in which sheep have followed the shepherd, so they will inherit eternal life, but the goats are rebels and will be cast into the lake of fire. In the real world, sheep graze on the grass growing on the ground, predictably, but those pesky goats will browse all over, eating whatever. Sheep tails dangle down; goat tails rise up. Perhaps the greatest difference is in behavior; however, the sheep flock together, but the goats are independent.

Sometimes I think writers are either sheep or goats. This may be especially true for genre writers, like science fiction and fantasy. Those who belong to the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) are among the sheep. For any of you who don’t know, there is a rather short list of accepted publishers, and “real” SF writers must flock to those. Using another publisher or another method to get a book out (such as ePublishing or small presses) makes the author a goat. Romance writers have similar issues with the RWA, but I know more about SF/F, so I’ll stick with that.

When I visited LibertyCon in 2006, I realized I’m a goat— big time. I’d been told to be there at six on Friday evening, when all of the con guests would be introduced, followed by a mass book-signing. Those guests who had been invited got seats at the head table and a formal introduction. The rest of us, fledging authors who asked to attend, formed the audience, and we merely got to stand and wave from our seats as our names were announced. After that, the con staff set up the room for the book signing. Again, the sheep were at the head table, but the goats were parked at the side of the room. The program director told us that he did that, rather than seat us at the back of the room, to give us a chance to snag an occasional autograph seeker. I was a bit surprised when one gal assigned to the goat section grabbed her preprinted name and taped it on the end of the sheep table. In fairness to her, she had co-authored a book with a prominent sheep, but apparently the con staff had never heard of her. Her behavior throughout the con was no doubt designed to make everyone aware that she was “somebody.” I didn’t attend this year, but I’ll bet the staff now knows she’s a member of the flock.

At LibertyCon, the panels were set by the staff, but guests, even goat-guests, had input into discussion panel assignments, and I was lucky there. I was seated beside a sheep on the first panel; he couldn’t have been nicer. He asked about my book and encouraged me to tell the audience how I managed to get a contract, which was the overall topic. Another panel was strictly goat territory: self-publishing pros and cons (no pun intended) so my co-panelist and I managed to conduct an informative panel, even though we’d never met prior to that event. You gotta stand on your own feet to be a goat.

Don’t misunderstand me. Being a goat isn’t all bad. Sometimes good sheep are stranded as their shepherd-publishers go looking for the next big thing, and being sheep, these authors won’t or can’t seek out a publishing alternative beyond the sheepfold. That’s sad, because many worthy stories are out there, waiting to be told. In my own reading and book buying, I embrace the works of small publishers and ebook publishers because some of the goat stories are fresh and more interesting than the same old stuff from the flock.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Judging a car dealership

This entry falls into “what I can’t write about,” but I’m going to write it anyway, because I’ve been too busy grading research projects to spend much time thinking about a publishing topic.

My hubby drives a Toyota. He wanted a Lincoln, but I suggested he drive one of the makes which has a reputation for quality, since he is quite dependent on his car in his line of work. So, a few years back, he bought a top of the line model, an Avalon, hoping for many years of trouble-free driving.

For the first 40.000 miles or so, all was well. However, no one mentioned the fact that this car, unlike most modern cars, has to have its valves adjusted manually, an expensive and arduous task for the service department, which means leaving the car for a while. Hubby needs his car, so he just kept driving it; not the best decision, in retrospect, but an understandable one. The car was functioning, with adequate power and fuel economy. It just sounded like a diesel, and it isn’t. An increasing level of “valve clatter” led to a service visit which lasted over a week and a $2300+ bill at the service department. No, that did not include a new engine. I did ask.

Daughter and I picked up the car, since hubby was in the courtroom, as usual. Two miles from the dealer, I saw the “check engine” light come on, so I pulled over and whipped out my cell phone. If the car needed to go back, having someone to pick me up seemed like a good plan, so I called the dealership.

“Heyward Allen Toyota” a cheerful voice announced. I explained that I was sitting on the side of the road, with this warning light on, after having paid way too much for service, and should I bring the car back? Receptionist forwards call to service, service rep consults mechanic and comes back on the phone to tell me that, “Oh, folks have driven cars for years with a check engine light on. It’s probably nothing. All of our service techs have gone home. Could you bring it back tomorrow and let us check it?”

After a discussion, the service advisor assured me that I could drive it without worry, so I decided to bring it on home, since we needed the car, but I was feeling guilty about suggesting a Toyota. Is the problem the car or the dealership?

Daughter shared some insight after we finally got home. “Mom, you and Dad need to find a new dealership. Their potty isn’t nice at all, and the one at the Honda dealership is beautiful. If they can’t keep up a restroom, why would you trust them with your car?”

Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. My Honda has been great, the service has been good, and the local dealership does indeed have a very nice ladies’ room.

[Update: Hubby managed to get the poor old Avalon back to the dealer one day this week and the "probably ten minutes" repair took an hour and forty-five minutes. No charge, however. Throwing a fit can work, I guess.]

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Friday, September 07, 2007

The New Math

My sisters were in elementary when Georgia revised its mathematics curriculum, and everyone called it “the new math.” Okay, that has been a long time, and I don’t remember what was new about it. Mom didn’t like it much; I do recall that. She had trouble helping with homework. and yes, my mother did help with homework.

Higher mathematics was never my forte, but I have generally been competent with practical math. I balance the checkbook, manage the budget, and can figure my grades if the electronic gradebook suddenly goes sicko. However, I can’t figure out how my current publisher decides how much to pay me. Oh, I have a contract, but what it states doesn’t jive with what is on the statements.

There isn’t much money from Booklocker, my original self-pub outfit, but the process is straightforward and the paltry sums paid are consistent. On those rare occasions when someone purchases a copy of The Gift Horse from Amazon, I get a small percentage of the sale, $2.39 to be exact. (Aside: For that bit of income, folks like “my old pal” Cheryl get to post flaming reviews on Amazon.) If that same book is purchased from Booklocker, I get $5.58, or if the reader buys an eBook, I get half the purchase price, since eBooks have lower inherent costs. While I haven’t made much money with Booklocker, I haven’t lost any either.

During the first six months of 2007, WCP reported two copies of Trinity on Tylos sold via Amazon. My contract states that I get 7.5% of print sales, which is not as good as Booklocker, but is not an unusual percentage. However, when that customer pays $17.95 at Amazon, I only get 7.5% of $3.82 (29 cents), not the cover price. Oh, wait, that was last quarter; this quarter I got 7.5% of $6.22 (48 cents) per print copy sold via Amazon. I don’t understand it. Nor do I understand why royalties for a $5.99 eBook are stated as 30% of $2.55 (68 cents) for a Fictionwise eBook sale in 2007, but sales per title from that vendor were only 18 cents per download in 2006. Mom was much better at math than I am, but I’ll bet she would not have understood this “new math” either.

According to that practical math that I do understand, six months of royalties for Trinity on Tylos (however WCP figures them) pays the about the same as teaching for eight minutes at my part-time technical college job.

I do enjoy writing, and I can’t imagine not writing. This entry is not about disliking writing or publishing, but perhaps it will give perspective on the question,“When is your next book coming out?” The answer is, I might consider trying again, just as soon as I understand this new math.