Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Insanely Great

My introduction to Apple Computers was not dramatic. I returned to teaching in 1983, and there was a classroom in the basement of our high school, with a lab of Apple II computers. A class was taught in that room, "Computer Math," and since I have no gift for math, I shrugged and went back to teaching literature and grammar. Later, as computers began to replace other office machines, I took a class on the Apple II, then I took one on DOS, which was the language being used by personal computers manufactured by IBM. Only when my yearbook program inherited a Mac did I really begin to embrace computing, and before long, I became a fan of Apple. Computers have changed our society, and many of the best ideas in computing have come from Apple.

Since those days of beige boxes and green screens with yellow cursors, Apple has introduced some products which have either changed the way we live, or at least made engineers think of a better way to perform tasks. The Newton was a commercial flop, but it paved the way for Palm PDAs (and I still use one of those) and the iPhone, which has put the smartphone into the hands of regular people.

The first really powerful notebook computers were the Powerbooks introduced in 1991. I'm typing this entry on a MacBook Pro, which is merely a later, somewhat greater, Powerbook. Within a few years, the iMac dumped the floppy drive in favor of internet capability; now no one uses a computer which is not online. Increasing the usefulness of online communications was the goal when Apple led the way in home and small business wireless (Airport) a decade ago. I'm still using my second generation Airport, which was installed years before PC users finally adopted the technology they call WiFi.

Apple also acknowledged that people don't want to buy CDs; they want to pick and choose the songs they listen to, and the iPod and iTunes have been wildly successful because the folks at Apple understood that simple fact. While it hasn't been as successful as some of the iWhatever products, Apple TV also acknowledges that televisions in the future will not rely on cable or satellites, but content will come via the net. Just as land line phone users have dumped them for cell phones, online video content is the future.

I'm a fan of ebooks, and I have watched the parade of devices for reading them march into the marketplace, beginning with the desktop computer, then PDAs, and more recently, various readers including the Rocketbook, the Sony eReader, and Amazon's Kindle. My PDA is nearly five years old, and I've not purchased any of these interm devices, because none of them have the elegance of design and function that Apple brings to its products. Today, I just read that Apple has introduced the iPad, a device which blends together a fabulous portable computer with a screen which might make the Kindle obsolete.

Sometimes Apple is first; sometimes Apple is just better; and often, Apple manages both. As Steve Jobs says of his company's products, "Insanely great!"

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because They Could Not Stop for Death

I have been on panels with ghost-writers; these are folks who write a book, knowing they will never be acknowledged as the "author," but they do the writing strictly for money. Hubby and I were in a bookstore recently, and he picked up a "new" book by an author who is deceased. Long deceased, actually, and I told him that he might want to move on, because the volume he held had probably been written by a ghost-writer. Indeed, some authors have published many volumes after death; Forbes ran an article about this phenomenon, including the statistic that V. C. Andrews has published more than twenty books since her death.

Now, I have nothing against ghost-writing, as long as the so called "author" just hires some help and if the help is satisfied with a check rather than being credited as an author. This is often the case when a "celebrity" decides to pen an autobiography. But when authors write for decades beyond their deaths, that's cheating. Publishers, reluctant to give up the fame (and fortune) of an established author, sometimes keep new titles coming, and many readers don't seem to be discerning enough to spurn these knock-offs. Some of the aforementioned Andrews titles have reached best-seller status.

About a month ago I loaded up my PDA with some eBooks, and one action adventure was a "Rogue Angel" novel. The number of books being released in this series (nearly thirty titles in four years) suggested that these novels are being written by a series of ghost-writers, and this is confirmed by various sites, including Good Reads. While this approach seems odd, it seems more ethical than the volumes of works attributed to the deceased.

Nowadays, it is often easier to write a check than to actually do the work yourself. I have someone who tutors my kid, someone who cleans my house, and someone who helps with yard work. Why not hire a writer rather than write?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conflict of Interest?

I like book reviews; from time to time I read them, and I often base my book buying on the recommendations. But, I am somewhat selective about the places I read book reviews.

Recently, I read an entertaining article on the publishing biz, and the author points out that some book reviewers are paid for those reviews, and that does present a conflict of interest. Some review websites make their money by selling "services" to authors, and that too, can lead to great reviews for mediocre books. After all, what review site wants to make paying customers angry? There are now one stop shops for purchasing press releases, book reviews, and so forth, as long as the cash holds out.

Not everyone is going to be reviewed by the New York Times, so there must be other places to read book reviews. Some local and regional magazines review books. I have been reviewed by Living Jackson magazine, as well as by such internet review sites as The Midwest Book Review, Fallen Angel Reviews, The Romance Studio and CK2S Kwips and Kritiques, and I did not pay for those reviews, beyond furnishing a copy of my books. Since they are not being paid by authors, any of those venues for book reviews are more reliable. In short; if the author or publisher is offered paid services, then I don't trust the reviews.

For reader reviews, I enjoy Shelfari; some times authors are slammed on, but Shelfari seems to be more geared to readers, and I've published two books, but I've read thousands, so I am much more of a reader than an author!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ten Writers for 2010

As 2010 opens not only a new year, but a new decade, it is time to do the Janus bit and look both backwards and forwards. Like most people, I have done this with my life, my career (largely sacrificed on the alter of motherhood, but still...) and with my reading. Since Pam’s Pages (my version at least) isn’t about quilts or time management, but is actually about reading and writing, here are two lists of authors. The first one is a group of writers who have, by and large, finished the body of their work. Some have passed, others are retired (or should be) but these are writers whose works I  read early in life, and have returned to frequently.

Five to look back upon:

Robert A. Heinlein— He’s known as a science fiction grand master, who wrote some great stories and novels, along with some real duds. Still, I have learned quite a bit from his thoughtful, humorous, and cautionary views of the future of man in the universe.
Peter O’ Donnell— I discovered this author while I was still in high school, at the local public library, as mom handed me a suggested volume, The Impossible Virgin. O’Donnell is far better than Fleming at writing the tongue in cheek British espionage yarn, and when he deals with technology he’s far more entertaining than Ludlum or Clancy. Oddly, he also wrote some gothic romance under a pen name, Madeline Brent.
Mary Stewart— Another writer that mom prompted me to read. While most of Stewart’s suspense stories are somewhat out of date, when I re-read her, I enjoy her delicious prose blended with suspense and a dash of romance. Readers of fantasy will enjoy her series on Merlin, which does not suffer from the passage of time, as is the case with her romantic suspense yarns.
Margaret Mitchell— I read Gone with the Wind in the eighth grade, under great pressure from mom. Once I finished, I asked for more Mitchell and was sorely disappointed. To this day, I wonder why did she only write one freakin’ book?
Janet Dailey— I’ve not read much romance, but I view Dailey as a great romance writer who ran out of material and committed the ultimate sin of plagiarism.

The second list is a group who are either beginning or mid-career, and who have great promise for the future. I quit reading the “best seller” list a decade back, so it is fitting to look at these newer writers who are not on any bestseller lists that I know of, but when any of them publishes a new book, I am eager to put it in my “to be read” stack.

Five to move forward with.

Elizabeth Bear— I enjoyed her fabulous debut novel, Hammered, and she is young enough to have a great career. The sequel is in my TBR stack.
Pauline Baird Jones— while I did not find her earlier works compelling, I have put The Key on my list of stuff to read again and again. This mostly ebook author has yet to be discovered by the big guys, but she has great writing ability.
Travis Taylor— I saw Dr. Taylor (and he does have a doctorate) on the History channel recently, discussing the future of weaponry. He is smart, authentic, and youthful, so he should also have to great career as a writer. He’s certainly got the energy, and since he has partnered with several writers, from John Ringo to Darrell Bain, he is certain to grow his craft.
Linnea Sinclair— She is one of the writers who managed to flit from ebook publisher to ebook publisher as that industry was just beginning, then managed to sell all of her old novels as well as some new books to a big time publisher. I have re-read her Accidental Goddess a couple of times, and it is available in mass market paperback, along with other titles, both new and recycled.
P.C. Cast— She began with a novel (Goddess by Mistake) published by Hawk Publishing. I lost my copy (original edition, with the original cover art) and have not replaced it; I apologize for not doing enough homework before I wrote about her publishing history. Hopefully, this update and Cast's comment below will clarify which publishers do carry her current offerings.

Some of my favorite writers didn’t make either list, but happily many of them are mid-career and reasonably successful. As you readers make your New Year's resolutions, perhaps you will resolve to read off the beaten path. My Ten for 2010 list of authors is a place to begin looking for something different, whether you look backwards or forwards.

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