Monthly Archives: January 2014

Liberals and Conservatives: A Reversal?

Are liberals the new conservatives, and vice versa? In a political context, have these terms lost their original meanings? Let’s look at just two areas of evidence, citing elements of the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, as our point of reference:

  • The preamble of the Constitution clearly states that, “We the people of the United States…” have created the Constitution at least in part to “…promote the general welfare…” Liberals support this provision through advocacy of assistance to those in need, examples being food stamps, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and health care for all. Today’s ardent conservatives do not, denying that health care should be considered a fundamental human right and feeling that the unemployed should be left pretty much on their own, that food stamps simply support a culture of dependency, and that the minimum wage is both unnecessary and socialistic. With reference to the Constitution, current day liberals are conservative, and vice versa.
  • Article I of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Liberals recognize that the founders of our country found official state religion and its dictates oppressive and to be avoided. Further, our most respected founders were more deist than Christian, clearly refuting the notion that the United States was founded in any formal way as a Christian nation. The principle has become enshrined through our history as the principle of separation of church and state. Today’s most extreme conservatives would, however, turn the U.S. into a religious state, acting as an American Taliban, imposing their religiously based views of education, history, reproductive rights, science, marriage and family, and sexuality upon the entire nation. So, who is truly conservative? Today’s liberals, that’s who.

For this and other reasons (consider the Patriot Act, for example, or Republican attempts to keep minorities from voting), the meanings of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have become reversed in our political dialogue. In current usage, advocacy of “liberal” causes is actually conservative when measured against the sense and words of the Constitution and other legislative precedent since the country’s founding. And so, I would suggest, when thinking about groups such as the Tea Party Patriots (not patriotic in any historic sense at all, no matter how much they wave the flag), one should view them as the liberals, as they seek to misrepresent history, impose their own sense of ethics and morality upon others, and turn the country into a Christian theocracy. This last makes me very uneasy, and I would hate to see the word “liberal” so sullied. Maybe a better descriptive term for today’s nominal conservatives would be – well – I’ve got my own ideas about that but, as mother used to say, if you can’t say anything nice….

Today’s Annoyance:  “Irregardless”. Need I say more?

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Designing the Cover

So, I’m now deeply into the pre-publication design and proofing of Zendoscopy, my second book. It’s a sort of a coming of age story told in discrete episodes, chapters in the life of my protagonist. So, what should the book’s cover design be?

Early on, I submitted several possible designs to my publisher, including those below:

Zendoscopy Front Cover Zendoscopy Unusable Cover 1 Zendoscopy Unusable Cover

 

All were rejected. The bright, almost psychedelic covers were deemed too colorful for the standard mode of cover printing. The photograph was eliminated because it had nothing to do, really with the theme of the book. The graphic designers at Inkwater also hated the font I had used. All in all, they told me the designs I had submitted were, um, unprofessional. Personally, I thought they were kind of cool, but I did get the bit about the one with the photograph being irrelevant. Oh, and there was one more thing about the bright covers: I couldn’t get the rights to the psychedelic design. I sent multiple e-mails to the wallpaper & background site where I found the basic pattern, but never could get any response, even though I offered to pay for the design. Incidentally, the difference between the two is that I posterized the brighter one.

So, what to do? One of the graphic designers suggested that I look at covers of books published by MacMillan, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, et al., which I did. I hated them all, ending up seeing a lot of really dull covers. You can verify this yourself. Go to your local Barnes & Noble and check out book covers from major publishers. Dull, right?

A second graphic designer at Inkwater sent me some sample backgrounds she had located. I pretty much hated them, too. Dull to the point of awful. The pages with those designs, however, did have links to other designs, which I followed. Although not entirely happy with what I found, I did locate one design that was sort of acceptable to me and which met with approval at Inkwater. Their graphic designer went to work on it and, miracle of miracles, the cover looks pretty damn good. You’ll see it soon enough.

Interior design of the book is a much simpler matter. Words on a page, pretty standard font, a few design tweaks, and done.

In the final analysis, the job is to get books moving off the shelf, book-signing table, and internet. If looking “professional” is going to get the writing more seriously considered by book reviewers and acceptable to booksellers, then, with some regret, my attempts with psychedelia and photography have to be abandoned. Who knew?

 

Today’s Annoyance: The Dangling Phrase

“Running through the forest, the foliage became thicker.” So, foliage can run?

  “Screaming in pain, bystanders quickly came to his aid.”  Were the bystanders really in that much pain?

“Ducking under an awning for cover, the rain was coming down harder and harder.”  I didn’t know that rain could duck.

Some Observations on Why We’re Doomed

As I indicated in my introductory posting on Seductive Peach, one of the features of the blog would be the inclusion of an occasional essay. In that bleeding vein, the following piece is offered. Comments on the piece are welcome, but no flaming rants or death threats, please. All submissions will be reviewed, with the most reasoned and intelligent being posted…maybe.

–JW

On a certain corner near where I live in Southern California, in the parking lot of a fast food chain restaurant, there stand three flagpoles in a row. The tallest, in the center, sports an American flag. To one side of this is the California flag and, to the other, the distinctive red and yellow flag of the eatery.

This, of course, symbolizes what America has become. A nation of fat patriots, super-sizing itself into morbid obesity with hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and doing so with flags flying proudly.  We are not only eating everything on our plates, we’re being eaten back. But we’re Americans. Exceptional, we’re told, and immune from the problems of the rest of the world. To quote Joe Walsh, “My Life is Good.” So, let’s all  wave the flag in support of chauvinistic gluttony. But this essay really isn’t at all about fat, overindulging America, per se. It’s about the arrogant ignorance of delusional certainty.

There are at least two types of this sort of ignorance. First, there’s the type manifested by the world’s predators. These are the Tea Party, tax cut for the wealthy, sock it to the poor, run up the national debt while screaming about the deficit kind of folks. They’re the folks who have gold-plated health care coverage, think global climate change is a hoax, and can only exist by creating a clear demarcation between an “us” and a “them”. Think this is an exaggeration? If so, just recall Mitt Romney’s 47%. Or ask your local Tea Party “Patriot” whether health care in this richest of all countries should be a humanistic obligation. These folks are completely immune to arguments of reason. Trying to educate them is a total waste of time and energy. Of course, individuals may suddenly make an exception when one of theirs is involved. To wit: Dick Cheney and his lesbian daughter.

Then there’s the ignorance typified by those who are simply too stupid or educationally deficient to realize that the “haves” are screwing them right and left, but who support them anyway because, well, this is America, God’s country, where everyone has an equal chance to be filthy rich and famous.  These people have the mindset that, no matter how downtrodden and abused they may be, they’re somehow empowered and, even, chosen. They know they’re superior to godless atheists (who are condemned to hell) and undocumented immigrants (who might as well be). These are the folks who push creationism, a type of godliness right out of the picture book of ignorance. They’re the folks who give thanks to God instead of the firefighter when a baby is saved from a burning building, and who somehow manage to ignore the fact that 50 others died in the inferno.

And so, as I get older, I find myself living out a contradiction. As we age, we’re supposed to become more conservative. In my case, however, I am moving aggressively toward the opposite extreme. With each sunrise, with each day’s satisfied realization that the mirror still fogs, that I’m not yet wearing the green toupee, I am ever more the unreconstructed, unapologetic, card-carrying, left-wing, secular humanist and liberal.

<>

   “So, let me get this straight. You say that, even though I don’t believe in God, I’m still going to heaven, right?” I’m in conversation with my highly religious friend, Ralph, one of the brightest, most congenial and good natured people I know, a physician I’d trust with my life if I were in crisis and needing brain surgery.

Scratch the surface and he’s a total lunatic.

“Uh huh.”

“But ,” I add, “not to the same level of heaven as you, right?”

He demurs, looking uncomfortable. “Well,” he says, “You’ll go there because you’re a good person.”

In other words, he isn’t going to answer my question, although it doesn’t matter because I know the answer. For him, it’s a celestial heaven on his own planet.  For me, a more mundane eternity.

“And so,” I ask, “tell me about  heaven. What’s it like?”

The detail he now provides is shocking in its elaborate precision. I learn that it’s much like it is here, on old terra firma, but sort of more glow-y, doncha’ know? And we’ll all look just like we did when we looked the best we ever looked in life. Specifically, Ralph asserted that our wives would look just like they did on the day we married them, when they were, say, twenty-six.

“How do you know that God will think that’s when she looked her best? I mean, maybe He’ll think she looked best at age four.”

No answer.

Okay, moving on. “So, let’s talk about biblical history.”

“You mean, like, Father Noah?”

“Sure, that’s a good place to start. Tell me about Noah and the ark.”

“Well, it’s all in the Bible.”

“Yes, I know. But, I mean, do you believe in the Great Flood?”

“What do you mean? It’s in the Bible. It happened.”

“And Noah gathered two of every living animal: giraffes, hippos, houseflies, tapeworms…?”

“Yes.”

“Arrrgh.”

<>

   Rush Limbaugh said he’d leave the country if health care reform legislation passed Congress. It passed. He didn’t leave. Why is he still here?

<>

   Now, I do know that there is such a thing as innocent, if not blameless, ignorance. For example, we are all unintentional bigots, victims of our upbringing, inculcated with prejudices we do not even know we have until, if we are lucky, something happens to make us rub our faces in our own dishonor.

I have a friend, a good friend, one of the most generous and well-intentioned people I know. He spent his youth in a small town, isolated and religious. Thus it was that when we attended a swap meet together one sunny day in May in the early 1990s, he saw something he wanted, looked at me, and remarked, “Let’s see if I can Jew him down.”

My friend is not anti-Semitic. It just never occurred to him that this was a religious slur.

I did it once, too, that I can recall, referring in front of a close Asian friend that I thought some unlikely occurrence had a “Chinaman’s chance” of happening. It hurts to this day, because I never before had paid attention to what the phrase implied beyond the simple indication of improbability.

I am not a proponent of rigid political correctness. Nor, however, do I believe in unthinking and gratuitous promulgation of insults that have simply become ingrained without consideration of their underlying bigotry and implications.

So, I cite the two examples above as being totally inappropriate because they were uttered without thought or malevolent intent, yet they were malevolent precisely because of their absence of thought.

The conclusion is that if you want to be politically incorrect, at least understand what the hell you’re saying. And if you don’t even realize that you’re about to be politically incorrect, you probably haven’t given it enough thought.

<>

   Ralph again.

“I know you’re a good person, but how can you be good without belief?”

I ponder this for a moment, wondering just how indoctrinated some people can be. So I ask, “Do you mean to imply that the only reason you behave in admirable fashion is to keep from going to hell? The fear of some eternal punishment?”

“Hell is a terrible place.”

“I would imagine so, if I believed in it. But you didn’t answer my question.”

“Well, I guess that’s part of it.”

“And the rest?”

Now it’s Ralph’s turn to ponder. “Well, there’s the ten commandments, God’s directions to us for moral behavior.”

“But isn’t that just another way of avoiding punishment?”

“No. It’s a code to live by.”

“Same difference. And it’s a lousy code.”

“What?”
“Well,” I say, warming to the topic, “Let’s consider them, one by one.

“Let’s not be tedious.”

“Okay, how about just a few of them? Say, the one about honoring your father and mother? Even if they’re physically or mentally abusive? Or the one about lying? Did you ever lie? Even a teensy weensy one? Or, how about the thou shalt not kill thing? I believe you support capital punishment, right?”

“You’re not being fair. There are exceptions.”

“What? When did God make exceptions to His commandments?”

“Well, we all know there are exceptions.”

“I give up.”

There is simply no way to impress someone with logic, reason, or even facts when a wall of self-deception, ignorance, or defensive denial is in place. And that is why, for example,  some people cannot be convinced that President Obama was born in the U.S., that our planet is more than 6000 years old and that, the Flintstones notwithstanding, humans didn’t coexist with dinosaurs. It is, finally, arrogance born of indoctrinated ignorance.

It’s enough to make a rational person cry.

Today’s Annoyance – People who don’t know the difference between nominative and objective cases: To wit, we hear all too often something on the order of, “He gave the tickets to you and I.” This type of error appears very commonly in pop music. For example, Elton John makes it in Daniel: “…Daniel my brother, you are older than me…” Arrrgh! If you don’t know what’s wrong in these examples, you may need to review elementary school grammar.

An Echo

An echo of my last posting: Today I received a telephone call from my “personal representative” at Xlibris, wanting to know whether I want to buy more books. As a clear, simple, declarative statement, I said, “No.” He then said, “Well, I note that you bought paperbacks last time. So, would you like to buy hardbacks this time?”

Today’s Annoyance:    I think my “personal representative” is annoyance enough for today.

On Finding a Publisher: Advice from Experience

If you’ve just completed your opus magnum and are seeking a publisher, this cautionary tale may be of interest. We resume here the tale begun in my prior posting.

So…when I found myself unable to get an agent for Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, I realized that the only way the book would ever see publication was for me to do it myself. Knowing nothing but doing some internet searching, I settled on what I thought would be a solid publisher as the one to do the book for me.

At the time, the company, Xlibris, made much of its relationship with Random House, which was an investor and, as I recall, had a seat on the company’s board of directors. This lent it an air of respectability and made it a bit more than many other vanity press publishers, in that it offered more to the writer than just printing books. Besides its relationship with a mainstream publisher, included in its menu of available services were a variety of editing and marketing plans, all available according to a fairly steep pricing schedule. After some thought and a hard look at my budget, I took a basic publishing package for about $1000 which got the book into print and distributed a press release. I was fortunate in that my daughter Beth, a skilled artist among her many talents, created the cover for me, saving me a bundle on design.  I then had some advertising bookmarks made up and, before long, I held copies of my opus magnum in my greedy little hands.

Effective marketing is very expensive, easily running to many thousands of dollars, and I simply didn’t (and still don’t) have the budget to market as effectively as I wish I could. So, despite much excellent marketing advice from my other talented daughter Laura, the book has languished, with only occasional sales despite some modest ads and word-spreading I’ve undertaken since publication in 2004. As indicated in my initial posting (with links to sites), Spacebraid…  is currently available from all the major online booksellers and as an e-book on Kindle.

Over time, I’ve become significantly disenchanted with Xlibris and cannot recommend the company to others. What’s the problem? For starters, I recoil at their high pressure sales tactics executed by a staff with poor English skills. I’ve come to dread the periodic telephone calls I receive from these people, who push expensive marketing packages that simply don’t pay off in sales. How do I know they don’t work? Because initially I bought in and spent a fair amount of ill-afforded cash on company programs that didn’t even yield token sales – they yielded no sales.

Most recently, I got another call from the umpteenth poorly spoken sales hack I’ve heard from over the years since publication. This guy tried to sell me a package of 100 books plus e-mailings of a press release to 100 media outlets for…$1100 and change. Think about it. What he wanted me to do was to buy 100 books and he’d send out a distribution e-mail “for free”.  What I need isn’t 100 more books stacking up in my garage. Or an e-mail ending up in 100 outlets’ spam folders. What I need is effective marketing, and that ain’t it.

As for the English skills of the folks who keep calling me – and note that it’s a different person each time who proclaims himself or herself to be my personal representative – they’re abysmal. Trying to obtain any useful information or transact business with these folks is sheer torture (say, what time is it, anyway, in Bangladesh?), as their understanding of my questions requires endless explication, and their explanations of what they’re trying to sell are often impossible to follow. Further, their sales approach involves totally ignoring what I tell them. Example: I did want to order some books for a book signing recently. I told my “personal representative” that my budget was $500 as a maximum. He immediately quoted me a package for $800.  I reminded him of my stated budget and he came back at $650. After some considerable haggling, we finally settled at $511 for 40 books at a substantial discount off the “retail” price – sort of like bargaining for a car with the always bogus MSRP. Only after the books arrived did I realize that, under the usual arrangement with authors for book signings at my local independent bookstore, I’d lose $3 on every book I sold. (If you want an autographed one, let me know in a comment — I won’t publish your contact information. They’re going at the fire sale price of $12 per copy.)

Finally, and even more distressing, while these salespeople represent themselves as your special representatives, I’ve not yet encountered one of them who has read my book or even has any idea of what it’s about. Worse, they stumble on the title when they try to reference it. Apparently, “Spacebraid” and “Dystopian” are hard words, especially when simple English is hard enough to articulate. Personal representatives? Hah!

And so, we come to the bottom line, and it is be careful. Be very careful when you select your publisher. Do some research. Ask the publisher for references and, if you get them, actually contact them. If you can’t get references, there’s probably a reason.

I’m currently working with a different and very well recommended publisher for my second book, Zendoscopy, due in March. I’ll be reporting on how that’s going in a later posting. In the meantime, keep on writing if you’re writing, keep on reading if, well, you’re reading, and don’t jump into any publishing arrangement without thoroughly investigating your options and checking those references.

Today’s Annoyance:

Use of the word mitigates when what is meant is militates. Example of correct word usage: “The fact of his stupidity militates against his holding any position of responsibility.” With all due respect to William Faulkner, famous for  making the mistake (e.g., “Centaur in Brass”), the correct word in the example is seen to be militates, not mitigates. As the late, great Casey Stengel used to say (and as James Thurber titled his famous short story), “You Could Look It Up.”

What? Another blog?

2 January 2014

Welcome to Seductive Peach! I know what you’re thinking.

It’s just what the world needs –  another blog. And, worse, an eclectic blog with literary aspirations. Well, to be honest, I’ve been ambivalent, myself, about doing this for quite some time. But with publication of my second book, Zendoscopy, due in March, I thought I’d give it a whirl and see what happens.

To get things started, a bit of background about, er, me might be in order. In the late 1980s, I finished writing my first book, a novel entitled Panope’s Pride. With brutal honesty, I’ll admit that it wasn’t very good and, in truth, I wasn’t overly happy with it. Nevertheless, I had put a fair bit of sweat equity into its creation and so I did try to get it published. It didn’t happen, and the lesson I learned at the time was that I’d never get a big name publisher to take on my work if I didn’t have an agent pushing it, and I’d never get an agent because I had no track record of having my fiction previously published. It was the true embodiment of Catch-22. Stuck in a dead end with a not very well written novel and not knowing at that point what to do with it, yet unwilling to bear the pain of burning the manuscript in my living room fireplace, I stuffed it into a box and squirreled it away, out of sight and mind.

While working on Panope’s Pride, I was simultaneously tinkering with the sci-fi/horror/fantasy realm, and I wrote a story called “Spacebraid” about a group of people who time travel from the near future and environmental disaster to a better time, when the earth has healed. The story was briefly pulled out of the slush pile at a major Hollywood studio and considered for optioning as a film project. Ultimately and to my great disappointment, the studio decided to pass. Although disheartened, I really liked “Spacebraid” and so I went back and revised sections of it that, I thought, improved it considerably as a novella. Then, with seven other short stories, I made it the lead story in a collection called Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe. Still unable to get an agent, I self-published it.

That was when I learned my second big lesson about publishing, namely, that getting one’s work into print is not the same as selling it. And marketing is both critical and expensive. I took ads and managed to sell a few copies, but my lack of a truly substantial budget for marketing resulted in distressingly few copies soaring out the door despite a couple of nice reviews in niche publications. The book is currently available in both hard and soft copy from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online, and from many other online sellers including Xlibris (the publisher), and it’s also available on Kindle. With no professional marketing campaign, though, sales continue to languish. (Shameless plea: If you like sci-fi/fantasy/horror stories, please buy a copy. Or two.)

Sometime ago, I pulled Panope’s Pride out of its hiding place and tapped some of its episodes for a new book. With much new material and revisions through some thirteen drafts, I’ve now completed my second “real” book, Zendoscopy, which is scheduled for publication in March of this year by Inkwater Press. The obvious question, of course, is how to market it. Which, finally, brings me to the proximate and driving reason for starting this blog.

At some point, it occurred to me that a writer’s blog might help not only me but others, as well, to gain a little name recognition. The purpose of the blog, then, is not only to promote my own writing but, periodically, to direct some attention to other writers’ works that might warrant broader attention. Finally, it’s my intention that the site will not shy from the publication of stimulating opinion pieces voicing a range of viewpoints, although I freely admit that the blog will manifest a decidedly liberal and secular editorial bias. And, for the record, flaming will have no place here. All opinion entries will be either fact-based or built on a foundation of solid reasoning and judgment.

So, whether you’re a writer or a reader, consider following The Seductive Peach as it develops over the next few months. And tell your friends. New postings will occur on a regular, if somewhat unpredictable basis. I’ll try to send up a flare on Facebook each time there’s a new entry. With some luck, the effort will be worthwhile for all of us.

And now, this entry’s featured annoyance: “Breaking news!”

Have you noticed that every news program seems to begin with someone announcing, “Breaking news!” Most of the time it’s some lame car chase, a traffic accident, or another murder in downtown wherever. It’s not “breaking”, and usually it shouldn’t even be news. In truth, most of the time it’s a waste of time, and after reporting whatever it is, the newscaster goes on to tell you repeatedly throughout the broadcast what he/she is going to report on “next” instead of actually reporting whatever it is. I watch these programs for the weather report, which is really stupid, since I live in southern California, where there is no weather.