Friday, August 29, 2014

The Trial of Mrs. Randall

When Jake and Patty decided to not have children they took a lot of criticism for it. But one doctor offered them the chance to never regret their decision. What he didn't tell them, what they couldn't know, was how it would tear their lives apart. 

She looked around vaguely for a moment before her eyes found the source of the disturbance.
“Mrs. Randall, I’ll ask you again, can you tell us the role of Dr. Olson’s procedures in the tragedy of January seventeenth?”
She furrowed her brow, looked at the lawyer, then the judge and then back to the lawyer, “If you really want me to…”
“We really do,” said the judge.
With that, Mrs. Patricia Randall explained why she and her husband went to see Dr. Robert Olson. They’d been married for over ten years and finally decided that they weren’t going to have children. Her husband, Jake, was going to have a vasectomy so that she wouldn’t have to keep taking birth control.
They’d gone in to see the doctor, but since they didn’t have any children, there were a series of talks, evaluations and confirmations required. First, the nurse talked to them for a long time, asking them if they were really sure that they didn’t want kids. Then the doctor came in and asked the same questions. Finally they were sent off for a psychiatric evaluation, separately, and asked the same questions.
It’s not as if their parents and friends and sometimes complete strangers hadn’t grilled them already with the standard litany of questions.
“Who will take care of you when you’re older?”
“Don’t you like kids?”
“What about the future?”
“You’d make great parents. Why won’t you do it for the kids?”
And of course, “Isn’t that selfish of you?”
But still, after all the cajoling and interrogation by friends, family, nurses, doctors and psychiatrists, they still came to the same conclusion. Jake and Patty didn’t want kids. The vasectomy was performed, Jake recovered in a few days and the couple went on with life as usual. Jake went back to work selling computers and Patty continued with her travel agency – yes, some people still use travel agents.
Months later, after they’d forgotten about the procedure, they received a letter from Dr. Robert
Olson. It was vague, but in it, they were invited to discuss the results of the vasectomy with him, in private.
Jake worried that something was wrong, reasoning that doctors don’t invite you to talk in private if they aren’t telling you that you have cancer or something. Patty reassured him, but she didn’t delay in making the appointment with Dr. Olson.
When they arrived at the address, they both noticed that it was a much nicer building than the clinic where the original procedure happened. The landscaping was immaculate and the waiting room had real, wooden furniture instead of pressboard and veneer. The magazines were even recent and unmarked by crayons and jam-encrusted toddler fingers.
They both settled in for a long wait, standard operating procedure for their usual doctor visits. So they were surprised when the nurse called them back the moment the clock struck ten-thirty – the time of their appointment. Stepping into Dr. Olson’s office, they both gawked at the dark, wood shelves lining the walls and filled with leather-bound books. The mahogany desk centered on the far wall was wreathed by light from the French doors. Later Jake remarked that it felt like they were walking into Mr. Burns’ office at the nuclear power plant. The only thing missing was a stuffed polar bear in the corner.
“Please come in, sit down,” Dr. Olson said. “I’m so happy you came.”
After they shook hands and settled in to the plush chairs, the doctor addressed the reason for his letter.
            “The two of you are the perfect candidates. After all our searching and researching, we’re so happy to have finally found you.” 

Read the rest of the story here

Friday, August 22, 2014


After trying everything else and failing only one option is left for those trapped in the darkness and tasked with bringing others light.

Left. Cordan’s left hand flashed out and slapped with a metallic clang on the nearest trunk.
Right. His right hand found the next pillar and deposited a small disc on its surface with a satisfying smack.
Hands worked autonomously, freeing Cordan’s mind to focus on the next footfall. The uneven ground under his feet sprouted large trunks at regular intervals. He ran as quickly as he could, as closely as possible to each of the pillars rising up in his path. They stretched, straight and gray into the blackness above. Cordan felt adrift in darkness; he saw only a few yards ahead by the light of his dim headlamp.
Endless hours of training made Cordan’s movements second-nature, natural. He flowed, more than ran. Each shaft received its share of his offering. Occasionally his foot slipped on the loose, dry dirt. The barren ground lacked any sign of animal, insect or plant. He cursed himself for being too slow and sped on.
The image of an orangutan came to his mind as his arms swung out from side to side. He’d seen a documentary on the creatures once. Still he pressed forward. He’d seen many things in documentaries, but they usually felt like fantasy. The world he saw on-screen had nothing to do with the world he lived in.
            His world was dark. Dark and harsh. They were the Caretakers who were required to keep the panels working. Down below, they had access to all the wires, all the connections, but they stayed in the dark. Once a year, chosen by lottery, a small group of workers would take a long ride in a secure elevator to the top of the panels. For a week they would clean and maintain before descending again into the darkness. The stories they brought back evoked rapt wonder and harsh doubt. How could such a bright, living world exist, supported by the black, lifeless existence below?

Read the rest here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Critique Group and Writing

One of the -- if not the most -- beneficial tools in a writer's box is helpful critique. There are a lot of things that go into making critique helpful instead of just criticism. My friend Erik Wecks and I have worked on offering helpful critique (with many pitfalls along the way) to the point where I know his feedback helps to make my writing better (and I'm sure I do the same for his).

If you don't have a critique group for your writing, I highly recommend getting one together, but don't just throw a bunch of people in a room and hope it all works out.

We talked about some of the stuff that works in this video. You should watch it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It Gets Better?

He stood alone in the room, the last words of his speech cut off by the crash of a neglected door swinging shut on the lecture hall.
“It’s getting better,” he finished in quiet defeat.
Doctor Larry M. Northrup hadn’t expected his lecture to be popular, or even well received. He knew that his thesis flew in the face of what everyone expected, but still he presented it. The original paper had passed peer review – not without significant rebuttal and critique – so Dr. Northrup had submitted it to the World Association of Journalists and Broadcasters for their annual conference. Not only was he surprised to be accepted, but thrilled to be given a chance to deliver the keynote address.
In the months leading up to the conference Dr. Northrup went over every detail of the presentation. He contracted professional slide designers to give him the best visuals possible – he used the same people that produced slides for Steve Jobs and Al Gore. He checked and rechecked his peer-reviewed data, searching for any flaw. He could find none. It was a beautiful, inspiring, reasonable, uplifting presentation and he would deliver it to the very people who needed to hear it most.
He decided to start with the big picture and then move to the specifics.
“Today in history,” Northrup began his lecture, “is the safest time in the history of the world. There is less disease, famine, hunger, and war than any other point in human history.”
The audience shifted in their seats and looked like bored high school freshmen hoping to avoid homework over a long weekend.
Dr. Northrup felt the sweat start to form on his upper lip and between his shoulder blades. But he continued, “By every measurable, objective statistic the world is better today than it was five years ago and far better than it was even twenty years ago. You can see here that murder rates have dropped considerably. Violent crime is down. Drug abuse is down. Violence against women is down.
“Or look here,” he switched slides to show a graph with lines climbing every higher, “education is improving, life expectancy is increasing, quality of life is up, income is up—“
An interruption came from a particularly dour-faced man in a gray suit, “What’s that line going down?”
           “Ah, yes, I’m glad you pointed that out,” Northrup adjusted his glasses and clicked to the next slide, “Here you can see the one positive indicator that has been consistently going down.”


Read the rest here

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Letter to Hachette

Below is my response to this letter that I received from Amazon. Would you add your voice too?

Dear Mr. Pietsch,

First I want to sincerely thank you for your invaluable work in promoting reading, authorship, and literacy both in the United States and around the globe. I firmly believe that reading is essential to any healthy society. For that health to occur the society needs both books and readers.

As both an emerging author and an avid reader I ask that you focus your efforts on helping both authors and readers.

In your negotiations with Amazon, please consider not only the bottom line for Hachette, but the overall impact of literacy on the world. Both Hachette and Amazon are businesses and have income as the top priority. Both companies use books as a means for making money. In that, both Hachette and Amazon are in agreement. As an author I agree too. Both the creators and distributors of the content should receive fair compensation for the work.

The issue then comes in determining what is fair. It seems that there is a limited amount of money and a limited number of ways to divide that money amongst the interested parties. Amazon has built the most popular book-buying platform the world has ever seen. Hachette works with editors, cover designers, typesetters, and numerous other people to take a manuscript from draft to publication. And authors often invest years of their lives in creating whole new worlds for people to explore. They all deserve to be compensated for the work they've done.

One option for increasing revenue (which is what Amazon, publishers, and authors all want) is to increase the price of the product. That will certainly work to increase revenue from those sales that are guaranteed. When best selling authors put out a new book that readers demand to have -- at any cost -- revenue will go up. This will certainly benefit the publishers who have signed those best selling authors as well as those authors with the cache to demand any price for their work. However the consumers do not have an unlimited amount of money to spend, so an increase in spending on one author usually necessitates a decrease in spending elsewhere -- likely on other books.

Here's what concerns me -- as an emerging author -- Hachette, and other "Big-5" publishers rely overwhelmingly on ebook income from best selling authors (63% of Big-5 ebook income is from established authors). So an increase in ebook prices disincentivise the readers to buy more books, and disincentivise publishers from signing more authors. That, in turn, disincentivise emerging authors -- like me -- from working with a publishing house.

However, it is possible to incentivise authors, readers, publishers and consumers to read more, write more, sell more, and publish more.

Ebooks are, essentially, disposable reading. One cannot resell an ebook, nor give it away (legally). A paper book has value. My shelves are filled with them because I know I can access the content at any time. My shelves have also seen countless paperback novels -- for a time -- I would purchase them either new or used, read them, and then sell them to a used bookstore or give them away. Ebooks are the paperbacks of the modern world. They are cheap to produce and distribute, they allow more people to read a work, and when the reading is over there's no sense of loss in disposing of the book.

Look at the mass market paperback bestsellers from Barnes & Noble for the week ending August 5, 2014. Not a single book is priced higher than $10. Without even looking at the bookseller's discount, the average list price for the top 20 bestselling mass market paperbacks is $8.94. That's $9 for a physical book that had to be printed and shipped. It's likely that half of the cost of those books is tied up in just the production and materials leaving only $4.50 for the authors, booksellers and publishers to split as profit.

Ebooks, on the other hand have virtually no production cost. All of that money is available to split between the interested parties. And at the same time, the consumer has nothing other than the words. No book to resell or loan to a friend. Nothing to donate to a charity or library, simply the words written and electronically transmitted to them.

As a reader, if you price an ebook above $9.99 I won't buy it. I'll wait in line to get it from the library, buy it for $9.99 in mass market paperback or just wait for it to arrive at my used bookstore for half the price.

As an author I can't afford to price my books above $9.99 because people don't buy them -- not from me at least. I don't have a big name or wide audience, but I'm selling books -- nearly all of which are ebooks. As author income is collapsing (The Guarding calls it "abject levels."), I and those like me are faced with a choice. We can give up the dream of writing, reduce the pool of available manuscripts available for publishing and undermine the entire book industry. Or we can look elsewhere for income. Some have decided that self-publishing, with all its pits and mires, is preferable to the ever-shrinking pool of money available to those in the trade publishing world. In fact, there are now more self-published authors earning a living wage than there are Big-5 authors earning a living wage.

So it comes back to the negotiations between Amazon and Hachette. I hope you can see that I want Hachette to continue to earn money. I want Hachette's authors to continue to publish high-quality books. And I want the world to continue to benefit from a wealth of knowledge and creativity found only through reading. Reducing the price of ebooks will sell more books, make more money and drive more people to become authors. It's better for the industry, the readers and the writers.

Keeping ebook prices artificially high will, for the short term, benefit Hachette by milking more money from the avid fans of the big-name authors. But what will you do when those authors are gone and you have no one else to replace them?

I am an author and a reader and I want ebook prices to be lower.


James T. Wood

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Fiction that You Should Read

Go buy this book! It's only $0.99 right now (8/10/2014).

The Far Bank of the Rubicon (The Pax Imperium Wars: Volume 1)

First of all it's a great book. It melds science, history, physics, space travel, explosions, intrigue, danger, politics, romance, passion, coming-of-age, growing older, self-sacrifice, self-interest, and some more explosions together into a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

You should know that Erik and I are in a writing critique group together. I had the privilege to see this stuff before just about anyone else. I thought it was good then, and I think it's even better now.

The Pax Imperium is an empire spanning a galaxy (thanks to controlled wormhole technology) and held in tenuous peace by a central government that balances the massive powers of the Unity Corporation and House Athena, a balance that's held for centuries, a balance that keeps the galaxy from descending into all-out war.

But at the heart of any epic story are the people -- frail, fallible, fickle people. Where The Far Bank of the Rubicon shines is in the confluence of real people and extraordinary circumstances. The characters in this book feel real to the point where you'll wonder what they're up to when they aren't on the page. And the challenges they face will draw out their humanity -- for good or ill.

You should stop reading my description and start reading this book. It's on sale. It's great. 'Nuff said.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Lady in the Yellow Dress

She sweated her way up the stairs, the lady in the yellow dress, the heat of the noon sun pushing her down, baking her bare arms and the dark hair hanging down her back. Each uneven step forced her eyes downward. The stone – worn and pitted by the steps of men and the wash of rain over the centuries – rose up and up and up. Narrow, twisting, haphazard stairs led her to the tower, the pinnacle of the ancient wall. For her it became another task in the long list of tasks. From here to there without rest or reason. She felt a drop of sweat slide down between her shoulder blades seeking a shaded refuge from the heat.
Step by step she hauled herself up – unaware of the sounds, the birds singing for joy and freedom, the subtle guitar music wafting up from a busker on the street below, the multilingual chorus singing of Babel and home.
Then she saw it. With three steps still remaining she chanced to look up and saw the whole world. Sun and sky ceded their territory to river and land, meeting at the dim, distant mountains. The still air of the baking stadium fled before the breeze off the sea in the distance.
           Words failed, language ceased, sweat and spirit sublimated in a sudden indrawn breath. 


Read the rest here