Some of you may have heard that the Southeastern Virginia Arts Association (www.sevaa.org) intends to honour Michael Vick at an upcoming black-tie event. Many people are up in arms about this because of his recently having been in jail for running a dogfighting ring -- but for me, the dogfighting is only the most glaring of reasons to take issue with this honour. As a result, I -- a Caucasian Canadian -- felt it necessary to write an e-mail to SEVAA expressing my concerns. I've copied it below.
I have no doubt that you will receive a lot of feedback about your choice to honour Michael Vick in an upcoming ceremony. Some of it will likely be vitriolic; I hope you don't consider this e-mail to be one of them.
As a Canadian, you may wonder why the actions of the Southeaster Virginia Arts Association mean anything to me, as we are so far apart both geographically and culturally. I am not a hard-line animal rights activist, or a rabid anti-sports fanatic. Indeed, I like to think that I have a well-balanced interest in both sports and the arts, and I think that an organization such as yours can do wonders to change the world for the better.
Sadly, I don't think honouring Michael Vick is the way to go about doing that.
Mr. Vick is an excellent football player. He has received many accolades for his abilities on the field, and doubtless will receive more. But beyond that, has he comported himself in a way to make him a role model to today's youth?
He dropped out of college to pursue his career on the football field. Each year hundreds of young men do likewise -- and many of them find those careers sadly short-lived, and in only a few years are left with few job prospects and little savings because they have frittered away the money they earned as a professional athlete. Vick himself had to declare bankruptcy only two and a half years ago, despite having previously been one of the highest-earning players in the National Football League. More than half of the budget of his charitable organization, the Vick Foundation, went to paying its chief fundraiser, while less than 20% of the budget went to actual charitable programmes.
Taking into account that Mr. Vick has little, if anything, to do with your organization's stated focus on "visual arts, dance, music, literary arts and theater", considering the fact that he has had legal problems including not only dogfighting but also recent allegations that he uses performance-enhancing drugs, and bearing in mind that he abandoned his education after only two years at university, I must ask: is Michael Vick truly deserving of the honour you are planning on bestowing upon him? Is he really, as you say, "a true example of life success for all to emulate"?
Somebody used my credit card to make purchases on-line. I am unhappy, especially since I've been advised it can be 2-3 months before it gets resolved.
On the brighter side, I might as well take the opportunity to plug my comic blog, Dollar Bin Blues. It's not as crazygonuts as Chris's Invincible Super Blog, but it's written entirely by yours truly so you know it's gotta be good. ;)
A conversation between me and the Dear Ladyfriend:
Dear Ladyfriend: "I saw the game Scooby Doo First Frights and I thought it said Scooby Doo Fist Fights. I thought, 'They'll make a game about anything!'" Me: "I'd play that game." DL: "It'd be like Fight Club for Scooby Doo." Me: "They'd pull the mask off of Tyler Durden and say, 'It's old man Ed Norton!'"
There's been a bit of hubbub about the inclusion or exclusion of a paid review site, Dedicated Book Reviews as a nominee for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The reasons for and against disqualifying the site, as well as for other sites withdrawing in protest, have been covered by those more involved in the matter than I. But I thought that the Dedicated Book Reviews site itself deserved some more attention.
I glanced at the blog that started all this hubbub, and I noticed three things:
1) You have to scroll about 2/3 of the way down to find any links to any of their reviews, but only 1/4 of the way down to find anonymous blurbs touting how great they are;
2) The sample reviews offer a variety of scores, from 2/10 to 10/10 -- but then reveal that these were reviews for which they weren't compensated.
3) There is no mention anywhere that I could find on the page, during all their upselling, of how much traffic they get.
To expand upon those points:
I appreciate DBR being upfront about the fact that it is a fee-charging website, especially in light o the fact that previous commentators said that it wasn't immediately obvious when they visited. However, as it's set up now, it appears that their sole focus is on separating the author from his money -- if a reader sees the name "Dedicated Book Reviews" and clicks over to it, all she will be confronted with at first is post after post detailing payment options for various plans. None of the reviews touted in the name. Now this is poor web design, pure and simple; they should have a link set up to their package options at the beginning, along with a statement that these are paid reviews, and then move on to the reviews themselves.
The sample reviews are a nice attempt to show that you're paying for a real review rather than one designed to shill your book -- until you realize that the sample reviews all predate the fee-charging aspect of the website. Now, it's quite possible that DBR intends to remain just as fair in writing paid reviews as they were in writing unpaid reviews, but I think that reality may have something to say about that -- if someone pays you and you write a bad review of their book, they're probably less likely to come back. So, whether consciously or not, there will likely be a drift towards good reviews only as time goes on. Note that I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here, and assuming that they won't just start handing out 8s, 9s, or 10s to everyone who pays them.
Speaking of payments, let's see what you get. For $55.00 you can get either:
-The Basic Author Spotlight Package: A post including your author image and book cover, a synopsis, a 150-word-maximum note from the author, an author bio, a link back to your own website, and a list of other works by you;
-The Budget-Friendly Package: A "[b]ook review, with rights to re-publish the review indefinitely, in whole or in part, with proper attribution to Bobbie Crawford-McCoy (Dedicated Book Reviews)" which they will publish on the site. No mention of a link back to your site, a cover image (that's in the Enhanced Package), or anything other than the review. But hey, at least they're kind enough to let you re-publish the review yourself at Amazon or such.
What's that? You think it's tacky for an author to post a review of his own work to Amazon, even if it was written by someone else? No worries -- that's why they're offering
The Enhanced Package! You get everything in the Budget-Friendly package, plus they post the review to Amazon, B&N, Borders, and Goodreads so you don't have to! Add to that your book's cover being featured for 1 week on DBR, and it's well worth the additional $60.00 (for a total of $115.00) they're asking.
But wait -- there's more! For an additional $80.00, you can have ThePremium Package! With the premium package, DBR will add an author picture and bio, as well as a five-question mini-interview that you can reproduce indefinitely so long as you attribute it to Ms. Crawford-McCoy. You also get an extra week of your cover being featured on the site, plus they'll post about the review to Twitter and Facebook, something other review sites never do.
Apologies. My snark appears to have gotten a little out of control.
I want to believe that the Ms. Crawford-McCoy's heart is in the right place. She did, after all, start out as a regular book review site reviewing books for no pay. And there certainly are respectable reviewers out there who get paid for their reviews -- but they don't get payed by the author. Or the publisher. Or the editor. They get paid by their employer. Who makes money through sales of the periodical where the book appears, and maybe through advertising within the periodical -- and the advertising and editorial sides are clearly delineated.
So for a while I've been thinking about horror/suspense/dark fantasy/thriller/mystery novels that have writers as protagonists, antagonists, or some other sort of significant but nist-less character, and I've decided to try to put together a list of as many I can find.
Off the top of my head, I have:
Lisey's Story by Stephen King Bag of Bones by Stephen King Misery by Stephen King The Shining by Stephen King (noticing a trend here...) The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub Small Town by Lawrence Block Who Made Stevie Crye? by Michael Bishop Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist The Peter Wimsey novels in which Harriet Vane appears, written by Dorothy L. Sayers The Tim Underwood books (eg The Throat, Koko) by Peter Straub
I am specifically excluding straight SF, non-dark fantasy, and mainstream works, such as Herovit's World by Barry Malzberg or The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
No, not the economic ones. The fiction-publishing ones. You know the ones -- the ones that pay "exposure" or "copies" of PDF files, and yet ask for "fiction of the highest standard."
I will admit that I have inadvertently "sold" to such a market, although it wasn't billed as such at the time; I submitted to an on-line publication that posted a short-short every day and indicated that it would be compiling them into a collection once a year, and that every contributor would get a copy. I would have been in the second volume, had the second volume ever come out. I won't name names here, but let it be said that this publication was apparently somewhat of a flash in the pan and a shot in the dark. You can read between those italicized lines whatever you wish.
Now, a single contributor's copy of a physical magazine/book isn't much of a payment to begin with, although these markets can be a good refuge for an aspiring author or one too chicken to try his luck with the bigger markets (I fell into both categories.) But a contributor's copy of a pdf file is almost a slap in the face. A print copy at least has a unit cost, so there is some cash outlay required on behalf of the publisher; once a pdf is created, it costs nothing (or almost nothing, if you want to get picky about electricity costs and the like) to attach it to an e-mail. So it's a "payment" that requires nothing on the part of the publisher, and really, it bestows about that much on the recipient. You can't display a pdf file on your bookshelf or show it to the in-laws, and I'm pretty sure the publisher would be unhappy if you made copies of it to pass around to your friends instead of having them buy a copy. After all, the publisher wants to get paid.
As for payment in "exposure"... Well, there's two types here: payment in "exposure" for print materials, which the publisher will go to the trouble of printing and selling but not of mailing to you; and payment in "exposure" for electronic venues such as websites. And do you wanna know a secret? Unless the website caters to a very niche market, this latter "exposure" is often only to other people whose work is appearing in the same venue. And be honest -- how much of your fellow contributors' work are you going to read in such a situation?
Robert Heinlein once said that, once you're a good writer, you should be able to sell any story you've written. Maybe not right out of the chute; maybe not even until you've let it sit for a year or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes and more talent; but eventually, through determination and constant improvement, every story should be salable. And if it's salable, that means you can get paid for it. Not in ephemeral exposure or pixels cast out onto the sea of the Web, but in something real.
I am part of a group blog dedicated to the things we do to avoid writing. Surrounded as I am by multiple-Hugo winner Elizabeth Bear, debut novelist Amanda Downum, and writer/editor/publisher/renaissance woman Leah Bobet, I can only hope to absorb greatness by association.
Via link-following, I came to an interest series of comments about worst Con experiences, many of which are gender-related -- by which I mean, women getting harassed by men. This is a serious issue, as I'm sure you'll agree.
But early on in the comments, amidst the tales of harassment, was a brief diversion into "I wish there were naked male celebrities on a panel." Now, let's conduct a thought experiment.
How would you react if I said, "Man, I wish there was a panel with Amy Acker and Famke Janssen getting naked"?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Women suffer harassment at the hands of men far more than the reverse. There's no doubt in my mind about that, and there's no justification for it.
As I write this, I am currently sitting in my hotel room across the street from the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal -- a convention to which I purchased a full-price membership. I have not set foot in the convention once today, and I'm uncertain if I shall do so before I leave for home tomorrow afternoon.
Why, after having shelled out upwards of $500.00 for a membership, accomodations, and transportation, am I not in attendance? For a reason that is as simple as it will be controversial: science fiction bores me.
Rest assured, I do not make this statement likely. It shocked me when I came to it this morning, and I'm still not entirely comfortable seeing it in print like that. But it's true, and so I'll say it again: science fiction bores me.
This wasn't always the case. I've been reading science fiction for as long as I've been reading -- I read the Fleet shared world anthology series in grade school, and finished Dune before I was in junior high. I purchased Locus on a regular basis for years, attended a Star Trek convention in my early teens, and have been to two Worldcons, two World Fantasy Conventions, and three consecutive Wiscons in the last seven years. But something has happened over the last few years, and while my reading habits have changed gradually over that time it's only been in the last few days that I've been able to pin down a reason why.
The short explanation is that the world caught up with science fiction -- and passed it. We live in a world not that dissimilar to what was projected by the New Wave of the 60s and 70s; we have flat-screen TVs, more recreational and prescription drugs than you can shake a stick at, and drastic economical, political, and environmental changes on a global scale. Meanwhile, like the apocryphal tale of Nero and his fiddle, science fiction sits in a corner, filking.
Perhaps it is unfair of me to say that science fiction bores me, for there are still authors whose work I read with interest. What truly bores me is the science fiction culture. The incestuous, Ouroborean, tail-eating culture.
People are fond of saying that science fiction is a conversation. It isn't. It is, in the words of a better author than I, "an echo chamber." It is the epitome of the phrase "preaching to the choir" -- only the choir in fact consists of many smaller choirs, and they're getting smaller and more insular all the time. The sermons hold no interest for those of us outside the flock, and neither the preachers nor the congregations seem to care.
Understand -- I don't want to feel this way. I am friends with science fiction writers. I enjoy stories that are classed as science fiction. I write stories that are classed as science fiction. But in the culture of science fiction, for me, there is nothing.
It seems that Stephanie Meyer is being accused of plagiarism. According to the article on Publishers Marketplace (which requires a subscription):
"The 14-page chart sent by Williams to HBG actually cites few if any matching phrasings between the two books. Rather, it asserts that a variety of cliched plot elements: a wedding scene with flowers; sex on a beach after a wedding; promising love "forever"; a character awaking from a nightmare; a main character calling his wife "love" in dialogue; and so on constitute infringement."
Wow! A character calls his wife "love"? Throw the book at her!
This is eerily reminiscent of the JK Rowling plagiarism case that was dismissed after, IIRC, the plaintiff was found to have altered her book after filing the claim to make the similarities more striking.
Yahoo News also has an article about the accusation.