Friends from hell

So we go over G-Man's house Saturday and first drink him out of beer and then offer to buy dinner but the Chinese takeout place doesn't take cash so it's all on him. The only way his wife could get rid of us was to start talking politics . . .

Poor guy oughta start hanging with a better class of people.
Bernie the plumber (8)

(this started on April 8)

Bernie rose, cocking his arm back to swing at the man in the suit

“Bernie, let’s go,” said his wife, her voice almost a whisper.

Tonight, of all nights – tonight he wasn’t going to be stopped.

“Bernie. Please.”

A lifetime passed as his muscle flooded with blood. Then the dealer began shutting down the table, the other players drifted off, and Bernie stood alone with his wife.

On the long drive home, neither spoke. Mary wondered why she felt so terrible for doing the right thing. Bernie didn’t feel anything at all.
Bernie the plumber (7)

Bernie felt his heart pumping. Finally, tonight, he was doing what he’d dreamed of so long ago, cutting loose.

It was the long moment before the wall.

He turned his cards over to double up. But as the dealer reached to deal, a hand came across the table and stopped him.

“You’re done tonight, Champ,” said the tall man in the pinstriped suit who’d grabbed the dealer’s arm. “Good night.”

“What?” said Bernie.

“Good night.”

The man put his hands on his hips. He was big – far bigger than Bernie. His neck was thick and his nose pushed off to the left.

“No,” said Bernie.

“Give him five,” the man told the dealer, pointing to the hundred dollar chips. “Then he’s gone.”

Two other men appeared behind him. They were even bigger than he was.

(more to come)
Rogue Warrior

This is the cover for the next Rogue Warrior, Dictator's Ransom. I'm not sure how close this is to the final cover, but it's in the ballpark.

You can pre-order now at Amazon, B&N, and your local bookstore.
Bernie the plumber (6)

Bernie’s wife paced near the bar, two tables from where Bernie was playing. He was acting crazy, out of control – he’d bought five thousand dollars worth of chips, using his credit card. It was money they didn’t have, money they’d have trouble repaying, given the economy.

What really bothered her was the look on his face. She’d seen him look that way only once before. It was years ago, but she remembered it vividly, as if it were acid-etched in her brain.

Someone had backed into their car and not stopped. Bernie chased him down, cutting other cars off, even going up on a curb before finally cornering the driver at a light. Bernie jumped out and pounded on the windshield, screaming at the man, who stayed put until the police came.

Bernie was the one who was almost arrested.

She looked across the room at him now. He was going to play all night. He was going to lose all their money.

And more than that.

“Excuse me,” she said to the bartender. “Who’s in charge here? I mean, really in charge?”

(more to come)

NY Comic Con

Same vid, different processing.
NY Comic Con

The content is real; the video itself is a test involving format & processing too mundane to explain...
Bernie the plumber (5)

(more to come)
Bernie the plumber (4)

Bernie got a streak going at the blackjack table. He was up a hundred bucks, then two hundred.

But that was nothing. He was going for it tonight, going all the way. He was either walking out a rich man, or broke.

Probably the latter.

He felt as if he was racing headlong toward a wall. He looked forward to the moment just before contact, the sweet grasp of fate before the oblivion of pain.

(more to come)

From the stadium . . .

Hell is sitting next to a know-nothing Boston fan as the Red Sox score six runs.

Paradise is seeing the Yankees comeback and win, 15-9.
Bernie the plumber (3)

Bernie went to work as usual the next day. Just before lunch, a building inspector gave him a hard time about the vent work on one of his houses. The inspector was full of it, just throwing his weight around, but Bernie didn’t say anything, just nodded and shrugged.

He was home by four-thirty. The kids were already at Mary’s sister’s.

Bernie shaved, put on a clean pair of jeans and a button-down shirt he hadn’t worn in years.

“You’re wearing aftershave,” said his wife when he came down.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Where we going?”

Atlantic City,” he said, heading for the car.

(More to come. This story started April 8)
They'll try anything

Ya don't gotta be dumb to be a Boston Red Sux fan . . .

. . . but it helps

I'm gonna guess this guy'll be sitting behind me Wednesday . . .

Here's how you curse a ballpark . . .

Email screwups

So yesterday I figured out that the email accounts for the website have folders that I've never gone into/seen/been able to open.

Folders full of email going back several months. Well, ain't I dumbass . . .


The problem has been sorted out, and most of the email (except the unknown quantity that bounced) answered. I hope.

If you haven't heard from me, please accept my apology. I wasn't being a jerk, just a dumbass.

I think there's a difference. I think . . .
Bernie the plumber (2)

“We need a sitter tomorrow,” Bernie told his wife Mary when he got home.

She looked at him funny. It had been quite a while since they’d gone out on anything resembling a date – and even longer, years and years, since Bernie had initiated it.

“Great,” she said.

“Great,” he said, and got a beer from the fridge.

(more to come)

Bernie the plumber (1)

Bernie had been a plumber since he was a kid, lugging toolboxes for his dad. Now he had his own truck, own company, own helper. But lately, copper and black pipe weren’t thrilling him. Some days he’d be on a job and forget what he was doing in the middle of it. He’d wander off, go sit in the truck while his helper finished up.

Things drifted on until one morning he got in the truck and drove. Not to the worksite, just drove. He did the same thing the next day, and the day after that.

When Bernie finally made it to work three or four afternoons later, his helper gave him notice. Bernie said he was sorry to lose him, paid him off with a bonus, and took him to lunch at Burger King.

For a few weeks, Bernie was back to his old self, up early, working late, on top of his job. But then one day on his way back home Bernie put on the radio and heard a song he’d listened to when he was sixteen or seventeen, a Bruce Springsteen song, something from Darkness on the Edge of Town.

He remembered hearing it for the first time. He thought of that the whole way home, how it had felt like it had changed his life, had set him on a different course from his father.

He thought of how that hadn’t come true.

He thought of what he should have done, would have done, could have done.

It was a long drive home.

(more to come)

'Innovating' on the backs of writers

HarperCollins* last week announced a new imprint whose focus will include "innovations" in the book business. This translated, in the mainstream and business media reports, to two major items:

- no returns
- no (or very minimal) advances to writers

(To define terms for the uninitiated: returns are books that were shipped to stores but not sold. Unlike soap, books that are in stores have not actually been bought by the stores; they're in effect there on consignment and can be returned to the publisher if unsold. The model - similar to that used in the newspaper and magazine industries - has been criticized for years as antiquated, but no publisher has been able to change it.

An advance is a sum of money given to an author before the book is published. In theory, it represents the royalties that the author will be paid when the book is actually sold in the stores generally a year or two later. The relationship between royalties and advances can be more theoretical than real. Assuming a book is published, writers don't repay the advance if less than the required number of books are sold. Just because a doesn't "earn out" - or pay off its advance - doesn't mean that it hasn't made money for the publisher, though most of the mainstream press doesn't realize this.

And one other common misconception while we're at it - advances are far lower than most people believe; the majority of writers get in the low five-figures for their books, and even a best-seller may be paid barely six figures as an advance. Not bad money, except when you remember how long it takes to write a book.)

Frankly, the reporting - even in the industry press - sucked. There were few details, and frankly it would be unfair to criticize or even comment on the plan based on the reporting. But there are a lot of misconceptions, particularly over advances, embedded in the stories, and these should be pointed out. Most specifically, advances don't just benefit writers. They help publishers as well. And readers.

Now publishers have complained about giving advances to authors since Cervantes' time, so there's nothing really new there. And I'm sure Cervantes complained about the paltry advance, at least to his friends. But the system has made the modern book industry possible.

While there are exceptions, the process of writing, publishing and selling a book can take years. Even someone considered relatively fast can take a year to deliver a book. The editing process will usually stretch anywhere from a few months to another year. Then the book is set for a publishing season - give it another six months. It hits the stores and stays on the shelves for anywhere from a few weeks to . . . well, it could be forever, but generally mass market is only going to be on display for a few months.

It takes a while to account for sales, especially when you allow for returns. And publishers still follow a schedule of reporting sales back to an author every six months (some are a year) - but typically delay those reports, by contract, three months after the period ends. Current technology gives them the relevant numbers on the period nearly instantaneously, but this is the way it's been done for decades, and since it benefits the publishers . . .

All told, it could take three years for a writer to go from idea to money in the pocket if he's paid strictly on sales - and that's if he's a very fast writer and the book comes out very quickly. Four or five is probably a better average.

Now, it's possible that the original idea of an advance was completely altruistic - a publisher didn't want his friend the writer to starve, and this was a face-saving way for the writer to basically take a loan.


But assuming that is somehow true, by paying writers before a book was even finished, publishers were able to guarantee they'd have that book in the coming publishing seasons. The writer didn't have to interrupt his work by going out and getting a job at 7-11 (though it may have paid more). This stability in the publishing industry allowed publishers to set up publishing programs that could develop a consistent cash flow, as well as set the stage for blockbusters and best sellers. They were in effect developing "product" and guaranteeing that it would be around when needed.

Readers responded - and still do. They get used to regular releases by their favorite authors, and demand (apparently) a wide-ranging selection in all genres. Advances make that all possible on a regular and predictable basis - critical points in the modern marketplace.

This is rarely if ever acknowledged, and wasn't mentioned in any of the stories that I've seen. On the contrary, the reporters all managed to convey a suspicion that conniving writers are pushing conglomerate book publishers into the red.

Instead of advances, writers will supposedly share in profits of their books. This process, of course, is never explained - and it's clear from the stories that the reporters didn't pursue answers very hard. Probably because they have no clue what questions to ask.

Forget the fact that, in essence, that's what traditional royalties are supposed to represent. And I'll save the analysis on costs for some other lifetime. The bottom line is this: unless a publisher is willing to give authors a hell of a lot more access to their accounting records than they've ever done before, the system won't work in any sort of fair way. It may work, but it won't be really based on profit any more than the present system is - and very likely a lot less.

Computing overhead is everything when determining profit - and not just because of the hassles involved when it comes to trying to figure out what fraction should be used for each book. Royalty schedules based on cover price and sales - or net received, another system reporters don't seem to know about, since it's never mentioned - is simpler and more predictable for all concerned. Which is why, with all its faults - and they are legion - it's stayed in place all these years.

These so-called "innovations" and especially the media noise around them are the latest examples of the adversarial relationship that is developing between authors and publishers at a time when the opposite should be happening. Technological changes, shifts in the marketplace and the uncertain economy are stressing the entire industry. What's needed - for publishers as well as authors - is are strong voices that recognize not just the challenges but the fact that the solutions require cooperation.

Publishers Marketplace had some "elaborations" on other ideas that actually may have exactly the opposite effect of all this. But even there, they were pretty sketchy. And there was a line to the effect that writers who "make more than publishers" probably wouldn't be interested.

Ain't too many of them, believe me. And I'm going to guess that both the editor who said it and the reporter who wrote it actually know that. But the perception is that they're legion.

Hell, all the editors I know want to get good reads out to readers. So do writers. That's really the bottom line. But it's never mentioned anywhere.

And now back to our regularly scheduled mayhem . . .

* A house which has published me very well, and whose editors and staff I respect very highly. But if this pisses them off, so be it.
Wheels of progress dept.
(Rogue Warrior update)

As promised:

(The standard disclaimers apply.)

We move slowly toward the pub date of the new Rogue Warrior - Dictator's Ransom - which the publisher has now declared will "officially" be available in mid-October.

Unofficially, I've heard that bootleg excerpts, complete with all our (my*) mistakes, are already circulating. Apparently someone xeroxed part of the early/unedited manuscript for a few friends. Bad, bad, bad...

It's nice that people like it and all, etc., etc., but come on guys - it ain't finished until it's finished. And we don't get paid for this bootleg stuff. So thanks, but ...

That goes double for the after-action report (not ours). The source is supposedly being tracked down due to "client" (aka government) concerns. (A word to the wise - all the originals were coded. So if you're the one responsible, watch your back. But you should know that already . . .)

Dick's shooting some "real" promo videos this weekend about the book. (The ones already on the internet are actually test jobs, but I like 'em.) Lawyers are supposedly going to clamp down on how much he can say - ha, ha, ha, you know how much of a chance that has of succeeding.

The cover's not finalized; I'll put it up as soon as it makes its way to me. (No, I'm not holding my breath.)

That's all I know.

* - It's my job to put in the mistakes. I think it's the one part of the task that I can say without bragging that I excel at.
Advancing the cause of peace and understanding

Oh wait, peace is a Western concept...

(This is a video from a Hamas-owned television station showing a puppet killing George Bush for every alleged wrong ever suffered by any Muslim down through the millennium. It's a children's show.)

And you thought Thomas the Tank Engine was subversive...
If ya ain't rich . . .

Stay out of New York.

City Council Approves Fee to Drive Below 60th

By DIANE CARDWELL The controversial proposal to charge drivers in the busiest parts of Manhattan took a major step forward on Monday, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Speaker Christine C. Quinn wrenching approval from the City Council by an unusually slim margin. Under intense pressure from the mayor, Ms. Quinn and their allies that continued almost until the voting began, council members approved the plan to charge most drivers $8 to enter a zone below 60th Street by a vote of 30 to 20, with no abstentions and one absence.
Or at least Manhattan.

More and more, New York is a city divided - you're welcome if you're wealthy and-or a tourist; all others, tough shit.