More on that . . .

So now it turns out that the Christians In Action* were onto the Christmas plot . . . but were just a little , uh, behind the curve.

Some of my friends in Virginia are going to have a rough new year's.

Don't you wish things worked as well in real life as they do in books?

* As the Rogue Warrior likes to put it. . .
About Chisinau

Explain, Jim . . . or at least connect the dots . . .

I'm working on the next Dreamland Whiplash . . . A lot of the next Whiplash takes place in Moldova . . . Chisinau is the capital of the country . . .

. . . The "gates" in the picture are an apartment complex, or rather a pair of them . . . you see the "gates" as you come up from the south from the airport.

Why does Whiplash take place there? And what's the next book about?

Too soon to tell... but if you read Dreamland: Revolution, you'll get a headstart.
Chisinau, Moldova



Where I'm at . . .
The attack . . .

Amid all the uproar over the failed Christmas Day terror attack, one thing no one seems to be noting is that the incident is a goldmine of information for American intelligence agencies. Capturing the would-be mass murderer alive - all credit to the passengers and crew - is an intelligence coup, albeit one that no one's going to brag about.

It'd be nice to see it pay off with a midnight raid in Yemen in a few weeks, though the odds are that if it does we won't hear about it. I know a few SEALs whom I'm sure are literally salivating at the chance to get the call.

Meanwhile, the problems with Homeland Insecurity aren't exactly new; many people have been writing about them for years now. (Shameless plug department: Check out Rogue Warrior: Vengeance for a long but only partial list.) Fixing things will take . . . a lot more than I can outline here.

Fortunately, the terrorists are generally more psychotic than skilled. The media makes them out to be supermen; that's nonsense. This whole brouhaha is starting to look a little like Tet - the bad guys lost, but the media makes them look like winners.

I mean think about it. This asshole set his balls on fire, and the media is making him and the dickheads that set him up look like Osama bin Einsteins. Come on.

The Christmas Day plan, like a lot of terrorist plans, was seriously flawed. And here's another thing you won't hear: Part of the reason the plan didn't work - admittedly only part - has to do with the restrictions and procedures that make it slightly harder to blow up an airliner than it used to be. Take those away, and the outcome here would have been different.

Probably. Like I say, these guys aren't necessarily the most effective paranoid schizo crazies in the world, just the blood-thirstiest.

If we really want to do something about the problem, we have to attack it at the source, again and again. Hello Yemen, hello other armpit capitals of the world.

In the meantime, I'll be wearing freshly laundered boxers every time I travel.
More Iran



Tehran, perhaps a Basij militia (the thug police force) office.
Iran today

Why thriller writers don't do Xmas cards very well . . .

From the inside of the Christmas card I didn't send this year:

Care deeply
think kindly,
act gently,
and be at peace
with the world.

Then blow the whole
damn thing up.

Maybe for 2010.

Hope yours was a good one.
Say it ain't so!



Ah, Melkman, the outfield won't be the same without you . . .
Joke for today . . .

Iran Leader Says U.S. Forged Report

Reuters . . . [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was asked by ABC News about a report in London's Times newspaper last week on what it said was a confidential Iranian technical document describing a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the part of a warhead that sets off an explosion.

"They are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government," he told the U.S. network in an interview broadcast on Monday.

And when Israel blows up the plant where these are fabricated, the destruction will be a figment of Iran's imagination.

Hope is not dead in Iran




The funeral today for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the leading figures of the opposition in Iran.
What I learned from the copyeditor

Easygoing, hourglass, and motherfucker are all one word.

Who knew?
Speaking of editors . . .

I understand the impulse to want to help, but . . .

. . . never, ever in ANY of my books will someone have a rueful grin.

Creativity

Dilbert.com

Scott Adams' official Dilbert site -- http://dilbert.com/ -- has been running an interesting beta for the past few months, letting readers create and then vote on mashups from the original cartoons. If you're a Dilbert fan, you've probably already found your way over there. If not, then you ought to. Here's the link.

The interesting thing to me, though, is the fact that almost invariably, the original cartoons are much, much funnier than the ones created and then voted on by the general public. It's a stark reminder, really, of the way creativity and what we might call group think don't really go together. More minds aren't better when it comes to art.

And a lot of other activities as well.

Kind of the point behind Dilbert, now that I think about it.
Iran's intentions


Headlines from the past few days:

Iran Says It Tested Upgraded Missile
(NY Times)

Insurgents in Iraq Hack U.S. Drones
(. . . with Iranian help - Wall Street Journal)

Secret Document Exposes Iran's Nuclear Trigger
(. . . actually old news, but still relevant - London Times)

Tell me again why anyone would think they're not building nukes?

Oh, and then there's this:

Pakistan Reported to be Harassing U.S. Diplomats
(NY Times)

Who needs friends when you have the Pakistani government on your side?
Aps

I'm not impressed by the aps that show you where the nearest Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts is.

Show me an ap that gives the waiting times at all coffee shops within a ten block or two-mile radius, geographic context dependent, then maybe we can talk.
The right direction

Macmillan ceo John Sargent reported a new ebook policy for the house yesterday, blending enhanced, premium price e-versions with a delay of "several months" on other titles: "Our goal is to give the consumer what they want, when they want it, at a fair price. In 2010 we will publish our bestsellers in several ways. Some bestsellers will be enhanced with additional content and priced to reflect their increased value to the consumer. These will be published at the same time as the hardcover and will be available for three months as special editions. We will publish other bestsellers, without enhancements, several months after the hardcover release. We will adjust the number of special edition bestsellers we publish based on the market response. Working with our authors, we will continue to experiment with new models going forward."

(From Publishers Lunch)

Yesterday we criticize; today we praise.
An industry roiled


The changes that have been going on behind the scenes in the book publishing industry over the past few years are finally seeping out into the wider world.

This morning, there was a story in the news about Stephen Covey deciding to cut his own deal with Amazon for e-book sales, bypassing his traditional publisher. On Friday, the news media publicized a letter from Random House trying to claim it owns ebook rights for books published when ebooks didn't exist - an opinion at variance with what's come out of court proceedings that Random was party to.

It's easy to see why Covey - and a lot of other authors to follow - would go for a deal with Amazon cutting his traditional publisher out. Most publishers currently pay authors, at best, 25 percent of their proceeds on sales from ebooks. That would work out roughly to about 12.5 percent of what a customer pays - at best.

Deal with Amazon directly, and you can get 35 percent of the sale price. Deal with a different middleman (which is what Covey actually did, rather than what some stories lead you to believe), and you can get at least 25 percent of what they pay - twice the best deal an old-line publisher will pay.

Not good numbers, by the way, but that's what they are.

Publishers can argue that they add value to books in a number of ways; Random House tried to list a few, claiming to be investing "millions" in the Internet side of the business. But the dirty little secret is that, in many cases, publishers actually add little value to books, including the books at the very top of their lists. Take away their pipeline to the market - which they don't have with ebooks - and what does an author get?

A copy editor who adds ten errors for every one he fixes.

You can expect many authors to experiment with direct ebook deals. Whether they're the way of the future or not remains to be seen. But if you're a publisher, pissing authors off by claiming to own rights that they don't isn't the solution.

I deal with some great publishers, and some excellent editors. I have also dealt with the opposite.

I don't think the majority of authors want publishers to go out of business. But if publishing is going to save itself, it had better change much of what it does very soon.

Unfortunately, if it doesn't get this right, authors and readers, as well as the publishers themselves, will suffer.
Still Crazy . . . .



. . . after all these years.

Thanks, babe.
Hello?



From 'Easy Living,' script by Preston Sturges.
Final approach

So we're practicing unpowered landings . . . always a fun time . . . when the flight instructor calls into the tower for a heads up.

We're good, but look for a Cessna that was coming in . . . somewhere to our north . . .

"Where was that, Tower?"

"Near the lake."

Flight instructor can't see it. Neither can I. And I'm staring at the lake.

Well that and my airspeed indicator, which, you know, isn't exactly spinning off the dial with the engine off.

"See it?"

"Negative. I'm looking right at . . . oh . . . did you say near the lake, or in the lake?"

"Tower . . ."

I'm hoping the Cessna had floats . . .
Why men need wives . . .

Me: So what do you think for next year - more flying lessons, or a new (old) motorcycle?

Her: How about we pay the mortgage.

Me: There is that . . .
The true story



"Don't deny for a moment that there are systematic practices in place to keep America in debt."
Iran

The protests continue today, with hundreds arrested and new demonstrations reported . . .





But they haven't lost their sense of humor - the poster had this tagged under "comedy."
Amazon's take


The NY Times Sunday Magazine published a typically lame interview with Jeff Bezos over the weekend, in which Amazon's "royalty" to authors who publish through them is favorably compared to that of traditional publishers'. Amazon gives authors 35 percent; publishers' royalty rates depend on a whole number of factors, but would generally be in the 10-15 percent range.

It's a completely misleading comparison. For one thing, publishers pay advances up front against the royalty; Amazon does nothing of the kind. The publishers are taking a real risk on the work, and the writer, generally before the book has been written. And without that risk, most books simply wouldn't be written at all.

Publishers also have real expenses associated with the book beyond marketing it - things like editing and physically producing it, for starters. And the way sales actually break down, the publisher is generally only getting 50 percent or less on the sale, so the author earns in the area of 20 to 30 percent of what the publisher gets.

And publishers don't turn around and sell copies of the books where authors don't make any money - as Amazon does when it sells "used" books.

Traditional publishers certainly can be criticized, but Amazon is in no way a white knight here. The changes in the industry that Amazon is trumpeting have generally not helped writers, and Amazon could clearly care less about that.

I'm not saying it's their job to care, but don't try and give me any impression to the contrary.
First snow . . .


So we got a bunch of snow over the weekend, and guests to help shovel out.

Help: So, being we're in the country and all, should I check the snowboots for scorpions?

Me: No, just dead mice . . .
Jeremy's been busy, too



I've been having so much fun myself that I forgot to mention my alter ego, Jeremy Roberts, who just helped Rey Mysterio get his book out.

Rey's book is impressive. For a guy who makes his living working in a mask, he's pretty revealing.

Here's one place to get it.
Yeah, I'm back . . .

. . . so what?
So I was in Moldova for this book . . .

. . . which is next to Romania, which has a connection to this, though it's pretty subtle if you're an American, since this is a French film . . .

But it's a cute movie anyway...


A miscarriage of justice

Knox Convicted of Killing Roommate
PERUGIA, Italy (Dec. 4) -- A jury has convicted American college student Amanda Knox of murdering her British roommate and sentenced her to 26 years in prison while her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years.
Unbelievable.

The prosecutor came up with the most outlandish theory, and managed to make it stick... at least partly thanks to a sex-crazed media.

Check out Doug Preston's Monster of Florence - and especially the background to the book - for all you need to know about the prosecutor. His web page on it is here.

Doug's book deserves to be read on its own, of course.
Fiction and its many possibilities


The other day I was talking about Leopards Kill, and the fact that much of the book is based on reality and what was going on in Afghanistan when I wrote it a few years ago.

Unfortunately, a great deal of what I hoped wouldn't happen did happen, but that's another post.

So a reader asked: Why exactly did you go to such lengths in the beginning of the book to say it was fiction? Because obviously a great deal of it is true, even the tiny details about how the buildings are laid out.

Because it's a story, not a history, not a prediction. One of the themes of the book has to do with the stories we tell ourselves to get through things, and how we get trapped by them.

Jack Pilgrim finds himself trapped by a story a lot of Americans got trapped during this decade. He confuses money with success, and for far too long is willing to accept hype in place of reality. The book is about him finding out what's real - and recovering his soul in the process.

And yes, it is about Afghanistan, and how we bungled things there. And yes, the parallels to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are deliberate and intentional.

Let me put it this way: I could have written a true story about the American operations in Afghanistan. (And at one point I was approached to do so. Another long story.) But that would have been just about Afghanistan. Writing Leopards Kill as a novel let me do more.

Oh yeah, you can pick it up here, here or even here. Now in paperback . . .
Rogue postscript

Yeah, I know you Aussies have been playing the game for an entire day now.

I bow down before your greatness, MFs . . .
It lives!



The long awaited, much rumored Rogue Warrior game ships today!

Have fun. That's an order . . .
Yes, it is true - we let him get away



After all of the Apocalypse Now questions, what I'm asked most often about Leopards Kill is whether we really let Osama bin Laden escape after 9/11.

The answer is, yes.

This wasn't widely known when I was working on the book, but it is gaining more attention. Supposedly, the Senate will be looking into it soon, at least according to this story in the Times:

Senate Report Explores 2001 Escape by bin Laden From Afghan Mountains

WASHINGTON — As President Obama vows to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by sending more troops, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has completed a detailed look back at a crucial failure early in the battle against Al Qaeda: the escape of Osama bin Laden from American forces in the Afghan mountains of Tora Bora in December 2001.

“Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,” the committee’s report concludes. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”

The report, based in part on a little-noticed 2007 history of the Tora Bora episode by the military’s Special Operations Command, asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt.

The report blames the lapse for “laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.”


Story here (and elsewhere, if you don't like the Times).

A lot of the operational details remain secrete for a number of reasons unrelated to embarrassing people, but the outlines are pretty much there.
Thanks for the fun . . .

Mom brought her stuffing, Aunt Marie brought her ricotta cheesecake, and the Old Guys beat the Young Turks in both football games. It was a great Thanksgiving. We're still partying, some of us....

The only question I have: When did I get assigned to the Old Guys team????
We're back


Sites are back up. Thanks for your patience.

And we appreciate the hits.
Websites blown out . . .

Sorry folks - we just found out that some our websites - Jimdefelice.com and one of the Rogue Warrior sites, Dictatorsransom.com - experienced technical problems due to heavy usage over the past few days. We still have some intermittent problems.

Sorry for the problems - we're working on fixing them.

And thanks for looking up us up. We truly appreciate your support.
Here's a fact

More people will learn about the war on terror from Modern Warfare 2 than from reading the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and just about any other eight newspapers combined.
Workout

Make gnocchi all morning and you realize why those old Italian ladies had forearms bigger than Popeye's . . .
Ospreys on the line



Been a long time coming . . .
Gee, this is a shock

Wall Street Finds Profits Again, by Reducing Mortgages

As millions of Americans struggle to hold on to their homes, Wall Street has found a way to make money from the mortgage mess.

Investment funds are buying billions of dollars’ worth of home loans, discounted from the loans’ original value. Then, in what might seem an act of charity, the funds are helping homeowners by reducing the size of the loans.

But as part of these deals, the mortgages are being refinanced through lenders that work with government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration. This enables the funds to pocket sizable profits by reselling new, government-insured loans to other federal agencies, which then bundle the mortgages into securities for sale to investors.

The upshot is, they take private underwater mortgages which some helped write in the first place, and foist them off on the government. Which is, um, you and me.

The story, which is here, goes on to talk to one couple who had a $440,000 mortgage reduced to $314,000. I'm sure they're very nice people, but at least according to the story the husband is the sole bread winner, and he's a 62-year-old janitor in California. I guess janitors there get paid a lot of money.
What bankers really think . . .


Mr. Blankfein [head of Goldman Sachs] recently defended his firm’s pay and profits in an interview with The Times of London in which he said that Goldman was “doing God’s work.”

Ultra-Realistic Modern Warfare Game Features Awaiting Orders, Repairing Trucks
A good day


Worked on the firewood pile. Any day you get to use a chainsaw is a good day.
Big stories



Speaking of Rogue Warrior . . . some readers were asking during one session or another about why the last few books have had such "big" plots - doing battle with Fidel in this case, the North Koreans, et al. Save the world versus rescue the (relatively unknown) kidnapped civilian.*

Part of it has to do with the reality angle - the stories are intertwining with things that are really going on in the wide world, what Dick's concerned about and up to, and so on.

But another part has to do with the times. Our perception, over the last several books, is that the big stories, with a lot at stake, are what people want to read. It's not just us - both publishing houses have emphasized that. Maybe we're just living in hyperbolic times, but there seems less appreciation or maybe room in the mass media for anything that's narrower or less than apocalyptic.

As for the next book - we're already working on it. Dick's made a couple of trips to the locale, gotten back with his skin (mostly) intact, and we've got some great material. Big and small.

Without me getting in trouble this time, either. At least so far.

Oh, you can get Seize the Day here. Or here.

* No, you didn't miss an installment. I made those up to illustrate the point. Sheesh, grasshopper.
You want one . . .



. . . you know you do.

The new Rogue Warrior watch. And it keeps good time, too.

Here's a review.
Let's do it

I keep reading a lot of bs about New York not being able to handle a terrorist trial.

Give me a break. We've already done it. And I'm sorry, but keeping our collective mouths shut isn't going to make us any less of a target.

We're ready to fry the sob. And if it's what he wants - so much the better.
What editors don't understand (#2,459)


Friend of mine was recently talking to an editor-type, who wanted to know how the work on his latest book was progressing. He did the writer shuffle, but the editor insisted on trying to pin him down.

"So what happens to this character?" asked the editor. "How does [the character]* pull the [plot point]* off?"

"Don't know," said the writer.

The editor-type went nuts.

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

The meeting went downhill from there. I'm not sure if the editor-type thought my friend was bullshiting, being cruel, or somehow slacking off. But the upshot of it was a screaming match and some door slamming. Sorry I missed it, actually.

Now maybe he was bs'ing, or being cruel, or even slacking off, but what he said about not knowing what specifically was going to happen was surely true. The good stuff only happens when you get there. (Ditto the bad, but we don't have to go into that.)

That's what being a writer is - to a large extent, figuring it out when you get there is what makes it interesting.

That's not an editor's head -- an editor has to think more like an engineer, figuring out how things are going to be connected. They want to make sure the bridge is going to stand before they cross it. Writers just say, hell, let's get to the other side. We'll figure out how we do it when we get there.

* The specifics are irrelevant. Besides, by the time I explain the specifics, you'll be checking ESPN for baseball scores.
Time to volunteer . . .


. . . for jury duty.

Key 9/11 Suspect to Be Tried in New York
WASHINGTON — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and four other men accused in the plot will be prosecuted in federal court in New York City, a federal law enforcement official said early on Friday.
Walkway over the Hudson





The last time I walked across the Hudson I was breaking the law if not defying gravity, climbing past the barricades and up over the missing boards to walk free and easy into what seemed like thin air. It was a spectacular feeling. And it was cold.

The other day I went back. The Walkway is now a unique public park, and you don't have to trespass or sneak anywhere, though figuring out a place to park may be a problem. It was just as amazing, at least as much for the thousands of people streaming in each direction as the view.

It wasn't cold. But somehow it seemed scarier if the thick fences on either side.

Directions and info here.
Speaking of what it is I do . . .




Which reminds me - I should plug my book, right?

Leopards Kill is out in paperback today... a few days early, to beat (well, hopefully join) the holiday rush.

You can get it here, among other places.
Dreaming of Bruce Willis

Marshal Zeringue runs a fascinating blog called "My book, the movie," which lets authors indulge in their fantasies of making it to the big screen. It makes for entertaining reading.

He kindly let me tell a story about Bruce Willis and Leopards Kill. Click here to get there.

The blog itself lives at http://mybookthemovie.blogspot.com

You can also catch up with Marshal at this site:

http://americareads.blogspot.com/

The blog is waging a virtual war for books - gotta love it.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!



A thrilla . . .
Tickets and deer . . .


I hadn't seen Dogboy for quite a while, but I knew he'd turn up eventually, and with deer hunting season on tap I wasn't surprised to find him at the local watering hole the other night, mooching beer and rooting, more or less, for the Yankees.

"Just the guy I wanted to see," he said, coming over to my side of the bar about a half hour before the game. "Can I get you a beer?"

"Sure."

"OK, give me some money."

A Guinness and a half later, Dogboy came up with a proposition -- a pair of Yankee tickets for my hunting license.

"What are you going to do with my license?" I asked.

"Take your deer. You ain't gonna get one anyway."

"I might."

"You never have the time. Or the patience. And your aim ain't what it used to be. Besides, if you really wanted a deer, you'd shoot one of the ones that run through your backyard."

"You still need a license."

"Oh excuse me, I didn't realize I was talking to a law abiding citizen."

"I obey plenty of laws."

"Let's cut the bull and get to the chaser," said Dogboy, showing off his deft turn of phrase. "I'll swap you two tickets to Game Six for your license."

Before I could say anything else, a guy at the end of the bar cleared his throat real loud.

"You're talking about swapping a hunting license for tickets to a ball game?" he said.

"Who's asking?" said Dogboy.

The man pulled out his wallet and flashed what looked like a badge.

I know what you're expecting -- what I was expecting. Dogboy, and maybe your truly, were about to miss a ballgame.

Heh.

"You're a cop?" asked Dogboy. He sounded skeptical, mostly because he knows all the cops within a fifty mile radius.

"Nope."

"Conservation officer?" asked Dog.

"Might be," said the guy. "And a Yankee fan."

They went out for a smoke. Dog came back around the fourth inning, by which time the Yanks were pretty much out of it.

"You still on for that deal?" I asked.

"Too late," said Dog.

"I hate to tell you this, Dog," said the bartender. "But that guy ain't no DEC conservation officer. He's a plumber. I hope you didn't give him your tickets."

"I did," said Dogboy. He smiled. "But I got plenty more tickets where those came from."

"You related to one of the Steinbrenners?" asked the bartender. "Or are the tickets fake?"

"Neither. I just collected a whole bunch of them last year."

"The Yankees didn't make the playoffs last year, let alone the Series."

"Then the tickets must still be good, right?" said Dogboy. He slipped a twenty onto the bar. "Give me a beer. And another Guinny for my law-abiding citizen friend."

"You're paying?" I said in disbelief. "Since when?"

"Since you can get twenty-five bucks for a parking pass," said Dogboy, lifting his glass. "Last year's prices. A true bargain."
Book wars


In case you haven't heard . . .

Amazon.com extends Internet price war on books

By HILLEL ITALIE (AP)
NEW YORK — The book price wars are no longer just for pre-orders.
Amazon.com was offering hardcovers of John Grisham's "Ford County" and Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna" for just $9 on Tuesday, the official release date for both books. Hardcovers generally have a list price of $24 or higher.

The price wars are driving publishers nuts. Even though no publisher has directly supported the lower prices with steeper than normal discounts (at least none have admitted it), the discounts are seen as decimating price points and killing or at least harming independent bookstores, who are losing sales because they generally can't offer to sell the books for less than they pay.

(The usual discount to book stores is 50 percent. That means the store paid somewhere in the area of half the list price to get the title. There are all sorts of promotions and other complications, but it's a useful rule of thumb. Oh, and authors generally get in the area of 6 to 12 percent, depending on the type of book, how many ultimately sell, the contract, etc. Yes, the guy or gal who wrote it gets the least amount of money in the process.)

There's some anecdotal evidence that the deeply discounted books are eating into the sales of other books a little lower in the pecking order, but given how slowly publishing works, it may be months before the real impact of this known.

At least somebody thinks people want to read books, and that they're worth bargaining over. The only problem is whether anyone will be able to afford to publish books when this is over.

Or write. But that's another subject . . .
Pretty ship





The USS New York arrived at its namesake city this morning. Impressive little canoe.

And if you sailors think we're standing you all for a beer . . . well, you're right.
So I get a flu shot . . .

. . . and I end up with the flu.

Makes sense.
B-2s



The really impressive thing about this mission isn't the technology; it's the fact that the men in the planes completed a fourteen-hour mission.

Fourteen hours.
Where writers stand

From Publisher's Lunch (an industry newsletter)

Royalty Revisionism: New Macmillan Contracts Looks to Change eRoyalties and More
Macmillan ceo John Sargent wrote to agents earlier this week to present for the first time a new standardized boilerplate contract across all of the trade publisher's imprints and divisions that the company intends to introduce as of November 9, featuring a number of comprehensive changes in their basic business terms. The goal, he writes, is "to facilitate a more efficient contracting process, for ourselves as well as for our authors and their agents, and to make sure our author agreements reflect current business realities."

One notable effect, as agent Richard Curtis underscores on his blog, is a proposed new ebook royalty of just 20 percent of net receipts--a reduction from the 25 percent boilerplate offer from the other big six publishers. (Curtis's blog is the first public posting about the dispatch, and includes a pdf of Sargent's cover letter.) Sargent writes in his introductory letter that "as the methods for dissemination of content rapidly change and the distinctions between sales and licenses blur, we have determined that a single royalty rate, based on the amount received by the publisher, should apply to all exploitation of the content in digital form."

That "single royalty rate" also means the elimination of any distinction between electronic sales made by the publisher and electronic licenses by third parties--which more typically would provide for a 50/50 split--even as the opportunities for electronic licensing continue to expand. In addition to reducing authors' share of this income stream, it can be seen as a counter to the argument being softly floated by some agents lately that selling relationships with eretailer's proprietary formats, such as Kindle, should be accounted for as licenses rather than sales. For those who might resist such a change, Sargent underscores that "our starting premise is that digital rights in the content we publish in print book formats must be included in the basic grant of rights."

So, by my math, even if the publisher has none of the costs involved to physically produce the book, their contribution is still worth four times what the author's is.

And, by the way, that would work out to only about ten percent of the price a reader pays for the book.

Publishing as we know it is doomed.


No reason - just in the mood...
How much does it cost to buy NYC?

From the NY Times:
Newly released campaign records show the mayor, as of Friday, had spent $85 million on his latest re-election campaign, and is on pace to spend between $110 million and $140 million before the election on Nov. 3.

Gotta wonder what Bloomberg's return on investment ratio is . . .
Accuracy in fiction

So how accurate do you really have to be in a novel? Because after all, it is fiction.

Or to put it another way: If I put helicopters* aboard a destroyer that doesn't usually have any, would people notice? What if the destroyer is a member of the class -- the Arleigh Burkes, for example -- that does have the helicopters, except that this particular ship doesn't?

But I love the name of the ship, and its history. And it just feels right that it be in that scene, in that book.

But . . . I absolutely need the helicopter.

In the end, I renamed the ship. But I did use the original ship's motto, leaving it in as a wink to readers in the know.


* The point is a little more subtle, but it'll take me an hour to explain it, and by that time the playoff game will be on. And you won't care anyway . . .
Tickets, who's got tickets?

From the Daily News:

Yankees fans strike out trying to buy World Series tickets at Yankee Stadium box office
The Yankees are on the verge of a World Series berth, but many fans struck out Wednesday as they tried to score some tickets.

A Daily News reporter signed on to Yankees.com before tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Around 10:01, the page redirected the reporter to Ticketmaster, where seats for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 were up for sale.

The reporter selected "Best Available" for each game - but went 0-4. The tickets were gone by 10:07.

Afghanistan: The 'Decision' . . .

I realize it's just political bs, but anyone who really expects the Obama administration to announce its decision on what it's doing in Afghanistan before health care is resolved is simply out of touch with American politics. No way is Obama - or any President, to be fair - going to make that sort of controversial announcement while the fate of his most important piece of legislation is hanging by a few votes in congress.

If you're looking for what the decision going to be, consider this: a significant number of troops have already been detailed to Afghanistan since General McChrystal's report "leaked."

The number of troops the U.S. sends to Afghanistan may get the headlines, but the real issue is what to do about Pakistan. Or rather, al Quedastan, which better describes the area over the border. You can put a billion troops in Afghanistan, but if you're not willing to take the battle into the hills where the enemy really is, you're never going to beat him.

But unless the Pakistan government and its dysfunctional intelligence service and military get their act together, not even wiping out al Quedastan is going to solve the problem.
Uh-huh . . .

PC World - Google revealed its intention to launch an online bookstore dubbed Google Editions sometime in early 2010. Google plans to open for business with about 500,000 available titles from a variety of publishers. The new service will provide ebooks in a browser-centric, eReader-agnostic manner that will muddy the eReader water even more than it is today. Google Editions is entirely separate from Google Book Search, Google's project to scan all of the books of the world and make them available online.
Heh...
RIP, Captain Lou



Louis Vincent Albano, 1933-2009. The world may never know a better manager.
Cuba

The new Rogue Warrior is set primarily in Cuba. It's a really beautiful island, with some wonderful people.

Unfortunately, the island is also a clear example of what happens to a country when it's ruled by a Communist dictatorship. The economy in Cuba is not quite as bad as it was immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when aid suddenly dried up. But there's still considerable poverty and hardship. And if you are even suspected of opposing the regime, or somehow earn the enmity of a person connected with it, your troubles become endless.

Seize the Day concerns the impending demise of Fidel, and we have quite a lot of fun with it. It was a fun book to work on. Hell, if you can't have fun hoodwinking a dictator and foiling his plot to screw America one last time, where can you have fun?

But the situation in Cuba, and its future, are serious matters. We hope that the Cuban people, indomitable, will continue to persevere. Some day, very soon, they'll be breathing free air again.
Grab it while it's hot



The new Rogue Warrior comes out this week, and Dick's doing about 3,478 radio interviews. Among others, if you're in the New York area, you can hear him on the Steve Malzberg show on WOR on the 15th. He's also going to be on Fox Radio, on Michael Dresser's show, on the Greenberg News show in Philly (hey Philadelphia, we're still with you), and like that...

(BTW: If he takes calls when he's on with Malzberg, be sure to ask why he's wearing his black tie and tux. It's for a good cause.)

Interested in buying the book? Here's a link at B&N.com.
More comments on Google's copyright theft

Google's self-serving op ed piece (see below) published in the Times the other day has generated a number of comments. Among them was this, from PatrickH*, Brooklyn:


Google is currently mounting an assault on copyright, and don't assume it is for altruistic motives.

In 2004, Google announced its intent to digitize all of the world's 80-100 million books - and to make most of them commercially available as orphaned works. The plan has been controversial since its inception.

Google began with the cooperation of several major libraries. The libraries gave Google access to their holdings. The problem is that libraries are libraries; they don't own the copyrights to the books they hold. In short, they gave Google the rights to other people's work. So far, Google has scanned over 10 million books.

In 2004, the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers sued Google for copyright infringement. Last October the parties settled. The resulting agreement is 141 pages long, with 15 appendices of 179 pages. The implications for copyright holders are not clear, but what the litigants would get is breathtaking. As Lynn Chu, a principal at Writers Representatives LLC, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2009:

"[I]f approved by the federal court, [it would] permit Google to post out-of-print books for reading, sales, institutional licensing, ad sales, and other publishing exploitations, by Google, online. The settlement gives the class-action attorneys $30 million; a new, quasi-judicial bureaucracy called the Book Rights Registry $35 million...and $45 million for owners infringed up to now -- about $60 a title." http://online.wsj.com...

Google would keep just over a third of the profits generated by selling these books online. The rest would go to the Book Rights Registry run by publishers' and authors' representatives. In other words, 63% would go to the parties that sued Google. In theory, the Registry would attempt to locate the authors of orphaned works and pay them royalties. But as Ms. Chu points out, the parties that sued Google - and would therefore benefit from Google's infringement - have themselves traded away other people's rights in the bargain:

"No one elected these 'class representatives' to represent America's tens of thousands of authors and publishers to convey their digital rights to Google. Nor are the interests of this so-called class identical."

The US Department of Justice apparently agrees. Last Friday, it filed an objection to the settlement and advised the court to reject the settlement as written. On page 9 of their brief, the DOJ attorneys write:

"The structure of the Proposed Settlement itself, therefore, pits the interests of one part of the class (known rightsholders) against the interests of another part of the class (orphan works rightsholders). Google's commercial use of orphan works will generate revenues, which will be deposited with the Registry. Any unclaimed revenues, however, will inure to the benefit of the Registry and its registered rightsholders. Thus, the Registry and its registered rightsholders will benefit at the expense of every rightsholder who fails to come forward to claim profits from Google's commercial use of his or her work...

"The greater the economic exploitation of the works of unknown rightsholders by Google and the Registry, the stronger the incentive for known rightsholders to retain the unclaimed revenues for themselves." [Emphasis added]

The Department of Justice also warns that the settlement fails to comply with copyright, antitrust laws and the rules of class action litigation. http://www.usdoj.gov...

The US federal court was scheduled to hold a fairness hearing October 7. But over 400 objections from around the world have been filed by rightsholders, competitors to Google and (in addition to the US government) the governments of France and Germany. Yesterday we received news that the fairness hearing has been delayed.

The Google settlement has also been condemned by Marybeth Peters, Register of the US Copyright Office. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, Ms. Peters stated that it would allow Google to "operate under reverse principles of copyright law," adding "it could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come." http://www.copyright.gov...

We haven't had much to say about this agreement because, with the notable exception of childrens' book illustrations (which for purposes of the settlement are considered part of the text) the agreement doesn't include visual art. Yet like the Orphan Works bill itself, the Google Book Settlement would be a radical change to copyright law.


Well said.

It's simply theft. Period.

* - From his comments, I assume he's a visual artist. But I don't know him and have never met him.
The Yankees ... wuh-inn!


Friday night's Yankee-Twins playoff game was hell of a lot of fun, even from the plebeian seats. ($20; getting them was like threading the eye of a needle with a pregnant fire hose.)

The Donald got booed, Reggie got cheered, and Tex got pied.

I'd love to see the stats on how many heart attacks were recorded from the eighth inning on.

UP:

A-Rod
Teixeira
Robertson
AJ

DOWN:
Marte

But here's a question that transcends baseball:
Sure, you can get cheese and ketchup on your garlic fries, but should you?
Pakistan has how many nukes?

Militants Hold Hostages at Pakistan Army Headquarters

In a brazen attack on the heart of the Pakistani military, gunmen dressed in military fatigues stormed the headquarters of the nation’s army operations on Saturday, killing six people and taking 10 to 15 hostages, an army spokesman said.

Four militants were still holding the hostages early Sunday in a security office at the military headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said.


No one should be shocked.
Propaganda of the Google sort . . .

Google's sunshine profit - oh wait, typo, I meant prophet - has an op ed piece in the NY Times today about how fantastic the Google agreement is for readers. I'd post a link but it's such a self-serving piece of bs that I don't want anyone wasting their time reading it.

But if you do, here's my response:

If what Google has done is such a great idea, and so nobly motivated, then surely Segey Brin won't object if Google's code and data are used and redistributed, at profit, by others, without consultation or prior arrangement. If intellectual property laws are so out of date when they are applied to "old media," aren't they even more anachronistic when applied to new? Surely the world would be spectacularly better if all coding were open source as soon as it was written, and all of the physical representations of that coding, and the tangible and intangible results, wherever they might reside, were accessible to all, without limitation or cost. It would be a win-win for all.

Idealism in the employ of profit making is an old cliche.


The worst part of the agreement is that, if you're an individual author without a huge wad of cash, you basically had to sign on to the agreement to guarantee* any future control over your work.

So basically, I had to form a partnership with the SOB who robbed me. But at least I can sleep better with the knowledge that I'm doing it for all mankind.

*Ha!


Should I worry?


My lawyer sent me this . . .

Problems loom


This is how books get too . . . something.

I'm writing a thriller with one main plot and a couple of side plots. (If it were a movie, you'd call the secondary threads b and c stories, related but not precisely part of the main story line.)

Generally when I work on a book, no matter how many subplots, etc. it has, I go straight through, with occasional deviations for interesting developments or research or just because why the hell not. Every so often, though, I'll concentrate on what I consider the main story or thread, then go back and work on the others.

Which is what I'm doing this time. In fact, I even went further - I plotted the different sections out for length, something I've never done with a big book.

The main story line was figured at 300 pages. It's now over 500.*

Heh. Probably ought to come up with an ending soon, ya think?

(*Figure a standard big book novel is going to be about 500-600 pages.)
Israel & Iran, addendum


So what does Israel get from its attack?

Three more years to perfect an anti-missile shield. If it can't be done in that period, it doesn't attack.
Iran's bomb


The NY Times today reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency believes that Iran can construct a nuclear bomb, which is pretty much what many people who have studied the situation believe.

Well, except for a good portion of the intelligence community, but that's a story in itself.

Iran has the materials, has the know-how, and very clearly is determined not only to build a bomb, but will. The only question is what, if anything, the rest of the world will do about it.

The real problem as far as the U.S. is concerned is this: in the short-term, it's not in the U.S.'s interests to bomb the hell out of their facilities. Iranian cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly outweighs the danger to the U.S. that an Iranian nuke would. Even long term - and even without a functioning and foolproof anti-ballistic missile system - Iran's direct threat to the U.S. in minuscule.

If you're Israel, on the other hand, the situation is completely reversed. A bomb (or missile) in the hands of a government that doesn't think you should exist is an obvious danger.

The Bush administration weighed the situation and, reportedly, nixed Israeli plans to take out the Iranian weapons program last year. Things really haven't changed from America's point of view, and won't, no matter who's in the White House.

Could Israel take out the Iranian weapons program?

All of the calculations you see consider an attack by Israeli aircraft. Such a raid would be difficult, since it would require a large number of sorties; given the size of the Iranian program, the distance from Israel, and the size of the Israeli air force, most calculations start with three completely separate waves of attack aircraft over a number of days.

But that's not the only way Israel could attack, even assuming it used conventional weapons. Israel not only has medium-range missiles that could strike Iran, it has been developing cruise missiles that can, or at some point in the very near future, will be able to do the job. The real problem for Israel is what happens next - the reaction of its allies even more than Iran must be weighed against the potential threat.

The irony in all of this is that the more money and manpower Iran devotes to the nuke program, the less resources it has to put into its actual economy. Iran sees itself as a world power; it has spent the last several years trying to build up connections and alliances around the globe, most notably in Venezuela. When you look at some of those operations, though, the country's lack of expertise and stature become apparent. They can't even manufacture bicycles efficiently, as a story in the Wall Street Journal detailed. (If you're looking for (unclassified) reasons U.S. and some, not all, European intelligence agencies are skeptical of the Iranian bomb program, that's exhibit one.)

Sanctions that further weaken the Iranian economy would help Israel indirectly, but at the end of the day, they're not going to prevent the Iranians from building nuclear weapons if it really wants to (and it does). For Israel, a strike after sanctions are in place would seem to be the best strategy - weaken the economy, and destroy the bombs. But of course its allies won't like that at all.

Not an easy dilemma. Based on past experience, I'd be betting on a strike against Iran at the beginning of next year - a strike that is launched mostly by missiles rather than planes, and that targets Iran's rocket program as well as its nuclear facilities, secret and otherwise.

NY Times story.
Wall Street Journal story. (You may need a subscription.)
Nuts in high places




Is it just my perception, or is being at least a little crazy a prerequisite for modern dictatorships?

Exhibit A: Foreign Policy's list of the ten craziest things ever said at the UN.
Iran, nukes, and sanctions


Sanctions have less than zero chance of stopping Iran's development and final testing of a nuclear weapon, which is probably less than a year away.

With perhaps one exception - if no one buys Iran's oil, its economy will collapse within three months.

If we're not talking about that, we're not serious about sanctions.

Draw your own conclusions
Rogue Warrior underground




. . . or at least on the subway.

The game will be available Dec. 1 in the States - but apparently earlier in Japan, and Australia. So if you're out that way . . .
Missile defense

It's interesting that in the fallout from the decision to shift the focus of the U.S.'s anti-ballistic missile system, no one has really commented on how it moves the Navy to the key position, not only now but in the future.

This may just be the start of a radical strategic makeover for the service. While the Air Force has led the way with UAVs (not necessarily willingly), the Navy has seemed, publicly at least, to be slightly behind the curve. The reality is that new technologies are rapidly increasing the reach and effectiveness of sea forces. When some of what is on the drawing boards reaches the ocean battlefront over the next few years, perception and reality should merge.
Preemptive strike



Because it's going to be that kind of week . . .
Seize the Day


So not to steal anyone's thunder or step on the marketing committee, which is doing its marketing thing, but the next Rogue Warrior is set in Cuba. Getting the story right involved the usual research and fun, legal and ... whatever it is I'm supposed to say that the lawyers said I'm supposed to say for doing things we're not supposed to have done, which of course we didn't do.

Which may have included visiting said country, which we didn't do, because if we did it, we wouldn't be allowed to, or say, even if we didn't do what were not going to do.

I hope that's clear.

Anyway, I got to smoke the cigars, cause Dick don't smoke.
The new Rogue Warrior: Seize the Day



The Spanish lessons paid off.
Injustice


It's bad enough that the hoi poli in the press box at Yankee Stadium get all sorts of eats at below diner prices; now comes word that they can get Oreo crumbles on their soft serve ice cream, while the plebes below have to make do with plain old sprinkles.

But at least you can now get cheese with your garlic fries. And they don't have garlic fries in the press box.
Humility and its time


It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.

-David Brooks.


Column here.
Google, continued


To get around objections about Google having a monopoly on books, the company Friday made this "offer" or "promise" or whatever other word you want to use for something that completely misses the point:

He [Google's legal counsel] announced that for the out-of-print books (including orphan works) being made available through the Google Books settlement, we will let any book retailer sell access to those books. Google will host the digital books online, and retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore will be able to sell access to users on any Internet-connected device they choose. Retailers can also pursue their own digitization efforts of out-of-print books in parallel.

So what's the problem? Well, there's the obvious one that Google has used illegal means to set itself up as a wholesaler - while generously allowing others to steal books as well. More insidiously if you're an author: just because a book is out of print does NOT meant that it is out of copyright. On the contrary. But Google wants to act as if it does, and the settlement basically says that's peachy keen fine okay.

Hey, the book's not in print, so we're going to take it and put it on sale and these are the terms, take it or leave it.

Think of it this way: I'm going away for a few weeks, and my house will be vacant. Can a real estate company move in and sell it without my permission?

Under the Google settlement precedent, they can.
The settlement


Earlier this week:

(From Publisher's Weekly, an industry trade magazine)

In testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee this morning, Marybeth Peters, U.S. Register of Copyrights, in her first detailed comments on the subject, blasted the Google Book Search Settlement as “fundamentally at odds with the law.” In a blistering assessment of the deal, Peters told lawmakers that the settlement is in essence a compulsory license that would give Google the ability to engage in activities, such as text display and sale of downloads, that are “indisputable acts of copyright infringement.”

Most damaging, however, was Peters’s insistence that only Congress—not the courts—could enact such licenses, and her repeated assessments that the settlement deprived Congress of its role. “By permitting Google to engage in a wide array of new uses of most books in existence the settlement would alter the landscape of copyright law,” Peters said. “That is the role of Congress, not the courts.” She said that by allowing out-of-print works to be swept into the settlement, the deal “makes a mockery of Article I of the Constitution.” Only Congress, she stressed, after a full public debate, can set such new rules.

Excellent points - so why weren't they made, say, months ago, rather than almost a week after authors had to decide whether to opt into the agreement or not?

Google's digitization was a clear violation of copyright law - piracy, pure and simple. And the agreement negotiated by the Authors' Guild is a piss poor solution.

Unfortunately, unless you're in a position to sue Google, the only practical way for an author to even attempt to get Google to stop abusing your copyright is to opt in, and then tell them they have to obey the law. Which is kind of like having to get murdered to get someone to enforce traffic laws.

And you can't even object to the settlement, unless you're part of it.

For the record, I opted in, after long debate. But I still think it stinks.