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.


Scott Adams' official Dilbert site -- -- 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?

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.

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."

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.

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 . . .