Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Nostalgia

Being in Missouri is hard around the holidays.  I miss my family and the traditions we used to enjoy together, but times have changed so much that even if I was back in New Jersey, Christmas wouldn't be the same.  My father is gone, and my siblings share the holidays with their own families.  I have Laura, and I feel blessed in that, but I've had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the Domenic family traditions we grew up with are no more.

I do visit New Jersey for a week each December, and many members of the family do try to stop by for a visit.  I love them and appreciate it - my aunt and cousins stopped by during this year's trip to share a traditional Christmas dinner with us.  And while I enjoyed it and hope that our yearly gatherings can be a new tradition going forward, that nostalgic part of me that clings to the past so strongly has a hard time letting go of things like our trips to the Fountains of Wayne and a family-filled living room on Christmas morning.

It is what it is, though.  We're all adults now, and everything has changed.  Those chapters of our lives are written, scrawled across pages of a book to be revisited whenever nostalgia taps me on the shoulder.  I cherish the memories we had together, and I hope that someday we will be able to create more.

I love and miss you guys.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  I hope 2013 is a great year for you and your families.



See you all in the new year.

God bless,
Kevin

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Ramblings

Just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  There are many things to be thankful about, but I personally would like to extend my thanks to the men and women across the country who put themselves and their families aside to travel east and assist with the recovery efforts throughout areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Many people are missing Thanksgiving with their loved ones to be in New Jersey, New York, and the surrounding areas where the cleanup process is ongoing.

I also want to thank the good people at Ward Realty in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Jersey Shore, many of the homes there are small beach houses that get rented out to tourists throughout the spring and summer months.  Most of those homes are closed down with utilities shut off at this time of year, but Ward Realty has been working with homeowners to open those that are still standing so that victims who lost everything can have a place to stay and share in Thanksgiving.  Ward has done far more than just that - along with many other organizations up and down the eastern coast - but I just wanted to highlight their assistance to the Point Pleasant community and thank them for their service to its people.

Of course, I also thank God for the blessings he's given me in this life.  I have so much that I am undeserving of and he has blessed me with a well-paying job that I actually like.  As if that wasn't enough, he has also blessed me with the chance to share my writing with each of you, a journey that has introduced me to so many wonderful people I likely wouldn't have otherwise had the chance to meet.  You make the sleepless nights of clacking away at my keyboard more than worth it.  Thank you so much for your support, and don't worry - new content is in the works!

One last thing.  Please, if you have any compassion for humanity at all, do NOT go shopping tonight.  The reason retail stores tear their employees from their families to handle these mobs of unforgiving and ruthless customers is because customers show up. Have some sympathy for the millions of retail employees across the nation and don't go shopping today!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

God bless,
Kevin

Friday, November 2, 2012

After the Storm

I moved to Missouri in January of 2010.  Coming from New Jersey, I didn't really know what to expect.  I figured those midwest states were all about shotguns and chewing tobacco.  I guess it's easy to develop that kind of stereotype when that's all you see on television.  But after living here for nearly three years, I can safely say that I like it here.  Sure, the tornado sirens are a bit tough to handle at times, and the F4 tornado that came within a couple short miles of our apartment last year (the one that hit the St. Louis Airport) certainly put the fear of God into me.  But there are lots of places where you can view the beauty of nature in ways I couldn't in Jersey.  And the attitudes of people here are a good deal better - no Jersey girls or Situation wannabes here.

Still, no matter where I live or where I go, I'll always call New Jersey home.  So when Hurricane Sandy was forecast to hit my home head-on earlier this week, I got a bit nervous.  I mean, I still have family there - my mother, my sister and her husband, one of my brothers and his family, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.

But New Jersey has been through this routine before.  The earliest storm I can remember that sent the state into panic mode was Hurricane Gloria in 1985.  I was five years old then, but I remember schools being closed that day and the morning TV shows were all taken over by news broadcasts.  My cousins were taping up their windows next door.  People were bracing for the worst.  Everyone expected it to be a disaster.

The sun was out by lunch time.

Throughout the following years, that became the trend.  No, not trend - the norm.  Whenever the news would forecast a terrible storm like a tropical storm or hurricane, they'd freak out like New Jersey was going to crumble to its foundation.  But the storms hit, the winds blew, the rains flooded, and we moved on within days.  Even the dreaded Hurricane Irene, the fabled storm of storms from last year, was at one time expected to flood out Wall Street in New York City.  Don't get me wrong, I know that flooding happened in several areas and there were trees/power lines down in many places.  But just like all the other storms, it left relatively little damage when compared to the real hurricane destruction in places like Florida and Louisiana.

So naturally, when forecasters started running around like headless chickens over the threat posed by Hurricane Sandy, many long-time New Jersey natives shrugged and went about their daily lives.  That's not to say no one prepared anything, of course - we always sandbag our shorelines and board up coastal windows.  But for the most part, those steps were taken more as precautions than as necessities.  The people did it "just in case" the storm turned out to be bad, figuring the most cleanup they'd need to do would be to remove the wooden boards and maybe pump an inch or two of water out of their basements.

That's not what happened this time.

I can't fault New Jersey for being caught offguard despite the warnings.  I really can't.  We live in an age when meteorologists can't seem to determine the path or intensity of 99% of storms until they are already happening.  So why would anyone believe this to be any different?  Even when Irene hit, forecasters were calling for several inches of additional rainfall as the sun was coming out.  That rain, of course, never came.  New Jerseyans are so used to being protected by that "It can't happen to me" feeling that they had no way of knowing what was about to happen to them.

They know now.  And as I stood outside my office on Monday, staring into the clear autumn skies over St. Louis while I talked to my mother on the phone, I wished I could trade places with her.  She sat in our house - the house she raised four children in, the house in which my father was born, the house in which he died, and the house she now cares for by herself - alone to face the biggest storm the northeast United States has ever seen.  I'd have traded spots with her in a second if I could have.

But my mother, trooper that she is, didn't seem worried.  She may have been; I don't know.  But she didn't seem to be.  She said she hoped the power would last long enough for the sump pump to keep the basement dry, but other than that, she was ready to ride it out.  Our house is kind of on a mountainside, and that helps to prevent winds from really reaching top speeds.  That also helps drain off major rainfall so that there's never really and drastic flooding.  She said she'd be OK, and if there's one thing I know about my mother, it's that I can trust her judgement.  If she said she'd be OK, she would be.

My sister, on the other hand, lives right on the edge of a flood zone.  She's near the Passaic River, which requires little more than the squirt of a water gun to flood.  And even though she's on the second floor, that didn't mean she was necessarily safe.  Plus, she's got a sliding glass door that leads to her balcony from her living room - a bullseye for any powerful gust of wind. But she didn't seem too worried either, so that made me feel a bit more confident.

Most of my other family members made it clear via facebook that they were ready to take on Sandy. But my worries shifted to the south.  Growing up, my family shared ownership in a beach house down in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, we wound up selling the house in 2008.  But it was, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite place in the world.  Laura has painted me a few pictures of the house since we left Jersey, and I've got an old photo of it here on my desk at home.  Many of my most cherished memories are from Point Pleasant, and as a child, I hoped to be able to buy the house from my parents once day.  But life doesn't always work out quite the way we want, and we no longer own the house.  Still, that has done nothing to weaken my attachment to it, and every summer when we drive out to NJ to visit my mother for her birthday, I make sure we spend at least a day in Point Pleasant.

Our simple little beach house.  If, by chance, you happen to be familiar with my "One Last Time" video series on Youtube, you'll be familiar with this place.  That video series was from our last stay in the house before its sale.
So when they said that the Jersey Shore was taking the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, my heart dropped.  The house is literally two houses away from the beach.  If the flood waters raised to the levels being predicted, it would surely be destroyed.  And even though it's not my house to be concerned with anymore, a part of me sincerely hopes that it provides the same good times and great memories to its new owners that it provided to us over the years.  To see it destroyed would break my heart in more ways than one.

My family/friends made it through the storm, thank the Lord.  There was no visible damage to my mother's house, and while two trees fell near my sister's home, they didn't hit the building.  However, like most of New Jersey, just about everyone I know everyone lost power.  While it was a nuisance and an inconvenience at first, the temperatures in my sister's and mother's homes dropped significantly with the cold.  Additionally, gas has become a precious commodity in New Jersey, making it difficult for them to drive anywhere for supplies.  I'm sure authorities would say they should've stocked up on tanks of gas and extra batteries (which they did to an extent) to be more prepared for the storm than they were, but again, this kind of crazy storm has never happened before.  The weathermen had cried wolf so many times that there was no way to know that they would actually get it right this time around.

I've kept in close contact with both my mother and my sister since Sandy blew over.  I offered to drive out with a bunch of gas-filled cans in my car, but Mom wouldn't allow it.  My older brother (who lives out of state) was awesome enough to offer the same and even suggested taking her back to his house until her town recovers.  However, I'm happy to report that Mom got her power back tonight.  I imagine the joy she felt must've been similar to that of the Emperor in Episode III of Star Wars when he screams his cheesily-delivered line of, "UNLIMITED POWER!!"

My other brother also has his power back, but as of this writing, my sister, aunt, and cousins are still waiting on theirs.  Hopefully it won't be too long, but state officials are estimating that total restoration won't be complete for 6-14 days. I'm optimistic that it will be faster than that, but this whole thing has been so unprecedented that there's really no previous experience from which conclusions can be drawn.

And what of the beach house, you ask?

Ever since Tuesday morning, Laura has been watching The Weather Channel and scouring the internet for any pictures or info.  Given that TWC has spent so much time reporting from Point Pleasant, we figured they might get a shot of the houses along the boardwalk at some point.  But no matter how much we watched, we couldn't seem to get a shot of what we were looking for.

Thankfully, Ward Realty, a company based right next to the boardwalk that handles a lot of the summer home rentals along the beach, was kind enough to walk up and down the streets and private walks, taking pictures until the battery in their camera died.  And guess what!

She's certainly seen better days, but there she is - alive and well.
When Laura showed me this picture, I loaded up Youtube and played Elton John's "I'm Still Standing."

I left a comment on this picture thanking them for posting it and saying that I hoped the owners had the resources to repair the damage.  Shortly thereafter, the new owner's son left a comment stating that they just had some minor work and that they planned to be up and running by next summer!  I was so thrilled/relieved to hear that.

Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky.  Here are more shots from that same street, courtesy of Ward Realty.

The building on the Ocean Avenue side of the walk.  This place has been everything from a convenience store to a pizza place in my lifetime.
The view down the court looking from Ocean Avenue toward the boardwalk.  Doesn't look good.


The south side.  Obviously, those were once fences that lined the main path to the boardwalk.


The north side.  You can see how badly the blue house was pushed from its foundation by the rushing ocean waters.
 
The house across from ours.  The comments on facebook say that the basement was flooded out but the house seems to be otherwise okay.
I believe that this house is the reason that our house fared so well.  It's size likely helped to redirect any larger surges of sand/water away.

I feel terrible for the owners of the blue house.  I can't imagine how it could not end up as a total loss.

The Frank Sinatra House lives!  For anyone who may not know, this house is famous for ALWAYS piping Frank Sinatra music through an outdoor sound system.

Ward Realty posted the full album of pictures to their facebook page, so if you'd like to see more of the damage throughout town (many homes were NOT as lucky), just "Like" them on facebook.

I've seen some comments online referring to how much people will miss Point Pleasant as though the town is gone forever, but there's no way it won't be rebuilt.  I'd be surprised if the boardwalk and Jenkinson's aren't up and running by Memorial Day 2013.

Seaside Heights, on the other hand, may take a bit longer.

Anyway, before I go to bed I just want to say one last thing.  Watching all of this unfold from a distance has put a new perspective on human suffering for me.  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, I watched as many others did while people waved from rooftops hoping to be rescued from rising flood waters.  Then, as many others did, I flipped to the next channel from the comfort of my warm bed.  I felt bad for the victims, of course, but there was no direct connection.  I didn't know anyone there, and I'd never been to New Orleans.  Besides, what could I do other than donate money?  I thought feeling sympathy was enough.

This time, as Sandy rolled over the New Jersey shorelines, I felt much more connected and involved in what was going on.  Here I am sitting safely in Missouri watching the people around me go about their daily routines with not a cloud in the sky while millions of people fought for survival 900 miles to the east. And while my workplace always has the news on in the break room, no one seemed to care much about the horrific scenes of destruction taking place along the eastern seaboard.  They talked about basketball games, the World Series, weekend plans, and other mindless drivel.  Some even made jokes - jokes! - about how dumb it was to live near an ocean.

It made me understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.  It's easy to see something like Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese Earthquake, or the Joplin/Tuscaloosa tornadoes and not feel an emotional connection to the victims.  It's sad, but my brain doesn't really register the reality of what the victims are going through because I'm not personally invested in the outcome.  I feel bad, and I pray for their quick recovery, but it doesn't really hit home because I'm not worrying about any person or place in particular.  That's sympathy.

Empathy, however, comes when you can personally identify with someone or something being affected.  I want to be able to have empathy not just for the people and places I am familiar with, but for anyone who struggles, anyone who mourns, and anyone who perishes.  If my goal is really to help people learn to appreciate and love each other (and it is), then I need to be able to be the first to set that example.

I've been cold.  I've been selfish.  I've been heartless.  And it needs to change.  It must change.

It will change.

If you wish to donate to the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy, you can do so by clicking this link: American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund

God bless each and every one of you affected by this storm.  My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Kevin


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Self-Publish Your Novel In Seven Steps

Let's say that you have a completed novel on your computer, but it is just a file on your PC. You now want to share it with the world, but you don't know the first thing about self publishing.  What do you do?

You're in luck!  I've put together the following guide based on my own self-publishing experience to help you get your books onto all major ebook websites.  It is no small task, but with some time and dedication, you can do it!

7 Steps to Self Publishing


Step 1: Ensure that your book is e-reader friendly by formatting it properly. There's a website called Smashwords that provides a free Smashwords Style Guide that you can read online. It will show you how to properly format margins, indents, font size, font type, pre-book legal crap, and just about everything else you'll need.  Click the link above, scroll down, and you can either download it to your e-reader or read the guide in your browser.

Step 2: This can be done at the same time as you do step one. Get a cover artist. If you're a talented artist, go ahead and create something original. But if you're like me and have zero artistic skill, hire an artist to do work for you. There are a number of different sites where you can find artists; I found mine at deviantArt. There's also a site called Flip City Books that does covers for indie authors.

Step 3: Once your manuscript is ready and you've got your cover, submit your work to Amazon.com's Kindle Direct Publishing for distribution on Amazon.com. You will need to convert your manuscript from Word format to HTML format, but that's simple; just select "Save as Web Page" from Word's "Save As" dialogue. For the other e-retailers, I personally use Smashwords.com. Smashwords is great because they will distribute your work to a plethora of other ebook sites like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony ReaderStore, the iBookstore, and a few others. They take a small percentage of your sales (they usually take about $0.18 from each book I sell) and the rest is yours.

*Note: After I published, Barnes and Noble released their own ebook publishing site for users to publish directly with them. I haven't used it myself, so I don't know anything about how it works.  Feel free to check it out, though - I've heard good things.

Step 4: Create a website, Twitter, and facebook author page. This is how you can hype/promote your book and keep in touch with your readers. I don't know much about website design (although I'm taking classes!), so I just use blogger for my site (obviously). Facebook allows you to create author-specific pages, so you can keep your personal profile separate from your author page. Link any pages together so that readers can find you, and put all links at the end of each book you publish so that readers can find more of your work after finishing the book they purchased.

When posting content to these pages, it is important to vary your material.  If all you post over and over again is, "Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!" people will stop visiting.  A variety of interesting and useful content will help you build a following.

Step 5:  Join Triberr. It's a site where you can connect with other indie authors who will share your work on their sites/twitters/facebook pages and you can share theirs on yours to create cross-promotional web traffic.  This has dramatically increased traffic to my site.  Just by posting this blog entry, Triberr will add it to our group feed, and other members will then share the link on their twitter and/or facebook accounts.

Step 6: Join author groups. There is a group on facebook called Indie Writers Unite that has been nothing but helpful, friendly, and constructive. They're great people in a very critical industry, and that's really hard to find.  There are lots of other sites to connect with authors as well, like the Nookboards, the Kindleboards, and Amazon's own KDP Support Forums.

Step 7: Promote. Lots of other authors will hold interviews on their sites - request an interview. Interview people for your own site. Submit your work to review sites - there's a good directory of reviewers for Indie authors at Indie Book Reviewer.  Post snippets of your work to your site. Provide snippets for other sites. There are tons of things you can do to get your work out there. Run promotions - Smashwords allows you to create discount coupons to give to readers).

*IMPORTANT: Spamming any forums and webpages related to reading/writing is not an effective method of promotion.  It comes across as amateur and often annoys more people than it attracts.  However, there are specific facebook pages, twitter feeds, reddit pages, and other forums that are set up specifically for book promotions.  Use them to your heart's content!

--

After you've done all that, write a new book and repeat! :) I know it looks like a lot of work (and it is) but the first time you get an email from a reader telling you that your book taught them something or inspired them or was just a great piece of work, the effort will seem minimal.

However, on the flip side of that, you'll also have people tell you that your work sucks. It happens. Just about all e-book sites give readers the ability to preview the book, so it's not like they don't have a chance to see what they're getting. Also, many authors have varying opinions of what is "art." Some will argue that everything needs to be grammatically proper. Some will say otherwise. My response to that is simple: If I'M happy with my work, then that's good enough for me.

Best of luck to you.  If you have any questions, feel free to either leave them in the comments section of this blog or use the "Contact" button at the top right of this page.

God bless,
Kevin

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Business Tactics

Is there a single company in America that operates with any amount of honesty and transparency anymore?  Do businesses care about their employees or customers?  Ethic and integrity?

I'm beginning to think not.

Sure, there are lots of companies that "do good" for the sake of the public eye by way of charity and product donations.  But even those acts of philanthropy are done with the underlying intention of improving the company's image with the public.  Everything is about making the most money possible regardless of who must be trampled in the process.

A business needs to make money to be successful.  I get that.  Without profits, growth is impossible.  I don't have a problem with a company making money from their goods and services.  What bothers me is when the little guy - whether it be employee or customer - gets trampled in the process.  I know that I generally hold a no-tolerance policy over at Retail Ramblings when it comes to customers, but there are times when they, too, are victimized by the cutthroat nature of American business.

Wait - see what I did there?  For the purposes of being completely honest and transparent to you, let me point out how I just proved my own point by mentioning my other site, Retail Ramblings, and inserting a clickable link in hopes that you might click it.  And I inserted it again in the previous sentence to try to lure your attention to it.  Maybe you'll click it if you read the words Retail Ramblings more often.  The more frequently you see it, the more you curiosity about Retail Ramblings might grow to the point where you can't help but click on it.

Sorry, I'm done mentioning Retail Ramblings now.  Retail Ramblings.

Actually, all of that is very much true.  It's the reason you can't go anywhere without seeing corporate logos all over the place.  Branding is essential to just about any business these days.  It's the reason why you have to watch a stupid little Verizon animation every time you turn on your cell phone.  It's the reason the Nike Swoosh is everywhere.  It's the reason why Kelloggs plasters their name across the plastic watch that your child mailed four cereal box tops to obtain.  The more you see a company name or logo, the more you hear or read it's slogan, the more you're going to think of them the next time you need a product or service they offer.

I suppose that, in itself, isn't all that harmful.  When done appropriately, of course.  But there are other times when it is completely unnecessary and actually becomes a hindrance.  Personally, I still harbor ill feelings toward Panasonic for what they did to hockey for so many years.  If you don't watch hockey (or any sport, for that matter), let me give you a quick recap.

Hockey, like any sport, has its fair share of instant replays.  Years back, business started paying networks to "Sponsor" these replays.  Don't ask me how one sponsors a replay, because I still don't get that. Are they paying for the equipment costs incurred when a station replays a clip?

(Yes, I'm aware that these companies aren't actually sponsoring individual replays but instead the league and/or broadcasting network.)

Anyway, it doesn't matter.  What began to happen is that sportscasters would show a replay, then say something like, "This replay was brought to you by Coca-cola."  And that's what happened in hockey when Panasonic served as a sponsor.  However, Panasonic asked for a bit more than that.  After every replay (and if you watch any amount of sports, you know there are usually a lot), the sportscasters would end the replay by saying, "This Panasonic Digital Replay has been brought to you by Panasonic.  Panasonic: Ideas for Life."

After. EVERY. Replay.

Needless to say, it really damaged the quality and integrity of the broadcast.  Thankfully, the Panasonic deal seems to have run its course as these sponsor notes were not included last season.

But it irks me that companies have no problem taking a steaming dump all over anything that stands in the way of promoting their products.  And it bugs me even more that so much of their promoting is exaggerated at best and complete lies at worst.  How come my fast-food never looks like it does in the commercials?  Why can't I navigate my average sedan down a dusty road like a stunt driver?  Why isn't my airline experience as smooth and comfortable as the advertising suggests?

Because the "food" in those fast-food commercials isn't even real; it's made of artificial materials designed to look like food so that your mouth will water when you see it.

Because there are very few places where it is legal to drive like a stuntman, and you could kill yourself without the proper training.

Because flying sucks, and comfort is subjective.

None of that stops companies from deceiving people into buying their products.  A great example of this is a recent 5-Hour Energy commercial.  I was unable to locate the original commercial as it seems to have been yanked by the manufacturers.  There are some versions of it on Youtube, however, but they are edited by users adding their own voiceovers and commentary.

Here's why:

The commercial states that they surveyed over 3000 doctors, and 73% of doctors surveyed stated they'd recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to healthy patients who use energy supplements.  Does anyone else see a problem with that?  You're talking about patients who already use energy supplements, so you're asking doctors to either offer a higher calorie option or a lower calorie option.  Which one do you think they're going to select?  Had the choice been between energy supplements or no energy supplements, the survey might have a fraction more validity.

Second, the fine print reveals more (as it always does).  Of those 73% of doctors, only 56% recommend 5-Hour Energy specifically.  The fine print then changes to read that of all doctors surveyed, 47% recommended 5-Hour Energy specifically.  As always, all of this fine print is visible for such a short period of time that you need to pause the video to see it.

So the commercial is designed to make you think that 73% of doctors recommend 5-Hour Energy.  What it actually states is that 47% of doctors believe that if you MUST use an energy supplement, you should use 5-Hour Energy.  That is a BIG difference.

This happens all the time.  If there is fine print in ANY commercial, read it.  It will hold the truth you're looking for, or at least whatever portion of the truth the company needed to print to avoid lawsuits.

And that's just one method by which businesses deceive.

More deception comes from lower level employees.  I have no doubt that some of them don't care or don't realize that they are being taught to deceive consumers.  However, there are others who recognize it, stand up against it, and are terminated for their integrity.

The average shopper doesn't seem to realize that everything about their shopping experience (and I mean everything) is designed to make them spend more money.  Even the store associate's question of, "What can I help you find today?" is meant to try to make you spend money.  Statistics show that customers who are helped by salespeople - regardless of the product or service being offered - are more likely to make a purchase.  So management instructs salespeople to use "assumptive phrases" when interacting with customers.  Simply put, they are to assume the customer is going to be buying something.  "They didn't come into the store for nothing," management says.  Right, because window shopping never happens.

The question "What can I help you find today?" forces the customer to rudely ignore your question if they don't want salesperson assistance.  The company is banking on the fact that most customers won't do that.  So the customer answers.  "I'm just looking at digital cameras."  The salesperson then says they'll show you where it is and begins walking before you can object.  Once you've reached the product, the pitch begins.  You don't have to ask anything, because he'll start asking you.  Again, you are faced with the choice of either being rude and just telling him to go away, or just answering his questions.  So you answer.  Inevitably, he suggests the most expensive camera, memory card, leather case, swappable lenses, color printer (you'll obviously want to print those pictures, after all), printer paper, printer cartridges, cable, warranty plans (for both devices), and any other related items he can find to attach to the sale.  This is completely reasonable in the eyes of the company.  After all, nobody minds spending five hundred dollars instead of the one-fifty they originally considered, right?

Employees aren't allowed to question this process, either.  Believe me, I've tried.  I don't like making assumptions about anyone's shopping plans, nor do I like assuming everyone wants help from a salesperson.  I feel that using tactics designed to have a certain psychological effect on a person's shopping habits is deceptive.  Personally, I do most of my shopping online to avoid all that garbage.

There are also times when salespeople are expected to either lie or avoid the truth.  "This is the best camera we have," doesn't necessarily mean it's the best one for your needs or even the best one the store sells.  It means it's the most expensive one they have in stock at that moment that has the features you want (and probably more that you'll never use).  It's essentially the same advice given to Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.

But when I'd raise these objections with my previous jobs, I was basically told that I was welcome to seek employment elsewhere if I didn't agree to go along with the established process.  Either I take part in the deception, or I lose my job.  That's American business ethics for ya.

How about the never ending battle over rights?  The tactics being employed to protect products go way beyond necessary.  In many cases, they downright spit in the face of logic.

Now, let me say first and foremost, that I support the battle against trademark infringement and intellectual property piracy.  The legitimate battle.  The question becomes, "What is legitimate and what is not?"  To me, the answer is quite simple.

Legitimate:  I found that two of my books were made available for free download online without my authorization.  I contacted the website, and they pulled the books for me.  Only I hold the rights to make my books available, and only I can grant permission for them to be made available elsewhere.  This isn't a case of someone mentioning my work, it's the providing of my full-version product for free.

Illegitimate:  Someone posts my book covers/titles to their site saying that they either loved/hated my writing.  Or if someone created a fanpage for The Fourth Dimension.  As long as it is identified as a fansite and doesn't try to pass itself off as being connected with me, I don't see the problem (not that anyone has done that, but for the sake of this point, that was the example I came up with).

Here's a real-world example: Amazon recently told a facebook page with over 5000 followers called "Kindle Korner" promoting Kindle titles that they did not have permission to use the Kindle name, forcing them to create a new page and start from scratch.  I argue this as illegitimate because the whole purpose of this page was to promote the Kindle and its product library.  The fact that the page was dedicated to Kindle alone as opposed to the Nook, iPad, Kobo, or other ereaders should've been something Amazon appreciated.  At the most, I'd say that Amazon should have required Kindle Korner to indicate that they are not operated by or affiliated with Amazon in any way.  I understand the company's need to ensure that consumers identify an official site from a user-run page, but to refuse to allow any use of the name is absurd.  Especially when so many other sites use the name (I'm looking at you, Kindleboards).

Yes, I realize there is a difference between trademarks and copyrights.  I know that the laws are different and that trademarked names aren't the same as book titles - they cannot be used without permission.  But we're not talking about a revenue-generating business here.  Kindle Korner wasn't in this to make money, and I'm fairly confident they aren't a revenue-based page.  Are trademarked names so taboo that we can't even use them as parts of fan-made pages?  If I made a facebook page called, "Pepsi Equals Awesome" would I be sued for using the name Pepsi?  Would that make any sens at all?

Do they have legal right to use the name?  No.  But they weren't trying to manufacture or sell Kindles.  They weren't claiming ownership of the Kindle brand.  They weren't even using the name to represent a different company and/or product.  So at what point does a product name become something that costs money to use?  This sets a frightening precedent.  How long will it be before we will be expected to pay to use any company product/name?  Geez, in this blog alone, I've named quite a few.  How far will this go?  Will I get in trouble for posting a picture of Mario to my facebook?  I have links to the Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other versions of my books on the sidebar.  Am I "stealing" those names?

It is getting so out-of-hand, I'm worried the day will soon come when I send a text message that says, "Going to get a Pepsi, will be there soon," and I get a letter from Pepsi demanding I stop using their name without permission.  I'm willing to bet that Panasonic could come after me for my comments above.  But why?  Our entire lives are dominated by products of one kind or another, whether it be the car you drive, the dinner you eat, the TV shows you watch, or the sports teams you follow.  Try to have a conversation without referring to a single product.  It's nearly impossible.

Why must it be this way?

Simple.  Because businesses know they are integral parts of American lives.  They can get away with charging money for the mere mention of their names because people will pay.  And courts support them because the politicians support them.  And politicians support them because companys pay for their support.  It's a disgusting cycle of corruption and greed that has rotted away the foundations of capitalism.

Drastic changes are needed in this country.  There needs to be complete honesty in advertising.  We need limits to the intrusiveness of advertising.  And there needs to be a better way of differentiating between property theft and freedom of speech.  Then again, there are those who suggest that true freedom of speech never really existed.

And I'm one of them.

God bless,
Kevin

Saturday, October 13, 2012

To My Fellow Indie Writers

Hi everyone,

I just started 3 pages on reddit specifically for indie authors to share their works and/or services. If you're not familiar with reddit, it is a huge community in which users vote on posts to help the best quality material reach the maximum number of readers. It has a very large userbase with millions of subscribers, and it is an immense source of information.  Reddit is often the starting point for many viral videos and pictures that you see around the web in other social networking sites.  Reddit was also the starting point for the protest against the SOPA bill (Stop Online Piracy Act) earlier this year which ultimately killed the bill (or at least that version of it).  It's a powerful community when utilized properly, and I think that it will simplify the reader's task of finding good indie books.

The first page I created, titled IndieAuthorConnection, is for authors to share their blogs, interviews, ebook related links, etc.

The second, titled IndieAuthorPromotion is for authors to provide direct links to their books, announce sales, and advertise promotions.

The third page, IndieAuthorServices, is for those who provide services such as cover creation, editing, ebook formatting, and so forth.

Rules can be found in the right-hand sidebars of each page along with links to the other pages.  Make sure you subscribe by clicking the green "Subscribe" button on the upper right-hand corner of
each page! The more links that are submitted, the larger an audience we can reach. If any of you have questions about how reddit works, let me know!

IndieAuthorConnection: http://www.reddit.com/r/indieauthorconnection/
IndieAuthorPromotion: http://www.reddit.com/r/indieauthorpromotions/
IndieAuthorServices: http://www.reddit.com/r/indieauthorservices/

Feel free to post your material and let me know if you have any suggestions.

God bless,
Kevin

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day of Mourning - 9/11/2012

Sending a prayer out to victims around the globe.  Whether you suffer from an illness, struggle through tragedy, or grieve for those lost, my heart and soul is with you.  I pray for your healing, your recovery, your triumph, and your restoration.  You are in our thoughts today.

Some of you may not have followed Searching for Heroes at this time last year, so you may not have had a chance to read my thoughts on the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City.  The long and the short of it is that I believed then as I do now that it is time to stop licking our own wounds from a single day and take this date to remember, think about, and pray for all those who suffer for any reason in any walk of life.

If you'd like to read it, you can find it here: Ten Years Later

Fight the good fight.  You've got our love and support.

God bless,
Kevin

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Author Interview - T E Shepherd

Today, we sit down with T E Shepherd,  author of The End of All Worlds.  A storyteller since the day he wrote his first word, Shepherd has written a tale about the bleak possibilities our planet might face in the not-so-distant future.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I was born in 1973 and grew up in Lowestoft, Suffolk before moving to Cheshire to study a degree in Creative Arts. Having worked as an electronic production editor for science and academic publishers in Oxford, I now work as a Web and Digital Media Officer for a top modern university. I live in Oxfordshire with my wife Emma and our seven cats, four chickens and two bunnies and I’m different. I’m not your usual person. Lots of people can say that about themselves but with me it’s true. Just ask my wife! I only discovered how different in the last ten years when I discovered that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. In subtle, subconscious ways I think this does affect my writing. For someone who is, on occasion, somewhat clueless and inept in social situations, I have been praised on my dialogue. As a person I also have difficulty reading visual cues and body-language and consequently my editors often tell me I’m ‘telling’ too much when I should be ‘showing’. Show not tell they say and I have to really work hard to achieve that!

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and probably writing them down as soon as I could. It was aged 9 that my Grandpa gave me a toy theatre that he had made and I started writing plays. My first play, co-written by my cousins Tracey and Judy, was a stage production of Star Trek for ‘play people’ actors and featured an exploding washing machine complete with real soap suds! My next was the infamous and endless Rome, for which I would sell tickets to my family and friends and sit them down in front of for entire Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t the greatest creation but one that seeded in me the fun of creating and sharing stories.

Q: What is The End Of All Worlds about?

A: At its heart, the story is about how we, as the human race, are changing and destroying our planet. It’s also a modern day saga pulling together different strands into this, so we get various explanations of what is causing the storms, and the fragile, erratic and dangerous changes in climate, geography and geology…

Q: How did you come up with the plot?

A: I have Icelandic cousins but it wasn’t until 2001 that I made my first visit to their country. I knew from the beginning that with a country so rich in folklore I had to write a story set there. In August of that year there was a story on the news of a girl, hiking with her family in the Peruvian mountains, who got lost. For a few days there were signs that she might have survived, but I cannot now remember what the final outcome of it was. That idea of beating all the odds and emerging out of the wilderness and back into civilisation was all I needed for the idea to sow itself in my brain.

Q: Tell us about your main protagonists.

A: The novel begins and it is Eleanor’s story, but she is only one of the three main characters in The End Of All Worlds. Eleanor is the artist with the passion for, and the belief in, the old legends of her father’s country. Ben is her brother with the background in science and the certainty of man-made climate science. Their cousin, Hanna is the bridge between them – the polymath with the science knowledge and the intellectual understanding, but the unswerving faith in her own country’s mythology.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing The End Of All Worlds? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A: I wanted to write a good story, first and foremost, and through it bring out the importance and the truth of climate science. So for every mythological occurrence there is a scientific explanation. The story is one where the myths and legends of Icelandic folklore come alive in the twenty-first century. Eleanor sees, and talks to – wants to help – the huldufolk or the ‘hidden people’. These unexplainable events need explanations though, and those explanations are very relevant to our world. Think of Ben and Eleanor as the Mulder and Scully of Norse sagas.

Q: What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

A: It has to be an engaging story, well-told. It also has to have the ability to be read again for a second, third, or fourth time, and to get something new out of it every time. A book with layers would be a great book in my eyes. Firstly, there has to be the story but then on further reading there should be levels to it that you can only get to as you yourself learn more experience more.

Q: Describe your ideal protagonist. What traits do he or she embody?

A: Eleanor, Ben and Hanna? I would hope that all three were my ideal protagonist. I like heroes to be those that fall into the story, and get caught up in the events, rather than who are born into it. Polly in Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire & Hemlock would be just such a protagonist, whilst I find Will in Susan Copper’s The Dark Is Rising to be – particularly in the later books in the series – a little bit annoying because his position as an Old One. I think that Cooper herself might have felt a bit like that too, as these same feelings are expressed by the other children in series.

Q: Can you tell me about the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a short story? Book? Magazine article?

A: I’ve already talked about the first story I ever wrote, but what I consider to be my first novel I wrote when I was 16. I remember being excited by the idea that I was going to defy convention and be published at such a young age by Puffin (or Penguin even?!) or Methuen Teens! My Dad’s secretary typed it up for me before I subsequently submitted it as both part of my A-Level English coursework, and, illustrated and bound for my Art exam. Ruins Of The Old was to be a four-part novel made up of individual tales involving the Greek Gods in human form, magic, with modern-day-Merlin, and an unusually evil King Arthur. Looking back I can see now how derivative it was of so many of my then favourite books. There were sparks of originality in it though, and I never say never to pulling ideas back out the draw and reworking then in the future.

Q: As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A: I have an online journal that I have been writing in for the last 10 years. It’s nice because I can limit the visibility of individual posts according to what I’m talking about, but allows me to keep everything in one place. I remember it becoming ‘cult’ reading in the workplace of a previous job. With the emergence of social media I think it really can connect you to you reaches in a way that you never could before. It has to be the writer themselves who tweets and posts on facebook and I do think it needs to be about more than books. You need to be able to see the personality of the writer there and not feel like it is one or more marketing executives posting as the writer. I can be found at http://twitter.com/shepline and facebook.com/teshepherd, and if you would like to follow a couple of other writer’s worth following, try www.twitter.com/rhi_lassiter and twitter.com/MHarrison13

Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry? With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?

A: More than ever the publishing industry are only taking safe choices: the work of ‘celebrities’ or authors already famous elsewhere or writers for whom they can attach a marketing spin. They pay these few individuals massive advantages when really they should be using half that amount to pay many, many new writers tiny advances in the knowledge that only a handful will be successful but that the ones that are will be genuinely, unexpected finds. With the rise of Indie Publishing there is a real chance for the democratisation of the publishing industry. Ebooks can do for writers what mp3s did for bands and musicians…

Q: Were there any other authors in particular that inspired you to pen your own novel?

A: I have perennially favorite authors who inspire me but the work of the late, great Diana Wynne Jones always tops that list. Alan Garner and Susan Cooper are always also firm favorites, and particularly with this book, Garner’s dark fantasy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I am not much fussed about sword and sorcery and other-worldly fantasty, preferring instead what I call real-world fantasy: stories that take place in the here and the now but where magic intrudes.

Q: And just for fun, favorite movie or television series?

A: Can I name a favorite movie and television series? Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in which two people meet on a train across Europe, talk, become friends, talk some more and depart. And on television, Steven Moffat’s pre-Doctor Who, early 1990s children’s drama Press Gang, I love the way the language they use is so unrealistic and yet it feels so completely real. Brilliant.

Book homepage: http://www.words.shepline.com/books/end-of-all-worlds/
On facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheEndOfAllWorlds
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0083XG35W 

Thanks so much for sharing your work with us!  Hope to see you back again soon!

Thee End of All Worlds

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Break For Sanity

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that I've decided to take some time off from writing.  I've been going non-stop for the last six months, and I'm feeling it.  Between working my day job and writing all night, I've burned myself out yet again.  I need some rest.  I need a break.

I love you all and appreciate your support of my work.  It really means the world to me.

God bless,
Kevin

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Author Interview - John Zelenski

This week's author interview is with John Zelenski.  Mr. Zelenski's novel Walker's Vale is about one man's struggle to come to terms with the uncertainties of life.  John recently took the time to sit down and chat with me about his book.  Here's what he had to say.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: My name is John Zelenski and my debut novel is Walker's Vale.  I live in northeastern PA with my wife and two children and enjoy writing and reading (what a surprise)!  Besides writing and working as a VA Certifying Official, I enjoy collecting and selling sports cards and memorabilia (Big Phillies and Eagles fan).

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I've been writing on and off since high school (20+years ago, ouch)!  but only got serious about getting published within the last 5 years.

Q: What is Walker's Vale about?

A: Walker's Vale is a Christian-based supernatural / suspense / paranormal / horror thriller that follows a man who is running from his relationship with God and a host of other doubts that he is having a hard time coming to terms with.  He moves his family to the seemingly quiet town of Walker's Vale, PA only to find that the very things he's been running from, are awaiting his arrival.  He comes to learn that the term "the devil is in the details" takes on a literal meaning of sorts.

Q: How did you come up with the plot?   

A: The plot is mostly imaginative with some real-life elements taken from a supernatural experience I encountered as a child.

Q: Tell us about James Cooper.

A: He is essentially a doubting Thomas of the modern age that believes everything in this life needs an explanation.  His character, at the heart of it is a good person who would do anything to protect his family and those he holds dear.  I think he represents any of us who have had doubts or questions about faith, God, the universe, and even ourselves (which by my calculation should encompass the entire human population).

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre? 

A: I am certainly not the first person to write in Christian-based horror/ thriller genre, but I think what might slightly distance my book from others is the fact that I try to focus more on Christian ideals as the magnifying glass to showcase the good and the evil that not only is mankind but also present in the unseen or invisible world around us.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing Walker's Vale? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A: Just that it's OK to have doubts or questions about anything.  Not everything can be explained.  I think we'd be lying if we claimed to understand why everything happens the way it does.  However with faith in God, all things do eventually work together for a good purpose.

Q: How long did it take you to write Walker's Vale? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

A: Walker's Vale was written in a little over a year I believe.  As an author published through Tate Publishing, they handled the editing and cover design.

Q: Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

A: Definitely my family, to whom I am eternally grateful. They support with encouragement, prayer and (sometimes cash).  Seriously though, they've been supportive with the late nights working and what I call "Daddy's quiet time."

Q: As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A: Yes, readers can connect with me for right now via http://www.facebook.com/WalkersVale.  

Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry?  With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?   

A: I think it's great!  I think it will eventually change the landscape of publishing just like the music industry was turned upside down years ago.  The public will decide what they want to read rather than simply relying on the opinions of a few powerful gatekeepers who control the literary world.

Q: Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

A: Every time I write.  I kind of just put myself in the scene see where it goes from there.  I love to write, because I never know what will come next.

Q: And just for fun, favorite vacation destination?

A: "John Zelenski, now that you've won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, where are you going?"  "I'm going to Disney World!"

Thanks so much for sharing your work with us!  We look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

Walker's Vale
 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sample Saturday: The Patriots of Mars - Jeff Faria

Today's book sample comes from Jeff Faria's upcoming title The Patriots of Mars.  Mr. Faria was kind enough to give me a bit of insight into the concept of this book, and I must say I find it quite intriguing.  This week, we have Prologue II from The Patriots of Mars.  And of course, I'd like to thank Jeff Faria for sharing his work with us at Searching for Heroes.  Enjoy!






PROLOGUE II: 
Charles Hammer’s Demonstration

Most weekdays, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue was heavily trafficked. But on May 7, 2051, it was closed for Dr. Charles Hammer’s big PR stunt. This required extraordinary co-operation from public officials, even in a town notorious for ‘anything at a price’. The fact that he pulled it off with so little trouble spoke to Hammer’s reputation, perseverance, money, connections, and personal magnetism.

The cynical and jealous media credited only his money.

A materials scientist, Hammer was renowned for one of the 21st Century’s game-changing breakthroughs: A self-folding, permeable polymer web that led to the world’s first ‘true’ artificial intelligence, and eventually, MOM. He’d promised the media an even bigger story today. Dapper, philosophical, and a publicity magnet, he was legendary for his speed with a soundbyte. Early in his career, when a critic dismissed him as ‘50% Thomas Edison and 50% P.T. Barnum’, Hammer quipped: “Edison was 50% Barnum too, so technically I’m 50% Edison and 100% Barnum.”

Fifty folding chairs were set out on a carpeted area for media and invited guests. They faced a short bamboo stage a meter above street level, topped with a curved metallic structure whose main purpose was to intimidate through the obvious expense of its manufacture. Almost incidentally, it also provided shade and acoustic enhancements. Onstage was a large ultradef display and a marble lectern from antiquity. On the street, at either end and in front of the stage, were two 18-wheel trailer trucks set in opposite directions. Hammer had wanted ‘bot drivers, but the local union bosses insisted on humans. The unions were hurting badly from the incursion of ‘bots, and wanted to use Hammer’s limelight to make a point. A 600-meter spool of ribbon, made from Hammer’s new discovery, had one end attached to the back of each.

Hammer held a sample of the ribbon up for his audience to see. A showman to his core, he’d deliberately made it as ephemeral-looking as possible, to strike a dramatic contrast with the burly semis. It looked like nothing more than a wisp of blackish toilet paper. He raised the ribbon higher to flutter in Chicago’s famous wind, declaring it “thinner than a politician’s promise, but much harder to break”.

Hammer explained the nature of the stuff. The big screen behind him showed an animated diagram of a continuous-fiber carbon nanotube, which for decades had been the holy grail of materials scientists. He said its extreme light weight and strength would enable a number of important product innovations, and promised to elaborate after the demonstration.

The trucks roared to life and sped off. A counter on the big vidscreen rapidly ticked off the length of ribbon that remained. Just before it hit ‘zero’, the stunt drivers bailed. The spools ran out and the ribbon snapped tight, sounding a deep, dynamic ‘thunk’ that rebounded smartly off the nearby buildings. Both trucks lifted off the ground and twisted balletically in the air, screeching and groaning as their kinetic energies sought avenues of release. Finally spent, they fell heavily to earth, but Hammer’s material did not yield.

When the applause and chatter subsided, Hammer offered illustrations of potential uses for the product, such as reinforced concrete, faster planes, and crash-resistant automobiles. Referencing the latter he said, “The trucks you just saw were reinforced with a web made of our product.” The underside of a truck appeared onscreen, and a zoom-in revealed what looked like a bird’s nest made of swizzle sticks. “Had we not done this, at least one of the trucks would have had its back end torn off. You’d be thinking our vehicle was faulty, and we’d be off chasing the remnants down the street.

“Don’t ask me how we know that, by the way. I’d only have to lie to protect the guilty.” The audience tittered knowingly.

“We call our product Carmōt.” A logo appeared onscreen. “‘Car’ for the element ‘carbon’. Our product is pure carbon, just like the charcoal in your grill or a diamond ring. ‘Mot’ is French for ‘word’, and a word is a group of letters given meaning by placing them in a specific order. ‘Carmōt’ is carbon given strength by the order of its structure.

“Over the next two weeks, a dozen licensees will announce their own products based on this material. These will bear a ‘contains Carmōt’ label. As we find ways to lower costs through production scale and other efficiencies, we expect that many more products will come to market. We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in Carmōt. In fact, it’s been a bit overwhelming.

“But there is one use for Carmōt we’re developing ourselves, and that’s what we’ll discuss for the remainder of our time today.”

Video clips of flying cars from Star Wars and The Jetsons came onscreen.

“There are two great technological lies of the past hundred years. The first is that, one day, you would drive to work in your flying car. The second is that we entered the space age back in the 1960’s.” Famous pop-culture spacecraft, from 2001 to Star Trek, flashed across the vid screen.

“We have made some use of space. We have satellites feeding us communications. That’s fine, but calling it a ‘space age’ is like calling a trip to the local deli a restaurant tour. Our ‘space age’ has had about as much to do with space as the Radio Flyer did with radio.

“Why is that? Well, like the flying car, our model for getting into space and back again just isn’t practical. Oh, we have ways of getting into space all right, but they don’t scale to a viable, practical, profitable space-based industry. If our basic transportation model was as impractical as our space model, none of you would even have cars.

“How do I know our business model for getting into space is broken? Because if we did have a reliable and pragmatic means for getting to space and back, we’d have a space-based industry right now, today. But that’s not what we have. What we have are satellite launches, and that’s about it. After all these years, we still can pick only the lowest-hanging space fruit.

“We have a crying need right now, today, for a mature, viable space-based industry. Among other things, we’re running out of metal, water, and minerals. Our planet is tapped-out, and we’re trapped on it to boot. We know that at least some of the resources we need are sitting out there for the taking, out in space, right now. We know exactly where they are, and we do want them - but we don’t go get them, because we don’t have a means to go after them that doesn’t cost more in resources than we could recover. That’s the hard truth. We can kid ourselves about that - actually, we do kid ourselves, and have for a long time - but there’s no getting around it.

“Our plans for extending human enterprise into space have never been plans at all. They’ve been government-funded stunts, sci-fi entertainments, and wishful thinking. We’ve been idly fantasizing, for decades, about how we’ll build an ocean with a thimble. That’s why, a half-century after 2001, we still have no Space Odyssey. We need to stop dreaming and start doing.”

Hammer paused while quotes like these appeared onscreen:

—————————

‘It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.’

- Alan Shepard, astronaut

—————————

‘I always considered every launch a barely controlled explosion.’

- Aaron Cohen, NASA administrator

—————————

Hammer gestured at the screen and resumed: “Let’s face it, this is no way to run a space railroad. Speaking of which: If we had waited for government to build the railroads - or the telegraph or anything else vital to the growth and well-being of our country - we’d still be waiting today. So then - why are we waiting for the world’s governments to lead us into space?

“Now as you’ve probably guessed, we are here to do something besides complain about this. Some of you may know that in 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first conceived the idea for a space elevator.” Concept art, some of it charmingly antique, appeared onscreen behind Hammer. “It’s a simple idea: A large satellite orbits a planet, while attached to the planet with a cable. The space elevator rides up and down that cable, which reaches high enough to escape most of Earth’s gravity well.

“Until now, no suitable material existed for the cable. It’s a long, long way up into space, so anything strong enough for the task would break under its own weight. That’s been the big hold-up, pardon the pun, until now. Carmōt is the breakthrough that will enable the space elevator and, at last, a true space age.

“If you were an investor, would you want your money in a business where valuable goods and personnel were routinely placed atop a ‘barely controlled explosion’ every day? Or would you prefer a business where key resources took a safe, predictable elevator ride to their destination? For a serious investor, the business of space has never added up. There has never been a sound business plan for space exploration. Space spending has always been justified by invoking adventure, vanity, national glory, Star Wars fantasies, and scientific research. But the investing world, which wants an actual return on equity, mostly considered space ventures as money thrown down a rathole. In our secret hearts we’ve always known this was true, and government’s the first resort for lost causes. That’s the real and shameful reason we’ve always instinctively turned to government for space enterprise funding.

“One perk of amassing a personal fortune like mine is not having to wait for anything. That’s why we’re not waiting for someone with an interest in space to approach us. We as a species cannot afford to wait a moment longer.”

A map appeared onscreen as Hammer continued. “We’ve built the base foundation for the world’s first space elevator in this area not far from O’Hare. Here it is, in this aerial photo. NASA, who we’re trying to put out of business, has graciously lashed together some decom’d satellites for our counterbalance, and nudged them into a geosync orbit about 38,000 km over the base. A Carmōt cable has been manufactured in an automated orbiting factory we’ve built, and one end has been attached to the satellites. Over the next few weeks the other will be lowered into contact with the base.

“We’ve obtained permits to operate a small, experimental version of the elevator. Should this be successful, as we expect, we will immediately begin work on a full-size version. Eventually we will construct a number of these on Earth, and subsequently on the Moon and Mars.

“As important as enabling a true space-based industry is, it’s not the only reason for this initiative. It may not even turn out to be the most important one. Exploration, on any meaningful scale, has always been linked to the expansion of commerce and profit. With exploration comes frontier, and as frontier expands so does personal liberty. In fact, I dare say that only the expansion of frontier or the collapse of institutions has ever expanded liberty.

“I don’t want to turn this into a political or philosophical forum, but I do want to make a few closing observations. It’s clear to me that we live in a world where the hand of government reaches deeply into nearly every human endeavor. The U.S. is moving steadily toward a de facto one-party system, which in turn is controlled by enormous multinational corporations and a handful of individuals far more powerful than any king who ever wore a crown. The rest of the world is in even sadder shape than we are. For the average man, there’s very little frontier left anywhere.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote that, in the course of human events, times come when governments become oppressive and must be altered or abolished. Those are fine and famous words, but what we’ve forgotten is that Jefferson never did alter or abolish the government that was oppressing him. The plain truth is, he and his fellow colonists were in no position to reform the British Empire. They were outmanned, outgunned, and outmonied. But they were able to get beyond the king’s reach and begin again. And we – all of us today, the entire human race - are immeasurably better off for that legacy.

“It is human nature, unfortunately, for institutions to grow corrupt and overbearing, and for ideals and dreams to grow weary and stale. It is also human nature to find new frontiers and refresh the collective soul. History tells us that when one oppressed man - one single man - is freed, all men eventually benefit. So you see, it hardly matters whether those of us gathered here today go on to the moon and Mars, or if others do so after us. What matters today is that, after so much self-deception, and so many false starts, the day of change has finally arrived.

This,” he said, his slightly-trembling hand holding the fluttering Carmōt sample aloft one last time, “paves the road to prosperity, freedom and hope. This holds the promise for the future of humanity. And like every great breakthrough in history, this comes along precisely when we need it most.”

Hammer’s small audience stood and, for the next ten minutes, cheered and whistled and applauded. In hotels facing the street, where more media and well-wishers watched out windows and on large ultradef displays, hundreds more followed suit. And around the world, where the event had been broadcast live, billions felt an unfamiliar, warm swelling of hope.

•••••••••••••••••••••••

Nearly two hundred years after Charles Hammer’s demonstration, and a week after the miners’ escape, a dozen pressure-suited figures wearing Mars-themed masks entered a Hammer-designed space elevator. On reaching the top, they broke into an enormous freighter in a Martian space dock. Overpowering the guards on duty, they proceeded to the cargo hold. There they found a shipment from Earth waiting to be unloaded, and dumped it into space.

Some of the containers passed through the old artificial Van Allen Belt, leaving a shimmering trail that was seen all the way from Earth.

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For more information on The Patriots of Mars and the latest from Jeff Faria, click here: The Patriots of Mars
 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Author Interview - J.A. Beard

Today's interview is with J.A. Beard, author of The Emerald City.  A fresh take on the classic story of Oz, The Emerald City takes many of the elements of the classic story and gives them a unique spin.

Q: What inspired you to write The Emerald City?

A: I happen to like musicals. A few years back, I was fortunate enough to have the Broadway touring version of Wicked roll into my town. For those unfamiliar with the musical or the book that it's based on, it's a revisionist take on the Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.

It was a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. After leaving though, I also found myself a bit more interested in Oz in general. I decided I wanted to write a YA book in the setting, an age demographic which is, I suppose, older than the original target audience for the Oz books but younger than the target audience of Wicked. I didn't want to do a straight adaptation. Instead, I liked the idea of more playing with the archetypes in a contemporary setting. Thus, The Emerald City, a sort of Oz-in-a-modern boarding school story, was born.

Q: Tell us about Gail Dorjee.

A: Gail Dorjee is a sarcastic and somewhat impulsive sixteen year-old from Topeka, Kansas. After her parents die in a car wreck, she lives with her aunt and uncle who are a bit put out having to take care of her. Depressed and bitter over her parent's death and her relatives' less than loving treatment of her, she ends up getting sent to a boarding school in Seattle.

Now, although much of Gail's combative nature is a sort of emotional shield to prevent her from having to deal with her grief, there's a core of concern for others that pokes through all of that and really helps motivate a lot of her actions. She's not one to stand by while somebody is picked on. She's also very loyal to her friends.

Q: How did you come up with the plot?


A: Well, it's a very loose adaptation of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so there are certain very broad strokes that were borrowed from that book, but my story definitely isn't a one-to-one correspondence to the other story. I liked a lot of the archetypes more than the individual plot points. Though there are a few things that are a bit more direct shout-outs to the original book.

So instead, I knew the three major plot points I wanted, and then just generated connective scene tissue, as it were, to get from A to B to C.

The overall plot from first to final draft didn't change that much, though there were a few things that got adjusted. For example, originally the main character, Gail Dorjee, was a bit of a juvenile delinquent. She was sent to Osland Academy after stealing a car. Her wealthy aunt and uncle use their leverage to get the charges dropped in exchange for her getting sent to a boarding school.

In that scenario, the car was going to be some made-up brand, a Tornado (though there are a few actual Tornado cars I found, too), to link in with the original Oz story. I decided I didn't really like starting Gail out that way, so instead I kept a lot of the sarcastic and combative personality, just with less grand theft auto. In the new version, she's still brought to Osland by a twister...a cab from the Twister Cab Company.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I've been writing on and off for many years, but I didn't get serious about until about three years ago. That was the point I sat down and started seriously studying the craft, spending a lot of daily time writing, et cetera.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.


A: I'm married and have two children. I've lived a fairly kind of all-over-the-place kind of life. I was in the Air Force for a while, did corporate programming, and now am finishing up a stint in graduate school where I've been messing around with virology.

I find a lot of things fascinating but have a particular interest in science and history. The former is unlikely to heavily influence my writing, but the latter has lead to an interest in producing some historical works.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing The Emerald City?  Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A: Well, first and foremost I wanted to tell an interesting story. Second, I wanted to explore grief. Gail lost her parents six months before the story begins. She's dealing with a bit of survivor's guilt in addition to the sadness that naturally comes with losing love ones. I tried to do a good job of exploring some of the emotion that comes with such tragedy and some of the implications, both through Gail, and, ultimately, through another character who has dealt with similar issues in a much more unfortunate and tragic way.

Third, I wanted to explore, as corny as it sounds, the power of friendship. Although this is a story mostly about Gail, she befriends a number of people with various problems and issues. On the surface, Gail is the strong one. She's the one who disrupts the status quo of the unpleasant social environment of Osland Academy and spends a lot of time sticking up for other people and helping others. At the same time, though, their friendship helps her. 

Q: Would you mind painting us a picture of the Osland Academy?  The sights, the sounds, the environment?


A: Osland is an elite boarding school in Seattle. The campus itself is covered with a a veritable forest of evergreens. There are a lot of brick paths (yes including a main yellow brick road) connecting the various gabled and ivy-covered red-brick buildings. There are fountains everywhere. The green uniform-clad students make a nice contrast with both the red-brick and yellow-brick paths around the school. At the center, right in front of the main building is a small statue of a Cairn Terrier, the dog of the school's founder.

The dog was named Africa. There's an Oz joke in there that relies on knowledge of 80s soft-rock. I'm dubious if very many of my target audience will get it, but it was fun to insert it in there.

Though small (the entire student body is only a little over two hundred students), Osland Academy is a very beautiful place. The social environment is decidedly more ugly. The senior class president, a girl named Diana Ohume, has her own social clique, the Winged, who have no problem making life unpleasant for anyone who stands up to them. The teachers, for the most part, seem to be good-hearted but oblivious to some of the cruelty going on at the school.

There are also more than a few strange things at the school. Gail figures out early on that she's physically incapable of cursing. A teacher's dream, for sure, but also a bit unsettling for a feisty and occasionally rebellious teenager.

Q: As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter.  Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A: Well, the main places I'm active are:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002197703160
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/jabeard_rf
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/bzial/

Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry?  With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?


A: Publishing has been a very stagnant industry. Certain business practices, such as the return and pulping system, date back to the Depression! In other words, it's definitely an industry in need of a little creative destruction.

That being said, publishing is filled with people who love books and have spent years bringing that expertise to the editorial improvement and distribution of books. Not every author wants to take on all that responsibility, nor do I think they should have to just because they want to tell a story. There's a strong role for all types of publishers and publishing options.

I think it is, in general, a good thing that authors have more options concerning creation and distribution of their work. Those options, in turn, create competition that can help shake up the publishing industry and help them look into better ways to help out authors and readers while still preserving their bottom line.

Readers benefit from all of this in that they have more choices. A lot of times traditional publishing can limit the scope of what's being published for practical economic reasons. There may just not be enough people interested in a particular niche to justify the outlay involved with taking a book from initial manuscript to final product.

A significantly dedicated author, on the other hand, doesn't have to deal with as much overhead. This means if they write a book that isn't necessarily mainstream, they can still publish it and get it to the people interested in that sort of work. The author gets to tell the story they want to hear, and it's easier for readers to find certain types of books that are harder sells for publishers, even some smaller publishers with lower overhead.

All that additional choice, though, is also a two-edged sword. There's more general "noise" in the system that has to be cut through. There's always potential quality concerns when there are fewer barriers to entry.

That being said, the former benefits outweigh the latter costs. Reviews, sampling, book bloggers, et cetera all help contribute to ameliorating quality concerns. Despite the internet and e-reader revolution, surveys continue to indicate that the single most common way people find books is the same way they always have: recommendations from others.

In the end, this publishing change is just like the rise of the internet itself. There are billions of websites, yet people still manage to find interesting and high-quality ones.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you can give to the other authors out there?

A: Seek out objective feedback. It's the only way you'll grow as a writer and unless your name is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you have plenty of room to grow. I know I do. Writer and critique groups are great for feedback. Plus, in interacting and analyzing other authors' works, you'll learn to better appreciate the mechanics and techniques you're trying to apply in your own.

Q: Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations?  How do they
support you?


A: My wife. She's encouraged me and helped convince me I do have something interesting to share with the world.

Q: What book could you read over and over again and never get tired of it?

A: None. There are many books I love, but there are more books in existence than I could ever read. As each book is a unique experience, I'd rather read a new book than re-read one that I've read before, even if I did love it.

Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your work!

Thanks for having me.

 The Emerald City