Sunday, November 23, 2014

Not saying what we mean
           I dislike euphemisms. 
          They’re not only distasteful to me but I also believe they’re dangerous.  When we adopt too many of them–when we stop calling things what they really are, I think we’re headed for trouble. 
          If we engage in too much out-sourcing, for example, our gross national product suffers, our trade deficit grows, and we lose American jobs and expertise, not to mention making our economic competitors wealthy.
          If we go off on an armed intervention, we risk committing collateral damage to innocent humans while attempting to neutralize insurgents and some of our own young troops might even become casualties due to friendly fire.
          When our politicians no longer lie to us, but rather simply misspeak, when illegal aliens become merely undocumented, when hospitals and assisted living communities and rest homes have negative patient care outcomes, when life jackets become personal flotation devices, when old-fashioned gambling with the rent money becomes innocuous gaming, when a workforce is only downsized–well, I could go on until the full-figured lady sings–when embracing so many convenient diluted euphemisms becomes habitual in our society, I believe something is fundamentally wrong.
          To me, one of the most reprehensible euphemisms to crop up in recent years is transitioning.  There have always been many euphemisms for dying but most have been benign, intended simply to ease the grief of those left behind.  Pass away is a good innocent example. At the other end of that spectrum, brutally doling out death has been euphemized as ethnic cleansing, which can be accomplished with everything from old-fashioned machetes to ingenious anti-personnel devices.
          There is something particularly insidious about the word transitioning.  It sounds so peaceful and innocent.  But if we can say grandmother transitioned recently, is it so great a leap to claim Adolph Hitler only facilitated the transitioning of six million Jews?  He not only helped all those men, women, children, and elderly folk (whose quality of life had sadly deteriorated anyway) across to the other side, but he also quite efficiently transitioned the mentally challenged and the differently abled and the politically incorrect.  You might even say he was one of the first equal-opportunity transitioners long before he finally transitioned his new bride and himself in his underground bunker.
          I think I’ll write a short story about a character with much more modest aspirations than what drove the likes of Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot.  My new character only effectuates the transitioning of one soul at a time, sometimes for remuneration, but often just for personal fulfillment.  
         I’ll call him Transition Man.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who gets what

Here’s how proceeds from a best-selling hardback novel ($27.95) usually get divvyed up:

          The retailer:  45% ($12.58)
          The author: 15% ($4.19, from which the agent takes up to 15%, or 62 cents)
          The publisher: 13% ($3.55)
          Printing: 10% ($2.80)
          The wholesaler: 10% ($2.80)
          Marketing: 7% ($2)
(Source: Mental Floss Magazine)

Of course there’s a whole school of remoras nibbling in the slipstreams of the above profit-takerseditors, publicists, reviewers, website builders, media people, truckers, author’s psychiatrists.

Multiply the above numbers by half a million or sometimes several million copies and you can see that everybody involved does nicely.

But this is typical only for a top best-selling author with a shark for an agent.  Many little-known authors don't fare nearly as well.  

My first traditional advance/royalty contract granted me just 6% of gross, only after the entire advance amount initially given to me on signing was paid back, that is.  (That’s why it’s called an advance against royalties.)  At $6.99 for the mass-market paperback, that royalty amounted to only 42 cents per copy, less something called Reserve For Returns, an arbitrary amount the publisher holds back out of profits for possible returns of unsold copies.  Subsequent contracts for two more novels in the thriller series were a bit better, but did not promise me enough to buy a decent pre-owned kayak, much less make a down payment on a yacht.  The publisher, the wholesaler, and the retailers did modestly well on the three books.  Me, not so much, being at the absolute bottom of the contractual food chain, but that was to be expected, I suppose, considering I WAS ONLY THE GUY WHO WROTE THE DANGED THINGS.

Any worthwhile endeavor has a period of dues-paying.  For a struggling writer in the traditional publishing business, it’s quite literally the generous paying-out of dues to everybody involved.

Then, of course, I had to wait almost two years for that first book to see print, which is not uncommon.

It’s an interesting business.


p.s. No post last Monday because another captain and I were delivering a 53-foot Hatteras from Maryland to North Carolina.  While I don't make enough to buy a yacht, at least I can occasionally pretend what it would be like to own one.

Monday, November 3, 2014


           It happens sooner or later to most writers.  The words are flowing out of your fingers nicely (in my case, only my two index fingers; I never learned to type) until suddenly you stub your knuckles on an invisible wall.  It’s been widely called writer’s block.  I've mentioned it here before.

          Attempted cures vary.  Some are quite effective, like looking at the calendar and realizing a deadline is disconcertingly close.  Some have damaging side effects, like wolfing bacon cheeseburgers.  Some are unarguably unwise, like booze.  A long brisk walk has worked for me in the past, simply by oxygenating my high-mileage brain, I believe.

          But my most effective blockbuster has been an early-morning hour or so spent with ballpoint and pocket pad in a local coffee shop called Kitchen on Trent.  Time after time it has jarred loose fresh ideas and gotten my  fingers moving on the keyboard again.  I thought it must be the quality caffeine or some magical secret ingredient in the low-fat peach muffins.  Not so, apparently.  Turns out my particular cure may be auditory rather than culinary.

          According to a University of Chicago study, background noise levels can have a remarkable effect on creativity, promoting mind-wandering, idea-generating thinking.  We automatically filter out ambient noise below 70 decibels (db), which suggests libraries may tend to make us more somnolent than studious.  Above 85 db, noise becomes dominant, irritating, and stressful.  However, between 70 db and 85 db there evidently lies a blockbusting sweet spot.  And that’s precisely the levels you’ll find in most coffee shops.

          Randy Wayne White has written large chunks of novels in Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille on Sanibel Island, Florida.  Now I know why his stuff is so good.  And it’s not the rum or the cheeseburgers.