Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dumbing Down For Mass Appeal?

Reading isn't for everyone.  In fact, in my experience, reading isn't for most people.  Some like to read the newspaper or a specific work related to their job, but not many read purely for pleasure.  Those of us that do get caught up in the worlds of fantasy and adventure that can only exist in our imaginations.  We can spin incredible movies in our minds, tales of such stunning beauty and complexity that they'd put even the hardiest Hollywood director to shame.
(In a book, anyone can go into space)
However, a common complaint amongst those of us snobs who love books is that most forms of mass media entertainment lack the subtlety and special complexity we enjoy in novels.  I watch something like Ender's Game, and regardless of how many friends say they liked it, I come away disappointed.  That's because I remember the struggles Ender had in the story and how he came to grips with the genocide he was manipulated into perpetrating.  I watch the Harry Potter movies and know that the books wove in so many elements we don't see that it feels lacking on the big screen.

Some of this is a constraint of time - you can only include so much in a two and a half hour film.  However, I'm convinced that some of it is due to the public's lack of patience with complexity.  Why delve into the varied themes in Heinlein's Starship Troopers when you can give most folks a cheap thrill with the male/female shower scene.  People watch movies to have things shown to them rather than have to figure them out for themselves.  That's what sets readers apart - we know there are elements we have to dig for, and that's part of the fun.  But movies are visual mediums meant to be shown and forgotten rather than studied.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but those are rare.

This is why we readers will almost always be disappointed when our favorite novel hits the big screen - we've built up such a grand image of what it will be in our minds that the final, and simple, product never matches our vision.  We're going to have to accept that most folks don't want that level of thought in their entertainment.  Yes, it's arrogant to point out, but it's also real, regardless of how it may make us feel.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Indie Is For Losers?

"The only people who go into self publishing are those who couldn't get a real publishing deal."

I've heard this canard from countless people, from editors to agents, and even friends.  So many people have come out and said that indie publishing is the last resort of those who couldn't succeed that's it's become an axiom to the uneducated.  And once upon a time, it might have even been true, but it's so far from the truth nowadays that the truth is but a tiny speck in the distance.



(Whoever knew such losers could seem so successful?)
 
Above are but two of the novels written by supposed losers.  The one on the left is Witchfinder, by Sarah Hoyt, and the one on the right is Wool, by Hugh Howey.  I've had the honor to interview both of these incredible writers, and if theirs is the measure of failure, I can only imagine that success means I get to realize my dream of ruling the world.
 
Success stories like these are becoming more and more commonplace in a world where the average traditionally published writer isn't earning enough to put food on the table, but more indie writers are breaking out.  By breaking out, I don't necessarily mean in the sense of self published books like Eragon(didn't know that was indie published, did you?), but rather in the sense that more indie writers are able to make a living by writing.  Yes, most indie writers aren't there yet, and, truth be told, most will never get there, but neither will most traditionally published writers.  Let's forget the thousands that fall all over themselves to traditionally publish yet never do - even those that manage to get far enough to have some publisher pick them up are unable to pay the rent with their average earnings.
 
More and more writers are figuring out that they can earn more by self publishing than they can by spending years trying to kiss the right agent's ass and then getting meek deals that fork over most of the revenue and all of the rights to a traditional publisher.  The Amazon/Hachette situation is but one more nail in the coffin of the traditional world, even if it may take 20-30 more years to put it in the ground.
 
We all know the big time authors and their books, like Stephen King and The Shining, or John Grisham and The Firm, but here are a few you might not realize were indie published - Wool, Eragon, Fifty Shades of Gray, The Shack, The Celestine Prophecy, Rich Dad Poor Dad, and many others.  Those that think it's a road to loserdome are living in 1980s America and really need to join us in the present, where new technology and the ability to directly reach the fan base makes indie publishing not only possible, but more desirable, even more so when one considers the canards sold under the guise of traditional publishing(Think you'll get an all expense paid book tour, or that marketing is now the job of someone else?  Think again!).
 
I hope to be as big a loser as these folks one day.  We can all dream...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Divine Intervention - A Short Story

"The demons have been here."

The others looked at Yahweh with serious eyes.  Their leader was incensed as he gazed through the viewport.  The blue world in front of them was a prize much sought after amongst the sentient species of the galaxy.  It possessed an abundance of water, and life started teeming on it just two and a half billion years earlier.

"Lord, the biosphere here is extensive.  Are you sure these things couldn't have evolved on their own?" Gabriel ventured.

Yahweh snorted derisively.  "You really think the similarities in appearance are mere coincidence?  Look at the images brought back from our probe, and compare them to our nemesis.  Yes, there are differences, and their new puppets still have a long way to go, but they've obviously seeded this planet for later use."

Gabriel looked at the images on his own screen.  The reptilian nightmares on the surface sure looked like the demons once might have - they were primal, with tough hides and razor sharp teeth that could cut through rock.  Some even had claws and possessed speed that would rival any species engineered anywhere else in the universe.

"How could we have overlooked such extensive genetic engineering?" Michael asked.

"That doesn't matter," Yahweh answered.  "The only thing we can deal with is what is before us now.  We have to get rid of this infestation.  I want this world, and I want it now."

Among the group, now was a relative term.  These beings were, by all measures, immortal, just as their enemies were.  They sprang from the primordial soup of creation not long after the Big Bang, and their lifetimes were measured in eons.  Only the heat death of the universe would eventually snuff them out, and in order to prevent that, they needed other intelligences that could think outside the box.

"So, what's our plan, Lord?" Gabriel asked.

"We could infest the biosphere with bacterial or fungal toxin," Michael interjected.  "Creatures as large as these might be able to fight off conventional attacks for a while, but they're vulnerable to the least of us."

Yahweh stroked his beard.  "I'd rather not.  The biosphere is already rich, and although some of it must necessarily perish, I'd rather not have a poison that is difficult to control sticking around afterwards.  Such things could affect the tiniest of creatures, and there are some animals that I wish to preserve."

"We could use a flood basalt, or even a gamma ray burst.  We used that against the Ordovicians and it took care of them."

"Yes, but the resulting damage to the ozone would be challenging to repair again.  Flood basalts threaten the plankton we need to produce oxygen, and I like the balance of gasses here."  After another moment, he snapped his fingers.  "I've got it!  We toss 'em a rock."

Gabriel looked skeptical.  "That could take some time to redirect, assuming we even found one."

"You're forgetting that cloud of debris out by the outer rim of the system," Yahweh countered.  "We needn't grab a 50 kilometer planet killer - a simple stone 5 miles across should do the trick."

Michael began inputting computations into his console.  "That size object would destroy at least 75% of all land creatures and nearly 60% of the vegetation."

"Yet that's likely what's necessary to take out all of the demons' minions.  Those reptilian beasts are probably only 15 million years from developing intelligence - we can't have that.  Some collateral damage is to be expected, but I expect the smaller creatures, especially the mammals, to endure.  Besides which, sea creatures will be mostly unaffected and the bacterium and plankton that regulate gasses will remain intact."

After a few more minutes of debate, the discussion subsided and the crew began manipulating the graviton beam to pull in the rock.  Minute adjustments were made to its solar trajectory so that any demon scout ships passing by wouldn't notice(Yahweh's ship was cloaked, so he wouldn't be seen no matter what...a comet, on the other hand, had to be hidden until the last minute).

They remained in the system for several millennia while the rock started its journey.  Finally, after much patience and tinkering, it closed in on the planet.

The resulting explosion was intense, and even Uriel has to shield his eyes from the blast.  A fireball rose so high into the air that Yahweh briefly wondered if it'd catch the entire atmosphere on fire, but the resulting dust particles only enhanced the fire effect and killed the targets.  By the hundreds of thousands they died - the Allosaur, the Velociraptor, the Pteradon.  None of the species meant by the demons to evolve survived.

However, a few furry little creatures hiding in the rocks managed to live.  Yahweh smiled at his accomplishment, all while knowing he still had work to do.  There was brain matter to build, land bridges to be formed for encouraging migration, and simple tools to place so that deductive reasoning could grow.  All in all, though, he was pleased.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

As I've written before, I'm in the middle of trying to gain permission from some businesses to use their name in my novel, Akeldama.  There have been a few obstacles along the way, but nothing that's a showstopper.  However, looking for brand name products at discount prices isn't the only thing that's been going on.

In making sure I don't use someone's stuff without permission, I've gone back and re-read the novel.  Each chapter gets excruciating attention, similar to when I was editing.  Let's remember, though, that this is supposedly a "finished" novel.  Therefore, imagine my surprise when I found that there were still pieces that I could improve on(I know - SHOCKING!).

Nothing in all this mess is a big deal.  It's more like tweaks here and there, but that doesn't mean it's not a little disconcerting to figure out.  It has taught me one hell of a lesson in humility, as well as the limits of what I think I can do.

I also wonder just how much is necessary.  What I mean is that I believe there's a point at which you simply have to have faith in what you've written.  I could probably stick Akeldama in a drawer for two or three months, come back, and find stuff that I can revise every single time, but does it make a big enough difference in quality to make it worth the chore?  At what point are things "good enough?"

Truthfully, if I wasn't scouring the book to search for potential lawsuit bait, I wouldn't be diving back in.  Once you reach a certain threshold, you just have to let the work speak on its own merits.  Still, as long as I'm going through it anyway, I might as well make the adjustments I find.

There are a few changes that will be necessary and require more than a word change.  A few businesses haven't given me permission to use their names, so a setting or two will have to change.  Again, no big deal, but still enough of a chore to make it a pain in the ass.  Those sections will have to be run through the wringer again prior to publication in May 2016(shameless plug - get on my distro list prior, and the hardcopy will be about 25-ish% off).

I think we can always get better, and we should take advantage when the opportunity presents itself.  On the other hand, there comes a point at which it becomes nitpicky.  When you're at an 85% solution, is the last 15% worth the effort expended?  I don't want to sound like I'm settling, but I have to ask how many more hours make the prose substantially better?  Will anyone notice, or will it draw in any more customers?

In the end, I think the answer lies within each of us.  How happy are you with what you've written?  If you feel it needs work, it probably does.  But if you feel the juice isn't worth the squeeze, then it's probably time to stop obsessing.  Only you can answer this conundrum.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Traditional Publishing Shows How Much Authors Mean To It

There has been an ongoing dispute between Hachette - one of the Big 5 in the traditional publishing world - and Amazon, the largest book distributor on the planet.  Hachette buys the rights to publish the books, and Amazon gets them to the customer.  The central point of dispute has been in the discounting of ebooks on Amazon.  Hachette wants a higher price, equivalent to hard copy books, and Amazon knows most folks won't pay such prices when it's essentially a download.  As a result of the dispute, Amazon is holding some distribution of Hachette's books, especially on pre-orders.

Hachette has some big names in its corner, names like James Patterson, Stephen King, and James Baldacci.  One of their authors, Doug Preston, recently wrote an open letter to writers that implored writers to join with him in his condemnation of Amazon's tactics.  He claims that struggling writers are being hurt by the way Amazon has reacted.

Interestingly enough, Amazon has made a counter-offer that has folks like Preston spluttering and making excuses.  In a nutshell, Amazon has offered to carry the books but give 100% of the revenue generated by this directly to the authors until the dispute is resolved, so long as Hachette agrees.  This sounds like a potential windfall for writers, correct?

$$$$

Well, not for folks like Preston.  He stammered and bloviated about not feeling right about taking money he feels is rightfully owed his publisher, even though it would potentially cost him millions.  Let's forget for a second that Preston is already a 1% author who has more money than he'll ever need, or that most writers struggling to put food on the table would love to jump at this.  What this really shows is how much traditional publishing houses like Hachette care about the writers they claim to.  If they truly gave a shit, they'd happily acquiesce to such a demand and show those under their wing, as well as prospective authors, that they'll take care of them in lean times.  Instead, they've shown that it's not really the authors' money anyway, and those peasants should just be happy with what they give them.

Preston's own response to this has been awesome - he compared such revenue to blood money, essentially comparing giving authors full revenue from what they've written to the price paid to Judas to betray Christ.  If such a statement doesn't show what Preston thinks of the peons who haven't made it as high as he has, I don't know what will.

His implication also seems to be is a stark warning to newbies - don't oppose us on this or you'll never publish another book again.  That's the implicit message from folks like him and Scott Turrow...you know...people who already have what they want and love the gatekeeper system that prevents new talent from breaking through unless it has indentured itself to publishing companies.

I'm hoping the effect of this opposition to writers keeping more of what they earn is to turn more to indie publishing.  Maybe this will show some of them just how the oligarchy regards them and their passion, more as replaceable pieces of the machine as opposed to valuable clients they depend on.  Unfortunately, given how many newbies, or even those with more experience, have reacted in the past, I won't get my hopes up too much.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Homecoming - Chapter One

This is the first chapter to my novel, Homecoming.  I tried something completely new to me in this - I wrote it in a journal format, told from the point of view of one of the observers to the action.  I think it needs a little more work to make it truly compelling as a complete story, but I wanted to see if I could break out of the normal story format.
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Journal Entry #1 – November 27, 5846 RT
            My name is Shalliko Kai, and I’m a historian.  That fact might not be of interest to a lot of people, but if you’re reading the works that come from this journal, you’ll probably want to know my credentials.
            I was born on Novam Terra on July 6, 5801 RT.  My childhood and early schooling were typical for any citizen of the Terran Confederation.  It was near the end of my third year of secondary school that I became interested in history.  The story of who we are and where we came from is something I find fascinating, for I believe understanding that journey helps point to where we’re going.  So, when I was 12, I picked up my first volume of Humanity:  A Comprehensive History, and I was hooked.
            Of course I already knew most of the basic story.  Everyone in our world knows of the flight from Earth and the founding of the Confederation, if for no other reason than the post script on our date.  Prior to our escape, history was divided into two eras – BCE, meaning Before the Common Era, and AD, standing for Anno Domini.  However, ever since the Great Fleet set out from our homeworld nearly 6,000 years ago, we’ve had to add a new post script – RT, which stands for Relicta Terra, meaning “after flight from Earth.”
            As I delved into a more total view of history, I learned a great deal about stuff which had been forgotten.  We have a rich history prior to our leaving Earth, and it should be taught in more detail.  Most of what modern historians focus on, and what most children learn in school, is from the time of the arrival of the plague that drove us from our world.
            In learning more about Earth prior to the RT era, I found myself consumed by wanting to know it all.  Therefore, I enrolled in Alexandria University, so named for the great library that once existed on Earth.  I earned my degree in Human History, with a focus on the era just prior to escaping the planet.  I then got my Master’s Degree, with a double focus on pre-escape history and the details of the Grand Escape.  A doctorate in these areas only seemed natural after all of that.
            It’s this passion that made me the leading expert in my field, and it was the main reason that the Confederation Assembly asked me to accompany our warriors on this mission, a mission that mankind has dreamed of for over 5,846 years – to reclaim our home.  If you’re reading this tome, then it means we were successful.
            We’ve all dreamed going back since we could first understand the stories of what happened with the Examen prior to the Grand Escape.  Some are drawn by the stories of the majestic peaks of Mount Everest or the raging waters at Niagra Falls.  Others are captivated by the strength we could show by going back.  However, most are focused on returning to Earth out of the emptiness we feel at being driven from the planet that birthed us.  So long as Earth remains denied to us, humanity will never be whole.
            I was commissioned to chronicle the affair by the Confederation Historical Society, and the Assembly agreed to appoint me as the Chief Historian.  I’ll have access to all the main events, and I’ll get to shadow Admiral Alberto Santos, the Fleet Commander, as we engage with the Examen.  This journal is the first draft of a book, or series of books, that will give us greater identity as a species.
            Every child has been taught to fear the Examen.  A lot of parents still scare unruly children with the scolding that “the Examen are going to rip your heart out.”  Given what we’ve been through as a species, that kind of racial memory doesn’t fade.
            As such, I thought it only appropriate that I begin my journey by visiting the Jen Morton.  It’s this ship in the center of our capital’s square that holds the most level of meaning for humanity.  As ancient man realized that we’d be unable to drive the Examen from our world, they forged a plan to escape so that our species could survive.  Fifteen ships, each carrying 10,000 people a piece, set out from Earth.  Seven and a half years and several galaxies later, only three ships and 12,189 people survived to land here.  The Jen Morton was the first to touch down.
            The story of its captain, David Morton, is legendary.  It was he who organized the initial counteroffensive against the Examen, and when that failed, it was he who organized our escape.  He led the raids that acquired SLS technology, and he named the ship for the wife he lost in the initial assault, while the capital city of Tyler is named for his lost son.  That he eventually remarried and had more children never fully washed away the pain he carried from losing them.
            The Jen Morton was not only one of the ships that survived to carry us here, it was also the instrument used to power Tyler and other parts of our world for nearly half a century after its arrival.  Although primitive by today’s standards, it was a miraculous piece of engineering by the standards of the day.  At that point, humanity hadn’t even cracked the mystery of practical fusion, not to mention Supra-Light Speed, more commonly known as SLS.  Building it during the midst of the Examen assault is something still studied by engineers, much the same way I imagine ancient engineers studied the Roman aqueduct system.
            There are pictures in the historical records of the power lines laid out from the Jen Morton to provide rudimentary electricity to those who landed in Refuge Square back when it was just an empty field.  I’ve studied them, and as I looked around the Square today, I found myself in awe of what those early pioneers had to go through.
            The other two ships – the Fons Maoirum and Cristo Nazareno – landed not far away in the cities of New Jerusalem and Sinkiang, also powering the grids that sprung up there until the foundation for power was more fully in place.  However, those vessels don’t hold the pull the Jen Morton does.
            Like I said, it’s primitive by today’s standards.  The ship is a glossy titanium alloy that has been refurbished numerous times over the years.  Its corridors are narrow, and the bevy of pipes and cable make navigating around the interior quite a challenge.  Still, there’s something quaint about it.  Getting to walk around the inside of it helps bring to the surface what it must’ve been like to be cramped in here for nearly eight years.
            On some of the monitors throughout the ship, a montage of Morton throughout the years played.  This is an edited together version of the myriad of tapes I’ve studied.  In the one running now, there’s a grainy image of Morton through the years as he kept a video diary to help future generations understand what our forefathers had to go through.
            The Morton on the screen wasn’t young – 64 years old(nearly 20 years after our arrival on Novam Terra) – but he was far more aged than others at that point in their lives, even adjusting for the 17 month yearly cycle on our new world after we arrived(he was 44 in human years upon touchdown).  The lines in his face were hard, and his blue eyes looked deeper than they had in younger pictures from before the Great Escape.  They held the sadness of loss that few of us would ever know.
            “We did what we had to in order to escape,” said this ancient visage.  “There were hard choices and, I’m sad to say, I had to be dictatorial at times.  I make no apologies for that – whatever kept the human race alive and kicking was worth it.  Yes, maybe that’s the ends justifying the means, but when those ends are either survival or extinction, you learn to do what you have to.
            “It’s my hope that our children and their children – the ones born on Novam Terra and who never know of the terror we faced from either the Examen or the uncertainty of flight into space – take this opportunity to build a new world from the ashes of our old one.  Novam Terra may not be Earth, but it’s our home now, and we have a duty to build it into a true society for ourselves and our children.”
            I’ve visited this relic a lot over the years, especially as I studied for my doctorate.  Tens of thousands come here every year to get in touch with our past.  Tour guides show people through all the time, and the site was even opened to non-human members of the Confederation about 600 years ago, although that remains a controversial decision to this day.
            The alien question is a complex one in our society, but it has gotten better over the millennia.  There was a period, early on, where we distrusted all alien races.  Our experience with them, especially the Examen, made us suspicious of those that weren’t human.  It even led to several smaller wars, but we’ve progressed past that.  Once a race is past the probationary period of acceptance, either through petition or occupation, they’re accepted as Confederation Citizens.  They don’t hold the status of Human, but they can travel to any world of the Confederation and build good lives for themselves and their people.  I’ve seen a few around the square before, and I still notice the occasional glance that some people throw at them.  However, those glances have grown less frequent, and for that, I’m grateful.  Some of my better friends are from the other races.
            I spoke to a number of tour guides this past visit.  Having come here as often as I do, a number of them know me by name.  By now, most of them also know of the next part of the historical journey I’ll be going on.  Yes, our return trip has been publicized as part of the dream of finally going home, but not every member of the mission is well known.  I’ve been known to drop a few things here and there about it, which never hurts my prospects for fawning.
            One young tour guide named Wei Lin made a point of asking me, “Aren’t you afraid?”
            I smiled at her.  I’ve always had a thing for young Asian women, and even though she’s 17 years my junior, she has a bright mind to match her shining smile and tight body.  “No.  Sure, there’s some apprehension about traveling in SLS for so long, but I’m very excited to be able to be one of the first back to Earth.  Given what I know of the Examen, as well as the capabilities we’ve both developed and demonstrated since the Grand Escape, I have no doubts about the outcome.”
            Her deep brown eyes widened, and she put her hand tentatively on my forearm.  “But what about the Traygar?”
            The Traygar.  Yes, I wondered how they’d react given our last dealings, but they were simply something we were going to have to deal with if we didn’t want to add years to our flight.  They stood in the way, but they weren’t the worry they once were.
            “We’ll be fine.  We’ve probed them undetected for years, and we know how to deal with them.  Their empire is vast, but we hold the edge in technology.  Should it come to a fight, they stand no chance.”
            She smiled at me and said, “I hope you’re right.  I’ll leave you be and wish you the best of luck.  I’d like to walk across the Giza Plateau and see the fires of Kilauea, and that dream is now up to you.”
            Her hand lingered on my arm for a moment before she walked away.  I was touched by her concern, even as I knew there was no doubt about the outcome.  I wasn’t sure whether this particular woman would ever walk on Earth – there were far too many in the Confederation to make that feasible – but knowing that many would was enough for me.
            This journal will be updated as events warrant.  It’s my hope that those who read it come away with a greater appreciation for the fullness of our history, both our time as the Terran Confederation and as a once fractured people prior to the Grand Escape.  As we set out to fill the empty place left in our souls by the loss of Earth, I pray that all can rejoice in our triumphal return.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bleery-Eyed

I've got to change up my schedule.  I usually do all three posts for the week at once, although I allow some leeway for breaking news or outside inspiration.  And when I do this, it almost always occurs on Sunday night before bed.  The problem is that I also love my sleep, and when my body wants to shut down, my mind has trouble cranking out anything of quality.

Looking back, some of my posts seem to be little more than incoherent rants.  I blame this on being dog tired when writing.  That's not an excuse - it's simply a statement of fact.

I've stopped writing anything novel-related late at night since I know I don't give my best effort under those circumstances, but that hasn't carried over to my posts.  I have to figure out something new if I want to deliver better quality to my audience(both of you).  This is also impacting my short story side since I've taken more and more to posting chapters from novels instead of original short stories.  That's not to say I don't think my chapters are interesting, but I would like to do more original work, and 11pm is not the time to pump out my best.  Sure, I can eek out something, but I'm almost always disappointed in such effort.  This has led to my postponing the week's short story until I'm more coherent, but I then find myself in the same predicament on Thursday night.

I don't yet know the solution, but I'll figure it out.  It'll make me a better writer, and you guys deserve better stories from me.  We'll see how things go from here...once I figure out where to go.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bestselling Sycophants

People like Hugh Howey, JA Konrath, and I have been writing a lot about the situation between Amazon and Hachette.  Most indie writers seem to be on Amazon's side.  Another group of writers appears to be on Hachette's side.  Although I may be disappointed with this group - a group that includes people like James Patterson and Stephen King - I can't say I'm surprised.  After all, you usually backs the side that butters your bread.
Writers like Patterson, King, Clive Cussler, and John Grisham are supporting the inequity that exists in the publishing world.  They're got their deals, so why do they care what happens to newbies?  These guys get royal treatment from Hachette and other traditional publishers.  Traditional publishers bend over backwards any time these guys so much as write their name on a cocktail napkin, so it'd go against human nature for them to turn aside such a quick cash machine.  However, the more evil part of the support, whether intentional or not, is that they're hoping to prevent others from horning in on their market share.

Hachette and others hold writers under their thumb by demanding outrageous contract stipulations and relying on their superior bargaining positions to get what they want.  This means little to authors like King or Patterson since they can demand higher royalty fees and larger advances, but over 80% of writers chained to traditional publishers can't make a living from their work.  They're attached to contracts that have non-compete clauses, provide (at best) a 15% royalty rate they're lucky to get twice a year, and the rights to their backlist is totally at the mercy of the publisher.  They can't shop around and demand more because they're not yet successful enough to have that influence, and traditional publishers are happy to keep it that way.

Hachette has shown typical Big 5 arrogance by demanding certain things from Amazon, and they've acted shocked that the biggest distributor in the market has told them to get bent.  I still don't think the Big 5 yet understand the shifts going on in the industry; they think this is 1985, and they hold all the cards.  Thanks to current technology, and the rise of indie publishing that has accompanied it, that's no longer the case.  But that hasn't stopped the bestselling authors from rushing to the aid of the folks who lick their boots.  After all, why would they want to see writers beneath them get better terms?

Now it's true that Amazon isn't doing what they're doing out of concern for the authors - they're doing it to increase market share and make money.  However, isn't that also why folks like Phillip Pullman support Hachette over Amazon?  They don't like the discounting of prices, nor do they care for the hardball tactics of holding back on distribution, but they're not about to totally abandon the largest distributor on the planet.  I take Amazon's side for two main reasons - first, because I instinctively side against an industry that treats all but the very best like dirt; and second, because Amazon's practices usually result in lower prices for consumers, meaning more people can afford books.  Since indie writers usually offer at lower prices - we can't demand the exorbitant prices of folks like Scott Turrow - more people are flocking to our work.  We earn greater royalties than Hachette's minions, and we have greater control over our lives.  What's not to like?

It's a shame that King, Patterson, Grisham, and many others who are already established have no concern for up and comers, opting instead to take their own money, the rest of the populace be damned.  To me, such taking of sides shows one of two things:  either they're sucking up to the publishers who've nearly run the industry into the ground because they feel more secure with the boss they know, or they're so into their own money that they don't give a shit about either the consumer or the new writers struggling to make it.  This isn't 1985 anymore, where there were tons of presses and a little hard work got you into that crowd.  There are only five major publishers left, publishers who won't accept non-solicited work and who force new writers into such bad terms that they're essentially a class of indentured servants.  I don't know if the bestsellers have really thought this through or not, but they sure seem to be purveyors of the very inequality they always deride in real life.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Schism - Act Three, Chapter One

For today's short story, I've decided to post a chapter from my novel Schism.  This is from Act Three:  The Coup.  By this point, the United States is deep into a new civil war - a new government has been formed, San Francisco has been burned, and news anchors from networks perceived as having bias have been hung.  Now a new character comes into play, but is he a hero...or a new villain?
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1
EARLY MORNING RUMBLINGS
            Colonel Josh Roland sat behind his desk and stared at his computer screen.  Reading his brigade’s latest training reports was one of the last pieces of business he needed to take care of before he could go back to his hooch for some sleep.
            Roland was tall and lanky.  He didn’t have the muscular build of a lot of his peers did in the infantry, but what he lacked in build he made up for in charisma.  This marathon runner could draw almost anyone to him and make that individual feel like the only person in the world.  His superiors and subordinates alike said he was destined for a star one day…if he could maintain a handle on his passions and keep his mouth under control.
            The building Roland sat in was fairly new, and although it wasn’t much, it was a damn site better than the old Quonset hut that had been the First Brigade Headquarters for more than half a century.  He had a spacious office and a large oak desk.  The flags of the United States and the Republic of Korea stood behind him, and the Brigade’s colors were against the far wall, campaign streamers falling across it like balloon ribbons.
            There was something else in his office that kept part of his attention – the TV.  He’d always been a news junkie, but the events of the last six months, and especially the last three, made the blaring idiot box like another appendage.
            He shook his head at the chaos back “in the states,” as the Soldiers in Korea so affectionately said.  Things had gotten a lot worse since the burning of San Francisco – for starters, a mob out of Colorado snuck into Texas and retaliated by burning Lubbock even more extensively than the treatment received by the City By the Bay.  On their way out, they emplaced a series of IEDs on the main roads, especially Interstates 25 and 27.  The police from Texas that pursued them had been torn up as they pressed north.
            Riots occurred in most major cities where the city’s politics conflicted with that of the state.  From Redding, California, across to Saint Louis, Missouri, and on up to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, cities across the US had seen their share of violence, where the wrong word from a neighbor risked a beating.
            Worse to Roland had been the state of the National Guards.  There had been mass desertions and resignations, meaning that the remaining Soldiers were usually invested in the cause they fought for.  However, even loyalties within a state were in question – when the National Guards of Minnesota and Iowa stormed into North Dakota and occupied both Fargo and Grand Forks before being rebuffed outside of Bismark, part of the Illinois National Guard moved in to reinforce them, only to see another Illinois Guard unit from the southern part of the state march through Iowa and hit them from the rear.  Some areas of Iowa had paved the way for the insurgent Guard forces, while people in Des Moines and Iowa City set up road blocks to delay them.
            For Roland, he was sick at heart.  He knew a lot of people just wanted to hide out from the violence and that the conflict was instigated mostly by those on the fringes, but people would pick a side when pressed, even if they had little real knowledge of the issues at hand.
            There was a knock at his door.  Roland looked up to see a balding man in his late-30s, a folder in his hand.  It was Major Pat “Curly” Robinson.
            “Sir,” Robinson said, “I have those satellite images you asked for.”
            “Come on in, Curly,” Roland said, pushing away from his computer.  “What can you tell me?”
            Robinson walked over to the desk and laid out the printed pages.  Several images within the pictures were circled in red.  “It’s not looking good, sir.  The infrared images we were able to get before that satellite went down definitely showed significant underground movement.  And these other pictures show what I think are ammunition supply trucks moving towards pre-dug artillery positions.”
            “What are you basing that on?  They don’t look like ammunition carriers.”
            “We all know that the Norks” – their favorite term for the North Korean Military – “will try to disguise their movements before the first blast.  They’ve been using so-called vegetable delivery trucks for years when they wanted to conceal what they were transporting, and unless there’s been some massive UN aid program we don’t know a lot about, the sheer number of trucks on the road makes me think there’s more in the back than carrots and rice.”
            Roland nodded without taking his eyes off the pictures.  “Any idea what kinds of units they’ve moved into the forward area?”
            “Not until they come out of their caves, which they wouldn’t until just a couple of hours before they strike.  Since the faggots in Washington can’t work things out and continue to fund the operation of the satellites, we aren’t getting any new images.”
            “That’s not the only thing that they’re keeping us from using,” Roland grumbled.  “We don’t have a lot of money left in our maintenance fund, so two of the Q-37 counter-battery radars along the DMZ are down.  That leaves a lot of area that’ll get no warning of incoming artillery until after the rounds have landed.”  He looked up.  “I wouldn’t go repeating that on an open channel.”
            “I haven’t heard a thing, sir,” Robinson replied as he crossed his heart.  Glancing at the TV, he asked, “Anything new?”
            “Not really.  You know that the California Guard pulled out to try and liberate Sacramento and San Francisco, but they ran into a bunch of IEDs along I-5 and I-80 that were probably put in place by the guys along the interior of California – they aren’t fond of the guys on the coast.  Worse yet, when they pulled out, they left a gap for Turlman to escape.”
            “He’s gone?”
            “News tonight says that the Northwest Republic Compound has been deserted for days.  Given that the Cal Guard also pulled out of Montana, Turlman could be anywhere.”
            “Amazing the trouble we’re going through due to one man,” Robinson said, shaking his head.
            “It’s a whole chicken and egg thing – was Turlman the spark, or would things still be quiet if the ANFPP hadn’t torched his family?  And would that have just delayed the whole thing from blowing up?”
            “Good question, sir.  I really don’t know.”
            “Okay, back to this,” Roland said, pointing to the pictures on his desk.  “I take it you’ve showed this stuff and your analysis to the guys at Division.”
            “Yes, sir, I have.  The G2 agrees it’s troubling, but without guidance from USFK or the guys back in the states, they’re not willing to commit.  They’ve labeled this as just part of the usual Nork winter training cycle and don’t think we should get too spun up.”
            “But you think we should?”
            “I do.  This would be the perfect opportunity for that short little bastard to flex his muscles.  He’s been looking for a way to make an impact, and he hasn’t done a lot since shooting some rounds at Yeonpyeong Island a few years back.  Now, with the US otherwise engaged, they think the ROK shield is down.  There might never be a better chance to reunite the peninsula.”
            Roland’s guts churned because he knew his intel officer was right.  If they were going to come across, now would be the time to do it.
            “How long before you think they could strike?” Roland asked.
            “If I knew that for certain, sir, I’d have some stars and be running INCOM instead of being a part of your staff.”
            Roland grinned.  He and Robinson went back a few years to when Curly was an enlisted man.  Finally, he said, “Give me your best guess.”
            “Honestly, it could be any time.  The MILSTAR satellite was giving us pretty good intel about the supply push, and I think they have enough down south that they could start shooting now.”
            “If that happens, I suspect we’ll get a strongly worded letter sent to them from the UN,” Roland said.
            Now it was Robinson’s turn to grin, but his face turned serious when he asked, “Anything about the UN’s latest attempts to stop our mess?”
            “No,” Roland replied.  “They tried to get into Charleston harbor, but a group of folks – some civilian, some Guard and Reserve – started lobbing old rounds at them and then opened up with a .50 cal when they wouldn’t stop.  That turned them around, and Gilchrest said that this was an internal US matter and no business of the UN.  Cantrell then said he couldn’t accept UN troops until Gilchrest did, so the ships turned around and the planes diverted to Canada.  Britain’s not too happy about it, but what are they going to do?”
            “Sit back and sip tea, I suspect,” Robinson said.
            After a chuckle and a couple of seconds of thought, Roland said, “Okay, Curly, thanks for showing me this stuff.  We’ll look to upgrade the brigade’s alert level in the morning.  I’m going to write Major General Desmond and see if I can get 2ID to buy off on it, but I doubt I’ll have much luck.”
            “Understood, sir.  I’ll see you in the morning.”
            “Don’t forget – tomorrow we run Dragon Valley.  Bring your nerves of steel.”
            “As long as those nerves have something wrapped around them,” Robinson said.  “It’s going to be cold as balls.”
            “January always is.  I’ll see you at PT.”  The S2 walked out and Roland went back to reading his unit’s training reports.  He just hoped that what he was reading about would stay in the realm of practice.
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            Unfortunately for the Soldiers of 1st Brigade, 2ID, that hope faded away around 4 in the morning.  Roland was asleep in his command quarters when the sirens on Camp Casey started going off, followed shortly thereafter by a series of explosions that rocked the small US Army outpost.
            He knew the drill as well as the next guy – throw on clothes, grab your body armor, and head to the nearest bunker.  Throwing on his clothes was easy enough – they were right next to his bed – as was grabbing the body armor that was next to his door.  The problem came from getting to the bunker since it was a few hundred meters away and across open ground.
            Tearing open the door to his hooch, Roland looked out at what appeared to be an anthill that had been stepped on.  Soldiers were running every which way, knocking each other down in their mad dash for cover.  Roland stopped his rush to grab a couple of Soldiers and push them in the right direction.
            “Get to your bunkers, boys!” he shouted.  “Don’t worry about anything else – we’ve got to keep you guys alive.”
            The shaken Soldiers that were in his path looked at him and mumbled “Yes, sir” before heading off under noticeably better control.  Roland sprinted to his bunker, located in a hill next to the base’s tennis courts.
            His nighttime operations officer, Captain Lisa Collins, held a clipboard and was checking people in.  She looked up at Roland as he approached.
            “We’ve got about 50% of the staff so far, Colonel Roland,” she said.  “I don’t have a count yet on anybody wounded or dead.”
            “If you had, I would’ve wondered about your clairvoyant skills,” Roland replied.  “Focus on who’s here now – we can get to the rest once we hit first light.”
            She acknowledged and went back to trying to account for the incoming deluge of people while Roland went to his makeshift desk against the far wall.  Major Robinson was already staring at the hastily hung map on the wall, and Major Greg Pierce, the Brigade Operations Officer, was looking through a red folder marked “SECRET.”
            “Looks like you were right, Curly,” Roland intoned.  “Just with you could’ve given us better specifics on the timing.”
            “Better now than during PT,” Robinson replied.  “Imagine the carnage of Soldiers running along the road when those shells started going off.”
            Roland nodded.  Turning to Pierce, he said, “How long do you think it’ll be until we get our batteries moving for the counter-fire fight?”
            “The Ready Batteries from USFK should already be shooting back, assuming they survived the initial assault.  Our boys have to get their stuff from the motor pools and move to their firing positions, but, obviously, we’re going to have to wait out this barrage.”
            “Okay.  Get someone on the radio and start getting status reports from the battalions.  I want 1/15 fires to start moving as soon as they can, and they need to be shooting back by dawn.  As for the rest of our folks, except for the escort units assigned to secure the batteries, I want them to hold tight until sunset.  Then we can marshal and begin our move south.”
            The plan called for only artillery units to be involved from the US side to start with.  Then, the intricacies of OPLAN 5514 had the brigade moving south of Seoul to Cheonan and stage while the rest of the ROK Army blunted the attack.  2ID would spearhead the US Army units that arrived at Pusan and Osan in the counterattack north.
            Roland reached for the VSAT radio and tried to reach 2ID headquarters at Camp Red Cloud in Uijonbu.  “Warrior Six, this is Iron Six.”
            “Iron Six, this is Warrior Five.”  It was Colonel Stan Livsey, the Division Chief of Staff.  “Warrior Six is on another line.  What can I do for you?”
            “We’re still moving people into the bunkers here, sir,” – the brigade commanders always referred to the Chief of Staff as “sir,” given that the man was a senior Colonel who’d already had a brigade command – “and we’re trying to hold out through the initial barrage, but I should have my first alert elements moving to firing position in the next two hours.”
            “Hold on now, Josh,” Livsey cautioned.  “The boss is trying to get instructions from Washington and Seoul on how to react.  We don’t want to commit too early.”
            “We’re not committing anything,” Roland replied.  “It’s just that I know that the MLRS and other 155s from USFK and 8th Army could use some help, and our boys have rehearsed the plan.  We can start contributing.”
            There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the radio.  When the line crackled back to life, Livsey said, “The counter-fire batteries aren’t shooting yet.”
            Pierce swiveled his head to the radio, this conversation now having his full attention.  Roland stared at the hand mike for a few seconds as the ground over his head continued to rumble.  “I don’t understand.  The drill is to begin launching artillery back once the balloon goes up.  We’ve got to start shooting.”
            “Unfortunately, we’ve got no clear orders on that from Washington.  General Guillaume up at USFK is trying to get that authority right now.”
            “Screw that,” Roland said.  “We don’t need authority to defend ourselves, and God knows the ROKs aren’t going to just sit by and let the Norks beat on them.”
            “General Giullaume says that firing into North Korean territory is offensive action that goes beyond his authority.  Sure, we know the drill, but we’ve always assumed we’d have a coherent government back home to give us the official go-ahead.  We have to hold off until that happens.”
            “Say again, Warrior Five.  Your signal is breaking up.”  Roland said this despite Livsey’s words coming over the net clear as day.
            “I say again that we can’t move into position until we have guidance from someone in the National Command Authority.  You are to hold fast until otherwise instructed.”
            “I still can’t read you,” Roland said.  “Your transmission is…”  He reached over and shut off the radio.  “Damndest thing for the power to our radio to get cut like that.  An enemy arty round must’ve hit our retrans platform.  Last thing I heard was something about getting our guys into the fight.  Is that what you heard, Greg?”
            Pierce took a breath, but he finally responded, “Yes, sir.  That sounds about right.”
            “Okay, get to it.  If the barrage hasn’t slackened in the next hour, we may have to move under fire, so prep the guys in 1/15.  In the meantime, get me in touch with our buddies in the Air Force, as well as our partnered unit at the 48th Mech.  It’s time to get in the game.”