Monday, March 29, 2010

March Links & Things

Following are my links and such for the month of March. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment (and the occasional rant). You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • If you haven't surmised by now, I am a freelance editor; my wife is also self-employed. When our health care premium topped over $1,100 per month -- more than $13,200 a year (and that was 2 years ago!) -- we had to abandon that plan and go with an HSA plan with a high deductible. So you won't be hearing any complaining from me about health care reform; in fact, I'm truly saddened there is no public option: that was the only way to force some real competition among the private health care providers, who whine about rising costs as they give multi-million-dollar bonuses to their CEOs.

    I bring this to your attention because of a blog post by award-winning author George R. R. Martin, who speaks from the heart on health care and its impact on freelance writers: himself and his close friends. "It is worth pointing out that if either of my friends had lived in Canada, or Australia, or France, or England, or any country with that old vile 'socialized medicine' the right wing likes to denounce, they would never have gotten so sick. They would have seen a doctor much earlier, early enough so that their medical problems could have been diagnosed, treated, and perhaps cured or ameliorated before they required major surgery. But no, they couldn't afford doctors, and they didn't feel THAT bad... not at first... so they did what millions of Americans have done, and ignored their symptoms until it was almost too late."

    If you are a freelancer, if you are self-employed, and you have health care coverage -- even what is termed "catastrophic coverage" -- consider yourself very, very lucky indeed.

  • In my February Links & Things, I talked about Paul Williams, former editor of Crawdaddy, former head of the Philip K. Dick Society, author of the Bob Dylan: Performing Artist series, and all-around great guy; and I linked to an article about Paul's current illness: early-onset dementia. As a follow-up to that entry, author Paul Di Filippo has an article on in which he discusses the significance of the Collected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (12 volumes to date), all of which have been edited by Paul Williams. The final volume, entitled Case and the Dreamer, is scheduled to be published this October. Paul Di Filippo expresses concern that Paul Williams "might already be beyond the point where any kudos can reliably reach him." It's a well-done, albeit short article highlighting the significance of Sturgeon's short fiction, and this 13-volume series in particular. I have all 12 volumes in my library, and am eagerly awaiting the final volume in October.

  • Author Mark Teppo (@MarkTeppo) is in the news a lot these days to promote Heartland (Night Shade Books), book two in his Codex of Souls. You can read my previous blog about working with Mark on the first two books in this series.

    Mark has two entries on Amazonblogs's Omnivoracious, hosted by Jeff VanderMeer. In the first, on "The Nature of Magick," Mark writes: "I love the idea of secret knowledge, and when you strip away all the pomp and circumstance surrounding most modern religious practices, what remains is an unshakable faith in a secret." The second entry is entitled "On the Existence of Monsters": "I think we're more afraid of our fellow man. We're more terrified of the innocent-looking neighbor who might worship a different god or who has a predilection for devouring children or who might simply want to tell us what we can do in the dark privacy of our own home. These sorts of monsters are hard to defang because you can't find them, because they aren't physically different than you or I. What makes them different is the way they think."

    Lastly, here's an excerpt from the Mark Teppo interview in Fantasy Magazine: "I jettisoned all of [the urban fantasy tropes] for historical occult practices, secret religious doctrines, alchemical theories, and other religious magic practices. Why? Because I couldn't sort out a worldview where vampires didn't turn us all into cattle, or we got our shit together to wipe them out. Couldn't do it. Stopped trying after a while. Though, to be fair, Markham [the protagonist in the series] is, essentially, a psychic vampire, and the soul-dead are zombies, so I haven't quite abandoned the tropes.... Ignorance is not the victor; that is certain. Ignorance is what gets Markham into trouble and what hounds him during the ten years he spends wandering. In Lightbreaker, it does come down to a faith and/or knowledge, and [which one] the reader chooses will inform how they interpret the last chapter."

  • Another new title (which I also edited) is Matthew Hughes's Hespira (Night Shade Books), the final volume in his trilogy of Henghis Hapthorn adventures. Hapthorn is a "discriminator" (think Sherlock Holmes but in the style/language of Jack Vance), who is trying to survive in a world in which the age of rationalism (aka science) is succumbing to sympathetic association (aka magic). Hespira is reviewed by Andrew Wheeler, former editor of the Science Fiction Book Club. Wheeler writes: "I can't see any reason why the SF audience would avoid a writer as witty and endlessly pleasurable as Hughes, but they certainly didn't buy all that many copies of [his earlier Warner and Tor] books. But Hughes has kept writing, adding new wrinkles to his Vancean far future with each book and becoming one of the most entertaining writers the modern genre has to offer.... Again, I can be reliably counted on to call each new Matthew Hughes novel a triumph; he writes wonderful books that I enjoy massively. The Vancean flavor [has] mixed with a dash of Wodehouse, a couple of jiggers of Conan Doyle, and a shot or two of Wolfe to form a bracing cocktail that is nothing but Hughes. Hespira in particular builds on its two predecessors to make a satisfying end to a trilogy -- and what SFF reader can resist a trilogy? Hughes is the writer I invariably mention whenever the question of modern underrated writers comes up; he writes the kind of wonderful, funny, thoughtful, exciting, zippy novels that should be massively popular and winning him shelves-full of awards."

  • We've all been hearing about the demise of print media -- magazines and newspapers in particular; how ad revenue has dropped 30-plus percent over the past year, thousands of newspaper and magazine employees laid off, etc. Well, here's one: Robert Feder of writes: "'d think the chief executive officer of a company struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and desperate to salvage an $8 billion buyout-gone-bad would have better things to do than pester his underlings with crazy proclamations. But in the case of Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels, you'd be wrong. The man at the top of the troubled media empire took time out of his real job this week [the week of March 10] to issue a list of words and phrases -- 119 of them, to be exact -- that must never, ever be uttered by anchors or reporters on WGN-AM (720), the news/talk radio station located five floors below his office in Tribune Tower." Here are a few of those banned words: "alleged," "close proximity," "flee," "icon," "legendary," "motorist," "untimely death," "vehicle," and "youth," to name only a few of the 119 words/phrases. You will be shocked to see the everyday words on this list. (via

  • NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has updated its Flickr account with some new, astounding photographs of the "Blue Marble" -- Earth. I often imagine what it would be like to be "out there," looking down. Whew.... (via @Huffingtonpost)

  • If you're a science junkie and/or you use a lot of science in your writing, you'll want to know that Popular Science has scanned its entire 137-year archive and put it online for your reading and research pleasure, absolutely free. According to "Head over to the site and you'll see a simple search box. Of course, the first thing I typed in was 'jet pack.' This, naturally enough, returned plenty of results, including a rather dangerous-looking hydrogen peroxide-powered contraption with a belt-mounted controller. The article was printed in the December 1962 issue. You can't go directly to an issue to browse, but once you have arrived somewhere by search, there are no restrictions on scrolling around. You'll also find a properly hyperlinked table of contents in each magazine." Search the Popular Science archives. Awesome!

  • Mediabistro's GalleyCat talks with author Allison Pang, who recently sold urban fantasy novel Shadow of the Incubus, and two sequels, to Pocket Books. Ms. Pang shared advice on pitching an urban fantasy novel, and how to write an awesome pitch letter. "The only real advice I can give is to write the absolute best book you can and don't send it out before it's ready.... Make sure the agent you're submitting to is actively looking for what you've written -- Twitter, Google, Facebook and agent blogs are important tools that should absolutely be utilized."

  • You may recall an earlier rant of mine about the "Amazon tax" that a number of states have enacted -- or plan to enact -- in order to increase sales tax revenue from internet sellers that do business in their states. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) spearheaded a lot of this effort; they inanely believe that a sales tax on internet book sales will level the playing field, that is, encourage buyers to purchase their books locally -- preferably from independent booksellers -- rather than through the internet. These naive booksellers actually think that once a 7% or 8% sales tax -- or even in my case, 9 1/4% -- is added to the online price, that buyers will get off their butts and go to their local bookstores to purchase the book.

    Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not against independent booksellers, there are some great indie stores out there -- Borderlands Books in San Francisco, Powell's Books in Portland, to name only two that I am personally familiar with on the West Coast. But the indies haven't made it easy for me, either; there are no independent bookstores in my area, and I live in one of the largest cities -- over 1 million people, in the heart of Silicon Valley -- in the United States.

    Let's work some numbers: I recently purchased Allen Steele's Coyote Destiny (Ace Books), which retails at $25.95. Amazon's price: $17.13; an indie bookseller's price: $25.95. I pay sales tax regardless because I'm a freelance bookperson. At 9 1/4%, the price of the Amazon copy is $18.71; the price at the indie bookstore: $28.35 -- and I believe the nearest indie bookstore that might carry a copy of Steele's book is about 30 miles away from where I live (Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, but I'm not particularly fond of this store). So that's approximately $30.00 and a 60-mile round trip versus $20.00 delivered to my door (and I always try to hold my purchases until I have a minimum of $25.00 so that shipping is free). Now, since Steele isn't really a bestselling author, I would be lucky if the store shelved even a couple copies of this book when it was released; I would have to call first to see if the book was even in stock, and if so, have them hold it for me, so that I didn't waste a 60-mile trip. Now, why should I do all of this when I can just sit down at my PC, make a few clicks, and purchase the book online? [end rant]

    Anyhow, this is my preface to an article that appeared on entitled "States' 'Amazon Tax' Seems to Hurt Revenue, Not Boost It." In the article, Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) writes: "Naturally, Amazon hasn't been happy with such measures, and it responded by ending affiliate programs in both North Carolina and Rhode Island last June, after both states announced retail sales tax measures. And it's threatening to sue New York for similar new laws [and now Colorado too]...." The bottom line is that Amazon is discontinuing all affiliate sales in these states. If you're an Amazon affiliate, that is, you advertise on Amazon as another outlet for a particular book (or CD or DVD or...) -- and typically these are independent sellers -- you've just lost your access to this affiliate program. How's that old saw go? Don't bite the hand that feeds you! So now, according to Sarah Weinman, not only are these states not collecting any sales tax revenue as they had thought they would, their states' independent sellers have now lost an entire resource -- probably the largest in the country -- for the sale of their products.

  • Author K. M. Weiland (@KMWeiland), on the Author Culture blog, provides five tips so that we "Never Miss a Typo Again." [If only....] Two of the tips that particularly caught my attention: "4. Have your computer read to you. Adobe Reader (standard on most computers) features a 'read aloud' tool that verbalizes your work, so you can hear it while you read along." and "5. Dot each word. Print a hard copy of your manuscript and arm yourself with a highlighter. As you read, place a dot under each word. This will force you to acknowledge each word on the page and keep you from reading words that aren't there or skipping typos that are present." If you are concerned about the quality of your proofreading -- a critical step before submitting your manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher -- then check out these five tips.

  • Author Zetta Elliott on has "7 Tips for Self-Published Authors." I'm only going to include tip #1 here, because it is truly the most critical: "Self-published books have a bad reputation because so many of them are poorly written, so make QUALITY your top priority. If you need help, hire an editor, hire a designer -- get professionals on board so that your final product is the best it can be." There are, of course, 6 more tips and I'll leave you to investigate them further. By the way, also on this page is a link to Elliott's previous article on entitled "Breaking Down Doors: My Self-Publishing Story" -- also a very worthwhile read. (via @worldbooktrade)

    [Shameless self-promotion: If you find yourself in the position of needing an editor -- a full developmental editor or even a copyeditor -- I am available for such projects at reasonable fees and have quite a list of references I would be most happy to provide you. My email address is available through my "profile" link on this page, or, you can contact me via Twitter or Google Talk.]

  • Author Maureen Johnson blogs on "How To Write to an Author": "The thing about being an author THESE DAYS is that we have the advantage of being in direct contact with our readers. Most authors are reachable one way or another.... But with the INTERNET, everything goes faster, and there is just MORE, MORE, MORE." Ms. Johnson elaborates on four specific points: "#1 If you are nice, we like you; #2 Complain away, but don't expect us to do anything about it; #3 If you are a big weirdo, you become part of my personal menagerie of freaks; and #4 We cannot do your homework." There are some great anecdotes in the details, and, as of this writing, over 245 Comments. If you were thinking of contacting an author for whatever reason via whatever means, read this first. (via @gabrielle_h)

  • has an article on "The Evolution of the Editor, 1982-2010." Evolution of an editor begins in 1982-83 as a "cub reporter"; 1989-91 as a "department editor"; 1994-96 as a "news editor"; 1999-2000 as an "executive news editor"; 2004-2006 as "editor in chief"; and 2006-present as a "consultant, editor." For all the details in between -- which discusses the tools, skills, performance indicators, etc. -- you'll need to check out the article. (via @writingislife)

  • Are you a gamer, and also a fan of the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross? -- The Atrocity Archives (2004) and The Jennifer Morgue (2006), both of which I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press, and now in Ace trade paperback editions, and the forthcoming The Fuller Memorandum, also from Ace and which I edited as well. Charlie's Diary reports that Cubicle 7 Entertainment is producing a roleplaying game based on the Laundry Files novels that uses the award-winning Basic Roleplaying System (BRP) by Chaosium Inc. The game has been designed and written by industry veterans Gareth Hanrahan, Jason Durall and John Snead. The Laundry RPG is a self-contained rulebook and will be supported by a number of sourcebooks and adventure campaigns. The game is due to be released in July 2010. Either link above features the package's cover art.

  • One of the big publishing issues that arose this month had to do with e-book pricing. Amazon, of course, wants to keep the e-book prices low in order to encourage readers to buy the Kindle; readers also want the prices to remain low because, well, who wants to pay more for anything? The issue stems from what publishers believe an e-book costs to produce and distribute versus what the readers believe an e-book costs to produce and distribute. Also, some publishers believe that if they release the e-book prior, or even simultaneously, with the physical book's publication, the e-book sales will cut into the physical books sales. Lots and lots of discussions and rants and such when Amazon pulled all of Macmillan's titles from their website because Macmillan was insisting on setting prices for their e-books.

    The first entry on this e-book pricing issue is from the New York Times on February 28 entitled "Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book." The article attempts to address the question: "Just how much does it actually cost to produce a printed book versus a digital one?" The article uses average numbers for calculating the price of the book, royalties, and such, while looking at the publisher's overall costs. Some feel that "if the e-books are priced much lower than the print editions, no one but the aficionados and collectors will want to buy paper books." Anne Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire, said that she did not know whether publishers had struck the right price for e-books. "For all I know, a million books at $9.99 might be great for an author. The only thing I think is a mistake is people trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam. It's not going to work."

    Of course, the Macmillan CEO, John Sargent, had to get his 2-cents in; he initiated a Macmillan blog in which he addressed e-book pricing, in a post entitled "The agency model, availability and price." The two most important points Sargent makes are: "1. Availability. All the new adult trade books for which we have the rights to publish in e-book format will be available at the first release of the printed book. We will no longer delay the publication of e-books (read: no windowing). Readers were clearly frustrated at the lack of availability of new titles, and the change to the agency model will solve this problem." and "2. Price. We will price our e-books at a wide variety of prices. In the ink-on-paper world we publish new books in different formats (hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback) at prices that generally range from $35.00 to $5.99. In the digital world we will price each book individually as we do today. Generally e-book editions of hardcover new releases will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99; a few books will be priced higher and lower." Essentially what Sargent is saying here is that when a book is first released as a hardcover, the e-book price will be $12.99 to $14.99; if/when the book is reprinted in a trade paperback or mass market paperback, then the e-book price will be reduced accordingly. So for a lower e-book price Macmillan (and undoubtedly other publishers as well) will still make the reader wait a year or so until the book is reprinted at a lower price. I understand the difference in costs to produce a physical hardcover, a trade paperback, and a mass market paperback; but explain to me the difference in costs for the same e-book priced at $12.99, $9.99, and $6.99 -- other than greed? Many of the more than 110 comments seem to agree with me. (via's GalleyCat)

    Author Cory Doctorow (@doctorow), Boing Boing editor and proponent of non-DRM e-books, movies, and music, who has released all of his novels and short story collections as free downloads via a Creative Commons license, spoke out recently on the subjects of Amazon, Macmillan, and e-book pricing. Doctorow appeared on the Copyright Clearance Center's Beyond the Book online radio show, hosted by Chris Kennedy. You can listen to the audio (approximately 28 minutes) or read the transcript of the show. Cory believes that Macmillan's Sargent should have taken the politically savvy high road, and instead of confronting e-book pricing, he should have confronted Amazon's Kindle-only platform for e-books. (via's eBookNewser)

  • Penguin USA has a link to a two-and-a-half-minute video entitled "The End of Publishing," but which Penguin has taken to retitling "The Future of Publishing." The film was directed by Zoe Uffindell of Khaki Films for DK Marketing. After the vid, there is a mini interview with Uffindell. You surely have two and a half minutes to watch this very cool video. (via @penguinusa @eburypublishing @David_Heb)

  • And last, but certainly not least, I would like to acknowledge the passing of a test pilot: Major General Robert M. White, on March 17. Obits have been published in the LA Times, the Washington Post, the NY Times, and many others. White was one of the test pilots who "pushed the envelope" at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, as portrayed in the movie The Right Stuff. White was the first "to pilot a winged aircraft at four, five, and then six times the speed of sound, exceeding that final milestone on November 9, 1961, when he flew his X-15 at 4,093 miles an hour." (NY Times) "On July 17, 1962, Gen. White flew to an altitude of 314,750 feet, more than 59 miles high. That was well above the 50-mile altitude the Air Force accepted as the start of space, earning him the service's first rating as a 'winged astronaut.' At the time, only four other Americans, all Mercury astronauts, had gone into space." (Washington Post) Godspeed, Major General White.

    As I previously noted in my January Links & Things, the book X-15: Extending the Frontiers of Flight by Dennis R. Jenkins is now available as a free e-book download in a variety of formats, through the courtesy of NASA. The book contains charts, graphs, designs, and dozens (hundreds?) of photos of the X-15 program.

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The first week in March was loads of fun. From the file segment errors I was getting from my desktop PC's hard drive, I realized it was time for a replacement drive. So, the [next to] last thing I did on Monday evening, March 1, was backup my entire "My Computer" system. In addition to the hard drive, one of the fans was causing sporadic error messages on bootup so on Tuesday morning I took the PC to the Geek Squad (in the Best Buy store at Santana Row in San Jose -- I won't use any other Geek Squad) for a diagnostic.

I have redundant backups in place: a weekly scheduled backup (Acronis True Image software) of the entire "My Computer" system every Friday at noon; a scheduled daily backup (Maxtor One-Touch Backup) of my working files every day at noon, except Friday; and a backup every half-hour (Iomega Automatic Backup) of my working files that have changed since the last half-hour backup. See what I mean about redundancy?

When I picked up the PC a couple days later, I was informed that it was the system fan that was sporadically working. So I headed to Fry's Electronics and purchased a new system fan. Once I installed the system fan and hooked up all the cables and peripherals; I then booted from the Acronis True Image system disc, and began a full system recovery from the March 1 archived backup on my external drive. However, that very last full system backup I did on Monday evening turned out to be corrupt, obviously because of the failing drive. So I had to use the previous My Computer backup from noon Friday, February 26. No problem, it was only a difference of three days, and I have backups in place for my working data -- right?

Now here's the glitch: Between Friday noon and Monday evening, I finished formatting and copyediting all the nonfiction articles for the June 2010 issue of Realms of Fantasy magazine. So the Friday system backup did not contain these files. And, it turned out, neither did my other two backup systems! I had fallen back into an old habit: I created a folder on the desktop itself for all these formatted and copyedited Realms files. It's a bad habit that I'm trying to break. The folder should have been created as a subfolder in my "Wurk" directory, which, as I said, is backed up daily and also every half-hour.

So when I realized that the Realms files were nowhere to be found, I absolutely panicked -- but then... I remembered: Just before I turned off the desktop PC Monday evening, I moved a couple folders to a thumb drive and placed them on the laptop. I had a couple deadlines due the end of the week, one of those being the June 2010 issue of Realms of Fantasy magazine, and I wanted to make sure I had access to the files just in case the desktop PC wasn't ready in time. So I snagged the Realms folder from the laptop, and all was well with the world. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP! I can't stress that enough!

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