Thursday, October 28, 2010

A true story...which explains a lot

Yesterday, my crit partner mentioned one underlying problem we all have now and then when trying to create: the bad mix of trying to "fit our work in a box" versus trying to truly write what's in our heart, the story that begs to be told, and then worry about the "box" it'll fit in afterward. She finished up with hoping I wouldn't "hem myself in" with "Must color inside the lines...must color inside the lines..."

Little does she know how accurate that is.

True story. 

Little Janny, as a first-grader,  is assigned to color something (you're always assigned to color something in first grade. Like they have to persuade you to color?). She colors it. 

Now, Little Janny LIKES crayons. She does bold strokes. She tends to stray over lines. She tends to use intense sorts of coloring, and it's not a neat product when she's done.

Sister Rosemary, in conference with parents, expresses Grave Concern about this.
"Little Janny's coloring is very sloppy," Sister says. "Does she have fine motor control issues?"
Parents, to whom fine motor control is something you find in a Cadillac (which may as well be a DeLorean, for the likelihood of them having one), are puzzled.

Sister Rosemary explains further.
"See, she's pushing way too hard on these crayons, and the movements are jerky. She goes outside the lines. Does she have problems seeing?"
Parents, who understand word "seeing," say, "Nope."

Sister Rosemary  goes on.
"Well, to color properly, she needs to put way less pressure on her crayons." Sister holds up exemplary picture from classmate, colored in careful pastels. It's a thing of beauty. Looks like it was professionally printed.
"Like this. See? She doesn't need to press down so hard to get color out. If she presses lightly, she'll be able to stop short of the lines, and then just fill in the edges, and her work will be neater."
Parents, who think Little Janny is already pretty neat for a six-year-old (they remember her careful arrangements of stuffed toys and toy animals on the bed), are still a little puzzled. Is neatness so important for coloring at this point? She got the "right" colors on the sky and the trees and the apples, so that was good, wasn't it?

The nun smiles indulgently.
"Of course, that part's excellent. But she'll have to be neater. This sloppiness is unacceptable. These scribbles at the edges of things--does she have some kind of problem? Maybe self-control?"
Parents, who are constantly urging her to be less shy, don't think so.
"Okay. So we don't have to worry yet. But just tell her...color lightly. Not so hard on the crayons. She'll break them and wear them out too soon that way, anyway. And when she colors lightly, she'll stay within the lines, and her work will be so much better."

Parents, who attribute wisdom to Sister, go home and tell Little Janny what Sister said.
Little Janny frowns for a second. "But that'll make my pictures too light. I like the colors darker."
Parents sigh, and tell her apparently what Sister wants is light colors and within the lines. Maybe she ought to color that way. That's the "right" way to color, after all. It'll make Sister happy.
Little Janny wants to make Sister happy.

So she internalizes this...until seventh grade.
Then Sister Carmen comes along and says, in art class: "Enough of this mamby-pamby pastel stuff. That's not what these crayons were made for. Crayons were made to put COLOR on the page. If you're not pressing hard enough that I can smell the wax on the paper, and if you're not wearing out a box a semester, you're not doing it right."

By then, it might well have been a little late.
Because in many ways Little Janny's still remembering Sister telling her the "right way" to color when she was six.

On the other hand, it's probably no coincidence that Sister Carmen, who turned me loose both to speak up and be heard (a whole other story in itself) AND color outside the lines and PRESS DOWN HARD ON THOSE THINGS...had a given baptismal name of Janet.

Sister Janet, wherever you are, when this book of my heart is done...I hope you can smell the wax on the paper.


Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dorchester Disgrace...and (all of) Our Part In It

If you don't make a habit of following publishing news and scuttle, it could be that maybe you don't know that Dorchester has done some things to authors of late. I'm not going to publicize all the sites that talk about it, because there are a lot of them. But I'm also not going to talk about it so much from the "poor author" side of the desk, either...because the disgrace of what's happening with Dorchester has two sides, and one of these gets glossed over and/or dismissed all too often.

Yet it's precisely the option that gets ignored, rationalized away, or backed away from, that could deter this kind of thing from happening again--or at least happening so easily again.

What never ceases to amaze and astound me, in this case and many others, is the reluctance and/or refusals of authors to band together and initiate the class-action lawsuit that situations like this are custom-made for. Yes, going to court is a pain, but that's what you have lawyers for. Yes, it costs money, but in cases like this, your lawyer can set things up so that the defendant pays the court costs if they're found guilty--which they would be. And yes, you could end up getting nothing in a bankruptcy proceeding; but D's not in bankruptcy yet. They're trying to avoid it. So if you strike now, your chances of being heard on this issue and actually recovering some monies increases tenfold over waiting to see what happens. Nothing of any positive value is going to come from waiting to see how much further this company will screw people.

Another point that is extremely well taken is that Amazon and B&N are complicit with this fraud--so even if D has no money, these other two do. And they can be just as liable. Which means that authors stand a chance to at least be paid something for what's been done to them. And something is always better than nothing. That's certainly the case for authors who've been owed  thousands of dollars in back royalties and have been prevented from even seeing an accounting of what they're owed...for years now. 

Think about that, because that's the crux of this matter.

What were they waiting for

Are these authors truly in the business of writing, or are they just pretending to be?  

You'll forgive me if, on more than a few occasions, it appears to be the latter. 

Yes, Dorchester has no business screwing authors. But authors also have no business screwing themselves by not availing themselves of every legal avenue available to them within a reasonable time of when things start to go south. If they lose money, shrug and walk away, or sit around waiting patiently for answers and results long past when a reasonable person should have sought relief, they are as much the problem as the publisher is...because they're in effect relieving the publisher of consequences. Are they so naive as to think that the next publisher down the road who gets in trouble isn't going to do exactly the same thing Dorchester's doing? Why would they think not?  

In plain English, Why in the world are so many authors afraid of simply enforcing their own contracts?

If you buy a fridge from Sears and you don't pay the bill, they don't let you keep it. If you try to keep it, they sue you to get it back, and they collect legal fees and damages from you.

If you sell a book to a publisher and they don't pay for it, don't let them keep it. Pursue the legal avenues you have available to you. Period. End of sentence. That's how business is done in the real world...except, curiously enough, when it comes to authors and publishers.

Sheesh. Sometimes, I truly believe we as authors not only allow ourselves to fall into ditches, but we take up the shovels and dig them ourselves. So despite all the hand-wringing, mud-slinging, and shock and dismay, on the other's really, really hard to work up too much indignation for authors who allow themselves to be taken advantage of, so egregiously, for so long. Especially since, in the long run, that reluctance to act just makes it easier for publishers to do it again, to another group of us, in the future.

As long as we let them...someone will.
A business doesn't get away without paying its utility bills. Or its rent. Or its phone bill.
Neither should it get away without paying its other vendors...the authors without whom a publisher has no product to sell in the first place.
If we let them get away with it for months, or years...we shouldn't be surprised when this happens.
And happens again. 
And we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for the losses we take and the pain we suffer.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best. Baseball. Story. Ever.

...although the San Francisco Giants' treatment of Bobby Cox is a close second. :-)

More in a bit,

Monday, October 04, 2010

Quote of the Day...

...from Alton Brown, when asked if he was a "born-again" Christian:

Yeah, "born-again" is kind of an odd term because that's like saying a see-through window. But yes, I am a Christian.

I love this for two reasons:
1) it's so "Alton" in its dry approach.
2) it's true.

He's absolutely right. If you're a Christian, you are "born again (as many people understand it)," by definition. But it's much more true to Scripture, and more accurate, to say you are "born of the spirit." Notice that when Nicodemus asks Jesus how a man can be "born again," Jesus corrects him: He does not tell Nicodemus, "You must be born again." (Despite what you may have been taught in Bible class, even when Nicodemus presses that point, Jesus answers in different words. Allowing for Jesus always saying what He means, that is worth noting.) He says, "You must be born of the Spirit (or, in some translations, 'from above.')." This does not at all convey the same meaning as the "second birth" that some folks talk about. And I think that by continuing to use incorrect and/or unclear terminology, we unduly separate ourselves one from the other and continue to perpetuate some interesting misunderstandings about who is, and who is not, a "Christian."

If you're trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation, you're a Christian. If you're born of water and the spirit and confessing Jesus Christ every day of your life, you're a Christian. So I would submit that it's far better not to continue to confuse this issue and let jargon get in the way of acknowledging who we are and Whom we serve. 

Alton says it extremely well. Calling someone a "born-again" Christian is like saying "see-through window"--it's simply putting in a redundancy, and one that's guaranteed to set people apart rather than to bring them together. In that context, I would maintain that--for many reasons--"born-again" is a term that probably needs to be retired...permanently.

I always knew there was more than one good reason to be a foodie. :-)