Back to the Future

Uh oh. This technology thing is great when it works, but right now it’s not working well. I am having trouble with Google Chrome across the board — search engines, blog access, Drive — it all needs a shot of technological Ex-Lax as I write this. I am not sure if the problem is system-wide or if it’s a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) problem but we’ll keep plugging away. It’s ironic, because what I was going to discuss today is how much I love technology.

I am 61 years old. I feel for the most part like I am in my early 20s. I can remember my childhood, for better or worse, very well. When I was in grade school I, for a number of reasons, spent a lot of time sitting and waiting in the car. When I could anticipate these waits I brought a stack of comic books or a Hardy Boys book and spent the time reading. If I exhausted the reading material I wound up sitting and spinning, as it were.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been revisiting those times, sitting and waiting, usually in the car, as I have been chauffeuring my younger daughter around to acting rehearsals, voices lessons and the various la-da-da-da-dee that parents do before their children are old enough to drive. The distance from our house to the destination often precludes dropping off and going home and coming back later; it’s easier to stay and sit and wait. As long as I have my Kindle Fire, that is.

Did I mention at some point here that I received a Kindle Fire for Christmas? It’s taken me a little while but I have it up and running to the point where it is more than a really sharp e-reader, and the result is that it has become something that I cannot be or do without. I had to smack it a bit to accept Google Drive, but now that it has I can run my law practice from it; work on manuscripts; write book reviews; write blogs; answer e-mail; listen to music tracks; watch videos; keep track of that daughter of mine; and yes, read comic books. That stack of comic books is now theoretically inexhaustible. Oh, and if I want a Hardy Boy book? Yeah, I can get one of those, too.

I don’t want to turn this into a “when I was boy” essay, so I won’t. I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger, however, and to paraphrase Pogo I have seen the future, and it is us. We may have been promised jetpacks, but what we have is plenty good enough. I took my car in for service the other night and the friendly greeter/advisor who met me at the door no longer carries a clipboard. He’s got a tablet, and with a couple of taps he had my vehicle history all the way back to…well, back to when the only tablets were made of aspirin or paper.

Is there a question here? Sure! What technological development has directly changed your life or occupation the most? What new technological tool is indispensable to you?

Why the Well Never Runs Dry

Happy 2013 to you! I have no idea where the time goes, but it is hard to believe that Christmas was just a bit over three weeks ago. I know where the time went: I was gifted with a time bandit popularly known as a “Kindle Fire,” and I have been carrying it everywhere with me. You can read with it, write with it (with a bit of smacking called “sideloading,” which we won’t get into here, at least not today), and also derive inspiration from it, should you lack an idea to use as a springboard for a novel or story. The Kindle Fire enables you to surf the web, as so many objects do, and if you can surf the web, you can visit news websites, and if you can visit news websites, you can find ideas for stories, novels, and even a series…whatever you want your next project to be.
I start each day by reading the web versions of my local paper, my (former) hometown paper, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and The Drudge Report. There is always something that can serve as a springboard for a tale. This past week in New Orleans two women were arrested in a downtown hotel and charged with prostitution. One of them had a baby with her. A prostitution arrest in New Orleans is not unusual; the presence of a baby…that’s something else. The infant, as innocent as an innocent can be, was placed with Child Services.  I wondered: what is going to happen to this child? Will he placed in foster care and live happily ever after? Or will he be returned to mom who then bounces him from town to town along the Gulf Coast, viewing life through the windows of a series of seedy hotel rooms? Or worse? There are a several potential possibilities here, all of them interesting, though few of them are pleasant. I subsequently encountered another gem. Submitted for your perusal: a 911 operator in Illinois receives a call from a church rectory. The caller identifies himself as a priest and requests assistance. He is handcuffed and needs to be freed. He is hard to understand, due to the fact that his voice is muffled by the mask he is wearing. This occurrence was reported by several newspapers, whose reporters had a jolly good time writing witty headlines for the story. But…but…while I had my own chuckle over the report (I am unfortunately unable in many circumstances to resist a wallow or two in the lake of schadenfreude, even when the poor devil involved could have been me!) I couldn’t help but wonder: what seemingly innocent path in life, no doubt encountered years, even decades, previously, led the padre to his unfortunate public humiliation of that particular night? You could obtain twenty different guesses from twenty different people and there is an excellent possibility that none of them would be the same, or, for that matter, correct. 
So you think you’re out of story ideas? You’re not. Read the news and try to pick only one story that you could transform into a bestselling work of fiction or award winning tale. If your local paper doesn’t report anything interesting, take a look at The Drudge Report, which isn’t a “report” but rather a page with three dozen or so links to news articles and stories of many varied stripes appearing in periodicals all across the political spectrum. I just checked the page, and found a link to a CBS-NY article about a possible New York mayoral candidate named Joe Lhota. I ask long time Kill Zone contributors and readers: does this perhaps remind you of someone we know? Anyone for a parallel universe story?

Now, if you would please: check your local newspaper this morning, online or otherwise, find an incident that you think would provide the beginning of a great story, and share. What’s happening in your part of the world?

A New Slippery Slope

Advertising in e- books. Are you ready for it? Do you want it? Granted, advertising in a book is not a new idea. There are paperback imprints that in the front or back of one book will place ads for other books which they publish which may be of similar interest to the reader. There was a somewhat short-lived experiment in the early 1970s to place four-color ads for cigarettes in the middle of paperbacks as well. But…advertising in an e-book?

That is the idea currently being floated by Harper UK. As it is currently conceived, such commercial interruptions would be limited to works of non-fiction (apparently because we readers of fiction have such easily derailed attention spans). The example which was presented was that an e-book concerning bird-watching could contain an advertisement for binoculars. You can see where this could go. Imagine the irregularly scheduled commercial in the e-book version of a sex manual. Or an ad for ginsu knives in a true crime book. Given the ever-growing popularity of the iPad (not to mention the Kindle Fire) such a commercial or advertisement could manifest itself in multiple media forms. Would it be a page that you could skip by, or perhaps one of those annoying popups for a movie or commercial product? And make no mistake: such a plan may be limited to non-fiction books at the moment, but if the trial with non-fiction e-books is at all successful, works of fiction will be next.

With that in mind, here is a bit of free advice: if you are fortunate enough to have a major entity, be it a publisher or Amazon or whoever, interested in publishing your work, make it your business to determine how and if your agreement addresses this issue. The argument from the other side may be that such an addition to your work in e-form is part of the content, or form, or your work, and thus falls under the purview and authority of the publisher. If you are in a position to negotiate this point (in other words, you haven’t signed anything yet) there are a number of points to consider. Two of the bigger ones would substance and form. You might object to ads for certain products (alcohol, condoms, and firearms, to name but three examples) or products manufactured or sold by a certain companies (The GAP, Wal-Mart, Progressive Insurance, and McDonalds, to name but a few). You might also have some concerns with regard to how the commercial is presented, or the product portrayed, in Your Book. An even bigger issue, however, concerns who will get the cheddar from the sale of such ad placement. When an ad is placed in your e-book, will your cash register go Ka-ching? Or will the proceeds of such go into the publisher’s coffers to offset the costs of publishing your e-book?
Is this an issue yet? No; but I believe it will be soon. Authors, published and prospective: what do you think about advertising in an e-book? Do you like the idea, or not? Why? And readers. Would you mind an occasional advertisement? Or are you happy to have a place to go that is ad-free?

Paint Me Blue and Call Me Stupid, But I Want One

Paint Me Blue and Call Me Stupid, But I Want One

I was in New Orleans and Baton Rouge for several days. The high points of the trip included hanging with my new friend Doug Woolfolk, who very kindly took time out of his extremely busy schedule to give me a tour of the state capitol building, including the hallway where Governor Huey Long was assassinated (or accidentally shot by his own bodyguards, depending on which story you care to believe) in 1935, and to visit Spanish Town, a revitalized neighborhood on the edge of downtown. When I reached New Orleans, I was able to visit with my dear friends Toni McGee Causey, author extraordinaire, and her husband Carl Causey, who may well be among the five most brilliant minds on the planet. Seriously. I also attended a legal seminar, had lunch with video and film director Jason Furrate to discuss a new project, and made some new friends. Oh, and I discovered that Louisiana sells Barq’s root beer by the glass bottle, and it’s different from what they ship in cans to Yankees up north. All in all, not a bad ten days. The downside was that my computer’s motherboard fried on the second night of the trip so that I was reduced to operating my practice and writing by swipe-typing on my smart phone. This is not recommended for those of us on the wrong side of middle age; I am hoping that at some point very soon my left hand comes out of the claw configuration in which it seems to be frozen.

My computer is replaced (it was actually cheaper to buy a new one than to have the old one repaired) and I am busily uploading dis, dat, and de udda to it so this is going to be a short offering this week. So, I’ll take the easy way out and just ask a question: are you going to buy a Kindle Fire, the soon-to-be-released multi-media tablet? Do you want it? Do you need it? To answer my own questions: I am not going to buy one. I might when a 3G version comes out but it really doesn’t do much more than my phone does, from an application standpoint. Do I want one? Yes. Do I need one? No, and hell no. How about you?