Sunday, January 25, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

In the ongoing disputes between Amazon and NY publishing houses, whose side am I on? Amazon and Hachette, the most recent combatants, reached agreement last November, at least for the time being. Why should I support elitist publishing houses that ignore and belittle writers like me? Haven’t they had too much power for too long? On the other hand, is Amazon trying to gain total control over the industry? And since it’s been pulling punches with Hachette, can it be trusted to treat self-published writers like me fairly? 

When the internet took off, Amazon came on the scene and did what major booksellers and publishing houses didn’t have the foresight to do. It sold books on the superhighway and opened up publishing to any and every writer. In the process, it put major booksellers out of business (Books A Million, Borders). With brick-and-mortar booksellers on the decline, publishing houses such as Hachette increasingly depend on Amazon as retailer.

Half the book trade (more or less depending on different sources) is now controlled by Amazon. A 2014 survey by researcher Codex Group found that Amazon controls 67% of the e-book market*. With statistics like these, I’m getting nervous. How big is too big?

I’m thankful for Amazon and the opportunity it has afforded me to self-publish, but in these changing times, my gratitude is tempered by unease. Unlike Hachette, which has the other big four publishing houses in its corner, there's no support for me if I have a dispute with Amazon.

From what I can gather from reports, the Amazon-Hachette negotiations regarding who has authority to set the price for e-books went public when did things such as refuse pre-orders for Hachette books and slow their delivery. Amazon’s tactics, meant to pressure Hachette in the negotiations, affected sales of the publisher’s books. 

The bad publicity Amazon aroused with its underhanded tactics may have impacted the negotiations. In simple terms, Hachette gained the right to set their e-books prices, and the new arrangement is due to take effect in 2015. Amazon pushed for lower prices while Hachette sought higher prices to protect its paper sales. Buyers can expect the cost of some e-books to go up, which won’t make them happy.

Last August Amazon introduced an innovation in the distribution of e-books which takes the Netflix model and applies it to books—in other words, a book-subscription market. It’s the Kindle Unlimited plan in which customers pay $10 a month to access a library of hundreds of thousands of books that can be downloaded free. What reader won’t like this? But does it sound like a good idea for writers dependent on royalties?

Some reporters have called this a struggle between the future and the past, the West Coast and the East Coast, the masses and the elite. Whatever it is, it will impact us writers regardless of whether or not we have a voice in the current fight. And if Amazon puts major publishing houses out of business, where will writers get the clout to deal with Amazon?

Sunday, January 18, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

Making films, especially documentaries, involves exploring the world and its surprises. I really cannot write an effective treatment or outline until filming for a couple of days. The story changes as I digest the subject matter.

On November 21, 2014, I set off with truck driver Milica Virag to experience life on the road. I brought two cameras and an open mind. The sun was shining and the temperature mild. Our first destination: Covington, Georgia. Then on to San Antonio, Texas, or so we thought. We had a load of truck parts: 30,000 pounds of trailer parts resting on the flatbed of a 47,000-pound truck.
Milica checked the security of the straps and the tire pressure. We climbed into the cabin and set off, making wide turns that hogged a lot of road space on either side of the truck.

“You see, It’s boring.” Milica was blasé. (I was charged with excitement). She lived like this most days of the year—using her tablet and laptop for directions as she talked to the broker and the destination (a car dealership) on her blue tooth phone and munched on a carton full of tangerines from Walmart.

Meanwhile, I was working two cameras. That kept my mind off safety, the cars darting ahead of us, and how someone can steer an International while peeling a tangerine, fixing her hair, and charging her computer. The truck chugged and bumped along. Down below, the angry, darting drivers looked like ants on the highway.

If we hit one of the cars, they would be smashed flat like a bug.
We arrived in Covington at noon. Milica was astonished that the car dealership could not give her compass directions, but used “turn right” and “turn left.” I admitted I was also directionally impaired.

The parking lot at the car dealership was filled with automobiles. Where were we going to park? One of the Head Bubbas waved us in. Stopping and parking in an 18-wheeler is no joke. The Head Bubbas complimented Milica for arriving exactly on time.

The Head Bubbas had called a Wrecker Driver who arrived about 20 minutes late.

For the next two hours, the Car Dealership figured out how to unload MIlica’s flatbed. First they used some chains and the Wrecker. Dramatic film footage. After about an hour, they discovered that the pieces could be lifted off more quickly with a forklift.

The white-haired Wrecker did all the work and all the figuring. Three of the Head Bubbas stood around and talked about lunch and about their diets with comments like – “you look great in that suit.” And “I need to lose twenty more.” It’s impossible, apparently, to lose weight when you attend a lot of football games and “eat like crazy.”

Two hours later the Head Bubbas said, “Goodbye, Sweetheart, drive safe,” and waved Milica toward the front of the parking lot. She turned around on a handkerchief of space and reached the entrance of the car dealership. “I’m going to stop here,” she said, “and finish the paperwork.”

So we stopped. Who was going to make her move?


Sunday, January 11, 2015


By Mike Long

A Facebook friend recently told me of an incident with a friend's husband. He was a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers, and at some event a woman rushed up to him and gushed, "You're that country singer. I love your music. You're… don't tell me... I know it… you're CHARLEY PRIDE!" The man graciously signed her napkin as Charley Pride, the great black country singer. That story called to mind the fun some of us have had at events of our own.

At my first signing, the first buyer asked me to sign one for her dad, and spoke his name. I wrote, "Otis-Best Wishes," and signed it. She said, "Aww-he don't spell it thataway. He uses a 'D' instead of a 'T' – but I'll take it." I gave her another one and have yet to find an 'Otis' to give the mistake to. ALWAYS ask them to spell their names.

At a Civil War reenactment in Aiken in 2010, two ladies came in the 'book tent' to browse. My first novel has a mounted Confederate officer on the cover, and the first lady asked if that was a picture of me. I said, "Ahh, no ma'am," so she shrugged and walked away. Her companion picked up the same book, turned to the back cover and read the blurb and my bio, then asked if the book was about my wartime experiences. When I shook my head 'no,' she left too.

The author beside me witnessed the whole thing and said, "Mike, I believe they thought you looked pretty darn good to be 170 years old."

He then told me that a week earlier, he'd been at a reenactment in Virginia and had a sign in front of the tent, announcing, "LOCAL AUTHOR. Book signing today." Two ladies stopped and studied the sign, then came in and put down their bags of kettle corn; each of them picked up one of his books, signed it, put it back down, smiled at him and left. He said he guessed they didn't get out much.

At my most recent signing (a gun show in Columbia), a fellow picked up my two novels and asked if I knew the man who wrote them. I smiled and said I did know him, and asked if he'd like to meet him, while offering my hand. He said, no, he'd met him already and he lived up around Greenville. I replied that I really did write them and that I live here. He said, "No, this was another guy. Up to Greenville." This occurred (was) with two large photos of me displayed on the table. Never did win him over. The man beside me said, "You can't fix stupid."

I told my author friend John Huffman about that latest episode, and he had to top me. Seems he was dining with his bride in a Western Sizzler when a woman charged their table and said, "Oh my goodness, you're the man who wrote them books, aren't you?" He said he in fact was, and relished the attention that was generated. The woman said she had one of the books out in her car and asked if she went and got it, would he please sign it for her? He of course agreed; she came right back with a copy of my novel, No Good Like It Is. He signed it as McKendree Long without batting an eye.

I wonder if that was up around Greenville...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Giving Words Away

By Meredith Kaiser

Maya Angelou once said that when she prayed for someone, a wonderful thing happened, not only hopefully for the person for whom she was praying, but for her as well.

That is how I feel about my writing. When people ask me, “What do you write?” I usually say essays or I may mention my scattered and incomplete novel. But what I want to say is, “I am a writer of thank you notes.”

Yes, I have written articles for work, essays, blogs, short stories, and pieces of a novel. But really, what I am stirred to write consistently are notes of gratitude, congratulations, encouragement, and sympathy. I also write what I call, “I see you” cards; as in, “I see all that you do or how you are feeling, and it matters.” I can’t explain why I need to do this.

I’ve been told that these cards make people cry. Or laugh. I often cry or laugh as I write them. Before sealing the envelope, I re-read my words several times to listen to what I’ve said. Is this what I want to say? Sometimes I start over. I want each letter to stitch the meaning I intend onto the paper. Is this exactly what I would say to the person if they were in front of me? I’m sure I don’t get it right every time, maybe never. But I believe that a blank note card, filled with my own words and in my own fevered handwriting is the next best thing to eye contact and a solid hug.

Bowing to this impulse, years ago, I began keeping a supply of assorted blank note cards at home and at my office. I keep stamps in my purse at all times. I am a rapid-fire note dispenser. The moment I hear that a co-worker lost her mother or that a friend is having surgery, I can reach out to them by mail to meet them where they are. The beauty of mail is that the recipient has the privacy to receive the message and to take it in how or when she chooses.

I don’t know if that’s what most people think of when they think of a writer, but I know that reaching an audience of one via a handwritten note keeps me setting words on paper. It won’t put me on the New York Times bestseller list, but loving others by doing what I love the most pays the greatest reward, if not the bills.