Monday, April 28, 2008

Proud Papa

What happens when your son publishes an important book, has an article in the New York Times Magazine, appears on a top rated nighttime show in Canada, does several important radio interviews, has a review in the Book Review section of the NY Times, will soon be interviewed in Newsweek, and then heads out on a multi-state book tour? Why, you bust your buttons with pride, of course! That's the happy condition of my husband these days. Here he is wearing his Kluge t-shirt, with daughter Julie, in our local Barnes & Noble, holding a copy of the book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, by Gary Marcus.

What's a "Kluge," (rhymes with "huge") you ask? The short definition is, "A clumsy and inelegant solution to a problem." If you've seen the movie, "Apollo 13," the crew used a kluge to make a repair that brought the damaged spacecraft back to earth safely. If you ever watched the old McGyver series, you saw the hero create kluge after kluge with duct tape and whatever he could find to solve the immediate problem. As to how that applies to the human mind, well, you'll just have to read the book!

We think the cover is brilliant, just like the contents. The British edition has a different cover, also terrific. Either way, Kluge is getting great reviews and making the author's father (and stepmother, too!) very proud.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pink Snow In the Forecast

Outside our front door is a tree that turns fluffy pink each spring. I believe it's a Kwanzan Cherry, but its name doesn't matter. Pink blossoms like mini-roses form a canopy over our miniscule front yard, branches reaching high against Phil's office windows, and low arching into the still bare branches of its neighboring bush.

Standing at the front door and looking out is one of the pleasures of the morning, to see the sun streaming through pink clouds. We rarely trim it back, preferring to let the tree spread protectively even though that means our tiny front yard is not grass covered. It's a fine trade-off for the shade it provides against summer's heat.

Soon the clouds will break and snow down on the ground, covering it with little pink petals. A couple of years ago a toddler came by during this snow and began lifting chubby handfuls and tossing them over his head. Giggling happily, he did it again and again.

Isn't it nice that one tree can give such pleasure?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Feathered Sunshine and Crimson Chase

It's typical Baltimore spring - a couple days of open-all-the-windows warmth, and then back to temperatures in the 50's. The backyard is alive with color, movement, and sound. The pre-dawn chorus of chirps and trills has grown from a lone cheep-cheep to something that sounds more like an orchestra of flutes and piccolos tuning up. Soon I won't be able to find them as the trees turn from blush to pale green to full leaf.

I was standing at the sink yesterday when a flash of bright yellow caught my eye. Without a thistle feeder we rarely have yellow finches, but there he was - a still mottled but unquestionably bright yellow finch - clinging to the feeder and poking at it for something worth eating. A smaller, drabber version of him alit on the feeder pole, then hopped to the rail. And then they both zipped away.

It must be the connection to New Hampshire that makes me exclaim everytime I see one of these little flying lemons. My grandmother always loved them, calling them "drops of sunshine," as they flitted among the trees at the lake front cottage. They are good memory birds for me.

So of course I'm looking for them today, but instead I'm seeing games of chase in both feathers and fur. Two brilliant cardinals are chasing each other around the yard - is it a game or a dogfight between rivals? I can't tell, but it's delightful to watch. Two squirrels are scrambling from deck to ground to trees. And the robins are everywhere. My neighbor's hydrangea is showing tufts of green on the dried stalks of last year's bush. A rabbit is checking out the suddenly-green lawn.

And it's time for me to get to work, but now with a much improved Monday mind.

The photos, alas, are not mine, but come from stock.xchng (

Friday, April 04, 2008

Amazon's Smiling Logo is a Sneer, and Jeff Bezos is Looking Like Snidely Whiplash

There's a firestorm that's been brewing in publishing over the last week or so, and the flash point is In the matter of a few days, this behemoth of the book world has managed to rile up thousands of authors and small publishers with a greedy monopolistic grab for a few more dollars.

Having purchased a print-on-demand publishing company a couple of years back, and then tried to build a printing business, they were apparently not satisfied with having that piece of the pie. Nope, they wanted it all.

So they sent the sales reps for that company, BookSurge, with orders to contact print-on-demand (POD) publishers. Oh, no! Don't put anything in writing! But call the POD publishers like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, PublishAmerica, and many more. Tell them that if they don't switch all their on-demand printing to BookSurge, Amazon will make it really, really hard for people to buy those books. And gee, if that hurts their customers, the authors who write, pay for, and sell those books, well that's too bad. Oh, and if your contract with those authors promises to get them on Amazon, well we can still make that happen for you. But it will cost more. Of course, you'll have to pay to meet BookSurge's printing specifications which we can just about guarantee are different from whatever printing service you're using now. Too bad.

Sure smells like a protection racket, but then maybe I've seen too many old movies. The deal then was that a shop owner would pay the local thugs to guarantee that nothing unfortunate would happen to his property. Naturally, some refused. They had mysterious accidents that caused damage and, in some cases, put them out of business.

Amazon doesn't have anything to do with unfortunate accidents. They make it clear to publishers. Use our more expensive printing service, the one known in the industry for shoddy quality and lousy service, or discover that the "Buy It Now" or "Add to Cart" button disappears from every Amazon page of every book you publish. And just to drive their point home, they removed those buttons on many books.

There have been hundreds of blog articles and thousands of words written on this that I can't begin to summarize. Angela Hoy's Writer's Weekly is information central – I recommend it highly and am grateful that she and her husband who own BookLocker (a POD publisher) are the standard-bearers in the fight against Amazon's folly. Though Amazon was forced to release a statement that tries to clothe their greed in customer service, Angela points out some inconsistencies that put the lie to the press release.

Did Bezos and his crew forget that they are not just selling books and software and cosmetics for heaven's sake? Every time someone goes to their site, every time a box with that smiley swoop arrives at someone's door, they are promoting the Amazon brand. For years they have built a brand that people saw as positive, friend of the consumer, and a good thing. Then they went and threw the equivalent of dung at it. Wash as they may, the stain and stench won't go away soon. Neither will all the authors and publishers who refuse to be cowed by a bully, and who refuse to be silent about the bullying.

So why am I all worked up about this? I'm not an uninterested party; later this year I will be publishing the first of what I intend to be a series of niche non-fiction books through The Silloway Press. The reality is that Amazon is the first choice for most people when buying books on line. If Amazon manages to force even micro-publishers like me to use their inferior service, it will affect my reputation and viability as a business.

But mostly, I hate injustice and bullying. So I'm adding my voice to the chorus of protest, and signing my name. I also sign my name to protests against warrantless wire-tapping and the invasive aspects of the so-called "Patriot Act" that allow the government to find out what books I take out of the library. Phooey on them both. Margaret Mead had it right: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."