Monday, April 28, 2008

First Communions and Situational Awareness

I'm thrilled to announce that my youngest son, Liam, received his First Holy Communion yesterday! There were only 10 in his class (our base parish is small), but they were all so beautiful and excited, and the parish made a really big celebration of it. We used my dad's fancy camera for pics, so I'll post one when he e-mails them to me.

I'm incredibly busy trying to finalize stuff for the Catholic Writers Conference Online, plus Rob gets to TDY to Wyoming this week. He gets back Thursday then Friday, I'm off to my goddaughter's First Communion! All these happy souls receiving God's grace!

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm finding that the busier I am, the harder it is to keep up on details. Check out your situational awareness with this video:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catholic Writers Conference Online Registration Ends Friday

Just a reminder that the Catholic Writers Conference Online registration ends FRIDAY! This is a free conference, with speakers from all areas of Catholic publishing--from the writer to the publisher--covering all areas of writing--from idea generation to query to contract and beyond. Sign up at

Here's a list of presenters and their presentations.

Ami McConnell: Trends In Fiction
Audrey Shaffer: Branding and Your Marketing Platform
Barry Michaels: Feature Article--Ideas and Queries
Bert Ghezzi: Ins and Outs of Publishing
Brian St Paul--Crisis & InsiderCatholic: Meet the Editors of InsiderCatholic
Carolyn Howard-Johnson: 10 Ways to Let Agents Know You are an Amateur
Carolyn Howard-Johnson: Marketing Basics (with Karina)
Colleen Drippe: Driving Writers Crazy--The Editor
Heidi Hess Saxton: The Good Writer
Heidi Hess Saxton: Meet the Editor of Canticle Magazine
Hope Clark: Shy Writer
Hope Clark: Funds for Writers
Karina Fabian: Worldbuilding
Karina Fabian: Marketing Basics (with Carolyn)
Karina Fabian: Virtual Book Tours
Karina, Michelle Buckman, Terry Burns: Contract Essentials
Lea Schizas: Writing the Short Story
Mark Shea: How Faith Connects to Everything
Maya Bohnhoff: Show Me, Don't Tell Me--Character and Dialog
Maya Bohnhoff: Plotting Through Writer's Block
Melenie Rigney: Ethics of Memoir Writing
Melenie Rigney: Book Modeling
Meredith Gould: Self-Publishing as a First Resort
Michelle Buckman: Writing For Teens
Michelle Buckman: The Right Details
Patrice MacArthur: Art of Blogging
Patricia Punt: Writing for the Inspirational Market
Patti Armstrong--Ascension Press: Hooking Your Reader
Pete Vere: Canon Law and the Catholic Writer
Sister Maria Grace-Pauline Books: Pitch Session--Pauline Books
Steve Saffel: Working With a Book Editor
Steve Saffel: Using E-Media to Promote
Sylvia Dohram: Character Development and Dialogue
Terry Burns--agent: Pitching and Working With Agents
Tim Drake: So You Want to Write a Book?
Tim Powers: SFF and Catholicism
Tom Grace: Crafting the Catholic Thriller
Vinita Wright: Making Friends With the Creative/Spiritual Process
Woodenee Koenig Bricker: Writing With Faith But Without Bias

Monday, April 21, 2008

Designing the Imperfect Dragon's Lair, Part II

Sorry for the delay, but Thursday was crazy! Now, to Vern's house:

Minot restaurant Supply gave me my basic template and feel, and showed me how things fit. There were some things I wanted different, however, so I played with graph paper until I got the look I want.

One hard part was trying to fit the lair with the stories I've already written. In the story before Grace showed up, Vern had a long, echoing walk to where he saw clients. After Grace, they had a crowded little office. With Grace also came a kitchen, bedroom on a second level and a magical workshop. That meant moving things around, building some walls, adding a few appliances... Grace also needed a shower. (Vern could bathe in a lake when the mood suited. Dragons don't get especially dirty.) I also wanted some hidden areas and piles and boxes of miscellaneous junk that Vern's never really gotten around to cataloging. ("It's as close to treasure as I've had in 800 years. Why wreck the illusion?")

So I added a second cold warehouse in the back with a double-door, and shrunk the side "cold warehouse" some. The effect is an "evil Tetris piece" the kind that will never fit no matter how you turn it. This gives me a corner spot in the far end where the main warehouse walls do not touch the cold warehouses--these form two walls of Grace's workshop. (I'm still deciding if I want stained glass windows or not.)
Inside the heated warehouse, the walls are lined with a handmade second level that runs 6 or 8 feet wide. It's broken in spots for the doors, toilets and workshop. Catty-corner to the workshop is her bedroom on the second floor--just big enough for a bed, wardrobe and chest, with a place outside the room itself for her harp, a chair and music stand. Below her is Vern's new sleeping spot.

The store area--a 21 x 10 foot area in front of the heated warehouse--is their public area. It's divided between an office and kitchen with a hallway in between.
Now the backstory for the set-up:

The building was originally a warehouse for making toilets. (Sorry, that's too good to pass up!) Over the years, it was sold to a plumbing supply store, a machine parts factory, and a lumberyard. Each left stuff behind, and it just got pushed into the corner. Finally, it was bought during the Los Lagos recession (pre-Gap, when even Wal-Mart wouldn't station itself there) by a single internet entrepreneur. He was an aging bachelor, running a fairly successful e-Bay business from it, but in his last years he developed Alzheimer's. He'd mis-catalog things, buy weird items without any plans for selling them, and generally let things get into disarray. Fortunately, he did not drive himself into debt, though he didn't have much profit. The building and everything in it was given to the Little Flowers parish (where Vern was staying) by the owner after he died of a heart attack. The parish agreed to sell the property and contents to Vern.

Vern doesn't really need much, so for a long time, the junk just got shoved aside, leaving him with a long empty stretch from door to his bed and desk. (He liked the effect.) Sometimes, the parish would hold a yard sale or they would need something and they'd delve into the inventory to see if Vern had it. But, frankly, the whole place was chaos and no one in the parish really wanted to devote much time to it.
When Grace came, that changed, however. She needed to be able to cook her meals, take a shower, sleep, and--of course--work magic.

Once again, things were shuffled and moved. Parts of the second level were torn down and the wood used to build a bedroom, shower and kitchen. Fortunately, one of the previous owners had set up a snack bar area with a fridge, sink and even a small oven. The inventory was read again and, by magic or miracles, things they needed kept popping up--dishes and elbow pipes, even an old door and modular furniture walls. Other stuff, they got at Goodwill. Some of Grace's sisters came across the Gap to help, as did some members of the parish and even a few people from the neighborhood who had befriended Vern. While the public area is more homey and the heated warehouse much clearer and cleaner, It's still chaos in the cold warehouses and along the walls. Every now and then, Grace takes a whack at restoring order, but Vern's not very cooperative. "Leave my junk alone!"

One day, I'm going to write a story about something they find in their warehouse.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No time to blog--funny link instead (Meat-Flavored Water)

Crazy day with appointments and cleaning house before a hosting an event here, so I'll blog more about Vern's house Monday. However, here's a link to keep you amused. I really hope this is not the latest health drink, but you never know with Atkins: Meat-Flavored Water.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Designing the Imprefect Dragon's Lair

One thing I'm not, is a good visualizer. I can envision limited glimpses of a place in my mind, but things like an overall floor plan tend to baffle me. For this reason, I've thus far cheated on my descriptions of the home of my dragon detective, Vern.

I have a vision of a run-down, built-for-function-not-beauty warehouse with a six-foot chain-link fence around it. There's a fenced dog run near the double-gate, lousy grass (dragons aren't gardeners), and cracked pavement leading to the warehouse.

From there, I draw a blank as far as the overall scheme. I've had a vision of a large long echoing walk to where Vern resides, an incredible crowding of boxes and junk, a second floor with a small room for Grace, an isolated workshop, and a small office in the front area with a closet and a window facing the yard. And a kitchen needed to be there somewhere.

Some days, it embarrasses me that I teach worldbuilding at conventions. Those who can't, teach, right?

Well, moving to Minot has been wonderful for building Vern's world. Small town, railroad, not particularly glamorous and not interested in being so, It's just like pre-gap Los Lagos. And there are warehouses everywhere! Big, little, steel, brick, curved roofed like an aircraft hangar--you name it, you'll find it in Minot.
Could I find Vern's home?

For months, I've been daydreaming as I drive. That one's too new; that one's too big; that one's too filmsy. Where was my dream lair?

Last Monday, I found it in the Minot Restaurant Supply Store on Burbank. When I walked in and told the owner I was an author, he immediately asked if I needed a portly, almost 60 man with a balding head. I promised to write him in, but either way, he was only too glad to take me around his warehouse, answer my questions, tell me its history and let me make sketches.

Built in the 1950s as a toilet manufacturing warehouse, the front half is whitewashed stucco; the back half, old brick. Inside, the store proper is about a 20 x 40 (guessing here) area with two small offices made with 70s paneling and 2 x 4s behind a long counter. The merchandise--and they had some cooooool stuff--was all on metal shelves or on the wall. A large set of wooden double-doors led to the warehouse in the back.

There are actually two warehouses: heated and cold. The heated one was full of metal shelves holding a variety of stuff, but what drew my attention was the second level--again done with paneling and 2 x 4s; sturdy but cheap and just what I wanted. The bathrooms were just inside the doors, Men and Women, and looked like they'd been tossed up sometime after the original construction. The cold room was similar, just...well, colder.

The ceiling was corrugated steel braces with railings that hung down about 2 feet. The ceiling itself is only 14 feet, and he said many a young worker has smacked his head while working on the upper level.

I loved it. It's not quite perfect for Vern's house, because my piecemeal vision has led to several stories mentioning things that Minot Restaurant Supply's building doesn’t have, but the overall feel was just what I wanted.

Want to know what I ended up with? Read it from Vern's side, or check out this blog Thursday.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Expelled: Movie about Darvinism Overpowering Creation in Schools

I remember arguing with my geometry teacher about creation vs. evolution. Interestingly, he'd made a comment about evolution being wrong and creation was Truth, and I had asked why we couldn't have both? He got very uncomfortable and changed the subject.

Now, there's a new movie coming out about how teachers and scientists are being ostracized by their peers for even suggesting that maybe evolution isn't the key to our world, but that there might be something to this idea of "creation." Check it out here:

As a Catholic, I believe that the Bible was written for the purpose of saving our souls and telling us how to live our lives, and not as a scientific text, so I can't subscribe to Biblical Creationism. After all, Genesis was written by scientifically primitive men (possible Moses himself) for scientifically primitive men. It's not like God could say, "In the beginning, I (complex problem in physics involving quantum mechanics and unification theory) and created light." Even if he gave Moses the divine ability to understand that--which puts him ahead of our current scientists--what's Moses going to tell the people? "God said, 'Let there be light. And there was.'"


What's more important is that God did create everything, that He did it in an orderly fashion, and that It Was Good. Whether his day is 24 hours or if (like in the movie O God), when God had breakfast, Hitler was overrunning Poland, is not important to me. And whether or not he used evolution, fiat-creation, or something in between doesn't matter to me. In fact, I think evolution is a fine model for helping us understand the biological world, even though it is imperfect and needs to be explored, debated, tweaked or simply tossed out in favor of something better. Regardless, it does not have to exclude a loving God.

And, of course, that's where my beef is. Evolution is a theory, but it's being treated like something factual and sure as the Law of Gravity. What's more, those who dare speak against it on religious (or frankly, academic) grounds are persecuted for blaspheming against the 'science' of evolution.

Blaspheming. There's a good word.

Seems to me, God mentioned something about that, too. Something about having no other Gods before him?

Ideas can be worshiped, too.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Amazon's New Marketing Fiasco

The latest buzz in the publishing world is's new ploy to insist that all publishers who use Print-On-Demand (POD) technology use their BookSurge POD printer if they want to sell their books on Already several titles, while still showing on their website, have lost the "buy now" button.

POD does not mean vanity publishing or self-publishing, although this is the printing choice most vanity and self-publishers take. However, a lot of small press, traditional publishers use this technology in order to spare themselves warehouse expenses. Also, I believe some of the bigger publishing houses use it for their less popular but still selling titles. This move by Amazon has big consequences.

For Amazon, it makes financial sense--if everyone goes along with it. They now get paid for printing the books as well as selling them. However, as you'll see below, a lot of small press publishers are not going to give in to Amazon's "blackmail."

For small publishers, it's a problem. It's not just the principal of the thing, as I understand it; "retooling" their old titles to match BookSurge's needs and meeting BookSurge's prices is cost-prohibitive for a lot of publishers. They may end up going on their own or going out of business.

For authors like me, it could affect sales. Two of the three fiction publishers I contract with use POD; if Amazon goes through with its plans, my books will not be available for sales on Amazon, which of course is the most common sales venue outside of brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon already demands a big discount in order to have your book on their website, and that eats into royalties; now, they want an even bigger cut.

For readers, it means that if you like unusual books--the kind that don't grace the shelves of B&N--you're going to have a harder time finding them, at least until some other company rises to take Amazon's place. Ditto if you like shopping on-line.

As you can read below, small press publishers are taking action. What can you do? Write to and express your displeasure at their new policy.

In the meantime, here's what publishers are doing:

(This from the Authors Guild, forwarded to me from another writing group.)

Last week Amazon announced that it would be requiring that all books
that it sells that are produced through on-demand means be printed by
BookSurge, their in-house on-demand printer/publisher. Amazon pitched
this as a customer service matter, a means for more speedily
delivering print-on-demand books and allowing for the bundling of
shipments with other items purchased at the same time from Amazon. It
also put a bit of an environmental spin on the move -- claiming less
transportation fuel is used (this is unlikely, but that's another
story) when all items are shipped directly from Amazon.

We, and many others, think something else is afoot. Ingram Industries'
Lightning Source is currently the dominant printer for on-demand
titles, and they appear to be quite efficient at their task. They ship
on-demand titles shortly after they are ordered through Amazon
directly to the customer. It's a nice business for Ingram, since they
get a percentage of the sales and a printing fee for every on-demand
book they ship. Amazon would be foolish not to covet that business.

What's the rub? Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective
control of much of the "long tail" of publishing -- the enormous
number of titles that sell in low volumes but which, in aggregate,
make a lot of money for the aggregator. Since Amazon has a firm grip
on the retailing of these books (it's uneconomic for physical book
stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would
allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need
only insist on buying at a deeper discount -- or it can choose to
charge more for its printing of the books -- to increase its profits.
Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.

We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin
than it is about customer service or fossil fuels. The potential big
losers (other than Ingram) if Amazon does impose greater discounts on
the industry, are authors -- since many are paid for on-demand sales
based on the publisher's gross revenues -- and publishers.

We're reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon's
bold move. If you have any information on this matter that you think
could be helpful to us, please call us at (212) 563-5904 and ask for
the legal services department, or send an e-mail to

Feel free to post or forward this message in its entirety.


Copyright 2008, The Authors Guild. The Authors Guild
( is the nation's largest society of published
book authors.