Tuesday, January 29, 2008

African American National Biography

I'm in a publication I can't even afford to buy. How cool is that?

The African American National Biography: 8-Volume Set costs $795. I'll autograph your copy if you buy a set. I wrote the bio's on Andres Pico and Stephen Spencer Hill, if anyone is interested.

The glowing write-up in the Los Angeles Times talks about why the book is written and what it covers, but it isn't a review. It's actually a reprint of an article that ran in the Washington Post. Another piece about the series is in the Library Journal. Here's one from the History News Network.

In addition, here's the Oxford University page on AANB, but it can be bought through Amazon as well.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Neolithic Allee Couverte

The Allee Couverte Du Mouhau Bihan sits on private property in Finisterre Dept., Brittany, France. It wasn't put up by Celts (or Gauls), but by the Neolithic people that preceded them.

It's about 5,000 years old, and you get a sense of its size by the children climbing on the far end. The entrance is lined up with the north.

Some of the stones are carved inside with what could be spearheads, or shepherd's crooks...or may mean something else entirely.

Brittany is full of megalithic structures--from the rows of stones at Carnac to single menhirs, to allees couvertes like this. Legend says it was once the grave of a giant.

Very few guidebooks tell much about these archaeological wonders and I can't understand why; what could be more fascinating than to touch and enter a structure raised and carved 5,000 years ago? I've found one, priceless, thoroughly researched guide, though--not on the travel shelves, but something to request from academic libraries

The Archaeology of Brittany, Normandy and the Channel Islands: An Introduction and Guide by Barbara Bender. Only problem is that it's now 22 years old.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Writers and Paychecks

Every freelancer has probably been stiffed for work delivered, and even published. I recall two small magazines that went out of business right after September 11th. Neither was in New York, but the problem was advertisers. They pulled out and cut back, so magazines that had been on precarious footing just crumbled.

Writers and other creditors went unpaid. Does this happen so regularly in other industries? I think not.

These were small operations--one person, the owner, put in 16 hour days editing (badly), schmoozing, selling ads, and distributing the magazine. That person probably lost their proverbial shirt when forced to fold, so the $50 or $75 owed to little ol' me seems too trite to complain about.

I'm less sympathetic when I read about the woes of OverTime, a glossy that, as far as I can tell, is still soliciting work from writers even though it owes over $100,000 in unpaid fees to freelancers and others who've rendered services. This publication's fiscal woes are documented in a MediaBistro article here.

Do owners of magazines assume that freelancers must have day jobs, and therefore don't need the money? Or are all freelancers pictured as vagabonds with no strings, crashing on friends' sofas between gigs?
We need a real union. It's disgusting, ridiculous, and entirely inappropriate that people of real talent are abused this way. Most of us would make more money if we joined the line of men loitering outside the lawnmower-rental shop, hoping for day jobs.

I root for the WGA, even though I've never had the slightest inclination to pen a screenplay. At least some writers are getting respect. They have had and will eventually get a fair deal and a decent paycheck. The rest of us cling to the hope that--in our long-range plans--a miracle will occur.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Looting Archaeological Sites: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

A front page story in the Los Angeles Times of Jan. 22, 2008 (where this photo appeared) tells of the looting going on at nearly 12,000 sites in Iraq.

What do the looters get? According to the times, "coins, jewelry and fragile clay tablets etched in wedge-like cuneiform script, recording myths, decrees, business transactions and other details of Mesopotamian life."

Professor Elizabeth Stone of SUNY estimates that looters have torn up 167 million square feet.

It's not my country, and I am more upset about the loss of life in Iraq than the looting--or I try to be. Still, this is appalling. 4000-year-old remains and detritus do not grow on trees.

Once dug up, the context is loss. Most of what we could have learned is destroyed. The vase/statue/seal/pot sat there for 4000 years, but some poor schmuck who keeps a shop by day digs a pit, takes what he can, and it's gone, along with the chance to know more.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Doris Lessing and Reading

Doris Lessing didn't travel to Sweden last December to personally accept her Nobel Prize for Literature, but her acceptance lecture was delivered and can be found online.

It's lengthy, but reads like scenes from her novels. She begins with a trip to Zimbabwe in the 80's, where students (some who were adults) begged for books--they had none. She contrasts that with an immediate visit to a British boys school, very elite, where she learns that most of the students don't use the library and rarely read. Here's a quote:

"We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers."

I've worked with so many engineers and scientists--most with PhDs--who never, ever picked up a book for fun. Not all, of course--there were many who loved scifi or poetry, etc. But the idea of large numbers of well-educated men and women who never learned to enjoy reading, who use it only as a tool when information is necessary, is disheartening.

There's reason for optimism, though. Let's all kiss the ground J.K. Rowling walks on for getting kids (and some adults!) to read again. And how many people tackled Lord of the Rings because they couldn't wait for movies 2 and 3, after being entranced by the first film?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mediabistro Plug

Argh . . . just learned you have to be a member to see the entire article referenced in the previous post. Sorry!

IMHO, the money spent for a Mediabistro membership is well-invested for any part or full-time writer--though I admit I live a major city where I can take advantage of their classes and get-togethers (including a short-lived bowling league). Check them out; they have dozens of in-depth "How to Pitch" guidelines for magazines and agents, as well as online how-to's, a job board, daily industry news, etc.

The article, btw, is full of advice from experienced, full-time writers whose work appears in major glossies and newspapers. The advice is about growing your business, marketing through both slow and busy times, diversifying, work discipline, and timing your pitches. That last covers two topics: both when to pitch (Christmas vacation? August? Should I avoid Monday mornings?) and how much lead time to allow on a pitch (6 months to a year for most magazines).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Good Freelance Advice

Mediabistro.com just epublished an excellent article on the boom-and-bust cycles of freelancing, and how to weather them. The piece (by Jenny Cromie) is titled "More Flow, Less Ebb: Breaking the Feast-or-Famine Freelance Cycle."

And there you have it. Ebb and flo, feast or famine, boom and bust. The three major cliches that describe freelancing, the US economy, and the California housing market, all in one.
Nothing else needs to be said, so I'll shut up.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

One Friend's Humor is Another's Spam

I used to love getting email jokes, links, slideshows--as long as I hadn't seen them twice already.

Now my inbox is filled with emails beginning with the characters "FW: Funny. . . " because I just don't have time to read jokes. There may be some delightfully weird and unique gems in there--but I JUST DON'T HAVE TIME!

Why is that?

I suspect that such emails used to serve as a subversive break from my paid job. Now I don't have a paid job. There is no "man" to stick it to. No corporate Big Brother to sneak around. No fatuous stuffed shirt to hear "Take this job and shove it!"

There's just me and my PC.

This wise photo is from morguefile.com, courtesy of Scottliddell.net. A good reminder that not all my work ties me to my PC!

My world seems to have a tri-part division these days. There's work I love, work I'm not so crazy about, and there's looking for work.

If I take time from any of these, I have to pay it back or I may not have money for gas next month. Accurate or not, that's become my mindset.

People will warn you, when you go freelance, not to waste too much time or take too many days off. Yes, that's a real temptation, and a dangerous one.

The opposite can happen too: when you work at home, you never really clock out.

Winning the lottery would solve so many of these low-level problems. . . . I really should buy a ticket once in a while.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

If Margaret Mitchell Wrote the Harry Potter Books. . .

If Margaret Mitchell (who wrote Gone With the Wind) had written Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1)the first line would be:

"Angelina Spinnet was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Weasley twins were.”

This is an email waiting to be created and flue'd through the ethereal world of spam jokes.

Someone take up the torch! Someone who can imitate Papa Hemingway, Robert James Waller (Bridges of Madison County), and all those writers with distinctive, stylized, unique voices.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ray Bradbury on the Picket Line

This picture is from Mediabistro's Fishbowl LA Blog. But they give no caption other than the fact that, yup, Ray Bradbury is carrying a picket sign outside of Fox Studios.

Ray Bradbury, besides being a wonderful writer, speaks every May at the Southwest Manuscripters Club in Torrance, California--strike or no strike, stroke or no stroke. He's been doing it for 50 years. Why? Because that club invited him to speak when he was unknown.
So if you have a club and need speakers, take a chance. You may become famous for it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Without Writers, They're Still Funny

Here's Stephen Colbert's take on the absence of writers in his first show back. No Writers? "How does that affect me?"

And on A Daily Show, (A, not THE. The Daily Show is produced with writers) Jon Stewart did his customary "W'sup, Stephen Colbert?" segment just before closing. Colbert spouted a long beard.

I demand credit, that was my gag!

OK, so it's the most obvious thing in the world. I still want credit. Just a little wink and a "Thanks, A Lot Of Gaul!" will do.

For being unscripted, both shows were extremely funny. I miss the biting and scathing one-liners that followed political sound bites, so there's still a reason to look forward to the settling of the WGA strike.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Bad Signs and a Gripe

Like most freelancers, I notice that my query letters and applications over the last couple of years merit fewer responses. Yay or nay doesn't matter--lately, there's just no answer at all.

There is no good excuse for this lack of professional courtesy--a form email would do. But let's face it, we get zilch, and get over it.

I do realize that editors are busier than ever, and wearing more hats than before.

When I compare the author names from front-of-the-book pieces and articles with a magazine's masthead, I see that more and more, editors and staffers are producing the stories. They're probably overworked already.

A month ago, I answered an ad for freelancers for an online publication. The editor who responded (bless him! he took the time to respond!) professed surprise at the writing quality of the applicants, and wondered why so much of what he read online was poorly written.

Well, criminy--his company was offering decent pay! A lot of what appears online is written for free or for very little pay.

Look at Wikipedia. Some of the articles are awful or inaccurate; others detailed and well-researched. But you can't bank on any of their so-called facts without verifying them elsewhere.

You get what you pay for. I wonder how long it's going to take for this iota of conventional wisdom to permeate through the internet.

Hats are available at StewartFerris.com or The Writers' Store.

Print Paper Readership Down in UK Too

According to this Guardian Unlimited story, readers of newspapers fell almost 20 % over 14 years.

Specifically, a government-sponsored readership survey found that adults reading at least one national print newspaper a day in the UK fell from 26.7 million in 1992, to 21.7 million in 2006. That's a drop of 5 million readers. In terms of adult population, the statistic went from 59% in 1992 to 45% in 2006.

There were a couple of exceptions: The Times and Daily Mail boosted their readership in that period. According to the story, the Times accomplished this by "an aggressive cost-cutting strategy in the mid-1990s." (Yeah, like that explains the boost in circulation. What newspaper hasn't tried to stop the bleeding by an aggressive cost-cutting strategy? But their readership doesn't usually go up, so there's got to be another bit o' information.)

Other stories (like this one) point to bumps in online readership for some papers. But does that mean people are reading the papers regularly? OTOH, does a subscription mean you read your paper regularly?

I hate that cliche 'paradigm shift' but I'd rather use it than wail and moan about declining circulation. Times are changing and writers need to do our best to keep up or even anticipate where the paying work is going to be. For the record, I'm proving abysmal at this--like many others!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Not Writing Causes Facial Hair!

Viewers of David Letterman and Conan O'Brien (and sort of Craig Ferguson) confirm that 8 weeks without writers has caused excess facial hair to grow on the well-known mugs of late-night TV hosts.

Finally, I understand why there are no late-night female hosts. It's just too dangerous.

I can't wait for The Daily Show and the Colbert Report to return, writers or no.

I'm lying. Without writers, who cares?

I just wanted an excuse to show off my expertise with a basic paint program.

How much more writing of all kinds: novels, book proposals, bio's, poetry, flash fiction, etc., is being done now that television has no newly-written shows to entice us from our desks?

And wouldn't it be nice if not just screenwriters, but all writers, started getting decent pay and contracts? Treated like contributors instead of pests? Maybe even had their emails answered?

Pass the other tequila bottle, por favor. I themptied vis one.