Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Halloween Story

I've written elsewhere about the power of words, the effects they can have on people. Sometimes even one word can exert a powerful influence.

Take, for example, "Begger's Night" on the Halloween when I was eight years old. Our mothers took my younger brothers and several cousins door-to-door through the neighborhood. The treats were the usual boring items--peanuts, apples, oranges, and the occasional miniature candy bar. At one point my oldest cousin (a year older than me) said, "Let's skip the next house."

Wow--"skip" a house? That sounded cool--so cool that I had to say it. "Yeah, let's skip this one!" Wow--we would be doing something! And so we did. We waited on the sidewalk as our mothers took the little kids up to the house's door, feeling decidedly older.

A few seconds later, we weren't feeling older (nor wiser) at all. My brothers and cousins came dancing down from the house's porch, cheering, "Look! They gave us Three Musketeers bars--the big ones!"

Sure enough, these people weren't messing around--no fruits and nuts here! They had dropped a full-size Three Musketeers bar into each bag. (And make no mistake about it: Three Musketeers bars were serious candy bars back then. Each one was the size of a cigar box!)

"We wanna go back," my cousin wailed. "Oh, no," our mothers replied. "You said you wanted to 'skip' that house, and skip it you will"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Online in 1962: The First Online Content

For those who may have wondered what I have to say in On the Way to the Web that's not in other Internet histories, here is a free sample chapter in PDF format.

This chapter, titled "In the Money," details not only how early Internet (ARPANET) technology was transferred to the public sphere, but also the origins and nature of the very first online content.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Sane Overview of Electronic Publishing

Wondering about e-publishing (epublishing, epubbing, whatever)? I could say a lot about ebook publishing, but I have biases pro and con that are likely to upset many readers and get in the way of what I have to express.

That being the situation, may I recommend this very sane, level-headed and all-encompassing analysis of e-publishing, written by Victoria Strauss:


This is a service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. While you're there, explore all the Writer Beware pages.
(Ebook reader, writer, editor, historian and occasional reviewer)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Avoid Publishing Scams

Scams that prey on unpublished writers' desire to see print have always amazed me in their success. They obviously involve things not within the range of legitimate publishing. Huge reading fees to enter contests, or to have an editor or agent consider your work--these are not part of legitimate publishing. The people behind them aren't what they say they are, and can't deliver what they seem to promise. (I say "seem to promise" because if you go through such offers with a clear mind, you find that they don't really promise anything. They are crafted so as to allow the prospective writer to infer all sorts of things, and hence use the victim's own desires and emotions to scam her or him. Just like the "found wallet" and other cons.)

I first encountered these scams in the 1970s, when I wanted to badly to be published that some of the "get published the easy way" offers were tempting. But I was able to throttle my enthusiasm and resist all the empty promises because most of the scams stood out from legitimate offers like weeds on a putting green. In that pre-Web era, scammers had to put up money for advertising and printing to look like legitimate outfits. Most could not. They bought two-line classifieds and mailed out photocopied pitches. Many were tied to physical addresses that were easy to track down. (With a little effort you might learn that the "offices of the company" were in someone's dining room). Plus, reputable magazines acted as watchdogs--willing and able to censor the content of their advertising. (All that aside, I was in touch with a number of published writers who, I observed, weren't paying to get published.)

Online, it's tougher for new writers to weed out the dreck. There's more of it; scamming is almost free of cost, and anyone can have a Web site that looks like Simon & Schuster's. The virtual nature of online existence makes it easy to hide. Nobody acts as Web gatekeeper, so there is no way to block false advertising. (Not that scams didn't make it into print before the Web; but magazines who wanted to keep readers did keep scams to a minimum. Today, however, the incentive to enable online scams is greater than the incentive to block them.)

So the scams keep on coming. Those that succeed do so because their victims are blinded by the blaze of their desire to get into print. They wouldn't succeed if would-be writers followed two simple guidelines:
One, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it is.
Two, writers don't pay; writers are paid.

Seriously, it's that simple. But I know some people will want to believe the offers of the fame and fortune and film deals equal to those of of Colleen McCullough or Tom Clancy. When that happens, at least check them out. There are bulletin boards/forums/blogs that monitor scams. Like this one: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/
and this one: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22
and yet another: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scalping the Dalai Lama

Observed in Passing Department
Miami University (of Ohio) is hosting the Dalai Lama later this month. Tickets were sold for $25 to the public, and $5 to students. Right now, the tickets are being scalped for as much as $250 for a pair.

The Dalai Lama's talk will be: "Ethics in a Modern World."

Reminds me of a TV interview with a guy who was scalping Paul McCartney tickets. The interviewer asked him who was the biggest act he'd ever scalped tickets for. After an obviously embarrassed pause, the scalper blurted out, "The Pope!"