Saturday, July 30, 2011

Author Angst

Authors today have to wear many hats. In fact, not only wear them but have a degree in each function represented by those hats.

It was once only being a reclusive typist with a way with words, but now the author has to know how to build a website, create a brand, issue press releases, develop a marketing strategy, develop a target audience, besides writing a Pulitzer Prize winning query letter. Now, technology has slammed another brick on our foot.

All the XHTML, XML, CSS alphabet soup that sent your head spinning is now obsolete. These small handheld devices don’t like the old stuff; they only digest digital meals written in HTML5. So, just as you worked your way up to the plateau of your learning curve, another curve is thrown in front of you.

Well, get cracking. You have to redo all your Internet presence so it will show up on an iPhone or iPad. Current digital wizardry is like Harry Potter getting stuck with a punk wand while in the brazen stare of Lord Voldemort. Trusty old Microsoft Word has turned into a jigsaw puzzle and outputs file types that e-book distributors gag on. Your next book has to be carefully stylized to pass the vetting process of upload conversions to ePub. Major players like Adobe’s InDesign is fast becoming the go-to layout program. Have fun with its learning curve.

Authors need to incorporate so they can hire a staff and function, not like a small business, but a small-cap business. You need lawyers, nerds, editing and marketing experts, media promoters, and publicists that have holdings in Dubai. You need backers, brokers, and world class poker players. But most of all, you need a walk-in closet to hold all your hats.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Order, Order, in the Court

One of the ways writers get new ideas is to watch the drama that takes place in our courts, and this last couple of months has been a windfall of character studies. What I find remarkable, besides the tragedy of playing out people's lives in the media, is the fact Americans don't have a clue how our justice system works.

The reason there's a blindfold over Lady Justice's eyes is our system doesn't actually profess to provide justice, but strives to perfect the rule of law. In other words, the legalese has to be precise, the justice comes out of the rule book not a sense of justice we feel when serving on a jury. The judge's instructions often lead the jury into never-never land, because of how the rules have to be played out.

If a serial killer is on trial, his past crimes are not allowed to sway the jury's verdict for the current case on trail. All that slaughter in the past is benign and could hurt the defendant's current situation to convince you he's really a sweet guy.

If the defense attorney plays by the rules and the prosecution leaves any tint of doubt, then the jury has to acquit. Ever wonder why we have so many criminals on the streets, crazies that commit crimes over and over. It's really hard to nail a criminal down, so they all plead innocent and snicker at the justice system. And if you're a clever man with money, oh baby, its rather easy to buy a certain level of justice.

It's not all bad. If you break the law, and what you did is in the books, you most likely will go to jail. But the clever man does something totally evil and deceptive where there is no law written about it and always gets away with it the first time. That's how the economic meltdown occurred in the first place. Wall Street sharpies created financial instruments that were highly unethical, but there was no law against it on the books. We see the injustice, the law only sees from behind the blindfold.

The main reasoning behind blind justice is it's better not to punish the criminal than to prosecute an innocent man. I think that is admirable, but does it work? If the penal statistics can be believed, bunches of innocent people get locked up all the time. The only thing saving their bacon these days is DNA testing. The blindfold test didn't do them any good.

What I would like to see is well versed writers that have studied our legal system come up with a better adjusted legal system for the 21st century and beyond. It needs to be better, and maybe the facilities for holding criminals wouldn't be so chocked full, if the legal system provided stronger deterrence against committing crimes in the first place.

As far as the tragic drama of a court room - that's what feeds us writers. We could never dream up such fantasy on our own.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

California Drives Another Stake

As we spend millions upon millions to develop an educational system in Afghanistan, we cut millions upon millions in the education system in California (and other late great States). We preach the virtues of how education is the defense against poverty, crumbling economic situations , and political unrest. Education is the cornerstone that all other things depend. Yet, we don't seem to comprehend that these situations could happen right here in California by disregarding our own preaching. Education clearly ranks lower compared to other political agendas.

Actually, educating children to the level of fighting poverty, enhancing economics, and bringing together people to support their country is cheap. The one-room school house did it and really all modern educational systems can be done with modest funding. Local neighborhood taxes did the job for decades. But when Big Government and corporate greed turned the spigot, huge sums of money started to flow. Not even the Mega-Lottery could generate enough to plug the holes and feed the massive administrative bureaucracy. The problem is not the educators or the students, it's clearly the massive load caused by the free-loading bureaucracy. Why don't we cut that instead of education? Why don't we practice what we preach? The corruption in Kabul has the same taste here at home.

When a new school is built, it has multi-million dollar buildings and a campus like it was an independent country. Where I grew up there was one football field that was shared by rival schools, and it was built by the city. Each school doesn't need totally separate world-class facilities for all activities. This is the product of bureaucracies being duped by architects an administrators willing to funnel huge sums of money to build these structures. What is relevant is facilities that enhance teaching, but not works of architectural greatness. Save that for the monuments to politicians. Their egos demand it. Teaching children to think, read, and understand the world around them doesn't need galleries of empty hallways and landscaping that runs into the millions. It's really silly.

Not all schools have had the light of grandeur cast upon them. In fact, they have had to suffer a lot of neglect. Why? Where is all this massive administration when you need it? Every district has well paid administrators. Why can't they do their job? What do they do - hire people to do studies, increase benefits and salaries for their own. Oh, now I see the problem. Yes, we have been way to easy on administrations enriching themselves at the expense of the jobs they were hired to do. Disgusting. Welcome to Afghanistan West. May all your schools have dirt floors while the administrator vacation on the Riviera.

Why do books for schools cost millions upon millions in an electronic world of e-books? Why do students lug backpacks full of books back and forth to school each day? Because someone is making a huge profit off of them, that's why. The only backpack I ever saw as a child was on a Boy Scout hike. The source material for a course can be put online for all students and it cost zero for them to access and it doesn't degrade their posture hauling dead weight around everyday. This is something administrators, if they were doing their job, would have thought of before the crisis emerged. The point is they didn't. It had to be pointed out by the media.

You're going to see a lot of backpedaling now that the crisis is upon us, finger pointing, and I told you so - like I'm doing. The trick is to sort out the BS and get kids back in schools where the teacher loading is such that a good education can be realized not politicized.

My interest in this is purely selfish. As a writer, how can I sell books if my audience can't read them? I need educated souls to be a writer.