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2.   Letter to Sir Anthony Grimston, from Sir Richard Amesbury

Dear Anthony,

It grieves me to say this, but things are no better on this side of the heroic fence. I have twenty strapping young Knights in Slightly Less Than Shining Armor, and every last one seems to be so busy despoiling the kingdom’s maidens he has a hard time keeping his lance straight, if you take my meaning.

I would offer to send you one for your dragon, but I fear none of them are virgin either. I fear a Fate Worse Than Death is entirely too pleasurable for our kingdom’s former maidens.

With regret,

Richard.

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I thought I’d tease — er, tempt — everyone with an excerpt from Kate Paulk’s upcoming Knights in Tarnished Armor.

1. Letter to Sir Richard Amesbury, from Sir Anthony Grimston.

My dear friend,

It should come as no surprise to you that the kingdom in an intolerable state. In all my years as a professional scoundrel and despoiler of maidens, I have never seen anything to equal this. I simply cannot do business.

The dearth of maidens is appalling, Richard, utterly appalling. How can I abduct a woman and threaten her with a Fate Worse Than Death if such a fate as already befallen her – and worse, she enjoyed it!

Worse, no self-respecting Knight in Shining Armor will rescue a besmirched maiden. I do not even get the somewhat dubious pleasure of besmirching them myself. They come to me pre-besmirched, as it were. My dragon is starving, and my estate is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Can you see any solution to this problem?

Your friend,

Anthony

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It's taken a bit more than a week, but I think I'm mostly over whatever bug had hold of me.  It's been a long time since I've been knocked as flat by a cold/flu/whatever as I was this time.  So apologies for the sparsity and possibly incomprehensibility of what posts I did manage to get up.

I'd like to take a couple of moments to talk about Knights in Tarnished Armor by Kate Paulk that will be coming out over the weekend.  Some of you may know Kate from Baen's Bar or any of the other discussion boards she takes part in.  To say Kate has an interesting sense of humor is to put it mildly.  She manages to take the ordinary, twist it in a mixture of Aussie irreverence and American cynicism and come out with something unexpected.  That's exactly what she's done with KITA.

When I was trying to describe it briefly yesterday, my first thought was it's a comedy of errors.  In many ways, that's exactly what it is.  But it is also a comedy of LETTERS, because the action is all revealed through a series of letters between our not so shining knights and their all too willing and frustrated maidens.  Throw in disapproving parents, a dragon and all too many schemes and, well, you have Knights in Tarnished Armor.

If you'd like to see more of Kate's work, check out Born in Blood and Hell of a JobBorn in Blood is a novella that basically sets the stage for her novel, Impaler, that will be coming out next year.  If you are interested in a new take on the history and mythology surrounding Vlad Dracul, check out both of these titles.

In the short story Hell of a Job, Kate gives us a refreshing look at what might happen if a scheming woman who really doesn't approve of the decor in the underworld becomes a Dark Lord and sets her cap on higher office.

Both Born in Blood and Hell of a Job are available at our webstore, simply follow the links above, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  You can also find them at Smashwords.  Most of all, anything you buy from Naked Reader Press is DRM-free.

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You know the holiday season is here not by the increasing number of football games shown on TV, nor by the remainders of turkey and ham in the fridge.  No, you know it by the ever increasing number of ads in the newspaper, on TV and the internet.  You also know it by the number of employees acting like they are hard at work today when, in fact, they are busy trying to find that perfect online deal.  In order to do our part in helping folks find great deals on e-books, we’re putting all our titles on sale today.  I’ll tell you how to get the discount a little later on.

But first I want to take a moment to let you know about the titles we’ll be bringing out in December.  The first is Knights in Tarnished Armor, a truly piece by Kate Paulk.  If you like knights that aren’t quite as shining as your mother told you they should be and wenches who are more lusty than maidenly, then this is exactly what you’re looking.  Part comedy of errors, part romance and all laughs, KITA will tickle your funny bone this holiday season.

Quick Sand by C. S. Laurel is the sequel to B. Quick, currently available here.  More fun and romance, with the requisite mystery and dead body, are in store for English professor William Shakespeare Yates and Brian Quick.

Finally, we will be bringing out an anthology revolving around the theme of angels and demons.  Every civilization has stories about creatures who protect mankind from those that would destroy it.  Our contributing authors have put their own unique spin on the theme.  We have stories from Sarah A. Hoyt, Chris McMahon, and a number of others.  Both this anthology and Quick Sand will be available the middle of the month.

Now, for the Cyber-Monday discount.  After you place your items in your shopping cart and are ready to check out, you’ll see a place where you can enter a coupon code (It’s below the PayPal button). Enter the following code to receive 25% off your purchase price:

CyberMonday1

Enjoy and have a safe and productive Monday!

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Thanksgiving is almost here and, like so many folks, I'm facing -- and dreading -- that last minute run to the grocery store later today to make sure I have everything needed for the big Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course, because of family scheduling conflicts, dinner will actually be lunch on Friday.  Not that it means I can postpone the trip to the store... Oh no.  Have to brave the crowds today to do food shopping in case I have to brave the crowds Friday for Black Friday sales.

And, yes, that scream you heard was me.  I hate, absolutely HATE, shopping of any sort.  Add crowds to the equation and, well, I'm sure you get the picture.  Thank goodness most of the sales also have online equivalents.  Still, you know there will be that one item my retired mother will want me to go out to get for her and, dutiful daughter -- okay, quit laughing -- that I am, I'll go, grumbling and clutching my mug of coffee like a lifeline.

Any way, if you check out the site today, you'll see that Darwin Garrison's latest Animanga Viewpoint is up.  You can see what he has to say about Raiders by JinJun Park here.  Go take a look and let him know what your thoughts are.

Also, don't forget that Dave Freer's collection of short stories, A Goth Sex-Kitten & Other Stories, is now available for sale.  You can find it  on our site or at Barnes & Noble.  As soon as it goes live on Amazon and smashwords, we'll let you know.

Enjoy your holiday.  Be safe and have fun.  Oh, and check back on Friday.  I have a feeling you might find a few "Black Friday" sales here as well.

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As you can see, we have a new logo.  We’ve got a new banner to go along with it.  Just visit our homepage to see the full-sized image.

To go along with the new logo, we’ve re-opened the web-store.  As promised yesterday, we’re proud to announce that the first of several short story collections by Dave Freer — The Goth Sex-Kitten & Other Stories – is now available for purchase.  It will also be available shortly at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.  Of course, as with all our titles, it is DRM-free.

Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday, and remember to check back tomorrow for Darwin Garrison’s next Animanga Viewpoint.

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and other stories.

Okay, admit it.  The title of the post caught your attention.  Think of how I felt when I saw that in the subject line of an email first thing one morning.  Now, imagine it happening pre-coffee.  Yes, I did do a double-take, especially since the sender of the e-mail was Dave Freer.

Now, there are a couple of thinks Dave’s known for.  The first is his wonderful writing.  He’s a wonderful writer of fantasy and sf.  A lot of his work reminds me of Terry Pratchett.

He also has a wicked sense of humor when he wants.

So, yes, I was a little leery when I opened the email.  I was also very surprised and did a fan girl squee to see that the subject line referred to one of his short stories.

That short story is now the lead in a collection of six stories by Dave that we’ll be bringing out later today.  The collection will be available in our store tomorrow, when the store comes back online.  It will be available over the next few days at Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.

But, for now, I thought I’d give you a taste of what he has in store for you. . . .

The Goth Sex-Kitten

Standing inside its pentacle of finely powdered bone-dust, the alembic quivered and shook on its stand.”Concentrate, famulus, for Zorathsyrtus sake!” cursed the master. “Keep that flame steady or I’ll turn you into a privy in a camp full of puke-drunk Joringian mercenaries.”

Tom concentrated. That was enough of a dire — and possibly real — threat to focus his mind remarkably, turning it away from thoughts inspired by his secretive perusal of one of the volumes on the master’s locked shelf. The one with the well-thumbed color illustrations. Tom retained little of his origins, except for a certain fastidiousness, some vanity and a tail, but he knew what he had been, and he knew what he had no fancy to be.

It was all very well for Master Hargarthius. The master magician was as wrinkled as a dragon’s hide after a long hibernation, and was even older than the cheese that lurked at the back of the third pantry cupboard. Marcencius, who had been the master’s previous famulus from before Tom was born, said it had been there a century or so, and he was not to go too close to it, or the cheese would have the flesh off Tom’s hands at the very least… If he was lucky, which, as Marcenius pointed out, he wasn’t. It was a cheese that ate mice. . . .

Rob

The churn of the ocean boiled foam for the gale to pick and fling landward. The spume gobbets swirled up the cliff, as great seas ate into the narrow cove across the grinding cobbles.

The storm had left a grey dawn, hazed with rain-squalls and tatters of racing cloud. It was hard to see clearly from the cliff-top, but they could still make out the straight black lines of masts and spars above the angry water that pounded the reef. The two men standing there, braced against the wind, stared at the wreck. “There’s never a man that got off her alive, Bart,” said the shorter of the two, giving an involuntary shiver.

The other, a broad, tall and solid pylon of a man, nodded. “Aye, William-lad. You’d be right about that. It’d take a seal to swim out of there. But the bodies’ll come in the tide. We’d best get down there before anyone else does.”

It was grim work picking through the sodden clothing of the bodies washed ashore, but the rewards could be great, for poor men. And it was fitting that they’d get something for the labour of hauling the corpses to the churchyard. . . .

There are four other stories included as well.  Check them out tomorrow when the collection goes on sale!

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Today’s Drooling for Books column by John Wagner, AKA the basset, is all about what a reviewer should do and what, all too often, they don’t do.  He doesn’t touch the bad review because I don’t like how much the book costs issue.  What he does talk about is how a reviewer needs to actually READ the book or short story before writing a review.  Go check it out and let him know what you think.  You can see John’s other reviews by clicking on the Drooling for Books link and then any of the review links under it on the left side of the web page.

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This past week has been the week from Hell in a lot of ways.  As my last post noted, a dear cousin passed away.  Add to that my son having his first wreck — and totaling his truck — and, well, you get an idea of what my life’s been like.  Add in the 350 mile drive each way to attend my cousin’s funeral (which was held on the anniversary of my dad’s death — not that her family realized it when they planned the service).  So today I’m trying to play catch up, at least some, even as my brain and body are begging to go back to bed.

First off, for some business matters.  The website store will be back up either tomorrow or Tuesday.  Probably Tuesday.  I’ll announce it as soon as it’s live again.

Also, Dave Freer’s collection of short stories — The Goth Sex Kitten and Other Stories — will be available for purchase when the store goes live.  It will take a couple of days for it to show up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  We are now publishing directly through BN, just as we are Amazon.  Of course, you can still find us on Smashwords and through their affiliates as well.  Naturally, all our books and short stories are available through our site as well.

Okay, a couple of items of interest.  The review process for Amazon has come under fire again, specifically because people can rate books — and ebooks — without reading them and that their ratings can be based on anything.  The issue has been around for a long time but has been gaining notoriety after the agency model pricing of e-books came into being.  What is happening now is that a number of folks are giving 1-star reviews to e-books when they cost as much, or more, than the hard cover books.  This happens almost exclusively to e-books published by those houses under the agency model.  The hard cover prices can still be discounted by Amazon and are.  However, the publisher sets the price for the e-book.  This often means there is little or no difference between the cost of the digital copy and the cost of the hard copy.

What some people see as the crux of the matter is that Amazon allows customers to post reviews whether they’ve read the book or not.  As with other on-line retailers, all you have to do to post a review on Amazon is have an account with them.

I understand the concern over these negative reviews.  But to require Amazon to police the reviews so that only someone who has read a book can post would mean they would have to buy the book from Amazon.  That would prevent someone who borrowed it from the library, or who purchased it elsewhere, or who received it as a gift from ever posting a review.  That’s not the way to do it.

In my opinion, what Amazon needs to do is simply add another section to their reviews.  Rate the book for content and quality and then rate the book for pricing.  Most folks who give negative reviews for books due to their cost, say so in the body of the review.  That leads me to believe they would be honest and simply mark the cost/value portion of the review if they were offered that option.

But let’s face it, these reviews are anything but reliable.  If you follow any of the e-book boards, you will have seen instance after instance where authors (or their friends or family) have created multiple accounts to post glowing reviews for their loved one’s book.  This isn’t something unique to just Amazon.  So, if you are relying on the reviews by customers, you need to take them with a grain of salt.  Or at least you need to look at what else that reviewer has rated.  Often, you will find that they have never reviewed anything else.

In the meantime, remember that the review you give can and will impact an author’s sales.  So, until there is a way to show up front that you are marking the book down because of price, limit your review to what you liked or didn’t like about the contents of the book, not just the price.  Oh, and let the publishers know if you think the price is out of line.

Going hand-in-hand with the above is this article from the NY Times.  With the availability to look at, touch and play with e-book readers in such places as Walmart and Target this holiday season, there is the potential for the e-book market to really soar.  Will this be the tipping point?  I don’t know.  But it will be one giant step toward it, in my opinion.  With the explosive growth of e-books sales over the last couple of years, the lower prices for e-book readers, the wide availability of PC/Mac versions of the kindle/nook/sony/kobo, etc., programs so you can read on your computer, laptop or cellphone, e-books are no longer only for the technically inclined.  It is going to be interesting to see how the figures pan out over the next few months.

Finally, for the writers out there.  I recommend you take a look at this entry from Lucienne Diver’s blog.  Not only is she an agent with the Knight Agency, but she’s a wonderful author in her own right.  (Vamped and ReVamped)  Earlier this month, she had a post that really hit home with the writer side of me:

I suppose that the long and short of what I took away from this is that publication has never been easy…not the path to it or the continuation of the journey.  It’s never been painless.  No artist of any stripe has ever been universally loved or acclaimed.  In order to reach out and grab readers by the throat, authors have to be able to throw open the doors and windows to the soul.  Unfortunately, in letting their creativity out, those open doors allow for stiff, bracing and sometimes stormy winds to sweep through as well.  To me it’s a comfort that the literary greats went through the same vicissitudes we do today.  They survived.  Their names have gone down in history and, perhaps more importantly to them as writers, their works have remained in print.  We read them today, often thinking that they must have been aware of their own genius and been gratified by their success, while the truth is that authors do not sit back content with the accomplishment of their last release, but are constantly struggling with the new and wondering whether they’ll be able to live up to or exceed expectations.  I’m not sure whether there’s an actual saying that you’re only as good as your latest novel, but I do know that that’s how all writers feel.

So, for those of you battling toward attainment of your dreams, whether they be of initial or continued publication, take comfort in the shared pain and find compatriots with whom to celebrate your triumphs.  Appreciate them when they come and pull out the memories of them to get you through the hard times.

And, with that in mind, I leave you to the rest of the weekend.

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I won’t often go into personal matters on this blog.  However, there are times when every rule must be broken and this is one of them.  So, please bear with me and help me celebrate the life of an extraordinary woman even as I grieve her death.

Last week I learned that my cousin — actually, my first cousin — had fallen and broken her hip.  This was a matter of concern because of her age.  Until then, she’d been an active, alert and all-too-often feisty 90 year old.  But her health had been declining some in recent months, so word of her fall and the need to do a hip replacement was worrisome.

For awhile, it looked as if our prayers had been answered.  Even though there were a few complications, she came through the surgery and the surgeon was optimistic of a full recovery.  Unfortunately, that was the calm before the storm.  Complications arose and an hour after I spoke to my cousin’s daughter last night, she died.

While her death is almost as hard to accept on an emotional level as my father’s was too many years ago, intellectually I am so very thankful that she never really had to suffer.  More than that, I know what a wonderful life she led.  Sure, there were bumps along the way, some of them painful.  But she persevered and overcame, never losing her faith or her good humor.

This woman was wife, mother, teacher and confidante.  Her four children are grown and with families of their own.  She lost her husband and grieved for him.  But it didn’t break her.  Instead, she put her faith in God and continued living and growing, no matter — or despite — her advancing years.

She was the glue that held our extended family together.  She was the bridge between so many of us and, other than my mother, the last real link to my grandmother.  She was also the first to figure out I wanted to be a writer and the first to encourage me.

Even though there were never many books in her home, she always had one close to hand that she was reading.  The local library was her supplier.  She read fiction and non-fiction, introduced me to Tony Hillerman and others.  Her house was the first place away from my bedroom where I could write and not feel that urge to hide my work away when someone came into the room.

The first time I showed my work to anyone, it was to her.  She returned that battered manuscript to me a year ago.  I cringe now when I look at it, not because of the tattered and dogeared pages but because it truly is one of those pieces that never should have seen the light of day.  But she saw something in it and encouraged me to continue chasing my dream of one day being published.  I did and I am so very glad she lived long enough to see it.

I knew she she returned the manuscript that she was “putting her house in order”.  I’ve seen it before.  My father did it before he passed.  Besides, she was almost 90 then, so it made sense for her to start preparing.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

I will miss my cousin a great deal.  But I celebrate her life.  I will be there for her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sharing my love for her with them.

Do me a favor, don’t take a day with a loved one for granted.  Tell that friend or relative who has been there for you with a word of encouragement and love how much they mean to you.  And help me celebrate the life of an extremely incredible woman.

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As you've probably gathered by now, I spend time each day checking out various discussion boards relating to e-books.  I've been doing this for a long time, far longer than NRP has been in existence.  One reason is I've been an advocate of e-books from the first time I was introduced to them via Webscriptions.  The second reason is that, not matter how contentious the boards get at times, they are populated by readers.  These are people who are passionate not only about the technology behind e-books and e-book readers but are passionate about the books as well.

One of the topics that comes up from time to time is how e-books and online retailers have impacted bookstore sales and why.  It's not a new discussion by any means.  It started with the first online order from Amazon and has never really gone away.   There have been different permutations of it, including the possible cannibalization of hard cover purchases by e-book sales. It's too early in the morning to kick my ulcer into full gear by going into the agency model.  We'll do that later.  Today, a few thoughts on bookstores.

The U. S. Census Department released the September figures for bookstore sales.  New book sales were down from September 2009 by 7.1%.  August figures were down 6.5%.  For the year, sales are down 2.6%.  To translate that into dollars, year-to-date sales for new books from bookstores is $12.3 billion.

According to John Marmaduke, CEO of Hastings, their sales for stores open at least a year fell 6.2%.  That includes a 9.3% drop in new book sales.  However, they experienced an increase of 7.8% in sales of used and "value" books.  Marmaduke claims that e-book readers are impacting the sale of new books but noted that they are countering this by offering used and value books at "price points that resonate well with our customers."

That last phrase is the key, in my opinion.  Books are not, to most people, a necessity.  Especially not in this day and age of the internet.  You can go online and find something to read, no matter what your taste.  Be it fanfic or your local newspaper, it's there.  If you don't mind breaking a few laws, you can find the newest best seller for free.  (And I am not advocating this!)

There's also the local library.  Most of us can go a few miles from home and take advantage of free library services.  Not only can we check out books, but there's music and video as well.

But let's take those out of the equation right now and just look at why bookstore sales are down.  I'll start by saying this is my opinion, based solely on my own experience as a customer and my discussion with booksellers in my area.

To me, the problem began with the influx of big box bookstores.  Before they came in and took over the market, we had small, often specialty stores.  The national stores were in the malls -- where there was lots of foot traffic so they got a great deal of people just stopping in to browse.  That turned into sales.

Even though space was limited in these stores, the selection was broader than it is now.  New authors were highlighted.  Mid-listers had shelf space.  At least once a month there was some sort of activity going on, be it a signing or a release party or what, to bring in more customers.  Most of those working in the stores knew their product.  If you asked where a title was, they could take you right to it.  And they knew your name.  In short, there was good customer service.

There was a difference in the quality of the books, too.  I don't mean they were better written -- although, on the whole, I think a lot of them were.  What I mean is they were copy edited and proofread more closely.  Sure, you might find a couple of errors in a book -- not a couple per page which seems to be happening more and more often now.

In short, when you walked into one of these smaller stores, be they a national chain or your local independent bookseller, you could be sure they had what you wanted or would get it for you.  In a lot of cases, you felt welcome and valued as a customer.

Then came the big box stores.  Oh, I welcomed them along with so many others because of the lower prices.  I didn't think about the impact they'd have on the local independent sellers.  Living in the DFW area, I was lucky.  A number of our independents held out far longer than they did in other parts of the country.  Still, almost all of them eventually closed their doors, leaving only the big, often cold, box stores.

Prices creeped up and the smaller national chain stores located in the malls closed.  The once free "memberships" either became for purchase memberships or the requirements for the "free" benefits doubled or trebled.   To bring in more people, coffeeshops were added to the stores.  More big box stores were built, increasing competition but not lowering prices.

Basically, they flooded the market with locations at a time when the economy had to take a downswing -- nothing keeps growing without hitting a bump somewhere along the line.  So costs were cut by hiring more and more part-time help that often didn't read, much less know the product.  Books by new authors and mid-listers were taken from the shelves.  If they manage to get there now, it's only for a very short period of time.  Instead, the "guaranteed" best sellers are stocked ad nauseum.  This hurts everyone, the reader and the writer AND the bookstore.

As book sales slipped, non-book items started slipping into the stores:  stuffed animals, board games, etc.  You walk into some of these stores now and they bear little resemblance to the bookstore they're supposed to be.

Are bookstores doomed?  Absolutely not.  But, as with publishing as a whole, they need to retool their business plans and development plans to meet changing demands.  I think the days of the free standing mega bookstore are numbered.  Stores need to relocate to malls and other areas where they will get the walk-in traffic.  Getting people in the door is the first, and greatest, challenge.  The second is figuring out how to handle those who want e-books.  Follow the Barnes & Noble example and have you e-bookstore available in the physical store.  Offer discounts on coffee or something if the customer shows the Nook or that stores reader application on a smart phone or laptop.

People still want to go to bookstores, even if they also use online retailers like Amazon, or even Barnes & Noble or Borders online.  There is still something about seeing row after row of books and being able to take you time browsing through the titles, flipping pages and reading back covers.  If you don't believe me, look at the outcry when the closure of a bookstore is announced.

It's more than just a few people saying how they wished the store was staying open.  There are campaigns to find new owners or new locations for the store in question.  Don't believe me, check out the facebook page for the Davis-Kidd Bookstores in Nashville.  Or look at what happened in Fort Worth when Barnes & Noble announced it was closing one of its stores because they hadn't been able to negotiate a new lease.  There was so much public pressure put on not only B&N but the landlord of the shopping center where the store's located that favorable lease terms were finally agreed upon and the store was saved.

This is a trickle down effect.  The bookstores can't solve the problem by themselves.  It has to include the publishers and the customers.  If you want to keep your favorite bookstore open, visit it.  BUY something there.  Sign up for their email newsletters so you know when there's a sale or they have a discount coupon available.  Don't rely on someone else to do it for you.

There is room in this world for both physical and digital books.  The day of the big bookstore may be over soon.  I don't know.  But there is a place for bookstores.  Let's not forget that.

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Well, it was an interesting Sunday, in the proverbial sense of the word.  When I posted yesterday morning, I had every intention of spending the day writing and watching football with friends.  Well, I accomplished the latter. Friends came over to watch — gasp — the Cowboys beat the Giants.  That was the high point in the day, sandwiched between news of how my almost 91 year old cousin did in surgery (partial hip replacement) and news that my son had been involved in an auto accident.  Both are okay, but it did sort of take the focus off of more mundane things like football and writing.

But it’s back to work today.  Let’s start with an article by Julie Bosman that appeared yesterday.  This will be the first holiday season when e-readers will be available in such retailers as Walmart, Target and Best Buy.  More importantly, they’ll be available at prices likely to entice purchases as gifts.  As noted in the article:

“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”

If things go as forecast, according to the article, there could be as many as 103 e-readers in circulation by the end of the year.  To which I have only one thing to say:  COOL!  Especially the part of the article where the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, says she expects e-book sales to “shoot up” on Christmas day.

To revisit a couple of topics from last week, Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine has apologized again for using material from an author without permission.  In an interview, Griggs has pledged to be more vigilant about copyright.  It may be too little, too late to save the small magazine.  The internet uproar over what happened has cost the magazine advertisers, something no publication can afford to lose.  However, so much of this could have been avoided had Griggs either not used the article without permission or had simply issued an apology when requested.  Instead, her defensive stance may have cost her more than just a few advertisers if, as alleged, she did take articles from such big name sources as Food Network.  You can find more about this here.  Many thanks to Chris Meadows and TeleRead.com for keeping up with this situation.

Next up is the continuing saga of the book supposedly promoting pedophilia over at Amazon.  That slippery slope we discussed last week keeps getting more and more slippery.  Amazon has found itself in a no-win situation.  If they had left the book up, they would have been crucified for promoting a truly heinous crime.  By taking it down, they get crucified in some fora for censorship.  Then there are the cries that they didn’t act quickly enough — read that as immediately.  And, as predicted, they are now being hit with more demands from other groups to take down yet more books.  PETA has sent emails to Jeff Bezos demanding the removal of books about dog fighting, etc.  People on the different kindle and amazon boards are posting links to books they want taken down because these books are objectionable.  Barnes & Noble is now adding a disclaimer to book published through its PubIt program telling readers to report any objectionable material.

Then there is this article from PC World.  Entitled “5 Things to Learn from Amazon’s Latest PR Disaster”, it starts out by talking about how Amazon has backpedaled from an earlier stance about the book.  Yes, there is some backpedaling, no doubt about it.  The problem arose because Amazon responded too quickly, imo.  They issued their no censorship statement before reviewing the title in question.  Had they waited — and, yes, it would have been difficult to do so because of all the cries of outrage going viral across the internet — they could have issued a statement saying they were pulling the book due to a violation of their terms of service.  Instead, they jumped the gun in a knee-jerk reaction and it’s come back to bite them.

The one thing I will agree with in the article is that this has potentially tarnished the reputation of legitimate e-books.  I say potentially — a qualifier the author of the article does not use — because I do think most readers are more forgiving than the author is giving them credit for.  Otherwise, the first time someone read something they didn’t like, they’d quit reading — e-book or not.  Most people know there are books out there they aren’t going to agree with or enjoy.  They simply refuse to buy the book.  This is a storm that will blow over.

The real culprit when it comes to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate e-books is poor editing and proofreading.  Go to almost any e-book related forum and look at the number of instances where e-books are being criticized because of poor proofreading.  It doesn’t matter if the e-book comes from an established publishing house or a new e-press or the author himself.  OCR errors, overlooked spelling and punctuation errors, formatting errors are all driving readers up a wall.  This is what will hurt us the most in the long run

Overall, however, I think the author of the article has it right.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy or quick answer to keep this from happening again.  If it does, I just hope that the protests go straight to Amazon or whomever and they don’t go viral again.  If they do, I’m afraid we will see more and more restrictions being put on the DTP-type platforms, making it all but impossible for small presses and authors to publish through them.  And that will be a loss for everyone.

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First, due credit for bringing this to my attention goes to Pam Uphoff.

Yesterday afternoon, NYmag.com published an article about James Frey’s Fiction Factory.   Reading it this morning before the caffeine kicked in, I almost brushed it off as a lot of smoke about something not to big.  Fortunately — or unfortunately for my blood pressure — I went back a few minutes ago and read the contract involved.  OMG.

Let me repeat that:  OMG!

The more I read the contract, the more I started thinking about the sweat shops of old.  This is not the standard work-for-hire contract.  At least not like any I’ve ever seen before.  This is nothing more than an attempt — unfortunately successful to a degree — by an author to take advantage of young writers who are willing to do just about anything to get their work published.  How many have read the contract without having an attorney look it over, I can’t tell you.  Nor can I tell you how many have actually signed on for what is nothing more than a modern form of indenturement, in my opinion.

If you click on the link above and scroll down some, you can read the contract for yourself.  However, let’s hit a few points that jumped out before I was tempted to throw the computer out the window.

Noting that this is a contract for “work for hire”, the author agrees who write the outline and initial draft and must include any notes and rewrites requested by the company.  Failure to include all notes and rewrites to the company’s satisfaction may result in termination of the contract.  Okay, so far, so good….sort of.

The company has the “final creative control” over the book.  Again, not too onerous.  Neither are the points where the company controls all negotiations for sales, etc.

However, here’s where my blood pressure started rising.  In return for all their hard work, the author gets a whopping $250.  That’s right, $250.  And it gets better.  They get half when they begin writing and the final half when they submit for final delivery.

Let’s put that in perspective.  An author writing short stories and being compensated 5 cents a word only has to write approximately 5,000 words (okay, math isn’t my strong suit).  And here Frey and his company are requiring an outline, draft and potentially multiple rewrites for the price of a short story.

But it gets better.  Under contingent compensation, the author will get 40% of “all monies derived from the disposition or other exploitation of rights to the Book as a published book, film and/or television project (including merchandise revenues derived from film and/or television projects), that
Company retains after deduction of all direct, out-of-pocket, third party costs incurred by Company in connection with the negotiation of agreements for the Transfer of rights to the Book (including without limitation, legal fees, agency commissions and management commissions) and any other actual costs and expenses of Company related to the Book.”  In other words, if there’s anything left after Frey et. al. takes their cut, the author gets 40%.

I could go on.  But I won’t.  I’ll let you read the contract and make up your own minds.  My concern mirrors that of others who have already commented elsewhere online.  How many new writers will jump at this opportunity simply because they see it as a way to get their name in print?  Oh, wait, read the contract.  Frey and company don’t have to use your name.  They can use any name on the book they want.

Publishing is a hard business.  It’s hard to break in.  It can be hard to stay in.  The temptation to jump at what looks to be an opportunity to link your name with that of a known author is great.  But please, look before you leap.  I’ll repeat my warning from the other day because, even though this is a different topic, the warning is just as valid — consider the consequences of your actions.

Most of all, remember that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

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As some of you may know, I blog every Sunday at Mad Genius Club.  Several weeks ago, one of the other bloggers — and the author of several of our titles (A Touch of Night, Till Your Brave Heart Break, Zebbie and Night Whispers ) — Sarah A. Hoyt challenged the MGC readers who are taking part in NaNaWriMo to post periodic updates on how they’re doing on the blog.

So I’m going to take a page from her book and do the same here.  I’ll even start it off.  I’m not as far along as I’d like, mainly because I got hijacked by another plot earlier this week.  It’s so loud it drowned out the plot i was working on.  So far, I’ve managed to write approximately 8,000 words on the new book.  If I keep butt in chair on a regular basis, I should still be able to reach the 50k word mark by the end of the month.

How about you?  Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo?  How’s it going and is there anything about it you want to share or discuss?

I promise I’ll get back to regular blogging tomorrow.  But today is for writing…unless something comes to my attention that is interesting enough to pull me away from this novel.  And no, the news that PETA has now sent letters to Jeff Bezos at Amazon demanding the removal of books on dog fighting, etc., be taken down isn’t enough.  It is, honestly, exactly what I expected.  Sigh.

Moving on…and back to writing!

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Sigh.  I’d planned on not posting anything else today.  It’s Friday.  I’m not feeling great and I really thought things would die down once Amazon removed the book that caused all the uproar.  Boy was I wrong.  If you were to go to the first page of the kindle discussion board at Amazon right now, you’d find no less than five different threads talking about the book.  Two are claiming the book is about to be put back up for sale.  Why?  Because in an interview the author said he was “confident” it would be back on Amazon before long.  Nothing else.  A couple of threads are simply extension of the threads that have been up for the last 24 – 48 hours.

And then there’s the thread that lists other books the thread’s author thinks are worse than the original book.  Apparently this person went on a search through the books offered on Amazon looking for things that are so bad they should be taken down.  He even, oh so helpfully, adds links to the offending books.  Needless to say, the mob mentality is continuing despite one poster’s assertion that it is dying down.  Heck, there’s even a thread noting that the witch hunt has begun.

This isn’t limited to the Amazon boards either.  If you go to some of the nook boards, or other boards dedicated to e-books, you’ll find the same thing.  Why, because a lot of posters are active on more than one forum.  So, the topic is being hashed and rehashed over and over again.

What worries me is the fact that, even though there are people warning them that all they are doing is giving free publicity to these books they disapprove of, these people continue to shout at the top of their lungs, metaphorically speaking, about how offensive and evil these books are.  They spend time searching out books that probably, until they brought attention to them, had very few sales.  Worse, they don’t seem to recognize the slippery slope they’ve started down.

Where do we draw the line?  If we demand a site like Amazon or B&N or any other remove a book for “offending matter” and that site agrees, it makes it so much easier to make the demand the next time.  Today they take down a book supposedly promoting pedophilia.  I say supposedly because I haven’t read it.  I didn’t click on the link that folks posted.  So I can’t say for sure what it is about.  Frankly, the title of the book was enough to keep me from looking at it.

So, what is to prevent a group of people from protesting, for example, paranormal romances as “porn”?  Oh, don’t laugh.  There are those out there who think that is exactly what they are.  These books have lots of sex.  They have magic or unnatural creatures in them.  They have sex outside of marriage and, often, outside of species.  After all, vampires aren’t human — at least not any longer.  Nor are werewolves or elves or ghosts.

Okay, I’m using this very much tongue in cheek but  hope you get my meaning.  It is very easy to find books that someone isn’t going to approve of.  Do we want to find ourselves in a position where book burnings, even metaphorical ones, are common place?

The way I look at it, once Amazon was notified of the book, they had the responsibility to determine if it violated their terms of service.  It did, if it said what it is alleged to have said.  Amazon was then in the position to take the book down.  No harm and no foul.

I’ll even allow how going through their catalog to see if there are books that are objectionable is something anyone can do.  They can then email Amazon and voice their objections.  But to start rallying the troops for boycotts and demanding books be taken down isn’t something I can support.  Maybe I read too many reports and saw too many interviews of people demanding the Harry Potter books be taken off of shelves because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft.  Then, when asked, the person being interviewed would have to reluctantly admit they hadn’t read the book.  But they’d heard about it.  So it had to be true and, therefore, the book was bad.

The way to battle books like this is to do our homework and see first if they are promoting what we’ve been told they do.  If true, then we should privately contact the distributor or publisher or store where it is being sold and give them the facts.  Show how the book violates their terms of service.  (In Amazon’s case, anyone can find the terms of service for the DTP program).  Then wait.  Give them a reasonable period of time to investigate the issue and act.  Only if they don’t respond should we then consider starting the calls for boycotts, etc., for the simple reason that once the call goes out, we are now giving the offending material publicity it hadn’t had before.  Remember the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR.

There was one commenter on this topic who brought up a very interesting alternative.  He noted that every time we order a book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or any online store, they have not only what we ordered but our names, addresses, etc.  That means there is a list available for law enforcement to subpoena should a book be found to promote illegal activities.  Think about that.  Not only would those honestly wanting to learn how to commit the act and get away with it be tagged, but so would all those who downloaded samples of the book or who bought it based solely on the curiosity factor because of the calls for boycotts and more.

I will close simply by repeating what I said in an earlier post.  We need to think about the consequences, intended and unintended, that are arising from this call for action.  Are we willing to live with these consequences, especially the unintended ones?

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Last week the internet was ablaze with the Cooks Source debacle.  For those who might not know what I’m referring to, here’s my post on it.  There are links in the post where you can find more background information.   Since then, the folks at Cooks Source have issued an apology (of sorts).

I say “of sorts” because they still don’t admit they did anything wrong in using an article without permission or recompense.  Nor have they addressed the comment made by their representative that anything on the internet is in the “public domain”.  You can read their statement here.   I happen to think John Scalzi’s comments about it are dead on point, especially when he states that Cooks never would have addressed the issue had the internet gone viral about what happened.

In other news, Hell must be a bit colder this week.    The New York Times has announced that it will begin listing a best sellers list for both fiction and non-fiction e-books after the first of the year.   According to the article, the lists will be  “compiled from weekly data from publishers, chain bookstores, independent booksellers and online retailers, among other sources.”  One of those “other sources” is RoyaltyShare.  It will be interesting to see just how complete the data will be when compiling these lists.

Going hand in hand with the news from the NYT is the AAP’s (Association of American Publishers) release of September’s sales figures.  E-book sales increased 158.1% over September 2009.  The only other areas showing an increase were downloaded audiobooks (73.7%), university press paperbacks (10.6%), higher education (2.2%), and professional books (0.7%).

“The Adult Hardcover category was down 40.4 percent in September with sales of $180.3 million, and sales for the year-to-date down by 8.1 percent. Adult Paperback sales decreased 15.8 percent for the month ($111.5 million) but increased by 1.5 percent for the year so far. Adult Mass Market sales decreased 23.6 percent for September with sales totaling $67.8 million; sales were down by 15.7 percent year to date.”

The year-to-date figures for e-book sales shows an increase of 188.4%.  While that is still a small part of a traditional publisher’s overall sales, that figure is growing.  The fact is this trend is only going to increase.  E-book readers are becoming more affordable.  Tablets such as the iPad also make reading e-books more attractive to readers than sitting at their desk reading off their PC or Mac.  E-books are here to stay.  The only real hurdle still left to clear — leaving aside the elephant in the room called DRM — is how long it will take for an industry standard format to be decided upon.

Until that happens, we’ll continue to offer our e-books in a variety of different formats and all will be DRM-free.

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Wednesday brought about another firestorm online.  So far, it’s been confined to a few blogs, facebook posts and is running rampant on the Amazon kindle boards.  At issue is whether or not Amazon should refuse to sell a book that has been listed by an author through its DTP platform.  (For those of you not familiar with the DTP platform, it is the platform that allows small publishers like NRP an self-published authors to put their e-books out on Amazon.  Barnes & Noble has a similar platform called PubIt.)

I’m not going to link to the book in question because I don’t want to give it any more promotion than it already has.  Let’s just say that this book discusses one of the most despised crimes there is.  The author says he wrote it to protect our children.  But it is also reported that he has said as well that he wrote it to help those engaging in this illegal activity avoid capture and prosecution.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the uproar to begin.  People are demanding Amazon take the book down and refuse to sell it.  The problem is that all their demands have done is increase curiosity in the book and, last I looked, it was now in the top 100 e-books on sale by Amazon.  Can you say major fail?

I want to make it perfectly clear that I would prefer this book and all like it never saw the light of day.  But they do — unfortunately, in my opinion.  So it becomes my right not to look at them and not to buy them.   I understand the outrage these readers feel.  But I could have told you when I saw the first protest earlier today what the outcome would be.  Whether or not Amazon pulled the book, before that happened many more copies would be sold and samples would be downloaded than would have been had there been no outcry.

As a writer and an editor, I also have concerns about Amazon pulling the book.  Unless the book violates their terms of service, to pull it would smack of censorship.  Once you start down that slippery slope, it’s hard to stop.  What becomes the criteria to pull a book that doesn’t violate the TOS?  Two demands from the buying public?  Three?  A dozen?

Think of it this way.  When the Harry Potter books came out, the hue and cry in some communities about how they glorified “witchcraft” and were anti-Christian filled the news.  Parents wanted the books pulled from library shelves.  Should those same protesters have had the ability to demand the book not be sold?

There’s one more thing to remember.  Amazon isn’t the publisher of this book.  It is the distributor.  To put e-books on their site through the DTP platform, you have to agree to their terms of service.  Part of the TOS includes language to the effect that the e-book doesn’t contain defamatory material or material that violates the laws of any jurisdiction.  So, I fully expect the folks at Amazon to pull the book once they’ve had a chance to review it because, if it does instruct perps on how to avoid capture and prosecution, it’s going to violate someone’s laws.

Do I understand the outrage at learning such a book had been published?  Absolutely.  But this time the crowd mentality — one person noted the title and posted his protest and everyone climbed on the bandwagon — did exactly what they didn’t want to happen.  It gave the book publicity and more sales than it probably ever would have otherwise.

There is no easy answer to this situation.  Unfortunately, it is also something I’m afraid we’ll see more and more of.  That’s what comes when technology makes it easy for someone to publish a book or story or article without having to go through a publishing house, no matter what the size of that house.  The best answer I can come up with right now is to exercise your right not to read a book that offends you and not to discuss it if you think that discussion will lead to more sales and publicity for the book.

UPDATE:  According to the Amazon kindle fora as well as some outside sources, the book has been taken down.  Hopefully, this was done because Amazon found some violation of their terms of service and not simply because of the outrage -- that said, I am thrilled to know this piece of excrement is no longer easily available from at least one major outlet.

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We’re excited to announce our new review column by Darwin Garrison.  Animanga Viewpoint will be where Darwin can discuss and review what’s going on in the worlds of anime and manga.  His first post, which just went live, can be found here.  His next post will be on the 24th.  After that, he will be posting the first and third Wednesday of each month.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about Darwin’s column is because I know how large an impact manga can have on younger readers, especially boys.  I was first introduced to it about 10 years ago when I was trying to find something — anything — my son would read.  Once a boy who had read everything he could get his hands on, thanks to a teacher who used reading as a punishment, he hated reading.  As a reader and a writer, I was desperate to find something to rekindle that spark.

Two things did.  The first was listening to books on tape on the way to and from school.  I’ll forever thank Jim Dale for narrating the Harry Potter books and — no, I’m not kidding — Diane Mott Davidson for putting her Goldy the Caterer books on tape.  Those showed my son that books can be fun and entertaining.

But that still didn’t get him to put book in hand and sit down to read.  Manga did.  I’d never have thought of it but for one of the youth librarians in our local library.  She also happened to work at one of the local middle school libraries at the time, iirc.  When I explained the situation to her, she took my son and I immediately to the manga collection and that was all it took.  We checked out a couple of volumes and, dragging his heels, my son agreed to try them.

Well, long story short, he came into my room later that night wanting to know if we could go back to the library the next day because he wanted more books.  It didn’t matter that they were comic books on steroids at that point.  All I cared about was that he was reading.  Those dozens of manga books he checked out of the library and then the many more that we bought led him back to enjoying reading.

Since then, I’ve talked to a number of parents and teachers who have seen the same thing happen over and over.  I’ve also read my fair share of manga as well.  Some of it is very good.  Some isn’t.  But that’s how it is with any book.

All this is simply my way of saying “thank you” to Darwin for letting all of us know what’s going on in the manga and anime world.  As far as I’m concerned, manga is as much a “book” as anything else, especially if it helps get one more youngster interested in reading.

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We have received notice from our web host of issues with our shopping cart program.  Because of this, we've temporarily taken down the links to our store.  In the meantime you can access all our titles -- with the exception of our short story collection Night Whispers -- through Amazon.  If you check the links on our homepage, they will take you directly to the appropriate Amazon page.  Also, in keeping with our no-DRM policy, there is no DRM attached to the .mobi files purchased form Amazon.  However, if you want other formats, check out smashwords.  Most of our titles are already available there and the rest should go "live"shortly.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.  But at least our techs now know why they were pulling their hair out.  Hopefully, things will be back to normal here in the next 24 - 48 hours.

For those of you who have made purchases through our webstore, if you have any problems downloading your purchases please let us know.  Thanks!

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First of all, apologies for the delay between posts.  Real life kicked several of us in the teeth this past week and we’re just now digging out.  However, beginning this week, there will be at least four posts every week — God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Since my last post, we’ve published two more short stories and the Halloween collection.  The first short story is Hell of a Job by Kate Paulk.  It should appear on Amazon, B&N and other “store” sites in the next few days.  Here’s a short excerpt:

Elizabeth Antonia Harrisfield snuggled into the cushions on the obsidian throne and sighed. Being a Dark Lord, Supreme Ruler of the Southwestern Corner of the Mappe and loyal minion of the Dread Lord of Hell Himself wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

There was the throne, for a start. Carved from a single block of flawless obsidian, massive and foreboding, emphasising the Dark Lord’s power to all who saw it, it was also hellishly uncomfortable and froze the Dark Lord’s backside. Which helped to explain the previous incumbent’s fondness for incinerating his underlings.

That latter was also partially explained by the Dread Lord’s habit of watching the Dark Lords and occasionally popping in to offer advice. Her predecessor’s predecessor had resigned after one such visit. It wasn’t that unlike board meetings back home, except that forced resignations usually didn’t involve the luckless victim devolving into a screaming lump. Elizabeth hadn’t been graced with any such visits yet, but once she’d learned they happened she’d set about finding out what they involved.

It seemed that being a Dark Lord and Loyal Minion was a high risk, high turnover position. . . .

In the next short story, Zebbie by Sarah A. Hoyt, a young cat’s antics leads his family into a dangerous world where reality and fable merge.  Here’s an excerpt:

. . .Zebbie froze by my side, his paw raised like a pointer dog in an English hunting print. I looked down, surprised at this unnatural pose, then froze in my turn. My heart hammered somewhere between my mouth and my ears. Above and in front of Zebbie’s paw, floated something that looked like a giant, shimmering soap bubble. Only it wasn’t a bubble, just a shimmering of the air and a faint suggestion of rainbow color. Inside this, suspended, flew… I can only describe it as a human, if a human were about a palm long, with a golden exoskeleton and dragon-fly wings.

I don’t remember screaming. I didn’t even throw the flowers over my head, nor let go of the sharp knife. Funny how, when the impossible happens, one acts in a perfectly reasonable way. Instead, I turned my back. “Come on, Zebbie,” I said, and started walking towards the back door. Then looked back to see if he followed.

Zebbie darted me a reluctant look, then made a half-movement, as though to pounce on the thing.

“No,” I told him. “Don’t you touch that.” Just as rational as you please, as though restraining Zebbie from playing with a squirrel or a mouse.

I made it all the way to the phone, dialed Glen’s office phone and found myself telling him, “I just saw a fairy in the garden.” . . . .

Both of these stories are available for individual purchase or as part of the collection of stories we did for Halloween.  The collection, Night Whispers, is available here.  As with the stories, it will also be available through Amazon and other outlets within the next few days.   The collection includes Jack by Dave Freer, Till Your Proud Heart Break by Sarah A. Hoyt, Gooble, Gobble, One of Us by Charles Edgar Quinn, Predator or Prey by Ellie Ferguson, Bite One, Get One Free by Robert A. Hoyt as well as Hell of a Job by Kate Paulk and Zebbie by Sarah A. Hoyt.

As far as observations go, I’m not a big TV watcher.  When I do watch, it’s usually something on the History Channel, BBCA, one of the Discover Channels or an old movie.  But the other day I decided to take a look at AMC’s new series, The Walking Dead.  I’ll admit right now that I’ve never seen the graphic novel it’s based on.  Nor am I that big of a fan of zombie movies.  My opinion has been that zombie movies have gone the way of slasher flicks — after the first couple of really good ones, they’ve become nothing but parodies of themselves.  But The Walking Dead changed my mind — at least so far.

Don’t get me wrong.  There isn’t a lot of new material here.  The sheriff waking up alone in the hospital after being in a coma reminded me a lot of Howard Keel awakening in the hospital and ripping the bandages off his eyes in Day of the Triffids.  (Oh no, now I’m going to have the opening theme of Rocky Horror Picture Show playing in my head — “And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills”.  Okay, it’s been one of those days.  What else can I say?)

Okay, back to business here.  Before getting hijacked by RHPS, I was going to say that I found myself enjoying the pilot of The Walking Dead more than I’d expected.  I haven’t had a chance to see the second episode yet, but it’s on the dvr waiting for me.  Maybe tonight.

I also want to let you know that we are having a few issues with our store right now.  It’s nothing major — unless you happen to be one of our IT guys and they are pulling their hair out right now.  For some reason, on the pages where our new short stories and novels are listed, some of the images have decided to appear one moment and then disappear the next.  We aren’t having that problem on the individual product pages, nor does it impact your ability to purchase and download the items.  It’s just frustrating and I’ve got a tech or two threatening to commit violence if they can’t find the problem and fix it soon.

Finally, tomorrow we’ll be publishing Darwin Garrison’s first anime/manga review.  His column will appear twice a month.  Beginning December, it will be the first and third Wednesday of the month.  So be sure to stop by and take a look tomorrow.

Until tomorrow, I’m going to go see if I can’t calm the techies and keep them from throwing a computer across the room.  They never clean up the mess when they do ;-p

 

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