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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Even a Blind Dog Finds a Bone

A few months back, I did a column about being orphaned as a writer. To rehash the incident without boring anyone, I’d been publishing with Avalon for about twenty years and Leisure, an imprint of Dorchester, for about seven or eight.
Then  bing, bang, and bong!
Avalon sold out to Amazon and the next week, Dorchester went on the block. Amazon put in a bid for Dorchester and around the end of September, won the bidding.
        So now, my snug little writing homes were blown sky high. My security blanket was rudely jerked away with the same alacrity that Snoopy employs when he yanks away Linus van Pelt’s blanket.
Old Charlie Brown was right when he said, ‘happiness is a warm blanket.’ I can tell you, it is mighty cold out there in the publishing world when your blanket is abruptly taken away.
Some of my friends say it’s getting colder. On the surface, it might appear as such. Traditional mortar and brick bookstores are being forced to rethink the way they do business.
One thing is certain. Publishing today is a heap different than fifty years ago, than twenty years ago.
Now Amazon did say they were going to publish all of our backlists in paperback and ebooks.
And they have. At least, they’ve started. My first with them is ‘Murder in a Casbah of Cats,” a Tony Boudreaux cozy on the edgy side. I say without shame I posted an image of the cover on my Facebook page.
The beauty of Amazon is they offer the books in Kindle at around four bucks; in paperback at around eight; and hardback for around fourteen or so.
In all the years I was with Avalon, I had no paperbacks, only hard cover. You see, Avalon’s primary subscribers were libraries, so all of our books were hardcover with accompanying prices.
And who could blame any reader for not wanting to fork over twenty plus bucks for a writer they didn’t know. Even if they knew a writer, most would prefer a six-dollar paperback to one three or four times the cost.
Then seven-eight years ago, Leisure bought one of my westerns. They put out one a year for the next five, all paperback. I was on a roll. I figured within a few years, I’d have ten, fifteen soft covers out there selling and reselling, drawing those royalties.
Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, drawn from a Robert Burns’ poem, said it better than I, ‘that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray.”
My dreams of royalties from fifteen or twenty books went up in smoke as Dochester went down in flames. My sixth western with Dorchester/Leisure was caught up in the bankruptcy and has yet to see the light of day.
The old world of publishing is changing.
Do I like it?
I’m like all old codgers. Not crazy about change as some of my faithful critics will testify, but I’m smart enough to know everything changes. This last presidential election made that clear. It’s like I always taught not only my own children but those hundreds in the classroom during forty-one years in education. “If you’re not moving forward, then you’re going backward.”
I still prefer the physical book that I can dogear, crumple, stick in my back pocket, toss up behind the seat or level a table.
But electronic books are coming fast.
Last year I put three young adult books up on Kindle just to see what would happen. They were the kind I grew up reading, but they haven’t done too well. I guess that tells me something about how I fit in today, huh?
I did make contact with a European publisher with whom I signed a contract for several books, all electronic. I kept all other rights. My first one comes out in March. It is another Tony Boudreaux mystery titled, “Galveston.”
Here in the United States, I have three or four under consideration with the brick and mortar publishers.
And who knows what lies ahead. I’m like that blind dog looking for a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble on it sooner or later.
In my writing classes in Continuing Education with Lamar before the last Texas legislature cut funds, I always started my classes by telling students that if they had a choice between writing and bullfighting, they’d be smarter to take up bullfighting.
But then, as writers reading this little opinion piece are aware, writing gets in your blood—for better or worse.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Booze, Mangoes, and Dead People

It’s over. ‘And in more ways than one,’ remarked one of the old boys during lunch the other day, referring to the election. He pretty well summed up all our feelings on the subject.
I’ll make no bones about it. I was disappointed in the outcome of the election. I still find it hard to believe that my conservative values are now in the minority in this country.
On the other hand, when I look around at the state of welfare today; the garbled mass of new regulations being put on us, I don’t guess I should be too surprised.
Thomas Jefferson said it a lot better than I ever could when he proclaimed that ‘democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.’
Maybe if it were just welfare, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we could get a handle on it, but when you add deliberate waste of tax money to the entitlements, then the country’s asking for trouble.
There’s one guy who takes the time to point out this waste, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D, from Oklahoma.
On your 1040 tax return, have you noticed the little box that asks if you want to give $3.00 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund? Your insignificant three bucks morphs into over thirty-five million by the time all the returns are in.
This year, according to Senator Coburn, $17.7 million was given to each major political party for its convention to help pay for the stage construction, confetti, balloons, food, and booze during the three or four day affair.
That’s $35 million of our taxes for wild parties. If the high rollers want such a gala, let them dig into their own pockets, not mine. Why not let the Super PACs pay for the bacchanalian event? Really, what was the need for them? Was there any question Obama would not be chosen as the Democratic candidate? Or Romney the Republican?
That’s the reason I never check that box. If I have to pay taxes, I want it to go to the general fund. (where Congress will find other ways to waste it)
According to Senator Coburn, in 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) undertook a four-year, $90 million effort to spur hiring and sales among Pakistani businesses.
You read right. Pakistani businesses. To hell with U.S. small businesses struggling in the recession. Let’s help foreign countries, which I might add is simply an extension of the present administration's intent.
Two years later, the USAID Inspector General found ‘no measurable increases in sales and employment in four of five product areas the USAID had targeted, leather, livestock, textiles and dates’. The agency then abandoned its efforts on those products and focused on funding the fifth product area, mangoes.
Mangoes! Can you believe that nonsense?
So, how did the mango production project go?
It failed.
Why? Good old bureaucratic planning. It seems like of the thirteen farmers picked for the mango project, only one had received the promised equipment, but could not operate it because of a design flaw.
And to add insult to injury, the bungled project hurt the farmers by forcing them into default on loans they had taken out against expected sales that now would never take place.
Ninety million down the drain.
It gets worse.
Over the last five years, the federal government has sent $601 million in retirement and disability payments to deceased former federal employees.
That’s right.
In a September 2011 report, the Inspector General for the U.S. Office of Personnel reported that every year for the last five, payments averaging $120 million have been paid to dead people.
In one example, wrote Senator Coburn, an annuitant’s son cashed his death father’s checks for thirty-seven years. The only way the Office of Personnel learned of it was when the son died.
Now if that doesn’t illustrate just how cumbersome and ineffective large government is, maybe the next example will.
What do you think about the government wanting to spend $398 million on a bridge to nowhere. The Gravina Island Bridge was to connect Ketchikan, Alaska to Gravina Island, which had 50 residents so they would not have to use the ferry any longer.
How about almost a million for generators for Vietnamese villages so the University of Pennsylvania State could research ‘the causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health?’
I don’t even know what they’re talking about, but they got over $700 thousand to do it.
There are hundreds of more examples of government waste, spending our taxes for frivolous nonsense.
Yep, the election’s over, but not our troubles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thanks to My Heroes
    Well, the elections are over, but I don’t want to talk about them today. Instead, let’s talk about those heroes who have given us the freedom to have elections.
    Now, I always enjoy the holidays. The richness of our national celebrations add to the fabric of our lives.
The blessings of Thanksgiving, the gaiety and joy of Christmas, the holiness of Easter, the exuberance of July 4 are all important to me, but the one holiday very precious is Veterans’ Day because so many in my family, as in hundreds of thousands of others, have shouldered the arms of war and went out to do battle to preserve the freedom we all now enjoy.
    November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed in 1918 in the forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans “bringing a halt” to World War I. At five a.m. that morning, an order to cease all firing was issued. Arms were lowered, whistles blew, impromptu parades erupted, and business closed in celebration.
    You’ll notice in the preceding paragraph the quotation marks around bringing to a halt. And that’s exactly what the Armistice did, but contrary to what the majority believe, it was not a proclamation of Germany’s surrendering, but rather a truce—one that lasted almost twenty-one years until Hitler made his move.
    In 1938, Congress passed a bill that each November 11 would be celebrated as Armistice Day. Fifteen years later on November 11, 1953, instead of only an Armistice Day program for WWI veterans, they honored all veterans of all wars.
    Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day.  After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday.  The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. 
    In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.
    I served, but during peacetime, which to me doesn’t count. Many of my family served during world conflicts. My father spent a year on the west coast, a couple years in South America; a cousin served in the Army Air Corps; an uncle served in the Army, and one in the Navy. Another uncle served earlier in the Philippines, but was discharged with a blood disease that, according to oral family history, eventually took his life. Another cousin served in Korea and is still listed as a MIA after sixty years.
    During the war, family gatherings were filled with empty chairs. Word always turned to those not present. I can remember seeing every eye in the family filling with tears as their innermost prayers went out to their loved ones.
    We were one of the lucky families. Dad returned. My uncle in the Army returned having received a shrapnel wound on Okinawa. My uncle in the Navy made it back. My Air Force cousin returned safely. The only casualty we faced was my uncle who had served prior to the war in the Philippines.
    Then five years later, another cousin, Henry Shoop, whom we always called Dooley, shipped out to Korea.
We never saw him again. We never heard a word of his fate. All we know is he went out on patrol one night. The patrol was attacked. None returned, and no bodies were found.
    You might remember Dooley from some of my other stories about growing up in the country. My main tormentor, he was about six years older than me. Dooley was the one who hauled a box of damp cow patties up on the roof of the Papa Holley’s milk shed and bombarded my cousin Ed and me.
    We got him back later though when we cornered him under the windmill and let loose with Roman candles.
    I just checked the MIA database a couple days back, and Henry G.’Dooley’ Shoop, Sgt. U.S. Army, MIA since 1952, is still one of the thousands of our men and women who have yet be accounted for.
    I look around now at our brave men and women going into harm’s s way for America, and I want to cry out of compassion and pride. I know the families of those serving realize just how dear the sacrifice our military is making, but I wonder about the rest of America. Do they understand?
    If they don’t, they should drop to their knees and pray for the understanding be given them.