Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Great Work / Life Balance

Life’s a funny thing. Sometimes you create new habits, believe they are firmly in place and a few changes come up and suddenly you revert back to old habits. Wonder Publishing Group has been moving glacially slow lately. Some re-tooling of my bad habits and replacing them with new productive ones will help. Now you’re wondering what terrible, salacious bad habits I have. We’ll save those tawdry bits for the last paragraph.

Okay, now that you skipped ahead to the last paragraph, I’m glad to see you’re back. So I don’t know how productive it is to see where I went off the tracks. Last year at this time I was publishing four titles every two weeks. Lately, nada. I’ve been pretty hard on my self, but that’s a defeating habit in itself. I’ve been getting some things done, but not anywhere to my satisfaction.

There were three event changes in my life recently that drew a lot of my time. One and the most serious, was my father’s health. Although I spent a fair deal of time taking care of his new situation, I spent more time mentally on his care and future. He’s now in an assisted living home and things have stabilized for now. Second, my wife returned to work . This is wonderful news in itself but now all the things she was doing is not getting done as prodigiously as before. With three children there’s a lot of after school activities. So I’m a “soccer dad”, either going to scouting, sports, other after school activities. The third reason is the one that goads me. I bought an iPad so that I can do publishing work while I’m at my day job. This was to be my productivity device. Well you know how seductive new gadgets are. You have to try some games after all. I found myself playing Pinball HD whenever my mind went to that place “what should I do now?”. Well my mind kept going there and I kept playing the dumb pinball game. I’m a strong believer in not getting sucked into wasting time playing video games. But hey! Pinball is old school. Sure it’s on the iPad so that’s not totally true, but when you’re rationalizing, do you really need a reason? So today deleted the game from the iPad. Ah the new taste of freedom.

Thunderstruck by Eric Larson – A Quicky Review

I just did a quick write up at Goodreads on Eric Larson’s newest book, Thunderstruck.

Thunderstruck Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Not quite as good as Larson’s previous book, The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. This used a similar format, which is an alternating duo biography. The inventor of the wireless telegraphy, Guglielmo Marconi is half the focus of the book. The other half is on the mild-mannered murderer, Hawley Crippen. And how the two stories ultimately overlap. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to true crime books. I usually avoid the genre as being the subject of debased and vile human beings. (Strangely this qualm doesn’t bother me in fiction.) The two Eric Larson books that I’ve read mixes the debased human nature of true crime with the uplifting story of human triumph, in this case Guglielmo Marconi. Although in this book it’s a technological triumph. After listening to the audiobook, I’m impressed at the technical accomplishment and persistents of Marconi, but he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you’d want to be buddy with. On the other hand Crippen, probable was.

View all my reviews >>

From the publisher’s description:

A true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush”

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners, scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed, and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect crime.

The Bookless Library – Is It a Good Thing?

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said headmaster James Tracy. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said headmaster James Tracy. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)

Over at the Boston Globe site they have an article about Cushing Academy Library doing away with physical books as they have decided to go all digital.

Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Part of me wonder how cost effective this is over traditional books. I would think there that the available content would be overwhelmingly cost effective over buying the dead tree versions. But then again there is great quantities of digital content available to anybody with an internet connection and a netbook or digital reader. There are already digital library services like NetLibrary and Overdrive to greatly expand a library’s contents.

As a eBook and Audiobook publisher, as well as a POD publisher, you’d think I’d be thrilled at the thought of a bookless library. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach with the digital-only library. I think what bothers me is not that physical books could become unnecessary, but that libraries as physical places could be irrelevant.  Why have a “learning center” at all? If all this info can reach you wirelessly, why go to a library? And that saddens me because I love going to libraries. Before surfing the net, I used to surf the bookshelves at my library. Nowadays, not so much. But libraries are transitioning with the times as a more social institution, at least that’s my hope.

Why Vintage Cover Art is Better Than Today’s Cover Art

(A post written all as “IMHO“)

Why is it that I like the vintage art better than today’s art? The short answer is it’s more expressive, i.e. it creates a visceral emotional response. Today’s art is more polished. God forbid that a paint stoke shows. The colors are more realistic. It is perhaps technically more accomplished, but that makes it more sterile expressively.

I know I’m speaking in generalities There are individual artist today that are fantastic. The whole lowbrow art movement has some amazing stuff. And I’ve seen some small independent artists that really move me.

My beef is with the commercial book market cover. There is an overwhelming homogeneous style that looks like they’re all being painted by the same artist. And the graphics that they’re putting on the covers looks like it’s all from the same graphic designer regardless of publisher. And there’s the shear amount of text that they’re throwing on the covers. Some of the fonts are so ornate, you can’t read the title!

Crappy Contemporary cover

There really should be a return to some of the design principles of the past. Simpler fonts, brighter colors, more iconic images. Why? Because most the images are first seen as a thumbnail online. More and more people first see a cover as a thumbnail.  This smaller size calls for a cleaner design. And some publishers get this. But then they go so heavy on the text graphics, leaving no room for art, therefore no emotional pull.

There are some publishers that have gone retro in a great way. My favorite example would be Hard Case Crime series. Wonderful stuff that is reminiscent of the Golden Medal books of the 50s. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cover shown is monochromatic, but what fantastic use of lighting.

I design most of the covers for Wonder Publishing Group. I usually re-porpose cover art in the public domain. Although there’s exceptions, these are things I try to keep in mind. Is the image expressive, kinetic, and iconic? Are the colors intense? Can the title be read when it’s a thumbnail image? And does the whole thing functions as a thumbnail? And of course, it has to look good full-sized.

And most of all–is it dramatic? Action and scenes are the great “pulling-in” elements of vintage art. After viewing the cover, the germs of the story are already planted in your mind.

You be the judge.

Hard Case Crime - Good Retro!

Hard Case Crime - Good Retro!

A New Cover Design for WPG title

A New Cover Design for WPG title

Why the Hugo Awards Suck!

Once upon a time the Hugo awards were associated with Science Fiction. But lately it’s most covetous and prestigious category, best novel, has been going to fantasy books. This year it went to the YA Ghost story, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Now I’m not denying Neil Gaiman isn’t some kind of genius. I love American Gods and Neverwhere and the Sandman comics. But what happened to giving the award to Science Fiction books. They’re the Hugo Awards, after Hugo Gernsback the SF publisher, not the Farnsworth Awards (Weird Tales long time editor, Farnsworth Wright). Out of the last nine years, six best novel Hugos have gone to fantasy novels.

The First Hugo Award - 1953

The First Hugo Award - 1953

This is from Joe Haldeman’s blog:

“. . .As to the Hugos . . . congrats to the winners, and I’m sort of glad I wasn’t up for _Marsbound_. I would’ve hated to have lost to Neil for _The Graveyard Book_, which I’m sure is good, won the Newbery for children’s lit and all. But the Hugo used to be a science fiction award. _The Graveyard Book_ is a fine ghost story.

I can’t complain about the award being influenced by personality, since I’m sure I wouldn’t have won as many if I just sat here and wrote, rather than going out and exposing myself to the fans. But still. A YA ghost story?”

I totally understand his sentiment. After all there is the World Fantasy Award for fantasy. The other major SF award, the Nebula, is presented by the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America.  But why can’t there be a top Science Fiction award?

Someone pointed out to me that That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch won the Hugo back in 1959. A fantasy story to be sure, but there was no World Fantasy Award back then (or Nebula) so it made sense.

My suggestion is for a Fantasy Hugo and a Science Fiction Hugo. And as soon as you think that might be a good idea, you realize there are novel that sit astride the two genres. And their nomination could be divided between those speculative branches and overlooked. And then I’d have to do another rant about the Science Fantasy novel that fell through the cracks.

So have I read The Graveyard Book? No, I haven’t. Am I going to not read it as a protest against Fantasy novels winning the Hugo? Of course I’m going to read it, it’s Gaiman! I’m not stupid :)

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