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The final Potter book will be split into two movies. Various unconvincing excuses were given. I can suggest a better one: it'll give the screenwriters time to make sense of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. They need all the help they can get with that bit.

Producers denied rumors that the eighth movie would be further divided into two additional films, with the ninth film to be titled "Harry Potter and the Paradox of Zeno." Further rumors of a tenth film in which Voldemort is revealed to have a horcrux under his hat, which has a horcrux under its hat, which has a horcrux under its hat were also denied. "Rumors of a Harry Potter / Dr. Seuss crossover have been taken completely out of context," said J. L. Rowling, who lives under J. K. Rowling's hat.

Reporters had begun to inquire further when J. Z. Rowling ominously raised the brim of her own hat and chirped, "I don't know what VOOM is. I never will know. But I can tell you this much: it makes reporters go."
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Hi guys,

I have put together a good outline for a book on Facebook application development (*). This is obviously something I should be writing NOW NOW NOW while it is still super-timely. But while I have contacted two and a half publishers already, I have received lukewarm responses or none at all.


Whose technical books do you tend to like? Do you care much who the publisher is, or do you go by reviews or sample the book online/in the bookstore?

(*) Yes, and OpenSocial too, now that the MySpace beta is opening up... although a lot of important features can't be tested yet. But Facebook development is more mature (hey, relatively speaking) and a book published now should focus on that and present the other options for interest.
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I finished The Amber Spyglass two nights ago.

These are, as several people suggested when I asked about them, not really books for bright eight-year-olds. They are books for bright thirteen-year-olds and up. And up. And up.

Eleanor may eventually finish The Golden Compass and it won't do her any harm. However, she got bored with it because it's a bit too complex for a Harry Potter-level reader. That's just as well— the adult themes increase as the series goes on. So I'm not going to encourage her to pursue the series right now.

This isn't an atheism versus Christianity thing. The Narnia books aren't directly comparable— the religious themes are much less overt, especially in the volumes most people actually read.

That said, what's my opinion as an adult reader? I think the entire His Dark Materials series rocks.

I was surprised by a few spoilerific things in the last book. )
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Because of Winn Dixie is a simple story: mom leaves dad and girl, girl prays to God, girl meets dog, dog heals girl's heart. Reviewers are lukewarm on the film adaptation, not because it is unfaithful to the book (it follows it almost exactly) but because the story is simple and seemingly lacking in insight.

What the reviewer seems to miss is what doesn't happen in the story: mom doesn't come back. It's not a neat Hollywood ending. Girl prays to God, she asks for some friends and for her mother back. She doesn't get her mother back. She does get some friends. Mom is still an alcoholic runaway, unseen but out there somewhere and much talked about.

You can't really tell if the story is saying that God helps those that help themselves, or that we're pretty much on our own and that loving one another is all the God we're gonna get. Which is to say, quite a lot actually.

I'm not even sure there's any difference between those two statements.

Dog is God backwards! Stop me when I get too sophomoric. Oops, too late.

It's worth noting that the girl's father is a preacher, and the swiftly interrupted sermon we hear from him concerns the hundredth anniversary of the Wright brothers. It concerns working together to achieve something wonderful. That's not in the book, though. In the book the preacher only gets about four words out he's interrupted by the word of dog.
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Any opinions on the suitability of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) for a bright eight year old who has already inhaled the Narnia series?
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Temporary tattoos for librarians, from Archie McPhee. Courtesy of the hottest librarian I know. Which is saying quite a lot [waves to various and sundry].
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[ profile] shadesong just made me aware of CreateSpace, a new print-on-demand, sales and distribution service for multiple media including audio CDs, books, and DVDs. Folks are excited because this holds out the promise of self-publishing without the stigma. But does it work?

Why CreateSpace is attractive

CreateSpace prints books, CDs and other media on demand and enables you to sell them through Amazon. Amazon sales equal a much higher comfort level for buyers.

Yes, CreateSpace books do appear to show up in Amazon title searches, at least in my tests. "Search Inside This Book" is also supported. And I would not be surprised if they appeared in "people who bought X also bought Y" lists generated by Amazon.

Dollars and cents: where it gets tricky

I priced out the use of CreateSpace for two media: books and music CDs. I ignored their own examples, which are rather optimistic, and went for scenarios involving prices customers might willingly pay.

Audio CDs

It would be hard to make much money on an audio CD produced with them, with a base fee of $4.95/unit and an Amazon sales cut of 45%. You earn a 55 cent profit on a $10 CD, a $1.10 profit on an $11 CD, a $1.65 profit on a $12 CD. Can't get away with charging any higher than that for music. The good news is that I do see prices for CDs in the $11/$12 range, although popular new releases are sometimes much lower.

If you use a CreateSpace E-Store instead of Amazon, you lose less dough, but you lose that warm fuzzy Amazon One-Click feeling.


The story with books is similar. Asking $10 for a 200-page paperback book with no color inside might be asking a lot. But you'll pay a $3.15 fixed fee, plus 30% for Amazon ($3.00), plus 2 cents per page ($4). That adds up to $10.15. so you can't ask $10 for your book.

If you step up to $12 for that 200-page book, though, you'll make a profit of $1.25.

For comparison, Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea is close to 200 pages and sells for $11.20 new on Amazon. So $12 is a defensible price tag.

Note that while Wizard of Earthsea is better than anything I'm likely to write, the book has been out a long time and there is no shortage of supply. So there's no reason to assume an inflated price for it. This makes it a reasonable price comparison point for short novels.

Of course, modern genre novels tend to be longer. So let's say we're talking 400 paperback pages. Then you're looking at an extra $4 in per-page fees. You can't sell it for $15, you go into the red there. The math works at $20, with a profit of $2.85.

But good luck selling a 400-page paperback for $20. For comparison, Greg Bear's Moving Mars (well-written science fiction, not junk by any standard) is 500 pages and it's available for just under $10 on Amazon.

What You Don't Get

When you choose not to work with a traditional publisher, you don't get the credibility attached to their name. Also, you don't get placement in brick and mortar bookstores (some self-published authors manage this on their own, but it's a helluva job). There will be no book-of-the-month-club edition of your book, at least unless you have already successfully marketed many copies yourself.

In a nutshell: marketing is your job, 100%.

Also, the connection with CreateSpace may attach a stigma to your work among those who understand how CreateSpace works, though never so bad as the stigma attached to subsidy publishers who pretend to be something else.

The Bottom Line

CreateSpace do take a bite, don't she!

For audio CDs aimed at a general music audience, it's a bite that still permits a price your listeners might be willing to pay.

For short novels, the situation is similar. At 200 pages, you can price your book tolerably.

Authors of longer novels probably won't be happy with CreateSpace, due to a high break-even point (no, CreateSpace won't let you sell at a loss, even if you want to).

The big winners will probably be those who have a built-in audience that doesn't care if the book costs $10 more than books of a comparable length, because of the content. If you've written the one and only decent book on roller derby for cats, cats on wheels are going to buy it anyway.

Costs, and therefore potential sales prices, are lower if you use a CreateSpace e-store instead of Amazon. But access to Amazon's payment system, which holds out the promise that customers will see your stuff as more legitimate and pay you with less anxiety, is a big part of the appeal of CreateSpace.

Yes, I would probably try CreateSpace if I had a perfectly good book that nobody wanted to publish. But if you don't have a built-in audience of, say, 100 people who are chomping at the bit to buy your book, simply popping it up on CreateSpace won't change that. There's Too Much Stuff Out There As It Is. CreateSpace helps quite a bit with sales and distribution, but don't kid yourself: you are the marketing department.
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[ profile] solestria brings us some really funny fake Potter spoilerz. Edit: oops, locked post, so here's the funny:

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Will someone please write a Harry Potter story that ends with "St. Patrick drove the Snapes out of Ireland?"
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This is not the New York Review of Nooks. The New York Review of Nooks is a glorious blog written by an alternate-universe [ profile] boutell who actually lives there. His NYC adventures are paid for by advertising revenue. Like, 800 times over. And he blogs about them as soon as they are done happening. Maybe before. Not in several installments, beginning three days later when he finally gets two seconds to rub together.

No, this is just the New York Review of Nooks... TRIBUTE!
So yeah: I spent Tuesday crawling NYC. And there were doughnuts. And cupcakes. And chefs in babydoll dresses... )
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Reading: Why Is Sex Fun, by Jared Diamond. Writing this (relatively) little book was a brilliant idea - people get sucked in by the title and wind up reading all about how and under what evolutionary circumstances men might take over breastfeeding duties.

Wearing: random laundry day crap. Vanity precludes description. I am not wearing a breast pump.

Planning: speaking of evolution, we're hitting the Franklin Institute tomorrow... which means we get to catch the Darwin Exhibit! Fact-based initiatives are back in vogue!

Beyond that: good trouble. I was going to do home improvement projects over the weekend, but there's too much good trouble. O the pain.
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The scarecrow and the tin man formed a pact,
To frighten those who lacked the heart to change.
The noble lion refused to join the act,
For he's a beast of courage, in the main.

They chopped the ancient tree, and slung the mud,
And told us that the promise had been broken.
He flew the flag, and didn't fear the flood:
The stripes are there to see when heaven opens.

The golems called for war, and promised peace,
And sure enough the scarecrow was elected.
The tin man's projects always get the grease,
But none of them have ever been connected.

The lion's teaching civics in Burzee.
The noble lack the talent to deceive.
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I'm reading The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction, a collection of way-out-there short stories edited by Mike Ashley.

For the most part, these aren't the craziest ideas I've ever heard.

However, Theodore Sturgeon's The Girl Had Guts is a kickass horror sci fi short, guaranteed to provoke both "EW" and "WOW" responses. Especially when you consider that it was written in 1957.

And it turns out you can read it free on! It's part of a large archive of short stories on that site. By no means all-inclusive, but they have some cool stuff.


Feb. 16th, 2006 10:42 am
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I'm reading Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba, by Tom Miller. An American journalist with an extensive background in Latin America and no particular sympathy for communism, Miller won a visa to explore the country in a relatively unsupervised fashion during the mid-nineties. He won that access on the basis of his willingness to intelligently criticize American policy in Latin America... but not for any socialist or communist affiliation. Which makes his perspective easier to relate to.

It's a relief to be reading this book, after Guy Delisle's Pyongyang, a graphic novel about Delisle's 2001 trip to work as an animation supervisor in North Korea. Every major room contains twin portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. Every citizen wears a pin of one or the other or both. No North Korean ever dares to open up to him, in private or otherwise. Most people, save a handful in diplomacy or joint ventures like the animation studio who have traveled outside the country, honestly believe every word their government tells them without question... not because they are lazy or foolish, but because they have effectively no alternative sources of information. And a large segment of the population has been officially written off as superfluous. There is no social debate, no civil society, no politics as we think of it.

But most of this we have to infer from fragmentary clues and other sources. Delisle's few glimpses of anything resembling the unmediated North Korean reality are stolen; we learn more from what is hidden, and how, than from what we see. His minders do their best, in fact, to keep him on an island... literally. And yes, he does make a Prisoner reference.

It's a frustrating book, to be sure. But that's the point.

The situation in Cuba could not be more different. In Miller's hearing, Cubans tell jokes about Fidel, about communism, about the United States, about everything. They have a rich tradition of debate, even if they can't air some of those views openly. They have something resembling democracy at a local level. When the challenges of the post-Soviet-collapse "Special Period" hit, there was hunger in the country for a short time, but allowing particular portions of the population to simply starve was never seriously considered. Because the people are still, well, people, in the eyes of their government. North Korea, it sure ain't.

But this is a book from the mid-nineties, and I haven't come across much lately about more recent conditions in Cuba, apart from the fact that there was a major crackdown in 2003 after James Cason, the U.S. representative in Cuba, directly funded right-wing Cuban dissidents in a way that gave the Cuban government an excuse to respond harshly.

So I had questions:

1. What the heck is going on down there at this point?
2. The Soviet Union went away and Cuba didn't fall. It's been quite a while now. Does that mean their economy works?
3. How undemocratic is the regime, really? If it's not another North Korea, what is it like in 2006?

The closest I've come to finding good answers to these questions is this summer 2003 interview with Samuel Farber. Farber's perspective is an interesting one, because he is a socialist critic of the Cuban government. As Farber says, most socialists outside Cuba are much too enamored of the Cuban government, and he feels this is one of the reasons why those who are in opposition in Cuba are almost uniformly very right-wing, firm believers in the unfettered free market. Because, Farber implies, lefties outside Cuba have sent the message, we want to believe your government is a shining beacon of socialist progress. So we're not prepared to hear your pesky complaints about little things like dictatorship. But the right sure is...

He's a radical, but he refuses to put on the Rose-Tinted Cuba Goggles. So the interview is pretty frank about the reality of politics in Cuba, what is really forbidden and what is actually permitted, the state of the economy, and why the economy hasn't collapsed: because tourism is the number one industry in the country. (Remember, it's just the US that refuses to trade or vacation there. There are plenty of Canadians investing in the nickel mines and tanning on the beaches.) Followed very closely by "remittances" from relatives abroad, the vast majority of which comes from the United States, with hundreds of millions of dollars per year continuing to reach the island despite new restrictions in 2005.

Farber suggests that funds from relatives abroad are on par with the sugar industry in their contribution to the Cuban economy.

And hard currency paid under the table by tourism ventures makes it possible for some... but not all... Cubans to more easily buy goods on the free market.

So, no, with tourism "joint ventures" and cash from abroad making up such a significant portion of the economy, you certainly can't conclude that Cuba's state-communist command-and-control economy "works" just from the nation's survival past the fall of the Soviet Union.

What should the US do in Cuba, if funding right-wing groups is counterproductive and tightening the blockade just helps to justify demonization of the United States? Most smart folks I've read on the subject say we should dump travel restrictions and allow private nonprofits in the US to participate in Cuban society, avoiding direct conflict with the regime and providing no excuses to wag the finger at the north. The less justification we provide for it, the harder it becomes for the Cuban government to blame everything on the US.

* * *

Someone I know well visited Cuba once. But I didn't. And it was a guided tour, though certainly not a succession of Potemkin villages. And... well, it piqued the hell out of my curiosity but it raised far more questions than it answered, for me. So I've decided not to try to talk about a trip I didn't take and what light it might or might not shed on the above. Except that, yes, I was aware that Cuba and North Korea were very different places before I cracked these two books. It's just back on my mind again, thanks to Delisle.

Incidentally, the original Czarist-era Potemkin villages never actually existed. Neat legend, though.
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I made it. It was a crazy stunt requiring me to pedal superluminally, thus arriving before I departed. This worked out perfectly, reinforcing my insanity. I arrived only ten minutes into a story by a Sacrificial Author Other Than Neil Gaiman. Then Gaiman read an awesome story titled "Talking to Girls at Parties," which was about talking to girls at parties. All of the girls were from other planets, not members of our species at all, which I found familiar for some reason. And a poem about waiting for the phone to ring, which I also found familiar for some reason. And then I stood in line for two hours, reading the entirety of Warren Ellis' Ocean and fifty-odd pages of The First 20 Million Is Always The Hardest, and he signed my copy of Mr. Punch.

And then there was karaoke. But that is neither here nor there.
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Neil Gaiman is reading at 8pm tonight, at Temple University's Mitten Hall, here in Philadelphia. I found this out, and then Googled mitten hall philadelphia. And Google popped up a little "local results" map that said "dude! It's right where you'll be at 8:20! Move your plans around a little and go!"

So I moved my plans around a little: I'll be free at eight sharp. And then I Googled a little more, a vague sense of unease in my stomach. Temple is somewhere up north, is this building really in Center City?

The address is not in an obvious and prominent place on the literary events web site for Temple, oh no; you can't possibly be a member of the public and a non-native to boot, you must already know the truth. (*) The truth is that Mitten Hall is at 1903 North Broad. Nineteen blocks north of where I'll be at eight. Crap. Yes, Google has enriched my entire personal and professional life on countless occasions, but that doesn't matter because I got my hopes up and I can't see Neil Gaiman and so Google sucks. Today, anyway.

Still, I'm considering making a cannonball run of it. Uh... how late do his readings usually start?

It says somethin' that I'm 98% confident my friendslist can answer that question in the next 22 minutes.

(*) Flamed by [ profile] chrissmari in 3... 2... 1...

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