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Tarot for the Author

Posted: Saturday, March 31st, 2012

by Wynn Wagner

I use tarot and have for decades, and I’m rarely far from my deck. If you see Wynn, you can assume he has two things handy: insulin and tarot.

Some folks are surprised to hear that a retired archbishop would be around tarot. They’re an awesome set of images for meditation. The primary cards are a kind of trip through spiritual development. The 0th (“zeroth”) card is call The Fool, and those primary cards are The Fool’s journey through life. It’s less mystical and demonic and more archetypal … at least to me.

The other thing I do with tarot is get around writers block. I write books, and every author I’ve ever known talks about those dry spells where all the creative juices are dry. I cut my deck of tarot cards and look at the first card. This random image is full of images to jolt my imagination back to life.  One card shows a guy on a boat full of swords. He’s collected all his stuff, and he’s making a run for it. Where? I have no idea, but I think about what my characters might be doing if they were in such a frame of mind.

The author pretending to do a tarot reading.

My latest book is BRENT: THE HEART READER, and it’s about a young tarot reader. He does divination for fun and profit. That’s something that I’ve never personally done. Again, I don’t consider it demonic. It’s just not something I ever did or ever wanted to do.

Brent has always had a talent, which he doesn’t even try to explain. Somebody gave him a tarot deck with he was barely older than a toddler, and he’s always been able to tell stories based on the pretty pictures. It wasn’t until later that people started noticing that Brent’s stories are dead-on accurate about what the universe wants a person to do.

Is he an empath? A fortune-teller? Brent is really clear about his own attitude: he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care to go looking for what’s behind his ability.

Like I said, I’ve been around tarot for decades, and I’ve gazed into each of those cardboard rectangles for hours or days at a time. If you ask me what I see in a tarot card, I can tell you. If you want me to cross that invisible line and peer into some kind of prognostication about a person or thing or event, I’m a complete idiot. If you want me to do a reading, all I can do is shrug. You don’t want me to do that.

So, that was something of a problem with BRENT. I brought all my tarot experience to the word processor, but I wasn’t sure that what I had to say would ring true to a real tarot reader. Fortunately, I have cavalry: my husband, Rick Wagner, does readings (rarely, but he can do them). Our friend Mariah Prosper (Rick’s tarot teacher) is more of a tarot guru. I gave really early copies of BRENT to both.

Believe it or not, neither Rick nor Mariah had huge issues with anything I had to say about a tarot card. They didn’t quarrel with what I said about the relationship of cards.

They might have been rolling their eyes behind my back… pointing… giggling. They kept it to themselves, and they said all of the tarot in Brent is reasonable.

(wiping brow)

And yes, I got writer’s block a few times while I was putting together the book. Naturally I used WSWBWT (Wynn’s Supreme Writer’s Block Whack-it Thingy… my pick-a-card trick). The really cool thing is that I saw some really cool facets to characters (especially Nick and Kaela) based on the archetypes I saw in my deck of tarot. They were facets that I wouldn’t have noticed without WSWBWT.

Photography by John Selig.

Brent: The Heart Reader is published by Mystic Ways Books.

An Elephant of a Different Color

Posted: Friday, March 30th, 2012

The Elephant of a Different ColorAccording to POLITICO, Congressional Republican leaders have quietly put the kibosh on several anti-gay marriage bills.

“Santorum is spinning in his grave.”

“He isn’t dead.”

“The news may give him a heart attack.”

The idea is that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which is already Uncle Sam’s law — is awful and unconstitutional. Unrelated and unfair, but DOMA is the reason I wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton for President. DOMA was put on the books when her husband was president. I first met Bill Clinton when I was a pimply-faced kid in Fort Worth, and he was running George McGovern’s campaign in Texas. Whatever goodwill I held for him went bye-bye when he got DOMA passed. BAD JOB, BILL. SHAME ON YOU.

Republicans — like Carl Rove — went on to use gay rights as a wedge issue. Rove got “W” re-elected by putting anti-gay propositions on the ballots in lots of swing states. Those propositions were magnets for people who would also vote for “W”. SHAME ON YOU, CARL.

They pushed really hard against gay people. They stirred up lots of dust and got plenty of right wing bigots to the polls. “W” was reelected because of Rove’s shenanigans.

Here’s the deal: Carl Rove overplayed his hand.

State Rep. Glen Maxey once told me that he didn’t get too worked up when the hateful right attack him. Maxey was the first openly gay member of the Texas Lege. He said he just stayed calm because the people would hear all the commotion, and they’d see it for what it really was. It was silly and hateful, and homophobia was a prejudice that had no place in our republic. Maxey said that when gay bills came up a second and third time, the screaming from the bigots would be a little softer each time.

That’s apparently what has been happening in the national capitol.

Allen West, a U.S. Rep from Florida is way out on the Right, and he’s had strong opinions against gay people in the past. But listen to him today: “I personally have deep convictions about my children having a financially stable country that they can live in, I want my daughters to have the opportunities that I had, and that’s what concerns me That’s what keeps me up awake at night, not worrying about who’s sleeping with who.”

When I hear Santorum focus on what my husband and I do in the privacy of our bedroom, I’m annoyed but calm. I know that the younger generation will see the bigoted froth-filled hatred of private feelings (love and commitment) as the residual slime of a sad chapter of ignorance dressed up in religious dogma.

 

Fangs over America — March 3

Posted: Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Fangs over America by Wynn Wagner
My next book — Fangs over America — will be published on Saturday, March 3, 2012.

It’s a paranormal romance that’s M/M.

This is what it says on the back cover:

Mårten Lars­son is one of the rich­est blood­suck­ers ever, but his unlife isn’t exactly a flight in the park. There are some things money can’t buy—like an instruc­tion man­ual on what to do when the vam­pire queen quits and leaves you in charge of Europe. Sud­denly Mårten has to jug­gle pol­i­tics, his royal wardrobe, and this new­fan­gled thing called “e-​​mail.” And his Ger­man still sucks.

But hey, Mårten can han­dle it. After all, he (sort of) sur­vived World War I, being mar­ried to two vora­ciously horny vam­pires (at the same time), and life as a sniper tak­ing out the most dan­ger­ous vamps in his­tory. A lit­tle respon­si­bil­ity should be no prob­lem… right?

You can find an excerpt — FREE SAMPLE — on my book website.

By the way, the kitty on the cover is named Snarkly. Yes, he’s a character in the book. And yes, it’s a vampire kitty.

Once upon a time, Roman Catholics were polite

Posted: Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Cardinal Richard Cushing (1895-1970)Back in the ancient past (the 1950s), Roman Catholics in the USA had manners and common decency.

It was that idyllic period between the Spanish Inquisition and Pope Benedict.

I as a Catholic have absolutely no right in my thinking to foist through legislation or through other means, my doctrine of my church upon others. It is important to note that Catholics do not need the support of the civil law to be faithful to their religious convictions.

That quote comes from Richard Cushing (1895-1970), the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Boston, Massachusetts. He is the cleric who officiated at the marriage of John F Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier (1953).

Compare that to the vitriol we’re getting from the current leaders of the pope’s flock in New York City and Baltimore. They’re so filled with hatred and judgements that there’s little wonder the pews are more and more empty. It’s a situation that is shameful and unnecessary.

Oh for the good old days.

 

Autographed books at Mystic Ways

Posted: Sunday, February 26th, 2012

 

[shameless plug mode: on]

Mystic WaysSome of my books are up for sale at my husband’s e-store, Mystic Ways. Each book is autographed at no extra charge.

So far, he’s put my LGBT fiction online. The spiritual books will be online at some point in the future.

[shameless plug mode: off]

Roman Catholic wants state to enforce canons

Posted: Friday, February 24th, 2012

Cardinal Edwin O'Brien of Maryland (USA)The pope’s head guy in the US state of Maryland has trouble enforcing the big guy’s rules. Cardinal Edwin O’Brien knows that Rome frowns on dudes marrying dudes. When two guys are in love, the cardinal wants them to live in sin. No marriage.

The trouble is that there are more people than Romists in Maryland. Worse for Rome is that some of these citizens are members of churches that teach love. The Roman Catholics will have none of it. Instead of throwing rice, they are trying to throw barricades and roadblocks.

It’s one thing for the Roman Catholics to refuse to welcome all their adherents to the sacraments. It’s quite another when they demand that the state government enforce Roman Catholic laws in other churches.

If the Romans want to be hatful and exclusionary and bigoted, that’s great. They can teach all their people with sternly puckered white lips until the cows come home.

This cardinal — the head guy for the Vatican in Maryland — wants “marry land” open only to Roman-approved couples.

Great legacy you’ve got working there, Edwin.

Now run along, and deal with your own flock. Because if you insist on getting into my church’s rules, it’s time to recognize your stance as that of a bully. And, sir… in the USA, bullies are taxed at a higher rate than actual church leaders.

 

 

The NFL benchmark for the Texas Senate [GOP rules]

Posted: Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

 

Craig James fought against a yawning crowd as a player for the NE Patriots, and he got the idea that this feat somehow gives him the creds to be a Texas state senator. He’s just the same old homophobic ass he always was.

The Dallas Voice quotes him from a bigot-fest Eagle Forum saying that being gay is a choice. (Dude, that argument has two sides.) Here’s the quote:

“I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade.”

So I have two points about that:

  1. Thank you for keeping the creepiness level of gay parades to a minimum; and
  2. Like anybody was actually going to invite you?

 

Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory

Posted: Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
authors_guildAuthors GuildReposted from The Authors Guild.

 

Subtlety is out. Bloomberg Businessweek’s January 25th cover shows a book engulfed in flames. The book’s title? “Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business.” A towering pile of books dominates the front page of Sunday’s NYT Business Section. The pile starts well below the fold (print edition), breaks through the section header at the top of the page, and leans precariously. Books are starting to tumble off. “The Bookstore’s Last Stand,” reads the headline.

These stories capture pretty well the state of book publishing: this appears to be no ordinary, cyclical crisis that future authors and publishers will shrug off. To understand how the book industry got into this predicament, however, a broader perspective may be needed. The cover story of February’s Harper’s Magazine provides that, discussing a fundamental shift in the federal approach to antitrust law that’s affected bookselling and countless other industries. It’s a story that hasn’t previously been told in a major periodical, to our knowledge.

We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s set the stage with the other two stories.

Burning Down the Houses

Brad Stone’s Businessweek story discusses Amazon’s campaign to prevent other booksellers from securing a foothold in the booming e-book market and the company’s furious reaction to Random House’s decision last March to adopt agency pricing for e-books, just as five of the other “Big Six” trade publishers had the previous year. (Before agency pricing, Amazon could sell e-books from Big Six publishers at deep discounts, taking losses at a rate that Barnes & Noble could never afford to match. See How Apple Saved Barnes & Noble, Probably for more.)

Mr. Stone writes that after Random House’s March 2011 agency-pricing announcement,

Amazon could no longer run the best play out of its playbook – slash prices and sustain losses in the short term to gain market share over the long term. … “For the first time, a level playing field was going to get forced on Amazon,” says James Gray [of UK bookseller John Smith & Son and formerly of Ingram Content Group]. Amazon execs “were basically spitting blood and nails.”

Amazon’s response to Random House’s move was stunning and swift:

The next month, an Amazon recruiter sent an e-mail to several editors at big publishing houses, looking for someone to launch a new New York-based publishing imprint. “The imprint will be supported with a large budget, and its success will directly impact the success of Amazon’s overall business,” read the e-mail, which was obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Even with a large budget, directly affecting the success of Amazon’s overall business is a tall order for a new publishing imprint. Amazon pulled in well north of $40 billion in revenue last year (final numbers aren’t yet in), dwarfing the combined revenues of the Big Six publishers.

Luring a substantial contingent of bestselling authors away from the Big Six seems the only plausible route for an imprint to affect Amazon’s overall business. Amazon needed someone with a substantial industry pedigree to pull this off. Amazon quickly – in time for last spring’s Book Expo America — landed just the man for the job: Larry Kirshbaum, formerly of Warner Books.

Just three months after Random House’s announcement, Amazon had all but declared war on the six unruly members of its book supply chain. Jeff Bezos had $6 billion in cash, the patience to absorb losses for years, and a former Big Six chief to lead the fight. The long-running behind-the-scenes battle for control of the publishing industry had finally broken into full public view.

Barnes & Noble’s New Role: The Contender

While Amazon directly threatens traditional publishers with its new imprint, it continues to undermine the ecosystem on which book publishers, and most new authors, depend. Julie Bosman describes this well in her NYT article, focusing on the last remaining brick-and-mortar bookseller with nationwide clout:

Without Barnes & Noble, the publishers’ marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books at prices that actually makes economic sense suddenly seems a reach. …

What publishers count on from bookstores is the browsing effect. Surveys indicate that only a third of the people who step into a bookstore and walk out with a book actually arrived with the specific desire to buy one.

“That display space they have in the store is really one of the most valuable places that exists in this country for communicating to the consumer that a book is a big deal,” said Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operations and digital for Random House.

Established authors, for the most part, do fine selling through online bookstores. It’s new authors who lose out if browsing in bookstores becomes a thing of the past. Advances for unproven and non-bestselling authors have already plummeted, by all accounts. Literary diversity is at risk.

To understand just how precarious things are, realize that last year’s Borders’ bankruptcy represented an enormous reduction in browsing space, shuttering 650 stores. (B&N has about 700 stores.) One benefit of the loss of Borders should have been a short-term lift to B&N’s 700 stores and the 1,500 or so remaining independent bookstores. B&N’s sales were indeed up in the nine weeks before Christmas, Ms. Bosman reports. How much? Borders’ collapse led to a bounce of just four percent, compared to the prior Christmas. That’s what’s passing for good news in brick-and-mortar bookselling at the moment.

There is a bright spot, however. Barnes & Noble, led by William Lynch, has exceeded all expectations in the past two years with its launch of the Nook. B&N’s 300-member Silicon Valley office, after giving Amazon’s Kindle developers a two-year head start, beat Amazon to the tablet market by fully twelve months, and introduced what’s generally seen as the state-of-the-art e-ink reader, the Nook Simple Touch, eight months ago.

B&N, in other words, has been out-engineering Amazon, and Ms. Bosman’s story is the best account we’ve had of B&N’s efforts. In the process, B&N has seen its e-book market share climb from zero, two Christmases ago, to roughly 27% today.

B&N remains vulnerable, however. The engineering race against Amazon continues, and Amazon has leverage for acquiring content for its Kindle (see Contracts on Fire: Amazon’s Lending Library Mess) that B&N can’t match. And, critically, one tool that should help B&N, our antitrust laws, is instead poised to undo it.

This brings us to an unlikely tale of books, chickens, beer, and a Silicon Valley gentlemen’s agreement.

The Backstory: Amazon, Chicken Processors & Silicon Valley

Harper’s cover art rivals Businessweek’s: an enormous businessman wearing a gray pinstriped suit is preparing to literally eat the competition, a jumbo handful of gray-suited men and women. In the article, “Killing the Competition: How the New Monopolies Are Destroying Open Markets,” (key excerpts at link, full article by subscription) Barry Lynn views the state of book publishing through a different lens.

Mr. Lynn makes the case that Amazon’s dominance isn’t just a story of an industry disrupted by online commerce and digital upheaval, it’s about the abandoning of New Deal era protections of retailers in 1975 (promoted by backers as a means to fight inflation, says Mr. Lynn) and what he portrays as a shift in 1981 in the Justice Department’s interpretation of antitrust law based on “Chicago School” theories of efficiency and consumer welfare. The upshot appears to be that non-consumer markets (business-to-business markets and labor markets) are often insufficiently protected from monopolies.

To a chicken grower, for example, the relevant market isn’t restaurants or household consumers of chicken, it’s the market of chicken processors. Through a variety of machinations, including long-term contracts and the physical placement of processing plants (think baseball, before free agency), chicken growers now routinely have a market of only one processor to sell to.

Chicken growers own their land, buildings, and equipment, and all of the debt and risk that go with them, but these entrepreneurs have no real control over their economic lives. Growers buy their chicks and feed from their poultry processor, for example, and processors often require growers to make new investments in buildings and equipment. The processors, Mr. Lynn seems to suggest, have something much better than mere capital: the economic power to dictate how others use theirs.

It’s not just chicken growers who face constrained markets, Mr. Lynn writes. In free-wheeling Silicon Valley, computer engineers and digital animation workers employed by Apple, Google, Intel, and Pixar, among others, were subject to a secret agreement not to bid on each others’ employees, according to a Justice Department lawsuit filed, and settled, in 2010. (On Friday, former employees of some of the companies filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in San Jose based on the Justice Department investigation.)

It’s even hit beer. The 1,750 U.S. microbrewers may appear to operate in a competitive environment, but they nearly all sell through two distributors: ABI and MillerCoors control 90% of the distribution market.

For book publishers, the relevant market isn’t readers (direct sales are few), but booksellers, and Amazon has firm control of bookselling’s online future as it works to undermine bookselling’s remaining brick-and-mortar infrastructure. Amazon controls every growing segment of the industry: online physical books, downloadable audio books, online used books, and e-books. Amazon commands about 75% of the online market for print books, and 60% of the e-book market (a percentage that decreased from Amazon’s reported 90% two years ago, as a result of agency pricing).

Mr. Lynn reports on a conversation with the head of one of the largest publishing houses in the U.S.:

He explained that Amazon was once a “wonderful customer with whom to do business.” As Jeff Bezos’s company became more powerful, however, it changed. “The question is, do you wear your power lightly? … Mr. Bezos has not. He is reckless. He is dangerous.”

The head of a small publishing house in Manhattan, Mr. Lynn reports, was even more blunt:

“Amazon is a bully,” he said, his voice rising, his cheeks flushing. “Anyone who gets that powerful can push people around, and Amazon pushes people around. They do not exercise their power responsibly.”

Neither man allowed me to use his name. Amazon, they made clear, had long since accumulated sufficient influence over their business to ensure that even these most dedicated defenders of the book – and of the First Amendment – dare not speak openly of the company’s predations.

Mr. Lynn then turns to Amazon’s blackout of Macmillan’s buy buttons, two years ago this week:

At the time, Amazon and Macmillan were scrapping over which firm would set the price for Macmillan’s e-books. Amazon wanted to price every Macmillan e-book, and indeed every e-book of every publisher, at $9.99 or less. This scorched-earth tactic, which guaranteed that Amazon lost money on many of the e-books it sold, was designed to cement the online retailer’s dominance in the nascent market. It also had the effect of persuading customers that this deeply discounted price, which publishers considered ruinously low, was the “natural” one for an e-book.

In January 2010, Macmillan at last claimed the right to set the price for each of its own products as it alone saw fit. Amazon resisted this arrangement, known in publishing as the “agency model.” When the two companies deadlocked, Amazon simply turned off the buttons that allowed customers to order Macmillan titles, in both their print and their e-book versions. The reasoning was obvious: the sudden loss of sales, which could amount to a sizable fraction of Macmillan’s total revenue, would soon bring the publisher to heel.

This was not the first time Amazon had used this stratagem. The retailer’s executives had previously cut off small firms such as Ten Speed Press and Melville House Publishing for bucking their will. But the fight with Macmillan was by far the most public of these showdowns.

In the late 1970s, when a single book retailer first captured a 10 percent share of the U.S. market, Congress and the regulatory agencies were swift to react. As the head of the Federal Trade Commission put it: “The First Amendment protects us from the chilling shadow of government interference with the media. But are there comparable dangers if other powerful economic or political institutions assume control…?”

***

Today, … a single private company has captured the ability to dictate terms to the people who publish our books, and hence to the people who write and read our books. It does so by employing the most blatant forms of predatory pricing to destroy its retail competitors. … [It] justifies its exercise of raw power in the same way our economic autocrats always do: it claims that the resulting “efficiencies” will serve the interests of the consumer.

The book industry is in play, and has been for a while. The good news is that people are finally starting to pay attention.

Thanks for y’all’s stick-to-it-iveness

Posted: Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

According to a spreadsheet from Dreamspinner Press, books two and three of my Vamp Camp series are selling about as well as the first volume.

I sort of expected people might try the first book but we’d thin out all except the die-hards before the third volume. That hasn’t happened, and I am as grateful for that as I know how to be.

Vamp Camp is the sales leader again this month, and that’s to be expected. It is the first book in the series. It’s the one without any baggage from earlier reads.

The Obscurati and The Vamp in the Silver Mask are right up there, almost tied with the first book.

Book four is coming up in early March. Fangs over America continues the series and is more self-contained than the earlier books. It’s funnier and has a little less explicit sex than the others. I hope you like it.

What I mainly wanted to say was THANKS for taking the time to invest in these vampires. I am as grateful to you as I know how to be.

 

God Bless the Inept Right

Posted: Monday, January 23rd, 2012

God bless inept right-wingers.

I’d be more worried if they were smart (like Nixon was). Newt thinks he’s smart and has a few media’oids convinced, He really just good at slapping other people with wet towels. He’s suddenly an expert on what he calls “traditional marriage.” Maybe he’s an expert: he’s been in enough of them.

At one debate between Republican candidates, he said the government has the duty to protect the Sacrament of Marriage. He used the term Sacrament twice, to show how much he was in support of this aspect of marriage. Once could have been a mistake. Twice is a pattern.

The government has no business supporting or preventing any kind of Sacrament. That’s a church term, and traditional liturgical Christian churches have several: Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Orders, Unction, Baptism, Confirmation and Matrimony.

The minute the government gets into the Sacrament business — as Newt wants — it is violating the US Constitution. The government supporting one church’s sacraments over another is illegal in the United States, but that’s what this self-styled historian wants to do.

The Constitution was written to protect Deist citizens — like Thomas Jefferson — from Crusaders like Newt Gingrich. He considers himself to be as much an expert on religion as he is on marriage. In his defense, he has the same creds on that subject. He’s had as many church memberships as he has marriages. He was born into a Lutheran family but converted to Southern Baptist at some later point. He’s currently a member of the Roman Catholic church.

All those marriages must have made joining the Romans an interesting discussion. Does the Roman church just disallow divorce if you don’t have… on, who the hell knows (or cares)–.

I wish Newt the best of luck in the primary. It will make the POTUS season really fun to watch.