Monday, October 11, 2010


AH-64 ApacheImage via Wikipedia
Dear You—

Being Irish, I don’t really approve of working seven days a week (arguably certifiable behavior) but that is pretty much what I’m doing right now as I prepare to get my books up on the web. Initially, they will go up as e-books, but print will follow as soon as possible afterwards. 

I tend to think of this phase as THE GREAT LEVITATION in the spirit of: "I've never actually seen anyone levitate but I'm told it is possible."

I’m a great believer in the future of e-books, but suspect that the formats will be complementary (up to a point). The latter is a subject for another day, but I have noticed that if I really like an audio book, I will look for a physical copy as well, perhaps as a way of appreciating the original somewhat better. One’s cognitive abilities are definitely affected by the method of presentation.

I confess I had no idea how much work would be involved though that is scarcely surprising given that I have never done anything like this before. Previously, I always had help with my web site – my son Bruff being my webmaster and co-designer. Now, I’m doing everything myself both because Bruff has his own commitments, I currently lack the resources to hire talent, and because I am finding that I’m achieving a greater level of understanding of this new world by operating in such a hands-on way. 

It’s taking as long as it is for a number of reasons. I’m going to list only 10 this time around: (1) This is the first time. (2) I have no natural talent with computers. (3) Although I have a good visual eye, I’m neither graphically trained nor do I have the software required. (4) I’m constantly revising what needs to be done as I learn more. (5) Each social website has its own little ways which need to be understood and mastered. (6) Mastering the interaction between the social media is no easy task in itself, both in practical terms and conceptually. (7) As I learn more I’m constantly raising the bar despite being very aware that time is critical. (8) I’m dealing with five titles. (9) I am cursed with a perfectionist streak. (5) There is a great deal of writing and re-writing involved.

All of this reminds me of my experiences flying in an AH-64 Apache helicopter back in the Nineties. There it was explained to me that although no one switch or control was impossibly difficult to learn, a pilot was faced with some 17,000 possible combinations – the whole experience being given a whole new perspective when people were shooting at you. Well, I don’t have tracer coming at me as yet – it’s a relatively uncommon hazard in Seattle – but I suspect the number of options an e-world explorer like myself is faced with would make even an experienced Apache pilot (and they don’t come any tougher) raise an eyebrow.

I was going to write “sweat a little” but Apache pilots are so cool they don’t sweat. They claim that Blackhawk pilots certainly do sweat and are inferior human beings. You have to love aviators! 

I implemented one decision over the weekend. I’ve decided to give each non-fiction book its own blog site so started the process by setting up the TITANIC NATION: How to Avoid Icebergs: The Case for Fundamental Change In The American Way Of Life website at 

In future all my blogs on the U.S. Economy and related matters will end up there – conveniently leaving this site free for writer’s angst.

Apache pilots might not sweat – but authors certainly do.


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Sunday, October 10, 2010


Dear You—

Yesterday, I wrote about the too-big-to-grasp implications of the Internet, and today a perfect illustration of the profound changes that a globally linked knowledge society is bringing turned up in my Inbox in the form of The Official Google Blog (worth subscribing to, by the way).

Such technology will almost certainly save lives although equally certainly, it seems likely to put millions of those, who drive for a living, out of work.

Google’s philosophy of wanting “to help solve really big problems using technology” is admirable, but its application needs to be extended to such thorny issues as: quality of life; sustainability; excessive corporate power; unemployment; the inadequate U.S. educational system - and other thorny perennials. This isn’t to criticize Google, who are doing much that is admirable (as well as much whose implications are a cause for concern) but to argue for a more holistic application of their ethos.

I am not unhopeful. There are certain aspects of Google’s ethos which makes me hope that they might be the precursor of a new type of corporation, profit driven, but socially concerned and involved, and with a genuine belief in the benefits of empowering their employees. Or am I being naïve?

It appears that Big Brother, who already knows an extraordinary amount about us, will soon be driving us as well. I'm far from sure our current system of government is set up to handle these kinds of complex issues. 

Idle thoughts on a wet Seattle day.

10/09/2010 12:00:00 PM
Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.

So we have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.

Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.

To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History.

Safety has been our first priority in this project. Our cars are never unmanned. We always have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control. And we also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software. Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance. And we’ve briefed local police on our work.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow." These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads. In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.

We’ve always been optimistic about technology’s ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today. While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting.

Posted by Sebastian Thrun, Distinguished Software Engineer

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Saturday, October 9, 2010


Polo in costume.Image via Wikipedia
Dear You—

It’s been an extraordinary week. I’m continuing to explore the Internet as part of developing a marketing plan for my books, and am just plain fascinated, enthralled and vastly cheered by what I’m discovering.

What is taking place – literally under our eyes – is the greatest explosion of both creativity and exploration the world has ever seen; and yet I don’t think most of us have, as yet, grasped its scale and scope – let alone . either its significance or its potential. I know I hadn’t until recently, and I don’t think I’m fully there as yet. It’s going to change everything. It’s not just a means of communication, and a way of tapping into knowledge, but it is an intellectual force multiplier on a scale I suspect few can imagine. It’s awesome.

My friend, Chris Carrdus commented that it was akin to an “alternate universe.” Well put, but it’s our universe. Is it a force for good? I don’t think it comes equipped with a moral dimension. I do think it has the potential to enable us to solve most of our problems, though equally it could lead to mass unemployment and Big Brother. It is certainly the greatest tool for both true democracy and/or social control every conceived.

So much for the macro level. In the course of my odyssey I ran across a book called THE METAL GIRL by Judy Sandra – a fellow member of LinkedIn’s Writing Mafia - which sounds intriguing. Check out her website at  The trailer is an evocative little movie with no voice-over at all though it sets the mood perfectly. And here was I expecting a reading. I guess I’m still not thinking  multimedia as yet because before long, you’ll open a book and it will set the scene with music.

The following is the blurb from Amazon.

During the dreary month of March in Copenhagen in the early 1970s, a 25 year old American woman travels on a solitary quest to become, in her mind, a "woman of the world." In fact, she is lost, adrift, dislocated, not only from familiar surroundings but from her innermost being: "It was the era of rising feminist consciousness, but my mind had not yet caught up to my age and my consciousness was not the part of me that was rising up that winter." The memoir-like narrative of The Metal Girl is told by the mature woman who looks back on her younger, more naive self. Describing a timeless and highly personal milieu, she tells her story with intimate candor as it unfolds in a lyrical, ironic and insightful voice.

She takes a room in a cheap pension, which, unbeknownst to her, is located on the edge of the city's red light district. The hotel is run by the enigmatic Elke, a quintessential blond, Scandinavian beauty, and Manfred, a German man of beefy proportions and portentous looks. Venturing out one evening to a jazz club, she meets Olaf, who attracts her with his handsome face, kindness and charm, and his friend Elizabeth, whom she finds the most alluring of all beautiful, poetic, intelligent, mysterious, wise and tragic.

Her journey through these relationships climaxes late one night when she discovers the raison d'être of everyone else and, even more surprising, the disillusioning truth about herself.

Nice quote from talented illustrator Duncan Long:  “Never judge a book by its publisher.”

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Thursday, October 7, 2010


Dear You--

I ran across this gem today and have copied the press release in its entirety. Congratulations to the author for his enterprise - and for writing a compelling press release into the bargain. I hope his book is an enormous success. He deserves it. Read and shake your head in admiration.


Montana Author Writes Entire Novel on Facebook

A Whitefish, Montana author may have the bragging rights to claim the first-ever novel written serially on Facebook.

The Facebook Novel
Quote startThis book had me logging onto Facebook the minute I got home every evening. I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.Quote end
Whitefish, MT (PRWEB) September 7, 2010
During the winter of 2009, Leif Peterson was challenged by a friend to write a 1000-word story about a man who discovers a Missing Person poster with his own face on it. He wrote the story, and on February 10th, he posted it on Facebook for his friends to read.
But the friends who read it didn’t realize he was done; they thought he was just beginning. Messages began pouring in demanding to know what happened next. Encouraged by their responses, Peterson decided to continue the story, which he called "Missing." For the next four months, five days a week, Peterson posted new installments to the story as a growing readership eagerly followed along.
As the story developed, certain readers emerged as steadfast fans, leaving comments almost daily and sometimes voicing their frustration at having to wait twenty-four hours for the next installment. In an interesting development, Peterson began rewarding those readers by naming new characters after them.
On June 10th, 2009, four months after he began, Peterson posted the eighty-fourth and final installment to the story concluding what could very well be the first-ever novel written entirely on Facebook.
“Essentially, it’s a story about a man who begins to question his own identity,” says Peterson. “Without quite knowing why, he soon finds himself in another city, in another country, in another hemisphere, searching for a woman he knows by name, but who he’s never met. I never thought I’d write a page-turner, but that’s what this turned out to be.”
The story is now published in book form and is available at online retailers. Except for some light editing, the printed book appears exactly as it did day by day on Facebook as it was being written. But is it really the first time anyone’s ever written an entire novel on Facebook?
“There are some other people out there that have claimed to have written a novel on Facebook,” say Peterson. “But as far as I can tell no one actually wrote day by day on the site, but instead used Facebook to serialize something they’d already written. When I posted the first installment, I hadn’t written the second. And it was another eighty-four days before I wrote and posted the conclusion. I was writing daily and posting daily. There was no opportunity to go back and make plot changes.”
Leif Peterson is the author of three other works of fiction, including "Catherine Wheels" published by Random house in 2005. A free excerpt from "Missing" is available to read at:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Alison in the West of Ireland - near where Fitzduane lives... 
Dear You--

The following is a draft. Writing about 'dumbing-down' yesterday has made me think a little writers' solidarity might be in order. I'd appreciate your thoughts. 

"I’m in the process of switching my main focus from traditional publishing to new methods of publishing, and as part of the process, have been carrying out a great deal of research into the social media (which, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t take seriously at first).  The effort is certainly worth it – their current impact is already significant and the longer term effects  of such media are going to change our very culture – but I don’t delude myself that such forays add up to writing. Nonetheless, whether one approves or disapproves, it’s impossible to understand them without using them.  

Now, social media covers a multitude, but one of the things I’m noticing as I ramble around writers’ groups on the internet, is that there is a great deal of small talk, but a decided lack of substance. This isn’t to say that one doesn’t pick up some useful information, but I find that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. This conclusion has led me to endeavor to find out what exactly you less experienced writers (brilliant but as yet unrecognized) think you need help in.

Depending on the feedback I get, that could lead to a writers’ resource website where you will be able to get more hard information fast than is the case now; or it may inform me that all this social small talk is just fine, thank you, and to forget about being a Good Samaritan. Who knows! But, I’m curious and delighted to help. If I can. Others have helped, and are helping me; and I think Norman Wilson’s ‘Pay it forward’ campaign is a thoroughly good idea. To get the ball rolling, I have drawn up a few headings:

·         Reading, and critiquing your work.
·         Advice on technique.
·         General encouragement.
·         Talking you out of suicide.


Getting read:

Getting sold:

Avoiding getting screwed:

Selling your work to the movies:

Making a living (whole or partial) as a writer:

Staying moderately sane in a very strange business:"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Cover of "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet'...Cover of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Dear You—

I’m just finishing the third book in the admirable The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. It’s called The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest - in the unlikely event you’ve been stuck down a mine shaft and you haven’t heard of it. The second volume is The Girl Who Played With Fire. All are deservedly blockbusters.

Though I’m enjoying the book thoroughly – it is making me recall some of the thoroughly bad editing advice I have received over the years (I have received some good advice as well) and wonder about two things: the dumbing-down of America, and the amount de facto censorship – principally enforced self-censorship - which exists in this Land of the Free of ours.

The two are connected because one of the core beliefs of many mass market media U.S. editors seems to be that the American reader is too dumb and too ignorant to deal with anything other that genre books, and that virtually all exposition and introspection should be eliminated from a thriller (to give but one example) because the typical reader has neither the intelligence nor the patience to follow anything other than a formulaic storyline.

This arrogant attitude isn’t confined to the book business. It’s not universal, but it’s prevalent throughout the media and entertainment business, and, as a consequence, has become something of a self fulfilling prophecy. If you put out a steady diet of mediocre work, you lower the standard. Dumbness, it appears, is infectious and features a ratcheting effect. You don’t stay dumb. You get dumber.

For all our human imperfections, I have come to the conclusion that the American people are more being dumbed down than innately dumb. Indeed there is extraordinary talent here. But pockets of talent do not compensate for a population that has lost its sense of cognitive excellence and is content with bread and circuses. Crass commercialism focused on the lowest common denominator, and the most cynical abuse of the First Amendent by the Rich and Corporate Interests, solely for reasons of power and profit, have a great deal to answer for. And I write that as a believer in capitalism. I just don't believe that dumbing down your market is good business.

Clearly the author of the Dragoon Tattoo trilogy, Stieg Larsen, a Swede, writing in Swedish, was unconcerned with the beliefs and practices of American editors because he has violated just about every one of their commandments, and in the process demonstrated through the extraordinary success of his books in the U.S.,that many American readers may be a lot brighter than they are credited with being, and that maybe readers know best.

The following are just a small selection of the editorial mandates and prejudices that Stieg Larsen defied with such verve and vigor:
  • Keep exposition to a minimum. 
  • Avoid introspection.
  • Don’t have too many characters.
  • Make sure your main protagonists don’t do anything your readers would disapprove of.
  • Make sure your lead is an American Set your story in America.
I could go on, but this mindset is too depressing; and yet these attitudes are typical of the people whose output pervades, informs and influences our lives to the extraordinary extent it does in this infotainment oriented economy of ours. I’ll expand on this theme in future blogs, but believe strongly that we need to wake up to the fact that the mass media are powerful, largely unconcerned with the public good, and playing no small role in pushing this nation into entirely preventable decline.

On could make a very strong case that dumbing-down - the poisoning of the public mind -constitutes a very real ‘Crime Against Humanity.’

The underlying reasons for Stieg Larsen's appeal is that he treats his readers as intelligent adults.


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Monday, October 4, 2010


Dear You--
I wrote much of GAMES OF THE HANGMAN  here

Just in case you think this is a thinly disguised guide to Las Vegas, which seems to be synonymous with sin in the American psyche if Google is any guide, I had better disabuse you up front. Instead, it’s a short piece designed to help creative writers, aspiring or otherwise, avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls of our difficult business, and to have a sense that though the world does not yet recognize their genius, there is someone out there who understands them and wants to help.

To be clear, I’m using ‘sinner in a lay sense’ – as shorthand for a fallible human being – and not as a pitch to scare donations out of a congregation. Further, I don’t think there is anything salacious in this particular piece. If you want that, then, if you are over 18, I advise you to read my books where most of the vices and inclinations of mankind are covered one way or another in suitably graphic (but tasteful) detail. That said, I have one friend, a nuclear scientist – which may explain his eccentricities - who was so concerned that his children might read something unsuitable that he took a razor blade and excised some 30 pages from Games Of The Hangman. Not many people would care to dwell upon this, but we have some strange people looking after our nuclear weapons.

In truth, I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my writing career that it’s a wonder I’m still writing, but I console myself with the fact that such is indeed the case; and that, although I started late, I still have written eight books, reached the lofty heights of the New York Times Best Seller List, receive fan mail from all over the world, and am a contented man when I’m allowed to practice my craft - as opposed to doing the things which so many other people think I should be doing. I have a sneaking suspicion that people, as a whole, regard us writers as vaguely subversive; and they are, of course, exactly right because our job isn’t just to illuminate the human condition, but to question the status quo, and inspire change for the better. Or perhaps I’m kidding myself, and our role is primarily to relax and entertain. I believe we do more than that, but there are worse fates.

And now to the sermon: 

1. Get a grip; make your mind an ally. The human mind is such a truly extraordinary thing, unique in every case and capable of such significant achievements, that it is scarcely surprising that getting a grip on just one – one’s own - is an unending task at which most of us are only moderately successful. Fatigue, emotion, diet, medications, drugs, alcohol, and life in general, all seem to conspire to undermine optimum mental efficiency. Yet, if one wants to become a good writer and achieve adequate success, developing some degree of mental discipline – difficult though it may be - is essential. Clearly, first of all, you have to master the plethora of skills required to actually write – no easy task in itself – but, perhaps of even greater importance is cultivating an ability to master your fears, to deal with the inevitable ups-and-downs that are a feature of any creative artist’s life, and, above all, to persist regardless of rejections, criticism, financial setbacks, your own failures, and whatever else life may chose to throw at you. In short, you need to develop a high degree of mental resilience, and be able to master your fears, because you need to know that the life of a committed creative writer, whether successful or otherwise, is rarely easy. This stems not just from your circumstances, whatever they may be, but from the very nature of a writer’s mind. The very attributes, which is make us both want and able to write, such as relentless intellectual curiosity, and a passionate desire to communicate (linked, paradoxically with a need for long periods of solitude), are scarcely those which contribute to peace of mind, or make writers easy to live with (with all the attendant consequences). But, such is a writer’s condition. 

2. Write every day – even if you initially write drivel. That doesn’t matter. Most writers-in-waiting don’t write nearly enough. They confuse talking about their aspirations with doing the deed. But talking isn’t writing; and neither is thinking about it. Writing is what counts and the initial objective must be to get comfortable with the process of writing – to make it a conditioned reflex, part of your muscle memory. Think of it as basic training. You can be one of the elite later. The interesting thing about writing a lot is that, without realizing it, your skills will improve. Remember, primarily you learn about writing by writing. True, the process takes years. Equally true, the satisfaction one gets from writing well is extraordinary. Here I don’t want to dismiss the benefits of teachers, mentors, university courses and the like; but – in essence – to make you understand that writers are, essentially, self-taught. I’m surprising myself by writing this, but writing isn’t a scientific discipline underpinned by absolutes: Though there are rules and techniques and traditional best practices, it is more a journey of growing enlightenment. That sound religious which is not what I mean. Instead I’m talking about a something more akin to Zen. When you get there, you’ll understand in a heartbeat. 

3. Get comfortable with the tools of your trade. Your tools are likely to be: a computer; a pen; a notebook; a recorder; and a camera (the precise mix is up to you). Keep all of them with you all of the time, if you can (easier said than done); and practice with them constantly until their use becomes a reflex. Change them as little as possible. It is all too easy to become obsessed with the latest and greatest technology, but that tends to be a distraction from your priority – which is to write. Further, if you aren’t intimately familiar with the electronic tools of our trade – often complex devices with fiddly controls - you will lack confidence in their use, and you will be forced to focus on your equipment when you should be thinking of your interviewee, or whatever should be the object of your attention. Conversely, if you are entirely experienced and comfortable with such tools as you need, your confidence will not only help you, but it will encourage your interviewees to relax and talk more freely. Putting all of that another way, become professional.

4. Learn to observe, and to pay attention to detail. The world around you is an endless source of inspiration, but to benefit from that you have to look, listen and contemplate – and not insulate yourself with earphones, or driving, or the endless other distractions that are available. Tragically we are losing the ability to observe because, apart from all the other obvious reasons, observation takes time. It’s not just a matter of seeing something. There is also a process of analysis, of putting matters in context, of zeroing in on what is significant, of noting the incongruous – and much else. Hard to believe that such fundamental capabilities are being lost but such is the case.

5. Learn how to record what you observe. This isn’t just a matter of technology – because your mind will always be your primary resource – but of self-discipline. You have to practice note-taking so that your notes can prompt your mind to recall events accurately, substantively, and in adequate detail.

6. Appreciate the advantages of researching alone. If you want a vacation, then, by all means, take a partner or go with a group. However if you want people to really trust you and confide in you, then do your research alone. When you are alone, your focus is invariably outwards. If you are traveling with even one friend, your focus will tend to be on your friend. As always, there exceptions to this, but appreciate that there other advantages to researching alone: a single person is inherently less intimidating; people are more likely to confide in you and to ask you to join them. True, a single person is less secure than when accompanied but whether the risks are acceptable or not is something only you can decide on a case by case basis.

7. Research isn’t writing. The trick with becoming a writer is to learn to enjoy the writing even more than the research. If you don’t do that, there is a danger that you’ll spend so much time researching, you won’t devote enough time to writing. It’s a common trap especially if you are writing something like a researched action thriller. But it is vital that you rein in your curiosity – especially in this age of the internet and focus on your number one priority – which is to write.

8. Write out a summary of what you are going to say before you write the full thing. That may sound like commonsense, but a truly amazing number of people start writing without really knowing where they are going – and then waffle. Determining what you are trying to say before you say it can be remarkably helpful. If a synopsis seems too demanding at the initial stage, then just make a list of key points. Writing involves much more list-making than one might think.

9. First time around, concentrate on getting a draft down on paper – and take risks. In short, write – get the story down - and don’t agonize over trying to find the perfect word or phrase. That will come. Have faith in a good night’s sleep and your subconscious. Taking risks refers to using words or phrases which are outside the conventional. If you fail to include them, the end result may well be perceived as bland. On the other hand, if you are too outrageous then your writing may well be perceived as over the top. Either way, you are better off taking risks the first time around and making changes during the re-write

10. Learn, not just how to re-write, but to enjoy the process. Why so? Because you can almost always do so much better the second time. You probably won’t appreciate that at first, and regard re-writing with some impatience, but when you find that you can improve your work significantly by making seemingly minor changes, you’ll get the re-writing bug (and it will serve you well).

11. Appreciate that no one knows how well you can write better than you. Listen to what others say, but follow your inner voice. That will take time to develop, but it will come. Be aware that just because someone is an editor, perhaps with decades of experience, does not mean that he or she is right. Understand that editors, who have too much to read and too little time, and who are conditioned to look for flaws, have a tendency to skim and do not read in the same way as the public. Further, editors have their biases and prejudices, and tend to be commercially driven, and do not necessarily understand the reading public as well as they profess. In addition, their treatment of you may well be guided as much by the personal chemistry between you, as by your writing. In contrast, feedback from general readers – who don’t know you personally so whose comments are entirely initiated by your work - is invaluable. Of course, you may be lucky enough to run up against that rare animal, ‘THE GREAT (SABER-TOOTHED) EDITOR’, in which case you are singularly fortunate.

12. Understand that writing is a people business – and network. This may be the hardest lesson of all because many writers are naturally introverts, and prefer to write rather than to engage with their fellow humans. Nonetheless, one’s talent alone is rarely sufficient. In addition, one needs the help of others because the primary ingredient of success is who you know; who likes you; who advances your interests at the right time; who decides to back your talent instead of another’s. It goes against the grain for many of us to accept this, but that doesn’t make it less true. So factor in the human element from the very beginning, network as much as possible, and never be afraid to ask for help.

I’m going to close this short opus by reflecting that although the figures indicate that making a living out of creative writing is statistically near impossible, a surprising number of people I have known, who have persevered in their respective creative spheres have succeeded – at least to an extent that makes them content. Beyond that, they have retained their integrity, accumulated a body of work which gives them deep satisfaction, and are proud of what they have achieved.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Dear You--

LinkedIn is surfacing some fascinating issues. I suspect I'm going to be appallingly indiscreet soon - because I intend to write about some of my own real life experiences (and will be naming names) - but for now let's focus on the broad issues. They're important because I think many people believe we are free-er than we are. 

Kudos to Ralph Murray fir raising the issue.

Question asked by Ralph Murray

Ralph Murray: When a manuscript is accepted by a publishing house, does the author have any say in any cuts or revisions that its editor wants to make?

Victor O'Reilly: This is a very interesting question. In strictly legal terms, it depends upon how one’s contract is written – and they do vary.

In terms of custom and practice, essentially a book remains the property of the author so that he or she has to agree to cuts before they are made. The kicker is that, where an advance is concerned, contracts typically include “subject to acceptance” which means if a publishing house doesn’t like what you have written, the deal is off. That imposes considerable financial pressure on authors and, in turn, give editors considerable clout (arguably an understatement).

An extremely successful lawyer friend of mine once memorably commented to me that he didn’t consider typical publishing contracts ‘real contracts’ – and refused to handle them – because the ‘subject to acceptance clause’ favored the publisher so strongly.

There are a number of points to note here: (1) The law concerning the respective rights of author and publisher needs a thorough overhaul with the objective of achieving a fairer balance. Right now, the publisher is dominant. (2) Authors need to be legally advised by their own independent lawyers. (3) there is a tendency of editors to try and make authors conform to the norms of a genre even though the submitted manuscript may be totally acceptable in literary terms. (4) A strong case can be made for a stronger and more active writers’ guild. (5) The power of editors – who are in turn controlled by owners – is such that far more censorship exists than is generally understood.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Apple MacBook Pro 13" (Mid 2009), 15"...Image via WikipediaDear You--

You would think this issue would be resolved by now. I'm heavily biased by my years of trouble with a PC.  Windows 7 is better but even so I don't think it compares.

Victor O'Reilly • Kay – 
Thank you for the reference to 

I Checked it out and it has proved to be most interesting. Personally, I bought Final Draft – pretty much the industry standard - some years ago, but have been so focused on books, I have never taken the time to learn it properly. Nonetheless, I have liked what I have seen.

As it happens, all my published books were optioned for the movies but, as is normal, the last person the producer wanted involved with the screenplay was the book writer. I still hope to write an original screenplay one of these days but naturally I ‘write long.’ I have a son, Christian O’Reilly, a successful playwright, who naturally seems to ‘write short.’ Hmm! I suspect we would both like to master each other’s skills. 

Mark commented that one should chose the software first and then the platform. I accepted that for a long time but it no longer applies – if it ever did. (1) An operating system is crucial and the Mac’s is demonstrably superior. (2) A modern Mac will run both its own OS and Windows. (3) Macs have a better track record of reliability. (4) Macs are pretty much the norm in the movie business. (5) Mac boasts some highly relevant software which is not always available on Windows (though some is being ported across). (6) The extra cost of a Mac is as nothing compared with wrestling with the kind of computer problems a PC throws up.

Where the Mac model is concerned, ideally you want to go with a MacBook Pro (either 13 “ or 15” equipped with 8GB Memory and – probably bought elsewhere – a second screen. In truth, a 13” will do fine – and will be lighter. Don’t get a desk machine – though they are gorgeous – because they are harder to lug around and to maintain.

All of that said, you can write a perfectly good screenplay with a pencil and have it typed it by a friend. Hardware is not the issue in this case.

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Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBaseDear You--

I'm introducing Judy Cullin because I think she talks a great deal of sense about the marketing of books. I have never met her personally but if her comments on LinkedIn Writers Groups are any indication, she is a lady worth listening to. The following is only an example of her approach. She covers the full range of book marketing advice. God knows when she sleeps. Her website is at

The first part of what follows is Judy's pitch and my comment follows:

JUDY CULLIN: Want to Sell Books Other Than Yours for 50% Commission?

I’m not sure if you know about joint ventures that bring in a lot of extra income. One way is through affiliate partners. And this one is so easy to do.

What is an affiliate program?

Simple, it’s an arrangement where you are paid a 50% commission usually for finding customers, and so someone who has a product – say, an expert on book writing, self-publishing and online marketing with content, and this offer may be good. These are all digital books (eBooks) that are downloadable and printable instantly, so sales can go on all around the clock, all over the world, automatically.

Who Benefits? The owner or publisher benefits, because we know we can’t reach all the nooks and crannies around the world on the net, and 50% is better than 0.

You, the commissioned seller benefits because you don’t have to create a product which can be time consuming; you don’t have to setup credit card processing or even bill to a website, as far as that’s concerned. All you do is spread the word about a product that you like, and you get paid for it.

As a true believer in online promotion, I will also include ways to Promote with short blurbs plus you add the URL to your commission page. That means you can tweet these and add to your FB fan pages too.

How to Sign up for these 4 Packages

First you go to my site. You can get there with this link:

Second, you register, and we give you a link that you then place on your website or in your email, and when people click on that link and buy the product, you as the affiliate, you who is the commissioned salesperson—will get paid your generous 50% commission (many folks out there give less than 50%) off of the sale that you were responsible for.

To see the 4 packages and register, go to

For myself, I’ve made a fair amount of money with these affiliate joint ventures and I will educate you on what promotions will work for you on FB, LI and Twitter, even your blog!

When I know your email, you will get promotions notices from time to time like this one:

Write your eBook or Other Short Book--Fast!

To guarantee your book will be a top seller and also bring you more business, then read this 100 page book that includes 5 special reports including "How to Get Testimonials from the Rich and Famous."

Your link here.

I’m here to educate and inspire you to reach out for more…

Judy Cullins, Full-Service Book Coach


I must say, Judy, you are a marketing dynamo who talks a great deal of sense and who is downright generous in terms of free advice – albeit in the context of drumming up business. Indeed, if I was a little richer right now I’d retain you on the spot. As it happens, I have a background in direct response marketing (in my pre-writing days) so can appreciate the wisdom of what you are saying, but I wonder if enough do. I hope so because you are helping us all. I differ with you in only one regard: Though I accept your argument that authors should spend half their time on marketing as being commercially sensible, I am not sure you are giving enough consideration to the fact that most of us writers find the actual writing process extremely hard, and simply do not have the energy left to do what might well be to our optimum advantage. Also, many of us are guilty of enjoying the process of writing too much, and regard the financial aspects with some distaste. Such an attitude is not going to optimize one’s sales, but many would argue that the writing itself is its own reward. For my part, I’m currently engaged in offering advice on the core activity – writing itself – on my blog, but I’m going to set up a link to your website because I think we’d all benefit from an injection from exposure to the Judy Cullins approach. I look forward to talking with you directly in the future.

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Friday, October 1, 2010


"Good grief, Cheops, why do you always have to be different!"

Dear You—

I was inspired to write the following by a post in the LinkedIn Writer's Group Writing Mafia. I guess it's a rather revealing statement which surprised even me - its author - given my rather difficult circumstances right now. But, it's from the heart. 

I hope it helps some of my fellow writers and encourages them to realize that you don't have to be on the Best Seller list to feel that when you decided to become a writer, you made the right decision.

Yes, it is indeed a bloody long paragraph, but sometimes the content dictates the format. Not sure it would fit on my headstone. 

Read on. 

You know you are a writer when...
You know you are a writer when: nothing else seems to be as important; you write in your mind even if not writing physically; the mere sight of a keyboard induces a desire to write; your children become jealous of the time you devote to writing rather than them; you enjoy the actual writing even more than the research; your typical e-mail runs to several pages; you never run short of raw material because you have learned to listen and observe; you attach little importance to the practicalities of everyday living; your idea of relaxing is to browse bookstores or to read; you suddenly discover you have learned to plot; your characters become as real to you as your friends; you become largely indifferent to your surroundings if you can write; you define every flat surface in terms of its suitability as a writing surface; you don’t much care what you wear providing it has pockets for pen, notebook, recorder and camera; you dislike getting tired because you know you cannot write as well; you are largely indifferent to money providing you have enough to survive; your friends don’t understand what motivates you; almost no one understands what you do all day; you have no problem being alone because when you are writing of course you aren’t; you love writing even more than sex; you regard the vicissitudes of life as raw material; you find that in some way you don’t quite understand you are at last able to reach out and touch complete strangers deeply and profoundly through the written word; you realize that there is nothing else that you would prefer to do and that, whatever your circumstances, fundamentally you have attained that state we all strive for: You are at least content, and if you weren’t a writer, and therefore of an innately melancholy disposition, you might even call yourself happy.


Seattle WA October 1 2010