Kirkland College Requiem

One night in the late spring of 1978, two young women broke into the registrar’s office at Hamilton College. Their mission was simple: to remove their academic records, along with all other evidence that they had ever had anything to do with Hamilton. They were members of the last class to receive diplomas from Kirkland College, which was about to be swallowed whole by Hamilton, the college across the street. The Kirkland College board of trustees, with a figurative fiscal gun to their head held by the Hamilton board, had reluctantly, in a split decision, agreed to the merger. But the students never agreed and as far as some of them were concerned Hamilton had no more rights to their records than did the man in the moon.

Below the fold, some commentary on Kirkland College president Samuel Fisher Babbitt’s Limited Engagement part of a my very occasional series of reviews of self-published books.

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Divining the deep implications of the writers' strike

I sent a note to a friend of mine who is a longtime Hollywood actor & photographer, recently turned producer. When the strike began, he had just landed a big recurring role in one of CBS’s new shows, which has since been canceled (along with several other projects he had some involvement in). I asked him his opinion of the settlement. Here’s his reply:

It seems to have either been a stupendously costly farce, or a bold step in the right direction. I have no opinion worth making, but I do have a beard, a lot of time for making photographs, and a bank account that would make a ascetic shudder.

Anybody want to set up a torrent of my books?

According to this story, which I came to by way of slashdot,

Author Paulo ‘Pirate’ Coelho leapt out of obscurity and onto the best-seller list by giving away his books on the Net. The best-selling author of ‘The Alchemist’ will even help you pirate his books via his blog.

Well shit, sez I. I’ve been giving away my books Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices on my blog since early 2003, and Lord knows I have not “leapt out of obscurity”. What gives? I’m willing to admit that it’s possible this guy’s books are better than mine, but frankly, I doubt it. I just think he’s got better marketing than I do: whereas my books are available (PDF) from Wetmachine, his are all over the damn place on bittorrent. So good for him; I congratulate him. Well done! Especially since Coelho did this action on his own, according to the articles, and against the wishes of his publisher.

I should like to emulate him. But while I understand how torrent P2P stuff works abstractly, I confess that when, last week, I finally got around to trying to set up a torrent myself, I got confused and gave it up. Would you, dear reader more familiar with bittorrenting, perchance care to torrent my books for me? If so I should be greatly in your debt.

In the more-than-likely case that you have no idea what my books are like, you might start by checking out Rusty Foster’s reviews. Rusty is the founder of Kuro5hin and the original creator of Scoop software, which drives Daily Kos and a bajillion similar sites. In other words, he’s a geek of unimpeachable geek credentials. He says Acts of the Apostles may well be the ultimate hacker book, and that Cheap Complex Devices is astonishing, on just about every level a book can be astonishing. And of course Google can find you many dozens of other reviews of both books.

My books are under the Creative Commons noncommercial, no derivatives license. Basically, all I care about is that no big corporations rip them off for movie or books without working a deal with me. But I don’t care if any private persons print or translate them. Be my guest.All I ask is that if you do put my books out there in the wild on P2P nets, that you give me proper attribution. I realized that there’s no way to control what others will do with them down the line.

Beyond spreading the wonderfulness or my fictional creations with the world, I hope to make a few dollars from selling the printed books through wetmachine. Wouldn’t it be nice if I “leapt out of obscurity and onto the best-seller list”? It would make a charming story, especially given recent developments in the erstwhile day job.

Come on, guys and gals, let’s make geeky me-too history together. What’s the alternative? That I figure out how to set it up myself? Oh well, I will if I have to, but that would deprive you of a chance to participate in creating the next publishing phenomenon.

Salon loves them some Sundman!

Or rather, they used to. For some reason I just checked out’s “Best of Salon2003” list. It includes 32 articles, four of them by me. I remembered that the Loebner article made the list, but had forgotten that the Human Genome one did too-also. Holy crap. I musta been a contender.

This discovery, I think, calls for a repeat-performance link to this little Wetmachine chestnut about the time I got snubbed by Salon editor Joan Walsh. (See, there are some perks to getting laid off. It gives you endless hours to spend polishing your peerless prose, for which you might even get a party invite, not to mention a few hundred bucks, or whatever it was they paid me. If I ever get laid off again (God forbid!) and have time on my hands, maybe I’ll ring up Joan and pitch a few idears.)

OK, lunch break over. Here endeth my little diversionary walk down literary lane.

When the writer strikes!

I’ve been keeping a desultory eye on the gathering strike by the Writer’s Guild of America, which is the screenwriters’ union — where “screen” means movie screen and television screen.

One of the points at issue is whether computer screens and iPhone screens also count as “screens”, that is, the writers want compensation for works of theirs that are distributed on the net, and, as I understand things, the other party doesn’t want to give it to them.

As a person who has made his living as a writer, kinda-sorta, since April, 1980, I find the notion of a writer’s union intriguing and somewhat baffling. It’s hard to imagine a technical writer’s union negotiating terms with Sun, Microsoft, or IBM. But why is that, exactly? Screenwriting is a much more solitary endeavor than technical writing, so on the face of it, one would expect screenwriters to be even less likely to unionize than technical writers. But then again, the stakes are higher in Hollywood, where the difference between an OK screenplay and a good screenplay is measured in millions of dollars at the so-called bottom line. So writers have more clout, is what I’m trying to say.

Recently my friend the Hollywood actor/producer/script-doctor has been making some noises about pimping the movie rights to my novel Acts of the Apostles. (It would make a great movie, by the way!) I have no understanding of the craft of screenwriting; nor do I have any free time not taken up by the day job & so-called life. So I’m not a very strong candidate to try my hand at writing a screenplay of my book. On the other hand, I’m not in the Guild, and, given that it is a guild— meaning that it’s hard to even gain admission to it— I’m unlikely to be in it anytime soon. So maybe I should go for it.

Act one, Scene one: Exterior. A dark and stormy night. . .

Picture, if you will. . .

I continue to struggle with my little novella The Pains. Perhaps it’s fitting that a story about a humble human of common decency but no particular kozmic talent who is evidently picked by the universe to redeem the world through his own suffering should not come easy. Or, actually, the story came mostly easy; it’s the prose, dammit, the words, that are long-dark-night-of the soul-ing me to death.

Anyway, I have written a few more chapters which will be up soon, and a few more beyond them are in the queue. I can’t believe I’m still working on this thing! But I will finish it! Oh yes! It will be mine!

Those of you who’ve read any of our story thus far have seen this illo:

The Cell of Lux

In the meantime, mostly as a prod to myself, here’s a nice little illustrated summary of the book by its illustrator Matthew, AKA Cheeseburger. Take a look.

How Robert and Krys Helped Destroy the Nazi Monster

Here’s a couple of quick reviews, part of a sparsely-populated ongoing series of reviews of self-published books.

Both books under review are short memoirs of the Second World War, published in the last few years. I recommend them for very different reasons. And although each has its faults and they both clearly would have benefitted from the attentions of professional editors, to me they embody everything that’s cool about self-publishing (about which more below).

Whales of WWII, by Robert Jagers, tells of the author’s experiences as signalman on LST 351, a “Landing Ship, Tank”, during the Second World War. Starting with his enlistment at age 19 in 1942, the book takes us through boot camp, crossing the Atlantic in a slow convoy harried by German submarines, to the invasions of Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Normandy, to London during the buzz-bombs and V2 rocket attacks, until demobilization in the States.

Krystyna, A Chronicle of Life and War, by Krystyna Maria Sokolowska Post, tells the story of the author’s growing up in Poland during the pre-war years in a complicated but in many ways charming family, her coming of age on the eve of the German invasion, and what happened to her when the Nazis came. It’s an astonishing tale, well told, full of innocence, villainy, tragedy, courage, evil, fate, and, ultimately, triumph, about how a young girl whose head was filled with little more than thoughts of boys, boys, boys and American movie stars became transformed, over six harrowing years, into a soldier of the resistance–adept dressing at wounds in a field hospital during the (1944) battle of Warsaw or keeping an eye out for a pregnant comrade-in-arms in a POW camp– until her ultimate liberation by, you guessed it, a handsome American GI.

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Here's blooking at you, Harold!

According to this post in the Sydney Morning Herald, books derived from blogs–inevitably given the doubly-condensed appelation “blooks”– are the hippest thing in publishingdome:

blooks – books based on blogs or websites – are beginning to reap returns for publishers. From the moment the adventures of Belle de Jour, the diary of a London call girl, jumped off the computer screen and onto the page, publishers saw the potential in dishing up our favourite on-screen pleasures in book format.

I know that our own Harold “Tales of the Sausage Factory” Feld has been toying with the idea of slapping printouts of his Wetmachine posts between two covers & selling the resultant, umm, blook, at a decent markup. Perhaps this article will inspire him to actually do it. But here’s my little bit of publishing advice, Harold: since “sex sells’, even in the blook world,

whether it’s the slightly grubby thrill of Girl With a One Track Mind (the ”diary of a sex fiend“) or a dip into Frank Warren’s PostSecret (a collection of anonymous postcards on which people reveal a secret), readers seem happy to buy them

be sure to give your blook a title that hints at something having to do with sex and secrets. Might I suggest, ”My Big Sausage, Just For You, Baby!”?