Why Digital Is A Great Book Format That Should Be Embraced

digital_images

Since the digital format for books (and music) is still in the equivalent of its late infancy stage, those who are reluctant to embrace change have given the format much criticism. I know a few fellow writers who say they have tried the digital format, and dislike it, insisting that I should cease and desist with my annoyingly persistent attempts to convince them to give digital a chance. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their preferences. However, due to how inimical people often tend to be when it comes to any type of new technological offering to the world (as well as pretty much anything else, but that’s a whole other topic), I cannot help but wonder if the real reason they refuse to embrace digital as a viable format is because, plain and simple, they are not used to it.

I. Change, Change Go Away… 

 People often tend to prefer what they are used to. This can create a stubborn psychological block that prevents them from adjusting to anything new. This is why, I believe, the home computer revolution took over a decade to reach the point where over 95% of all homes had such an important and revolutionary device. How many people are aware that home computers were available since the early 1980s? Probably not many, because back then it was mostly only true “geeks” who actually purchased computers, particularly those who  planned a career in working with them. Many other people felt they didn’t need a home computer, simply because they had previously spent the entirety of their lives without one. I’m sure the same situation prevailed when the telephone was first invented; it probably took next to a decade before the majority of people had one since, after all, they were so used to conveying messages via horseback from one house to another that they didn’t see any great need for an obvious “extravagance” like a telephone.

Let’s all try to imagine not having a cell phone now, let alone a land line. Let those who grew up during the last two decades now try to imagine “not needing” a home computer. These technological advances make our life far too easier to contemplate the thought of going without them, yet it took those who lived their lives for a long time without these devices to warm up to the idea that they weren’t a monumental waste of money  and/or an unproductive waste of time to learn how to use. And then there are those people who never want to embrace new technology – and I’m talking about devices that are truly useful, and not just consumerist junk that the advertising industry are paid to tell us that we “need” – because they are totally convinced that these devices are “too complicated” for them to learn, or that you have to be extremely tech-savvy in order to use them. And yes, I actually know a few people, generally older folks, who consider me an “expert” with computers because I’ve greatly impressed them with my ability to send an e-mail or shop off of Amazon (that’s me, the computer genius! Bow before my greatness, and I shall show you the secret of using an online search engine! Mwah-hah-hah!).

Over the next few years, as soon as efficient models of 3-D printers (forgive me, but I love calling them replicators) become truly affordable for everyone, I’m sure they will be the next great technological advance that people of the present who live then will insist they don’t need, but which people who grew up with one in the house can scarcely imagine being without. Not to mention failing to understand how their grandparents can insist they “don’t need one.”  But that is a complaint I can no doubt save for a future blog to gripe about. Today, the technical advance in question that so many find hard to embrace due to its status as a new form of technology is digital books, or ebooks.

II. Why I Believe The World Will Leave Behind Those Who Refuse to “Get Digital”

 Now, let me give the following disclaimer before I provide my adulation-filled endorsements for the digital format: I’m not hoping that the new format completely replaces the treeware (sorry, but I can’t resist calling it that!) format.  Yes, print books are beautiful. Yes, they feel good in the hand. Yes, they look great filling a bookcase, and such a collection catches the admiring eye of many visitors. Yes, they give the impression of great erudition on your part for having such a collection occupying a respected spot in your home.  And yes, they provide a good means of physical information storage should our computer technology fail us, as it often does, especially in regards to preservation for future generations.

It’s not my intention to diss the treeware format, and there are good reasons for authors, publishers, and readers to be open to working with both the print and digital mediums for books (and music, etc.).  My criticism here is for authors, publishers, and readers who in this day and age stubbornly insist on only reading and/or publishing on the treeware format.

So with no more further ado, here are all the reasons why I think it’s a very good idea to embrace digital no matter how much you love, prefer, or are simply too used to the print medium:

1. You can’t beat the instant gratification factor of purchasing a book in digital format online, and being able to read it within literally seconds of your purchase. Many may insist they are more than willing to wait the two days to two weeks (or occasionally longer) it takes for print books to arrive in the mail, but I’m sorry, time can pass very slowly for those who have to wait for something they really want.

2. You can’t beat the price savings you usually get with the digital format. Yes, there’s a certain big publishing company currently trying to pull a “Hachette” job on fair digital pricing right now, but I believe they are fighting a losing battle to retain their privileged position in the long-time status quo for which the digital format is causing a rapid decline.

3. No shipping and handling charges for digital products (at least in the United States). Woohoo!  The many of us on a budget or fixed income certainly appreciate that.

4. You just can’t beat that dictionary feature where you can double click on any unfamiliar word and instantly summon forth the dictionary definition! And, in addition, the Wikipedia entry on certain reading tablets, like the new Kindle Fire HDX!  Some of the stubborn “print only” folks out there may boast that they aren’t “too lazy” to look up a word from their print dictionary just like they learned to do in school before the digital format was a reality, but come on now!  Do we really have time during an intense reading session to constantly keep putting the book down, marking our place, and flipping through the hundreds and hundreds of words in the treeware dictionary to find every unfamiliar word we come across in a text? This dictionary entry at the click of a cursor has immense educational benefits to people of all ages, since it provides greater incentive to use the dictionary due to the lack of time wasting.

5. Print books may look beautiful in large numbers on your bookshelves, but they quickly become an eye sore for many when they begin piling  up on the floor in multiple rooms.  For those of us who love to read, that means large numbers of books often begin accumulating in huge piles on the floor of whatever room in your home happens to become your makeshift storage depot. How many books have we lost that way? How much time do we have to waste by digging through large piles of books that virtually rival the number stacked in the library (yes, libraries still exist) to find that one tome we’ve been clamoring to re-read for two years now, but haven’t been able to find buried in that massive pile? How about if we simply want to locate a certain reference or highlighted paragraph, only to find that a needlessly daunting task because the book in question is buried somewhere in the hidden reaches of that storage room? Is not wanting to spend a few hours digging in that book pile truly a sign of laziness, or is it more akin to time efficiency?

6. Sorry, but you can’t beat the convenience and space-saving measure of being able to bring literally a thousand books with you wherever you go, be they stored on a reading tablet, as downloads on your laptop, or simply saved on cloud space. That is far more convenient and less annoying than having to pick and choose just a few treeware books to bring with you on a trip.

7. Two important words for those who hope to go into self-publishing: more control.  That means being able to publish what you want to publish, rather than having a big business mogul or one of their editing staff decide whether it’s “marketable” enough for them to take a chance on.  Also think of the greater choices we are giving to the reading public by letting them determine what books make it through the  marketability “vetting” procedure, rather than one or two people sitting in an office.  Yes, a lot of crap makes it through, but a lot of crap made it through before, including certain works commonly hailed as “classics” simply because they were published a long, long time ago. And a lot of good stuff is making it through now that would likely not have seen the light of day if a big publisher was the only avenue for getting it before the reading public.  As selling platforms like Smashwords slowly begin to encroach on big digital retailers like Amazon, more and more opportunities open for alternative books with insights and ideas that a big publisher would never allow past their vetting process for what amount to political reasons. Hence, the digital format is good for democracy.

8. Total control over your cover design. Woohoo! Near-total control over the pace in which your book is ready for publication. Woo-freakin’-hoo!!  Yes, it can be argued that many digital self-publishers are not doing a professional editing job, and this is indeed something that print books often have over many digital publishers… at least for the immediate present. And yes, self-publishers do need to hire a good editor. But as the digital publishing medium becomes increasingly popular, more professional freelance editors are entering the business, and as they grow more numerous, their services are becoming increasingly more affordable. They are clearly worth the expense, and over the past few years we have seen an exponential increase in quality editing jobs with digital books. Some formatting problems tend to crop up in digital books, but the medium is still rather new, and this problem is also decreasing with the passage of time.

9. There is a considerably better chance for writers to be able to make a decent living off of their work with self-publishing in digital format than those who stubbornly insist on only going with traditional print publishing. I’ve been amazed with the number of fledgling writers I’ve met who do not know how the print business actually works. Consider this: Your books that are sent to traditional brick and mortar shops – which are now in trouble – are forced to compete for very limited shelf space. Those that do not sell are often removed from the shelves within six months, and the unsold copies are sent back to the publisher. Your traditional publisher then has the choice of removing your book from print then, or at any time thereafter. Their goal is to make as much profit as can be squeezed out over the short term. You are often paid a mere $5,000.00 for your work, with the rest going to the publishing company. Only the top few sellers can expect the periodic royalty checks from being in any way substantial.

9.1 With the digital medium, however, you – or your indie publisher – have the option of keeping your books in print for perpetuity. The digital retailing business is designed to make a profit over the long haul, and your books will generally have ample time to find their audience, and to remain visible. Granted, a traditional print publisher has more resources for promotion. But that,  however,  is changing due to the advent of social media. You have many opportunities to promote your book for free, e.g., your channel on YouTube; your Facebook account; over Google; your websites; blog, etc., et al.  You can get fellow authors or publishers to promote your books on their blogs by offering to do the same for theirs in exchange, or sending them out to the many online book reviewers out there.

9.2 You get a far greater percentage off of sold books if you’re self-publishing in digital format than you do with traditional publishing. For instance, Amazon will currently give you 35% of everything you sell for under $2.99, and 70% for anything between that price and $9.99 (anything above that is 35% to the writer again; many thanks to fellow writer Perry Constantine for this important reminder!). By offering your stories, essays, books, etc., at such reasonable prices, coupled with periodic free giveaways, you have the potential to grab many more buyers than those who can be expected to pick up a hardcover treeware book that costs a small fortune for those on a budget.

10. Yes, there is the problem of piracy, as many will point out. This, in fact, is what comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin complained about in a recent interview that I responded to in a previous blog entry; he said he thinks of piracy whenever he thinks of books in digital format. And yes, some degree of piracy will always be there, since our beautifully archaic capitalist system hopes to continue utilizing a barter system in a world where true scarcity no longer exists, especially not for intellectual property sold on easily copied digital files (but I’ll save my anti-capitalist rants for future blogs). And do you know why piracy got so out of hand with both the music and writing industries? That was due to the big music, publishing, and video companies charging an arm and a leg along with other select body parts for their products; far more so, in fact, than what was required for them to actually make a good profit. This is a duplicitous business practice which angered and alienated the many consumers who have to live on a budget. Whether or not this was justified is another topic for another blog, but the point is, if you try to rip people off, you can’t expect loyal sales support in response.  Selling intellectual property at reasonable prices that do not break the proverbial bank of your prospective customers greatly discourages piracy and hugely encourages your readers to support your product.

11. If you want to make your books available in print format despite being heavily into digital publishing, you have the Print On Demand [POD] option, which is provided by CreateSpace (owned by Amazon), Lulu, etc.

12. Print publication still has the advantage of prestige, but that’s only because the belief persists that if your writing is deemed by the editors who work for a big publishing company to be worth investing $30,000.00+ to print a sizable amount of copies for the brick and mortar retailers, then your work must be “good.” This belief has gone on for a long time because traditional print publishers have existed for a long time, and digital publishing for only a very short time in human history. This belief doesn’t take into account the difference between “good” and marketable.  It also doesn’t take into account how often big publishers are wrong in their assessments, and how they routinely both overestimate and underestimate the sale-ability of a book. Finally, this belief doesn’t take into account the office politics involved in these decisions that have nothing to do with the intrinsic educational and/or entertainment value of a given book. Moreover, this belief makes the arrogant assumption that a few elite members of a publishing company are a better judge of a book’s quality or worthiness to publish and purchase than the readers themselves.

13. For those who are genuinely concerned about the environment and the health of the biosphere, there is the matter of how the print medium acquired the nickname of “treeware.” The growth of the digital format decreases the amount of trees that have to be sacrificed for our reading pleasure.

14. I know certain people who continue to prefer the print medium who have eye problems that are exacerbated by the relatively small print of the letters on treeware books. With digital books, you can control the size of the text and even the color of the background on reading tablets and text on PDF files. This, frankly, makes me seriously question the judgment of such individuals for continuing to prefer the print medium, not to mention how I worry that their stubborn resistance to change may be damaging their vision, or at least resulting in chronic painful eyestrain.

15. Your digital collection of books that are only visible on your computer, your cloud storage space, and reading tablet afford you greater privacy than your physical collection. What do I mean by this? Simple. How many of us do not own books of controversial topics that we would rather our nosier guests do not just stumble upon, or which your grandmother doesn’t come across while wandering about your house? Let me give you a few hypothetical examples so you really understand what I mean. How many of you would like your grandmother to stumble upon your print copy of An Illustrated History of Stag Films? Or A Connoisseur’s Guide to Prostitutes? Or The True Story of A Man Who Loved His Puppets a Little Too Much? Or… I’ll spare you any more such hypothetical examples, since I think you hopefully get the gist by now. This may sound flippant, but I think it’s a serious point to consider. It’s much easier to keep your digital collection away from potentially prying eyes than your print books, since you have the option to lock your computer or reading tablet to keep those unwelcome ocular organs away from your more, um… personal reading material. Yes, you can hide your print books, but as physical items it’s still possible – and more likely than you may want to think – that some nosy guest will manage to “stumble” upon them.

So there you have it, 15 reasons off the bat that explain why I consider the digital format to be awesome and a major positive convenience which readers, writers, and publishers refuse to embrace at their peril.

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Hatred of the 99%… by the 99%

 

Big_Business_Dude

 

One of the most unfortunate features of our illustrious capitalist system based on ownership of the industries and services by the few for the private profit of the few – while most of the remaining 99% work hard to give this elite handful their tremendous privileges – is the sometimes startling degree of hatred and vitriol that the 99% has for fellow members of the working class, especially the poorest among them. This attitude, of course, is part of an underlying ideology spoon-fed to the 99% in both the state and privately controlled (cough cough) “education” system that prevents us from uniting to create a new system based on fully egalitarian economic relations. If most of the working class detest members of their own class, and points fingers at each other for being the main cause of the manifold economic issues in this country, then the fully class-conscious capitalist class are able to maintain their privileged position as robber barons and exploiters of the labor class with continuing impunity.

 

“The disposition to admire, and even to almost worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or at least to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”
— Adam Smith, THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS (1759)

 

As a good personal example, I recall several months ago how a valued, long-time friend of mine decided to post a common rant on her Facebook wall about how enraged she is at the many poor people who (according to her views) make a fortune on welfare, while she has to work to earn what passes for her own  wages. Of course, she received the multitude of “likes” and thumbs-ups you would expect from her friends, all of whom are fellow members of the 99%.

 

When I reminded her in that thread how it’s the wealthy members of the capitalist class who are actually the ones who collect vast amounts of government largesse in the forms of minimal taxation, huge corporate subsidies, and hefty bail-outs from the public coffer whenever the executives and bankers among their number routinely come close to destroying the economy – including generous bonuses instead of any type of financial loss or jail time – my friend conceded, almost as an after-thought, “Yes, I know, hun, I can’t stand people like them either.”

 

Very generous of this friend of mine to acknowledge that in passing, after my reminder. Note, however, how her first instinct when venting over her situation is to attack poor people barely getting by on social programs, as opposed to the far larger chunk of taxpayer money given every year to the members of the 1%, none of whom are in any way remotely needy, and many times in the wake of having enacted destructive, often outright illegal economic practices that are the actual sources of almost every fiscally-based problem my friend and all others of the 99% have to deal with. And the poor people are regularly penalized in harsh ways if they so much as make the slightest lie on their applications for social services!

 

This deeply ingrained attitude and misplaced ire directly explains why the working class continues to lack any unity, while the wealthy capitalists have full unity of purpose with both each other and their paid-for bureaucrats sitting in Congress, the Oval Office, and the Supreme Court.

 

Yes, with a few terse reminders, we can kinda-sorta get our fellow indignant workers to acknowledge that the capitalists can, at times, kinda-sorta suck up a bit of the public funds at our expense. But that rarely seems to be where the finger-pointing first directs itself. It’s as if they seriously believe, and routinely see,  the jobless poor on social services riding around in jeweled limos or flying to the welfare office on their private jets, and then using their “substantial” few-hundred-dollar-a-month checks to fly their families on fancy Caribbean vacations for two months of leisure without having to lift a finger to work… unlike the poor among us with jobs who may be lucky enough to earn $300.00 a week and a few meager benefits (if they are full-time and not self-employed) .

 

They know full well how difficult it is even for a two-adult household with both being employed to make a living. Yet they ignore the fact that most of the poor people who need degrees of public aid like food stamps and Section 8 are actually working poor.  Further, they truly believe these fellow 99-percenters who are on the dole – whether employed or not – actually live a princely existence on a mere $300 a month.  They know how difficult it is to raise a family on the niggardly income they earn even when working more than one job, yet they seriously believe that the lesser amount of money unemployed women get from social services for having children allows them to live and raise their kids in style, and that this actually encourages huge amounts of poor women not to work and have as many kids as possible… as if what they get in welfare funds and food stamps for each additional child wouldn’t be negated by the great amount of expense it takes to keep each of these children well fed and in decent clothes.

 

The all-too many working poor who believe these nonsense social myths seriously seem to believe that “welfare queens” are prospering by having a horde of very-expensive-to-raise kids, as if they are raising trust fund babies.  Do most of these poor people on the dole live in glittering gated communities with huge swimming pools, and Metro bus passes carved out of shiny gold bullion? Because the grimy project area tenements containing apartments with frequently malfunctioning bath tubs and sinks they routinely get stuck in certainly don’t resemble what one would expect from people accused of raising generations who prosper from the dole.

 

Also notice how these misguided workers regularly decry the existence of welfare for the poor, or constantly demand it be further limited from what they claim is a kingly sum, without demanding that the government instead spend these taxpayer dollars on creating jobs in the public sector. What they do not seem to realize is that a certain percentage of involuntarily unemployed people is beneficial to the ruling capitalist class, because they act as a potentially reserve force of labor that enables the capitalists to keep wages low.  This is why the government has zero interest in achieving anything near full employment, while spreading the common social mythology that the main reason there are so many poor people on the dole is because they are “too lazy” to want to work. Yanno, as if the truly wealthy soaking up the sunlight on the Caribbean beaches for two months, while their one thousand laborers in America and five thousand employees outsourced from India slave 40 hours a week to earn all that cash for them, somehow encourages an industrious work ethic in either these plutocrats or their kids who are destined to be idle trust fund recipients.

 

This anger directed at their own class, including the poorest members, serves as a terrific red herring that deters working class antipathy and finger-pointing away from the wealthy capitalists who are truly living the proverbial Life of Riley (actually, the lives of Richie Rich) without having to lift a finger to work, because their millions of annual dollars of income are derived from a combination of capital gains (i.e., investments on the stock market); the wealth earned from their legion of laborers; and genuinely large government hand-outs (in the form of massive tax breaks, huge bail-outs for their screw-ups, and generous subsidies).

 

Less than a fraction of that is spent on social services for the poor, including those who have many kids, none of whom are going to be raised in pristine conditions, and at no fault of their own. Yet it’s these latter people and their kids whom the angry working members of the labor class blame for leeching off the public coffer, and for whom are demanded strict limits on what they receive from what’s left of the government safety net for the poor.

 

As long as members of the working class wallow in the ignorance of these social myths which encourage finger-pointing at their own class as the primary cause of their problems, the actual leeches will continue to prosper at the expense of 99% of us while we all fight and compete amongst each other for the crumbs that remain. Moreover, as long as we continue to admire the wealthy and remain loyal to the system that creates all of this inequality now that we have reached a level of technological development where scarcity of goods no longer exists, our justified anger over our situation will continue to be misdirected at our neighbors rather than our exploiters.

 

I hope that friend of mine – and the many others in the 99% who think like her – feel better after venting against their own class.

 

 

My response to Howard Chaykin’s discussion on the “absurdity” of super-heroes

One of Howard Chaykin's most inspired creations
One of Howard Chaykin’s most inspired creations

 

Recently, renowned comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin conducted a well-attended panel discussion on the “Absurdity of Super-Heroes” at Special Edition: NYC, where he proved himself as opinionated on these subjects as I am! Yes, really! I didn’t attend, but I read many excerpts on his discussion as recorded in this article on Comic Book Resources. I felt compelled to respond to some of his strong opinions with strong opinions of my own, of course. Read them and wince, if you may:

 

An eleven year-old boy asked the next question: “People are encouraging more censorship. What are your views on making more censored books?”

“I believe that superhero comics are by nature children’s fiction,” Chaykin said. “the idea of a man or woman dressing up in these goofy outfits and going out and fighting crime is absurd.”

 

He went on to explain that he is “astonished” by the way that some creators have made superheroes into “adult affairs.”

Acknowledging that his own resume has a significant amount of superhero material, the artist defended his choices by saying, “That’s what they gave me! We do the work we get.”

 

The eventual maturation of  super-hero stories hardly seems “astonishing” to me despite the seeming absurdity of the “costume thing” Howard points out, because the root of these fantasies lie in adulthood as well as childhood. Adults crave power on a large scale no less than children do, and in today’s adult-dominated society older folks are able to actually realize it far more often. Superhuman beings in general are glorified metaphors for our deep desires to have power over our own lives, and become a force to be reckoned with in the world; the ability to do something about many of our concerns – both personal and global – that matter to us.

 

That’s the reason why superhuman beings were so popular in world mythology and folklore. Those old tales weren’t compiled and told/read solely for or to children, respectively. They contain many archetypal elements that heavily motivate adults, albeit in elaborately grandiose and sensational fashion. Super-beings serve as figures that people of all ages hope to be, even if expressed on the pages as colorful beings who represent the real world only in a strictly metaphorical sense. Such stories abound in the legends of Heracles/Hercules, Theseus, and Odysseus in Greco-Roman mythology; King Arthur Pendragon in Celtic mythology; the stories of David and Samson in the Bible; and the likes of Pecos Bill in American folklore (and these are just a few examples in each).

 

As for the “absurd” and undeniably gaudy costumes: They were designed to get our attention. And that they have done. Characters who represent the same archetypes function quite well without them, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dirty Harry Callahan. Captain America’s gaudy uniform has obvious symbolic connotations to it, as does Wonder Woman’s. They represent something on a deep psychic level beyond their apparent absurdity.

 

Regarding Chaykin’s noting how Batman acted as an adult based on the infamous “bad day” he had at age eight:  We often tend to carry on our psychic baggage picked up in childhood well into our middle age, and even beyond. Batman simply expressed this notion in pure grand metaphorical fashion that all mediums of fantastic fiction provide a platform for.  As my close friend Amy once saliently noted: “Childhood… it takes our entire adulthood to get over it.” Hence, is it any surprise that the super-hero genre began exploring more “mature” issues once it became clear it wasn’t only children who were reading them?

 

Hands were creatively tied regarding the content one could explore in comic books during the Golden Age and Silver Age of Comics, much as was the case with mediums like film and television during the same general era.

 

The next fan asked Chaykin about his thoughts on digital comics. “When I hear digital, I hear ‘pirate,'” adding that he doesn’t draw with digitization in mind. “It has nothing to do with what I do.”

 
 When I hear digital, I hear “wave of the future, like it or not.” As I noted elsewhere, and will deal with in more detail in a future blog, piracy can be minimized by something the comic book industry – both offline and online – hasn’t been too keen on respecting since the 1990s to the present: Reasonable pricing that readers on a budget can be expected to afford, especially when all comic book companies seem to bank on producing and selling a huge amount of material per month. When you make your written material too expensive for many fans to afford, that’s what happens. Even in the days before digital, treeware comic books were commonly borrowed between friends; or loaned freely from libraries (that’s where I got my copy of Stephen King’s comic book adaptation of his film Creepshow!); or even having the pages xeroxed and stapled together, all due to their expense.
 And let’s not even get into the actual effect on trees that over-reliance on the print medium results in, eh?

 Just my two cents as a life-long fan of comic books, and as a published author working in the digital medium!

How do you get people to read your posts if they are too long?

This particular post is a “venting” rant on my part. However, as I dislike making complaints about anything without offering solutions to (hopefully) counter the perceived problem, I’m going to do that as well. This is in regards to so many people either not bothering to read anything you write because of the complaint that it’s too long, or only reading part of it and never coming back to the rest. Any writer who claims this doesn’t vex them is being less than honest, because every writer knows how much work and emotional investment goes into everything we write and share with the public, including “mere” blog posts.

 

This is prompted by an ongoing problem I have with my writing style, which is making my essays and blog posts too long, so that people avoid reading them, either in their entirety or altogether – or, perhaps worse, just “skimming” through them. Yes, I tend to be “wordy” because I have a very strong tendency to want to be thorough in the points I make, lest I later be accused of being “vague” or deliberately leaving important matters out in order to bolster my arguments. This is no doubt a problem I need to work on, and have tried to address since re-starting my blog. But another part of the problem is this odd attitude that people en masse appear to have when it comes to reading essays and blog posts (which are certainly a form of essay, albeit designed exclusively for the realm of cyberspace).

 

That attitude is how so many people seem to think that an essay (or blog post) has to either be read in its entirety all in one sitting, or not at all. So if they are inclined to read a post of mine, they attempt to trudge through it completely, and if they can’t – if they grow bored due to it being too long for them, or if they simply do not have enough time that day to get through it – they stop reading at that point and never come back to it. Or, they preemptively skim through the whole body of the post to get an idea of its length, and if they deem it too long to get through in one sitting, they avoid making the effort to read more than itty bitty pieces of it altogether. This, despite the fact that readers are used to tackling novels and even novellas for only as much as they can get through in a single sitting, and then come back to it at another time. Indeed this is why novels – and even novellas – as well as non-fiction books are divided into separate chapters.

 

This is also why I have, of late, attempted to divide my longer posts or essays into separate, readily demarcated sections so readers have a good “leaving off point,” and do not feel this compelling requirement to read all of it in one sitting, or permanently stop at a certain point or avoid reading altogether. Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt some people do not like my writing style at all, finding it boring, pretentious, “awkward,” annoying, etc., and avoid my posts/essays for that reason. This is the case with every writer, and we expect and accept this (or need to learn to do so in a big hurry). But this is not addressing those individuals; it’s addressing those who would genuinely like to read at least some of my posts (depending on topic, in many cases), but end up doing the above for perceiving it to be “too long” for them to get through in a single reading session.

 

As readers of my blog know, the day after Father’s Day, I posted a tribute to my grandfather, a diatribe near and dear to my heart. I made an effort to avoid making it too long so that it would be avoided or only partially read for that reason. I counted how many paragraphs it ran, and the number was 14. Is that really long to the point that so many readers who may have wanted to read it avoided doing so, or only read part of it… and then never came back to read the rest because they couldn’t get through it all in one sitting? According to a close friend whose friendship and opinion I greatly value and respect, this was indeed the case. This friend told me the other day that he/she only read part of the tribute because it was too long.

 

Shortly before I left that tribute, this friend wrote one for his/her own father on his/her blog, and it clocked in at ten paragraphs, few of them lengthy. This was a mere four paragraphs less than my tribute to my grandfather, which also varied in length (some were quite short). I read this valued friend’s tribute in its entirety because I knew this post was near and dear to his/her heart, and I knew how much emotion this friend put into it. Hence, I made the time to read it. I didn’t think ten paragraphs was “too long,” and though different people must be expected to have different opinions on the matter, I don’t think 14 paragraphs (some quite short) is so long that I should expect those who sincerely wanted to see what I had to say to deem it “too long” to get through.

 

Obviously, I’m wrong. Fourteen paragraphs is evidently too long for some people. I’m not certain that I can ever truncate my writing style to the point that I make every single blog entry less than 12 paragraphs, but what I will do in the future is this:  If I have a lot to say about a certain subject, and want to avoid being accused of “short-changing” this topic, I will post in multiple parts. If I can say everything I want to say about what I have to say in a single post, then  I will endeavor to keep it under 13 paragraphs, since I know it will likely not get read, or read in its entirety, otherwise… no matter how important or dear to my heart, or how interested a reader in question may have in it.

 

In addition to meeting my readers “half way” in this manner, I reiterate this suggestion: Never feel compelled to read a single essay/post in a single sitting any more than you do a novel or lengthy book of non-fiction. If it’s too long for you to get through in a single session, simply mark your point of ending, and get back to it at a later time, just as you may mark the time stamp of a movie or online video that’s too long for you to get through in one sitting. If you don’t think it’s worth reading at all, then by all means, avoid reading it entirely. But if you genuinely do want to read it, and length is a problem or consideration for you, then you do the blogger/writer a bit more justice for their hard work by marking off the ending point and getting back to it when next you have time to sit and read it. And repeat the process several times if necessary, just as you would for a book you had an interest in.

 

Thomas J. Nigro – Gone but Never Forgotten

Okay, granted I missed putting this Father’s Day tribute up on Father’s Day (I didn’t expect to end up sleeping all day yesterday after being awake working for 12 hours straight, including all night long on Saturday), but I figured a day late is better than  not at all. And I certainly think I owed this to my grandfather.

 

Even though this is for Father’s Day, we should have Grandparents’ Days too, considering the major influence they play in  some of our lives, admittedly some of us more than others. I’m among those whose maternal grandparents always played a very significant part of my life, for they essentially raised me due to the fact that my mother had me at the ripe young age of 16. My mother has always been a part of my life too (not my biological father, however), but my grandparents were always much more like parents to me, even when we weren’t getting along (which was certainly often enough).

 

My grandfather, Thomas J. Nigro, passed away two years ago after a long and memorable life at 89, and I gave him a suitable eulogy on my original blog right afterwards, which can be read here; as well as a birthday tribute for what would have been his 90th birthday had he lived a year longer the following year, which can be read here.

 

As I noted previously, when discussing parents or influential grandparents, individuals who have written books or articles about them have most often, it seems, either mercilessly lambasted them for their negative points, or uncritically canonized them for how wonderful they supposedly were.  Since individual human nature is most often more nuanced than that, I’ve always hoped to be both fair and honest (including about myself in both cases), and respectful and candid when discussing any topic, including deeply personal matters like this one.

 

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well that my grandfather and I had a very rocky relationship for the longest time. Why? Simply and honestly put, we were both difficult people, very stubborn and unshakable in our ideologies, which just happened to be diametrically opposed in most ways. Moreover, our only major traits in common were that stubbornness, as well as the infamous Italian temper.  We needed space to be able to get along, and in a house with only two bedrooms at the time, which we also shared with my uncle, Tom Jr., we obviously didn’t have that space.  I greatly needed my own room during my middle school, high school, and early college years, but there wasn’t sufficient space at the time, so I had to share a room and bunk with the Unc. We had the capacity to expand the house and add a room, but when I asked him to do this back in the day, he said “no” for reasons of his own.

 

To make a long story slightly shorter, we had very different ideas regarding when and how respect was merited (he adamantly believed the younger automatically owe it to the older, as do most the rest of my family; I adamantly believe it’s a precious commodity that must be earned, never demanded, no matter who you are); he was socially conservative in much of his thinking, whereas I would grow increasingly progressive as I grew older; he avoided controversy whenever he could, whereas I immersed myself in it by never hiding any view or taste I ever had, no matter how maverick or iconoclastic. To top it off, our interests differed greatly (I loved the genres of sci-fi and speculative fiction in general; he earnestly believed that was all nonsense), and our talents greatly differed: He was impressively skilled at “handy” work like carpentry, plumbing, fixing anything that broke, gardening, cementing, etc.; my skills were always with the written and spoken word.

 

In short, he didn’t understand the “kid” in his midst, and didn’t believe it was his responsibility to try. Me, I grew up bitter and angry over the incessant bullying at school and lack of understanding at home, and I took it out on the world all too often, acting out in negative ways, and misguidedly believing I had a right to hate the world. As you can see, this was a bad recipe for our forging a good and close relationship. During my high school years, I once spent an entire year (no exaggeration) refusing to talk to my grandfather after he attempted to clobber me with a baseball bat (thank you to my grandmother and uncle for deterring the onslaught by providing a human barrier between the target and the would-be clobberer). My grandfather never had height on him, but he was a very physically strong man whose bad side you would deeply regret getting on. His will and immunity to fear of anything – sometimes to a fault – were equally strong (if a Green Lantern Corps. actually existed in our universe, the Guardians of the Universe would have picked him for a ring before Hal Jordan, let me tell you!). He was a force to be reckoned with, but I was the proverbial immovable object to his irresistible force, and each of us made the other miserable on more than a few occasions, to put things mildly.

 

However, it must be said to do him justice, my grandfather was not a one-dimensional “bad guy” out of a terribly written cartoon, but he had a lot of merit as a person. He was the best provider one could ever ask for, and I was never in danger of going hungry, or without sufficient clothing, or bereft of a comfortable roof over my head with him around. Even when he didn’t like some of his family members (and I was high on that list), he never hesitated to be on hand to drive us someplace we needed to go, including driving me on a frequent basis to school in the worst inclement weather imaginable. No hardship on behalf of his family was too much for him to endure. His heart of gold was often buried deeply beneath his gruff exterior, but it was there nonetheless. I was also always deeply impressed with his skills at the myriad forms of handy work I mentioned above, and in my earliest years, I wanted to be a carpenter just like him (when I didn’t want to be a fireman, that is), even though it would turn out that a different path was ordained for me by the Powers That Be (give the “Powers” any label you’re comfortable with).

 

Now, as for whether or not being a very good material provider for family, including when one is not legally obligated to do so, is all that is required to be a good parent (or parent surrogate), and their behavior and mannerisms towards individual family members shouldn’t be factored into the level of respect they receive, is a sometimes contentious point that I’ve long disagreed with my family about. Accordingly, I will leave it to each reader to decide where they stand on this matter personally, as this particular post is not the place for me to go into my reasons for believing as I do in-depth.

 

When all is said and done, however, despite all the fighting my grandfather and I did through the years, I certainly owe him much, and I miss him greatly. We mellowed out immensely toward each other during the last decade of his life, and it thankfully reached the point where I often called him and considered him my buddy, just like we were in my earliest years. I’m glad he lived to see me become a published author, and he commended me on the accomplishment, even if it was never his “thing.” I’m also very thankful that my last words to him when he was still a part of this world were positive, with me telling him, “You know what? As a grandfather, you’re all right.”

 

Seeing this once very strong man of both body and will deteriorate in physical health during the last several years of his life was very difficult for me and the rest of the family to bear witness to, and very difficult for him too, since he was always very active and a hard worker even after his retirement. His increasing inability to do all the hard work he enjoyed around the house took a heavy toll on him emotionally, and he suffered from severe depression during his last two years of life. I did my best to understand, and I always let him know I was there for him, and made it clear our years of being at each others’ throats were long over. But I couldn’t restore to him what age and what began in his late 70s as a blood-related ailment had taken from him, and I’m sure all can relate to that feeling of abject helplessness when a loved one is going through something like that while there is nothing that we – or anyone else in the world – can do to reverse it.

 

As much as he always loved and valued life, he welcomed it when his time to leave this world naturally came, as he no longer enjoyed his life once the quality of it had diminished so much.  I fully understood this as much as it saddened me to accept it.  I think about him often, with all the regrets and the “if-only-I-tried-harder-to-get-along-with-him” lamentations as you may expect.  In all honesty, there are moments I want to be angry when I think of some of the bad times, and some of the worst things he said to me when we fought, as they hurt like no one’s business, regardless of whether one would argue I deserved them or not (and doubtlessly, sometimes at least, I did); and his preference for “tough love” as a way of dealing with me has left me with some resentment issues that I’m not proud of, and detest still having as part of my emotional make-up.

 

But more often than the reverse, I think of the good times we had, and there were many of those. He was the life of the party at family get-togethers, and he was quite funny, charming, and entertaining to be around during the frequent times when the mood struck him.  His penchant for telling insightful and amusing stories from all points in his life led to many truly unforgettable times that everyone in the family will always cherish, including me.  The family loved him, and they had good reason to. In a way, I’m thankful they didn’t see his darker tendencies, even though it meant I would invariably be perceived as the stereotypical ungrateful little punk who didn’t appreciate all that he did for me whenever one of our disagreements became known outside the immediate household.

 

I fully admit that I was often very difficult for him to deal with, and I sincerely regret it. Whether or not he was provoking me, as he often did, is beside the point to me now. I wish we had gotten along better, but I’m very thankful for the long time my family had him around, and I really value the times we did get along. Thomas J. Nigro was a rare gem, the likes of which the world is not likely to see again, and I’m proud to carry on his legacy, even if it’s to be in a way he never expected (or maybe even bargained for!). As I said at his memorial service, I’m glad he was my grandfather, and I apologize to him for many, many things. I’ll always see to it that his memory lives on.

 

The King of the Monsters is back– in a New Film and a New Role

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My full review for Legendary Pictures’ 2014 Godzilla film will appear on my website The Godzilla Saga  in the near-future (the site is now in the midst of a major update and overhaul for Godzilla’s 60th anniversary), but in the meantime, here’s a preliminary review to whet your appetite.

 

After 14 years, Toho’s Atomic Titan is back on the big screen in America. This was the second attempt of an American studio to create a version of Godzilla that would appeal to G-fans on both sides of the Pacific, and this one proved far more successful and respectful than the lackluster, not-exactly-faithful-to-the-classic-image which Tri-Star gave us back  in 1998. In fact, Tri-Star’s rendition is now considered an entirely separate kaiju (the Japanese-derived word for “giant monster,” for those non-genre fans out there), who is now unceremoniously referred to as simply “Zilla,” this partial moniker christened by Toho’s Godzilla franchise head Shogo Tomiyama, when he noted in an interview that, “Hollywood took the ‘God’ out of ‘Godzilla.” In other words, Tri-Star’s version dispensed with the Kaiju King’s god-like might and made him into a typical ultra-large animal that could be dispatched by a salvo of missiles, and who relied on his great speed to dodge and evade these WMDs rather than simply shrugging off multiple impacts of such weapons as if they were nothing more than a minor annoyance; not to mention doing things like regenerating from full disintegration.

 

Legendary Pictures, in contrast, put the “God” back in “Godzilla” (lower case interpretation of the word, that is) in an almost literal fashion by increasing his immense power and size back to the level possessed by the later Heisei Era G-films produced by Tokyo (i.e., the series produced between 1984-1995). Thus, he was increased from his initial traditional height of 50 meters back up to 100 meters, he can withstand almost anything either man or monster throws at him, and can fully regenerate and recover from anything that does take him down, thereby making death a seemingly temporary setback for him (I’m presuming it’s a “him,” just as I’ve always presumed Mothra is a “her,” not that this would actually matter, except maybe to another kaiju of the same morphological phenotype, mind you; I go with the pronouns I’m accustomed to).

 

This time around, Godzilla is a primordial life form from the harsh nuclear-based environment of the nascent Earth, the truly god-like Alpha Predator. As a result, he is no longer the destructive personification of Nature’s vengeance on humanity for disrupting the biosphere with atomic weapons, toxic waste, and other nasty unnatural intrusions upon the natural order during the 20th century, as originally conceived by Toho. He no longer crushes human civilization underfoot (and under tail) just because he can, nor for the purpose of feasting upon the energies of nuclear-power generating facilities, nuclear-powered submarines, etc. He has now become, to quote one of my esteemed colleagues and friends, something akin to the planet’s chief antibody against other nuclear-energy feeding kaiju from the primeval Earth called MUTOs (that’s an acronym for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism”). Godzilla appears to be a one-off type of creature who was spawned by unknown factors in the young Earth’s nuclear furnace, possibly by some long-vanished means of spontaneous generation. The MUTOs, on the other hand, reproduce sexually, and this can cause a major problem for the much more fragile inhabitants of the post-primordial Earth if they spawn unchecked. Cue Nature’s counter to this problem:  Godzilla, the Alpha Predator.

 

As noted previously by me and others, in many ways this is Godzilla stomping on rival cinematic kaiju Gamera’s territory. Well, specifically, the Gamera of the Heisei Era (i.e., 1990s film series by Daiei, the company that produced Gamera flicks). And this isn’t the first time a major alteration was made to Godzilla to be more like Gamera. In the original Showa Era (i.e., late 1950s-late 1970s cinematic period for Toho and Daiei), specifically beginning with the G-films of the 1970s, Godzilla went from the destructive one-creature apocalypse that he was in the first few G-films, and later the more or less ambiguous relationship he had with humanity by the mid-1960s, to a full-fledged giant super-hero and official protector of humanity.

 

This was in  blatant imitation of the role that rival company Daiei gave to Gamera beginning with the second movie in his multiple-film series that began circa 1965 (in the giant turtle’s inaugural film, he was a destructive but misunderstood kaiju, and already friendly with kids). In fact, as I noted in my detailed review on my website The Godzilla Saga, the first G-film of the ’70s, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, was not only the first G-film where the Atomic Titan officially became a bona fide protector of humanity, but this initial G-film of the ’70s decade included numerous tropes common to Gamera’s Showa series, none of which were typically present in previous (or even subsequent) G-films.

 

By the time of his Heisei Series, however, Gamera retained his great protector status, along with the psychic bond he often formed with children and young teens, but developed into something a bit more ominous:  He would sometimes inadvertently cause a large number of human casualties in a sort of “collateral damage” fashion when unleashing his full power against the various kaiju threats to the planet he faced. This was made particularly clear in the third and final Gamera film of the Heisei Era, Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris. In similar fashion, Godzilla 2014 is even less of a hero, but simply a control force of tremendous power for the planet, instinctively determined to seek out and kill any MUTO which may successfully arise from their amphibian-like egg sacs.  If any human beings, or human infrastructure, happen to get in the way, they’re street pizza or crumbled rubble respectively, with no skin off Godzilla’s scaly, near-impenetrable hide. And if human military vehicles target him, he targets them back with all due prejudice.

 

Nevertheless, as long as humans stay out of his way, his role is ultimately beneficial to humanity by keeping the far less human-friendly MUTOs in check, even if his forays into human civilization are pretty hard on property and home insurance rates.  This version of Godzilla doesn’t seek to feed on artificial sources of atomic energy as the MUTOs do (and his Heisei Era and  Millennium Era Toho counterparts did), but is able to simply absorb what he requires directly from the natural mega-furnace deep below the planet’s crust. The MUTOs are unable to do this, because if they were, then they wouldn’t be a true menace to human civilization, Godzilla would have no real purpose, and we wouldn’t have the suspense necessary for this iteration of the franchise.

 

In terms of the Godzilla 2014 design, well, I was a bit dubious on that. He has the brutally mean look of the Heisei Era Godzilla restored to him, but his musculature has been bulked up to the point that some G-fans have justifiably said, “Legendary made Godzilla fat!” I’m sorry, but I have to agree with that. They also modified his very distinctive roar needlessly, so that its resounding echo makes it difficult to recognize if you don’t listen extremely closely (so closely, in fact, that you will likely deem it a waste of effort to put in the effort to do so). Nevertheless, this design doesn’t deviate too far from the classic look, and at least this version retains his patented atomic breath, as well as being a total bad-ass truly worthy of the title King of the Monsters.

 

That said, the script was decent, with a stellar but too short-lived role for Bryan Cranston, the star of the AMC hit crime series Breaking Bad (and a personal fav of mine). Godzilla was slow to show up in the film (prompting my mother to say aloud, “It’s about time!” when the big scene reveal happened), and the excellent CGI used to realize the brutal kaiju battles were fairly sparse… but quite spectacular on the eyes when they were happening on screen. Many G-fans, I must note, loved the delayed appearance approach, and had few real issues with everything I critiqued above. Many, however, agreed that they hoped for more of Bryan Cranston and were disappointed by his unexpected early exit from the script. The movie garnered big box office sales, with a record April weekend opening gross, both in America and overseas.  A sequel has already been given the green light as a result.

 

In my personal estimation, the movie was good, though not excellent, but certainly very respectful and suspenseful compared to what Tri-Star did back in ’98. This was a real version of Godzilla, not some other monster pretending to be, as was Zilla (a surprising number of kaiju-fans and monsterphiles in general liked Zilla, but agree that he was not Godzilla, and his fatal flaw was in pretending to be). Since sequels to films of this genre have been breaking the previous notorious pattern of diminishing returns that were all-too common prior to the last decade, I greatly look forward to the sequel, and this new series clearly has the potential to go from a very good start to something truly excellent. Good luck with the future of the franchise, Legendary Pictures; the fans are counting on you, and we will be watching.

 

Unseen is the Theme

First of all, before I begin the main subject of this post… I’m baaaaa-cckkkkk!!! (Sorry, but it’s hard to forget that movie line, no matter how long ago you may have heard it.)  Nevertheless, it’s suitable for the announcement of my new blog here on WordPress, which will continue everything from the old one. I own the domain on this one, so consider it the new and improved version of The Norse King blog, which you can access to read my prior posts on my Links section, or here. I will be re-posting some of the stuff from there with a few twists and updates, so stay tuned for that.

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Now, onto business, which is the promotion of the latest anthology to contain a short story of mine. That would be WE WALK INVISIBLE: A SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGY, which was produced as a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Universal’s release of The Invisible Man, the first and arguably best celluloid adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic horror novel. I’m proud to be among the roster of authors who contributed to this book, published by Chupa Cabra House. So proud, in fact, that I’m actually inclined to forgive owner and editor-in-chief Timm Tayshun for spelling my name wrong, both in the table of contests and with my story byline! (Yup, I’m actually that proud of being part of this.)

 

My particular story in this collection, “Madness is An Unseen Variable,” introduces the latest member of the infamous Griffin family to formulate a version of the invisibility serum, Maximilian “Max” Griffin. He administers his improved version of the serum to himself with the best of intentions: To use his reversible power of invisibility to become a crime-fighter in the grimy modern day urban locale in which he makes his home. Well, we all know how good intentions often turn out, right? Max finds out too, especially after he discovers–too late, mind you–that the side effect of escalating insanity which plagued the other recipients of this serum was not eliminated from the improved formulae.

 

Why did the novel from Wells, and the film series produced by Universal, and the subsequent TV series from both the 1970s (short-lived as it was) and 2000s, resonate so much with readers/viewers? Because like all successful horror and sci-fi tropes, it appeals to a potent fantasy in the collective human psyche to be able to move about undetected, to go wherever one pleases whenever one pleases, and to commit acts of mischief and personal gratification without anyone knowing it’s you. This thrill works side-by-side with two separate forms of deep-seated fears that the human subconscious is afflicted with: 1) Being watched and/or victimized by someone whom you cannot see, and who can violate your sense of privacy and security with impunity; and, 2) Becoming trapped in a state of perpetual invisibility, a theme played up in both Wells’ original novel and the Universal film adapted from it, which can be viewed as an elaborate metaphor for our fears of being ignored and our lives unnoticed by our peers and world itself, not to mention the emotional instability that can arise from this… a theme focused upon quite well in classic episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

So like all good horror tropes and themes, the invisibility motif plays on multiple power fantasies and deep-seated fears simultaneously. This is what made both the novel and the film big hits with readers/viewers, and why this theme has been repeated over and over again the annals of horror and/or adventure fiction, including more recent films like Memoirs of An Invisible Man and Hollow Man, even though those two quite different movies focused upon different aspects of the same theme: The power fantasy and fear-inducing aspects, respectively.

 

This anthology brings the trope into the literary medium, and allows several authors (including moi) to bring you their unique interpretations of this enduring theme. See if you can resist the hidden urge to buy this one! (Actually, don’t try to resist the urge, but yanno what I mean…) You can buy it here.