Saturday, May 28, 2005

New Review for Metered Space

Just by happenstance, I found a new review of Metered Space at BVSReviews. Not a bad one, with the conclusion that:
"M.D. Benoit has written a book that keeps you going, wanting to get to the end so that you know how everything turns out."
It may not be a rave one, but then Metered Space isn't a pretentious book. All I wanted to do with it was to entertain and, from that review, it looks like I've accomplished my goal.

BVSReviews has been around since 1997 and reviews a variety of media.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What to read to know Canadians

James Munroe of Counterpoint answered Pete Bevin's entry Write Only Media: What is First Nations, Meti and Inuit?, and I thought it was so comprehensive that I decided to quote it here in its entirety:

"If you really want to understand (recent) Canadian political history, the four Prime Ministers you should Wikipedia (IMHO) are: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Diefenbaker ("Dief"), Lester B. Pearson, and Brian Mulroney ("Muldoon"). It's important to know why their terms of office were particularly important.

Other important political figures are Tommy Douglas ("the father of Medicare"), Réne Lévesque, David and Stephen Lewis, and Ed Broadbent.

Culturally speaking (to scratch the surface): you don't get much more Canadian than Farley Mowat and Stephen Leacock, unless you're talking about the Group of Seven.

Historically speaking, you'll already know the importance of learning about the Confederation of Canada, but you should also read up on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham between the English and French forces, led by Gen. James Wolfe andGeneral Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis of Montcalm,respectively; the First Nations and linked articles; Jacques Cartier; Samuel Champlain; and the War of 1812.
The roles of Canada in the First and Second World Wars are alsoimportant (sorry, the links are too numerous - but it's worthresearching nonetheless). Read up also on the failed Meech Lake andCharlottetown accords (linked to from the Mulroney article) and the Canadian referenda, in particular the provincial ones.

For a bit of the underbelly of Canadian history, read up on the internment of Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II, and the execution of Louis Riel (the "father of Manitoba").

Watch CBC TV and listen to CBC radio! You'll discover that there aretwo types of Canadians - those who watch and listen to the CBC andthose who don't - and their views on the world are radically different."



There is much, much more (how do you get to know everything about a country?) but this is a damn good start. Thanks, James.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Billions More in Book Sales

There's encouraging news. I've been harping about the fact that most people today don't read. I've also said that it's bookstores that run the business, not publishers. In other blogs, there have been complaints that publishers don't do enough for authors, that they give them starvation wages, etc...

M.J.Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype has been touting the need for alternate marketing solutions to selling books, arguing that publishers aren't doing such a hot job of it. Marketing to the readers, rather than the bookstores, seems to be one of her principles (something she's definitely been successful with).

It seems that small publishers have been having the same idea, and are being successful at it. The Book Industry Study Group, a resource for publishing professionals , came out with an April 2005 report that states that "Smaller publishers also have impressive track records with marketing strategies and tactics that industry giants now see as the wave of the future."

They go on to say that small publishers

"have been using routes to readers beyond the bookstore world, and often selling more books outside trade channels than within them, while the largest booksellers have been claiming more of the traditional bookstore market. More specifically, the study findings indicate that small and midsize publishers do more than 50% of their business outside book-trade channels and inside sales channels designed mainly to serve other industries that the book industry has not monitored.

They go on to say that government and industry will have to readjust their assessment of these small, but effective sellers. Finally, some encouraging news.

To read the entire abstract, go here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Freaked out

We still see them in the news: conjoined twins at birth, that medical science is now able to separate, even if it's extremely risky. As rare as they are (1 in 200,000 births) there are other birth defects that are even rarer. Some can be detected in vitro, and the pregnancy terminated. (I'm not going to go into the pro-life, pro-choice debate, here)

In the past couple of centuries, people born with terrible defects were labeled freaks and exhibited in circuses as world wonders. Ratt's Freak Show is a comprehensive and well-documented site about many of these people, with a scientific --but easily understood-- explanation for each of the difformities or conditions, as well as some biographical information about each.

Amazing how human beings can cope even in the face of continuous reminders that they don't fit the mold. Yet some of them managed to have full, satisfying lives. It boggles the mind.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Practice makes perfect

Yeah, right. I've been trying to draw for years and I still can't put a stick figure together. However, there are some who do like to doodle. My friend Robyn loved the Mr. Picasso-Head site so much, that I decided to include this do-it-yourself painting site, just for her.

On the other hand, for those who love art but restrict themselves to simply looking at it, there's always Paris' WebMuseum. It not only has some very cool paintings, but they are also explained, with background from the artists. Or again, there's the Virtual Museum of Canada, which gives an overview of Canadian Art from various museums across Canada (warning: IE works better to view the works of art). For instance, they have over 200 samples of the Group of Seven, Art Deco examples, and some women artists. Very cool.

I think I'll stick to admiring talent.

The picture is "Juan Gris" by Pablo Picasso.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

"Who will watch the watchers?" This famous quote from Juvenal (c. 60-c. 130) applies to many things today, but most of all to censure: freedom of expression is one of the most precious and fragile of rights.

The Quotable Quotes on my website is visited quite often, but I have not restricted myself to quotes about censure. The Forbidden Library: Banned and Challenged Books not only offers quotes about censure, but a comprehensive list of banned books throughout the years.

Books such as 1984, by George Orwell, banned in 1981 in Jackson County, Florida, because the book was "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter." Or Alice Walker's The Color Purple, banned because its "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." Or again The Life and Times of Renoir, byt Janice Anderson. Restricted at the Pulaski, Pa. Elementary School Library in 1997 "because of nude paintings in the book." Huh?

Even the famous Where's Waldo?, by Martin Handford, was removed from the public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan because "there is a tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top."

Do I have a feeling that it all comes down to sex? Or maybe the censors hide behind the sex angle so they can restrict critical thinking. As Winston Churchill said, "Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hallmarks of Felinity

Brooke McEldowney, of 9 Chickweed Lane, proves that he understands cats intimately. The comic strips are each one of them a small slice of cat perspective. If you need a laugh, and you have a cat, Hallmarks of Felinity is a must visit.

You can also buy the book.

Monday, May 16, 2005

How to profit from your dead grandmother

According to Mike Adams of the Department of Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, a "student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year." This is an apparently well-known phenomenon (called the "Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome") that occurs around the world and which is due to the stress a parent suffers on expecting the students to do well on exams. The article was a tongue-in-cheek report written in 1999 for the Annals of Improbable Research.

Now colleges in the UK have acknowldeged the Syndrome as real.

"GCSE and A-level pupils in England are given 5% more if a parent dies close to exam day or 4% for a distant relative.

They get 2% more if a pet dies or 1% if they get a headache [...] the system was an attempt to quantify the sorts of circumstances which would merit special consideration and ensure consistency across the various exam boards."

I feel this doesn't go far enough in attempting to stem the flow. Davis' solutions are much more appropriate:

  • 1. Stop giving exams, or

  • 2. Allow only orphans to enroll at universities, or

  • 3. Have students lie to their families (This being the favored solution). "Students must never let any of their relatives know that they are at university."

Thanks to Improbable Research -- What's New for their treatment of the problem.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Revamped website

I took a week off writing and revamped my website. Check out the new look at http://mdbenoit.com

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Currently Reading...

Well, what a disappointment this book is. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood brought me to tears several times; Little Altars charmed me. This one bored me. There's nothing there: no passion, no interesting tidbit, no heart. Maybe it's because the book is written as a series of short stories with very little connections between them. You don't get the desperation, the angst, or the sheer joie de vivre that threaded the other two books Rebecca Wells wrote. It feels more like a "let's fill you in on those people's background" report rather than a plunge into some pretty intense lives.

And I'm not alone in that feeling. Reviewers at amazon.com barely give it two stars.

Don't waste your money, or your time, on this sequel.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Best Seller or Survival: what's best?

Back at Buzz, Balls & Hype, in her post "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley..." M. J. Rose has an interesting perspective on every author's dream: hitting the BIG times with a blockbuster bestseller.

I think it's Lawrence Block who said that most writers want to have been published. Meaning that many don't want to expend the effort to get there. They just want to be rich and famous, with a slew of bestsellers to their names. The result is people who give up the craft, because it's too damn hard.

M. J. echoes that by stating that it's not the BIG book that's important, but survival. Making enough so you can keep doing what we love, which is telling stories. I find I totally agree with her. Yeah, sure, I won't lie and say that I wouldn't want the big advance, the hype, the worship. Who doesn't? But what I want more than that is to write, and for people to read my stories. Authors don't really write in a vacuum, although most will say that they write only what they can write. The stories are compelling and authors only hope they'll have the same effect on the readers.

And there drops the other shoe, one I totally agree with: people don't read anymore. They watch TV. As Raymond Chandler said:

"Television's perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don't have to concentrate. You don't have to react. You don't have to remember. You don't miss your brain because you don't need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the man's nirvana. And if some poor nasty minded person comes along and says you look like a fly on a can of garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn't got the price of a television set."

The number of people who actually pick up more than one book a year --and usually, they'll pick up the hyped book, the BIG book-- is rapidly diminishing, and the industry has been passively watching this happening. Instead of trying to revitalize reading, they bemoan the problem. On the other hand, small, indie publishers, even though they might want to do something about it, don't have the clout, or the money to do much.

So we authors must do what our publishers can't or won't do: market ourselves, so we can survive, so we can write. That's why we have websites, blogs, virtual book tours, 'net interviews, to reach as many people as possible. Out of those, maybe we'll find a few readers. Out of those few readers, maybe we'll find some who want to buy our books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Clearing up POD issues

My first published novel, Metered Space, is a POD book. Print-on-demand. You want the book, you order it, either from Amazon or from my publisher, Zumaya, or even from the printer itself which, in this case, is Booksurge. Two days later, it's in your hot little hands.

Because you can't get it from a non-virtual bookstore, magazines such as Locus says my book's worthless, not listable, and basically should be ignored.

They're missing the point. The reason my book isn't in bookstores is not that my publisher doesn't want to get it there (Duh!). It's because bookstores don't want to order them. See, bookstores have it swell. They order as many copies as they want of any book. Whatever isn't sold, they send back to the publisher at no cost to them. What kind of stupid organization would want that setup changed? See, with POD, they have to buy the books, and if they don't sell, they're stuck with them. Which means that they'd have to take risks. Too bad, so sad.

What infuriates is that mags such as Locus use all kinds of erroneous assumptions about POD instead on zeroing on the real problem: bookstores are calling the shots. Not the author, not the publisher, not the distributor.

Paula Guran has written a good article setting Locus straight on several of their misleading points about POD. What is ironic about the Locus article however, is that they admit it's hard to tell the POD books from the others. Their terror is that, in their ignorance, they'll list a self-published book that looks like a "real" book. How awful. As Paula says:

"If you err on the side of a high quality but self-published book that deserves notice, we feel that is commendable rather than not [...]Books are books. It is hard to imagine that Locus truly thinks a book must be printed on paper to be a book, thus saying that e-books, audiobooks, and books on CDs do not exist. But, since Locus deals primarily with printed books we understand their prejudice. If they wish to define a book as "text printed on paper and bound between two covers", POD books, in both senses, exist because they are printed.

It seems that Locus does not know which publishers are POD and which are not, especially since several of the publishers they do list use digital printing to some extent. But, more importantly, they are trying to define publishers by the methods they use to print books. We see no publishers referred to as "rotary letterpress" publishers or "sheet-fed offset lithographic" publishers, or "web-fed offset lithographic" publishers. Surely Locus realizes the absurdity of this.


Thanks to Michael Allen, the Grumpy Old Bookman for pointing me to Paula Guran.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Street Art

Continuing on the art kick, these street paintings are the perfect example of fiction taking over from reality.

In the same manner, the Best pictures of 2003 are impressive, even though I can't help thinking that they're all hoaxes. (The pages are a little slow to load, but well worth waiting for).

Manipulating photos is an art in itself. Worth1000 is one the sites that offers the chance for that kind of exercise. Some of the pictures are striking, some are grotesque. All are interesting, and give you very little faith in proof based on photography. Here's one of the contest, called Partial Symmetry

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Three Dee Art

Seems like I'm into art these days. I've come across this incredible site, 3D Artists. Most of the art is so realistic that, even for the fantastic themes, you'd think it's photographs. The artists come from all over the world and give free reign to their imaginations. I'm in awe of people who can do that kind of thing, since I can't even draw a decent Picasso picture, even with some help from Mr. Picasso Head.

The picture of the car is from Marek Denko, from Slovania.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The dangers of eating bread

I'm not a fan of bread in general, much to the despair of my Belgian-born mate. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing much to recommend it, except as a vehicle for butter or mayo. Doesn't matter if it's white or whole wheat, multigrain or flat. It's still just a holder for my sandwich fixings. Give me a salad anytime.

The following article states all the reasons why we shouldn't be eating bread. Clearly, a case where fiction replaces reality and where, if you torture your data enough, you can make them say anything. Too bad, I was looking for enlightenment.

Culled from Stefani Banerian's website.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Incredible cat photography

If you like kittens --and what's not to like?-- Kittens! is the place to go. Big eyes, button noses, tiny, pointy ears... and a temper. Unfortunately, there is no author to these pictures, so I can't praise her/him by name. (Here's an alternate URL, still with no author)

Another interesting tidbit about the page is that the artist advertises Firefox as an alternative browser for MSIE, which pleased me no end. Firefox is awesome, and much easier to use. It's also sturdier and has all the IE features plus dozens of themes and extensions that make the surfer's life easier. Firefox is Mozilla-based, the "fathers" of the browsers, onto which IE was (badly) copied.

Mozilla also has an incredible emailer called Thunderbird:

"Thunderbird makes emailing safer, faster, and easier than ever before with the industry's best implementations of features such as intelligent spam filters, built-in RSS reader, quick search, and much more."

I have never used Outlook. I've used Eudora, and Pegasus Mail; now I've graduated to Thunderbird and I'll never look back. Outlook is fragile, and easily punctured by viruses. Not so Thunderbird. And it's Junk Mail filter is one of the best on the market.

Best of all: both Firefox and Thunderbird are 100% free.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

book-blog.com

A fantastic site with an incredible variety of book reviews: book-blog.com. Although I may not always agree with the reviews, they are well written, concise, and give the potential readers all they need to decide whether they want to try that book, or that author.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An unsatisfactory conversation

Ever had one of those? There's something very satisfying about spoofing spoofable people. George and Condi are at the top of the list.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why you shouldn't post your picture on the Internet

It's a regular occurrence. Bloggers, authors, artists, and just plain folks... they like to see their faces on a web page. Some even go further and post pictures of their families, their weddings, their parties. As if the majority of 'net surfers would have even a smidgen of interest in other people's ordinary lives. Except maybe to have a good laugh. I can understand wanting to see what an artist looks like, but why would I want to check out a total stranger's wedding pictures? (The site was picked at random) This is what happened with one picture, changed 40 different ways.

Now try not to be paranoid and think that someone is playing the same game with your own mug.