The Hardy Boys and Me: A Memoir

 

For several years, I was Franklin W. Dixon.

I should clarify. I wasn’t the only Franklin W. Dixon nor was I the first or last Franklin W. Dixon, but for over a decade I got to use his name.

Terminal Shock cover

Frank and Joe Hardy in the case of the ageless author.

If the name Franklin W. Dixon sounds familiar but you can’t place it, just think about the Hardy Boys. Based on my experience, there’s a very good chance that you or someone close to you read Hardy Boys novels when you or they were young. The Hardy Boys novels are written by Franklin W. Dixon. All of them, going back to 1927 and continuing to the present. Mr. Dixon is a very prolific — and clearly very long-lived — writer.

That’s because he’s not one writer but many writers, all sharing the same pseudonym. The first Franklin W. Dixon was a newspaper reporter named Leslie McFarlane, who wrote most of the Hardy Boys novels published between 1927 and 1946. But there have been plenty of other Franklin W. Dixon’s, most of them since McFarlane retired. I’m only one of dozens. Honestly, I don’t even know who most of the others are. I’ve only met a couple.

Writing is a lonely job.

What brought my stint as Franklin W. Dixon to mind was a phone call that I got a few weeks ago from a reporter. He wanted to know about a specific Hardy Boys book I’d written called Terminal Shock. (I had actually called it The Computer Clue, but editors often change the titles that writers give things. In that case, I’m grateful. The Computer Clue was an awful title.) He was intrigued because Terminal Shock, published in 1990, included concepts like email, online communications, message encryption and, well, things that most people believe only came along in the last few years.

They didn’t. I was just writing about things I was involved with at the time, posting messages online at places like the Compuserve Information Service and local computer bulletin boards that people, often kids, ran out of their own houses from their own computers on their own telephone lines. It wasn’t exactly the Internet (which existed then, even if the World Wide Web did not), but you could exchange messages publicly and privately from your computer keyboard, just like I’m doing now. The technology just wasn’t as slick yet.

You can read the article here on the Fast Company website. The article will tell you a lot of the same things I just told you, but the author goes into more detail. The site says the article only takes eight minutes to read, though, which is probably only a little longer than you’re spending here.

And be sure to click on the link to my name, which will take you recursively back to this blog. I’ll know you did it because I’ll see it in my stats and it’ll tell me that you’re paying attention. Thanks in advance!

 

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I Do Not Think This Book Means What You Think It Means: The Princess Bride

If you fall into a certain age group — and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the age group is between the ages of 25 and 40 — chances are that you can quote whole passages of dialog verbatim from the movie The Princess Bride.

Admit it. If you’re in that age group and I say the name Inigo Montoya, you will immediately respond, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” (Extra points if you can mimic Mandy Patinkin’s soft spoken yet intense faux Italian accent.) And if I say the word “Inconceivable,” you will parry by saying, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Here’s my own confession: I’m not in that age group.

When I discovered The Princess Bride, there wasn’t a movie version of it yet. The book that the film was later based on wasn’t even especially popular and had been mostly panned by critics. I first came across it in an extremely difficult-to-find paperback edition from Ballantine Books, an edition so difficult to find that I saw it at precisely one drugstore newsstand — and this was at a point in my life when I practically lived in bookstores and drugstore newsstands looking for new paperbacks to read. The cover was an oddly inappropriate painting of a sultry, mostly naked woman who looked a bit like Kim Novak without her signature blonde hair.

The Princess Bride cover

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

While she was certainly an eye-catching cover girl, what mainly interested me about the book was that it was written by William Goldman, a writer who had already endeared himself to me by writing the unputdownable thriller Marathon Man, which was turned (with Goldman’s help) into an excellent movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. And I had been aware of Goldman since even before Marathon Man, because he had made his reputation in the 1960s by writing the novel Boys and Girls Together, which tended to get passed around classrooms because, by the standards of the time, it had titillating sex scenes in it. (Another confession: I have never read Boys and Girls Together, though I have a used paperback edition on my shelf and the e-book version on my Nook. I still plan to read it someday.)

Goldman was a writer who intrigued me because he wrote fiction that was both intelligent and utterly gripping, two qualities —  intelligence and grippingness — that aren’t easy to squeeze into a book at the same time, at least judging by all the mindless thrillers that you can find on bestseller lists to this day. I had never heard of The Princess Bride, which also intrigued me, because I thought I was aware of at least the titles of all the books Goldman had written up until that time, even if I hadn’t read most of them.

Naturally, I snatched a copy — possibly the only copy — off the shelf, bought it, and took it home.

I started reading it as soon as I got back to my bedroom, because I didn’t want to lose the excitement I felt at discovering it. And, as with Marathon Man, I couldn’t put it down. But it was better than Marathon Man. It was possibly the most extraordinary book I’d ever read. Goldman did things in it that I’d never seen a writer do and combined elements in the story that I’d never seen a writer combine, mixing satire with breathtaking action while maintaining a mood of both humor and gut-wrenching pathos, all in what amounted to an epic fantasy. I put the book down wrung dry emotionally, a tear in my eye and a sad smile on my lips. I still remember the book’s closing lines, which I’ll quote for you later. (And if you only know The Princess Bride from the movie, you won’t recognize them.)

Eventually the Del Rey Books division of Ballantine, which had been established strictly for publishing science fiction and fantasy, recognized that it had this gem of a novel in its corporate backlist and realized that with the craze (which had actually been started by the editors at Del Rey when they published Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara) for books that essentially cloned the Lord of the Rings, they might be able to repackage The Princess Bride in such a way that they could convince Tolkien fans to buy it. This ploy worked surprisingly well and the book finally became the bestseller it had always deserved to be. I was happy for Goldman, because by then I had read several more books by him and knew that The Princess Bride was no fluke. Goldman was a smart and entertaining writer, though even in the masterful oeuvre he had compiled by the early 1980s, The Princess Bride stood out as the most extraordinary thing he had ever written (and will probably remain so, given that he hasn’t published a novel since 1987).

Then, in 1986 or 1987, a film version of The Princess Bride was announced. Goldman, who had long maintained a highly successful second career as a screenwriter, would write the script and Rob Reiner, who had shown great promise with the adolescent bonding movie Stand by Me (based on Stephen King’s novella “The Body”), would direct it. Although I fell into the camp that felt that The Princess Bride was essentially unfilmable, that much of what made it a great novel would be lost in the translation to screen, I was guardedly hopeful about it, especially with Goldman himself involved in the project. Maybe they could indeed make a great film out of it, a film as great as the book that inspired it. And, though the movie was slow to catch on, it did eventually become a cult sensation with a generation of young moviegoers, beloved for its quirky characters and imminently quotable dialog.

God only knows why. I’m sorry, people, especially if you love the movie, but the naysayers were right. The book was unfilmable. Even with Goldman as screenwriter, it lost most of what made the book so wonderful.

Maybe I should stop at this point and explain what the original book was about. If you know it only through the film, you’re not going to recognize most of it.

It was about a middle-aged screenwriter (named “William Goldman” and referred to throughout the book in the first person, but really a thoroughly fictionalized version of the William Goldman who was writing the book) who, with a failing marriage and thoroughly alienated son, had lost all joy in life and all sense of wonder in the things that had thrilled him when he was young, especially great adventure novels. It was about his attempt to regain these feelings by returning to a book that his father had read to him when he was an adolescent, The Princess Bride by the great Florinese writer S. Morgenstern. (His “father,” also a fictional character, was an immigrant from the imaginary country of Florin.) Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride had been the book that awakened the fictional Goldman’s own sense of wonder and he wanted to share it with his own son as a bonding experience, something that would not only save his marriage and his relationship with his son but that would vicariously reignite his own joy in life.

Yet when he read The Princess Bride himself — up until then it had only been read to him by his father — he discovered that the book had not been what he thought it was, that in fact it had been intended as satire, filled with barbed, very dry jokes aimed, in many cases quite tediously, at the ruling families of Florin, and the exciting adventure novel that he remembered his father reading to him was buried under page after page of cynical social commentary that his father had wisely left out. The fictional William Goldman talked his editor into letting him revise the book, which was long out of print, and publish a “good parts” version, with Goldman’s own annotations explaining (often humorously) why he had excised large amounts of text at several points in the narrative. The resulting abridgment was an absolute wonder, every bit as thrilling to an adult reader as it must have been to “Goldman” as a child. Yet at the same time you could tell from Goldman’s annotations that the “original” book, as the imaginary S. Morgenstern had written it, had been larded with exactly the kind of adult cynicism that Goldman was trying to escape from by sharing the book with his own child.

The fictional Goldman never did repair his relationship with his son and in editing the book he discovered that the original ending his father had pretended to read to him — “And they lived happily ever after” — was not how the book really ended. In fact, it ended with the heroes being defeated, true love failing to triumph, and the villains getting their way as villains so often do in real life. And despite having edited it into the thrilling book that he had always believed it to be, the fictional Goldman ended the book in a deeper depression than he had begun it in, closing with some of the saddest lines in all of popular literature:

“I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

I was young when I read the book, but not so young that I couldn’t feel my childlike sense of wonder already beginning to ebb (and one of these days I still expect it to go away completely). Goldman’s book captured that feeling perfectly, with its brilliant contrast between the genuine, almost hyperbolically thrilling novel that lay buried underneath Morgenstern’s crushing adult cynicism, the same cynicism that was already beginning to crush the soul of the fictional adult Goldman — and maybe, in a somewhat less hyperbolic way, the soul of the real William Goldman too.

The movie went for the thrilling hyperbole of the book as the fictional Goldman had known it as a child, but it was filmed on a fairly meager budget and was unable to find a cinematic equivalent of that hyperbole, what Goldman’s father had described as ““Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.” All of that, as over the top as it sounds, really was in the book and it was as exciting as it sounds like it ought to be, but the movie needed more visual spark and passion to pull it off. Some critics misguidedly praised the movie for playing against expectations by pulling back on the spectacle, but that was a necessity that never really became a virtue. If ever a film needed to be spectacular to stay true to the nature of a book, it was this one. It needed a cinematic equivalent of the hyperbole of the book and it couldn’t afford to create one. Maybe if you were a certain age when you saw the film and hadn’t lost your childlike sense of wonder yet, you found a bit of that in the movie and I envy you that. I was too old by the time it came out and for me it was completely missing.

But where the movie completely failed was in not capturing or even attempting to capture Goldman’s heartbreaking frame story, substituting the lame gimmick of having Fred Savage (appropriately enough of The Wonder Years) read the novel by an immigrant grandfather played by Peter Falk). The more adult portion of the framing story, though, with its failing marriage and sense of a man desperately trying to escape the depression that adulthood was sucking him into, was totally gone and I missed it sorely.

For me, The Princess Bride is about the loss of sense of wonder in adults and one man’s successful attempt to convey that sense of wonder to adult readers while at the same time dismally failing to recapture it in himself. The novel of The Princess Bride is heartbreaking and cynical, immensely thrilling and comical, all at the same time, which is something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another book manage to be and something the movie absolutely wasn’t. And I’m sad that an entire generation knows it only as that clever, quotable little film that completely lacked the heartbreak and ambition of the novel.

Oh, I’m quite happy that you can quote dialog from it and that some of those lines, all of which were in the book as well, have found their way onto everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs, but if you’ve never read the book do me a favor and go to a bookstore or to Amazon.com right now and order a copy. I’ll thank you, William Goldman (who is now 82 and, based on a video I saw of him the other day, still sharp as a tack) will thank you and S. Morgenstern will thank you.

My-Name-Inigo-Montoya-Shirt

And, as the fictional William Goldman says at the end of the book’s prologue, “What you do with it will be of more than passing interest to us all.”

How Game of Thrones Will End: A Totally Correct Guess

According to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, George R.R. Martin has already confided his “top-secret end-game plan” for the Song of Ice and Fire series to the showrunners of Game of Thrones, presumably in case he drops dead before he gets to it or (more likely, I think) the series gets to it before the books do. In case neither of them gets to it, though, you don’t have to worry. I’ve totally figured it out. And, no, this is not going to be satire (though it really sounds like it should be). It’s a deadly serious, uh, guess.

Winter is definitely coming.

Winter is definitely coming!

I’m sure there are lots of theories floating around as to where Game of Thrones (the TV show) and A Song of Ice and Fire (the books) are headed. I haven’t heard or seen any of them because I don’t follow any Game of Thrones blogs, forums or podcasts. So my theory of how the series is going to end is completely original even if a thousand people have come up with it before me. I want that firmly established in your head, especially if you’ve come up with it too and written a blog, a forum post or recorded a podcast about it. I’m so convinced that I’m right that I’m going to include a

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WARNING SO THAT, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS BASED ON NOTHING THAT HASN’T BEEN IN THE TV SHOW ALREADY, I DON’T WANT ANYBODY PISSED AT ME WHEN I TURN OUT TO BE RIGHT!

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Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here comes the theory. I hear it slightly contradicts something that’s said in one of the later books, but I think that was just misdirection (i.e., somebody lied). Here it is:

Before he went off with Ned Stark to fight the war against the Targaryens (which must have had a name, maybe The Targaryen War, but even though I’ve read the first book twice and seen the TV season based on it once, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was), I think Robert Baratheon secretly wed Ned Stark’s (now late) sister and got her with child, as they probably would have put it then. How the sister hid this from Catelyn and pretty much everybody else except Robert and Ned, I don’t know, but I suspect it involved taking a long vacation from Winterfell before she started to show, probably at a place that was accessible, at least at one point, to her brother and possibly her husband before they returned from the war. She then died in childbirth. Robert was so stricken by this that he refused to raise the child (or, more likely, he knew the kid would be murdered by his queen’s family when he became king), so he gave Jon — who was, of course, the child, in case you’re not already ahead of me — to Ned to raise as his own. But Catelyn knew damned well that the kid wasn’t hers, so Ned had to say he was a bastard and give him the last name Snow.

This makes Jon Snow a plausible heir to the Baratheon throne. I mean, he has a better claim to it than Joffrey does, should (clears throat loudly) Joffrey survive until Jon figures this out. (Robert and Ned are both dead now, but SOMEBODY else must know.) I think, however, that Jon will abdicate the throne in order to avoid breaking his sacred Night’s Watch vows. Face it: Martin had this part set up in the first book, when Jon learns that Maester Aemon could have been a Targaryen king but renounced the title for the Night’s Watch and also when he has Jon start to violate his oath by running off to avenge Ned then get talked out of it by having his friends catch up with him and recite the Night’s Watch oath to him until he cries. (I think I was crying too. I really can’t remember.)

So that leaves only one serious possibility for the next King, except she won’t be a king, she’ll be a queen. When Danaerys arrives across the Narrow Sea, she’ll demolish any remaining contenders for the throne with a few puffs of dragon breath. (Believe me, I’ve occasionally woken up with dragon breath that would at least have demolished Joffrey. And maybe Renly.) And then, either before or after she claims the throne, Danaerys will realize why she REALLY needs those dragons: to demolish the White Walkers. Because, in case you haven’t been reminded enough, winter is coming and the White Walkers thrive on it. By then they may be trying to cross the Narrow Sea themselves, if it’s iced over enough.

This is where the real battle begins, when (perhaps with Jon Snow’s help) Danaerys fights the White Walkers with her army and (mostly) her dragons. She’ll save Westeros from the actual enemy, probably send reinforcements to the Night’s Watch so they can reopen all 10 forts and, as Danaerys takes the throne, Jon Snow will happily remain with the Night’s Watch, possibly with a dragon or three to keep him company and to keep any remaining White Walkers in line. (Sam can take care of them, like he does with the ravens. After he gets over being scared to hell by them.)

Oh, yeah: There are some subplots that I haven’t addressed here. For all I know, Arya will become a Braavosi hooker, Jaime Lannister will discover that women are really turned on by amputees and Cersei…well, I really don’t want to think about it. But I’ll leave theories about those as an exercise for the reader.

(And I have to give credit to Amy for helping with the part about Danaerys, the dragons and the White Walkers, though I’d really thought of it first.)

The “Meme” Meme

Thirty-six years after Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his brilliant and influential 1976 book  The Selfish Gene, the concept of meme has itself become a meme — and a very successful one at that.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Google the term “meme” and you’ll get (by present count) about 305 million hits, including hits on three Wikipedia articles with the word “meme” in their titles.  You’ll find Web sites about memes. You’ll find Web sites trying to create memes. And, God knows, you’ll find a lot of clever memes about cats.

But do you really know what a meme is? Let’s review: A meme, according to Dawkins, is the cultural equivalent of a gene, an idea that replicates from brain to brain the way that genes replicate from individual genome to individual genome. Any piece of information can be a meme, but only a piece of information that slyly persuades people to pass it along to other people can be considered a successful meme. Songs can be memes. Stories can be memes. Slogans can be memes. Religions can be memes. Catchphrases can be memes. Entire books can be memes, as long as they lodge themselves in people’s minds and get passed along to become lodged in the minds of others. (I’d say that The Seflish Gene itself is a pretty damned successful meme, every ingenious page of it, even if we judge its success by the persistence of this one idea alone.)

The success of a meme, where success is defined not only by escaping from one brain and replicating in another but by driving out competing memes for similar but contradictory ideas, requires some kind of sticking power, a quality to the meme that makes it more likely to enter the cultural flow and (in the current parlance) go viral. For a song, that quality may be catchiness (“I can’t get that song out of my head!”), loveliness (“That song just makes me weep every time I hear it!”) or sheer trendiness (“I’ve gotta have that new song by Justin Bieber, mom, ’cause all my friends do! I’ve gotta!”). For a book it could be gripping excitement or extraordinary insight into the human condition (or, as in the case of the Justin Bieber song, sheer trendiness). For a skill such as knot tying or fashioning clothing out of animal hides, it may be the survival advantage it confers on the individual who knows it.

In some arenas, the criteria for the success of a meme are more rigorous. A scientific hypothesis becomes a much replicated meme by repeatedly surviving experimental attempts to disprove it, in which case it becomes a theory. In fact, a theory can be looked at as nothing more — or less — than a really successful scientific meme. Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation, Einstein’s Theories of Special and General Relativity, and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection are memes par excellence.)

I’ve always felt that memes, as Dawkins conceived them, are more than just a metaphor. Dawkins wasn’t just saying that memes propagate themselves in a way that resembles the way that genes propagate; he was saying that they use exactly the same method. Oh, sure, the mechanics are different, but that’s only because the media through which they propagate are different. Genes propagate in bodies and spread via the transfer of sperm from testes to ovaries. Memes propagate in brains and spread via the transfer of words from mouth to ear (or from computer display to eye). But both are forms of natural information transmission  — genes, after all, are nothing more than information written in a molecular language — and they’re even subject to exactly the same kind of natural selection. Memes compete with other memes for the limited amount of mental and cultural space in which ideas may thrive.

In fact, memes can be thought of as the next stage in the evolution of evolution. Physical evolution — that is, evolution by genes — is too sluggishly responsive to external demands to keep up with our changing needs as a society, but memes can turn on a dime. If we learned tomorrow that the earth was about to explode, scientists would evolve a meme by the day after tomorrow telling us how the human race was going to survive. (It would probably involve putting a baby in a rocketship and sending him off to a planet where he would grow up to wear a red, white and blue suit and fly around with his cape flapping in the wind. But that’s a meme that’s  been around for a very long time.)

The Selfish Gene, despite that rather pessimistic-sounding title, is about how that wonderful human quality we call altruism could have evolved despite its apparent lack of survival value. Although Dawkins discussed detailed ways in which altruism was, in fact, a much more powerful survival mechanism than it at first might seem (the most important of which is something called kin selection, which anyone with an interest in evolutionary psychology should know about), the hope that he held out for the future was the meme. Evolution may program us for such depressingly negative tendencies as racism and the desire to wage war, but cultural evolution, which operates at speeds that are blindingly fast compared to physical evolution, allows us to choose not to be racists and to seek not to wage war in defiance of outmoded genes that might tell us to do otherwise. Thus, brotherly love and peace on earth may be among the most powerful — and important — memes yet to find their ways into the meme pool.

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By the way, one of my favorite memes involves a stylized heart shape with a bouquet of roses next to it. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and especially Amy, who keeps asking me to write more entries in this blog. Honey, you can share memes with me anytime.

Those Things With Words In Them

Christmas has come and gone since I last posted. Santa brought lots of fattening candy to my house, along with a couple of Disneyland t-shirts and two XBox games (Fallout: New Vegas and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.) There were also three unusual artifacts under the tree:

Stack of books under Christmas tree

These are called books. (They’re also all biographies, but that’s coincidence.) Look at them carefully, because there will come a time when you will tell your grandchildren that in your youth you could walk into a store and be surrounded by thousands of such things, while all of them were still shiny and new. The children will scoff, of course, but only a little bit, because young people sense instinctively that the world was very peculiar before they were born. What makes these books especially distinctive is that they have an actual physical presence — they exist as print on paper rather than as an electronic matrix of bits and bytes on a hard drive or in the static RAM of an e-book reader. All of the books that I’ve read this year have existed in this latter form and were mostly stored on my Barnes & Noble Nook, an original model e-ink Nook early in the year and a Color Nook later in the year because I prefer its backlit display. Here it is pretending to be the latest Stephen King novel:

E-books are not new. I remember reading them on my Palm Pilot nearly a decade ago. But over the last couple of years they’ve begun swallowing increasingly large chunks of the book market, even as the book market itself has become increasingly small, and publishers have begun to worry that the days of dead-tree books, and the brick-and-mortar stores that sell them, are numbered.

As a writer with approximately 90 published books to my credit, my feelings about the e-book revolution are mixed. I love carrying an entire library around in a device slightly smaller than a notebook, but I also love bookstores and if I ever write another book — the last one came out about a decade ago — I’d really like to see it on a bookstore shelf and not just on a bookseller’s Web site. Not all writers feel this way, though. Many have embraced the e-book not only because it gives them another market for publication at a time when markets for publication are disappearing but because e-books offer them a way to control their own destinies by publishing their books themselves.

Self-publication. I remember a time, not that many years ago, when writers uttered those words with disdain. The term we used for printing houses that catered to authors who wanted to self-publish was “vanity presses” and authors who turned to these houses as an outlet for their books were regarded as pathetic figures, unable to convince real editors that what they had written was worth the time and money it would take to polish, print, distribute and advertise. And, indeed, most self-published books went no farther than the bookshelves of the author’s family members. They were like those Web sites you bookmark and then never bother to go back to. They sounded interesting in theory, but the execution was just a little bit off.

This has all changed, and the change has taken place with remarkable speed. A lot of perfectly respectable authors, ones whose names you would have seen on the shelves in Barnes & Noble just a few years ago, are now publishing their own books, either because the shrinking roster of traditional publishing houses can no longer find room for them or because they feel that the relatively small percentage of a book’s price that traditional publishers let them keep (when I was writing books this was usually 6 to 12 percent of what was left after certain publishing expenses, vaguely defined in my contract, were deducted) can’t compete with the much larger percentage that they can skim off the sales price of an e-book sold through Amazon.com’s Kindle Store.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that a large part of my income comes from editing books for authors who are intending to self publish and that Amy, the professional graphic designer I live with, has a sideline in designing both e-book and print-on-demand editions for authors who want to use the currently available self-publishing outlets. (If you’d like to use our services, just ask. I recommend going through Hotspur Publishing, a small press run out of Eugene, Oregon, by my writer friend David Bischoff, the URL for which can be found in the Blog Roll on the right side of this page.) But I’m still not sure I see why any writer who might have a shot at traditional publication through a respectable publishing house would choose self-publication first, without at least attempting to go the traditional publishing (or, as some people now call it, the trad-pub) route. Yes, the respectable publishing house would keep a significant chunk of change from the books’s earnings, as would printers, distributors and bookstores. But the publisher would also secure the writer’s book a degree of public visibility that self publishers have to struggle to achieve.

Perhaps the most successful self-published writer that I know of is a 20-something woman named Amanda Hocking. As a private nurse with lots of spare time on her hands she wrote more than half a dozen books, mostly in the paranormal genre, and published them herself. By early this year these books had earned her something like two million dollars, a sum even a traditionally published author would envy. Yet the moment St. Martin’s Press, a traditional publisher, offered her a multi-million dollar advance for a new series of books, she took it. If self publication offers such tremendous advantages for authors who could secure traditional publication if they wanted to, why is the most popular self-published author of our time making the leap to the trad-pub world?

My guess is that this blog will be read by more than one self-published author and I encourage them to comment. Here’s the question I want to ask: What are you looking for in self publication? The freedom to write anything you want? Freedom’s great, but most self-published authors I know are struggling to achieve a fraction of the sales they once got as traditionally published authors. I reserve the right to have a personal epiphany about self publication as the logistics of the publishing field shift in the months and years to come, but for now I don’t really get it. In the meantime I’ll continue to play both sides of the fence, even as I struggle to figure out which side of the fence I’m really on.

Information Is Life

I live my life surrounded by information. So, very likely, do you. I’m writing this in front of a 23-inch computer display, with 17 tabs open in my Web browser. (They grow like weeds, those tabs. I trim them mercilessly and they grow right back, like dandelions or nose hairs.) Right now my iPod Touch is plugged into the iPod dock on my clock radio, playing Christmas music from a Sirius/XM satellite. In back of me is a shelf of books and CDs. Downstairs is a 48-inch flat screen TV attached to an XBox 360 configured to stream music, video and pictures through my home Wi-Fi network. (It also plays games.) I live in Southern California, where much of this information is manufactured.

I feel remarkably comfortable in this crowded infosphere. Maybe that’s why there’s more information in my house than there is food. The only information device I’m dubious about is my cell phone, which is often more of an intruder than a welcome guest. I tend to leave it at home when I go out. I’d rather take along my e-book reader (a Barnes & Noble Color Nook).

In the modern world, there are two ways that people react to this massive flood of information: They either run from it, as though the information dam has burst and the whole valley is doomed, or they swim with it and thrive in its flow. I tend to do the latter. I love information. I love to read, to play video games, to surf the Web, to listen to music, to go to movies, to watch television, to attend the theater and concerts, to browse the newspaper (though I only have time for the Sunday editions), and sometimes just to stare at the labels on the backs of food packages. By profession I’m a writer, so I spend my working hours producing still more information in case there’s anybody left who doesn’t have enough of the stuff. Information is my life. No, I should be more emphatic than that: Information is life.

This blog is about that infosphere, the shifting, pulsing, throbbing flow of information that surrounds us at all times. More specifically, it’s about the points at which my own life — my own biosphere? — intersects the infosphere. It’s about books, it’s about games, it’s about movies, it’s about music, it’s about TV. If I have anything interesting to say about these things (and you don’t become a writer unless you think you have interesting things to say), I’ll blog about them here.

Is there junk in the infosphere? Oh, god, yes. The infosphere is polluted with crap. Junk information surely outnumbers worthwhile information by a factor of thousands. But given the sheer quantity of information floating about, even that tiny percentage of good stuff is enough to fill anyone’s lifetime. You just have to look for it and recognize it when you find it.

And that’s what I’ll be doing here: Trying to separate the junk information from the treasures. You are invited — heck, encouraged — to post comments about any interesting gems you’ve stumbled across in the portion of the infosphere that your own life intersects.

I’m going to leave you for a moment. And then, as an ex-governor of my state once said (in a movie, of course), I’ll be back.