Posts from 2011

Ringing in the New Year

By: MikeJan 1, 2011

The holidays are behind us, and as my slightly-unfocused gaze looks out at a frosty January landscape, I'm remarkably content. The family is safe and happy. The horses are happily munching their hay, the cats are dozing in little splotches of sun coming through the windows, and there's a profound sense of contentment in our home. Sure the world has problems. I only have to glance at the news to see flooding, corruption and war. But today, right here, right now, things are good. Time to slow down, relax, and smile for a few hours. Maybe go pet some horses, or take a walk down the vineyard road to the irrigation canal and enjoy the sun.

This Christmas, our eldest daughter wanted a piano. She's been playing for several years, using a moderately-priced electronic keyboard. Now she wanted a real piano. We listened to impassioned pleas about how with a real piano you could actually feel the music, and how the key response was so much better than the little keyboard. I countered by reminding her that real pianos are loud and don't have headphones as an option. Besides, she'll be moving to college soon, and her little electronic keyboard is so much easier to move . . .

Needless to say, I lost the argument. We looked at new pianos, but the price tags were prohibitive, and anything under about $5000 looked pretty sketchy. So, off to Craigslist, where we found a lovely old piano listed for a few hundred dollars. The young woman who owned it was charming, and it turned out that she and my daughter listen to many of the same obscure indie groups. The piano was built in 1902, and I was astounded by the quality of the woodwork. The owner was apologetic for various faults and flaws, but I could see where hammers, felts and springs had been lovingly repaired or replaced over the years. Bits of damaged molding carefully built up with wood putty, carved and stained to match the original contours. This old piano was not just a bunch of wood and wires, it's a hundred years of history, bearing the faint traces of many moves and many hours of use. I don't know it's history, only that is has one.

So, we have a piano. It's heavy, and cumbersome, and required enough men to start a football team to move. It takes up a ridiculous amount of space in our daughter's small bedroom. It took a very talented piano professional a full day to tune and regulate it properly. But when I hear the rich sounds of music drifting down the hall, I find myself smiling. There is something different about the music, and maybe real pianos don't need a volume control after all.

River Marked Signing Tour

By: MikeJan 6, 2011

So, has anyone noticed how similar "Signing" and "Singing" are? I just about announced that Patty would be doing a singing tour, which would have been even more interesting!

A short while ago I posted a tentative list of venues, but we just got the official, graven in stone, version. There was one change: the Milwaukee stop got move to Roseville MN. How or why such changes happen is a mystery to me, so don't ask! That said, here's the official schedule:

March 1-8, 2011: River Marked Signing Tour

  • Richland, WA: Hastings. March 1, 2011
  • Oakbrook/Chicago IL: Borders. March 2, 2011
  • Bailey's Crossing/DC: Borders. March 3, 2011
  • Roseville, MN: Barnes and Nobel. March 4, 2011
  • Houston, TX: Murder By The Book. This will be a joint signing with Kim Harrison! March 5, 2011
  • San Diego, CA: Mysterious Galaxy March 6, 2011
  • Seattle, WA: University Bookstore March 7, 2011
  • Portland, OR: Powells March 8, 2011

Getting Ready for RustyCon

By: MikeJan 11, 2011

Just a quick reminder that this weekend is RusytCon, in Seattle. I don't know where the time goes, but it's time to change the oil, plan the trip, and start packing the faithful pink suitcase. Yes, the pink suitcase. It's ugly, nobody wants to steal it, and it's remarkably easy to identify in baggage claim. Besides, it's big enough to supply a contingent of Marines. So, * rummaging in closet * what do you think, outlandish costumes or conservative traveler? I have a nice selection of Tie-Die . . . the Hawaiian shirts, however, I'll leave for the never-bashful Jay Lake!

At any rate, we're really looking forward to RustyCon. If you live in the Seattle area, come on over and say "hello"! By the way, I see a lot of filking scheduled. Big mistake! We'll bring a guitar, and see some of you brave souls in the filk-room (you poor, unsuspecting lambs!).

General Update

By: MikeJan 30, 2011

We've had a foggy wet spring, which is a bit strange for the deserts of eastern Washington. We've largely completed work on a loafing shed for Patty's pregnant mare, now I just have to get the pasture around it fenced before summer. Of course, the to-do list seems to fill up faster than we can knock it down.

The remodel on the house is frustrating. We saved a lot of pennies to be able to start this project, and were really looking forward to it. Currently, it looks like we're living in a war zone. To be fair, wet weather is partly to blame, but there have been a number of mistakes as well. Tempers are a little tense, and we haven't put a single board in place. I read somewhere that remodeling a house is a common cause of divorce, and I'm beginning to see why. . .

Edit: Hah, it's obvious I'm not the author. The above paragraph sounds like Patty and I are fighting; we're not. The only tempers involved are between the contractor and us. The contractor has been very understanding, and assures us that all will (eventually) be well. Patty and I are fine, and our marriage is not in any danger, honest!

Patty's working on the next book, and humming happily to herself, which is always a good sign. We'll be taking a quick trip to Boston next month to do our homework. It turns out Anna and Charles are going to be dealing with a murderer in the Boston area, and Patty wants to get the details right. We've managed to get a couple of locals to show us around the city. It should be fun!

By the way, a much-belated thank you to the folks at RustyCon. We had a great time, met some cool people, and generally had a lovely weekend with them. It's a very friendly con, and I don't think I've ever seen so many awesome steampunk costumes! By the way, the vendors were incredible, and we bought quite a few bits of costuming. I even found a tail-coat!

Also, Patty has finally gotten dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. Some of her readers set up a twitter account for her. A couple of her moderators are helping out, and we're trying to update it now and again just to keep people abreast of things. You can see it at: Mercy's Garage

Wolves Among The Sheep

By: MikeJan 30, 2011

The publishing world, to nobody's surprise, is changing. There's something surreal about the whole thing. Patty is an established author, with a good sales record. She just signed a new contract, and from our perspective it's business as usual. We're living in the eye of a storm, and for now, everything is rosy. However, that's not true everywhere, and in the turbulent waters of midlist and beginning authors, there's a certain amount of danger.

I certainly can't predict how the industry will change; my crystal ball is murky and my vantage point imperfect. However, I've seen hints of some emerging trends that make we want to warn others. Big publishing, in general, is using fewer editors to prepare more books, and is focusing on bestsellers. The slush pile growing in the corner, largely untended and unread. They're asking agents to send them better-polished manuscripts, ready for market. Authors are acquiring agents earlier in their careers than ever before, and the agent (possibly) is doing more, which partially explains why most agents are now charging 15% instead of the 10% that was common a few years ago. Many agents are trying to take on role of editor, packager, promoter, and even publisher. Some agents are steering their clients away from traditional big-publishing, and into the less-charted waters of self-publishing. That's not necessarily a bad move these days, and there's several possible paths to success.

What concerns me is that that some agents are no longer content to be agents, they want to be collaborators. They'll do the editing, pick a quick cover and slap it up as an ebook somewhere, and demand 50% (maybe more) of the book's earnings. Of course, when anybody can claim to be an agent (no board, license or degree is needed), and beginning authors have little means to judge the skills or talent of the agent, the stage is set for a tragedy. So, if you're an author with the manuscript you've spent the past year or two polishing, beware the elegantly-dressed, mustacio-twirling agent rushing to put his arm around you and guide your steps, for a price.

The right agent can be a Godsend. Patty's agent has worked miracles time and again, and earns every penny she gets. And, in all fairness, there are lots of good agents out there. However, there are also impersonators, mimics, counterfeits and con-men with a smile painted on their faces, assurances on their lips, and their sticky fingers yearning for your future earnings. Tread lightly, and proceed with caution.

The Money Pit

By: MikeMarch 13, 2011

A couple of years ago we bought a home. Actually, we purchased a dream. A little piece of land near the Tri-Cities area where Patty could raise her horses. We love the location: it's kind of hidden away, and while the Tri-Cities desert offers nothing as romantic as mountains, our place is located in the middle of the largest hills in the area. The land is mostly rock, but that's OK. The house, however, has been a source of considerable angst.

As much as we like the location and the space, the house is a sprawling eyesore with a flat roof, sloped ceilings, and a plethora of boobytraps left by previous owners who apparently fancied themselves "handy". There are few things more frightening than opening up an electrical box, and being confronted with the amazing creativity of a former owner, who obviously felt a hearty contempt for petty annoyances like building codes or safety. Our home is avante-guarde and entirely non-conformist, in a frightening and ulcer-inducing fashion.

We recently decided to splurge on a small addition to the home, adding a little larger living room and a pair of offices. An amazing and creative architect was hired, and produced a lovely set of plans. We hired a skilled and experienced builder, warning him in advance that he was likely to find some unusual constructs while tying into the existing structure. Then we wrote a check and dove for cover.

At first it was just the strange angles and odd foundation work that caused delays and confusion. We eventually got past that and constuction went smoothly for a time. It turns out that most of what we were building was a false sense of security. The electrician came and went, shaking his head. He came again, and left shaking his fist. He came a third time, and left with my checkbook. Still, if we closed our eyes and ignored the empty feeling where our savings account used to be, life looked pretty good.

Then came the day that the contractor cut into the roof, dropping some of the ceiling so that the rafters of the new ceiling could be integrated into the existing structure. It's a flat roof, no crawlspace or inspection access, and we just paid a small fortune to put an impermeable membrane on top when we bought the home. So, we were surprised by the horrible smell and mold growing everywhere. The builder called a roofing expert, who determined that the materials and installation of the roof were fine, but the design was terribly flawed. The architect was summoned to design a new roof, and the builder informed us that a)The house was not safe to live in and b) they needed to strip it down to the studs anyway. So, while Patty left for her signing tour, I rented several shipping containers and started moving us out of our home. We lived for ten days or so in good 'ol motel 8, but now Patty and I are in France <giggle> and the kids are all staying with friends. We don't know when we'll be able to move home, but the builder assures us that they have uncovered a large number of little gotcha's that would have entually caused problems. Besides, he's pretty sure we're ultimately going to come out slightly cheaper than if we'd burned the house to ground and started over. Personally, I think I'd prefer the satisfaction of watching it burn . . .

Terrible House This is the view from our bedroom, across the atrium and into the dining room. Home sweet home!

Signings in Europe: Part 1

By: MikeApril 17, 2011

A couple of years back, our very kind French publisher invited Patty and I to come over for a book signing. Of course, we had a blast. So when they asked us to come back, we couldn't agree fast enough. We spent ten delightful days running around Europe and met literally dozens of kind, friendly and fascinating people. We saw all sorts of amazing sights, had some great experiences and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. So, first, I'd like to thank all of the owners and employees at Bragelonne for having us over, and for taking such excellent care of us while we were there. You guys ROCK!

When we boarded the airplane, we had a huge surprise. Our tickets were first-class. We fly a lot, and it's usually in the cattle-car class. You know, where the seats are so close together you can't tie your shoes, and when the guy ahead of you leans back there's not even room to read your cheap paperback. This was different. Comfy seat. Hot towels. Tons of leg-room. Good food. It was grand (but it's going to be hard to go back to steerage). Bragelonne kept up the first-class treatment throughout our stay. . . treating us so well it became almost embarrassing. We also had the distinct pleasure of meeting author Kelly Armstrong. She's witty, articulate, and extremely dedicated to her craft, and it was a pleasure to get to know her as we traveled around.

Kelly, Patty and Theiry Kelly Armstrong, Patty Briggs, and Thierry, a new friend from Switzerland.

Without going through a complete play-by-play let me say that we spent several days in Paris, which was just as beautiful and friendly as we remembered it. We also got to travel to Switerland and Belgium for signings. We saw vineyards carved into cliffs, huge farms, historic arcitecture, grand palaces, quaint hamlets, and more statues than we could count. Lots of photos and memories.

Our first days were spent with Alain Névant, one of the founders of Bragelonne. He is a spare man with a quiet, contained energy and intense eyes that hint at a brilliant intellect. He's a vertible encyclopedia of information on European publishing. Who did what, how did it sell, and what could have been done better. He's quiet, but misses very little. He could easily play the astute foreign operative in a good spy movie, except his smiles are warm and genuine, and he's far too kind. He told us that signings are not often done in France, and nobody was sure how the public would respond. This was an experiment.

It was wonderful to meet the French readers and (with the help of a trusty interpreter) talk with them. The readers were amazingly enthusiastic, and there was a sort of electric energy in the air. US readers are accustomed to having authors pop by the local bookstore and sign books, the French readers thought this was something special, and they made it special for us, too. However, the more analytical (some might say cynical) part of me was getting a little worried. Remember, these are joint signings with Kelly Armstrong and Patricia Briggs. The signings were impeccably organized, perfectly hosted, and well advertised. And maybe fifty people attended. Yes, they were wonderful, friendly and enthusiastic people, but the numbers just weren't what we're used to seeing, and ultimately it's numbers that drive book sales. Maybe the experiment would fail. Our hosts, however, seemed delighted.

The tour then took us to Switzerland, to visit an amazing science fiction museum with (among other things) an astounding collection of Jules Verne publications, and more classic pulp fiction than I've ever seen in my life. We stayed in Lord Byron's estate on the shores of lake Geneva. Let me pinch myself and repeat that: we stayed in Lord Byron's estate. That memory goes in the keeper box!

Things just kept getting better. Our guide in Switzerland was Theirry, who was justifiably proud of his country and even more proud of Lausanne. While chatting with him, it somehow came up that we had never seen a real castle. Within minutes, our itinerary had been revised and we were on the road. In a short while, we arrived at our destination: the castle of Chillon. The very castle Lord Byron had used as the setting for The Prisoner of Chillon. It's open to the public, and has been carefully preserved in very nearly its original condition. We spent a couple of hours there, oohing and aahing at every little step. We would have stayed far longer, but our itinerary didn't permit it. We have lots of photos and great memories. Thanks a million Thierry!

Chillon The Castle at Chillon. Strong, defensible, and stylish too!

Signings in Europe: Part 2

By: MikeApril 30, 2011

Bragelonne's Guardian Gargoyle

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Patty and I spent a few days running around Europe with author Kelly Armstrong doing signings. The early signings were very enthusiastic, but still left me a little worried. Each signing was attended by maybe forty or fifty very enthusiastic readers. This gives the authors a little time to greet each person, and makes for a lovely, relaxed signing. However, I was concerned that, ultimately, we weren't getting the kind of numbers that might, as a non-random example, persuade a publisher to invite us back . . . ever!

I also noticed something curious. The signings were widely separated, but I started noticing the same smiling faces. I thought it might be my imagination (and my legendarily poor skill at recognizing people) but then they'd give me a huge smile and a little wave, and I realized that some of the readers were actually traveling around to multiple signings. Talk about enthusiasm, wow! Thank you, guys, for making us feel thoroughly welcome and appreciated.

The final signing would be held at Bragelonne's new headquarters, an extensive suite of offices in Paris. There had been a couple of accidentally-dropped hints that this would be special, but I was completely unprepared for what was waiting for us. As we walked toward the offices, I could see people milling about outside. Quite a few people. They saw Patty and Kelly and began to clap and cheer, and I just knew this was going to be a fun signing.

Signing a la Bragelonne A book signing, Bragelonne style. People are just starting to arrive.

Inside, the headquarters was transformed. In the couple of days since we'd last seen it, the staff had converted a lobby into a well-stocked bookstore, manned by beautiful young ladies dressed as Mercy Thompson and Elena Michaels. Their offices include a gran sala, or maybe a ballroom, which would house the signing. At one end a signing table had huge posters of Patty and Kelly's books, but both walls were lined with treats. Breads, cookies (including Macaroons with Mercy's coyote tatoo!), and all matter of snacks. An open bar with a smiling bartender. A chef making Belgium waffles to order. I wasn't sure if we'd stumbled into Cinderella's ball instead of a book signing, but I helped myself to a few treats anyway. I've never seen a signing like it. Alain was positively smirking, and Stephan was beaming as he rushed about attending to small details. The readers just kept coming. The first trickle came past the bookstore, and were followed by more, and more, and even more. Soon there were lines out of the room and into the hallways, and Patty and Kelly were signing frantically. Perhaps the French aren't accustomed to signings, but they certainly picked up on it quickly <grin>.

I saw something that really impressed me at the signing. A couple of hours after the signing started, I was wandering in the lobby, where a saw a lovely young woman crying. Suddenly, I really hated the fact that I don't speak French, and couldn't even ask what was wrong. Casting about, I saw Alain talking with a couple of employees. He was obviously busy running this huge affair, but I kind of barged in and mentioned the young lady.

He forthwith excused himself, and sallied forth to right wrongs and succor the afflicted, or something like that. I thought, as I followed him across the crowded room, that he needed only a sword and spurs to look fully a paladin. He reached the young lady, and spoke quietly in French. Apparently, she and some companions and traveled a long distance by train to attend the signing and had been in line for hours. However, the lines were moving slowly and the last trains for home were leaving soon. They would have to return without meeting the authors. Alain smiled, and offered to take her to the front of the line. She initially refused, but he gently assured her that it would be fine, and took her to the front of the line, explaining to the others what was happening, then leaving quickly to attend to other business. Problem solved. Maiden rescued. The armor and swords may be consigned to museums, but chivalry is alive and well in France. Both Alain and the people who had been standing patiently in line for hours acquitted themselves admirably. Huzzah!

Patty and Xaviere at Hameau de la Reine Patty and Xaviere at Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette's personal village, which is now one of our favorite places ever.

With the signings over, we spend a couple of days running around Paris in full tourist mode. Our dear friend (and French guide) Xaviere accompanied us to all the wonderful places tourists are supposed to visit. Of course, we had a great time. I have to say, however, that a few days, or even a couple of weeks, is not nearly enough time to see and appreciate Paris. For example, we wento to the Louvre. We spent about five hours there, and we managed to see part of one gallery. Each painting is a masterpiece, and worthy of detailed study. Walking past them, one's brain becomes gradually numb, unable to process and catalog so much. After a few hours I found myself stumbling past Raphael's masterpieces almost blindly, and decided that I was no longer capable of showing proper appreciation.

The Money Pit Redux

By: MikeApril 30, 2011

When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way - before one began.

If we had known how long this "remodel" was going to take, or how much it was going to cost or even how much it would disrupt our lives, we would never have dared attempt it. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it's a great substitute for courage. Now, surrounded by the sawdust and chaos of our lives, I try to remain thankful. The house will, someday, be beautiful. More importantly, it will be more livable and safer than it was. However, in the midst of the storm, it is difficult to see the silver lining of the clouds.

Construction continues, though more slowly than we would like. The roof is mostly done, and the interior of the house is drying out. The old carpets, soggy and mildewing, have been carted off, as has most of the underlayment. The old plumbing is gone, and fresh new Pex is installed throught. The ducts and vents have been connected and moved as needed. One shower still works, as does one sink, so life is possible here.

Sadly, this will be our last summer with our teenage girls. They'll be off to college soon, and at the pace the house is progressing, it may well be fall before we can move back in. Patty's office is scarely big enough for the two of us, and we've been wracking our brains (or what's left of them) for a solution. After much thought, today we bought a travel trailer. Not a big one, but enough for the girls to live in. We'll park it right next to the office trailer, and at least we'll all be together! Life is certainly an adventure.

Ebook Pricing

By: MikeMay 8, 2011

Over the past week we've gotten several letters about ebook pricing. Their tone ranges from polite inquiry to angry rant, but obviously many readers feel that the prices are outrageous and unjustified. How do greedy authors sleep at night? To be honest, having unhappy readers causes us some sleepless nights. Worrying about paying the rent if ebooks were priced as low as readers want causes even more sleepless nights. So, the gentle reader may rest assured that authors are, indeed, losing sleep!

I believe most readers are willing to pay a fair price for their entertainment. But what constitues a fair price? Hardcover price? Paperback price? How many feel that books should cost less than a dollar? How about free?

Ebooks are a disruptive technology, and their explosive growth is causing a lot of head scratching. This is a time of rapid change in and industry that's been stable for decades. The blogosphere is full of angry rants written by people who claim to have all the answers. The problem with the internet is that it's largely a shouting match rather than a structured debate; volume is more important than accuracy. Frankly, I don't know the proper price for an ebook. Neither do the publishers, and neither do the readers. However, a little economics can help us determine which prices might be reasonable and possible, rather than simple dogma or wishful thinking.

Fantasy Land

I studied quite a bit of physics back in my college years. In the introductory classes, students were presented with a fantasy world composed of frictionless surfaces, zero air resistance, and constants that really were constant. This simplified world made it easy to solve problems involving falling bowling balls and swinging pendulums. If masses were large, velocities low, and distances short, everything worked out as expected, and the predictions matched up closely with real-word results. However, in a frictionless world perpetual motion is simple, and without air resistance falling leaves quickly attain supersonic velocities.

Econ 101: Supply and Demand

The simple model of economics also depends on a fantasy world, but with different assumptions, in particular:

  • Perfectly Substitutable Goods: readers want books, and they have no preference for author or genre.
  • Constant Demand. The demand for the product does not diminish over time.
  • Infinite Demand Curve: As the price is set lower, the product will sell more. At zero price, there is infinite demand.

To understand the model, let's consider a common product, for example hammers. Company X has a hammer factory, and makes hammers that are equivalent to all the others on the market. Because the marketplace is competitive, they have to sell their hammers cheaply. If they raise their prices, much of the market will immediately change to a cheaper supplier. Ultimately, the price of a hammer is slightly greater than the actual production cost. While company X doesn't make very much on a given hammer, they sell lots of hammers, and will continue to sell them for many years without additional research or development.

Here's the important bit: in the simple model, prices tend toward the unit production cost (the cost to produce one item). This is the world we're familiar with. Shirts, pencils, hammers and almost everything we purchase are sold (on the wholesale market) very close to their production cost. Consumers calculate the relative value of a product by comparing the item's sale price to their estimation of its production cost.

Reality Check

The production cost of an ebook is, if not zero, at most a few cents. It stands to reason that the fair price for an ebook should be a few cents, plus a few cents for profit. Heck, let's be generous and assume it costs a dime to copy the file to my computer, and double that. An ebook should cost twenty cents, and the publisher is making 100% profit, that's more than fair! How can greedy publishers demand more than that?

The reality is that books represent edge cases for the simple economic model, the area where the model breaks down. With ebooks, the model fails completely. To understand why, we'll need to re-examine the assumptions of our model:

Perfectly Substitutable Goods: In the real world, goods aren't perfectly substitutable, and a shoe with a Nike™ swoosh is worth more than one without. A book with "J.K. Rowling" on the cover is more desirable than one by an unknown author. All books are not created equal, and readers have preferences. Each book is actually a unique product, with a potentially unique value.

Constant Demand: Books, unlike socks and hammers, don't sell at constant rates. Sales usually taper sharply after their initial publication, and usually go out of print in a year or two.

Infinite Demand Curve: A given book will have a finite number of potential consumers. Even at very low or zero prices, the pool of potential readers won't grow past a certain point.

And now, things get interesting. Remember that, in the basic economic model, we were able to consider startup costs irrelevant. A hammer factory may cost a few tens of thousands to tool up, but because the items sell for several dollars, and we expect constant high demand for a long period, we expect to sell millions of them. Lets say we sell a million hammers at five dollars each, and startup was fifty thousand dollars. The startup costs are only 1% of the product cost, which is negligable.

Paper or Protons?

Books don't (generally speaking) sell millions of copies. In fact, a solid midlist author sells somewhere between ten and maybe thirty thousand books. Moreover, the costs for acquisition, editing, cover art and marketing can easily run seventy-five thousand dollars*. If the wholesale cost of a book is $5, then sales of thirty thousand books give a total of one hundred fifty thousand dollars. Startup costs work out to 50%, which is not negligable.

Publishers report that the actual printing costs on books are only ten to twenty percent of the sale price. Add another ten or fifteen percent for the author's royalty, and we find that the unit production costs are, at best, thirty-five percent of the sale price. Unlike socks and hammers, books can't be profitably sold at production cost, because the startup costs represent a substantial percentage of the total product value.

With ebooks, the gap between the financially viable sale price and the unit production cost is even more extreme. Ebooks share most of the startup costs of a paper book, and (generally speaking) sell even fewer copies in the current market. Many publishers are reporting sales of only a few hundred to a few thousand ebooks, which somehow have to recover those upfront costs.

Why Volume Doesn't Work

The biggest myth with ebooks is that, because of the very low unit production costs the price can be set near zero resulting in a nearly infinite number of readers. If publishers could sell three or four billion copies of an ebook for five cents a copy, they'd be overjoyed. However, demand doesn't increase smoothly and predictably all the way to infinity.

Lets assume there are fifty thousand people nominally interested in a book. If the price is set at $7, half of them will purchase the book. As we begin reducing price, that number will increase. So, at $5 we may attract 70% of the potential buyers. However, below a certain price (say $1) the additional inducement to buy is minimal -- it's already cheap enough that arranging for payment is a bigger impediment than the actual purchase price. Reducing the price further will not gain a significant increase in buyers. Except at zero.

Zero cost is a special case for two reasons. First, a book will have a certain utility to a prospective reader. Readers buy when the expected utility (enjoyment or education) exceeds the cost of an item. At zero cost, it's worth acquiring items that have no apparent utility. People will download dozens of free books that they have no interest in reading, "just in case". Second, it's much cheaper to distribute a zero-cost item than one with even minimal cost. A free ebook can be distributed by torrents or on the author's site at, essentially, zero cost and zero effort. However, charging even a penny for that book requires point of sale software, security certificates and a much greater effort. For the buyer, suddenly the sale involves submitting an address and payment information, and the transaction becomes far less convenient. So while a free book may garner a hundred thousand downloads, charging even a penny will drastically reduce that number.

Sadly, there is a big jump in apparent value right at zero. My plans for becoming a millionaire selling books for a nickel are ruined.

Current Pricing Strategies

Currently, most of the major publishing houses are playing the pricing game conservatively. For hardcover releases, the ebook is priced at about half the retail price of the hardcover. The hardcover has four or five dollars in printing costs, as well as some shipping and return costs that the ebook doesn't share. All together, the hardcover probably costs the publisher about six or seven dollars to produce, so getting the ebook for half price doesn't seem like a bad deal.

When the paperback is released, the ebook price will drop to a dollar or two lower than the paperback. Again, keeping the ebook a little cheaper than the paper version seems pretty fair to me. Of course, it's never so simple. Some retailers (Amazon in particular) are unhappy with publishers over agency pricing, which allows the publisher to set the price for ebooks. (Agency pricing is it's own can of worms, which I'm not opening here!). In protest, they're discounting hardcovers of popular titles to below wholesale cost, selling them for less than the ebook. When the readers see the ebook for $12.50 and the hardcover for $11.99 they go ballistic, and write angry letters to publishers and authors. I know, because I read them!

When the paperback is released, there's sometimes a lag of a month or more before the publisher drops the price on the ebook. This results in readers seeing a paper book selling for six or seven dollars and an ebook priced at ten or twelve. Of course they feel like they're getting ripped off!

Meanwhile, self published authors and some small presses are exploring the shallow end of the price pool. The thinking is that if your free ebook gets a hundred thousand downloads, then you have a hundred thousand paying customers waiting for your non-free sequel. Alternatively, if you can figure out how to produce a book with a much lower overhead than the New York houses, you can indeed sell it for a dollar or two and possibly make a profit. There have been occasional spectacular successes, and a great many failures.


In the end, the market is still trying to decide what an ebook is worth. Pricing is constrained by high setup costs and limited demand for the product. However, it's possible that setup costs can be substantially reduced. As ebooks become more popular, those costs can be distributed over a larger number of sales. Consulting my ever-unreliable crystal ball, I would guess that ebooks will probably stabilize (eventually) in the four to five dollar range.

*Startup Costs

There's a lot of work involved in turning a manuscript into a polished product. There's several rounds of professional editors, working with cover artists, writing cover copy and working with layout. In addition, someone has to handle marketing, shipping, warehousing, accounting and returns. Most major publishers are located in New York, where office space is at a premium, and they're paying for everything from the copy machine to the janitor.

The claim with self publishing is that the author can do all of these tasks more cheaply, as long as the energy drink holds out. It's certainly possible to get a book into print through Smashwords or Amazon with a lower overhead than the New York houses. Sadly,I think that the reduction in cost comes with a corresponding reduction in quality. Certainly there are exceptions, but we've bought quite a few of self published novels and they generally feel "homemade".

That's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't like Burger King as well as my favorite steakhouse, and yet I eat more more burgers than steak. I think there's some room for optimization in the big houses; offices in Detroit are cheaper than Manhattan. I suspect prices will come down — but I doubt that readers are going get steak for the price of burgers.

Writing Update

By: MikeJune 4, 2011

The good news is that Patty is busily scribbling away on Fair Game, the next Anna and Charles novel. Patty's creative process, though chaotic, is usually much the same from one book to the next. She starts with a character, in a place, with a problem, and just kind of follows them around until the problem is resolved. With a bit of luck, it's an interesting journey and works out to be a book-length story. Simple, straightforward and dependable.

This book has gone rogue, and is doing something different. She has scenes, lots of them, but the chronology is unsettled. She knows what happens in the book, but instead of a complete novel, she has snapshots: chunks of prose twenty to fifty pages in length that need to be pieced together and massaged into their final form. She's pretty cheerful, and seems to be enjoying the challenge the book presents. I, of course, am the helpless bystander chewing my nails and hoping she does it quickly . . . being an author's spouse is not without its challenges!

Got Poetry?

A year or so ago Patty and I attended a local writer's conference called Rivers of Ink. It was a lovely conference, with interesting workshops and readings by many local authors. One guest, in particular, made a lasting impression.

During the opening ceremonies, time was given for a poetry reading by Jordan Chaney. As he walked to the podium I can remember thinking, "Please Lord, let it be short". I enjoy some poetry, and can even quote a few of my favorites from memory. My favorites, however, are mostly mushy romantic bits written long ago, with the odd comedic ballad thrown in. Most of what I hear read at coffee shops is, in my inexpert opinion, self-indulgent schmaltz designed to impress the other pseudo-intellectuals who frequent coffee shops.

Jordan was different. The subject was gritty and raw, and the words were . . . unexpected. Not pretty and polished, nor crude and unrefined. It has elements of hip-hop, I think ( I'm really not an expert in such things), but takes unexpected turns, twisting unpredictably in unforeseen directions. However, the unexpected is somehow right, leading the listener to vividly imagine scenes and pictures pulled from the imagination. And, though his subject is often dark, somehow there was always a conspicuous thread of hope, a chance for redemption, a glimpse of something better just ahead.

We bought a book of his poetry, but somehow the written versions didn't sing the same way in my head as when Jordan read his work. We've kind of kept in touch with Jordan, and he recently released a CD of him performing several of his pieces. Hooray! We've been pretty careful here at Hurog to avoid doing much promotion or publicity. We don't have advertising; we don't even have links to buy Patty's books. We're making an exception for Jordan. His work is awesome, and I think it deserves more exposure. Please, take a minute to look at Jordan's website, and grab a copy of his CD, Mighty Peasant. We think you'll really enjoy it.

Another House Update

We're still living in Patty's office. Not surprisingly, this gets a bit complicated when she's trying to write full time. Chaos reigns unfettered; stacks of books, laundry, and tools cover every surface like some primeval fungus. There is a tiny, semi-clear island around her computer, which is also our TV, stereo, and connection with the outside world. There are flashlights stacked in one corner. The only working restroom is in the house, and there's no electricity hooked up, so the flashlights are very important . . .

The days blur by in a bit of a haze. Get up, skip breakfast, and clomp into the house to brush our teeth and pull a comb through our hair. There's only cold water in the single sink that works, though the shower has hot water (when someone hasn't shut off the water heater, which happens more often than not). Work for a couple of hours, then go to town for some sort of sustenance. The closest shopping has three restaurants: Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway. Anything else adds about fifteen minutes of driving. I'm really getting tired of fast food, but with a tiny dorm fridge (good for keeping a couple of soda's cold) and no stove, cooking is largely impossible. Then it's back to work for another few hours before we head into the trailer. There's only one good chair, so we take turns sitting in it, browsing the internet, and blinking stupidly at one another. After an hour or two of this, we usually head into town, driven by hunger and a need to do something other than sit in the micro-hovel and blink. Then it's time for bed, and the whole thing starts over. I'm considering committing a felony just so to have some additional living space and better food.

The house is coming along, but slowly. The contractor, you see, has other projects, and can only dedicate ten or twenty hours a week to our place. We've seen other homes built from groundwork to final finish while ours largely sits vacant, but apparently there's little we can do to hurry the contractor along. I fantasize about chaining him to the plumbing, and feeding him only when I'm happy with the day's labor. Sadly, I'm told that violates several of our state labor laws. *Sigh*.

Cover Art

By: MikeJuly 11, 2011

cover image

I promised I'd post the cover art as soon as we got the official thumbs-up from the publisher. We heard from them a couple of days ago, so here's the cover art we promised (click on the thumbnail for a larger version).

Writing Update

By: MikeJuly 6, 2011

Patty is still working on Fair Game. The planning and plotting is done, and the page count is rising fairly quickly. I'm reading along behind her, and this should be a great book, though it's going to kick off some rather big events. All of the preturnatural creaturs have been walking on eggshells to make sure the humans continue to believe that fae are sweet little garden-gnomes and werewolves are great big loveable puppies. Of course, that's too good to last . . . and now I'll shut up before Patty bonks me <grin>.

The cover art for Fair Game was published earlier this week. I was going to put a nice high resolution version up here at hurog, but we're still trying to get ahold of Patty's editor. We were shown an early version of the cover, but asked to keep it under wraps until we got word that it was official. The art and marketing folks at ACE (Patty's publisher) often do substantial tweaking to covers between their early mock-ups and the final printed version, and they want to make sure that we post the right version. As soon as I get the go-ahead, I'll post the cover here. It's gorgeus. Well, of course it's gorgeous, it's a Dan Dos Santos cover, they're all gorgeous, but this one is awesome even by his standards. Dan posted some of his thoughts about doing this cover, as well as photos of the cover and some preliminary concepts over at Muddy Colors, which is well worth a look!

Art and Inspiration

I can, with a bit of effort, draw a stick-figure worthy of an elementary student. Perhaps because of that, I've always had a fascination with art; fantasy art in particular. I've never seen a dragon, or watched a fairy dance in the moonlight. I've never blasted across space in a rocket, or set foot on alien soil. However, in my imagination, I've seen all of these things and thousands more. Artists are able to pluck images from their imaginations, dreams of things unseen, and draw them with depth and color so real that they become part of my imagination as well. There's something magical about the process.

So, living in the dubious luxury of Patty's tiny office, I find that one of the things I miss most is seeing our art. The art is all safely stored, waiting for the day when we can move back into our home. Most of our artwork is inexpensive prints we've purchased at conventions, but they're images that mean something to us. Some spoke to us of hope when life seemed hopeless, some remind us of friends or family, others are simply beautiful. Patty and I will be attending a few huge conventions in the near future, and I'm sure we'll be spending a long time in the art shows!

Speaking of art and inspiration, every once in a while we hear from someone who has found Patty's books or Dan's art inspiring enough to get a tattoo. Tattoos fascinate me. I don't have any, and probably never will — I think I have commitment issues. However, I've seen many beautiful tattoes, and seen many more that were beautiful and meaningful to those who bore them. We are all indelibly marked, fundamentally changed by events in our lives. I think that tattoos are a way of making those changes visible.

We've heard from a couple of people who have put pawprints on their stomach, and a few who have chosen quotes from the books. We recently got a letter from a man who chose the artwork from Bone Crossed. I love that painting, and it normally hangs in our living room. To me, it's about letting go of the pain of the past, seeking comfort and resolving to move forward. Powerful and positive things, and a beautiful tattoo.

Bone Crossed Tatto

Comic Con

By: MikeJuly 29, 2011

We survived Comic Con!

We've attended lots of conventions. We're long-term veterans of the dealer room, the registration lines, and panel discussions on everything from alien technologies to zombie sex. I might have claimed we'd seen everything conventions had to offer. . .

Never hand the universe a straight-line, because someone up there's a comedian. I must admit, I've never seen anything like the San Diego Comic Con. The sheer scale of it is mind-boggling: there were 130,000 people in attendance. That's nearly the combined population of all three of the Tri-Cities where we live, all jammed like sardines into the convention center.

Patty and I found an unusual banner hanging in the exhibition hall . . .Patty and I found an unusual banner hanging in the exhibition hall . . . The photo is fuzzy, but I'm the one in the tie-dye shirt!

The exhibition hall at the convention center is huge. Acres of space under an enormous roof. You could probably build an aircraft carrier in that space without touching any walls. Of course, the space is divided among thousands of merchants trying to hock their wares or build "buzz" about their product. Most of the vendors are in small booths arranged in neat little rows like one of those modern housing developments. Here and there, the larger corporations have giant booths straddle multiple "streets", and dazzle the eyes with giant robots, brightly flashing screens and scantily clad booth babes strategically placed to lure in the fans, many of whom are wearing costumes of every possible description.

It's big, it's loud, it's crowded, and there are lines to get into the lines. In fact, it's more than a little overwhelming. Patty had a couple of panels, and several signings, which were generally well attended and gave us a chance to meet quite a few readers, which is always a treat. When not otherwise engaged we spent a lot of time in the Penguin publishing booth in the exhibition hall. We've met Patty's editor, Anne Sowards at several occasions previously, but we got a chance to meet several people we had only known through email. The booth was small, cramped with books, and located in a busy aisle. (Who am I kidding, they were all busy aisles!). We had a great time with all the fun and friendly folks at Penguin. As a side note, we were privileged to get to know one of ACE's other authors, Anton Strout. He's uproariously funny and unflappably cheerful. Unlike Patty (who reads everything), I hadn't read his works before. Naturally, I'm fixing that, and of course the books are superb. Fortuitous happenstance indeed!

Penguin StaffLeft to Right: Anne Sowards (editor), Patty Briggs (author), Rosanne Romanello (publicist), Erica Martirano (marketing). What a fun bunch of people!

By the way, I owe an apology to at least two of Patty's readers. We were contacted before the convention by a couple of ladies who were traveling a long distance to attend Comic Con, and wanted to make sure to meet Patty. Rather than scheduling a meeting, I blithely told them that Patty and I would be spending lots of time out wandering the convention, and we should be pretty easy to find. In retrospect, that was beyond stupid. I was completely unprepared for the size of Comic Con, where you could wander for weeks without bumping into another attendee. So here's me slapping my forehead, confessing my guilt, and asking forgiveness. I'll do better next time. :-/

Of Cabbages and Kings

By: MikeSept 11, 2011

Living in continual chaos is exhausting, frightening. The catch is that it's also very addictive.

Day 216 of our homeless sojourn. The chaos continues, but things are slowly, steadlily, improving. The electric and water are working well. The walls are up, textured and painted. We have a working refrigerator and microwave. I had forgotten how decadent it is to sneak into the kitchen for a hot pocket or burrito. We can keep milk and orange juice in the fridge, and there are even some Klondike bars in the freezer. Life is good!

After having a multitude of small problems, delays and generally disappointing results we fired the contractor who has been building our home. We have another contractor who will be trying to finish the house in a timely fashion, but we keep finding things that were improperly done. We're cutting holes in walls we thought were finished, and pulling down tile that we just set. I just found some roofing problems that will have me tearing up shingles tomorrow. Of course, the bank accounts are in screaming freefall. I feel like Captain Kirk, standing on the bridge with klaxons blaring and all stations reporting damage, trying to stay calm despite the fact that the shields are failing. "Transfer all auxiliary power to forward shields, and maintain course. Steady as she goes." I hope I sound as composed as he did.

Despite these setbacks, we're getting excited again. There is progress, and bits of beauty show through the destruction. Our friends are wonderful, and have made us dinners, taken us to movies, and come out to help make our home livable. We just painted one wall of our bedroom with a Venetian plaster, and it came out gorgeous. Even small victories are sweet after so many defeats.

SpoCon 2011

One of the perks of an author's life is attending conventions. Even with the missed deadlines and raging chaos at home we have to take time out to stay in nice hotels, eat gourmet food, and hang out with readers, authors and friends new and old. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!

A few weeks ago we attended SpoCon, who have moved their venue from a small college to a huge hotel in downtown Spokane. The convention was even more excellent than in previous years. Patty was the writing Guest of Honor, and they treated her like royalty. I did a couple of panels on things like the potential for prions or parasites to create zombies, and emergency preparedness. The filking was amazing and the whole convention ran like a Swiss watch.

Patty painted by Dan Dos Santos

One of the highlights of the convention for me was finally getting to meet Dan Dos Santos, who has painted the covers for many of Patty's books. We've talked with him by telephone any number of times, but this was our first chance to meet him in person. He also brought a number of original paintings to the convention, and Patty and I spent a lot of time drooling on the artwork. There was also an absolutely amazing two hour panel where Daniel and Patty talked about their work while Dan painted Patty in oils. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version of the resulting painting!

There are many artists with talent, but Daniel is one of the exceptional ones who can explain why he chooses to do things in a certain way. After listening to his panels at Spocon, I found that he had produced a video for Massive Black. I purchased a copy, and was awed at how clear and articulate he was. The video details the painting of the cover art for Warbreaker, from first contact with the art director to final photography. I don't paint, I can't even draw anything more complicated than a smiley face, but Patty and I were both mesmerized for something like five hours of video. Simply brilliant. You can check out the trailer for free.

WorldCon 2011

There was a mass-exodus of fannish types from the Pacific Northwest to the deserts of Reno for WorldCon. We carpooled down with a couple of our dearest friends, and joined a caravan for the drive down. I felt like I was a teenager heading off to summer camp, and a grand time was had by all.

After Comic Con I was braced for an overwhelming cacophony and tumult of people. However, the convention, while large, was vastly smaller and quieter. At WorldCon, it turns out, things are done with a certain deliberate decorum. However, standing in various lines I started reading name tags, doing double-takes, and trying to keep my fan-boy whimpers sub-audible. Everyone was here. The literary heros from my youth were walking around conversing with mere mortals. If I start name-dropping, this rather lengthy post will attain epic proportions.

The convention, as a whole, was a fairly standard literary convention, but the panels were populated by the aforementioned legendary luminaries mixed with with todays brightest stars. The place fairly seethed with wisdom, and oozed with experience. Not surprisingly, the panels I attended were uniformly excellent.

Patty and the Klingons Patty in the clutches of the Klingons.

One of the room parties merits special mention. A group of Klingons took over a room, and applied incredible decorations. The walls were covered with sculpted styrofoam panels showing bass relief heroes and scenes. The bar was stocked with beverages that earthlings should probably avoid on principle. The Klingons were hilariously funny, without ever breaking character. At one point they abducted Patty. I wasn't too worried until one told me they never take prisoners, but that they occasionally take slaves. . . Patty didn't seem to mind.

Naturally, I spent some time in the art show. Like the panels, it wasn't necessarily bigger than other convention's art shows, but the quality was stellar. So, Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo have flats right across from Richard Hescox and Bob Eggleton. The list, of course, goes on. They should pass out drool-rags at the entrance!

Of course we bid on a couple of pieces. I was outbid on one by George R. R. Martin! We also had a chance to sit down and talk a bit with Bob Eggleton and his wife Marianne. They are very warm and friendly folks, and we had a great time. Bob also had a show-stopper of a painting called "Dragon's Ring" in the show. The house has made a mess of our finances, but we were overcome with art-lust, and managed to wrangle a deal to buy it! <Giddy squeeing sounds>

Bob Eggleton on the Throne of SwordsBob Eggleton sitting on the Throne of Swords. By Crom, this looks strangely familiar . . .

Just Another Update

By: MikeOct 8, 2011

Requisite Whining About the *$#@!%! House

Day 239 of our exile. Still homeless. We knew we'd have to re-do a few of the shoddier bits of work from our previous contractor, but the past three weeks have been pretty traumatic. For starters, the plumbing had to be completely redone. Most of the house has a crawlspace, but the bathroom where we'd just laid gorgeous slate tile had to have the floor removed. Ever jackhammer a beautiful floor? I have!

With the new addition, the central heat and air ducts had been reworked. Suddenly, a house that had been pretty comfortable was unable to maintain temperature. Experts were called in, and it appears that almost all the ducting is improperly sized and badly installed. Oh, and the plumbing and ductwork is all covered by the nice crawlspace insulation we just paid for, which now needs to be pulled back out.

At this point, it is not surprising that the roof didn't just have some trouble spots. It had to be completely torn off and replaced, with some areas getting re-framed as well. So, the sounds of saws and hammers, drills and workboots continue to lull us to sleep. The financial ink is running entirely red, and the stress-o-meter is completely pegged. It's official — remodels suck.

Yesterday the plumbers told us there will be no hot water for the next week or so. At this point, Patty and I just laugh, "Is that the best you can do? Cold showers for a week? If you want to ruin our day, you're going to have to come up with something better than that1! You're not even trying."

Writing News

We've found a serious drawback to living in an office trailer (other than being tiny, dusty, and having no plumbing). You see, it's precisely the sort of trailer used on construction sites. So when a truck laden with materials pulls up, or new workers arrive, or one of the myriad inspectors (there's a whole rant there for another day) needs to talk, guess where they come? Right up to the "office", where Patty is trying to work! In between interruptions, the background noise of jackhammers, saws and music from tinny portable stereos is extremely conducive to the creative process. (That's sarcasm, for those who missed it.)

Patty has recently adapted by changing her schedule. She starts writing as soon as everyone goes home for the day, usually about 5:00 pm, and writes until 5:00 am. Vampire writer keeps vampire hours. It's working surprisingly well, except that I can't sleep very well with the construction noise. I'm told my zombie-like appearance and shuffling gait make me an excellent companion for an urban fantasy author!

The book is nearly done, and once again Patty has done something a bit different. Fair Game starts off as a murder mystery. After some testosterone-flavored negotiations, Charles and Anna get sent to Boston. We've been watching too many police procedurals, and the "whodunnit" plot simmers along nicely for several chapters. It turns out having werewolves sniff around a crime scene is surprisingly helpful, as is their ability to hear a lie.

This is a roller coaster book.

  1. Introduction of characters and backstory. (clickety-clickety-clickety).
  2. Assignment, travel and introduction of side characters. (Cickity-clack-clack. Hmmm. We're getting pretty high. This reminds of the Ferris wheel.)
  3. The plot begins to thicken, and clues are found. (Clack-clackity-clack. We're getting really high -- look at the little people down there.)
  4. False leads, dead ends, political machinations. (Does this thing ever end? I can see the curvature of the earth from up here . . .)
  5. Pow! cue the action. AAAAAaaaaaeeeeeeee! I want my mommy!.
Just when you think it's a standard detective novel, things start happening, and you realize that the real ride is just starting.

One of the things I like2 about Patty's writing is her ability to change. One one hand this is an Alpha and Omega book. The world is familiar, and Anna and Charles feel like old friends. The story, however, is a little different, and the end-game brings big changes to Mercy's world. Once the action starts, it's a breathless ride (and I'm still waiting for the last chapter, even though she's told me how it ends.3).

1 In all fairness, cold showers aren't that appealing. However, we're not actually stoic in the face of suffering, we just go beg hot showers from our fiends (er, friends. Sorry Ann!). :-)

2 Perhaps I should say "admire". When Patty says something like, "Maybe I'll write my 'Moose and Squirrel in Space' story, with werewolves and Klingons thrown in for seasoning." I get nervous. I sometimes think I'd sleep better if she played it safe, and wrote books very similar to the last one that sold well. However, when the dust settles, I'm always proud of her work.

3 Shameless begging. It works for me! <grin>

EDIT: I just saw on twitter that my propensity for copying the header of the previous post (and forgetting to change the date) caused some confusion. Sorry about that. By the way, Patty is hoping to finish the book tonight (Oct 9). Personally, I'm betting on tomorrow. It'll be a late night either way!

Happy Halloween!

By: MikeOct 31, 2011

We're just about to head out the door to visit some friends for Halloween, but I thought I should write a small update first. The initial write and first couple of edits of Fair Game are finally done, and Patty is working on the edits suggested by her amazing editor at ACE. There's a lot of people who say that writers don't need editors. If you buy that, I'd like to talk to you about a little bridge I own in Brooklyn . . .

Of course, we're still living in the office trailer, but the house is coming along nicely. Sometimes, life in the office trailer is kind of funny. We've been stacked in like sardines with our cats, dog, my daughter's snakes and a bird. The bird is a little green-cheeked conure we've had for about fifteen years now. He's never talked much, but sometimes imitates the more irritating sounds in the environment. He can impersonate hammers and some of the more raucous of the birds outside our house. A month or so ago he started making rumbling and whistling sounds as soon as the lights go out. I found it irritating but Patty was giggling like a schoolgirl. Turns out, the jokes on me. I've apparently been snoring, and the blasted bird isn't just being obnoxious, he's impersonating me. Next time, I'm getting a hamster!

Finally, we had a reader who found inspiration for her pumpkin carving in the cover of Fair Game. I thought it was amazing, and got her permission to share it with you.

Fair Game Pumpkin This is a pumpkin carved by Megan Fisher, based on the cover of Fair Game. Pretty Awesome, huh?

We're Home!

By: MikeDec 4, 2011

We're finally home. It's been, as the Beatles would say, a long and winding road that leads to our door. A small remodel gone bad, almost nine months living in an office trailer, and a final budget about five times larger than expected. This is an experience that I don't think we'll be in any hurry to repeat. But the house is coming out lovely, and we'll never again take clean sheets or hot showers for granted. The exterior still needs some work, and there's lots of little projects on the interior. For example, Patty seems convinced that we need curtain rods, and a mirror in the bathroom, and maybe some door knobs and . . . well, the list goes on. But the big construction is done, it's warm, dry, and comfortable. We're delighted.

Newly Remodeled Living Room Here's a view across the living room. This looks much nicer than a few months ago!

Book News

The page proofs for Fair Game are done. The past few weeks have been a crazy scrabble to get the house finished, get kind of moved in, and try to get the book edited, polished and ready for publication in the "spare time". Last night we were up until the wee hours finishing the page proofs, which is the final step in editing. They're done, and ready to send to the publisher, and the final results are, if I do say so myself, very good.

Pro-tip for authors: If you ever write a murder mystery, try to limit the number of government officials who get involved. There is a chapter in Fair Game where Anna and Charles meet with a number of officials from the FBI, Homeland Security and a new agency focused on the non-humans. In early drafts it reads a little like the old Abbot and Costello Who's on First? skit. There's only a handful a people, but all of them have a first name, a title, and and agency. The same person can be "Leslie", "Special Agent Fisher" or "The female FBI agent". Trying to write a cohesive scene with a half-dozen such characters is a recipe for comedy or confusion. Patty's a pretty skilled author, and mostly made it work. Mostly.

Can you find Patty? Where's Patty? Nothing here but a lump in the bed . . .

Carousel Dreams

This is a repost of an entry I made on the forums a few days ago.

It's official, we've gone off the deep end. Call the guys with the padded van.

It all started, innocently enough, with Patty browsing the want ads in Craigslist. (Note to self: add a firewall rule to block Craigslist. Soon.). She found an antique carousel horse for sale. It was, frankly, kind of an ugly thing and they wanted a pretty penny for it. She expressed an interest in acquiring the horse, and batted her pretty green eyes. . .

Having been married for twenty-six years, I know the script. That was my cue to voice enthusiastic support for the idea, and figure out where to display a slightly-disreputable wooden horse. I missed my cue, and mumbled something about needing money for the house (which is certainly true). Over the next couple of weeks she just happened to stumble upon the add a couple more times. Each time I grunted something unintelligible and changed the subject.

Finally, we had a little chat, and I realized why I didn't want to buy the stupid horse. Carousels are kind of magic. I have vivid childhood memories of carousels: bright colors, gorgeous horses, and band organ music. It's an entirely different environment than the blinding lights and cloying diesel fumes of the traveling carnival. Soon, Patty was enthusiastically sharing her childhood experiences with the carousel at Columbia Gardens in her hometown of Butte. Sadly, it burned down when she was still very young.

But carousels have largely vanished. And every time someone breaks one up and sells off the horses, there's one fewer of these magical machines left in the world. So, for much the same reason I don't buy rhinoceros horn or cheetah skins, I can't buy a carousel horse. They're "endangered". To my delight, Patty agreed.

She followed the sad little horse on Craigslist until the listing disappeared. Presumably the horse had finally sold, and I thought the issue was over. Silly me.

So, a few weeks later, I was trying to get to sleep and Patty was reading a book (and annoying me with her pesky light!) when she asked, "Hey Mike, what if we bought a whole carousel?"

"Huh?", I said. (I'm a scintillating conversationalist when waking up.)

"If you don't want to split up the pieces, how about we buy a whole carousel?"

Suddenly I was wide awake, as visions of impending financial ruin dashed through my head. She made some cocoa, and we talked late into the night. And so a strange, idiotic, and completely impractical plan began to take shape. We kept laughing and shaking our heads at our silliness, but it brought a smile to our faces. So, while it's probably the dumbest thing we've ever considered doing, we're trying to move forward with the plan.

The real antique units, when available, are way beyond our price range. The little alumiminum machines seem like cheap copies of something better. However, we've found a smallish unit built with trim and pieces taken from some of the grand old carousels of the twenties. It's equipped with a herd of aluminum and wooden horses from a couple of decades later, and it's been in storage for years. We're looking at buying it without the horses, just the frame and trim, which would be barely within our budget. Getting new animals carved, and restoring the mechanism will take us years, but it sounds like fun.

A painted pony A few months ago, we asked a wood carver to make a horse for us. This showed up in the mail on Thursday!