Monthly Archives: August 2011

Going on the Account: A Big One’s A-Coming

Just getting ready for the worst as Hurricane Irene makes its way north.


The only semi-bright spot out of a worst case scenario?  I get a chance to do a little fact checking


Truth be told, I don’t need that much hard data.  If you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, stay safe this weekend.

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Going on the Account: RED JENNY Twenty Six

Part Twenty Six of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Written Off

Today makes me self-reflective in terms of my craft.  This is one of those days where the topic keeps coming up with evocations at every turn, like a slew of flashbacks in a bad Merchant-Ivory wannabe movie…


First, I get a note about a blog post from a friend of mine, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, discussing revisiting one of her older works.  As someone who has had the privilege of reading the work in question, I’m probably in a pretty good position to weigh in on this particular issue, but that’s immaterial to Sandra’s question.  Namely, can you defy Thomas Wolfe and go home again?

There’s a book I have on my shelf that can be used by both sides in this debate, The Science Fiction Stories of Jack London.  Yes, before he did The Call of the Wild, Jack did genre work.  And frankly, not all of it was worth it.  Part of it is because his craft was, well, not up to the standards we know now he was capable of.  At the same time, seeing him go places he’s not usually associated is a bit of a thrill in and of itself.

Some can do it easily, and some can’t.  Lennon and McCartney wrote a song, “One After 909,” back in the early days when they were still school kids, but the Beatles didn’t release a recording of it until the Let It Be album, their last LP, in 1970.  In 1982, Isaac Asimov returned to his seminal reputation-making trilogy and offered a fourth installment, Foundation’s Edge.  You’re welcome to choose between these two which one succeeded, and which didn’t…

In my own case, I don’t know if I could go back like that.  Some of the stuff from the early days is pretty cringe worthy, as in Leonard-Nimoy’s-“Ballad-of-Bilbo-Baggins”-level cringe-ability.  (Yeah, that last link’s painful; I’m making a point here…)  My first novel I wrote reads like a teenager trying to copy Comic McCarthy’s The Road, which is a sort of accurate description in that it’s a pair wandering a post-Apoc wasteland that got written 20 years before McCarthy’s much better book; with everything that’s happened in that genre and to me since then, it just wouldn’t work.  Then again, there’s that unfinished vampire-cyberpunk novel in a drawer somewhere that might have a little blood in it; who knows…?

And since we’re talking about writers relating to their work, what should show up soon after Sandra’s piece than Sean Hood’s defense of his Conan the Barbarian script.  This is probably one of the best pieces of self-reflection by a writer I’ve seen in a while, very honest and with enough self-depreciation to put it all in perspective.  (And since I first saw it, it got amended to be even more self-depreciating.  His first set of comments did sort of imply that the original drafts he worked from really needed help, and he backpedaled on some of those critiques.  Ah, Hollywood, the land of easily bruised ego…)

The main takeaway from the piece is the need for tenacity, to keep getting back up and getting back to work no matter what.  Which applies especially on the days you get up and have less words to show at the end of the writing period than your last grocery list…


No, there are no shortcuts to writing, even if a few folks think they have some tricks they can use.  If you think I’m going to talk about plagiarism…  Well, OK, you got me, kinda.  With a little twist, though, regarding James Muller losing his plagiarism suit against Fox.  In some ways, you might be tempted to conclude that we see too many branded ideas and retreads of familiar films because of fear of litigation; maybe if we educated people better so that “stock themes” didn’t get confused too easily with “similarities,” we might see more creative writing out there across the board in all fields.

For that matter, maybe if we educated people better, full stop…


And speaking of shortcuts, there’s those e-books coming out with soundtracks.


Years ago, I knew people who used to suggest rundowns for the mixtape to play in the background as you read their work. All that did was just cover some of the holes the writer couldn’t fix with words, finding spackle to fix a bad plaster job.  It didn’t work then, and just doing that is so lazy it makes me want to jus-

Oh, all right, yes; yes, I too am guilty of such chicanery.  And I still think that piece Murray Gold did would be a great accompaniment for any galleon coming over the waves for you.  And if it happens to accompany the Casa del Sol as she comes about, I’d be really, really happy…  There! I admit it!

Still, a soundtrack for your book?  Considering the way authors usually get paid, versus how music royalties work, it’d be like paying the lighting guy more than the band for a concert. Which for all we know actually does happen in music, the one entertainment field that beats writing in the category of  messed-up business models…




As I said in the beginning, a lot of self-reflection on the craft today.  Too much to actually get a few words down on screen for real; someone want to pass me the remote…?

And where’s that grocery list…?


All content Copyright © 2011 James Ryan

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Going on the Account: The Hunters, and Their Prey in General

Interesting profile today in the NY TIMES on Special Agent Kevin P. Coughlin, the FBI’s main agent on point for all pirate investigations.

Finally, a piece about law enforcement and pirates that doesn’t dissolve under references to the RIAA



What’s most interesting about the piece is how it makes the point to readers who are not necessarily following the story over there that many pirate operations bear similarities to organized crime operations.  In particular, they note how the backers of the voyage stay on shore and recruit crews to go forth and ply the sea lanes with little risk to themselves, while citing a 30% chance of catastrophic failure for the crews going out each time.

It’s an interesting point to make, but it’s not entirely accurate to state that all pirates were self-contained with the captain going down with the crew if the venture failed.  (Assuming of course that the captain didn’t run fast enough for the boats when the venture started to fail, but let’s not get overly complicated here; it’s going to get bad enough from this point on anyway.)

What makes the remark tend wide off the mark is ignoring privateering as a whole, and the concept of the letter of marque in particular.  In many ways, the similarities between Richard Coote, the man who sent William Kidd out on his voyage, and Tony Soprano the fictitious crime boss are not that superficial.  Both had investments that they wanted to expand and were willing to engage others to commit violent action on their behalf to see their operations expand.

And let’s not forget how such revenue from these actions got invested once the venture was completed:  New York owes a lot of its development to the Sweet Trade, the way Vegas owes its existence to Bugsy Siegel.


In fact, the connections you can find between all criminal enterprises show up are apparent in dissection of the organization after they fold.  Each has a planner with a vision, loyal operatives who share enough of the vision to want to see it succeed with the right guidance, a goal that feeds the vision enough to overcome fear of the risks, and the drive to keep it going despite the inherent dangers.  And you can find this in any pirate crew, organized crime family, boiler room operation, you name it; if there’s a crime that needs at least three to pull it off, you find the same DNA in all of them.

Yes, even ninjas, supposedly, follow these rules as well.  Which gives everyone taking sides in this war reason to pause and consider…

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Going on the Account: RED JENNY Twenty Five

Part Twenty Five of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Chasing Them Doubloons *

So someone forwarded me an article from Forbes on the world’s highest paid authors.  I’m not sure if informing me was out of a belief that there’s an interest on my part to see what other writers are making (and when isn’t there one?), or as an act of evoking inadequacy on my part, but for whatever reason it was certainly one to make you think.


In ways you may not have considered…

(Which means that no, I’m not going to gripe about the biz like I did when last year’s list came out, so keep reading…)


First off, I don’t begrudge the earnings of the three writers profiled.  They have a product, there’s an audience willing to meet their prices for it, and that’s how the system works.  There’s no animosity on my part against James Patterson, J. K. Rowling or the ‘sparkly-vampire-lady’ whatsoever.  None, not a bit.


Seriously, I’ve already referred readers here to a piece on Patterson’s success and can’t deny the amount of work he puts into what he does.  And I think anyone that does that amount of work has probably earned what they have coming to them, whether James Patterson or Amanda Hocking, whose output certainly is of note.  And if I had a lot more energy, that might be the way to go; either that or sustain myself until I have enough of a back catalog to keep me alive on regular sales, which at this point may be around June of 2053…


The thing about these top earners pieces, though, is how they focus on the top of the bandwidth, while missing the median.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for writers as of 2008 was $53,070, which puts James Patterson at about 1,584 times ahead of the median writer, or to put it in perspective, about four and a half times the gap between CEOs and median worker wages as figured by Executive Paywatch.


Yeah, that does say something’s messed up with the distribution chain, when you think about it.  OK, maybe I’m not willing to avoid the mopes that much…

But then again, there’s that median quoted by BLS, which should make you wonder about the sensationalist press that concentrates on the high end earners who are maybe 3.4 AUs above the rest of the pack.  People forget that for all the focus on the rich (a whole other topic that’s a diversion into huge swaths of vast country) there’s still the working writer that may or may not be making much of a go at the craft depending on the market the writer lives in, if that figure comes to that person in a place where that money can go farthest.  And to be honest, most of the writers I know fit into the starving writer stereotype like a fist edition into its dust jacket; so many of them could not make a go of it with just income off words and need to hold another trade, which has been the case for most writers since Guttenberg invented write-for-hire…

(I kid, really…)

I haven’t forsaken supply and demand (though I wonder what’s come between the two of them), but it’s not hard to see how so many people can look at the upper echelons of the writing game and think it’s a means to get rich quick.  I keep telling people, if you want to write, you should want to write for the love of the craft, not for the money.  If you have a vivid imagination but are in it for the cash, just use your talents to develop a doomsday device to hold the government for ransom.

And these days, you don’t need that much imagination to hold the government hostage…

*  BTW, if you’d rather do things the old fashion way and seize doubloons, with the price of gold quoted as of this writing, doubloons are each going for  $391.04.

Heck, if the Sweet Trade comes back to the Spanish Main and the good old days are back, I may put aside the writing thing altogether for a while…

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Going on the Account: RED JENNY Part Twenty Four

Part Twenty Four of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Trying to Leave the Doldrums

It’s summer, and even with a few less distractions about me than during the rest of the year it’s hard to stay still at the keyboard long enough to have something to say.  Progress on the new work is staying on track, but as far as getting some other projects put together as asides, we got el zippo here.

Maybe it’s the heat, some distractions both personal and obvious in the news (especially as it ties in to the new work), or that there’s been more decent movies to go to than summers past, but staying in the groove is always a tough thing.  In any event, I’m making an effort to produce here for the sake of putting some wind in the sails; forgive me if I start to ramble…

I admit, maybe needing some news to pass along would help.  They supposedly found Henry Morgan’s command ship from the Panama invasion, which is a good thing for historians of all interests.  Though the fact that the folks at Diageo had to pay the bills to finish the expedition, with the hope of brand identification coming out of it, plays on the mind a little.

Then again, that could be a great hook for a piece to write, about the scientists in the field having to deal with their corporate minders who find something amazing that the front office feels would be a great profile raiser.  And so out of greed and miscalculation, the Suits get the discovery back and try and brand it, which leads to disasterou-

Oh wait!  Sorry, it’s been done; please forgive me for reminding us…


At least the news there is better than it is from the southern end of the Horn of Africa.  It’s a horrible story that seems to be happening in silence, with not as much empathy being generated for the sufferers there.  Yes, Somalia is a major disaster that people have turned away from, but even by those standards this is pitiful.

Maudlin; not working as a motivator…

I remember years ago, doing a poetry reading where I had a lot of really heavy downer material that just poured out after 9/11, and feeling the room turn into a tomb.  I was thankful I saved something for the end to just keep that couple in the first row from using their pens to find an artery, so I may do something similar here:

This was from a program called The Money or the Gun, which I would have liked to have seen back in its day.  Funny how this never jumped the Pacific, yet we ended up instead with Mel Gibson…

Well, so much for not being maudlin…

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Going on the Account: RED JENNY Part Twenty Three

Part Twenty Three of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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