Saturday, December 29, 2007

Medusa's Hairdresser

A while back, I mentioned I was worried about Medusa's Hairdresser (Another Gravity Check, July 07.) It appears I shouldn't have, because one day while cruising around My Space, I mean, while researching important information for the press, I stumbled on the band Medusa's Hairdresser

It appears my Muse didn't eat them after all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The FCC lifts bans on Media Consolidation

The following is a transcricpt from Democracy Now. Please contact your Senator and let him/her know that conglomerating control of the media is a threat to free speech and access to information and is not acceptable!

“Today’s Decision Would Make George Orwell Proud”—FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on the FCC’s Vote to Rewrite the Nation’s Media Ownership Rules.

The Federal Communications Commission voted three-to-two on party lines last week (Dec. 18th) to approve a measure that would increase media consolidation. The new rule pushed through by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin lifts a thirty-year old ban on companies seeking to own both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city. Michael Copps was one of two FCC Commissioners to vote against the rule.

AMY GOODMAN: The Federal Communications Commission last week voted three-to-two on party lines to approve a measure that would increase media consolidation. The new rule pushed through by FCC Chair Kevin Martin lifts a thirty-year-old ban on companies seeking to own both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city.

But the reaction against the vote has been swift. Close to 200,000 people have signed an open letter urging Congress to overturn the December 18th vote. Less than twenty-four hours after the vote, Democratic Congressmember Jay Inslee and Republican Congressmember Dave Reichert introduced the Media Ownership Act of 2007, that would overturn the new rules by the FCC.

It was Bush-appointed FCC Chair Kevin Martin, now just forty-one years old, who rammed through the rule changes. He’s served President Bush well. As deputy general counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, he was active during the Florida recount. Before that, he worked for Kenneth Starr at the Office of Independent Counsel during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Rumor has it he may run for governor of his native North Carolina. His wife, Cathie Martin, was a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney in the midst of the scandal around the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. She now works on Bush’s communications staff.

Today, we’ll play the speech of one of the two dissident FCC commissioners, Michael Copps. Copps has been fighting media consolidation since he was appointed to the FCC in 2001. He is a former history professor. He called the vote a Christmas gift to corporations.

MICHAEL COPPS: I had an opportunity to read a little bit of George Orwell the other day, and it was good preparation for getting ready to deal with this particular item. I think it would do him proud.

We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm, but the real effect is going to be to reduce total newsgathering. We shed big crocodile tears for the financial plight of newspapers, yet the truth is that newspaper profits are about double the S&P 500 average. We pat ourselves on the back for holding six field hearings across the United States, yet today’s decision cites not a single word from the thousands of Americans who waited in long lines for an open mike to testify before us. We say we have closed loopholes, yet we are introducing new ones. We say we’re guided by public comment, yet the majority’s decision is overwhelmingly opposed by the public, as demonstrated in our record and in public opinion surveys. We claim the mantle of scientific research, even as the experts say we’ve asked the wrong questions, used the wrong data, and reached the wrong conclusions.

I am not the only one disturbed by this illogical scenario. Congress and the American people have done everything but march down here to storm to Southwest D.C. and physically shake some sense into us. Everywhere we go, the questions are the same: Why are we rushing to encourage more media merger frenzy, when we haven’t addressed the demonstrated harms caused by previous media merger frenzy? Women and minorities own low single-digit percentages of America’s broadcast outlets, and big consolidated media continues to slam the door in their faces. It’s going to take some major policy changes and a coordinated strategy to fix that. Don’t look for that from this Commission.

Instead, we are told to be content with baby steps to help women and minorities, but the fine print shows that the real beneficiaries will be small businesses owned by white men. So even as it becomes abundantly clear that the real cause of the disenfranchisement of women and minorities is media consolidation, we give the green light to a new round of—yes, you guessed it—media consolidation.

Local news, local music and local groups so often get shunted aside when big media comes to town. Commissioner Adelstein and I have heard the plaintive voices of thousands of citizens all across this land of ours in dozens of town meetings and public forums, from newscasters fired by chain owners with corporate headquarters thousands of miles away to local musicians and artists denied airtime because of big media’s homogenization of our music and our culture, from minorities reeling from the way big media ignores their issues and caricatures them as people to women saying the only way to redress their grievances is to give them a shot to compete for use of the people’s airwaves, from public interest advocates fighting valiantly for a return of localism and diversity to small independent broadcasters who fight an uphill battle to preserve their independence.

It will require tough rules of the road to redress our localism and diversity gaps, too. Do you see any such rules like that being passed today? To the idea that license holders should give the American people high quality programming in return for free use of the public airwaves, the majority answers that we need more study of problems that have been documented and studied to death for a decade and more. Today’s outcome is the same old same old: one more time, we’re running the fast-break for our big media friends and the four corner stall for the public interest.

It’s time for the American people to understand the game that is being played here. Big media doesn’t want to tell the full story, of course, but I have heard first-hand from editorial page editors who have told me they can cover any story, save one—media consolidation—and that they have been instructed to stay away from that one. That’s a story for another day, perhaps.

Today’s story is a decision by the majority unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger. We’re not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research or following the facts where they lead us.

Our motivations are less Olympian and our methodology far simpler: We generously ask big media to sit on Santa’s knee, tell us what it wants for Christmas, and then push through whatever of those wishes are politically and practically feasible. No test to see if anyone’s been naughty or nice. Just another big shiny present for the favored few who already own an FCC license—and a lump of coal for the rest of us. Happy holidays!

If you need convincing of just how non-expertly this expert agency has been acting lately, you could not have a better example than the formulation of the cross-ownership rule that the majority will adopt today. I know it’s a little detailed to see how the sausage is made, but it’s worth a look.

On November 2, 2007, with just a week’s notice, the FCC announced that it would hold its final media ownership hearing in Seattle. Despite the minimal warning, 1,100 citizens turned out to give intelligent and impassioned testimony on how they believed the agency should write its media ownership rules. Little did they know that the fix was already in, and that the now infamous New York Times op-ed was in the works announcing a highly detailed cross-ownership proposal.

Put bluntly, those Commissioners and staff who flew out to Seattle, sixteen witnesses, the Governor, the State Attorney General and all the other public officials who came, plus the 1,100 Seattle residents who had chosen to spend their Friday night waiting in line to testify were, as Representative Jay Inslee put it, treated like “chumps.” Their comments were not going to be part of the agency’s formulation of a draft rule; it was just for show, to claim that the public had been given a chance to participate. The agency has treated the public like children allowed to visit the cockpit in an airliner—you know, when you go up there with your little kid, and you’re not actually allowed to fly the plane, but they’re permitted for a brief, false moment to imagine that they are.

The New York Times op-ed appeared on November 13, the next business day after the Seattle meeting. That same day, a unilateral public notice was issued, providing just twenty-eight days for people to comment on the specific proposal, with no opportunity for replies. The agency received over 300 comments from scholars, concerned citizens, public interest advocates, and industry associations, the overwhelming majority of which condemned the plan. But little did these commenters know that on November 28, two weeks before their comments were even due, the draft order on newspaper-broadcast cross ownership had already been circulated. Once again, public commenters were treated as unwitting and unwilling participants in a Kabuki theater.

Then, last night at 9:44 p.m., just a little more than twelve hours before the vote was scheduled to be held and long after the sunshine period had begun, a significantly revised version of the order was circulated. Among other changes, the item now granted all sorts of permanent new waivers and provided a significantly altered new justification for the twenty-market limit. But the revised draft mysteriously deleted the existing discussion of the “four factors” to be considered by the FCC this morning in examining whether a proposed combination was in the public interest. And in its place, the new draft simply contained the cryptic words “[Revised discussion to come].” That’s what we got last night at 9:44. And although my colleagues and I were not apprised of the revisions, USA Today fared better, because it apparently got an interview that enabled it to present the Chairman’s latest thinking. Maybe we really are the Federal Newspaper Commission.

Finally, at 1:57 this morning, we received a new version of the proposed test for allowing more newspaper-broadcast combinations. I cannot claim that I fully appreciate the test’s finer points, given the lateness of the hour and the fact that there was no time afforded to parse the finer points of the new rule. But this much is clear: the new version keeps the old loopholes and includes two new ones. Finally, finally, as I walked out of the office at 11:15 this morning, we received a revised paragraph on the details of the “four factors.” And forgive me if I am unable to speak expertly about what they mean to the substance of this decision.

This is not the way to do rational, fact-based, and public interest-minded policymaking. It’s actually a great illustration of why administrative agencies are required to operate under the constraints of administrative process, and the problems that occur when they ignore that duty. At the end of the day, process matters. Public comment matters. Taking the time to do things right matters. A rule reached through a slipshod process and capped by a mad rush to the finish line will, purely on the merits, simply not pass the red face test. Not with Congress. Not with the courts. Not with the American people.

It’s worth stepping back for a moment from all the detail here to look at the fundamental rationale behind today’s terrible decision. Newspapers need all the help they can get, we are told. A merger with a broadcast station in the same city will give them access to a revenue stream that will let them better fulfill their newsgathering mission. At the same time, we’re also assured, our rules will require “independent news judgment” (at least among consolidators outside the top twenty markets). In other words, we can have our cake and eat it, too: the economic benefits of consolidation without the reduction of voices that one would ordinarily expect when two news entities combine.

But how on earth can this be? To begin with, to the extent that the two merged entities are truly “independent,” then there won’t be the cost savings that were supposed to justify the merger in the first place. On the other hand, if independence merely means maintaining two organizational charts for the same newsroom, then we won’t have any more reporters on the ground keeping an eye on government. Either way, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

In the final analysis, the real winners today are businesses that are in many cases quite healthy, and the real losers are going to be all of us who depend on the news media to learn what’s happening in our communities and keeping an eye on local government. Despite all the talk you may hear today about the threat to newspapers from the internet and new technologies, today’s order actually deals with something quite old-fashioned. Powerful companies are using political muscle to sneak through rule changes that let them profit at the expense of the public interest. They are seeking to improve their economic prospects by capturing a larger percentage of the news business in communities across the United States.

Let’s get beyond the weeds of corporate jockeying and inking up our rubber stamps for a new round of media consolidation to look for a moment at what we’re not doing today. That’s the real story, I think, that the important issues of minority and female ownership and broadcast localism and how they are being short-changed by today’s rush to judgment.

First, on minority and female ownership, racial and ethnic minorities make up 33% of America’s population. They own a scant 3% of all full-power commercial television stations. And that number is plummeting. Free Press recently released a study showing that during just the past year the number of minority-owned full-power commercial TV stations declined by eight-and-a-half percent, and the number of African American-owned stations—get this—decreased by nearly 60%. It’s almost inconceivable that this shameful state of affairs could be getting worse, yet here we are.

In most places there is something approaching unanimity that this has to change. Broadcasters, citizens and members of Congress, and every leading civil rights organization agree that the status quo is not acceptable. Each of my colleagues has recognized, I think, that paltry levels of minority and female ownership are a reality, which makes today’s decision all the more disappointing. There was a real opportunity here to do something meaningful today after years of neglect, and we blew it.

It didn’t have to be this way. I proposed both a process and a solution. We should have started by getting an accurate account of minority and female ownership. That’s the one that the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office both just found that we do not have at the FCC. The fact that we don’t even know how many minority and female owners there are is indicative of how low this issue is on the FCC’s list of priorities. We also should have convened an independent panel, like proposed by Commissioner Adelstein, and endorsed by many, that would have reviewed all of the proposals before us, prioritized them and made recommendations for implementation. We could have completed this process in ninety days or less and then would have been ready to act.

Today’s item ignores the pleas of the minority community to adopt a definition of “Eligible Entity” that could actually help their plight. Instead, the majority directs their policies at general “small businesses,” a decision that groups like Rainbow/PUSH and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters assert will do little or nothing for minority owners. Similarly, MMTC and the Diversity and Competition Supporters conclude that they would rather have no package at all than one that includes this definition. Lack of a viable definition poisons the headwaters. So should we wonder why the fish are dying downstream?

So while I can certainly support the few positive changes in this item that do not depend on the definitional issue, such as the adoption of a clear non-discrimination rule, these are overshadowed by the truly wasted opportunity to give potential minority and female owners a seat at the table they have been waiting for and have deserved for so very long. My fear now is that with cross-ownership done, the attentions of this Commission will turn elsewhere.

On localism, at the same time that we have shamefully ignored the need to encourage media ownership by women and minorities, we have witnessed a dramatic deterioration of the public interest performance of many of our licensees. We have witnessed the number of statehouse and city hall reporters declining decade after decade, despite an explosion in state and local lobbying. The number of channels have indeed multiplied, but there is far less local programming and reporting being produced.

Are you interested in hearing about local politics from the evening news? About 8% of such broadcasts contain any local political coverage at all, including races for the House of Representatives, and that was during the thirty days before the last presidential election. Interested in how TV reinforces stereotypes? Consider that the local news is four times more likely to show a mug shot during a crime story if the suspect is black rather than white.

The loss of localism impacts our music and entertainment, too. Just this morning, I had an email from a musician who took a trip of several hundred miles and heard the same songs played on the car radio everywhere he traveled. Local artists, independent creative artists and small businesses are paying a frightful price in lost opportunity. Big consolidated media dampens local and regional creativity, and that begins, my friends, to mess around pretty seriously with the genius that is America.

It’s a travesty. We allow the nation’s broadcasters to use half a trillion dollars of the people’s spectrum—for free. In return, we require that they serve the public interest: devoting at least some airtime for worthy programs that inform viewers, support local arts and culture, and educate our children—in other words, that aspire to something beyond just minimizing costs and maximizing revenue.

Once upon a time, the FCC actually enforced this bargain by requiring a thorough review of a licensee’s performance every three years before renewing the license. But during decades of market absolutism, we pared that down to “postcard renewal,” a rubber stamp every eight years with no substantive review.

So, to begin with, the FCC needs to reinvigorate the license-renewal process. We need to look at a station’s record every three or four years. I’m disappointed that the majority has so cavalierly dismissed this idea. And we should be actually looking at the record. Did the station show original programs on local civic affairs? Did it broadcast political meetings? In an era where too many owners live thousands of miles away from the communities that they allegedly serve, do these owners meet regularly with local leaders and the public to receive feedback? Why don’t we make sure that’s done before we vote to allow more media consolidation?

In 2004, the Commission opened up a notice of inquiry to consider ways to improve localism by better enforcing the quid pro quo between the nation’s broadcasters and the public. The notice addressed many of the questions raised by earlier dormant proceedings dating from years before. Today’s localism notice asks more questions and tees up some very meritorious ideas, but again my question: why the rush to vote more consolidation now, consolidation that has been the bane of localism, and why put off systematic actions to redress the harms consolidation has inflicted?

Our FCC cart is ahead of our horse. Before allowing Big Media to get even bigger—and to start the predictable cycle of layoffs and downsizing that is the inevitable result of, indeed the economic rationale for, many types of mergers—we should be enforcing clear obligations for each and every FCC licensee.

Those who look for substantive action on these important issues concerning localism and minorities will look in vain. Once the majority works its way on cross-ownership, I’m not optimistic about prospects for future action on these fronts. We’re told that we cannot deal with localism and minority ownership because that would require delay. But these questions have been before the Commission for a decade, and they have been ignored year after year. These issues could have been—should have been—teed up ten years ago. We begged for that in 2003, when we sailed off on the calamitous rules proposed by Chairman Powell and pushed through in another mad rush to judgment. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. It should have been done years ago. And we had the chance again this time around. Now, because of a situation not of Commissioner Adelstein’s or my making, we are accused of delaying just because we want to make things better before the majority makes them worse.

When I think about where the FCC has been and where it is today, two final conclusions:

First, the consolidation we have seen so far and the decision to treat broadcasting as just another business has not produced a media system that does a better job of serving most Americans. Quite the opposite is true. Rather than reviving the news business, it has led to less localism, less diversity of opinion, less serious political coverage, fewer jobs for journalists, and the list goes on.

Second, I think we have learned that the purest form of commercialism and high-quality news make very uneasy bedfellows. As my own hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, put it in a letter to Joseph Pulitzer, “I have always been firmly persuaded that our newspapers cannot be edited in the interests of the general public from the counting room.” And I think that applies to broadcast journalism, too. This is not to say that good journalism is incompatible with making a profit. I believe that both interests can be balanced. I believe both interests must be balanced. But when TV and radio stations are no longer required by law to serve their local communities and are owned by huge national corporations dedicated to cutting costs through economies of scale, it should come as no surprise that, in essence, viewers and listeners have become the products that broadcasters sell to advertisers. And that’s you and me I’m talking about.

We could have been—should have been—here today lauding the best efforts of government to reverse these trends and to promote a media environment that actually strengthens American democracy rather than weakens it. Instead, we are marking not just a lost opportunity but the allowance of new rules that head media democracy in exactly the wrong direction.

I take great comfort from the conclusion of another critic of the current media system, Walter Cronkite, who said, “America is a powerful and prosperous nation. We certainly should insist upon, and can afford to sustain, a media system of which we can be proud.”

So now it’s up to the rest of us. The situation isn’t going to repair itself. Big media is not going to repair it. This Commission is apparently not going to repair it. But the people and their elected representatives and attentive courts can repair it. Last time the Commission went down this road, the majority heard and felt the outrage of millions of citizens and Congress and then the court. Today’s decision is just as dismissive of good process as that earlier one, just as unconcerned with what people have said, just as heedless of the advice of our oversight committees and many other members of Congress, and just as stubborn—perhaps more stubborn—because this time it knows, or should know, what’s coming. Last time a lot of insiders were surprised by the country’s reaction. This time they should be forewarned. I hope, I really hope, that today’s majority decision will be consigned to the fate it deserves and that one day in the not-too-distant future we can look back upon it as an aberration from which we eventually recovered. We have had a dangerous, decades-long flirtation with media consolidation. I would welcome a little romance with the public interest for a change. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Copps, dissident Federal Communications Commissioner, speaking just before the vote to ax the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership that took place on December 18.


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What do you give your Muse for Christmas?

Mine requires a great deal of chocolate, preferably Alter Eco, but she'll take Hershey's in a pinch. So this year I gave my Muse Alter Eco Dark Chocolate with Almonds, as well as Dagoba Xocolatl. It's wonderful to watch her stand completely still, every snake frozen in delight, transfixed by the luscious, lingering, delights of the taste and smell of creamy, dark chocolate. When she gets too belligerent or stays away too long, I crack the paper covering of a dark chocolate bar and suddenly my Muse appears, all smiles, every snake drooling over the smell of that candy.

I wrapped the bars of chocolate in gold colored tissue paper and handed them to her, saying, "Thank you."

She smiled. "Shouldn't I be saying thank you for the package?"

"No. I've been thinking about it a lot, and although you can be a serious bitch when you want to be, you do know how to push me in the right direction, regardless of whether or not I want to go there."

"Security is over-rated. Creative people need risks to stay productive."

"You're right. So thank you for pushing me into starting a publishing company. And thank you for forcing me to keep working on my novel. And thank you for dressing up like Eddie."

She took the package of chocolate and sniffed it, then grinned even bigger. "You're welcome." Then she ripped the paper into shreds and devoured the chocolate like a vampire feeding on fresh blood.

Muses are a gift, and a curse. They drive us, empower us, force us to create and then demand we take the applause and criticism. They build our obsessions and feed our desires, sometimes keeping us up at night with fevers and delusions. They make us hungry for things we've never imagined and will never find. Maybe that's why so many writes like to drink?

Without my Muse, I would be calm and safe. I would be empty. So bring on the next obsession and hunger! I can take it! As long as I have enough chocolate to keep her under control.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

When My Muse is Eddie Vedder

I know I'm in trouble when my Muse transforms herself into Eddie Vedder. Usually that means she's feeling revolutionary, overly creative, and too much like Joan of Arc. She's been listening to Pearl Jam, especially that song "Indifference," over and over on my MP3 player, pacing around the house, humming along to the words. "How much difference, does it make?" And then this morning she dressed herself in 1992 grunge attire (army jacket, doc-martin boots, knee length shorts) and walked into the kitchen where I was trying to wake up enough to operate the coffee maker.

"Oh no," I moaned when I saw her. "Not Eddie."

"What's wrong with Eddie?"

"I can't handle that much determined, outspoken, dark, political venting this early in the morning."

She grinned and said, "Oh, but you should. You have some serious work to do with Medusa."

I pushed the on button and impatiently listened to the water percolate through the coffee grounds. "I will not save the planet today."

"Not today. But later would be good."

Coffee never brews fast enough, especially when you're standing in the kitchen with your Eddie Vedder-doppelganger-muse watching you. "What's the cause today?"


"Oh, is that all?"

"Did you hear what Huckabee said about rounding up people with AIDS and putting them into concentration camps?"

"I heard something about it."

"You can't let him get away with that."

I turned around and stared at her. "And just what exactly am I supposed to do about Mike Huckabee?"

"I don't know. Write something brilliant to make him look like a fool."

"He doesn't need my help to look like a fool. He's quite capable of doing that himself." The smell of the coffee began to fill the kitchen. I grabbed my favorite mug from the cubbard.

"It is your duty as an artist to speak out about such things."

I nodded, far too annoyed with how long it was taking to make a cup of coffee to focus on my Muse's diatribe about civic responsibility. "Can I save the planet after I have my coffee?"

She folded her arms and glared at me. "I don't believe you. Fighting bigotry is far more important than your cup of coffee!"

"You're right. But I fight better while caffienated."

She rolled her eyes, put the ear-buds of my MP3 player into her ears and said, "When you're awake, we can discuss strategy." Then she turned on the player and I could hear the faint chords of "Leash" blaring from the buds as she left the room.

Sometimes, this need to fight for justice is exhausting. I cannot ignore the ills of our society nor can I bury my head in the back yard and thank God people are dying "over there." What happens in Afghanistan and Darfur feels very close to me, like it's happening across the street. I cried when I heard they were tearing down housing projects in New Orleans and I was sick with fury for a week when I heard the comments Mr. Huckabee made about people with AIDS. I must fight when I see wrong, regardless of whether or not I have enough caffeine that morning. It's all my Muses fault.

My heroes are Martin Luther King, Janeane Garafello, Ani DiFranco, Henry Rollins, Studs Turkel, and others who fight for social justice and speak out against the wrongs in our world. I sometimes wish I could live quietly, do what Oprah says I should, and worry about Britney Spears, not Bolivia. Life would be so much simpler. Instead, my Muse transforms into Eddie Vedder and hands me a pen.

Oh well... there was finally enough coffee in the pot for one cup. I filled my mug and chased my Muse, wondering what she had in mind to go along with those Peal Jam lyrics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Fair OnLine

While surfing the net looking for publishing news (really. I wasn't just checking bands on My Space), I stumbled upon this, Book Fair Online, an International Book Fair, completely on line, and available to anyone worldwide to peruse books looking for international publication. An interesting idea, especially when you take into account the cost of getting yourself to Frankfurt, Germany, which is where the largest international book fair in the world is located. But will an on line book fair come close to the impact of a "physical" book fair? Right now, there aren't many titles listed, but that could change in time. It's a gamble, spending money for placement on a brand new web site, because people don't really know about it yet. But it has the potential to become a great tool for small publishers like me; people without the budget for a European holiday.

Although I am saving for that trip; a dollar here, another there... because I want to experience the energy and chaos of all those book lovers from all over the world in one place. I plan to hit them all: Wellington, Cardiff, London, Edinburgh, and of course, Frankfurt. But in the mean time, I'll investigate this on-line version of a book fair and see if listing Laura's book is a good idea.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


How can I make Laura's book available to people who are visually impaired?

That's the biggest issue I'm pondering these days. There are many options, and trying to figure out which one is best in terms of cost, feasibility, and simplicity for the end user is difficult.

Obvious option: Audio book. However, creating an audio book is a ton of work, or a ton of money. Seeing as I don't have a ton of money, I'm doing it the hard way; reading Laura's book myself into a microphone connected to my computer late at night while my daughter is sound asleep. All 210 pages. I'm up to pg. 40. The delay has come from ridiculous technical problems, like the microphone sometimes doesn't "appear" on the computer and the recording levels we set (we being Rick and I) will not stay set. Then, when we actually get everything working properly, I make mistakes, which must be corrected in the audio file, but every time we stop, the microphone disappears again! Reading a book out loud is extremely difficult. Try it. Pick up your favorite book, one you know almost by heart, and try reading it out loud without stumbling over any of the words. It's impossible.

Why am I the one reading it? Like I said, I'm broke and can't fork out the thousands of dollars to hire a company to transform the book into audio format for me. Luckily I have a drama degree and am a trained actress with good vocal control and excellent articulation. Take advantage of your strengths. Laura isn't reading the book because scheduling recording times around her full time job and my child-care needs was impossible. So I'm "it," every night, 10:00.

But the microphone problems can only be fixed with cash, so I'm forking out my credit card once again and going over budget to buy a good mic and a better audio program. Happily, there are programs out there that are share-ware, one of which has received raves for reliability, called Audacity I'll give that one a try.

To expand accessibility, I've uploaded Laura's book to Book This non-profit, on-line company turns books into programs that can be downloaded by people with vision impairments who can then print the book in any format they need, including braille. This process also involved technical difficulties, but the file is now with the Book Share company and hopefully soon it will be available for download. Medusa's Muse doesn't receive any fees or royalties for this, but it is important to me that our books are available to any person who wishes a copy, even if the person can't read print.

That being said, I'd better get back to learning the Audacity program. Our goal was the audio book would be available on Jan. 1, but that date will probably have to be pushed to Feb. 1.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Hate Writing

I really do. I don't know why I keep doing this; spending hours staring at my lap-top, doodling in my journal, daydreaming about characters, wondering "what if?" All to create one more novel. Does the world really need one more novel?

While running Medusa, I am also working on my own book; a revision of my memoir about Paul. I am transforming it from fact to fiction, while keeping much of the true events intact. This was supposed to give me more freedom to make the story meaningful to readers and not just be a remembrance of my best friend. Easy, right? WRONG. Although I have a road map of events, I find that the road map is... well... boring. There are moments in the book, entire scenes, when the pacing really flows and the characters bounce off the page and excite me. I see the children chasing waves on the beach, daring the ocean to drown them, until one wave almost does. Then comes the scene when they are seventeen, staring at each other, unsure of what to say, until one of the characters will break from the moment, stare out at me from my lap top and ask, "So what?" Too often, I reply, "I don't know."

My Muse won't let me quit writing. She seems to enjoy watching me suffer. No matter that I've already written two novels, four plays, several short stories, a handful of awful poems, and one song. She wants another one! Perhaps I'd feel better about writing if anyone actually read and liked what I wrote! The last rejection letter I received for a short story said they liked it, but it needed more editing. I stared at that damn story for an hour and couldn't see a single thing to edit. What are they talking about? This is perfect? Then the crippling thought entered my brain which asks, "What if I'm a really bad writer?"

"Bull!" My Muse scoffs when I ask that question. "I wouldn't be here if you were a bad writer. You're just suffering from Author Blindness. No writer can see their own work clearly. That's why you need writing groups and editors. They're like giant spectacles to fight near-sightedness."

So I sent the story to a friend for editing and got back to work on my novel, because I don't know what else to do other than write. Not even running my own publishing company will satisfy my need to put words on paper and tell stories. I've tried quitting, but I actually suffer from withdrawal pains, like the ones I got when I gave up smoking. To quit smoking I started to knit. Knitting doesn't kill the need to write, though.

A Chinese curse says, "May you be born during interesting times." A better curse is, "May you be born a writer."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Traveling Blind now Available from Powell's Books

Powell's Books, the Oregon based independent, gigantic bookstore is offering Laura's book via their website, or by prepaid pick-up. Hopefully in time, they'll carry it on their shelves. Selling a book through Powell's is one of my dreams as a publisher. It is my favorite book store on this planet and I've spent far too many hours wandering the aisles of their main, downtown Portland store, breathing in the dust and aging paper of those thousands and thousands of books. To me, it is Mecca.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

We Passed the 150 Mark!

Despite my poor math skills (see previous post), Medusa's Muse has sold more than 150 copies of Laura Fogg's book, "Traveling Blind; Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers" since its Nov. 1 launch date. Not bad for a tiny, three person press with an operating budget of last years tax return.

You'll have to excuse me now. My Muse and I are about to do the Happy Dance!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Math Pain

My old nemesis, Math, has sent me into a spiral of frustration and self-doubt. I couldn't remember how to figure a percentage. The formula had fallen out of my head.

"You have to help me with this!" I yelled to my Muse who was in the other room. She came rushing to me with a wet tea bag in her hand.

"What is it?"

"I can't remember how to figure out percentages."

She cocked her head and blinked at me a few times. "A what?"

"A percentage. What is 40% of 16?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"You have to know. You know everything."

"I only know important things."

I leaped up from my chair and recklessly grabbed my Muse by her bony shoulders. "This is important! Do you hear me? I have to know what 40% of 16.00 is or we're doomed."

"Calm down," she said, pulling herself from my grasp. "This isn't the end of the world."

"It isn't? Are you sure? I mean, if I can't figure out what 40% of 16 is I can't do the billing, and if I can't do the billing then we don't get paid, and if we don't get paid I can't pay the printing bill, and if that happens I lose my credit and Medusa's Muse will die! And that, my dear Muse, is the end of the world!" I stepped closer to her and she pressed herself against the wall. "So you'd better help me figure this out or it's over!"

Every snake on her head stared at me as we glared at each other, too startled to strike. My Muse looked confused, an expression I'd never seen on her before. Then she took a deep breath and said, "Having a panic attack won't solve anything. You need to calm down and let me think."

I stepped away and sat down in the chair, resting my head in my hands. "This is hopeless."

"Don't say that. You're just frustrated, that's all."

"How did I think I could do this when I can't remember how to do simple math? I must be crazy." I looked up at her and shook my head. "This is hopeless. I'm an idiot."

"Have you always had this much trouble with math?"


"Then that's the problem. I'll bet you froze every time you had to do a math problem, am I right?"

I nodded. "Tests were the worst. I'd flunk them every time. It took me three tries to get through Algebra, and then I think I only did because the teacher took pity on me."

"You're just suffering from Math anxiety. It happens to lots of people. You can't think because you're too nervous. So take a break, calm down, and in time it will come back to you."

"I don't have time."

"Then call Jane."

"Jane. Jane will know what to do. She knows how to do math. She was a book-keeper."

"Exactly. I'm sure it's a simple formula. You just need a reminder. It's been a long time since you were in school. A long, long, long time."

"That's enough. I get the point."

"Why at your age, it's a wonder you haven't forgotten fractions. Or multiplication, let alone percentages."

"Thank you. I get it."

"Jane is younger. She'll remember."

"You can go now! Thank you."

She smiled sweetly. "Have I helped?"

"Immensely. What would I do without you?"

"Glad I was here." She returned to the kitchen, swinging her tea bag, humming.

Jane reminded me how to do the formula and once I knew it I could figure out the rest. Even so, I had to redo the figures four times, never feeling confident I had the right answer. Math, my old enemy, had stripped me of my publisher self-assurance.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Right now we have two projects in development at Medusa's Muse Press; an anthology of transformative Punk Rock tales, and a novel about the power of friendship over death. Both compelling and exciting to work on. But which one should launch first? I guess the real question is, can I devote energy to both, AND keep the momentum of Laura's book going? Or should I focus more on one project at a time? Since I'm still learning how to run the press as a small business, there are a lot of reasons to keep the pace slow and manageable. I'm only now getting the hang of inventory control with just one book! Can I keep track of two, or even three different books in different stages of development?

My Muse says, "Go for it!" She believes in my ability to juggle multiple tasks while still being Mommy and working another job. And I'm sure she's right... but... I'm not so sure I want the aggravation. I'd like less stress in my life, not more.

Now is the time to create a Strategy which maps out what my plan is for Medusa's Muse over the next 2-5 years. Taking into account budget, credit, possible profits and known expenditures, projects, marketing, and the time I and the designer and editor can actually put into a manuscript. There are only so many hours in a day and if we all burn out early in this game Medusa's Muse will drop dead in three years. I want this press to last for thirty years!

I'll sit down and look at numbers and possibilities, but I admit I'm leaning toward focusing on the punk rock book and putting off the novel till winter, 2008, if not longer. I don't want to do so much that the books suffer. Each book is a treasure that requires devotion and energy to help it bloom. Putting out books simply to fill up the Medusa catalogue isn't a good way to run a press.

My Muse calls me a coward. Maybe I am. But I think my Muse is too eager for the contact high of another book launch.