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I'm glad you could stop by. Pull up a chair and pour a cold one. (BTW, it's pronounced "sawl-ya", which is Irish for "S") Scroll down to see what I've been up to, lately. Leave your comments, but understand: all comments are moderated and spam is deleted, unread. I don't care about the best deal on basketball shoes, testosterone creams, or knock-off viagra. Site design information is all the way down at the bottom of each page, as is direct contact info.
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Nov 19 14

Enchanted Circle Scenic Drive, Taos, New Mexico

by Richard Sutton

Enchanted Circle Scenic Drive, Taos, New Mexico From late September through early October, north-central New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is a best-of-fall highlight reel. For those beginning and ending the drive in Taos (basically circling…

read more…

Nov 18 14

Heal your heart and heal the world

by Richard Sutton

  I recently found myself listening to a friend as she espoused a rather dire view of humanity, God, and our purpose on earth. I understood how she came to embrace the philosophical conclusions she had. In fact, her thought processes seemed logical…

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Nov 11 14

Veterans’ Day – Remembrance Day 2014

by Richard Sutton
Image: Clear Inner Vision under CC-BY-NC-ND licence
Poppy Field Image: Clear Inner Vision under CC-BY-NC-ND licence

Every single time I see a man or woman in military uniform, or a disabled veteran or a family gathered in an airport to meet a returning warrior, I remember that it was We, The People, who sent them into harm’s way. We are responsible for the lives and safety of every person who is in military service and it is our mission to make absolutely sure we are not risking their lives and health for the wrong reasons. Every time we send them out, we must make sure there was no other choice. I believe that is the best expression of our gratitude for their service.

Nov 5 14

What Just Happened?

by Richard Sutton

Proudly

Since I write, I try to keep track of all kinds of events the best I’m able. Once in a while, things come together in such a way that a hunch or guess about a looming moment is reflected in reality. My impression, turning on the TV this morning, was that the election results bore out the way I’d been feeling about politics for a while now. I’m no political analyst, but it felt like the Republicans didn’t so much win as the Democrats lost.

What does that mean? Of course they won. They control the Senate for the first time in eight years, and added seats to the House as well. Speaking for myself, a center-left lifelong Democrat, I missed hearing any real message of change normally associated with a decisive win. What I got instead, was a monotonous drumroll of the discontent of most voters.

I lay the blame for this directly upon the feet of the administration and party leadership. I have never felt less connected with the White House since Reagan’s time. For the past two years especially, I felt like I had to really dig through headlines and articles to find out what the administration was actively doing, besides reacting to a stream of crises then delivering lackluster explanatory speeches after the fact. It left me losing the feeling I had that what happened in DC actually mattered to me personally. It felt like watching an endless info-mercial trying to sell me something I had already purchased.

Not that the DCC didn’t “reach out”. No, my email inbox saw as many as thirty messages a day. But here’s the problem. All their creative thinking was focused upon clever subject lines, not on keeping their core in the loop. Instead, every single message was a thinly veiled, or completely bold-faced attempt to get me to part with yet one more $5 bill. There was almost no policy discussion, and certainly no asking me how I felt about anything.

For the DCC’s communications to sink to strictly fund-raising efforts gave me the distinct feeling that the coming elections were strictly about who got to stay in power, not about any actual issues or legislation that the party wanted to champion. Their communication was reduced to the steady patter of a sideshow ticket hawker trying to fill seats in a tent.

The first Obama administration felt so full of promise and joy that I felt carried along, buoyed by the current of a new day coming. Since re-election however, I’ve felt mired in the growing distrust of the entire political process as obstructionism gained the day and the retention of a power base became more important that even attempting to fix the serious problems, including widespread corruption, that seethes below the surface in American life. It began to feel more like A Game of Thrones than anything else. At least in George R. R. Martin’s carefully constructed world, we all are brought to understand no one can be trusted completely.

Of course, despite my own disillusionment, I voted yesterday. The polls seemed almost deserted. I followed the party line with only a couple of exceptions in cases where I knew the incumbent. In those cases, if they were not Democrats, but had proved their concern and commitment to regular folks, they got my vote. But I cast my ballot with no fire in my belly. No feeling of empowerment, no real sense of mission.

So, what lies ahead? A singular lack of discussing the issues during the campaigns, leads me to believe that we will see more of the same-old, same-old. Immigration reform? Election reform? Infrastructure repair? Nope. The only change that I am convinced of is the change to the color balance of those political state maps on TV News programs.

And here’s the thing. I’m finally giving in to my suspicion that it no longer even matters which color predominates. The same corporate interests will continue to control legislation and influence our lives the way they have increasingly done over the past twenty years. We will be a nation run by money alone, without any real sense of purpose other than to make more money for those on top of the heap and force those working to feed their families, to pay.

Leadership? Democrats and Republicans both long ago, seem to have given up and joined the ranks of the well-paid corporate sycophants. If they haven’t, they haven’t told us. I’m not sure I would believe it if I heard that someone had broken free and made the conscious decision to begin doing the People’s work in Washington. It sounds too much like a sound-byte or a talking point. No, I’m just going to do what most of the Nation has already. I’m going to pull my blankets over my head and try to get back to sleep. Election Results? What do you mean results?

Oct 23 14

Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers

by Richard Sutton

This has been reposted from Vox. Matthew Iglesias takes a well-balanced, reality based look at all the red-flag waving against Amazon. I’ve followed the silly Hachette-Amazon bout with some interest for it’s entertainment value. Yesterday, seeing that S&S and Amazon came to pricing terms easily before their contract expired brought me to the realization that it’s all been just business as usual. The hysterics were mostly prompted by Hachette’s refusal to see the facts on the ground for what they are… and also a general belief that their old, tired alurels mean they have a lot more power in the marketplace than they actually do. Anyway, I cede the floor to Matt Iglesias and his well-considered arguments…

There's a reason he's so smug.  Steve Jurvetson Photo

There’s a reason he’s so smug. Steve Jurvetson Photo

Here’s a little real talk about the book publishing industry — it adds almost no value, it is going to be wiped off the face of the earth soon, and writers and readers will be better off for it.

The fundamental uselessness of book publishers is why I thought it was dumb of the Department of Justice to even bother prosecuting them for their flagrantly illegal cartel behavior a couple of years back, and it’s why I’m deaf to the argument that Amazon’s ongoing efforts to crush Hachette are evidence of a public policy problem that needs remedy. Franklin Foer’s recent efforts to label Amazon a monopolist are unconvincing, and Paul Krugman’s narrower argument that they have some form of monopsony power in the book industry is equally wrongheaded.

What is indisputably true is that Amazon is on track to destroy the businesses of incumbent book publishers. But the many authors and intellectuals who’ve been convinced that their interests — or the interests of literary culture writ large — are identical with those of the publishers are simply mistaken.

Books are published by giant conglomerates

The CEO of Simon & Schuster's parent company earned $67 billion last year (David Shankbone)

The CEO of Simon & Schuster’s parent company earned $67 million in 2013 (David Shankbone)

Wisdom on this subject begins with the observation that the book publishing industry is not a cuddly craft affair. It’s dominated by a Big Four of publishers, who are themselves subsidiaries of much larger conglomerates. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

These are not tiny, helpless enterprises. Were their owners interested in the future of books and publishing, they could invest the money necessary to make their own e-reading apps and e-book store and render Amazon entirely superfluous. But the managers of these conglomerates don’t really care. If they can get famous authors to lobby the government to stop Amazon from killing them for free, then they’re happy to take the free labor.

But they don’t want to invest actual money and energy in competing with Amazon, they’d rather wring whatever remaining profit there is out of book publishing and dedicate the money to dividends or other industries they’re also involved in.

Amazon faces lots of competition

It is undeniably true that Amazon has a very large share of the market for e-books. What is not true is that Amazon faces a lack of competition in the digital book market. Barnes & Noble — a company that knows something about books — sells e-books, and does so in partnership with a small outfit called Microsoft. Apple sells e-books and so does Google.

These are not obscure companies. It is not inconvenient for customers to access their products. And since these are companies that are actually much bigger and more profitable than Amazon, there is absolutely no way Jeff Bezos can drive them out of business with predatory pricing.

Amazon’s e-book product is much more popular than its rivals because Amazon got there first, and the competition has not succeeded in producing anything better. But consumers who prefer to buy a digital book from a non-Amazon outlet have several easy options available, and thus a book publisher who chooses to eschew Amazon will not actually be unable to reach customers.

Publishers are superfluous

In the traditional book purchasing paradigm, when a reader bought a book at the store there were two separate layers of middlemen taking a cut of the cash before money reached the author: a retailer and a publisher. The publisher, in this paradigm, was doing very real work as part of the value-chain. A typed and printed book manuscript looks nothing like a book. Transforming the manuscript into a book and then arranging for it to be shipped in appropriate quantities to physical stores around the country is a non-trivial task. What’s more, neither bookstore owners nor authors have any expertise in this field.

Digital publishing is not like that. Transforming a writer’s words into a readable e-book product can be done with a combination of software and a minimal amount of training. Book publishers do not have any substantial expertise in software development, but Amazon and its key competitors (Apple, Google, and the B&B/Microsoft partnership) do.

Publishers would like writers to believe that the pressure they are feeling from Amazon will trickle down and hurt authors as well. But there is a big difference. Even in the brave new world of e-publishing, authors are still making a crucial contribution to the industry by writing the books. Publishers are getting squeezed out because they don’t contribute anything of value.

Read the rest of this excellent article here…

Oct 22 14

Loved, but unwanted…

by Richard Sutton

notinkersMost of us have seen similar handbills and postings from the past. Signs hung in shopkeepers windows for example, advising the reader just what kinds of people should stop in to ask about the offered job, and what kind should not bother. Even here in New York City, in the mid-1900s it was common to see signs ostracizing both Italian and Irish immigrants. Seems very strange given that those ethnicities make up large portions of modern populations here. I recall laughing as a child, seeing old tavern signs from the river towns along the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers telling both Horse Traders and Lawyers to take their trade elsewhere. Seems that many upstanding communities simply did not wish to share their towns with such rabble.

Over the past few years, there seems to be a new group of people making themselves unwelcome in the evolving communities of the internet. It struck me as an unusual group to scorn, and not just because I’m a member. I grew up having a great deal of respect for authors. Really, for writers of all kinds. Wordsmiths whose raw materials filled the dictionaries and whose results became stories that transported me away to new worlds, or made difficult concepts crystal clear, or explained how an odd twist of historic fact still affects life all these years later; all of these and more were my heroes. Writers were to be respected. More than that, their conversation and notice was to be proudly discussed and proclaimed.

Those days of childlike naiveté seem to have vanished with the last of the morning fog. In their place comes the flinty, cynicism of our present times. It’s supporting entire communities of interest and discussion in what is rapidly becoming the streets and marketplaces of our communities: the internet. In many of those communities, I am seeing more and more, expressions of a general feeling that those who write are not welcome or are barely tolerated.

Now, if it were true that every writer was a non-stop self-promoter, complete with drumbeat and straw hat, constantly hawking their goods, I could certainly understand that; but since those are not in my own experience at least, all that common, there must be additional reasons why authors are not engaged in focused interest discussion online unless they keep a very low profile. Has the very profession become distasteful?

A few places where it still bothers me to see a general distaste for writers, are online reading interest groups. In some places online, if a writer dares to reveal their pursuit of letters, they will be virtually tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail to the shouts and jeers of mobs of trolls. Seems counter-intuitive somehow, that groups of readers don’t want to discuss reading with those who provide the words on the page, but it seems to be rapidly becoming the norm. Goodreads, for example, hosts several active groups whose main raison d’etre seems to be to bash writers who make the unforgivable mistake of reacting and responding to bad reviews. I made the mistake once of wading into that murky sandbox, intending to offer explanation of some regrettable behavior other writers have engaged in, and was dispatched quickly and completely. In addition, my own books now rest in several “Won’t Read Until Hell Freezes Over” lists. Another good example is the recent furor over a UK author’s terrible stalking of a reviewer who left a bad review. Salon covered this media tempest in some detail this morning.

Some say that all writers have now been tarred by the same brush. The brush, I expect, that was dipped specifically for the exploding crop of self-published authors. True, that there are more writing voices out there competing for readers’ time than ever before. True also that not all of the new volume of work is of a high standard, but that alone is not new. I grew up in the waning days of the pulp novel. For a couple of bucks, you could buy a gripping tale — at least given the lurid cover — that by the middle had so infuriated you with cliched flatfoot jokes and big hearted dames, that you just had to either put it in the trash or laugh out loud. Entertainment it was. Not always top drawer.

Even then a writer’s life was for most, not a relaxing, wealthy one of constant acclaim, tweed jackets with elbow patches and cocktail parties. When John Lennon’s song Paperback Writer got airplay, I was old enough to understand the kind of scramble for fame or even rent money that the song exposed. I guess my own belief in the glamor of the profession had faded somewhat. After some of the assigned reading in high school, I was convinced that writers were either hacks or geniuses. I saw little room for those that fell in between those two poles.

Looking back, I realize that I expected quite a lot from a writer. I expected each book I opened to reveal scathing Truth. To peel scales from my eyes. To carry me bodily into worlds I’d scarcely imagined. To inhabit my heart of hearts with incontrovertible meaning. That’s a lot to ask from any story, I know, but I suppose it took a few more years before I realized that writing stories was a talent that some people had. Some of them were able to earn a living doing it while others either could not, or did not even attempt it. There’s always more to making a living doing something than there is simply in pursuing that discipline for the joy of it.

Despite what many seem to believe, writing is hard work, even without the solemn Spectre of Publication hovering above you at the keyboard. More attempts end up going exactly nowhere than actually get spun out into a tale. I have a friend whose first book is selling well enough, but it took him fourteen years to write it. He’d have to make a huge pile of lucre to offset the low hourly payback rate. In my estimation, he should earn a ribbon for his effort and confidence alone, but those are things that are rapidly losing their perceived value.

Today, it seems to be strictly the results of selling your product, in monetary figures, that is the determining factor as to whether you are worthy of respect. The bigger the bucks, the bigger the respect. Since there are so many writers now taking the risk and doing the work; and so few reaping the big bucks, maybe that is enough reason for the public view of the profession to have declined. I don’t know, but recently in a focused interest group that I had joined online primarily to see what was “happening” in this research area (a lifelong interest of mine); a post about an upcoming seminar specifically mentioned that book authors were not welcome to attend as it was for those actively engaged in ongoing field studies.

Okay. I get it. Authors need not apply. In the interest of our continued evolution as a species, we writers need to get a grip on those behaviors we exhibit which so annoy readers. They may love our books, but for some reason, they seem to hate us. If we wish to survive, we better wise up. Fast.

Oct 15 14

Enchanted Circle Scenic Drive, Taos, New Mexico

by Richard Sutton

Enchanted Circle Scenic Drive, Taos, New Mexico From late September through early October, north-central New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is a best-of-fall highlight reel. For those beginning and ending the drive in Taos (basically circling…

read more…

Oct 14 14

Top Ten Tuesday – Gifts for Book Lovers

by Richard Sutton

A ‘To the Letter’ bookmark. For the OCD readers who feel the need to precicely mark their progress, and the forgetful readers who can’t quite remember exactly where they got to… Fed up of friends borrowing your books and not giving them back? Then the…

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Oct 11 14

Quotes to inspire your writing

by Richard Sutton

Henry David Thoreau “I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.” ♥ ♥ ♥   Winston Churchill “Writing is an adventure.” ♥ ♥ ♥   Allan Gurganus “Know something, sugar? Stories only…

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Oct 7 14

Cover Reveal – Lost To Me by Jamie Blair

by Richard Sutton

  Title: Lost To Me Author: Jamie Blair Release Date:  19th August 2014   Summary: Lauren Kelling’s prom night is a memory she’ll never forget-in her nightmares. She had the dress, the hair, and romantic first time plans with her boyfriend,…

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