New Release: Murder Stories!

IT’S HERE! Finally after more than a year of intense effort, my latest book is on the market. It’s a history-lovers delight, but also perfect for fans of true crime. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing the dead back to life in these pages, and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of this collection each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair.

Available now at Amazon.com

Intellectual Property Theft, Part III

kbreast

The Breast Book by Maura Spiegel and Lithe Sebesta, outrageously similar to the manuscript my agent had shopped all over New York, performed even worse with readers than the dry work of Marilyn Yalom. At present, Amazon.com finds the book out of print with nine reviews: five 5 star, one 4 star, and three 3 star. Goodreads shows one review and sixteen ratings with a 3.75 average.

One of the book’s biggest drawbacks was its format—too precious for serious readers with a four-by-six inch sideways layout and a ten-point font. The text had been edited to a barely-coherent minimum. The publisher attempted to balance cost with the relatively untried market for a book on breasts. Hardly the loving extravaganza I had in mind, the book became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Determined to gain justice, I collected my carefully outlined fifty-three points of comparison plus the hard copy of the book and visited an intellectual rights attorney. A week later he called to say that yes, there were “certain uncanny similarities” but that he wasn’t in a position to pursue the matter against the publisher. The reality was that in order to sue for copyright infringement, I’d have to hire a New York attorney because that’s where Workman Publishing offices were located.

In order to have grounds to sue, I’d have to prove ‘damages,’ i.e. show that the money produced by the book would have been mine if not for their theft. Since at that point no one knew what money the book would produce, I had to wait to see if the book became a big seller. I’d also have to figure out how to determine the book’s sales. And I would have to come up with money for that New York attorney, or convince him there would be such a large settlement in this lawsuit that he’d be happy to take it on contingency.

Not.

Was all this simply a horrible case of bad timing and “uncanny” coincidence? I’ll never know. But it taught me a lesson about publishing: it’s a very nasty bucket of snakes. Cut throat tactics run rampant in a world where lazy people with few if any original ideas of their own prey on those of us rich with ideas and short on connections. Publishing, like anything else, is full of ‘who you know’ and glad handed back biting. Perhaps a book published by a mainstream publisher enjoys legal protection against theft. But before it hits the street, there is no protection.

Copyright? Oh, it sounds good. But the burden of proof lies in the claimant. There are no copyright cops walking around checking on these things. If an author is lucky enough to discover a work has been pirated, there’s still the need for attorneys. (Read: money.)

With self-publishing, the author has an advantage in getting the book to print without anyone siphoning the manuscript or concepts, but unfortunately that hasn’t eliminated theft. Now it simply occurs after publication. Lifting an electronic file of a book isn’t exactly rocket science. Stories abound of books for sale through unauthorized channels without any royalties going to the author. Or major sections of books end up in someone else’s publication. I’ve recently heard of an author losing chunks of a manuscript to a wanna-be writer after trusting that person to read and review the work.

Overall, I’d rather take my chances and continue to self-publish than wait months even years for my idea to wind through industry channels of agent, editor, and publishing process. At least with self-pub, I can earn 70% of the sale price on an ebook and 30-50% on a paperback. With traditional publishing, I’d be paid a dollar on the sale of a $16.95 book, and the agent would get fifteen percent of that.

Stealing is a white trash thing to do, whether it’s taking someone’s package off their porch, downloading an illegal movie or song, or ripping off parts of a book. Fortunately for musicians, writers, and other artists, there’s some small solace in the pleasure we find  shaping our ideas into real-world forms. Slime bag thieves who steal our ideas may gain a few dollars for their trouble but the miserable creeps will never know the joy of the creative process.

Maybe a breast book as I envisioned it, told passionately, would have hit the market with the same dull thud as did the works of Yalom and Siegel/Sebesta. After all, breasts are magical in multiple arenas and words, even photos, cannot capture the essence of that magic. I doubt I’ll make another run at the project. I’ve discarded most of my research but haven’t let go—yet—of the manuscript. Tossing that into the trash would be akin to cutting off a breast.

Goat on the Road

goatI met a goat on the road today. He approached from the opposite direction, running at a steady but moderate pace—not a gallop but more of a trot. It seemed about the same speed as my car had reached, as fast as I felt like driving on a hot August morning when a faster speed would have generated billowing plumes of dust from the powder dry land. He ran in a straight line along the roadway, his intention of uninterrupted travel quite apparent in his demeanor. He needed to be somewhere.

He was a small goat, not exactly a Nubian or Toggenberg but of some mixed breed, with a confidence attesting that in spite of his lesser size, he was most assuredly full grown. His foot-long horns flared from the top of his head up past his ears and off to each side of his black-marked face. The only other markings on his white body were on his legs, black from the knee down. His body held the features of a potent male, well-muscled in the chest and shoulders, his sides curved in health.

As it happened, we took the wrong sides of the road as we approached each other. He seemed to favor the right side of the road and I did not find it necessary to confront him about it. No doubt he had skipped the part of driving lessons that taught the proper side of road, but then perhaps not, since he was a goat and goats have their own firm opinions about what they will and won’t do at any given moment in time, rules be damned

We considered each other with curiosity as we slowed in meeting, a greeting and courtesy that, on reflection, I concede should not be limited to human travelers. His gold-flecked eyes came directly to mine, the black pupil slits narrowed against the sun already brilliant in the hot sky. It was not a hostile exchange, since I was quite willing for him to go on about his urgent business that called to him from somewhere to the west. For myself, I was already late for business to the east.

His expression conveyed a world weary understanding that we all have places we must go, or return to, in the course of conducting our daily affairs. It was not immediately clear whether he was coming or going, but then neither was that really any of my concern. His gold-eyed appraisal was brief and to the point, whether I was someone he knew, whether I meant him any trouble, whether I had any rolled oats he might nibble before continuing on his way. In moments, he gained the answers to his queries and began to move on.

Likewise, my glance carried questions. Was he seeking assistance? Was there any trouble? Was there anything I should do? No, it was clear nothing was required of me. His flat black nose lifted slightly, a nod of acknowledgment which I returned before thinking that I was, in fact, conversing with a goat.

I eased my foot off the brake and the car rolled eastward, tires crunching on the hot gravel. He hurried on without a backward glance which I knew only because I gave a backward glance in my rearview mirror. I did not ponder whether a goat, like fabled dogs and a few cats, might travel to find a family that moved on without him, or whether, once moved to quarters not exactly to his likely, he might make his escape and return to his preferred location.

Those were questions not to be answered unless I followed him. If I followed, as if examining a quark, I would have altered our original trajectories.

~~~

I’m wondering if this is a common occurrence–have you ever met a goat on the road?

One of twenty delightful essays about life on an Ozark hilltop, with watercolor illustrations. I Met A Goat On The Road: and other stories of life on this hill is available as e-book or in paperback.