One of the greatest threats to literacy has, like a bad virus, spread to the Internet. That, of course, would be vanity publishing. Since Gutenberg, self-proclaimed novelists, poets, and pundits have paid to have their loopy thoughts on travel, politics, and beloved schnauzers bound into books. Is it any wonder the literacy rate is flagging?
But up until now, there were natural checks on vanity publishing--mostly the expense of paper and ink. No more, thanks to online publishers like Thunder Mountain Press (http://www.alpinet.net/bookstore).
Now, if the detritus that the commercial publishers pump out isn't disheartening enough, you can use your modem to download books like One if By Congress, Two if By White House ("grab your muskets America, and let's have a little revolution"); or Bury Me Not On the Lone Highway ("creating a home office"); or I Shoulda Thought of That, a guide to inventing; or 202 Answers to Violence in School. (We're afraid to ask: Why 202?)
Before our constitutionalist friends lock and load over the glories of the First Amendment, we can only point out that for every truly inspiring book online, such as How to Find a Good Home for a Dog, I Never Learned Grammar, or Breaking into Erotica--there's a The Regulus Cruise Missile: A Forgotten Weapon System ("an absolutely spectacular historical and technological analysis") and In the Days of Peleg ("a startling look at how the Bible addresses the geological theory of continental drift").
By now the regular Buzz reader is, of course, wondering, how can I get my schnauzer book published--and how much money will I make?
Here's how it works: The books, after the author pays a $50 "setup fee," are put on Thunder Mountain's bulletin board system and Web site, where cyber browsers can look over the catalog, read sample portions, and--this is the hard part for Buzz to believe--download any that they like. If a shopper downloads your book, then trades a credit-card number for the encryption password (for about the price of a paperback book), he can print it out to read. The author earns royalties of 15 percent of what his book brings in.
Billie Louise Jones, of Mesquite, is one of these literary pioneers, with her novel City of Dreadful Nights, a somewhat Gothic, Raymond Chandleresque mystery yarn populated with people with "Byzantine eyes" and "pre-Raphaelite hair"--if you go for that kind of thing.
Ironically, Billie doesn't own a computer. She had to rent time on one at a computer shop to see her novel on Thunder Mountain's cyber bookshelves. "It wasn't quite like holding my own book, but at least it was something," she says.
Jones has yet to hear how well Dreadful (http://www.alpnet.net/bookstore/thnd105.html) has been selling--she makes 75 cents on each sale--because Thunder Mountain continues at least one mainstream publishing tradition: Authors get feedback on sales only twice a year, in July and August. "And they wonder why writers drink," she says.
Duchess of Hazzard
The Dallas Morning News' Cathy Harasta sure likes stock-car racing. In a column last week, while raving (and we use that word advisedly) about a NASCAR news conference heralding the coming of the Texas 500 race to Texas Motor Speedway, she points out that "the Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremonies will be hard-pressed to top Bruton Smith's Thursday news conference..." which, according to Harasta, also outshone the old Orange Bowl halftimes and England's royal wedding announcements. (Buzz read in the official press release that race-car drivers climbed, a la David Copperfield, out of a suitcase with a false bottom placed on the stage, and a pace car was driven onto the stage. Buckingham Palace, eat your heart out.)
Harasta went on to flog Dallas officials yet again for blowing the opportunity to win the track from Fort Worth. Artfully belaboring racing metaphors--"negotiate the curves," "in the driver's seat," "get the checkered flag"--she reminded us that Dallas "lost a tremendous opportunity for municipal recognition when Fort Worth dealt successfully with Smith and his vision."
Huh? It's a freaking stock-car track, Cathy.
Boy, is Dallas ever going to look bad to the world next April, she harped on, when Fort Worth basks in the glow of its stock-car track, and Grand Prairie also enters that white-hot, tremendous-municipal-recognition spotlight with the opening of a horse-racing track.
And GP's already got the Palace of Wax. But, then, who said life's fair?