Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Starving Published on Kindle

Cover for The Starving,
from a photo I took in the Everglades

I've written previously about my short story, "The Starving," and my attempts to have it published. I finally took the matter into my own hands and self-published using's Digital Text Platform (DTP).

My journey to publishing on DTP started with receiving a Kindle-2 for Christmas last year (it seems like only yesterday that it was 2009). I really like the device, and find reading on it better in many ways than reading a hard cover or paperback book. One big advantage is that you don't have to hold pages open, so you can sit and eat lunch and read -- "look ma, no hands!" Of course the main advantage is being able to carry thousands of books around with you wherever you go -- books you buy much cheaper. This can be a big deal for folks like Peace Corps Volunteers, missionaries, foreign service workers, and the cruising class.

You can read a good critique of the Kindle -2 in the Linux Journal.

Publishing on DPT is covered well on's web site here. Obviously, you have to have an account. Anyone who has purchased a book or anything else (e.g., a Kindle) through already has one. It helps to know a little HTML, but since DTP converts your files to HTML and lets you preview the result before publishing, it's not a big issue.

Go ahead, try it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rattlesnake Mountain

Rattlesnake Mountain from the Yakima River Delta, Washington, January 22, 2010

Engineer's Arrest Exposes US Pursuit of Iranians

Iran's Nuclear Sites, from NTI

In an earlier post I discussed my novel, The Lion and the Sun, which deals with nuclear smuggling and Iran's drive towards the development of nuclear weapons. The plot includes material about the illegal transfer of weapons technology. The following story by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, filed at 8:20 a.m. ET, January 22, 2010, details an actual case concerning such technology transfer. I have summarized it below.

PARIS (AP) -- The Iranian engineer flew to Paris with his wife, intending to see the Eiffel Tower and other tourist sites. Instead, he was arrested at the airport under a U.S. warrant -- suspected of evading export controls to buy U.S. technology for Iran's military.

The case of Majid Kakavand, accused of purchasing American electronics online and routing it to Iran via Malaysia, has shed light on increasing U.S. attempts to crack down on people outside American borders suspected of illegally buying U.S. supplies for Iran military programs.

The case is also pushing the justice system in France, which has grown increasingly tough on Iran's nuclear ambitions but also has trade and oil interests in the country, toward a stand that could have deep diplomatic and economic repercussions.

Kakavand's future could be decided at a Feb. 17 Paris hearing on whether to extradite him to the United States.

Iran's government spoke out about the case for the first time this week, accusing France of linking Kakavand's fate to that of a young French academic on trial in Iran. It says Kakavand is innocent and suggests he is being used as a bargaining chip in the diplomatic tug-of-war over 24-year-old Clotilde Reiss.

The United States says Kakavand, 37, and two colleagues ordered U.S. electronics -- including capacitors, inductors, resistors, sensors and connectors -- and had them shipped to Malaysia, from which they were dispatched to Iran without export licenses required by U.S. authorities.

Documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California said they had set up a company called Evertop Services in Malaysia that dispatched the goods to its two main customers, Iran Electronics Industries and Iran Communication Industries.

Both companies ''were designated in 2008 by the United States for their role in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program,'' according to a summary of the case from the Department of Justice.

Kakavand is accused of conspiracy to export to an embargoed country, money laundering, smuggling goods and other counts.

Kakavand's lawyer acknowledges the company sold merchandise to the IEI and ICI, as they are known. But she denies he has any other ties to the Iranian military or nuclear industries. ''In trade, you purchase, you resell -- it's a normal trade act,'' lawyer Diane Francois said.

In many cases, suspects accused of violating the U.S. embargo on Iran have been apprehended in the United States. But some, including Kakavand and a man taken into custody in Germany last week, have been nabbed overseas. Kakavand has never set foot in the United States, his lawyer said -- all his U.S. business dealings were conducted via e-mail.

France under outspoken President Nicolas Sarkozy has helped lead Western efforts over the past two years to rein in Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect aims to produce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy production.

Iran released a list earlier this month of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the United States -- including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey.

The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology, as well as an Iranian who was arrested in the Caucasus nation of Georgia, handed over to the United States and convicted in a U.S. court in December on charges of plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thinking Like a Mountain

by Aldo Leopold

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is considered the father of wildlife ecology. He was a renowned scientist and scholar, exceptional teacher, philosopher, and gifted writer. Leopold is perhaps best known for his book, A Sand County Almanac, often acclaimed as the century's literary landmark in conservation. His writing melds exceptional poetic prose with keen observations of the natural world.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A New Way to Self Publish

I'm not ready YET to give up having my novel published in the traditional manner, i.e., by an established publisher/press. But the probability of that happening is, I think, diminishing. My rejections have now come full circle. Initially, the plot was considered "unlikely," but the writing was good. Now the plot is good, but "we're not fond of the narrative voice."

It has always been difficult for a new writer to get an agent and/or publisher interested in taking them on, and for good reason -- it's a financial risk. Now, with the publishing business struggling as print media compete with all the other stimuli impinging on people's consciousness (usually as they try to drive), making a profit on book sales is even more chancy. Publishers are reading the tea leaves (apparently one of the few things they're reading), in the form of studies like that of the National Endowment for the Arts (2007), which reported that levels of reading among young people have plummeted over the last two decades. Alarmingly, Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 state that they almost never read for pleasure (except for the texts sent to their smart phones).

The other development that is giving publishers pause, is the growing popularity of e-books. Faced with the prospect of having to formulate a new business model -- one that requires publishers to ask what they can do for authors, instead of vice-versa -- publishers have run right out and claimed e-book rights for the works of authors they have published. E-book rights weren't mentioned in the agonizingly complex, convoluted, and copious contracts that authors were forced to sign, but not to worry, they were "understood."

What publishers should consider is that writers really don't need them any more, especially given the increasing burden for marketing that cash-strapped publishers have pushed to their authors. Hey, if I'm going to market my book, I can damn well self-publish it, too.

Publishers will continue to promote the myth that only traditionally published (read "published by us") authors are real authors, but the truth, as we've always known, but fail sometimes to acknowledge, is that real authors are people whose books are read.

My plan is to have my book read on the Kindle. I got one for Christmas and I love it! Amazon has a process for allowing authors to self-publish their work on the Kindle. It's called the Digital Text Platform, and it sounds awesome.

I'll keep you posted as I go down this path. Literally.

Monday, January 4, 2010

And he made him a coat of many colors

The morning is teeth-clenching cold
Crisp, dry air and sky so blue it hurts my eyes
The bruised purple sky I found starting off up the mountain
Turned to pink and then this cyan blue.

Rabbitbrush and sage block my way
and so I turn, follow a dry creek bed
and surprise a covey of quail

And of courses the roses
This one carries with it
memories of something lavender

A color, or a scent perhaps
frankincense and myrrh
And there is gold here all around

A cavalcade of colors
reds, and yellows, and browns
and he made him a coat of many colors

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The winter guest at the Salvation Army

The profile of an African girl child dancing
Her pose bewilders and confuses me
Is she happy? Is she sad?
What if she was within reach?

- By Abigail George

Photo Credit: Lomax, Alan. "African American Children Playing Singing Games, Eatonville, Florida." June 1935. Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip, Library of Congress.