Book Review: Stephen King – Guns

Kindle Singles are small, ebook only, publications. They may be a novella or a few poems. Or, as in this case, an essay on a particular subject. Unlike most Kindle publications, they go through a selection process which ansures a certain minimum standard. Stephen King chose to use this medium to publish his thoughts on the current debate in the US about gun ownership and responsibilities.

Title: Guns (Kindle Single)
Author: Stephen King
ASIN: B00B53IW9W (Kindle)

At last – a voice of reason in the Great American Gun Debate.

For those who didn’t study American history, the Second Amendment to their Constitution grants every American the right to bear arms. The Constitutional Amendments are sacred to US citizens in the way that most legal systems around the world are not. Many of these formalise basic human rights of people in America and they (especially the earlier ones) are viewed with a near-religious fervour.

And this Second Amendment is the one most often cited by supporters of the right to have any and all weapons available for private purchase. Their opponents point at mass shootings and statistics on deaths and injuries caused in part by the guns owned by Americans.

Stephen King walks the narrow divide between these two camps, arguing that it’s possible to keep the enshrined rule about bearing arms, but to ban certain categories of automatic weapons from private hands. What he’s saying is similar to the line taken by Barack Obama, but not identical. My own personal leanings are similar to both men, but differ in some details.
What this is is a calm discussion of certain historical and statistical facts that tend to get drowned in the shouting of the two opposing parties. King does make his own opinions clear, but he’s not trying to push anyone towards his conclusions. He’s more interested in being a calm voice that people will listen to in preference to some of the shouting.

A welcome summary of some of the key points in this debate, as well as a commentary on some aspects of American culture.

King will earn nothing from this essay as all his proceeds are being given to a related charity.

Personal read: 5 stars
Reading group read: 5 stars

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Aging, Grey Hair and Personal Appeal

We live in a society infatuated with catchphrases and sound bites, which quickly makes truisms over-familiar. So the line about us all being obsessed with youth slides past our brains without consideration. But a few recent articles in the youth-fixated media got me thinking about the subject.

In 2011, TIME magazine published the findings of a large study on people’s perception of their own age. The headline conclusion was memorable for its mathematical neatness. They found that the average woman decides she’s getting old when she finds her first grey hair – at about the age of 29. Men on average start to believe they might not be young anymore at exactly twice that age – 58. When they notice decreasing performance in the bedroom department. And those are the reasons so much money is made from selling hair dye and little blue pills.

So why this inconsistency? The old adage that men are attracted to women who can potentially bear them children and women look for a successful mate who’ll be a good provider would have made sense for our distant ancestors and could well survive as a remnant from those days. And it’s so true. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the sight of firm young beefcake as much as the next gal – but there’s a lot to be said for a nicely-matured steak as well. If you want to know more, buy me a pint someday and start talking about favourite actors.

But are we really so polarised? And so unchanging? If we ladies are allowed to appreciate fit, twenty-year-old men and the concept of a puma (older woman who preys on young men) has entered the vocabulary, why can’t men admit to fancying a confident woman who is openly older than thirty? A male actor can expect to move from leading man into character roles as his looks mature and there are many who continue to find work throughout their adulthood. But their female counterparts vanish from our screens as soon as their first wrinkle can’t be hidden – apart from the occasional matriarchal role. Of course, there are always exceptions to any sweeping statement. There’s Helen Mirren and, um, Helen Mirren.

Women who try to break the ageist mould are targeted by press and public alike. Look at the furore over model Kristen McMenamy openly sporting her beautiful grey locks. And the latest brouhaha over classics scholar Mary Beard, routinely described as a witch for her long, grey tresses. I sport my few grey hairs without shame – I’ve earned them and I see no reason to try to hide them. Frankly, I’d love to see what my waist-length mane would look like in silver but the rest of it stays resolutely blond and I think I’m stuck with just that Mallen streak at the front.

Meanwhile the media lambasts women who dare to be proud of their maturer looks while pushing hair dyes and botox in the hope we’ll all become regular users and need ever-increasing doses. We are then meant to move on to the hard stuff of elective surgery and eventually become recluses, only venturing out with bags over our faces so we witches don’t scare the children.

After all, what’s so bad about getting old? It’s better than the alternative.

Crowdfunding: Secrets of Success

Hello. My name is Meg and I’m a successful Crowdfunder.

Yes, it is possible.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Crowdfunding is based on the idea that money can be raised by collecting small amounts from a large number of people. Instead of a lump sum from a single source like a bank loan, a publisher’s advance or Great-Aunt Ethel’s will.

But it isn’t a magical pot of gold just waiting for someone to find it. Raising money through crowdfunding takes planning, work and a touch of luck.

People are in the crowdfunding community because they want to raise money for their own project, not because they are looking for people to give it to. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But many have assumed I’m only involved because I’m looking for reasons to give money away. I suspect everyone is spamming everyone else – I wonder if anyone ever makes any dosh that way?

Mind you, I’ve been accused of spamming someone with my own campaign. I’d just sent out the third email of my crowdfunding project (a month into the two-month schedule) and I got a reply telling me I was spamming her and she had no interest in my {expletives deleted} writing. I checked that all my emails had included my polite message asking people to let me know if they didn’t wish to receive any more. I also checked the paper headed “Sign below for news of my books and other writing” to make sure that was where I’d got her email from. She continues to send emails trying to sell me her overpriced jewellery.

It’s worth remembering that even the politest form of communication will annoy someone who once told you they were interested in supporting you.

So if you can’t raise money from other crowdfunders or by asking for donations, how do you actually get money from your crowdfunding project?
The simple answer is, from people who are interested in buying your product.

So:
• Your fans,
• People who’ve bought from you in the past,
• Groups with an interest in your particular genre,
• Friends and family,
• Work colleagues,
• The occasional stranger who comes across your pitch online. (I had one!)
– and I’ll guarantee someone will complain about you asking.

So, straighten your shoulders and thicken your skin. Calculate your costs and prices. Prepare your list of emails and work out what you’re asking for and what you’re offering in return. Draft your first email and setup a system to track who you email and when. (I’ve just asked someone to take my email off their list, after their 5th email in 4 days.) Set a finish date for your fundraising and a delivery date for the product. (I’ve been left hanging over some items I crowdfunded. I paid my money, but haven’t received what I paid for and still don’t know when they may arrive.)

Next you need to choose a crowdfunding website (or design your own webpage to take donations). Look carefully at their charges – most state it’s 5% of money collected, they don’t tell you they’re going to add VAT and don’t all mention that the payment company (such as Paypal) takes another 3%-ish.

Revise your estimate of costs!

Write your pitch, record a begging video, whatever you want to use.

Load it all onto the website and start sending out your begging mails. Print posters / flyers / business cards.

Keep careful track of money as it goes into the website and encourage your supporters to let you know when they make a donation, just in case it goes missing between their ewallet and yours.

Above – play fair with your supporters. Give them what they’ve paid for and when you said you would deliver. (I always include a little extra with my books when I send them to crowdfunders.) If there’s a delay, let them know – and offer a refund. Better to lose a few quid than a valued supporter! Don’t spam people who haven’t expressed an interest (or me!) and don’t send too many emails to anyone.

I believe that 2013 will be the year of crowdfunding. And I wish you well in your own venture into this fast-growing arena.

(If anyone does want to pre-order my book, my own crowdfunding page is here: http://jaywalkerwriting.co.uk/chrystal.html or not. I’m not pushing!)

Carnivores, Vegetarians and Corporate Dishonesty

So the news this morning is full of scandal that a major supermarket chain has been selling beefburgers that contain non-beef meats. One frozen burger was found to consist of 29% horse meat. 10 of the 27 tested contained meat from pigs. The media aren’t forthcoming about what else was in there – they just comment on the ingredients that are likely to upset people.

Now I’m a carnivore – I do eat meat, although I prefer to be sure it’s been treated humanely throughout its life. That’s my choice and I don’t try to force it on other people. I respect the fact that many people are vegetarians, or pescetarians or avoid certain meats on religious grounds. That’s their choice as long as they don’t try to impose it on others. But if I buy beefburgers, I don’t expect them to contain other meats.

There are laws in the UK and many other countries regarding ingredient lists on food products and I’m quite certain the supermarkets don’t list “horse meat” as one of these. As someone who has food allergies, I have a problem with manufacturers who list ingredients as shellfish or spices as if we don’t have a right to know which ones are present, but at least they’re being honest. If they claimed it was scallops and my allergens reacted to the prawns they’d put in, I’d have a right to sue. I don’t think you’d get very far claiming compensation for being fed horse meat when you thought it was beef, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lie!

It’s not common to eat horse meat in the UK, or guinea pigs or jellyfish. They’re all perfectly edible, but we either think the animal is too cute, or somehow disgusting. In other parts of the world, each of these would be acceptable table-fodder. As the human population grows, meat-eaters may need to broaden their horizons. The issue here shouldn’t be about what animals we should or shouldn’t eat – it’s about honesty. If we’re lied to, we no longer have a choice.

Supermarket chains have been criticised in the past for all kinds of rule-breaking. I don’t think a company that regularly builds stores that are significantly larger than they’ve got planning permission for will be worried about customers complaining they’ve been fed meat from the wrong animals. If it isn’t something they can be taken to court over, they aren’t going to worry. The publicity won’t hurt them in the long run and they’ve been making a good profit from their dishonesty for however long this has been going on.

Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Flogging a Dead Horse,” doesn’t it?

So That Was Christmas – And What Have We Done?

I woke this morning to the delicate (?) sound of a cat being sick and reflected that the Festive Season is over and I’m back in “normal life” mode. And that made me think back over the last month and wonder how different Christmas had been from usual, daily routine.

It’s something I’ve been noticing for a long time. Yes, I know Christmas is all about children and we don’t have any, but there used to be far more that was special about this time of year than there is now. We complain that the shops are force-feeding us Christmas purchases from August onwards. People have festive lights draped over their houses for months before The Big Day. The media keep reminding us how many shopping days we have left and comparing reported takings with the same day last year. And then there’s the mad scramble to take it all down again to make room for Valentine cards and Easter eggs (!) as soon as Boxing Day is over.

I remember when there were too many parties to fit them all into December. But this year there were hardly any. A group of us work-at-home writers had an online party, which was great fun. Our version of the office party, with guilt-free snacks, hangoverless drinks and an infinite number of stationery cupboards with virtual beefcake we could drag in there (I assume other people had other tastes, but most of the writers attending were women and the pictures posted were of tasty guys with no shirts on.) And we met up with people down the pub a couple of times, but that was all. Just like any other month, where I get invited to a book launch and meet with friends and my writing group. And maybe go to listen to a band or just pop into the pub for a quiet drink.

So, is it just my perception?

I don’t think it is.

I looked at things I could measure, to be more objective:

• I did some housekeeping on our Freeview hard-disk recorder a month ago, to make room for all those Christmas Specials and great films we’d want to record. So I checked the disk again today. There’s almost as much free space as there was when I deleted the stuff we’d recorded and never bothered to watch. What little we’ve added are some radio dramas, for when I’m doing chores at home. Admittedly, we’ve been watching stuff a few days after recording, but only when there was nothing we wanted to see live! So what was worth watching this year? I flicked back through the double-issue Radio Times and realised the only outstanding programmes were documentaries.

• So I stood on the bathroom scales and realised I hadn’t put any weight on over Christmas. A good thing, true – but what happened to the season of excess and overeating?

• Maybe it’s all because of the weather – we haven’t seen any “proper” winter cold this year. It’s just been grey, wet and miserable. No snow, not even a decent frost. Global warming isn’t helping to keep our Yuletide special!
Surely Christmas is the season of giving? Of receiving?
Well, not any more. There wasn’t much under our tree, to be honest. And while we’re being honest – we tend to buy things we want when we see them / can afford them / they’re on special offer at whatever time of year. So the few extra pressies at Christmas aren’t that big a deal.

Am I getting old and boring?

Good question. I don’t think I am – but feel free to disagree.

Maybe it’s all this austerity and economic crisis?

Possible, but I’m fairly sure things have been getting worse for longer than that. I remember thinking there were gaps in my December calendar in the last few years I was working in the office – so pre-2004. At a time when people seemed to have money to waste on frivolous things and certainly weren’t scrimping over Christmas. Yet I remember a bunch of the girls in the next office standing around the coffee machine complaining they hadn’t been invited to anything.

Nothing is Special.

My suspicion is that we’re spreading our celebrating more evenly over the year. Rather than having one big blow-out celebration at Christmas, we have frequent smaller ones. We drip-feed ourselves the “special” stuff all year so there’s nothing unusual about the so-called Festive Period. Just a lot of hype, obligations and profiteering. Very few people associate Christmas with anything religious, it’s no longer a big family festival and even the commercial aspects seem to be spread over the other eleven months.

We now have the Twelve Months of Christmas. We’re trying to make it Christmas every day and it’s turning out to be a lot less fun than we expected.