Read the Outlaw Galaxy series -- swashbuckling space adventure stories!

Head on over to my website, www.BillSmithBooks.com or www.OutlawGalaxy.com, where you can download and read some of my Outlaw Galaxy stories, including my first novel, Outlaw Galaxy 1: Trip and the Space Pirates. Space fantasy action-adventure at its finest!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Live Forever Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed last night and the world has a little less magic, a little less wonder, a little less adventure. The stars, once within our grasp but receding ever since Apollo fell from the Moon back to dusty, dreary Earth, are today even a little farther away than they were yesterday.

I came to appreciate Ray Bradbury's genius later than many readers. As a teenager, his works never captured my attention--not compared to the X-Men and Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons.

But I returned to Ray's work later, in my early thirties, and when I cracked open The Illustrated Man, I caught his magic. From there, I was seared (and yet chilled) by the firemen of Fahrenheit 451. I felt my heart soar as a family peered down into a canal and realized, "Yes, we are the Martians." I felt the wonder and innocence of childhood as Mr. Dark's carnival raced into town under the cover of deep, darkest night while all the good and kindly folks were deep in slumber. We met late in life, Ray's work and I, but I soon came to realize what a treasure he was.

As I learned more of Ray, I came to profoundly respect him. Born of very humble means, he was shy, not athletic, but boy, did he love stories. He was unable to go to college. Instead, he educated himself and formed his writing style by regular visits to the library. And while I'm sure some considered him a little smug and overconfident, especially for a lowly writer of sci-fi and horror pulp stories, I choose to see him as determined: Determined to write the stories he wanted to write. Determined to make something of himself. Determined not to let anyone else define him. Ray wrote what he wanted and if you didn't like it, that truly was your problem, not his. As an author, I take great inspiration from his integrity and discipline.

Ray had the most amazing writing style, creating true poetry and mood on every page, in every paragraph. A master of mood and tone, he'd smile his storyteller's smile and before you knew it, you were swept away on a wondrous journey and immersed in his wonderful imaginary worlds.

His early horror stories, to me at least, are among the most unsettling and creepy tales I have ever read, all without being graphic and gruesome. His space stories reminded us to look up at the stars and dream about what might be. He often warned us of what we might fall to if we became careless and let our fears devour our hopes, of what might happen if we allowed the bullies and despots among us to have their way. At the same time, he showed us grand hopes and possibilities. He shouted at us that we could live forever and spread across the stars if only we dared to dream and dared to act.

There had been something nagging at me on and off for the past few months, urging me to just sit down and write a letter to Ray just to thank him for his wonderful gifts. It may sound silly or childish, but I wanted to let him know how much I loved his work. I wanted to thank him for telling stories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I just wanted to thank him for sharing his dreams and visions, for making me laugh and smile countless times...for making me tear up ("The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair")...for making me shudder with delighted spookiness (Something Wicked This Way Comes). I just read "A Sound of Thunder" for the first time two days ago and, no offense to Mr. Spielberg and the team at ILM for their work on Jurassic Park, but only Ray Bradbury was able to capture how terrifying it would be to encounter a T. Rex in person. Most of all, I wanted to thank Ray for constantly reminding me to look up at the stars and wonder.

That little voice, that urging to just take a few minutes, would whisper in my ear every so often. "Just write him a letter to say, 'Thank you, Ray.' Sure, he's probably got a million other letters just like it--but still, take the time to let him know how much his stories meant to you. You're a writer, Bill -- you know how much it would mean to him." And instead, I'd set the notion aside to do something pressing, seemingly urgent, seemingly "more important."

I'll never have the chance to write that letter and now I feel such a loss.

For those of you who have a special author or creator whose work has meant a lot to you, take a moment to thank them. As a writer, I know how lonely this work can be. Sometimes, writers feel like they are shouting out into the void and we wonder...we hope...that our stories connect with readers. But we seldom know. We write and hurl stories out there and often, never hear from them again. We write because we have to, because that's what we do...most of us feel with every fiber of our being that we are meant to be writers and that it is our calling. But it is still nice to know that others got something out of our work. Certainly, the paychecks, large, small and nonexistent, are nice...but there is no better feeling than knowing that someone has enjoyed your work and that your story has made their life a little better.

I missed the chance to thank Ray. Don't miss your chance to thank the authors and creators who have inspired you.

Ray was fond of telling a true story of his meeting with Mr. Electrico, a circus magician he saw when he was a young boy. Mr. Electrico called him up on stage and dared Ray to "Live Forever!"

It is a touching tale, one that provides hope and dabbles with reincarnation.

Ray listened.

That moment encouraged him to dream big dreams and soar with John Carter on Barsoom, to fly with Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, to explore Baum's Yellow Brick Road and walk with dinosaurs, to quest for a dusty Red Planet and show us a future worthy of our greatest aspirations if only we dared to reach for the stars.

Ray decided right then to be a writer and over the course of his career, he filled our imaginations with so much hope and wonder and excitement.

Thank you, Ray.

You will live forever in your stories. I can't wait to hear the new tales you have to tell when it is my time to venture to the Undiscovered Country.

Godspeed.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Predictions of the Publishing Industry

Hot on the heels of the Kindle Fire announcement yesterday, Joe Konrath just published a commentary on his predictions for the publishing industry from two years ago. He got most things right and a few of the others will no doubt happen not too far in the future.

Now, here are my own humble predictions for publishing in the next couple of years:

1. The sub-$50 ebook reader.

Honestly, this is hardly a predicition so much as it is simply inevitable. I feel embarrassed to put it here because it is so obvious...but to exclude it implies that "it might not happen."

It will happen. Soon.

We have the $79 Kindle this Christmas...look for the $49 Kindle next Christmas. Sub-$50 no-name ebook readers can often be found on sale at speciality retailers like NewEgg.com and Geeks.com...within six months, that will be the regular price and on-sale, they'll drop into the $30-40 range.

Look for more and more cheap Android tablets, more and more phones that make for good reading experiences.

The $25 disposable ebook reader is at most 3-5 years away...probably closer.  Then traditional publishers are in a world of hurt.

2. The DRM backlash will finally happen.


When people realize they can't just move their books from device to device, the cry will begin...ultimately:

1) publishers will be forced to relent (doubtful, at least in the short term) or

2) indies (newbs and established authors who use DRM-free as a selling point) will ride the anti-DRM resentment to the tops of the best-seller lists and on the way there, ridicule the publishing establishment.

When (2) happens, draconian copyright legislation will be used against consumers, there will be much whining about piracy from the big publishers, certainly a big lawsuit or two brought by consumer groups...and still the indie authors will laugh all the way to the bank as they get more and more clout and more established authors jump ship.

Ultimately, the big publishers will be forced to go DRM-free. The question is how quickly and will they be progressive and thoughtful...or stupid and stubborn.

Me, I'm betting on stupid and stubborn, because that's what large corporate culture breeds.

DRM-free happened with music, it will happen with books. The question is when.

3. Traditional publishers will be rendered even more irrelevant.

The traditional book industry will do its best to ignore/mock/lie about this...but where the rubber meets the road (sales), the book industry is going to look more and more enfeebled as time goes on.

Just as Joe predicts, physical books will be a subsidiary revenue stream to supplement ebook revenues.

With the collapse of Borders (removing hundreds of physical outlets), B&N being forced to focus on e-books and cutting back on inventory in its retail outlets, and with WalMart/CostCo becoming more and more of the retail book industry, it's going to dramatically eliminate outlets for retail bookbuying and limit the available selection at the outlets that do remain...which in turn, will drive more and more consumers to better selection and pricing online.

Consumers who now split their purchasing between physical and online will go almost entirely online because they are so dissatisfied with the limited selection at the remaining outlets, or like me, find it impractical to drive to a physical book store.

Ebooks and online retailing of physical books will make having your book in a physical book store far less relevant (and less likely, too)...and physical presence is really the only card that traditional publishers have left.

People are going to switch to more and more online purchases...

4. Recommendations and Discoverability.


We'll see the popularization of great recommendation websites...and frankly, this is what the industry needs most (after eliminating DRM).

The industry really needs websites that assist with discoverability -- Amazon's services are fair at best; they're great when you already know exactly what you want and want something just like it. But you need something that captures more of the serendipity of stumbling upon cool stuff as happens in physical stores.

There are already a few sites that are part of this role (MobileRead, KindleBoards, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari)...but within the next two years, one or more of them are going to become really prominent beyond the smaller core ebook readers. One of them will hit StumbleUpon/Reddit/Digg/Delicious-type status as a "go to place" to find out what's new and cool in books.

God, please don't let the recommendation engine be Facebook.

5. On-demand book printing in every town.


(I place this 3-5 years down the road)

You'll see easy and affordable on-demand book printing in every small town across the country through every Starbucks/McDonalds (or a similar chain), through small coffee-shop/cafes, and you'll also see the return of the "small bookstore/cafe."

(This assumes that at some point, the self-preservation reflex kicks in at mainstream publishers and they decide to do *something* before they go out of business. If they keep on whistling past the graveyard and refuse to change, all bets are off.)

I know I just implied that physical book retailing is dead. But that's not true -- it will change in a major way, that gives the customer more choice than they have ever had while having an exceptionally small "store" footprint.

POD printers for books will be available at one or more major chain restaurants for printing books on demand while customers wait -- presumably the publishers get on board with this since they get to split the money while eliminating the costs of printing, warehousing, shipping and returns.

Immediate delivery of a physical book is the only advantage physical retailers have left and some (enough) people will pay a premium to get the book immediately.

I see this as being a natural for Starbucks, McDonalds,Dunkin Donuts, etc.

I see the potential for smaller bookstores to return (Waldenbooks-sized): Half of the space is devoted to 5-10,000 steadiest selling titles and an ample magazine/newsstand. The other half if a cafe where people are encouraged to hang out, where they can rent or borrow a book browser (tablet) if they don't have their own, and they can order a physical book and take delivery of it in 5-10 minutes (produced by a chain of POD printers in the back room).

6. International Epublishing Goes Mainstream

There's a whole world out there, over a billion of us, for whom English is our primary or at least commonly used language. The world ebook market could be huge...

Geographic limitations are another reason why traditional publishers are in for a world of hurt, while world-wide retailers like Smashwords are going to help authors reach worldwide audiences.

For the first time in human history, a person can write a story, article or book and make it instantly available to the entire world. It's a pretty mind-blowing proposition...and we are only just beginning to realize the potential of this global marketplace.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Remember Kids

We're entering a new era in Congress, with the GOP in charge of the House of Reps. There will be a lot of debate about the proper role of government, social policy, "wasteful government programs" and all sorts of other arguments designed to outrage us, frighten us, to motivate us to support the GOP agenda.

I think it's important to have a debate about the proper role of government and what makes for good government policy. And an honest debate is a worthwhile debate.


But remember this important safety tip, kids: Bill O'Reilly is full of crap.

Always has been, always will be.

Same goes for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin...oh man, the list never ends.

So before you get all frightened and wound up, check the facts.

That is all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Remembering Mike Watts, my friend


This past weekend, we lost my good friend Mike Watts.

Mike was the track photographer at both Mohawk International Raceway in Hogansburg and Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh.

Mike loved stock car racing and was a great friend. Mike was the kind of guy that made you feel special whenever you talked to him.

All of us in the North Country racing community are devastated by his loss. My deepest sympathies to his wife Jane and sons Mike Jr. and Andy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Gift from Mother Nature


Okay, I live in New York's North Country, ten miles from the Canadian border.

It snows here. It's winter six months of the year up here. I get that.

But this is the view of my backyard this afternoon, April 27th, 2010.

The month of May starts in a mere 78 hours...three days...and it's time to get the shovel out!

(Still, snow vs. tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, droughts, wildfires...I guess having to shovel in the last week of April isn't so bad.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What the GOP Really Stands For

I don't get mad very often. But this makes me furious.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the other conservative creeps are insulting an 11-year-old boy after his mother died because she didn't have health insurance.

The Conservative movement can use whatever arguments it wants to justify its actions -- we're against big government, we think people should have individual choice, we believe in personal responsibility and on and on.

Some of those arguments sound appealing at first glance. They fall apart under any serious examination.

But in the end, the Conservative movement boils down to, "People should be allowed to die."

They won't say that, but that's what happens if they get their way.

The health care system we have now leaves tens of millions of Americans uninsured. Millions of Americans who cannot afford insurance, who have lost their homes because they got sick, who have chronic health issues and who cannot afford enormous insurance premiums.

The system we have now wastes a huge amount of money in administrative costs--health insurance companies spend a huge amount of time finding ways of denying legitimate claims and dumping customers who dare to use the benefits they have already paid for.

We spend more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any nation on Earth and have far worse outcomes than those evil socialized nations like Canada and most of Western Europe, which deliver healthcare to everyone in the nation at a far lower cost than the US system. I live 20 minutes from the Canadian border, I talk to dozens of Canadians every weekend when I'm announcing stock car races and trust me, as a whole, they feel their system is vastly superior to ours. Honestly, most of them think we're crazy for putting up with the fact that we're the only major industrialized nation on the planet without nationalized healthcare.

The Conservative movement: We can spend billions on wars overseas but if you're an ordinary American who works hard to take care of their family, yeah, we'll let you die. And then we'll mock your grieving children.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thank You, Dick Cheney

Former VP Dick Cheney has been unleashed again, presumably without his meds. Now he thinks the Obama Administration should "thank" George W. Bush and Cheney for all the swell things they've done to make President Obama's life easier.

Here's a few of W.'s accomplishments:

* Allowing the largest domestic terror attack in the history of the country to happen despite repeated warnings from the State Dept. But W. had brush to clear at his Crawford ranch and couldn't be bothered to take action.

* Starting a war of choice and not necessity by attacking a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks (that would be Iraq, for those keeping score at home). Bush's "easy" war where we would be "greeted as liberators and not conquerers" turned a stable if authortarian state into a seething cauldron of violence that is creating a whole new generation of terrorists. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, no doubt about it...but I really think setting off a civil war that STILL threatens to engulf the entire region is inarguably worse.

* By taking out Iraq, Bush helped make Iran a powerful agitator in the Gulf Region, which threatens to further destabilize the region for years to come.


Oh, yeah, there's a lot more after the break...