Do writers need heroes?

I suppose that depends on your definition of hero. For me, it’s someone who inspires me to improve myself both as a writer and a person.  I’ve had many heroes over the years—some celebrities, but most just regular folks. Today I’m going to talk about the two celebrities who have most impacted my life: Elvis Presley and Kobe Bryant.

Yes, I know they couldn’t be more different. Nonetheless, each has inspired me in his own way. When I was a kid growing up in a tiny Wisconsin town with my grandmother, Elvis became my inspiration. Here was an incredibly determined boy from dirt poor Tupelo, Mississippi, who had overcome numerous hardships to become the most famous singer in the world! Elvis wasn’t afraid to chase his dreams by following his heart. “I don’t sound like nobody,” he told Marion Keisker that day he walked into Sun Records. And boy, was he right. Today, nearly 33 years after his death, thousands of people are still trying to look and sound like him.

My history with Kobe is different. In fact, I used to hate the guy. Thought he was a ball hog and full of himself. Ironically, all of that changed on January 22, 2006—the night I saw him drop 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. For those of you who don’t follow the NBA, that’s the second highest point total ever scored by one player (second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962). An impressive feat to be sure, yet it wasn’t so much the point total that inspired me as the effort behind it. The Lakers were far outplayed in the first half of that game, losing to an inferior team at home. Obviously Kobe wasn’t happy about that, so he took charge of the situation. And I mean took charge. Second half box score: Bryant 51 points, the Raptors (as a team!) 41.

Bottom line, Kobe Bryant hates to lose. Since becoming a fan, I’ve learned a few things about him as a person. He goes to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m. to work on his game. He plays hurt. (Broken finger? No problem. Back spasms? So what. The flu? Forget about it.) He plays hard. He plays to win. And he does all that because playing basketball was and is his dream. Kobe, like Elvis, has achieved great success by having followed his heart. Basketball experts will continue to debate who’s the best player in the NBA, but for me it’s a no-brainer because there’s no other player in the league today who puts 100% of himself out there every single time he takes the court. Just as Elvis gave his all every time he took the stage to sing for his fans.

Elvis and Kobe have taught me dreams can be achieved as long as I keep believing in myself. I might still be waiting for my ship to dock, but at least I have days when I can see its bow burning through the fog.

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Do readers really want another tell-all book about cheating husbands?

Supposedly publishers publish books they know will sell and sell big. These include new titles by bestselling authors, tie-ins to blockbuster movies, and books by or about celebrities. I can’t argue with the first two choices, but I do take exception to the last, namely, what elevates a person to celebrity status? A hiker who manages to survive for a week while lost in the woods? A plane crash survivor? A pilot who lands his plane safely in the water? I would say yes to all of those. Maybe their stories don’t qualify for entire books, but each has done something that makes telling their tale worthwhile.

What I don’t think qualifies as a celebrity is a husband or wife who signs a contract to write all about his or her spouse because that spouse is a recently disgraced public figure. The latest to capitalize on publishers’ quests for juicy tell-alls is Jenny Sanford, the wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. You know, the guy who flew off into the sunset to be with his Argentine lover without bothering to leave emergency contact information should his state suddenly need his impeccable leadership. What he did was despicable on so many fronts. And don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with his wife, just as I do Elizabeth Edwards. But that doesn’t mean I want to read a 214-page book about Mrs. Sanford’s trials and tribulations. Seriously, doesn’t the American reading public deserve better?

The i-pad effect on writers part 2

Didn’t believe it when I said the i-pad was going to have a swift, negative effect on writers? Normally I’m not the “I told you so” type, but have you heard the latest? Amazon, which initially told MacMillan no to a proposed price hike for its books on Kindle, has reversed course and said okay. In case you haven’t connected the dots, MacMillan is among the first publishers to have signed a deal with Apple’s new i-pad “bookstore.”

To borrow a line from former President Nixon, let me make this perfectly clear: Publishers are not going to make money selling our books at ten dollars a pop, even though they get nine and we get one. You would think they might be satisfied with that profit margin, given how selling books electronically completely subtracts the expense of paper publishing. Alas, a corporation is a corporation. Why settle for nine when they can have 18?  And why should we, the authors, have a problem with that? Isn’t two dollars profit better than one? I suppose, but it’s not nearly as much better as going from nine to 18 dollars. If publishers want to retain the current status quo, that being that we write the books and they sell them, they must renegotiate our contracts, because a 90/10 split is beyond ridiculous.

Used to be, when we signed with a publisher, we worked with a content editor and a copy editor. Once published, our books were marketed to the masses via bookstores, magazine ads, book tours, etc. Unless you’ve been living under a LOST hatch for the past 20 years, you know none of those things are part of the deal anymore. It’s up to us, the authors, to do it all. Yet publishers’ profit margins continue to increase while ours remains a lowly ten percent.

I guess I’m nostalgic today, because an old Beatles’ song is blaring in my mind: You say you want a revolution . . .