Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interview With a Book Pirate

When my third book was published, it hit pirate websites within hours. I remember staring at the page, stunned, and then bursting into tears. It took the better part of an hour for my husband to calm me down, and I still don't think he 100 percent understands why I got so hysterical. I'm not sure I can explain it myself.

Most writers fall into two groups when it comes to piracy: the "They're going to do it anyway," school, and the "Witch!" camp. I mostly belong with the stones and pitchforks group, but to keep my sanity I've been forced to adopt an attitude more in step with the first.

There's a third thing that's harder to articulate. Piracy hurts. There's the obvious financial pain of stolen royalties. But I'm talking about a pain that goes deeper than that. Piracy just straight-up hurts my feelings, making me feel like the writerly equivalent of the skank who just gives it away under the bleachers after school, during football games, and most times in between.

Yeah, I went there.

And yet, there are so many book pirates out there, many of them otherwise decent people leading decent lives. I know some of them, and you do too. Maybe you've swiped a book or two yourself. I'm really not trying to judge, but rather to get inside the mind of a pirate. That's why I hunted one down, and got it to answer some of my burning questions.

Me: How long have you been a book pirate?
Pirate: For a few years now. Once ebooks started getting really big, I began reading them on my computer, but I didn't really start downloading pirated versions until I got my first Kindle.

Me: So the Kindle was kind of a gateway drug, then? (shakes fist at Amazon). I would have blamed bleed over from music piracy.
Pirate: (laughs) No, I pretty much stick to ebooks. I'm much more into books than music.

Me: I guess the burning question is: why? You've got to know you're hurting people- taking money away from writers and their families.
Pirate: I know that on a level, but it seems far removed. Technology makes it really easy, makes it almost seem like a victimless crime. When I look at the price of an ebook- let's say ten bucks, which is pretty standard, I think- my brain turns that into groceries, or a sliver of the cable bill, and that makes me think really hard about whether to buy or pirate. My financial standing is not nearly as strong as it was before the ebook revolution, which coincided, incidentally, with the Great Recession. So cost is a major factor.

Me: That's an interesting connection- ebooks did start to get really big around '08/'09. Do you see a connection?
Pirate: Absolutely. People woke up with 1/3 to 2/3 less of their net worth, and suddenly here was this cheap, or free, entertainment, without having to leave home. So yes, I think they're connected.

Me: If ebooks cost less, would you pay instead of pirate?
Pirate: Probably. I read some Indie writers, and I'm much more likely to buy a 99 cent book than a ten dollar one, but only if it's by a promising author or one I already like.

Me: What about free books? Like through Amazon or BookBub?
Pirate: I subscribe to BookBub, and I'll frequently download the free books that catch my interest, but honestly, I almost never read them, and I'm not re
ally sure why. The same goes for Amazon. The exception is if I know it's the first book in a really good, usually cheap series. Then sometimes I'll bite. But free books? Nah. I can pirate major releases for free.

Me: You're breaking my heart here.
Pirate: I don't want to! But you asked for honesty.

Me: Right. I did at that. Let's get technical, then. Where and how do you acquire these pirated books?
Pirate: I use Mobilism and Pirate Bay. I either download direct or use UTorrent, then run them through this free software called Calibre. Calibre is supposed to act as an ebook organizer- like a library on your computer- but in reality it allows you to download almost any format and convert it to another format. So I can download an epub (like Nook books) or pdf (common, because you can easily scan books that way), and convert it to a Mobi file (Amazon) in seconds. It takes just seconds more to put directly on my Kindle.

Me: Amazon doesn't somehow detect that you have pirated books when you buy from them, or deal with them?
Pirate: Nope.

Me: Do you ever worry about getting caught?
Pirate: No. I do worry about viruses, but I have software for it.

Me: Did you pay for that software? Just kidding. What can an author do to avoid being pirated? Anything?
Pirate: Sometimes I run into notices where the author or publisher has had the file removed, and then I have to make a call as to whether I want to buy it or not. If it's reasonably priced and I want it enough, sometimes I'll buy. So I guess find a way to take your books down. I've also seen notices- usually Indie writers- asking people who pirate to please buy the next book, if they *must* pirate. That works with me sometimes too.

Me: I said I wouldn't judge, but you have to know you're taking money away from hardworking people. Piracy has cost my own family thousands and thousands of dollars- just taken that money right out of my kid's college funds, or kept me from having the security to write even more. How do you live with yourself?
Pirate: I don't feel good about it. I'm definitely conflicted.

Me: What would have to happen to make you stop stealing?
Pirate: Having enough money.

Me: You realize that's a terrible double standard, right?
Pirate: Like I said, I don't feel good about it.

... and that's as far as I could go without devolving into a frothing-at-the-mouth Hound of Hell. I know there are no answers here, but honesty was really what I was after. And I did learn some things. What I'll do with that, I don't quite know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bread and Books

Yes, I made these!
Apparently summer in Central Florida coincides with monsoon season. This makes sense since the climate zone is tropical. Or maybe sub-tropical? Either way, it doesn't matter, because what it's lead to is a whole lot of rain. Rain three times a day. A terrible soaking rain that gets into everything- even your bones. Steamy jungle rain from which there is no escape- not even a nice pot of soup and a book and a blanket, because it is still too darned hot for at least two of those things.

But rather than complain further, I decided to dive into writing and blogging and tuning up my (once again) sadly neglected Twitter account. So I'd like to share with you two things saving my sanity this rainy season: books and baking.

It's really too hot to do too much baking in the oven, and so this led me to invest in a bread machine. If you've never owned one of these marvelous creatures, you're missing out. In the week that I've had mine, I have yet to produce a loaf that doesn't get eaten within minutes of pulling it out of the machine. I've also made yeast rolls. These almost caused fights, and I had to ration them equally to prevent it. The only thing
that made it to Day 2 was a pan of cinnamon rolls, and that was because I hid them under aluminum, behind the fruit and vegetable basket. No teenager, apparently, would ever look there.

In addition to all this lovely staff-of-life bounty, I've managed to read. Sort of. I managed to get my hands on an ARC of the new Melissa Marr, Made For You. It's a YA contemporary thriller- her first- and I am sad to report that it has been relegated to the could-not-finish pile. This has a lot more to do with my own headspace than with Marr's writing. I've had a hard time finishing anything. I'm not sure why. I similarly had to put down Laini Taylor's third book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I for sure didn't see that happening. The whole series so far has been brilliant, but the last book just couldn't grab me. The same happened with Marr's new book. As soon as I found out who the killer was, I just lost interest. I also think I'm pining for her wonderful Faery world. I so wish I could read more Irial. But then, I bet a lot of us do.

Instead, I'm going to try high fantasy, with Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass. I'm interested in circuitous routes to publication lately, and I discovered that Maas had originally started Throne of Glass on Fictionwise, where it was wildly popular and eventually garnered her an agent and a deal with Bloomsbury Children's. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish this one. If not, then we'll know for sure it has something to do with my headspace, and nothing whatsoever to do with these authors, whom I love very much.

I'm going to leave you with the yeast bread recipe, which taste even better with a cup of strong coffee, a good book, an easy chair, a sleeping toddler, and a storm rolling through, churning the lake.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


forest in the morning
 I've let Monday Blogs and Teaser Tuesdays blow me by, and there isn't really anything special for Wednesdays. But what the heck, right? It's officially summer vacation, which means I have more than the ususal number of people under foot at all hours of the day. It's taken some getting used to, but we're starting to establish a nice little routine. Full fledged summer has only been with us for- oh- a week today, exactly. Being as isolated as we are, it's a different kind of summer than we've ever had before. I wanted to just share some pics of where we live- the middle of the Ocala National Forest. Even though there's not much here, (nearest fast food? 20 minutes!), there's a lot by way of natural beauty and things to do. Beaches, hiking, and swimming come to mind. So here's a few pics, and I hope everyone else is enjoying their summer as well.

Can you spot the llama?
The lake, like glass
Our version of snow- Spanish Moss
view from the porch- the dock where we swim and canoe

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Myth That Writing is a "Dream"

I was shocked at the response to my last blog. So many people wrote to tell me that they related- that they had the kind of unsupportive families that might qualify them for an ABC Afterschool Special. And yet, they kept writing, whole-heartedly embracing my "Screw 'em, do it anyway," mentality. A few wrote to share just how supportive spouses, friends, etc. actually were, to the point that these writers don't feel they could make it without them. Like most things in life, I suspect the vast majority of us fall somewhere in the middle. But one common sentiment arose again and again:

Follow your dreams. Don't let anyone stand in the way of your dreams. Cherish your dream. Your dreams are a vital part of your happiness.

Here's a closely guarded personal truth: Writing is not a dream. Not for me. Never has been. And believe me, I wish it was.

For me, writing is a way of navigating the world, of trying to make peace with it, to make sense of my place in it, and to translate that experience into something that lets me be a happy and productive member of the human race. It's exhilarating and painful and lonely and hard.

But it's also beautiful. And completely, totally mandatory.

The truth is, for many of us, writing is not a choice. We have to do it, or we sicken, slow down, and sometimes outright break down. I don't know why this is. I suspect the reasons are different for everyone. I know I can look back through the course of my life and identify the times when I was the most miserable, and every single one of them has to do with me choosing to not write in favor of something more grown-up, or practical, or some other such line.

That's as far from a "dream" as I can imagine. Gwendolyn Brooks deconstucts the word so beautifully in "Kitchenette Building*": "Dream makes a giddy sound, not strong like 'rent,' 'feeding a wife,' 'satisfying a man.'" It is a word loaded with privilege and frivolity, and I believe it can be yet another way society devalues what writers, or any creative person, does.

This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you that, as caring humans, we must have priorities. We must put the college fund and the mortgage first. Many of us do this, and  maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. But some of us can't. Some of us have to plod onward and hope everything will come out balanced in the end.  

By no means do I intend to imply that creative expression shouldn't be an intimate, beautiful, cherished thing. And whether that is a dream or a compulsion, I'm wary of those who try to devalue it in any way.

*Brooks, Gwendolyn. "Kitchenette Building." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 June 2014.