Friday, November 27, 2015

The Spastic Internet

I read recently that the Internet has lost about half of its utility, largely because the costs of security keep intruding upon the gains in utility. I should add also that the massive amount of advertising is choking the system. I sometimes cannot look at some sites, like The Daily Beast, or Huffington or MSN without getting into a paralysis in which I am confronted by a debugging script I must follow to end the blockage.

The Internet, combined with the marvels of computerized writing, editing, accounting, communications, and sorting, made life easier, especially for a writer. Not long ago I could complete and edit a manuscript, easily incorporate my revisions, and send it off to my editors. The editorial interchange could also be done online, and I would incorporate my editors' alterations and corrections, and follow their suggestions, and return my product as an edited manuscript ready for production. And of course emails along the way would inform me of deadlines, or the need for jacket copy, or remainder opportunities, etc.

All that has changed. The internet is now so sclerotic that I cannot count on reaching a site, or bringing up the material I wish to see, or mailing my responses. There are long pauses, rejections, demands for passwords I didn't know existed, etc., which sometimes force me to call my provider for help, or hire an expert to come to my house and untangle my computer.

In short, the internet is becoming less useful. It is still vital, and far from dying, but security and advertising have all but paralyzed it. All those advertising people who sit around thinking up click-bait stories are ultimately destroying an entire medium, and their efforts will bring them less and less return. Who wants to click on something that turns out not to be journalism at all, but an excuse to jam full-screen ads into my home every few seconds?

I recently upgraded my computer to Windows 10, which is mostly likable, but it adds layers of opening screens and decision-making to the mix, and I can find no way to escape them. In short, Microsoft is just as invasive as the amassed advertisers eager to batter my privacy any way they can manage.

So dealing with the internet is increasingly self-defeating, and I am expecting to return to using my computer as a typewriter, and sending printed manuscripts by mail to my publishers, if that is what it takes to deal with a spastic, sclerotic medium ruined by greed. What was once cheap is expensive. The last time I needed to get tech help, because I could not connect to the Internet, the bill was ninety dollars.

The question is not whether the security and advertising troubles will kill the value of the Internet, but only how fast, and when. Meanwhile I am enjoying sending hand-written letters to friends and colleagues.

Greed defeats itself, just as greed and malice are destroying the Internet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Phenomenon

I became curious about the record-setting sales of a new musical album by Adele, a vocalist I had scarcely heard of. So I played Hello, the one she had put on YouTube as a way of promoting her work.

She's rather pretty, except for her inch-long claws, but she never holds still long enough for anyone to appreciate her beauty, because she is too busy shaking her hair around, trying to look windswept. She has an odd voice but I rather liked it, although she would rank low among my favorite female singers.

I certainly had my doubts about the music. The lyrics were, shall we say, adolescent. I could not find an adult thought in them. And she used editing and cinematography as crutches, a constant barrage of images that hid her performance, so no observer could see her actually singing. That's a pity. We have no way of knowing whether she is a true and distinguished performing artist. The various crutches interfere with her art.

She will make a lot of money, but I doubt that she will last long, because Adele really isn't there, on the disc. People are simply buying a lot of special effects. She will laugh all the way to the bank, which is fine. She calculated the ways that might bring her a pocketful of cash, and some temporary acclaim, but that will pass. In my eighty years I've seen a lot of empty people command the stage for a brief time, and then vanish.

Meanwhile the truly great artists, who need no gimmicks  and who are magnetic under a spotlight, without all the junk, will be there, year after year.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Old Men Think

I have a friend who is dealing with a medical crisis, a dangerous aneurysm that cannot be safely dealt with by any known means. He has come face to face with his own mortality, as have most of us in our seventies and eighties.

He has noticed shifts in the way he remembers his past life, as if his mind is doing its own housekeeping. He is discovering that he remembers the happy times, especially those with his first wife, while the recollection of troubles all seem to fall away of their own accord. He is happily remarried, and I am referring now only to his memories, which have undergone a quiet transformation.

Perhaps it is simply inspired by our wish that we have lived a worthwhile and happy life. I know I would want, at the last, to possess memories of a life well lived, a life on the sunny uplands. I think perhaps that is happening to him as the memories brighten day by day. Few of us would want to die embittered or defeated or desolate, so our minds quietly begin their gentle revision, cleaning out the darker things, lifting our hearts so we might enjoy a splendid sunset.

This is a good thing. We are remembering the good things, and in that we take comfort. There is a quiet growth at the last, in most of us. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New title

In May, Forge will publish another of my westerns, this one called Easy Pickings. It is about a fierce Scots widow, March McPhee, who defends her small gold mine after her husband dies in a mining accident. All sorts of predators, most without any conscience, find ways to wrench the mine from her, stopping at nothing to get at her gold. They succeed, but only by committing her to the state's asylum.

I am proud of the story. It is unique and brims with unusual characters who do unusual things. It is as fine a western as I've written. The cover has a man brandishing a gun, but nearly all western covers depict that, including my forthcoming vaudeville novel, Anything Goes. There is minimal gunplay in the stories, but that doesn't stop cover artists. They put in the guns to identify the story as a western, and not to depict plot, and that is okay with me. If someone is handling a gun, even if that character is a New York impresario, that is the publisher's way of announcing that the story is set in the historic west. It used to bother me, but now I simply see it as another way of drawing potential buyers to the book.

Here is the Forge catalog copy:

Life hasn't always been easy for March and Kermit McPhee, but things are looking up. March gives birth to a healthy son, and their small gold mine is looking better and better as Kermit blasts his way along a good seam of ore. Then Kermit is crushed by a cave-in.

As soon as her husband dies, crooks are at March's door, eager to get their hands on the mine. The peaceful town of Marysville, Montana, is peaceful no more. March's home is burned and her baby killed. Terrified and threatened, she is targeted by the wealthy and powerful. 

March fights back every way she can. She discovers she has allies: a saloon man named Tipperary Leary, an assayer named Rolf Wittgenstein, and a slippery lawyer named Hermes Apollo. Still, March must ask herself whether it is worth it; whether a gold mine, or wealth of any sort, should be defended at such a price.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Anything Goes

My next novel, anything goes, will be published December 8. It follows a vaudeville troupe through Montana and Idaho in 1896. All my novels are billed as westerns, and have western covers, but this one is probably less so than most.

Here is the publisher's copy:

Anything Goes: the enchanting story of a vaudeville troupe that makes its way to Western mining towns, from renowned master of the Western novel, Richard S. Wheeler.
The cowboys, gold miners, outlaws, gunmen, prostitutes, and marshals who populate the Wild West never see much big-city entertainment. Most towns are too wild and rowdy for entertainers to enter, let alone perform in. All that is about to change.
August Beausoleil and his colleague, Charles Pomerantz, have taken the Beausoleil Brothers Follies to the remote mining towns of Montana, far from the powerful impresarios who own the talent and control the theaters on the big vaudeville circuits. Their cast includes a collection of has-beens and second-tier performers: Mary Mabel Markey, the shopworn singer now a little out of breath; Wayne Windsor, "The Profile," who favors his audiences with just one side of his face while needling them with acerbic dialogue; Harry the Juggler, who went from tossing teacups to tossing scimitars; Mrs. McGivers and her capuchin monkey band; and the Wildroot Sisters, born to show business and managed by a stage mother who drives August mad.
Though the towns are starved for entertainment, the Follies struggles to fill seats as the show grinds from town to town. Just when the company is desperate for fresh talent, a mysterious young woman astonishes everyone with her exquisite voice.
The Wild West will never be the same. They've seen comics, gorgeous singers, and scimitar-tossing jugglers. Now if the troupers can only make it back East . . . alive!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Factory Medicine

I was reminded this morning about the ways that industrial structures modify our conduct. I went to our brand new hospital and clinic to get a flu shot-- and couldn't.

The old clinic sprawled in several buildings, and worked informally. If I wanted a flu shot, I wandered in, one of two or three receptionists talked to my doctor's nurse or staff, and within minutes, I had my shot. If my doctor's staff couldn't do it, they borrowed someone else.  If I needed to talk to the nurse, I usually could reach her, or leave a message and she'd call back soon. That's how it went for the last fifteen or twenty years.

No more. Now all that sophisticated medicine is hidden behind massive, silent walls, and invisible to the world. A lone frowning woman manning a computer is the gatekeeper. I asked for a shot, and she said no; make an appointment. So I tried to get one at an urgent-care facility but it was closed, and finally got one at a drugstore, which didn't treat me as an unwanted pest.

There were two people waiting in the new clinic reception area for some nursing ghost or other to come collect them. In the old clinic, those areas were full of people, greeting one another. It's not a large town. The new regime, in the lordly hospital, in distinctly creepy, as if the hospital and clinic are operating behind massive bastions and turrets and moats, to keep out the sick and sorrowful.

Oh, well. we'll see. It is a good healthcare group, and many people there are friends.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fewer Ads

Bloomberg reports that the networks and cable companies may be cutting back on ads in the near future. Part of it is that young people have discovered that streaming services offer programming without ads, or with minimal advertising. But the article also discusses the realization that excess advertising is self-defeating. Not only are the ads lost in the hubbub, but people turn away, ratings decline.

I am somewhat skeptical of this news. The political season is arriving, and with it, programming that seems to be more advertising than features. One often sees the same ad for the same candidate dozens of times a day--which is mind-numbing and, I suspect, defeating. I grew impatient last time around, and simply turned off the set. Even if it should be true that national networks cut back, that may not be true of local stations, which jam as many political ads in as possible, and squeeze as much cash out of the season as possible.

What I do believe is that both TV and internet sites are losing their utility. My incoming internet is often choked, paralyzed, frozen with the rush of advertising, and I am forced to back out. The carriers are are so choked with ads that they are not worth watching, and the ads themselves are less and less valuable to advertisers because we tune them out as a matter of survival. This seems obvious to most people,  but not to station-owners or obsessed ad-agency personnel.

I suspect this time technology may defeat ad-choked viewing, because it is generating end-runs around the quasi-monopolistic stations and cable networks. Let's hope so.