Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The digital book-selling frenzy. And a new paradigm.

The net has spawned a certain madness. In the literary game, this means frantic indie authors, frightened traditional publishers, shrinking circulations for newspapers and magazines, perplexed literary agents and sublimated panic. As major publishers merge and sink slowly in the west - as the shares of media companies tank, as Google, Amazon and Apple grow fat on a tide of indifferent eBooks, as standards slide and promotion becomes the product - the actual book, article, news story becomes an afterthought. How long can this go on and do you really want to be a part of it? Perhaps there's another way?  Our Commissioning Editor, D. S. Mills, suggests a new model for digitally challenged authors.

Older authors know how it was. Months of years of honing your brainchild, then the humble, hopeful, even wildly optimistic approach to agents and publishers - those lofty beings, who proved  indifferent and even contemptuous.
 Older authors could paper their walls with rejection slips. Even today, newbies who take the traditional route, find the adamantine walls of the great publishing houses just as inaccessible, despite their recent nod to the web of accepting electronic submissions. (And despite the foundation of their business model crumbling beneath them.)

 One new writer we talked to recently - who has a very good book indeed - has submitted it to 175 agents across America. Two said they'd bother to read it. Both later declined. Authors learn that where there's life there's hope - consistently followed by disappointment.

Did publishers ever know what they were doing?

Let's forget newspapers and magazines. They are advertising platforms. Their stories and articles are there to distract you from the fact that they are in the advertising business. And as the media-buy fragments across the net, that business is losing its revenue base - helped, of course, by the quality of content and the time lag it takes to publish it. 
  A friend reminded me the other day of the old joke about TIME and LIFE. 'TIME is for people who can't think and LIFE for those who can't read.'
  Back to publishers - those irrational optimists attempting to combine art with business - always a fraught combination. Although many are well-meaning, they are unsure of their trade - as it is not a trade to be sure of. Their few successes - the ones expected to pay for all the failures - are generally the books they never expected to do anything for them at all - thus those they underpriced and barely bothered to promote. As for taking on new authors - publishers, despite their pretentions, do everything possible to frustrate the acceptance of any manuscript worth its salt. They feel much safer with celebrity biographies and cookbooks by TV chefs. A traditional publisher will do everything he can to destroy your book. But if, by some miracle, you manage to get published and then wildly succeed, the publisher will fawn disgustingly. It is only then that you can get your revenge. 

But now, the sea change.

 With the gatekeepers gone and writers' websites now flooding the internet, not to mention the endless eBooks the digitally unskilled upload directly to eBook distributors - the writing game, for fiction at least, has been flipped on its back.
 I know of a successful fantasy writer who, in a nervous late-life nod to the digital age, has resumed all the rights from his earlier novels and spent painful months converting them to eBooks for his new website. This is now working for him to some extent, though not to the extent he expected. Why? Because, long ago, he achieved a following and a name.
  But what happens to the newbie who, all unwary, uploads his vestigial efforts to Kindle and then waits patiently for riches. Little. Once he has told his family and friends and some of them have dutifully paid for the book, which few of them wish to read, he or she will be lucky to sell a book a year.


The age of frenzy.

The new digital freedom has generated a sea of indifferent books that sell no more than a couple of copies each. And this has causemillions of frustrated 'authors' excruciating anxiety.
 'Unless,' the forums crow,  'you slavishly and brazenly promote your book on social media, write endless self serving articles that lead prospects to your book, engage in conversations right across the net - spend your entire life, in fact, promoting, pleading, cajoling. Unless you lift up your skirts obscenely and go forth and prostitute yourself, your inevitable end will be obscurity and pain'. Difficult for new writers who still have no idea that perhaps half a percent of all scribblers make a crust from writing books. 
  The other bind is that this perpetual attempt at self-aggrandizement leaves them no time to write. No chance to hone their new craft. The actual book becomes a bothersome adjunct that they are desperately trying to plug.
 So everything suffers. The author. The book. And also the badgered recipients of this unwanted  publicity, thinly cloaked as helpful articles and affability. When the author forgets his trade, he becomes a publicist. And that draining occupation depletes him. No longer is there solitude and sanctity. He is frantic to be 'out there'. Nothing is less conducive to the introspection that inspires a creative craft.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Journey Beyond God

Now published on Buzzword: John Alexandra's remarkable book, Journey Beyond God takes the seeker beyond the usual religious conventions and the 'God' invented by fearful humanity to the underlying secret behind all transformational systems. Subtitled The How of Now, this is a practical guide to mysticism in all the great traditions. Here is a brief sample from the start of the second chapter.


The only aim of spiritual exercises is to gain control of attention.
 Ramana Maharshi

 Yoga is constraint placed upon the variations of consciousness. Then he who sees is present to himself.  Otherwise, he remains identified with the variations.

Do you remember yourself when you were three?
    Moss by a mountain stream. A dewy rose in the sun. And an open-hearted child. Sheer exultation of being.
    The child sees the world as a miracle iridescent with possibilities. It sees trees praying to the sky, grassfields bowing to the wind. Even the thin peal of a schoolyard bell leaves a timeless shiver in the air.
    And are its clouds of glory a half-remembered thing? Is its heart's heart linked to a unity known before birth?
    Remember your first freshness? What a wonder the world was then. Marvels jostled to reveal themselves and somewhere everything was in tune.
    Before grim knowledge spoiled you, Odyssey's called you on the wind and the song of your blood became perception. You breathed elation's sacred air.
    An infant's thought-unclouded eyes can be as fathomless as the glaze before death - enough to agitate its parents into self-reinforcing baby talk. The child knows nothing and everything - as if it's not a child at all. So to teach it to be one becomes every parent's task.
    As an infant, we saw directly - a discernment not easily found. We were well informed for a creature so recently born. So were we completely infants? Or potentials facing a new experience?
    Some believe death thrusts us back into the morning of our lives and cite child prodigies as proof that expertise is transported through the womb. Some see lives as fixed roles that, like actors, we are obliged to play out.
    We can be diverted for a lifetime by such theories. But theories don't feed hearts.
    In the brief years before thought's pale cast enveloped us there was freshness of perception. Why?
    Because life was filtered entirely through our senses and instead of 'thinking' we experienced. And because we received impressions directly, everything was vivid.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Who Wrote the Plays of Shakespeare?

The late Joy Lonsdale was much intrigued by such matters. Here, found among her papers, is a commentary followed by an extract from a letter sent by one of her many academic correspondents. Buzzword posts it for your interest. (As for us - do we have an opinion? Only that if Shakespeare wrote the plays, he was assisted by others with great wisdom who interpolated profundities and ensured that they were uttered from the mouths of dolts such as Polonius. There is the long tradition of the fool at Court generally being the most perceptive person. But we digress.) See what you can make of this yourself:

My English friend and I have lately been discussing Gurdjieff and his numerous made-up words, such as "Trogoautoegocrat", which is based on four Greek roots, and he happened to mention that they were not quite as incomprehensible as "Honorificabilitudinitatibus" which appears in Act Five of Love's Labour Lost. Probably not too many people would even bother trying to work it out, and it certainly can't be done in the simple way that "Trogo…" can, for it is far more complicated, and a perfect anagram. Rather than retype it all out here, I will enclose a copy of part of Roy's letter dealing with it. What I find interesting is the mention of R. M. Bucke, who it seems was in the pro-Bacon camp.

Incidentally, Francis Bacon was a Rosicrucian, being at one time Imperator of the Order of England. This, to me, explains the Fr. in front of his name, which is short for Frater rather than Francis.

They also state that many scholars now believe from their researches that Bacon was the author of the "Shakespearean" plays, and that the Rosicrucian history states that he was also the author of the Manifestos, which brought about the revival of the Order in Germany in the 17th century.

This is debatable, for it is also thought by some that Johann Valentin Andreae wrote them under the influence of John Dee. (No one has ever claimed authorship, once a very common procedure for knowledgeable men imparting a teaching. They have no need of fleeting fame, or for the more prudent reason of avoiding a stake or the chop!)

So far, I have not come across Dee ever being mentioned in Rosicrucian literature - most likely because of the stigma of charlatan undeservedly attached to his name.

Francis Yates maintains that he was a Rosicrucian, albeit secretly ( as most were) because of the threat of the heresy charge in those days. He cleverly invented a doppel-ganger named Edward Kelly, on whom he could heap any blame if accused, but it backfired on him.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Bard of Ballarat Strikes Again!

It's been a while since we added a post. Remiss of us. But here's the latest poem from the indomitable David Farnsworth. Despite all of life's terrors, he remains sanguine and unfazed. Although occasionally a tidge in his cups.

Oh to be in control
to be sober in decision-
making, to be careful
enough to avoid mistakes.

Oh to be sober in word
and deed, to make the right
decisions, to avoid being
tongue-tied, avoiding insults.

Oh to be careful enough
to enjoy freedom, that
incomprehensible state
where the escape hatch is open.

Oh to be conscious of an
eye-lid half closed, blinking
in the light, being careful
enough not to fall down stairs.

Oh to be confident enough to
make sober decisions, with
no need to make it right,
proceeding slowly though the night.

Check the column on the right to link to David's anthology Middle Kingdom on  Buzzword. (More free poems to peruse. And, of course, it costs peanuts to buy the eBook of a poor troubadour. Just $3.95. Buddy, can you spare a dime?) 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

eBooks - cutting the crud

Our commissioning editor, D. S. Mills, offers an opinion on the r-e-volution in  publishing.
Publishers will be the last people to correctly forecast the future of books. As they hurry down their corridors of fear, or exit their impressive foyers where past failures glimmer from the shelves, their minds are occupied with professional survival.
But for those who have long been their fodder, the perennially embattled authors, the shadow of coming events is visible already.

Whatever happened to the village booksmith?
Well, we know what happened to the village blacksmith.
Fabrication, mass production and world-wide distribution. 
Now consider the plight of the village booksmith - for example, the old-style Australian publisher. A substantial book is commissioned - perhaps something to do with local history or an  artistic or academic study relating to a national issue. Because the writing and research must be comprehensive, it could be years before the final draft is ready. Then comes editing, proof-reading, legal vetting, production, marketing, distribution... all requiring effort, money,  time and care. 
Eventually, six or seven years since inception and after considerable expense, the book is launched. 
By then, the issue that was the reason for the project could have cooled or become irrelevant. And the expensive result - priced at, say,  $39.95, is bought by one hundred and fifty libraries and - with luck - five thousand readers, although the marketing department had hoped for twice those sales. The worthy addition to the publisher's 'list' becomes another flop d'estime that barely covers cost.

Whatever happened to the journeyman writer?
Everyone from Balzac to John Grisham have been forced to finance themselves - to flog their books to an unwilling public any way they could. The obtuseness and obstructionism of publishers has plagued writers over centuries. 
Publishers, naturally, oppose this view and see themselves as protecting the reader from trash. There is truth in this. But the perception of publishers as paragons of insight is still in question as the few genuine successes that each firm, to its vast surprise, achieves finance the vast crop of duds they frantically overproduce each year.
As for aspirant writers, most lack talent. Writing, unfortunately, is the most accessible art and cheapest to produce. Anyone can pick up a pen or spread inanities over Facebook.  Writing is also seen, by dreamers, as the way to fortune and fame. 
Nothing could be further from the truth but still this myth persists because that most irrational of sentiments - human hope - is  one of our few defences against hard facts.
Today, the most untalented hopefuls can place their drivel directly online.  Their 5,000 word attempt at pornography, reduced by their banality to hamfisted smut is classified as a 'book' and, thanks to Photoshop, adorned by a half-convincing cover featuring much flesh and lurid text. These 'writers', blinded by dollar signs, pump out as many of such half-baked efforts as they can, hoping that quantity will aid sales.

Whatever happened to the old-time reader?
Is grandma really reading her true romance and cosy murders on a tablet?  Some are. Many modern grandmas have embraced the new technology. 
Or is grandma still browsing the bookshops?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Inside darkest Burma (and China). Our travel writers never stop.

Pam Scott and David Farnsworth are at it again. Pam's in deepest South America and David is back emailing from the Yin Xiang Hotel, Weifang China. We hate travel so can't understand it. But there's no holding back their tide. Meanwhile, Burma is apparently opening up. Interesting, because Pam's book Travelling With Mr. Shwe gives one of the best insights into that still mostly forbidden world that you are ever likely to read.

Pam has spent much of her life working in countries of the Far East and five of her books are already on the Buzzword list. And now, when the secretive Generals have apparently relaxed their strictures on Burma - an initiative the rest of the world very cautiously welcomes - it's important to know that country from the inside. And her photo-packed book  Travelling With Mr. Shwe  is an insider's account of the place, its people and its problems. It takes you beyond the pagodas and Buddha statues to show life in Myanmar today. 

Pam describes her journey:

  'The recent election and the subsequent freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi has raised international awareness of the politics of Myanmar (Burma). But, beyond these headlines, not so much is known about the people and the culture. Travelling With Mr. Shwe is not a political story, although it is impossible to avoid some political/ human rights issues. It is a human interest story and a travel tale which I hope will give readers some knowledge about the country and its people and, maybe, cause them to care about its future.

Burma exposed.

'Mr Shwe tells of my first meeting with Mr. Shwe in 1998 and visits to Yangon, Mandalay, Lake Inle, Pyin U Lwin, Bagan, Mt Popa.
   'In 2010, Mr. Shwe took me further afield to Rakhine State and the ancient city of Mrauk U, to the Chin State to meet the women with tattooed faces, and to the amazing new capital city of Naypyitaw, built recently by the ruling Generals. We returned to Mandalay to meet once again the irrepressible Moustache Brothers, before continuing north for twelve hours by train to stay in Kathar, the town which was George Orwell's last posting of his five years (1922-27) in the police force in Burma and the setting for his novel 'Burmese Days'.
   'Finally we headed south to Moulmein, the old British colonial capital for twenty-six years, once said to be the prettiest city in the country and on to the intriguing Ogre Island.' 
Buzzword comment: 'This book is essential reading for anyone planning a visit to Myanmar or for the armchair traveller who wants to know more about this fascinating, contradictory country. 160pp. 200 coloured photos.'

As for Farnsworth... 

David loves China, has taught there and keeps going back.  You'll find many of his Chinese travel poems in his anthology, Middle Kingdom, on Buzzword. Here are a couple of scenes from his current trip:

And, as he travels always with a pencil, the poems come in regularly, wherever he may be.

Here's the latest:

 Of Mice and a Woman

A million mice can’t be wrong  This woman is a beast. Who else sets traps  with Stilton cheese? The smell pervaded the neighbourhood. Mice came from everywhere!

The killing field was her cupboard. Well, it was dark and warm An ideal breeding ground for mice and with quick access to the kitchen. We were so lucky!

Like most elderly females she had
a cat. This animal is overfed and
lazy, but don’t tell the owner.
While she is asleep it plays with us.

Things took a nasty turn in Bundoora
when the traps were set. We lost three
of our bravest. A wheelie-bin is not
a good resting place.

We have tried peace moves, moving
in force , waving white flags, but her
eyesight is too weak to see them.
We fear the worst is about to befall us!

He adds a few snippets about his experiences:

Sorry about my tardiness.  Too many banquets. you know the sort of thing, raw jelly fish, yams, donkey, roast pigeons sea cucumbers... boring!.

The bank next delivered/received some cash with about 6 armed guards with sawn off shot guns. At the end they leaped into a van with sliding door in a hurry like some Hollywood movie... although in the movies it's the gangsters.

Tonight I am going to the cinema in Weifang for the first time in 8 years? It's "Titanic" in 3D.
Not many Western films are released here. My friend assures me that this will be expensive. I reassure her that I have just received my pay from the Government!

Pam's travel books are available on Buzzword for just $5.95

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Film throwbacks - silence is golden

D. S. Mills comments on two exceptional silent films - The Artist and The Illusionist.

There has been great acclaim for The Artist - that meticulously constructed souffle based on the end of the silent film era. It features bravura performances by Jean Dulardin and his delightful co-star - performances almost eclipsed by John Goodman's cameo of the indulgent movie mogul - a portrayal that persists like a blessing long after the end titles roll.

Not so top-of-mind is a far greater contemporary 'silent' film - again with a French connection - the exquisitely drawn and executed The Illusionist directed by Sylvain Chomet and based on a script by the inimitable Jacques Tati. 

The contrast between these two is clear. The first is exceptional, the second superb.

There are many excellent and accomplished films but superb examples are few. Some early ones come to mind.  City LightsWild Strawberries

Although brilliant films - for example, Day for Night or Das Boot - carry their own lustre, they are outshone by a pellucid gem such as Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. And, more recently, the truly evocative, As It Is In Heaven. And that most adult of films, The Lives of Others. It is among these superlative films that The Illusionist should be placed.

The Illusionist, oddly,  is a cartoon. No CGI shadows here. The thing has been drawn. And magnificently so.  And it recreates the late Jacques Tati with masterful splendour and nuance. 

A French magician travels to the wildest part of Scotland to entertain the yokels in the local pub. Around this simple plot is woven heart stopping beauty.

Like all great examples of the art, the film is impossible to describe. Superlatives are mere labels.  It has to be seen to be believed.

I saw it at the end of its run in the Wurlitzer infested main theatre of the Cremorne Orpheum. There were a sprinkling of other witnesses. All sat dumbstruck at the end.

Tati never lived to star in this production but this brilliant graphic recreation extends him beyond the grave.  Do all you can to see this film. It is available on DVD but make sure it is in a scanning format your player supports, as some copies are NTSC.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

THE WORLD (and The Smiths) IN 1959

Ben Smith - author or NO TIME FOR THE SMITHS sets the scene for his remarkable memoir of the first year of his marriage. This extract - the start of a talk on the book - describes how the world was then.

Well, it's not often that a book you wrote fifty years ago gets up but this one did.

Fifty-four years ago, I was a gormless young 21-year old who'd just married a divorced woman nine years older than I was.  We had no money, so all we could afford to rent was a shack in the backblocks of Avalon - 26 miles from where we worked in Sydney. And, as she freely admitted, I was being cradle-snatched. Because, after one bad marriage, she was desperate to settle down and breed.

And we were destitute. She couldn't even afford bed sheets. And all I owned was a rickety car the same age as I was - a side valve Morris Minor that broke down or burst into flames the moment you went near it.

Rina worked in town and I worked as a studiohand or scene-shifter at Channel 2, Gore Hill. Both jobs were a long way from Avalon when you had an unpredictable car.

In other words, the whole set-up was so impractical, it left us with no time to scratch ourselves. Hence - NO TIME FOR THE SMITHS - the account of an impossible first year of marriage.

Remember, things were very different fifty years ago. So just to jog the mind - let's set the scene a little:


It was before the Vietnam war and the Berlin Wall. DNA and the laser still hadn't been discovered but a Soviet rocket had just crashed into the moon.

The Dali Lama was fleeing Tibet. Castro had taken over Cuba. Kennedy was not yet president. And there was terror about the prospect of a future nuclear war.

The new inventions were the hovercraft, the synthesiser and stereo recording. And computers were still only to be found in university science departments. 

A Catholic synod decreed that women wearing men's clothes or with uncovered arms were unworthy of the sacrament. And the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted adultery made a criminal offence.

The first kidney transplant had just been done and the BMA had finally decided that smoking caused lung cancer.

Grace Kelly had became a princess. Princess Margaret was marrying a commoner. Elvis was drafted and Buddy Holly, Bogart and James Dean died.

The films were High Society, The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. The musical was My Fair Lady. Harold Pinter had just written The Caretaker and Jaques Tati was starring in Mon Oncle.

Martin Luther King was stabbed and Alec Guinness knighted.  Donald Campbell set a world speed record and the first Mini Minor appeared.

Cassius Clay had begun his career, but, in Lousiana, mixed race boxing matches were banned. And in Alabama, a children's book was withdrawn because it showed a black rabbit marrying a white one.

So that was the international scene. 
But how was it fifty years ago in Australia?


Well, our population was ten million - including one million post-war migrants.

There were just two million cars in the country. And a Holden Station Wagon cost 995 pounds.

A Victor mower would set you back 49 guineas or seven shillings a week. This at a time when the average home - cost around 6 thousand pounds.

A Four-and-Twenty pie cost one shilling and a public phone call four pennies.

Banks had a new product called saving accounts. Medicines were no longer free. Prescriptions now cost five shillings. The contraceptive pill had been invented but was not yet available.

Sydney's biggest building had just gone up - the fifteen story MLC office in North Sydney. And a foreigner called Utzon had just won a design competition for an Opera House.

In Victoria, Menzies, in his fifth term, had just opened the Myer Music Bowl. And Bolte had opened the Eildon Dam - then the biggest water storage in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lake Eucumbene, the Warragamba Dam and the Snowy Mountains Scheme were still being completed.

Reg Ansett had bought ANA. The first Qantas jet had arrived - a Boeing 707. They were talking about building a new Melbourne airport to be called Tullamarine.

Coastal steamers still plied between our major cities, and the Oriana, then a huge vessel of 42,000 tons, was the biggest passenger ship to ever visit this country.

We had compulsory National Service and Aborigines had no vote.
The ALP had just agreed to maintain the White Australia Policy.

Off-course betting was illegal.
Criminals could still be sentenced to a lashing.