Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored

 

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  #343
by Pat Holt

Thursday, September 19, 2002

 







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YOU LEARN THE DANGDEST THINGS AT WRITERS' CONFERENCES
OKAY, AT FIRST I WAS HORRIFIED
BEGRUDGINGLY INSPIRED
EDITORS SEEK A MORE GLOBAL APPROACH
HOLT'S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: "MANUSCRIPT EXPRESS"
THE DOUBLE WHAMMY: ENTER BOOK PROMOTER PETER HANDEL
MARKETING: IS THE PENDULUM SWINGING BACK?
LETTERS

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YOU LEARN THE DANGDEST THINGS AT WRITERS' CONFERENCES

It always thrills me to attend a writers' conference, because here you learn the real tricks of the trade. You see not just eagerness to get published but ahunger to write well; and you hear stories behind the stories that are too delicious not to tell others.

For example, at a panel during the Maui Writers Conference early this month, John Saul, who's written close to 30 bestsellers, told the audience that before his career as a horror/thriller writer, he made his living as an author ofpornographic novels.

Writing pornography taught him how to structure novels through a unique discipline, he said, because every five pages he had to fit the story to a new sexual event.

"But I got tired of it. I thought, 'If I have to think of one more way to get people into bed, I'm going to kill myself. A year later I made the break and was writing my first real novel, and before I knew it, every character was jumping into bed with every other character. It was my training coming back."

One thinks of Saul as an overnight success, but he admitted that his first book got 27 rejections "because it was a comedy murder mystery. My agent told me to treat death with a little respect, so in my next book I started killing small children, and it all worked out."

This kind of pragmatic humor distinguishes the Maui Writers Conference fromothers because the two-week programranges from the very literary to the very commercial. About a thousand people usually attend MWC - 750 authors and screenwriters, hundreds of agents and editors, dozens of presenters. The main stage is bracketed by giant screens that enlarge speakers' faces enough for people in the back,who have paid just as much as the people in the front, to see every little nuance.

The effect is to give MWC's main events the appearance of a rock concert or motivational seminar. One expected presenters to hop up on the stage and say, "Okay people, let's self-actualize!" and occasionally the temper of the proceedings was exactly that.

OKAY, AT FIRST I WAS HORRIFIED

"Don't forget our first seminar, 'The Perfect Pitch,' "emcee Sam Horn announced. "We'll start with your 'tell-and-sell paragraph' and go on from there."

Thus began a part of the conference that so horrified me I started shouting from the audience - usefully and constructively, I thought, though somebody (co-keynote speaker Terry Ryan) seemed to make shushing noises. More about that in a minute.

The purpose of "The Perfect Pitch" was to brace all 750 hopeful writers for a shocking message: Unless you can reduce your book to 25 words or less, unless you can impress an agent or editors in less than 20 seconds with your pitch, the chances of finding a publisher for your book are low.

Hollywood agent Andy Cohen set the scene: For those screenwriters out there, he said, "Hollywood is famous for wanting something original, as long as it's like everything else we've done." Nervous laughter followed as Andy explained how to write a "logline" - a one-sentence or two-sentence synopsis "like you see in TV Guide."

Setting the "tone" of a screenplay turned out to be the same thing as establishing "relatability," an old termagents used in the movie business 20 years ago. It means showing how a movie idea can ride on the coattails of previous successes by mixing proven story lines. "This is 'Indiana Jones' meets 'The Flying Nun,' " or "This is a cross between 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' and 'Children of Paradise.' "

New York literary agent Laurie Liss explained that establishing tone is not limited to Hollywood screenplays. Book ideas can be pitched with relatability in mind as well, she said. A good example might be " 'A Separate Peace' meets 'The Bridges of Madison County.' "

(I have to say the book critic in me was lurching around along with my breakfast at this point. "A Separate Peace" is a beautifully written novel that has proven itself and been taught in schools for decades, while "Bridges" is a far lesser work that happened to strike a nerve at a certain time. To equate the two in a "pitch session" seemed disrespectful and exploitive, but perhaps that only meant I had a lot to learn.)

When you create your pitch, establish the genre of your story first - is it science fiction, mystery, thriller, fantasy, and so forth. Then "extract the most interesting fact from your book and show how you want it to be perceived."

Three volunteers were asked to come up from the audience to pitch their books to Laurie so that we could see how the process of pitch-making works. The first two authors "talked" their book - a no-no at this stage - going far beyond the 20-second limit and bogging down in what used to be called "the telling detail."

Laurie said that she hadn't heard a word of what these authors were trying to say. "Remember," emcee/author Sam Horn advised, referring to editors and agents who will hear your pitch, "if they can't repeat it, they don't get it." The agents nodded. "The level of intrigue is proportionate to the length of a pitch. The more you as the author talk, the less they're intrigued."

Holy cow, I thought. I've heard that some agents and editors don't want to see more than a few chapters when they receive a submission, because, it's said, they can sell a book better when they imagine how it turns out.

I've heard, too, that some agents and editors read the author's marketing plan before they read a word of the manuscript.

And I know that authors can help publishers immensely by cutting to the core message of their book; by devising an accurate and memorable statement that pinpoints exactly what distinguishes that book from all others.

But this idea of reducing full-length books to a 20-second pitch; this notion of asking authors to chase after agents and editors asking, "what do you think of this idea? No? How about this one? How about THIS one?" was to me antitheticalto good writing. Or maybe I was resisting some deeper or more profound message that the modern writer's conference feels is its responsibility to convey?

On to the third volunteer author, whose pitch had great potential, I thought: Her book, she told Laurie, was a novel based on the story of her great-grandfather. He was born in Russia, kidnapped at age 7 by the military and raised to be a soldier. He survived, went on to marry and have children, and hisdescendants eventually migrated to the United States.

Laurie frowned. "I'm not hearing it," she said. "There's something about it I'm not getting." Sam Horn stood up. "Remember," she said (Sam is her nickname): "You need one succinct selling sentence. Think SOC: Succinct, Original and Compelling."

Laurie turned to the audience, still perplexed. "HER GREAT GRANDFATHER WAS KIDNAPPED AT AGE 7!" I shouted helpfully. "HE WAS AN ORPHAN WHEN HE WAS CONSCRIPTED IN THE RUSSIAN ARMY!" Wasn't this the SOC? Weren't we all intrigued by the image of a kidnapped boy raised by soldiers to be a a fighting machine? And how timely this story was! Orphaned boys are going through similar training in Pakistan, for god's -

"What I do hear at least is the genre," Laurie said. "It's a multi-generational family saga, so maybe you should start with that." "NO! IT'S 'A BOY'S OWN STORY' RUSSIAN STYLE!," I started to yell. "HER GRANDFATHER WAS *SEVEN* WHEN - " but then as I mentioned someone was making the most irritating shushing sound, so I stopped.

BEGRUDGINGLY INSPIRED

In the end, I had to hand it to Laurie, Sam and Andy. If this is the way agents and editors talk in their field, then authors have to know it, understand it, and turn it to their advantage. And I as a snooty book reviewer had to get over it.

Granted, when I started out in publishing, the editors worked on one side of the building and the marketing and sales people, to whom the editors rarely spoke, worked on the other side. Editors chose the books; marketing and sales people sold them.

But here was the big secret: Sales representatives who dealt with busy bookstore buyers, and publicists who dealt with ornery media, ended up characterizing each book in a pitch format anyway. I myself remember pitching James Dickey's "Deliverance" to The Today Show as "a revenge novel by a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet." (I didn't tell the author about this; the point was that we got the booking.)

Over the years as lists of new books from conglomerates got longer, the pitches got shorter. Today, one has to wonder, why should publishers hide the pitch factor from authors? Why not invite them to help everybody along the publishing line understand the one selling point that makes this book different from all others?

It makes sense, but I felt when my turn came to speak at the MWC (yes, I was invited) that it was important to say authors were going to pay a price for all this. Reducing their books down to bite-sized promotional nuggets turns authors into supplicants. It trains them to put the system first, their creative nature second.

And it cruelly overturns a principle of publishing that says (well, used to say), put the author first, right on the top of the hierarchy, because for one thing they pay all our salaries. Authors may drive us crazy, but we love 'em, too. They have that one unpredictable element that makes publishing such a glorious crap shoot. They challenge us, transport us, enlighten us. They give us reason, as Dorothy Allison likes to say (see next week), "to weep and sing."

Well, that was yesterday. Today we don't put authors first; we put them at the bottom of the heap. Over and over they get rejection letters that say your book is beautifully written but nobody will buy it.Redefine your book within a safer genre.Show how it's "in the tradition of" other books, preferably bestsellers. Your pitch should sound original, but the book itself never.

EDITORS SEEK A MORE GLOBAL APPROACH

Happily, things are changing in the book industry, as a panel at MWC revealed in discussions about book publishing a year after the tragedy of 9/11/01. John Baker of Publishers Weekly advised the audience to "look for decentralization in publishing," a trend "not toward copycat works but literary, controversial, adventurous books."

Why this might be was explained by Viking editor Carol di Santi. After 9/11, she said, many editors in mainstream houses turned back to their lists and found they "didn't have what readers wanted or needed.

"We had a list of books pumped into the system that were suddenly irrelevant," she added. "Our world view needed to be revised. The industry had omitted long-term, serious books. We needed a wiser, deeper, more global vision."

Baker had mentioned that many of the publishers whose books did meet readers' needs after 9/11 were university presses. Their scholarly approach to publishing had always been more international than the mainstream. Now that approach was becoming universal.

Di Santi agreed. "I've been very excited to publish books by writers from Pakistan and other parts of the Middle East who would not have had a chance to be published in the United States before 9/11," she said. "It seems that writing to short-term trends gets us all in trouble." Gad, what a motto for our new century.

I have to say that most of the panels and classes at the Maui Writers Conference were dedicated to the tough, hard work that goes into the creation of a good sentence, let alone an entire manuscript. Elizabeth George, Dorothy Allison, Jewelle Gomez, John Saul, Steve Martini, Richard Peck, Tad Bartimus, Tess Uriza Holthe, Bryce Courtenay and others placed good writing at the center of things when they got into the teaching side of the MWC, far removed from the world of pitches and "tell-and-sell" paragraphs.

HOLT'S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: "MANUSCRIPT EXPRESS"

I'll get to the most inspiring talk for authors I've heard in years (Dorothy Allison's) next week. But first, let me interrupt myself to announce this great new discovery and historic revelation and impressive unveiling of a new niche service that came to me at the Maui Writers Conference and seems vastly needed in today's industry.

I'm going to continue writing this column once a week (rather than twice a week) in order to launch "Manuscript Express," a quick-turnaround (within a few days) service that helps authors set their direction and priorities *aside from* the more formal reading they'll get from manuscript consultants.

The reason: It seems to me that the toughest thing facing an author today is an industry that's going to ask for one compromise after another: Change your book to suit our needs, publishers say. Don't expect us to nurture you. Find your own manuscript consultant before you submit to an agent or editor. Create a marketing plan - write the pitch we'll consider for jacket flaps and catalogs and sales reps (then be quiet). Don't expect us to advertise - learn how to promote your book in publicity interviews (many of which you'll have to set up yourself).

The key for authors facing this kind of onslaught is to learn to compartmentalize. Keep the writing of your book separate from the marketing of your book. This is tough to do because the boundaries between the two have been hopelessly blurred for decades.

Consider, for example, the basic editorial questions every writer needs to know:

  1. Am I writing to my highest standard?
  2. What are my strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
  3. Do I deliver on the promises I make in the early pages?
  4. Does the writing style work, and how can I improve it?
  5. Is this book any good?

Look how quickly the these editorial questions begin to sound like marketing concerns:

  1. Is there an audience for this book?
  2. If so, is it limited to my family or colleagues?
  3. Is it a definable, reachable audience?
  4. Can the present manuscript be "fixed" to broaden its appeal?
  5. What compromises can I make in this manuscript and maintain its literary integrity?

And now see the effect of "pitch sessions" and "tell and sell" paragraphs:

  1. How can I characterize the manuscript in the best light for an agent/editor?
  2. Is there any real difference in the 20-second pitch, the "tell and sell paragraph," the one-page author's description and copy aimed toward jackets, catalogs and press releases? Do I have to write them all? What if I'm too close to the book to do so?
  3. Would a comparison with other books ("Lolita" meets "Saving Private Ryan") be a good idea, or would it sound too commercial and sabotage the book's chances?
  4. Is this book newsworthy or remarkable in any promotable way? Is there a chance for special sales? How can I use my research as an author to contribute to the overall marketing plan?
  5. Should I hire a publicist? If so, what can I expect for $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 and so on?Will the house resist my having a publicist who's responsible not to them but to me?

Okay, there are a lot of questions, but the point is they can all be addressed in an organized, useful way while the author is in the midst of writing or near completion of the manuscript and book proposal.

So here's the way I do it at "Manuscript Express": You send your manuscript to me, and I read it until my mind is exploding with ideas. Then I either sit down and write you a long letter or I use a tape recorder and go through the manuscript with the questions above in mind. The idea is not to answer these questions completelybut to tell you if you're on the right track for what you hope to do - and what you might do for the next step, and the next and next.

The fee for the service is $500, but wait, there is a double-whammy.

THE DOUBLE WHAMMY: ENTER BOOK PROMOTER PETER HANDEL

I started out in publishing as a publicist and have an eye for what's promotable, but there is a vast area of marketing that I know nothing about.

For authors seeking advice about book publicity and marketing, I've often recommended Peter Handel, an independent book promoter who's worked with hundreds of authors and just about every publisher in the business to tailor specific, effective (and exquisite) marketing plans for each book.

Peter's best love is often the industry's toughest challenge - that midlist book nobody can get a handle on or that will take too much time and money for the house to promote well; that small press or university press title that has an audience out there but needs somebody with contacts, moxie and the experience to get it where it's going. You can check him out at http://www.plhandel.com.

So here's the double whammy at "Manuscript Express": My response to the manuscript concentrates on editorial questions with an eye to marketing possibilities - in other words, I try to get as far down that list of questions as I can.

For answers to the lower batch of questions, I like to sit down with Peter Handel and really brainstorm the heck out of every aspect of the project that will work forauthor and publisher. Then Peter writes you a long letter (or we'll do another cassette together) about the marketing plan, always with an eye to editorial integrity.

Authors can go straight to Peter Handel (plhandel@earthlink.net) if they're seeking marketing and publicity advice only - that's $500. Add that to my $500 if you want the double whammy and the total fee is $1000.

That's it. That's "Marketing Express." Information on the service will go up on the holtuncensored.com website soon, including the answer to the final author's question:

  1. What can Ido RIGHT NOW, while I'm writing, to protect myself as an author, to pull out the best writing that's in me and to begin promoting my book, even though it's not written yet?

(Believe it or not, this question is the easiest to answer and initially the most satisfying for authors.)

See next week's column about the unasked IS IT TRUE? questions that nobody wants to answer, and the wisdom of writers like Dorothy Allison, who make most of the issues I've talked about downright irrelevant.

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MARKETING: IS THE PENDULUM SWINGING BACK?

If we've seen the emphasis in publishing change from editorial to marketing, will the time ever come that the pendulum swings back?

I bring this up because marketing has ascended to obscene levels of power in many fields of modern life, and a shift in one place may portend a shift in others.

A tiny article in The Nation of 9/30 demonstrates how a constant emphasis on marketing as The Proven Concept You Can Always Rely on may be becoming outdated. The headline is "News of the Weak in Review," and here is the item in its entirety:

"White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. assured skeptics that the timing of the effort to sell the invasion of Iraq was intentional, not a response to rising doubts.

"'From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August,' said Card."

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LETTERS

Dear Holt Uncensored:

The problem with Robert Holt's suggestions [in "Stop the Sky Jackers," #342] is that there have been numerous examples of passengers who have overreacted to the presence of "mysterious powders" (which turned out to be salt) or to the presence of passengers who fit particular ethnic profiles.One recent example is the case of the Indian performer and family who were detained because a paranoid passenger perceived them to be too excited when the plane descended Into the New York area while supposedly "targeting" famous landmarks, when in fact, they were behaving as any tourists would.

I can imagine a case where after the announcement is made that passengers must stay in their seats, someone of Indian or Arab extraction stands up to use the bathroom (because they didn't hear the announcement or don't understand English) and having a full can of soda tossed at their head by another passenger.Of course, once one passenger tosses that can of soda (or set of golf balls), others will join in. Bystanders will be hit.I can't wait for all the lawsuits.

Frankly, I'd rather trust a pilot with a gun.Or at least instruct passengers to not attack before they see someone actually trying to knock down the cockpit door.

Martin Brooks

Robert Holt responds: If passengers are "detained" simply because they appear excited/animated upon approaching New York City and point out landmarks, I would agree that the airline overreacted in detaining them.

However, on a recent America West flight from Denver to Phoenix, I was greatly disappointed that the airline did not detain a passenger (a stocky blonde American male college student) upon landing. Halfway to Phoenix, a flight attendent told him, "Sir, your cell phone is interfering with the radar of the plane. Please turn it off."

His reply was: "I want to finish my call. I'm not doing any harm." The flight attendent then asked the student to surrender his cell phone. Once more, he ignored her. I raised up in my seat (the row directly in front) and loudly told the young man, "Listen to what she's telling you! Give her your phone!" A plane's radar is necessary to spot other planes on possible collision courses, and I felt the young man was endangering my life. He surrendered the phone, the flight attendent removed its battery, then returned both phone and battery to the student. Later, he was permitted to debark with the other passengers. I think he should have been arrested.

As to the throwing of items: I do not suggest that cans or golf balls be tossed at non-combative individuals. However, I can imagine instances where persons engaging in suspicious behavior are injured, either by Air Marshals or other passengers. And, yes, there may be lawsuits. Personally, I would rather risk a lawsuit than risk my life by doing nothing in what appears to be a dangerous situation.

About trusting pilots with guns: Pilots are now instructed to remain in their cockpits. Their weapons will not be used to control disruptions in passenger cabins.

Finally, as to instructing passengers not to attack before they "see someone actually trying to knock down the cockpit door": How about a passenger who exhibits a knife, gun, or other weapon? Or a passenger who attempts to ignite a shoe containing explosives such as in Robert Reid's case? Or a person who attempts to open an emergency exit door inflight? Or someone who becomes violent and injures other passengers? I do not believe a 'wait-and-see' attitude is the most prudent choice anymore. This is a hard new lesson we learned on September 11, 2001.


Dear Holt Uncensored:

I sent your article on "AFTER 9/11: AN EX-MARINE'S BOOK FOR PASSENGERS" to all my friends and family. My sister's response made me laugh so hard I cried. I thought you might like it...

Lisa Regul

"Dear Lisa,

Wow, I just flew to Vegas on 9/11 and came back on Friday the 13th. Great days to fly, huh? So I thought I'd use your advice [by way of Robert Holt's book, "Stop the Sky Jackers"] , but I had a few problems with it, as I'll share.

"As I had boarded the airplane & was standing at my row arguing with a woman to let me have the aisle seat & put her kid in the middle seat, my American flag pin came undone and jabbed me.I jerked back, which caused some golf balls to fall out of my pockets which the flight attendant immediately stepped on & fell, losing the cans of soda she was carrying.I grabbed at the sodas, knowing how valuable they were as heavy throwing objects, but my leather jacket was too tight in the shoulders to let my arms move well, and as I caught a soda I fell on top of the flight attendant (who luckily wasn't hurt because the pillow I had stuffed in my shirt broke my fall.) The soda slipped from my fingers due to the wet ink from writing on my hand just prior to arguing with the lady in my aisle, and the can exploded open under the pressure & sprayed everywhere. Hearing the loud noise & in my panic, I saw a woman sitting nearby with a pin on (it was a sparkly white poodle pin with a red & blue bow, but at the time I thought it was a flag) and I shouted to her:

'JOIN ME, THIS GUY!'
'LET'S GET EVERYONE!'

"Now the poodle-pin woman got up to help but as she had already thrown her eyeglasses, she couldn't see well & tripped over my steel-toed boots. She caught herself just in time, but then got her feet entangled in a blanket & fell on top of us.The metal padlock she was holding hit me square in the forehead, and I blacked out.

"So you see, there are a few things that could go wrong with this terrorist advice, and I just thought I'd let you know.

"Love, Michelle

"P.S. I must say, though, that I felt very empowered."


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Thanks, as usual for a lot to think about. About arming air line pilots et al: It is worth reminding that even trained firearm users rarely, and I mean extremely rarely, ever hit their intended target.

Instead, wonder of wonder, they hit us!

In one of those quasi-mystical bumps on the academic road to Damascus, a scholar I worked with in my Blackwell days, '83-'88, told me that his study of the Miami police department revealed that only one out of every 10 bullets fired hit anyone, and of those, only one out of ten "hits" was the intended target. Imagine the horror of automatic weapons.

While I was a soldier stationed in Korea (Freedom's Frontier or the Land of Morning Calm, both egregious misnomers) in 1968, we were issued M-14's, which had a single shot and semi-automatic switch. The preferred mode was single shot because then you could aim. Instruction on semi-automatic taught that you either braced yourself and your rifle against a solid object, or spread your stance, and then held your supporting hand (left, if firing right-handed) over the barrel in order to limit the arc of the kick, which even with the brace, still tended to describe a very wide 45% arc from left low left to high right. This meant that if you were firing at a person from say 30' feet away (already a long shot) chances are your bullets would strike ten feet on either side of your target.

This phenomenon was daily demonstrated by the Korean Army to whom we had generously given M-16s. I say daily because just about every morning's Star's & Stripes had a story of an accidental automatic weapon's discharge on a street corner, barracks, or bus with hideous consequences. The concurrent effect of the introduction of these small caliber, high-velocity automatic weapons is that the wounds they inflicted were, by design, catastrophic--in fact the M-16 was designed to maim, rather than kill, and to thereby "cost" the enemy far greater resources than just burying the dead.

It was this zeitgeist that led to the surreptitious re-introduction of dum-dums, or soft-nose shells designed to make shooting people in close quarters i.e. sidewalks, buses etc, less deadly to "innocent" bystanders. There was some modest "debate" on this which was "silenced" by a very brief letter to the Washington Post (I want to say very early '70s) written by a surgeon for the Secret Service who shared his experience with dum-dums. Seems that the Secret Service had been using these shells for some time, and had, as we have come to expect, shot themselves literally in the foot, accidentally, several times. The letter writer wanted to assure us that the bullets did indeed stay within target and did not hit anyone else.

Now add to this the current howl of police departments that they were being "outgunned" by bad folks buying (yes, US Govt. /Colt Industries) M-16s, Uzis etc through the mail. The New York Police then issued Glocks, which can fire semi-automatically, as long as the trigger is suppressed. And, yes, the early results, as experience might have predicted, a few of them have shot each other, themselves and a few unfortunates. (And, while we are still trolling the bathos of the 9-11 anniversary, can we please remember that Rudolph Giuliani's police killed more than 300 people in their custody during his tenure.)

If you've stayed with me through this rant, here's the punch line: Arming pilots means that you and I run a far greater risk of being shot and gravely wounded than ever before.

My personal feelings on gun control: take guns away! I'm the son of a career Army infantryman who almost shot my brother and me with a loaded 45 he kept in the headboard of his bed. But for severe arthritis and my father's inability to bring his arm down over his head, my brother and I might well have been plugged as we tried to wake him to remind him of his promise to drive us on our newspaper delivery routes if it rained. I own no guns. Best regards, and safe flying...

Christopher R. Kerr
Parson Weems, LLC


Dear Holt Uncensored:

It took me a couple paragraphs of the Robert Holt stuff to realize you weren't kidding.

Forgive me, but someone's got to point out the obvious: Why, as you put it, would terrorists "suddenly announce themselves" on an airliner? Don't you think that if someone's going to have a go at that frangible door, they might attempt a bit of stealth - make a move for the bathroom, or something? (Granted, these days standing up at all during a flight is a suspicious thing to do, but still...)

So, what are we supposed to do with that stash of Titleist Pro's in the seat pocket in front of us - hurl 'em at anyone dumb enough to stand?

My point is, I've heard a bunch of people make such comments as, "If the passengers on Flight 93 had been more alert..." Yes, it's tempting to think that if we were all better boy scouts we could avoid this kind of thing. But golf balls, Coke cans and hairbrushes?

Me, I'm going to put my faith in other things next time I fly (I haven't had occasion to since 9/11). Actually, I'm not waiting until then. As an editor at Plough Publishing, I volunteered last weekend to help pull together an e-book of quotes "for uncertain times" so that our readers would have something to arm themselves with in the days ahead. The result - pulled off in a couple intense days - is "War: A Call to Inner Life," available free in pdf format at http://www.plough.com.

Next time I see a terrorist, rest assured I'll throw whatever I can at him/her. And next time I fly, I'll borrow my wife's hairbrush to tuck into my carry-on. But I'll also bring a good book to read, something with merit (studies show that hardbacks make the best projectiles), something to take my mind off the thin thread each of our lives hangs on, always, and engage that part of me that no hijacker can ever get at. I'd welcome others of your readers to do the same. A visit to www.plough.com for that free e-book might be a start.

Chris Voll

Holt responds: Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that if the airlines don't issue guidelines to passengers, then passengers like Robert Holt are going to write books like "Stop the Sky Jackers."Tips do exist in this book that you'll be glad you read even if you throw the rest of it out. For a while, sifting through unofficial advice will be the only way passengers are going to get any information at all.


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Regarding issue #342 and the letters complaining about Amazon.com: I went to the website and tried all the things the writers complained about. Low and behold: I had no problems. The correct editions came up first, and things were clearly labeled as a book or CD rom. Sometimes it's simply incompetent customers and not the website's fault. I'm the last person to support corporate America, but I have shopped at Amazon for years, and always had good customer service and no ordering problems.

John Pearson

Holt responds: It appears that during the time I took off for vacation these publishers finally got through, and Amazon.com made the corrections. I'm still glad the letters ran, however. It's important to know that months may pass before Amazon.com serves its clients. (Next week we'll explore a more current example in a letter that's too long to print here.)


Dear Holt Uncensored

A quick check of our database reveals we have the current 3rd edition of "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book" and not the 2nd edition.

Arden R. Olson
Director, Sales for Retail and Publisher Electronic
Baker & Taylor


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Professor Bob Holley wrote to you: "My concern with Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath' is that the triumph of the people has always struck me as being limited to whites. The people who are so unjustly discriminated in the novel are the very ones who have historically fought against the extension of essential rights to the other races in America."

Speak for yourself, Professor!Historically, I am proud to say there have always been those among us rednecks, peckerwoods, hillbillies and crackers who have supported and fought for "the extension of essential rights to the other races in America"!(Does the name Woody Guthrie ring any bells?)

But of course, anti-redneck bigotry and humor are still OK among Americans who wouldn't tell an ethnic or racial joke; poor Southern whites, however, are fair game, since everybody knows we're all bigoted swine (unlike the refined intelligentsia).

Michael J. Lowrey, Editor-in-Chief
Sunrise Book & Software Reviews


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Just wanted you to know that I made my own "hard" copy of Dorothy Bryant's book "Literary Lynching" by printing it out and 3-hole punching it for a loose-leaf notebook. Now I have a copy I can loan to interested friends. It sounds like an endless process, but it wasn't really. Each week when a new chapter was posted, I set the printer going and it was done in around 10 minutes. I don't like to read long things on the computer screen and printing it allowed us to sit in a comfortable spot and read,as we would do with any other book. My husband and I try to read everything she writes. Thank you so much for publishing it.

Liz & Leonard Breger


Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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