Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Friday, October 29, 2004


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I'm not sure if I believe this story, but I certainly believe it *could* happen - heck, Monica Lewinsky went through something similar, and that was before the Patriot Act. Surely a week before the Presidential election, it's surely an indication of what we *might* be facing in the next four years.

"Dilyn" is a published author who writes romance novels about "mainstream women's fiction adventure." During her research on land mines in Cambodia, she tells "Jungle Beat" columnist Stephanie Bond, (reprinted at http://necessarydissent.blogspot.com/ ), she used the Internet to surf the Web, buy titles online, and search for books from a computer in the library. She also borrowed books from the library, sometimes checking them out for months at a time.

The big surprise to Dilyn in this research, she says, was the discovery that "one of the Al Qaeda-linked groups" had become involved in "the atrocities that still go on there [Cambodia] even today."

Dilyn says that the library she used was "huge and highly impersonal" and that she did not share her reasons for checking out the books with librarians there. Soon, however, she "thought I was being stalked" and noticed that "mail was missing from my box. I caught someone searching my trash, I saw a prowler in my yard and actually called the police." Neighbors also spotted and reported suspicious activity, she says.

Then, suddenly, "six male agents" from several agencies ("Postal Inspectors, the FBI, and three officers who would only identify themselves as Federal Police") launched an all-out, pre-dawn, three-hour raid at her home.

"They banged at my front door first, damaged it coming in, displayed weapons and threatened to kill my dogs," Dilyn recalls. Yelling at her all the while, they confiscated Dilyn's "computers, photocopier, files, books, discs, computer programs, CDs of the music by which I write, contracts...pictures off my walls, my office television, pens, a case of paper, postage stamps."

The agents had a search warrant of sorts that Dilyn says "was specific to items pertaining to my writing and research. Plus the agents were absolutely looking for certain books by title ... So I know without a doubt that those aspects of our [writers'] research habits are being monitored." Her activity on the Internet, she believes, had been recorded and "had a large part in this, too."

After months passed, the agents finally returned her computers ("bugged") and discs ("all ruined") but kept everything else. Dilyn hired "a criminal defense attorney who specializes in federal warrants and issues of search and seizure," and says that for several months, "I was a basket case." She reacted fearfully at every knock at her door, jumped when the dogs barked, worried obsessively.

But finally "I realized that I did nothing wrong. I don't want to make this a debate over The Patriot Act, but its broad scope violated my rights. I have the right to do research as I see fit as long as it's legal and to buy or check out the books I want."

Dilyn believes she's still being watched and monitored and figures, What the heck. "Let them monitor me," she says. "Quite simply, I'm not changing." Bravo, whoever you are, Dilyn, even if you don't exist.

The reason I think this is important is that it's so FAMILIAR. It's HISTORIC. Remember that drug bust back in 2000 - again, *before* the Patriot Act - when DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) operatives demanded that the Tattered Cover in Denver provide records of book purchases? (See #147).

As the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation for free expression at http://www.freedomforum.org/, put it: "What really would [government agents] gain even if they were able to categorically pin the purchase of two books ... on their prime suspect?

"Perhaps [the customer] bought them for someone else. Perhaps he bought them by mistake. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."

The same question was asked of government agents who that same year broke into the apartment of gay investigative reporter Bruce Mirken and confiscated his computer and records about a story he was researching on runaway gay teens (see the same column #147).

And if this was Every Writer's Nightmare *before* the Patriot Act, consider how many government break-ins and confiscated computers and yelling and threatening is going on NOW, when librarians, booksellers and writers like "Dilyn" fall under a legal gag order to say nothing about it.

Can we as writers do anything to protect ourselves? Dilyn has the following ideas for ways that anyone doing any kind of research can "fly low on the [government's] radar":

1. "Don't buy your books online," she says. Buy them from bookstores and - she doesn't say this specifically, but it's another lesson from the Monica Lewinsky fiasco - always pay cash.

2. Consider what kind of trail you're leaving when you do Internet research. Not only are "suspect" websites being monitored, Dilyn believes there are "definitely Web sites set up for the sole purpose of entrapment." (Those rats.)

3. To stay anonymous while surfing the Internet, "use a public library computer, or try a university library." Dilyn does not mention this, but watch out if you must use your library card to register electronically for a time slot on the next available computer. Seek out savvy libraries that use handwritten sign-up sheets only and shred the list every hour or so.

4. Remember, Dilyn advises, that "your library check-out habits are monitored. Not every title, mind you, but the FBI, and now Homeland Security, does watch some 'flagged' books. Perhaps instead of checking out a book you think could be a flagged book, read it at the library. Make notes or photocopies of the information you need to keep."



I guess there's little point in asking *why* the traditional press no longer cares about that suspicious bulge that appears in photos of George Bush's back during his debates with John Kerry. The fact is that readers' questions have not been answered.

If you haven't heard about this, the "bulge" is an iPod-shaped protuberance under Bush's suit jacket that can be seen in photographs from the first debate: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/10/08/bulge/index.html and the 10/13 debate: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/10/13/bulgefoto/index.html

Speculation is still flying all around the Internet that the bulge was an "induction receiver" device sending prompts about how to answer questions to an earpiece hidden deep inside Bush's ear during the debate. It would explain why, in the first debate, Bush was yelling, "Let me finish! Let me finish!" when neither Kerry or moderator Jim Lehrer were saying anything. Was Bush talking back to a blustering Karl Rove? (If so, it would be the first time in his career, but that's another story.)

Anyway, the traditional press seems to have accepted the Bush camp's story that the bulge was nothing more than a tailor's "pooch" or "pucker" along a back seam. But this response provoked snorts of derision among sources like my friend Carolyn, who has given me permission to quote her comment: "My grandfather was a tailor, and he would never have allowed a 'pooch' in any suit jacket, even for the President of the United States!"

Why does the matter fall into my domain, i.e., book industry criticism? It's that books are generated by the news, and if a new kind of censorship silences news among mainstream media because corporate owners don't want to offend the Bush administration (and believe me, that's the basis for a lot of silence in them parts), we're lucky that maverick voices have flown up on the Internet, and people like me should try to sort them out.

You can never tell about the credibility of bloggers. Even rumor-monger Matt Drudge, a fan of Bush (so you know he's an idiot) has refused to link the Bush-Bulge story, and, as Salon.com reported, has instead tried to divert attention by "push[ing] a strange, competing story about Sen. Kerry allegedly removing an object from his pocket during the debate - an object that later turned out to be a pen."

I must say that Salon.com has become one of the more reliable voices anywhere for authenticating bloggers' claims, and for reporting the "real" news. Both aggressive and irreverent as a news source, Salon not only picked up the Bush's Bulge story first, it has continued to contact authorities on high-tech "induction receivers" like the thingy under Bush's suit to find out: Is the bulge Karl Rove in a box? Is it "a back brace? Body armor? Confirmation that Bush is an alien?"

Salon, you can tell, would love to capture Bush in the fib of his career, but its editors have editorial standards, of all things. The experts Salon has contacted say the bulge is probably not what it looks like. They explain that if Bush had been wearing receiver/sender of that size, he wouldn't have hidden it on his back for all to see. He would have placed it under his arm or in his pocket or some other place that wouldn't be detected.

Nevertheless, Salon earns its subscription fee by retaining a playful stance while drawing a serious conclusion: "But let's adjust our tinfoil hats and plunge deeper," advises the website. "Location is not the only reason to doubt the Bush-was-wired story. Indeed, the best reason to be skeptical of the theory is Bush's performance -- abysmal.

"If Bush was being prompted, why was he so bad? Why the long, awkward pauses with nothing to say? Why did he characterize Iraqi insurgents as fighting vociferously? Why did he repeat himself so much -- working hard, hard work, working hard? Who was coaching him, Porky Pig?"

I could make yet another joke about Karl Rove right here but will close with the hope that if you haven't read "Bush's Brain," a documentary based on the book is now rentable in DVD and gosh: From his nasty pranks to vicious whisper campaigns and alleged lying thieving pillaging tendencies, Rove isn't worthy of polishing Porky P.'s hooves. And that's all, folks.



Dear Holt Uncensored,

About Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series of books (see #390) and the 60 million copies they've sold:

Something in the water here, I guess. I have a whole rack of the LaHaye books, and even a half rack of the kids' versions. All these years, and we never sold any, beyond the ones bought by the customer who asked me to carry them. Led astray by the New York Times bestseller list. But my staff tells me the books make us look broad-minded. Gulp. Guess we ought to look at them and send them back. I'll tolerate some schlock (at 5.99 and 6.99 only), but no need promoting stupidity or hatred.

Isn't hatred often just emotionally charged ignorance with a bad but self-confident sense of direction?

Rick Rayfield
Tempest Book Shop
Waitsfield, Vermont

Dear Holt Uncensored:

You wrote: "If I were Irwyn Applebaum [of Bantam] et al, I couldn't do it. Christian Right authors of Tim LaHaye's stripe hate Jews, hate women, hate Catholics, hate gays, hate independent thought ... and if you're one of the hated number, and you *still* want to make money off that hatred by publishing books that help *spread* the hatred - well, it's painful to fathom."

Amen, sister Holt! ... Fundamentalists say they interpret the Bible literally, but they actually interpret it selectively, and by no means do they follow all the teachings of Leviticus or of St. Paul. Like LaHaye, they twist and turn the statements in the Bible to their own use. They are actually more Old Testament followers than followers of Jesus. The Devil is a liar, and the fundamentalists are his mouthpiece, apparently with the help of Irwyn Applebaum, et al.

As a psychotherapist in private practice, I understand the role that fear and post-traumatic stress disorder play in people's susceptibility to these twisted teachings. This rah-rah kind of religion is very childlike - it's OK for children, and adults may begin there, but they really need to grow into a more thoughtful response.

It's quite disrespectful, I believe, to treat Jesus like just another superstar, basketball player, movie personality. His life and sacrifice, as well as his words, call us to a faith involving introspection, prayer and bettering ourselves. Spreading the Gospel is not just about "rah, rah, Jesus, join the group." It's more about living the Gospel that is, demonstrating just by who you are that you've been able to affect great changes in your life. Then, only when asked, letting others who are sincerely interested know how you did it. There's no stronger advertising than sincere and obvious change.

Tina B. Tessina

Dear Holt Uncensored,

After reading your comments on Tim and Beverly LeHaye - interesting and useful, as I am developing a "positive, uplifting apocalyptic novel in which no one gets left behind" -I just had to share with you a t-shirt I found a number of years ago, and which I never had just the right place to wear it to:

A picture of a grinning whale with an earring in one "ear" is captioned by: nuke a gay whale for Christ. I wonder if LeHaye would have seen the irony/humor in this?

Laurel Reinhardt
Author, "Seasons of Magic," "Healing without Fear"

Dear Holt Uncensored,

About your analysis of New York mainstream publishers awarding huge advances to ultra fanatic evangelical Tim LaHaye: It makes you kind of wonder whether the big publishers (1) think they can buy off and tone down the fanatics, (2) plan to become fanatics themselves, or (3) just don't give a s-- because there's some money to be made.

A Reader

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Regarding your comments about Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series and mainstream publishers paying large advances for more LaHaye born-again/apocalyptic fiction, I feel strongly that what's happening in mainstream publishing is absolutely appalling. The fact that Bantam's Irwyn Applebaum is himself Jewish doesn't in any way make LaHaye clean; every threatened group in history has always had a few people who think it's best to make peace with the devil.

LaHaye's books are really operating like the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" (the most notorious and most successful work of modern antiSemitism, alleging to be a "found text," which details that the Jews used the blood of Christian children for the Feast of Passover, poisoned the wells and spread the plague, all plotted through secret rabbinical conferences whose aim was to subjugate and exterminate the Christians.

LaHaye does not operate in a free-speech environment. When I announced that Soft Skull was re-publishing "Arming America" (whether or not a few pages are flawed, the underlying thesis of the book was never discredited, except in the popular imagination...we were not going to let that happen) early last year, I referred to the "Left Behind" series and the "Protocols" and "Mein Kampf" in the same phrase. It was somewhat off the cuff, but it was also something I believe: all three books express a vision of the world in which the Jews will be annihilated. I got lots of hate mail. I realized something important was going on: the "Left Behind" series is not just John Grisham on evangelical speed...it is a series of bigoted, racist, antiSemitic tracts masquerading as mass-market thrillers.

Obviously more work needs to be done to show the unseen octopus of political connections and social intentions behind "fiction" series like "Left Behind," (and Soft Skull has its eye out) but in the interim, do encourage your local bookseller to think twice about shelving it in Fiction, or Religion. I would never suggest censoring it, but call a spade a spade, and put it where you put "Mein Kampf" or Aryan Nation magazines.

Richard Eoin Nash
Soft Skull Press

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Regarding the article on Tim Lahaye....AAAARRRGGGGHHHHHH! Canada, anyone?

Elizabeth DuFrane

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Please cancel our subscription. Your disrespectful commentary misses the point about evangelical Christians and the purpose of book publishing.

Name Withheld

Holt responds: I very much appreciate it when subscribers tell me why they're cancelling. The dozen or so who've unsubscribed because of the LaHaye column remind me that I did indeed miss an important point about the political significance of the "Left Behind" series.

Here it is: George Bush has been told he shouldn't appeal directly to born-again Christian fundamentalists, or he'll look too much like a member of the ultra conservative Christian Right. Of course he refers to scripture in his speeches and doesn't mind bringing church and state together as often as possible. And there are the obvious code words: Instead of "the rebuilding of New York" after 9/11, for example, he refers to "the *resurrection* of New York." And so forth.

But Bush also "employs double-coded signals," as Bruce Lincoln of the Boston Globe has observed (see http://news.phaseiii.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3318 ) by weaving passages from the bible into his speeches and writings in a way that only Christian fundamentalists may notice. The practice is encouraged by Christian Right boosters who have given it a semiofficial motto - "Signal early and signal often." Through this, Bush "communicates with his base," Lincoln observes, with "the linguistic equivalent of winks and nudges."

All this to say that when looking for Bush's code words to the Christian Right, I think I've found a big one!

Let's go back to the message of the "Left Behind" series: During the Rapture (or ascendancy to Heaven), only born-again, true Christians are chosen - they leave the Earth, their clothes neatly folded and stacked behind them, and physically rise to the kingdom of God. Babies and children get to go because they have not yet been corrupted by the devil. They, too - all of them - disappear in the Rapture. None of them are "left behind."

Ta da. I don't think I'm being paranoid when I say that Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policy in education is one of these coded reminders to Christian fundamentalists out there that George Bush is indeed One of Them. Otherwise, why wouldn't somebody like Karl Rove or John Ashcroft or Tom DeLay have recognized the unbelievable duplication of word usage and warned Bush away from sounding like a Christian Right nut? And I blame those ditzo Democrats for not pointing out that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is both a political disaster, and a phony ploy, It is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink coded message to the Right to keep on voting for Bush, because he is your man in the White House.

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Thought I'd get in my two cents on the subject of Print on Demand (POD) books. I've been involved in books and writing for 20 years - writing, teaching writing, editing writing, selling writing. I've been published by McGraw Hill and by iUniverse, a POD publisher. I must say that iUniverse did much more for me than McGraw Hill did. They provided camera-ready artwork for signs, bookmarks, etc. a sample press release I could write to suit my needs, not to mention a nice book that doesn't fall apart when opened.

I have seen POD publishers offering expensive marketing materials and I wonder why an author would pay to have someone write a press release. Then I recall my experiences with authors, most of whom don't know where to begin to market their books. They come into my store with their new book tucked under their sweaty armpit and hope a smile and a flash of the cover will get them on the shelves. Lord knows how they approach bookstores out of town. They may have brochures but they are often copies of copies of copies, slightly (or more) askew on the page and often have no contact information other than "buy from Amazon." We sometimes forget that not everyone has the marketing skills that it takes to move a book. I wouldn't pay those ridiculous prices for marketing tips and a list of newspapers in my state, but it's often the only kick in the pants that authors have to sell their books.

As for BookLocker: I did not have a pleasant experience with them. Following their submission guidelines, I e-mailed a query and attached a chapter or whatever it was they wanted. I received a very curt reply from Angela: "Who are you? We don't open attachments from people we don't know." That's verbatim. I replied I was an author looking to get my book published. Never heard another word. As for iUniverse, I can't say enough about how well they have treated me and my work. Quick turnaround, immediate replies to questions, etc. They are 49% owned by B&N and have a program to help promote their best-selling authors and get them into B&N. At least two other POD publishers are not taking returns and one is offering standard discounts - both great moves to get POD books into booksellers hands. POD has served a purpose for me - getting my book off the desk and into readers' hands. I'm now working on translating strong sales into a sale to a traditional publisher. Happens all the time.

Mary Young

Dear Pat,

You asked for alternatives to the iUniverses of the world. I present for your consideration Zumaya Publications.

Four years ago two authors who had been taken not just to the cleaners by "publishers" and "agents" but all but gutted by them took on the task of starting their own company. Two years ago, they went looking for editors and found me. Last year, I became partner #3. I was, until then, a writer and an editor. Definitely a steep learning curve in more ways than one. More on that in a minute.

I've been involved in the ebook industry since '98, almost as long as M.J. When I joined Zumaya, although they wanted to be a print company, they were trying to operate like an ebook company. Took me about six months to see why that wasn't going to work. I also discovered what a mess the present publishing business model is, using antiquated distribution methods that effectively prevent the reading public from discovering new voices unless they're willing to fight for it.

At Zumaya, we use POD. There are two main reasons. One is ecological. When I was a welfare mom, I used to sneak down to the local drugstore once a month and paw through the boxes of remaindered paperbacks for reading matter. I saw the reality of the waste--and will avoid it as much as is humanly possible. The other is that not having to pay for print runs allows us to publish more titles in a given year, which means more talented writers get a chance to be discovered.

Other than the printing method, we operate just like any other publisher. All submissions are rigorously screened--and I know both what I like and what has a likely audience. They are just as rigorously edited, and copyedited, and proofread before they go to press. In the last year we have rethought both our cover art design and our marketing.

We still lack funds to support book tours, preferring to spend that money getting our name out where the readers gather. We assist promoting authors in whatever way is reasonable. This involves taking the best of the traditional and combining it with new ideas the use modern resources like the 'Net. And avoiding Ingram.

Our schedule is essentially filled through 2007. And people are willing to wait that long. Why? Because we're author friendly--maybe too much so. We contract ONLY for those rights we use: trade paper and electronic (which includes audio). Are we shooting ourselves in the foot not insisting on getting at least a share of film rights or whatever? Maybe. Maybe not. If you believe as I do that you never lose by giving away, the answer is "not."

Our contract term is two years with automatic rollover--a copy is on our website. Most do. There's something to be said for working with a publisher who understands what writers think and feel, and whose goal isn't just to make money but to open doors and allow hungry readers to dine on something that isn't the trend of the month or what sold big last year.

Only down side is that I have to steal time to write my own stuff, but the fun of watching readers discover our books is reasonable compensation. :-)

Elizabeth K. Burton, Executive Editor
Zumaya Publications, Austin TX

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.

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