Funeral For a Book: Why are so many authors killing their own books?

My book died last week.

The funeral was this morning; it was a sombre affair, everybody dressed in black, the chief mourners sniffling into their handkerchiefs and telling me what a crying shame it was, for something so young to be taken so soon….

Some of them blamed Amazon; they said if Amazon was kinder to indie books none of this would have happened….

Others said it was Google and the sneaky way they exclude erotic authors from their search engines….

But I knew what they were all thinking.

And they were right.

It was my fault my book was dead, I was always so damned busy, I didn’t spend enough time with it, especially during the early days, I didn’t nourish it, tend to it, I didn’t take it around to all the right places, show it to all the right people, I wasn’t proud enough, I wasn’t the parent I could have been, and now, because of me, my book was dead.

God, I wish I could take it all back.

I remember my book’s birth, the day I published it, a sunny day in late August last year, I felt on top of the world, my new-born book was brimful of energy, raring to go, buoyed up by a parent’s love, convinced it could change the world, and maybe it could have, but I never gave it the chance, when initial sales slowed down I began to lose interest, I stopped taking my book to all the swank places in town, I stopped showing it off to my friends, I stopped telling every stranger what a great little read it was, I starved it of love and attention, the two things a book needs to grow.

And then Wednesday last week I went to check on my book and there it was; cold and grey and lifeless, I don’t know when it stopped breathing, maybe some time during the night – there was no sign of discomfort, no sign of stress, it looked like it simply gave up the ghost.

I tried everything, Twitter mouth-to-mouth, Facebook adrenaline shot, I tried Amazon CPR, Christ, I was so desperate I even took out the Smashwords defibrillator, but it was no use, my book was gone.

We buried it this morning.

I was asked to say a few words on behalf of the deceased. I was going to quote “Stop the Clocks” by W. H. Auden, but somehow the words stuck in my throat. Looking down into the open casket, staring at the cover of my book, I couldn’t help thinking how peaceful it looked lying there, like a little digital angel. I hope there’s a heaven for unloved books and I hope my book is up there right now, and I hope it finds it within its heart to forgive me because I honestly don’t think I can forgive myself.

I think of all those orphaned books out there, abandoned, unloved, unwanted – they didn’t live up to their parent’s expectations, they weren’t this instant return on investment, they weren’t the next big thing on Amazon, and so there they lie, languishing on websites across the net, waiting for some kindly reader to discover them by chance, to breathe life into them, to give them a glowing five-star review, just so their parents can see they always had it in them.

But the sad truth is their parents don’t care anymore, they have new books to look after now, or perhaps they gave up on the idea of raising books altogether, maybe they’ve gone back to their day jobs, who knows, all I know is my book is dead and it was my own damned fault.

If you’re an expectant author and any day now you’re going to drop a bouncing baby book, I want you to promise me you won’t make the mistakes I made, I want you to promise me you’ll look after that book, that you’ll stand by it through thick and thin, that you’ll scream its name from the highest rooftops, and spend time with it, please, God, spend time with it, correct its grammar, smooth down its tussled plot lines, comfort it when it trips over a one-star review, or cuts itself on a barbed comment, change its cover regularly, show it you love it, you care about it, and I promise you, when that book grows up to be the multi-award winning sensation you always knew it could be, you’ll look back on this conversation and thank me.

My book died last week.

Please don’t let it have died in vain.  

Judith Chambers

The Perfect Plastic People Parade

THE RISE OF THE HUMAN BARBIE?

As advances in cosmic surgery take women ever closer to the aesthetic appeal of an inflatable sex doll, the idea is beginning to take shape that perfection may not be quite as desirable as the word implies. For one thing the standards for perfection are forever shifting and next to impossible to predict, trout lips may well be all the rage today, but tomorrow’s tastes might demand something a tad less overt, butt implants may have to be reversed as the trend moves from padded derriere towards butt-less chic, breasts will have to be raised, lowered, augmented, or deflated, according to the whims of public convention. 

The perfect woman will not be born; she will be made perfect by science. She will be a unique bio/silicon hybrid with all the imperfections of the flesh surgically removed, a new Eve for the digital age, slick, superficially flawless, with sex appeal in synthetic spades. But by becoming dependent on a mass mediated idea of beauty, we run the risk of losing our own organic sense of femininity, we stunt our emotional growth, both as women and human beings, with the result that the parts will be judged without reference to the whole, we will be female by committee, beautiful by decree, no spontaneous expression of womanhood will be tolerated unless its first been lab tested on animals and then run by special focus groups in the Mid-West. 

It’s hard to imagine that certain parts of our bodies will not decompose, that our accessories may well achieve the kind of immortality the rest of our bodies can only dream of, lying in the dust of our remains, alongside pacemakers, prosthetics, and metal nipple rings, will be giant silicon-filled bags resembling alien tumors, and perhaps tomorrow’s grave robbers will start a thriving industry recycling these parts and selling them back to the general populace. Second hand beauty will still be beauty, the same way knock-off fashion can still be considered fashion. 

But be warned, plastic women are an evolutionary dead end; they will not pass on their perfect good looks to the next generation, although they may pass on their surgeon’s phone number, but what is absolutely guaranteed is that daughters will inherit their mother’s acute lack of confidence in the hand nature has dealt them, and all to the advantage of the cosmetic’s industry which, lets face it, has never been slow to capitalize on female insecurities.  

The perfect woman will not be cheap and what you see will have to be maintained and upgraded. The following is a taste of costs to come.

  • Procedure                                                                Cost*
  • Breast Augmentation Silicone/Saline                  $4,500
  • Breast Lift with Augmentation                             $7,500 – $8,500
  • Breast Lift                                                              $6,500 – $8,500
  • Breast Reduction & Lift                                        $8,500 – $10,500
  • Blepharoplasty (with fat grafting)                       $2,500 – $6,000
  • Facelift                                                                   $10,000 – $14,000
  • Rhinoplasty                                                           $5,000 – $7,500
  • Brow Lift                                                                 $1,500 – $3,000
  • PAL (power assisted liposuction)                        $2,500 – $7,500
  • Abdominoplasty                                                     $6,500 – $10,500
  • Brachioplasty                                                         $4,000 – $6,000
  • Implants Silicone                                                    $1,600
  • Implants Saline                                                       $800
  • Anesthesia
    (depending on length of surgery) 1-5 hours       $500 – $2,200

*Costs do not include VAT.

Beauty is becoming a high-stakes, winner-takes-all business, but what is it leaving us with, a generation of unhappy women with high maintenance costs and no way to separate their own needs from the needs of the industry?

Does anyone realize that the Mona Lisa, once the perfect ideal of feminine beauty (and all natural might I add), wouldn’t even get a modelling contract in this day and age, we’re moving away from all things natural, we’re heading into a world where the future of women is no longer assured, where beauty is in the eye of the machine, and everything else is second best.

Cripes, it almost makes me want to cancel my four o’clock facial.

JUDITH CHAMBERS   

Sympathy for the Bitch (Where have all the Bad Girls gone?)

Marlene Dietrich, queen of urban chic, role model for the modern bitch.

They’re not minting bitches like they used to, take Marlene Dietrich for example, Queen of the Urbane Bitch, Mistress of Debonair, High Priestess of Seduction, and now try to think of one female celebrity in the last three decades who exudes even one tenth her sophistication and seductive charm.

“Times have changed, Judith.’

But who changed them, darling?

When did we lose our tampon chic, our stiletto suave, when did we become so safe and utterly predictable the media can build entire marketing campaigns around knowing what we’ll do next, safe in the knowledge that that’s exactly what we’ll do?

I am female but I’ll be damned if I’ll be your idea of female. I cringe when I see women through the lens of a fashion photographer’s camera, I think “does this guy even like women, does he even know what a woman is supposed to look like?” When did accordion ribs and shrivelled breasts become the benchmark for all things feminine?

Who gets to define what it is to be a woman? Who tells us what to wear, or how low or how high, or what’s in season or what’s so-last-fucking-year, who plans our wardrobe, or makes us so dissatisfied with our bodies we’ll go under the knife just to look like that model on the cover of Vogue, who looks just like that model on the cover of Elle, who looks just like that model on the cover of…..

…You get the picture.

For that reason I admire Marlene Dietrich, not because she defined women, but because she defined Marlene Dietrich, sure, women copied her look, her style, her smoky one-liners and double entendres, to the extent they’ve become modern day clichés, but Marlene was undoubtedly the first, and to the best of my knowledge, the only one of her kind.

When used to define a woman, the word bitch (literally a “female dog”) would imply that men, our faithful companions, are little more than leashed curs, but as a pejorative “bitch” has also come to mean a woman who is far ahead of the morals and conventions of her time, who is able to define her own sexuality without referring to church or media for guidance.

In that regard Marlene Dietrich was every inch a bitch, from cross dresser to amateur boxer, from adulteress to bisexual provocateur, she broke taboos on every front, not as a conscious champion of her gender, or some pioneering feminist, but in service to herself and the life she felt entitled to.

Now that’s my kind of bitch.

JUDITH CHAMBERS

Did James Bond Actually Die in “Skyfall”?

Did James Bond Actually Die in “Skyfall”?

JUDITH CHAMBERS

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE JAMES BOND MOVIES: SKYFALL & SPECTRE

You probably remember the notorious pre-credit sequence to “Skyfall”, the 23rd Bond movie and the most successful of the franchise to date.

 Just in case you don’t here’s a quick recap.

 Daniel Craig’s James Bond is shot by a bumbling Moneypenny; the bullet punches him off the roof of a speeding train and he plunges some fifty feet into a fast flowing river below.

 In most other films that would have been it, kaput, protagonist dead, movie over, exit cinema, but this is James Bond, and we all know that James Bond can’t be killed.

 But what if we’re wrong?

What if James Bond actually did die in that scene and everything afterwards has been nothing more than a paranoid journey through his afterlife?

 In other words, what if James Bond has been dead for two entire movies?

 

LET’S CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE.

Adele’s haunting song, “Skyfall” begins moments after James Bond hits the water, we hear the chilling opening words, “this is the end”, and suddenly a giant female hand yanks a bleeding and drowning Bond down into the underworld where he faces possibly the most chilling title sequence of any Bond movie to date.

In this sequence James Bond seems to be passing through the Tibetan chikhai bardo, a transitional journey of the soul that commences moments after death, complete with hallucinations that reflect the life of extreme violence he’s led; graveyards filled with combat knifes, and revolvers in lieu of headstones, blood-red lighting, dissolving skulls, and in one instance Bond is actually engaged in a firefight with his own shadows, a motif that is repeated later on in the sequence when he fires at his mirror reflections, suggesting that the only enemy he ever faced was himself.

 

DEAD SPY WALKING

 The movie that follows never explains how Bond survived his apparent death-plunge into the river; or the bullet wound to the chest, instead he merely appears, wraith-like, in M’s apartment, after indulging in a massive drinking binge somewhere in the Far East. Everything is unspecified. Nothing is certain. At one point he is seen standing half naked as he glares into a mirror, there are scars aplenty decorating his torso but no wound to indicate the bullet that knocked him off the train. At another indefinite point he is seated in a bar downing shots of tequila with a scorpion balanced on his hand, Scorpio being a zodiac sign often associated with death and the powers of regeneration.

 Later in the movie we are introduced to Raoul Silva, a villain who resembles a rotting corpse when he removes his false dentures, suggesting he might be a fellow wraith, a dead man who blames M for his earthly demise years earlier, although Raoul, like Bond, believes he is still alive.

 

THE DEAD ARE ALIVE

 The follow-up to Skyfall is actually called Spectre, an allusion to the villainous organization that has dogged the franchise since the days of Sean Connery, but it can also be seen as another hint that our indestructible hero is, in fact, dead. If you want further proof consider the weird epigraph: “The Dead Are Alive.” hammered onto the screen moments before the title sequence. Or Sam Smith’s song, “The Writing on the Wall;” a possible allusion to the scene in which Bond’s name has been added to a memorial stone.

 The opening scenes in “Spectre” are set in Mexico City on Dia de Muertos, “the day of the dead”, with armies of skull headed celebrants filing through the streets, James Bond is, appropriately enough, dressed as a skeleton, his mission prompted by a message from the dead mother-figure (M), the first of many “spectres” who will appear in this film.

 

Bond attends his own funeral. The dead are alive.

Bond attends his own funeral. The dead are alive.

 

 This time around time-and-space seem to function along the lines of dream logic. One moment Bond is in one location, the next he is in an entirely different place, sometimes even a different country.

 There are barely any transitional scenes in Spectre, very few shots showing us how Bond gets from one location to the next, or even one moment to the next, it’s a peculiarly disorientating omission, as though time itself is becoming less reliable, less relevant, as we proceed.

 

DEJA VU

 And yet everything has an eerie ring of familiarity about it, almost every scene in “Spectre” harkens back to earlier movies, earlier incarnations of Bond, the fight on the train (From Russia with Love), silent, physically imposing henchman (Jaws), skull-face with top hat (Live and Let Die), villain’s layer located in a crater (You Only Live Twice), the references are numerous to the point of distraction, all of which lends support to the idea that “Spectre” is simply the confused recollections of a dead man.

 How confused? Bond even re-imagines Ernst Blofeld as his stepbrother, the same way we freely re-imagine people in different roles when we’re dreaming. Blofeld is another spectre, previously thought dead, now resurrected to battle Bond over the love of the father they were forced to share. If Skyfall is about mother, then Spectre is most assuredly about father. Gone are the feminine undertones of the previous outing, this is an all-male affair, Ralph Fiennes is the new M; Christoph Waltz has replaced Javier Bardes’ effete and highly emotional portrayal of Raoul Silva, with the cerebral and calculated ruthlessness of Ernst Blofeld.

 But it all ends in destruction nonetheless, the dissolution of Bond’s past, begun with the death of mother and the firebombing of his ancestral home in “Skyfall”, continues in “Spectre” with the destruction of the only other home he’s ever known, the MI6 headquarters, an event that undoubtedly signals the end of an era.

 

R.I.P. JAMES BOND

 “Spectre” concludes not with the traditional death of the villain, but with an uncharacteristic moment of redemption, James Bond, cold, dispassionate killer of twenty-four movies, suddenly finds it in his heart to spare Blofeld’s life, the sky has fallen, his world has been obliterated, only now is he free to make different choices, and those choices include the ability to renounce his past, to walk away with a woman he’s finally able to settle down with – the kind of fairy tale ending that had eluded him whilst he was alive.

James Bond is dead, at least Daniel Craig’s incarnation is, but remember, the dead are alive, and none of this will matter when the next actor takes the helm, even if that actor is, once again, Daniel Craig.  For now let us imagine the tormented soul has found peace at last and is ready to move on.

 James Bond is dead.

Long live James Bond.

 JUDITH CHAMBERS

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