Flogging is a nuisance and a looming economic disaster

I use the term “Flogging” loosely as it was coined by one of my writer-friends. And this refers to the parasitic practice of attaching links to other people’s posts on the internet to deflect traffic to one’s own peddling, moral or immoral.

I stumbled on this phenomenon when I began to receive an unusually high volume of comments to a post titled “Travel is Education” that I had posted on a public blog site. The initial comments to my post were complementary and interesting, but after awhile they started to deteriorate into statements that were totally out of context. However, at the end of each of these nonsensical musings were tags like ” dissertation writing services available – contact (web hyperlink)” Out of curiosity, I clicked on these links and was taken to sites offering to write exams, dissertations and essays for students taking their undergraduate and post-graduate programs. I was incensed for two reasons: (a) how could these squatters be sitting on my stomping ground like pavement hawkers peddling their wares under the awnings of official tourist shops in Venice, and (b) how could people blatantly sell (or buy) educational credentials in the first world when this was a practice once relegated only to third world countries by snobby academics in the west?   Would I ever hire a college grad again without subjugating them to a handwritten, closed-computer essay to test their independent writing and thinking abilities?

I then posed my dilemma to my fellow authors on this blog site and discovered that I was not alone – they were all being flogged! Many hadn’t complained for fear of reprisal, it seemed. Sure, it’s easy to attract the wrath of these anonymous bloodsuckers in the form of ugly comments and negative votes that play havoc with one’s Google rankings and Klout scores and other meritocracies that claim to measure our self-worth. However, I felt it worth speaking out, despite the potential fallout, because writers live and die by their words and if their words are to be subverted without protest, then what is left, why participate at all in this endeavour that does not feed the belly but only feeds the soul?

Now to my other source of distress: the buying and selling of credentials. This is a plea to those students out there who are supposed to pay for my retirement through their diligent work to keep the economy humming:  If you are going to cheat with your education, it leaves me little doubt that you will not cheat at other things, like shareholder investments and taxes; and if you don’t pay your taxes we will end up a beggar nation, and the streets will be littered with senior citizens with their bowls tipped upward; and the first world would have fallen into third place.

And my plea to fellow writers who have been flogged: Take up your pen and flog these pests in return, expose their sins in the most brilliant and technicolored prose that you can muster. Inspire those students looking for help with dissertations to become like you and develop their art of insightful and incisive writing that will make them successful on their own steam. We  do not taste freedom until we lose it, and complaisance is the first steps towards that loss.

And God bless the Flogged !

The rising standard of self-publishing

When the latest wave of self-publishing, assisted by print-on-demand technology, hit the streets at the dawn of the new millennium, it was quickly dismissed as low-grade soap opera. Established publishing houses shivered lest they fall victim to this new assault on their bastion. All sorts of labels were thrown at the new entrants: “vanity publishing,” “lacking in editorial integrity,” “selling to friends and relatives.” It was dismissed as a fad that would pass.

But this wave of self-publishing continued to grow and evolve. The sheer volume of books coming through the channel was daunting; even if an average of 50 copies of each self-published title were sold, that was “50 x umpteen” attempts at stealing readers away from the established order of publishing. And the old order started to groan and creak under this kamikaze attack; big publishers merged to get even bigger, mid-size publishers collapsed and went out of business, and small presses started to proliferate using low-cost business models. When Amazon, Lulu, Wattpad and other platforms facilitated self-published authors to “do it themselves,” the dam burst and writers associations around the world moved fast to legitimize this revolutionary movement and bring it into the fold, lest their own members defect and become “indies” in an industry that had moved from a cosy cartel to a free for all!

And what of the self-pubbers themselves? After the first wave of poorly constructed, badly edited, and haphazardly formatted offerings, the movement took stock. Professional editors and other middlemen from the traditional industry saw opportunity to replace income in this space as their employers, the mainstream publishers, began shedding them in order to remain competitive.  Self published books became deeper and broader (they were no longer just disguised memoirs), they were well edited, formatted and produced as technology continued to evolve. Besides, creative writing courses were proliferating in colleges and universities, and where else could all this output be absorbed? Certainly not by the traditionalists who had driven many of their authors to become teachers in those very schools because their royalties did not cover all the bills at home.

And then e-books came along and leveled the field even more; with costly paper production and distribution taken out of the mix, e-books could be offered for less than half the paperback price and still retain the same earnings for authors and publishers. The stubborn old guard of publishers has tried to defend e-book prices, saying they should be equal to that of paperbacks, but that is an argument that lacks weight as long as publishers pay authors the same remuneration for either format, and pocket the larger surplus from the e-book channel by holding its prices level with the paper channel.

“Might is right,” has played throughout history, and the former fringe dwellers who formed the “vanity” movement have now gone mainstream as the more respectable “self-published” movement. Their stories come from a more personal place; their skill as all-rounders (writer, publisher, marketer) in this game makes them all the more skilled. And yet, except for a lucky few who will catch the zeitgeist and be snatched by the mainstream, they will remain effective only at close range (selling to friends, family and a small circle of fans) rather than selling across international markets in multiple languages aided by large marketing budgets; but they will be read, and they will add diversity to the literary landscape while the traditionalists retrench to promoting only their top 10 lists (or top 5, even top 3) as competition heats up and margins come under threat.

Where will this level out? Motive will determine longevity. Few are making money in this game anymore, and hunger may drive writers in either camp to choose where they want to invest their time in future. In the traditional camp, attrition also takes place when the Big 5 toss out “dead wood” at faster and faster rates.  Short shelf-life notwithstanding, we hope that writers in both camps choose wisely and continue to invest in their writing in some fashion, because that is what determines a society’s evolution, for “man cannot live by bread alone, but by the words that come from God” – and writers would like to believe that divine inspiration has something to do with how their fingers move on the keyboard.

Self publishing is mainstream now. The question is whether the traditionalists will move to make the self publishing channel their entry point for picking up the “best of the best” authors in future, thus creating a two tier structure, or will readers place equal emphasis on both channels, so that it will be authors who determine how and where they want to place their work.

Crowdfunding for Fiction

A new source of funding, but will it last?

I have been following this new phenomenon as it relates to fiction writers, and have often wondered where it would lead. On the surface, it looks like a pretty cool thing – a funding source that never existed before, a replacement to the publisher’s advance, this time, paid forward by readers. But then I tried to look at the pros and cons (I’m cautious by nature) and this is what I came up with:

Pros

a)Money paid up front to recognize the writer’s effort.

b)A vote of confidence by readers on the success of the book.

c)Advance publicity for the writer and her work

d)The opportunity to create new followers from the crowdfunding space.

e)A yardstick to measure the book’s potential before going through the expense of publishing it.

Cons

a)Publicly perceived failure if the sum of funds targeted is not raised.

b)An expectation of performance by readers that can put undue pressure on the writer.

c)Intrusion by readers through discussion forums (some call it collaboration) on the writer’s idea and delivery, thus cramping his style or forcing him to make tough choices.

d)Withdrawal by traditional funding sources (i.e. publishers, grants organizations etc.) when they know that this public funding source is now a mainstream event and should be a writer’s first port of call for financial assistance.

e)Withdrawal by crowdfunders when the space gets “crowded” and choices have to be made, or when diminishing returns accrue.

Crowdfunding, or any other patronage model for that matter, had to happen, as traditional sources began to dry up. But as it relates to fiction, where we have created a culture of “content is free” I am finding it hard to understand why consumers will pay it forward to fund a book, and pay far more than the price of a copy (which they were reluctant to buy in the first instance due to the “free” thing we cultivated) when they do not know its outcome. When the faddishness dies out, will crowdfunding for fiction dry up? Or has crowdfunding opened readers’ eyes to the plight of writers who spend lives of quiet desperation on their creations that have then to go through myriad channels of gate keeping and rejection before a lucky few spill out through the front doors of traditional channels? Are crowdfunders fighting the battle on behalf of writers?

Whatever the outcome, this new development in the world of writers is a welcome one and I shall follow it closely, perhaps even dip my foot in the waters when it comes the time for the release of my next book.

 

Is it time for the Un-University?

I was watching a news program in which a young man was proposing the “Un•University.” I wondered whether it was another buzzword like the Un•Mortgage, a.k.a. a different mousetrap, but then I slowly realized that this young man was making a lot of sense, with a few caveats.

The Un•University works on the premise that there is so much knowledge available in cyberspace these days that all one needs is the right band of mentors to network with and expand one’s education along the right channels. Seems simple enough, as long as these mentors are findable and willing to contribute for free. But then I have seen writers collectives emerge the same way; when traditional channels became restrictive and irrelevant, collectives went on to publish breakthrough literature.

The traditional university has a few things that do not sit well with us. First off, it takes in students at an age when they really do not know what the heck they want to do with the rest of their lives. Five years later perhaps, and a few changes to their major, and they may stumble on their chosen path—an expensive way to find one’s soul.  I have often heard the term “universities teach you a lifestyle, colleges teach you to get a job,” in other words, you still have to learn a skill or a trade, after university, if you want to earn a living; or get an employer to train you when they are busy outsourcing employees and jobs. And universities charge a heck of a lot of money for the experience; so much that our governments (most governments) cannot afford to cover this cost anymore. And universities dislike standardizing their programs between each other for reasons of differentiation, reputation and brand – all necessary to create distinction and command a premium price. A situation that is ripe for the introduction of disruptive innovation, the start of one of those dreaded S curves. Hence the Un•University.

However, the university has a few things going for it too. Years of conditioning have convinced us that one has to have a tertiary education to be taken seriously and act responsibly; that non•university educated people are blue collar and the university•educated ones have collars starched in white; that without a tertiary education one is a black•and•white kind of a guy, not used to accommodating new ideas or seeing a different perspective or practicing critical thinking and problem solving. One is supposed to gain depth during those university years (along with a copious appetite for alcohol, partying and sex). That the one who is disciplined enough to have attended all those lectures and written those dreadfully boring exams, while flowering adulthood could have led to many other gratifying pursuits, is a testament to the quality of the university graduate, they say.  These are perceptually difficult hurdles for the Un•University to overcome.

I can’t take a side here, as many of the next generation in my family are university•educated and are passionately defensive of their status, and I would like to continue to be invited to family gatherings in future. But I would like to support the Un•University concept, given that it has been my experience, more by accident than by design.  I wonder how much more depth, critical thinking, problem solving and all those other university –educated attributes would accrete to the young person who leaves the nest and goes out on his own to earn a living, preferably far away from home, and who carves out a couple of hours a day towards furthering his education by forming the discipline of reading and discussing all there is out in the fields of literature, economics, politics, mathematics, science and technology? Not for a year or two but for the rest of her life. This lifelong learner would be far more valuable than the guy who slapped a degree behind his name and never learned a thing afterwards.

I’d really like to support the Un•University concept under these conditions, but who would listen? And more importantly, who would hire a Un•University graduate?

Are all stories political?

I recently contributed a story to an anthology titled Everything Is So Political (Roseway Publishing). In keeping with the book’s title, my story was called “Suicide Bombers”—how more political could that be, I thought. But then I realized that most stories, if not all of them, are political.

Politics has many definitions. Here are some from the Free Dictionary that I took particular note of: “intrigue or manoeuvring within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power,”  “the often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society,” “any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one’s own ends.” Power, intrigue, manoeuvring, conflict, relationships—all aspects of a rollicking good story or novel. Even a love story has all these ingredients in it.

So I concluded that fiction writers are closet politicians. We may not have the opportunity, energy or canniness needed to survive as real politicians (a few notables have tried and failed: Michael Ignatieff and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind) but we certainly are eager for change and for promoting good in the world, our way. And that way may be by inventing situations in which the ills of bad politics are exposed or where the benefits of good politics rise to the surface. We also have the ability to invent a safe world through our fiction and kill off the bad politicians in it—something which is a bit hard to do in real life without going to jail.

Some books started civil wars, if you can believe that tall tale about Uncle Tom’s Cabin;  others like Ann Frank’s Diary warned us of our innate ability create good and evil; and others have extrapolated trends into the future to show us what might happen if we do not pause and shift course: Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind.

Many authors abhor political activism and believe they are above “those deal•making slime buckets that shift towards wherever the votes are the highest.” But in their own way, consciously or unconsciously, writers are involved in, and are making a contribution to political consciousness, not just on their home turf but wherever their work is read.

The challenge however is, like the shrinking turnout at the ballot box, the numbers of readers are diminishing these days as people are caught up in the struggle for survival, or with fulfilling advertising•led consumerist images of themselves. Or that blasted 140•byte writing and reading style has won them over. Get everyone reading engaging, entertaining, educational and enlightening literature, and we may raise the bar on political awareness in a nation—that’s my hope.

Now, I wonder, if I had sent Roseway a love story, replete with boy meets girl (intrigue), they have a great love affair (manoeuvring), boy cheats on girl (conflict), girl leaves boy (more manoeuvring), boy feels lonely and runs back to girl (power, or the loss of it for him), girl takes him back and they live happily ever after (relationships), would they have published me in their political anthology?

 

Year-end Miscellany

This will possibly be my one and only post for December. I have been in a pensive mood of late, observing the world as writers normally do, trying to understand its subtext: another mass shooting down south, a man•made fiscal cliff looming with both sides being intransigent, an old calendar ending without the predicted ending of our world, having to dig deeper for survival in an age when stable institutions we once relied upon (i.e. corporations and governments) have seemingly abandoned us. The tea leaves tell me that it is a tough, overcrowded world out there and it ain’t going to get any easier in the next little while.

I completed writing another novel this year (my sixth yet•to•be•published one, in addition to the four already published and the hundreds of shorter pieces published in various magazines, blogs and e•zines). I’m reconciled to being a posthumous writer if my estate will summon the energy to publish my unpublished tomes after I have made the Great Exit. I have learned that there is a time for mining, and that rich veins of imagination do run their courses, and that to be distracted by trivialities (like earning a living) at these times can interfere with this flood that comes from the “other side,” a God•given gift. And for me, that time is now. I also realize the cost that comes with heeding the words Jesus spoke to his twelve buddies when he said, “Come follow me.” He never mentioned a rose garden or a fat purse at the end of the line. By taking up the cross (or the pen, in this instance) we signed on for lean times, rich only in personal growth.

I’ve seen the younger generation in my family move on and expand their horizons this year – a point of pride, given that theirs is the generation we robbed with our grandiose plans of “Me First, and damn everything else, including the environment” – by buying houses, upgrading jobs, moving countries even, to where the prospects are brighter. And it reminds me of when I took this same trek through the desert from the third world to the first world in search of greener pastures, a long time ago it seems now. And I too moved this year, right into the heart of downtown Toronto, in the hope of new horizons opening for me. Moving ever so often is good, for it clears the cobwebs. And hope is a good thing to have, always.

I’ve seen old friends start to falter, even die, reminding me of the long, lonely journey we must all make one day, a journey that converts our daily pre•occupations into trivial pursuits and calls into account the most important things we did or should have done, and makes us gnash our teeth for not having done them when we should have. These friends at the head of the curve give us pause, and we are richer for having known them, for in their passing they have given us the gift of self•examination.

I’ve seen artists flourish this year when we published an anthology of writers, poets and painters. It gave us an opportunity to go into the small towns and villages in our part of eastern Ontario and present our audiences with a calling card that was welcomingly received. And I have seen writers look up in hope when I stood before them and said that technology has not doomed us but liberated us from the slush pile. There may be no more money, but there is no more waiting.

It is always good to pause at this time of the year and look back on what we accomplished and what we did not. A time for understanding the incompleteness of life, which in itself gives us the fuel to go on and dot some of those “i”s and cross some more of those “t”s. Yes, the world is a rough place but humans are resilient beings, and those who roll with the punches will survive.

Dear friends, thanks for continuing to read my blog. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas and much wisdom in 2013.

There will be no professional writers in future: banner or epitaph?

“There will be no more professional writers in future” – read the headline of the arts section of one of our national newspapers last week, waking me up to my own dire predictions of the last few months, reminding me that I am not the only one having these nightmares. Change is coming, no matter how much we bury our heads in our ink and hope that it goes away.

The article went on to throw out some scary phrases—feudal economics of the 21st century (with Amazon and Huffington playing landlord to us poor hacks who are being relegated to serfs), 10 cents per 1000 reader clicks, and more than one million authors on Amazon’s online Kindle store— bringing us back to that scary headline: There will be no more professional writers….

Let’s go on the assumption that literature will still exist in our future, however retrograde that future becomes. That said, just like with any green•field business that initially attracts more supply than demand, a crash and consolidation must come in this electronic age of literature. The questions remain as to when will it come, who will go out and who will stay in, who will get fatter, and who will be marginalized when the dust settles. Here’s my pick:

Authors: We still need these guys to write content, original content (so help us, God!). So I guess they will be kept alive, even by force•feeding. Slimmer pickings at the base of the steep pyramid known as the “Hierarchy of Authors” will drive wannabes to pursue other interests like fishing. Some will eke out serf•like existences even if to merely avoid psychotherapy, while others will live like lottery winners and drink to ease their guilt about compensation that far exceeds effort—and seek out shrinks. There is no socialism here. Writing schools will decline, replaced by fishing schools, perhaps.

Publishers: These guys are in the cross hairs of the impending fall. Some parts of their business are valuable, like editing, formatting, marketing, branding, access to awards and distributors etc. Others, less so, like lengthening the publishing pipeline that was under their watch, elongating it from about six months to the current 2•3 years; slush pile management is another red card (bad job done here, guys – your response rates suck!); and manning the gate for curated content (many of their picks have been flops). Perhaps they will change their names to Content Facilitator and outsource the slush pile. Or move away from the royalty model towards fee•based, unbundled menu pricing for their various services that are still deemed valuable; the recent moves by mainstream publishers to purchase self•publishing arms is an indication of this.

Agents: They may fall on either side of the fence. Their current remuneration model will be unsustainable. On the one hand they could become Author Assistants (paid by the author – watch out, the fees may be a bit measly). They could easily add Publicist, PR and Author Manager to their job description, if not there already. Or they could go over to the other side and be talent scouts for the new Content Facilitators, paid to hunt for good content now that the slush pile has been eliminated. Or they could band together to become Content Facilitators themselves and cut out the man above.

Distributors: The monopoly that exists with Amazon and its buddies must give way to smaller independents that also have access to that universal distribution highway, the Internet. The smaller guys just have to find ways to carve out little side roads with distinct signage (branding) that flow content and revenue their way and off the Amazon•Huffington highway. Just as Amazon has become the general store for books, why not several niche stores specializing in certain genres, with wider selections within these genres?

Software Developers: Let’s not forget the guys who started the revolution by bringing the technicalities of publishing down to the user level. It could only be a matter of time before kindle and e•pub formats become add•ons to Microsoft Office and other desktop bundles.

Readers: Will have to pay for good content again (the accent being on “good”) or the serfs who are farming that content will die out. They will also be the power holders in this industry. “Going viral” will belong to them and will determine the livelihood of all the other players in this literary drama.

Endorsers: A breed of super reader. The endorser is a reader among readers who commands an audience and who cannot be bought. I will exclude newspaper reviewers and well known TV show hosts who predictably have their “picks” go on to become bestsellers; by “picking for pay,” they will have exposed their hand for serving the wrong master. The new Endorser will live on the adulation and followership of readers only. A new literary savant who survives on ego food.

And as for that newspaper headline, I have to agree that the old model of professional writer is under threat, but a new model is emerging, and as long as a civilization needs those among it to reflect, dissect, interpret, and record its evolution, writers of some shape or form must exist.

A Brave New World indeed, and I am applying for citizenship to play several of the above roles in it. What about you?

Social Marketing = Viral Book Sales? Think again!

As my follower count in the social media universe rises by the ‘000’s, I am wondering what that does in terms of expanding the number of buyers for the products I have on tap – i.e. my books. There is no exact 1:1 correlation of followers to buyers. There is not even a 100:1 correlation. And if I am the only one facing this issue, then I must have a problem with my marketing message, or my books suck, or else others in my situation are keeping mum.
Here are some of my observations on book marketing in the social media universe (and I would welcome any thoughts to the contrary):

1) We have generated too much “noise” in the FB and Twitter universes. People are Twittered•out, or Facebook•whacked. The more followers you have, the more perishable your messages. If you don’t get a “like” or “re•tweet” within two minutes of your post, that post is history. Even keeping personal favourite lists ends up in clutter after awhile.
2) Expansion and Targeting is difficult. FB polices a closed loop network that says, “Thou shalt not annoy people by befriending everyone under the sun (including suggestions for friends that we send you).” How does one expand one’s universe without landing in FB jail? On the other hand, Twitter has no such limits but has a barrage of consultants who advocate that they can get you thousands of followers without you having to send out a single tweet. How targeted is that!
3) There is a widening gap between the known and the unknown. Buyers, overwhelmed by choice, veer towards the tried and true – hence bestseller become blockbusters and everyone else falls into the remaindered pile.
4) We have created millions of newspapers and journalists online who often regurgitate the same information multiple times over with minor alterations. They all compete for our eyeballs along with books. I have a hard time keeping up with “curated content” that is posted online by various newbie journalists – all interesting content, no doubt, but all leaving me with the sneaking suspicion that I have read this somewhere else before.

The power of the online sales message is felt only when endorsers (and the more powerful the endorser the better) tell others that they should absolutely drop everything they are doing and buy this book – NOW! They call it “going viral.” Sales do not happen when the poor writer himself keeps bleating his repeating groove, overtly or covertly: “Buy my book,” or “Please buy my book” or “Dammit, why aren’t you buying my book. Do you want it free?”

I am therefore not surprised that FB’s IPO bombed. It took me back to those heady days of the dot•com bubble when we invested in weak businesses with lousy value propositions just because it was the cool thing to do. The winner in this game will be the one who figures out how to turn “share of eyeballs” into “share of purchases.” I don’t think that nut has been cracked yet. Or perhaps there are only certain categories of products that lend themselves to social media•led purchasing, and books, unless they go viral through endorsement, are not one of them.

In summary, the best sales channels open to writers are still the tried and true ones: bookstores (online and traditional), good distribution, strong endorsers, favourable reviews, and opportunities where a writer engages with a reader (book launches, readings, literary festivals and other live events).Oh, yes – and you must have a good book that catches the zeitgeist!

The more things change, the more they also stay the same it appears.

Swinging both ways

A reader recently asked me why I swung both ways, i.e. played on the other team as well. I reminded him that I was heterosexual and played only on one team. “But you write book reviews,” he reminded me. “So?” “But you are a writer yourself.” “So?” Then he went onto clarify that writers should not write reviews as that often put down other writers, especially the weaker ones. “Writers should endorse other writers, particularly their friends,” he said. “You could very soon be kicked out of the writing fraternity for your critical views on certain authors.” “Balls,” I replied, and decided to make a list of reasons for why I write book reviews:

1) To remind myself of what I have read
2) To learn the craft and make points that I want to revisit later
3) To remind myself that my books too should be subjected to this rigour by others. Together we should source good writing whoever’s it is, and expose mediocre stuff
4) To share my views with whoever cares to read them, and to help others choose books wisely
5) To engage with other readers and discuss the merits of books we share a mutual interest in

I am sure that I will come up with other reasons why, but the above are enough to keep me “playing on the other team.” Besides I don’t get paid for this endeavour, so who should care but me for the time put in? And as a fellow writer, I am conscious of the writer’s day•to•day challenges and try to look beyond the missing punctuation and other grammatical inconsistencies which should have been an editor’s job to take care of anyway.

There have been occasions when I have written reviews of books of writers whom I know. In the situation when I did not like the book, I have sent the review directly back to the writer in the hope that it would help him (or her), and the matter ends there; nothing is published, unless the writer insists that the review be put on public display.

And as for writing fraternities, or fraternities of any kind, they have existed from time immemorial. Like gangs, they provide security and protection for members while in existence. And like gangs, they can become insular and unwelcoming to newcomers who do not fit the profile. Writers are notorious for their gangs, which gather in strength and occasionally jettison one of their stronger members to make his way in the rough and tumble world of publishing. I have belonged to some of these fraternities, but have outgrown them, or they have outgrown me. They have however, been useful pit stops on my writing journey. But even established fraternities are under siege today while newer ones are forming in the age of Internet 2.0. In this environment, isn’t it prudent to play on as many teams as possible, for who knows of who will be left standing when Internet 3.0 comes around?

So, for now, I will continue to play on the other team as well. If money and the fear of viral criticism were not concerns, it is indeed a great time to be a writer in this era of Internet 2.0, for like this blog, there are many ways for writers to express themselves today. Reviewing books and sharing that learning online is one of them.

Too much information

I was asked for my opinion on Wiki Leaks and the scandals erupting in cyberspace, where top secret documents suddenly appear to embarrass high•ranking military officials, bureaucrats and corporate barons. Are we justified in having this stuff floating around in the public domain, I was quizzed? Or should we let it all hang out and sock it to these honchos in high places who help each other out by launching wars, who cry for bailouts, and who lock the taxpayer into an “or else” hammer lock in order to fund their shenanigans under threat of terrorism or bankruptcy?

My first reaction was, “Dare anyone speak about this stuff in this day and age? Let’s see • if I am pro•Wiki Leaks, I could get on some nation’s no•fly list; if I am anti•Leaks, the hackers will block my Visa & Master Card accounts, erase me from social networking sites and punish me.” But either way, I could become famous if I go public with my plight. Hmm…

My next reaction was, “Another opinion on Wiki Leaks? Haven’t we made its owner a cult hero already with our nosiness? I mean, don’t we already know that classified stuff exists under any political system? Don’t we keep information protected via copyright, patent and trade secret laws? Aren’t writers agitating to have their copyrights protected and not splashed all over the Internet for free? Okay, and why do we have to have this leaked stuff piled on us in these digital dumpsters, filling our information intake valves faster than the garbage gushing into Toronto’s landfills? Hasn’t anyone learned that “less is more?”

Finally, I caved. “Okay, if you insist, I’ll venture an opinion, but you may not like it.” (Note to reader: Writers are opinionated people)

Disclosing information is good if it makes the world a better place, reveals injustice and leads to its correction – I’m sold on that. Enron was a good example, so was Mount Cashel. But there is a limit to disclosing information, especially if it harms people, property, or both, and especially if nothing good can be salvaged out of the disclosure. Didn’t we only recently coin that phrase “Too Much Information,” one that young people bandy around liberally these days in their text messages? For instance, if two neighbours are getting along, however tenuously, why upset the apple cart by saying to one that the other guy had once called him an asshole? Sure that’s disclosure, but does it advance progress or enhance relationships? Does it make the neighbourhood a better place? Do I need to know what my kids call me when they are mad at Dad?

So my opinion on this business: use common sense, guys! Whistle•blowing and mud•slinging are two different activities, although they both begin with a sense of frustration and a desire for change.

Oh that reminds me—I’d better check the showerhead in my washroom now. Just in case a hacker from either side of the debate, unhappy with my opinion, sneaks in a spy•cam and “captures” me on digital. The fame I have sought as a writer of strong male characters will come to me in the most sudden and unexpected way. I can imagine the instantaneous blurb on You Tube “Extra, Extra: Writer Lets It All Hang Out. Check him out • he is not as hot as his fiction!”