Monday, February 28, 2011

Cruise aboard Disney's "Dream" Turns Out To Be A Nightmare!

On Thursday, February 24, my family and I set sail aboard the Disney "Dream" for a cruise to Nassau and Castaway Cay for my oldest son's wedding. He and his bride were to be married on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay on Saturday, February 26th.

I really don't even know where to begin. I suppose I'll start with the good things first, although it's going to be a sadly short list.

My son and new daughter-in-law were married. She looked gorgeous in a breathtaking gown, and he looked so handsome I had trouble believing he sprang from my loins. I cried until I was soggy, happy tears for the both of them.

The best time I had on the cruise was sitting with my family for a few minutes here and there, enjoying the sea air.

That's it. That's all the good news I have.

From here, it only goes down hill.

Seriously, so many things went wrong on this cruise that I can barely remember all of them, so I'll stick to the highlights.

They are, in no particular order:

On Thursday night, my youngest son, a groomsman in the wedding, got a stomachache. Being a responsible person, he went to the ship's infirmary to see if he could get some medication so that he wouldn't be sick during the wedding, which was to take place on Saturday.

They quarantined him. Evidently, there was some sort of parasitic virus onboard, and even though the doctor concluded my son didn't have it, they quarantined him anyway, the equivalent of house arrest. He couldn't leave his cabin for twenty-four hours, missing meals and the entire day at Nassau. His roommate, however, was not moved to another cabin (although the ship had vacancies)and was free to come and go as he pleased, spreading whatever germs my son had around the ship. What sort of quarantine is that?

We saw a crew member (in the food court area, no less!) sit at a table in the guest area, sweating profusely and coughing. He laid his head down on the table, and didn't wipe or disinfect it when he left.

I guess only the guests are contagious. Not the crew.

My stepdaughter ordered a croissant at breakfast the last day. She was the last to be served, and her croissant never arrived. When she inquired after it, she was told by her waiter that the Board of Health had boarded the ship and they'd had to throw out all their breads. Really? Now you tell us, after the rest of the party had eaten your croissants?

Crew members fought with each other in the middle of the dining area, yelling back and forth.

There was no food presentation at all, and only two places to get food if you weren't going to the formal dinners. Both closed up shop early, leaving hungry passengers with no alternative but to order the awful -- and severely limited -- food from room service.

Most of the food on ship was atrocious. I couldn't eat any of my meal on Friday night because if was so awful, and I was never asked if I wanted something else, even though my plates went back to the kitchen in almost the same condition in which they were served.

There was only one smoking area on board the ship. It was tiny, inconvenient to reach, and without any cover at all, so those in the party who smoked had to do so under the hot sun.

Disney advertises fireworks every night, but only set them off once.

Time docked at ports of call were so short, you barely had any time to do anything.The ship left Nassau at 7pm and Castaway Cay at 5!

Crew members (with the exception of our server, Katrin, and head server, Kurt) were consistently rude and unhelpful. We met one woman who was nearly in tears because she was lost and couldn't find her cabin. She'd been searching for it for a half an hour, and no crew member she encountered would take her to it.

Now for some of the wedding horrors:

The Disney wedding planner my daughter-in-law originally had when she booked the wedding left midstream, and the replacement planner was so uninformed and useless that, no matter how many times my daughter-in-law tried to get information, she was given no specifics about the wedding ceremony until two weeks before we sailed!

The bride ordered breakfast for the groom and groomsmen to be delivered to the best man's cabin. She called the order in from her suite, but was very clear where the order was to be delivered. The order never arrived, because room service decided it was a prank. When the maid of honor called to find out what happened, the room service crew member yelled at her and told her it was her fault.

During the wedding ceremony, there was no runner for the bride to walk down. There was no cover for any of the guests (we had to sit under the broiling sun).

There was no one to direct the bridal party down the aisle.

The minister's mike didn't work for part of the ceremony.

The bride and groom made CDs of music they specifically wanted the DJ to play during the ceremony, but he didn't play a single song from either of them. This was especially hurtful, since the songs had deep meaning for both the bride and groom.

The bride and groom requested that the entire wedding party (there were 42 of us) be seated together during the formal dinners. This never happened the first or second night. On the night before the wedding, she made a point of seeking out the maitre 'd, and asking again that we be seated together, especially on Saturday since it was her wedding night. Despite assurances that this would happen, Disney again screwed up. the entire wedding party was seated together...except for the bride, groom, and attendants. They were seated four tables away from everyone else. The maitre 'd not only refused to help the bride and groom, he responded that it was "his dining room," meaning he could do anything he damn well pleased. This stiff-neck SOB then proceeded to shun the entire wedding party, never stopping at any of our tables to see if all was well with our meals.

Like I said, these are only the things I can remember off the top of my head.

I am most upset about how many times Disney dropped the ball on the wedding. This was a once in a lifetime thing for my son and daughter-in-law, and even though they are deliriously happy together, I know they were disappointed and frustrated on what should have been the happiest day of their lives.

Shame on you, Disney. You're all hype, and deliver nothing. Zilch. Nada.

My advice? Do NOT sail with Disney. I've cruised many times before, and this was by far the worst cruise I've ever set sail on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on piracy

I'm really getting annoyed at certain people's contentions that piracy (the uploading of copyrighted material for free, unauthorized distribution) is a fundamental right intrinsic with a free internet.

Nope. Sorry. It's not. Piracy of copyrighted material has nothing to do with information freely posted on the web. If I posted my book on my website for free, then yes, by all means, take it, download it, upload it all over the place. If I post a buy link on my website, then if you want to read it, you are expected to pay for a copy of the book, and have access to only that single copy. Sure, you can share it with a few of your close friends (who hasn't passed a book along to a friend who might enjoy it?), but not to thousands, perhaps millions, of people across the globe.

The problem is that for the first time in our history, goods are purely intangible, and it's that very intangibility that gives people the idea it's up for grabs. Ebooks (along with digital movies and music) have no physical substance. You can't smell them, taste them, or touch them. For all intents and purposes, they don't exist in the real world. They're simply digital files.

Does that mean they should be free to whoever wants to take them or distribute them?

Again, no. Sorry.

Digital or not, they are the property of someone else, and that person isn't likely you. Again, if you bought a copy, you own only that single copy. If you upload them to pirate sites without permission of the copyright owner, you're essentially creating multiple copies of the book, and that's theft. If you download them without paying the copyright owner for them, it's still theft.

Pirates love to argue that most people who download books and other copy-written material for free wouldn't have bought the product to begin with, or might buy it if they read (or listen or watch) it for free first.

Well, maybe they wouldn't, or maybe they would. There are no numbers to support the argument either way.

That's also not the point.

The point is that the product does not belong to you. It is not yours to take and decide later if you want to buy it. If you do not wish to spend your hard-earned money on it, that's totally understandable, but this does not give you the right to read it anyway for free. Whether or not piracy affects my sales is also not the point. The product does not belong to you. Period. Would you stand by idly if I snatched a TV set or Ipod from your home and told you "I wasn't going to buy this, but I want to use it anyway?" Of course not. You paid for those items. They belong to you and no one else. I would have been committing theft.

The argument that someone would never buy the book, or might buy the book after reading it is ONLY used when the subject is intangible goods. No one could walk into Barnes and Noble, pick a book off the shelf, walk out without paying for it, then tell the police "I might buy it after I read it," or "I wasn't going to read it at all if I couldn't take it for free,"and expect to be let go.

Pirates claim that writers, musicians and the rest are greedy, concerned with losing even a penny on their royalties.

Damn straight. When your living is dependent on royalties, you want every penny accounted for. No one else would expect to work at their job without being paid for it.

Pirates claim that people who can't afford to buy books should still be able to read them.

Absolutely! That's what libraries are for. Most libraries in the U.S. will even mail the book to your home now, so the argument about distance to a library or rising gas prices keeping people from lending institutions no longer holds water, at least not in the U.S. I feel badly for folks in countries where the library system doesn't work for them, or in countries where books such as mine are banned, but that's still no excuse for theft. We need to work on establishing individual freedoms in those places, but condoning theft of intellectual properties is not going to fix things.

Many companies give away samples for free to entice consumers into buying their product. How many times have you walked through a food court in the mall, and had workers offer you a sample of food or baked goods? Sometimes people buy, sometimes they don't.

We do the same thing. Many authors post free reads on their websites, in forums, etc. We do this for the express purpose of giving people something for nothing, a taste of our writing style, so readers can decide whether or not to invest in one of our books.

Those stories are expected to be taken, to be read for free. Our products, our books, music, and movies, are not.

Pirates claim that art should be free.

Um, no.

Art is free to create. Not to steal.

Look at the old masters of art. Their work is free now because there is no copyright on it. Rest assured, they were usually commissioned when they first created the pieces. Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel, Da Vinci received compensation to paint the Mona Lisa, and so forth, and so on. I'm sure if they were alive and working in the world today, their work would be copyrighted, and they'd be as upset over people pirating their work as we are.

In short, if it doesn't belong to you, don't take it.

On the other hand, I'm profoundly grateful to my readers (some of whom are on limited budgets) who choose to spend their money to read my work. To those readers, and those who get their copies from libraries, I am deeply indebted.

Yes, we could write or compose for the sheer enjoyment of doing so, or because something in our makeup insists that we do so, but why bother publishing? For me, it is essential to be able to say my work has worth, that I'm not just writing stories for the hell of it. Like every one else who works for a living, a paycheck shows your efforts are appreciated.

Perhaps we, as artists, don't acknowledge these faithful consumers enough. They are the backbone of our industries, the glue that binds the whole thing together. Without them, we would not succeed. Without readers, our words are just marks on a page, wasted efforts.

To you, Faithful Reader, my thanks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It Never Ends

You finally did it.

When you first made the decision to write a book, you willingly gave up any semblance of a social life, and spent incalculable hours crouched over your keyboard, writing. You agonized over every word written, every descriptive paragraph, every bit of dialogue. You cleverly incorporated every scrap of your well-documented research, careful to keep the story informative without being preachy. By the time you finished your first draft, your characters were nicely rounded and fleshed out; your heroes were loveable, your villains were horrible, and all the plot holes stitched up tighter than Aunt Bertha's girdle.

Then you diligently, painfully edited your work, carving out chunks that left your soul bleeding because you really, really loved the scene where your hero went shoe shopping, but realized it added virtually nothing to the plot or character development except for feeding your own secret fantasy to throw away fifteen hundred bucks on a pair of Prada heels. You revised and revised and revised, whittling and tweaking until your manuscript practically screamed "bestseller."

After a period of extensive research during which you picked the brain of every writer of your genre you could corner, you pinpointed your market, chose a publisher, and finally sent your baby on its merry way with a wish and a prayer and a query letter that was nearly literary gold in and of itself.

Weeks passed, perhaps months, and although you went about your business of day-to-day living, your book was never far from your mind. Where was it now? Was it on someone's desk, or moldering in some godforsaken slush pile? Who was reading it? Did they like it, or were they passing it around the office, all getting a good chuckle from what they collectively thought might arguably be the worst book ever written? Did someone use it to paper a bird's cage?

You lost sleep. You didn't eat. You got cranky with the cat.

Then one morning, just as you've convinced yourself you must have been out of your mind to consider writing the book in the first place let alone sending it out for strangers to read, an email from the publisher appeared in your inbox. You began to sweat blood. Was it good news, or bad? You stared at the unopened email, trying to discern from the vague subject line (deviously worded, "your submission") whether there's an offer of a contract within or a rejection. It's only after several shots of liquid courage and much pacing and wringing of hands that you found the wherewithal to open the email and read the contents.

Hallelujah! It was an offer to publish. You did it!

Cue the fireworks and tickertape parade.

Unfortunately, your work had just begun. Over the next few months, you were assigned an editor, and repeatedly hit upside the head with the edit mallet. Someone you never met before, who was not there to see blood seep from your pores as you agonized over the original manuscript, or the hives spotting your skin while you waited for the acceptance letter, who had no idea of what your crankiness did to the cat, has red-lined the pages of your manuscript like an English teacher on steroids. They lectured you on comma use, dialogue tags, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, POV, and exposition, and demanded a new scene written in which your hero goes shoe shopping.

You did everything asked of you. You grumbled, perhaps, but spent as many additional hours as necessary meticulously making changes to what, until twenty-four hours ago, you were confident was already a Pulitzer-worthy manuscript.

After this gut-wrenching process, you went through yet another round of soul-searing edits, then line edits, and finally, a couple of rounds of proofing. By this time, you'd developed a nervous tic, and the cat had bald patches and refused to come out from under the sofa.

Your hard work, diligence, self-flagellation, and occasional use of voodoo dolls and pins paid off. Finally, finally, your book released. It had cover art! It had a dedication! It had an ISBN number! It was all shiny and pretty and sitting on the front page of the publisher's website!

Think you're finished with it?

Oh hell no.

You now must begin the arduous task of promoting your book, because if you don't initiate a marketing and promotion plan that is the literary equivalent of guerilla warfare, no one will know about the damn thing or buy it.

In a blizzard of activity, you send out mass release notifications to every email address on the planet, clog Yahoo group inboxes with excerpts, update your website with life-size graphics of your book cover, and hold contests for readers to win fabulous prizes like a chapstick with your name on it, or -- drum roll please -- a copy of your book. You do interviews until the entire world knows you've written a book, the name of your favorite television show, and the color of your underwear. You create book trailers that are worthy of Oscar acclaim. You plaster review sites with book cover and banner ads. You Facebook, blog, and Tweet until your Twitter is sore. You do book signings and make appearances at conventions. In short, you do everything except skywrite your book's buy-link over large metropolitan areas.

Miraculously during all of this, you've managed to write your second book. It was accepted for publication and the entire process began to repeat itself.

So, now you're finally done with the first book, right? I mean, you're a busy author. Prolific, even. You're multi-published, for Heaven's sake. You have a second book to worry about now and a third in the works, not to mention needing to decide if you should dip the cat in a vat of medicated lotion to encourage hair growth, or if it would easier to just tell everyone it's the Sphinx breed. The first book is over and done with, never to darken your computer screen again.

Oh hell no.

As a writer, you must come to terms with one undeniable truth -- you are never done with a book.

The first book simply switches from its much-touted "new release" label to a different, if no less important, one. It becomes your backlist.

Your first book may no longer be the engine driving your career train, but no matter how many freight cars you stick between it and your latest new release, it never really goes away. It will always be the caboose, chugging along at the rear.

Your backlist is important because those earlier books, while perhaps overshadowed by your sparkling, shiny new releases, are what help pad your royalties and keep the cat in hair tonic. As a writer, you can't afford to forget about them.

You'll become quite devious in your methods when it comes to keeping your backlist titles in front of readers. You'll sneak in references to books on your backlist when doing interviews, Facebook posts, and blogs. You'll find ways to work them into Yahoo posts, even when they're sometimes far removed from the topic - after all, you're a writer, and words are your forte. You may write sequels, even if you did not intend to do so when you wrote the first book.

When the dreaded day finally comes, the one in which your first book goes out of contract, it will still refuse to die. After all, a book sitting on your desktop collecting dust will not make you one thin dime. It isn't like an NFL jersey number. You don't need to retire it. At this point, you'll either tear it apart, rewrite and expand it in hopes of reselling it to another publisher, self-publish it, or offer it up as a free read to boost sales of your current titles.

Eventually, given enough time, the cat's hair will grow back, but you'll still be promoting that first book in one form or another. It just never ends.

But you know what? It's totally worth it.