Friday, November 21, 2008

And I Thought Things Were Going So Well....

So, I am working to try and finish the complete draft of the book manuscript. Meanwhile, I am pushing to get the contract finalized, since I don't want to release the complete manuscript until the contract has been signed by everyone and I have my copy. Mean-meanwhile, I am also looking to get some feedback on drafts.

So, I open my email today and here's the message from my author friend:
hi larry
here are some of my notes on the chapter.

i have to tell you that although we have a contract, i don't think your best interest are served. i agreed to it because i could not be bothered. but the book is not of publication caliber and i strongly doubt we will get a publisher.

we did not meet the way we said we would. we cancelled the meetings, which was in the contract larry, you cancelled them, and as a result the book lacks gravitas, is not forceful, is a little too academic, and will not, i predict, sustain the reader's interest. it's not that you didn't do a good job. rather, i have debated these issues so many times, i know what scores with readers, and most of that is not in the book. this last chapter goes through all the major atheist objections to religion in short soundbites. people are not going to find it convincing.

and is say that you lost out in the end because the only way you're going to make any serious money is if the book finds a publisher.

in any event, give me the complete manuscript now and i will show it to a couple of people in publishing. maybe they feel different.

thank you larry

author friend

To be honest, this email has hurt me a little bit. What does he mean that my interests are not served by a signed contract? Why add that he could not be bothered, as if to say that his time is more valuable than mine? What does the contract have to do with the quality of the chapters of the book? How can he say the book is not publication caliber when he has not seen the manuscript? All he's ever read are in-process drafts. He canceled and re-scheduled meetings, and he was difficult to get hold of by phone - and anyway, what I needed was written feedback more than anything else.

Here's what I emailed back:
Hi Author Friend,

Thanks for your comments, and your concern. I will review your comments and seek to improve the chapter accordingly. The first draft of the whole manuscript will be finished soon, and I will send that. I don't doubt that the book is not publication caliber yet. When we first began talking about the project, you said that you would have to re-write everything that I did in order to make the material conform to your viewpoint and style. My understanding is that the completed manuscript will be circulated for feedback so that it can be made less academic, more forceful and so on.

Frankly, I think the book will actually score with readers more than you think. I have seen many debates, yours and others. I have read the reactions of all sorts of people to the debaters and to the arguments. People don't want us to repeat the same old tired arguments and responses. I think you and I push the debate forward in an interesting, uncompromising and viable way. We look at atheism, science and religion in the face and help people see where they can go from here. Can we make improvements? Yes. Can we press harder? Yes. I really feel that once YOU start working this manuscript and adding your detailed knowledge and insight, the resulting product will be an engaging, thoughtful and original treatment of the subject.

The 150th anniversary of Origin of Species is next calendar year. Don't miss the opportunity to have this book brought to light now. But I can't stress enough - this has to be YOUR book. I did the research, pulled together solid science, drew in your articles, and worked with your comments. But you also need to work with the manuscript.

I am sorry that we did not meet face-to-face more often. We both canceled dates and though I asked several times for a workable half-way point, we never found one. We both have schedules that make face-to-face interaction challenging. I would have preferred regular weekly calls, and I suggested such on several occasions, is what it is, as they say.

In any event, I will send the complete manuscript in a few weeks, as we have discussed in several emails. I hope when you see the manuscript, your thoughts on it will be more positive. To be honest, I have really enjoyed this project and working with you. What I have wanted most of all is feedback, and when it's been provided, I have been helped greatly. I am grateful for this particular opportunity and the chance to work with you. I would certainly do it again...under the right circumstances.

After you get the final manuscript and begin talking to publishers, why don't we keep in touch and talk? Maybe about the book, maybe not.


Have a good Shabbos,


I think I was a model of restraint, although I don't know that I really addressed his underlying issues. Perhaps he thinks I am simply going to skip town after submitting the manuscript. This guy always seems to mis-read my intentions, as when he bizarrely thought I wanted to include a dialogue between him and me in the chapter. My opinion is that the reason he doesn't like to write things down and give that kind of direction is that he sees on paper how his arguments break down. Very often his thinking is quite flimsy, and writing it out reveals this.

Here is an example: He insisted that I include his public, online spat with Richard Dawkins. When I look at the evolution of the argument, I think my author friend comes out looking very bad. He whines, he takes little side remarks out of context, he inflates and pads his credentials and stature...and he's wrong. I'm now glad he required me to include the whole messy affair, as well as the exchange with Christopher Hitchens. I think most people will see Dawkins and Hitchens each as being in the right against my author friend.

I'm really starting to see it: Religion is philosophy for the limited. Certainly, if a guy as deluded and murky as this can get published, I can too. I just need to find a subject I really, really want to talk about.

Uh-oh. Here's an update from the Author Friend:
Hi larry

You worked very hard on the book and I am grateful.

The contract explicitly says that you will come to see me once a month and we will pay your travel. It makes no mention of my having to travel half way to see you. To the extent that this has not been realized the book has suffered.

Having said that, please get me the manuscript as is right now even while you work on it. I'd like to see it all together and get people's responses.

Good shabbos and thank you
He doesn't realize how the contract is actually worded:
D. Once per month, Contractor may meet (“Meetings”) with Client for a face-to-face discussion of the manuscript to date and matters related to the present agreement.

D.1. Location of the Meetings will be at the Client’s base of operations or some other location as selected by Client, within 250 miles of the Contractor’s base of operations.

D.2. Proposed dates and time for the Meetings are as follows (subject to change by Client and Contractor): June 29, 2008 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; July 20, 2008 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; August 24, 2008 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; September 21, 2008 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

D.3. The frequency and directive for the Meetings are at the Client’s sole and absolute discretion.

D.4. Additional meetings may be scheduled, as deemed necessary by Client.
That "may" in Part D is important. Here is what he said when I mentioned I would not be able to meet face-to-face (This was in response to my email of October 10, 2008):
Me: October, November and December are turning into very busy times for me at my day-job. I am uncertain and, well, doubtful of my ability to travel all the way to NY/NJ to meet with you anytime soon. Perhaps we can make alternate arrangements?

Here is something I emailed to him on October 29:
I just don't see a face-to-face meeting in the cards, but I do want to be flexible. I am sure you understand that my regular job and my family have to be first priorities for me, and their demands on my time and energy have been ramped up lately. While I am trying to meet our timetables - and I think we'll hit them - I am actually paid to focus on my regular work and my family needs me to be home with them. So, we can try a Sunday morning somewhere between Mass. and NY. I cannot make promises of availability because I am on call for my job and family, but I promise that I will try to accommodate you because I value our relationship and the work we are doing.

Possible Sundays that might work: 11/16, 11/23, 12/7, 12/14. If any of these are good for you, let's go early in the morning, please. We can also do an extended conference call. Just give me your undivided attention - I'll be in front of a computer and we'll get a lot accomplished.
I wonder if he's going to try and stiff me. I may have to take my $6,250 and run.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Priest: No Communion for Obama voters

This article demonstrates the frustrating lunacy of political ideology filtered through religion. I think this priest deserves the highest level of censure for seeking to use people's faith as a means of political retribution.

One of the galling elements of this story is the irrational focus on one issue. I grant that abortion is a serious matter, but it's not the top item on the president's agenda. At least I hope it isn't.

Christianity has always seemed to me a religion preoccupied with death and over death. Judaism has its quirks as well, see the Motl case, but Christianity cannot make a sentence without a subject, a verb and some death-related idea (pace, Joe Biden).

People in the U.S. need to re-claim privacy and decorum. Not everything on one's mind should be made public, especially in politics and religion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Humanists Launch G-dless Holiday Campaign

I like this campaign and the debate it is likely to stir.

Be good for goodness's sake - it's so simple!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Veteran's Day Speech by GWB

I found this transcript of President Bush's speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. The story on September 11, 2001 is fascinating.

The lame-duckedness of the president is palpable.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Uneasy Dedication

This weekend, my son is to be brought up to the front of my wife’s church and “dedicated” specifically to Jsus. Now, this symbolic human sacrifice troubles my Jewish-derived sensibilities anyway, but it also bothers me to impose this ceremony on my son without his consent. True enough, when he was just days old I had him circumcised without his consent, but this also was no ceremonial event. The doctor just did it in a back room.

Such is the life of one married to an ever-more-devout religious person, especially when one comes to accept that agnosticism-atheism makes the most sense to him. As this agnostic atheist, I acknowledge and truly treasure my Jewish heritage and the faith of my ancestors. I seek to know these beliefs, and I look upon them with humility, sympathy and even empathy. I consider myself a Jew, and to some extent I always will.

Do I believe in G-d? The answer is no, but it’s not an unequivocal no. It is a no of belief: I do not feel sure enough to have the scales tipped toward faith. I have little confidence that I ever will...and I am OK with this.

I really don’t mind my son going to church with my wife, even though it is not the Catholic church that we agreed upon for our children before our marriage. I never – never – agreed to this new evangelical church. At best, I am lukewarm to its doctrines, preaching, or approach to life and the world. I can handle the children going to church, but I am uncomfortable seeing them made into ritual objects.

My infant son will be carried up to the altar by my wife, not with me, and the preacher man will utter some meaningless words at him, over him, but not to him. This ritual will have more to do with my wife than my son. Certainly, I will be proud of both my son and my wife, at this time and beyond.