Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday in Adelaide

Today: images. Specifically, views of the fair city of Adelaide. It would be true to say that we're a little off the beaten track, and nowhere near Sydney. Which means, of course, the vast majority of people couldn't find us on a map with the aid of the index and a magnifying glass. But, hey, we exist. Adelaide is no figment of Keegan's imagination -- and here's the proof. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the images pasted down the left margin here will be worth at least a novella. Click on any pic to get a larger view, and ... enjoy.
The truth is, there was also a time when I couldn't have found Adelaide on a map either, not even if you'd bribed me with Mars bars and pogo sticks ... I was seven at the time. Possibly eight. I spent my early years in the UK, which gives me something of an affinity for the landscape and "spirit of place." British culture has changed enormously since the family left, so I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to write fiction about Brits, in 2008, in England, and have you believe it was written by a native.

It'd have to be fairly transparent -- and there's a new pet peeve out there in the world of readers, as clearly distinct from writers. You might have heard the term "culture misappropriation." Google it. You'll be confounded, and perhaps unpleasantly surprised. There's a faction out there which claims that only the people who are native to a culture can properly write about it; anything else is "misappropriation," and should probably by be disallowed.
It's an interesting point of view, but I wonder who could agree with it? Put it like this: to write an Irish character, you have to be Irish. To write a novel set in Hong Kong, you have to be Chinese, or at least from there. To write an Australian novel, you have to be Aussie ... and so on, right across the board, from Buddhist to Norwegian to GLBT, to an opera singer, to a registered nurse, and everything in between. Marathon runner, concert cellist, kindergarten teacher, stripper in a "Thursday is Gay Day" pub.

I'm sure the position isn't realistic; how could it be? Fiction writing would come to a screeching dead STOP. Still, this doesn't prevent some people getting very unhappy when they realize (or suspect) that the writer of this book about Muslems (or gays or Japanese or violinists) is not really a/n [fill in the blank] ... and the writer of this book about penguins is not really a penguin. (Yes, I'm being facetious, deliberately, to make a point. This argument gets really stupid, really fast.)

It's about as dumb as the half-baked legal proceedings that were actually tried about 8 years ago (10? Time flies), where writers were going to have to (get this) pay a royalty to say "Pepsi" and "Qantas" and "Volvo" in their novels. Never mind the fact that it's free advertising ... shock! Horror! Those are trademarks! Writers can't use them in a novel! Can they? Well, firstly, what are the legal beagles going to do about the last fifty years of contemporary fiction publishing? Recall whole libraries and have book burnings?

Secondly, it IS free advertising, and I'm sure companies like Alaska Airlines and Jose Cuervo and Budget rammed this piece of wisdom, sideways, down the throats of the lawyers who were trying to derail the free-ride gravy train! Thirdly, how were they planning to collect royalties?! And lastly, how's about the small fact that the Internet is the biggest publishing venture in the history of writing, and it's stuffed with real-world references, many of which (faint!) are trademarks.

None of which should be taken to mean that I pooh-pooh the idea of trademarks! I respect them just as I respect copyrights and patents. However, dig out the whole reason for trademarks, and think again. The only reason you'd pay fortunes to trademark yourself, your brand, your name, is to protect your corporate identity and product, so as to be clearly distinct and highly visible in the business world...

The reason for wanting to be be so distinct is (duh) your marketing identity. No one should ever think, "I'm thirsty for a Coke," and grab a Pepsi by mistake, and not know they've done it. Past this, it's difficult to see how any exposure of the name or product could be bad for the sales ... it'd have to involve a product being used in connection with (and becoming identified with) illegal or undesirable people or activities.

For example ... Osama Bin Laden on camel-back, saluting the camera with a traditional Coke bottle, the label carefully turned to show fully, and the caption, "Have a better one." Or, Adolph Hitler, photoshopped to be wearing Armani and flaunting the keys to the brand, spanking new Lexus he's about to climb into, while at his shoulder Eva Braun is touching up her face with a dab of Maybelline from a clearly-visible pack.
(So, yes, I realize the trademark question has limits. But those limits are pretty far out. 99.999% of writers using a trademark in the body of a work of fiction are simply stating, "Jack and Frank were on Qantas, through to Hawaii, and changed to Alaska Airlines for the flight home to Anchorage." That's got to be kosher ... and it's got to be free advertising for a couple of airlines!)

I remember thinking, at the time, "Hey, they can track me down and sue me for 20 years' worth of royalties ... and maybe I'll serve them an account for the advertising they've had out of ol' Mel for free. Needless to say, I didn't get a dime from Volvo and Qantas and Fosters, and whomever else. Well ... poop. Then again, they didn't hit me up for royalties, so ... what the hell. (Or should I say heck, since if you say "hell" you get your blog Rated R?!)

Last notes for today are strangely apropos of the question of marketing. You might be aware that a new search engine launched a few weeks ago -- something called Cuil (which I guess is pronounced Koooool. Which is cool enough). It had a load of media hype at launch time (they missed me; I didn't know they existed till this morning), but according to the news from Statcounter, which we use to track traffic through our pages, after doing fairly well (1 in 1000 searches) in the week of their launch, they had slumped to one in 10,000 searches by the end of a couple of weeks. And there's a reason for this...

Give it a shot yourself, and the sheer uselessness of Cuil will become apparent in about twenty seconds flat. I went there this morning, and what did I search on? Mel Keegan. Then Mel Keegan books. The Mel Keegan homepage. Mel Keegan website. Any combination I could think of, trying to find my homepage. Then (finally) ... which seemed ridiculously redundant and -- uh huh.

Hmmm. I pulled up rafts of shops saying they stock MK's books; but when you clicked through, you found zip available. Which means one of two things: those stores either had a copy of some MK title, and it was sold weeks ago, and Cuil never updated ... or, those stores are "partners" who put money into the database in order to be featured. Whichever, the bottom line is this: Cuil cannot find a dot-com.

You got it: "" is unknown to the database ... but they'll be happy to serve you up a couple of dozen stores, about 5% of which actually have a Keegan title -- a battered old, used DEATH'S HEAD for too high a price. Why would you pay that, when you can have a new one, via the dot-com?! You work it out. So, Cuil looks like it's going to fold ... or at the very least will have to change the way it works, and change PDQ. Not everyone who searches the web wants to buy something.

Anyway, will take you there for a quick look, but you'll wind up scratching your head. On an interesting note, Google Chrome grabbed 1% of the search engine world in its first day after the beta launched, according to the numbers published by Statcounter this morning. It is a very nice browser. As soon as they get a couple of handshaking issues fixed, it'll be extremely useful.

Got to get some work done now!

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