A Rant About the Idiocies of Corporate Monopolies

I am not one to waste my blog time ranting about the idiocies of corporate monopolies, but at the moment I feel like ranting. (Feel free to head out and do something more interesting than listening to me. Like watching a pot boil or eating a liverwurst sandwich.)

The other day my father got a bill from Charter Communication that reflected a $50 increase in his monthly bundled rate. When I called them to find out what was going on, they said that his contract had expired, so the rates defaulted to the normal rates. I asked if they needed him to sign a new contract so he could get a lower rate, and phonethey said no, that their new rates were lower than his old rates, and they would just switch him over to the new normal rates.

By this time, I was thoroughly confused, so I asked why they hadn’t just automatically given him the lower normal rate. Their oh so logical response: “Because we couldn’t get into the account to change it.” But they could change it to the higher normal rate? Yep. That makes sense. (Apparently, their normal rates are whatever the representative decides. A friend tried to find out what her new rate would be, and she and her husband were each given three different figures.)

They also said my father was eligible for an equipment upgrade — a faster router and modem. I’m all for that. Some sites, including one of my email sites, have so many ads and videos going at once, that it takes forever to load the page. They ended the call by telling me I’d have the package in a week, which means it will come on Thursday.

Just now I received an automated phone call from Charter. They said there was a problem with my recent upgrade and they had an important message for me. I waited for a couple of minutes for a live representative to come on the line, and the first thing she asked me for was the phone number. Huh? They called me and didn’t know what phone number they called? (Her explanation, “It’s an automated system,” wasn’t much of an explanation, but it’s the only one she offered.)

I don’t know the phone number here — I never call it. And I have no need to know it since I never give it out. My father is 97-years-old, and he likes answering the phone when he is awake, so I don’t want to bother him with answering calls for me. (Since he was napping when Charter called, I got the all the fun, though I would have had to deal with them anyway. He can’t hear very well, and he gets easily confused, so he would have turned the phone over to me so I could get confused instead.) I went searching for his phone number, finally found it, and gave it to the woman. At her request, I gave her the address, which I do know. And then she asked for the security code. Yeah, right. That’s something I waste precious brain cells for, carrying that number around in my head. (When I called them, of course, I’d gathered all the information and had it ready. Since they called me, it was their responsibility to have the information ready. She didn’t see it that way, of course.)

The representative wasn’t very patient with my frustration and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t thrilled to be talking to her. She kept saying she needed the information to get into the account so she could tell me why Charter called. The thing is, Charter had called me — yeah, I know, I keep repeating that, but it’s an important point. When I call someone, I feel safe (safer, anyway) giving out information on the phone, but for all I knew, it might not have been Charter who called. It could have been a scam and someone wanted the information to . . . well, to do whatever scammers do with personal information.

At long last, the representative accessed the account. The important message? That the equipment will arrive on Thursday.

Sheesh.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Gone With the Electronic Wind

I seem to be changing, whether I realize it on a daily basis or not. For the most part, I am more patient than I used to be. I have a greater ability to wait because there’s no reason to be one place rather than another. I am also aware the future will come whether I will it or not. But . . . I have a lot less patience for disrespect. And I am not as I nice as I once was.

Take today, for example. I got a friend request from someone on LinkedIn. I accepted the request, then she sent me an invitation to join her crime writers group. After I did so, she sent a message suggesting I post a bit about one of my books in the group’s discussion boards. Which I did. Then she said to post a link to the book (though I had already done so) and after I posted the second link, she left a comment on the very public post saying the book sounded interesting, but she wasn’t going to buy it. Huh? Why not just say it sounded interesting and leave it at that? Even worse, she went on a rant about ebook pricing. Apparently, J. Konrath has decided that $2.99 is the perfect ebook price (who made him king, anyway?) so the LinkedIn woman decided that any book priced more than that is overpriced. Her reasoning? Some of the major publishers were selling ebooks at almost the same price as a print book, and since there was nothing changing hands — no actual printed book — she figured that the publishers were cheating her.

My publisher prices my ebooks at less than a third of the print price, so why was she griping about my book? Aren’t publishers (and authors!!) allowed to make money anymore? Amazon skims 30% right off the top of all books (70% off $.99 books), and for this skim, they don’t do anything except offer the book as a download. There is no human involvement, so no payroll, no expenses except for a few cents worth of computer time. Apparently the woman has no objection to a huge near monopoly like Amazon raking in the dough. But a small publishing house? Oh, no. They aren’t allowed to make a profit! Sure the ebook is only a few electrons, and no physical product is exchanging hands, but what about the hundreds of hours that goes into publishing a book? (I’m not even counting the hours it takes to write the book.) It takes time and money to format, edit, create a cover, copyedit it, proof it. And yet she complains the publishers are selling nothing.

Perhaps her rant would have made sense if I had been the one to ask to be connected, if I had been the one to ask to join her group, if I had posted the book link without permission. But she instigated the whole situation, and then she was unbearably rude.

So I got even. I deleted her from my online world. Poof! Gone with the electronic wind.

Ranting And Writing

We are always told to show not tell, yet new writers often have a hard time understanding the difference. And apparently, so do professional writers.

I found this example of tell in a book by a bestselling author. She was enraged, and this was very visible. You and I certainly could never get away with such a ridiculous sentence. How was her rage visible? Did she turn red? Did flames shoot out of the top of her head? Describing how she looked when angry, though not ideal, is better than simply saying her anger was visible, but an accomplished writer shows the anger, shows what the character did.

Perhaps she was angry at her fiancé and so she slapped him. (As an aside, why is this still acceptable behavior for women? If men aren’t allowed to hit women, then women shouldn’t be allowed to hit men.) Or perhaps she tore off her engagement ring and tossed it in the river. Even better if she surreptitiously picked up a pebble, then palmed her engagement ring, and threw the pebble in the river. That way she could show many things besides her anger: she can show that she is smart, controlled, even manipulative. Maybe she isn’t even angry; could be she just wants the guy to think she was angry.

Any way you look at it, the sentence as it stands is weak. So is this one by the same author: He remained perfectly still, not moving a muscle. At least she showed him doing something, but remaining perfectly still and not moving a muscle mean the same thing. Redunancy, anyone?

While I’m on my rant here, I have something else I’ve been meaning to say. The preferred usage now is to use a instead of his or her when referring to a limb. For example: He put a hand in his pocket. The reasoning is that if you say he put his hand in his pocket, it presupposes that he has a single hand. But I always wonder: if he puts a hand in his pocket, whose hand is it? His? A disembodied hand he just happened to have lying around? Okay, I’m getting ridiculous here, but it shows the ambiguity of words.

Sometimes ambiguity is acceptable, but more often it’s the lazy way of writing. Makes me wonder why readers shell out hard-earned money when authors are so willing to repay them with sentences such as She was enraged, and this was very visible.