Esperanto: What’s the Big Idea behind the International Language?

Esperanto. What is it? Why am I learning it? Should you?

The Flag of Esperanto

Esperanto is a planned language developed by an amateur linguist in 1887. His goal was to create an easy to learn, universal second language.

The creator, L.L. Zamenhof was not alone in wanting to do this. The idea of a universal second language has been studied by linguist for centuries, pushed by idealist and desired by travelers, business people and diplomats. What sets Zamenhof’s language, Esperanto, off from the others is that its’ survived over 130 years of history and continues to have a large body of speakers worldwide. It has grown beyond the idea phase into a living language.

When I think of Esperanto, I divide the reasons for it into two categories, the big ideas and the little ones. The big ideas are why Zamenhof wrote the language and why so many people have learned it over the years. The little ideas are why you my want to learn the language. So let us begin:

The big idea

The construction of an international language is driven by three main motivations, convenience, fairness and understanding. All three are prevalent in Esperanto.

Convenience

The convenience of a single universal second language should be obvious, travelers, business people, and diplomats would have a single language to learn, instead of hundreds. Journals and news could be published in Esperanto and be instantly accessible around the globe to speakers of many languages.

International news in Esperanto is already a thing. Here are a few sources. 

To be truly convenient, this universal language must be simpler to learn than a natural language and Esperanto passes this test easily. Natural language learning is measured in years, Esperanto in months or in some cases weeks.

(Don’t be fooled by all the “learn Spanish in thirty days” courses out there. You might be able to have some really basic conversations at the end of that time, but real knowledge of Spanish takes on average two years of study.)

It’s fair.

But what does that have to do with fairness? Using any natural language as a second language, universal or otherwise, puts an enormous burden on nonnative speakers, who must spend years learning it. It also puts native speakers at a distinct advantage in any negotiations and just in life in general.

However if both parties learn the same second language, they have the same investment in time and are on much fairer footing with each other. If public services, like healthcare, government services, police, education, etc. are done in this universal language, all have equal access with our regard to linguistic abilities.

Understanding

Finally a universal second language could build a bridge between isolated linguistic communities. Eastern Europe of Zamenhof’s day was a mix of people who spoke different languages. His hometown of Bialystok was Polish, but filled with Russian, German and Jewish speakers.

In today’s world the problems are better in ways, worse in others. The internet and international news means that events are translated in a huge variety of languages in almost real time. But understanding often comes much slower. Facts translate easily, culture does not.

Just look at America’s convoluted relationship with the Middle East. The phrase “Allah Akbar” simple means “Praise be to God.” And yet images of Arabic men jumping up and down and yelling “Allah Akbar” have become iconic of radical terrorism and anti-American protests.

Many evangelic christian denominations say praise be to God. Many jump up and down and wave their hands during religious services.

What if both services appeared in the news with the caption “laudo estu al Dio?” (Esperanto for praise be to God) Would people realize those people over their aren’t doing anything that people over here do? Would it start to shift the narrative? I like to think so.

So Why Not?

Why aren’t we doing this?

The answers are many, and many are political. A lot of it comes down to two things, the myth that we already have a universal language and who that myth serves.

The myth is that we have a universal language: English. The reality is far different but I will address that in another blog, because it will take a lot of words.

Who benefits from this myth? Just about every English speaking country and many corporations. Both the US and the UK spend large sums of aid money on English education throughout the world because they know this is key to their national interests.

Africa is home to some of highest levels of language diversity on the globe. Thanks to a long history of colonialism, several of the commonly spoken languages that are used to bridge the gaps between linguistic groups are European languages, French, Portuguese and more recently English.

In modern times, American aid often comes with the English language. For example groups like the Peace Corp teaches practical agricultural skills but also sends many English teachers to impoverished areas. While the volunteers might be idealist, only wanting to help, those in Washington that pay for these programs often have a secondary motive, to keep Africa looking to the English speaking world for it’s future.

It is a great example of soft power, which are probably the future of global conflict. As a growing superpower and major oil importer, China would love to have a greater toe hold on African oil and mining wealth. How do they try to gain this foothold? In recent years Chinese foreign works have become vital to the industries in Africa. And Chinese language comes with them. As more and more Africans learn Chinese, they are more inclined to work with Chinese companies. And slowly the balance of power shifts.

Esperanto could serve to diffuse that conflict and reduce the soft power of corporations and governments alike. It would be a soft power revolution for Africans to have a unified second language that wasn’t beholden to any superpower. And that is the big idea of Esperanto.

Coming up next: The little idea. Or why you should learn Esperanto.

Convinced already? Check out Duolingo, the smartphone app that makes language learning easy.

A Digital Expat — and an Answer to Hugh Howey

In Hugh Howey’s Confessions of a Digital Immigrant he asks for other people’s story about their adoption of digital reading. So Hugh, here you go.

If Hugh is a digital immigrant, I am an expatriate. I swore years ago that I would never abandon print books for ereading. And yet, I have. My reading is about ninety five percent digital.

My ereading story begins in 2010. I am transgender and I was preparing to take a trip to Thailand for my final surgery for my transition. I would be there for a month. I read at least two or three books a week normally, but I would be spending a lot of the month recovering from surgery, so I figured I would read more. How could I possibly bring enough books? Could I find English language books in Bangkok, Thailand?

The answer was to purchase my first kindle. I got it about a month before my trip and as soon as I started using it, it was magic. The device fit easily in my purse, dramatically reducing the amount of weight I carried.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

Before my kindle, I carried a physical book everywhere. I used to joke, “happiness is a small book.” Small books are great for when you are waiting in line, stuck at the doctor’s office, or have a few minutes downtime at work.

There were two problems with this. Big, thick books are happiness, too, but they don’t fit so well in a purse. The second problem was that I often carried more than one book. If I was more than three quarters of a way through a book, I’d become afraid of finishing while I was out somewhere, and not having the next book to read. So I’d figure out what I was going to read next, and then carry that one as well.

With the kindle, those problems went away. It didn’t matter whether the book is long or short, the kindle still weighs the same. The next book is already there, on the same device. I downloaded what I thought would be a month’s worth of reading and headed to Thailand.

Two things occurred while I was in Thailand. I didn’t have all the books I needed. I was stuck there longer than expected and I needed more books. That was okay, I could easily shop and download more. That, too, was magic. To be sitting in a cafe in Bangkok, Thailand and buying books from the United States on Amazon, and then downloading them instantly, was magic.

The other problem was with my computer. To make a long story short, I needed a couple of reference manuals to fix what was wrong. In print they would have been big, expensive and I would have had to mail order them. On the kindle I was able to download them instantly for a fraction of the price.

In Hugh’s blog he claims that its older readers that have adopted ereading the most. That seems counter intuitive, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. When I came back from Thailand, now in love with my kindle, I started looking around the house. Could I replace some of my print books with ebooks?

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

I understand what he says about young people loving their print books. I was like that once upon a time. Now I watch book bloggers on youtube, flashing their copies of their five favorite novels and think, “five? That’s cute.” A life-long reader at age forty five, I could be smothered by a fraction of my favorite books.

Looking around my house at the end of 2010, I had one book shelf in the entryway to the kitchen just for cookbooks. I had another in the main room for books I kept for reference, or because I frequently picked them up and read portions of them. I had a library with three more bookshelves. That’s five full book shelves.

And then there were the flats. I had discovered years ago that paperback books fit well in those plastic underbed storage boxes. That became the most convenient way to store and move most of my books, which were trade paperback science fiction and fantasy. By 2010 I had stacks of them in my basement. Somewhere in my late twenties and early thirties a love of books had crossed the line into hoarding. I had to do something.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

The kindle became the solution and the excuse to declutter my life. Many of the reference books that I had to have were classics, books of poetry, mythology, etc. I would never know when I needed one for a quote, or to settle some debate.

(What? You’ve never suddenly needed to know what it says in the Bhagavad Gita? Or needed a quote from the finnish epic Kalevala? You haven’t been to my house, then. It happens.) The kindle and the Gutenberg project cut deep into that shelf.

I have a problem letting go of novels. The reason is that I’ve bought many books two or three times. I’ll buy a book, read it and think, “that was good but I’ll probably never read it again.” I give it away or sell to a used bookstore. Five years later I want to read it again and buy another copy. Then I get paranoid about giving up that copy, because who knows? In five years I might want to read it a third time. But the book collection keeps growing and there’s only so much room.

With my kindle I don’t have that problem. If I choose to keep a book, it doesn’t add any weight or take up any space. If I let it go, it’s still in my cloud somewhere if I change my mind later.

What else?

A lot of the same things that others have said about ereaders played a role in my adoption as well. I will admit that being able resize text is a lot easier than admitting that I’m getting older. Cheaply priced ebooks are a godsend to active readers who plow through many books in a month.

The ability to shop at home was another huge factor. I love going to the bookstore, I do. Going to the library is another treat for me. But let’s face it, life gets busy and sometimes it’s a pain. Just getting there isn’t the only problem. Buying books once or twice a month at the bookstore means knowing what I am going to want to read after I finish my current book. Sometimes I finish a book and find myself in the mood for something similar, sometimes I want something different. Pulling the next book out I would discover that I got it right, some of the time, and I would get it wrong some of the time. Now I choose what I want to read next when I am ready for it.

A note on Indie authors and pricing

As an ereader I’ve become far more price sensitive. There are three reasons. The most obvious is that I read a lot. The choice between one book at 9.99 and three books at 2.99 is an easy one for me, especially if I am just looking for something to read.

The second reason I am more price sensitive now is because there is one real downside to digital reading. Its not nearly as easy to share a digital book. With print it’s easy to hand the book off to a friend and say, “here, read this. You’ll love it.” When you are trying to tell someone they should lay down money to read something because you think they’ll like it, it’s a different ball game. With a cheap book, 2-3 dollars, I have no problem expecting friends to fork over for their own copy. But when publishers price their ebooks over ten dollars it creates a lot of frustration for me. Knowing I can’t share the book and feeling like I can’t recommend it, takes a lot of pleasure out of reading for me.

The third reason I am so price sensitive has to do with being an indie author myself. I have, or feel like I have, a good notion of how much work and cost goes into an ebook. I understand how the market works.

I track my expenses on each book and I know how much I have to make for each to break even. I hire a professional editor and professional cover artist. Once those set costs are paid, the cost of keeping an ebook on the market is marginal. I sell most of my books for less than five dollars. At the 70% I make from Amazon, it will take a few hundred sales on average for a book to break even and start making money.

So when big publishers tell us that they need to price the latest Patterson book at twelve dollars to make money, I don’t believe them. He has hundreds of thousands of fans. His books will start turning a profit almost as soon as they are out.

My point is that when major publishers push higher ebook prices, I assume they are just fleecing consumers, using ebook sales to prop up less profitable portions of their corporate structure. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s an important reason why I read so few big names these days, and so many indie authors.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

Do I buy any print books?

Yes, I do still buy print books. There are three reasons I still buy print.

When I meet a fellow author at an event or signing, I buy copies. I have a growing collection of signed copies from authors I know personally. I am very proud of that collection and I look forward to adding to it. That said I often come home, put the book on the shelf and then download the ebook to my kindle to actually read the book.

I recently decided to read a couple of books that are pretty popular. Unfortunately, the ebooks were more expensive than I usually care to pay. So I went to the local half price book store and found one of them for less than the ebook. That might be seen as a win for the “high ebook price to help conserve print sales” theory, except it was a second hand book and didn’t help the publisher.

There are a few books that aren’t available for the kindle. It’s getting rare in these days, but it happens. Current authors are almost all available in digital forms. Books old enough to be public domain have probably been uploaded by someone. In between, books old enough to have been published before the digital revolution but not so old as to be public domain, may only exist in print.

So there you have it, the confessions of digital expat.

 

What the Media is getting wrong about Kindle Unlimited

Amazon is one of those love em or hate em kind of companies, or so the media would have us believe. The truth for most writers is, I think, a lot more nuanced than that. A lot of indie writers have made careers thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing. And yet at the same time, they know that having all your eggs in one basket is a dangerous mistake. Other writers have made careers in traditional publishing, and when Amazon and Hachette had their dispute it was hard not to wonder how it was going to affect them. Still, at the end of the day we all understand that Amazon is a business with it’s own business interests. It’s an enormously successful business and it’s decision affect every writer, so we pay attention to anything it does.

That said, I am growing tired of how every Amazon related piece of news is spun to either show how much we love or hate the retailer. Kindle Unlimited has become the latest victim to this spin, even when that’s not what the very authors are saying.

According to the spin the Kindle Unlimited program has opened a huge riff with the indie community. We are being treated like second class citizens. Big name authors like H. M. Ward and even Joe Konrath are up in rebellion, leaving the program in droves.

There is some truth to all this. A select few authors have been allowed in the Kindle Unlimited program without exclusivity but most of us have to choose, enroll in select and have our books become Amazon exclusives or opt out. A few publishers have been offered their full cut on each borrow, the average indie gets paid out of a pot.

There are just a couple of problems with the spin. The first is that while many authors are disappointed with the way this program is working out, they don’t hate Amazon because of it. Even those pulling their books from the program aren’t pulling their books from Amazon. Even those praising the program are cognizant that it hasn’t been good for everyone.

The bigger problem with the spin is that it’s missing the central idea, the program isn’t working. It’s not an Amazon-is-a-terrible-company sort of problem. It’s not that indies are being mistreated. The program should be a good tool for indies wanting to get discovered, but it’s not working out that way.

Why isn’t it working? If we screw the spin and go straight to the source we see the problem. H. M. Ward pulled her books for two reasons, borrows weren’t paying enough and her sales were dropping. In fact, her sales plus her borrows were dropping.

I am nowhere near as popular as H. M. Ward, but I can see her point. The first couple of months I saw a lot of borrows and I got paid enough on each borrow that it was close to what my royalties were. Then borrows started to drop. Now, I can’t say that it’s worth it to stay in the program.

This combination of dropping pay out and dropping borrows points to a more specific problem then how Amazon treats indies. I think the issue has to do with the ratio of readers to writers. Most of the bloggers so far have focused on the huge number of indie authors jumping into the program, and the giant pile of books available. Not only is this disingenuous, since none of those writers is going to stop putting their books into the program, it misses the other side of the equation. How many readers have opted into the subscription service? I am guessing the pace adoption on the consumer side simply hasn’t kept up with the number of authors. That would explain the dropping payouts.

And it points to the real issue with a reader subscription service. I am not just a writer, but an avid reader as well. I opted in with the Kindle Unlimited early on. I loved it for about a month. I read a half dozen or more of the big names they recruited into the program, books I’d wanted to read for sometime because of the hype around them (like the Hunger Games books) but hadn’t wanted to buy. Then I started sampling from the large library of available books, many of them by indie authors. I got passed the ten percent mark, where the author gets paid, on many of them. But I didn’t fall in love with any of them either.

A couple months later I realized that I had stopped borrowing books and gone back to buying them. I just got tired of sorting through hundreds of titles that I might possible want to read and returned to picking out, and paying for, the ones I knew I wanted to read. I got tired of passing by books that I wanted to read, because they weren’t free. Just using KU, I could save money. But having some KU books and some bought books, I was losing money. In the end it wasn’t worth it. I cancelled my subscription.

And that is the problem with a reader subscription service. Books are a huge investment of time, even if they are free. That’s why libraries never destroyed bookstores. Readers don’t seem to care that there are thousands of books available for free at the local library. They only care about the few books that they want right now. The bookstore does a better job of providing those titles. So readers go there and fork over cash.

Libraries stay open because they are publically funded. Do you think it’s possible to have a subscription based library with monthly fees? It hasn’t worked so far. I think Amazon will discover the same thing with KU.

I know, Pandora, Spotify, changing the music industry, blah, blah, blah. Maybe Amazon will eventually pull this one off, maybe they will get around consumer reluctance and author concerns and make Kindle Unlimited work.

As a reader, I’ve ditched Kindle Unlimited. I’m not sure what would bring me back. As an author, I’m leaving some of my YA books in the program, and I will continue to monitor how it works. But I am not intending to put any of my new books in.

Contrary to what the media might say, it doesn’t mean I hate Amazon.

 

The End of an Era (and a site)

 

 

Wiredthatwaylogo1

For nearly two years I wrote a column for Accessline Iowa called Wired That Way. The column was about the intersection of technology and the LGBT community. It was great fun to write. It was also my first experience with a real editor and I learned a lot about writing.

I set up a website to go along with the blog and to provide a space for extra writing. I envisioned it leading to a sideline as a tech blogger.

My mother used to tell me, you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Funny how we never appreciate these tidbits of wisdom until we are older, right?

While writing that column and blogging on that website, I was also working on a couple of YA novels. I never forgot my first love, sci fi and fantasy, either.

My first novel came out and it got decent reviews and sales, enough to encourage me to put more time and focus into fictional writing. The Accessline went to an all digital format and I decided that was a good time to bow out of my column. The website remained and for a long while I continued to post regularly.

Can you make it a business out of blogging? Lots of people do, but it’s a full time job. Can you make a business out of writing novels? Certainly, but again it’s a lot of work. My mom’s words of wisdom have become increasingly important to my writing career. I could do one or the other, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to both. So Wired That Way has taken a backseat to fiction. Contemporary YA novels are slowly taking a backseat to fantasy and science fiction. So it goes.

Wired That Way was hosted through a different company as my other websites. As of December 2014, my hosting account came up for renewal and I just couldn’t justify a two year contract on a website I don’t use anymore. So I’ve redirected the site here for now. This is the site I am most active on, and where what tech writing I do will likely go. Maybe in time I will create a new wordpress site on this host for Wired That Way, but for right now I am going to combine it with this site.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp Cover Reveal

Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp will be out sometime in March. For now, here is the cover and blurb. Comments welcome, of course.

Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp Coming Soon

Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp Coming Soon

 

 

 

Wolf Camp is not your typical arts-and-crafts summer camp. It’s a training ground for future werewolves, where their mental and physical limits are constantly tested and honed. There are many hurdles to overcome: Amanda, an adolescent werebear, can’t control her transformations yet; and Connor and his pack are the camp misfits. Then they discover a new threat from the Sons of Garm, this time from within the Leidulf tribe. Will Amanda and her werewolf friends be able to navigate these new waters? Maybe with a little help from a couple of old friends?

 

Any feedback on the blurb would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.