Who’s Who In the Amazon-Hachette Debate

painting by Rembrandt

painting by Rembrandt

Overview In the very near future a group of writers, calling themselves Authors United, will place an ad in the NY Times addressing the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, Beware folks, for this little episode is about to get a whole bunch bigger. I’m not quite sure when the ad will appear, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that when it does, stakes will be raised dramatically on both sides. In the mean time here’s a short list of literary personalities and author organizations that are sounding off on the issue in question.

Amazon

Amazon is the giant online retailer that sells anything from computers and cell phones to baby dolls. Currently, they are locked in a debate with Hachette over the prices of ebooks that are published by Hachette and sold by Amazon. Basically, Amazon wants lower retail prices, while Hachette doesn’t.

Hatchette headquarters in Paris, France  from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso

Hachette headquarters in Paris, France from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso

Hachette

Hachette is a French book publisher, headquartered in Paris, France. Recently, they entered the American market (2006) with the purchase of Time-Warner books. Their dispute with Amazon revolves around the pricing and profit-sharing of ebooks.

Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston is a popular horror and techno-thriller author, who has organized writers in support of Hachette in their feud with Amazon.

Stephen Colbert Stephen Colbert is the host of the Colbert Report, a popular program of political satire on Comedy Central (and successful Hachette author). Stephen has also been selected by CBS to replace Dave Letterman as host of the Late Show, when David retires next year. Colbert jumped into this debate big time,  (aided by Native American author Sherman Alexie) by symbolically giving Amazon the finger, not once, but twice on the Colbert Report.

Authors United

Authors United is an offshoot from an effort by Douglas Preston to get Amazon.com to help out authors during Amazon’s dispute with Hachette. In June (2014) Preston circulated a letter that was signed by several hundred writers that demanded that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) stop hurting authors during the company’s economic feud with the Big Five Publisher. Literary luminaries who have signed on with this group include James Patterson, Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. About 80 of these writers have come together and purchased a NY Times full page ad, supporting their position. The ad will probably appear in late July or early August of 2014. Just a run-through of the signees will show who is making big bucks in today’s literary world.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, may be the one author, who has been most damaged by the literary stand-off. That is because her new Hachette release, Silkworm, has fallen right in the middle of this debate, causing a serious decline in online sales and orders.

Authors Guild

The Authors Guild is a literary organization with 18,000 members that tends to support Big Five or Legacy published authors. This group along with SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), The Tony Hillerman’s Writers Conference and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust have supported the Hatchette position.

JA Konrath

Not everyone in the writing community supports the Big Five publisher, Hachette. In fact, most writers, who have had any kind of online success with ebooks tend to favor Amazon. That’s because Amazon sell ebooks (lots of them in fact) and pays its authors a high royalty. Highly visible among this group is JA Konrath a mystery and crime writer, who has seen his sales soar, as an ebook writer. Interested parties can follow the debate through Joe’s eyes at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Hugh Howey If you haven’t heard of Hugh Howey, then the best way to describe this writer might be as the James Patterson of electronic authorship. And not surprisingly he has been a staunch defender of self-publishing ebooks with Amazon or other online venues. Recently, Hugh wrote and self-published a short story called Wool. This sci-fi tale has morphed into a successful screenplay, online book and series, making the writer a very wealthy man in the process.

Chuck Wendig

For a slightly satiric digression from the self-published view, you might want to check out the irascible efforts of Chuck Wendig, a highly visible novelist, screenwriter and game designer on the internet. His blog, Terrible Minds, is always worth a visit. Be sure to check out his opinion of the Amazon-Hatchette controversy and the coming Kindle Unlimited experiment.

Another Storm On the Horizon

If you think the financially affluent writing community is really sticking it to the struggling, under-published author (like I do), you might want to hang onto your horses for a minute or two. For Amazon has just released another publishing bombshell on the literary world. This juggernaut is called Kindle Unlimited and though it’s a bit too soon to know for sure, this Amazon project could turn into the “Netflix” for ebooks…….not a great scenario for mid-list and low-list authors.

What Other Writers Have To Say

 

Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author

Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author

Sunday Blues

Since I have nothing to add to the blogosphere on this hot July Sunday afternoon, I just thought I’d pass along a few comments and quotes by some of the more noted authors. I have culled these little gems from my internet musings over the past week and I may attempt to continue this effort on a weekly or bi-weekly basis if time allows.

The Quotes

1. “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” by Steve Martin

2. “The cliffhanger — which sounds like a weird sex move or a particularly diligent dingleberry – isn’t just for use at the end of a book.” by Chuck Wendig

3. “The good news is that anyone can get published. The bad news is that anyone can get published.” by David Henry Sterry

4. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.” Robert Graves

5. “It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” by C. J. Cherryh

6. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” by Kurt Vonnegut

7. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” by Will Rogers

8. The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” by J.K. Rowling

9. “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” by Sir Winston Churchill

10. “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.” by Steve Martin

11. “I can have oodles of charm when I want to,” by Kurt Vonnegut

And the Thot Plickens – Updates on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia

Bad News For Amazon

Currently, the Amazon-Hachette dispute seems to be leaning in Amazon’s favor (my opinion), despite the fact that a whole bunch of literary heavyweights have taken up the cause of the Big Five publisher. For those of you not familiar with the situation, Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a monetary dispute that, as time goes on, seems to favor Amazon coming away from the disagreement in the best shape. However, all is not hunky dory in the Amazon camp. Here are a few recent news story to illustrate some of the problems the giant online retailer may be facing in the near future, not to mention their growing competition for the ebook market.

Another Federal Lawsuit

Currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon over its children’s in-app purchases. According to the Feds, Amazon has made it way too easy for minors to make online purchase through a variety of mobile and non-mobile apps. The Feds want to make it impossible for children to purchase online without their parent’s permission. Amazon does not deny the situation, but responds by saying that they are already improving the situation.

The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song

The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song

Children’s Book Author Turns Down Amazon-backed Award

Just about the same time as news of the Federal lawsuit was released, Allan Ahlberg, a UK children’s author, turned down a lifetime achievement award, because Booktrust, the giver of the award, has used Amazon funds to award the recipient. Ahlberg cites Amazon’s use of Luxembourg as a tax dodge, while selling a large volume of books in Great Britain, as the main reasoning behind his refusal. Reportedly, Amazon has avoided millions in British taxes by claiming to be a Luxemborg-based business,

My View

Despite the Hachette thing, all the hoopla from successful authors and the FTC lawsuit, Amazon’s biggest problem may be competition from other ebook retailers. Although Amazon my have dominated this new bookselling phenomena in the past, I expect other ebook publishers to make inroads on the market in the years to come. Competition is a good thing, really.

Can Hardcover Book Sales Successfully Predict Who the Next President Will Be?

The White House as seen from the extensive front lawn, from wikipedia, photo by Daniel Schwen

Who will the next resident be?   The White House as seen from the extensive front lawn, from wikipedia, photo by Daniel Schwen

Presidents As Authors

Just the nature of the job demands that the President of the United States be very adept with the English language. Keeping this in mind, it is no big surprise that the highest office in the land is filled with many authors. In fact, one of the twentieth centuries most successful author-presidents now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In 1995 Barrack Obama released Dreams From My Father, a personal memoir of the President’s youth. This memoir helped the Illinois Democrat launch his political career, as he was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996.

Then in 2003, Obama wrote another book, titled The Audacity of Hope. This non-fiction piece was very successful (it has sold over 4 million copies to date), as was Barrack’s Obama campaign for the US Senate. So successful in fact, that in 2008, Obama was elected president of the United States. In 2012, Barrack won re-election.

Presidents As Authors

The tradition of presidents as authors goes all the way back to George Washington, who wrote a memoir about his adventures in the western wilderness, long before the United States became a reality and General Washington was elected to be the first president.  Since then many presidents have followed suit with books written both before and after serving in the White House. Since WWII the frequency of presidential authorship seems to have increased dramatically. Some of the classic examples of books written by future presidents include Six Crises by Richard Nixon (1962), Crusade In Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower(1948), Profiles In Courage by John Kennedy (1955) and the already-mentioned Dreams From My Fathers by Barrack Obama. Otherwise most post WWII presidential literary efforts seem to be either post-presidential or written solely as pre-campaign literature.

Looking Ahead To 2016

Presently there are many aspiring presidential candidates for 2016,  a situation made more interesting by the fact that our present Commander-in-Chief will be ineligible to seek another term. Though these candidates come from many different political stripes, their one common denominator seems to be that they all have recently written a full-length book detailing their political philosophy and visions for a future America. On the Democratic side, the main contenders appear to be Hillary Clinton, author of Hard Choices(2014), Joe Biden, who has written Promises To Keep (2007),  and Elizabeth Warren, who recently pened A Fighting Chance (2014). Hillary Clinton leads the pack in book sales by a long shot with her recent release about her tenure as Secretary of State, but it remains to be seen if she will even run, much less take the nomination.

Although book sales of potential Republican candidates lag behind their Democratic counterparts, there is no shortage of literary contenders to be the next resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On this side of the aisle, Rand Paul is in the lead with Taking a Stand (2014). Also of note are Scott Brown’s Against All Odds, Rick Perry’s Fed Up, Marco Rubio’s A Political Son and  Scott Walker’s Unintimidated.  Followers of the political spectrum should also be aware of  Ted Cruz’s recent 1.5 million advance for a political memoir to be released before the 2016 election and Paul Ryan, who has also received a 2013 book deal that is due out sometime this year.

The Prediction

So there you go; Hillary Clinton will defeat Paul Rand to win the 2016 presidential race, unless of course Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz set the literary world ablaze with their upcoming book releases.

The Modern Day Fairy Tale

Little Red Riding Hood, from wikipedia, im

Little Red Riding Hood, from wikipedia, photo by Krakin

Strange Inspiration

One might think that recent Hollywood feature productions would be the major inspiration for my latest short story, a take on Little Red Riding Hood. But a much more likely influence are the cartoons that I saw as a youth, especially the Fractured Fairy Tales segment occasionally aired on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. For some strange reason unbeknowst to me, fairy tales never seem to lose their timeless qualities.

Other Toons

Growing up in the sixties, I was a great fan of Saturday morning cartoons. In fact so popular was the medium that some animated programs, the Flintstones and the Jetsons come to mind, were shown during prime time hours. However, when dealing with the adaptions of fairy tales to the TV medium, Rocky and Bullwinkle were not the only culprits. Influences from the Grimm Brothers, Hans Chritian Andersen and other folklorists would occasionally appear in other venues as well, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Betty Boop and  etc. And then there were the feature films that Walt Disney made, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which were really forerunners to recent releases like Snow White and The Huntsman and The Brothers Grimm.

Snow White, Then and Now

Snow White as portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin in the ABC series, Once Upon a Time, from wikipedia

Snow White as portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin in the ABC series, Once Upon a Time, from wikipedia

Snow White, the cartoon character

 

My Literary Effort

My literary effort is entitled A Forest Tale and it is free this week at Smashwords. I wrote it for an anthology at Bette Noire that was devoted to the modern retelling of old fairy tales. The story was rejected in the final round, but it did receive a nice letter from one of the reviewers, (a rarity in my literary experience). The story is set in royal China and characters include a lady in red, a big bad wolf, a pompous king, some hunters and a diplomat from a faraway land. So here it is for your own reading enjoyment.

When Authors Go On Tour

Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein

Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein

The Celebrity Hardcover Book

The celebrity hardcover book  release is something most of us will never experience unless we survive a shark attack or make it to the White House as Commander in Chief. Despite dwindling sales numbers, people in the news have not given up writing non-fiction tales of their life in the limelight. One such author is Hillary Clinton, who has been around Washington politics since the early 90s.

The Hillary Clinton Book Tour

When you get a multi-million dollar advance for your memoir, chances are pretty good that you can probably afford to do a book tour. I would even go so far to say that it is expected by the publisher. Currently, one such author, Hillary Clinton, who just released “Hard Choices”, is winding up her American swing and will soon be headed across the pond to visit Germany and France. I know this seems like the carefree life of a well-to-do jetsetter, but bouncing around the world in a jetliner can be exhausting and I’m sure nobody is more aware of this than the former Secretary of State, who logged quite a few air miles, while serving in that post.

From the Audience

From the viewpoint of someone who occasionally sits in the audience, I enjoy author talks much more when they talk about how their book came into being rather than when they read directly from the manuscript. For me, nothing is more boring than sitting  through 45 minutes of a writer reading his (or her) own work. This is especially through for poetry, unless of course the bard happens to be a slam poet. That changes everything.

The Numbers Behind Mrs. Clinton’s New Book Release

Over the first three weeks, Hard Choices, sold over 160,000 copies. Sounds pretty good, but in reality, these are not the kind of numbers Simon and Schuster and Mrs. Clinton were hoping for. Based on 1.4 million sold hardbacks for her 2003 title, Living History, S & S gave the former first lady a reported advance of 14 million. Then they printed 1 million copies in advance. However, at present rate, the NYC publisher may have some extra books on their hands come Christmas time. This is because more than half of her sales came in the first week and at present sales numbers are around 20,000 a week. This would be great news for most writers, but the sagging numbers are a disappointment for the NY resident. Still, her book has far outpassed any other current  literary authors, which includes such notables as Elizabeth Warren, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Rand Paul, Liz Cheney and Chris Christie.

Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State, from wikipedia

Coming This Week: Can the winner of  next presidential election be pre-determined by book sales?

It Takes More Than a Few Malcontents To Start A Revolution

Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze

Washington at Valley Forge
‘Twas bitter cold and up spoke George
Vo do do, vo doe doe de o, doe.
No–you don’t say?”

from Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes – lyrics by Irving Aaronson

Happy Birthday America

Today marks the 248th anniversary of the signing of  the Declaration of Independence. Hooray for hot dogs and hamburgers grilled outdoors, but let’s not forget that the Revolutionary War dragged on for many  years until Lord Cornwallis finally laid down his sword at the battle of Yorktown. Then there was the French Navy, who at the time of surrender, had blockcaded British ships from coming to the aid of their landlocked general. During this time period, the Revolutionary Army had very few victories. In fact, you might say that the deck was pretty well stacked against them. During the conflict, the fledgling new nation had many enemies besides the most obvious, the imperial motherland of Great Britain.

How Popular Was the Revolt?

In the initial stages the effort of the Colonists to obtain independence from Great Britain was quite popular. This can be seen in events at Concord, Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party. However as the war dragged on the war effort lost appeal to many Colonists. On top of this there were a substantial number of New World residents, who saw many economic advantages in retaining close ties with England. After the war, many Loyalists, as the Tories were sometimes called, chose to relocate to other parts of the British Empire, such as Canada or the Caribbean. It is estimated that during the war, as much as 20% of the white population remained loyal to the crown. Still, the war effort would not have been successful without widespread support throughout the Colonial population. To complicate matters for the British, many European powers, including the French, Spanish and even the Dutch, ended up supporting the birth of a new nation on the shores of the New World.

Myths of the American Revolution

Here is a list of seven myths compiled from a Smithsonian article by John Ferling.

1. I. Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into
2. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism
3. Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry
4. The Militia Was Useless
5. Saratoga Was The War’s Turning Point
6. General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist
7. Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull

Happy Fourth of July and enjoy those hamburgers, hot dogs and beers.

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert

In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

The Day That Custer’s Luck Ran Out

 

The battle of the Little Bighorn as recorded by Chief Red Horse

The battle of the Little Bighorn as recorded by Chief Red Horse

Just The Facts, Please

On June 25th in the year of 1876 General Custer met his maker when he lead the Seventh Calvary on an attack of a large encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne. During the ensuing battle 268 U.S. Soldiers died in a short-lived conflict that only lasted a hour or so.

The Immediate Effect

The news of Custer’s humiliating defeat ripped through the Eastern US like a shock wave. The general public was in shock and awe as to how a whole command of soldiers could be eliminated in one battle that didn’t even take up a whole afternoon. In population centers, such as Washington, New York and Chicago, the general public was distraught at the outcome of the battle, for it was never realized that the US Army could possibly lose such a battle.

Out On the Great Plains

The Plains Indians should have been rejoicing on their thrilling victory against one of the most foremost military commanders in the US military. They celebrated, but their were many among the Native population that could see the handwriting on the wall. The “Old Ways” were coming to the end and the future was not all that bright, especially for the colorful lifestyle that had evolved on the Great Plains for the Sioux, Cheyenne and other nomadic tribes of the region. Life on the reservation was becoming inevitable.

A Modern-day 180

When I was a youngster growing up there was a popular frozen custard eatery, named after the famous battle. “Custard’s Last Stand” was a very popular place to eat in suburban Baltimore. Our family would occasionally drive by the place on our Sunday drives, but we never stopped to enjoy the frozen treat, despite strong protests by me and my younger brother. Finally one day, our father relented and our small family got a chance to enjoy the custard delight. For me, it was a “coming of age” moment, when I was at last old enough to be a patron of “Custard’s Last Stand.”

Little Big Man has a one on one encounter with General Custer

Little Big Man has a one on one encounter with General Custer

A Book and a Movie Lampoon General Custer

Since the sixties tn has been popular to make fun of the General and famed Indian fighter. Johnny Cash accompanied by Buffy Saint Marie did a nice job on Cash’s variety hour, when they performed a singing number, entitled “The General Don’t Ride So Good Anymore.” But even more angst came with a book called “Custer Died For Your Sins”, written by Vine Deloria Jr. and of course the Hollywood classic, “Little Big Man”, where George Armstrong is humorously portrayed as a narcissistic warrior, obsessed with becoming president of the USA. This may be great entertainment…..but is it true.

Maybe Custer Was Just Unlucky

As a military man, General Custer was always a cunning and brave risktaker. On that fateful day in the grasslands of Wyoming, Custer may have been only doing what he had always done….and that is leading a small elite group of soldiers on a surprise raid against a strong enemy. His strategy had worked against the Confederates during the Civil War and it was also successful against the Cheyenne down in Oklahoma, but for some strange reason, this technique lead to disaster on the Little Bighorn. As one Lakota writer has suggested, the reason this attack failed was that a lone Sioux rider just happened across the advancing war party and was successfully able to warn the nearby encampment. Perhaps, it can be said that the fate of many an important battle has hinged on something so small as this. History is full of little ironies.

 

The Passing of an Outdoor Writer

Mt. Ranier at sunset, from wikipedia, photo by Troy Mason

Mt. Ranier at sunset, from wikipedia, photo by Troy Mason

The Story

Outdoor writer and hiker, Karen Sykes of Seattle, Washington has been missing on Mt. Ranier since last Wednesday. Yesterday it was announced that a woman’s body has been found in the same area, but no positive I.D. has been made so far. Miss Sykes, separated from her hiking partner, while researching a story on the trails of Mt. Ranier. According to press reports, the 70 year old Karen Sykes proceeded up a steep trail covered with snow and ice, while her male companion waited for her to return. In the days that followed searchers scoured the area with one rescuer being injured, when he fell through a snow bridge.

Miss Sykes had a locally prominent writing career. She published the “Hike of the Week” column for the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as well as being a frequent contributor to Visit Ranier, a local website. Karen Sykes had also penned two books about hiking in the Washington area.

The Dangers of Being An Outdoor Writer

Every profession has its risk and that of an outdoor writer is no exception. Even though Sykes was well experienced in the backcountry, this wealth of knowledge could not keep her from meeting her tragic end, while out gathering information for one of her many weekly columns. It is a paradox for outdoor writers that they often have to expand their expertise and knowledge at risk to themselves and some times others. The lure of the unknown trail can lead to disastrous consequences, when basic conditions are ignored or when deteriorating weather events are not taken into account.

Some writers like Jon Krakauer, have made a literary career from writing about outdoor tragedies. Unfortunately, this event was not the only fatality to occur on Mt. Ranier this winter season. Bigger headlines were made in May of this year (2014), when six hikers were lost, while trying to scale the 14,000 summit of  Mt. Ranier. So far their bodies have not been found. Incidentally, Karen Sykes was hiking at only about 5,000 feet, which goes to show how severe winter weather can be on this peak.

The Perils of Snow Bridges

Snow bridges can form over small creeks and rivers, as well as  glacial crevasses or even large bays of water. I once encountered the previous type, when hiking in the Adirondacks many years ago in April. The daytime temperatures soared into the 90s, melting the 2 to 4 foot snowpack at a rapid rate and turning small brooks into raging currents. As we proceeded to our destination, we encountered several of these natural bridges. The first one held, but the second broke when I crossed, sending me feet first into the cold icy water. Fortunately, the stream was only thigh deep, so I waded to the other side without incident. In steeper terrain with bigger bodies of water flowing underneath, such an event could have been catastrophic. Though I’m not sure what brought on Miss Sykes’s accident, evidence does point to the fact that she pushed on way too far of her hiking partner…presumably so she could explore the terrain and bring back that one good picture.

 

Karen Sykes with one of her hiking companions, Lola Kemp, photo by Lola Kemp via AP

Karen Sykes with one of her hiking companions, Lola Kemp, photo by Lola Kemp via AP