Clive Cussler Doesn’t Know Much about Helicopters

Apparently, even best-selling authors can’t be bothered to do their homework.

Atlantis Found CoverIn my never-ending quest for light reading while I sit around in Wickenburg waiting for my marriage to be terminated, I picked up a copy of Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler from the library. This book features Cussler’s protagonist, Dirk Pitt, a man so outrageously skilled and lucky that he makes James Bond look as inept as Inspector Clouseau.

Hey, I did say I wanted light reading, didn’t I? (And yes, I do realize I was bitching about a supposed Cussler book just the other day.)

But no matter how light reading is, it really bugs me when an author gets something insanely wrong. Take, for example, this passage from the book:

Purchased by Destiny Enterprises from the Messerschmitt-Bolkow Corporation, the Bo 105LS-7 helicopter was designed and built for the Federal German Army primarily for ground support and paramilitary use. The aircraft chasing the Skycar carried a crew of two, and mounted twin engines that gave it a maximum speed of two hundred and eighty miles an hour. For firepower, it relied on a ventral-mounted, swiveling twenty millimeter cannon.

My helicopter pilot brain shouted “How fast?

You see, there’s a little thing called retreating blade stall which normally limits the airspeed of a helicopter. I don’t know of any helicopter capable of going 280 miles per hour. Certainly not one with a single main rotor system.

But hell, I’m not an expert. I’m just a pilot. What do I know?

Bo 105P
German Army BO 105P photo by Joey Quan.

So I looked it up the MBB Bo 105 on Wikipedia. And I scrolled down to the Specifications Section. And I learned the following specs:

  • Never exceed speed: 270 km/h (145 knots, 167 mph)
  • Maximum speed: 242 km/h (131 knots, 150 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 204 km/h (110 knots, 127 mph)

280 miles per hour? How about 150 miles per hour? That’s more reasonable.

And, coincidentally, it’s the never exceed speed for my Robinson R44 Raven II — although, admittedly, I don’t have any ventral-mounted, swiveling twenty millimeter cannons.

Come on, guys! Do your homework! I know it’s fiction, but when you discuss the capabilities of an aircraft that actually exists, how about getting it right?

Lingering at the Crossroads

On the profundity of book quotes.

I don’t buy printed books anymore. I read ebooks, usually on my iPad, after either buying them or getting them on loan from the library.

Yes, I will agree that there’s something nice about holding a printed book in my hands, smelling the paper when I open it for the first time, and turning physical pages made of real paper as I read. But there’s something even better about being able to carry dozens — if not hundreds — of books with me everywhere I go and to be able to pick up any of them where I left off, no matter where I am.

Besides that, there is no place for printed books in my life these days. I’ve become transient, with most of my physical possessions packed for the day I land, hopefully on my feet, in a new home.

Highlights and Notes

Although I never put pen to paper in any of the printed books I owned — that would be sacrilege! — do “mark up” the ebooks I’ve bought. I do this by highlighting passages and adding notes. I can later go back and review these highlighted passages and think about what they meant to me when I highlighted them — and what they mean to me now.

Cover of 11/22/63I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d gotten it for Christmas last year (or maybe the year before) and it has sat on my iPad, downloaded into the Kindle app, for months.

Reading is one of my few escapes from reality these days, but it isn’t easy for me to do. I have a hard time staying focused on any thought-related task; I do far better with physical tasks. And I have to admit that after taking a long break from Stephen King — the last book of his that I read was The Dead Zone and I didn’t even finish it — I didn’t think his brand of horror thriller would be a good match for my mood. But the book, which centers around time travel to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, wasn’t quite what I expected. It was more historic fiction than horror — no demons in the corn or giant crabs on the beach. It was also long — 853 pages! — and I found it absorbing enough to keep my attention for the several days it took to read. I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it.

Of course, that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about the truth I found in some of the book’s passages that I highlighted — truth that applies to what I’m going through now.

The latest version of the Kindle app offers four highlighting colors: pink, blue, yellow, and orange. I used pink to highlight five brief passages that made me stop and think about my divorce.

The Crossroads of my Marriage

A good portion of the book deals with the relationship that forms between the protagonist and a woman he meets in his travels. They fall in love, but he’s got a secret that he can’t share with her. It’s got nothing to do with her or their relationship, but his inability to share that information with her is causing problems with their relationship. He writes:

Sometimes a man and a woman reach a crossroads and linger there, reluctant to take either way, knowing the wrong choice will mean the end…and knowing there’s so much worth saving.

In hindsight — which is usually 20/20 — I know when my husband reached the crossroads of our marriage. It was in mid 2011, before I got back from my fourth summer season in Washington.

By the time I got back in October, my husband’s roommate had finally left, leaving our Phoenix condo open for me to move in. We still had the house in Wickenburg, of course; my husband had been living in Phoenix during the week and in Wickenburg on weekends for the previous three years. He had a roommate in Phoenix most of that time and his roommate did not make me feel welcome. So I avoided the place as much as I could. With him gone, however, things changed. We got new furniture and blinds for the condo and I moved my office into the second bedroom. I lived there with my husband and our dog and usually went back to Wickenburg on weekends with them.

I thought being together more would make our relationship better, but it didn’t. My husband never seemed happy; I assumed it was his job, which I knew frustrated and annoyed him. His behavior frustrated and annoyed me. Things deteriorated, fights erupted, he gave me a steady diet of disapproving glances whenever I wanted to do something that he didn’t like. But he never talked to me about what bothered him so I continued believing it was the job.

In reality, he’d reached a crossroads that I hadn’t seen. I don’t know exactly when he got there — I suspect it was during the summer, while I was away. A year later, in September 2012, he told a mutual friend that I hadn’t told him that I loved him when he came to visit me for my birthday in 2011. He was carrying around that disappointment (or anger?) for over a year but hadn’t said a word to me about it. (I never was much of a mind-reader.)

So he reached the crossroads and likely felt very alone. He lingered there, waiting for something — I don’t know what — to happen. Meanwhile, I was chomping at the bit — as I so often am — anxious to move in one direction or another. His malaise and my inability to make it go away by doing what I thought he wanted me to do — making a home for us in the condo — bothered me, but I still didn’t see what the real problem was.

He got to the crossroads without me, while I was spinning my wheels in frustration just down the road. Or maybe up the road.

He lingered at the crossroads of our relationship from at least October 2011 through my departure for my summer season at the end of April 2012. And then he decided on a path — one that clearly proves that he didn’t think what we had was worth saving.

He began looking for my replacement. He found her in the form of a desperate woman eight years older than him, a woman who sent him photos of herself in lingerie, a woman who convinced him to ask for a divorce. A woman who even provided him with lists of divorce attorneys to call, along with the advice that he should call as many as he could because I wouldn’t be able to work with any of the ones he’d spoken to. A woman who called him “baby” and would eventually manage his side of our divorce.

He reached the crossroads of our relationship and made a decision without me. He put his fate in the hands of a stranger. And I’m living — no we’re living — with the fallout from that decision now.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Relationships need to be completely honest and open. As two people travel through life together, they should do so hand-in-hand so when they reach a crossroads, they reach it together and can guide each other to make the right decision on which way to go.

I wish we’d both understood that.

Undeserved Anger

Later in the book, the main character gets caught lying to his girlfriend. He gets angry about it and thinks:

We never get so mad as when we get caught, do we?

This sentence hit me like a freight train and brought me back to the August day when I discovered that my husband had lied about having an affair and hiring a divorce attorney. I caught him in the lie and texted him about it. He reacted with rage — rage directed at me.

Yes, he was angry at me because I’d caught him in at least two lies.

His reaction bothered me a lot. The man I’d fallen in love with would have been calmer and possibly — but not likely — apologetic. He would have attempted to offer some sort of explanation. He wouldn’t have reacted in angry rage with a threatening and accusatory email response.

As if it were somehow my fault that he’d lied to me.

We never get so mad as when we get caught. I knew firsthand what that meant.

The Bad Dream that Doesn’t End

Later in the book, the main character and his girlfriend have a falling out — mostly because he’s hiding the truth from her. (His motives are good, but how can she understand that when she doesn’t know the full story?) The fight is over and he’s leaving. He’s thinking:

Part of me was thinking this was all just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up soon. Most of me knew better.

This describes my state of mind since June 30, 2012, my birthday, when my husband called me on the phone to ask for a divorce. I didn’t know then that he was probably calling from the home of the woman he was living with, the woman who had become his mommy and would direct his actions against me for the next nine or ten months. Back then, it was just a shock — only weeks before, we’d been discussing him and our dog spending the summer with me.

For months, they subjected me to every form of harassment they could muster, trying to wear me down, trying to make me give in to a proposed settlement that would take away nearly everything I’d worked so hard for my whole life, leaving me homeless with my savings drained. It wasn’t enough to be wronged by his lying and cheating — they wanted to ruin me financially, too. Every time they’d throw some new form of harassment my way, I’d think that what was happening couldn’t possibly be happening. It must all be a dream — a terrible nightmare — and that if I were lucky, I’d wake up soon in my own bed with my husband beside me and my dog at the foot of the bed.

I even dreamed about him. I dreamed about making love with him. I dreamed about him holding me in his arms, comforting me as I sobbed from the grief I feel every day. I dreamed of him saying he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to hurt me, that the woman he left me for meant nothing to him and he was coming back to me.

But there’s no waking from reality, no matter how unreal it seems.

And I know that.

FEAR

In the book, the protagonist had been married to an alcoholic who went to AA. He mentions one of her AA slogans:

FEAR, standing for false evidence appearing real.

This reminded me of the paranoia that my husband and his girlfriend/mommy were apparently suffering from. She followed my Twitter stream like a circling buzzard’s eyes follow the trail of a wounded rabbit. She’d seize upon some innocuous tweet and send it to their lawyer as evidence of some imagined wrong-doing. I tweeted about flushing a dead fish down the toilet and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s valuable exotic fish. I tweeted about scanning and shredding documents as part of my paperless filing system and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s documents. These claims went as far as the court, along with fifty pages of other tweets, accompanied by demands that I stop destroying my husband’s property and grant him an immediate inspection of our home.

The only problem was, the fish belonged to me, they’d cost less than $10 each, and they were already dead. The papers I was scanning and shredding were all mine. I’m not a complete idiot.

Their — or perhaps just her? — paranoia led to fear: false evidence appearing real.

It’s almost sad to see my husband stuck with someone so psychologically unhinged that she reads between the lines and sees threats everywhere. Almost. But as my friends tell me, he’ll get what he deserves. Apparently he deserves to live out his life with a vindictive and paranoid old woman.

Why Does Life Have to Bite?

The last passage I highlighted is a piece of dialog from the protagonist’s girlfriend. At the risk of sharing a spoiler, let me just say that she was attacked and severely scarred. She says:

“Also, I’m angry. I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

And this is my problem with the whole situation.

My divorce ordeal — and I really can’t use a more appropriate word — has hit me hard, harder than anything I’ve ever had to live through. My parents’ divorce, deaths among family members and friends, personal illnesses, financial hardships — nothing comes close to the pain and suffering I’m dealing with right now, every day of my life.

There’s no closure until it’s over — and even then I doubt I’ll ever have the closure I need. That’s mostly because I still don’t understand how it happened. I still don’t understand how the man I spent 29 years of my life with could throw away everything we had to shack up with a woman he’d met less than a month before. I still don’t understand how a man I loved and trusted with my life could betray that trust and subject me to the kind of mental torture he’s been throwing at me for the past nine months.

But I need to put things in perspective, as my wiser friends have pointed out.

One friend likes to talk about the hypothetical “little girl with cancer.” Yes, I’m better off than she is. At least I’ve had 51 years of life and most of it was relatively pain-free. The little girl with cancer won’t have that.

And, closer to home, I have a very good friend who is also going through some difficult times with her partner. On so many levels, her situation is far worse than mine.

Or I can just read the news and think about the millions of people worldwide, living in hunger and poverty or in war-torn nations. Losing family members, homes, livelihoods. Living in situations so horrible I can’t begin to imagine what their lives are like. I don’t want to imagine it. Like most other Americans, I’d rather turn a blind eye to the world’s more serious problems and wallow in my own grief.

And I know that’s wrong.

But it’s all relative.

Life is hard, life is cruel, life bites.

I suppose I should be happy that things aren’t worse. But that’s a very difficult proposition to grasp, especially with my future so uncertain after so many years spent planning and ensuring my — no, our — financial security.

My Crossroads

Now I’m approaching a crossroads of my own life. It’s not a place I ever expected to be at age 51. I planned and worked and saved and did everything I thought was best to avoid being someplace like this. I doesn’t seem right that I should be here.

It isn’t right.

But right doesn’t matter. As much as I’d like to believe it does, it really doesn’t. No one really cares about right and wrong. I’m naive to think otherwise.

Eventually, my divorce ordeal will end. The loss of my husband, my dog, my home, and the life I loved will be complete. The man I loved and the dreams I thought we shared will fade away like so many broken and dried autumn leaves on winter’s first cold and windy day. I’ll stand at the crossroads and I’ll make the decisions I need to move forward alone, with whatever the judge decides I’m allowed to keep.

As so many of my friends tell me so often, I’m a strong woman and I’ll be okay.

But I can’t help thinking about the mistakes that were made at that other crossroads, the one I didn’t see. And I’ll always wonder how things could have been different if the man who’d reached that other crossroads had chosen a path that I could rejoin him on.

Amazon KDP Select Double Fail

A contractual failure followed by a customer service failure.

As detailed in this blog post, I enrolled one of my ebooks into the Amazon.com KDP Select program. Almost immediately, I began seeing weird numbers on my royalty statements for the book: Sales at unit prices of 9¢, negative royalties, free books in a period when they were not authorized.

I immediately began a long and frustrating email correspondence with Amazon.com’s “customer service” staff. In this blog post, I’ll share the chain of correspondence that began in January and ended just the other day.

My original message, sent on or around January 10, 2012:

Subject: WTF? Positive unit sales with negative royalties?

This had better be a mistake.

1/7/2012 shows net unit sales of 13 yet net royalties of MINUS (-) $1.40. How is that even possible? Also, why is the royalty rate only 35%? I am set for 70%.

1/7/2012 also shows net unit sales of 169 at 70% royalty. The book sells for $3.99, yet you’ve calculated an “average offer price” of 9¢. How is THAT possible? I never authorized a selling price less than $3.99 except for 12/25 (free).

What’s going on here? Please explain WITHOUT using some canned response that does not apply to my situation.

The response from someone named Prasanna came on January 12 and, as expected, it contained a bunch of canned information:

Hello,

I can certainly understand your concern about the reports reflecting the royalties in negative. I checked our records and was able to confirm that the all the sales made in the week ending 01/07/2012 were completely free sales due to the free promotion you offered for your book.

However, among those free sales, I noticed that there was a refund that was made for your book which was for a sale made in the previous month. It is due to the refund for the sale made in the last month, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40.

Further, with reference to the 35% royalty option, I’ve found that one or more copies of your book were sold outside of countries where the 70% Royalty Option is currently applicable. The 70% Royalty Option is only applicable for sales to customers in these sales territories:

Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Canada
France
Germany
Italy
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Monaco
San Marino
Switzerland
Spain
United Kingdom (including Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man)
United States
Vatican City

Sales to customers in other locations will receive a 35% royalty. These sales are recorded separately in your royalty reports at the 35% rate.

At this time, the reports don’t show the specific location where your titles were sold. I’ve shared your request for this feature with our business team for consideration as we make future improvements.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

This did not make sense. I had authorized only one day as a giveaway for my book: December 25, 2011. That’s the day I advertised it as being free on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. There should be no free book sales in January at all.

I replied on the same day:

I’m sorry, but this is NOT true. The book was offered for sale for free on just one date: 12/25/11. That is NOT in the week ending 1/7/11.

Kindly explain why there were unauthorized giveaways of my book.

This time, Anuradha replied on January 14:

Hello,

Please know, the Prior Six Weeks’ Royalties report shows the sales you’ve made over the past 6 weeks. The total “units sold” and the “units refunded” will fluctuate each week depending on which day you view the reports and the number of sales made over the combined previous six weeks (to date). Keep in mind the “Week ending” column shows the date that the week ends instead of the week beginning.

Thus, as communicated earlier, the refund which is reflects in week ending 01/07/2012, was for a sale made in the previous month. Hence, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40, in week ending 01/07/2012.

Further, the price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price. This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book, or Amazon’s price for a physical edition of the book and it appears that your title was price matched with a third party’s web site (to match the competitor’s price).

I hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your understanding and for using Amazon KDP.

This information was not helpful. There could not be any “price matching” because the book was available only on Amazon.com due to their KDP Select requirements.

I replied on the same day:

I did not authorize price matching. At least I did not intend to. If I did, kindly tell me where I can de-authorize it.

There is no other version of the book to match to. Amazon has an exclusive for the ebook title. THAT WAS REQUIRED BY AMAZON. The only currently available print copy of the book sells for $14.99. How is 9¢ matching that?

You are obviously picking prices out of thin air and it MUST stop.

On January 18, Violet replied:

Hello Maria,

Our price for your title, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs is $3.99 and it was never offered for $0.99. You can confirm the price here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005ZSZMCS

I hope this helps. Thank you for using Amazon KDP.

Of course, this didn’t help either. I replied on the same day:

No, this does NOT help. Your reports indicate that you sold over 100 copies of the book for 9¢. WHY? You told me it was price matching. There is no price matching since Amazon has an exclusive on the book.

WHAT IS GOING ON? It certainly seems to me that you are either lying on my royalty statements or selling the book for a lower than authorized price. Which is it?

Violet replied again on January 21:

Hello Maria,

I’ve raised a request to the concerned department to check why your title was offered for a lower price in the week ending January 7, 2012.

I will contact you with more information by the end of the day on Wednesday, January 25.

Thanks for your patience.

And then again on January 30:

Hello Maria,

I wanted to send you a quick e-mail to let you know that I’m still researching on this issue. It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.

I’ll be in touch shortly with an answer for you. Thanks for your patience.

I guess “shortly” has a completely different meaning to the folks at Amazon.com than it does to most folks. I didn’t hear from Violet again until March 20 — more than two months after my initial support request. She finally admitted that Amazon had screwed up:

Hello Maria,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

Your books’ promotion did not occur as scheduled on December 25th, and began instead on January 6th. A technical error then caused the promotion period to last longer than expected, but this issue has now been resolved.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. Thanks for your understanding.

So let’s get this straight:

  • Amazon did not do my free book promotion on the day I authorized it.
  • All the advertising I did that day to generate interest in a free copy of my book was not only wasted but must have looked like a cheap lie to the people who followed the link and couldn’t get a free book — thus damaging my credibility.
  • Amazon then ran the free book deal for “longer than expected” — a length of time that is still a mystery to me — thus giving away free copies of my book for longer than I wanted the offer to run.

I replied to her message the same day:

Screw-ups like this, and the amount of time it took you to answer my question — more than TWO MONTHS — are why I’ll never be in KDP Select again.

I promoted that book as free on Christmas Day. So I look like a liar to everyone who attempted to get the book that day on YOUR program for free.

By extending the sale beyond the allowable time, you gave away more copies of my book than you should have. How will you compensate me for those lost sales?

You’re already ripping me off — in comparison to other ebook sellers — by charging a bogus distribution fee and cutting my royalty rate to certain countries. You are clearly using your position in the marketplace to take advantage of authors and publishers.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

But I know you don’t care. It’s business as usual at Amazon.com.

Even though I replied to her message by using the same technique I’d been using all along, the automated response I got said:

Our Customer Service department didn’t receive the e-mail message below. If you still need help, please visit one of the pages below so we can quickly provide you with additional information or give assistance via e-mail or phone.

In other words: fuck off, we’re tired of you.

Think KDP Select is a good deal? Think Amazon actually cares about its publishers? Think again.