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This Week: The Original Motto Project

Baptism for the Dead

Guest Libbie Hawker talks with the Mike and Sam about her new novel, “Baptism for the Dead“, about atheist fiction, and current news items.


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James A Kulacz December 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I keep writing your show. You are too interesting. Stop.

I found the interview with Libbie Hawker interesting, as before I entered the village government business, I was an editor for an erotic Romance E-book publisher.

There was an explosion of press interest in the book Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James and the concept of “mommy porn” when her book was published in print. The fact is that sort of story is what my own and several other E-publishers produced for many years.

When the genre reached a critical mass, Fifty Shades was picked up by a major print publisher.

It may turn out the same for books with themes that include atheist characters who do not eat babies or are not the Grinch. With folk like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris blazing trail (because they are already famous), then folk like Libby Hawker who are not so famous entering the E-book market, sooner or later a major publisher will come along and suspect there is a market they are missing.

At that point, like Fifty Shades such stories with atheistic characters or themes will reach critical mass and enter the “mainstream” publishing market.

Just another chip out of the monolith of religion in society. And the more atheism and atheists are seen in the mainstream, the more acceptable we become.

Steve December 10, 2012 at 5:57 am

Libby’s book sounds a bit like an web show that I made several years ago called Clover Beach. It had atheist characters who moved to a small, religious town in Florida. It’s good to see the theme continuing.

Libbie Hawker December 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

Hi, James! Nice to hear from you again.

We discussed the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon/thing at the after-party after the show. The reason why Fifty Shades became huge is because Random House wanted it to become huge. They put a staggering sum of promotional money behind it. Big publishers *can* do that with any book they choose (for the time being, anyway). Why they choose to make some books massive hits and not others is a mystery to people outside the Big Six.

My personal opinion is that the Big Six won’t survive the current changes in the book world — at least, they won’t remain so intact that they will have the power to launch massive media successes like Fifty Shades anymore. Major publishers as we see them now are rapidly collapsing under the weight of their own hubris. Random House and Penguin just merged last week, and Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster are negotiating a merger right now. Before the end of the year, we’ll have the Big Four rather than Six, and the Big One is just around the corner.

Rather than coping with the advent of ereaders and the rise of ebooks with adaptability and innovation, they are clinging even harder to their old ways of business, the ones that got them into so much trouble. They are still pursuing stupid celebrity books and already-sure-things: that’s what the Fifty Shades acquisition was all about. It wasn’t that Random House saw how popular small-press erotica had become as a genre. It was that they saw that E.L. James’ book in particular was *already* selling steadily, and they’d have to do no work to capitalize on that success. They don’t seek out and then nurture quality talent anymore. They only use their hulking bank accounts to push juggernauts even faster. It’s a strategy that won’t last in a world where the publishers themselves have become obsolete; writers can now distribute directly to readers, and readers, having been fed a steady diet of the same old sure-to-sell stuff from publishers for years, are eager for the variety independent authors can give them.

The correct move by the industry would have been to go back to their roots: take more time with acquisitions, drop the requirement that submissions be agent-represented, make ebook publishing a priority, and compete intelligently with the main competition (that is, Amazon) by offering to authors the things which make Kindle Direct Publishing so appealing to authors: 70% royalties and monthly pay. (As you know, 70% of list price going to the author and being paid more often than every six months is not the industry standard…it’s also absolutely nonsense in an internet-based society!)

Harper Collins and one other major publishing company has FINALLY seen the sense in this, and is opening up to unagented submissions and is starting an ebook-first imprint that supposedly will have a faster turnaround time in getting book to consumers. My opinion is that it’s too little, too late; readers and writers are the crucial players in the publishing business, and all the major publishers forgot that long ago. Readers and writers now have a better way of producing and consuming books, and independent authors are irrevocably a major part of the scenery now.

All this is just my very long way of saying that I don’t really see big publishers pulling their heads out of their asses and turning their situation around in time for atheism to become as widely accepted socially as erotica is; social change that large takes some years to accomplish, and by the time we’re seen as a part of society that a) actually exists in significant numbers and b) matters, I think it’s likely that big publishers will be as insignificant to books as record labels are now insignificant to music. It’s an indie world in music; books are headed that direction, and it’s good to see for writers and for readers!

But I could be wrong. I have been before. I didn’t think the Kindle would change the world so completely; I used to be one of those writers who “would never self-publish, ever.” Now I can hardly see myself doing otherwise; in the present world of writing, it’s too smart to self-publish and too dumb to go with a publisher! Who’d have thought?

Incidentally, I have a lot of friends who are erotica writers. I wonder if you’ve edited any of them! And the fact that you’re a former erotica editor only makes your political successes even more entertaining. 🙂

Sam and Mike found the off-topic, demise-of-publishers bits of our interview really interesting, and we talked a lot about how new media and the rise of independent content producers is applicable to the atheism visibility movement. I plan on doing a blog post or two about it on the Ask An Atheist blog, so keep an eye out there for more of my thoughts on the topic.

James B December 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm

A quick correction to a statement made on the show. Haley Barbour is the Governor of Mississippi, not North Carolina. North Carolina’s governor is Nikki Haley. She was raised in the Sikh faith but now is a far right Christian. Governor Haley is both the first non-white and first women elected Governor in South Carolina.

She is a favorite of the Tea-Party wing, is strongly pro-choice (only exemption is if the life of the mother is at risk) denies climate change, denies Evolution, is anti-public education and gay-rights and all the other standard policies that the is typical of today’s far-right Republican Party. Just like Haley Barbour is.

Anita January 15, 2013 at 9:03 am

James B

You wrote of Nikki Haley that she is, “strongly pro-choice (only exemption [sic] is if the life of the mother is at risk)…”. Did you mean pro-life, instead? Your characterization of her would make more sense if you did.

Mike Gillis December 10, 2012 at 11:00 pm

James B.! You are correct. I was going from memory, and simply got it wrong!

James Kulacz December 11, 2012 at 3:48 am

A quick correction to James B’s comment above. Nikki Haley is the Governor of South Carolina, not North Carolina.

She has also noted she will not nominate a replacement for Senator Jim DeMint, as she does not wish to undermine a future senator’s service (South Carolina has term limits, and a two-year term to the Senate would shorten that senator’s service).

Libbie December 11, 2012 at 6:30 am

Cool! Thanks for the link, Steve. I’ll check out Clover Beach. 🙂

Gary December 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for commenting on my (Gary from upstate NY) email during your show (S10E11). I still think, after your comments, that skeptics ironically put a lot of effort into defining the things they don’t believe in. I wish theists (at least us few progressives) and secular humanists could put their efforts into finding common ground rather than fighting over nativity scenes, which I consider harmless to atheists. Finally, I disagree that the Bible, Koran and Torah define God as supernatural; that’s an interpretation and not a definition.

Mike Gillis December 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm


Again, this is where I think you’re incorrect. I’m not making up definitions for deities. I’m using the popular definitions devised by believers and their holy books.

And again, there’s no more evidence for a happy shiny god than there is for the one that Pat Robertson believes in. I don’t know how you use the word “supernatural,” but any being who can break the laws of nature and physics at will is supernatural.

But supernatural or not, there isn’t a whit of evidence for any being or force responsible for creating or maintaining the universe.

And while nativity scenes — ON GOVERNMENT PROPERTY — are not my top priority for activism, I will continue to oppose them. It’s a mistaken to think that they, or religious nods like “Under God” in the pledge, are harmless.

They’re small foundational steps that people use to set the stage for bigger attacks on secularism.

At the Republican convention earlier this year, Senator Marco Rubio gave a speech where he cited the pledge’s post-1954 language as evidence that the United States government was intended to be overtly Christian.

Thanks for listening to the show!

Quintin December 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

Gary, whilst I do agree with Mike in his response to you, I think your call for cooperation between the religious (moderates) and the non-religious is promising. I think you’re missing out on something though: it’s already happening, and it’s actually always happened. Sure, we might disagree on many details, but when it comes to the larger questions, agreement is often easily reached. There are so many secular charities with so many people of all and no religions working and raising money for them, like the Red Cross or Doctors without Borders. Similarly many religious groups donated to Washington United for Marriage, just like AaA and some other non-religious as well as many secular groups did. We agree, generally, what it means to be a good person, what it means to live a fulfilling life, what is moral, what is ethical. So why do you pretend that agreement is not within reach?

Currently I’m reading Seneca at school. While I disagree with his fundamental metaphysical assumption, the conclusions he comes to are not something I can often disagree with.

Anne C. Hanna December 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Just want to comment that although I’m not a WWE fan, I love the idea of having that atheist wrestler you mentioned come on the show. That sounds like a blast.


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