I've some good news and I've got some bad news. Which do you want first?
Amazon.com hasn't necessarily run into a buzz saw, or even as yet come close, but the pinpricks it receives on what seems like a weekly basis are starting to draw a little blood. And if history tells us anything, it's that kings and queens and emperors and things died of hemophilia all of the time, so this royal online retailer is by no means invincible. After all, which is worse for your health: being inbred or treating your customers like shit? Austinite Ellen Hobbs would probably tend toward the latter, though by no means am I implying that she's an advocate for the former. The one-time Texas Triangle columnist and all-around tech-savvy writer-designer-activist found what she referred to as an "unauthorized charge" of $300 on her credit card in August after making an Amazon purchase, which obviously demanded "immediate attention." But since the "presentation" of Amazon's customer service phone numbers on the site is admittedly "inadequate," according to Customer Relations Executive John Clark in a Sept. 29 apology letter to Hobbs (who believed that the company was "hiding" the numbers to save time and money), she couldn't place a call to resolve it. After finding a number on Adam Stanley's Echoes.com weblog, Hobbs took matters into her own hands: She dedicated a page on her Web site, ClicheIdeas.com, to "Amazon Customer Service," posting not only its U.S. and Canada help number (800/201-7575), but also its international ones (206/346-2992 and 206/266-2992), as well as its UK line (+44.208.636.9200). She has received thousands of hits and hundreds of thank-yous from dissatisfied customers across the globe (as well as a refund, shipping-charge waiver, and $20 gift certificate from Amazon), while 16 of the top 20 search phrases that bring people to her site contain some variation on "Amazon's Customer Service Phone Number," according to a Dec. 12 Hobbs e-mail update... The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced recently that it has "sent a $10,000 retainer check to Jesus Castillo's legal counsel to pay for the first stage of his Supreme Court appeal" in addition to the tens of thousands it has spent on the case already. As you might recall, Castillo was arrested in 2000 on obscenity charges stemming from his 1999 sale to an undercover police officer of a copy of Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen No. 2, an "adult" comic that includes depictions of trees raping women, at Dallas' Keith's Comics. Castillo was convicted of one count (the other, for sale of another comic, was overturned), and his two appeals have been rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, meaning that his eight months' probation, 80 hours of community service, $4,000 fine, and 180-day suspended sentence have been upheld. Castillo awaits word -- and so do we -- on whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his case. For more information and/or to express yourself in some way, visit www.cbldf.org... Let's get positive: Monkeywrench is offering gift certificates again; former Austinite Kathy Hepinstall will make a short but triumphant return from Los Angeles on Jan. 7 at BookPeople to read from and sign her latest literary thriller, Prince of Lost Places (Putnam, $23.95); the Writers' League of Texas and the Austin Museum of Art will collaborate on "Writers Respond to Paradise" at AMOA on Jan. 9, during which local authors and poets will "team up" with local installation artists for a night of dialogue and presentation; Neal Pollack's Beneath the Axis of Evil: One Man's Journey Into the Horrors of War will ship from Austin's So New Media on Jan. 11 and will be the micro-publisher's first perfect-bound book; BookSlut.com founder and razor-erudite blogger/ critic Jessa Crispin has graciously joined Pollack, poet/professor Dorothy Barnett, playwright Dan Dietz, and fictioner Scott Blackwood as an 11th annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest judge (we'll announce the winners on Jan. 29 at BookPeople, so look for them here on Jan. 31, and look for a profile of Crispin earlier than that); and, last but certainly not least: As I write, Barry Hannah's February appearance at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center in Kyle, courtesy of Southwest Texas State University's Lindsey Literary Series, is only 63 days away.