Monday, January 28, 2008


With Christmas money I purchased Nelson's Trafalgar by Roy Adkins, First American Edition, Viking. I began reading it a little over week ago, and finished it Saturday night--all except for the credits and bibliography; those came last night.

This is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in naval issues (especially war), the British/French war brought about by Napolean, sailing ships, or history in general. Before reading this book, I really knew little about the Battle of Trafalgar. Oh, I knew it was an important sea battle won by the British in the early 1800s, but I didn't really know where it was fought or who they beat. I knew Admiral Horatio Nelson was the British victor and hero, but I knew little about his career, nor that he died during the battle. So for sheer transfer of facts and increase in my knowledge base, this was a great read.

Adkins used a good mixture of his own narrative and contemporary reports about the battle. He did not focus only on the victors, but talked considerably about the combined French-Spanish fleet. He talked about the life of the sailors in the navy, and about the officers. He took several occasions to explain subjects about life at sea and how the battle was waged. Consider this segment about on-board surgeons.

It was during battle that surgeons were most effective, even though they were working in appalling conditions. For much of their time on board ship, they were involved not with battle injuries, but with the daily hazards of disease and accidental injury....As soon as a ship was under fire, a steady stream of casualties arrived on the orlop deck. In most ships the crew were taught the use of tourniquets, to reduce blood loss, and also elementary bandaging, but in the heat of battle such first aid was usually inadequate...While waiting their turn to see the surgeon, some men bled to death whose wounds were otherwise not serious or complicated...putting [surgeons] under pressure to work as fast as possible....In a matter of seconds, he had to decide whether the injuries were fatal, could be dealt with by stiching and dressing, whether amputation was necessary....Usually this was all decided in one hurried glance, in poor lighting, as the surgeon tried to stand steady on a deck juddering from the countershocks of outgoing and incoming broadsides, as well as the normal roll and pitch of the ship.

This type of information is reapeated over and over in the book, for different jobs, such as the powder monkeys or the gun crews. Even with the large amount of information given, the book is an easy read, striking a good balance of popular readability and academic information. Anyone at all interested in these subjects should read this book.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Technologically Challenged

I received an e-mail from my son-in-law, Richard Schneberger, who said that the comments feature of my blog limited comments to team members. When Richard helped me set this blog up over the Christmas holidays, I thought I had that set to allow anyone to comment. Obviously not. That is now taken care of. Any one who drops by, feel free to make a comment on any post. I realize this blog is not really the type that will generate comments, at least it isn't right now. Maybe in the future, if I really become published, that could change.

Richard said he added a link to my blog on his blog. I intend to do the same for his, but right now I haven't figured out how. Several times in previous posts I tried to add a link to some web site, only to find out the link didn't work. I haven't learned the code using the < and > characters. On the message boards I frequent, you use the [ and ] characters for code. Substituting characters that designate code is coming should not be a problem, but the links still don't work. So there is something else I have to learn.

I'm planning on taking a community college class in web site building during the month of March. Maybe then I'll learn what I need. In the meantime, I hope to learn how to post a clickable link, and add a blogroll.

Friday, January 25, 2008

2007 in Poetry

I spent little time with poetry in 2007. Having completed Father Daughter Day the year before (but with most of it written 2004-2005), I read it through once and did some minor edits, and found a few beta readers in my target audience. The year began with it under consideration by a gift book editor, but I heard in June (after three follow-up e-mails) that they weren't interested. I showed it to a couple of editors at a writers conference in November, but as expected they were not interested in poetry. I almost looked into having the book illustrated, but decided the time was not right. So I'm letting this sit for a while.

As to writing poetry, my production this year was only seven:
- a sonnet "Yoked", on the progression of marriage
- a free verse poem "A Far Away Look", the first free verse I've tried for a while
- a light verse "Oxymoron No. 1", about reading poetry
- a light verse epithet "For One Who Died Too Young"
- a light verse "On The Virtues Of 'Good' Or 'Fine'"
- an haiku
- a sonnet "Of Bollards And Berms", about the inner struggle to purity

Several of these I workshopped at Absolute Write or Mosaic Musings.

I just didn't feel like writing poetry this year. Very few situations arose where I thought That would make a good poem and sat down to do it. I don't know if this means my poetry interest is waning, or just that the time wasn't there to do both prose and poetry, and thus I supressed, either purposely or subconciously, the desire to write it. I hope it's the latter, and that at some point in the future my desire to write poetry--and read it--will come back.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vocation Rules

Yes, you read that right: vocation, not vacation, ruled the day today, and will for the next several. Blasted day job! I could get a lot of writing done except for that.

I had a late start today due to a doctor's appointment (lab work) and icy roads, this being the eve of one of the most important days in my job for a year or so. That pub me behind on preparations, and though I was caught up by the end of the day, tomorrow will be full with a special presentation, and then next two after will be spent catching up from that one. And, to top it off, I learned on Monday that my proposal for a paper to be presented at an engineering conference in August was accepted. I have till March 17 now to actually write the paper. No pressure.

So, writing went by the wayside yesterday, and looks like it will for a couple of more days. Except, last night I did get into the marketing of Documenting America. A small step, but one in the right direction. Maybe with a number of small steps I can conquer my array of fears.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Book Review: "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You To Know About"

From time to time, I will provide book reviews in this blog, of what I've recently read. It will keep me sharp as I read, and maybe hone skills as a reviewer, especially of how to be honest but not insulting. Of course, blog readers will then see that a lot of what I read is ancient.

This first one is reasonably new: Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You To Know About by Kevin Trudeau. Like many, I had seen bits and snatches of his info-mercials, though I never watched one all the way through. Much of what I heard him say made sense, and the entire concept of natural cures simply by using things that God gave us, rather than relying on man's manufacturing, is attractive to me. I remember reading Food-Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper some years ago, and being impressed with the whole concept of natural cures. I had been intending to purchase Trudeau's two main books, but my brother-in-law beat me to it, giving them as Christmas presents last month.

Unfortunately, the first book is awful. I hate to say that so bluntly, but it is. If I had the time and a bit more of a masochistic bent, I would go through the book with highlighters and highlight: health suggestions, anti-government ranting, anti-corporate ranting, self-aggrandizement, and information repeated either verbatim or almost so. The health information would be less than 2 percent of the book, anti-government rants about 15 percent, anti-corporate rants about 20 percent, self-aggrandizement maybe 5 percent, with the rest (whatever that comes to) being awful, awful repetition. If the repetition percent comes out to less than 60 percent, I've given too much weight to other things.

This is sad, because I suspect most of what he says concerning health is quite valid. Eat foods in their most natural, organic state, without the benefits of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, homogenization, pasteurization, etc. But wading through the awful repetition is so difficult, I don't know how to really benefit from this book.

The beefs I have with Trudeau are the same ones I have with most health books.
1. While all organic food would obviously seem to be better, a modern, urban society, with the distance from farm to market to table results in so much spoilage that full organic is not possible in massive quantities. So only the informed few could benefit from this.
2. The organic and natural way of eating is much more expensive than what we find now in stores. Thus the poor cannot really afford to participate. Only those with land and the wherewithal to organic farm, or those with sufficient means, can participate.
3. The book itself is poorly written, as I find most health books to be. Trudeau needs a ghost writer and an editor who will be honest with him. The 400+ page book could have been done in 50 pages with no loss of information.
4. The book is not so much for conveying true health information as it is a teaser, published to take you through a portal into a world of other for-profit products. Most of these health books are really for the purpose of selling food supplements. Trudeau's is for selling website and newsletter subscriptions. Some difference.

I have read a little in Trudeau's second book, More Natural Cures Revealed, but will not be reviewing it. To do so will be redundant.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Excuses: Fear of Commitment

Well, another day sick at home, though I'm definitely on the mend. I cut back a bit on medicine, and don't need a cough drop constantly in my mouth. Coughing much less, sinus drainage less. Back to work on Monday.

Which brings me to my last excuse in the fear area: fear of committment.

Right now, I'm playing with Documenting America. I get on to it hot and heavy for a week, and write three or four columns, gaging the time it take for each including reading, research, writing, editing, and finishing. I prove that in a mere three or four hours of concentrated work I can write one of these columns. That I could do every week. And, if that was the only thing needed for the column, that would be a commitment I would be willing to make. That's what it would be if I wrote the column for a newspaper, one newspaper.

However, for self-syndication, I would also have marketing research, actual marketing, sending of the columns, billing and followin-up on billing, and organizing the whole thing. What would the time commitment be? What if I had the column in 5 newspapers? That wouldn't be too bad, but what about 50? If I were so successful as to appear in 50 newspapers, what would the time commitment be, and could I handle it? If the column itself takes four hours a week, I suspect the marketing and business end of the project would require about that much, certainly if it appears in more than a handful of newspapers.

As I talk through this, the problem with commitment is more fear of what I don't know--exactly what the time commitment will be. Fear of commitment, or fear of the unknown? I hope soon I will face them.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Excuses: Fear of Error

Still sick; still stayed at home today. Thought I would go to work, but got up at 7:00 AM to a huge coughing spell, deep and painful. So I crawled back in bed and slept till 10, and got up to a leisurely day. Did a little reading, but mainly slept and slept, or at least rested. I think I'll be back to work tomorrow.

Now to the next excuse I've experienced: fear of error. This came to me when I was writing a Documenting America column on a document that dealt with "common law". I had no idea what that was. An hour of research both on-line and in books I had at hand gave me the basics--at least enough to write the column and make the points I wanted to. Four hours total, and I had a column. Yet, a nagging thought kept coming back to me: What if my research is not sufficient, and I've made an error. It would kill my credibility, and would kill the column. I thought that through as I wrote the column, and tried to structure what I wrote to avoid error, to indicate the limit of my knowledge. Still, the nagging thought remained.

The writer's need to research his subject, and write what is correct and verifiable, is huge. This is true for fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapters. Make a mistake on a fact and you're toast. Worse than that, though, I think, would be a mistake in an opinion, or in interpreting a fact. You might say it would be impossible to make a mistake of interpretation or opinion, but I think it is possible.

I had more I wanted to write about this, but the long day, even with the rest I had, is making my head go fuzzy. I'll edit this tomorrow and add the rest.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Excuses: Fear of Success

I'm out sick today, not even trying to get in a couple of hours. The way I felt this morning I was pretty sure the worst had not yet come. But I've had a restful day, taking my over-the-counter medication, and now am feeling much better. If things continue as is, I should be able to work tomorrow. Today I haven't tried to write anything.

The next excuse I sometimes use is fear of success. What would happen if my column, my novels, my ideas for non-fiction books, should turn out to be good ideas, and my writing turn out to be good writing, and all these things be fantastically successful? What would change in my life as a result, and am I ready for that? Some extra money would be nice, and there is no need to fear "papazzi"-type fame, for no writer gets that, not even J.K. Rowling. Success that leads to a change of career is also pretty unlikely, and shouldn't be something to fear.

I sometimes think this is my biggest hindrance. Then I tell myself it's just wishful thinking. The level of success that would have a major change in my life is so far fetched as to be not attainable. So fear of success should not be a factor. Still, those dreams are hard to drive out of my mind, and the dreams then lead to that fear--of success.

I don't know how to overcome that, other than to keep trying. Take one day at a time. Plan out a writing "career" and work the plan. Yet I've had these plans since June 2006. Why have I not acted on the plan? Fear of success?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Excuses: Fear of Failure

Tonight I have an excuse for not doing anything on my writing: my third cold of this winter season. I came home early from work yesterday with it, and would have stayed out today except for a few things I had to get done. So I went in and did those things, then came home about 1 PM. My head is full of congestion, my chest full of coughing, various parts are hurting, and my thinking is fuzzy. Writing is impossible, so we watched a DVD and migrated to the computer for games.

But even when I don't have this excuse, I still put off writing, especially following through on Documenting America, and the marketing needed for it. Why is this? Is it fear, and if so what kind of fear. I think I'll take a few days to work through issues of fear. Maybe this will help me to overcome those fears.

The first, of course, is fear of failure. I'm not sure this is my problem, but maybe it is. If I send out 40 query letters, and get all rejections, how will I feel? But this is a stupid kind of fear. All that would show is that the column is less viable than I hoped, or not of interest to as wide an audience as I thought. Or it could mean my marketing approach is not right. Or it could mean I need to cast a wider marketing net. Or it could mean I should begin the column as a local newspaper column, not as self-syndicated. But the fact is failure should be no problem. It would mean I either hone the concept into something more marketable, or concentrate on other types of writing. Either way, failure with Documenting America is not an end, merely a transisiton.

Fear of failure? I don't really think that's my problem.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Back Story

I like the way National Treasure handled back story. This has implications for me, as a writer of fiction, for the movie is really an illustrated novel. In fact, it probably was a novel before it was a movie.

The prologue of young Ben Gates learning about the treasure and how his family became involved with it is essential to understanding the story. It did not have be a prologue, obviously, but I think the prologue works better, rather than working this in as remembrances by Ben during the story. In just a couple of minutes, the stage is set for the rest of the story, including the estangement of Ben and his dad. Very well done, IMHO.

The movie then cuts to the scene in the Arctic, many years later, with Ben and companions on the quest for the Rebecca. No information is given as to how Ben learned: that Rebecca was a ship, not a person; which Rebecca among other ships; learning its itinerary; and figuring out its final resting place. All this is for the viewer to imagine. Even during the balance of the movie, almost no hints are given about the missing years. The only ones I can think of are when the FBI folks are digging into his background. So we don't know what Ben did to get to the Arctic.

But, we don't really need to know. An intelligent viewer can figure out in broad concepts what he did. He spent his entire life after the attic scene looking for the treasure. He obtained education in fields that helped his search. He dug around archives for a person named Rebecca who was connected with Charles Carroll or other signers of the Declaration of Independence. He figured out that Rebecca in the clue was a ship, not a woman. Etc. Etc. He traces the ship to an Artic voyage of no return, and somehow figures out where the ship ended its fateful last voyage. All of this comes to the viewer in an instant, in the cut from the attic to the Arctic. Well done.

Also well done is the lack of back story about the relationships: Gates with Ian, Gates with Riley, and others. The story is not harmed by lack of knowledge about these, even with only limited back story supplied during the movie (poker buddies, windowless cubicle). Sufficient for the viewer's enjoyment is that these people did meet, form relationships, and start working together. The specifics are not important.

May my handling of back story in the fiction I write be as good as in this movie.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Good Story

We decided to go to the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets recently. However, before we went we discovered this is not the first National Treasure. I guess I should have known that, since the NT ads were some time ago (was it really 2004?), but I tune out TV ads very well, and I forgot. Not knowing if this was a sequel that required the first to appreciate the second, we decided to rent and watch the first NT (thanks to our son for the Christmas gift that allows us to watch movies on a 21st century medium instead of the 1980s medium we were limited to).

We did so Tuesday night. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. No swearing, no sex scenes, no real blood and guts, limited violence. An excellent plot. Like most movies, much of it has no basis in reality, but rather is based on plausability. It seems like it could be true. Like The DaVinci Code, enough nuggest of truth are spread throughout that you realize it's possible it could be true, and every now and then you have to shake your head and say, "That just couldn't be true."

While the movie production was excellent, the plot is what most engaged me. Whoever came up with this plot knew how to write a good story, with many things going on: The Gates family history and legend, leading to estrangement of dad Patrick and son Benjamin. The status of the Gates family in the world of legitimate antiquities, requiring unconventional methods. The obsession of Ben Gates resulting in losses in personal life (which leads to the attraction between Gates and Dr. Chase). The converging yet diverging interests and methods of Gates and Ian Howe. The importance of documents and codes, a popular theme right now in books and movies. And more that I could comment on.

In fiction, it seems that good plot trumps good writing for reaching success. I'm not saying good writing isn't important, or that a writer should not strive for good writing, but so many books are well-written, yet don't achieve commercial successes. Why do some, and not others? I think it's plot. So, to reach success as a novelist, I really need to work on my abilities to weave a plot.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Well, two posts ago I said my next post would be about marketing efforts for Documenting America. Events of the weekend caused me to alter that, and I'm tempted to alter it again. Last night we were in a string of strong thunder storms that spawned a number of tornados, strong straight-line winds, and much rain. That caused us to move to the basement twice, and keep our eyes glued to television to watch the progress of the storms. But, thunder storms are common here (not in January), so it almost isn't newsworthy.

My thoughts for marketing Documenting America are to simultaneously send forty query letters, ten to newspapers in each of the four states closest to me: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. While not really an idealogical column, I'm sure DA will reflect my conservative politics without my even trying. These four states are all conservative, and should be good targets. I plan to query smaller papers in smaller towns and cities, both weeklies and dailies. I will query based on not marketing to competing newspapers.

Why not just target one of my local papers? Or the larger papers in these states? I will include two of the newspapers in the area that are non-competing, including the one that published the four trial ones. Obviously, I'm a no-name, and the larger papers may be unwilling to take on a columnist with almost no publishing track record. Smaller papers, I hope, will be more willing to do so. And, if I go with the larger papers, with their larger distribution, staying with only non-competing papers will reduce the number of potential papers. The fewer I can market to, the fewer I'm likely to be accepted in. So, if I market the column to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, since it has state-wide distribution, I could not market it to anyone else till I heard back from them. I don't want my options tied up like that.

What is the likelihood of success? I'd tell you my dreams for this, but you'd laugh at me. Let me simply say I believe the column idea is unique, the writing is good, the length is right, the frequency is right, and the country is ripe for this kind of column. A few beta readers, from diverse backgrounds, and all found it worthwhile and something they would read. For all these reasons, I believe I'll be accepted at more than one newspaper.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Getting Things Done

For some time now I have thought that a wonderful name for a magazine column would be "The Wonderful Feeling Of...". The continuation would be different for each column, things such as:

- Telling the Truth
- Saving Money
- Helping Another
- Meeting Old Friends
- Getting Things Done
- Saying a Prayer

These would be uplifting columns that explain how these things serve to enhance one's life.

For this weekend, Getting Things Done is definitely the correct column. I did nothing on my own writing, but when I dropped into bed Sunday night I had the feeling that I had indeed accomplished much. Taking down the outside Christmas lights, undecorating and storing the Christmas tree, boxing minor Christmas decorations, sharing Sunday lunch with good friends, balancing the checkbook (done on Friday, I think), completing 2007 budget tracking (somewhat depressing) and setting up 2008 spreadsheet, taking 2-year old children's church on Sunday--with 11 of the little darlings present and mostly accounted for, resting Sunday afternoon, and even getting to read a little. All of this was good stuff, and very fulfilling.

The main writing work I did was completing the critique of a chapter of another writer's book. I met Jon at the HACWN conference in Kansas City in November, and we discovered our main works-in-progress were both in the same historical era, though in different parts of the Roman world. We have stayed in contact, and swapped chapters for reading, with the openess to critique. Well, I dug into the critique part. Saturday evening I pulled up the Word file, and using some handy macros I've written, did a lot of double strike-through and redlines, all with explanatory notes. Jon may not have bargained for this, but I did not cut down his story. I mainly showed him some places where a reader might have some problems with the setting, and where clarification was in order.

This was very fulfilling work. I think I learn more about my own writing when I critique others. I see things they do that I'm not looking for in my own work. The mere act of critiquing causes me to think about word use, grammar, clarity of descriptions, use of modifiers, consistency and immediacy of voice, etc. I find no better way to spend two or three hours improving my writing than to critique the work of another. I have one more critique to do, for another writer I met on line, then I'll be ready to work on marketing Documenting America.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Took a Day Off

Yes, yesterday I took a day off from writing. Having finished this round of edits of Doctor Luke's Assistant, and with the television coverage of the Iowa caucuses, I decided to spend the evening in a combination of relaxing, balancing the checkbook, and filing family financial papers. I'm not saying DLA is done, for I'm always open to improvement, but I will not re-read it or do any more edits except in response to comments from others, be they beta readers, editors, agents, whoever.

For the next few days, I will have about four writing-related tasks. First, file the mark-ups for DLA. I have a bunch of them, not just from this round, but from the previous as well. Second, print a copy for file and beta readers. Third, critique two different bits of writing from two authors I've met either on-line or at conferences. One of these I have already made extensive mark-ups for, and just need to type them in a Word file and mail them. I have found that critiquing the work of others is one of the best ways of improving my craft. Fourth, begin (again) marketing research for Documenting America. That will be the subject of my next post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

At last, Doctor Luke's Assistant is...


That is, tonight I finished reading the last to chapters and marking tweak-like edits, typing the edits in the last four chapters, and merging all the files into one file, and formatting that. Thus my fourth round of edits is over, and the manuscript is ready to submit in full, should anyone be interested. I still have a few formatting issues, such as adjusting some paragraph indents, but it is presentable as it is now.

Of course, I don't rule out another round of edits, should I feel led to do so or should it be needed to make it acceptable for publication, but now I can put this aside, and concentrate on other things while the agent is considering it. I don't think I'll do any research into other agents right now.

Father Daughter Day

My other work in progress that is actually finished and in search of a publisher is Father Daughter Day. This is the story of how a dad kept his promise--reluctantly at first--to spend a Saturday with his daughter. He struggles with this as they hike in a State park, eat fast food, drive in the car, and mow the lawn. He prays often during the day. The daughter seems unaware of his misgivings, and thoroughly enjoys herself. She even turns down a chance to play with some girlfriends who drop by, because she has promised to spend the day with her daddy and wants to help him mow the lawn. By the time evening comes, he is enjoying himself, and by nightfall is more blessed than his daughter.

The unique thing about this book is that the story is told in poetry. Thirty-seven poems, in a variety of styles and lengths, more formal than non-formal. Each poem is intended to both stand on its own and form a seemless part of the story. Included are three sonnets, one sonnet sequence, a villanelle, a long ballad, a long mixed-verse story, a number of cinquains, a number of haiku, and some free form poems (not to be confused with free verse).

Some of the poems are specific to what the dad and daughter are doing. Others are more generic about the activities they are engaged in: about rising for the day, about eating breakfast, about reading, about hiking, etc. If you pull these short, generic poems out, the remaining "story" poems still make sense, though perhaps with more gaps. Three of the poems are "children's books" that the daughter brings along to read in the car.

I finished the last of these poems in June 2006. Actually, my original plan called for three other poems. Unfortunately the inspiration for these has not yet come, and, as I read the book as it is, it seems to read as a complete story. So if I never get those three written, I think I'll be okay. Of course, even for completed poems, I'm always open to further tweaking and improvement.

I submitted this to two different Christian publishers, one unsolicited and one after a conference. Both said no. I've been slowly researching, hoping to find another publisher, but no viable candidates have surfaced. This may be one may have to be self-published.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Doctor Luke's Assistant, Writing and Status

The idea for Doctor Luke's Assistance came to me in the late 1990s, based on my study of the scriptures, and harmonizing the gospels. I thought through a plot for a couple of years, but hesitated writing it. To think I had the ability or stamina enough to write a novel seemed self-aggrandizing.

I began writing Doctor Luke's Assistant in late fall 2000. I had a basic idea of what I wanted to accomplish, including major and sub-plot lines. I completed 15,000 words, then put it away as life got busy. I picked it up again in late 2001, and worked mostly steady through 2002, completing it on January 8, 2003.

I've since been through it three complete times. The first time through was for consistency of plot, and adding descriptions where needed. The second time through was for adding a plot line and to make the story consistent throughout. The third time through was for improvement in language: eliminating passive voice, making the dialog more natural, and the language more concise.

I am now in my fourth round of edits, reading each chapter slowly, looking for anything odd or out of place, for a wrong word, a missing quotation mark, an excess modifier. I have done this through chapter 32; only 33 through 36 remain. At that time, for the moment I will consider the book complete, and will cease editing.

I have submitted Doctor Luke's Assistant to all the CBA publishers that don't require agented submittals, and all turned it down. Now I'm submitting it to agents. Well, actually I met with an agent at a conference this past November, and he like the pitch enough to ask me for a partial submittal. I haven't heard anything. My plan is to finish the edits, then wait and see what the agent says. At that point I will shift gears to Documenting America, or possibly to a second novel.