Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The June Report

Well, it's accountability time again. I actually looked back at my goals at mid-month and again a few days ago to check how I was doing. Here's the report.

1. Blog a minimum of twelve times. I'm pretty sure I did this; forgot to check before I got to this page.

2. Evaluate two or three additional freelance markets, and submit to at least one. This will no doubt require quite a bit of Web research as well as preparing some new writing shorts. Did this. Submitted to two others and was accepted for both. Unfortunately, the engineering one is a non-paying market. Fortunately, the article was mostly written before I queried, and will help with my day-job career.

3. Complete one chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, begun yesterday. Well, I started but did not quite finish this. I got it about half-written and typed that up. Maybe over the holiday weekend I'll get it done.

4. Complete my latest Bible study, tentatively titled, "The Strongest Of All". Actually, this should more be termed a small group study, since it is from the Apocrypha and not the Bible proper. Hmmm, I can almost claim this as being done. I think it is, but I have to proof-read it again and think through questions and answers. But, in addition to this, I came close to finishing another Bible study, the first two lessons in the series "Good King, Bad King." So between the two I got more done on this than I expected.

5. Complete one appendix (already started) and the notes for one passage in the Harmony of the Gospels. I did a little on this, early in the monthly, but don't remember exactly where I left off. I think I completed the appendix but not the passage notes.

6. Attend the Chicago Tribune Publishers Row Lit Fair next weekend, and, as a sub-goal, talk with at least three publishers who are real candidates for me to submit to. I did this. All I had to do was show up. Well, that and drive 950 miles going (went there via Oklahoma City) and 580 miles returning.

7. Get back into Life on a Yo Yo and prepare it for publication while it is still somewhat fresh. This one I failed at. All I got done was to gather my notes and research from two or three piles and consolidate it. At least it's all in one place, and I'll make it a goal again for next month.

8. Submit a query for another article for Internet Genealogy. I will wait to make sure the article already submitted is acceptable to the editor. Did this. Turned in the query early last week. No response yet, but it's vacation season.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thinking about the excellence of Robert Frost

In my new-found freelance career, I'm posting at Suite101.com. Two of my first handful of articles there are about Robert Frost's poem "Into My Own." This was the first poem in Frost's first book, A Boy's Will. I began reading this poem about three of four years ago after I bought the book, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The collected poems, complete and unabridged. "Into My Own" was the first poem in the book, given that the book is arranged chronologically by publication. I've read on farther into the book, but keep coming back to this one.

Frost uses a number of poetic devices in the poem. His form is the sonnet, but with rhyming couplets in lieu of any of the sonnet interlocking rhymes. His meter is iambic, as the sonnet demands. He uses metaphor and imagery. His word choices are great. The line breaks are masterfully chosen. Even though the form dictates where a line break should be, Frost's lines progress in a way that later lines requires re-interpretation of earlier lines. What more could you ask for in a poem?

I'm writing a series of articles on Suite 101 about this poem. So far I have posted, or have enough material for, the following.

  • Robert Frost's "Into My Own": An Overview
  • Imagery and Metaphor in "Into My Own"
  • Word Choices in "Into My Own"
  • Rhyme and Meter Enhance "Into My Own"
  • Effective Use of Line Breaks in "Into My Own"
The 800 word limitation in Suite 101 articles means I need to break this up as shown. Will I write all five articles? I'm not sure, but I'm seriously thinking about it.

But as I've done so I'm somewhat sobered concerning my own poetry. Frost is such a master, I shouldn't compare myself to him. Yet, when I read "Into My Own", one of his less-well known poems, and see how much excellence is in it, I can't help but wish I could do as well. Did Frost set out to do all that he did in this one 14 line poem? Did he really think through those excellent word choices? Did he plan the poem to progressively reveal the character and to not finish with the character building until the last line? Or did the poem just come out in a rush of emotion and creativity, as many people think you should write poetry?

Well, it's something to strive for, that's for sure. But, given that I have not analyzed any of Frost's other poems as much as I have this one, I'm wondering what else is in store for me in these 607 pages. Will I analyze the rest of them to such an extent that I write five 600-word essays on each one? That would be a lifetime of work.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Scary First on a Successful Day

It's rather late on a Friday evening, not a time when I normally make a blog post. But I just did a first for me. When I went to the blog of a fellow Suite101.com writer, I noticed they had a box on their site that showed their most recent Suite 101 posts, with links. I thought that would be rather nice to have on mine, so I went to the forums at Suite 101 and found two threads about this. Neither one told me how to do it. Then I noticed the link, over on the left among the writers tools: Add Suite101.com articles to my web site.

Now, this brought an immediate wave of panic over my still-overstuffed frame and in my somewhat tired mind. Should I do this? What if I mess it up and my blog goes "poof" into the vastness of the Internet forest, never again to find open land? I figured I should at least try, so I clicked the link.

The instructions were easy, so it seemed. A screen popped up with my name and a few default items selected (category of the articles are in and "widget" size). A button said "Generate Widget", and I clicked it. A text window came up beneath that with the html code in it. Pretty cool, I thought. So I came to this blog to see what I had generated, and soon found out: nothing.

Back to Suite 101, I actually read the directions: You had to copy the html text and paste it in the right place on the web page you were editing. Now the panic had reached a point the New England colonists were in when the earthquake of 1638 hit. I had never in my life done anything with html code, other than to stare at it in amazement and have a deja vu moment of mainframes and FORTRAN code that remained in gray cells not accessed since 1972. Oh well, I pulled up the Blogger editing screen and learned they had an easy way to add widgets. Who knew? So I added it, and went back to the blog, and nothing showed. I had a sneaky suspicion I had to refresh.

I did that, and there was the widget, in the upper right hand corner, above my pic and profile. It was too wide, cutting off some of the text, but the links worked! I went back to the forums at Suite 101 and learned another writer had the problem of the text being too wide, but never received any help on how to fix it. So I went back to the widget generation thingy, and saw where one of my choices was size of the widget. I picked a smaller setting, copied the code (much easier the second time around), pasted it into this blog's editing screen, checked the blog, and the widget had...disappeared.

The panic I now felt as if I was in the middle of a flood plain, the base flood coming at me in a wave. Then I remembered: refresh. There it was, but unchanged. I went back and forth, playing with two other settings, and finally got it to the size it should be. I even figured out how to move it to the position I wanted it, all my moving a mouse.

But, the widget was now a little too narrow, and had a pesky ad for Suite 101 within it, something about hiring freelance writers and a link. I didn't want that, and I wanted it a little wider. But the width options in the widget generation thingy didn't have the right width. However, feeling somewhat confident now, such as someone who has stolen away into an endless forest and has no intention of turning back, I actually went into the html code, found which line had the text for that ad and deleted it, and found which line had the width and increased it from 160 to 175. I clicked save and refresh. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It's better now, as you can see to the right. I will probably increase the width a little more, but I'll give it a day. Too much excitement for one evening. I have edited my first html code. Can twittering and Facebook-ing be far behind?

Oh, and the successes of the day:
  1. My sixth post is up at Suite 101 (still no revenue yet)
  2. My flood plain is mapped! Finally! The full project isn't quite done, but I feel a huge weight having been lifted from getting this far.
  3. I have gone the entire evening without playing a computer game.
  4. Spent a pleasant hour at Barnes and Noble this evening, drinking the largest house blend, reviewing magazines, and taking notes (yes, I'm batching it again).
  5. My writing productivity has been good this week, especially today.
  6. I got in my noon parking lot laps on a 95 degree day (1 mile instead of 1.33 miles).
  7. I killed two miniature bugs here in the dungeon, the flying kind which you are not sure if they are fleas or chiggers or what they are. Come and get me, PETA!
  8. And, for the first time in over a year, bits and snatches of two poems are rattling around and starting to come out.

Sleep may be a little late coming to me tonight.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: "Team of Rivals", Part 2

I'll just add a few more things to what I wrote in yesterday's post.

I always look for faults in book, either in the writing, the organization, the failure to communicate--anything--and report them in my reviews. I'm hard pressed to find any in this one. If there is one, it may be that it paints Lincoln as a man with almost no faults.

Maybe it's just that he was so adept at managing his cabinet (which is, after all, the purpose of the book) that it appears he did so faultlessly. If from reading this it appears Lincoln had a fault, it might be that he was too slow to act in many instances. However, that could also be seen as a virtue, depending on your point of view. Today we might all wish our president moved a little slower on some issues. Lincoln sometimes seemed to move agonizingly slow on some things. As Doris Kearns Goodwin says, he tended to be a good judge of popular opinion and not move far ahead of it. He waited for popular opinion to catch up with events and with what he wanted to do. Then, when he made his move, the public would seem to be behind him.

The role of the press is carefully brought out in the book. Today, with all the talk of media bias, we tend to forget that in Lincoln's day newspapers were biased and unashamed of it. The Democrats had their newspapers and the Republicans theirs. Each reported in a partisan way. Between them, the balance was struck.

One lack I felt as I read the book, which could not be helped due to the limitations on the subject, was being totally cut off from what was going on in the South during the war. We are presented the North's side of things, but have no idea what the South was doing, thinking, feeling, wishing. That cannot be helped, for the South was not the subject of the book. Still, I might rather the book had run 50 pages longer and we had a few more paragraphs now and then about the Southern viewpoint and activities.

The last chapter, which deals with Lincoln's assassination, brought me some new information. I had no idea that this was a plot among several people and that Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson were also targets, and that Seward's assassin was almost successful. I thought the book well pointed out how Lincoln's death was a tragedy for the South. The same plodding forbearance Lincoln demonstrated during the war would have served the South well during Reconstruction, and possibly eliminated much of the animosity that even now exists between the two regions.

Edited in on 26 June 2009: Kearns has an odd way of handling notes for sources. Well, to me it is odd; possibly it is a standard method for this type of publication. The book is heavily dependent on a large number of independent sources. Rather than use footnotes, Kearns uses endnotes, not at the end of the chapter but after the end of the story. However, she does not provide a superscripted note reference at the location within the text. Rather, where the notes are, she quotes a short piece of text, eliding much, and indicates the source. This, I suppose, is less distracting then those having those superscripts. A typical page of text would have ten endnotes. However, I like footnotes, even more so than endnotes. I would rather have the superscripts on the page, letting me know this material was taken from some primary source. I am more likely to check the note than with the method Kearns uses. This, of course, is an incredibly picky comment.

As I said in my last post, the book is well written, highly readable yet scholarly, and did not at all seem as long as the page numbers indicated. Read it. You will be better for it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: Team of Rivals

On Monday I finished reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, 2005 Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-82490-6, a non-fiction book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book totals 754 pages, not including extensive notes, bibliography, and index. As I mentioned in a previous post, I expected this to be a two month read, or seven weeks if I could find more time to read on weekends. Well, I completed it in five weeks and two days.

The reason for my better progress? The combination of a well-organized book, easy reading that was at the same time scholarly, and an interesting subject. I found I could ready twenty pages a day without any trouble. On weekend days I did thirty to forty. I wouldn't say the book was a page turner; few history books are. But it treated the subject matter in such a way that it was perfect for me.

The book begins on a day in May 1860 when the Republican convention in Chicago was to select their candidate for the presidency. The four main candidates--Seward, Chase, Bates, and Lincoln--were in their respective home towns, waiting on the outcome. In those days candidates never attended or even addressed their convention. The opening chapter tells something of how the four men pursued the nomination. Then chapters 2 and 3 go into their lives leading up to that point, and chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 cover the last decade or so leading up to the convention. It isn't until chapter 8 that we return to Chicago and see how Lincoln's team bested his rivals. Thus the book is in a D-A-B-C-E order.

Beginning with chapter 8 the book runs in chronological order, covering the Lincoln presidency in considerable detail. As could be expected from the title, the primary subject of the book is how Lincoln put his chief political rivals on his cabinet, and then how it was his personality and leadership style that molded them into a team that carried out what he wanted to do with the nation. Lincoln's style was one of quiet perseverance and charm. When faced with a disagreement with any of his cabinet, he resolutely forbore the arguments in favor of the opposing position, then with charm and quiet persuasion was able to bring the colleague around, or on occasion slightly alter his own position based on the logic of the other guy's.

This was no Harry Truman, who would tell his cabinet, "Here's what I'm going to do. Talk me out of it if you can." They never could. Nor was this a Teddy Roosevelt, speaking softly but carrying a big stick. Lincoln carried no stick at all, according to Kearns. He entered the presidency as a relative unknown, painted by the Democrats as a rail-splitter. In fact, a few months into his first term someone in power said, "We have voted for a rail-splitter, and that's what we got."

As the opening battles in the Civil War went against the Union, everyone questioned Lincoln's forbearance with non-performing generals. The radical side of his cabinet questioned his toleration of the conservatives, and the conservatives did the same concerning the liberals/radicals. The abolitionists declared Lincoln a friend of slavery, and Southern sympathizers declared him an abolitionist. Somehow, through his incredible forbearance and his refusal to become flustered or angry, Lincoln prevailed and the Union was saved.

Kearns does a masterful job at weaving this story. She tells how Lincoln used diversions to reduce his stress level and allow him to keep focused, diversions such as the theatre, the opera, carriage rides, weekends away from the White House, and simple evenings spent with friends where he could spin his yarns. He became good friends with his chief rival, William Seward (Secretary of State), and the two spent much time together not necessarily discussing government business.

It was not so with Salmon Chase (Secretary of the Treasury). Kearns describes how Chase constantly baited Lincoln, either purposely or just as a consequence of planning to unseat Lincoln in 1864. Lincoln stood for much abuse from Chase, refusing three times to accept his resignation. When he finally did accept it (to Chase's surprise), the timing was perfect and the rest of the cabinet, the Congress, and the nation understood it was for the best.

Tomorrow I'll cover a few more items, and summarize the review. For now I'll say this read is well worth the cost of the book and the hours you will dedicate to it. Don't take a chance to pass this up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Progress as Promised: a shameless commercial plug

I had intended tonight to post the first part of a two-part review of Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Yes, I finished it last night, well ahead of the schedule I thought I could achieve. The book is long, and deserves a thorough review. On my noon hour, after walking 1.33 miles, I did an outline of my review. Of course, I left the outline on my desk when I left the office.

So tonight I'll post something else. I'm making progress on a number of fronts.
  • Health: After a few weeks of barely watching what I ate (while continuing a good level of exercise), this is shaping up to be a good week. For the last two days I've barely snacked, and have upped my exercise level slightly. Despite 90+ temperatures at noon, I walked 12 laps each day (a mile and a third).
  • Flood study: At the end of the workday, I had pretty much completed the last analysis of the flood study that has been a sword dangling over my head for two years. I still have to get the tech going on the mapping (promised for tomorrow), and must write a technical report (already started) and fill out the FEMA forms (one day's work). The end is in sight.
  • Reading: As stated, I got more reading done than anticipated over the last month. Perhaps I'm reading more efficiently, because I had great comprehension as I read; I didn't skim any of it.
  • Freelancing: Last night I spent time preparing a query for another article in Internet Genealogy. No word on it yet.
  • Suite 101.com: Here's the shameless plug: I have three articles up on Suite 101: two on flood plain issues, and one an overview of Robert Frost's "Into My Own", one of his early poems. These three articles don't have many page views yet and no revenue earned, but that will come in time. What business, you ask, does a civil engineer have reviewing a Frost poem? You'll have to go to my profile page at Suite 101 and click on the article.
Tomorrow hopefully I'll begin the book review. Right now, I'm exiting the Dungeon for the upper levels, from the coolness of the basement to the heat of the street level, and will spend a little time reading. The next two books on my reading pile are A Harmony of the Gospels (I forget the author) and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I've never read that, but it's rather long and I'm not sure I want to read a long book right now. So, for the few minutes of reading tonight, I'll get back into my son's philosophy paper "The New Problem of Akratic Action". This forms a chapter in his dissertation, and is not really a difficult read. At least I think I understood the first five pages.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Kicking and Screaming Part

Yesterday I completed my first article for Suite101.com and posted it for editor's review. Your first article after signing on must be approved by an editor before it is viewable on the site. After that you post directly and an editor reviews it after it "goes live". This morning an e-mail was waiting for me, from the editor for this area of the site, saying some changes were recommended.

I checked in at the site and looked at the editor's suggestions. Turns out it's just to add some more white space by breaking things into smaller paragraphs, and maybe making a bulleted list of a couple of items. No change asked for in the text itself. After completing this post I'll make those formatting changes, resubmit, and the article should go live today. I'll come back either today or tomorrow and post a link.

Then I will have to go to PayPal and see if my long-dormant account is still there. That's the only way Suite 101 pays. Not that I expect a windfall any time soon. I have about thirty days to give them payment provisions.

But as I said in my previous post, I'm doing this freelance thing kicking and screaming, holding on to my novels, Bible studies, poetry, and even non-fiction books dream. I'm afraid every writing hour for a while will be devoted to freelancing, both Suite101 and other markets. So I'll have to carve out time for other writing. Doing it while driving doesn't work. I've tried it and I can't seem to concentrate, and I don't really want the distraction. Better to spend driving multi-tasking time with the radio and either music or talk.

My walking time on the noon hour provides opportunites for poetry. I'm usually working on a haiku, or a cinquain, or something else short, something I can remember and write down when I get back in the office. Most of these are not good and I do nothing else with them. although I've got two from the last month that are on Post-it notes on my desk, waiting for me to decide whether they are good enough work on some more.

TV time obviously isn't a good time. Although, I find I can write with the TV on whereas I can't read. But this time is better for editing something rather than writing new stuff.

But the time that has seemed effective at pursuing my "dream" is when I go to bed and turn out the light. I generally fall asleep almost right away. But lately I've been fighting sleep to think through scenes in my novels. I have at most ten minutes before whatever substance my body makes in excess sends me into la la land. Lately I've visualized the last few scenes in Doctor Luke's Assistant. I've played and re-played the scene of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People where Ronny Thompson learns his girlfriend is a fraud and he hurls his cell phone off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River. And I've ridden again on the Star Ferry across Hong Kong harbor, where the vanilla American family moves unbeknownst into an espionage adventure in China Tour.

Eventually I'll move on to other scenes. And I won't let this overcome me to the point where I can't fall asleep easily. Perhaps these last thoughts will lead to dreams that will enhance these books, and perhaps I'll begin remembering my dreams.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What do they call that big change thing?

Back in the mid-90s it seems everyone was talking about paradigm shifts. I can't tell you how many business meetings I sat in and hear someone say, "We have to make a paradigm shift here," or "We're undergoing a paradigm shift." I wasn't quite sure what that meant other than a change in outlook, or maybe a change in philosophy. I made a mental to-do entry to look up "paradigm", but never got to that part of the "list."

Then, in the mid-00s, it seems everyone was talking about a "sea change". I'm not actually sure how to spell sea, since I've never seen this term written. I heard this more from television, from pundits on the 24 hour news outlets. "We are about to experience a sea change in this county," or some such drivel as that. I have never bothered to look up that phrase in one of the instantly available Internet resources, but I'm sure I could enter it in a toolbar blank and get all sorts of definitions. I suppose it is another euphemism for a big change.

Whatever a paradigm shift is exactly, and whatever sea change really is (or how it is spelled), I'm pretty sure I'm going through one right now in my writing life. The shift from writing novels and Bible studies has resulted in a big change in what I do in those few hours I have in a day to devote to writing. Yesterday noon and last night were devoted mainly to freelance activities. Oh, I managed to type some on the next two Bible studies I'm going to teach, all of 20 minutes or so. But otherwise I was freelancing both evenings.

Wednesday evening after church I worked on query letters for new magazine articles. I completed two, but decided to let them sit overnight before looking at them again then sending them off. Last night, however, I forgot about them and worked on getting my Suite101.com account set up. That was actually quite simple, so I went to the new member's tutorials and managed to get through two of them (interrupted by a phone call) before I left the Dungeon and went upstairs.

This would normally be my reading time, from 10 to 11 PM, but I had noticed, or rather remembered, when typing in one of those Bible studies that I had already done a bunch of work on it that wasn't with the papers I was typing. So instead of reading I began going through piles of papers--in my closet, beside my nightstand, next to my reading chair, in my portfolio--to find that earlier work. I found it, fifteen minutes later, carefully filed and indexed in a notebook I had failed to mark on the outside. That left me some time to read, and Team of Rivals is a little bit closer to being completed.

I want you all to know that I am not embracing this freelance thing. I'm pursuing it, dragging my feet, clinging to novels and Bible studies till my knuckles are white, all the time saying, "I'm doing this to build a platform so I can publish novels; I'm doing this to accumulate clips so I can publish novels." I don't yet know how this sea change, or paradigm shift, or whatever they now call a big change, will set with me. Two roads diverged in a wood. And I'm on the one I never intended to be on. I'm just afraid that knowing how way leads on to way, I shall never get back. Off to do another tutorial before starting my day job.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A New Freelance Submittal

This will be a short post at the end of a busy day. My flood plain study still refuses to cooperate. I've got all of the garbage out of my input file (I think), and have worked the six main analyses to perfection. I've even started the technical report. However, one additional analysis remains, of encroachments into the flood plain. This is a must. I've worked on it off and on since last Friday, but the computer calculated results are not within acceptable ranges. I'm doing something wrong, but can't figure out what. Will continue to work it tomorrow.

I just made a freelance submission, to be a regular writer at Suite 101. This site doesn't pay for articles up front, but rather shares ad revenue with freelancers. Others report that their articles generate about a dollar per month, but I don't know if that is typical, high, or low. The contract will require posting ten 400-600 word articles every three months, which shouldn't be too difficult. We'll see what happens.

Edit on June 17, 2009: My application was accepted. Waiting on a web site glitch to be fixed to access and sign the contract. Interesting that I'm accepted to a somewhat regular freelance writing gig on the 35th anniversary of my starting my first job as an engineer.

That leaves me with freelance submittal as follows so far this year:

9 submittals
1 acceptance Make that 2
1 rejection
7 not heard Make that 6
0 withdrawals

Of course, six of those were my short story "Mom's Letter" to six different literary magazines. And on the first query I submitted for a freelance article, the on-line query letter may not have gone through. I keep meaning to re-post it, just in case it didn't go through. So, I'm not doing all that bad so far in 2009.

And, I managed to go the entire evening without playing a computer game. I'll count this as a make-up day for the 40 I didn't do during Lent. Only 39 to go.

Monday, June 15, 2009


As I mentioned a few days ago, on Friday during our trip to Chicago we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The museum was having a day of no admission (except for special exhibits), so the place was jammed. While I was glad to get in without any cost in money, the cost was in having to deal with the crowd. Lynda and Charles wanted to see the Harry Potter special exhibit; I didn't. I've seen the five movies with Lynda, but haven't read any of the books whereas she's read all seven. I also had a problem with things so new being in a museum. Museums are for old stuff, not for things from a mere five to seven years ago, or less. So I avoided the Harry Potter exhibit.

So I used the time to see the U-505 exhibit. This is the World War 2 German U-boat that was captured intact by the US navy, towed to Bermuda and then on to the US east coast, where it was inspected, injected, dissected, folded, spindled, and mutilated.

The story of the capture is amazing, and well told in the exhibit. You begin with a television screen with Bill Curtis (of A&E channel fame) narrating a couple of minutes of the story, beginning with the havoc the U-boat wolf packs were having on our merchant marine fleet and crews. On the walls are various explanations of and expansions on what Curtis said. Then, just a few steps down the corridor was another TV monitor with the next few minutes of the story. At times the corridor opened into a room, giving more exhibits to go with the sequential narration. Once the narrations was done by "actors". I think these were really projected on a screen, but it had a 3-D appearance behind a sheer curtain.

Eventually you arrive at the main hall, where the sub resides. All around the walls and on the floor around the sub were exhibits, mainly of the workings of the sub and its weaponry, but also of its capture. This is the first submarine I've seen out of the water, and getting a look at the diving planes and the trim tank was great. This gave "flesh" to what I've read in several books.

I was also amazed at the torpedoes. Two rested on platforms next to the sub, one in cut-away view and one mostly intact. The innards of the torpedo were quite complicated: motor; batteries; gyros for navigation system; warhead (or gas canister for floating a test torpedo); structural frame; skin. An exhibit also showed how these critters were loaded and launched, also putting before my eyes what I've read in books.

On the way out, the exhibits covered the relocation of the sub to Chicago after the navy was through with it, and then the construction of the building wing to house it and actually moving the sub to the open building then closing the building over the sub. As I wrote before, this was quite an engineering feat and worthy of showing. Except, that happened in 2003, so I'll have to go back on my previous statement about museums showing only old stuff.

One part of the exhibit saddened me. The incredible complexity of the torpedoes demonstrated the huge effort that goes into making war. These fish are manufactured to tight tolerances. Each has a thousand parts. It's a huge effort to make each one. This sub carried about twenty of them, and with a couple of hundred U-boats in the fleet, that means about 4,000 torpedoes were being moved at any given time. Add in equal amounts of American, British, Russian, Japanese, and you have a massive industrial work all for the purpose of killing others. Then add to that the sub itself, and the cost to humanity is geometric. How sad.

Still, if you are ever in Chicago and have the time, go see this exhibit. It's well worth your time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trying to Concentrate

This weekend has not been good as far as writing is concerned. Yesterday morning I did my usual Saturday work outside the house routine. I cut down a 30 foot dead tree on the adjacent lot, where we are trying to create a small, park-like area (we don't own this lot; it's vacant and forested; I suppose we can use it until the owners retire and build a house on it). I only had a few other things do to outside, so came back into the house.

Before I could write, I decided I'd better read a chapter in Team of Rivals. I'm making good progress in that and am ahead of even my most optimistic schedule. Still, as of this afternoon, have 160 pages to go, but the reading is easy and I should finish by next weekend, if not before.

Then I came downstairs to the Dungeon, intent on writing something, either work on a chapter in my novel in progress, or a Bible study in progress, or begin to flesh out some freelance ideas I had, but as I sat at the computer I found my mind had no powers of concentration. I couldn't even read e-mails. I played some mindless computer games, tried to read e-mails again and got through them, played some more games, then left the computer to file various household papers. That worked fairly well, because I got through some papers that did not have a place prepared. That meant I had to concentrate enough to determine what the place should be and prepare it and file the paper. That included a number of items related to my completed, in-the-drawer novel.

That done, I came back to the computer, but still couldn't write. A writing related task I had on my mental to-do list was to set up a spreadsheet for freelance writing accounting. This isn't on a critical path, since I have no income as yet (at least none paid; I have some accrued), but still just having the system set up will make it much easier to keep track of things. Still, that wasn't writing.

I never could get much done. I did some hand-writing on an idea for a magazine article, and I read some writing blogs, but nothing that could be described as progress. Lynda returned home from OKC about 8:30 PM. I had supper prepared (though she ate on the road). I just turned to reading for the evening. Having read a chapter in ToR, I decided to pull out Tolkien's letters and read them. I'm at the point where he was finishing the proofs and then seeing published The Lord of the Ring. That was interesting and satisfying, until one long letter to a bookstore owner/operator who had questioned some theological items on the book. Tolkien painstakingly explained how he had no theological agenda, that the book wasn't allegorical, and how this and that item had been misunderstood, etc. I got through that letter, but was left with no mind for anything else. So I went to bed, earlier than normal for a Saturday night.

So here I am in the Dungeon, at the computer, about to begin writing. It seemed a blog post would be a good place to start. Even with that, I have interrupted my writing several times to play a game. Cursed games! I have four or five writing projects I could work on, and will turn to them now. Perhaps I can get in two or three good hours from this point on, and face the new week really feeling like a writer.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I'm sitting in my office this noon hour with a storm raging about me. Not a figurative storm, but a literal storm. The tornado sirens sounded about 10 minutes ago, ran for five minutes then quit. The Weather Service has issued a tornado warning. A funnel cloud--no, perhaps two funnel clouds were spotted within striking distance of us. One NE of Gentry and one SE of Gravette. That's probably the same storm. A rumor has it that one is also near Cave Springs, about 6 miles south of us. The wind is fierce, sky dark, rain heavy, lightning and thunder in close communication, and all who are in the office worried. Traffic has supposedly stopped on the state highway a mile and a half south of us.

I just went on walkabout throughout the building, and although radar says we are now in the worst of it, the sky has lightened. We'll see.

Last week we attended the ordination service of the Southwest Oklahoma District of our denomination. This is, I think, the fourth ordination service I attended but the first one where I went for a purpose other than as a delegate. Our son-in-law, Richard L. Schneberger, was ordained. The way we do it is a minister is licensed once he or she has passed a course of study and been examined by a District Credentials board. This makes him/her legal with the State, and able to perform marriages. For ordination, we require a minimum of 2 years of active pastoral ministry or 4 years as a minister on staff--plus another examination by the credentials board.

Richard made it. He has been pastor of the church for the last year [there goes the tornado siren again], was a fill-in pastor for several months a couple of years ago, and was in staff ministries a couple of years. It all added up to enough; the Credentials dudes thought he was qualified; and he was ordained.

The ceremony was not solemn by any means, but it was reverent and exciting at the same time. We, like most Protestant churches, do not consider ordination a sacrament, but perhaps we should. What is more sacred, or a more outward sign of an inner grace, than for the bishop (a.k.a. General Superintendent) to lay his hands on the new minister and read the minister's charge from the writings of Paul, then for a mentor to pray the prayer of ordination/dedication. To tell the ordinands to preach the word, minister to the sick and needy, administer the sacraments, and change the world. Truly this was an inspirational moment.

So go out there Rev. Richard and change the world. I am here in an inner room amid a fearsome storm, but you will be outside in an unstoppable storm that is leading to our Lord's coming again. Things are not going to get better, only worse. The difficulties under which you will work are enough to crush someone who is not truly called of God for that purpose. Find your own inner place to pray and be strengthened. Heed the advice of the scripture and those who are senior to you in the ministry. As an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene, help us laymen to dedicate our lives to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The tornado warning in our area expires in one minute. The worst has passed us by. For you the storm continues. May God bring you, Sara, and Ephraim safely through the storm of ministry.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Proofs

We left on our road trip last Wednesday morning, leaving no time for a morning check of e-mail. It was not until we arrived in Chicago on Friday that I checked e-mail and found the proofs of my article for Internet Genealogy.

For those who don't write, I'll explain. With freelance writing you generally don't write the article until you have an assignment. First, after researching a magazine to see if the idea you want to write about seems to work for that mag, you write a query letter and submit it to the mag. If the idea and any specifics you give them seem to fit their themes and publishing schedule, they give you the assignment. For bigger mags this will result in a contract with certain performance requirements from the author. For smaller mags there may not be a contract, only a virtual "handshake". Then you write and submit the article. At this point you have no guarantee that the article will be accepted and used. The mag may have given out more assignments than they can actually publish, knowing some freelancers might miss a deadline. Or they may wind up not liking your writing. So, although you have an assignment, that is not a guarantee of publication.

I submitted the article on May 26, I think it was, almost a week ahead of schedule. And I began a patient wait for the e-mail that said, "Yes, we think your writing is acceptable; and yes, we have the space, so your article is accepted and will be in our xxxx issue." As a first time freelancer, this was a difficult thing. I fear that my article won't measure up. So from May 26 to early June 5 I heard nothing.

Finally the morning of June 5 I opened my e-mail, and there was one received June 3rd from the the copy editor of Internet Genealogy, not saying my article was accepted, but rather conveying the proofs of the article--that is, the article as it will be laid out in the magazine. In other words, it was accepted, and will indeed be in the next issue of the magazine. Sweet!

I don't know when payment will be coming, but I almost don't care. The article was accepted.

Last night I began putting ideas for more articles on paper, planning to query the same magazine and other genealogy magazines with additional ideas. That will be my noon hour tasks today, to continue that process. Maybe I can get one in by tomorrow.

This freelance thing is fun.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

We returned last night from our road trip to Chicago via Oklahoma City, driving through two severe thunderstorms in Missouri, with tonado watches and warnings all around us. We arrived in Bella Vista to find it dry, hot, and muggy; it looked like no rain fell yesterday.

About 10:30 PM that changed, as the lightning and thunder came, quickly followed by wind and rain. When I went to bed about midnight the storm was still raging. When I woke at 5:45 AM all was quite. I saw little storm damage on the commute, so perhaps it sounded worse than it did.

I have many impressions from our trip to write about, and would like to get at it. Unfortunately, my employer calls me to put in a full day. And I have some blogs to review. And e-mails to read. And two writing related tasks I must complete today. So stay tuned. I will be posting daily this week, perhaps even twice daily at times.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Bustle of the City

We are in Chicago, having been here since Thursday night, staying with our son and his roommate. This was after having been in Oklahoma City for a day, attending the ordination of our son-in-law Richard.

The timing of this trip was to attend the Chicago Tribune Publishers Row Lit Fair, set up downtown on a couple of streets. We went to that on Saturday. It was a great mass of humanity, going between about 100 booths. It looked to me like people were buying. I passed up one used book on the way in, due to budgetary constraints, thought better of it and decided to buy it on the way out. It was gone. Someone else paid the $8.50 for it, I guess. The crowds thinned a little during several episodes of light rain, but still it was crowded.

On Friday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in the Hyde Park neighborhood. It was a free day, so it was crammed with people. I got in free; Lynda and Charles paid extra to see the Harry Potter exhibit. I wasn't interested in that, so I spent that time in the U-505 exhibit, which they saw on a previous visit. That was really something, a German U-boat captured intact June 4, 1944, towed to Bermuda thence to the East Coast and eventually to Chicago. It was moved indoors, quite an engineering feat, in 2003.

Today we went to the Hyde Park Art Fair. Six-hundred-eighty exhibitors from coast to coast were here, having attracted a sea of humanity. The artwork was lovely, but the prices so high we didn't do any serious looking. Lunch cost $23, quite high by my standards, but they have a captive audience. As we walked back to Charles' car, we went by the Rockefeller Chapel (misnamed, since it holds 1,500 people and thus is not a chapel by my definitions), popped in, and observed a handful of people in it attending a lecture/presentation about Albert Schweitzer, a weekend event commemorating the 60th anniversary of his visit to the University of Chicago. Next door, at the president's house, was a shindig for some key alumni. Charles thought it might be an alumni weekend.

From where does all this energy come? And all this money? To look at Chicago you would never know we are in a depression, or even a recession. I suppose some of the book and art vendors could compare this year's sales to last year's and determine how they did and advise if we are in a recession or not.

The people, the sales, the activity. I have lived in the ex-urbs for so long I've forgotten how busy the big city can be.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bad News All Around Us

The news yesterday was awful, just awful. We listened to no news on Sunday, preferring to take a "day of rest" from the news. We watched a couple of movies on television in the evening, and did not have news on before that. So yesterday morning as I went to work, I heard what I missed on Sunday, namely the killing of Dr. Tiller. Then, on Monday we had more bad news.

Dr. Tiller, whatever his profession and whatever his status as a legal or illegal provider of controversial abortions, did not deserve the vigilante justice he received. This is not the way to save babies from having their lives terminated before they have a chance to fully develop and breathe. Eliminating service providers will not reduce the number of abortions. Changing the hearts and minds of those who want to have abortions will. You won't change those hearts and minds by murder.

The bankruptcy of General Motors. Actually, the bankruptcy is not really sad news: the Federal take over of it is. I believe it is unconstitutional for our government to own the means of production. Every time we Americans face a crisis, we look to government to get us out. Each time that government gets a little bigger and a little more powerful and controls a little more of our lives. Shame on us for not taking more responsibility for ourselves.

The loss of the French flight is disturbing. This has all the earmarks of a terrorist attack (eerily like Pan Am over Lockerbee), though mechanical failure of some sort is possible. It's just sad is all I can say.

I got little done at work yesterday, and little done at home as far as writing is concerned. At work my main task was to get writing on the flood study report for Centerton. I had hopes of major progress. About all I accomplished was to get past the blank screen. I typed a table of contents and made decent progress on the Introduction, but not even close to what I hoped. I'm happy to report that today I'm doing much better, and words are flying from my brain to the paper, or rather to the screen. Last night I got little writing done. I worked some on the new chapter in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I think I added maybe 400 words. I typed some in the appendix previously started for the harmony of the gospels. I'm now within a hundred or two hundred words of finishing that.

But as far as freelance research goes, or preparation for the Chicago book fair--nothing. When I went to the Dungeon to begin my hour or two of evening work, I was overwhelmed by the amount of papers all around me that should be culled and discarded of filed. Genealogy papers. Writing papers. Bills. Mementos. Etc. The work to get this all done is just immense. I could not, in my inner mind, justify spending an hour researching freelance markets and generating more papers. I couldn't justify printing out samples to bring to Chicago. It all seemed like so much work that I really don't have time for.

Or maybe it's just fear of success raising its ugly head again.

Monday, June 1, 2009

June Goals

I don't want to set any writing goals this month, but know I must. I have to spend time on many things this month, most of which have nothing to do with writing. I have to get some financial stuff done for our home business, and for our 2009 taxes (yes, I'm trying to get ahead of the curve). Yard work is probably at a peak this month. And we'll have another road trip, though that is partially writing related.

Mainly, though, I have to do more about my health. I have lost 21 pounds this year, which is good, but I'm stuck where I am. In the last two months I've been bouncing back and forth in the same four-pound range, not gaining or losing. To get going down again, I'm either going to have to starve myself or significantly ramp up the exercise. This weekend I ramped up the exercise, taking time Saturday and Sunday for walks and calisthenics when I could have been writing. And what was the result? A one pound gain. I did eat big Friday night (visiting with a relative at a wonderful bed and breakfast in Baxter Springs, Kansas) and snacked some on Sunday afternoon and evening. But it seems I must have breathed some heavy air or something, and it stayed on my bones. I shall have to go on Dad's diet: water only, and that just to wash in.

Well, here are my writing goals for June. They are somewhat bold, given the limited time I see for writing during the month.

1. Blog a minimum of twelve times.

2. Evaluate two or three additional freelance markets, and submit to at least one. This will no doubt require quite a bit of Web research as well as preparing some new writing shorts.

3. Complete one chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, begun yesterday.

4. Complete my latest Bible study, tentatively titled, "The Strongest Of All". Actually, this should more be termed a small group study, since it is from the Apocrypha and not the Bible proper.

5. Complete one appendix (already started) and the notes for one passage in the Harmony of the Gospels.

6. Attend the Chicago Tribune Publishers Row Lit Fair next weekend, and, as a sub-goal, talk with at least three publishers who are real candidates for me to submit to.

7. Get back into Life on a Yo Yo and prepare it for publication while it is still somewhat fresh.

8. Submit a query for another article for Internet Genealogy. I will wait to make sure the article already submitted is acceptable to the editor.