Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Withdrawals

That's one good thing about the holidays: They give you a chance to withdraw from life, if only for a brief time, and forget the normal things and think of and do different things.

This Christmas we left home on the 23rd and drove to Meade, Kansas. A little more than 7 hour drive, north to Joplin then across southern Kansas to the beginning of the high plains. The route is beautiful, through quaint little towns like Baxter Springs (on old Route 66), Chepota, Wellington, Medicine Lodge, and Coldwater. The landforms are varied, with the vegetation gradually thinning the farther west you get, along with the houses, and grain elevators becoming the dominant man made feature, other than the asphalt our tires hum on. Ranch land and farmland alternate. The winter wheat looks good this year. We saw lots of evidence of harvested cotton, which is a crop changes from years past.

Once in Meade, our Internet service was rather short lived, due to a computer failure of the wireless Internet service we used. So even brief checks of Facebook and e-mail became impossible. I had to delay my blog post, wasn't able to track my page views and income on Suite101 (which, as it turned out, didn't matter due to massive computer failures there that left the writers unable to access statistics for several days and which still isn't fully rectified). So I just partook in family activities. Ate too much. Played lots of Rummycube. Attended church services. Talked with relatives. Drove past places of my wife's childhood. Visited the museum. Ate even more. Talked even more. Alas, saw no football this last weekend, since neither the cousin or her mom had a sports package with their Direct TV.

Through all of this, I didn't think too much about writing, except when Lynda's brother kept asking me about the next version of my biography of their great-grandfather. We toured his ranch on Monday, first time I've been there in 35 years. We visited with the woman who now owns the spread, and she wanted to buy a copy of the book, Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West. Actually, she wants two (one delivered, and one to be printed). This is my first "book", self-published on company copiers with relatively simple graphics, plastic comb binding, and lots of genealogy tables and information. But it was nice to have someone express some interest in the book. I've given away about 20 copies to relatives, maybe even 30 copies, and before this the only ones to express any interest in it are Lynda's brother, one cousin in California, one cousin in England, and the local museum curator. Everyone else I've given it to has said absolutely nothing. Not one word of feedback.

Of course, that's what I've come to expect from relatives and my writing. Almost no one is interested. One of Lynda's cousins asks, every time I see her, if I'm still writing poetry, but never asks to see any. It seems to be more of a courtesy thing than real interest. And no relative, knowing I write novels, has ever expressed an interest in reading them. That is, until this trip. Two in-laws of that same cousin said they'd like to read Doctor Luke's Assistant. So I'll print and send them the latest version, and see what happens.

Well, I don't want to exaggerate. My cousin Sue read Doctor Luke's Assistant serially as I was writing it. She is a writer too (and a regular reader of this blog, I believe), and she expressed interest. Although, I've never bought a copy of her book and read it. So maybe I shouldn't be too hard on relatives.

But it was nice to leave the pressure of office, writing, stock market, and all things regular for a few days. Here I am now, in Oklahoma City at my daughter and son-in-law's house, where computer access is easy, checking Suite 101 and e-mail and firing off blog posts. I'm still ignoring most of my normal life, though a little football would be nice. We'll head home more likely Saturday. Thus we'll be on our normal Sunday schedule. I'll be back to writing. I'll be able to watch all the football I can stand.

But I'll think fondly of our week away from the routine, and hope for something similar next year.

Thoughts of Christmas Present - The Death of the Christmas Card

I'm currently in Oklahoma City, at my daughter and son-in-law's house, getting a good dose of playing with Ephraim, and reconnecting with the Internet. From Dec 22 to 27 we were in Meade, Kansas, staying at Lynda's cousin's house. She has only a direct connect modem. Her mom, who lives next door, has a wireless network, and we could connect to that. I was planning on making a post on Christmas day, but her computer decided to go on a permanent vacation that day. Apparently a cable modem and wireless router are not enough, and we lost Internet service. I suppose I could have gone to the truck stop the next day, or to a hotel parking lot, but we were too busy playing Rummycube and Scrabble and visiting an old ranch and other such things. So here I am, a couple of days late, taking advantage of Ephraim taking his nap to fire this off.

This year we sent out 76 Christmas cards, not including one to each other. I think five were distributed personally, not mailed. Another two could have been as well. Two cards we sent last year were not necessary this year, due to deaths in the family. We dropped a couple of others due to many years of not hearing back. That total is down from about 125 cards a decade ago. Glad to save the postage, but it started me wondering.

What really set me wondering, however, is the lack of cards received. Granted we hadn't received mail since Dec 22, but I think we had received a total of 16 cards up till then. That includes the one from my company and two from fund raising organizations to which we contribute. I'd like to see what the final count is, and when it's in I'll post a comment to this. I suspect it will be around 25 incoming, maybe as many as 30.

Is the Christmas card dead? Or almost so? Sometimes I wonder if Lynda and I are the only ones who still bother with this old tradition. I remember my parents getting cards in the 1960s. Dad stretched red ribbon up and down the secretary in the dining room and clipped the cards to it. When he ran out of room there, he put them on string stretched in the wide archway between the living and dining room. When he ran out of room there, he put them somewhere, or maybe just in piles on a table. Of course, back then postage was 5 cents, and cards probably 15 cents or less.

So what's happened? We now have many more ways to keep in touch. Telephone is cheap. It used to be a long distance call cost so much that you saved them for holidays only. Now we can talk to a loved one every day and never feel the cost. We have twitter and facebook and skype and e-mail. We are more connected than ever before. We don't need to wait for an annual Christmas card with a quickly penned note, "We are all well. Uncle Theo passed away in October." Now we know about Uncle Theo within moments of his passing.

I guess I don't regret the loss of the Christmas card. Getting 76 done is a whole lot easier than 125. It's been 27 years since we left Saudi Arabia, and I guess it was inevitable that we'd lose track of all those people sooner or later. Lives seem to be busier, though lots of it is self-generated busyness. We couldfind time for Christmas cards if we wanted to, but don't.

I think next year I may chop the number down to about 65 cards, pocket the change, and put it towards a new laptop.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A View of Christmas Past – the Christmas Tree

Last night we saw most of A Christmas Carol on TV, one of the recent renditions, the one where Patrick Stewart played Scrooge. Can’t say that I liked it all that much compared to various other ones, but it was good to see it, the only time so far this year that we've seen the Dickens story that became the first of his many Christmas classics.

That got me thinking about Christmases past. Long past? No, my past. Specifically the Christmas tree. I’m thinking of those years when I was between 8 and 10 years old, maybe up to 12. About two or three weeks before Christmas, on a Saturday afternoon or evening, Dad would say to us three kids, "Let’s go get the Christmas tree." Each of the five of us in the family—three kids and two parents—would bring forth 20 cents from our allowance, and Dad and the kids would set off on foot, leaving Mom behind to do whatever she was doing. We walked south on Reservoir Avenue, just three or four blocks. There we found three Christmas tree lots. Normally empty lots during the year, at Christmastime they were transformed. Now, of course, the land is too valuable to let them sit idle eleven months a year, and they all have a building. But wait, this is about Christmases Past.

We went immediately to the back of the lot, where the trees of lesser quality were, trees that could be had for a dollar. Dad always picked one that was too tall for our house, and would have to be cut at the bottom and maybe even the top. It was never a great tree. The branches would be far apart and thin. But we bought it, paid our ten dimes, and carried it home. Normally we had to cross Reservoir Avenue with the tree. It was only four lanes back then, with lots less traffic. North a few blocks we walked, then on to Cottage Street, four houses down the left side, and put the tree in the garage.

The garage, you ask? Yes, for in proper British tradition (well, I think it was British; for all I know it could have just been us) the tree was not installed and decorated until Christmas Eve. So it stayed in the garage, in a bucket of water, for a week. We kids used to go out there almost every day to check it, why I don’t know. About a week before Christmas Dad moved it to the basement.

The basement, you ask? Yes. Dad felt that the tree should have a week to "get used to" the warmer temperature of the house. Plus at this time he did whatever trimming needed to be done. So we kids made our daily visit to the basement to check the tree, make sure it had plenty of water, and that nothing had gone wrong with it.

Finally on Christmas Eve, Dad brought the tree upstairs. We all helped rearrange furniture in the living room. Once on its stand, with iron weights on the legs, Dad first put the lights on. Not the miniature lights that we use today, nor all the same. No, we used a mixture of lights, probably six or eight different shapes and almost as many colors, probably acquired over many years. The bubbly lights we our favorite. Dad took lots of time to get the lights just right, clipping each one to a branch, making sure all parts of the tree were equally lit, both those parts close to the end of the branches as well as in the interior.

Then we kids did the ornaments. Following Dad's instructions, we made sure to spread then out, keeping like ornaments scattered and hanging them near the outside as well as inside of the tree. Then came the icicles. No, not the tinsel. We had what we called icicles, a solid, shiny metal piece twisted into a spiral, with a thread on one end. We hung these on the branches about two inches from the end. They were heavy enough that they would cause the branch to droop if hung too close to the end. Then came the tinsel, always the stuff left over from years of being on prior trees and salvaged at the end of a dozen previous Christmases Past. I still remember the white box it came out of on December 24 and went back into on either January 2 or 7. At the bottom of the tree, a cloth skirt of some kind, I think red, and then a lighted snowman and Santa. On the top, not a star or a bow but a spire, made like a glass ornament but designed to fit over the upward-reaching top branch.

The tree stayed up until New Years Day or, if Dad thought it was not getting too dry, until the end of the twelve days of Christmas on Epiphany. As the years went on we could no longer get a tree for a dollar, and we each had to chip in a quarter to get a tree. I think we could still get a marginal one for that price the year Mom died. Traditions didn't change too much after that, though the price of the tree kept climbing. The tree still was bought three weeks before Christmas and decorated on Christmas Eve and taken down on Epiphany. The same strings of lights went on with the same care. The same ornaments—less the one or two that broke every year—were carefully dispersed. The tinsel came out of and went back into the same white box year after year, a little bit more mashed and clumped.

The trees of those years had no theme. Their theme was that this is Christmas and we should have a tree. It should have lights—pretty lights, and pretty decorations. It should be festive rather than beautiful. It probably wasn't beautiful, but now, with fifty or so Christmases Past gone by, those trees remain beautiful in my eyes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hate the Villain

Since some readers of my blog might not click on the comments, they might miss out on the discussion I've had with my friend Gary concerning villains. This has to do with posts I've made previously about what I've learned in writing classes (at conferences) about heroes and villains. The conventional wisdom is that fictional heroes must have faults that they overcome, and fictional villains must have some amount of virtue lest they become cardboard characters, someone who is not believable. I began this discussion because of my observations of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, a villain who seems to have no virtues, and thus successfully defies the conventional wisdom.

I have concluded that the experts are wrong. The hero does not have to have any virtues. The villain must simply be someone the reader dislikes, even hates. As Gary said in a comment to an earlier post, let his/her evil traits be very evil, exaggerated even, so that we can see our own negative traits in contrast to his/her. "Yes, I have my faults, but Voldemort is much more evil than I would ever be."

So now, what do I do with my villains? In In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People I have two villains: Tony Mancini, a New York Mafia Don, and Colt Washburn, a Chicago Mafia Don. Both have their eyes and hooks into the protagonist, Chicago Cubs pitcher Robo Ronny Thompson, a naive farm boy who breaks into the Big Leagues. I have Mancini as being too nice to be a Mafia Don. He grew up with some refinement and a distaste for violence. He dislikes having to resort to killing as a business solution. Yet Thompson's success could mean his downfall, and so he sets in motion things that are evil, while hating doing it.

Right now I don't really have anything in Colt Washburn's character that would mitigate his evil. But Thompson's success would mean his success. He would win his eight figure be with Mancini, bringing about his downfall and possibly take over his turf. So Washburn, who was a Chicago street thug who worked his way up to be the head of the Chicago rackets, employs the evil powers he has to try to guarantee Thompson's success. The twist is that the nicer Don is doing all he can to bring about an evil result, and the more evil Don is doing all he can to bring about a good result. Well, if you consider the Cubs beating the Yankees in the World Series a good result, which most of America would.

So what to do? I'm only 15,000 words in to a planned 80,000 word novel. I could easily change either Mancini or Washburn. I could find a virtue for Washburn, or I could make Mancini more evil than he is. I guess I'll think about it some over the holidays, and maybe get back to work on the novel in the New Year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fighting the Bah-Humbug Attitude

I can't remember if I've written this on this blog before, but for the last 20 or so years I've had a somewhat bah-humbug attitude towards Christmas. The main problem is the busyness that comes with the season. First there's decorating the house indoors and outdoors, a chore of carrying boxes up from the basement, finding the right stuff in them, and getting it the right places. A lot of work. Given that Lynda likes a thematic Christmas tree, and I don't (I prefer mixed light colors and styles, mixed ornaments), and I've given up fighting her on it, I don't really enjoy the tree, with its one color and style of lights and its coordinated colors and styles of ornaments. Yuck.

Then there's the round of Christmas parties that start the first weekend of December and seem to go non-stop until a week before Christmas. The office, the department within the office, the church, the Sunday school class within the church, the support group within the church, the ladies' group within the church, the writers guild, the civic club, etc. The last several years it's been better. We blow off some of these parties. With the kids grown we don't have rehearsals for children's Christmas program. And since we don't participate in organized choir any more, that's dropped from the schedule.

Then there's the Christmas cards and letter. I normally draft the letter from scratch, and Lynda improves it. She sends it to the kids to make sure we get their info correct. Then comes the printing, two sides of a sheet, with misfeeds, smudging, wrong number of copies, folding, stuffing, etc. Signing the cards, labeling the envelops, finding the stamps we made a special trip to buy, getting them to the post office in batches, remembering to hold out those to weigh for overseas postage (not many of those any more). This isn't hard work, just one more cog in the wheel.

Then there's preparing for the trip to Meade Kansas. We'll be there four days, I think, and will swing by OKC on the return trip. Oh, did I mention the usual sudden tasks that crop up at work in the days immediately preceding your vacation days? Oh, and I haven't even mentioned shopping. Of course, we don't have much of that any more, and I can usually duck it and let Lynda have charge of something she loves to do. Although, since everything about Christmas seems designed to drain the checkbook and savings account, there's still stress and worry attached.

Normally by the time Christmas comes I have mellowed out. The main activities are behind me, and I can enjoy the day with whatever family we have around. I have time to reflect on the reason for the season, to read the story as many times as I want, and to recall the work of Jesus in my life.

This year, it hasn't been so bad. We went to a couple of parties we skipped last year. I served a group of 112 women at church on Monday night. We're going to the company's management party tomorrow night. The Christmas letter (my part of it) will be finished tonight, and probably ready for printing this weekend. The cards, at least most of them, will go out before the 25th. Our schedule for the Meade trip is set, even some extra visits I'm planning to make with Lynda's brother. Yet, with the activities, the stress of the season hasn't seemed as bad this year. Maybe I have somewhat learned how to deal with this and not let it get me down.

So as we near the day, I'm in a good equilibrium. I'm not worried about producing much writing. If I find the time, I'll get an article or two done, or maybe a thousand words in a novel, or maybe a couple of passage notes or appendix paragraphs in the Harmony of the Gospels. I might even get to read Dicken's Cricket on the Hearth this year, which is the next one of his Christmas stories I'm scheduled to read. At least this year I'm not sick with pneumonia. My rheumatoid arthritis isn't acting up and I'm not on steroids. 'Tis the season to be jolly. Well, I may not quite be jolly this year, but at least I'm not stressed and depressed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Still Thinking About Literary Villains

In response to my post about literary villains, my friend Gary left some comments. The gist of what he wrote was the people like to dislike the villain. If you give them some virtue, the reaction will be that they feel sorry for the villain. Then they won't hate him enough. Then their enjoyment of the literary experience will be reduced, because they will not be able to hate the villain enough. At least, I think that's an accurate summary. Gary, feel free to comment if I didn't get that right.

Part of this all must be the role the villain plays. In fact, perhaps the word villain is part of the problem. Take Scrooge for instance. He certainly starts out as a villain, but goes through a character arc that has him come out the hero. He is the protagonist who goes through a transformation. Darth Vader is the same. He is the antagonist who goes through a transformation from bad to good—or actually from good to bad to good when all six movies are considered. He is certainly villainous, but ends up good.

Voldemort fulfills a different function. He is a villain who stays a villain throughout the seven books, and in fact seems to get more villainous as the story progresses. In the back story, it's clear he wasn't always a bad guy (again, I'm basing this on the movies only, since I haven't read the books). I understand he doesn't go through a bad to good transformation, so remains a villain to the end. We hate Voldemort in the end. We love Scrooge in the end. We sort of love Darth Vader in the end, though he has less time to make amends than Scrooge did.

This all brings me back to my beginning point: Is the conventional wisdom, as taught in the writing classes I've attended, correct? Must we give our villains antagonists a virtue or two, to flesh them out and not be cardboard characters? I'm still working through that. Maybe I can leave Colt Washburn, Chicago Mafia Don in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, as a bad dude and not worry about giving him any redeeming qualities.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Plagiarism Posse

The writers at have become more active lately at fighting plagiarism and copyright infringement of their articles. Of course, that's happened to me twice (that I know of): once at a site called, and one recently at a site called Market Mentalist. I've seen a number of my articles listed at news aggregation sites. These are sites that simply provide a link to an article found elsewhere, and maybe display the first 50 words or so. These are harmless, and the links may actually help a little to give your article "Google Juice".

After my last event, which was more or less simultaneous to similar circumstances of other writers, we formed the Plagiarism Enforcement Posse. I lobbied for a name change, since we are fighting not only plagiarism but also copyright infringement (the two overlap but are not identical), but lost that argument. About 25 writers have signed on. The goal is to band together whenever someone on the site posts to the forums saying their articles have been swiped. We hope that with quick and overwhelming action the site owner will take the articles down, or the host will disable the site, or Google will de-index the site, removing their source of income.

Today another writer found a site that's stealing articles, Once he posted, the Posse was alerted. We began making comments to the stolen articles, saying they were stolen. Someone found the site owner's e-mail address, in a country with abbreviation MD (not Maryland), and some of the posse e-mailed him DMCA violation notices. As of about 3:00 PM today, the four articles listed by Posse members as stolen were all removed.

Then the original writer, who just joined the Posse when this happened, just posted to say articles of seven other Suite writers are posted at this site. The theft is a curious thing. The articles are all posted saying the author is Danielle Nelson, but then at the bottom of the articles the name of the copyright holder is given—the original Suite101 author. And the site has no ads. Normally the site of an article thief is covered with ads. That's the whole point: steal articles, keep the site with fresh content, hope to score well in search engines, and hope those who come to the site click on an ad. Or possibly they have ads that pay "per impression" rather than "per click". If that's the case readers don't need to click on the ad for the thief to make money. But this site has no ads. What's the point of stealing articles and plagiarizing them if you aren't trying to get ad revenue?

So it looks as if the Posse is being successful this time, though much more work lies ahead with this one site. I wonder, though, if we are on a losing effort. The criminals are like the cockroaches we used to be plagued with in Kuwait. Every morning we went on roach patrol, killing those who came up through the drain the in the night into the sink and couldn't get out. No matter how many we killed there were as many more the next morning. Same with copyright thieves. We'll stamp out one today and find three more tomorrow and five the day after that. That's the bad news.

But the good news is that these sites have a very low ranking with Google and the other search engines. The don't score very well on search engine results pages. So maybe they aren't taking much revenue away from us. Still, having your work stolen is disheartening at first, maddening second, and angering third. I hope the Posse rides on, into the night, through the day, finding the thieving cockroaches, capturing them, and herding them to the gallows. Cyber capital punishment is fitting, I think.

Don't worry Neil, Damien, Joseph, Jim, Nick, Victoria, Asa, Brenda, Jennifer, and anyone else at Suite101 whose articles this site has stolen. We've got your back. Ride/write on.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Literary Villains: Is the Conventional Wisdom Right?

Attend any class on writing fiction and before long you will hear this mantra: Your heroes must have some faults and your villains must have some good traits. You can't make your heroes so ooey-gooey nice and perfect that they are unbelievable. And you can't make your villains so absolutely awful that there is nothing redeemable in them. Well, you can, but your novel will be the worse for your doing so.

This was news to me when I first heard this in a fiction writing class at a writers conference, but it kind of makes sense. Fictional characters ought to reflect real life to some extent. Few people in real life are totally good or totally bad. Actually, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say no one is totally good or totally bad. Even if a novel is fantasy, and doesn't include humans at all, we human readers judge the novel by our human experience, and the non-human characters must be believable and real based on our human experiences.

But in literature, is this true? Do successful writers always give their heroes faults and their villains virtues? For heroes, I think this is probably true. A big part of any heroes' quest is to overcome obstacles, both those that the world throws at them and those that are within them. But for villains, is this so?

I'm thinking of the Harry Potter series, and of Harry and Voldemort. Now, I must preface this by saying I've not read the books! I intend to, and will be doing so within a year, I think. I'm basing this on the movies. I've seen all seven, and those who have both read the books and seen the movies indicate the movies are fairly faithful to the books. Harry has his faults. We easily see this in his movie portrayal. But does Voldemort have any virtues?

I looked hard for Voldemort virtues in the movies, and haven't found any. I suppose you might say he has a virtue of making an accurate assessment of his chances in a fight against Harry. He says he could not overcome Harry's wand and that Harry has a type of wizardry, provided by Lily Potter, that he, Voldemort, needs something more to overcome. He doesn't pump himself up by ascribing his failure to kill Harry to bad luck. But that's a pretty small virtue, I think.

We might be able to have some sympathy for Voldemort based on the circumstances of his birth and parentage. But sympathy and virtue are not the same.

So, as I write my fiction and flesh out characters, I wonder just how much virtue I should add to the antagonists, the villains. What good characteristics should I give to Tony Mancuso, the Mafia Don who wants to prevent the success of phenom pitcher Ronny Thompson, the hero of my In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People? Should I add a couple of good characteristics to Claudius Aurelius, the corrupt government official who want to stop Luke from writing a biography of Jesus in Doctor Luke's Assistant? I've worked hard to give these villains some redeeming qualities, but I'm wondering if it's a waste of time. Perhaps readers like their villains to be really, really bad—to hate them thoroughly, not to feel a smidgen of sympathy for them. Certainly, if Voldemort's abject villainy contributes to the success of the Harry Potter books, one would think that is the case.

What say you, my few readers? Do you want the villains in the novels you read to have a virtue or two? Do you want to feel some sympathy for the antagonist, and think, "Oh, if only his parents had treated him better he wouldn't have turned out so bad."? Or do you just want to hate the villain and love the hero?

An inquiring novelist wants to know.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Writing Stops, but the Ideas Never Do

As I mentioned a few posts back, I'm not worrying about writing stuff for a while. My works-in-progress are on the shelf (or actually the desk, work table, or end table) until after the holidays. Oh, in the next couple of weeks if an unexpected free hour comes my way, I might work on something, but I'm not planning on it.

So the only writing I plan on doing before the end of the year is the two articles I have under contract for Buildipedia, and my share of the family collaborative Christmas letter that goes in our Christmas card every year. I'll keep up with this blog too, hopefully at a three posts per week pace.

How can I, you ask, call myself a writer if I don't write? How can I turn it off, leave pen on table, hands off keyboard, and do other things? Wouldn't I burst from the inward pressure to write? Or if I don't burst, can I really call myself a writer? Or think that I have a "call" to write.

We'll find out. It helps that the other things I must do are important, so that I know I'm pushing writing aside, not for the urgent, but for the important. I know, too, that this time of alternative busyness will pass. This is not a tunnel without light, but with a clearly defined end. And as I said above, this is not a writing "fast" such that I must not write, but rather a well set table in life that includes many other entrees right now. I can still sample the writing if I want to, as I did yesterday. I wrote a quick sonnet to post on the Suite101 writers forums, and I began a new article for Suite101, something that came up unexpectedly but which I think I can knock out with minimal effort. And, I'm still doing research reading for the next Bible study I will write.

So in general I'm not writing. But I find that I can shut down writing, but the ideas then seems to flow faster than ever. Until this week I had four ideas rolling around in my head about on-line writing things I could try, things significantly different than what I'm writing now, things I plan to mull over a long time before really trying. Wednesday as I was driving home from church, a fifth idea of a similar nature came to mind. I began mulling that, and recalled the other four for comparison. No, wait, I could only remember three of the four! What had happened to that other one? I wracked my brain, search for sheets of paper with apt scribbles, looked through other things I'd written for a clue. Nothing. The idea was gone. I had only four when I should have had five.

But wait, last night I went back to mulling again, and the missing idea was back. I have five ideas to mull, ideas about new ventures and a new way to publish on-line. The mulling will continue for some months before I go beyond mulling.

But other ideas have come to mind. Articles for Buildipedia, that the editor has expressed interest in but which I've asked to be delayed till the new year. Ideas for articles for Suite101, maybe twenty of them. Ideas for scenes and dialogue for In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. Ideas for putting my Bible studies into publishable form.

No, the ideas never stop. Which is one of the reasons I think of myself as a writer. I will never have a shortage of ideas in the few decades I have left to produce works of imagination, as Macaulay used to call them.

After this brief hiatus, I shall write on.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"The Namesake" is a good movie

One of the CDs our son brought with him from Chicago for possible viewing during our Thanksgiving family time was The Namesake. This is some years old, not quite sure how much, but I'd never hear of it, nor the book on which it was based. It's the story of Bengali Indian immigrants to the USA.

Having spent those years overseas, interacted socially and in business with many Indian people, this type of movie was right up my alley. A Bengali man immigrates to the USA, Boston area, I suppose for study and work, goes back to India and takes a Bengali Indian wife, and they live in the USA. They have two children who are thoroughly American.

The story is the trials of both the immigrant couple and their children. The couple has their difficulties with American life, and never fully give up their Indian ways. Trips to India are rare. The children have no real connection to India, except through their parents. The few trips to India don't seem to have a positive effect on them (except seeing the Taj Mahal). They struggle having parents who are so different from those of their friends.

The title comes from the naming of the eldest child, a son. The couple has written to India to ask the boy's grandmother to send them a name (obviously a few decades ago, when international communications were mainly by letter). When the hospital says they have to name the boy, they say they won't have a name for six weeks. But they ask what's the big deal, for in India the child may not be given a "good name" for a few years, relying on an in-family nickname. But they must name the boy in the American system, and temporarily name him Gogol after the father's favorite author, the Russian Nickolai Gogol. I'd never heard of this author until seeing this movie. Much of the story revolves around Gogol and his name, which becomes permanent.

I liked the movie. It includes a few subtitles for the Bengali dialog, which obviously makes the movie harder to watch, but most of it is in English. The immigrant couple have strong Bengali accents, which also ads to the difficulty. But overall it's not that hard. The interpersonal relationships are good. Of course, I'm partial to stories involving the world as a whole, not just America, so as I said this was my kind of movie.

You can't see it in a theatre. Wikipedia tells me the movie was released in 2006. I didn't see it them (we seldom go to movies), but I'm glad I saw it now. If you haven't seen it, and have a chance to rent it, do so. I believe you will be entertained.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Deathly Hallows Part 1 – a review

On Friday after Thanksgiving I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie, The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Let me say that I haven't read the book. I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, though I've seen all the movies. Lynda liked the books, having read them after our son gave her several of them, she read them and loved them, and has since bought the others and read them.

I enjoyed all the previous movies. I found them entertaining, well made, with great cinematography, and great acting. The special effects were good, of course, but I'm not a movie-goer who needs great special effects to like a movie.

This one I found to have great acting, good cinematography, and good special effects. But it failed from a story/plot standpoint. I left the movie feeling "What did I learn?" So the three student wizards are not back at Hogwarts for their final year. So they are in a protect-Harry mode, hanging out in remote places, finding ways to sneak here and there in hopes of finding the horcruxes the Dark Lord has used to assure his immortality. Near the end of the movie they learn what the deathly hallows actually are, and in the last scene the Dark Lord finds the one of the three that he is missing.

Presumably all this is faithful to the book. My son said that Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn't learn about the deathly hallows and what they were until the middle of the book, which should approximately correspond to the end of this movie. I just left it with a "so what" feeling.

To me, story and plot trump execution, art, and craft. This is true in writing also. I'd much rather read a book with a great plot that has some less than stellar writing than a book that is a masterpiece of writing yet does not entertain. That was the problem with TDH Pt 1: it didn't entertain me. I suppose Part 2, due out next July, will entertain me. It is said to be an action film all the way.

I don't need an action film to be entertained, but I need something more than what I saw last Friday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Market Mentalist: Guilty of Plagiarism/Copyright Infringement

Today I did a Google search for a couple of my articles at I found this article:

Market Cycles Defined

also posted verbatim at this link:

MarketMentalist theft of my article

The owner of the site has given no contact information, and the domain registration is hidden.

I'm posting this here so that Google--and hence the world--will soon know that Market Mentalist is a bunch of thieves. Or maybe just one thief.

ETA on Wednesday Dec 1, 2010: I changed the title of this post to better describe what the site did. I also want to report in-post, not just in the comments, that the site owner took down my article immediately upon my request. Good for him. However, today I looked for more articles, and found another one of mine stolen at Market Mentalist. He included my name as the author, but he never asked my permission to post it and I obviously never granted permission. Hence, I have sent a DCMA violation notice to the legal department of his web hosting site.

ETA on Friday Dec 3, 2010: I sent that DMCA violation notice to the legal department of the host. Yesterday I received a return e-mail from the legal department, saying they had contacted the owner of the web page and he had taken down the offending material. Again, good on him. It is all resolved without a major fuss. I can now go about looking for other instances of my copyright being infringed and go after them.

'Tis the season...not to write

Last night I put up the border wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom. As it turned out we didn't have enough. We had two 15 foot long packages, but with all the twists and turns, boxing out for shower and closet, we lacked about 8-9 feet. Oh well, it's a stock item at Wal-Mart. Lynda should be able to get some more.

Also last night we finished putting up our second Christmas tree, this one in the walk-out basement family room. This is the old artificial tree we replaced back in 2000 or thereabouts, and tried to sell at umpteen garage sales but it never would sell. Given the size of our house, and the fact that we'll probably hang out in the family room some while all the kids are all here. Unlike the tree upstairs, this one is not decorated with single color lights and thematic ornaments of two complementary colors. It has multi-colored lights and a hodge-podge of ornaments collected over the years. My kind of tree, bringing back memories of childhood.

To our normal Christmas decorations (which admittedly were a little sparse for our space) we added lights on the balcony, pre-lit garland along the fireplace and stairway upper walls, and the Christmas village on top of the buffet. It's beginning to look like Christmas at the Todd house.

We are decorating early due to having the family in for Thanksgiving, but not for Christmas. So we'll have the house decorated and do a low-key gift exchange, mainly for Ephraim. Ezra will also be there, but safely berthed in his mother's amniotic fluid. His grand entrance will be in March.

So for a few weeks I'm not going to do much writing. I have a proposal to for five articles, but only one or two will be due before Christmas. I will try to keep up with this blog, posting twice or three times a week. I have a series of political articles I'm thinking of writing for The Senescent Man blog, though we shall see how the time goes. As far as new creative writing goes, I'm not anticipating any. Oh, if time allows and inspiration rises, I might do a couple of articles for But otherwise, I'm not going to add writing to the stress of the holidays. It seems we have more parties and functions to go to than normal this year. Writing can mostly wait.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Roller-coaster Continues

My last post, on Thursday morning, spoke of how I'd had a great day on Wednesday. I should know better than to post something like that. Every time I do the next days are always losers. Actually, I don't have to post about the good days. The bad days always come. The bad items came more from work than writing, but

Thursday morning I received a letter from FEMA concerning my floodplain project in Centerton. After several submittals, with revisions to satisfy FEMA, I was expecting the letter to say approved. Instead it had one comment, saying the water surface profiles for the different storms crossed. They should not cross. Therefore FEMA wasn't approving it. I really lost it when this happened. The comment addressed something in my model since the very first submittal, but in 2009 sometime. And they are just making that comment now?

Also on Thursday, on my Bentonville floodplain project, I received an e-mail late, consequently got to a meeting late. The meeting was to coordinate with the City and another engineering company for where our two floodplain projects butt up to each other. As a result of my meeting, I will have to make adjustments to my computer model and the mapping before I can submit to FEMA.

While this was going on, I wasn't able to work on the floodplain project for the City of Rogers (next door to Bentonville). I'm supposed to be way far along with this project, but can't get to it because of these other two that never seem to end. I finally got an engineer assigned to me to help with it, but he'll be on vacation all next week. So how much will I be able to get done on it?

In writing, the bad news was not as big a deal, but it through me for just as big a loop. My e-mail to the art teacher concerning illustrating my poetry book bounced. I called the high school, and couldn't reach her. All day Thursday I heard nothing. Finally on Friday I saw an e-mail from her in my spam. They (she and the principle) want to read the book before they make a decision. That's good. I e-mailed it to her right away. The bad news on this was just the waiting. Could she see her spam? Did she get the message I left with her receptionist?

The other bad news concerning writing is just the lack of time to do any. With the kids coming in for Thanksgiving, and having Christmas with us at the same time, we have much to do around the house. Cleaning. Decorating. Finishing projects. Way too much to do. And with these floodplain projects stacking up, I really can't take any time off work to do the home projects so that I can squeeze an hour out of the evening to write.

Well, I know these bad times don't last forever. Eventually all the busyness will pass. My floodplains will be approved by FEMA. Projects at home will taper off. And I'll write again. But for now, I'll set it aside.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day(s) of Accomplishment

Some days are just better than others. Maybe it's a burst of energy, pent up from slackard days in between. Maybe it's biorhythms. I've never figured it out, but some days seem destined for accomplishment.

Yesterday was one of those. I'll just bullet a few items.
  • We received permission to begin some culvert construction in a floodplain here in Bentonville, based on a "no-rise certification" I prepared and submitted to the City. We had been anticipating a 3 month delay, so this was good. I told our project manager to tell the contractor we pulled a rabbit from our hat.
  • I made contact with a fellow genealogical researcher who is researching tangential to the Todd family. Turns out we can't help each other much, but just making the contact was good.
  • I e-mailed the art teacher at Gravette High School (the school district we live in) about making the illustration of my poetry book a class project. Just doing that, in a burst of energy lasting ten minutes, felt good. Of course, when I got home after church I learned the e-mail bounced. But it only bounced because the spam catcher caught it. I'll have to make a phone call today to see if they will accept my e-mail. I don't know if anything will come of this, but I've done nothing on this for almost a year until yesterday.
  • I received permission from Worcester Polytech to use some of their graphics in an article I wrote for Buildipedia based on some research they did. This turned out to be a major effort, as WPI had the wrong phone number on their web site, and I wasted a couple of days, phone calls, and e-mails on it, putting us right up against the deadline.
  • I completed what seemed like numerous minor tasks in the office, having finished the last floodplain study and not yet started the next. Invoices, filing, training records, soil borings ordered, and more. All done (or close to done), all checked off the list. One more day like this on the miscellaneous tasks and I'll almost be caught up.
  • I learned of a writers retreat in Orlando in February that begins the day after the erosion control conference I'll be presenting papers at, and contacted the hostess to learn more. I've never been to a writers retreat, only conferences. I don't know if this is something I'll do, but the successful research and making contact felt good.
  • The Christmas tree is up and almost all decorated. I don't like it up this early, but the kids, grandkid, and amniotic grandkid are coming for Thanksgiving, so we like to have it up for them. Only the tinsel and garland are left. It's so nice to have something done ahead of schedule. Now I can concentrate on making the Chex mix.
Today the article went live on Buildipedia. I know I'm biased, but I think it's one of my best. It had a good number of views as of 7:15 AM, so the headline on the Buildipedia home page must be creating interest. As it turns out the editor didn't use any of the WPI graphics. Go figure. Now I need to develop and pitch a follow-up article.

So what will today hold? So much energy spent yesterday on so many separate items. It's going to be hard to have as much accomplishment. If I can just get that reimbursement spreadsheet done, something I'm doing gratis for a client, and maybe get a few edits done on my Orlando papers and get them turned in (two weeks ahead of schedule), this will be a day of as much accomplishment as yesterday. Oh, and somehow get the e-mail through to the art teacher.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peak Foliage Comes Late This Season

The autumn foliage in northwest Arkansas started out pretty poor this year. Maybe "pretty" isn't the best adjective: not as good as years past, not even close to memories of New England foliage, way below what I remember from 25 years ago in North Carolina. The maples and other in-town trees just didn't seem as pretty. Maybe it was the weather, or some kind of minor insect blight that kept the leaves from turning those nice fall colors.

I must describe a little for my readers outside of Arkansas. Our normal foliage here is not even close to as nice as other places. The locals ooh and aah over it, but it's bland. Oh, in the towns it's nice, where people have imported, planted, and cultivated non-native species that give color. But out in the country, in the hillsides above the farms, or where farmers haven't cleared, we have mainly oak forests. Oak leaves in these parts turn brown. Dull. Drab. You see an occasional birch, or something in that family, that turns yellow, but it is rarely a brilliant yellow. You have some hickory or other fruit trees that turn nice. They are beautiful to look at, and stand out among the drab oaks.

I try to tell people that they should imagine that one nice tree among a thousand, and what the hillside would look like if every tree on it were that color. Then they would know what the New England foliage is like. Actually, in New England it's a beautiful mix of colors, including some purple, and some evergreen trees among them. Just beautiful to look at at the right time, a mix of pastels and bolds.

The North Carolina foliage was different. When we lived in Bentonville, our neighbors had two large maple trees in the front yard that turned brilliant red, on fire. I told people to imagine driving the interstate and having both sides, every tree, just that color, mixed with an equal number of brilliant oranges. That's the North Carolina at peak foliage.

However, one thing we have going for us in the towns in the Ozarks is a more strung-out foliage season. Not all trees turn at the same time. Even the maples, in their different species, turn at different times. The oaks in their drabness trail most of the others. The late maples this year trailed the oaks. The Bradford pears, which are one of the preferred landscaping trees because of their early blooms, seem to trail the others. So part of our problem is the trees don't all turn close together. The colors, to whatever extent the trees give them, are spread out.

This year, the late turners have redeemed the foliage season, especially the late maples and the Bradford pears. They have been absolutely beautiful. Our commercial subdivision has beautiful, brilliant red maples on one side. Down every street in Bentonville and Bella Vista are lines of Bradford pears that are bright red mixed with orange, mixed with yellow, mixed with still green, all on the same tree. Beautiful. The oaks are brown as always, but as always the sun will catch those brown leaves and, for a brief time twice a day, make them appear an orange brown, and the oak hills turn beautiful.

Today it's raining, and I can officially say we are past peak foliage. Many leaves will fall. The color when I go out in an hour to go to the doctor will be not near as nice as it was yesterday when I went out for a meeting. But for the last two weeks, when it was supposed to be after the peak, it was the most beautiful.

Which gives me hope for a late blooming writer. Perhaps words cobbled together in a season many would think is past-peak can be found worthy to educate, entertain, inspire, and add a little beauty to drab lives. I hope so.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Stupidest Peace Treaty Ever?

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, formerly known as Armistice Day. That was the day World War 1 ended, November 11, 1918. Germany asked for an armistice from the allied powers; the terms were acceptable; and they signed it in a railroad car in Sedan, France. Eventually World War 2 eclipsed WW1 in terms of destruction, carnage, loss of life, length of fighting, and historical emphasis. WW1 slipped to minor emphasis in our history textbooks.

I've thought a lot about that war over the last ten years or so. Every now and then I pick up a book that has something in it about that war; or I brainstorm something I could write myself. At the moment I'm reading Mr. Baruch, and as coincidence would have it just last night I finished reading about his industrial board duties during WW1 and began reading about the Paris peace conference and his role in that.

The Paris peace conference. This is something I need to read more about, much more about. But I have in my ideas file a book to write about it. I might title the book The Stupidest Peace Treaty Ever. My reading on it so far is limited. I base my statements on the aftermath of the treaty. It is now close to 90 years old, and yet we still are picking up the pieces of the mistakes made.

Just look at how the map of the world changed, and how later wars were fought--and may yet be fought--over the idiotic borders. Yugoslavia was shear idiocy; the Iraq and Iran borders were madness; and the failure to provide an independent Kurdistan a major mistake. The draconian terms forced on Germany may well have led to the rise of Hitler. Historians disagree on this, of course, but I don't think it can be eliminated as a contributing cause, whether or not it was the main cause. The war in Yugoslavia and eventual breakup of that nation was one aftermath, about 70 years after. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 may have been a result of this. The Nato action in Kosovo in the 1990s might have been related.

As I say, I have much research to do. This book may be pie-in-the-sky stuff, something an historian should do, not an amateur writer. But it's fun to think about. Something to research in bits and pieces through the years, and to plan for retirement, which is only 7 years, 1 month, and 19 days away. No, wait, what was that news story over the last couple of days? The retirement age may go to 68? Better re-calculate.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Ephraim Factor

I'm in The Dungeon on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but not for long. After a good Sunday school hour and church service, we met our daughter and son-in-law for Mexican food, a party of six all together, including my mother-in-law and number 1 grandson, Ephraim. You see, he has been with us for the last few days. Sara and Richard were given a two night stay at a resort in northwest Oklahoma, which they took Friday-Saturday. Richard let his associate fill the pulpit this morning.

They came up Thursday, stayed a night with us, left Ephraim here and went on to their time away. Ephraim has been a delight. Two and a half years old on Thursday, he is gaining all the skills we expect of a child at that age. Motor skills, body strength, ability to play by himself, use of numbers for a purpose, not just as an exercise. Ability to put simple sentences together in correct context.

Yesterday he helped grandpa in the "woods", the vacant lot next to ours where I'm slowly cutting up a fallen tree. Mostly he played around, but he was with me. Last night it was great to see him play with new toys, watch a video (Dumbo), and hear stories read.

I just spent a wonderful hour of typing on the passage notes in my harmony of the gospels. The sounds of the house were ever in the background: a heater fan in the downstairs bathroom. Acorns hitting the deck or roof, somewhere way above me. Water running—perhaps Lynda starting a load of laundry, with many footsteps across the floor above. Richard getting up from his nap. Sara getting up from hers. Finally, there was the other expected sound. Not the pitter-patter of little feet, but the explosion of toddler energy in rapid footsteps accompanied by high-pitch cries. Ephraim is up from his nap!

Why am I still down here? I have only a few more hours with him. Eight o'clock, or maybe nine, and he'll go down for the night. Unfortunately, a very high workload means I have to follow a normal schedule tomorrow, or maybe even go to work early. I'll be drinking my second or third cup of coffee by the time someone peeks in his room and finds him happy and ready to get up.

So I shall leave writing for now, as I have all weekend. Ephraim is up. I will go play with him, and perhaps sing about lollipops and teddy bears and do the hokey-pokey one more time, or twice. His younger brother is making his cameo appearance at the house, safely in amniotic fluid, not expected to breathe on earth until March 19, 2011. It's good to see him in his bump. But I go and spend the time with Ephraim. Farewell to The Dungeon for the day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Almost all back together

Since October 1 I have been much engaged in doing the homeowner thing. By early October all repairs needed from the two water damage problems have been completed (I think the last was done Oct 12, but most done earlier). I worked on the upper deck during October, cleaning it, re-staining it, and replacing the much-damaged top rail. That still needs to be stained, but not till it has a few months for the preservative oils to cure. The last of that was completed last Sunday.

That left The Dungeon and the family room to put back together. No, wait, as long as we were all torn up we decided to re-do the downstairs bathroom: strip 20 year old wallpaper that was on the walls when be bought the house, but which we didn't like; paint; put up a border. It's all done but the border, and in a small room like a bathroom that's only a one evening task.

For all this work we had a deadline added. That's good. So often without a deadline you let things drag. Well, the deadline is today, when Richard, Sara, Ephraim, and grandson no. 2, halfway through his gestation period, visit us from Oklahoma City. We'll keep Ephraim, while the other three go off for a couple of days at a nearby resort, given to them by their church for pastor appreciation.

For their visit, we needed everything back in place. Major furniture was already in place, but book cases, books, and residuals from repair work were everywhere. So for the past week I have been moving book cases back where they need to be, after a good cleaning for dust, mold, and mildew. We decided to elevate the ones without a false bottom, which meant cutting and staining a 2x12.

Then we had to get all the books arranged. This was no small task. How do you sort them? Was the way we had it before the best way, or is there a better way? What about those that have never been inventoried? What about those few that were on a shelf in the downstairs bedroom? We're talking about a couple of thousand books.

Most of it is done, as of last night. We still have one bookcase mostly not loaded, and eight boxes of books and some more books on utility shelves in the store room to go. But these are all safely moved into the store room, out of sight for this weekend. The bedroom is back to normal, the bathroom is clean, the family room looks good, and The Dungeon--well, it's back to the normal clutter that accumulates when a wannabe writer and a stock trader work side by side.

During all of this, I haven't felt much like writing. I've done a few articles, and I've typed a little on the harmony of the gospels, but nothing creative. Nothing on my novel. Nothing on Bible studies (except some research). Nothing on market research or other non-writing tasks a writer must do. Maybe, after this weekend, I'll see my way clear to get back into it in a bitter way.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Biographies of Great Men

Biographies are almost always a great read. In part that's because they are of great people, men or women. Right now I'm reading a book titled Mr. Baruch. It's a biography of Bernard Baruch, who was a Wall Street speculator of humble origins, who eventually became an adviser to Democratic presidents and politicians. I'm reading that book because I found it among books we put up for sale at my mother-in-law's moving sale in January 2009. It was among many books I took from my dad's house after his death, lots of which we intend to sell. The name was familiar, but if what he did was covered in my history classes, I slept through it. I'm close to 1/4 through this 610 page scholarly biography. My conclusion to date: Whatever his politics, Baruch was a great man, a man of accomplishment.

At the same time, in our adult Life Group classes, we are studying Charles Swindoll's Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness. It's about the patriarch Joseph, and is a very good book. I'll blog about it eventually, but meanwhile I highly recommend it as either a small group study or even as an individual read. Joseph was a great man of the Bible, a great man in history, a man of accomplishment.

Do you find biographies of great people motivating or deflating? I find them somewhat deflating myself. And, since biographies are only written about great—or notorious—people, most biographies tend to do that to me.

What have I accomplished in life? Unpublished, except for a few articles; lots of work at it, little results. Third string in high school football. Third man in the mile, but barely so. Never rose above third trumpet in band. A generalist civil engineer not really recognized as an expert in anything. A hack home maintainer, barely squeaking by without having to call out a repair man for each little thing. Heck, even most of the water damage we had this summer, which we are still cleaning up from, would have been minimized if I had made the right "diagnosis" of the problem and closed a valve that first evening.

Sorry for the pity party. I just find it all very deflating. Maybe I should quit reading biographies. I've actually written three short biographies. Well, two of them are unfinished. The third is of Lynda's paternal great-grandfather: Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West. It's "finished", though whenever I run out of copies I always update it, adding newly found information, improving the illustrations and printing, etc. I have one copy left, so an upgrading will be coming soon. Of course, it's only about 40 book-sized pages of text, 15 of illustrations and pictures, and 60 or so of genealogy tables and data. It probably doesn't qualify as a real biography.

Well, I guess I'll keep plugging at it. The desire to do something great is too strong to suppress. I'd turn all this good energy to weight loss instead, which would be an accomplishment. But this morning when I weighed in, after a weekend of working my tail off around the house and being reasonably good with my eating, I had gained four pounds since Friday. I guess I'll need to go on my dad's diet: water only, and that just to wash in.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Improvements in Body, Mind, Outlook and...Pick-up Truck

When I wrote here last, on Sunday, I was in the midst of a difficult weekend. Pick-up truck—in the shop, uncertain problem. Wife—in Oklahoma City on the way back from Santa Fe. Arthritis—flared up to the worst it has been ever, I think. Writing—not doing well, as it was too painful to type, almost to write.

On Sunday the rheumatoid arthritis fare-up was on the mend, but not yet gone. By Monday evening, it was gone completely. I couldn't get into work on Monday, due to having no vehicle. So I completed installing the top rail on the deck, and cleaning up from the project. The joints between boards aren't professional, but they look acceptable to me. With all the work with my hands on Monday, you'd think I would be hurting by evening. Yet I felt better than I had for months. Go figure. Saturday I should complete the second coat of deck stain and be done with it until spring, when the top rail will have seasoned enough to add the stain. Oh, I have a few more screws to drive in the top rail.

Tuesday through today I've been working almost exclusively on the flood study for the City of Bentonville, related to our street improvements for SW "I" Street, and adding two adjacent road projects done by the highway department (for which they should have done a flood map revision but never did). This has been a particularly frustrating job. I finished the computer modeling some days ago, and have been working on the mapping. Of course, as I did the detailed mapping, I discovered that some further tweaking of the computer model was justified. Almost all of that is done now. I might be able to finish the map-model-map iterations tomorrow, leaving the engineering report and actually making a submittal for next week. The tunnel end is getting closer. Of course, at the opening of that tunnel is the Perry Road flood study for Rogers, Arkansas.

Today, in a mere hour, I was able to write my next article for Later I proofed and tweaked it, and sent it to my source for review. Tomorrow is the deadline, and it's good to not be writing it at the last minute. Tonight, after posting this and reviewing one other blog, I'll work on writing for another hour. I might do some typing on passage notes for my harmony of the gospels, or write an article for I have four or five in various stages of development for them.

And last, on Monday I got my wife back and on Tuesday I got my pick-up back. That's the right priority, don't you think? The pick-up problem was the battery cable terminals, which were shot and wouldn't hold contact. While the darn thing was in the shop, I had them fix the driver side door, putting a new handle on it. Now I don't have to crank down the manual window and reach outside to open it. This makes it less of a redneck truck, but should do my left shoulder a world of good.

Well, I must be about other business now. I had a more serious post planned for tonight, but will save it for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Weekend of (Mild) Adversity

So I worked late Thursday and Friday nights, and by the close of business Friday had completed all the analyses on this stubborn floodplain. The mapping and engineering report await the coming work week, but just having the analyses done is huge. I stayed later still to complete an article for Buildipedia that was due that day. Then went to Lowes, picked up a couple of things for the weekend projects, and priced a new project. Went to the truck and it wouldn't start. Called AAA. They got there quite promptly. Started me with difficulty.

By this time it was almost 8:00 PM. Drove by the house and picked up some tools, (leaving the truck running), and drove to Wal-Mart. The auto operation was closed. Parked. Turned the truck off and it wouldn't re-start. Went inside for a battery. They were out of the one I needed, and the young man who came to help me said no other battery they carried would work. He grabbed the starter pack and accompanied me to the parking lot. We drained the starter pack but couldn't start the truck. Called my neighbor (Lynda still being out of town) who came to jump start me. When he did so, smoke started rising from the battery. He drove me home; exhausted, I tried to read some but couldn't. Slept well.

Saturday morning, my neighbor drove me into Bentonville where I bought a battery. We went to my truck up in Jane, MO, but couldn't get the old battery out with the limited tools I had. He had to leave. I went to the auto operation, but they wouldn't come out to the parking lot to help me. Bought some more tools. I was able to get the old batter out and the new one in, but it still wouldn't start. It seems the batter cable terminals have deteriorated to the point that they won't connect any more. Called AAA. They came promptly, towed me to the Ford garage I take the truck to, then drove me to within a mile of the house. Walked home, and it began raining lightly within three minutes, and hard ten minutes after that.

By evening my rheumatoid arthritis was killing me. The worst day I've had with it ever, I think. Read and slept. Did some simple chores in the house. I slept fairly well. The arthritis was better by morning, but I had no ride to church, and so had a restful day home. About 1:00 PM I came to The Dungeon, hoping to write, but my computer had started a security suite download and virus scan. So I did a lot of chores in the basement, typed some things when the scan ended, then went upstairs and decided to go for a walk. Watched some football, and came downstairs to do the Facebook and blog things.

All of which should be interesting to no one but myself. But it's reasons why I didn't get much writing done this weekend. Without a vehicle it doesn't look like I'll get to work tomorrow, unless they fix my truck early and I walk the four miles to get it. Lynda will be home sometime tomorrow, maybe in time to drive me to pick up the pick-up and allow me to salvage a half day of work. Oh, well, I can always work on the last few items needed on the deck and make the day profitable that way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Thoughts on Children of Dune and the Dune Trilogy

I haven't read much science fiction. Twenty years ago I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of five books, the original trilogy and the next two. From time to time I would pick up a sci fi book and get through it, but never with enough interest to cause me to seek more by the author. Of course, a number of sci fi movies have caught my fancy.

As a writer, a sci fi series has been occupying a few gray cells. But as a non-reader of sci fi, I can't really hope to write effective sci fi. That's okay, because I've plenty of other novels and non-fiction books and ideas consuming other gray cells. Still, if this near future series keeps coming to the surface, maybe I should pay more attention to sci fi and develop more of an eye and ear for it.

So what did I find right with Children of Dune and with the Dune Trilogy I've now finished? One thing was the obvious borrowing from the Arabic language and the desert culture of the Middle East and Africa. Frank Herbert uses a few words straight from the Arabic in their actual meaning, such as hajj and jihad. Otherwise much of the language is similar to Arabic.

The development of a desert ecosystem on the planet Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune, was impressive. The importance of water and how the Fremen, the desert dwellers of Dune, use and preserve it was well done. For a Fremen to spit in welcome of a guest is a sign of respect. When 14-year old Paul Atreides killed his first man in hand-to-hand combat, he cried. The Fremen were impressed that he "gave water for the dead." When a person dies, the body is rendered for the water because "His water belongs to the tribe." All Fremen wear a stil suit, which prevents their water from escaping into the desert atmosphere. And they always take a fremkit into the desert with them.

But the most interesting part of the desert ecosystem is the sand worm, worshiped by Fremen as Shai H'lud. Water poisons the worms, but somehow they thrive in the arid lands and grow to enormous size, some the length of a football field with a mouth 10 yards wide. They are deadly, and are attracted to any rhythmic noise. The Fremen know this, and from childhood learn to walk in the desert in a non-rhythmic way and thus do not attract the worms.

Unless they want to. The worms live mostly underground and bore through the sand, but move at good speed. The Fremen have learned that, when the worm breeches the ground, you can crawl up on the worm and insert hooks under the worm's segmental rings. The worm cannot "submerge" in the sand when their rings are separated. So they move on the surface, and a skilled Fremen can ride the worm for hours, directing it in any direction.

The worms make a spice called melange. I don't know if this is a type of worm excrement, or if they make it in the way bees make honey. Indigo in color, it is some kind of narcotic. The Fremen mine it and consume so much of it their eyes turn light blue on dark blue. Somehow it is essential for space navigation, but the three books never explain exactly how. Is it also a fuel? Or is the money from the spice trade what finances space travel? I would have liked to have that explained. The spice is the reason Arrakis is a desired planet, and becomes the place of legends and smuggling.

In Children of Dune, much effort has been put into transforming the desert planet into a well-watered land, filled with flora and fauna. The effort has the effect of limiting the worms' territory. Their population is shrinking, and they will be extinct within two centuries. No worms, no spice. No spice, no space travel. No spice, no value to Arrakis. Only Leto, the seven year old son of Paul Atreides seems to understand this. His quest to reverse this is an underlying theme of the book.

All of this takes significant development and creativity by the author. As I spend time on writers sites, it seems everyone is writing sci fi and its close cousin, fantasy. I think the idea is that no research is required, whereas it is in most other genres of fiction. But this seems wrong. The author of sci fi probably has more development time than does the writer of other genres. All the back story, all the unwritten centuries or millenia, must be in the author's mind. Knowing how much to share in a book or a series is a difficult decision for the author.

And Herbert is certainly a master of all of this. I've been critical of him for not giving quite enough back story for my liking. And I've criticized his writing style, especially in the last of the trilogy. But I cannot fault his development of the fantasy world of times in the future. Very well done.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review – Children of Dune

In an earlier post I mentioned I was not enjoying Children of Dune, the third in Frank Herbert's Dune trilogy. Only 40 percent into it at that time, I was determined to finish it and hope either it got better or I came to like the style. I finished it today, and here's the report: it didn't, and I didn't.

Dune, the original of the series, was a challenge due to its length and the large number of terms to learn. Dune Messiah was difficult due to introduction of situation that were never fully explained, as well as for some back story left out that would have been helpful. Children of Dune was difficult because of the seemingly unending internal thoughts/monologue and the under-explained "Golden Path" that is the obsession of Leto Atreides, child heir apparent to rule the empire.

I've no doubt that Frank Herbert knew exactly what he meant with all of the strange statements made by the various characters, but none of them did to me. Characters frequently interrupted the others during dialog, and the partial statements made no sense. Here's a couple of examples.

But a coward, even a coward, might die bravely with nothing but a gesture. Where was that gesture which could make him whole once more? How could he awaken from trance and vision into the universe which Gurney demanded? Without that turning, without an awakening from aimless visions, he knew he could die in a prison of his own choosing.
His vision-shrouded eyes saw her as a creature out of humankind's Terranic past: dark hair and pale skin, deep sockets which gave her blue-in-blue eyes a greenish cast. She possessed a small nose and a wide mouth above a sharp chin. And she was a living signal to him that the Bene Gessirit plan was known—or suspected—here in Jacurutu. So they hoped to revive Pharaonic Imperialism through him, did they?

The lack of context will make it difficult to appreciate these passages. They are representative of so much of the book. Lots of terms to understand. Lots of thoughts to process. Incomplete inferences to things you will never fully understand because they are never fully explained.

I could go on, but I think you will understand: I didn't like the book. I won't get rid of it. I'll keep it so that I have the complete trilogy in hand. But I can't recommend it. I'm sure Dune trilogy fans will regard this as sacrilege. But that's my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Flesh is Weaker Still

Last night the last of the work was completed in The Dungeon. Well, the last required of outside workers, that is. It and the family room are still mostly empty. The heaviest pieces, such as the roll top desk, the couch, and the love seat are in place. Still to be moved are the 13 bookcases, all the books, end tables and lamps, second computer desk, two work tables, and non-functioning treadmill. Maybe I'll leave that one in the storeroom.

While the last of the work was being done last night, I spent the time with paperwork clean-up upstairs. Much older correspondence and miscellaneous writings brought home from the office when the office moved last November were in a box, waiting for my action. Last night I got most of them sorted and ready for filing and maybe back side copying. I noted some duplication, so guess I'll go through them page by page after sorting to cull. I estimate 500 pages.

While I have recovered from the weekend labors, my right arm and wrist hasn't recovered, and my left wrist is getting worse. I don't know if this is rheumatoid or something else. The left wrist feels like it could be either rheumatoid or osteo. The right is much worse and feels like it could be pinched nerves or even more serious. I've already had the carpal tunnel operation on that hand. And that's the hand that was damaged while I played softball in Saudi Arabia back in 1982, requiring surgery at the Abdullah Fouad Hospital in Dammam. Although I'm left handed, I learned to use the mouse right handed. Maybe it's a combination of those.

Typing is so painful I must close quickly. Spent a lot of time on the computer yesterday, trying to fix a floodplain model that I thought others had correct. Today is a day of meetings, little computer. Maybe that will help. Writing is a dream right now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mind is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak

I have been mostly off-line since I posted to this blog last Wednesday. On Thursday, after an off-site meeting in mid-afternoon, I rushed to a rental place to see if they had a pressure washer. I'd already called and learned they didn't have one for the weekend, which was my preferred time to do it. I hadn't asked about one for that evening, since I didn't think I could get to their place before their 5:00 PM closing time.

My meeting ended a little early, so I rushed to the shop and arrived at 4:58 PM. Yes, they did have a pressure washer, but it was scheduled to go out at 7:30 AM the next morning. I decided to take it. It turned out to be one of the big ones, requiring two men to lift it into my truck bed. Traffic was awful, and I didn't get home till 5:55 PM, leaving me an hour of daylight, plus a half-hour of dim twilight, to get the thing unloaded, figure out how to use it, move hoses, hook it all up, and wash the stupid deck.

Somehow I got it all done, despite pulling the hose off the quick coupling and separating the 0-ring from the hose. I got the o-ring back on, miraculously, and finished the deck new the end of twilight. I then dropped the wand over the deck, went below and washed the lower decks—in the dark, with only the lights from The Dungeon windows letting me see what I was doing. I was pretty sure daylight would show this late washing marginally effective.

But washing a deck on Thursday means painting/staining it soon thereafter. On the way home Friday I stopped at Lowes and bought semi-opaque stain and a roller. Got home at mid-twilight. Saturday was the big day. I pounded down loose nails, scraped a couple of areas, and, while the workers were working on the insurance-funded repairs in The Dungeon, I stained the deck. At least, I did the bulk of the flooring. Since this was two or three years overdue, and since rain was forecast for Monday (today), I decided to leave the trim for later and get the lion's share of the flooring done. It needed it badly.

Last time I stained the deck, probably four years ago, I used a 3-inch brush. Took two days and about killed my back and knees. This time I decided to roll it, using the long-handled roller Lynda bought. I'd never have spent that kind of money on a tool, but this one is a good one. It even had an extension on it. I barely had to bend, although standing erect and rolling I felt that I didn't have enough control over the roller. Took two hours, and left me tired enough. The trim and rails were left for another day.

It would have been nice for that to have been the only maintenance needed on the property that day. Alas, clean-up and dishes (I'm batching it again, for two or three weeks) and clearing deadfall also needed attention. Then there was the neighborhood block party Saturday evening to cook for and attend. By Saturday evening I was in no shape for anything, except watching a little college football and reading less than my weekend day quota in Children of Dune.

Sunday was better. Good rest. Good worship. Good Bible study. Good lunch fellowship with a good friend who was also a temporary bachelor. Good afternoon reading. No access to computer until about 7 PM, however, as the workers were still at it in The Dungeon. I finally got in there about 8 PM, but the fumes were so strong I didn't want to stay there and breathe in all those solvents and all that dust. Back upstairs, where I divided my time between pro football and catching up on Children of Dune.

So it was a weekend of little writing accomplishment. I researched my next Bible study, read some in Poets and Writers, read in CoD, which is sort of research for sci fi writing, and filed some writing business type stuff. Would have liked to do more, but that was all. Hopefully this week will be more profitable.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on "Children of Dune"

I may be off-line at home, but not at work. That time AWOC (away without computer) last evening gave me time to work on my novel in progress, something I haven't done in several months. It also gave me time to read twenty more pages in Children of Dune, the third in the Dune Trilogy, written by Frank Herbert. This was next in my reading pile, reshuffled to bring up fiction after reading several non-fiction works.

I had never heard of Dune or the Dune Trilogy or Frank Herbert until a couple of years ago, when my son gave me Dune as a birthday or Christmas gift. The size was daunting, and I didn't start it for several months. It's not as if I lack reading material. Plus, I don't read much science fiction. When I finally did begin reading it, the many strange terms and the even stranger writing were a hindrance. I read Dune too long ago to review for this blog, but you can see my review of Dune Messiah here. In the meantime I had picked up the book Heroes of Dune, an interquel between the first two of the trilogy, written by Herbert's son, and covering the twelve year gap in the Dune history. I elected to read Children of Dune ahead of Heroes of Dune, to stay in the order they were written, rather than chronological order of the saga.

I may be sorry I did. I'm finding Children of Dune very difficult reading. By now the strange terms are second nature to me. I understand Mu'ah Dib, Benne Gessert, Arrakis, Arrikeem, Shai Halud, mentat, melange, steich, and Kwisach Haderach on sight. I finally came to understand CHOAM a little better in this volume.

But the writing style! My goodness, it goes against everything you hear in writing classes nowadays. Endless pages of thoughts of Leto and Ghanima as they stand with their grandmother waiting for some event. Endless conversations of a feared conspiracy that will end the House of Atreides. Long descriptions of back story, worked in chapter by chapter. It's downright boring!

Yet, this is a successful sci fi series. Who am I to question Herbert's writing? He did the same thing in Dune, though I thought a little less in Dune Messiah. Now in Children of Dune he seems to have caricatured what he did in the first book. It's been a couple of years since I've read it, but I don't remember the internal monologues going on for this long, or being repeated chapter after chapter, with no break for real action.

In an early chapter, where Princess Jessica returns to the planet Dune after a long, self-imposed exile, her protective force fans out into the crowd ahead of her and somehow apprehend the dozen or so conspirators intending to take her life. But this action is under-written. One barely gets the sense that it is action by the words. Herbert did that in Dune as well, the constant downplaying of action in favor of thoughts, descriptions, and conversations.

As I say, the original book and the series were successful, and more books have been added by Herbert's son than he himself wrote. But I have to say reading this is a struggle. I don't know if I'm going to finish it or not. And that's saying something. I always take the approach that if I've paid for it I finish it, to get my money's worth. Even if it was thrift store money as this one was. I'm at page 153 out of 410. At 10 pages per weeknight and 30 per weekend night, I would finish it somewhere around October 18th. Do I really want to dedicate two more weeks of my reading life to this?

Yes, if I don't finish it, and go on and read a couple more in the series, how will my growth as a writer be stunted? The series is successful. Perhaps it has something to teach me in terms of alternate writing styles, and widen my views of science fiction, of which I've read so little. I'll probably muddle through it. But if something else comes to my attention, either on the reading pile or elsewhere among the books I'll soon be putting back on shelves in the basement, I may just lay Children of Dune aside for a more opportune time.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Dungeon is Unavailable

The carpet is coming! We thought it would be installed Thursday or Saturday coming. Yesterday we learned it would be installed today. This is the carpet in the walk-out basement that was ruined when the hot water heater leaked. Insurance is covering it, less deductible, or course. The insurance check arrived today.

Part of the deal Lynda worked out with the carpet company was that we would move all the furniture from the two rooms except two pieces. Otherwise they have go charge for furniture. The rooms included are the family room and the computer room (a.k.a The Dungeon). These rooms have no wall between them, being defined by wall corners. The area has been torn up since July 22 when we returned home from vacation and discovered the leak.

For the last week to ten days we knew this day was approaching, so every day I've been doing something to prepare for it: move out an end table and lamp, remove two empty bookcase, remove the last loaded bookcase and the books on it, clean up all tools and supplies from painting the room, etc. But the move up of the installation day resulted in one evening to finish everything else. That's what we did last night. Love seat, recliner, treadmill, office chairs, television and stand, and two computer desks had to go, moved into the store room or the downstairs bedroom.

We got it all done, leaving only the roll top desk and the couch for the carpet dudes to move. That also means I have no computer at home until we get the desk moved back in and the computer re-installed. Will that be tonight? I don't know, but I doubt it. We still have some inventorying to do of bookcases and books damaged by the water, and probably should do that tonight and get it turned in to the computer folks ASAP.

So, I expect to be off-line at home until tomorrow night at the earliest, and I think more likely until Thursday. Our modem and router are still connected, so we'll still have wireless access via Lynda's laptop, but not for my desktop dinosaur. Whenever I turn that critter off I always wonder if it will wake up again. Of course, I still have the office and office hours, and so will read, even if I don't post much. And, for writing I still have lots of pencils and reused backsides of papers to make drafts, as well as reading research in what is almost other dinosaurs—hard copy books.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's October 1st – I Should Blog

Fall is in the air, as the saying goes, and this is my favorite time of year. There's something about the transition in Autumn that appeals to me more than the transition in Spring. Since I tend to like colder temperatures more than hotter temperatures, perhaps it's the anticipation of those cooler temperatures and actually feeling a little bit of it.

Why, you ask, if I like colder temperatures, did I sojourn in the Arabian deserts for five years, and now lived twenty-four years in the South? In truth I've found I can be happy in all temperatures, though I have my favorites.

Today has been a good day. Over the last several days at home I drafted an article for, on construction dispute mediation. In mediation on Monday; article written by Friday. Art imitates life, I guess you could say.

On The Writers' View 2, a Yahoo e-mail loop I'm on, the current discussion is on excuses to doing what needs to be done in order to succeed as a writer. The answers are fear (both of failure and success), busyness, lack of skill, lack of industry contacts, etc., etc. Lots of excuses, none of them that should be made. The discussion leader had some poignant words for us, the great unpublished masses of writers: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. And, on occasion, eyes in book.
So I have no excuses. I just need to get at it harder and get it done. Write articles. Work on my novel. Capture ideas in a retrievable way. Update my submissions log. Research the market. Submit some poems and short stories to literary magazines. Work on my Bible studies, especially the new one in research. Read to improve craft. Read to be inspired. Hobnob with writers (probably less than I've been doing on-line, more IRL). Get my weight down and my body better in tone. Finish the downstairs bathroom. Finish preparations for the new downstairs carpet. Trade some stocks.

The first of the month is always an occasion to begin anew, not quite as much as the first of the year, but still a time to focus on doing things better, smarter. One thing I've done better and smarter, at least I think so, is to finally come up with a writers diary of sorts.

I've tried journaling, and usually do that in fits and starts. I've tried weekly log sheets, with a little success, but usually set it aside after a while. In July I developed a monthly writing log. It's just a table, 32 columns across and about 20 rows down, with lots of white space at the bottom. I use a row to identify a writing task (which will include whatever reading I'm doing), and check the day I worked on that task. I use footnotes when necessary to explain exactly what it was I did concerning that task. I've used this log for three months now, and like it. Here's to many more months of documenting my progress.

And here's to a good October, enjoyable in season, fruitful in tasks completed, abundant in words assembled into sentences, paragraphs, lines, chapters, and sections. May computers work, the Internet remain stable, modems and routers not fail, the electricity not hiccup, and all things writing-related work in harmony.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: On The Incarnation

As I wrote in this post, C.S. Lewis advised us that the ancient books are not only for professionals. They can be understood by the modern reader, and "first-hand knowledge [from the ancient books] is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but it is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire."

So Lewis wrote in the Introduction to On The Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, by Saint Athanasius [St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, my copy is from 2002, ISBN 0-913836-40-0]. This Christian classic was written around 318 AD, when Athanasius was only 21 to 23 years old. I found it while foraging in a thrift store; it cost me either 25 or 50 cents. I bought it because I had reviewed a seminary paper my son-in-law wrote about De Incarnatione Verbi Dei [DIVD], and decided, years after reading the paper, that maybe I should read the source material. Little did I know that C.S. Lewis was about to tell me I was doing exactly the right thing.

DIVD was Athanasius' second major work, after Against the Heathens [Contra Gentes]. At that time Christianity was in search of orthodoxy. Constantine had recently converted to Christianity and brought the whole empire with him. The persecutions were over, but a greater calamity was about to befall the Church Universal: the influx of government influence, including huge numbers of new "converts" by virtue of the emperor's conversion, who had no background and no grounding in the faith. The Council of Nicaea would take place in 325 AD, and orthodoxy would be defined. How much of a role would this book play? Was it written...well, why was it written, and what does it tell us?

In the prefatory "Life of Athanasius, a scant eight pages long, the editors says DIVD "sets forth the positive content of the Christian faith, as [Athanasius] has himself receive it. ...It is not speculative, it is not original; is not even is a statement of traditional faith..., there is...nothing of Athanasius in it...." This may be true, but I cannot say so after one reading of DIVD and without reading many of it's antecedents.

What I can say is that the book is worth reading, though it is not an easy read, even in this modern translation. During the first three chapters I often found myself glossing over the text, reaching a stopping point and having little or no retention of what I had read. The fault is mine, not the book's. I believe I could re-read these pages now and grasp the meaning. The gist of Athanasius' argument: God had a dilemma in that mankind failed to relate to God, his creator, as God intended; God addressed (or solved) the problem by coming to man in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus was God, separate from the Father yet part of the Father—a mystery.

The later chapters were more understandable, especially those on Christ's death and resurrection. Athanasius' discussion on how this changes man's relation to death was excellent. I found many parallels to John Wesley's sermons on death. Might DIVD have been a direct source for Wesley? Or was the notion of death having been conquered by Christ and as a consequence man's facing down death so common that the language and concepts couldn't be anything but similar, even in works fourteen centuries apart? I'm not sure.

The later chapters, in which Athanasius refutes objections to the Incarnation, and the entire Christian faith, was less beneficial for doctrine but perhaps was so for history. It gives us a window into what opposing groups of the 4th Century were saying about Christianity. Appended to the book is a long letter Athanasius wrote to Marcellinus, about the Psalms. This too gives us insight into the era, and how Christians viewed and used the Psalms at that time.

I will re-read this book. Perhaps not right away, but soon. I'll like go through one other book on my reading pile than come back to this. I think full understanding is not beyond my grasp. I may have understood it better than I think. It is foundational to the Christian faith by one of its giants. Many others have written on the same subject, including modern works of incredible scholarship, but I'm with C.S. Lewis on this one. Read the original if you find it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Freelancing - Can this Rose Bloom Again?

It isn't all as bad as the title of this post sounds. Actually, my writing goes well. I had a conference call with the editor this afternoon, and he gave me another assignment. Don't know if it will be a $100 or $250 article, but I suspect the former. Ah well. But, with the articles already turned in and in the queue to publish, I've earned in the four figures there in just two months of publishing, three of writing. This new one and the one on asphalt pavement solar collectors will make it all the more. Can this continue? I hope so.

Unfortunately, does not go as well. Page views have recovered. They are up 46% in September over this time in August. September revenues, unfortunately, are barely ahead of August. I guess students clicking on my history and poetry articles don't click on ads. Oh, for the detestable flat belly ad to come back, and a bunch of anorexic high school girls viewing my poetry articles to click on it!

There's something I'm not getting about web writing for profit. For fun, yes; all my articles are enjoyable to write. But either I'm not getting the concept of search engine optimization, or writing to lead people to click ads, or finding profitable niches. The graph I've added to this article is a new stat I'm tracking, page views per article per day, for 2010. It's now below where this was in 2009.
I could accept this easier if my page views were strong and growing. But they are not. In this blog post I gave the same stat. Comparing the two graphs you can see I'm no where near the peaks I was at late last year. If I grasp for a silver lining to this cloud, it's that I'm about equal or a little ahead of last September based on page views per article per day. I guess I can get motivated for a while based on that.
The most disappointing aspect of freelancing is complete absence of any work other than these two gigs. The one I thought I had in March fell through. I find solace in that it wasn't for much money. I don't want to do more content writing. If I have to freelance to build a platform so that someday I can sell a novel or non-fiction book, I need more than what I've got. Why don't I have more? Mainly time, I suppose. Time to find and study markets. Time to formulate ideas geared to those markets. Time to prepare dynamite pitches. Could I get work—even print work—if I could find the time to pursue it? I think so, though of course I have no guarantees.
So maybe the bloom hasn't come off freelancing so much as it isn't reforming on life in general, as measured by time to do what I want to do. Not much I can do about that, I suppose, except to carry on and hope for a window, somewhere, sometime, that allows for a bit more of what is needed for a writing career.