Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gleanings from John 14:15-21

This was my week to teach our adult Life Group (a.k.a. Sunday school). We were at week twelve in our fourteen week all-church/denomination-wide "Ashes to Fire" study, combining the Lent and Easter seasons and ending on Pentecost, June 12. Marion and I have been trading off. I teach the weeks he is on call for his veterinarian practice and he teaches the other.

The scripture lesson was John 14:15-21
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
I told the class this was "dense scripture", by which I meant chock full of things to study. Jesus has just told the apostles He is leaving them (13:33, 14:7), they can't follow (13:33) but that they knew the way to the place He was going (14:4). He has told them to love each other (13:34-35) as a new command, and that this will be how people will know they are Jesus' disciples. He has told them he is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father. Now he says:
  • If you love me you will obey what I command
  • He [Jesus] will ask the Father to send the Spirit
  • The Spirit [Counselor, Advocate] will be with them forever
  • The world cannot accept the Spirit
  • The Spirit already lives with the apostles
  • Jesus will come to them, in such a way that the world does not see
  • They will live because Jesus lives
  • "On that day" the apostles will come to a new realization
  • Whoever obeys Jesus' commands loves Him
  • That person will be loved by God and by Jesus and Jesus will reveal Himself to that person.
Wow—how packed can scripture be? Stuffed with meaning. I could have chose to take the lesson in any of several directions, but chose to study the Holy Spirit and His work. This is something most evangelical Christians study early in their walk and need to review from time to time, so this was, in my mind, somewhat of a refresher lesson. I tied it to John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7-15. Class discussion went well. We kept on leaving the work of the Holy Spirit to try and grasp again the Trinity. All three Persons of the Godhead are present in these verses.

We came to see the meaning of Jesus' words in John 16:12—"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." No kidding. We felt that we understood how the apostles felt. They were in the early stages of separation anxiety. We have the hindsight of 1,980 years (give or take a decade) of theological development, with witness and scholarship. That may or may not be a help to us.

I want to explore these words some more. They are familiar from years of reading the gospel of Jesus according to the apostle John, but I still have much more to digest from this. Children's pastor Jessica Springer, in her sermon on Sunday, took this same scripture in a very different direction. Using the idea behind the Klondike bar commercials, she asked "What would you do for Jesus?" An excellent sermon it was, showing how dense this scripture is.

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Royalties, Accounts Receivable, and Holiday Weekends

This morning I decided to finally create a spreadsheet that will track my e-book sales royalties. Now, one of the benefits of e-self publishing (eSP), at least the Kindle variety, is that you know exact sales figures in real time. Payout is only when you accumulate $10.00 in royalties, and there's about a 30 day wait after that.

Compare that with traditional publishing, however. There, I'm told, the sales figures are more or less hidden, the royalty statements are advanced math, and the delay in payment is six to nine months. So the e-book royalty situation is much, much better than for traditional publication.

So far I've sold 3 e-copies of Documenting America and 4 of "Mom's Letter." My accumulated royalties are $2.70, rounded off and including any fractional cents for each sale. I guess I don't know what Kindle does with those fractional cents, but I assume they accumulate. So I'm way far away from reaching payout. Obviously too I haven't generated any buzz yet through limited promotional efforts.

At Suite101.com, I have accumulated $5.47 of ad-share royalties. We are experiencing hard times at Suite, due primarily to changes in the Google search algorithm that has de-rated the site, resulting in drastically lower page views with resulting drops in ad revenue. Except for two big days this month, I typically earn less than 10 cents per day. Of course, I haven't added any articles there since February. I expect that to change this weekend, as I have a couple planned.

A positive thing is my accounts receivable. Buildipedia.com published my latest article yesterday: Asphalt Pavement solar Collectors: The Future is Now. That earns me $250. Also yesterday I submitted my next article for Buildipedia, a feature article on erosion control from construction sites. Once that is accepted and published, I'll have another $250 earned. It's possible they won't accept the article (unlikely; they haven't rejected any yet), in which case I'll earn just a kill fee. So all together my accounts receivable for writing work stands at $508.17. Not bad.

Which leads me to Memorial Day weekend. I'm looking forward to the three days. We have nothing planned. Our children are together in Oklahoma City right now, son having driven there from Chicago to see his newest nephew for the first time. We'll be in Bella Vista, chilling, maybe grilling, doing yard work, reading, writing—at least I'll be writing, cleaning, de-cluttering. Normally my writing desires always exceed my productivity for these weekends, but it's good to dream and plan big. This weekend I hope to:

- Upload corrections to Documenting America, and upload the professional cover my son created for me.

- Get started with SmashWords and upload both Documenting America and "Mom's Letter" there.

- Get started with CreateSpace and upload Documenting America there.

- At least look into Pubbit, and maybe upload both e-books there.

- Possibly register a writer's web site and begin work on it.

- Work some on the passage notes to A Harmony of the Gospels

- Type edits to In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, including one chapter written in manuscript, and maybe add one more chapter.

- Write/submit two articles to Suite101.com.

As I say, that might be more ambitious than practical. I'll report back after the weekend on what I actually accomplished. Oh, and maybe I'll be able to write a few blog posts and schedule them to post at future dates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What One E-book Sale Can Do

Actually, it was an e-short story sale. Yes, yesterday I sold another copy of "Mom's Letter" on Amazon Kindle. That puts it up to 4 sales since I published it in mid-February. I did a little promotion on it today, both on Absolute Write and at the Suite101 forums. I don't know where the sale came from, and no new review has yet shown up. I'm happy for it, and for the 34.65 cent royalty I'll earn--if I ever make payout, that is. I'll make payout, I have no doubt about that. It's mainly a question of whether it will be on this side or the other side of the next New Year's Day.

What are the impacts of this sale? The book ranking of "Mom's Letter" skyrocketed from something below 300,000 (hadn't checked for a while) to 45,632. At least a 260,000 place jump from one sale! That tells me that 260,000 other e-books haven't had a sale recently. I don't know how the Kindle rankings work. Are they cumulative since publication? Are they based on the last 30 days? Last 7 days? I haven't figured that out yet, though I haven't tried very hard to figure it out. I suspect it's based on sales in a recent time period. That means 45,632 e-books have had at least 1 sale during that time period. Since the Kindle Store has some million or millions of books available, that means many, many, many had no sales in that period. Welcome to the world of self-publishing.

Another impact is promotion. This demonstrates how important promotion is. A simple link posted to a forum can generate a sale. It might be a sympathy sale, given that I mentioned how sales were lagging, but a sale is a sale. Actually, I don't know if the sale came from my post. One gal responded to my post saying she would tweet it for me. But since that tweet (if she did it; I don't tweet to check on it) came as a result of my forum post, that forum post should at least earn an assist. So I guess I should bet busy and promote some more.

What about the impact on my psyche? It's not as great as the third sale was, nor the first two way back in February. Self-sustaining sales, not directly attributed to promotional efforts, might give me a bigger morale boost. But if I have to make two Internet posts to generate one sale...well, seems like a lot of effort for 35 cents.

But I am a little more encouraged to go ahead and complete the editing round currently in progress on Documenting America. I have four more chapters to read, and then fifteen chapters of edits to type. I'm not really finding much. I had a few embarrassing typos, a few not so embarrassing, and a couple of places where my wording could have been clearer. Nothing much, really. I hope to have the improved, artistically-designed cover available in a day or two, and it would be nice to have the text edits available at the same time, do the re-up-load in one shot instead of two.

Any encouragement is good. May the sales continue.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Things I Don't Understand

How my blood sugar can be 122 before a late supper, 127 at bedtime (3 hours after supper), take a higher Lantus dose as recommended by the doctor, do nothing for the next 5.75 hours but sleep and pee (not at the same time), and have my morning blood sugar 165. What's going on? Do I have a very slowly acting metabolism? Did I have a stressful dream I don't remember?

Why the note I just posted to Facebook shows up on my profile but not in my news feed.

Why Google chose to de-rate Suite101.com in their last algorithm update, so much so that I make almost nothing there now.

Why I procrastinated getting abstracts in for the Feb 2012 erosion control conference so that now I have only two days to get 'em done.

Why this company I work for (actually just the chairman) thinks I can write a bio paragraph for some project they are going after without knowing anything about the project or the form of the proposal.

Why my e-short story and e-book have each sold only three copies. Actually, I know the why to this one: the lack of promotion to make them stand out from the Kindle clutter.

Why I still have that desire to be published by a traditional publisher, knowing the odds of that ever happening.

Why almost no one in my family give a rat's whisker about anything I write.

Why my rheumatoid arthritis seems to be getting worse as I lose weight.

Why my beta readers totally failed to do what they said they would do on Documenting America. I had zero beta reader response before I went to e-publish.

Why I can't concentrate on engineering today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Challenge to Traditional Publishers

I offer this challenge to traditional publishers (the NY Big 6 plus the major CBA houses): If you want to serve your readers, you need to be giving them more choices, not less. I know you are rejecting a lot of good books, books of high writing quality and excellent story-telling, all because you don't think they will sell. I have heard this multiple times from agents and editors: "Your writing is great! I can't sell it."

Okay, then, open a new imprint—call it Breakout Books, or something similar. Use it to e-publish that next tier of books that you really want to paper publish but don't think you can make money on. Figure out how to do it on the cheap. Produce good covers, but don't agonize over them in committee. Mini-edit the book, rather than apply sequential story, line, copy, proof-reading; make it just good enough. Ditch all publicity except catalogue listing. Heck, that's pretty much how it is anyhow, right? Get the book to the market in 4 months instead of 24. Price them competitively with indie books.

Do this for about double the number of books you publish in the traditional way, or maybe for any book the acquisitions editor brings to the pub committee (indicating the book has obvious merit), but which doesn't pass the committee. Try this for a couple of years. These books will have the backing of a major house, the vetting by an agent and acquisitions editor, a little attention by the ones readers consider gatekeepers, and thus might attract the traditional audiences of your house. Do it for books you really like but aren't sure will sell.
You might be surprised at the results. You might find a few books that will self-fund their subsequent paper production. The ones that won't sell will have minimal overhead expense, no warehousing expense, no distribution costs, and almost no returns.

You would be serving your readers, I believe. I don't see how you can go wrong, and it might just save your rapidly shrinking businesses.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Insert Witty Storm Metaphor Here

This weekend I wrote what I wanted to write, not what I thought would lead to publication. As I had time, I worked on the passage notes to A Harmony of the Gospels, and completed several of them. Unfortunately I looked ahead and saw just how many of these are left to be written. It might be fifty pages of writing materials.

It's pouring outside right now. I'm searching for a witty storm metaphor to insert here, but haven't one. It poured last night. People may have seen news reports about tornadoes in our area. Some were spotted in our county, but I'm not sure they have been confirmed. Joplin was devastated, as you might have read. That's just 45 or 50 miles north of us.

I've been reading a book I picked up at the thrift store, titled The Templar Revelation, and it's turning out to be awful. From 1996, I think this is one of the books from which Dan Brown drew material to write The DaVinci Code. It is not well written, it is not documented. I've invested several days of my reading life into this, after 50 cents of my budget, hoping it would get better, or would become more substantive as I got past the introductory chapters. Not so.

My next article for Buildipedia is due Thursday. I think this will be an easy one, on erosion and sediment control.

I'm currently fighting with my home owner's insurance company, Nationwide, over how they jacked up the rates on me because I turned in claims last year, and then billed me 12 percent more after the renewal was complete. Just got off the phone with Kelly of Nationwide, a nice man who bore my wrath with dignity. But I will not stay with his company nor with my agent who made a mistake on the renewal. Goodbye, Nationwide. It was a nice 15 year relationship up until last August.

My quarterly doctor's appointment is tomorrow. Hopefully he'll give me three more months. I'm not apprehensive about it at all. Now that I'm checking my blood sugar I know exactly where I'll be at this appointment. I'm hoping he'll take me off my blood pressure medication. It was marginal that I should be on it in the first place. About a month ago I checked it at the blood pressure check station at Wal-Mart (I'm sure not the most accurate machine). It was 87/59, so I began breaking my pills in half. Last Saturday it was 81/69. Let's hope it's low like that tomorrow.

I'm back to this after a ninety minute hiatus. Had a couple of phone calls, ate lunch at my desk, read some writing blogs. I called Friday's post "miscellaneous", but this one is more so. Maybe that reflects my state of mind. I need to latch onto a project and run with it. With the Wesley study aside, I suppose it will either be improvements to Documenting America and expanding it's published locations or completing A Harmony of the Gospels or getting back on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People and seeing if I can finish that.

Meanwhile it seems the worst of the storm has passed, and no witty metaphor has come to mind. Will post now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Miscellaneous Friday

This has been a killer week, emotionally and physically, but more so emotionally. Where shall I start?

The knowledge that my John Wesley small group study won't be needed by my church for the foreseeable future was a gut-wrenching blow. I probably over-reacted, since I can still write it and see what else I can do with it. Still, it was an emotional setback.

Yesterday I was hoping to get my Bentonville flood study back out to FEMA, Revision 5. But the remapping after the remodeling after the remapping after the remodeling after the corrupt informal submission to FEMA was rejected after the formal Revision 4 submittal came back from FEMA with yet more comments showed that some additional remodeling was needed. Both I and the CADD tech lost time yesterday due to meetings and computer problems, so I didn't get the latest map till 4:00 PM, which showed ten cross-sections still needing work to get the map and the model to match. I worked on that till 6:30 PM, thinking I had them all done except for one, which I was convinced was a map problem. This morning the CADD tech convince me it was a model problem. I had that corrected and she had the map corrected and the annotated flood map produced by 11:00 AM. The entire report is now ready to go; I only have to stuff the maps and CD in pockets bound in the report. So it goes out by FedEx this afternoon, making the Monday deadline. Just barely.

Not getting the re-mapping until 4 PM yesterday, with it showing still much work to do, about caused me to lose it. I did throw a notebook across my office, and pounded the desk a few times, so I guess I did lose it in a sense. But I pushed on through. Another deadline met. Now back onto the third floodplain project, thence to the fourth and fifth. Someday I hope to get back to my training tasks.

Actually, this afternoon I think I will. I like to use Friday afternoons for miscellaneous stuff, such as: getting caught up on daily timesheets; getting caught up on daily activity logs; cleaning the week's accumulation of stuff off my desk; seeing what correspondence needs to be done. In some ways Friday afternoon is the most productive time of the week. This afternoon, I think I'll write a new construction specification section. There's a certain product for permanent erosion control that we use some, but for which we don't have a decent construction spec. Yesterday I saw a competing product advertised in Erosion Control magazine. I think I can produce a pretty good spec section in that time. That would be writing. I like that.

Tonight I may just read. I should write, I know. I should decide what to do next. Documenting America needs some editing, and it would be nice to have that ready to go about the same time as the permanent cover comes in. That could be any day now. In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People needs to be finished. Lots of work there, and I've been thinking about it lately. Also of late I've had a desire to get back into my Harmony of the Gospels and finish the passage notes and the appendixes, as well as correct a few typos. That's a non-commercial project, and so hard to justify from a career standpoint, but it's enjoyable, so I may go in that direction for a while.

Also among miscellaneous tasks is the article I have under contract for Buildipedia. I'd like to get that mostly written this weekend, well ahead of the next Thursday deadline. And, abstracts for next year's Environmental Connections conference in Vegas are due next Friday. I have three that need work.

So my writing and work lives are really both in miscellaneous states right now. At least it's raining today. Glorious rain, that shuts down construction sites and prevents noon walks, that fills ditches and detention ponds and creates floodplains. How it always lifts my spirits. Now if it will just rain tomorrow and allow me to do something other than clean the gutter helmets.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Roller Coaster Continues

So yesterday I stood down, from writing my John Wesley study. Because our church is going a different direction with adult Life Group curriculum, and it won't be needed any time soon. I estimate at least a year, maybe two. I've been working on this off and on since January, and close to full time since mid-April. Actually, I began planning it close to a year ago. And remember, full time for me and my writing means all of the very few hours that are spare after work and church and household, etc.

I know, I know. If the study is a good one, it should have a market other than my Life Group class, so I should continue writing the book. And not having a September deadline means I can spend more time with it and make a better book. All true. And yet...

...that's not what I was working toward. I laid other projects aside to work on that one, planning to begin teaching it around September. Rather than feeling a reprieve from a deadline I feel as if I wasted a month.

On the other hand, as I sit in my office, writing this blog post when I should be doing umpteen things for my employer, having no windows at eye level to see what's happening in the world beyond, I can hear water draining through a downspout just outside. It's raining! I love the rain, so that's a bit of a boost to my disposition. It also means I won't be able to take my walk on the noon hour, so I can use the time to work on the Wesley book.

Oh, wait....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stand Down

That’s a military term. “Stand down” means to back off, to decrease your level of preparedness, to go from a war footing to something below a war footing. I understand that NORAD was on a war footing from early in the Cold War until a day in 1993, after the Soviet Union had disintegrated, at which time the order came, “Stand down.” Thirty or forty years of war condition went away in a two word command.

That’s what I’ve sort of did yesterday. I received an e-mail from our associate pastor who heads up the educational activities of the church, including Sunday school (life groups). He said we would have a meeting of adult class teachers on a certain Saturday in June, at which time they would be unveiling the curriculum for the coming months. He didn’t reveal when that curriculum would start, or how long it would run.

Our class was in the midst of a study, a video series by Rick Warren and Chuck Colson called “Wide Angle: Framing Your Worldview”. It is six video lessons, but each lesson had three parts. We were taking our time with it, doing one part a week. Only five weeks into it, that made thirteen weeks to complete the series.

We interrupted that, however, to do our all-church study, “Ashes to Fire”, running from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost. That will finish in June. We figured thirteen weeks was covered after that, through Labor Day. I was working on my study, Essential John Wesley, for that time, and having to rush to have it ready—if I could even have it ready. But now, we will have other all church curriculum. How long will that run? I don’t really know, and in an exchange of e-mails the associate pastor didn’t give me any hints. I think it’s safe to say it will run at least through the summer, maybe longer. The need for the Wesley study is thus pushed back till at least December, and maybe much farther.

So yesterday I stood down. I laid the Wesley study aside, and won’t pick it up again (except to finish the one chapter I was on) until after the teacher’s meeting. That doesn’t mean I have nothing to write about. I’ll hop back on Documenting America, correct the few typos I’ve found, decide on a proper cover, and upload it to Smashwords. I’ll also figure out the CreateSpace platform and create a physical book out of it.

In a way it’s good to lay aside the Wesley study. While I feel that is an important work, it has turned into a more time consuming project then I expected. No doubt that’s of my own doing. A little space between me and it will be a good thing. In a month I can look at it again and make some decisions, unpressured by having to have it for teaching on a certain date.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Million Words

Among the reams of advice available to writers is something like, “You need to write a million words before you can make it as a writer.” Now that seems rather arbitrary. A million is a nice round number, but why would a round number such as that be the number that designates a certain level of expertise? Why isn’t it 955,000 words, or 1,243,000 words?

I’ve also seen it stated this way: It takes 10,000 hours working at something to become an expert in it. Again the round number, but this isn’t exclusively for writing, but about any endeavor. Want to be an expert chef? Prepare to devote 10,000 hours to the trade. Want to be a floodplain engineering expert? Spend 10,000 hours dealing with all aspects of floodplains.

While 10,000 is still a round number, it seems less arbitrary than 1,000,000 words. In terms of a normal work week of forty hours, and a normal work year of fifty weeks, 10,000 hours works out to five years. I’m sure some things take more. Surgery comes to mind, and maybe rocket science. But still, the 10,000 number looks good. Doing the math, 10,000 hours and a million words works out to a hundred words an hour. As a net figure, considering re-writes, edits, craft study, art study, industry study, etc., that seems a valid number.

Of course, the type of writing and the ability of the person writing those million words will have an impact. Write a million words of garbage and you won’t be any more of an expert at writing than you would if you spend five years engineering floodplains the wrong way. So the words in the writer’s apprentice period must have increasing quality. The writer needs to be improving both craft and art with those many words, not just shoving out the same drivel as at the start.
A while ago I realized that I was probably at those million words, maybe a bit over. This would not even include the many words I’ve poured into business letters, technical reports, construction specifications, and marketing materials. Here’s what I calculate.

155,000 – Doctor Luke’s Assistant
15,000 – In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People
40,000 – Documenting America
101,000 – articles at Suite101.com
15,000 – articles at Buildipedia.com
70,000 – miscellaneous articles and essays, most not published
15,000 – poetry (economy of words results in few of ’em)
300,000 – poetry critiques
340,000 – An Arrow Through the Air posts

That should add up to 1,036,000 words. I don’t think I’ve really counted everything. I think I’m 150,000 or so higher if I could think of everything else. Of course, a lot of that wasn’t intended and doesn’t really count as creative writing. And, does the time spent on prose count for fiction, and the time spent on fiction count for prose?

All of which could probably be chalked up to idle chatter, filling out a blog post at the end of a Friday workday, preparing for the weekend and return of my wife tomorrow. It’s an indication, though, that I’ve stuck with my writing over a number of years. Hopefully it’s beginning to pay off.

Oh, just remembered! 10,000 words for Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Planning and Scheming

In early June two events take place in the Chicago area that are a lure for us to make the 10.5 hour drive there. Of course, with our son living there, attending grad school at the University of Chicago, we didn't need too many excuses. Still, the pull to make the 3.5 hour drive to Oklahoma City to see grandbabies is just as big of a lure, and the less cost and time means we make that trip much more.

The two events are the Publishers Row Book Fair and the Write To Publish Writers Conference. The book fair is in downtown Chicago, on June 4-5. We went to it a couple of years ago (or was it three?), and had a great time despite intermittent rain. Numerous publishers and booksellers set up shop on city streets and hock their wares, mostly used books, but some new as well. Some writer organizations were there, such as the Romance Writers of America. I know Lynda got to meet one of her favorite romance authors and get her purchases signed. Some readings were included. I got to talk to a couple of publishers, both of which turned out to be dead ends.

That year, on the same weekend, was a large art fair in the Hyde Park area of the city. We went to the book fair on Saturday and the art fair on Sunday. We bought on Sat. and looked on Sun. Both were interesting.

I attended that writers conference back in 2004, the first national conference I attended. I haven't been back since, partly because it's on the expensive side. It's held in Wheaton on the Wheaton College campus. I think it's a beautiful campus, though in 2004 a lot of construction meant we were dodging and weaving on odd paths and not exploring the campus. I learned a lot at that event, and have been wanting to get back to it, though our trip to the book fair a couple of years ago did not include conference attendance. This year it's June 8-11.

This year is different. We actually have three events to attend. On June 11 Charles will receive his doctorate, a PhD in Philosophy. Last week he successfully defended his dissertation, so the degree will be conferred and he'll be "hooded" on the 11th. It's been a long haul for him. He earned his masters at Tufts University in 2003, and might have finished his doctorate a couple of years ago had he not had to work to make ends meet. We're happy for him. In a future post I'll say what his disertation title is and maybe describe it. I read one of his papers derived from the same subject matter. Actually, how about I just link to his website and let you look it up.

So that's the main reason for the trip. Knowing we were going, I applied for a scholarship to the writers conference, and was one of eight to receive one. I doubt I would have applied had we not been going to Chicago anyway, but I figured why not. So I will be attending that with all expenses paid (except transportation). I have an evening event on the 7th with the other scholarship winners. So we'll go up early and attend the book fair as well, make a long trip of it. If the art fair is also on, perhaps we'll drive up on the 3rd, attend the book fair on the 4th, the art fair on the 5th, the writers conference the evening of the 7th through the morning of the 11th, and graduation on the 11th. Lynda will stay with Charles, not with me at the conference.

Planning and scheming are in progress. It would be nice to have a print copy of Documenting America in my hands to show everyone. Maybe I could even lure a publisher into picking up future volumes in the series. Although I've decided to self-publish, I haven't completely given up the dream of being judged worthy of acceptance by a legacy publisher.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Sacred Calls of Country

As I write in my Documenting America series, I read much in historical American documents that does not ring a bell as having been covered in my history classes. Why is that? Is it simply a matter of time—too many decades passes since freshman year at URI? Maybe they were covered and I just can't remember. Is it that my interests have changed? Rather than merely wanting to pass a class, I want to know the history of this great nation. History was a favorite topic for me, but the needs to pass the class often precluded the joy of mere study. That pendulum has swung, never to return.

Is it the experience of years? Maybe I now know that a history book covering one semester can't possibly hold everything that's important. The historian, or the history book writer, must sift through mountains of material to result in a manageable amount for the purpose at hand. Or is it perhaps the perspective of hindsight? Forty years of watching the USA in action, observing politics and all that politics affects, and five years of living in the Middle East gives a man a perspective markedly different than a student.

For any or all of these reasons, or perhaps for reasons unstated, I find myself drawn to these original documents out of America's history. My entry point was James Otis' court argument concerning the Writs of Assistance. This took place in 1761, a full fourteen years before the Revolutionary War broke out, fifteen before we declared the thirteen colonies to be independent, twenty-two before the treaty that established the USA in the roll call of nations, and twenty-eight before we had a working, sustainable government in place. This was, in my judgment, the opening step in our march to independence. While only a part of the argument is extant, what we have is a great example of legal and political rhetoric, and inspiring to this American, and should be to many others. I give this short quote to illustrate:
The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a…man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country.

So how come this wasn't covered in my history classes? Why have I not, for forty if not fifty years, put James Otis on the pedestal next to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin? Is the fault that of the student, the teachers, or the history textbook writers? Who knows?

The bigger question for me, having found this among a treasure trove of documents now available in the Information Age, is will my book(s) make a difference? That only time and sales will tell.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Last Five Days

Yesterday afternoon when Ephraim got up from his nap he asked for "Grandpa Todd" to play with him. And last night he wanted Grandpa Todd to read him stories and put him to bed. Unfortunately, Grandpa Todd had left Oklahoma City as soon as Ephraim was put down for his nap. The four day weekend was over.

It was chock-full of activities. On Friday I took a day of vacation and drove there with my mother-in-law, Lynda already being there. Once in OKC we stopped first at the library of Oklahoma City University, where I accessed a certain periodical needed for my Wesley research, which I had electronically looked for in other places but found there. That was a half hour. Then it was on to Richard and Sara's house for the family activities. On Saturday we celebrated Ephraim's third birthday, with a family and church folks party. It was a madhouse, but fun. All the Oklahoma people had their ears glued to the radio for the Thunder vs. Grizzlies game.

On Sunday Ezra David Schneberger was dedicated, not by his pastor-father, but by the District Superintendent. I knew this DS and his wife from my brief single days in Kansas City, back in 1974-75, but we hadn't seen each other since. It was nice to be reacquainted. Then after church we celebrated Mother's Day by going out for Indian food. We figured most restaurants would be jambed, but this ethnic one would have seats available. It did, and the food was good as always.

Monday I took another day of vacation and we hung around until 2:15 PM, then drove back. In the morning Ephraim and I went for a walk, about 30 minutes, during which time he found many treasures to take home. Then I gave Ezra a bottle (pumped breast milk), and held him a long time outside, constantly moving him to help him work on his balance and exercise his arms and legs. He finally fell sound asleep and we didn't hear from him for a couple of hours. I'd have held him longer if I wasn't called in for lunch.

In still moments I read some in a technical paper for work, and about 30 pages in the first volume of John Wesley's Journal. This was all introductory material, not the journal itself. Talked with Richard, talked with Sara. Simply enjoyed the time.

So I know all of you wondered why I let five days go by without a post. I should have prepared a post or two ahead of time and scheduled them, and will try to do better the next time I'm to be gone. I didn't totally forget about writing those last five days, just subjugated it to family needs.

Of course, I told Ephraim when he went down for his Monday nap that I wouldn't be there when he got up, and that I wanted to read him a story and see him to his bed. "NO! Daddy do it" was his reply. That's okay. A three-year old has to learn lessons of opportunity. And he'll learn them, and I'll have lots of other times to read him stories.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

All-Consuming Activities

The problem with dieting is how all-consuming it is. Or maybe it's not dieting as much as it is weight loss. I'm on a losing streak right now. That's good. I was at a weight set point for the better part of a year and a half. It seemed that no matter what I did I couldn't get below 254 pounds. I inched a pound or two below it, then bounced back to 258; back to 254 then to 260; to 254 then to 263. I've read about these weight set points, that somehow the body gets comfortable at that weight and breaking through it is difficult.

I finally did that in March, however, even before I began a healthier diet on April 1. Whatever I was doing in February-March—probably just eating less and exercising a bit more—was working, for I slowly dropped below 254, ending March about 251-252. On April 1 I began a rigorous eating program to control my Type 2 diabetes, and the weight had dropped almost as fast as my blood sugar. I'm down to the 241-242 range right now, with no lower set point in sight. I was last at 240 in 2001, losing 30 pounds for my daughter's wedding. Can I break through that this time? I believe I can. I suspect the next set point is somewhere around 230.

But the problem is, this concentration on weight loss and blood sugar control is all consuming. It seems that every waking thought, and probably the dreams I don't remember, is on this. I talk about it, think about it, write about it, obsess about it. Even yard work isn't yard work: it's multi-tasking exercise. It's the same as with genealogy, same as with writing. I have had to put genealogy aside for a while, for my writing life is consuming whatever part of me is not being consumed by weight loss and establishing healthy eating habits.

The new writers critique group is consuming me. I'm thinking about it all the time, trying to figure out what I can do to put it on a footing that will be sustainable and valuable to all who attend and for our church that is sponsoring it. How to increase sales of my e-books is consuming me. The John Wesley small group study is consuming me.

Hopefully you get the picture. I need to just turn off for a while, think about civil engineering. No, that tends to consume me as well, whenever writing and critique group and health and genealogy aren't consuming me. I don't feel like I'm at an equilibrium. It's kind of like a short, light verse poem I wrote a few years ago.
The Desperate Prayer of a Man Without Enough Hours in the Day

I offer You
this simple fix:
the daily hours
to twenty-six.
Of course, that wouldn't really work, for then I'd be wanting twenty-eight or thirty. So I really need to reach an equilibrium. I'll put that on my to-do list.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Documenting America" Kindle e-book for Sale

So Sunday I uploaded it. Twenty-four hours later they said it was accepted for publication. Another twenty-four hours and it went live, for sale at a bargain price of $1.25. Do I sound like a shameless self-promoter?

Here's the link:
Documenting America, Volume 1

So far I have two sales! One coming from my Facebook announcement, and one from my announcement on the Suite101 forums. I'll probably do more promotion for this than I did with "Mom's Letter", and see if that results in better sales. A 40,000 word book for $1.25 will seem like a better deal than a 1850 word short story for $0.99. That might help sales. I wonder, too, if the recent taking out of Osama bin Laden will result in a surge of American nationalism, which in turn might help sales. I don't say that I'm hoping his death feeds my sales, just thinking out loud at what the possible reaction of the American buying public might be.

I still have so much work to do. I have to figure out how to get a properly formatted Table of Contents for the book. I have to get it—and "Mom's Letter"—formatted for and uploaded to the SmashWords distribution platform. And I have to get DA formatted though CreateSpace to have a print-on-demand book for sale.

But I'll take an evening to enjoy the moment, and dream a little.

Monday, May 2, 2011

So Little Progress on a Weekend

Saturday just past dawned clear, but went cloudy quite fast. Then the sun broke through. I was up around 8:30 AM, as usual for a Saturday. Read my devotions, then went outside for my normal yard work. The sun was out, then behind clouds, then out again. The wind blew in gusts, then it was dead calm, then it blew again. I did such minor things as clean a little in the garage, then pick up sticks from the front yard (a rock yard), then pull weeds from the front yard. Then I was ready for my weekly sawing on the downed tree on the wood lot next to us.

Prior to my current health kick, improving both weight and blood sugar, I was lucky to be able to saw one section from this tree. The diameter is only 8 inches or so where I'm sawing. Then, two weeks ago, I was able to saw two sections, and felt good at the end. Saturday I decided to shoot for three sections, which would finish the tree. And I was able to do it, feeling at the end that I could have done another if I wasn't down to the stump. That was such a good feeling: to finish the tree, and to see my arm strength and stamina built up from even a month ago.

So then it was inside to see what else I had to do and to write. I pulled up my latest Documenting America file, and decided to have one more go at the Introduction. I knew I needed to add something about how I came to select the documents included in the book. So I did that, then went on to some work on Essential John Wesley. Two hours later I found it was time to head to Wal-Mart for the weekly acquisition of groceries.

Saturday evening was devoted to my Wesley studies, as well as preparing to teach Life Group on Sunday. The Wesley reference book I have out on inter-library loan was due Monday, and I was determined to get my $2.00 ILL fee's worth. So I read through the slim book again, taking some different notes. This continued into Sunday. To make sure I "got my money's worth," I wrote a review of that book for this blog, and posted it Saturday. I may have spent too much time on the slavery writings of Wesley, but I consider the research not only for EJW but also for future articles or essays.

Sunday afternoon I went through the work of formatting and uploading Documenting America for and to the Kindle Store. It's there, not live yet (as of this writing), but in the review queue. Should go live Monday evening or sometime on Tuesday. I still don't have a decent cover, so I'm just using the one I developed with my limited graphics skills. But I can change the cover at any time, so I decided to upload. Upon review I realized the spacing in the Table of Contents was messed up, but I decided to run with it. The Kindle uploading software allows for a separate TOC upload. Somehow I sensed that wouldn't be easy, so I decided to put it off.

Sunday evening was devoted to Wesley studies, in an old article I found about him as a literary man, and in his journals. That meant I did not do any writing in the Wesley book. That gave me a feeling of lack of accomplishment. All together, this weekend I wrote less than 1,000 words, including the blog post. I need to get in 3,000 on the weekends to have a prayer of ever finishing anything. Other things I wanted to do was to look into Amazon's CreateSpace, to have a physical book for Documenting America. I have a feeling it's not too difficult. I also wanted to look into the Barnes & Noble e-book tool, and SmashWords, so as to have my stuff available on multiple e-reader platforms. Alas, I didn't get to any of that.

Why is it so difficult to make writing progress on the weekends? With Saturday evening and Sunday all day being rainy, I couldn't walk, so I had plenty of time to write. Yet production was minimal. All I can do is try harder in the future.

Oh, and I was right about creating a TOC for Kindle. Just did some research into it, and it involves HTML code—simple stuff I think, if any HTML can be considered simple. Well, I'll let the book get up, then see what I can do.