Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I am my own Chief Marketing Officer

In the old world…Authors created the product and relied on their publishing company to market it. But that world is dead.
–Michael Hyatt

Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, recently posted to his blog: Four Reasons Why You Must Take Responsibility for Your Own Marketing. The post has generated over 200 comments, including mine.

I want everyone to know that I embrace the concept that an author must participate, even lead, in their own marketing effort. That doesn’t mean I like it, or want to do it. But do it I will.

It’s difficult to lose the training of my upbringing. We were taught that blowing your own horn was a bad thing. “Don’t brag” was one way it was put. “He that exalts himself will be humbled” was how a Higher Power put it, and one of the few biblical things repeated in the family. Heck, in Miss Dudley’s class in 4th grade I was nominated for room president. I voted against myself, and Susan Ehrens won by one vote. Granted, 4th grade class president is not a position of immense importance, but hopefully you get the idea.

So how’s a body trained to be humble, to stay in the background, to let others call attention to you ever going to break through the marketing wall? Darned if I know. They say to start a blog. I did that in December 2007, and have achieved 14 followers and an average of 400 non-unique page views per month. Those are pretty poor numbers. Obviously I’m doing something wrong there.

They say to join Facebook and other social media. So I joined Facebook, and have a little over 100 friends. I started a Facebook fan page earlier this month. At least, I guess that’s what I started. Actually my son created it for me. I still haven’t figured out the difference between a Facebook account and a Facebook fan page. I have 6 people who “liked” my page—does that mean 6 fans? And, there’s a button for me to like it. Is it against my training to like my own page? What will that look like to others who check to see who the 6 7 are who like my page?

They say join Twitter and gain a following. Haven’t done this yet. Twitter is blocked at the office (where I’m typing this). At home on week nights I have two hours of writing time, unless I totally ignore my wife and limit myself to less than 6 hours of sleep, in which case I can squeeze in four a week night. Saturdays require lots of home maintenance stuff and leaves little quality time of brain and body function for writing. Sundays might give me six hours, again with some loss of interaction with the wife. How in the world could I find time for meaningful Twitter work?

They say start a personal e-newsletter, describing your writing work and the items you are working on or have available. Give something away to everyone who subscribes to it. You get their e-mail address, send out a newsletter with some regularity, and hope some of them buy your new works when you announce them. See the time factor in the previous paragraph.

This probably sounds like a rant, and I suppose it is. How does a working, commuting author find time to both write and market? I haven’t found the balance yet. Maybe if I dug ditches all day I might find brainpower available in the evenings, but I work with my brain, and often those two hours are difficult to make productive.

What do you think? Any suggestions for how an author with a full-time job and home and family responsibilities can be his own Chief Marketing Officer?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stewardship of my Writing Time

I posted recently that I was going through a dry time, not writing much. I also mentioned that the main creative things I wrote during this time was a haiku. The inspiration for this was the blizzard we had last winter. Early the morning after went out in the sub-zero temperature to shovel 16 inches of snow. I wasn’t going to work that day, and my truck was parked up the hill, not in the driveway. But I woke up that day to a glorious sun. Past observation has proved that the sun’s radiant energy will melt the residual sheen left on the driveway after shoveling, even in very cold temperatures. An amazing thing, radiant energy.

So I shoveled, taking frequent breaks due to the depth of snow. As the sun rose high enough, I noticed that ice or snow crystals were fluttering in front of it. The air was so cold (somewhere around -12F) that the little moisture in the air was condensing. Enough to have a few crystals or flakes, not enough to be called precipitation. The line “ice crystals flutter” stuck in my mind, and I realized it would make a good line in a haiku. As I shoveled I worked on it, but the full thing didn’t gel.

Over the last four months I kept coming back to it, convinced a short poem was begging to be released. Finally last weekend it gelled. The impetus for that is an anthology being put together by some Missouri writers groups to help replenish school libraries damaged in the Joplin tornado. They want short stories or poems concerning storms, any type of storms. That was a good motivator to get quiet for a while and finish my haiku.

What about my writing time in general? Yesterday evening went well. I began work on the next chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I think I had less than five hundred words of text added, but at least I sent some words from brain to keyboard to hard drive. I figured out how I want to approach the chapter. I also brainstormed the next chapter, running scene and dialog through my mind.

I guess because the haiku captured my mind for a while, I went to Absolute Write and critiqued three poems. None of them took very long to do, maybe ten minutes each, a little more for the villanelle. Here are the links to those crits (password is “citrus”):
Uke’s Lament” (ninth post)
Malicious Intent” (second and eight posts)
My Fingers Softly Upon Your Cheek” (second post)
These are not earth-shattering creativity, but they keep my mind engaged.

Of course, since a writer is supposed to be their own best marketer. And a self-published writer is their own publisher. So part of my time must be dedicated to these. Today has included some marketing brainstorming. Tonight, after our BNC Writers meeting, might involve some more research for publishing with SmashWords. I’m close to completing my review of their Style Guide, after which I can begin to upload my two e-books to that sales platform.

So all in all, not bad with my stewardship of time. Still have a ways to go before I can claim to have my act together, however.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Dry Time

That's what it's been in my writing life lately, a dry time. I've been on my own at home lately, with Lynda in Oklahoma City, helping our daughter while her husband was away. He came back late Saturday night, and Lynda will return home today or tomorrow. While she's been gone, I've not done a lot of writing.

One excuse I had was the computer I normally work at was in the shop, to determine what the blue screen error followed by the black screen re-boot error was all about, and hoping it was salvageable. It has all my writing works on there. I have most of them backed up, but the latest things added to In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People and my Harmony of the Gospels I had not backed up. Also, my financial spreadsheets were on that computer. It wouldn't be the worst thing to lose those, but I'd rather not lose them.

I wanted most to work on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, as of all the things I pitched at the Write-To-Publish Conference, that seemed to me to have the most potential. I could work on a scene or two somewhere late in the book, but I mostly wanted to add one more chapter consecutive to what I've done so far before sending it to agents and editors. Alas, I'm missing a chapter and a half in what I have backed up. I was supposed to get the computer back last Friday, then last Saturday, now today. The delays are not making me hopeful about recovery of my files.

Meanwhile, I have Lynda's computer available, the one she never uses (instead using the laptop upstairs and avoiding The Dungeon entirely). I've used that to check e-mails and Facebook and blogs. On that I sent all my thank yous to the faculty and staff of the WTP conference. On it I did a lot of fine tuning to my writer's web site. On it I made a number of posts to my Facebook author fan page. So the lack of a computer was not a true hindrance to writing.

So what did I accomplish these last twelve days while I was alone at the house, besides the things mentioned above? Here's a list.
  • Organized my thoughts about how to restructure the John Wesley book into a series of study guides, as suggested by the editor for Wesleyan Publishing House. This included an outline of the series, as well as some work on which of John Wesley's writings would be in some of the small group study books.
  • Researched, and downloaded and printed a study to use as a guide for how I might organize mine. I completed review of that one study last night; time to download another one.
  • Read a fair amount in John Wesley's Letters, volume 4. From this I identified some things that are suitable for the Wesley books.
  • Completed a private critique of a short story for someone in BNC Writers, and began a second similar critique (almost complete).
  • Read a book self-published by a member of BNC Writers.
  • Did some research for The Candy Store Generation. Not a lot of research, but I developed a system for the subject I'm researching. It should go somewhat fast from this point on. At least I hope so.
  • Did a small amount of research for a future volume of Documenting America.
  • Completed a haiku that has been on my mind since February, and submitted it for inclusion in an anthology.
  • Registered for SmashWords, which publishes e-books to just about every e-reader platform, and markets to each of them. Downloaded and printed their style guide and have reviewed a little over half of its 87 pages. That sounds like a lot, but I should have been able to finish all of it in this time.
When I list it that way, it doesn't sound so bad. But I know what I could have accomplished in a quiet house with no one to interact with except myself. I could have completed two or three chapters of FTSP. I could have typed actual outlines of the Wesley project. I could have written a couple of chapters of the next volume of Documenting America.

Well, I have no way of reclaiming the last twelve days, and find no reason to bemoan the progress I didn't make. Better to be thankful for the progress I did make, and do better the next twelve days. Writers group is tomorrow evening, so at least I have a focus for the next couple of days. And maybe I'll get the computer back this evening, with its new hard drive cloned from the failing one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Computer Woes

Before heading to Chicago and the several activities there, my 2001 Dell decided it would not restart. This was after I took our 2005 Dell to the Computer Medic. That machine hadn't worked for several years, the operating system having been damaged by malware and the on-off button deciding not to work. I knew this older Dell was heading toward failure, and I suspected a memory card (chip, simm, whatever it's called) was failing or had already failed.

So, with the 2005 Dell at the shop waiting for evaluation, I took the 2001 Dell in to keep it company. Meanwhile Lynda went to OKC with the 2004 Dell laptop, and I moved to the other side of the perpendicular table in The Dungeon, and used the 2009 Dell that is supposed to be Lynda's computer, and kept on going. Almost all my writing was backed up through the Internet. I think on the 2001 Dell I have a slightly newer version of Father Daughter Day than the backed-up one, and a somewhat older version of the Harmony of the gospels. Well, any ideas would not be backed up, nor are my financial records. Those could be recreated, or rather restarted, without too much trouble.

So today I talked to the computer shop. They said the 2001 hard drive has failed, but not so badly that they can't recover. They have a replacement drive, and are cloning the old one. With luck I should have it back tomorrow evening. The 2005 Dell is done for. Its hard drive has also failed. Since we have already backed up all data on it to a CD, there's no point in fixing it.

When we were in Chicago and our son, Charles, was helping me with my writers web site, I found the new platform so difficult to use that I told him that I was a technophobe. He said, "You're not a technophobe; you don't fear technology. Maybe a Luddite." I'm not sure, though. I think I am a technophobe. If I were to start a magazine, it would be named Technophobia, and be for all those who fear punching the keys.

My problem is not really fear so much, it's rather not wanting to do something unless I understand what I'm doing it. This whole html thing troubles me. It's a programming language that I don't understand, and those guides I find to it are not really that much help. I'm learning it a little, but mostly I'm cutting and pasting what seems to be working, trusting I won't screw something up in the cutting and pasting.

Today I took a big new step on my website: I created three subpages and wrote a little text for them. Compared to where I was two weeks ago, that's a huge step. I also did my first posts today to my own Facebook author fan page. So this is a little progress.

I still have much to do with this computer stuff, however. I'll get there, I'll get there. Partly kicking and screaming. Partly rejoicing, for I love to make things work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ethics and Writers

At the Suite101 forums, a writer posted that she is threatened with a lawsuit by a photographer whose photo this writer used, without permission, to illustrate a Suite101 article. The writer says she didn't check for the reuse licensing when she grabbed the photo off Flickr. It was on her article for some number of months before the photographer found it and demanded she remove it and pay her $125 for the use. Since then this writer took the photo down and begged forgiveness, pleading carelessness at not checking the licensing, but the photographer stills says the money is owed, and if it isn't paid she'll sue.

Aside from the fact that $125 sounds a little steep, I'm pretty much in sympathy with the photographer on this one. The posts on the forum have generally concluded that it was an honest mistake, and since it would cost the photographer to sue, the writer shouldn't pay anything. Here's my take on it:
There's the law, there's what you can get away with based on practicalities, and then there's the higher standard of ethics.

By the law, you used a copyrighted photo without permission. You did it inadvertently, but ignorance is never a valid excuse. By law the copyright holder is due compensation for the several months her photo illustrated your article.

But the practical matter is for her to sue you and obtain a judgment against you and then collect that judgment is cost prohibitive. So you can probably get away with it if you will just endure the shouting.

But by ethics, once you were made aware of the situation, don't you need to compensate her? The law defines the lowest acceptable standard of human behavior. Ethics defines something higher, something better, what's really right and wrong. Paying something will be a tough lesson to learn, but it's the ethical thing to do.

I agree with those who suggest making an offer. How many months was the photo illegally used? Offer her so much per month, maybe $5 or $10, in full compensation for the use and for her statement thereto. Print and file all e-mails. The payment will be a tax deductible business expense in the USA, probably in most countries. That should help offset any writing income you may have.
A costly lesson for that writer. Right after I posted a man, who might be a lawyer as well as a writer, posted to say that the photographer couldn't prove damages either through loss of income or beneficial income to the writer as a result of illegal use of the photo, so the writer shouldn't pay. He demonstrated exactly what I said in my post. He recommends the writer fall back on the lowest acceptable behavior, rather than hold to an ethical stand.

I'd be interested in what my readers think about this.

Conference Assimilation: The Appointments

One reason writers go to conferences is appointments with editors, agents, successful authors, and other faculty. WTP is no exception. The conference did not begin with an introduction of the faculty and staff. You had to have done some homework and figured out from their websites what each faculty member was there for, and which ones were editors or agents.

Based on this homework, I decided to try to schedule 15 minute appointments with two editors. Full-conference registrants were allowed two appointments. More could be scheduled at certain times on succeeding days provided the time slots were not filled. At 8:00 AM on Wednesday morning was a conference ritual I call “crashing the boards”, as we gathered where schedules were posted on the wall, and reached and stretched to write our names on the preferred agent, editor, or writer schedule. I got appointments with my two targets, for Friday afternoon.

Why did I chose to meet with agents when I’ve decided to self-publish? I guess I still hold out some hope that I can get a contract with a legacy publisher, and so am willing to give it another couple of tries. But, as for other appointments, if I could get them, who to try for?

The panels helped. On Wednesday a panel of magazine editors discussed what they wanted to publish, why they were there. I had not planned on pitching to magazine editors, but three on the panel had things I could pitch to them. When the time came on Thursday when we could sign up for extra appointments, I signed up for two. Then the book editor panel on Friday showed me I should try to get one more appointment, with a certain editor. Again I pounced on the boards, and got the fifth appointment.

As I mentioned in a previous post, on Friday I hung out in the appointments auditorium rather than attend electives. By doing this I was able to have an unscheduled appointment with an agent who had a hole in his schedule—not to pitch to him, but to get his advice on what to do with Father Daughter Day. That made six appointments in all.

Here’s who I met with.
- Rowena Kuo, publisher of a relatively new publisher of magazines and books. I pitched a short story and a series of magazine articles to her.
- Craig Bubeck, of Wesleyan Publishing House. I pitched my Wesley writings project to him.
- Sarah McClellan, literary agent. I pitched Doctor Luke’s Assistant and Father Daughter Day to her.
- Mary Keeley, literary agent. I pitched Doctor Luke’s Assistant and Fifty Thousand Screaming People to her.
- Ramona Tucker, of OakTara Publishers. I pitched Doctor Luke’s Assistant and Fifty Thousand Screaming People, to her, along with Documenting America.
- Terry Burns, literary agent. I spoke with him for only five or ten minutes, and only about Father Daughter Day.

So, that is my stewardship record of appointments at the WTP Conference. I believe I did well, in timing when I crashed the board and in those I was able to meet. I’ll have more specifics in a future post.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What to do About Two Blogs?

As I mentioned previously, I now have a writer's website. My son Charles helped me, actually did most of the work. He suggested a site for hosting and domain name registration. We looked together at some Wordpress templates, and had a difficult time agreeing on one. He found a couple that were okay to me, but neither stood out as what I wanted. Finally I said okay to the one that's up now. I didn't want something gaudy, with all kinds of movement and sound and flashy-flashy stuff. Yet I wanted something that looked professionally done. What we chose fits, I think.

Technophobe as I am, I wasn't sure I could hack the new software. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with blogger, and I wasn't anxious to learn a new one. But it has turned out to be easier than expected. Charles established the pages, and ported everything from An Arrow Through The Air to the blog portion of the new site. Since then, I've been tinkering. I added some works-in-progress. I corrected bad usage on the bio. I added Kindle links for my available books. And I wrote a little bit (twice) on the poetry page. And I've made four blog posts over there, each of which I copied here.

So, what shall I do about An Arrow Through The Air? I don't really need two blogs. Yet how to get my few followers to migrate to the new site? Yet, I sometimes make posts here that are probably not appropriate for a professional writer's site. This leads me to think I will keep both blogs. At I will post about writing, maybe some on engineering (as it pertains to writing). I'll copy all those here, and then make some other posts here, as the spirit moves me.

How long will I keep this up? Don't know. That is to be determined.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Conference Assimilation: The Electives

When continuing classes were not in session, electives were being held. These were a series of unconnected, one hour classes, about virtually anything related to writing or the publishing industry. Having attended five conferences before this, I’ve sat in on quite a few electives. This year I did so on three.

The first, Wednesday afternoon, was “Building A Winning Marketing Plan” taught by Carla Williams. Carla is with a self-publishing company, Winepress, that does a quality job with the books it publishes. However, Carla threw me for a loop with her statements about how much we should expect to have to spend to market our book. She said if you have 40 hours a week to put into marketing your book, you should only have to spend $5,000 or so on marketing. It spiraled up from there: the less time you had to spend, the more money you should expect to spend on marketing.

I thought, I should just quit right now. Unless God drops thousands of dollars in my lap, I’m never going to have that type of money to spend. I think I didn’t concentrate as well after that. I was probably in the wrong class. What I needed was “Ten no-cost or low-cost things you can do to market your book,” or something like that.

The next elective I attended, Thursday afternoon, was “Writing Great Discussion Guides.” As I’ve been doing a lot of this over the last two years, I thought this would be a good class to attend. It was taught by Sam O’Neal, an editor with, an arm of Christianity Today. Sam gave some excellent tips on how to frame questions, and what type of questions to avoid. He did not, however, include anything on what makes a good small group study. What types of lessons? How long should they be? What about separate class book and leader book? I suppose these will be in a class titled, “Building a small group study from scratch,” or some such title.

Later on Thursday I attended “Meeting the Media,” taught by Mary Byers. She is a magazine editor, and has been in the writing business for a while. This was a worthwhile class, but I felt it was a little off topic per the title. It was more about how to get the media’s attention—that is, how to choose what to write about so that the media will take notice of you. I’m not complaining, for Mary gave us some good information. But I was a bit disappointed.

I did not attend any elective classes on Friday. I had two appointments with agents in the afternoon, my two main appointments, and then I was able to schedule a third, with an editor. I was also wanting to speak with another agent about one of my projects—not that he would represent me for it, but I was advised that he would be able to advise me about submitting it. I could have squeezed in attendance at one or two electives, though I would have had to pop in and out due to my appointments, but I chose to just hang out in Barrows Auditorium and do some journal writing between appointments, as well as discuss things with fellow writers.

So, herein I present my stewardship of my time, as far as electives are concerned. Hopefully I used the hours well, and took something away from them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Conference Assimilation: Rusty Wright on Reaching Non-Christian Audiences

The Write-To-Publish Conference schedule included, as have all major Christian writers conferences I’ve been to, a continuing class—that is, a class that is taught over several days. The WTP ones covered all four days of the conference, amounting to five hours of class time.

The one I chose to attend was “Effectively Communicating Christ to non-Christian Audiences”, taught by Rusty Wright. I hadn’t heard of Rusty before, which speaks more about my lack of knowledge than his notoriety. He’s been on the lecture circuit, speaking at conferences, and writing articles for a long time. I just haven’t happened to cross paths with him. A big concern of his is that Christian writers need to branch out from writing only for people who are already Christian to people who are not. It takes a different approach.

The first day he talked about figuring out about who your audience is. What motivates them? How do they want to be entertained? What are their goals, hopes, fears, desires? This really isn’t much different from what we should be doing for any audience, but we don’t often do it. Or, when deciding to write something to reach non-Christians, we don’t adjust our writing style to really reach them.

An example of an adjustment we have to make to change our vocabulary. When writing for a Christian audience we use what he calls “Christianese”, the vocabulary of the church. Just how much we use this can be hidden from us. When writing pieces in which we want to reach those who want nothing to do with the church or their Jesus, we need to carefully consider every word used, and strip away all language that will even not be easily understood or will be off-putting.

On the third day Rusty told us about using humor. It’s a universal technique. Almost everyone likes to laugh, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. Why not use humor in writing and speaking, and sprinkle in the Christian message through that humor. He gave many examples he has accumulated over the years. As I am not a naturally humorous person, this will likely be difficult for me. Still, it’s a good technique and I need to expand my writing abilities to include it.
Rusty gave examples from his writings of pieces he wrote that went into secular magazines, yet included a small pro-Christian message of some type. usually these were subtle and short, though at times longer and more overt. He gave us links to his website where he had examples shown. In some cases, an article he wrote for some newspaper was picked up and republished, with or without permission, in a dozen other publications. His message went out.

I found this class to be useful, and a good use of my time at the conference. I’ve passed up these type of classes before, not because I didn’t want to take them, but because I had many things I needed to know and lots of choices. Finally the right time and mix of classes came along. I have some good notes and handouts to review. Hopefully I will be able to put some of this into practice soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writers Conference Aftermath: Accumulation

Last week, from Tuesday evening through Friday evening, I attended the Write To Publish Writers Conference, held on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. This is the second time I’ve been to this particular conference, the previous time in 2004. I would not have been able to attend except for receiving a Cec Murphey scholarship, one of eight members of The Writers View 2 e-mail group to receive one. We stayed in a college dorm, ate at the college cafeteria, and had our meetings in the Billy Graham Center, also part of the college.

On Tuesday evening the scholarship recipients met in the dorm lobby, then ate supper together. One of the eight was due to come in late and we didn’t expect her; another arrived in time but didn’t find us. Some combination of us then ate together most meals together, though also took time to network with other people.

Years ago I read a health book Fit For Life by Harvey Diamond. In it he talked about our bodies going through three phases in the typical diurnal cycle: accumulation, assimilation, and elimination. All three processes are at work simultaneously, but each of the three also has its dominant part of the diurnal cycle, overpowering the other two during that time.

This conference was the assimilation phase for this writer, and I suspect for others as well. For three days the hours were full of editorial panels, keynote addresses, continuing classes, electives, critique groups, fellowship, meetings with editors and agents, impromptu meetings with all parts of the writing business, and commiserating at the difficulty of becoming published by a traditional publisher—at least as far as books are concerned. And each day included a time of worship, for this was a Christian writers conference.

I took the continuing class on sharing Christ with non-Christian audiences. This was somewhat by process of elimination, as I’d taken some of the other continuing classes before. However, since I intend for most of my writing to be for the general market, not the Christian market, I also felt this class would be important to me. The instructor was Rusty Wright, whom I had not met before. An excellent teacher, he suggested several things I hadn’t thought of before. On Friday he covered how to use humor. About half of that day was concerning writing, half speaking. It was all good.

The accumulation phase of this conference is over. I brought back a ton of stuff (an exaggeration; at most 15 pound) which I have to go through, find out what’s good for me, what’s not, and begin implementing it. Meanwhile, I am working up a post-conference to-do list. That’s all part of the assimilation phase.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll blog about the assimilation phase of this particular conference, mentioning what I picked up during the accumulation phase, and maybe even something about what I’m eliminating. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Congratulations Doctor Charles Norman Todd

Yesterday our son Charles received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Chicago. I'm still waiting on him to e-mail a couple of photos so I can add them here.

It has been a long, ten year haul for him. After his bachelor's degree, he spent two years at Tufts University in the Boston area, and received his MA in Philosophy. Then on to U of Chicago, which was one of his main choices and certainly one of the top five universities to study philosophy in the USA. Eight years it took him here. He worked three of those years as prefect in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. No doubt that slowed him down. However, at the lunch I was talking with some folks at a nearby table, told them what he received his doctorate in, and they asked, "Did it take him twelve years?" When I said eight, they said that was much shorter than normal.

The day began with us leaving his apartment at 7:45 AM, walking the eight blocks to the main quadrangle and rushing to grab the five best seat we could get among the 20,000 set up. As soon as we left the building it began raining. The university provided cheap plastic ponchos for all attendees, since it rained on convocation last year. The convocation was good. The rain stopped except for occasional sprinkles. All degrees were conferred. The main address was short, the president's remarks were short, and we were off to the luncheon.

"Luncheon" is too strong of a word. Set up on one of the smaller quadrangles some blocks away from the main quad, the Humanities masters and doctoral candidates and their guests were fed sack lunches. It was good, even though cold and simple. Then we walked eight blocks to a coffee shop. Then back to a hall near the luncheon quad for the hooding ceremony. We took pictures there, then back to the apartment. I figure we walked at least two miles, maybe closer to three, in the nine hours we were gone. A few hours later and it was time for the party, not as wild as I feared. Just a bunch of Charles' and Bis' friends. Of course, it didn't end till after midnight.

So my boy is now a doctor. Congratulations, Charles. May this degree, representing knowledge gained, serve you and society well for your lifetime and beyond.
(pictures will be added soon)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Improving as a Writer

On The Writer's View 2 e-mail loop, and on a couple of agent/editor blogs I follow, the discussion lately turned towards how writers improve. That writers need to improve, and do improve, was not the subject of the discussion. What they do to result in that improvement was.

I posted to TWV2, saying that my improvement came from a combination of reading books on the art and craft of writing, and from reading the works of other writers and picking them apart. That aspect of being a writer has actually made reading a little less enjoyable. Another item I mentioned was simply the practice of writing led to growth.

But really I can think of other ways I improve as a writer.
  • Critique groups. I've been a member of four different real life critique groups, and five (I think) on-line critique groups. Most of the on-line ones were for poetry. I estimate that I've critiqued at least a thousand poems. I printed many of those critiques and have them in notebooks, waiting to be gone through and perhaps culled and consolidated. I learned so much from critiquing poetry. When I started that, I knew little about poetry, but knew I had to learn and learn fast. So I studied up, was a fast learner, and feel much more confident in my poetic knowledge and abilities.
  • Classes. Most of the ones I've taken have been during writers conferences. I went to one locally that turned out to be something I wasn't expecting. I still have many more to take.
  • Old textbooks. I pick these up at thrift stores for 50 cents or a dollar. I'm slowly working through them as reading time allows (which it hasn't for over a year now). I have gleaned much from these, even the older ones.
  • Writer Networking. This is both on-line in various discussion forums, as well as the few real life writer contacts I maintain. Those contacts include editors and agents as well.
So these are the things I do grow as a writer. I find it interesting that writing is a trade/art/profession at which growth and development is available. Don't know how to write well in English? Study grammar. Don't know how to make it interesting? Study plot and structure. Not grabbing the reader? Study story telling. It's different than for many other artistic professions. The arts that involve the body as well as the mind (the dance, acting, and actually sports) require certain bodily ability. Since we are all limited to the body God gave us—with limited chance to improve—the opportunity to move up to a higher artistic level is limited. I could never have become a major league baseball player or a pro football player or an Olympic track star. I could have done better than I did, but I was not given a body that would allow me to move up in those pursuits.

Certainly improvement in the writing arts, which involve the mind only, will be beyond the reach of some, who were not given complete mental faculties. But for the large majority of people, significant improvement is possible. Whether a large number of people can improve enough to result in becoming published I don't know. Most people won't go to the trouble to try to improve enough for that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My website

My son is helping me put together a writer's website. I say helping. He's doing the work, as I consult on what it is I want. I purchased the domain Sunday night; we picked a theme last night and began building it; it now has a few items there. Check it out:

We copied all the posts on An Arrow Through The Air to the blog section of the website. Not all the comments copied--at least they hadn't as of last night. I don't know what that means for me, for keeping this blog. I've enjoyed having it with its title, and with the Wesley quote. If I decide to make the other site my blog, we'll figure out a way to get those over there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Incestuous Poetry Relationship

I had a one-year subscription to Poet & Writer magazine, six issues at a deep discount of $10. I've always enjoyed this magazine, since it pulls together a broader variety of writers and writing topics than do many other magazines for writers. Often on my travels I will enter a Barnes & Noble, take one from the rack, buy a vente house blend and sit and read it. Usually I find such good things it it that I'll buy the issue and read it in the hotel. So eventually I took the subscription. P&W is heavy on features: the writing life, debut novelists; debut poets. It is short on the writing craft, moderate on industry news, and what news it presents is usually done through features. A little short on regular columns, too, compared to other writing mags.

I read these issues slowly, only on Sunday afternoon, in our sun room, falling asleep and reading in several sequences. I'm currently working through the January/February 2011 issue, the last one of my subscription (which I did not renew). The covers says it is "The Inspiration Issue." Under the heading of "The Literary Life" are many interviews of writers, but a series of short interviews of debut poets especially caught my eye. These are poets who had their first collection published in 2010. What I found instructive was the university attended/degree earned and employment of these poets. Let's see how the columens will format, as I know the spaces will look right on my screen but probably not once published.

Age         University        Degree        Employment
41           Iowa                 MFA         theatre writer/critic
30           Warren Wilson  MFA         creative writing teacher
39           Columbia          MFA         mother
27           Wisconsin         MA           library worker
34           Iowa                 MFA         PhD candidate
29           New Mexico     MFA        teacher
30           Oregon             MFA        job hunting teacher
32           George Mason  MFA        PhD candidate
39            New York U    MFA       assistant professor
39           Utah                  MFA       associate professor
35           New School (NYC) MFA PhD candidate

All degrees save one are masters of fine arts, and almost all now work at teaching others. Is this the way poetry publishing is going? If so, it's incestuous. Others have said this before me, that the MFA-based system results in inbreeding of poetic technique, begetting the same poetic technique, as those who are taught by MFA profs become MFA profs.

C.S. Lewis had a word to say about this, as I discussed a couple of months ago:
Great authors are innovators, pioneers, explorers; bad authors bunch in schools and follow models. Or again, great authors are always 'breaking fetters' and 'bursting bonds'. They have personality, they 'are themselves'.
We certainly have poetry "schools", in the broadest sense of the word. And we've had 'em in the past, too.

Of course, I admit it's quite possible that this magazine is not all that representative of the full range of modern poetry. It might be only a small part of it. Still, I wonder if this isn't at least in part explanatory of why poetry is so unpopular these days. P&W is a magazine filled with adds for MFA schools and workshops. Every university and college in the country that has a creative writing program has an ad in each issue of the magazine. The ads almost always feature a rustic cottage surrounded by trees and meadows. A photo of some poet who's supposed to be famous but who most likely I never heard of is inset, and the ad includes a list of faculty and visiting professors, almost all of whom I never heard of. Low residency requirements are typically trumpeted.

The ads that are not for MFA programs are for writing retreats or workshops. The ads that aren't for any of those are for contests. The ads are so similar from issue to issue that I pretty much stopped reading them.

So P&W is of some limited use, but I really like it. I'm keeping these issues, and may refer back to them from time to time. But watch out for the problem of the incestuous poetry community I will.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review: The Templar Revelation

It was at my nearest thrift store, I think, that I paid 50 cents for The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince [1997, Touchstone, ISBN 0-684-84891-0]. On the cover of this paperback it says "As featured in The DaVinci Code". I figured it was worth the modest investment to see how The DaVinci Code was related to it.

As far as is possible, I feel I wasted my 50 cents. The book is awful. It is divided into two part: 1) The Threads of Heresy, and 2) The Web of Truth. I read about half of part 1 and spot read 20 to 30 pages of part 2 (150 out of 373 total pages). The most common phrase used in the book is "as will be short later," or various derivatives of that. John the Baptist was more prominent than Jesus, as will be shown later. Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife or concubine, as will be shown later. The Knights Templar were adherents to the cult of Mary Magdalene, as will be shown later. The Cathars understood the true importance of the Baptist and the Magdalene, as will be shown later. How tiring, with never a forward reference included, such as "as will be discussed in Chapter 17." How much later? What chapter should I go to? Why don't you just explain it now.

The second most common phrase is "according to modern scholarship." The authors seemed enamored with any study/publication in the last hundred years that in any way contradicts the traditional Christian message and belief. Nineteen hundred years of scholarship is tossed aside simply because it isn't the latest. This, too, was tiring.

The book does indeed follow The DaVince Code. Or, rather, based on publication dates, The DaVinci Code follows The Templar Revelation, and is its fictional counterpart. DaVinci's Last Supper, the true purpose of the Knights Templar, the mysterious old or new Priory of Sion with its train of grand masters—all are here. Even some names of Dan Brown's fictional characters came from historical figures mentioned by Picknett and Prince. Dan Brown must have read this 1997 book before writing his and publishing it in 2003. Although, that blurb on the cover references TDC whereas the latest date on the title page if TTR is 1998. What gives? I thought publishers put the date of the latest printing on the copyright page. Apparently not any more.

The Templar Revelation is poorly written, not from the standpoint of writing craft, but from its lousy scholarship. Despite many footnotes it is poorly referenced, I came away with a sense of the authors wanting to believe anything that would poke holes in Christian orthodoxy. Every hack professor is believed; hundreds of theologians are not. Clearly the authors were trying to strike a balance between a popular book and a scholarly work, and achieved neither. At one point it reads, "As we have seen, most modern Christians are surprisingly badly informed about developments in biblical scholarship." [page 362]

Hey, Picknett and Prince, that's because we have settled the question. We have no need to delve into the questionable works you cite to see what Satan has inspired. We believe the gospel message about Jesus' life and teaching as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We believe Christian doctrine as first outlined by Paul and later confirmed by thousand of works by a hundred early Christian authors. We believe that other gospels you seem enthralled with disappeared not because the church tried to destroy them but because they carried no authority, being obviously contradictory and bogus, thus rejected by scholars of a formative age. We don't need to revisit the question. We are not badly informed; we know whom we have believed in, and why.

If you see The Templar Revelation in a used book sale, leave it there and use your pocket change to buy a sno cone or some other nutritionally void stomach killer. The stomach will recover faster than the mind, should it be infected with this garbage. I'm not going to finish this. I'll put it in the garage sale pile, and hope to recover half my investment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Candy Store Generation

To have a successful self-published e-book ("successful" meaning good sales), what you need, according to Joe Konrath, are:
  • a great book,
  • a catchy title
  • a dynamite cover,
  • good promotion, and
  • a body of work that builds on itself.
Even while I cling to the dream of having something published through a traditional publisher, and do some things to go down that road, I'm looking for the next thing to self-publish. What that next thing should be finally came to me on Memorial Day.

Why not write The Candy Store Generation? I first thought of this during the 2000 election, watching the first presidential debate between Bush and Gore. They argued about how to spend a budget surplus expected to be 1 trillion dollars over the next ten years, a result of five years of Republican-led Congresses. It struck me that they sounded like children in a candy store who were given an unexpected windfall from daddy.

But it also struck me that these political animals, children of political families and of privilege, were simply reflecting what America had become. By 2000 the majority of Congress had flipped from what Brokaw called The Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers. The Boomers were now calling the shots. The Boomers made up a huge voting block. I'm one of them, and I see things in the majority of my generation that bode poorly for our nation.

I let the idea gestate for some time, and in 2009 I wrote four blogs on friend Chuck's blog, "The Senescent Man'. I won't say I wrote them to rave reviews, because they generated no comments. I also rushed them a bit, and didn't develop them for the blog as much as I should have.

Last Monday I decided that I should try to expand them into what I wanted to do. I don't have a complete vision for the book yet, but I don't see it as a long book. Maybe 10,000 to 20,000 words. It will mainly explain what I see are the bad results of Boomer leadership in virtually all areas of American life. I'll also discuss some of the why—from my perspective—the Boomers became what we became. It will be a book mainly of my opinions, with some research, but not a whole lot.

On Tuesday night I went to the old blog posts and dumped them into a MS Word document. It begins as a little over 2,000 words. So I'm already 1/8 to 1/4 done. The smaller word count isn't much of a book, so I'll probably go for the longer one. I have to get the full vision first, and an outline, and maybe couple of chapters done before I decide.

The good news is that I don't start with a blank sheet of paper. I start with a concept that has been fermenting in my gray cells for a decade, and which saw the light of Internet day in small part. The blank sheet of paper is the hardest part of writing anything, it seems. Once that is overcome, it's all downhill. I remember the comic strip "Shoe". The editor asked the writer, "Is the article done yet?" to which the writer replied, "90 percent." He then trudged back to his littered desk, rolled a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter, and said, "The white part." I'm past that. May The Candy Store Generation come to fruition.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Truncating the Library

File this under "sad things that are sometimes necessary". CEI is growing; we have taken on some new rental space. When we moved into this building in November 2009, renting out our much larger corporate headquarters, we occupied six modules of the seven in this building. The seventh module, near the center of the building, was occupied. That company had had the parking lot to themselves for years, and were not happy when we inundated the lot with our corporate pick-ups and engineers and surveyors. So they moved to new quarters across the street.

We got first dibs on their vacated space, but haven't needed it till now. Next week we do whatever modifications are needed to make this space work. The best solution the space layout people came up with was to move the library to the new space and install cubicles where the library is. It's a more efficient use of space.

But, the library must shrink. Since I took responsibility for the library during the last move, I was tasked with it now. First thing to go are old State and City standards. Most of our copies are out of date, and most states and cities have them on-line now, so out they go. If it's a 3-ring binder I open it, salvage any clean divider sheets or tabs, put the paper in an OOP recycling bin, discard glossies and the like, and put the empty notebook in a pile for our off-site supplies storage. For comb binding, about the same thing, including salvaging the comb. My old college buddies would expect no less from the HEEDonist.

Next will be the manufacturers catalogues, most of which are for materials we don't use, are out of date, and are on-line. So out they go. Next will be the Federal standards. Same out of date/on-line situation. Then will be a few shelves of old CEI project notebooks. I won't discard these, since I can't be sure they are duplicates. So I'll box them for off-site archiving. We have 132 shelf segments, and I anticipate I'll reduce the remnant to a little less than sixty shelves. I'll report back when done.

This is sad to me. Perhaps these are not real books, but they are books nonetheless. I hate to discard them. The world won't be a worse place for their being gone. In fact, it might be a better place. We will not have to purchase 3-ring binders for a few years probably (reduce). Less building space will be needed for the same size business (reduce). What can be re-used will be re-used (reuse). And the old office paper will become new paper products (recycle). Maybe the folks who many years ago formed Humans to End Environmental Deterioration would be proud. I won't shed a tear, but neither will I rejoice.

Well, I'd better get back at it.