Thursday, March 29, 2012

First cut at the cover for "The Candy Store Generation"

A friend from, Victoria Nicks, offered to help me with a cover for a book. I told her about The Candy Store Generation, and she went ahead and did this cover. This is what she came up with. I suggest she see if she could keep in theme with my other covers.

I'm interested in everyone's opinion of this cover. Let me know in the comments.

ETA: So far I haven't subtitled the book, but if I did subtitle it, the subtitile would probably be: "How the Baby Boomers are Screwing Up America". I had lunch with a friend today, one who bought Documenting America. He said this new book needs the subtitle. Anyone have a thought on that?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What do you want me to do for you?

Our life group lesson today was on Mark 10:46-52, the healing of Bartimaeus. We called him "Bart" in class. We continue our lessons based on the pastor's sermons each week. Since our class meets during the second service, and we've just heard the pastor preach, we have good discussions about it. As a teacher, I have to say this has made my teaching prep a little easier. We have a good group, and knowing they will take the subject and run with it in a wide-ranging discussion, I prepare less than I used to.

Back to Bart. He was on the Jerusalem side of Jericho, blind and begging. Since Passover was about seven days away, the foot traffic from Jericho to Jerusalem would be above normal, so Bart was on station, hoping to receive a little mercy from the pious pilgrims. I suspect the two or three weeks around Passover were to Bart as the Christmas season is to an American merchant: you have to do well then of your business won't survive.

On this particular day, Bart was at his station. He heard greater than usual noise. This wasn't just a pre-Passover travelling parting going by; this was a large crowd. A question to a passer-by gave Bart the answer he needed. It was Jesus of Nazareth, with the usual crowd that hung around him: the Twelve, other disciples, the curious, and some women from Galilee who looked after the needs of the rabbi and his immediate disciples. It might easily have been a hundred people.

Bart must have heard about Jesus. Either earlier that day, or more likely the day before, he had healed a blind man on the other side of Jericho [my interpretation of Luke]. Not too long before he had raised a man from the dead in Bethany, which wasn't all that far away. Bart may have been blind, but he wasn't dead and probably wasn't stupid. He had heard about this miracle-working teacher from up north, and knew what he could do.

So he shouted out into the crowd, which tried to stop him. But he shouted all the more. Somehow Jesus heard him above the noise, called for him, and when the blind man got there said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" Now, maybe to us it was obvious what the man wanted. But he had been shouting, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." He might have been asking for money, or come to a realization that his soul was not right with God. For whatever reason, Jesus made him state what he wanted before performing the miracle for him.

In class we discussed how Jesus asks the same thing today. What do we want him to do for us? Are our prayers kind of general, or are they specific? Are we persistent in asking, as Bart was? Do we ask despite the ones around us who discourage us, either purposely or unknowingly, from asking? And are we ready to throw off that which slows us down, and run to where Jesus is?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Was It Intuition? A Publisher Avoided

I'm not going to name names.

Today I learned that a Christian self-publishing company, one I encountered at every conference I attended, was entwined with a cult-like church.

In 2008 I considered them for self-publishing my poetry book Father Daughter Day, but wasn't able to complete the research necessary to make a decision. In 2011 I further considered them, even talking with one of their staffers by phone and e-mail. I decided not to do it, as their costs seemed high and their take on each book printed also seemed a little high. Or maybe that's what I concluded given that the author's royalty seemed so low. Whatever it was, I wasn't ready or willing to pay several thousand dollars to have my book published.

The company's reputation was stellar. At every conference people talked about how this company, among all the self-publishing companies that charged significant up-front fees, actually did a good job with publishing only well-written books, doing good quality production runs, giving the author value for their money, etc. Now, today, I hear of many bad things about the publisher and its entwined church.

Was it intuition that caused me to turn away from them? Or perhaps a gentle nudge by the Holy Spirit?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Library Says, "We're Sorry"

Back on December 5, 2011, a few days after I received the twenty copies of Documenting America that I purchased, I took a copy to the Bentonville Public Library, to donate it for their holdings. The lady at the desk took the book. I don't remember what she said. She may have asked if I wanted to see a librarian about it. If so, I said no, no need to bother one of them. Just put it in the pile for processing.

About the middle of January I began checking on the book. Each time I went to the library, which is about every two weeks, I first checked the e-card catalog for the listing. It wasn't there. Then in early February I began to check with the clerks at the front desk, asking them if I had missed it in the catalog and when I might expect it to be added. Always the answer was they didn't know, but that these things take some time.

Finally last Monday, the 12th, I asked more forcefully about it. The lady at the front desk said she didn't know anything and I would have to talk with a librarian, but that none were there right now. On Monday the 19th I called for a librarian, but did so late in the day, and left a voice message. Promptly at 9:00 AM yesterday, the hour at which the library opens, a librarian called me. After she found out what I wanted, she said:

Oh, didn't they tell you at the front desk when you dropped the book off? We rarely, if ever, add a self-published book to our collection. This is not a reflection on the quality of your book, but most self-published books are not up to the standards the Library expects. We look at any self-published books that come in, but almost all of them we just give to the resale shop. I'm so sorry they didn't tell you this when you donated the book. They're supposed to tell everyone that who donates a self-published book.

I was sort of stunned. Probably a few days after I left the book, one of the librarians looked at it, saw it was self-published, and brought it to the resale shop, which is in a nook of the library. Naturally it's closed on Tuesdays. In fact it's closed most days. It opens for limited hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Was my book still there? Could I buy it back and add it to my inventory?

Today I went to the library to find out. The resale shop opens at 10:00 AM, and I arrived about 10:30 AM. The shop was closed. A few racks of resale books were in the coffee shop, but my book wasn't on those racks. I checked with the lady at the front desk. She called someone in the library, but couldn't get any information. When I told her I had made a special trip just to shop in the resale store, she said,

I'm so sorry this happened. The resale shop is run by volunteers of the Friends of the Library, and we don't have much to do with their schedule.

I left and went back to work. It was only two miles each way, and I managed to do two other sort-of-necessary errands along the way. I'm tempted to write that this is a sorry library, but in fact it's a fairly good library. Hey, it's got a coffee shop, two great meeting rooms and a number of smaller meeting rooms. It has more computers than you can shake a stick at, and it has many feet of empty shelves onto which they can expend their collection for years and years and years.

Live and learn. I'll know better than to give this library anything in the future.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Storm Approaches

I continue to be impressed with the ability of weather forecasters to tell what's coming long before any conditions actually appear. Back in late January 2011 they forecast that we would get a tremendous snowfall and cold temperatures. They did this about 7 days before it actually happened. Seven days is far enough out that nothing on the radar or satellite map appears such that they can see what's moving from west to east. Thus the prediction was that a yet-unseen storm was going to develop, not that it was already there and moving.

Each day they altered the prediction, keeping the arrival day the same. Then, right on schedule the storm started forming southwest of us. Almost to the hour the snow started. We got over 14 inches, and some areas near us got 20 inches or more. Chalk one up to the forecasters.

Now, for the last four or five days they have been predicting a large rainfall for us. Three days ago they shifted the day for it to come from Sunday to Monday. Two days ago they added a flood watch to it. Yesterday they said it might be over 6 inches of rain. Yet, through about 8 PM last night, there was nothing on the radar. When I woke this morning and turned on the Weather Channel first thing, and there was the front, strong and widespread, somewhere west of Oklahoma City. The forecast was that our thunderstorms would begin around noon.

I just checked the radar again. The leading edge of the front is between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Some advanced pop-up showers have developed even closer. We will likely have rain before noon, but the main storm will arrive right as predicted. Radar also shows that after the front hits we will have a period of heavy showers lasting perhaps two days. Somewhere someone has predicted up to 12 inches of rain for us.

The storms in my life seem to be somewhat predictable as well. At the first of the calendar year I'll have to close out my budget for the year ending and open a budget for the new year. That takes time away from everything else I'd really rather be doing. As April 15 approaches I start to do income tax stuff, with all the problems that results in. When spring comes, as it did early this year, yard work starts, as it did this past Saturday. Later in the year are concerns about vacations and guests and cleaning the house and....

I could go on. All these storms take time away from the thing I want to do most these days, which is write. This year I closed out my 2011 budget right on schedule, but have not yet prepared my 2012 budget. Receipts are piling up, and the storm will soon break. I have barely started on my income taxes, though at least I did a good job of keeping together in 2011 and early 2012 all the information I need to do the taxes. Having completed Schedule C for my writing income, and having all the information at hand for the rest of the taxes, I'd say I'm close to 30% done with the Federal.

Last week I closed out the hail damage repair project, having written checks to the two contractors after the insurance proceeds check cleared. That file is all together, sitting on the banister, waiting to be taken downstairs to the four-draw file. I'm now hoping that this storm doesn't become a third hailstorm in less than 12 months. I don't have the energy to do this with a brand new 30-year roof.

I have one more major financial project I'd like to get done: to see if it makes any sense to re-finance my mortgage. I have just a little over seven years left on it. However, it seems as if I could shave 2 percentage points off my interest rate, based on current rates, and maybe knock the payment down or keep the payment the same and shave a year off. I may make a call on that today. Possibly this is not a storm I have to go through, and a simple call will tell me that. I think, however, a refinance might be in the cards for the next two weeks.

Yet, despite these storms, I'm finding time to write. Yesterday I wrote over 2,500 words in The Candy Store Generation. I discovered the book may end up shorter (in words) than I figured. I'm now at about 21,500 words. I had been thinking of a 40,000 word book, but I don't think I it will be even as long as 35,000. Tonight I hope to work on a new chapter. The number of words that takes will tell me a lot about how long it will be.

While working hot and heavy on this book, I have had to blow off other tasks, such as getting Doctor Luke's Assistant published via Kindle and Smashwords, and doing the next (and hopefully last) round of edits, and uploading my first article to Decoded Science. The article is written; I just need to add my short and long bios to the site and take 30 minutes to learn the uploading software. I'll work on those as the storms allow.

Then there's my two blogs, which provide lots of enjoyment, but which take some time. I'm still struggling with subject matter and increasing readership. That will probably be a subject for a post later this week.

Time to get back to work, then hunker down for the storm.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Still trying to write poetry

This morning, as I walked from the house to my pick-up, parked up on the street, the sky held a moon glow in front of me. The moon was in the west, a half moon, not yet close to setting, with clouds between me and it. The clouds must have been kind of thin and moving briskly across the sky, for before long the white glow turned into the full half disk, only to disappear again in a few second and the glow resume.

I knew I had to write a haiku about this. That's the only kind of poem I can compose as I drive. I'm not saying haiku are easier to write, but just that the shorter length makes them easier to remember. The last few steps to the truck had me trying to form the first line.

Let me interrupt to give my "rules" for writing haiku. I've given them before on this blog, but I'm too lazy to find the link. I basically follow the Lee Gurga rules. Lee was editor of one of the two main haiku mags, and has studied the haiku in Japanese and how to adopt the rules into English. What he says the Japanese haiku requires is (not in any order of importance):
  • a reference to nature
  • a reference to a season of the year
  • two images
  • the images are linked, yet at the same time distinct and of different subjects
  • the link and division is done with syntax only. I suppose that would include punctuation.
That's a lot to put into three lines and 17 or fewer syllables. To these, I have added one more rule that I follow most of the time.
  • The first and third lines contain the two basic images, and the middle line contains description that could apply to both images. Thus the reader won't really know if the poet intended for that description to go with the first image or the second.
That's an added degree of difficulty. I don't always follow it, but I usually do. Here's an example.

parking asphalt weeps
days after strong spring rains
bank dwelling bugs drown

I won't explicate this. The reader can take the time, if desired, to see how all the rules apply to the example.

So I began trying to form a haiku, and found it a little difficult. The haiku is all about images, not metaphor. I've been concentrating on metaphor of late, so dropping that in favor of images was more difficult than I expected. I suppose a real poet will glide between both with a seamless ease, but not me. Here's what I wrote so far.

backlit clouds race
across the bright half moon

That's as far as I've come. I made the mistake of leaving the radio on, multi-tasking by driving, writing the haiku, listening to the radio, and not being able to put the coming work day out of my mind. I have the first image. Maybe I'll work on it some more today, when work becomes wearying. Or tonight, when I should be adding to my work-in-progress, or alternatively taking the next steps on my income taxes. Having gone this far, I'll finish it.

It's good to have some poetry come to mind, even if it's just a haiku.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What to read next?

As indicated in my last post, I finished reading War Letters. Now I'm looking for the next read. I have my reading "pile," arranged almost three years ago, rearranged several times when I obtained other volumes that I couldn't wait to read, and slowly chipped away at. The next one in the pile is Last Chance for Victory, a 500 or more page book about the Civil War, especially a Southern perspective on the Battle of Gettysburg. Do I really want to read that next? I started reading it when I got it, read 20 or so pages and found it quite interesting, but it's a long book. I think I'll read the Introduction before making up my mind.

Then there's The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain. I began reading them a couple of years ago, as I reported in this blog, but pulled off them. I found reading them to be tiresome. Each one is good, but I'm convinced they were not written to be read one after the other. I might read one or two more before tackling my next book, and make that a practice till I finish them.

I need to be reading a book on the writing craft. I have several in my library, and will look into them over the next couple of days.

Although I've slowed down on my book purchases, even used books, I have several that I've picked up over the last six months that I could incorporate into the reading pile and read next. These are:
  • Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, a Biography, by Fred Kaplan. I know nothing about Henry James, other than that he is well regarded in literary circles.
  • Stories by O'Henry. Since I'm writing some short stories, I figured I'd better read some by the master.
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I've read little of Faulkner, and must someday fill that gap in my literary makeup.
  • John Keats Selected Poetry and Letters I may actually have this one, and the volume I recently bought would be a duplicate. But this one is older and will look better spine-out on the shelf. I don't plan on reading this soon. I've read a fair amount by Keats, both poems and letters, though more of him awaits my reading future.
  • Leonardo da Vinci: The Tragic Pursuit of Perfection. Who couldn't stand to read more about da Vinci? Actully, this will go to the bottom of the pile. I mainly bought it because it appears to be a 1938 first edition. I have the reference book to research this, and will do so after I get the book home.
  • The Changing American Voter by Nie, Verba, and Petrocik. It's a 1976 book, so a little older, but I figure this might be worthwhile research for The Candy Store Generation.
  • Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre. This one is really for Lynda, though I'll probably read it at some point.
  • The Reagan Diaries by Brinkley and Reagan. I would love to get into these, but I usually find diaries and journals too intense to read straight through. I've already started Reagan in his Own Hand, but found it too intense to finish. I should finish that before I start something else by Reagan.
  • The Federalist Papers. This is my second copy of them: one to keep at home and one at the office. I should read some more in this for future editions of Documenting America. I also think I might need to read a few for TCSG.
How many of these might come to the top of my reading pile? I'll let you know soon.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars

When I visit a used book store, thrift store, or yard sale, I'm always looking for an addition to my already over-stuffed collection of books. I've cut back a lot on my purchases of late, but still pick up some. I'm especially vulnerable to collections of letters of any kind. Sometime in early 2011 I found War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll [2011; ISBN 0-7432-0294-5; Simon & Schuster]. I bought it and quickly adjusted my reading pile so that it was near the top.

This book was written for me, the letter lover. It's 493 pages contain approximately 200 letters, from the Civil War, World War 1, World War 2, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Sudan, and Bosnia/Kosovo. For each letter Carroll provides some descriptive text about the war circumstances and the correspondents, then gives the letter, then, when required, tells something of the fate of the writer.

The book is the result of the Legacy Project. Founded by Carroll after an earlier book of American letters, the project was mentioned in a Dear Abby column in 1998, and the results were phenomenal. Letter poured in, and the all-volunteer staff at the project had their hands full.

As can be expected, letters from those at the front convey a mixed sense of optimism, fear, despair, hope, and longing. The worth of the war is often a topic. What are we fighting for? Only in the letters during the Vietnam War is there a sense of the futility of the conflict. In all other wars pride in what our servicemen were doing, and the aims of our government that put them in harm's way, superseded all.

Most of the letters in War Letters were published therein for the first time. This was intentional, as Carroll wished to demonstrate the vastness of the material available (i.e. if he could put this book together with only previously unpublished letters, image how many of them were out there). Again, most of the letters are from those who are not famous. He has one from Schwartzkopf, one from Colin Powell, one from Richard Nixon, from Eisenhower, from Pershing. The rest are from enlisted men, non-coms, and junior officers, who took the brunt of the fighting and casualties.

War Letters is well worth reading. Those who aren't in love with letters as literature may have to take this a few pages at a time. I'm going to keep this as a part of my letters collection, though I don't know that I'll ever read it again. If I don't it will be because of so many other things to read, not because of any fault of War Letters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Life is a Road Trip, Part 3

Those three days across half of America, by car in June 1974, taught me quite a bit about our nation. You don't see a lot when you stay on Interstate highways, but then again you do see a lot. The mountains in Pennsylvania, the tire plants in Akron, the frontage roads in Missouri. All these were new to me, and seemed in some way symbolic of the diversity in America.

And they weren't all. The huge truck stops I saw along the road, especially in Ohio, amazed me. Also in Ohio were the many high tension power lines. I had never seen so many. Little did I dream that in 13 months I would be designing those structures. Since we bypassed St. Louis to the north, I didn't see the arch on that trip. But in those three days I gained a greater respect for my native land. I had a great respect before that trip, but it grew even more during those days.

In life you encounter new things daily. We've seen new technology, new places, new people, new work circumstances, and too many other new things to list. Most of these have enriched my life. A few haven't. I say that meaning I don't know that my life would have been better had those few bad things not come my way.

So that road trip and the journey of life are similar. New experiences, enhanced appreciation, growth in knowledge and spirit. In case I ever write my memoirs (assuming the world will want my memoirs), I've already chosen the title: The Journey Was a Joy.

The road trip of life.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Life is a Road Trip, Part 2

So how exactly is life a road trip?

On that 1974 trip, on the second day, I made it all the way to Evansville, Indiana, where my sister had been living for a year. She was to join me for the last leg of the trip, to Kansas City. But she didn't expect me to reach it in a mere two days, and she wasn't home. She was in Chicago (I think) at a store manager's meeting for her chain. She pulled in late in the day, I spent the night with her, and the next day we went to final 500 or so miles to Kansas City.

So again I ask, how is life a road trip? On that three day drive so many years ago, three things struck me as being awe inspiring. That is, three things other than just the realization that long distance driving, something I'd never done before, agreed with me. The first of those three things was the mountains of Pennsylvania. Range upon range, for mile after mile. Up one mountain and down another. A village or town here and there, plus some barns with hex signs, but the view from I-80 was fantastic.

Now, in Rhode Island you don't see many mountains. The few trips I made during the years of my conscious memory included some mountainous places, but nothing like the concentrated peaks and valleys of Pennsylvania. In the coming years I would see more mountains of greater height, and I've driven that same I-80 route maybe 25 more times, but I think none has given me the awe that the first view of them gave me.

The second was driving through Akron, Ohio, past all the rubber plants. They faced either side of the interstate, I think it was I-74 by this time. Bricked-plant after bricked-plant, on both sides, spewing their industrial smoke and odor. I was familiar with the odor from the one rubber plant in Providence, RI, the one we drove by whenever we went to Roger Williams Hospital to visit Mom during one of her many stays there. But the size of Akron was something to behold.

I had visited the industrial areas on the north shore of Boston (Lynn and Saugus), and driven through other industrial areas. But something about the Akron tire-monger row impressed me. It showed me something I had studied in school, but hadn't really grasped: America was different in its different regions, yet at the same time inter-dependent. If you drove a car, no matter where you lived or bought it, you depended on Akron for your tires, not that pitiful little smeller in Providence. And it made me wonder: What else was out there in that great country that I as yet knew nothing about?

The third thing was the frontage roads in Missouri. This may seem pretty minor, but that was the first place I saw them. Once you left the St. Louis suburbs, along I-70, each side of the Interstate had frontage roads. We topped a hill, and could see three miles ahead to the top of the next hill (which, in itself, was kind of amazing, to be on a road and be able to see three miles ahead; nowhere in RI), and there were the frontage roads. It was unnerving to have a car coming at you on the right, even though the right-of-way fence and 20 feet of grass and ditch separated you. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why they had those extra roads.

Since then I've driven many other Interstates, and seen miles and miles of frontage roads, many more impressive than the Missouri ones. But that first view of them, on June 13, 1974, showed me that different parts of the country did things differently. How much there was to learn.

So why is life like a road trip? Unfortunately, I'm out of time and must close. Come back to read part three.