Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Ephraim Factor

Sunday I completed a good chunk of The Candy Store Generation, I think close to 1800 words. Along with what I wrote in the couple of days before that, I'm at 39,100 and change. I've been targeting to have the book 40,000—because that seems to be a good length of book based on attention spans and not over-doing the level of detail. I want to keep the book popular, not scholarly.
Yesterday, on the Memorial Day holiday, however, I got very little done. I'm blaming it on Ephraim, number one grandson who arrived with Lynda Sunday evening and immediately took over the schedule. A 4 year old boy can't wait to eat while you finish a chapter, or even a paragraph. His walks have to be done at certain times. Baths are the same. He has to potty regularly. And of course, there's reading him books while he's on your lap, pretending to sleep on the floor as he jumps on you, moving his toys to have a walking path. These are all essentials, and have priority on the schedule.

His bedtime is 9:00 p.m., which we sort of missed on Sunday night but made on Monday night. And he takes a good afternoon nap, from 2 or 2:30 to 5:00. So I had four to four and a half hours to get something done on the book, or on other writing. Did I get much done? No. I was tired and slept a little myself, and couldn't concentrate as much as I needed to. I added some words, and re-read some chapters, but I didn't finish the book.

And that's okay. I don't get to see Ephraim all that much. I can't pick up and go to Oklahoma City for any given week like Lynda can. So to have him with us for a fair spell is okay. He may be here until June 10, or more likely June 7 or 8, when Lynda will take him back. His dad heads out of town around then for the last residency module of his doctoral program, and Lynda will stay with Sara and the boys a couple of weeks to help out. That will be plenty of quiet time to get things finished.

Of course, this assumes he won't get so homesick for his parents and baby brother that he insists on going back sooner. I pray that doesn't happen, but if it does we will comply.

Actually I may be able to finish the book in the meantime, using my pre-work hour at the office, and maybe an hour in the evenings. Much of what I have left to do is read the book and go through the self-editing process. That I can do in bits and snatches.

But if the book is delayed a month, so be it. I will be richer for it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Counselor

Today at church we began a new sermon series, on the Holy Spirit. It's been a long time since we've had a series that wasn't topical, and with the topic being some kind of felt need or topic designed to help you with the problems of everyday life. Don't get me wrong; those are important things. But sometimes you just want to have a good old scripture and doctrine sermon.

Pastor Mark brought up a point I hadn't thought of in his sermon. It's from John 14:16

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with your forever"
He pointed out that the word "another" meant that the apostles already had a counselor. That had to be himself Jesus was referring to. I'd never noticed that before.

In the companion Life Group lesson, we listened to a tape by Jim Cymbala. I've read one or two of his books, but had never heard him speak before. He did a great exposition on the work of the Holy Spirit, interspersed with the testimony of a man who had been delivered from drug use and sales, and had an incredible weight lifted from him.

It was a good time at church this morning. The Spirit was with us as we studied Him.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Long Live the Booksellers

This morning I went to the doctor's office—well, really the lab—to have blood work done in advance of my appointment with my rheumatologist next week. I brought a work magazine with me to read, but they called me within two minutes of my arrival and I was out in five.

So the hour I told the receptionist was wrong, since it was only a 4.5 mile drive from the office. I thought about stopping at the convenience store near the hospital, buy something, and sit in the air conditioning and read the mag. But I had lunch in the fridge at work, I didn't need the calories and carbs of the stuff they have at the con-store, so I didn't want that. I decided to stop at the Goodwill store on the way back to the office and browse the books.

As readers of this blog know, I buy way too many books, though most of them are used, either from thrift stores or yard sales. The thrift store near the office has a better book section than does the Goodwill, but I'd been to the former recently but not the latter. After fifteen minutes of browsing I had five titles picked out, paid for, and in the pick-up.
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I'm pretty sure I have this at home, but the one I bought is a clean mass-market paperback from 1991, and will stay in the office should I ever get around to reading it in the next 5 years, 7 months, and 6 days.
  • The Prince and other Writings by Niccolo Machiavelli. This is another classic I've never read. I might have a copy at home, but I can't remember. The one I bought is from the Barnes & Noble Classics collection.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. I haven't heard of this one before. It looks like an excellent non-fiction read. Also a Barnes & Noble classic.
  • A New Look at the Sacraments by William J. Bausch. I believe this is a modern (1977) Catholic view of their sacraments. What am I doing buying a Catholic book, you wonder? I believe it can help me flesh out my Bible study "Sacred Moments", which I'm hoping to self-publish at some point in time.
  • Mr. Maugham Himself: A collection of Writings by W. Somerset Maugham. I bought this without even checking the table of contents. It's a 688 page hardback, Book Club edition, and contains items of Maugham's that I haven't yet read.
All this for an even $6.00.

Traditional publishing is dead, or dying. So say the army of self-publishers, though many of them would die for a contract with a traditional publisher. No so fast, say the somewhat smaller army in the traditional publishing camp. The curation done by publishers and agents is invaluable. The distribution systems in place favor the traditional publisher. And most of the publishers are profitable. No, traditional publishing isn't going anywhere.

Caught in the middle is the bookseller. Borders is gone—liquidated in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Barnes & Noble is hanging on, though industry insiders say that's because of the Nook. The smaller chains were mostly swallowed up long ago. The mom and pop, sole proprietor books store have been disappearing due to Borders and Barnes & Noble.

I wonder, though, if the independent bookseller isn't poised for a comeback. They won't be able to do it the same way the did before. The public still wants books. Even those who own an e-reader will sometimes want a book in paper format. Some people won't ever own an e-reader. These will be around for a long, long time. So books in paper format will continue to have a demand, maybe a good sized demand.

The small bookseller who learns to adapt to this can make money. The mom and pop store can come back, but may have to be a mixture of used and new books. It may have to be a niche store. It may have to have an on-line presence, and may make as much money in a booksellers co-op as it does with walk-ins.

Back in the late 1990s I was an on-line bookseller. After we brought to our house the 2,200 books that were in Dad's house when he died, added them to the 500 or so we had brought back from my father-in-law's house when he died, and to the 1,200 or so that we had, and I decided to sell them. I established a business, The Sexton Collection, and joined the Advanced Booksellers Exchange network. For $30 a month we got the inventory software, a website, and the benefits of the ABE system. I waited until we had about 300 books inventoried and listed, then I took the site live. Most months we made a little money. When they raised the monthly fee to $35, once I hit three consecutive months where we lost money, I folded the business.

The problem was, we didn't reduce our inventory. We quickly found we needed more inventory to have enough selection for people to buy from. So we scoured the thrift stores, the garage sales, and any place we could, looking for over-looked first editions, older books, anything we thought would sell. I imagine at the end of our two years of book selling we had 100 to 200 more books in inventory than when we started. [Aside: My best buy was a book listing the service men from Philadelphia who served during World War 1. I bought that for 50 cents on a Saturday, listed it for $22 the same day, and sold it on Monday for that price plus shipping and handling.] With all the used book purchasing we do, I don't even want to think of our current inventory, even after we donated well over 100 books to the church library.

I think the bookseller will always be with us. I hope so. The friends of library type bookstores are great. The used bookstore down on Dixon Street in Fayetteville is great—if it's still there; I haven't been down there for a few years. People will want books, and books will be published. The bookseller is the broker/inventory holder/retailer who helps an author, a publisher, and a reader to all achieve their aims.

Long live the bookseller!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: "C Through Marriage"

I'm two-thirds of the way through C Through Marriage: Revitalizing Your Vows, by Jim Hughes. Normally I'd wait until I finished a book to review it, but life is about to remove my reading time for me, and I don't want to leave this book hanging.

Rev. Jim Hughes has hit upon a unique concept. C Through Marriage [Tate Publishing, 2009 ISBN 0978-60696-419-4]. He found 46 words beginning with "c" that apply to marriage. From "calamity" to "cuddle", Rev. Hughes takes us through a marriage. Bill and Barb's situation is briefly described at the start of each chapter. In chapter 1 they face a calamity. Hughes then uses the word and how it affects a marriage, how it can weaken a marriage or how the marriage can be strengthened through it.

The theme that I drew from the book, however, begins not with "c" but with "w": Work. You have to work at a marriage to make it last and make it satisfying. It doesn't happen by chance, and it doesn't happen by neglect. In virtually each chapter Hughes tells us to work at our marriage. Don't take it for granted.

Before I read the book, I was expecting it to be a reference type of book. Since the chapters were arranged alphabetically, I figured it didn't follow a marriage from its beginning through its maturity. The didn't seem to mesh with the alphabetical arrangement. However, it's not a reference book. You wouldn't have this on the shelf and, when faced with say a "conflict" pull the book out, turn to that chapter, and find help. This is a book that should be read from the beginning all the way through. After that, it's possible that some of the chapters can stand alone for crisis guidance or closeness building. But it's a read-through book, not a reference book.

And I will complete it, just as soon as my life circumstances and my publishing schedule permits. This will be the first of the three I'm reading that I'll pick up again and finish.

C Through Marriage is not yet available as an e-book. It's a good paper book, well worth the modest cost.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Embrace Eternity

Today at church we wrapped up our current sermon series, based on the song "Live Like You Were Dying." For the prior four weeks we based the sermon, and thus the Life Group study, on a concept from the song.

- What if you had 30 days to live?
- Speak sweeter.
- Love deeper.
- Give forgiveness.

Today was a bonus week, over and above what came out of the song. Our pastor labeled it, "Embrace Eternity." Actually, that may have at least in part come out of one of the verses in the song.

This was a good way to wrap it up. I suppose there's nothing like a short time to live to make you think about what comes after this life. Is it really over then? Does the human's existance cease in all it's parts: body, soul, and spirit (or body, intellect, and emotions if you prefer). Or is there something else after that?

I believe there is something else, and am determined to live like that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life is Two and a Half Hours with a Dell Rep

Two or three weeks ago our new laptop (Dec 2011) experienced a problem. I was looking at websites, either as research for The Candy Store Generation or looking into places to try to promote Documenting America. Suddenly all sorts of things popped up on the screen. A whole bunch of error messages about being unable to read-write data. A box saying we had some major errors, including boot sector stuff and various 0x000... addresses. And a box saying our protection software was a trial version.
Needless to say I didn't click on either the offer to clean the computer or the offer to purchase some software. I figured it was either a virus or something seriously wrong with hardware or the operating system. I rebooted the computer and the same thing happened on the restart. This time I clicked off all the error message screens, about 50 of them, rebooted, and everything appeared again.

I then set it aside, and put on my mental to-do list that I needed to call Dell and see what happened, and what to do about it.

Tuesday night this week, thinking I might do that, I pulled the computer out of hibernation. The error messages and the other pop-ups were still there. I wrote some of the error messages, both in one repeated in the 50 message boxes and the one in the pop-up, preparatory to calling Dell. As I was doing that, they all suddenly disappeared. The computer looked normal. However, I tried to open a program, and saw that all the programs had disappeared.

Alas, I had not mojo to call Dell that night. But last night Lynda did. With the second number we got to the right place, were transferred once, and wound up talking with Fraser. No telling where he was based, but his accent made his English almost undecipherable. Even though I lived among non-English speakers for a number of years, I had to ask him to repeat himself many times.

Also alas, we learned it was a software problem, a virus that is fairly new and for which most virus protection programs had no definitions. And, we didn't have a software warranty on this computer. Naturally, since we bought it from QVC (I won't say why we did that, except to say I have always hated QVC and it's competitors and never watch them), we didn't have that warranty.

So some out of pocket money later, we had the warranty, and Fraser fixed the problem. I think it was 7:30 p.m. when we first called, and it was all over at 10:00 p.m. All systems appeared to be go, everything working.

Last night seems to be a microcosm of my life, maybe of life itself. Decisions we make have consequences way down the road. We have a Dell account; why buy a computer from QVC? Was it really any cheaper? It appears not. What website did I visit—an apparently safe site—that resulted in the virus attacking our new machine?

It makes me gun-shy about visiting any other websites, about purchasing anything electronic from a third-party vendor.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Live Like You Were Dying

As I mentioned in a previous post, our church is going through a series based on the popular country-western song "Live Like You Were Dying". The pastor is preaching sermons on this, the church staff is blogging on it, all life groups are teaching it, even the teens and children are studying it. This past Sunday was week 4, which is the end of the program developed by Dr. Gary Smally. Next Sunday is a bonus week.

I understand the concept. If you only had thirty days to live, what would you do? As the song says, maybe skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, ride a rodeo bull, talk sweeter, love deeper. What would I do? Back in 1980 I might have said, "Visit Paris", but I was fortunate to do that, so I have to reprogram. In 2000 I might have said, "Write the great American novel", but I did that in 2001-03 and again 2011. Although, the "great" part is still undetermined. So again I have to reprogram.

The first week we were to write on a card one thing we would do, then clip it on a netting hung in our main hallway. I really couldn't thing of anything to write. Finally, so as to participate, I wrote "Visit Moscow and St. Petersburg." Although I'd like to see them, I'm not sure they would be my first choice.

The fact is I'm not wired to think that way. Maybe the song writer was, but I'm not. Responsibility has too great a hold on me. The need to do something other than what I'm doing doesn't have much of a hold on me.

So I may not have benefited that much from this study. Don't get me wrong: it's been good think on the issue. The DVD we've been watching is good, and the weekly life group classes have given much food for thought. But I think you have to be wired a certain way to have this bee a life changing experience.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Writing Conference Results

Last Thursday evening and all day Friday, I attended the Story Weavers, the annual conference of the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. This was my first time to attend this conference. While I have (somewhat) sworn off the conference circuit, I decided to attend part of this one as we would be in Oklahoma City anyway for grandson Ephraim's fourth birthday party. A beta reader of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People was going to be there, and she was hoping we could meet. Some other people I knew would also be there. So I paid $85 for the partial registration and drove the 7 miles from the kids' house to the conference hotel.

For this conference you turn in your requests for appointments in advance. Looking over the list of editors and agents, I came up with a certain agent as my number one choice, and a certain editor as number two. Agents are the most sought after appointments, and I didn't get an appointment with him. However, I saw him before the agent and editor panel and we spoke briefly. I later left him a copy of my sell sheet for the novel. Today I had an e-mail from him: rejected. He said, "While I don't think this would interest me—my own tastes are quirky—I do think there is good commercial potential for your novel.

However, I did get the appointment with the editor. I suppose I should have done a little more homework. The conference description of his editorial needs included fiction, without restriction to genre. However, in my meeting with him he said the word count of FTSP (90,000) was too long for him. Still, he asked me to send three chapters with a summary and outline, and he would see if he could do something with it or recommend it to someone.

Assuming this doesn't work, I have now accumulated 11 rejections of FTSP. Looks like it's time to self-publish.

In other conference news, a man who puts together anthologies of western short stories is interested in me writing some based on my wife's great-grandfather, the 49er. This is not something I even thought of before the conference, and I don't see how I could fit it in to my writing schedule this year.

The workshops were good, though I don't know that any I attended were chock full of information I hadn't heard before. All in all, a good conference.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Sales

I'm going to post a graph here of my book sales to date. Not that I planned to do a post on it, but in order to insert an image to a post on Absolute Write, as I wanted to, the image has to be on-line. Here's the graph:

Okay, that didn't paste in too well. How I wish I knew how to create and manipulate images! I'm going to post this, then will try again and hopefully get a better graph.

Second one is in; maybe it's better.