Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our nation is so diverse

I grew up in Cranston Rhode Island, a bedroom community of Providence, part of the eastern megalopolis. My wife grew up in Meade Kansas, a county seat in southwestern Kansas, population 1,800 in a county of 5,000. Over the years I constantly find more and more things that are different about where we grew up.

Part of it is probably the religious differences, me raised as a New England Episcopalian and Lynda a prairie Nazarene. Some of it is big city vs. small town. Part of it is simply the region of the country. I don't want to detail these right now. But today I took note of a new one.

That thing is Vacation Bible School. So common everywhere I've lived since leaving Rhode Island—well, not in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—I had never heard of it growing up. I'm not saying I never took part in it, but that I didn't even hear of it. Evangelical churches aren't common in RI, or at least they weren't when I grew up there. In Meade, so typical of the small towns in much of America, every church has a VBS in the summer.

I guess it was 1976, after Lynda and I were married, that I VBS first came into my consciousness. We volunteered at our church's VBS. I saw a different type of ministry, as many kids from outside of the church's normal sphere of influence did fun things, and heard the gospel given at their level. I thought it was neat. Over the years I then worked in about 15 of these, and enjoyed them.

Today was the VBS program at our church. About 60 or 70 kids took the stage, and it was all about them. These days they sing their songs with CDs rather than piano accompaniment. The songs are new, jazzed up, lots of movement, the smallest kids are up on the platform. They even did some of the movements. Overall I was impressed.

But I'm still struck by the fact that through all my growing up, all the years in church, and we didn't have this event that is so common so much of our nation. How diverse is the United States! That's a good thing. Although I wish all children had the chance to attend VBS, I think the diversity is good. Long live diversity.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trial by Ordeal (Chambers of Justice, #6)Trial by Ordeal by Craig Parshall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is actually a little better than 4 stars, maybe as high as 4.5 stars. It is easy reading; the plot kept moving, with the protagonist getting in escalating problems, mostly due to his own actions. He made a poor choice with his lawyer, though that was really based on a bad recommendation.

The things I thought could have been handled better:
- The meeting the protag has with his eventual love interest wasn't clear. I would have liked it to be better.
- The unraveling of the protag's legal problems seemed almost unbelievable. I don't want to reveal what happens. Let's just say too many things that happened seem improbable.
- Parshall on occasion explains things that the reader should be smart enough to understand. When some Mafia goons come after the protag with baseball bats, the author tells us they are wielding baseball bats, then that the protag didn't want to be beaten with Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Really, Mr. Parshall? You didn't think your reader would understand what a Louisville Slugger is?
- The Mafia people are presented in a stereotypical way, as you would expect mobsters from the 1950s and 60s.

This is certain worth the read.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Lost Gig?

Those who have been in the writing/publishing business a long time say that changes are frequent. They aren't thinking about the digital revolution that's going on right now, or the drop in cost to self-publish and how that is causing more people to self-publish. They are thinking about the changes people make moving from job to job within the publishing industry.

One man I met at a conference in 2006 is now on his third or fourth publishing job since then. He was an acquisitions editor at the time. I had been following his blog for a couple of years, and he was the one person I wanted an appointment with. I got that appointment. He didn't think my book was right for his publishing house, alas.

Shortly after that conference, he left that editorial position and started his own literary agency. He did that for two or three years. Then he got a job with a publisher that was essentially helping self-published authors provide print books. It wasn't exactly a vanity publisher; it was one of the more ethical companies in that end of the business. I was never quite clear what his role was with them. Recently I learned he is now once again an acquisitions editor with a different publishing house.

That seems to be somewhat typical if perhaps a little to the extreme. Upward mobility in this industry seems to involve changing companies as much as it does moving up in the ranks of a company. The person you meet when they are an editor at Publisher A will become a slightly more senior editor at Publisher B by the next time you see them. So that is why they ("they" meaning industry insiders) encourage networking.

This has happened to me during my work for I started writing for them in the second half of 2010. I did several feature pieces and some news articles. I had several conference calls with the editor, pitched a lot of ideas to him, and he accepted some. Then in November 2011 he left. He hadn't accepted anything I'd proposed for about six months at that time. I immediately pitched something to the new editor, a regular column on construction administration. She said it was quite timely in terms of their developing business plans, and we turned it into a twice monthly column.

Then, in early June she said the ad revenue in that part of the site wasn't coming in as they'd hoped, and they were cutting it back to once a month. I received a contract for the July one, due July 20. Then, a couple of weeks ago she sent out an e-mail that she was leaving and giving the new editor's name. I turned the column in on time to the new editor last Friday, up till now receiving no reply. Buildipedia's normal practice was to publish my column the next Friday, but I see today it's not yet published, nor have I heard from the new editor.

So perhaps the gig is lost. Or maybe she's just very busy in the new position and hasn't had time yet to look at my column. Either way, I think it is probably a lost gig. That's too bad. The columns were easy to write, drawn out of my 38 years of experience in engineering and heavy construction. And it was good money for Internet writing.

Maybe those two former editors will land somewhere in the e-zine industry, I'll cross paths with them again, and have new opportunities to write articles. Or maybe not, and I'll just concentrate on my books and short stories. And I'll finally find the time to write a few articles for Decoded Science, as I promised I would.

It's a changing world, and publishing is sure a changing industry, just based on people alone, not even counting technology.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sounds Through the Wall

I hear construction equipment outside. I've heard a lot of construction equipment in my 38 years of being an engineer, much of it around heavy construction, and this sounds like a dozer—a smallish dozer, not very well maintained based on the squeak of the tracks. Probably a D5 or smaller. For sure it's a tracked vehicle.

It's right outside my office by the sound of it. I have a corner office, but windows are only to the east, not the south, and I'd have to stand on a chair to see through them. We are supposed to be having some telephone work done, a new cable to allow a bigger pipe to transfer files faster. But that's supposed to be entering the building to the west, and they wouldn't need a dozer for that, just a backhoe or even a trencher. Any chance they changed their minds on where the phone line will come in, and I'm hearing a trencher? No.

Which makes me think of sound in writing. Read any book on the writing craft and they'll say to incorporate all five senses into your writing. We tend to focus on the visual and audio first, with maybe some tactile included. Sense of hearing is linked with audio, but stands on its own less frequently. The sense of smell and taste are oft forgotten by the writer.

I recently typed some edits in Doctor Luke's Assistant, things my wife found when she read it for proof-reading as well as to read the final version. She had read it several years ago, but I have long since changed things around and emphasize certain things. She said it was like a new book to her, as she faithfully marked both typos, grammar flubs, and suggestions for improved wording. I transferred them to a clean copy (since the copy she read was actually my least copy for editing and had a number of marks on it from my work) and counted: 27 typo/grammar needs and 35 suggestions for word changes. This was in a 155,000 word book. That's more typos than I would have liked, but not all that bad.

One reader had commented on finding a few typos, while another reader said it was really clean. The type of typos were missing letters (When the arrived at Nain, they....) (It was her fist time to talk with him) or changes in wording with the old wording not fully removed (he saw the Gellus call his associate....). The suggested improvements were somewhat about the voice I wanted to convey. Since this is a book based in antiquity I wanted the language to be kind of antiquated. She suggested changes to some of this.

Back to the senses. I effectively used the sense of smell when Augustus and Luke visited the camel market northwest of Emmaus. I used sense of hearing as a stand-alone event when Augustus is in a strange house, trying to sleep in the midst of a winter storm, but a branch outside is blowing in the wind and scratching against the building on the opposite side of the wall where Augustus is leaning. In that paragraph I had a very embarrassing typo. Given that that's a very sensory paragraph, I'm glad she caught it and marked it for me. I don't know how many times I read that paragraph and missed it.

Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste. I need to drill that into me as I begin work on new works.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Moving of the Spirit

My dad was fond of saying things like "if the spirit moves me" when talking about doing this or that. He was not a particularly religious person, attending church when it was expected of him but not letting that affect his life too much. So I don't believe he was talking about God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit, when he said that. It was more a way of saying if and when he felt like doing something, he would do it. Possibly it was a slight nod to the idea of inspiration rather than to duty.

Yesterday our new youth pastor filled the pulpit, as our pastor was away with a work and witness team, en-route home from a week in the Dominican Republic. We are in the midst of a sermon series titled "You Were Made For More," based on the early chapters of the book of Joshua. Whenever our pastor has another staff member fill the pulpit, that staff member continues witih the sermon series in progress.

Aaron didn't exactly do that, however. Oh, he read the right scripture, and expounded it somewhat, but he veered off—at least to me it seemed he veered off—to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Certainly God was directly leading Joshua and Israel as they crossed the Jordan and came to the fortified city of Jericho. And we have a great example of what happens when an entire nation does what God tells them to do. Still, Aaron took considerable liberty with the sermon series topic.

That was actually fine with me. I enjoyed the message and saw the applicability to where I am in my writing life. For the last year I've been working on a plan. First one book, then another, then going back to yet another to modify it. Filling the time and making some money by also writing some articles. Modifying the plan according to an immediate need, such as an encounter with an agent or editor who wanted a submission.

That time of planned writing is close to coming to an end. I have one more e-book to get up, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, and three print books to get out, two of which are just about ready to order the proof copies. The third print book, Doctor Luke's Assistant, may actually never happen due to the length and cost, but sometime this week I'll begin to look into making it a print book and see where the cost comes out.

So it's not too far away that I will be working on some new writing project. I've been anticipating this time for some time, and blogged about it before. I actually started on a new short story project on Saturday, and added a little on Sunday. I could finish it in about three evenings; it should end up between 4,000 and 8,000 words. I'm sure I'll get at least one of these self-published, and ideas for a series of twenty or so have been flitting through my mind. Short stories don't sell all that much, it seems, but it's just something I want to do.

This whole "what should I write next" thing is where I need the leading of the Spirit. I'm pleased with the way DLA has had a positive impact on several readers who describe themselves as either non-believers or not particularly religious. That was one of my hopes for that book. I believe In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People might have the same result, and I'm anxious to get that published.

I also have The Gutter Chronicles that have been burning up my mind lately. These would never be a best seller, but I have the first volume, at novella length, pretty much done. I could have them up as an e-book quite easily. Even if they only sold to engineers, it seems it would be worth it to have another item on my list. The "conventional" wisdom among self-publishers remains that you have to have a decent list of titles to cross-promote each other. Of course, mine are so different at this stage, I'm not sure how much crossing between there will really be.

So where will the spirit lead me? Or, I should really say, what will the Holy Spirit lead me to write next? To publish next? It's going to be an interesting month.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Writing and Politics Meet

Perhaps my least favorite US senator is Charles Schumer (D, NY). I believe he is an unethical person, mainly because he doesn't consider what would be ethical when he makes decisions. He was in the House of Representatives when Clinton was impeached, and was in the Senate when Clinton was tried. Thus he voted as both prosecutor and judge. Or, perhaps you could look at it as he judged the case in the "lower court" and had moved on to the "appeals court" when it reached there. He should have recused himself. But no, as a freshman senator he was quite vocal during the Senate trial.

Schumer has just shown the people of New York who he represents in his article in the Wall Street Journal (link may expire) in the matter of the Department of Justice's bringing collusion charges against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers. Schumer says the DOJ should drop the collusion lawsuit. A good summary of the article and the idiotic points it includes can be found at The Passive Voice. The Big Six, most owned by multi-national corporations, are all headquartered in New York.

So Schumer thinks more about the corporations in his state, corporations that got together with Apple to RAISE the price consumers pay for e-books, than he does for the million of citizens in his state who might buy e-books, and those nationwide who might buy e-books. Here is an example of his twisted logic.

The e-books marketplace provides a perfect example of the challenges traditional industries face in adapting to the Internet economy. Amazon took an early lead in e-book sales, capturing 90% of the retail market. Because of its large product catalog, Amazon could afford to sell e-books below cost.

Amazon took an early lead in e-book sales, not because of its catalog but because it created the market because it was the first to produce an affordable and practical e-reading device. They sold only a handful of e-books—the best sellers—below cost as loss leaders; all others were sold at a profit. The readers benefited from Amazon doing what it felt it needed to to create a market for e-books. Schumer, or whatever junior staffer he had write the article for him, should really study an issue before running on at the pen about it.

Congratulations Chucky Schumer. You have shown yourself once again to be an idiot. Next time learn a little about the industry you criticize before you take up paper and pixels with words even a college freshman would recognize as nonsense.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"The Candy Store Generation" is Published

I completed the work on Friday, after receiving the Kindle version of the book from the interior designer at 7:09 p.m. I had already "create" the book in the Kindle template, so it was a simple matter of uploading the two files. I did that by 9 p.m. Amazon says the book doesn't appear until after a time lag, which could be as much as 24-48 hours. However, when I checked first thing in the morning, it was live and for sale.

I decided Saturday wasn't a good day for a book launch. I made a report on my Facebook author's page, but nothing else. On Sunday I put up a notice on Conservative Arkansas, the Facebook page for that PAC. I had one sale on Saturday and one on Sunday. That's still where it stands as of 11:45 a.m. on Monday.

On Sunday I:

Uploaded the book to Smashwords. Their "Meatgrinder" successfully converted it to multiple file formats, and it was live in a few minutes. Unfortunately the graphics didn't convert very well into the ePub format, at least not according to my ePub viewer. I don't know if they will show better on a real e-readers that displays as ePub or not.

Formatted the book for the print version; discovered a couple of graphs are not the current ones so will have to replace them before I upload the file.

Reviewed the draft print cover from my cover designer and approved it, with a couple of suggestions. I'm hoping I receive the final figure today, which will allow me to package everything tonight and upload it tomorrow. I'll order a proof copy, and hopefully will be able to finalize it sometime next week and have the print book for sale before the end of the month.

I put this book in two Kindle categories:
 Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Politics & Current Events > Practical Politics
 Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction >POLITICAL SCIENCE > Political Process > General

I don't know that "Practical Politics" is a good category, but those two sales put it as high as #58 on the bestseller list. I had to take a screen shot of that. I was a few places behind Juan Williams and Noah Chomsky and a few ahead of Mitch Daniel. Obviously they aren't selling many e-books right now.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Nighttime Muse

I've never been one to use the word "muse." I haven't read the applicable Greek mythology to know exactly what the nine (or was it seven) muses were and their purposes. The idea is that a force or forces outside of you drives your creativity. If any force does that for me, it's the triune God.

But of late I've had a little trouble falling asleep, my head full of writing stuff. Normally I'm asleep when my head hits the pillow. It drives Lynda crazy. The melatonin must surge in my veins, and I sleep immediately and well. I might wake up 4:00 to 5:00 AM and have a little trouble getting back and staying asleep after that, but even that's kind of rare. I stay fairly active during waking hours, with my mind if not my body, and I think that aids in sleep.

However for the last week it's taken me 30 minutes to an hour to fall hard asleep. My mind has been full of plot lines of future novels, of re-formatting needed for books just about to be published, of marketing schemes that result in large numbers of sales. Of writers conferences and retreats.

I don't know how long this will last. Hopefully not long, and I will soon return to lights out, mind off, deep slumber. I can't really see how this is helping me get on down the road as a writer/author.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Stringing a Few Good Days Together

I've always though that a key to my losing weight was stringing a few good days together. By that I mean to do all the right things that contribute to weight loss for several days in a row: eating right, exercise, staying active. My experience has been that this works, and results in accelerated weight loss.

That seems to be part of the theory behind Weight Watchers. When I was in the program back in the 1980s the first week was almost draconian, but the weight fell off. It gave incentive to carry on the second week and beyond, when the eating restrictions were slightly eased. I don't know if their current program still follows this pattern. I do know it sure worked for me.

Health wise, I've been able to string together two good—not days, but—weeks. I'm down 10 pounds during that time. My blood sugar readings have almost all been within the normal range for a non-diabetic, never mind for a Type 2. And best of all, my Dawn Phenomenon is almost gone. This is when your morning blood sugar is higher than when you go to bed, and out of the normal range. In theory it should be the other way around. For the last ten days my morning blood sugars have been in the normal range, or very close to it. I hope this better eating helps that to continue.

Part of this has been a slight ratcheting up of my exercise. Normally I don't take a noon walk when the temperatures are above 95, so that I don't sweat and stink afterwards. The temp has been over 95 for a month now. But around July 1 I decided I needed the exercise, so I resumed my noon walks, right after eating. Instead of doing a two laps requiring a full twenty minutes, I just do one lap, at a slower pace. It takes about eleven minutes. I find that's what I can do without having to take a half hour to cool down. I suspect this is also contributing to improved weight and blood sugar.

Which brings me to writing. I think the same principle applies. If you can string a few good days together, by which I mean productive, at the end you will probably be surprised at how much you did. My good days of writing started about June 28, roughly corresponding with my good health days—probably not a coincidence. Since that time I have:

  • Read through The Candy Store Generation twice, made edits, typed the edits, and brought the book to the brink of being self-published. Today I redid a few of the internal graphics. My book formatter won't be available till Wednesday, at which time I'll send him the file for the e-book and have that one up and published by Friday. Then I'll send him the file for the print book and have that submitted by Monday.
  • Did some serious research on expanding The Candy Store Generation in two areas, as recommended by a beta reader. I don't think I'll be able to complete as much research as needed and have the book out in a timely manner. But it has given me an idea for a supplement to TCSG, which might tie-in well with a marketing plan.
  • Completed the writing for the home school edition of Documenting America. Also I typed all but the last five chapters. Came up with a little bit of a marketing strategy for it as well.
  • Wrote another chapter in my humorous workplace series The Gutter Chronicles. I'm sending chapters to a few select people at work, and it's well received so far. Since it parodies a civil engineering firm such as ours, I don't know that it would have wide appeal as an e-book, but I'm thinking about it.
I've also worked a little with my wife as she is re-reading Doctor Luke's Assistant. Since a reader remarked he found a few typos in it, and since she hadn't read it since I made some fairly major revisions, she says it's like a new book. She hasn't found many typos, but even the few she's found need to be corrected and the book uploaded again.

Which leads me to working toward stringing a few good weeks together. Four more weeks like this will find me another 10-15 pounds lighter, three more books self-published, and two more (e-short stories) underway.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Passage in Life

This week our children got together for vacation. One lives in Chicago; the other in Oklahoma City. We are in between, but 45 minutes south of the most direct road between them. This is the second time they've come together. The previous time Charles (and maybe Bis) went to Oklahoma City to see Richard and Sara. This time R&S loaded up their two sons, left the cats in good hands, and made the thirteen hour drive to the northeast. Reports we are seeing on Facebook and hear on the telephone indicate it's going well. Although 4 and 1 year-olds haven't yet grasped the concept of sleeping in while on vacation.

This is a new passage for Lynda and me in that we are not involved in our adult children's vacation. They are getting together without us. Prior year Thanksgiving celebrations have been at our house, with one or both of the kids coming from east and west to gather. We've driven both ways with some frequency, more often to OKC than to Chi-town. But this time they made their plans and didn't ask us to join them.

And that's fine with me. Each year results in a little further distance for them from the nest. The empty nest seems a little emptier. But we survive, and our children march on into a greater distance from their upbringing. That's the way of the world. In The Winds of War, when Warren Henry complained that his family had become a bunch of tumbleweeds scattered by the winds of war, his very wise fiancee, Janet Lacouture, countered yes, and in the scattering new families resulted.

We hope life will give us many years of visits to and from children, grandchildren, in-laws. Maybe next year we can plan to exchange our timeshare in Branson for another week in Branson. We'll drive a mere two hours northeast, cars will leave Chicago and Oklahoma City at the appointed time, and we can all have fun in a fun city. I'll look for situations to put into stories and books, and we'll all relax in the rush of vacation activities. I suppose that's an oxymoron.

Sometimes tumbleweeds all blow out of the same hedgerow and are caught at the same fence, not terribly far away.