Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Vacation

I had hoped to post the last couple of days, but haven't. We are on vacation, suffering through three straight days of rain. Today we went to church, then back to the hotel and just relaxing. We might go to a movie this evening, as we did yesterday evening. Or maybe we'll just watch TV in the room. Heck of a vacation.

Well, the sun just broke out, though it has a couple of times earlier today.

I'll be back in a few days.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Long Live the Critique Group

It appears that BNC Writers is dead. So far this year we have had about eighteen meetings. Twice we had three people attend. Three or four times we had only one attend—me as the leader. The rest of the time we had only two. Bessie and I used those times to good advantage. We worked on her missions book, intended to be one of the six annual books for our denomination. Last week we put the finishing touches on her proposal and three sample chapters. The rest of her book is done, subject to minor tweaking and formatting. Also during these times I read chapters from several things I was working on.

But a group of two isn't much of a critique group. Three is immensely better than two. Even Bessie, a very new writer, noticed that it was always better when we had three or more people in attendance.

I started the group back in early 2011. I had lunch with our then-new pastor, Mark, and asked him if he had any objection to me trying to start a writing ministry at church. I thought we would have a core group, as I had already talked with four people about it, and they all showed some degree of interest.

Alas, one can only continue to pump time into a losing effort. With Bessie's book essentially done, and with her not having anything else to share at the moment, it doesn't make sense to tie up two Monday evenings a month for a critique group that barely exists. Bessie and I can continue to share stories and chapters as we have them complete, without needed to formally meet.

We had fifteen people on our mailing list, including four people who didn't attend our church. Seven of those attended at least one meeting in the eighteen months we met. Those four I talked to before approaching the pastor with the idea never attended a meeting. They never promised to, though they all expressed interest in advancing their writing.

After our last meeting on September 17, I sent an e-mail out to the mailing list, suggesting that maybe we didn't need to maintain BNC Writers anymore. Only Bessie responded. To state the cliche, the silence told more than responses would have.

So I guess I'll lay low for a while, keep writing, keep self-publishing, and looking toward the future. Whether a different critique group is in my future remains to be seen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

Once again, our pastor gave a powerful message on finding meaning in ordinary occupations. He used the biblical examples of the calling of the fishermen in Luke chapter 5, and the two callings of Matthew (Levi) and Zaccheus for illustrations of the principles.

The fishermen had a mundane career, with some danger involved. Their business was taking something that was alive, catching and killing it and making it available for consumption. After Jesus called them, their job was just the opposite: rescuing things from death and helping them to have a relationship with the Giver of Life.

In the case of Zaccheus, his job was to collaborate with the hated Romans, collecting taxes from them and profiting from the corruption of the system. Zaccheus was essentially an extortionist to his fellow Jews. He met Jesus, and his life was changed. Who did Zaccheus need to help him on his new journey? Someone like Matthew, who had made the same journey a couple of years before. He had the same profession as Zaccheus, found Jesus, and had walked with him a while when that man came under the influence of the Master.

Pastor Mark's message was how do you know but that the calling you have, in a non-ministerial position, will have a huge influence over people's spiritual lives? He gave the example of a man in his former church who was sure he had a later-in-life call to preach. It turned out, after wise counsel, that he had vocational and avocational opportunities for ministry that he wasn't taking advantage of.

Good thoughts from our pastor.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Marking Time

I was planning on blogging here Sunday, but didn't. I would have told what a great service we had Sunday with guest speaker Don Soderquist, former COO of Wal-Mart.

I didn't blog anywhere yesterday. Had writers group and, well, got home afterwards realizing the group is essentially dead. That didn't exactly raise my spirits, and I didn't do much last night.

Haven't done much tonight, except watch the Criminal Minds team catch the bad guys for three straight hours--or was it four?

Waiting on a corrected cover before I can publish my short story. Waiting on a different cover before I really want to push my latest novel. Waiting on a sense of direction before I begin my next writing work. I'd write an article for Decoded Science, but the editor really prefers news articles. I don't do journalism, so I'm not sure I have much of a future there. I should send her an e-mail.

Waiting on a book sale; any book sale. Waiting on Amazon to straighten out my sales tally, which appears to have been stuck since Sept 8 (according to a notice on my Author Central page). Waiting on Goodreads to tell me how to add a book to my list of publications.

Today I wrote an e-mail to my nephews, a story about the days of our growing up in Cranston. The boys (heck, they're men now) asked me to tell them some of the stories. Their dad (my brother, now deceased) never told many stories. My own children have led lives far away from Cranston, and at this time appear to have no interest. So every week or so, as the spirit moves me, I write them an e-mail with a story. And I heard back from one of them already.

Guess I'll head to bed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One Blog or Two?

I set this blog up in December 2007, with the help of my son-in-law. I didn't have any real goal in mind other than to have a web presence. I knew that a wannabe author should have that, but I wasn't sure I was ready to have an author web site. So An Arrow Through the Air became my web presence.

In June 2011, with the help of my son, I set up an author's web site. He recommended I have a blog with it, which made sense. A blog is nothing more than an interactive web page, he explained, while other pages are static. So he set up the blog page, ported over all the posts and comments from this blog, and I had two blogs. Easy-peasy.

I set about trying to differentiate the two blogs, even though they contained the same history of posts. The blog at would be my writer's blog, discussing what I was writing, how my "career" was going, maybe discussing writing techniques I was using. This blog would become more general, discussing life, liberty, and the pursuit of all things I pursue in life.

This conformed with the prevailing wisdom that a blog should be focused. Don't go discussing sports on a political blog. Don't discuss writing on a foodies blog. Makes sense. So my two blogs proceeded, a couple to a few posts a week each, like two paths diverging in a yellow wood, yet never losing sight of each other. I've never felt that I have truly achieved two very different blogs. Maybe that's because I'm too close to them. Possibly readers would find them more different than I do.

But then author and social media maven Kristen Lamb goes and writes a post like this, When Do Writers Need Multiple Blogs? She gave her answer in the first paragraph: "Um...never." Have one blog and blog about all your interests on it. Her reasoning for this advice: time. Since most writers have day jobs and families and homes to operate and maintain, two blogs is too much work. Put all your posts on one blog, she says. Trust your readers to read the posts they're interested in a skip over the rest.

No, I'm not thinking of closing down this blog, nor my other one. I find it interesting how expert advice from multiple experts can be so opposite. One says, "Establish a thematic blog that documents and promotes your brand. If you have other interests not related to your brand, start another blog for that." A second expert says, "Your brand is everything you do. Keep it all on one blog. Blog about one thing one day, another thing another day. Trust your readers to sort it all out."

I must admit that at present the first expert makes a little more sense, though I'm not dismissing the second expert. I probably need to try harder to differentiate my two blogs. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but I've been on a somewhat more regular schedule for blog posts, using alternate days: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday for AATTA; and Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for DAT. I don't know how long I'll keep that up, but I'm trying to be disciplined enough to maintain that schedule.

I'll keep Kristen Lamb's advice at hand, but keep the two blogs for now. We'll see what the future holds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Authors Gaming the System

In recent days the publishing industry has learned how three authors have "gamed" the system, as I call it. They are:
  • John Locke is one of the darlings of the self-publishing crowd. He wrote a number of books, published them in rapid succession, priced them at $0.99 for an e-book, and sold a million e-books in a few months. He then published "How I Sold a Million e-Books in Five Months", which sold a ton of books. What he conveniently left out of that memoir/instruction book was that he spent thousands of dollars to buy reviews on Amazon. You can read about it here. [link may expire]
  • Stephen Leather is an author I don't know. He's admitted to using sock puppets (see his comments in this thread) to post reviews on Amazon. For those who don't know, a sock puppet is Internet-speak for someone who posts to a site/forum/list under multiple identities, thus disguising who he is. It's different than simply remaining anonymous, since multiple identities are involved. Sock puppets are typically use to promote yourself while appearing to be a different person. They can also be used to denigrate your opposition or competition, or to get around being banned from a site.
  • Roger Ellory (writes as R.J. Ellory) is also guilty of practicing sock puppetry, praising his own books and denigrating others. Here's a compilation of tweets about it (language warning). This story has had a lot of legs, and finding more comprehensive, paragraph-organized posts about it should be easy with a search engine.
What does all this mean? That self-published authors have figured out how to game the Amazon system to sell more books? Looks that way. The self-publishing part of the Internet is abuzz with this, as is some of the trade publishing I-zone. After all, Ellory is a trade-published author, yet he stoops to sock puppetry. Shameful!

This paints self-publishing in a bad light, but it also taints trade publishing. It seems authors in both camps may behave badly. Locke's ethical downfall is probably the greater, though some may disagree.

This comes down to ethics vs. law. As I've said before in different venues, the law defines the lowest level of behavior deemed acceptable to society. Ethics describes a standard higher than the law, to which a person ascribes in order to be a better member of society. These three authors have followed the law (though there is a question of whether or not the sock puppetteering violates Amazon terms of service, which is an ethical behavior/sort-of-law to which they agreed).

To make a long story short, only once have I solicited a review. That was to a man I know who said he'd read one of my books and liked it, and I asked him if he would post a review at Amazon. He said he would, though he hasn't yet. I don't ever plan on soliciting reviews. My books will rise or sink based on the judgment of the marketplace, without interference from me other than typical marketing and sales activities.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Finding Meaning in the Ordinary

When you've sat through a few decades of sermons, it's easy to tune them out, to be sitting in the sanctuary and have your mind elsewhere. I've been lucky that I've had pastors who are excellent preachers, who brought the word of God with power and in interesting ways.

Today was no exception. Pastor Mark Snodgrass began by discussing what it meant to be ordinary. He gave the results of his Googling his own name, and displaying pictures of other people named Mark Snodgrass. One man was residing in a facility of the California Dept. of Corrections. [An aside: I've done the same thing and found a David A. Todd incarcerated in Pennsylvania] Then he told a number of ordinary things about his life.

Then, based on Colossians 3, he showed us how to find glory in the ordinary things we do every day. He even did it with some unintended humor. One of his illustrations was about a job he had in college, being monitor of the computer lab. He said he really had only three duties: help people log on, help people heck their e-mail, and keep the printer stocked with paper. He made the point of how ordinary this was. But twice, when he meant to say paper in the printer, he said, "printer in the paper." The congregation snickered, though I don't think he understood we weren't laughing at his illustration but at his misspeaking.

So this week I will be looking for meaning and glory in the ordinary. As I look ahead to the workweek, it looks pretty ordinary to me. No special meetings. No travel. Be in the office and manage the company's training. I have a few special items to handle, but not just a few, and they shouldn't be time consuming.

In my writing, I hope to be publishing a short story, "Whiskey, Zebra, Tango", this week. At some point publishing will become ordinary, but not yet. But I don't anticipate doing a lot of writing on new works; well, maybe on a couple of articles. But overall you could say this will be an ordinary week for writing as well.

So, I hope next Sunday to come back and report on whether there was meaning and glory in the ordinary. I think there will be.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Kind of Book Reader Am I

I can't remember where I picked up this article. From a link on a writing blog, I know, but which one. Give me a minute to do some searching...

...Okay, found it. Not at the blog I expected. I did a Google search for "What Kind of Book Reader Are You?", and found this article at the Atlantic Wire. This isn't about the type of books people like to read, the genre or subject matter. Rather it's about how someone relates to books. The article lists these types of readers.

The Hate Reader

The Chronological Reader

The Book Buster

Delayed Onset Reader #1

Delayed Onset Reader #2

The Bookophile

The Anti-Reader

The Cross-Under

The Multi-Tasker

The Sleepy Bedtime Reader

These are not all self-explanatory. The hate reader claims to hate reading, but deep down loves it. The chronological reader reads books in the order purchased. Neither of these are me. I love to read, and admit it. And I don't worry about the order I read in. I try to mix fiction with non-fiction, and break down my non-fiction reading among self-help, writing books, Christian books, and a few others. But except for that, I read whatever piques my interest at the moment. If I buy a new book it is likely to go to the top of the reading pile, even if that pile has twenty books in it.

The book buster is close to me: "home strewn with books scattered about, this way and that," except I don't do the unintentional book destruction part described in the article. The D-O #1 is also close to me: buying more books than I can possibly read in my busy life, and reading fewer than actually come in the house. That's definitely me. The D-O #2 is NOT me. That is a book displayer, not really a reader. Yes, I display my books, but I read them too.

The bookophile loves books and reads them, but actually loves the book more than the reading. No, that is definitely not me. I love to read, and I don't care if it's a magazine, a flyer, a comic book, a short story, or what it is. Give me something to read, to while away the hours, or even the otherwise idle fifteen minutes, when I'm not working, writing, sleeping, maintaining what I must maintain. Er, I guess that's not a lot of reading time.

The anti-reader is close kin to the hate reader. Not me. The cross-under reads books not really intended for their age group. Not me, though I will, at some point, take in the Harry Potter series. And I'm definitely not the sleepy bedtime reader. Reading in bed just doesn't work for me.

That leaves the multi-tasker, which the article defines this way: are a promiscuous reader, but it's not that you don't finish reads. Instead, you just have a sort of hippie reading way about you, free love or some such. You might start the day out with a few pages from one novelist, then read something entirely different on the subway, and when you come home from work, another work as well.

That is definitely me, though I shudder to be associated with the hippies. I'm glad my promiscuity is directed toward books, and not the other.

How about you? What kind of reader are you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No Hope

I don't usually cover political topics on this blog. When I get the urge to write about politics, I either post on my friend's political blog or I write a book, such as The Candy Store Generation. However, a thought has been running through my mind lately, and I want to write about it. This blog seems to me to be the correct venue. And maybe the topic is more sociological than it is political.

I'm thinking about the rash of shootings of late in the United States. This past week it was the workplace shooting in (maybe) New Jersey. Before that it was the shooting near the Empire State Building in New York City. Before that it was six killed at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Before that it was the theatre shooting in Colorado. The news has been full of people being killed and maimed by gunfire.

But hasn't it always been that way? How many people are shot and killed every day in our country, murders we hear nothing about? I'm sure there are many. Yet these happen in the non-usual places to victims who seem, if not random, at least undeserving of the fate they received. A gang shooting in NYC? Ho hum, nothing unusual, we won't cover it. Another murder in Chicago? Not newsworthy, unless it's a bunch of them clustered on a weekend.

Are these recent high-profile shootings indicative of anything? I have a theory about it. To set up the theory, I first need to go back to 1994. I wrote about this somewhere before, probably on The Senescent Man blog, but I'll do it here. I'm doing this from memory, not research or statistics, but my memory of this is clear. As 1994 unfolded, the murder rate throughout the nation was up. NYC and Chicago were heading towards record years. Little Rock was, by the time November 1 rolled around, within just a couple of the record and were clearly going to break it. In major city after major city, the story was the same.

Then suddenly, the murders stopped. I don't know the exact situation in all cities, but in Little Rock there were almost no murders for the rest of the year. I'm pretty sure they didn't break the record. In most cities in the USA the story was the same. A very high rate from January through October, then a sudden and significant drop in November and December. What had happened to cause this?

Remember the mid-term elections of 1994? The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives (for the first time since 1952) and of the Senate (for the first election since 1986). This was the first time since the 1920s that they were the majority party in both houses of Congress. The president was the Democrat Bill Clinton.

As the murder rate dropped to near zero during this lame duck period, when the Democrats were licking their wounds and the Republicans were gearing up to lead Congress, I heard the news reports about the drop in the murder rate and wondered why. And I heard no commentary about it on the news, which was mostly network news at the time. Could the two event—the drop in the murder rate and the new party taking control of Congress—be related?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that someone who planned on killing his ex-girlfriend's new lover came to his senses and said, "Oh, the Republicans took control of Congress. I guess I won't waste the dude after all." No, that's not what I'm saying. But it seems to me that the two may be related. If so, what could it be?

I decided that perhaps the election of new majorities in Congress gave people reason to hope that things would get better. A change is as good as a holiday. Maybe a change brings hope. No one could be sure what the new Congress would do. They would be on the opposite side of the fence from the president. Gridlock might result. But maybe gridlock would actually be a good thing. I don't know what people were thinking. But the Republicans were elected, the Congress would be made up as it hadn't been for about 70 years, and the murder rate dropped. I think they were somehow related, and the cause was renewed hope. While perhaps no one verbalized this, or even internalized this, I believe people felt a new sense of hope for a better future. When you have hope for the future, you are less likely to put a gun to someones head and pull the trigger.

Today, it seems that hope is waning in America. It might be the economy, which is now in the fourth or fifth year of a downturn/recession/depression/panic/anemic recovery/however you wish to categorize it. The news is filled with the acrimony between parties, the invectives Alexander Hamilton wrote about so long ago. I see lots of room for hope to tank, to be replaced by despair and loathing.

I don't know, maybe this is all foolish speculation on my part, but that's how I see it. America has lost hope. Any comments?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Two Eternal Types in Fiction – Part 2

About a week ago I wrote a blog post about the two eternal types in fiction; that is, the two types of heroes. Rather than repeat what I mean by that, I'll just link to that post. I meant to come back to that, but a week of busyness prevented me. I'm here now, ready to discuss Mr. Mabie's article.

Quoting from the article:
When primitive man looked into their hearts and their experience they found their deepest hopes, longings, and possibilities bound up and worked out in two careers: the career of the hero and the career of the wanderer. These two figures became the commanding types of all the nobler mythologies because they symbolized what was best, deepest, and most real in human nature and life. They represent the possible reach and the occasional achievement of the human soul; they stand for that which is potential as well as for that which is actual in human experience. Few men achieve or experience on a great scale, but these few are typical and are, therefore, transcendent in interest.
Now, I realize that just because this found it's way into a magazine article on literary criticism in 1895 doesn't make it true. I first read this to say there are only two types of protagonists in fiction: the hero and the wanderer. I kind of bristled at that at first, thinking to to be an over-simplification. However, I realize now that Mabie is not saying these are the only two types of heroes, but that these became the dominant ones.

I don't suppose he's saying the wanderer can't be a hero. He's saying a hero either stays at home, or he wanders, doing his hero activities in either case. That sounds reasonable to me, and makes me wonder how my heroes/heroines should be classified. Ronny Thompson from In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People probably classifies as a non-wandering hero. Although he leaves his native Haskell County, Kansas, to play major league baseball in Chicago, which takes him to many cities, he is a stay at home kind of guy. His thoughts are always on home, and he struggles with the thought that his dad is there working the farm alone. For him to say he's not going home during the off-season is a major step.

Augustus in Doctor Luke's Assistant is also a stay-at-home hero. He loses his job in Jerusalem and finds another one right there. Despite trips to Galilee and Judean villages, his thoughts are always on home. On the other hand, Luke is clearly a wanderer. He had been with Paul on travels throughout the eastern Mediterranean area, and with little more than knowing a need that a book must be written, picks up and embarks for Israel to see the project through.

What will my future books hold? The sequel to FTSP will involve the same heroes and villains. The sequel to DLA (which I haven't talked about yet and which at this point exists only as a mental outline) will introduce Augustus' sons, one of whom is a hero and the other a wanderer. In China Tour (which I haven't said much about, and which at this point exists only as a mental outline), the male protagonist is a wanderer, but I think his character arc will take him to the point of being a stay-at-home hero.

The years will be interesting, as I ponder Mabrie's theory and see how it applies to my own writing. I don't know if I will wind up agreeing or disagreeing as time goes on.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Pleasant Sunday

What has gone right today?
  • We got to church on time.
  • I remembered to write and bring a tithe check for some writing and other miscellaneous earnings.
  • Our pastor preached a wonderful sermon on the power of prayer, from James 5, tying in passages from Revelation, and pointing out things I hadn't thought of before. Despite attendance being down due to the holiday weekend, I was encouraged by the service.
  • We had a good Life Group session. Again, attendance was down, so we talked a long time of just talking before getting into the lesson. That was short, but good.
  • Lynda and I ate out with her mom; Famous Dave's bar-b-que, quite delicious.
  • While the ladies went shopping for shoes, I walked over to Barnes & Noble and had a nice time of browsing, reading in a newish book about Robert Frost, and drinking a venti house blend.
  • And now I'm in The Dungeon, writing blog posts, and preparing to work on an e-zine article.
  • I also spent a little time on my household budget, on which I'm desperately far behind.
  • And I have the day off tomorrow.
What has gone wrong today?

Actually, I can't think of anything. It's a bit too hot to walk, at least comfortably, so I suppose that's a negative. I've wasted a little time playing mindless computer games, but it has been restful recreation. I probably read a little too much on Facebook, also restful recreation.

I don't think I'll finish the e-zine article today, but I'll make a start on it. There's no deadline. I promised the editor I'd write a few articles for her, and it's time to fulfill my promise, since I'm between other writing projects. Other than that, if I spend any time writing today, it will actually be on promotion of the works I have already published.

To close out the good day, a couple—no, actually three—book await me to read a few more pages in them. What a great way to close out a wonderful Lord's Day.