Tuesday, May 27, 2014

James Patterson rails against change

The publishing world is once again in an uproar—or at least the part of it that I pay attention to is. This time it’s Amazon v. Hachette. The issue is the terms of the contract between them. Hachette is the publisher; Amazon is the book distributor. Four years ago Hachette colluded with other publishers and Apple to force Amazon to accept contract terms that resulted in higher prices for e-books. The Justice Department brought suit against those entities for this, and won. As a result, these publishers must renegotiate terms with Amazon on a staggered basis (to guarantee no collusion), and Hachette is first up to bat.

In the last week or two word got out to the press that negotiations aren’t going well. Then Amazon disabled the pre-order buttons for some or all books being published by Hachette. Thus, if some author that you like to read is published by Hachette or its imprints and has a book that will be out soon, you can’t pre-order it. That’s the story as I understand it. No doubt what I’ve heard in the press and on the publishing part of the Blogosphere is a simplistic view.
Various publishing professionals and authors published by Hachette have weighed in, almost universally siding with Hachette. One of these was James Patterson, the most successful author of the last two decades, multi-millionaire, chief of a writing team that puts out his books. He wrote about it here, on his Facebook page. Those four paragraphs have been taken apart and put in an appropriate, sun-less place by people more knowledgeable than me.

For this blog post, I want to concentrate on the last paragraph, and one particular Patterson statement:
If the world of books is going to change to ebooks, so be it. But I think it’s essential that someone steps up and takes responsibility for the future of American literature and the part it plays in our culture. Right now, bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the cross fire of an economic war. If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed—by law, if necessary—immediately, if not sooner.

Look closely at what Patterson is saying. American literature is at stake in the Amazon-Hachette negotiations. As he stated a year or so ago, libraries are endangered, bookstores are endangered, authors are endangered. His solution? A new law is needed, immediately if not sooner. Translation: I have a problem. I don’t like the way my world is changing. Government, step in please with a law to keep my world exactly as it was, or at least don’t let it change any more.

It seems to me that what Patterson is really upset about is that all the changes in publishing are most likely to result in him losing market share. He wants the government to guarantee him an audience. Others have said essentially the same thing, also cloaked in rhetoric. Dan Rather wanted some kind of law to protect the audience of the mainstream media because people *gasp* were getting their news from Fox News Channel and *double gasp* the Blogosphere. Shame!
Patterson believes that libraries are going down the tubes because of e-books. And who was the party mainly responsible for the rise of affordable e-books? Amazon. He believes bookstores are going down the tubes because people find it more convenient and cheaper to buy books on line. And who was the party mainly responsible for the rise of e-commerce concerning books? Amazon. He thinks authors are going down the tubes, though doesn’t state why. I would guess it’s actually trade-published authors he’s referring to, and that they are going down the tubes because they now have competition for market share from a growing list of self-published authors and books. And who is responsible for creating a popular and easy-to-use publishing platform so that those who don’t make it past the trade-publisher gatekeeper system can get their books out to an audience without forking over to a vanity publisher the money they could have spent on a used car or a vacation? Amazon, or course. Amazon is at fault for a trifecta of problems.

So we need laws to protect libraries and bookstores and perhaps authors. Not all authors, though: only those published by the likes of Hachette. Because those published in other ways are destroying American literature and, by extension, American culture.
What utter rubbish. Many people have forever screamed for a government solution to their problems, rather than changing trades or business models. One famous case in antiquity was British boot buckle workers, who asked for a government solution in the 1790s when the Prince of Wales started wearing laced shoes, a nation full of royalty groupies followed suit, and buckle manufacturers and workers fell on hard times because of the buckle-less shoes. And as one famous radio talk show host has said, no doubt a century later the buggy whip manufacturers wanted a government solution when the horseless carriage started to become popular.

Now, a century after that, elements of the publishing industry want a government solution because technology has made possible the paper-less book, which in turn has made more possible the publisher-less author.
I may not fully understand the true and complete purpose of government, but I know it’s not to guarantee wealthy people such as Patterson and Rather an audience.

It seems to me that publishers are doing just fine. It’s bookstores that have been hurt by changes in the industry resulting from technology. But Amazon isn’t to blame. Consumers are. They are buying in a way that’s cheaper and more convenient. Libraries are perhaps hurting, though many are making technology-based changes to serve their “customers,” and are doing well. What about authors? If you look at the complete subset of trade-published authors (A list and midlist and one-timers), I suspect as a group they are being squeezed by their publishers, and have done better in the past. Not being part of that subset I don’t know for sure. But if you look at the full set of authors in this nation, technology-based changes have made things much better for them. They have more books out, sell more copies, don’t care if they sell an e-book or a paperback or a hard cover. They connect with fans. And they are making more money as a complete set than they ever would in the trade publishing world.
The only ways publishers will be hurt by the new world of publishing are: if they fail to embrace and take full advantage of distribution channels that weren’t there two decades ago; or if authors published with them realize they don’t need those publishers and desert them en masse. I don’t see that happening in the next decade. Ten years is more than enough time to adjust your business model without needing a government solution, don’t you think?

As for this demise of American culture, that will have to wait for another post.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Scene by Scene

[It's Friday. I should be posting at the blog on my author site, but it's still broken (see yesterday's post). So I'm posting that here. Perhaps some day I'll figure out how to fix the other site and add this to it.]

Yesterday I taught a noon hour class at the office, on construction administration procedures. Nineteen people attended in the room and more by video conference. It was the fourth and last day of an exercise that I call a construction simulation. I created a construction admin situation (based, actually, on a real world problem that came up some years ago), had people register to participate, then bombarded them with e-mails and letters from a contractor, that contractor's consultant, their developer client, and even for one the contractor's attorney. For three days I was fully engaged in sending and responding to the exercise e-mails sent me by the participants. The class went well, but I was exhausted physically and mentally afterwards.

So at home last night, I heated leftover soup for the wife and me to eat, then we walked our 1.3 mile course, then I sat down at the laptop (because my desktop is still not out of the shop yet; hopefully today) and began typing on Headshots. I had my choice of going back in the manuscript and typing the edits I marked on the last read-through, or working on new material. I chose to do new material, starting a new scene in a new chapter, but in sequence from where I left off last time. I started the evening with the manuscript standing at 72,078 words.

Unfortunately I really labored with the scene. It's set in Sublette, Kansas, and at a farm in Haskell County Kansas, where the hero has just come back home to after another successful baseball season. This is the end game in the novel. Bad things will soon be happening. It's time for the young Mr. Thompson to step up and protect all that is dear to him. Does he have it in him? We'll see, but first I need to get the right mix of bad guys and good guys in position for the climax scene, or maybe scenes—let's call it the climax event. How to get them all there?

I had given this some thought, but not a lot. As I sat at the computer and paused for a moment an idea came to me on how to get one of the bad guys to Sublette. I started typing. Fifty words later I paused again. The idea had run its course. I "shelled out," to use an old computer term, to a mindless computer game for a while. I came back to the scene and wrote another hundred words, then shelled out again. Back and forth I went. I think on one cycle I managed to type 200 words before my brain said "Enough" and I had to quit writing.

What was the problem? The TV was on for a while, on a news channel. But I soon turned that off so I had no distractions. The scene wasn't particularly difficult to write. It was from omniscient point of view, whereas most of the book is third-person limited point of view. It was a healthy mix of narrative and dialog, with no new characters.

I concluded that the problem was mental exhaustion. Too much mental activity over the last few days. Better to finish this one scene as best I could and leave it alone. Edit it later. I did so, finishing in about 50 minutes total, and just over 700 words. After the wife and I started our nightly reading aloud, currently in The Sign of the Four, which is the second Sherlock Holmes novel by A. Conan Doyle. I started off reading it and could barely stay awake.

An hour later we had muddled through one long-ish chapter, punctuated by a couple of breaks to stand up, move around, and get some juices flowing. By 11:00 p.m. I was in bed, earlier than normal. Clearly I was tired.

So, I'm in the end game of Headshots. I have maybe 10,000 more words to write, I think. At 700 words a day that will take about two weeks to finish. Hopefully I can do better than that, especially over this three day weekend. I'd love to be able to post next Tuesday: "First draft is complete!"

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tired of Things Breaking

Good morning, blog readers. Thursday is my day to post here. Looks as if I'm on schedule. But, I won't be posting on my writing blog tomorrow, as is my schedule. Why? It's broken.

You might say that's an odd way to describe a blog, but it's the only work I can think of right now. In fact, it seems that many things I use or rely on are broken at the moment. Some I've written about before, and you could find their stories in blog archives. Since 2010 we've had a series of appliances go bad. One of them, the dishwasher, is holding on. The little door that's supposed to open part way through the wash/rinse cycle won't stay shut. Hence, all our soap goes out in the first wash cycle. The second cycle will be just water. So are our dishes getting clean? They seem to be, but replacing the dishwasher is a proposition measured in a couple of years, not a decade.

I have trees around the house that are broken, in the sense that they need maintenance. I need to contact the tree service we used a few years back and get them out again. A four hundred dollar bill gone. One tree really is broken. It's a dead tree, and I was cutting on it have it make a controlled fall away from the house. Alas, when it was cut much of the way through the wind took it right toward the house. Fortunately it got hung up on another tree. I guess the tree service can get it down too. The septic tank hasn't been pumped for around eight or ten years. It's an oversized tank considering two people live in a four bedroom house, without much company, so we should be able to go a long time. However, there's another three or four hundred soon to depart from my bank account.

But more important than these: My desktop computer is in the shop. It runs on XP, and once Microsoft stopped supporting XP, things started to go bad. Not with typing, using Word or other programs residing on the hard drive. Suddenly no browsers would work. I could still connect to the Internet, because I could access Dropbox, uploading and downloading files there. But web browsing was gone. That meant I couldn't use it to get to either of my blogs, and thus my schedule for blogging would be difficult to keep.

That actually happened shortly before we made our road trip to the east, the night before I think. I put it out of my mind, thinking it was a temporary glitch. When we got back after seven days it still wasn't working. Now it's in the shop, in the queue, waiting it's turn for an OS upgrade and other tune-up activities. Had I known right away it was something that needed work on, I could have taken it in that last day and had it back when we returned. Alas, I wish I'd have thought of that.

What's wrong with my other blog I don't know. It's the entire website, actually, not just the blog. I can see the pages, though at the top of each page is an error line. But I can't log-in to do any work on it or to make a blog post. I was about to upgrade it to the latest Wordpress version. I'm actually only one minor version behind. I also needed to upgrade my theme to the latest version available. But if I can't log-in.... I suppose I'll need to contact Wordpress somehow. I'm not looking forward to it. Not sure why, but I'm just not. I might have a little free time this afternoon to do it, after I teach my noon class.

So all these broken or nearly broken or maintenance requiring things are weighing heavily on me. Maintenance for the homeowner is nothing new. I put a little money away from each paycheck in a maintenance sinking fund, so I have the money available. Still, it's nice having those dollars swelling the bank account. Today or tomorrow I should get the computer back. Next week I think will be the trees. After that will be another stab at the toilet mechanism. Oh, did I not mention that, no matter what I do or how I maintain it, something is always going wrong with the toilet in the master bath?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Writing—but not

This past weekend I was up a little early for a Saturday. I could tell Lynda was in the deepest part of her sleep cycle, and likely wouldn't be up for a while. My desktop computer, which is where I do most of my volume writing, was at the medic (still is) for an operating system transplant and other related computer health issues. All that was available for me to type on was the Dell Inspiron laptop. I don't much like typing on this, or any, laptop. But the house was quiet, I didn't have a lot of outside work to do, so I decided to write away.

I began by rereading a good chunk of the last two chapters I'd written, making a few edits as I went. I took note of two fill-in scenes that were needed. One was already marked as to subject, the other wasn't. What had I intended there? My plans were to read the novel during the weekend, so I put aside trying to figure out what that scene would be and set to writing new material.

An hour and a half later, when Lynda was up and I was reaching a good stopping point, I had about 1,800 words written. That was a good output for that much time, I reckoned. And on a laptop, not a desktop! I was quite pleased, and went outside for my home maintenance tasks, clearing a mound of oak pollen from gutter shields, driveway, and sidewalk; weeding in the rock front yard; clearing deadfall sticks from the front yard; sweeping the garage. Maybe a few more tasks.

After this was lunch. I knew I should walk after that, but all the up and down ladder work getting to the gutters had me tuckered out. I laid my head back in my reading chair and fell asleep. It was only a short nap, and I was ready for the next thing. Lynda was at the laptop, but that was okay, as I thought I should get to my reading. I went to the Florida room, ensconced with my printed manuscript, a box of crackers, and coffee. Two or three hours later I was 100 pages into the 237 page manuscript. I was reading for the purpose of refreshing my mind on the plot. However, if I found a typo I marked it (about 5); if I saw a place indicated for more information I supplied it (if I could); if I encountered awkward wording I edited it.

The evening gave me no chance to get to either writing or manuscript reading, between preparing to teach Life Group lesson the next day and reading aloud with Lynda. Sunday began with church, lunch, and my 3.1 miles walk. After a brief cool-down I was back in the room and at work reading. By 6:30 p.m. I had the full manuscript read and marked, and a pretty good idea of where the plot needed to go. I even had the subject of that other fill-in scene identified.

Alas, Monday night gave me no time to work on the text. Still no desktop so sharing the laptop. We were reading A Study In Scarlet aloud, and were within striking distance of finishing it, so we did. Tonight, hopefully, I'll get back to the writing. When I left off Saturday I was a little over 70,000 total words, with 1,500 of them in what I call the book ending section. I had been thinking all along that this book would be 70,000 to 80,000 words, with the ending section taking up 15,000 to 20,000 of those. I'm not too far off, it seems. Right now I'd guess it will come in around 85,000 words, perhaps a little higher. That will be slightly shorter than the predecessor book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People.

The end is in sight. But I've said that before. I really hoped to have it published by now. Alas, I'm a month or two away still. But it's inching closer. Ideas have gelled for the front cover, and some are starting to come for the back cover.

Yes, the end is in sight.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Finishing Ephesians

I hate it when things break. On this coming Thursday I'll write a post about that. For now I'll just say that my desktop computer at home is in the shop, the laptop is shared between the wife and me, and neither it nor my Nook HD+ are suitable for large scale typing jobs. Hence, after having established a good rhythm in blog posts for a few weeks, last week I wasn't able to keep that up. Now it's Monday morning; I'm at work; and in my pre-work time trying to get my Sunday blog post written.

I was gone from our regular church for two Sundays: one to OKC for grandchildren birthday parties; and one on a road trip across country for a graduation. During that time the co-teacher of our Life Group completed teaching Ephesians. On Saturday he texted me, saying he'd finished it and asking if I was going to teach the next day (it was my week). I was planning on it, and I figured they'd finished Ephesians. So what to teach.

I had been thinking of two different lessons that could be drawn from the whole of Ephesians. One was analyzing Paul's teaching on prayer. The other was summarizing the commands we find in Ephesians. The latter seemed to me difficult to teach, and possibly too repetitive to what had been said in the classes the first time through. But the class on prayer seemed good to me. I had begun preparing it before the road trip, actually, so only had to review my notes.

The basis of this is that Paul teaches about prayer both by instruction and example in Ephesians. Here are the verses in Ephesians that deal with prayer.
  • 1:3 Paul Praises God for the Ephesians. Praise is a form of prayer.
  • 1:15-17 "I have not stopped giving that for you...."
  • 1:18-19a "I keep asking" that God will enlighten the eyes of your heart
  • 3:14-21 Paul's actual prayer for the Ephesians: a wonderful example
  • 5:4 There should be thanksgiving rather than obscenity and foolish talk
  • 5:19-20 "always giving thanks to God...for everything"
  • 6:16 Take up the shield of faith. Any discussion of faith is (or can be) a discussion of prayer
  • 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times. A good instruction for us
  • 6:19-20 Pray for Paul, his boldness to spread the gospel
  • 6:23-24 A doxology and blessing. Such things are prayers
Other verses wrap around these, and can be brought into a prayer discussion.

We had a lively discussion. That's the good think about this group, as far as a teacher's perspective goes. They are always ready to take part in almost any discussion. It makes the work of preparing for the class easier.

I'm going to miss Ephesians. Maybe I'll go through it again for my own purposes, and expand my notes a little. Who knows what I can make of them?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Trying to Write One More Poem

I used to write a lot of poetry. Now, not so much.  Some time around 2008 I laid aside my poet’s quill in favor of a prose keyboard. Up until then I’d been doing both together. But it seemed that my creative juices had dried up as far as poetry is concerned.

While my poems cover a range of topics and forms, including a few free verse attempts, my main work to date is my book Father Daughter Day. It comprises 39 poems that tell the story of a day a dad promised to spend with his daughter, then did so after some hesitation. It’s not a heavy conflict story, but rather a feel good story. The only real conflict is in the two longest poem: one a saga told by a mistral at a state park they visit; the other a whimsical personifications of animals, plants, and rocks at the same park as they watch humans on their turf.
I started this around 2003 (though one or two of the poems pre-dates that; I just didn’t know they would fit into this book) and finished it around 2006. I say finished, because I always planned on adding one to three more poems. Why didn’t I do it right then, in 2006, instead of setting poetry aside in favor of prose? The short answer is I probably should have just kept going. The longer answer relates to those creative juices. I needed to do something else. Who knew that, when the time came to get the last little bit done, eight years would have passed?
Now, since I’ve decided to self-publish FDD without messing with getting it illustrated, the decision on these poems has become critical. How many of these do I actually need to make the story complete? Can I get them done in a reasonable period of time? Will the story be “seamless” with them—or without them? And will they stand alone as well as fit seamlessly into the story?

I’ve about decided I only need one more: a bedside prayer poem by the daughter. I had thought of adding one more by the father (I already have two by him). I have a couple of poems in the daughter’s voice, but not prayers. I think I really need that one, and probably another haiku or cinquain along beside it. I even know what form I want the prayer poem in.
But I can’t seem to write it. I’ve started it multiple times, but never seem to get more than a couple of lines into it before the ideas die. Is it because I’m so distracted by my prose projects that my mind can’t shift to poetry? If so, maybe I just need to get these other works done and up for sale, and then take the time I need for the poem and its book. The problem is there are a hundred prose projects waiting in the wings after I finish these. Who’s to say I’ll ever be able to push them from my mind long enough to concentrate on the poems?

No, I think I need to somehow carve out poetry time in the midst of prose, and somehow get the poem done. Or maybe the lack of inspiration shows I 1) don’t need the poem, or 2) I’ve chosen the wrong form for it. Maybe I need to just write the poem out in prose and see how it sounds, then see if I can write a poem based on the prose. I don’t know for sure what I should do.
What I need is an evening when I’ll be sitting in a City Council meeting, waiting for a presentation our firm will make. I shouldn’t be the presenter, but be there to support the presenter and answer questions if he can’t. We might be sitting there an hour before getting up to speak. While the city fathers drone on with their routine business waiting to get to us, perhaps I can write the prayer out, see what the girl will say in her prayer about the day, where they went, what she did; about her mom and baby brother; about other things. From there, I need some time where I’ll be forced to be away from the computer to see if the poem will flow from that short prose. Yes, I’ll look for these times, then I’ll report back.

Over and out for now.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ephesians 6:10-20 - Weapons of all Kinds for all Kinds of Use

As I stated in a previous post, Ephesians 6:10-20 is a much loved, much preached about Bible passage for Christians. The armor of God. The full armor of God. What Christians need to know to engage in spiritual warfare.

But as I think about it, what are these weapons for? The ones listed, coming from a 1st Century context are:
  • belt of truth
  • breastplate of righteousness
  • feet fitted [i.e. with shoes] with readiness of the gospel
  • shield of faith
  • helmet of salvation
  • sword of the Spirit
  • pray on all occasions
Some might say the admonition to pray isn't tied to a weapon used in those days. Fine, I say, so it's not part of the metaphor, but it's clearly akin to the weapons and belongs in my list.

It occurs to me, and I've heard it used before, that of the weapons listed only the sword is an offensive weapon. Yes, it can be used defensively when one comes after you with intent to harm you, but it's more to inflict harm on someone else. The breastplate, adequate shoes, shield, and helmet are all things to protect you from harm trying to be inflicted by another. I suppose the belt has a defensive function as well, though I think of it more as a place for holding supplies and weapons. Prayer, clearly, is both an offensive and defensive weapon.

So why aren't any offensive weapons listed? Why not the spear, which can be used to harm someone fifty yards away? Why not the bow and arrow, which can be used either against a specific foe in sight and in aiming range or against an unseen foe just over the ridgeline? Why not the catapult? Or the battering ram? I suspect these were all part of the soldier's weaponry in the 1st Century. What kind of battle to the weapons listed prepare us for?

While the soldier fights along side other soldiers in a war, and has the aim of either conquering or defeating would-be conquerors, the Christian generally fights alone. Yes, we are involved in community, who help to boost morale, who feed us, and who sometimes fight alongside, but most battles will happen in solitary moments. And most of the time it will be us being attacked by the forces of evil. Hence, defensive weapons are featured.

But I'm not sure that all the warfare mentioned, or certainly all the warfare we are called on to undertake, is against demons and devils, nor is it all defensive. Are we not told to spread the gospel? To make converts? To teach "them to obey everything I have commanded you"? That has an offensive nature to it. But it's the sort of thing we want to do one on one, in a battle of words and love—a somewhat passive battle, if you will. I hope Christians never do it as the Moslems did, conquering and forcing people to convert to Islam, spreading their religion via the sword, not via love. I know some of that went on in the past, but surely we are way, way beyond that.

In this warfare to spread the kingdom of God via love and words, untargeted offensive weapons have little purpose. I suppose a radio or television broadcast is an untargeted offensive weapon, but I think those do little good in this age. We fight a passive war. Not that we are to be passive, but we are not to wield weapons aggressively or indiscriminately. I'm already long with this post, so I'd better bring this to a close. Rethinking what are wars of the kingdom of God are, and how we are to use these weapons.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Living in a Harry Potter World

A Facebook friend, a woman who I know only through the Internet, from the old Poem Kingdom poetry boards, wrote this on her timeline.
Do not let Muggles (or those who do not understand Time Lords) influence you or sway you from your belief in magic. . .do not let Muggles lead you to forget. . .that you are not a Muggle. . .use those sonic screwdrivers and wands. . .
To which I replied:

Salvio hexia. Repellum Muggles.
It's only in the last six or seven months that I learned what she's talking about. For those of you who've read the Harry Potter books, or even just part of them, you know that Muggle is the name for a non-magical person. There are witches and wizards, and Muggles. My friend is using it in a slightly different way, of course. She's using the term to refer to those who don't believe in magic, in witches and witchcraft, wizards and wizardry. Judging by her FB posts, she's into astrology and a number of similar things.

My reply comes from the last of the books, The Deathly Hallows. The three protagonists are on the run from those who have perverted magic for evil purposes. At each new place they must conjure protective charms around their camp. Those are two of their protective enchantments. I'm not quite sure what they mean (well, the second one is kind of obvious), but it's to ward off the forces of evil magic.

Then, just the other day, also on FB, on a writers group, someone made a reply to a thread, "Well said! Five points for Gryffindor!" Again, Harry Potter readers will recognize the word and the context.

All of which leads me to think about what an amazing thing J.K. Rowling has accomplished with these books. She has created a world, making it a fantasy, yet it is within our own world and parallel to it. The worlds intertwine; they struggle against one another. Those who live in one world know little about the other, unless they go out of their way to study it. Harry Potter, the protagonist, knew only the Muggle world before he learned, on the day he turned 11, that he was a wizard, and into that world he plunged. It seems, some of our world has plunged right along with him.

Is there any parallel to this in literature? I realize that we are still only ten to twenty years removed from the publishing of these books. Time hasn't run its course as far as the popularity of these books. Will people still be talking about Muggles, wands, Hogwarts, and horcruxes forty years from now? The closest thing I can think of in my lifetime is the Star Wars movies (May the force be with you), which has entered our culture in a fairly big way. Tolkien's Middle Earth didn't have this effect. And nothing seems to have carried through from prior generations. I don't recall my parents, both of whom were readers, having dwelled on literary worlds.

So Rowling has set the bar very high for all future writers: to make your work become so ubiquitous that it seeps into the culture at large. There will never be another Harry Potter. But there might be another Star Wars. Or a world so completely captivating as the one in the Dune series (although those books don't seem to have enduring qualities such as the Potter books).

Me? I don't have that high of expectations. Well, perhaps in my very wild dreams, which even I won't acknowledge. I'd settle for a few sales.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Update on "Headshots"

I’m writing this in a word processor, intending to paste it into my blog entry page when I get home. For some reason I’m not able to log into my blog from work any more. I can view it, but I can’t log in. Possibly it’s a temporary glitch on our end, or maybe on Wordpress’s end. Whatever, I’ll write this in Word and see if I can publish it later. [Update: I got home and discovered the problem wasn't with Internet Explorer, because the exact same thing happened when I tried to log in with Chrome. So it appears my other blog, a Wordpress blog, is broken. Not just my blog, but the website as well, because the login is for all of them. So I'm going to post this on my other blog, a day late.]

Work has been very slow of late on my novel-in-progress, Headshots. I’ve written about this in the past, describing the genesis of it, the premise, the difficulties I found in writing a sequel, the struggle to deal with the sagging middle, etc. I realize I don’t have too many fans out there clamoring for the sequel to In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. But a few will be interested.

Headshots stands at about 67,000 words. I last worked on it on April 28th. At that time I completed a couple of fill-in scenes, picking up lost plot threads and advancing them. I feel pretty good about most of those threads. I have one more to go, about a freelance reporter who is kidnapped by the Mafia. I never really resolved her situation, even with two fill-in scenes. I wasn’t sure how to complete that. The way now seems clear, however, and I can use that as a means to tie back into the Mafia guy who ordered her killed, send him into a rage, into his end game.
And, except for that one more fill-in scene, that’s where I’m at: the end game. Ronny Thompson, the protagonist, will finish his second full season in the majors. His injuries prevented him from doing the incredible heroics of his first season, but he still performed well. He has to make the decision on whether to have immediate surgery on his shoulder, or to put it off due to things going on in his home life (Oh how do I say this without revealing the whole plot?). This part of the book is fairly well laid out. I have to gather main characters all in an out of the way place, but I have that figured out. I have to have the protagonist himself cause something that he has to overcome as the major event in the end game, but I’ve figured that out.

So what I’m saying is that from this point on the plot is very clear to me. I think it’s going to take 15,000 to 20,000 words to run it out. That will bring the book in somewhere around 85,000 words, or maybe 90,000. That’s right where FTSP was. That’s a little longer than I expected it to be. I’ll blame it on the freelance reporter.
Unfortunately, except for bits and snatches, life is going to be hectic for the next ten days or so. I don’t really expect to be able to begin work on this section of the book until perhaps May 17th. At that point, I think I can finish it in not more than three weeks.

So when will the book be available? Well, after completion of the first draft, there’s simmering, cover design, two rounds of edits, final typing of those edits, maybe one last read through. Then I’ll have it read by beta readers, perhaps just a couple. Then incorporate what they suggest and publish. Some of these things go on simultaneously, such as the cover design and maybe even the beta reading and the editing. I’m not going to do a launch team with this novel. I found that too difficult with Operation Lotus Sunday. All in all, this comes out to having Headshots for sale sometime around the first of July, or even a week or two after that. That’s two months later than I had originally hoped for, but the best I could do.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ephesians 6:10-20 The Full Armor of God

Our Life Group study of Paul's epistle to the church in Ephesus is drawing to a close. This Sunday we dive into Ephesians 6:10-20. This is one of the most famous and best known passages of scripture: the armor of God. Often the subject of sermons and books, this is loved by all who study their Bible, especially those who dig in with it. I'm going to discuss this over a couple of Sundays.

Just reading this brings back memories. I remember a pastor telling us—not in a sermon—of how when he went to a certain church to interview and do a trial sermon, they had one of the laymen do a scripture reading first. This passage was the one he read. This layman's strong Texas accent sounded funny to the pastor candidate when the man read verse 16: "...with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." Except, in that man's version, it was "the fiery darts of the wicked." The way he said "fiery darts" sounded so funny to this pastor candidate that he burst out laughing, figuring the man was reading it in a funny way for emphasis. He wasn't. That was his normal speech. However, all was forgiven, the pastor was called to that church (before ours) and had a fruitful ministry there.

Then, in the Bible I have at work, I have a couple of notes written in on this chapter. This Bible is a Thompson Chain Reference Bible, New International Version. We bought it in 1980, or at least Lynda did. I believe she got it as a present for me. When I left for Saudi Arabia in June 1981, this is the Bible I took with me. I don't remember if it was in my carry on luggage or checked bags. We were concerned, of course, that it would be confiscated in customs. It wasn't, however, and this was the Bible I used those years in Saudi. It was also the one I took to Kuwait and used there.

The notes are from the Kuwait year, simply the name "Tom Hamblin" followed by "helmet, breastplate, belt, feet, shield, sword, prayer" in a column. This brought back the memories of the exact sermon. It was a Friday, the Moslem weekend worship day. Tom was a guest speaker at the English Language Congregation of the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait. He was quite a character, but a great speaker, very animated but clear in his speech. And a very bold preacher. I remember that, in his week in Kuwait, he actually went out on street corners and stopped Kuwaitis one on one and witnessed to them. He would have been thrown in jail in Saudi Arabia, theoretically in Kuwait too, but since he was a short-term visitor there it was tolerated. Whatever good he did for the Kingdom will not be known this side of the great divide.

Concerning the armor of God, Hamblin stressed we should use the full armor, not pick and choose some part of it. He spent a lot of time on "the belt of truth buckled around your waist," expanding this into what he called "the citadel of the loins," i.e. sexual purity. You know, now that I think about this, I believe this wasn't on Friday. It was a Thursday morning (also a weekend day in Kuwait), and this was at a men's prayer breakfast and class. Tom was telling us how it's not enough to take up the sword of the spirit. The belt might actually include other protective parts such as an athlete would wear. He urged us to keep ourselves pure for our wives. It was an effective sermon.

Interesting how some things stick with you, way down deep in the memories, needing just a little reminder to come to the surface. I remember reading that Jim Elliot, one of the missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in Peru, refused to ever make a note in his Bible so that it would be fresh and new to him each time he read it, rather than reading it and dwelling on past readings made special by notes or underlining. I can see the logic in that. However, the recollection this note brought to me is priceless, and will give me things to think about for quite some time. Eventually, perhaps some other memories of that day and that sermon will come to mind, as well as of our Kuwait years. But for now, it's sufficient to think about the "citadel of the loins" as a valid presentation of one part of the armor of God.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Critical Mass

By the time I finish typing this post, I doubt that I will bring clarity or coherence to the topic of critical mass. It's something I've thought about a lot. The term comes from nuclear science, and is defined as follows in an article in Wikipedia:
A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

It's kind of like a snowball that's rolled downhill. Everyone who's tried it knows that what they show in cartoons doesn't really happen. You don't start with a tiny snowball and it rolls on it's own, picking up snow as it goes along and getting bigger and rolling faster. You have to have a certain mass of snow in the snowball to begin with—snowman-segment-sized—to get the rolling started. That's kind of like critical mass.

I use the term quite a bit in a non-nuclear meaning, for the minimum amount of effort needed to get something going and keep it going. When we're working on a project at work, early efforts are typically slow, or seem slow. Little progress is seen. Then, at some point, the amount of work done reaches "critical mass"; all other activities on the project can be done in rapid succession, and the project zooms to completion. In the workplace training program I'm trying to build, reaching a critical mass of people able and willing to prepare and teach noon hour courses is something I'm looking for. I'd define that as enough people trained and prepared that we could have a class every week without a lot of convincing and cajoling on my part.

"Critical mass" is a valid concept in church growth. You need a certain number people to attract more people. You need a certain number of programs to attract people. You need a certain amount of assimilation going on to keep the people who come to take part in the programs you do to attract more people. Yes, critical mass is a valid concept here.

In terms of writing, I think critical mass applies in the writing of books. They normally start out slowly, build momentum, critical mass kicks in, and are finished in a rush. I know most of my books have been that way, both novels and non-fiction.

It's also true about the writers groups I've been involved with, especially the one I started at church and the one I'm in now. Neither one had or has critical mass. I'd define that as having enough active members (meaning writing something regularly, sharing it, and attending meetings) that meeting makes sense. At church, I learned of several others who either wrote or had a desire to write. I mentioned this to the pastor and offered to start a writing ministry. He said go for it, so I did. A couple of writers in the congregation also had friends in the city who wrote, and they started coming. It got to the point where we had nine or ten on our roster, and six of us were attending either regularly or close enough to regularly that we anticipated they would attend a meeting and weren't surprised to see them. I thought we were at critical mass, and would a sustaining group.

Alas, I was wrong. One person dropped out, a regular became irregular, and suddenly it was two of us meeting, sometimes just me. We weren't at critical mass after all, we were just below it. After two or three "meetings" of being the only person present, I folded the group.

My current writing group is headed in the same direction, I'm afraid. We have eight people on the roster, plus one man's name who a member says is intending to come. We had nine, but it turned out one of those names was a woman who came only once, sometime before I started, and never came back. So I deleted her from the roster. Am I the leader of the group? Not really. Another woman was, but she quit coming shortly after I started. We floundered for a while without someone to facilitate discussions of meeting days, times, and places, so I stepped up and just started being the leader. No one objected. We settled on a meeting day, time, and I found us a place. We had four people coming regularly, one coming some, and everyone was talking to each other.

Now, evening work has taken two of our members away on meeting nights. One does taxes, and won't come back till after tax season, sometime later in May. Another may be back when the school semester is over. Another, a retired woman, no longer replies to e-mails. I don't know what's up with her, though I know her husband has some health problems. Two meetings ago I knew two members were going to be away, but not having heard from two others I showed up. I was the only one there. The last meeting I had an evening meeting. I alerted the group that I wouldn't be there, and they didn't meet. I'm going to miss the next meeting also, due to travel. Alas, we don't have critical mass to keep the meeting going when one or two people are gone.

I suspect this group will die as well. We might limp on through the summer, depending on how many are traveling, but I don't really anticipate it will survive. Critical mass is just too hard to come by with writers groups.