Yes, that caption is in Spanish. Be happy this whole post isn’t.
The Encore is the theme of this posting: Commercial Fiction. I’ve written about the topic before, here and in former web presences. But, every few years, I like to go over it. I am inspired at this time by an article my wife shared about Romance Fiction. It was the six reasons people put down Romance Fiction. All six of them were, “They’re Jealous.” Yep.
Commercial Fiction, which of course Romance Fiction is an example of, is fiction meant to sell. When I was in college I knew a number of people, both fellow students and professors, who put down anything meant to sell as somehow inferior to that which was written for some higher purpose. Art, I suppose, or serious social commentary. Whatever. This is a common theme, and one, I believe, exacerbated by jealousy, because Commercial Fiction actually does sell, which makes its authors some money, whereas Art Gratia Artis makes for starving artists. So, yeah, some folks are jealous. But, here’s what I have to say about that.
Will Shakespeare didn’t want to write great literature. He wanted juicy parts for himself and his friends, and to pack the house, because, after all, eventually he owned the theatre. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know that his plays are considered great literature, but that wasn’t his goal. He just wanted to keep doing what he liked doing, and making enough money at it to keep it up. He was a success in life, even though his life wasn’t a particularly long one.
Mark Twain wasn’t trying to create great literature when he wrote Huckleberry Finn. He was trying to show the evils of racism through telling a great story. He didn’t want literature, he wanted to make a living writing stories, and, in spite of some setbacks along the way, he was a success.
I could cite hundreds of examples of this were I so inclined, but I’m going to refrain because this blog features mostly succinct posts. You want a treatise, hit up an academic. I doubt that very many famous artists started out to create great art. What they started out to do was to make a living selling their products. Some times it worked, and some times they starved, or kept lifelong day jobs. But they almost all hoped to live off of their art, whether it was great or not.
And that’s why I write commercial fiction myself. It’s too damned much work not to keep refining it and honing it and tweaking it until somebody is willing to pay me for it. If you’ve tried writing stories, you know that it isn’t an easy thing to do. But, you can make a few bucks (Euros, whatever) at it if you persist. And that, by definition, is Commercial Fiction.
Oops! Whatchyoo mean, oops?!? That line, from an old Bill Cosby Routine, sums up what can happen, and does, with publishing. For example, I wrote a PhD dissertation, back in the days of literal cutting and pasting, and when I got it back from the publishers (all dissertations get published, you know,) I discovered that a line of type had fallen off of one of the pages. If you had the ambition to get a copy of the published work, you’d see that the line does not appear. Nobody has ever commented on that fact, by the way, not even my committee.
In fiction, consider this example from someone I follow on Facebook. Dan Gutman writes books for third graders, amongst other things. He has a series called Rappy the Raptor. In one book, Rappy and his family are taken to the hospital by ambulance. At the end, they are shown driving back in their car. Nobody, not Dan, not his editor, not the publisher, noticed that odd fact (and it is odd, because how did that car get to the hospital to pick them up?) An adult reader pointed it out to Dan, who then posted about it on Facebook. Yeah. Grammar, check! Spelling, check! Good story, check! Impossible plot point? Huh?
My point here is that there will always be an “oops” somewhere in whatever you produce. You proofread, hire editors, use all the tools provided by your word processor, and still something is going to go wrong. In my latest incident, I published an anthology of stories by members of the Las Vegas Writers’ Group, using CreateSpace. CreateSpace sent the files over to Kindle Direct Publishing, which then (taa daa) put the book out in Kindle format. Swell. Except that all of the pages got renumbered, and my table of contents isn’t even close any more. Why? I have no idea. I can, and will, fix it. But, you see, an oops!
So, strive for perfection, but don’t expect it. Do all the proofing and checking you can, and be ready for who-knows-what flaws to crawl out of the published woodwork.
(There are some comments on the picture following the regular post.)
A big part of writing involves actually causing words to appear on paper, or a screen. There are many ways to accomplish that task, but many people use a computer. Some of you use an Apple product, and maybe you think that this post doesn’t apply to you. The truth is, any computer is subject to being hacked, and as Apple products have gained popularity, there are more and more bits of Apple malware out there. You, the Apple user, can protect yourself the same way a Windows user can protect themselves. So, don’t stop reading here, because you may regret it later.
I am moved to write this about the computer tool by the recent wave of Ransom Ware, that encrypts all of your files and says it will give you a key to unencrypt them after you pay a ransom. That’s bad, but there have been, and will be, many other bits of malicious code circulating. Just as washing your hands will keep a biological virus from infecting you, there are things you can to that will keep digital viruses out of your devices. So, rather than discover that your last three years work on that epic novel have been taken from you forever, do the following.
First, back up every bit of your project to an external hard drive, or to one of the many cloud storage services that are available. You can get enough space to store all of the files for a novel for the amazingly low price of absolutely free! That’s right: protection from losing your precious work and it really will cost you nothing! Some places offering free cloud* storage include, but aren’t limited to, Google, Microsoft, Verizon (and other phone companies.) Check around and you’ll find others. If you have too many files, well, get several free storage spots and, as they say in England, Bob’s Your Uncle!
Second, and this is especially true for Windows users, let Microsoft (or Android or whatever) update your computer any time it wants to! (Apple does this automatically, but it never tells you about it.) You can go into your settings and tell your computer to only install the updates, which frequently require a restart, at some time when you’re not going to be using the machine, even to not do so if you are using the machine, but let the updates happen! This is not a case of Microsoft forcing things down your throat, it is a case of preventing (virtually completely) vicious programs from ruining your computer and destroying your book. For example, the recent Ransomware attack was based on a leak of NSA materials that listed weaknesses found in various computer systems. Microsoft patched the weakness allowing that Ransomware to run as soon as they found out about it, as they do for all malware, so if you have been allowing Microsoft to update your system automatically, the people collecting that ransom will get nothing from you. For many, Windows greatest strength is its versatility: you can set it up to do or not do pretty much whatever you wish, including to not update itself. But, don’t not update regularly. Tell your computer to update automatically, at some time when you won’t be using it, and save your work every time you log off. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! Oh, yes, and if you’re using Windows XP, just stop it! You’ll be surprised how cheaply you can get a laptop good enough to use for writing these days. A few hundred bucks, with Windows installed. (The trouble is that XP no longer updates automatically. Convenient, maybe, but dangerous.)
And third, don’t be a schmuck! Don’t click on, or even preview, every email you receive. That’s how these bits of malware get onto your computer: they are hidden in emails that may even look like they’re from somebody you know! If you have no idea why your friend would send you an email with that subject, contact them separately and ask them about it. Chances are, you will discover that they know nothing about it. If you want, you can make a folder for “suspicious emails” and put the ones you can’t identify in that folder until you check it out. And, while I’m at it, never connect to a website you normally deal with from an email. Go there your normal way, and determine if whatever the email is talking about is real or not.
After all, knowing how to write is of little help when your files disappear forever.
“Cloud” is a marketing term for using remote computers for file storage, or even to run programs. It isn’t new, but as storage got cheaper, the marketeers were called in, and “cloud” is the name they came up with. Using computers remotely is, in fact, the entire purpose of the Internet, so “the cloud” is just one way of doing that. It is secure; at least, a lot more secure than that laptop or phone you take with you everywhere and connect to public wireless networks!
** The British Library has a Treasures Room, free to the public, which contains, amongst other things, a copy of the Magna Carta, a First Edition of Shakespeare poetry, the only extant copy of the original Beowulf, and so much more that it fairly made my head spin. If you like books, and I’m guessing you do or you wouldn’t be here, you should visit this library, and soon. Maybe repeatedly. You won’t regret the trip!
While in the E.U., we did take a couple of trains and a bus or two, but for the most part, we did the American (and increasingly European) thing and drove a car. The car we rented was a SEAT Leon, which is not sold in the US or Canada. If it were, we’d be tempted to buy one. It’s made in Spain by a company owned by Volkswagen, which I guess is why they gave us one to drive in Germany. The picture above is the least modern street, road, or highway that we were on during our trip. The alley (which is all I can bring myself to call it) did have a name, but we never did figure out why Google Maps wanted us to take it.
Of course, in Europe, they have what we would call freeways. In fact, what we call a freeway was invented in Germany during the 1930s by Nazis. That’s true, and worth thinking about the next time you’re stuck on the 405, but in any case, we Americans did not invent the things. We encountered some narrow spots, but nothing else this primitive. A typical rural road looks a lot like what’s in this picture:
As you can see, they aren’t big on shoulders. Apparently if you break down, you’re stuck finding a place to pull off. Luckily, we didn’t break down. Most of the miles we drove were spent on one of these:
In Germany, they call this an Autobahn, or Automobile Road. You may have driven on one at some point. At times there is no speed limit on the German Autobahn, but only at times. And even where there normally isn’t one, if the traffic gets too heavy, or it rains too much, speed limit signs magically appear on the overpasses. In Western Germany, it was virtually impossible to go more than 100 miles per hour (161 kph) anyway, and very few people tried. Unlike Americans, Germans tend to be very good drivers, so the lack of speed limits doesn’t cause the sort of chaos it would cause here. (You can’t get a license in Germany without attending an intensive driving school, something which most Americans have never done.)
All of the places I’ve written about up to this point were/are easy to navigate. Other than some amazing hairpin turns in the hills of the Eifel, there isn’t any real challenge, even in that alley, which was, as you may notice, otherwise unoccupied. Most of the problems came in places like this:
This is a street in Heidelberg. It’s typical of the width of a city or village street. What is not typical is that this street is straight and easy to see along. Mostly they are crooked and you get surprised by oncoming traffic. You might think that this is a one-way street, but look at the corners: no do not enter signs. Yep, it’s legal to park along one side of the street, and to drive either direction at the same time. Did I mention that Germans are skilled drivers? It can be done, of course, and without running into a pedestrian.
Villages that crop up along the rural roads present their own challenge. For one thing, the speed limit in a typical village is 50kph, roughly 30mph, In a few cases it’s even less, as low as 10kph, which is just 6 miles per hour. (6.1, technically.) Both Tami and I got caught by camera failing to slow down quickly enough when entering a village. A nuisance, but the fine was only Fifteen Euros, which is just a tad over fifteen dollars at the current exchange rate. (Reportedly, Europe was shooting for parity with the dollar this year, but events intervened.)
And finally, parking. Our first hotel was in a 13th century building, with parking in the courtyard. I could never have exited if other guests hadn’t left first, it was that tight. The Holiday Inn Express we stayed in at Strasbourg was, well, as they say, no surprises. In Luxembourg, we got to circle a large block a bunch of times before we found the lot where we got comped parking. In Frankfurt, it was a weekend, and I was the only one parking a car in a cavernous underground garage beneath our hotel. We had to pay. We visited a lot of parking garages and lots. I have a parking chit from Bitche, France, my grandfather’s old home town, even. But the most interesting was in Cologne, where, as Tami was driving, she left the car in a “Women’s Parking Only” spot in a city garage. Sound weird? Check this out:
So, all-in-all, we did okay. Unlike the first time I drove in England, I didn’t break anything, and neither did Tami. We did get caught speeding, but the fines are modest. And, as I said at the beginning, we did get to drive a really nice car.
And heck, gas is only about nine bucks a gallon! Chump change!
Nope. Nothing here about the South Pacific, or any other ocean. No dinghy’s, no cocktails while watching a sunset. You’ve visited on my weekly writing blog day, so you get to put up with my stuff today.
If you’ve been following the posts I’ve been reposting from Odd Godfrey, you know what I’m talking about. If not, if I were you, I’d check them out. I swear, and I’ve told Leslie Godfrey this, there is a book in that journal she’s keeping. And how could there not be?
This is a post about where to get your ideas. (You knew I’d get to the point eventually, right?) A couple of friends are sailing around the world. They may never write a book about it, even though they should. But, look at the ideas here:
A couple start out on a voyage around the world, only to get caught up in an international scheme to recover treasure from deeply sunken ships (you know, ones down 3000 meters or more) and it turns out that getting involved was a deadly mistake!
A malfunctioning air tank on a scuba outfit delivers a dose of a secret, CIA-developed gas that turns the person breathing it into a true clairvoyant.
She went to the South Pacific to escape her heartbroken past, only to discover a new beginning in the form of a French tax collector.
See? Heck, anything can be the source of an idea. All you have to do is remember the basic story setup: Ordinary person wants something but can’t have it. Ordinary person tries to get it anyway, but keeps getting blocked. Ordinary person tries for so long that ordinary person’s very life in hanging in the balance. Does OP win out in the end? (Probably not.) But does OP end up with something even better? (Probably.) Feel free to run with any of those plot kernels. I have more, trust me!
Well, America, I guess today is election day. Andrew and I are out here in Tonga waiting on pins and needles to hear the result. We voted via absentee ballot, and emailed a tally of our humble opinion earlier in October. We returned to Nieafu today to get some internet access and hear the results. So, now, all we can do is wait. Hopefully, the puppies from Ofu Island will distract all of us for at least few minutes. I also updated the last two posts with photos, don’t forget to scroll back and check it out. ————- The next morning, we have a slow start. We sip our coffee while Andrew whips up the ship’s version of huevos rancheros. A discussion fires up about provisioning and cooking in remote areas. “Yeah, we eat pretty healthy.” Andrew replies, and I scoff. We have a pretty steady diet of bacon, ice cream and beer. Everyone takes note that we are not eating bacon this morning, but I point out there is bacon lard in the refried beans. We clean up dishes, tidy up and raise anchor. We motor back through the reef labyrinth, but Andrew has to stop at “Sand Key” for cocktails and a “snorkumnavigation”. We anchor Sonrisa in the middle of nowhere, hop into Grin with our picnic cooler and slide up on a soft sandy spot that just barely peeks its nose out of the ocean. We enjoy cheese, crackers, almonds, golden raisins and some beers. Andrew climbs into his fins, mask and snorkel, then swims around the sand key. Snorkumnavigation complete. Sailing on, we anchor off a small island named Ofu with a tiny village bearing its same name. We position ourselves for “easy” access to a restaurant on the mainland across the way called Vava’u Villas, known for its vanilla flavored bacon. For bacon eaters, this is a must do Tongan experience. Coffee and Brian were adjusting to “local time”, finding Cruiser’s Midnight (or 9:00 p.m.) becoming harder and harder to reach. So, after listening to the Ofu village sing at their Saturday night church services from Sonrisa’s cockpit, we hit the hay to gather our energy. The next morning we dress up in our finery and ready ourselves for a Bacon Adventure. We have about a mile of ocean and another 300 yards of shallow reef to reach the Bacon. We want to time the tide just right so that we arrive as tide comes in, but leave early enough that there is still enough water over the long reef to ride Grin back out. Otherwise, we will get stuck ashore and have to walk over urchin invested reef. This will never do. We calculate tide times and predict that if we reach our destination by 10:30 a.m, we should have enough water to float up to shore. High tide is at noon, so we should have enough time to eat and then get out before the water drains again. Grin and Kitty start their morning warmup. The four crew members pile in and leave Sonrisa to hold her own. We putter across the expanse of ocean and reach the reef. Kitty motors slowly, uncertain that she can keep her propeller turning weighed down by the four passengers. Andrew shuts her off, tips her up and we take up oar. We paddle, the water barely deep enough to cover the paddle end. Then, as somewhat expected, we hear Grin’s belly scrape the bony (already dead) coral and come to a stop. We can smell bacon in the distance, but the walk is quite far. I look over the side and see tiny black spines everywhere, the menacing urchins just waiting to shimmy their way through our shoes and into our toes. This will not do. We paddle backwards, off the coral and float. I point to the edge of a nearby island with a walkable shoreline dry during all but the highest of tides. “Maybe we can walk along that island and pull Grin in the shallows to our left? It isn’t likely to be covered by urchins.” Andrew grumbles and says no. Looking in the distance, our eyes follow the road from the Villas to the right, where it disappears behind the island blocking our way. We can smell bacon and vanilla. There is a small slot between this little island and the next, just wide enough for a skiff like Grin to pass. To the left of the slot is a small beach. “Maybe we can park Grin on that little beach and get there through by walking over that island?” We paddle Grin to the beach, but the island is a tangle of jungle with no apparent trails or paths. We still have not acquired a machete, as all good islanders must do. So, this plan seems impossible. “Maybe we can take Grin through the little slot and get to the road from the other side?” Andrew suggests. We paddle over to the slot. A little mini rapid is formed as the incoming tide rushes through the slot and into the lagoon behind. We all climb into Grin. I take an oar at the front, and stand so I can see the deep and shallow spots. Andrew takes an oar on the other side at the back. Grin slips into the tide
So, the 2016 MLB season came down to one inning. Which was rain delayed. And it was still anybody’s game until the final out. And while I’m here, congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for finally dumping that curse. In truth, the game reminded me of why I like baseball a lot better than other sports. Leaving aside the issue of the NFL being a non-profit cash cow for people who don’t actually need the money, consider the following.
The last game of the 2016 season truly was anybody’s game until it wasn’t. That is, Yogi Berra was speaking the truth when he famously said, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” I followed the Indians when I lived in Ohio, even went to a game in the old Lakefront stadium once. But a few years ago I adopted the Cubs, going so far as to place pre-season bets on them to win the World Series. Boy, if they’d have done that a few years ago I’d have cleaned up! (As it is I put down $20 to pay $80, so I have a $100 ticket to cash in now. Thanks, guys!) My point being that I was sort of in a win/win situation, absent the hundred bucks, so I was just watching the game. And what a game!
See, in baseball, every player plays both for himself or herself, and for the team. And the real essence of the game is when a pitcher and a hitter face off. Sure, sometimes the runner on first will try to distract the pitcher, but not always. In fact, last night in a late inning, the pitcher deliberately let a runner take second base in order to concentrate on the hitter. What it comes down to is that the one who best fools the other wins the war, so to speak. Both teams were exemplary in doing their jobs. It was a shame to see anybody lose and that’s a fact. In football, if one team is ahead by four touchdowns halfway through the game, you pretty much know who’s going to win. The cubs were up by that ratio going into the middle inning (the 5th, in case you don’t know.) And after that inning, it was a 6-6 tie!
Since I was pulling a tad more for the Cubs (money talks,) I kept thinking about the ’86 Mets, in game 6, down by 2, bottom of the 10th, down to 1 strike. They won. Look it up if you don’t believe me! The entire telecast is available on YouTube. It’s sort of fun just for the commercials. If you prefer, you can find the 10th inning alone by searching YouTube. That was seen as evidence that the “Curse of the Bambino” was still holding.
That curse was said to exist because the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees, who put him in right field instead of using him as a pitcher.
The Cubs also had a curse, now defunct of course. One time a fan had some goats at a game with him (why? you’re asking the wrong guy!) and was asked to take them away because they stunk. He said that the Cubs would never again win a World Series until they allowed goats back in to Wrigley Field. Objectively, that’s hooey. In fact, goats have been cheerfully welcomed, even celebrated, at Wrigley Field since, in an effort to get the curse lifted. But that didn’t work. So what did?
Cubs! Real bear cubs, at Bearizona, in Williams, Arizona. They have been open for about five or six years now, and every year they have had new cubs born. (Sadly, this year’s are probably the last ones.) This year the new cubs were taken to Mesa, Arizona during Spring Training to meet the team. The little cuties were named Rizzo and Cubbie in honor of the boys from Chicago, and the real cubs, it is said, promised that the curse of the goats was a thing of the past. (That was said prior to last night, and no, I’m not making that up.) I guess, if a goat makes your life a bear, get a cub? So, freed of the curse, the Cubs went on to win one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
But, curses? Well, baseball is essentially a mind game. Oh, how I wish somebody had clued me in when I was a child, because at my size, I could’ve probably made a few hits back in the day. But, to end my digression, the outcome of a baseball game is determined more by mentality than athleticism. (Babe Ruth had to hit home runs, because at his size, they were more like “home waddles.”) There are too many factors making up who wins and who loses a baseball game for anyone to ever count them all. So, a curse works, if only because it affects the mind set of the players on the accursed team. Baseball, basically, comes down to fakery.
The pitcher is about to throw a ball your way, at 90 to 100 miles per hour. Due to physical limitations (how fast you can react) you cannot watch the ball. You decide to swing or watch just as the pitcher releases. So, what is he throwing at you? Do you take a big, rising, cut at it and try to dump it in the street behind right field? Do you watch it go by and grin as the umpire says, “ball four?” Well? And the pitcher is wondering similar things about you: what do you like to hit? Are you focused enough? Can he fake you into a swing and a miss, or maybe a nice fly ball that his backups on the field can catch? Well? Well?
And yes, there are boring games. But I’ve seen some pitcher’s duels that had me on the edge of my seat. And once, in St. Louis, I saw a great offensive fake-out. The Cardinal’s heaviest hitter came up and started popping up fouls as high as the lights. This went on and an. The runner on first, who had been tagged trying to steal his first time up, just stood and watched. The defense moved back, back, back, until the First Baseman was essentially in Right Field, and the fielders were on the warning track. After about five minutes of this (no kidding) I knew something was up. But the defense did not. Suddenly, a little dribbling bunt along the right baseline. The catcher was looking somewhere else, as it were, and hesitated just long enough for that hitter to make first base safely. The runner made third. Both scored shortly thereafter, and that won the game. Excellent!
See? No central control on that process. No general dictating what comes next. Just good old American know-how, where everybody knows what needs to be done, and everybody works toward a common goal. That’s the America I grew up loving, and that’s the one that always loved baseball. Football, it seems to me, just hurts people for no reason, and enriches fat cats beyond what is reasonable. If you want to live in peace, a saying goes, live peaceably. We are obsessed, as a nation, with football. We weren’t always, and I think we should consider easing up on our NFL mania. For a further essay on this topic, here is a video of the late George Carlin explaining the difference between football and baseball:
We are anchored out in remote anchorages in Tonga this week. So far, we have had a new anchorage almost every night, and we still have more to go in this beautiful Vava’u Group. When we get back to internet civilization, I will upload some pictures and give you the full scoop. But in the meantime, Tonga has me thinking about our “cruising” days on Lake Mead. So, I thought I might back up and add to the “Learning to Sail” Series of posts that have been neglected for the past four months. July 2008 By July of 2008, we were getting itchy to get a tiller in our own hands, so we started looking on Craig’s list for something to buy. We had met Windchime II once before. After a sailing race in 2007, we took a tour of the boats for sale at the dock. Winnie’s owner at the time had grown too old to take her out sailing anymore, but we weren’t ready to commit. So, instead, she was purchased by another person who happened to be quite helpful. He cleaned out old stuff, installed a fancy battery charger and a new sound system complete with an iPod jack. Then his girlfriend told him he had to sell her because his two other boats, wave runners, four wheelers, and probably a motorcycle or two just weren’t getting enough time and attention. So, when we found her available on Craig’s List again a second time, we were ready. We scheduled a time to walk through her with the owner, met him in the parking lot at the Lake Mead Marina and shook hands. The boards of the Lake Mead Marnia rumpled beneathe our feet as headed her way. Not much for shopping around, Andrew and I were obviously a seller’s market. A tour of a 1976 27 foot O’Day takes all of about five minutes. He showed us around from stern to bow, then turned and looked at us expectantly. $6,000 was his asking price, so I aimed for half. We wheeled and dealed, then settled on a purchase price of $4,000 but without the air conditioner he had installed in the forward hatch. (Air conditioner? Who needs it?) It was the dead heat of a Las Vegas July. We didn’t care. That very same day, were out on the lake, the furnace heat of Lake Mead beating down on us as we pulled out her wrinkled sails and hoisted them to the top of her golden mast. Not a whiff of wind on the water, the sails hung in their crumpled state. We jumped in to swim instead. We poured ourselves two glasses of champagne and poured the rest of the bottle on Winnie’s hull in celebration. We were new boat owners! One step closer to a circumnavigation.
This link is to the latest post from a couple of friends of mine who are sailing around the world. By themselves. On a 30-foot sailboat. It’s a nice boat, all ten meters of it.
if I could get my WordPress blog to post here you’d be seeing all of their stuff. But, I do want to introduce these guys to my newest audience. I’m not sure that I could do what they are doing, and that’s a fact. Check ‘em out!
(WordPress blog readers, please pardon this repeat introduction. You know these guys are worth reading!)