Keyboard. Maybe you dictate. Use a pen. A pencil. Point is, I’m back to writing.
(Sort of a shame. That rant last week got a lot of attention. But, anyway.)
Regular readers of this space will have noticed that I post more items from Odd Godfrey than I do from myself. The reason is simple. Leslie is out in the middle of the wide ocean, with plenty of time between watches to compose things. I have stuff to do. (If she reads this, I’ll tell her that some hacker wrote that line.) No, of course she has much to do. Read her post from October 10th if you want to get a better idea. And she writes. A lot. Which brings me to my point.
All of my working life I managed to incorporate writing into whatever job I had. “A newsletter? I’d be happy to make one!” “A new manual for operating the furbermeizer wrangler? Coming right up!” It didn’t matter what the job was, I’d write something about it. In short, I have been a writer for my entire life. I’ve been a serious writer of bald-faced lies for only the past ten years, maybe less. It took me years to learn how to create lies in a manner that people (may) want to pay for. I persist, due to the one piece of advice I hear from every published author I meet: Keep Writing! I do! I do keep writing! Look, I’m writing this as I write! Leslie Godfrey is also a writer. She writes from the vast expanse of the oceans. (Plural oceans. Read her stuff if you wonder why I say that.) If you’re wondering if you’re a writer, here’s a clue. Do you write stuff? Even when you don’t have to write stuff? Do you feel bad when you don’t write the stuff you meant to write, or maybe not on time? If the answer to any of that is “yes,” then, you, madam or sir, are a writer!
I aspire to one day being able to write advice from the point of view of someone who has sold a raft of books. That day hasn’t happened yet, but I keep on writing. So, this may seem like an obvious way to get back on topic after two weeks ranting about disasters and gun control, but this week’s advice is simply this: Close your browser right now, open your word processor, and write something, dammit!
I’ve resisted posting anything here about American politics for a long time. I used to, but then I got serious about writing, and I’ve focused this blog in that direction almost exclusively. <This is not a rant. Sorry.> I have expressed opinions, mainly on Twitter and Facebook (if I post on one, I post on both automatically.) But I’ve tried not to make egregious insults about anybody. Except maybe the President since that Charlottesville incident, but even with him, I’ll say that he volunteered for a job I wouldn’t take for all the gold in Fort Knox, so mostly I’m not going to get personal about him. A lot of people, though, do get very personal indeed, and therein lies the Great American Problem.
See, anybody, be they (to use common pejorative terms) libtard or mouthbreather, (I’ve read both recently) is a person. I am not about to take some limp Liberal stand about freedom to believe whatever you want. That’s obvious. Heck, if you kept it to yourself, you could believe whatever you wanted in Berlin in 1932! What I am saying is that applying those pejoratives is, in itself, a major part of the problem. Libtards are people. Mouthbreathers are people. Black Lives Matter, and those Nazis at Charlottesville are people. The Hispanics in Phoenix are people, the Hopi are people, every single human being is a person, and the only way we are going to get through the current nasty ass situation is to remember that. And yes, in fact, Donald Trump is a person, too.
I am not saying that I’m okay with what Trump does, or what anybody does, but everybody deserves the basic respect that we give to any person. That’s what this country is based upon, and that’s what we all have to remember. Most of Trump’s supporters are not White Supremacists. Most of his supporters are people who don’t believe that they’ve been listened to by the past several administrations. And, yes, they do act against their own best interest at times. So does everybody. They are certainly out of touch with Objective Reality, as are we all.
You want some Objective Reality? Here you go:
We are all, every single one of us, going to die. There is no verifiable evidence that any vestige of life continues for us after we do.
Life is here because of Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics. Without life, things would continue getting more and more complex here on this fine planet. Per those laws, this cannot happen. Life, though, moves complexity along toward entropy, thus obeying a law of nature.
There is nothing verifiably special about humans in comparison with other forms of life. But we do destroy complexity at a brisk pace, don’t we?
That’s all pretty bleak, frankly, and whatever your political views, you spend a lot of time making yourself forget about those facts. Why do you suppose there are vegans? Because eating plants is less likely to remind one of one’s animal nature, and the fragility thereof. Why convince yourself that you’re going to live forever due to intervention by a divine being? Because living forever gets you completely away from those horrible facts!
I made a comment on a post by Facebook God that slammed Trump supporters with a pejorative term. I said “This Doesn’t Help.” And it doesn’t. Trump Supporters are people. The same applies to those slamming “Liberals.” It doesn’t help. We all believe lies that reinforce the way we wish the world to be. We reject any evidence that argues against our world view. What we need now, is a strong dose of moderation. Compromise isn’t evil, it’s how a successful society functions. Nobody gets what they want, but everybody gets something. Yes, that does mean that we all have to live in a less than ideal world. But if we can’t compromise, we may none of us be living at all.
Remember, those people you consider your enemies? They’re people, and you need to treat them with respect.
Being a writer by vocation, I could not do a thing such as attend a class reunion (50th) without connecting everything about the experience to telling lies, er, stories. Fifty years after we graduated, I learned some interesting things. For one thing, my high school was, and is, a mid-century modern masterpiece. See my previous article for details. Also, my old friend Gwen, whose hair I apparently pulled on in a class one year, told me that I seemed taller. I’m not aware of having grown since I was a Senior in High School, but, as I said to her, I have grown in other ways. Out, mostly.
And then there was the shock when Evelyn, who I always liked as a classmate, told me that I “hadn’t changed. Still always laid back.” What? Laid back? I was continuously worried in High School. Was my zipper up? Was I ready for that test? Do my friends really like me? How do I get up the nerve to ask <insert co-ed classmates name here> to a dance? But, according to Evelyn, who I always thought was a decently intelligent girl (she still seems reasonably so) I was “always laid back.” I made a joke (my response to stress) about that being due to a lack of internal energy, but really I was trying to fit that impression into my own impressions of High School life, and my own state of mind during that time.
And thus we have a lesson in Characterization.
Especially if writing for High School age readers, one must remember that your protagonist, or any character, will disagree with everyone else on how they feel or act. In fact, this, I imagine, continues right through one’s life, so that I think that we can expand the target audience and say that any character will disagree with all of the other characters on matters of comportment, feelings, and actions. Okay, you figured that out years ago. Sorry I bothered you. Guess I’ll go back to my little keyboard and punch in some more drab prose . . .
(By the way, is that the proper way to use an ellipsis?) 🙂
See what I mean? My overactive imagination already told me that I’m not saying anything that anyone else hasn’t figured out in their twenties. So, I’m nervous about even posting this article. But, I am going to, because I know that you, dear reader, disagree with me on the value of, well, anything. Something to keep in mind while making up lies about fictional people, huh?
Good manners reflect something from inside – an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self. — Emily Post I slide away Sonrisa’s salon bench cushion, tilt the wooden door panel away and lean in to search through our canned goods stores. It’s hard to reach that
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