Sunday, November 29, 2015


I wear a hat these days on my bench rounds to keep the sun off. I think it’s called a fatigue hat: a soft crown and floppy brim, olive drab. For some reason, the manufacturer incorporated two little zipper pockets at the base of the crown. I have no idea what they were originally intended for, but I use them to carry peanuts for the squirrels I meet on my walks.

If you’re inclined to assign human attributes to animals, squirrels are among our best citizens. Thrifty and hardworking, they seem to be tending to business all the time, and always hurrying. You never see one just strolling around; they’re purposeful -- the animal world’s equivalent of real estate agents.

I’m always surprised to meet people, and there are some among us, who consider squirrels to be no better than rats. (I wonder if the rats aren’t even getting a bad rap. They help us out a lot in pharmaceutical laboratories.) They’re usually people who don’t like having any animals around. But it balances out: I don’t like those people being around.

I feed the squirrels, but surreptitiously, because it’s against the rules here. The thinking is that you’re fattening them up for the coyotes, and the better the hunting the more coyotes, the longer they’ll stay, and the more residents’ chihuahas will disappear.

I can’t refute that. But watching our squirrels go up trees, I’d think a coyote would have to surprise one out in open ground, and even then would have to be pretty fast on his feet to catch one. The little guys are no slouches as they ripple across the ground. I notice, too, that they’ll stay in the shade as much as possible, where their coloring gives them some protection. There is another threat, however; this week’s newspaper reports, with photo, the death of a squirrel by red-tailed hawk. The hawks come over from the nearby fields occasionally, probably when they tire of an all-rabbit diet.  

I have wondered why there are times when our squirrels are out in numbers and other times when they’re nowhere to be seen. Not trying to make it a scientific inquiry, but what would be the parameters that would correlate with those phenomena? Cooling weather? Shortening days? Fruit ripening? Arrival of pensioners with trick hats? 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Publish Electronically

It's an ironic turn of fate. I find myself now involved in electronic publishing; that’s what the new self-publishing process I’m entering into is about. It’s completely new to me, but then just about anything electronic is.

My views on self-publishing, as noted in a previous post, have had to be revised, but surprisingly not as radically as I thought. I had equated all self-publishing with “vanity” publishing, but that turns out not to be the case. Vanity publishing required the author to pay to have his work produced, which I vowed I would never do.

It turns out that the service I now intend to use -- Smashwords -- enables an author to format the work for viewing on electronic devices but doesn’t charge anything to do it. The practical result of their process is that readers on any kind of digital “platform” will be able to read it once it’s posted online in Smashwords’ catalog.

The more important result is that the work is put out there before the world -- visibility that could not have been achieved without some substantial investment of money or unimaginable amount of effort and luck. Readers decide to buy or not; the words stand or fall on their merit. Any proceeds from sales go to the author less a small commission -- a better deal than conventional publishing would offer.

 Of course there is a substantial investment: the thought and effort and hope that went into the writing, and there is the possibility that an author will find that no one cares. With the audience now being world-wide, rejection can be total. I could find that no one in the whole world likes what I’ve written. It’s something to think about. Smashwords doesn’t edit the work, so the result -- best-sellerdom (unlikely) or continuing obscurity (a strong possibility) -- will be entirely my own doing.

Books that do go on to success are more than just well-written; they’re promoted. Promotion is up to the author, so in a sense getting published is only Step 1. If an author can’t or doesn’t promote his or her work it’s probably not going anywhere.

However, there is a promotional technique that’s effortless and requires no talent: the free sample. “Free” greatly increases chances that people will look at anything, and if that first 20 or so pages are interesting, a book can begin to be noticed. 

I know I talked dismissively about vanity authors' depending on family for readership, but I'm going to alert all my nieces and my nephews and my cousins and my aunts when the book hits the electronic market. Build a little momentum and then, when readers are desperate to know whether Animal Rights win or lose in the climactic courtroom scene, sock it to `em; it'll cost $2.99 to find out, and I'll be on my way. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Gentle Leg-Pull

The short story writers' group I've joined is headquartered in the UK, as I think        I mentioned. Their physical address is The Old School House, Ivinghoe Aston, Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 9DP. It doesn't get any more UK than that. 

We don’t have addresses like that, I don’t think, or anyway not where I grew up.     It was mostly numbers and letters there, with the exception of  “Washington” applied to The Heights, two bridges, and the high school, commemorating the Revolutionary War battles fought (against our friends the English) in the area.

Among the impressions I get from the conversations members post on the site is that it must rain a lot in Scotland. Makes me feel almost guilty here in Southern California on a November afternoon with the temperature a sunny -- but that would be unkind. Besides, weather that keeps you indoors may well inspire better writing. A lot more good stuff has come out of Scotland than out of Orange County California, although I’m working at remedying that.

The group’s purpose is mutual help for some writers who haven’t hit the big time yet, and I can use all the help I can get, transiting from fact (tech writing, business articles) to fiction. A particularly fitting analogy, I think: it’s like an auto mechanic switching from Detroit cars to one of the European models. You can identify the components alright, but your old wrenches aren’t right any more; the specs are in different units. You need a new set of tools to do the work.

There are many other members in the US besides me. I don’t know if it’s true for them, but I find myself working at accommodating to English expressions and sensibilities (like mentioning the Revolutionary War?). I’ve learned that a supermarket cart (US) is a trolley, UK, and  I was already calling walkers Zimmer Frames. Also I’ve decided not to send my Fourth of July story for the in-house contest; I don’t think it would resonate as it would for a purely US audience. Besides, it commemorates Independence Day.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Novel Resurrected, Maybe

Two posts down I was doing “Streets of Laredo” over my novel: one last bouquet and I let the clods fall. Here two weeks later that’s all changed, thanks to some new-found friends in a new-found writers’ group. Happens to be hosted in the UK, but most of the stuff translates pretty well. (Will it work in the other direction? That first sentence up there may tell us.)
With encouragement from the group I’ve decided to self-publish. What that means is that I now have to eat some of my words about self-publishing. If you have, or if you do, read or read what I wrote about that you’ll see why it’s going to be hard to swallow. Publicly reversing your position on something you’ve been sarcastic about isn't easy to carry off. I'll find a way to rationalize it, though.
There does remain one last consideration before publishing; I have to make sure I haven’t libeled someone. There’s the off-chance, if a lot of people were to read the story (!) that someone might say, “That character sounds like my Uncle Herbie, and you’ve insulted him.”
Back when -- and it does seem like a long time ago -- when I had the idea I would be working with a real publisher, I assumed an editor there would note the potential problem and it would be referred to a huge legal department. That’s not the case any more; I’m on my own now. I have sought advice, and what I’ve heard so far is that you can’t libel a dead person, and given the time setting of the novel, “Uncle Herbie” should be dead by now. A good thing, too, because he comes off looking pretty bad in my story. 

And there’s another startling development that’s come with membership in the new group. I’ve been invited to send the link to this blog. Readership could go from zero to a positive number. I’m not sure I could handle that.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

LinkedIn, Again

This business about not having a picture on  my LinkedIn profile had become a problem. I’d almost been turned down for membership in a writers’ group because of a “blank avatar.” (If you don’t post a picture, the default is a gray unisex head-and-shoulders silhouette that looks like an FBI firearms training target. Linkers like to call it an avatar.)

The thinking is confusing for me on several levels.

First -- If there were ever a case where a picture is not worth a thousand words it’s in a profile you consult to see if that person is experienced in the work you want done. Why do you need to see what someone (ostensibly) looks like when you can read all his/her qualifications for whatever business you want to conduct? 

If you think you’re going to get an insight into someone’s character from their picture, forget it. No one is going to put up an unflattering picture. Do you suppose some people might post something less than current? From a school yearbook, maybe?

 Or - is not having a picture cause for  suspicion? Do we need to  eliminate the threat that there might be a space alien or a multinational corporation lurking behind the individual’s name?

And absence of a mug shot is only one offense on Li. A shortage of “connections” can mark you as suspect, too.

Li is all about connections. You can “connect” with others and they can “connect” with you. There are 300 million people on the rolls, so you can see the potential. But for practical purposes, how many connections is enough?

There are people with 500+ connections. (Bragging rights are cut off at that point.) Really? How do you keep up with that many friends or even acquaintances?            I suppose you could email a “hello” to 50 a week for a couple of months, but it would be time to start over by then.

I used to find, before I learned more about controlling things, that some of my paltry 40 or 50 connections had accreted without my knowing who they were -- possibly chance pressings of a button in the course of a surfing session. I wonder how much of that might be part of it for those 500+ guys.

On the other side of the equation, occasionally someone will ask to connect with me, and it's a flattering thing to be chosen from 300 million people. 

The avatar situation has a solution, too. It’s permissible to use the photo space to put up some other kind of illustration besides your face.  Some people have company logos or other designs there. Since I don’t think my mug shot will win me any business, I’ve taken advantage of the loophole and posted an avatar of my own. It’s a picture of  a diamond, about a hundred-carat job. Wotthehell.