February 24, 2011

Wild Geese

My dog Mabel has a fixation with geese. She hears them honking from afar and immediately comes to a halt and stares straight up at the sky. As the geese doppler overhead on their way to a nearby farmer's field she begins barking furiously, presumably outraged at the violation of her air space.

She strikes a determined pose, as if to say "Come on down here, and let's see what you got." Of course they would kick her ass is what they would do. But Mabel doesn't know that. All she knows is hundreds of years of breeding that tells her to stand her ground and let 'em know she's not letting anything slide, not on her watch.

February 23, 2011

The Snows of President's Day

Seems like every year on or around the President's Day holiday we get some kind of snow storm. Last year we had the grand-daddy of them all, a massive double punch of storms that left drifts piled up to my armpits on the driveway. But other President's Day storms have routinely deposited 3 feet of snow, so shoveling out on the President's Day holiday has become something of a ritual around here.

This year the long range forecast called for January and March to be colder than usual while February was supposed to be warmer than usual. Certainly January met the goal, and February started off to be pretty mild. Last Friday I was out playing golf.

But something there is that likes snow on President's Day. Sure enough, Monday night at about 7 p.m. it started sleeting. The sleet rapidly gave way to snow. When I woke up on Tuesday morning there was five inches on the driveway, five inches of very heavy sticky snow. Your basic heart attack snow.

I hefted the first shovel full and thought "Oh crap." Then I paused and stared at the expanse of driveway to be shoveled and thought "Double crap." A half hour and many reflective pauses later, the job was done.

The good news is that I remain physically fit and strong enough to get the job done. The bad news is that time is not on my side. The inevitable day is coming when I won't be able to shovel myself out. Then what?

February 21, 2011

Adventures in CreateSpace

When I decided to write a book I was thinking mainly about an e-book. I had few expectations that I would ever get the time of day from a conventional publisher or agent. E-books seemed to offer a way to get myself out there in the market place at little or no cost other than the time I spent writing and formatting the book.

Thanks to Smashwords I was able to get my book produced in e-book format and distributed to a wide array or book sellers. I ended up doing Amazon myself, but the whole process was much easier becasue of what I learned from Smashwords.

While producing the Kindle version of my book I noticed that Amazon had a relationship with CreateSpace, a company that produces print-on-demand paperbacks. I've just finished submitting the necessary files to produce a paperback and am awaiting their approval.

If you want to go this route be prepared either to learn a whole lot of new skills (reformatting your novel in Word or OpenOffice for paperback size, designing a cover, producing pdf files) or to pay someone to do it for you. I used several freeware programs (OpenOffice, Paint.net and Nitro PDF Maker) to get the job done, but it took hours and many many attempts before I got it right.

Is it worth it? Absolutely, if I sell paperbacks. The royalty rate on paperbacks is pretty good compared to e-books, although you can make a case that it is easier to sell 100 of something at $2.99 than at $15.99, so you are likelier in the end to make more money from a successful e-book.

Beyond that, I believe books are special. To see a book that I have written . . . to pick it up and heft it and riffle through the pages . . . well, that's worth a lot.

February 18, 2011

February Thaw

Last February around this time we were literally up to our armpits in snow. Today I went out and played 9 holes of golf. What a difference a year makes.

Last year I was ready to give up. I mean come on. Five feet of snow? Let's say one cubic foot weighs 10 pounds. It varies depending on how wet or dry the snow is, but 10 pounds per cubic foot is not unreasonable. So in a 25 foot square area filled with 5 feet of snow there is roughly 31,250 pounds of snow. That's a shitload of snow.

So this year was a well-deserved counter-balance to last year's brutal snows. Instead of a flinging snow with a snow shovel, I was teeing up a golf ball. My first shot of the year was a solidly struck 7 iron that found the green on the opening par 3. Later on in the round I hit an immaculate 4 iron, the kind where you don't feel the ball as it leaves the club face. Not bad for not having played in several months.

At my age you learn to appreciate the small gifts that come your way, be it an unexpected smile or a really sweet 4 iron.

February 14, 2011

Writer's Notebook: Genetic Memories

(One of a series of notes to self for future pieces.) 

The genetic code contains the flotsam and jetsam of millions of years of experiences on this planet. Within it are the instructions for the self-assembly of every living thing on the planet. Included in the instruction set are pre-programmed responses to certain fundamental situations.

We don't have to be told to eat when we are hungry. We don't have to be told to reproduce the species. We don't have to be told to defend the organism against attack. We just know to do these things.

What else do we just know? We know how to dream. We know how to imagine. We know how to create. And that "we" is just not home sapiens. These abilities extend deep into the curve of living things.

Those things we dream; those things we imagine. Are they original thoughts or are they shadows of things remembered deep in the genetic memory of millions of years of living and growing and changing that we carry with us in every cell of every living thing?

Something to think about on a Monday morning.

February 11, 2011

The Devil's Dictionary

The headline read  "China Bans Reincarnation Without Government Permission." For some reason I immediately thought of H.L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce and wondered what they would have made of it. Like the headline, these men often hid their true intent under the guise of the absurd. They both would have reveled in the tomfoolery that passes for politics and popular culture these days. (Mencken dissecting reality shows; the mind boggles.)

This post acts as a quick introduction to Ambrose Bierce, who penned The Devil's Dictionary, a collection of satirical definitions he created over a period of 20 years of so, beginning around 1870. A sampling follows, courtesy of Wikiquote:

  • Conservative, n. A statesman enamored of existing evils, as opposed to a Liberal, who wants to replace them with others.
  • Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
  • Heaven, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
  • Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.
  • Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1913 while attempting to join up with Pancho Villa.

February 10, 2011

Writer's Notebook: LucasVision

(One of a series of notes to self for future pieces.)
"If you watch the curve of science and everything we know, it shoots up like a rocket. We're on this rocket and we're going perfectly vertical into the stars. But the emotional intelligence of mankind is equally if not more important than our intellectual intelligence. We're just as emotionally illiterate as we were 5,000 years ago; so emotionally our line is horizontal. The problem is the horizontal and the vertical are getting farther and farther apart. And as these things grow apart, there's going to be some kind of consequence of that."
George Lucas, as quoted by Kevin Kelly in "What Technology Wants."

February 9, 2011

Writer's Notebook: Imagine That!

(One of a series of notes to self for future pieces.) 

I believe that anything we can imagine is possible. Not only possible but inevitable, just by the mere fact of our imagining it. Think about all the impossible things that have come to pass just in our lifetimes. So any time you think of something that couldn't possibly happen, always add the word yet. It hasn't happened yet.

Aliens from outer space? Time travel? A cure for cancer? Not possibly. Inevitably. Maybe not exactly the way you imagined it in every little detail, but close enough for government work.  

Those impossible dreams of ours are really just a way of seeing a future we haven't gotten to yet. So when they say be careful what you wish for . . . well, be careful.

February 8, 2011

Climate Change: Tipping Points

The idea of a tipping point is that in the journey from here to there, a point is reached in the progression of events where going back becomes impossible, where the only way is forward to whatever fate awaits us. Loss of control lies at the heart of the idea of a tipping point.

Are we there yet in terms of climate change? Maybe, maybe not. Climate change is a very complex science and anyone who tells you they know what will happen with any degree of exactitude is bullshitting you.

Still, we might slow things down or even reverse them with a total commitment and a herculean effort reminiscent of the unity that existed during World War II. Yeah, right. Like this crew is going to pull together on anything, never mind something as massively disruptive to business as usual as migrating to a less carbon-dependent economy.

You might want to think about gathering the kiddies around in a circle and telling them to get ready for a bumpy ride. If you don't trust me, then watch the animals. They don't know from polls or politics. They just know.

February 7, 2011

Those Were The Days

Everybody has a time in their lives when the sun shone brightly, when smiles came easily, when every dream seemed within reach, when good friends were always close by, and the stories flowed like wine and life tasted more sweet than bitter. At least I hope you all did.

Some of my happiest hours were spent in a bar called the Grog and Tankard, on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC., circa 1967. I could usually be found in the second booth to the right, sitting with my buddy Fitzie, drinking a 25-cent draft beer and eating one of the hard boiled eggs that Nina always had in a wicker basket on the bar.

The Grog was the kind of place where you had a regular table and everybody knew your name. No matter how badly the day had gone, you could always be sure that it would end with a joke or a story that would make you laugh and forget the troubles of the day.

Today I learned that one of the regulars passed away. Nate was a guy who knew how to laugh, and I think he would have enjoyed this  musical homage to the taverns of our youth, where we used to raise a glass or two and dream of all the great things we would do.

February 6, 2011

A Wintry Mix

April may be the cruelest month, but January and February are the hardest. Much of the country lies buried under snow and ice. Neighbors are out hammering at ice dams that threaten to bring down gutters. Fallen tree limbs must be cleared, down power lines restored. A reminder of just how tenuous is our grip on the creature comforts we have come to depend upon.

Richard Condon prefaced his book "Winter Kills" with a couple of short lamentations from something he called The Keener's Manual.

Minutes trudge,
Hours run,
Years fly,
Decades stun.

Spring seduces,
Summer thrills,
Autumn sates,
Winter kills.

Something to think about as we slouch towards spring to begin yet another cycle.

February 2, 2011

To Kindle and Beyond

Well I went ahead and uploaded my novel to Amazon using their in-house e-book publication tool, Kindle Direct Publishing. The process was fairly simple although I think one needs to be fairly conversant in file formats to be totally comfortable with it. I had a version already prepared in the mobi format used by Kindle so I chose to upload that rather than the Word document.

I'm waiting now for final approval and then it will be there for all the world to see (any buy!). In the meantime, I am starting in on the process of creating a paperback version using CreateSpace. A whole new set of things to learn.

I'm finding that writing a book is one thing, while getting people to buy it is quite another. I am a newly minted author but also a newly minted small businessman who has to learn everything about growing the business when truth be told I would much rather be writing. Sigh.