Monday, February 27, 2012

Genealogy Research

I felt the need to go spelunking into my family tree again.  I don't know why, but with my wife sick in bed all day it seemed like a good idea despite all the other work that calls to me.

The last time I did that I didn't find much.  Back in the 1990's my father hired someone to do some research.  So I was starting from that base.  This time I filled in quite a few holes.  The most important is the one for my great-great grandfather, Simon, born in Latvia in 1843.  I found a record of his death in 1879.  He was 36 so with a little math I now know that year of his birth.  This was huge because I've been trying to find a record of his immigration into the United States and was failing.  Now I know why.  His wife, Hanna arrived in 1891 and my great grandfather, Jacob, came a few years later.

And from these records I begin to see the stories of their lives.  Human stories like the ones we are familiar with from today:  A man dies from illness at a young age, leaving his wife and five young children.  They struggle to survive.  She must go to work or get help since someone must look after the children who range in age from 2 to 10.

This is a very human story the only difference is it is set in the late 19th century about the time of Tammany Hall and in the rural village of Jelvaga, Latvia.

I don't even begin to think I understand their lives.  They had no electricity, no computers, no cars.  They were far more religious than I, walked everywhere -- or rode in a wagon on a horse, and led much simpler lives.  I'm sure family was at the core.  Family and working to earn money to survive.  They were probably poor even by their standards.

But what I really marvel at is all the events that took place among my ancestors that led to my parents meeting.  Jacob lives in New Haven when he arrived in this country.  My grandfather, Sidney did too until a lack of jobs forced him north to Boston during the Great Depression.  That's where he was born.  And that's where his met my mother.  She lived just south of town in Quincy.

But if her grandfather, Lorenzo, had settled someplace else, I wouldn't be here.  Or if Sidney had decided to stick it out in Connecticut or go to New York (which was closer), my parents would never have met.  There are a thousand possible scenarios and as a writer and a weaver of plots, my mind boggles a little at the events that did play out.

For now my research is complete.  I doubt I will find any information on Simon's father who was born about 200 years ago.  I say this because I cannot find records from the 1810's or 1820's.  Perhaps they will surface some day.  In the meantime, I have other stories to write.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Time for a bunch of updates across a number of topics that I've written about recently:

I keep having trouble with Twitter.  Apparently it is not very secure.  People can fake your identity and get your login information very easily.  My phone app does not even require my password to access my profile.  And so if you get spam and login to the fake login form, the hackers can get your info and the name of your followers and spam more people.  The whole thing is a mess.  What's worse is that Twitter changed my password recently, so I went back to my old one, which the spammers still have and everyone connected to my was spammed.  I've changed my password again and have to hope this is behind me but I think not.  The spammers aren't going away and Twitter can change my password at any time it appears.  If I didn't need social media for book promotion, I'd close down my Twitter account without another thought.

Book negotiations continue.  The publisher has all the changes I want to see in the publishing agreement.  I now need to see the revised agreement so I can sign it.  I doubt it will be this month, but one never knows about these things.  We'll see.

I'm finally getting around to pulling together a real web site.  Up till now, I've be using this blog as my site. I don't think that will work moving forward so I'm building a new place.  So some of the links are the top of the page will move to the new location and I'll probably add a link to the site once it is ready.

What prompted this is Amazon's policies for book reviews.  My site will have all the reviews of my books in one place.  This is not ideal but what else can I do?

Work on Book 3 is down to a crawl.  I'm hoping to change that soon.  Currently the draft stands at about 54,000 words and I'm about halfway through.  So I've got a lot more writing to do.  And I doubt I will be done by the end of March.  But I might be if I really focus on this work.

This about it for now.  Keep writing everyone.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review Policy

A few month ago, a writer friend of mine posted on my Facebook Fan Page that Amazon does not let you add reviews about your work to book's listing.  This was news to me but I didn't see the importance -- at least not immediately.  That came later when I had some reviews of my work to collect and centralize.

Let me step back here and make a few points clear.  As a writer, I rely on reviews of my work to help sell it.  Good reviews or -- God help me -- great reviews need to be available with very listing of the book.  At least ideally.  But that's not how it works.  If I've a got the book in Amazon, Smashwords, and a few other places, there's no way to share the review.  This means that a review on one site can only live on that site.  In order to collect them I have to copy them elsewhere.

I'm prepared to do that, but to Amazon posting a review from another location is a violation of the terms of use or some such.  And they will (and have) deleted reviews left by the author of books.

This is very obnoxious and hurtful because reviews directly influence sales.  If I've got a great review that I can't add to my book listings then readers cannot see the whole picture and may defer purchase of my book.  And to be fair, Amazon is not the only place that prevents the posting of external reviews.  Smashwords does too.   Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, appears to let you post reviews of your book.

So my choices are to collect the reviews from all sites and post them on a web site or a Facebook page and promote that location.  Links to specific sites can be used to when readers want to buy the book.

Or I can post all my reviews on Barnes and Noble and hope people shop there.  But that does not help me get sales from the readers who stumble into Amazon and see my book but not the great reviews.

Frankly, I think this gives Amazon too much power over the success or failure of my work and is one more barrier between me and the reader.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Becoming a Writer

When I look at the path I've tread, I sometimes wonder, when did I become a writer?  The answer is simple, when I got my first job writing professionally.  By professionally, I mean when I was paid for my time, talent, and skill.  The road to that moment was long.  It began pounding out drafts of a story I ultimately decided wasn't worth pursuing on an old typewriter.  A black Underwood typewriter.  Some of my readers many never seen such a thing, having never known a time before word processing.  Believe me, it is an experience you should have because it helps you cope in those dark moments when Word eats your document.  It helps because you know that if you have used a typewriter and the draft had burned or was destroyed you'd have no recourse.  With Word, you can at least auto save.  But I digress.

I kept a journal in those days too.  One which I maintain until life got so hectic I stopped writing personally for awhile.  All of the work was training for the writer of the future.  During that time I was experimenting with language and formats.  The one thing I didn't do but should have was read a lot too.

Read for a writer is as important as writing because by reading you learn from others.  You see how the masters of your craft handled a certain scene, what description they used, what dialogue, if any, helped to convey their intent.

For the longest time I read as little as possible.  I suppose that's because I was busy with school.  I purchased books but I didn't read them.  That came later.

Then came college and graduate school and I learned much about putting together nouns and verbs and adjectives.  About varying sentence structure and paragraph development and thesis.  These are the basics of expository writing -- essay writing -- that is the cornerstone of freshman English.  At that time, it is a good idea to practice the principles in Elements of Style because ultimately it will reward you later.  Here again I was a late believer because even though I had an interest in writing I wasn't sure I would do it professionally.

Later in college I studied poetry writing and fiction writing.  And then in graduate school technical writing.  My goal here was to understand the similarities and differences among all these forms of written communication.  It took a lot of time after that to sort it all out in my head.  I had to burn out and retrain myself to do it (don't do that at home -- remember, I'm a professional ;) )

The retraining period was practically brutal because I was expected to put words on the page (or the screen) even though nothing came to me.  What saved me?  Reading books.  First I read books on writing.  That got me thinking.  Then I read non-fiction for a bit, histories mostly, and then fiction.

And I'm still doing all these things and writing too to keep my skills sharp and ready for action.  So if anyone out there is interested in becoming a writer, you better be prepared to read a lot and write a lot and check your ego at the door.  Comments you will receive are on the writing, not on you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Which is Worse?

I met with my intellectual property lawyer to go over the publishing agreement I received.  After an hour of discussion, I went home and I wrote to the publisher with a list of items that I believe need clarification or adding to the agreement.  I am now waiting to hear back.  If the publisher agrees to these changes, I will sign the agreement.  If not, I go back to life before I got the agreement.

Yes Virginia, even though I've been pining for an agreement like this one, I am prepared to walk away if certain items are not in the agreement.  Ironic, huh?  This raised an interesting issue in my mind: which is worse, getting an agreement that is imperfect knowing that I will get other things that I want or denying myself this opportunity and continuing to pine for such an arrangement?

I can't answer the question.  Neither path is one I would choose for myself.  I would prefer a better agreement (hence the list of changes) but that is out of my hands.  It is up to the publisher now.  So I'm holding my breath and waiting.  If I don't hear break in a week I will send a reminder mail.  And if I don't have an answer by the end of the month, I will pass on the deal because I can't wait forever.  There are other publishers, after all.

So we'll see.  Wish me luck which in this case I'm not sure which side that puts me on but luck is always are good thing.  As I've noted earlier, sometimes luck is your best plan.  This may well be one of those times.  We'll see.

Friday, February 10, 2012

In a Holding Pattern

I'm in a holding pattern for the moment.  I've given my comments about my publishing contract to the publisher and now I'm waiting to see the revisions.  In the meantime, I've been making progress on Book 3.  That work has been slow but steady.  The story is now turning to the main conflict and resolution so there's good stuff ahead it's just sometimes it is hard to find the right path to it.

And in the meantime, I've been giving a lot of thought to Book 2 and my entire fantasy series.  I need to make sure that Book 2 is as good, or better, than Book 1 and I'm not sure that is so.  At the same time, I've been reviewing the plot of Book 4 and found some issues with it.  I'm trying to sort them out on at a high level but so far, I'm stuck.  That's not a real concern.  Handling plots is nothing new to me.

Originally, the end of Book 4 was going to be an extended chase scene.  But I sorta did that in Book 1 and there are logistically problems with that approach.  So if I don't so that, I could have the characters find information they need to follow up on to achieve their goal.  So could have one of the characters use magic to point the way.  I'm still ruminating on these options.

Clearly I won't need to make a decision on this any time soon.  I expect to work on Book 3 through March (hopefully the draft will be complete by then) and see what revisions the publisher may want on Book 1.  Once all the revisions are complete, I can begin polishing Book 2 and getting it ready to go out into the world.  That should fill this year.  So I might start work on Book 4 next year.  It is really hard to say.  We'll see.  Whenever I start, I will nail down the plot then.

Other than that, I entered a short story in a writing contest and I have some poems being published next week I believe.

Time now to roll up sleeves and see what kind of mischief I can get into today.  Sometimes I think that if my characters were people, they'd really hate me.  I complicate their lives so.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I Need a Crystal Ball

Occasionally I reach points in my life where I need a crystal ball to see if a given decision will turn out well.  That was true when I bought my house, when I got married, and when I start a new job.  In all these cases, I just want a glimpse of the future for reassurance, to know I'm on the right path, and to get a heads up about problems so I can deal with them.  Of course, that never happens and 95% of the things that could go wrong often don't; instead I get tripped up by the things I'm wasn't expecting, which argues for that quick glance with the crystal ball.

But now I've reach such a point again.  The question this time is this:  Do I sign the publishing contract presented to me?  I'm thinking yes, but I've not decided for certain.  Not yet.  I will soon so let's go over the pros and cons.

If I don't sign, I go back to the world of self-publishing and hope someone takes notice of me.  I can continue to submit my work for publication with other small presses, but if I'm going to do that, why not just take the deal in my hand?

A writer friend of mine argues that the whole tend of publishing is going to the self-publishing model, that small presses are irrelevant, and that this is good because I keep my rights with me and receive more of the share of the revenue.  My response is what revenue?  I've got lots of folks who have done free downloads of the samples but no one has purchased a copy of anything for months.  So people are interested but they have not purchased anything.  And they are not likely to if they've got a big pile of material to read.

I would also argue that small presses are not irrelevant.  They can help with book signings, ads, and artwork (all of which I need help with).  More importantly, depending on the small press, they can help create versions of the story in foreign languages or for the blind; a large print version, an audio book, and other versions of the story are also possible.  Without the small press, there is no way I could do all that unless I stop writing, which I don't want to do.  And in fact, because they do all that, I can keep writing and finish the next books in the series.

But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be careful here.  I don't really know the publisher who has offered me a deal and if I make a mistake here I will regret it for a very long time.  So I will be showing the agreement to a lawyer to see what he will charge and (assuming I can afford it) to have certain legal questions answered.

All this would be unnecessary, of course, if I could just get that friggin crystal ball.  But that's not going to happen so I will just do the best I can and hope I make the right decision.  Wish me luck.  I'm going to need it, I think.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Going Off Course

Does this happen you: you have an idea for a scene, some dialogue, a blog post.  You know how it will go; you run it through your mind repeatedly to be sure.  Then you sit down to capture and it come out completely different from your original idea.

This happens to me a lot.  I can ideas while sleeping or half awake and by the time I write them down I'm way off course.  I assume that's the nature of writing, that in my half conscious state I fail to fully take into account all sides or views and when I do changes are inevitable.

I guess this is one more sign that we live in an imperfect world and it is too bad because very often the original idea is awesome, get not feasible in the context I am using it.

I suppose I could change the context; that would give me even more to write, however, and I'm full up at the moment.

Hell, I can bare get this post written before dashing off to something else.

Friday are like that often; it's as if the week were saving up all its tasks and then at the end of the week dumps them all on me to complete all at once.

Oh well.  Gotta go.  Keep writing everyone.