A bit of poetry

Standard

(Note: it has been awhile since I’ve pulled up my old poetry, so here is another one.  This was during my year as editor of the Houghton Star student newspaper at Houghton College, during the last year that the old Compugraphic machines were used instead of the new Macintosh computers that they got the next year. This poem is about a breakdown and repair of the old machines.)

 

A PSALM FOR THE STAR STAFF (1986‑87)

                                                             From Their Editor

 

Wendell and Loren

came with tool boxes,

removing three screws

hidden in a tight place.

To loose the screws

they used allen wrenches,

needle‑nose pliers, fingers.

The plate held by the screws removed,

the editor fixed the plate

with crazy glue.

Wendell and Loren

put the plate back in

with its three screws.

Using butter to hold screws

to the plate, the three men

fumbled.  The screws were in,

the machine worked.

Selah.

 

Chorus

“Let the staff rejoice,

let the earth be filled with their singing,

for the compugraphic machine is working”

said the editor.

And the staff said

“Amen and Amen.”

Advertisements

God’s Secretaries — a Review

Standard

Today the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club discussed God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, by Adam Nicolson.

We agreed it the reading could sometime be tedious, but that it was a book well worth reading.

The King James Bible happened during the reign of King James (duh), right after the Elizabethan era. Many of us realized this was a rather blind spot in our historical understanding. The book was very enlightening about the world of that day. Some people enjoyed learning the politics of the era.

My particular appreciation was on the description of the language of the day. It seems the Jacobean world (Jacobean is the term for that historical era) was a world of the Word, rather than one of sculpture or the visual arts. It came right out of the time of Shakespeare — which gives us an idea of why Shakespeare and his era are considered such a focal point of English literature. The word was the primary art form.

The rules the translators were given was a fascinating part of the process. They translated by committee, and they translated quite successfully that way. There was no sense of individual inspiration in translation, or even spiritual devotion in the process.

What there was was a sense of acting on authority. As one person mentioned in our discussion, they were God’s secretaries, as in a Secretary of State, someone who acts with and on behalf of someone else’s authority. They acted with the authority of God, not their own, they acted with the authority of the King, not their own. It was that sense of authority that caused the strife of the age, the religious sectarianism. The separatists believed in the authority of the Scripture over Pope or king. The Puritans likewise saw authority of

It was that sense of authority that caused the strife of the age, the religious sectarianism. The separatists believed in the authority of the Scripture over Pope or king. The Puritans likewise saw authority of the word over the Pope or any popish remains in the church. The Bishops saw the authority of both King, Church and Scripture. But they all saw authority.

I want to jump to one of the rules about the translation. They weren’t to choose the most literal translation, but the one the reflected the most meanings. You can see this in the words chosen, they were pregnant with multiple options, multiple perspectives, they weren’t limiting but expanding the options. The plays on words are multitude. There is a richness to the language, a sense of power.

Below is the passage I found in the book that I feel reflects the author’s thesis statement, and also says a lot about the Jacobean use of language, versus ours:

“The flattening of language is a flattening of meaning. Language which is not taut with a sense of its own significance, which is apologetic in its desire to be acceptable to a modern consciousness, language in other words which submits to its audience, rather than instructing, informing, moving, challenging and even entertaining them, is no longer a language which can carry the freight the Bible requires. It has, in short, lost all authority. The language of the King James Bible is the language of … an instructed order, of richness as a form of beauty, of authority as a form of good; The New English Bible is motivated by the opposite, an anxiety not to bore or intimidate. It is driven, in other words, by the desire to please and, in that way, is a form of language which has died.”

Our modern language tends to the flattening trend, the appeasing trend. It stands for nothing, has no authority. We are an age adrift, and too many of our modern translations end up that same way.

I didn’t mention this next idea in the discussion, because its form just came to me as I write this post. But too many of our translations empty the Word of power by trying to appease. God loses his Fatherhood. We remove the metaphors (God no longer comes down, but merely enters the world, etc.). The miracles lose their mystery. All the hard edges, the stumbling blocks that the Word says Christ will be to people, are removed or explained away.

We need a Scripture that doesn’t pander to us, but challenges, informs, and even entertains. We need a language that can carry an authority from beyond our own little world and world view, an authority from the timeless and eternal. The language of Shakespeare and the King James Version can carry it.

(Note: if you are interested, here is a link to a documentary that the author did on the subject of his book.)

A quick writing tutorial

Standard

Well, back to class now.  Fortunately for many of you, this class doesn’t have all those textbooks with their wonderful chapters that I can summarize.  This is a practicum class where we will practice writing and doing audio/visual website/blog creation.

So we get wonderful things like a “twenty  most-common errors” writing tutorial from Dartmouth.

I won’t list the twenty. Let me just say there is a lot of comma usage mentioned: the comma after the introductory clause, the comma in the compound sentence, commas for restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, the comma in a series (did I use my comma’s correctly here?). No mention made of the Oxford comma — I noticed that they didn’t use it, but I think I tend to.

The other most common theme is word choice: incorrect word, wrong tense of the word, wrong preposition, shifting person, lack of agreement,

Third runner up is the misplaced and dangling modifiers and vague references.

Sounds like enough to get started on, the what not to do items. You can write by these rules and get a lot better if you have been breaking them without cause. My advice, just don’t get legalistic about it. Grammar rules are just theory, when it comes down to it, descriptive and helpful, but not always right.

A Focus on Focus

Standard

This post is intended to go up at the very beginning of the new year. Don’t mistake it for anything like a New Year’s Resolution: I have never been one for setting resolutions (If you check the blog from January 1, 2014, you will see that is an exact quote). I said last year on January 1 that I liked to focus more on the journey and the process.

One thing I set as a process last year was to publish a blog every day. That process has been a success, and I have done a blog every day the past year.

But one of the things that process has shown me is the focus, or lack thereof, in my writing, and my life in general. So this year I think I am going to focus on focus.

When talking about focus, I think the concept of selectivity is important.  If you focus on one thing, that means you aren’t focused on something else. For limited beings it isn’t possible to absorb everything in complete focus at the same time. Choice of focus, selectivity, is important in our lives.

I have been developing a very light framework for Lightfoot’s Theory of Selectivity. So far it has four points: Hearing, Vision, Memory, Responsibility.

For hearing you know of the old saw that husbands have selective hearing where their wives are concerned. For vision, I have selective vision in not being able to see something I know should be right in front of me. For memory, we choose what to remember directly, and what to count on other people or devices to remember (cell phones to track phone numbers instead of our memory, for example). For responsibility, we have so many things to be responsible for, that we are not irresponsible about certain items so much as we have to choose how to selectively prioritize our responsibilities to take care of them.

In each of these four items I can see a question of focus comes up. Which items we choose of those in front of us. The police officer or detective interviewing witnesses for the scene of a crime or other incident can often wonder if the people he is talking to actually witnessed the same event. Each person had a different focus. Each person saw a different thing as the central part of the event. Even the interviewing officer or detective makes their choice about what is central.

In the blog I have made the choice to just do it, but I haven’t brought much attention to its focus, what is the important center of the blog. In the rest of my life I have had so many things going on that I am feeling a loss of focus: What are the important items that take priority? So for 2015 the theme needs to be focus, as for 2014 the theme was process.

It is at this point that some well-meaning folks are going to trot out some lists of priorities: God, Family, Church, Work, etc. …. and make it sound like a simple hierarchical priority tree. I’m certain that someone could trot out a similar list of priorities for blogging. You can stop right now, well-meaning and all. There is too much interleaving to make it that simple.

Focus, Focus. Perhaps sometime the blog will actually have enough focus to truly “Be Swift, Be Precise.”

Witchfinder — the multi-tasking mind of the writer

Standard

(This is part five of a blog series on the discussion between Sarah A. Hoyt and the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club about Hoyt’s book Witchfinder, the art of writing, and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author.)

Mark W.: You mentioned that you read 2-3 books at a time.  How many books to do you write at a time? How many books are you working on right now?

Sarah: I should give the proper answer and say one book at a time.

Right now I have two science fictions, and then on the side I have the stock pile. I will be going on one project and another idea will come along.  The proper thing to do with an idea is to ignore them until they go away, Because I already have more ideas on file than I could write in a lifetime. So the first thing I do is “go bother someone else”. Then if it doesn’t go away, if it sits there, then I have to do something to keep it quiet for a little while. Can be anything from jotting down this happens and this happens.

I have a science fiction trilogy that exists in a notebook my husband moved. Three books about humans who for reasons of necessity enhance themselves with alien genes and how that changes them and how that changes the people back home and about the poor kid who is raised by ordinary humans back home but isn’t. It wouldn’t leave me alone, actually attacked me while we were away for the weekend so the only way to make it shut up was to write the plot for three books.

I went to this convention and my publishers were there, they asked what are you doing, and is this indie or are we getting it.

(I told them) This is generally new and absurd. Like Dragon Riders of Pern meets Starship Troopers. Set in a world that is sort of like World War I technology. That sounds odd. But it has to got to be you because I see the cover, it is a Tompkins cover. A steam train is coming out of the cover toward the reader and above it is a silver dragon with a girl riding it in World War I aviator’s gear.  This is Toni (my publisher).  She says “It is a Tompkins cover, I guess we get it.

It is all there, if I just let it dictate it it is all there. Right now I am trying to stop it long enough to finish this other book.

At one time –I was writing books set in Elizabethan England, 19th century China, and 24th century.  That got very weird, because there was cross contamination .It is the result of (my) low attention span and lack of self-control.

The proper answer is “I write a book at a time like a good writer.” Because there are things readers don’t need to know.

Jonathan: Let me follow up a little bit on that. You talk about a lack of self-control, but if you average it out, how many words a day do you write?

Sarah: Including the blog, it alternates … life keeps interfering. There are days these past two years I wrote nothing.  I signed up for the catastrophe of the week club. I didn’t know it, maybe somebody gave it to me as a gift but it just been really hard. But if I sit down and write at all – about 10,000.

Sandy: That’s a lot.

Sarah: I have been known to write 40 thousand in a weekend….  But it is not my normal.

Mark: This book had extremely short chapters. Several in the discussion said it made us, well let me read one more chapter, one more chapter. …and kept going. Was the existence of extremely short chapters because of the story, of because of the blog with the chapter a week.

Sarah: For a reason. First when you are writing multiple persons with a large cast it is better to have short chapters because if you have these really long chapters then have you 4 or 5 threads people are following, when you get to that 4th one you get a “who is this?” so it is better to have short chapters. Second one is because I learned from Pratchett. Who in his first books didn’t have chapters but sections because of the traction you are talking about, I will read one more section. And the next thing you now it is 4 in the morning and you are still reading the book. That is a good effect for writers.

I like for people coming to cons and saying “you, you kept me up all night.” One guy said “I probably failed my first year of med school because of you.  Now I am going to go and buy the other book.” He’s now a doctor, so I guess he didn’t flunk.

The other was the chapter a week. Did it on Friday. Friday is the day I clean, so I have half an hour to write the chapter and then get to cleaning. So that controlled the length too.

I know as a reader if you have a short chapter it is easier. If people get to the end of a chapter and go, oh my heavens it (the next chapter) is 30 pages they put it aside and there is a good chance, life being what it is, that they won’t come back.  Part of it is to keep people attached.

I was talking to an author, writing science fiction and he is putting in links to another area. And I said, stop that, put them as afterwards, do not link from the inside. Why not? He said. Because, I said,  I go off and read about your super-duper time travel device and search for it, and then I go on the internet and start searching up names you gave me and I never come back. Stop sending the readers away. That’s not the way to have a career in this field. And he said, “oh, I never thought of that.”

The End (for now)

Witchfinder — indie publishing

Standard

(This is part four of a blog series on the discussion between Sarah A. Hoyt and the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club about Hoyt’s book Witchfinder, the art of writing, and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author. Sarah begins here by talking about putting up her book for sale as an indie publisher.)

Sarah: Once I put the book up, I can see the figures, real time. I see I just got 500 sales. And by now I have made on that book what I would make on a traditional sales, within 4 months, which is what I was trying to prove to myself. Because I have put my backlog up, and those don’t sell like a new book.  I have musketeer mysteries and earn maybe a few hundred dollars a year, and I thought maybe I’ll just make a couple hundred a year (on Witchfinder), and while over time that might be the same from traditional publishing, over a very long time, and I live from this – well we live from my husband’s salary and my inputs from it.

It was completely different.

By the way, I am terrible at promotion, but let me say, by the end of November everything that’s indie, under Goldport Press, novel length, will be on sale until January. I am doing a Christmas splash.

I am not a control freak, but after 12 years of working for traditional publishing and having some really bizarre things happen. Like books going out of print just weeks after they come out. The sold out the print run and the publisher takes it out of print, and I am thinking “you should be printing more, not taking it out of print”.

One feels good being able to control the process. I think that is the attraction. I do think the future is e-books, and here I am looking at this as a reader. I have this horrible habit I read 2-3 books at a time. I used to roam all over the house looking for the books I was reading.

My kids learned to read in self-defense because their first job was to go find me the book I was reading And they learned. Because, how do I know what is this book, because the house is full of books. So it starts with a B. Well what does a B look like? I show them, they roam around the house and come back with 3 books that begin with B. Eventually they learned to read because they had to. Sort of read in self-defense or else mother will make us go and locate another book.

The other thing I would do was make them read to me while I was cooking, because I was reading in paper. And I have a lot of mysteries that have a lot of splats on them because I was reading while I was cooking, so I would say, go to the kitchen table and read. But they both read very well, and by the time they entered school.

With by Kindle I can read and cook, I put it in a ziplock bag, and I can take it with me on trips. The reason we got a kindle, my husband he was having trouble focusing, so reading books on paper was impossible. Doctor suggested an e-reader . For whatever reason, reading on a reader is easier to focus. As an avid reader, when he was unable to get his fix he wasn’t easy to live with. We got him a Kindle, and he can read a Kindle fine. It has become attached to his hand. I have heard same stories from friends.

Sandy: to me there are two advantages to the e-reader. For one you can make the print as big as you want, and when I read at lunch I don’t have to prop the book open with a stapler.

Sarah: Or a knife. My kids think the purpose of a butter knife is to hold my book open. I will be honest, I was a bit a stick in the mud with an e-reader particularly because I don’t like reading on the screen. We got the first kindle, and what I found I kept forgetting I wasn’t reading paper. So there were two problems. I have a horrible habit of reading two or three at a time, and will put them face down. Well I kept putting the kindle face down and forgetting where I put it. The second problem is I still get books in paper, for research, is that the first time I pick one up after a long time of reading Kindle, I’ll be pushing to have the page turned.

I read while I cook, to flip  a page with a finger with butter it is there forever , if you just touch it, you put it in a ziplock it is just a little dot you can wipe it. They sell fancy things, but hey, it is a Ziplock, gets gross you can throw it away.

Jonathan: is writing your actually profession, or is it a time-consuming hobby.

Sarah: My training is in language and literature with an option to teach. Training and translation. When you start out you make very little, build up clientele. When you move you lost all your clients. They want something local, so when we moved to Colorado I told my husband I will have to rebuild my business, but what he told me, was, since you always wanted to write, why don’t you write, you are going to have to do it either way.  I’m not sure it was the brightest thing in the world because it took me almost 8 years to make almost anything.

At this point, If I don’t get ridiculously late on a book, I make about what I would make from the most viable job I could walk into tomorrow, which is instructor at a community college. About the same as an underpaid secretary. But I do it from home, I was here for the kids growing up, there are intangibles. I don’t have to dress up, though I usually do, because I fell sloppy writing in my pajamas. I enjoy it a lot more than being a secretary, I know this because I worked as a secretary for a while. Yes at this point it is my job, which is why when I get ridiculously late delivering a book it costs me money.

To be Continued

Witchfinder — shapeshifting diner and the free library

Standard

(This is part three of a blog series on the discussion between Sarah A. Hoyt and the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club about Hoyt’s book Witchfinder, the art of writing, and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author.)

Sarah: Years ago when I was writing but hadn’t published yet, I thought I need a reward for myself for when I finish a book, so I have something physical, because I might never sell it. I need something tangible to say yes I did that, so I started buying these, These are glass globes. Because I am a magpie and I like sparkly things. I have one for each novel….This is a rolltop desk and this is the top of the desk and this leads to very interesting moments because the cats love to walk up there, and it leads to hah hah aiyee get off the glass wall.

When we move (to a new house) my goal is to have a wall that I can put a glass globe wall where they can’t get to.

Sandy: That is very cool, I love the glass balls.

Sarah: You should get something for yourself when you finish the work. I know some other people buy silver charms, have a bracelet, I just don’t like things around my wrists.

Mark: I noticed when I was reading on the cover, it mentioned Noah’s Boy, and I wondered is it related to this book, is it the same genre?

Sarah: It is the same genre, it is also not related. This is a convention, you put the last novel in the genre on the cover of the book. It is the third book in the series.

It is about a diner where shape shifters congregate. The diner’s owners are shape shifters and they have some responsibility when a shape shifter goes off the reservation and starts eating people. They have to deal with it, so the city won’t be affected.

I don’t read my books again unless I am working in my series again. Noah’s Boy, I read Draw into the Dark (book one of the series) and realized something really weird.  I learned British English first, and other dialects later, and that book mixes them up a lot, I used pavement instead of sidewalk, for example. That book goes in and out a lot. I called Toni, said I needed to fix it.  “We’ll let you do it for the second edition,” she said, and put the first edition up free on Amazon. As you know, the first taste is free.” (an allusion to the philosophy of the Baen Free Library https://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx).

Noah’s Boy completely shocked me because all of a sudden there was a space invasion, and I have no idea where it came from. It’s the book’s fault, and I’m sticking to that.

Jonathan: You have both dealt with self-published and traditional publishing houses, please compare and contrast.

Sarah: I am doing both. What Indie allowed me to do was drop the houses that were driving me crazy. So I kept the one. I had three publishing houses. Which is very difficult. It is like having three spouses. Each one wants to be exclusive. And they will actively sabotage each other. Which makes no sense because you think, if an author becomes a best seller it will lift all books. But what they think is … so no publicity or at one point, (then) I had them racing each other to be the first one to publish, so I ended up with three books coming out in a month.  This was insane. I couldn’t sleep, they were all crazy,

But I will still work for Baen because Baen is decent. They treat you like family. The other two houses I dropped because they were driving me several levels of insane, including Berkley, because they said “you have to change your name again” like why?

Now I work Indie and Baen.  I need Indie because there are things Baen doesn’t publish. But I write mystery also. I don’t think they want everything, so I like having the other option. With Baen I get a check up front, but won’t see royalties for maybe two years. So I can ask “how is it selling?” at at this stage even the publisher won’t know. Six months to a year to get the first report.

So with Indie, with the way I do it, I am also going to bring new books out under small press house. But this one, Goldport Press is all mine.  All controlled by me.

This book (Witchfinder) was my first attempt at typesetting. Inside it isn’t the type I like, but this is through CreateSpace and every other type I used ended up twice the size. And that meant the price was like $40, I couldn’t ask people to pay $40 for a book, so I had to use I think Sanscript Baskerville. For some reason it is condensed. I was afraid it would be hard to read, I think in a way it is, a little.

One of my writing friends, and the person I go to for question is (Terry) Anderson. He is now publishing his own stuff too, and what he said is “don’t sweat the hard copy. You will sell some, some people still prefer, them, but you will sell one for every hundred you sell in e-book. I don’t know why.  If you are still going traditional most of your sales are in paper, but everyone who goes Indie has this huge ratio. I have books that have sold thousands in E and one or two in hard copy. You ought to have the hard copy because people want it to exist, but people don’t buy it, they want the e-book. Tons of people will tell me ‘I need a hard copy’ and then they don’t buy it, they buy the e-book. It is cheaper and more convenient.”

Cover was a problem, because I contracted with the artist, and the cover looked like it was drawn by a three-year-old. Oh, this won’t do. So the cover is a compromise, it what I could (re)do with Photoshop and a period painting, the gentlemen is a picture I ran through filters and I bought the dragon. I needed something that says historical, I needed something that says fantasy, and I needed a central human figure.  Because the only place you get away with not having a human on the cover and still selling reasonably well is military science fiction.

The Cover Taught me a valuable lessons. One of the problems writers have in traditional publishing and that I have is that we have no control. I am now getting to the point at Baen that I am selling enough and they like me enough that I get to tell the artist “I don’t like this,” and if the publisher agrees I get it, which was the cover for Darkship Thieves — only I don’t remember saying naked.

The other houses I get covers and go – what were you smoking? But you have no say, the packaging is their decision, so I thought, Indie I get complete control – except you are still limited by what the artist delivers – and by the way, about artists. I know what I said about delivering books late, and I have delivered late a couple times, not all. Artists – it is not just me – other writers who have gone indie say it – these people will say – you will have it next week and then a year later it comes in and it is awful, and it is clear they did it in a morning and they were drunk.  I think it is the Bohemian archetype.

To Be Continued …