Posted in Family, Social Issues, Writing

Weather Wether Whether

Definition of weather

1the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness
2state or vicissitude of life or fortune
3disagreeable atmospheric conditions: such as
a rainstorm
b cold air with dampness
 to weather

in the direction from which the wind is blowing

Definition of wether

a male sheep castrated before sexual maturity; also a castrated male goat

Definition of whether

used as a function word usually with correlative or or with or whether to indicate (1) until the early 19th century a direct question involving alternatives; (2) an indirect question involving stated or implied alternatives 

  • decide whether he should agree or raise objections
  • wonderedwhether to stay

; (3) alternative conditions or possibilities

  • see me no more, whether he be dead or no
  •  —William Shakespeare
  • seated him next to her whether by accident or design
 whether or no or whether or not

in any case

  • they’ve only been married a very few weeks, whether or no
  •  —Thomas Hardy




Based on the above three words, the weather has been making it unsure whether we would finish staining the deck anytime soon. Thankfully, no wether was involved in the process.

The weather cooled down on Wednesday, so I sprinted through the second half of staining the second coat of red stain on the vertical boards, and then did a full first coat of clear stain on the horizontal boards.

Thursday the forecast called for cloudy skies, with rain starting around 4 p.m. So I got up and from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. put on the second coat of clear stain. The rain started at 9 a.m. Now it was whether the rain would wash that second coat off or not.  The stain was supposed to be resistent to rain after 4 hours, not 30 minutes.

Yet most of it stayed, enough that I mopped up the puddles Friday morning, let them dry, and had a third coat on by noon.

We had the deck furniture back out on the deck by  4 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m. began staining the underside (the people I talked to said you don’t do the underside, but the instructions on the stain can say, in small print, “for optimum performance, coat all accessible sides,” so I am going to follow my original gut to do the underside, since the stain company agrees with me.). At 8 p.m., after completing the underside of the one set of stairs, we started down the main deck.

I got about 5 feet along the first spacing between support braces, when I ran into something i couldn’t see, and a wasp flew by. I instantly backed up and called for Nathan to do the same. It took us awhile to locate it, but there were about  four wasps helping us locate the nest. We extricated our supplies, since the wasps were not interested in us, yet, and planned to come back after dark.

So the wasps determined whether or not we got much of the underside done. But we did spray that nest, and checked the rest of the deck to assure there weren’t any others.  The decks, and stairs, have been especially appealing to wasps this year.

So weather determined the timing and whether we got the deck staining complete. We have completed all necessary for immediate use and enjoyment, but whether we get the underside done anytime soon, to assure the longterm health of the deck, remains to be seen. Saturday is work, and over 95 degrees forecast.

Posted in Events, reading, Reviews, Writing

The Book Ballot

Today the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club discussed The Light Between Oceans, a first novel by M. L. Stedman. But I’m not going to talk about that.

We also received our book ballot for the upcoming 12 month cycle. This process is a uniquely “democratic” means of choosing what we read each year.  Everyone who wants to nominates books to be considered, and our club coordinator, the honorable Sandy Keeney, collects those nominations, puts them in a list, and we all choose 12 we would like to read. The top 12 vote-getters are then chosen for the coming year, and assigned one of the upcoming  12 months.

Some people nominate no books, some nominate several, and a few nominate one or two. I used to nominate many, but have moved to the one or two option.

Via this process we tend to get a fairly good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Some years the list is quite long, this year we have 25 from which to choose our 12.

In past years we have had one author, Sarah A. Hoyt, winner of the Prometheus Award, attend our discussion of her book, Witchfinder, via Skype. We have also looked to find local authors and topics among our works.

Which is why the one work I nominated this year, is by Rob Howell, an Overland Park, KS, author we met when WorldCon took place in Kansas City in 2016. We have talked to him during this summer’s LibertyCon in Chattanooga, during the release party for his new novel Brief is my Flame, and found him very interested and willing to work with his and the club’s schedule to attend our discussion of the book of his I nominated, if we select it for this year’s reading list (preferrably in person, he hopes, though will do Skype, etc. if necessary).

While the book list is distributed across a lot of authors and genres, it does tend to lean heavily to books available in the MidContinent Public Library system, where we borrow most of the books for the club to read. This means that it is highly biased by the preferences of professional librarians, who in turn are highly biased by the bigger publishing houses, and does not reflect the amount of reading material published by smaller independent authors and houses through online outlets and especially via ebook publishing. Both Hoyt, who is a cross-over author (publishing both “traditional” and “indie”) and Howell (totally “indie” published), represent this part of the writing economy, and its success story.

That said, I have decided to vote with an “open ballot” — well, actually I already sent in my “secret ballott”, but am now listing the 12 books, along with their descriptions we were given, in this post. I chose 7 non and 5 fiction books. They are listed in the order they appeared on the ballot, not in any order of my preference. Besides the book by a local author, I also selected the book about the Country Club district of Kansas City.  We seem to favor reading books about our local area when we find them, though it doesn’t mean we are unanimous in enjoying said books.

Here is my ballot:

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann.

New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening-and relatively unknown-spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s. From 1921 to 1926, at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands. The violent campaign of terror is believed to have begun with the 1921 disappearance of two Osage Indians, Charles Whitehorn and Anna Brown, and the discovery of their corpses soon afterwards, followed by many other murders in the next five years. The outcry over the killings led to the involvement in 1925 of an “obscure” branch of the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, which eventually charged some surprising figures with the murders. Grann demonstrates how the Osage Murders inquiry helped Hoover to make the case for a “national, more professional, scientifically skilled” police force. Grann’s own dogged detective work reveals another layer to the case that Hoover’s men had never exposed.


The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, by Mark Obmascik.

In one of the wackiest competitions around, every year hundreds of obsessed bird watchers participate in a contest known as the North American Big Year. Hoping to be the one to spot the most species during the course of the year, each birder spends 365 days racing around the continental U.S. and Canada compiling lists of birds, all for the glory of being recognized by the American Birding Association as the Big Year birding champion of North America. In this entertaining book, Obmascik, a journalist with the Denver Post, tells the stories of the three top contenders in the 1998 American Big Year: a wisecracking industrial roofing contractor from New Jersey who aims to break his previous record and win for a second time; a suave corporate chief executive from Colorado; and a 225-pound nuclear power plant software engineer from Maryland. Obmascik bases his story on post-competition interviews but writes so well that it sounds as if he had been there every step of the way. In a freewheeling style that moves around as fast as his subjects, the author follows each of the three birding fanatics as they travel thousands of miles in search of such hard-to-find species as the crested myna, the pink-footed goose and the fork-tailed flycatcher, spending thousands of dollars and braving rain, sleet, snowstorms, swamps, deserts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps in their attempts to outdo each other. By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. “A coming of age fantasy story that sympathizes with typical teen girl awkwardness and insecurity, highlighting courage, resourcefulness and the importance of family ties as key to overcoming them.” ―Carol Platt Liebau, author, in the New York Post

The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.

(a bestseller in Europe) reaches the U.S. three years after its Swedish publication, in Bradbury’s pitch-perfect translation. The intricately plotted saga of Allan Karlsson begins when he escapes his retirement home on his 100th birthday by climbing out his bedroom window. After stealing a young punk’s money-filled suitcase, he embarks on a wild adventure, and through a combination of wits, luck, and circumstance, ends up on the lam from both a smalltime criminal syndicate and the police. Jonasson moves deftly through Karlsson’s life-from present to past and back again-recounting the fugitive centenarian’s career as a demolitions expert and the myriad critical junctures of history, including the Spanish Civil War and the Manhattan Project, wherein Karlsson found himself an unwitting (and often influential) participant. Historical figures like Mao’s third wife, Vice President Truman, and Stalin appear, to great comic effect. Other characters-most notably Albert Einstein’s hapless half-brother-are cleverly spun into the raucous yarn, and all help drive this gentle lampoon of procedurals and thrillers.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

In the near future, scarce fossil fuels have ended America’s era of prosperity, sent small-town Americans to precarious vertical trailer parks at urban fringes, and the entire population into the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality, for education and escape. A possibly autistic genius obsessed with the geek side of 1980s pop culture had designed OASIS, and he leaves his entire fortune, including control of OASIS, to whoever can complete a quest he designed within it. Our heroes, sympathetic nerds with a lot of free time, go after it, as do the Sixers, unscrupulous corporate drones who want to monetize OASIS. SF fans will recognize the book’s tone as Dream Park meets Snow Crash, but readers won’t need any sf background to get it. More useful would be a crash course in the 1980s-while the novel’s preoccupation with dated culture is plausible in context, it may leave Millennials confused and baby boomers cold. Cline’s world-building raises some questions about how economics and politics works, but it doesn’t matter to the story. The conclusion is perhaps a bit predictable and the tacked-on moral a bit pat, but it’s a feel-good ending all around.

Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Phillipa Gregory.

Actor Amato, who has read three of Gregory’s previous titles as audio editions, is terrific in Gregory’s latest historical novel set in Tudor England. She deftly portrays the passions, ambitions, and catastrophes of three sisters from childhood through adolescence to queen-hood. She takes listeners along on the roller-coaster ride from ecstasy to agony and back again for the three 16th-century royals: Queen Katherine (first wife of Henry VIII), Queen Margaret (sister of Henry, married off at 16 to James IV of Scotland) and Queen Mary (sister of Henry and third wife of Louis XII of France). Amato’s portrayal of protagonist Margaret is vivid and compelling. She also creates captivating voices and personalities for their husbands and lovers, as well as their infamous brother, Henry. Gregory’s historical novels are sheer entertainment; the combination of Gregory and Amato is pure pleasure.

An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter.

In this brief but revealing volume, former US president Jimmy Carter traces his not-quite-hardscrabble rural boyhood in Plains, Georgia. He discusses the strong ties that bound his family together, points to the influence of his stern father and loving mother, and notes that tobacco and cancer cost the lives of several of those closest to him. From his father, Carter acquired a work ethic and an attention to detail that later encumbered his presidency; from his mother, he received lessons in treating all people–both white and black, rich and poor–with respect and dignity. Poignant moments arise when Carter recounts friendships with African American residents in the community where he was raised. But repeatedly, he unflinchingly acknowledges that Jim Crow strictures, such as those involving railroad cars, movie theaters, or schools, long remained uncontested. In one of the more telling moments, Carter indicates that a point arrived when it became clear that lifelong friendships would be altered due to racial considerations. Carter’s horizons broadened as he attended the US Naval Academy and lived outside his native South for several years.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. Suggested by LaVerne Pulliam. (MCPL has 7 print copies, 2 e-books, 3 audiobooks)

This beautifully written autobiography brings us the remarkable life story of Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Brought up on a farm in Kenya, Markham chose to stay in Africa when, at seventeen, her father lost their farm and went to Peru. She began an apprenticeship as a racehorse trainer which turned into a highly successful career. In her twenties, Markham gave up horses for airplanes and became the first woman in East Africa to be granted a commercial pilot’s license, piloting passengers and supplies in a small plane to remote corners of Africa.

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true . . . I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.” ―Ernest Hemingway

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 16 copies)

Through personal anecdotes and interviews with fellow cast and crew members, actor Elwes tracks the journey of 1987’s The Princess Bride from director Rob Reiner’s initial bid through its production and up to the film’s 25th anniversary. Elwes’s attempt at a conversational narrative feels clunky at times, often getting bogged down in figures, actor resumes, and even a plot summary of the film-the last of which is certainly unnecessary for the dedicated fan base that will be reading this memoir. However, the complete and unabashed adoration that the author and the cast have for the cult classic shines in stories about the famous sword fight between Elwes as Westley and Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the many takes ruined by uncontrollable laughter during Billy Crystal’s time on the set performing as Miracle Max, and the fond reminiscences of the late Andre the Giant.

I Am a Wondrous Thing (The Kreisens Book 1), by Rob Howell. Recommended by Jonathan and Betsy Lightfoot. (MCPL has no copies)

War looms in the west as sword, axe, and flame sweep the Kreisens and threaten to drag all of the neighboring realms, including Periaslavl, into the maelstrom. Irina Ivanovna, ruler of Periaslavl, knows that war would destroy much of her land. Even though magic has kept her body young, she is tired and sees that she is not the one to lead her land through the upcoming storm. She steps down in favor of her heir, as tradition dictates, and disappears from sight. She heads to the Kreisens to see if her magic can halt the bloodshed and pain. But the storm was orchestrated by foes she does not know she has. They stalk her, knowing her magic is the key. She must elude the hunters so she can discover what is truly threatening not just Periaslavl, but all of Shijuren. Where will the lightning strike?

“Nominating this book by our friend author Rob Howell. I really enjoyed reading this book, and Rob has a fantastic way putting in excellent, sometimes misleading but totally accurate foreshadowing.  If we select his book he is more than willing to come to the discussion when we talk about his book. He promotes himself and sells his books through a fairly active working of the Con circuit, and gets put on a lot of panels at those conventions as an excellent panelist for panels on how to write, and the philosophies of how best to write, publish, etc. Eminently approachable and understandable with a deep philosophical underpinning.” – Jonathan Lightfoot

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 12 copies)

What would Christmas be without the yearly viewing or reading of A Christmas Carol? It is a classic of the season–perhaps the most memorable Christmas tale of all time–that captures the spirit of the holiday. Thriller and nonfiction writer Standiford (Bone Key: A John Deal Novel; Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America) attempts to address what prompted Dickens to write this much-loved tale in this affectionate portrait of a once-successful writer trying desperately to revive his career. After a triumphant beginning, Dickens struggled as his later works failed to gain any critical or monetary success. Verging on bankruptcy and looking for inspiration, Dickens agreed to speak at a fund-raiser for the Manchester Athenaeum. Dickens left the event inspired and walked around Manchester until he had the fully formed Carol in his head. Standiford deftly traces the many influences in Dickens’s life that lead to and followed that momentous event, weaving an entertaining tale that will delight Dickens and Christmas lovers alike.

The Country Club District of Kansas City, by LaDene Morton. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 27 copies)

One of the grand experiments of American urban planning lies tucked within the heart of Kansas City. J.C. Nichols prized the Country Club District as his life’s work, and the scope of his vision required fifty years of careful development. Begun in 1905 and extending over a swath of six thousand acres, the project attracted national attention to a city still forging its identity. While the district is home to many of Kansas City’s most exclusive residential areas and commercial properties, its boundaries remain unmarked and its story largely unknown. Follow LaDene Morton along the well-appointed boulevards of this model community’s rich legacy.


Posted in Events, Writing

Blog Schedule: Sabbatical Update

Greetings! Those of you who have followed this blog, for various reasons, may have seen the post I did in April 2016 when I established a regular schedule for the postings on various days of the week. You may also have noticed that my daily posting fell apart this February due to health and other issues that hit. On March 1 I announced the start of my Sabbatical. With the start of the Sabbatical I am going to amend and update the daily blog schedule:


So here is the schedule, flexible as it is:

  • Sunday: Great Hymns of the Faith — I am working my way through the hymn book of my childhood. I put up the text, and record and mp3 of me playing and singing (sometimes with other family members) the hymn.
  • Monday: Fitness Update — Discussion of my own fitness journey and goals through the year, with related fitness and personal reflections
  • Tuesday: Sabbatical update — Review and reflection of the activities of my Sabbatical.
  • Wednesday: Great Hymns of the Faith — Another installment of the series I mentioned on Sunday
  • Thursday: A Look Ahead. –– A list of interesting events going on and coming up that I know of and may be involved in.
  • Friday: A Blast of the Past — Putting up pictures from the family photo albums, with reflections on them and my file.
  • Saturday: Open Mic — The one day to write about anything. Perhaps the Sunday Paper Feature Page of the blog, only on Saturday.

Back in 2016 I mentioned WorldCon would be coming to town, and I would preempt the above schedule for a special series on the convention.  The schedule is always open to such interruptions for special features in the future.

As you can tell, I like doing series of posts with multiple entries, whether special features, or the regular ones shown above.  Hopefully you all enjoy the developing structure.

— Godspeed

(Note: The views expressed on this blog are mine, and are not to be seen as the views of any group or organization that I am associated with.)

Posted in Education, Houghton College, Writing

A bit of poetry

(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.)



                                                             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.




“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.”

Posted in Reviews, Writing

God’s Secretaries — a Review

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.)

Posted in Writing

A quick writing tutorial

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.

Posted in Writing

A Focus on Focus

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.”

Posted in Avondale United Methodist Church, Writing

Witchfinder — the multi-tasking mind of the writer

(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)

Posted in Avondale United Methodist Church, Writing

Witchfinder — indie publishing

(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

Posted in Avondale United Methodist Church, Writing

Witchfinder — shapeshifting diner and the free library

(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

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 …