Among Many, A Search for One

The Gulf Coast of Florida (and surely, many other locations) has beaches where fossil shark teeth are abundant. My young nephews collect pails full of them! (That is my idea of a fun vacation: planted at the ocean, sifting shells and sand to hunt treasures.) On a brief recent visit to a beach near Venice, Florida, I spent about an hour on one of those beaches and made some amazing finds!

There, see all those fossil teeth?

There, see all those fossil teeth?

Actually, you need to look more closely. Be prepared to be distracted by all the amazing shell fragments!

Actually, you need to look more closely. Be prepared to be distracted by all the amazing shell fragments!

Sometimes a tooth sits on the surface in an obvious manner but usually you will need to sift the shells, a handful at a time.

Sometimes a tooth sits on the surface in an obvious manner but usually you will need to sift the shells, a handful at a time.

The results of my hour of searching, discovered one tooth at a time.

The results of my hour of searching, discovered one tooth at a time.

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is to show “one”.

For Non-Traditional Christmas Musicologists (?), Two Gems

When I was a kid, my father ignored neighbors’ comments for weeks each December, when he blasted tinny Christmas recordings from a speaker in our garage, making the music kind of seem to come from the illuminated plastic carolers in the garage window.

As an adult, I admire my dad’s ability to ignore the opinions of others, but I struggle with Christmas music – with the exception of Phil Spector’s Xmas album, and these two splendid pieces.

The Pogues – Fairytale in New York

“I could have been someone.
Well so could anyone.”

What a song for an audience singalong! (You won’t learn the lyrics by listening to Shane deliver them here, but if you would like to join in, click here for a version with lyrics laid out.)

The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

“I couldn’t let them off that easy.”

This video approaches genius.

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!

An Unexpected Etching

Twice a week, the exercise class I have attended for years meets under a certain freeway overpass. The other day, I discovered a note scrawled in the concrete. I had never noticed it before. Now, I have a long history of not noticing stuff, but when I asked around, nobody else had previously noticed it either. Perhaps we are all oblivious, or perhaps the message is an indication of intense longing, sufficient to carve long-dry concrete.

I LOVE ART BERMUDEZ.

I LOVE ART BERMUDEZ. Note the final curl to the final letter, rendering a heart from the Z.

Note the final curl to the final letter, rendering a heart from the Z.

I don’t know anyone by that moniker, but man do I love that nameArturo Bermudez. I can guarantee that one of my novels will include a character by that name. In fact I am tempted to use this for a character in my fantasy detective series, FRAMES. The character is currently named Hernandez.

What am I thinking? FRAMES is finished and in revisions! To change a character’s name is to change the character; to ditch “Hernandez” at this point would be a kind of murder. And I love Hernandez. Everyone who has read the book loves Hernandez.

I do look forward to meeting the fictional Arturo Bermudez soon; probably in book two of FRAMES. Meanwhile, I hope the concrete scribe and the real-world Art are doing well, together or no.

(The current WP Photo Challenge wants to see “unexpected”.)

The Lyrics That Live With Me

When Lou Reed died, there was some great news coverage, such as the NY Times obituary, and much absurdity – which I guess could be predicted. My local news stations struggled to explain him to those who’d never heard of him. Here and there a reporter would add personal viewpoint (“He singlehandedly invented alt rock!”) to the obit pablum. Pablum. Does anyone still know what pablum is?

Not for the first time, I was grateful and impressed with how social media responded. Facebook, for example, didn’t just spread the news of his death, but also filled with tributes from people to whom Reed had mattered. Many simply quoted song lyrics that were important to them, which started conversational riffs that were moving and healing. I wish social media had been available when we lost Lennon! Or Strummer!

All of which got me thinking about what song lyric I would quote if another of my musicians dies before I do. There are certain songwriters who have been so important at some point in my life – so transformative – that their deaths would leave permanent holes. Even if I haven’t listened to (or thought about) some of them for decades, I need them to be in the world.

Below are the lyrics I might post. Although who knows what might instead occur at the time. When Alex Chilton died it wasn’t Chilton’s words or Big Star’s lyrics that surfaced, but Westerberg’s tribute song, Alex Chilton.

I’m in love, what was that song? 

Here is one of my lists. What would yours be?

 Leonard Cohen

 I have tried in my way to be free.

Elvis Costello
(note: the link has lyrics altered for TV!)

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

John Doe

You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart.

Bob Dylan

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
Okay here is where I acknowledge what a silly exercise this is.
The proper Dylan lyric changes hourly.

Exene & John Doe

She had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.

Patti Smith

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Bruce Springsteen

The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
If I could take one moment into my hand

Graham Parker

Life isn’t good enough. Music makes it good enough.
(Actually that quintessential Parker line
comes from an interview not a lyric.)

Kelly Joe Phelps

like a shine-eyed Mr. Zen
actually I’d probably use the lyrics that Corinne West
surely wrote for him in “Whiskey Poet“,
You took some chances
now the silence is your friend
As will I be in the end

Chris Thile

I’d probably quote his stage observation
that he lives vicariously through his own songs.

Paul Westerberg
(Live video without image.
Song that truncates unexpectedly.
Yup. Those were our ‘Mats.)

Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied.

Neil Young

I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream.

This post responds to a recent WordPress weekly writing challenge about music that matters.)

Powers of Observation, or Lack Thereof

With people and behavior, I can be an astute and detailed observer; but when it comes to my surroundings, I can be shockingly oblivious. More than once I have looked around in a familiar place and thought something along the lines of Gee, how long has that light fixture been there? “Familiar place” includes the home where I have lived for 10 years.

You probably think I’m joking.

This morning it thus came as no surprise when I walked out of the train station I always use, and discovered an interesting pattern in the juxtaposition of walkways and a bench. I’m reasonably certain they did not install all of this during the last week. Although come to think of it there was some construction there recently. So maybe for once I didn’t traverse the area 100 times without noticing this:

layers1photolayers2photo

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge asked to see layers.)

Ten Questions I’ve Never Considered

This Word Press Daily Post was fun to consider. It said On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

What are your own responses? Post them in comments here, or write your own post and comment me the link!

Always good for a laugh.

Always good for a laugh.

What is your favorite word?

Clam. It’s always good for a laugh.

What is your least favorite word?

Teh. Which is how the comes out whenever I type it.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Live music.

What turns you off?

Fragmentation – demands, deadlines, chores, requirements, expectations pulling me in multiple directions.

What is your favorite curse word?

Hands-down winner: the F word.

What sound or noise do you love?

I love hearing my twins (son and daughter) talking and working together without bickering or oneupsmanship. I typically hear this once or twice a year, when they make me breakfast in bed for mother’s day and/or my birthday.

What sound or noise do you hate?

1970s arena rock. GMWAS.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Professional surfer. Well. I would love to be one. I would not bother to attempt it. I can barely negotiate a boogie board.

What profession would you not like to do?

Waiter. I would be a terrible one and I would find it so stressful to be polite and calm in the face of customer demands.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Your friends, family and critters await you in room 12C.

Sticking to Principles, or Just Plain Stuck?

For readers who do not follow U.S. politics (a wise bunch), some background: in November 2012, our most recent presidential campaign concluded. Obama and Biden won re-election. Their opponents were Romney and Ryan.

Every day I walk my dog around the neighborhood, twice. I try to vary our route but over a week we pass the same homes repeatedly. A couple blocks from me is a neighbor I have never seen on any of those walks, but fantasize meeting, to inquire about this obsolete campaign sign, getting weathered and worn on the front lawn:

A sign of defiance?

A sign of defiance?

What I want to ask – but let’s face it, never will – goes like this: Are you aware the election is over? Are you trying to will a different result? Is this a signal of your refusal to accept the outcome? (Insert rant about kneejerk intransigence in the federal government.) Should we call the SWAT team – have you been held hostage in your house for more than 12 months, unable to walk out front to remove the sign?

Please advise.

(This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge wants to see habits.)

Guaranteed Me Time

Parents and other grown-ups know that as life’s demands escalate, it gets harder to take care of our own needs. I attend an exercise class that starts at 530 am because that seems to be the only way that I can guarantee fitting exercise into my daily routine. Lately I’ve been getting up even earlier, to crowbar some writing into my day. Four am is so early that even the dog is still asleep. (By 5 am, her optimism kicks in and she follows me around, hoping for a very early breakfast.)

My exercise class is outside. I love that. I love seeing sunrises like this,  instead of the walls of a gym:

The view shortly after class began this morning.

The view shortly after class began this morning.

Admittedly this was one of the nicest sunrises ever. But you get the idea.

sunrise2

The view as class concluded.

Outside, you cry? Are you nuts!? Maybe, but I’m not a masochist, I’m a southern Californian. There are scant few days each year when it is unpleasant to be outside.

(This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge wants to see habits.)

Rush Hour at the Cat Door

It is important to be the first one out in the morning. On this morning, Bo (orange, left) seems to have the advantage. He does not. As soon as the cat door opens, Arrow will squeeze under his chin and shoot outside before he takes a step.

CatdoorPoisedDark-photoshop

On your mark!

I am a cat. I pace and meow to exit, and then, soon after, I return to lounge indoors. Sometimes the pacing lasts longer than the trip outdoors.

There are three cats here, one obscured by another's bushy tail.

There are three cats here, Arrow is obscured by Leo’s bushy tail.

Giant orange tabby Leo is usually third of the three to leave. He doesn’t get the fuss about the morning exits, but competes because his buds do.

Didn't we just do this yesterday?

Didn’t we just do this yesterday?

A rare photograph captures the exit of the usual winner. Arrow does everything at warp speed. This morning, the others haven’t yet realized the door is open by the time she is outside.

The others don't even know the door is open, yet.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing fast.

P.S. to discerning blog readers – yes, these photos are missing two of the five cats. The youngsters use this cat door to the backyard. The oldsters prefer to leave by another door.

The oldsters avoid the youngsters at rush hour.

Oldsters Bop and Luna avoid the youngsters at rush hour.

(This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge wants to see habits.)