Work on my two Carlyle Projects

Saturday I woke up with my knee hurting more than it has been lately. Friday evening it felt good, and I wanted to walk to the highway and back, a 1.3 mile round trip. However, I was barely out of the driveway when the pain told me I wasn’t going that far. I walked a total of 15 minutes, more or less hobbling back.

Yet, Saturday morning I was determined to work in the yard rather than baby my knee. So I went outside early and began sawing logs, along with bringing a large tree cutting up from halfway down the yard. I cut for over an hour, adding about 25 logs to the pile. I didn’t finish the big one, but I made a start on it, cutting two or three logs off of it. After that I raked for a while, then went up to the front of the house and swept and did other minor work. I had hoped to go for two hours, but after an hour and forty-five minutes I was done, heading back inside for some rest. In fact, I laid on the couch and slept for an hour or two. My knee hurt, but probably no worse than Friday evening.

Later in the day I vacuumed the basement, including The Dungeon portion of it; changed batteries in a couple of key technology pieces; washed out the furnace screens; put the recyclables into the van for delivery on Sunday; and made the weekly Wal-Mart grocery run. All in all, it was a busy and active day. I didn’t try walking in the evening.

What does that have to do with writing, you ask, which is, after all, the supposed subject of this blog? The activity, the busyness of the day, left my brain in no condition to work on my writing. I had two chapters to read to prepare to teach Life Group on Sunday, and barely had the brainpower to read them and prepare. In an unheard of event for a weekend night, we were in bed by 10:30 p.m.

Sunday afternoon found me ready for a nap, but I think I only slept 30 minutes at most, and was at my computer. Logic told me I should work on my Civil War book, still standing at 40 or so percent complete. Instead, still being somewhat below par in brainpower, I decided to format my book on Carlyle’s Chartism. I haven’t worked on this since March or April, when I downloaded most of the source documents into it and planned the purpose, contents, and order of the book. I decided to work on the formatting. I had pulled in things from at least 15 different websites, and had over 50 different text styles, all of which needed to be regularized.

I worked on this for about an hour and a half (after writing and posting at my other blog). I’m a long, long way from finishing the formatting, but it’s certainly in much better shape. I need to do some more searching for related out-of-copyright documents: contemporaneous reviews, historical reviews, and even some predecessor documents. I’ve also identified three copyrighted reviews from 1990 onwards that I’d like to include in it. I contacted one copyright holder about a different matter, so know where and how to reach them. I need to determine the other two copyright holders and contact all three to see if I can get permission to republish their articles.

So, I made progress on Sunday. It’s nothing that I can say, “Oh, three more hours and I’ll be done with that.” I don’t know how long the formatting will take me. If I were forced to guess, I’d say two more days like Sunday and the formatting of what I have in hand would be done. I need to find other documents and include them. And I need to write my own essay, or perhaps a couple, about Carlyle’s Chartism, but those are down the line. I think, if I concentrated on this only, I’d be a year or so away from having it done.

In my next post, possibly I’ll explain exactly what this book is, and its purpose.

Going with Where Inspiration Leads Me

Last night I went home after two days of intense training (as facilitator, not trainer or trainee) and urgent work. I was bushed. Yet, my mind remained somewhat active. Right after eating supper I couldn’t get on the Internet on my Nook. So I went to look for something printed on paper to read, and pulled out a literary magazine special issue about Thomas Carlyle.

Now, except for occasionally reading a little in the Carlyle Letters Online, I haven’t thought much about him since some time in April. But reading this caused me to think about my two unfinished Carlyle projects: the book about his book Chartism; and the composition bibliography. I spent a little time in both last evening.

Now, today, my mind won’t leave the composition biography. I’ve been fixated on it all day, to the detriment of it getting in the way of thinking about my day job. Oh, I’ve done my work, but with half my mind elsewhere. Fortunately I didn’t have any tasks requiring major concentration laid on for today.

How long will this sojourn with the sage of Chelsea last? I don’t know. I don’t want to leave my Civil War book for long, nor abandon Father Daughter Day. But, for a day or too, or even a weekend, this is a good, intellectual pursuit that should stimulate some atrophying gray cells.

A Different Kind of Writing

Last week at work I found myself in a position I’d waited for for a long time: All major tasks caught up, all training planned and in motion for the next few weeks, and the ability to look for things I’d left hanging or set aside but could not pick up again.

The last of my major tasks was a project audit. I finished that early last week, and shot off e-mails to the Dept. Head, requesting a meeting to discuss the results. I knew his key man on the project was out last week, so the meeting about the audit results would be delayed. With that done (on Tuesday, I think), and with me not having to teach a class all week, I sat back and said, “What to do next?” Almost immediately I answered, “Work on the spec for stormwater underground detention.”

One of my jobs at CEI is “keeper of the standards”. It’s up to me, working with our corporate CADD trainer, to make sure whatever standards we have for engineering work are up to date and being followed. The project audits are to see how well the standards were followed on a project. Construction specifications are part of that. I maintain our database of guide specification sections. Construction specs has been a passion of mine through the years. I enjoy that part of a project more than any other.

I guess I enjoy them because it’s word-smithing. You try, in a few pages, to tell the contractor in words what you can’t easily show in pictures. When lines on a drawing fail you, you use words. But the language is different. You are terse. You don’t worry about complete sentences. You use lists when you can. You leave out many definite and indefinite articles. You talk directly to the contractor, so can leave off a lot of unnecessary words. I love it. So different from creative writing, but I love it. When I teach classes on spec writing, I always say “You aren’t writing literature.”

An example of best practice in specifications language can be seen in the following three ways to say a thing.

  • The Contractor shall construct a underground detention basin.
  • An underground detention basin shall be construction.
  • Construct an underground detention basin.

Eight words, seven word, and five words in those three examples. The third one is considered best practice, and the way I do it.

In this particular spec section, I had set it aside almost a year ago because I couldn’t pull it all together. We have a choice between many available systems: plastic, metal, concrete, manufactured, built-in-place, half concrete half earthen, arch structures, pipe structures, etc. Each one has advantages. Our office tends to use one specific type more than others, though others can be considered. I started out writing a spec section that would include all types of systems, but found it impossible to do so in less than 10 to 14 pages. A spec section that size is too long. So I decided to break it into two of three sections, and concentrate first on the plastic structures. Once I did that, it started to come together quickly.

But, when I laid it aside, it still wasn’t quite done. I had taken out all the extraneous language on concrete and metal systems, but hadn’t really described the different plastic systems available. It was Wednesday last week, I think, that time became available. I picked up the spec section and began properly describing the different plastic systems available. I had to name a couple of categories of systems. I had to research ASTM standards (mostly done before). I had to fit everything into the pigeonholes established by the construction specifications standard-setting organization.

One big thing I had to do was write a section on the actual construction. This was difficult because the differing systems available require different construction sequences. We generally don’t like to give the contractor a lot of restrictions on the “how” part of construction, or the sequence. But we do have to say a few things. I managed to put something together, and I had a completed spec. That was mid-day on Friday.

The next thing I did was e-mail it to each of the manufacturers mentioned, to make sure I have it right for their system. I did so on Friday, with one straggler going out yesterday. Slowly, responses are coming in. Today I’ll start taking a look at those, and tweaking the spec based on the comments.

Spec writing is as far away from creative writing as you can get. Except for making every word count. And using active voice as much as possible. And making sure you are communicating to your intended audience in a way that will be understood. I hope the next few months provide me with much more time to work on specs. It will make me a better writer.

Do I Write? Do I Publish? Do I Market?

For the last week I’ve done no writing. Not a word. For more than a week, actually. Nor have I done anything about marketing my writing. Instead, I’ve read; I’ve rested; I’ve watched television; I’ve worked a little on genealogy. Oh, and this past weekend I spent a few hours filing and culling my writing papers.

So when do I start writing again? I’m not sure I’m ready yet. I’m still reeling from the lack of sales. Sales looked so promising in April through July. After months of selling two or three copies a month, I was up to 10 to 12 copies per month. Then Amazon started the Kindle Unlimited book borrowing service in July. None of my books are in that. Coincidentally, about that time, my book sales dried up to nothing. I went from July 30 to August 28 selling not one book on Kindle. On August 28 I dropped the price of my first baseball/Mafia novel to $0.99, and sold seven copies in two days. I hoped this would spur sales of the sequel, but unfortunately it did not. I sold one copy of that.

In the face of those sales results, it’s difficult to carry on. I don’t know that Kindle Unlimited caused people to quit buying my books because they can borrow books less expensively elsewhere. I don’t particularly want to pull my books from all other sales channels so that they can be exclusive to Amazon and thus in KU. But the timing of my sales drop and the launch of KU are, if not effect and cause, quite coincidental. This past weekend I had my first two sales in September, on back-to-back days. It’s a welcome development, which I hope will continue. Alas, my pessimistic side says it won’t.

So, I need to decide what to do. Do I write? Do I promote and see what happens? Do I publish what I have ready? Do I finish what’s in the pipeline and publish those? All of those things require work and sacrifice. Publishing means creating covers, the thought of which makes me ill. I either need to buck up and do it or hire it done with money I don’t have. I could also opt for ugly, generic covers that don’t attract readers. Since my fancier covers aren’t attracting readers, maybe it won’t make a difference.

The book that’s closest to being done and ready to publish is my poetry book, Father Daughter Day. It’s done, just needing e-book and print book formatting and a cover. I say it’s done. I had hoped to add one more poem to it. I’ve worked on that poem, but nothing has come to me that seems good. The book could go out without it. Maybe this week I’ll take the drafts of the poem and work on it, see if I can finish it. Then next week I could do the formatting. As for a cover, I have an idea of exactly what I want, but I can’t produce it. It would take an artist, or at least a graphic artist to combine elements into an attractive cover.

I’m mainly thinking out loud here. Possibly finishing FDD is the way I’ll go, though maybe not. Stay tuned.

Dreaming

The problem with not writing is my mind fills the hours with dreaming instead. Dreaming about completing books that I’ve set aside for the moment. Dreaming about sales that never come. Dreaming about future books in the queue.

Dreaming is not a good practice, IMHO, because dreams tend to grow out of proportion to what reality can deliver. I don’t discount how big God is, and that He can certainly work results that can exceed even our wildest dreams. But my experience is we have to make our best efforts and work out our dreams.

So this is going to be a rough period. Dreaming but not doing. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I suppose this weekend I’ll at least do some research in the Civil War book. Although, with all the filing I have to do, maybe not.

Rethinking

Book sales in April through August are significantly better than they were in January through March. So why am I so depressed about book sales?

Because, except for a couple of special circumstances, I’ve had close to zero sales of late. Last month I put In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People on sale for $0.99; the regular price is $3.99. I did this, intending for it to last a week, because the sequel, Headshots, was to be released August 28, and I hoped a sale on the first might spark sales on the second. That’s what the conventional wisdom is, at least.

Well, the sale resulted in 7 sales of FTSP and exactly 1 sale of Headshots. I had two pre-orders of Headshots, but when I asked Amazon why only one sale they said the other pre-order was never paid, so they never shipped the book.  One sale of a novel that included a pre-order time and some notifications on Facebook is pathetic, to say the least.

The other special circumstance was the release of the paperback copy of The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 1 in June. I sold 23 copies of that in the office and to a couple of clients. Since then none. Except for these two circumstances, I’ve sold 47 books this year. That’s for 17 items published. It’s true, I don’t do a lot of promotion. I’m sure my FB friends get tired of what promotional posts I do make. My two blogs have almost no readers, so the promotion I do on them probably results in no sales. So, any sales I have are the occasional drive-by sale. I don’t know that I have any/many from relatives, acquaintances, or on-line friends. I know that a couple of co-workers bought electronic copies of The Gutter Chronicles earlier in the year.

I have several works-in-progress. I’ll probably finish and publish them, but beyond that I have no vision and no plan. I’ll write more about this on Friday.

I Enjoy Editing

Right now, or I guess I should say for the past several days, when not consumed by the busyness of life not related to writing, rather than writing I’ve been editing. I agreed to be a beta reader for a cousin who has completed a memoir, her sixth or seventh book. She has been beta reader for me a couple of times, and I was glad to finally be able to do this for her.

The memoir is painful to read, as her life had much trouble and trauma, things she had to overcome. I had some of that in my own life, but hers was different, more painful I think. Reading it has been hard. Until last night when I got to the point where she writes uplifting chapters about her Christian conversion. I have another 40 or 50 pages to go, which I hope to finish tonight. I was actually hoping to finish it last night, but a late start and a need to quit earlier than intended due to working on a sleep deficit put me behind where I wanted to be. Tonight, possibly I’ll finish, though I need to make a major grocery run tonight. We’ll see.

Some writers say they like to write, but they hate editing. They hate editing not only their own work but also the works of others. I don’t find it to be that way. Maybe all the editing I’ve had to do over the years for my engineering career has prepared me for editing in my creative writing. To me it’s an exciting thing to look at words on a page, figure out what the writer (myself or someone else) intended to communicate to the reader, and see if I can find a better way to say it.

A high school and college friend recently was one of my beta readers on Headshots. He sent me a couple of pages of notes, which identified some typos, and indicated places where he thought the plot was sub-optimal, or where character actions were not believable because something hadn’t been set up correctly. I agreed with most of his comments, and looked for ways to make those corrections to the text.

What I found was that fixing these things didn’t take a lot of time or words. Adding one sentence, somewhere in the text, might be all it took to foreshadow a coming event. A plot issue could be fixed in a similar manner. At other times, it took adding in a whole scene (maybe a short one) to fix the problem.  Either way, I enjoyed the process.

Now, I’m enjoying the editing I’m doing as a beta reader. For a memoir it’s different than for a novel. Events happened, and the memoir is conveying them factually along with the writer’s thoughts, emotions, reactions, etc. A memoir can’t have a plot hole, can it? Not really, but it can give information that is sprung on the reader in a less than optimal way. Found one of them last night. It can have good sentences and awkward sentences. Plenty for an editor to do.

Of course, we’ll see how the cuz likes it. “What? You want to change my sentence? No way!!” Or maybe, “It’s fine how it is, thank you.” Or possible, “Thanks; that will make it better.” As writers we fall in love with our words, sentences, paragraphs, and books/stories. Changing them is sometimes hard. The cuz might look at the Word file, filled with track changes notations, and wonder if it was a good idea sending it to me.

That’s okay. I have enjoyed the process. Maybe, if I don’t make it as a writer, I can be an editor some day.

August 2014 Book Sales

My post will be brief today, as much is going on in my world. The last couple of days have been very emotional, in a good way. Things have happened, things that I might someday discuss on my other blog.

But for now I’ll just report August 2014 book sales. I sold 12 books, near as I can tell. I don’t understand how Amazon counted the pre-sales for my novels Headshots. The sales report says two were pre-ordered, and that they would post to the novel sales on the day of release. However, only one posted on that day, August 28. I contacted Amazon about it, and they said I only had one preorder and that was the sale that posted on the 28th. I’m about to respond to them, “Then why did my pre-order report show two pre-orders?” For now, I’m just counting it as one sale. Given that’s the only sale I had of it, you could say my novel release, including going for pre-orders, was a huge flop. “It’s a long tail game” I keep telling myself.

Here’s the sales table.  I’ll insert s smaller one later for display at Absolute Write.

2014-08 Book Sales Table 909x409

The Battle of Shiloh 1862

Having completed the work on Headshots—all but the re-formatting for Smashwords and uploading it there—I have turned my attention back to Documenting America, Civil War Edition. Last weekend I wrote one chapter in manuscript, and typed it. I also went searching for source documents for some non-battle chapters, and had some success. I’d already identified what documents I wanted to use, so it was just a question of whether I could find these on-line, in a copy-able form, to avoid re-typing. I found three of four of them for upcoming chapters, and copied them into my Word document for the book. I still have editing to do on them, but at least they are there. That’s a big part of the work.

Yesterday I began careful reading of the reports I downloaded on the Battle of Shiloh. From a couple of websites I found a good number of reports from generals in the field, from both the North and South. These ranged from initial battle orders to snap reports to detailed reports to transmittals. I didn’t find any orders during the heat of the battle, but possibly back then they didn’t write such orders, rather sending them via orderlies and assistants. A couple of weeks ago I aggregated these reports into a single Word document and formatted it for convenient reading. Yesterday I printed it, and last night I began detailed reading of it. As I was gathering the reports, I mainly skimmed them for general understanding of the content.

I find these reports quite interesting. I’ve talked with military men, at the junior officer level, about what modern military orders and battle reports look like, and I think they are nothing like what was done in the Civil War era. The orders issued by General Johnston of the Confederates said very little about the military objectives of the campaign. I realize I likely don’t have every document, every order he issued. But if, as I think, I have the main one, he’s not very clear about what he wants to do. Drive the invaders out of his country. Turn the enemy’s flank. Corps such and so under General So and So to form a battle line here. But no where does it say, “Our objective is to take [this land] [this town]” or “Our objective is to stop the enemy’s advance south of Shiloh meeting house, and drive him back to the Savannah-Bethel Springs line,” etc.

Snap reports, on both sides, tended to convey little information to remote superiors, and even to misstate things. Both sides claimed they were fighting a foe of superior numbers, whereas history teaches us the two sides were about equal in soldiers and armaments. The North had a slight superiority in that they had ironclad gunboats on the river, close enough to fire on the Southern armies. But except for that, from what I’ve been able to gather, it was a pretty even fight.

The battle results seem to be much the same as the one I looked at for a previous chapter, the first Battle of Bull Run, but with the sides reversed. The South were the aggressors, advancing on Northern positions, with a (seemingly) vague idea to turn the flank of the enemy and thus prevent his retreat. Initially the South had success, capturing Northern artillery, gaining ground, and, at the end of first day, able to report success. After that the North had reinforcements come in, which encouraged their troops and demoralized the South, and they pushed the South back. At the end of the second day the South was defeated and in retreat. It was just like that at Bull Run, but with North and South reversed, and with that battle happening on a single day.

A big difference between the two battles was that at Bull Run, the North retreated in panic and disarray, whereas at Shiloh the Southern retreat was orderly and disciplined. The fighting had been going on eight additional months by this time, and both armies were learning how to fight like soldiers. Their generals, also, were learning how to lead like generals. At Shiloh, the big “star,” if I may call him that, was William Tecumseh Sherman, who had the main success for the North on day two, and was recommended for a promotion as a result.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through these reports. I hope to finish them tonight, or perhaps tomorrow. The following day I’ll edit them, and the day after will write the chapter. Certain parts of the chapter are already coming to mind. Some of it might be similar to parts of this blog. I can for sure see that the battle chapters are going to take longer to research/edit/write than will the other chapters. Shiloh is chapter 11, I think. The book will have 31 chapters if my current plans hold. Since I have much research done for later chapters, I’d say I’m 1/3 or more done with the book. That’s a good feeling.

HEADSHOTS Available for Pre-Order

Headshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01Yesterday was my scheduled day to post to this blog. I didn’t do it, however, as I spent my pre-work hour at the office on putting some finishing touches on Headshots. That meant putting back in some new chapter divisions, working on the copyright page, and something else I can’t remember right now. That took up the time I would otherwise have spent writing a post. I still intended to write one, either on the noon hour or at home after work.

Alas, the noon hour went by on something else, and when I got home I discovered I had failed to e-mail myself the Headshots file I’d worked on at the office. So I had to do all that work over again, an hour more or less. My goal was to upload it to Amazon last night, and take advantage of their new pre-order feature on Kindle Direct Publishing, with an issue date of August 28. So I did the work over again, tweaked the copyright page a little more, built a table of contents, and added the “About the Author” and “Works by the Author” sections. This took another hour, more or less.

When that was done I went to KDP and began the uploading process. This is not difficult, but it is somewhat tedious. You have to pick your book’s genre (you’re allowed to list it in two) and add description for the book. I find both of those fairly difficult to do. As for genres, I put it in:

> Fiction > Sports

> Fiction > Thrillers > Crime

I suppose those work. As for description, I used this as the tag line: A young pitcher must make a comeback while protecting his family from Mafia hit men. That seemed a good one-line description. I was supposed to add something more, much more, but moved on for the moment to other parts of the uploading process. The cover gave me some trouble, as I had never adjusted the size to the dimensions Kindle and Smashwords wants. It took me a while to get the right file loaded and to make the adjustment, but it was done. With the book file uploaded, I checked it on the Kindle previewer. It seems the chapter titles aren’t displaying correctly on the Kindle. They are correct in the Word file. I decided that was something I could fix between now and the 28th, so didn’t worry about it.

I went to the second page of the uploading form and worked on pricing, royalty rate, rights, etc. I had it all done. As I’d been at it for two and a half hours and was tired of it all, I clicked on “Publish”.  I got the notice that it would be about twelve hours before it showed up at Amazon as available to pre-order. All was well. Then I remembered I’d never gone back and finished the book description. All that was there was the one-liner.

So today, sometime, I’ll need to finish the book description and re-publish. Hopefully that won’t take too long. Here’s the link to the book in its pre-order state:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MVFV6R8

My next step is to see if I want to make another change suggested by all my beta readers. They all said too many characters were introduced in the first three chapters, making it overwhelming. In response to that I had already written out one character, a police detective. Well, I didn’t actually write him out; I just deleted his name from the text. I had already decided I could delete the names of two key associates of the New York Mafia Don. They had no real role in the first chapter—they were just there, and I had referred to them by name. I could introduce them in the chapters where they first appeared with substantive contributions to the story.

I went upstairs and began marking up a copy of the book. I re-read the first three chapters. As I said , taking out the associates names were fairly easy. I decided the only other names I could remove from those three chapters were of the three Cubs’ players who had had slumps during the playoffs in the first book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. They are key characters in Headshots, but I decided they really didn’t need to be introduced by name in the first three chapters. So I took an hour to go through those chapters, see what would need to be changed or moved to make it a good change, and marked-up the manuscript accordingly. That took me all the way till bed time.

My mind was very tired by then, but I was satisfied. I knew I could delete six character names from the first three chapters, which should improve the reading experience. The book publishing was in progress. Yes, I still had more to do, but that was okay. For now all was good. And there’s lots of time between now and August 28th to make other corrections. And I still have the Smashwords edition to prepare, but won’t have that up until the publication date.

Headshots is my 17th item published, all at Amazon, and all but one at Smashwords. Hopefully this will spur sales.

 

Author | Engineer