Technologically Challenged

I received an e-mail from my son-in-law, Richard Schneberger, who said that the comments feature of my blog limited comments to team members. When Richard helped me set this blog up over the Christmas holidays, I thought I had that set to allow anyone to comment. Obviously not. That is now taken care of. Any one who drops by, feel free to make a comment on any post. I realize this blog is not really the type that will generate comments, at least it isn’t right now. Maybe in the future, if I really become published, that could change.

Richard said he added a link to my blog on his blog. I intend to do the same for his, but right now I haven’t figured out how. Several times in previous posts I tried to add a link to some web site, only to find out the link didn’t work. I haven’t learned the code using the < and > characters. On the message boards I frequent, you use the [ and ] characters for code. Substituting characters that designate code is coming should not be a problem, but the links still don’t work. So there is something else I have to learn.

I’m planning on taking a community college class in web site building during the month of March. Maybe then I’ll learn what I need. In the meantime, I hope to learn how to post a clickable link, and add a blogroll.

2007 in Poetry

I spent little time with poetry in 2007. Having completed Father Daughter Day the year before (but with most of it written 2004-2005), I read it through once and did some minor edits, and found a few beta readers in my target audience. The year began with it under consideration by a gift book editor, but I heard in June (after three follow-up e-mails) that they weren’t interested. I showed it to a couple of editors at a writers conference in November, but as expected they were not interested in poetry. I almost looked into having the book illustrated, but decided the time was not right. So I’m letting this sit for a while.

As to writing poetry, my production this year was only seven:
– a sonnet “Yoked”, on the progression of marriage
– a free verse poem “A Far Away Look”, the first free verse I’ve tried for a while
– a light verse “Oxymoron No. 1”, about reading poetry
– a light verse epithet “For One Who Died Too Young”
– a light verse “On The Virtues Of ‘Good’ Or ‘Fine'”
– an haiku
– a sonnet “Of Bollards And Berms”, about the inner struggle to purity

Several of these I workshopped at Absolute Write or Mosaic Musings.

I just didn’t feel like writing poetry this year. Very few situations arose where I thought That would make a good poem and sat down to do it. I don’t know if this means my poetry interest is waning, or just that the time wasn’t there to do both prose and poetry, and thus I supressed, either purposely or subconciously, the desire to write it. I hope it’s the latter, and that at some point in the future my desire to write poetry–and read it–will come back.

Vocation Rules

Yes, you read that right: vocation, not vacation, ruled the day today, and will for the next several. Blasted day job! I could get a lot of writing done except for that.

I had a late start today due to a doctor’s appointment (lab work) and icy roads, this being the eve of one of the most important days in my job for a year or so. That pub me behind on preparations, and though I was caught up by the end of the day, tomorrow will be full with a special presentation, and then next two after will be spent catching up from that one. And, to top it off, I learned on Monday that my proposal for a paper to be presented at an engineering conference in August was accepted. I have till March 17 now to actually write the paper. No pressure.

So, writing went by the wayside yesterday, and looks like it will for a couple of more days. Except, last night I did get into the marketing of Documenting America. A small step, but one in the right direction. Maybe with a number of small steps I can conquer my array of fears.

Book Review: "Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About"

From time to time, I will provide book reviews in this blog, of what I’ve recently read. It will keep me sharp as I read, and maybe hone skills as a reviewer, especially of how to be honest but not insulting. Of course, blog readers will then see that a lot of what I read is ancient.

This first one is reasonably new Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About by Kevin Trudeau. Like many, I had seen bits and snatches of his info-mercials, though I never watched one all the way through. Much of what I heard him say made sense, and the entire concept of natural curse simply by using things that God gave us, rather than relying on man’s manufacturing, is attractive to me. I remember reading Food-Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper some years ago, and being impressed with the whole concept of natural cures. I had been intending to purchase Trudeau’s two main books, but my brother-in-law beat me to it, giving them as Christmas presents last month.

Unfortuately, the first book is awful. I hate to say that so bluntly, but it is. If I had the time and a bit more of a masochistic bent, I would go through the book with highlighters and highlight: health suggestions, anti-government ranting, anti-corporate ranting, self-aggrandizement, and information rebeated either verbatim or almost so. The health information would be less than 2 percent of the book, anti-government rants about 15 percent, anti-corporate rants about 20 percent, self-aggrandizement maybe 5 percent, with the rest (whatever that comes to) being awful, awful repetition. If the repetition percent comes out to less than 60 percent, I’ve given too much weight to other things.

This is sad, because I suspect most of what he says concerning health is quite valid. Eat foods in their most natural, organic state, without the benefits of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, homogenization, pasteurization, etc. But wading through the awful repetition is so difficult, I don’t know how to really benefit from this book.

The beefs I have with Trudeau are the same ones I have with most health books.
1. While all organic food would obviously seem to be better, a modern, urban society, with the distance from farm to market to table results in so much spoilage that full organic is not possible in massive quantities. So only the informed few could benefit from this.
2. The organic and natural way of eating is much more expensive than what we find now in stores. Thus the poor cannot really afford to participate. Only those with land and the wherewithall to organic farm, or those with sufficient means, can participate.
3. The book itself is poorly written, as I find most health books to be. Trudeau needs a ghost writer and an editor who will be honest with him. The 400+ page book could have been done in 50 pages with no loss of information.
4. The book is not so much for conveying true health information as it is a teaser, published to take you through a portal into a world of other for-profit products. Most of these health books are really for the purpose of selling food supplements. Trudeau’s is for selling website and newsletter subscriptions. Some difference.

I have read a little in Trudeau’s second book, More Natural Cures Revealed, but will not be reviewing it. To do so will be redundant.

Excuses: Fear of Commitment

Well, another day sick at home, though I’m definitely on the mend. I cut back a bit on medicine, and don’t need a cough drop constantly in my mouth. Coughing much less, sinus drainage less. Back to work on Monday.

Which brings me to my last excuse in the fear area: fear of committment.

Right now, I’m playing with Documenting America. I get on to it hot and heavy for a week, and write three or four columns, gaging the time it take for each including reading, research, writing, editing, and finishing. I prove that in a mere three or four hours of concentrated work I can write one of these columns. That I could do every week. And, if that was the only thing needed for the column, that would be a commitment I would be willing to make. That’s what it would be if I wrote the column for a newspaper, one newspaper.

However, for self-syndication, I would also have marketing research, actual marketing, sending of the columns, billing and followin-up on billing, and organizing the whole thing. What would the time commitment be? What if I had the column in 5 newspapers? That wouldn’t be too bad, but what about 50? If I were so successful as to appear in 50 newspapers, what would the time commitment be, and could I handle it? If the column itself takes four hours a week, I suspect the marketing and business end of the project would require about that much, certainly if it appears in more than a handful of newspapers.

As I talk through this, the problem with commitment is more fear of what I don’t know–exactly what the time commitment will be. Fear of commitment, or fear of the unknown? I hope soon I will face them.

Excuses: Fear of Error

Still sick; still stayed at home today. Thought I would go to work, but got up at 7:00 AM to a huge coughing spell, deep and painful. So I crawled back in bed and slept till 10, and got up to a leisurely day. Did a little reading, but mainly slept and slept, or at least rested. I think I’ll be back to work tomorrow.

Now to the next excuse I’ve experienced: fear of error. This came to me when I was writing a Documenting America column on a document that dealt with “common law”. I had no idea what that was. An hour of research both on-line and in books I had at hand gave me the basics–at least enough to write the column and make the points I wanted to. Four hours total, and I had a column. Yet, a nagging thought kept coming back to me: What if my research is not sufficient, and I’ve made an error. It would kill my credibility, and would kill the column. I thought that through as I wrote the column, and tried to structure what I wrote to avoid error, to indicate the limit of my knowledge. Still, the nagging thought remained.

The writer’s need to research his subject, and write what is correct and verifiable, is huge. This is true for fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapters. Make a mistake on a fact and you’re toast. Worse than that, though, I think, would be a mistake in an opinion, or in interpreting a fact. You might say it would be impossible to make a mistake of interpretation or opinion, but I think it is possible.

I had more I wanted to write about this, but the long day, even with the rest I had, is making my head go fuzzy. I’ll edit this tomorrow and add the rest.

Excuses: Fear of Success

I’m out sick today, not even trying to get in a couple of hours. The way I felt this morning I was pretty sure the worst had not yet come. But I’ve had a restful day, taking my over-the-counter medication, and now am feeling much better. If things continue as is, I should be able to work tomorrow. Today I haven’t tried to write anything.

The next excuse I sometimes use is fear of success. What would happen if my column, my novels, my ideas for non-fiction books, should turn out to be good ideas, and my writing turn out to be good writing, and all these things be fantastically successful? What would change in my life as a result, and am I ready for that? Some extra money would be nice, and there is no need to fear “papazzi”-type fame, for no writer gets that, not even J.K. Rowling. Success that leads to a change of career is also pretty unlikely, and shouldn’t be something to fear.

I sometimes think this is my biggest hindrance. Then I tell myself it’s just wishful thinking. The level of success that would have a major change in my life is so far fetched as to be not attainable. So fear of success should not be a factor. Still, those dreams are hard to drive out of my mind, and the dreams then lead to that fear–of success.

I don’t know how to overcome that, other than to keep trying. Take one day at a time. Plan out a writing “career” and work the plan. Yet I’ve had these plans since June 2006. Why have I not acted on the plan? Fear of success?

Excuses: Fear of Failure

Tonight I have an excuse for not doing anything on my writing: my third cold of this winter season. I came home early from work yesterday with it, and would have stayed out today except for a few things I had to get done. So I went in and did those things, then came home about 1 PM. My head is full of congestion, my chest full of coughing, various parts are hurting, and my thinking is fuzzy. Writing is impossible, so we watched a DVD and migrated to the computer for games.

But even when I don’t have this excuse, I still put off writing, especially following through on Documenting America, and the marketing needed for it. Why is this? Is it fear, and if so what kind of fear. I think I’ll take a few days to work through issues of fear. Maybe this will help me to overcome those fears.

The first, of course, is fear of failure. I’m not sure this is my problem, but maybe it is. If I send out 40 query letters, and get all rejections, how will I feel? But this is a stupid kind of fear. All that would show is that the column is less viable than I hoped, or not of interest to as wide an audience as I thought. Or it could mean my marketing approach is not right. Or it could mean I need to cast a wider marketing net. Or it could mean I should begin the column as a local newspaper column, not as self-syndicated. But the fact is failure should be no problem. It would mean I either hone the concept into something more marketable, or concentrate on other types of writing. Either way, failure with Documenting America is not an end, merely a transisiton.

Fear of failure? I don’t really think that’s my problem.

Back Story

I like the way National Treasure handled back story. This has implications for me, as a writer of fiction, for the movie is really an illustrated novel. In fact, it probably was a novel before it was a movie.

The prologue of young Ben Gates learning about the treasure and how his family became involved with it is essential to understanding the story. It did not have be a prologue, obviously, but I think the prologue works better, rather than working this in as remembrances by Ben during the story. In just a couple of minutes, the stage is set for the rest of the story, including the estangement of Ben and his dad. Very well done, IMHO.

The movie then cuts to the scene in the Arctic, many years later, with Ben and companions on the quest for the Rebecca. No information is given as to how Ben learned: that Rebecca was a ship, not a person; which Rebecca among other ships; learning its itinerary; and figuring out its final resting place. All this is for the viewer to imagine. Even during the balance of the movie, almost no hints are given about the missing years. The only ones I can think of are when the FBI folks are digging into his background. So we don’t know what Ben did to get to the Arctic.

But, we don’t really need to know. An intelligent viewer can figure out in broad concepts what he did. He spent his entire life after the attic scene looking for the treasure. He obtained education in fields that helped his search. He dug around archives for a person named Rebecca who was connected with Charles Carroll or other signers of the Declaration of Independence. He figured out that Rebecca in the clue was a ship, not a woman. Etc. Etc. He traces the ship to an Artic voyage of no return, and somehow figures out where the ship ended its fateful last voyage. All of this comes to the viewer in an instant, in the cut from the attic to the Arctic. Well done.

Also well done is the lack of back story about the relationships: Gates with Ian, Gates with Riley, and others. The story is not harmed by lack of knowledge about these, even with only limited back story supplied during the movie (poker buddies, windowless cubicle). Sufficient for the viewer’s enjoyment is that these people did meet, form relationships, and start working together. The specifics are not important.

May my handling of back story in the fiction I write be as good as in this movie.

A Good Story

We decided to go to the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets recently. However, before we went we discovered this is not the first National Treasure. I guess I should have known that, since the NT ads were some time ago (was it really 2004?), but I tune out TV ads very well, and I forgot. Not knowing if this was a sequel that required the first to appreciate the second, we decided to rent and watch the first NT (thanks to our son for the Christmas gift that allows us to watch movies on a 21st century medium instead of the 1980s medium we were limited to).

We did so Tuesday night. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. No swearing, no sex scenes, no real blood and guts, limited violence. An excellent plot. Like most movies, much of it has no basis in reality, but rather is based on plausability. It seems like it could be true. Like The DaVinci Code, enough nuggest of truth are spread throughout that you realize it’s possible it could be true, and every now and then you have to shake your head and say, “That just couldn’t be true.”

While the movie production was excellent, the plot is what most engaged me. Whoever came up with this plot knew how to write a good story, with many things going on: The Gates family history and legend, leading to estrangement of dad Patrick and son Benjamin. The status of the Gates family in the world of legitimate antiquities, requiring unconventional methods. The obsession of Ben Gates resulting in losses in personal life (which leads to the attraction between Gates and Dr. Chase). The converging yet diverging interests and methods of Gates and Ian Howe. The importance of documents and codes, a popular theme right now in books and movies. And more that I could comment on.

In fiction, it seems that good plot trumps good writing for reaching success. I’m not saying good writing isn’t important, or that a writer should not strive for good writing, but so many books are well-written, yet don’t achieve commercial successes. Why do some, and not others? I think it’s plot. So, to reach success as a novelist, I really need to work on my abilities to weave a plot.

Author | Engineer