Word: Save, Save, and CounterSave!

The Wyrdness that is Word:

So today I finish editing 29 pages of mathematical analysis on the evolution of boards of directors in Chinese corporations. In looking it over one last time, I notice that in table 1, our authors have italicized the math terms listed in column 1; in table 2, they’ve left them roman. So I enter a comment next to the first item in table 1, column 1 to the effect that they should make these consistent.

Because this is not in the “Edits” version that I’ve just generated by running “Compare Documents” on the file I’ve cleaned up vs. the original unedited document, I go over to “Edits,” turn on “track changes,” and enter the same comment in the same place in the table. Hit “Save”….and Wyrd hangs.

So it appears.

In fact, though, it hangs my entire system! EVERY PROGRAM THAT IS OPEN hangs.

To avoid having to retype the contents of the comment, I copy the squib and try to paste it into Excel, which is open for the purpose of calculating the bill. That’s when I see that Excel is jammed, too. Figuring it must be Office that’s hung up, I go over to Mac’s “Mail” program, by way of emailing the comment’s content to myself.

No. Mac Mail is frozen, too!

I crash out of both Office programs and out of Mac Mail. Interestingly, the Mac does not demand a system reboot: when I reopen the three programs, they come back up. The only data lost from the clean copy is the comment that caused the hang-up — probably because these days I hit “save” after about every third character I type in Wyrd.

HOWEVER….the “Edits” version that shows all changes — generated through “compare documents”  and which indeed has been manually saved many times — is GONE. Disappeared. Not visible in the subdirectory.

Did I save it somewhere else by accident?

No. It is ERASED. 

Fortunately the data is saved in the “clean” version, so all I have to do is rebuild a new “edited” file in Compare Documents. But you understand, that file WAS saved, both manually and automatically, and it was saved in the correct directory.

It was there when I sat down to work on it again this morning. It should NOT have been “disappeared.” What happened to it, I do not know. Fortunately, Wyrd didn’t give me any static in generating a new document. But it was a startling episode.

The paper is 29 pages long (10.5-point type!) and it does contain a number of math formulae. Unclear whether it was generated from LaTex, but I don’t think so. I suspect they created this thing in Wyrd from the git-go, but how they got the math-lingo into it escapes me. WhatEVER, it seems to have maxed out Office’s (or possibly the Mac’s) memory.

Evidently a one-sentence comment was the proverbial straw.

So: what is the moral of this story?

In using the Weirdness that is Wyrd, don’t just save:

Save, Save, and Countersave.

The only reason two and a half days’ worth of work was not utterly lost is that I set Wyrd to save every five minutes.

Normally I don’t set it also to make a back-up copy automatically, because we have SO much content — thousands and thousands of files in Wyrd, Excel, PowerPoint, and graphics formats. In the first place, that’s all being backed up regularly to DropBox and to TimeMachine; in the second place, duplicating all that data on the computer’s hard drive would quickly max the thing out. But these days, even with the auto-save running every five minutes, I hit Command-S whenever I enter anything new.

It’s easy to set Wyrd to auto-save. On a Mac: Go to Word Preferences > Save > Save options > Save autorecover info every ___ minutes. Fill in the desired interval. On a PC, of course, nothing can be simple. Check out this page and follow the instructions for your version of the program.

Happy New Year! 2018

Been too quiet in these parts. When my nose hasn’t been on the grindstone, the hours have been consumed in lassitude.

Great word, eh? Trans.: Too darned lazy to wiggle.

Yesterday I finished edits and returned another of those wonderful Chinese math papers. This particular set of authors has been popping like a panful of Orville Redenbacher’s! They churn out a new paper every time you turn around.

And you can’t accuse them of dwelling in the Ivory Tower. This latest magnum opus? Tracking and predicting the spread of influenza epidemics. Damned if they haven’t come up with a method that works.

LOL! I should have majored in math. These things are great fun, sort of like fiddling with some kind of online puzzle-game, complete with its own arcane language.

Unfortunately, back in the day girls were not invited to study math and science…but, as I was told, you’d make a great secretary.

The two large indexes that were promised have not been forthcoming. Too bad: we could’ve used the income. But on the other hand, I must allow to feeling relieved that, for a change, we did not get a freaking MOUNTAIN of ditzy, mind-numbing work to complete on a December 31 deadline.

That does tend to put a damper on the holidays…

Has any progress been made on the noveloid in hand?

Well, yeah. A little. Some in writing, most of it inside the noggin. Our heroine Ella now has a plot to deal with, complete with two life-threatening complications. I have yet to figure out how she’s going to resolve the second one. But she’s coming along.

Here she is, finally meeting a man she’s noticed in the past and admired silently from a distance.

After her shift one evening she wandered over to the lounge where the great arm of the galaxy sparkled through the clear domed roof. She’d missed the chow line’s last full meal of the “day,” but she could get a hearty snack at the lounge’s food bar. If she wanted an alcoholic drink, which she did, she’d have to pay for it from the pennies she was given for consistent good work, but that was fine. She had quite a few such pennies.

Plenty of other workers were sitting around, taking in the slack. Formless music and relaxed chatter filled the air. Stars like sand scattered across black velvet glittered overhead. She sat at one of the small bars intended for singles or small groups, nursing the remains of a bowl of stew and a mug of dark ale. Tired, she wasn’t ready to go to bed but neither did she feel like socializing. She just wanted to eat and sit quietly for awhile.

No such luck.

She felt him come up to her before he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.

“Hello, babe,” he said.

She looked at him, surprised. “Hello there, butch,” she replied. “Do I know you?” She did, of course – everybody knew who he was. Everybody knew who everyone was: the colony* was like a small town.

“Well, we haven’t had a formal introduction. Your name is Eliyeh’llya, right?” He spoke Samdi with a smooth NorthCity accent. “They call you Ella here.”

“Mm hmm,” she gave him a vague smile and an assenting nod.

“My name is Lo’hkeh jai-degh Inzed Mafesth. ‘Lohkeh’ to the overseers.”

“I’ve heard the name,” she allowed. “Good to meet you, brother.”

Handsome fellow, this one. Sandy hair spread a golden late-afternoon shadow across his sturdy jaws, his green-flecked brown eyes framed with black lashes under dark brows. He wore a red gem in his ear-stud. Whether it was real or not, she could not tell, though she assumed it was glass.

She wondered at this. The blacksuits took away every piece of jewelry or decoration on a newly convicted felon, especially the ear stud that marked a Samdi** man’s coming of age. Once in service, he could buy another one – if he managed to earn enough…if his owner agreed to it.

So…sure, he bought himself a stud. But did they – the overseers, the management here – know what the red jewel signified?

Depended on the shade of red, o’course. His had some deep orange overtones: imitation garnet, she figured. That would make him…what? A midlevel boss in the Syndicate’s transport and communication business. Way over her head, that much was for sure.

But why would they let him make a statement like that, about his past life? They must not know, she thought. The blacksuits and the overseers were always dumber than you expect, Teryd used to say. Once again, he was right.

“Would you like another drink?” he offered.

She would. Careful, she thought…take it slow. “Thanks,” she said. “But I’m pretty beat and it’s getting late – don’t think I should.”

“Next time, then.” He smiled and leaned back in the chair, displaying a finely muscled torso.

“All right.” She returned the smile, trying not to look over-eager.

“So, Ella. You’re pretty well settled in by now, no? You’ve been in-colony for awhile.

“Yeah… I’ve kind of lost track of time, without real days or months.”

“Mm hmm. It’s been a year or so, give or take. Samdi time, that is. How are you getting on? Service suiting you all right?”

“It’s good enough,” she said. “I’m getting used to it. They treat me pretty well.”

“Yeah, they do. If they like you.”

She made no attempt to answer this odd remark.

“The work’s decent. The bed is warm. The food’s edible. What more could you want?”

He laughed. “What more?” He raised his mug to her.

He continued, after a swallow of beer. “I understand you were a lieutenant in the Tullsta Band. Back on Samdela.”

“Well, yes. I worked for the Zaïn. For B’jadaram.”

“Mm hmm.”

“How did you find that out?” she asked. One’s past life, as she had been firmly instructed, was to be left in the past: dead and buried. Never mentioned again.

“I know a guy who knows things.”

“Nobody has any secrets, hm?”

He smiled and allowed as to how that was so. After some small talk, he said, “I’m going up to Takrai in a couple of days. Would you like to come along?”

The mining colony was at Takrai, and Ella had also heard there were some exotic extra-planetary geological features near there. “Sure,” she said. “If we do some sight-seeing, too?”

“Absolutely. That’s the whole idea.”

“I’ll have to get time off from my boss. And I guess I’d need to clear it with my overseer, too.”

“Don’t worry about that—I’ll arrange it. Ask Vighdi for a pass tomorrow – wait till after mid-day. I’ll meet you here first thing, next day after tomorrow.”

He had noticed her.

*They live and work on the largest of Varnis’s two moons. They are both convicted felons, sentenced to lifetime slavery.

**They’re Samdi — natives of Samdela, an urbanized world largely dominated by criminal syndicates.

So it goes. Slowly. Very slowly.

What about 2018? Do I  have any goals?

I guess…

Develop a new business line: writing grant proposals. I do have some experience along those lines — quite a lot of it, matter of fact. The idea is to help develop proposals for nonprofit organizations.

This will require some work. Unfortunately I’ve developed an allergy to that, so…

The alternative is to continue puttering along with the novel, which mimics work but which is…not.

Find a writer’s group, I guess, that’s closer to where I live. The group I belong to, which I’m very fond of, is based in a suburb that’s halfway to Yuma. And over the past few months I’ve developed quite an aversion to driving around lovely Phoenix, an activity that gets more and more unpleasant as the roads get more and more crowded and drivers get more and more hostile.

So I’m hoping I can find a group that meets in town, but on an evening other than the one occupied by choir rehearsal. Which I ain’t givin’ up for nothin’ nohow.

Another potential goal: Consider putting one or more of the existing bookoids out through CreateSpace, which apparently can give you better distribution options than I have now. Admittedly, I haven’t worked very hard at marketing, an activity I profoundly dislike. I’m not convinced using CreateSpace would help much, but apparently it’s linked with Amazon, which would make it easier to distribute and sell print copies.

Looking into that. Eventually.

And speaking of distributing but not selling: I’m seriously considering using a blogsite to distribute the next little fantasy book. Gratis. Read it who may. And bully for them.

The God’s truth is, I just don’t want to work that hard anymore. Now that I have a new(ish) car that probably will not crap out in the middle of the desert, I’d like to spend a great deal more time making road trips around the Southwest. Maybe go back to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is a great deal of fun. Down to Tucson for some of the excellent cultural events that occur there. Back to Santa Fe, the retirement venue of my dreams.

If only.

A new route to self-publishing? An inchoate idea

Okay, so we know that self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints is no big money-maker, at least not for most folks. We also know that some of us “publish” our squibs not because we want to get rich or become famous writers, but because we’d like to share our creative extrusions with the few people in the world who might care to read them. In thinking about this state of affairs, an inchoate idea comes to mind..

If you’re going to publish for free, why pretend that you’re publishing for a profit? Why not just…yes…publish for free?

Self-publishing begins to make sense when you think of it not as a potential money-maker but simply as a way to get stuff that is written for the fun of writing to people who read for the fun of reading. 

In a word, it’s not a business; it is a hobby.

With that thought in mind — particularly where a novel-in-progress is concerned — how would this work? How would you get your scribblings to the greatest number of interested readers at the least cost?

Here’s a strategy that comes to mind. I would love to know what readers think of this scheme and what you would add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

§

• First, write the magnum opus. You could either write and polish the entire novel, or you could write a few chapters and publish them serially as you go, much as, say, Charles Dickens wrote his novels. Serial publication was popular in the 19th century and even all the way through the middle of the 20th century. I can remember following stories in The Saturday Evening Post…and for heaven’s sake, the digital publishing universe invites serialization. It’s surprising that we don’t see serialization again. Not in the sense of a series of genre novels, but as publication of a single work in regularly appearing segments.

Post teasers on Facebook. These would be scenes or descriptive passages or bits of dialogue that leave the reader wanting (you hope!) to read more. Link from there to your website, where an entire serial might be posted.

• Post teasers at Amazon, for free, inviting people to come to the website for more. Here is how you would do this:

Take one or more of your serials (enough to make some sense and to intrigue the reader), put them together into one manuscript, and format the thing as a short e-book. This might be, say, 5,000 to 10,000 words. Make it clear in there that this is part of a larger work, and if they want to read the rest of the story, they should come to your website where they can follow it, for free, or download a free copy of the whole noveloid.

Publish this squib — with the plug for other parts of it included in the bookoid — through Amazon’s KDB program and set the price as $0.00. That is, publish it for free. Doing so will cause a few readers at Amazon to notice and read the book, and they will notice that you are publishing more serials at your website: free.

Back at your website, serialize the story, for free, in the form of blog posts. (A good WordPress template will allow you to create website a with a static front page, pages to advertise your products, and a blog — that is what you are reading now, at this P&S Press site.

You don’t have to buy a domain name if you make the blog name a subdomain. So this would allow you to have a single website, in your name or in your business’s name, with a series of subdomains bearing your separate novels’ names. This is very easy.

When you finally complete a seralized book, offer it — in digital format only — for sale at Amazon and/or on the site. You can do this easily, for free, if the book does not have a lot of graphic content. Any novel will upload handsomely to Amazon’s Kindle format.

This is the only part of the process that should cost you anything: you might want to have it copyedited or at least proofread. If you’re an accomplished, literate writer with experience in publishing, you may find that unnecessary, though most people are helped by another set of eyes to read the copy.

If you want to ask money for it, when it goes on Amazon, offer it for what you’re charging at the website…or maybe even more. At your Website, you can offer it in ePub format, which can be read on practically any device, or in PDF. Either of these formats can be prepared for free. You can make an ePub book in Scrivener, and any Mac or PC will make a very fine PDF, which you can “lock” to keep it from being copied.

But if you felt you just must make some money on it, once you built a decent readership, you could sell advertising within the book, in the same way magazines, newspapers, and websites sell ad space. Indeed, nineteenth-century fictional works did carry advertising. Writing a genre novel? Suggest to other scribblers in your genre that they buy ad space in your book or on your website. Doesn’t cost you anything, so even a few pennies is pure profit for you.

Electronic publishing is essentially free. The only part of the process of bringing finished copy to the reader that should cost you any money is preparing printed, hard-copy books. Otherwise, plain-vanilla text without a lot of jpegs, tables, and graphs is so simple to convert to digital format you need not pay anyone to do it for you.

So. Publishing is free. What that means is that if you don’t care whether you make any money on your golden words — if you write and distribute your content as a kind of hobby — there is  no reason at all to pay to have it published. No reason to produce it as a bound book in hard copy. No reason to distribute it in any other way than as a freebie give-away.

Why not?

Self-Publishing: The Tsunami

Y’know… I’ve self-published a number of my own (lesser…) efforts. I do not make any pretenses as to their superiority or lack thereof. And I think it’s delightful that an independent, unknown author can take her beloved magnum opus to its audience of two (if she’s lucky) and tell herself that she’s “published.”

But… My god, there should be a limit!

Problem No. 1 is the same problem we’ve always had with this route to the public: in the absence of a gatekeeper, any kind of schlock can go to print and distribution. And believe me, it does.

Problem No. 2: Amazon et alii have made the self-publishing process so easy that we now have an indiscriminate flood of schlock. It saturates the book market.

It saturates Amazon to the extent that you can’t tell whether you’re ordering a decent book or not. People put up their friends and hire hacks to post glowing reviews, and so if you sort an Amazon search by customer reviews, a slew of apparently stellar volumes will pop to the head of the list.

They’re stellar, all right. In the sense that a red dwarf star is stellar. Dull and glowing by the light of spent radiation.

An example of this struck the other day, here at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We would like to offer proposal writing services through our little business. As a faculty member at Arizona State University, I wrote a few proposals, and in an earlier incarnation, my little business picked up a number of jobs by answering federal RFPs. And I spent several terms — nigh unto a decade — on the Arizona Humanities Council’s board of directors. All we did there was read, assess, and decide whether to reject or approve proposals.

So I do know how a proposal works.

However, it’s been awhile. Given that times do change, I figured I’d better cobble together a DIY refresher course to bring my skills up to date before offering us up on the open market as proposal writers.

First off, I spotted a course offered through a national association of grant writers. It was pricey, but I could add people to it, so I subscribed for myself and my associate editor.

Result: middling. Apparently there’s not enough to say on the subject to fill several hours of video time — certainly not enough time to justify charging what that outfit charges — and so the instructor bloviates. On and on and eye-glazingly on. The content ranges from saccharine pep talk to entire segments dedicated to telling viewers what she’s going to say next.

I do not have time to waste like that (nor, truth to tell, did I have the money to waste on the thing…).

Insight: I need a book: a guide to proposal writing.

So I go to Amazon and see there’s really not much out there. Well: there is, but there isn’t. Most of the hits on searches for “grant writing” and “proposal writing” receive mediocre reviews. The ones that show near the top — one, for example, in the “Dummies” series — appear to have arrived there grâce à self-promotion of the most vigorous type.

I go back to the online course, waste some more time listening to hot air. Lose patience. Give up.

Drive down to the only surviving general bookstore in the city. They have exactly NOTHING on the subject, and the place is so over-run with Christmas shoppers I have to prize my way into a harassed clerk’s attention. She directs me to a) the business section (nooo…) and b) the wanna-be writer’s section (noooo to the power of ten).

Damn!  Back to Amazon. This time I filter the search in order of customer reviews. Several how-to books on grant writing appear, festooned with five-star decoration.

Order one that looks like it might be OK.

First warning sign: it takes for-freaking ever for the thing to be shipped: ten days or two weeks.

Now it finally arrives. I tear open the package to find this thing printed on the cheapest of all possible paper with one of those cheesy covers that curls up the first time you open the book and then stays curled for all eternity. Evidently self-published, despite bearing the name of a prominent East-Coast publisher.

Well, yes. Look closely at the copyright page and you learn that said venerable publisher has added self-publishing to its wares.

This outfit’s name on your copyright page looks grand, but evidently the author got no more publishing services than I would get running my copy through the PoD press I use. In fact, my guys produce a much better-looking book.

Oh well.

Now I start to read the thing.

First thing I come to is the advice that you must L-O-O-O-O-V-E your cause and your work to be a successful grant writer.

Oh.

Effing.

BARF!!!!!

I’ve just sat through hours of the same kind of bloviation, transparently intended to fill space in the expensive video for which customers are charged a L-O-O-O-O-V-E-ly pretty penny.

When you’re trying to learn a professional skill, you do not need a pep talk. You need a road map.

Where was this woman’s editor?

Absent, apparently, along with her common sense.

Herein lies the problem: It’s too easy to churn this stuff out. It’s too easy to get it published on Amazon. It’s too easy to hire a printer to make a fake book out of it. It’s w-a-a-a-y too easy to put people up to posting bushels of ecstatic reviews at Amazon.

The result is, we have an ocean of trash out there, much of it deceptively packaged. I would not have purchased this book if I had realized it was self-published blather. Which, my dears, is exactly what it is.

Therein lies the problem with self-publishing. The tripartite problem, really: it acts on authors and publishing houses as it acts on readers. Videlicet: in the absence of a discerning gatekeeper’s eye — without an editor, a marketer, and a publisher who knows what quality work looks like and who has a decent sense what will sell and what will not sell — we are all awash in a sea of mediocrity.

For authors: we don’t know whether what we’re emitting is worth the hot air we expend on it…or not. We always think our stuff is wonderful. So does our mother. Our friends…maybe not so much, but you can be sure that they want to stay our friends and so they tell us that yes, yes, we’re so right: our stuff is wonderful.

This will happen even if what our stuff deserves is a one-sentence form letter reading “This is something that we cannot publish.”

It’s damn hard to blossom when you’re standing in a field overgrown with weeds. And how do you compete with someone who hires people or puts friends and acquaintances and customers up to blitzing Amazon with five-star reviews? Most writers hang out in the garret writing because they prefer their own company. We’re not  marketers. We’re not social butterflies. We’re writers. And that would be why we need publishers (real ones, that is), complete with marketing apparatus.

For publishers: they can bust their buns to put out the best books imaginable by the most gifted writers in creation. Good luck bringing them to a public drowning in schlock. Who wants even to be bothered to look for a decent book, at this point? Why, when I can find what I want online? No, it’s not all in one place, and it’s not all in a convenient form that I can pull off the six-foot shelf when I need a reference. But hey: it’s free, and I do know that something from the National Institutes of Health or PBS is likely not to be schlock.

And as for the public? One word. Schlock.

Progress Being Made

As you’ll recall, if you visit here now and again, awhile back my creative schooner ran aground on the shoals of ennui. I decided to try a new tack: write the backstory for a character that kept pushing herself to the forefront of the imaginative stage.

This scheme is working well, to my surprise. So well, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if the story is really about Ella, second-in-command to the Kaïna Rysha’s overseer, and not at all about her highness, Rysha Delamona, described by said overseer in a moment of impatience as ruler of “This, That, and the Other, not to Exclude the Whole Fucking Universe.”

I had conceived of this tale as an “Upstairs” story, one that would follow the exploits of an imperial aristocracy challenged not only by its own divisive intrigues but by the appearance of a mysterious alien entity.

But maybe in fact it’s a “Downstairs” story, following the exploits of a hard-bitten interstellar working and criminal class struggling to survive in the context of an aggressive imperial culture. Maybe the interesting stuff has little to do with the privileged, the wealthy, and the hereditary elite.

So far, we have about 6800 words, five chapteroids of copy that consist largely of flashbacks occurring while Ella is having a spate of insomnia. The next scene is clear in its author’s mind and likely to roll right along.

If this keeps on, I’ll end up with a whole story about Ella, Dorin, and the “Downstairs” crew, probably with rather little characterization or story-telling about the elite. That’s why I think maybe it’s a whole different story than the one originally envisioned.

At this rate, she was never going to get to sleep. Leaving the light off – none was needed, after all, nor did she want to wake anyone – she slipped out from under the covers, pulled on a robe, and padded barefoot down the cool stone hallway to the side entry at the far end of the women’s quarters. The door was alarmed, but she had a key and a code, which she used to let herself outside.

Zaitaf [Varnis’s largest moon] cast her argentine glow across the landscape that spread out before Ella’s restless gaze. What a thing, she reflected. Who would have imagined she would ever see such a place, pastoral and only half-peopled, much less live in it? Monochromatic beneath the moon’s platinum mantle, the broad pastures, the sturdy manor house – conservative but large and commanding – the gardens, the domesticated woods, and off in the distance the low mountains from which Skyhill took its name glowed like a painting limned in ebony ink on silver. Lovely by daylight, this evening it took her breath away. It wanted to fill her with love for the place. But it also stole other things away from her: her self, her loves, her past.

She gazed up at Zaitaf and wondered which of those gray patches on its face was Ethra. Could a person see Ethra at all without a magnifying lens? And . . . how was it possible that she’d been here almost 30 years? That she’d spent almost ten on Zaitaf?

Djitti had died a couple years after Ella was brought to Skyhill, recruited as Dorin’s second in overseeing the estate’s staff. Her daughter, now the Kaïna, was ten at the time. Not quite twenty when her father was assassinated. Five years Kaïna now, Rysha was.

How did all that happen between yesterday and today?

Bhotil [overseer on Ethra, the colony on Zaitaf] would be in his 90s now, if he’d lived. He had been good to her, helped her work her way up from the resort’s laundry to dispatching and then to supervising staff. She missed him.

Every now and again she missed Bhotil. Now and again. But she missed Vighdi—her lover, her boss—every day.

Vighdi, shining bright in the sky. What was she doing now? Was she still on Zaitaf? Hell, was she even still living at all? Ella had no way of knowing, no way of finding out.

“Madame.”

She jumped, startled out of her reverie. At the door, watching her with a half-smile, stood Dorin [overseer for the Kaïna’s estate, and Ella’s immediate boss].

“It’s after curfew. What are you doing out here?”

“Not much,” she said. “Just having a hard time getting to sleep. You, too?”

“Well, no. But opening the door sets off an alarm on my desk.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I thought my key would open it without waking you.”

“Well – at least it doesn’t wake the dead an all their kindred.”

“Can’t win, hm?”

“Never.”

He stepped outside onto the landing with her and stood gazing at the silver-plated landscape.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” he remarked.

“Oh, my, yes.”

Dorin stood quietly, his attention taken by the glowing scene. The moonlight picked up the silver in his hair and, to Ella’s eye, made him part of the show.

“So,” he said after a moment or two, “what’s keeping you awake tonight, Ella? Something on your mind?”

Ah. The talk-to-me gambit. She’d had the same steward’s training: social work and counseling. Maybe it was unkind of her, though, to suspect a “gambit.” Overseer, he was, but he’d also been a good enough friend to her.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Different things, I guess.”

He was quiet for a moment. The wait-’em-out gambit. She gave in. “The Darl business, I suppose. It’s just…a little much.”

“Upset you to see him suffering like that?”

“I suppose, yeah.” He waited some more. “No,” she added. “It’s not anything we haven’t all been through.”

“Most of us,” he agreed.

“When you think about it…well, hell. Dorin. You and I worked like animals to get where we are. This guy comes along, this guy, and he just drops out of the cooker into the dormitory at Skyhill? I mean…how does that happen?”

A dubious glance. “When did you start expecting life to be fair?” He actually sounded a little surprised. And yes. It probably was…out of character. The man could spot bullshit a mile away.

“Not recently,” she admitted. He smiled distantly, gazing at the silvered landscape. At length she spoke into his silence. “It’s just that it annoys me. This is Bintje’s doing. If she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with a new slave, and the paperwork and the damn blacksuits in our faces and the training and the headaches that go with someone fresh out of the cooker [a particularly excruciating type of punishment marking the transition between conviction for a crime and a lifetime of servitude].”

“Well. It’s not Bintje’s fault she got pregnant. She had the shot. You saw her get it. And you know the stuff doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time.”

“Okay, so Bintje brings home a belly, and the mistress decides…what? She’s going to buy a doctor for her? Why? The place is crawling with perfectly fine midwives.”

Why, indeed?

I have no idea. Who knows what mysteries lurk in the hearts of absolute rulers?

Creative Process: Becalmed

Been awhile since I posted here. That’s because it’s been awhile since I’ve written any creative work worth mentioning.

Lots of clients’ papers and books: good. Lots of socializing: fine. Lots of goofing off: hmmm…

So I’d gotten several chapters into the current novel — let’s call it the Varnis Book, after the name of the fanciful planet where it takes place — but suddenly…just came to a dead stop.

I’d turn on the computer, stare at the screen, and…could not write a word.

Open a notebook, pick up a luxurious fountain pen, stare at the paper, and…could not write a word.

Huh. I knew what the characters intended to do. I knew (at least vaguely) what awaits them. But NOTHING that I tried to do would make the words flow.

This led to quite a lot of idle time. And quite a lot of pointless self-distraction (which also did not work). And finally to a general sense of frustration.

At one point as I was daydreaming while driving through the city’s homicidal traffic (I distract myself from the pain and terror of driving by dreaming up plotlines), it occurred to me that the character who was occupying most of my attention — the one I seemed to be finding most attractive — was one who was not central to the main story. She was not a main character; she was not even a central character in her sub-plot.

But for some reason, she was more interesting than any of the characters I probably should have been working on.

After I had wasted (so I thought) more than enough time dreaming up this woman, Ella, and imagining her life story, a radical thought coalesced in the Magic 8-Ball that is my mind:

What if the story is really not Rysha’s story? What if the story is really Ella’s story?

Hm. Not to say whoa! What would happen if I tried to write the narrative from Ella’s point of view? Or…since I seem to find Ella so fascinating, what if I simply wrote Ella’s backstory, just to get that out of my system?

If I took the time to put the story of Ella’s life in little glowing letters on a computer screen, what would I have then?

Nothing?

A chapter or three for the novel?

A short story that might stand on its own?

A highly developed set of notes that could be used to inform the novel’s progress, if I could ever get the novel to progress again?

Well… “Nothing” was what I had at the moment. None of the other three options looked any worse than that.

So, thought I, let’s send Ella to the moon, and then let’s have her tell us what happened to her after that. Opened a new file, saved it as “Ella’s Backstory.docx,” and started typing.

And…

and…

and KEPT ON TYPING.

Amazingly, it worked.

Yes. Apparently I’m far more interested in the subplots than I am in the main plot of this proposed novel.

At 5,025 words, I’m ready to launch Ella into a new scene and from there to tell the reader a whole lot more about her.

Might the new scene be a new chapter? Or might we be looking at something that is NOT a novel? Could we be looking at a series of short stories or novelettes that occur around the ongoing action of a place and a period in the planet’s history?

Maybe this is not really any one character’s novel, but several stories of several characters?

Whatever…that remains to be seen.

So…?

Am I the only old bat on the planet who tires of listening to the Millenial and the Urban open a discussion with the word “So…”?

Turn on NPR and you’ll hear it almost any day. A reporter asks some ambitious and highly accomplished young expert on this, that, or the other to opine or to explain, and the interviewee will respond, “So, Apple is coming out with a new iPhone the day after tomorrow and yada yada yada…”

Does it never occur to either the interviewer or the interviewee that the word so implies that what comes next follows logically from what came before? It is a word that has meaning: therefore, thus, ergo.

But nothing has come before. So is simply offered as a kind of transitional place-holder, a way of moving from the question to the answer. There really is no “so” there.

Ugh. What can one say in the face of such an inane habit? Other, perhaps, than “We do hope this one will go away soon…”

Don’t do that, dear smart and admirable young experts. Just answer the damn question. Please.

Where Is the Grass Greener?

So, in the grass-is-greener department, here’s the question of the day: Can you earn more money cleaning house than you can editing copy?

Well, the lady who came to my house during the Year of the Surgery charged $80 a hit. But apparently she undercharged. Women I talk to at choir say they expect to pay $100. I had her come in every two weeks, but more affluent types will have them once a week. And one lady I talked to, who was working for a woman who farmed her out to others, discovered the woman was charging $120 for her services.

So let’s say you cleaned one house a day for the supposed going rate of $100 a hit: you’d be earning $500 a week. I’m not earning $500 a week.

My co-editor and I have never calculated how much per hour we’re getting paid to put together an issue of the journal we contract to. I spent most of the day on an article that looked like it had never been through the peer review process—but it’s hard to tell exactly how many hours I racked up, because I work on-again, off-again, with a lot of interruptions. But…22 pages of really difficult stuff? Let’s suppose you can get through a page in 10 minutes, on average: that’s 220 minutes, or 3.6 hours.

I’m sure I spent more than 3½ hours on that thing. But suppose each of us allowed it to absorb that much of our time: it’s an entire day of time wasted on producing a piece that in a rational world would never see print. Did we each earn $100 on that effort? Or even $50?

We get a thousand bucks per issue… Each issue has several full-length articles, some creative pieces, a long-winded editorial statement, and a set of self-aggrandizing authors’ bios. Many of the authors are ESL writers or people who grew up in homes where another language was spoken, and so the copy has language challenges as well as the usual academic ones. If we were to work on only that, full-time, we could probably turn it out in a week. Maybe less: but say five to seven days.

So let’s say you had five women, for whose services you charged $120 to clean five McMansions, each woman taking one house. You’d have to ride herd on them, but most of the time you wouldn’t be doing much cleaning yourself. So each of these women brings in $120/day; you pay them $60 (the lady who told me this story was being grossly underpaid), so you pocket $60 — less the amount you have to pay in your share of the FICA taxes, assuming you report the income. $60 x 5 is $300 per day for your crew. Now, $300 x 5 days a week is $1500 a week, or $6,000 a month. And you’d never have to read another plagiarized student paper or another polemical “research study” whose author insists on replacing every third letter with “x.”

You would have to hustle: marketing would be the key. And managing these women would be a challenge. You’d be riding herd constantly. To field a crew of five people five days a week, you’d need to have more than five on the string. You’d have to do a fair amount of training, too, since many cleaning ladies don’t know how to clean.

Check this out, bearing in mind that one of our mentors thinks we should be getting $60/hour for our time: http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/cleaning-services/

We most certainly do not earn $1500 a week, either individually or between the two of us. Nor do we earn $120 x 5, $600 a week: the amount one of us could earn cleaning house five days a week.

On the other hand, we don’t work 8 hours a day (regularly) on editorial. My cohort teaches full-time at the University of Phoenix, which just now entails juggling twenty-eight sections of 35 students apiece. You could not get me to do that if the only other choice were starvation. I earn some cash blogging, and rather more reading math, business, and biosciences papers by Chinese scientists. Editing, like teaching, is not what you’d call handsomely paid.

if I’m teaching the largest number of sections the community colleges will farm out to adjuncts, I earn all of $1100 a month. On average. Some months, of course, I earn nothing.

When a profession that requires at least one advanced degree (preferably two) and substantial experience makes cleaning house look good…Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Editing Jamboree!

Finally got through two very difficult jobs, both math papers, both the products of erudite Chinese authors. One is a pretty interesting study of the ways air pollution flows around a highly urbanized area of China, shifting along the roads from city to city. The other: a very technical piece comparing four strategies for predicting the likelihood, by genetic analysis, of endometrial cancer.

It’s been a quiet summer of loafing, but now that September is y-cumin’ in, the academics are flocking back to their universities, and with them comes the imperative to publish or perish. So they’re sending new stuff my way.

The math stuff is particularly arcane, rife with Greek letters (often in subscript position) and the mathematicians’ own peculiar jargon. It’s hard to stay focused on it, because it really is, basically, a kind of mental exercise whose applicability to the real world is difficult to discern. Sometimes, one suspects, it has no more applicability to reality than do angels dancing on the head of a pin.

But I will say…it sure is better than reading freshman comp papers! 😀

Meanwhile, progress on creative work goes very, very slow. I find myself dreaming up scenes while driving or ironing or mopping floors, but when it comes down to…oh, you know…actually writing the stuff down? Well, not so much.

Plus lately I’ve had a social life, something I hardly know what to do with. Yesterday a group of friends coalesced over here, partying most of the day. We cooked up plans for a couple of girls’ day trips, which sounds like fun. Choir starts this Wednesday, and I see we have another potluck next weekend.

And a painter has been here, wrestling (in the ungodly heat!) with the job of repainting the Funny Farm’s exterior. As part of the job, he also agreed to lay on another coat of the gray I applied over an orange-colored interior wall, with surprisingly modest success. Mine, that is — not his. In under two hours, the guy had it looking gorgeous.

The inside of the house now looks very nice, and the outside is shaping up handsomely. So soon I will have to decide whether to stay here and brave the onslaught of derelict vagrants that have been transported into our neighborhood on the new light rail train, which goes up the main drag just to the west of us, or to sell for as much as I can extract and then take the money and run as far away from Bum Central as I can get.

My house is paid off, and you may be sure I do NOT want to take on another mortgage in my dotage. Because my pleasant little neighborhood serves as a buffer zone between a much fancier enclave to the east of us and a crime-ridden slum on the west of said main drag, prices here are depressed just enough that there’s no way in hell I could get a comparable home on a comparable lot in the area where I wish to live…not without putting myself in hock up to my schnozz.

That leaves, really, very few choices. One is Sun City: a ghetto for old folks. The other is Fountain Hills, a development on the far side of Scottsdale, pushing toward the road to Payson.

Both of them are very far away from my friends, my son, and all my social activities. And truth to tell I really don’t want to start my life all over again. So this situation has become something of a distraction.

Once the house tune-up is done, I’ll probably ask a friend who’s a Realtor if she thinks she can find me a place to live that I wouldn’t hate at a price that will not put me in hock.

But god…how I resent it!

{sigh}

Back on Varnis, the world with two moons and one empress of the known universe, our hero (one of them) is getting settled in his new position.

After three weeks on the job, Chad was looking forward to the day off he would earn after a double-moon of good service and acceptable behavior. It would be great fun, he imagined, to tell his mother and the Old Man all about life at a Great One’s estate. Particularly this great one: the Kai Suhuru himself. And his daughter. The daughter of the late Kaïna Djietti DelaMona, possibly the most exalted Kaïna in the entire ch’Molendi dynasty. He could still barely believe he’d landed in any such otherworldly service.

Things were going pretty well, so he thought.

Merren had kept Chad at his side during the first couple of weeks — for what felt like every living, breathing moment. They manned the Kai’s guard station together through cycles of swing shifts, stood guard together at the entrance gate, waited table together, and invariably worked out, practiced fighting, practiced shooting, and studied surveillance and intelligence reports together.

Eventually Merren had posted him at the station outside Rysha’s suite, where he could be watched from the far end of the third-floor hallway, and let him stand a few watches with other guys on the guard team. Pretty soon, he expected, he would get his own assignments, free of eyes over his shoulder.

Rysha — the Kaïna — seemed not to mind him so much, after all.

If she did, she had suppressed her ire.

Indeed.

Mysteries of the Creative Process

This week has been one long nightmare, what with my son’s dreadful experience on the road, way, way out in rural Arizona with his dog:

Day One
Update
Homeward Bound
Back in Town
Home at Last

While my poor son has been wrestling with what may yet have a sad outcome, I’ve been virtually catatonic with worry: unable to go up to help him in the small town where he’s been stuck, because two people could not drive two vehicles and nurse the desperately damaged and sick Charley all the way down the Mogollon Rim.

I’ve found myself unable to work. Fortunately no paying jobs were in house. But I had planned to scribble another chapter in the time-killing entertainment that is the current novel. Instead, every time I sat down to work on it, I found myself killing time, all right: on Internet games!

🙄

But nevertheless I also passed a fair amount of time — mostly while driving around — imagining what my characters were getting up to and how they would interact and react.

And once again these people — these wholly imaginary people (where do they come from?) — surprise me.

Our heroine Rysha and her friends, all young and restless aristocrats of an interplanetary empire far far away and (etc.), are planning some mischief. To pull it off, they have to weasel Rysha out of the control of the team of bodyguards whose job is to keep an eye on her every living, breathing moment. In specific, they must evade the attention of the redoubtable Merren, who did not get to be head of her father’s security team by putting up with any shenanigans.

She schemes:

Parked before the mirror while Dita arranged her hair in one of the less elaborate configurations that marked a high-born woman’s status, Rysha did a quiet calculation.

This evening Merren would be standing guard outside her father’s suite. The Snowman, as Treykhan had dubbed the Michaian creature, would be with him. So: two of them out of her face. Bis was assigned to the front gate, leaving Essio and Nehdo to watch her or to take a few hours off, at Merren’s pleasure. She had asked for Nehdo and, to her mild surprise, gotten her wish. Merren had his own ideas about what the guard would do, and about half the time he’d gainsay her.

Nehdo was a good choice for this evening’s get-together. Pliable and a shade on the lazy side, he was easy to deflect.

“Ouch! Dita!” Her scalp stung where Dita’s comb snagged on a braid.

“I’m sorry, my lady.”

“Be a little more careful, will you, please?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They would need to dispense with Nehdo for the evening if they were to lay plans for the Great Night on the Town. Of the five members of the Kai’s guard, Neddy would be the simplest to dispense with. If any part of the plan got back to Merren or—Goddesses forfend!—to Ella, she’d never hear the end of it. And if her father found out, none of the young lordlings and ladies would ever escape the dog house.

Ella, grandmother to the world. It had become a standing joke: almost nothing got past the woman.

A whisper of a smile crossed her face as she thought of Ella and watched the ebony hair sculpture take shape. It was good that Ella had been there after her mother passed. Though she surely was no aristocrat and had little understanding of the challenges Rysha would face in preparing to step in as kaïna, Ella had done a lot of mothering for her over the past few years. It wasn’t until recently that Rysha learned Ella, like Dorin, was trained in psychology and social work. That seemed obvious to her now, given their position as overseers. Even though it wasn’t advertised, she wondered why she’d not known it sooner.

Whatever. If it had helped her deal with a motherless girl, so much the better.

Dita applied a layer of shining lacquer to the last coil of braid and pinned it in place.

“That looks very good, dear,” Rysha said.

Dita glanced up at her in the mirror. “Thank you, madame.” She smiled modestly.

“You don’t need to wait up for me tonight. It’ll likely be late by the time we get back. And I’m sure I can get this down enough to sleep on.”

Dita looked pleased to be relieved of after-hours duty. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied. “There’s just three clips you need to undo.” She tapped each of the hidden snaps with a fingernail to show where they were. “I’ll take the braids apart and wash your hair in the morning, as you please.”

“Good,” Rysha replied with some finality. “If you’ll hand me my tunic, you can go for the rest of the evening. And tell Merren to have Nehdo meet me downstairs, if you will.”

“I will, madame.” She bowed her head briefly at the dismissal. “Have a good time tonight.”

“Thank you, sweet.” Tonight’s get-together would be routine enough. But the next time the friends met, she expected, would be fun.

§ next scene is really draftig §

PachiLu’s doorman showed Rysha into his lord’s sitting room, where a half-dozen friends were chatting and drinking. Those who weren’t already standing rose to their feet when the young kaïna entered.

Well, here’s our lady,” the young lord Pachi exclaimed. Emarr’, heiress-in-waiting to the title of Lady [name], embraced Rysha in a welcoming hug, and Lord Naretal’s son Treykhan offered her a favorite drink.

Cheerfully lit, between the ubiquitous glowalls and bright though redundant sconces perched between night-black windows, the clubbish room with its deep burgundy flooring and vast hide chairs and ottomans always seemed dark and heavy to Rysha. Some of the tables, she knew, had been built by one of her father’s people, the carpenter woman whose woodwork graced rooms at Skyhill, too. Others were pieces that had been in Pachi’s family for a time, some for a long time. It was hard to guess which were new, which were old, and which were older.

None of the company was old, though. The cherub-faced PachiLu; Treykhan, blocky as her father but barely a year older than Rysha; smokey-eyed [name], beautiful with a panache beyond her years. Here, too, was [name], a honey-haired thing rather too obviously intoxicated by a crush on Pachi. Ghemmeh and Tand, brother and sister handsome in the classic dark Varn manner, had in tow Eestom and Dade…were those two attached to the siblings or to each other? In her secret heart, Rysha wondered.

But she made no sign of it. She sipped the tart-sweet liquor and then raised the glass in greeting to her friends.

Nehdo discreetly took up a position by the door. Pachi’s valet passed a tray of finger foods and shortly retrieved from the dumbwaiter several bowls of snacks and sweets, which he placed on tables around the room. Then he took up a position next to Nehdo. [ADD music in the background!!]

“Thank you, [name].” Pachi didn’t make the man wait long. “You can go now. I’ll call you if we need you.”

[Name] bowed subtly and turned to leave.

“Nehdo, would you like to join him?” Pachi added.

Nehdo glanced hopefully at his mistress. Perfect: he hadn’t a clue. She shot a mildly surprised look at Pachi. “I think that would be all right,” she said, “as long as he doesn’t leave the house. Will you be in the kitchen or downstairs lounge?”

“My lady,” [name] nodded affirmatively.

“All right,” she said to Nehdo. “You’d better come back up here at curfew time.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Nehdo visibly tried not to look unduly enthusiastic.”

[more to come]

§

Getting rid of that one was pretty easy. Now to see what kind of trouble this bunch can cook up…