Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hassle Central, reporting in…

It’s been awhile since I posted here, more out of laziness and general harassment than intent. “Upgrading” both my Macs to OS X El Capitan was a big mistake. It’s a buggy program and has almost disabled the little MacBook Pro — the machine I use most of the time because sitting at a desk makes the aged back hurt. A lot.

So bad is it that I’m seriously considering buying a PC to replace the laptop. Big step backward for me: I really, really don’t want to relearn Windows (ugh!), nor do I want to have to “upgrade” to Office 365 so as to work on a Windows machine.

Actually, though, getting a lightweight Windows laptop to use only for Word and Excel tasks would probably make sense. You can still buy a standalone copy of Office 2016, and it will run fairly trouble-free on Windows.

Not so much on a Mac. The reason I did not update to the latest operating system, Sierra (don’t those cutesy names aggravate you?), is that my version of Word will not run at all on Sierra. Neither will Office 2016, at least not without endless bugs.

And the reason I do not want to sign up for Office 365? How can I count the reasons?

Foremost are these three:

1. It’s a rip-off. Renting the damn program with a monthly payment will quickly cause the cost to add up — and up, and up, and up — to way more than the cost of a program resident in your own computer. I resent that more than I can say.

2. Much of the work I do is proprietary. I do not want to be working on my clients’ projects in the flickin’ CLOUD! Indeed, sometimes I have to sign an agreement that I will not allow anyone else to see the client’s research or to put it at risk of being seen by anyone else. Sticking some scientist’s paper on a Microsoft server could put me at risk of liability. Even if I wanted to do that. Which I don’t.

3. Functionality of documents created or edited in non-365 versions may be limited. So it’s questionable whether I’d even be able to work on a document using more than one of my computers, even if one were a Windows machine.

Truly, this is a mess. I don’t know which way to jump and am truly furious that Apple has turned my computers from “it just works” to “it just doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, in saner realms:

Delivered a presentation yesterday:Structure of Feature Articles.”

People in the audience wanted to buy the new book, The Complete Writer. It’s still in page proofs — I need to cut the back cover copy some and adjust the design accordingly, and need to check the second proofs AGAIN. But by the next meeting, I hope to have a carton of hard-copy paperbacks to tote out to the group.

Incoming paid work has…come in. Read about 17,000 words of academicese compiled by a pair of ESL co-authors.

These people hold me in awe. They’re required to publish in English-language journals. And they do it — with panache.

Can you imagine an American academic writing a dissertation or a scholarly paper in Chinese? Fat chance! It’s all we can manage just to stumble through a PhD program in English…and many US universities have quit requiring a second and third language for the PhD.

I could probably write a journal article in French and have it come out about on a par with what the Chinese authors produce in English. But folks…as an undergraduate I majored in French! Not in math, not in economics, not in communications, not in political science…. Criminey!

And as for the novel: ça va, lentement.

Weirdly, drafting scenes in ink with a real pen is one of the things that’s making me resent the computer hassles as passionately as I have come to do.

A pen and a piece of paper do not go offline. They do not crash and shut down everything you’re working on

Well, OK: the pen can run out of ink. But when it does, you do not lose any of the words you’ve just written. The two other documents you’re working on do not disappear into the ether. The spreadsheet you’ve been wrestling with does not lose an hours’ or a day’s worth of data.

You can carry a pen and a notebook around, and it will work anywhere you choose. You do not have to sign a pen and paper into a coffee house’s network, thereby rendering it and all your private information open to hackers.

Nobody is interested in stealing a pen and a notebook, so you do not have to lock up your draft behind a deadbolt or hide it under a pile of blankets when you put it in the back of the car.

You do not have to plug a pen and a notebook into anything. Their battery never runs out of juice.

They do not waste hour after hour of your time in techno-hassles.

And they never, ever, EVER need a new goddamn operating system!

So How’s That Pen & Ink Workin’ for Ya?

Very well, thank you!

As those of you who’ve been following my Facebook pages know, I’ve been wrestling with the start of a new magnum opus, yet another of those “other world” novels. Not the same world as Kaybrel and Tavio’s — quite a different one, indeed — but still, another time, another place, another culture.

“Wrestling” could be translated as “spinning my wheels.” The first few scenes will require some significant rewriting. However… 🙂 About eight scenes in, a new character entered, and she has taken over the whole enterprise.

Where the other figures have been tripping along like marionettes, Siji is dancing across the stage. And what a dancer she is! Athletic, we might say.

And I’ve come to really enjoy writing with a fountain pen and ink. You know those reminders of ideas that spring to mind as you’re writing? Since (thanks to a sampler set from  Iroshizuku) I have several colors at hand, I’ve started scribbling those with a different color from the draft narrative. So in the middle of a passage of dialogue, we have this:

What’s a construction manager called? Supervisor? Captain, chief, head? Look it up!

Just now the draft is in blue and the Notes to Self are in brown. All of this has reminded me of something I knew as a matter of course when I was a young thing and Steve Jobs was a twinkle in his dad’s eye:

About half the fun of writing is writing. The physical act of writing.

Now that my fingers have remembered how to write in longhand (it took awhile), I’m finding it really is fun to write this stuff in pen and ink. Since computers have been my work tool for more years than I can count, drafting on a keyboard is a great deal more like work than like fun.

Along the way, I discovered that the paper marketed for sketching is wonderful for writing with a fountain pen. You want to get a sketch book, not a drawing book or pad. Drawing paper, designed for use with pencils or charcoal, is too absorbent. With sketch paper, the pen fairly flies along, and the paper doesn’t soak up ink like some sort of flat white sponge. One load of ink in the pen seems to last, comparatively, forever when you use sketch paper. And the pen’s nib glides more smoothly and easily across the surface.

The brand called “Artist’s Loft” comes bound in a cool canvas cover that you can decorate with your own drawing (if you use colored pencils, as I do, you’ll want to spray with fixatif to keep it from wearing off during use). At Michael’s, a book of 110 sheets is relatively inexpensive; at Amazon, the same item’s price is exorbitant, so don’t buy it there. Look in artist supply stores for it.

So. If you’re writing your bookoids for fun and you would like not to feel like you’re slogging through a task or back on the job, try drafting them with a pen.

FaceBook Ads for Your Book? Think Again…

A friend of mine has decided FaceBook Ads is just about the best deal around for indie publishers to peddle their wares. He argues that FB targets its ads to highly specific demographics, allowing you to reach just the sort of folks who MUST HAVE your magnum opus.

Fire-Rider Book 7 The Battle of Loma Alda

See it on FB, hurry over to Amazon??

Persuaded, I hired a marketing agent who claimed to some expertise in Facebook Ads, and I spent a fair amount of money in mounting a campaign for the Fire-Rider books. Surely, the project cost nothing like a real Madison Avenue-style advertising campaign. It probably didn’t cost as much as putting a a half-dozen plugs in the New York Review of Books’ ads for small and independent publishers. But it still was more than I could afford.

The result? Nil.

We sold exactly NO copies of Fire-Rider during the entire time the FB Ads campaign ran.

The ad agent simply could not believe it. She thought I was putting her on after she asked me repeatedly how the Amazon sales stats looked and I repeatedly told her they were flat. Finally I had to send her screenshots and downloads of my Amazon reports to make her understand: FACEBOOK ADS DID NOT WORK. Despite a flurry of ads supposedly targeted at the kind of readers who like the book’s genre, we did not sell one, single copy.

Yes, I had seen the Veritasium report on YouTube, explaining in great detail why FB Ads amounts to a kind of scam. I figured it was probably sour grapes.

Same for this guy, and this guy, and this guy.

Over time, though experience suggested that all those puckery-lipped fellows might have been right.

Now comes this interesting article from The Economist, reporting that Facebook recently fessed up to inflating the amount of time viewers spend watching video ads. This, my friends, is likely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If the Big Guys are restive about Facebook advertising, what it means for the little guys and gals like you and me can not be good.

The Economist neatly summarizes the concerns:

One fear is practical: that they are paying for online ads that consumers don’t see, either because they are shown to robots, or tucked in obscure slots. Two underlying concerns are harder to address.

The first is that Facebook and Google have simply become too dominant. Last year the pair accounted for more than 75% of online-ad growth in America, according to Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital firm. “Google and Facebook have added a lot of value to our marketplace,” says Mr Liodice. “They also raise concerns.” Marketers are particularly worried by a lack of transparency. Facebook’s inflated numbers did not lead to overbilling, but may have prompted companies to advertise more on it. Google and Facebook have started to allow third parties to verify some data, but many metrics remain proprietary.

The second concern is that ad agencies are not acting in their clients’ interests. In Japan, “clients are sort of at the mercy of the ad agency,” says Jason Karlin, who studies the industry at the University of Tokyo. In America an investigation backed by the ANA found that agencies were buying ad space and reselling it to clients at markups of up to 90%. Some agencies were also collecting undisclosed rebates from media firms for buying ad space. The agencies’ trade group, the 4As, blasted the report as “one-sided”.

Here's why you might want to think again if you're considering using Facebook ads for book marketing.The second issue, as a practical matter, doesn’t apply to small-potato types like indie publishers — none of us has tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on commercial ad agencies. But the first surely does: no matter what your marketing budget, it’s wasted if it buys ads that are hidden away at the bottom of sidebars, seen by people who don’t care or who work at ignoring ads, or viewed primarily by bots.

When it comes to paid advertising, I found that what sells books is ads placed on websites created for people who favor the genre in question. If you write cookbooks, buy ad space on a cooking site or a foodie site. If you write detective stories, buy ad space on a web site for people who love to read detective novels.

For a time, we marketed “erotic romances” — soft-core porn, to use le mot juste — at a site called Smart Bitches/Trashy Books. Highly entertaining, if you’re into racy romances. Those ads did sell books. No, sales revenue did not cover the cost of advertising, but at least there were some sales. Even one book sold is about a hundred percent better than the zero books sold through Facebook. If you’re going to advertise, you probably would do better to set aside a substantial amount to advertise assertively over a lengthy period — at least six months, probably a year — at a site whose sole readership consists of people interested in whatever you’re writing.

It may be possible to accomplish that with Facebook Ads. But I’ll believe that when I see it.

Fresh Citrus Juice without the Hassle

limeblossomThose of us who live in the Sun Belt always mourn the waste of the tons of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits that fall off our trees and rot before anyone can use them. Well, I just discovered something that will save those wonderful, juicy lemons and limes for future use — without the PITA of standing in the kitchen for an hour or more squeezing citrus.

The secret? The freezer. You can freeze a lemon or a lime whole, as long as you don’t slice it open first and you don’t let it stand until it starts to dry up. Just toss the fruit into the freezer, let it freeze solid, and leave it there until you’re ready to use it.

When you need some lemon or lime juice to make a salad dressing, a marinade, a fancy cocktail, or just to squeeze over a piece of grilled fish or some corn on the cob, take out a frozen fruit and gently defrost it in the microwave (two minutes on low did the trick here), and squeeze away.

Freezing a lime seems to liberate the juice. My Key limes came out of the freezer even juicier than the were fresh off the tree — and that is very juicy, indeed.

You need to use the defrosted lime quickly. If you leave it standing for a few hours, it’s apt to turn to mush. And the sliced fruit probably wouldn’t work for a cocktail garnish, because freezing does change its character slightly.

I don’t know if it will work with an orange or grapefruit: my oranges aren’t ripe yet. But nothing ventured: try it out.

If you enjoy cooking with fresh lemon or lime juice year-round and you hate seeing your fruit go to waste, this trick is the business.

Image: By Prosthetic Head –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Poets & Writers: A scribbler’s treasure trove

A useful organization for people who hope to become professional writers — especially if you think you want to be a literary writer — is Poets & Writers, Inc.. Now the largest organization for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers, the nonprofit Poets & Writers has been around since 1970 and publishes Poets & Writers Magazine, a useful resource available at libraries, by subscription, and online.

One of the richest troves of resources for poets and prose writers that you’ll ever find.Although P&W’s overall tack is somewhat elitist — it caters to the MFA set, and genre writers seem to rank pretty low on its totem pole (possibly in the grass?) — the organization provides leads to a wide variety of resources for anyone who’s serious about building a career as a writer. And it has begun to take print-on-demand and e-book self-publishing into the fold, as reflected in the magazine’s department, “The Savvy Self-Publisher.”

The website’s “Tools for Writers” page is a good place to start. It’s one of the few places to find a list of legitimate agents who are actively looking for new writers.

Here you also can find a jobs list (mostly academic and publishing ), a treasure trove of writing contests, grants, and awards, a valuable informational page called “Top Topics,” and databases of MFA programs , of small presses, of conferences and residencies, of literary magazines, and of “literary places.” They even include a passel of writing prompts!

These are only a few of P&W’s blandishments. All in all, it’s one of the richest troves of resources for poets and prose writers  that you’ll ever find.

Poached Salmon & Veggies: In One Pan

Great free recipe for poached salmon with veggies!Last night I met one of my former students, now an audio engineer with videography training, to discuss making a video for a grant Plain & Simple Press will apply for next month. As a lagniappe, I gave him a copy of the 40 Pounds/3 Months cookbook, which happened to reside in the back of the car. 🙂 He was tickled.

Here’s a little something I cooked up the other day that does not appear in the famed cookbook: a one-pan meal of salmon and asparagus, served over (uh-oh: optional second pan!) a bed of noodles. The poached salmon is based on a Julia Child recipe but uses wine instead of water.

You Need:

One or more pieces of salmon (one serving per diner)
A bottle of inexpensive but drinkable white wine
One or two cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
Some herbs to your taste (I used fines herbes, but about anything you like will do)
One to three teaspoons balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, or lemon juice (amount depends on amount of asparagus needed)
About the same amount of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Canned or boxed Italian tomatoes, chopped or strained (not whole)
Wide noodles or fettuccine (some cooked rice could substitute)
A handful of asparagus (enough for all diner
A spaghetti pot
A sieve or small colander that will fit inside the pot
A skillet or shallow pan large enough to accommodate the salmon in one layer (the spaghetti pot might do, if it’s wide enough), with a cover
A pair of tongs

First, cook the noodles and parboil the asparagus: Fill the spaghetti pot with water and heat to boiling. Wash the asparagus and clip off enough of the ends so the spears will fit in the sieve or colander. Place the asparagus inside said sieve/colander and when the water comes to a boil, gently set the thing into the pan. When the asparagus turns bright green, use the tongs to lift the sieve — carefully! — out of the pan and set it in the sink. Run cold tap water over the asparagus to stop the cooking process.

To the boiling water, add enough noodles to serve your diners. Allow these to cook. Meanwhile, pour a little balsamic vinegar (or wine vinegar, or lemon juice) and some olive oil onto a dinner plate or into a bowl that will accommodate the asparagus in a flat layer. Add a little salt and pepper, as desired. Cook the pasta al dente and drain into the colander.

Salmon poaching in wineInto the skillet (or, after the noodles are cooked, into the wide spaghetti pot), pour enough white wine to pretty well cover the fish. Add the chopped garlic and enough dried herbs to cover the palm of your hand. Bring the wine to a simmer.

Set the salmon slices into the simmering wine. Cover and allow to cook for a couple of minutes — if the fish is defrosted, this should not take long.

Shortly, take the blanched asparagus and set it neatly into the pan with the poaching fish. Recover.

Delicious poached salmon with veggies & noodlesIn another three to five minutes, check the pan. The fish should be almost cooked. Remove the asparagus and place it into the vinegar/olive oil mix you prepared. Roll the spears around to coat them with the dressing.

Into a bowl, pour out enough of the canned tomatoes to make enough sauce for as many pieces of fish as you will serve. Set aside.

If necessary, gently turn the salmon over to complete cooking. The fish should be cooked through but not overcooked. Place the pasta on the plates and arrange the salmon slices over it, with a serving of asparagus on the side.

Add a few tablespoonsful of the cooking wine to the tomatoes. Mix them together and dress the salmon and pasta with this mixture.

Et voilà! A very tasty, very easy meal, prepared with a minimum of pots and pans!

30 Pounds 4 Months - Diet Advice and Over 100 Delicious Recipes

Salmon and pasta image: DepositPhotos, © ilolab

Should You Get an MFA?

Will an MFA make you a better writer?In a word, “No.”

My secretary at the Great Desert University had an MFA from one of those low-residency programs at an elite private liberal-arts college. It looked great on her resumé.

But get real: do you really need an expensive degree in creative writing to get a job as a secretary? A job whose take-home pay, she once told me, was something under $300 per two-week pay period?

An MFA will not get you published. What gets you published is writing things and sending them to publishers. You do not need to sit in a classroom to do that.

Will an MFA make you a better writer?

No. What makes you a better writer is writing, then writing again, then  writing again. Writers learn to write by writing. They learn to write by reading other writers, thinking about what and how other writers write, and then writing. And writing. And writing. And writing.

The more you study the kind of writers you like and the more you sit down and do likewise, the better your writing gets. You don’t need to sit in a classroom to do that, either. Take a look at Joseph Trimmer and C. Wade Jennings’ vast collection, Fictions, an anthology of literary fiction designed for courses in writing programs, and Joyce Carol Oates’ Telling Stories, a superbly curated volume. In my next post, I’ll explain what to look for and think about in other writers’ works. You can do this in your living room and on your breaks from work: for no more than the cost of the books.

Will an MFA get you a job in a publishing house, on a magazine or newspaper, or on a college or university faculty?

Probably not, particularly if you have few or no publications. The sea is swarming with MFA-bearing fish. Every job opening for a creative writing instructor at a university or community college attracts hundreds of applicants. Make that hundreds of qualified applicants, after all the truck drivers and the nut cases are screened out. Competition for these openings is fierce. A residential degree is expected — low-residency programs are looked down upon. A residential degree will rack up serious debt, which you will have a difficult time paying on an assistant professor’s salary.

Your MFA might get you an adjunct position — but most likely you’ll be teaching freshman comp, not short-story writing. And pay, after course prep and grading are factored in, comes to something less than minimum wage.

Some publishers are impressed with the MFA, but no more so than by a degree in English or mechanical engineering. Most want to see real-life experience in real-life publishing, though. Many magazines and newspapers would prefer someone with a degree in journalism, communication, or English.

The main advantages of an MFA program are that you have a shot at meeting established writers on the faculty and, consequently, a (long!) shot at a referral to their agents or publishers; and that such programs teach writing through the workshop method, allowing you to run your drafts past the type of people who are likely to read the kind of thing you write, and to get feedback from them.

But you don’t need to spend $25,000 to $44,571 a year do that. For what an MFA in writing costs, you can go to a lot of top-flight writer’s conferences — and that includes travel and lodging. Good conferences will have nationally recognized authors leading seminars, giving you a chance to have a portion of your work read by someone who is experienced with writing and editing. Often literary agents attend these events, so you may have an opportunity to make a contact with someone who will agree to look at your work and consider helping you find a publisher.

A classic feature of MFA programs is the “workshop” approach, whereby students in a course submit passages from their work for review and critique by fellow class members. Often the professor barely reads your copy at all: feedback comes from students. One could say this amounts to the blind leading the blind; proponents argue that students gathered in, say, a short-story writing class are the kind of people who are most likely to read that kind of writing, and therefore their reaction to a given piece is the most accurate gauge of how the writing works.

Here, too: you don’t need to spend wads of money for that. Join a writer’s group — almost all of them have “workshops.” Search for writer’s groups in your area on

Don’t quit your day job. Don’t waste your money on a graduate program that almost certainly won’t help you get a writing job and that may not even make you a better writer.

Only you can make you a better writer. Do that by reading everything you can get in the genre that interests you. And by writing.

You don’t learn to write by going to class. You learn to write by writing.


Writer: MIA

Oh my…the writer has been absent for a LONG time. Alas! MIA here at Plain & Simple Press for a number of reasons. Multiple-guess choices:

Side effects of an over-the-counter insomnia nostrum
Too many 112-degree days
All of the above
Some of the above
None of the above

{cackle!} “None of the above”…wish I’d thought of that when I was teaching…

For several weeks my time was co-opted by a string of new Chinese academic writers. One of them needed a 100-page study Englished in seven days flat. That was a bit of a challenge…but we did it. She was pleased and sent colleagues my way.

In the middle of this, of course, our client journal’s editors started posting raw copy for next issue’s articles. And a local creative writer showed up at the door begging for professional editing.

And I kept slamming away on the book, whenever a free moment arose.

Then I slid into a blue funk that rendered me almost nonfunctional. About all I could do was sit and stare at the computer. Played a lot of Spider Solitaire and Mah Jongg games.

The depression I attributed to the demise of one of my dearest clients, a wonderful man who seemed hale and hearty and who has been a joy to work with. And his death is very sad, for a variety of reasons that affect people all around the globe. But not so much as to make one  unable to move.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized how sick the melatonin I’d been taking was making me. A bad kickback from a single dose sent me in search of side-effects of the damn stuff, which causes transient depression as well as headaches, irritability, lethargy, and other fun phenomena.

The Complete Writer is almost done. Now about halfway through drafting the index, I’ll probably will finish that today or tomorrow, at which point it’ll be ready to send over to the e-book formatter. Then I’ll prepare the cover for the print version.

I have a new plan for marketing this book and probably all the other P&S tomes, to be described in a future post. Just now it’s time to get back to work. In the meantime, how do you like this draft cover?

Test 2 Smoking Cover


Overcapitalization…Spare Us!

Not the corporate kind of over-capitalization! The writerly kind of over-capitalization.

BlogA largerdJust finished editing a set of author bios for an issue of one of our client scholarly journals. The journal’s senior editors ask contributors to toot their own horns in short squibs that are collected at the back of the book. And my, they do toot! In majescule!

Olivia Boxankle is an Associate Professor of Cultural and Linguistic Studies in the Department of English at the Great Desert University. She earned her PhD in Postmodern Babble at Erewhon College, after which she spent ten years as Adjunct Instructor of Early Unemployability Studies at Podunk Community College, before joining GDU in 1999 as an Assistant Professor.

No. No no no no nooooo….

The tenure track does not confer divinity upon its members. Therefore, titles such as assistant professor, associate professor, or even full professor are not capitalized unless they are used as part of the person’s name.

  • Olivia Boxankle is an associate professor.
  • We saw Professor Olivia Boxankle’s outstanding presentation at last winter’s Modern Language Association conference.

See the difference?

What about Dr. Wallbanger, who happens to earn a high six-figure salary (plus bonuses pushing his income into the seven-figure range) as president of the august institution that employs him?

  • Harvey Wallbanger is president of the Great Desert University.
  • The newspaper mentioned President Wallbanger’s salary in the article that reported next semester’s 25% tuition increase.

The only person who gets to have his or her title as president capitalized is the President of the United States. Period. Well…unless you’re writing in and for some other country, in which case the title is lower-cased like those of other mortals.

  • Barack Obama is President of the United States.

Back to the bios: The name of an academic subject is lower-cased, unless it happens to be a proper name or place name.

  • She is a professor of geology.
  • She is a professor of ethnic studies.
  • She is a professor of Spanish.
  • She is a professor of English.

However, if the name of an academic subject coincides with the official name of a department, it may be capitalized, just as the name of a business is capitalized:

  • She is a professor in the Department of Cultural and Linguistic Studies.
  • She teaches cultural and linguistic studies.
  • She teaches in the Ethnic Studies Department.
  • She teaches ethnic studies.
  • She is the chief executive officer of High-Flying Widgets, Inc.

It seems so self-evident, no? Then why do people do this?

Because…in the corporate world, people’s titles are often capitalized because the boss said so. Or because the marketing department said so. Companies, like journals, magazines, and newspapers, have their own in-house style based on a standard style manual (Associated Press style, in the case of businesses) but with its own embellishments. One such embellishment is capitalization of the Honored Leaders’ titles, even though in the real world that would be…well, wrong:

  • Joe Blow is Chief Executive Officer of the Blowhard Corporation.

But books and scholarly journals generally follow Chicago style or the style manual appropriate to research articles for their discipline (such as the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association manuals). These tend to inveigh against pointless capitalization. You may have to glorify your current boss with capital letters. But once you’re no longer working at that company, knock it off!

And don’t do it at all for faculty members and their generic academic disciplines. It peeves the editor.

Writing a book? An article? You really should have an editor review your golden words before you submit them for publication. Contact us at The Copyeditor’s Desk for information and estimates.