Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What Makes America Great?

It's that time of year again.

Nostalgia for the 'good old days' and so I'm going to look back and point out some things that I recall from 'good old days'.

  • America is great when we invest in the education of our citizens, so our high schools and colleges are the envy of the world. 
  • America is great when college is affordable with Pell Grants funding the education of low-income families.
  • America is great when 'free speech' is words, not money.
  • America is great when living people have more rights than non-living corporations.
  • America is great when it is safe to drink the water and breath the air.
  • America is great when there are millions of family farms.
  • America is great when we build housing that is affordable to all income levels.
  • America is great when labor unions can battle corporations and win.
  • America is great when the infrastructure is a top priority.
  • America is great when it has a thriving middle class.
  • America is great when it puts the welfare of the middle class ahead of the tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
  • America is great when all people have equal rights and equal pay.
  • America is great when law-enforcement doesn't kill tax-payers.
  • America is great when it has a strong GI Bill and support for Veterans.
These are just off the top of my head. I'm sure that some people can think of more. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

DIY Publishing 2017, Part 2

Mechanics Rule

Final Cover

If you're a writer, you've seen the writer's getaway cabin in the woods, tucked in the most romantic isolation. Or you've heard the story of J. K. Rowling writing Harry Potter in the coffee shop down the street. But the nuts and bolts of writing are FAR less romantic.
Most of us have a less than romantic space to write, maybe in bed with our laptop, at the kitchen table or on Notepad at work. We might spend years working on a manuscript, and in the end what counts the most isn't our lovely scenes, exciting characters or lofty plots.
Here's the dirty little secret few professional writers want to talk about: the most important thing a writer needs is a superior grasp of grammar and sentence structure.
Now, a whole lot of new writers are going to roll their eyes and spout a cliche right now: "That's what editors are for."
But can you afford to pay that editor?
That level of editing is very time consuming and expensive. Editing at that level can cost upwards of $5 per page (500 words). Even if you find an independent editor who will edit your grammar for $1 per page, it will take 2 or 3 passes to get all the corrections done.
Some editors charge $1 per error found.
At a certain skill level that's a bargain. Until then it's a nightmare.
A traditional publisher, or (perish the thought) an agent, will read your manuscript up to the first grammatical error and stop. If that's in the first sentence, all your work after that is for nothing. If your lucky, they won't tweet your name and some disparaging remark to their colleagues. (Yes, this has happened.)
"Well, I'll self-publish my book," a budding author might reply.
Most readers (I'm one) will sample an e-book and not buy it if there are grammatical errors in the sample. Readers with a trollish bent will leave you a nasty 1 star "OMG, this writer sucks!" review. (I know, I've got some.) Many a writer has been shocked to get so many 1 star reviews on sites like Amazon or Goodreads by reader-trolls that they've snapped and lashed out at their tormentors. Flame wars have resulted, people get their feelings deeply hurt, and sometimes things spill over into the real world. (This is a subject for another post.)
So it's in every writer's best interest to work on this skill set, until they have it honed as sharp as a razor. Until then, use your grammar checker until it becomes your best friend. It won't find all the errors in a manuscript, but I learned a heck of a lot from mine.
If nothing else it will keep you from getting remarks like I got from Amazon Vine Reviewers: "Unfortunately, there are several spelling errors and grammatical mistakes that detract from my enjoyment. It's just easier to read an error-free story - you don't get pulled out of the plot and back to reality if the writing is pristine." 
No one is ever perfect, and as many times as I've revised this short post, I know there are still errors in it.

Warning: This blog (but not, I hope, this series of posts) contains subject matter that other's might find offensive as well as blog posts that have snarky language. Feel free to roll your eyes and click away from posts that offend you. The opinions expressed here were only valid on the day of posting, after that I've probably forgotten what I posted. I think the eye-roll emoji is either ::-( or 88-(, I no doubt deserve it if you leave one in the comments.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Do It Yourself Publishing - 2017 Part 1

2009 Cover
My Road to DIY Publication

I often talk to Independent authors with newly-launched books. They all have the same questions, and I’m always glad to offer up my experience to help them on their way. I’ve been DIY publishing e-books and paperbacks since 2009 and I can tell you that this business changes every few months. I did well for a short time, a mere 10 weeks, but now I struggle like most other authors.
I’ve decided to put what I’ve learned into a short series of blog posts for my Kentuckiana Authors Association friends. I’ll try to keep these short, feel free to comment, by all means ask questions. I’ll put in links as I go. I might rearrange the links on my website to make it easier to find stuff.
I think it was in 2007 that I joined a local writer’s group called the Bard’s Corner. I learned how to outline, which made a big difference in my writing, but my work schedule kept me too busy to attend regularly. It was my first exposure to writing groups and peer review; it changed my paradigm on writing forever by opening my eyes to a larger world.
Once I learned to outline, I was able to finish my first novel “Let’s Do Lunch.” At that point (2008) I joined a couple of websites for writers so I could learn more. “Forward Motion” was the best of the writer’s websites – I don’t know if it is still around, I hope so, because it offered the first ever open peer review that I’d ever experienced. I got feedback by people who had skill-sets superior to mine and I learned a whole lot in a short period of time. I edited the manuscript using every bit of feedback that I could get.
2009 I entered Amazon’s Breakout Novel Award – I uploaded the manuscript during a horrendous ice storm via dial up because we had no electricity here at the house, but the phone still worked. My novel made two of three cuts, and garnered some feedback that has me rolling my eyes to this day. It was during that contest that I learned of a website run by Harper-Collins called Authonomy. I spent the next 4 years on that site, learning a lot, but none of my books ever got any traction on the contest to the Editor’s Desk.
I spent 2009 and most of 2010 watching the phenomena of the Amazon Kindle shake up the publishing industry and allow authors to upload their books to the new e-book format and get some readers, and get paid. I uploaded my e-books to Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press platform, Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords as well.
Those were heady days indeed.
My brief appearance on the Amazon best sellers list was 10 glorious weeks on the romantic suspense chart in the UK where Let’s Do Lunch hit #3 for a few hours and settled to #8 for several days. It then slid off the Top ten list into the top 25, then the Top 100 and then down into the mulch layer with about 50 million other e-books.
After that the sales trickled in, a handful a quarter but not enough to pay for the endless hours I spent marketing my e-books. I was obsessed, always a bad sign, and getting nowhere but discouraged. When ’50 Shades of Gray’ came out, my sales evaporated completely and I’ve struggled just to stay somewhat in the game ever since.
I hope this series of blogs will serve to open a dialog with my fellow writers.

Warning: This blog contains subject matter that other's might find offensive as well as blog posts that have snarky language. Feel free to roll you eyes and click away from posts that offend you. The opinions expressed here were only valid on the day of posting, after that I've probably forgotten what I posted. I think the eye-roll emoji is either ::-( or 88-(, I no doubt deserve it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Progress on 'Collision Course'

Well, there's been a goodly amount of progress on the new book. The Fourth of July holiday falling on a Tuesday this year made things a bit hectic on the farm.

The horses HATE fireworks. I have a redneck neighbor who goes completely crazy on the fireworks every year. Sparks and other debris fall into my pastures and scare my horses nearly to death every year.

The first year we lived at the house we had sparks land on the roof. (We now have a metal roof. I sleep better.) My neighbor is a 'great guy' when it comes to just about everything else -- it's just the typical redneck desire to blow things up.

This year, the fireworks started on June 30th and ran every freaking night until the 4th. I had to go outside with a flashlight and call for the old black gelding. He's the only one who will come to me during the fireworks. And for some reason, I didn't find them even after 2 rounds of the fields.

I think they were avoiding me, they were that spooked. The last time I went out with grain an a bucket.

I even got the alpacas that time!

By the time Tuesday rolled around, the horses and the alpacas knew to come to the barn when the fireworks started. The alpacas refused to come in early, but they were waiting at the barn door when I got home from work.

I'm hoping this weekend we don't have any more fireworks. I want to write and I can't when I know my animals are in distress.

So I'll get back to the adventures of Leo and Wendy next week. I've got at least another 25k words to hit the target, it's wrapping up fast.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Open Letter From Arlo C. Hips

Well, it was Republicans who got shot so no big deal, right? We will continue to say terrible things until the mobs on both the left and right act out . And nobody on cable news (Chris Matthews said of Ted Cruz "He's sub-human.") will hold themselves accountable. Neither will any congress man.

For some reason we have gotten to the place where political disagreement is grounds for hatred, where it is acceptable to call names and accuse one opponents of the most despicable crimes and to do so without accepting any responsibility for one's own actions.

It started before Trump and before Obama. It started with Clinton. When fellatio  becomes fodder for public discourse the angle of the slope increases. The O.J. trial and the Clinton Impeachment did an awful lot of damage to the public life of this country: it got cable news off the ground.  They made it possible to accuse your opponent of ANYTHING. And they began referring to the political opposition as "The Enemy". That means I am justified in any attack on them, right?

The tow truck driver  in North Carolina who refused to tow a woman with Bernie Sanders stickers on her car did not break the law. At all. He did nothing illegal. But if we are going to use legal standards as a guide line, we will have a difficult time having a society. We now have politics as a religion: the other side is an arm of the Satanic Church and kills babies.

I watched Rachel Maddow and she acted like the shooting was a mere unfortunate circumstance. Chris Matthews acted like it did not happen. Well, no surprise there. I am certain the Republicans will milk the shootings for their own political purposes.

As far as the wealthy in this country are concerned, they own the government. They own the congress, senate, courts, Wall Street (Barak Obama, champion of the little guy just got paid $400,000 for a speech so you tell me it isn't for the money.) owns both parties. The fix is in. The last real man to sit in the White House was Harry Truman. He drove himself back to Missouri. In his own car. The sign on his desk said "The Buck Stops Here." There is nobody remotely like him in D. C. today. Bad news, Kat. The contributors own the political class.

None of what is going on now with Trump has anything to do with the well being of the country. There are going to be states with no insurance companies participating in the exchanges. And the Democrats will blame the Republicans who will reply, "Well you guys passed this without a single Republican vote. This is all your fault."

What you detailed about the rust belt is what got Trump elected. When he said that area of the country had been neglected, he was correct. No argument. What he didn't say was he was from Queens and had no idea how to fix the problem. I am not certain the vote was for Trump. I think it was a vote against the snotty, arrogant superior attitude of the media in New York and California. I think it was a giant finger to cable news.

Part of what is happening now is a result of the public being misled about the election. It was in the bag. Hillary was destined to be president. The Gods had anointed her. Every single significant media organization endorsed Hillary. ALL of them with the exception of Fox and they are the most successful cable broadcast operation in history. They are about profits and nothing gets in the way. Not that the others are paragons of virtue. They are just not as good at generating profits as Fox. So Trump got elected. The media got the finger and there was nothing they could do about it.

The people you talked about only have one thing left.
Their vote. That is the one thing that cannot be taken from them. When they go into that booth they answer to nobody. Not Wall Street, the congress, the senate, the supreme court, their family, their friends, nobody. It is the last thing they have. They are no longer middle class and they see the $250K speeches, the homes, the security, the life time pensions and they think (rightly so) that Carlin was right. "It's a big club, folks! And you and I ain't in it!"

We now have an oligarchy. You and I and others of our ilk survive. We will get enough table scraps to keep us from really going off the rails, but just barely.

Another reason for the election of Trump is the education system which has succumbed to the nonsense that school should not be difficult and that we will NOT  teach critical thinking skills. No authority figure wants citizens capable of critical thought. They want loyalty. They specifically do not want "principles before personalities."

Trump wants personal loyalty before law. We've been a country of laws and not leaders. The constitution comes first. I think Barack dislike the constitution but was willing to tolerate it. Trump dislikes it but is willing to ignore it. But they both have massive egos and nobody will make me change my mind. "My mind is made up, don't try to confuse me with the facts."

Have a good day.  Say yer prayers. And bless yer little red head.

Arlo C. Hipps.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worry about things which are beyond the power of our will.  Epictetus.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Middle Class Didn't Just Vanish

What frustrates me the most about the country right now is the mental gymnastics The Far Right media has trained Citizens into performing whenever certain words or phrases are spoken or seen.

The original word has been hijacked -- to the point where people automatically start foaming at the mouth when that word is used. It's called Dog-Whistle propaganda. A word or phrase is used, creating a Dog-Whistle Word. Say the word and the human blanks out everything but the propaganda about that word.

I'm gonna hit the edge of this with the phrase 'Vanishing Middle Class' because The Far Right has really done a number on us.

I grew up in a middle class community, all my friends and family were dyed-in-the-wool Middle Class. Then the economic woes of the Nixon years, hit and all the jobs dried up and blew away in about 10 years time. By 1979, when I graduated, the economy of our small town had tanked and about 20k families left town in search of jobs.

We, the children of the Middle Class and our parents, didn't "vanish" we didn't fade away like ghosts. We struggled with increasing and ever more crushing poverty, unable to get jobs that paid Middle Class wages, unless we had family connections that could get us one of the few 'good' jobs in town.

Many of us fled -- some more than once -- heading south or west until we found someplace where we could settle. But thousands didn't have the means to flee, or their family ties were too strong, so they stayed and suffered the long agonizing slide into soul-crushing poverty and despair.

Women struggled the most, because one of the first things that happens when the local economy tanks is that couples stop getting married -- a girl gets pregnant and the father, (aka the Baby Daddy), bolts like horse in a thunderstorm. Any support from the government, no matter how badly needed puts them at risk of being labeled with a Dog-Whistle Word, so many women don't dare apply, unless they work for Wal-mar; there it's company police to Fleece The Beast and sign their workers up for government benefits in lue of wages.

Wal-mart replaced GM as the #1 employer in the USA decades ago. That company is owned by the richest family in America, a family that pays less taxes than any other in the 1% richest in America. Their company also pay wages well below the poverty line -- but no one calls the Waltons Welfare Queens -- that Dog-Whistle Word is for the single mothers who work for them.

This is where Generational Poverty moves in and takes over Fly Over America. Just as predicted in the 1970's, when the economy tanked the first time, the wages of the Service Economy couldn't sustain Middle Class, so an entire social class slid down the economic razor blade into the burning vat of poverty.

So here we are, 40 years later and once bustling small towns are now Fly Over Zones, or The Rust Belt, and the people scraping a living in these places are Red Necks, Hillbillies, and Pillbillies; frightening degenerates who are Dog-Whistled by The Far Right like attack trained pit bulls.

And the attack word is 'Liberal'.

The rage that helped put a completely inappropriate human in the White House stems from the fact that these Pillbillies were raised in Middle Class families, without Middle Class jobs. Their TV networks are filled with propaganda that enrages them. They KNOW they've been shafted, over and over again, by the same asshats who programmed them to respond to Dog-Whistles.

Everybody knows that Washington kisses the asses of the 400 richest families in the USA, like the Waltons, and pees on fallen middle class families, as well as the veterans leaving the military.

Education, health care and jobs (i.e. Hope) have been stripped from most Fly Over Zone communities and everybody is expendable as soon as they are injured or get sick. Big Pharma moves in with pain-pills and people who's souls are wounded by poverty and inflamed by propaganda eat opiods by the handful and wash it down with cheap booze.

Meanwhile, the GOP answer to Health Care is still: Die Faster Dammit!

So why is Congress so stunned that somebody went hunting Republicans on their home turf?

After all -- school shootings didn't effect Congress, their kids go to private schools. Church shootings don't effect them either because Congress is full of fake-Christians and outright Anti-Christians. (Somebody once said "You know the tree by it's fruit" so yes, they are Anti-Christians.)

Nothing is going to change -- the Anti-Christians in Congress will continue to kiss the asses of The 400 Families who donate while killing Social Security, Medicare, Health Care, VA Benefits, Education and Science because those all benefit the impoverished former Middle Class and Veterans.

The best that Fly Over America could do was send a mad pseudo-Billionaire to the White House and hope that 'shaking things up' would get them a break of some kind.

Too few people voted in 2016 and we all got the shaft as the result.

There is more reason to vote now than ever.

More need for voters and fresh faces running for local offices, because parts of the system are rigged and we need to tend our backyards while Congress and the White House thrash like a giant beheaded snake.

We need to get rid of Zombie Senators and Congressmen who have grown old and senile during their decades in office. We need to un-do the Gerrymandering that returns these zombies to office when they haven't had a pulse in decades.

The 1% families, like the Waltons, need to start paying 20% of their income in taxes, just like the rest of us. That money needs to go to Healthcare, Education and VA Benefits because working class America pays for their own Social Security and Medicare.

It might be late in the game, but it's not too late. We must tend our back yards in the next four years, to make sure we don't get fooled again.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Back to the Business of Writing

The old bull has been ridden to a standstill by the sheer bloated weight of Uncle Sam, broken to harness and hitched to the huge wagon that is Congress. I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by the shrill voices of the political Henny Penny types cackling “The Sky Is Falling!” long enough.

The world is not a China Shop, Skylab fell decades ago. Kentucky is just as safe as it has always been. If I don’t stop looking at the sky for falling debris, I’m never going to get anything finished in time for the next Reading Season.

The Hoard is gone. My parent’s little farm was sold on last August. I took time to mourn for those I loved and lost. For the first time in years, I can take care of my farm without feeling pulled in a dozen different directions.

The porch is breezy, the trees have leafed out, and the lawn is mowed by a lawn service. It’s time I got back to the business of writing.

So, here’s what’s been going on with my books:

I goofed up and lost the URLs of KAJordan.net and IcyRoadPublishing.com. The Chinese have squatted on the two names and it would cost me $3k to get either one back. So I’ve dropped those names and will get back to that silliness later.

There are 18 I. C. Talbot short stories published. After over two years of zero sales on the other vendor sites, I started moving all the Talbot short stories into Kindle Unlimited.

They got a just few pages read, mostly for “Turned Out”until March when I released “The Hide Out” which got picked up and reviewed on Goodreads. That started a surprising burst of interest in I. C. Talbot short stories that has lasted all of March and April. Today on May 1st, “The Hide Out” was read again, kicking off the month on a positive note.

The halo sales and reads increased as I set up free dates for the other short stories. In March there were a couple thousand pages read and hundreds of e-books given away for free. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Amazon pays less per page read this year than last year. More like $0.004 per page instead of $0.005. So a couple thousand pages read is less than $20. Since I have to pay for the pictures that make up the covers and I have someone else run an editing pass, I’m still in the hole for the short stories published before “The Hide Out” and “Ill Wind.”

This doesn’t count my own e-books, with 3 brand new covers, which were lackluster as freebies. “Let’s Do Lunch” has caught on, with respectable freebie numbers and almost $2 in pages read. I hope
 that "Swallow the Moon" and "Impressive Bravado" will follow suit.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t get into this to get rich, isn’t it?

There is something that I’d like to point out – I published the first of the I. C. Talbot short stories in 2009, when I published my own. We had respectable runs which peaked 2011 and fell off to nothing thereafter. The market changed then and apparently it has changed again. 

This time it appears to have changed in my favor.