For the first time in ages, I suddenly find myself forced to sit and relax. It’s Columbus Day, so I have the day off from the day gig, and it’s Monday, so I have the day off from the night gig. That made it the perfect day to get some new tires for Lenore, and I
Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then. This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure. My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things
“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” is a bit of a mind bender. My first reaction was, “What? No way.” Then, halfway through the article, I realized the Times had pulled a fast one: they only used a period once to make a point (no pun intended). The rest of
Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife
Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.” It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time. Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging
I’m a big believer of do-it-yourself home repair. Whether we’re talking plumbing, electrical, flooring, or HVAC, most of the costs are tied up in labor: paying someone to come out and do the work. With the right tools and a good YouTube search, however, you should be able to handle most household repairs and many automotive repairs.
After that it’s just a matter of weighing the cost of your own time against the cost of paying someone else to do it.
A little over a week ago, this happened:
That’s an extension spring for a garage door. It snapped in half, which meant the garage door opener couldn’t open the garage. Fortunately whomever installed it had the foresight to run a safety cable through the spring, so I found it hanging in place rather than punched through a wall or window.
Most garages have a single torsion spring above the center of the door; the rest have a pair of extension springs. Torsion springs are not easy to replace, and they can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t have the right parts.
Extension springs, on the other hand, are easy to replace with nothing more than a socket wrench. Disconnect one pulley wheel, thread the cables, reconnect the pulley wheel, and you’re back in business.
Assuming you can locate the damned things. I hit three of the big box hardware stores and a Farm & Fleet looking for the right size springs, but they only stock springs for up to 160-pound doors. My door, apparently, is closer to 200 pounds. I ended up calling an overhead door company instead, and they were able to find me a new pair. The bigger springs cost almost three times as much as the 160s due to their size, but at least I still wouldn’t have to pay for installation.
I finally had enough time today to get to work. Half an hour later, this happened:
Score. Saved me a couple hundred bucks in labor, I’m sure. It works better than before, too; the newer springs pull the door open a few inches higher, even with the top of the doorway.
And because I was able to get the garage door open, I was able to make this happen at last:
It’s good to be the king.
When I express frustration at my lack of writing productivity, people will assume I’m dealing with a lack of ideas. Next thing I know they’re sharing their ideas with me, and then they’re offended when I politely decline.
The thing they don’t understand is ideas aren’t worth dick.
Nada. Nothing. Nought. Zero.
Ideas are important, but people don’t get paid unless there’s execution. Maybe you can point to some famous author who gets paid for ideas, and then someone else gets paid to ghost write something for them, but the difference is they’ve already proven their ideas are worth executing. Their name and their celebrity is the real attraction, not the idea. The idea itself still isn’t worth anything until it’s on the page, on the screen, or otherwise consumable and money is changing hands.
If it were as simple as selling ideas, I’d hand over my notebooks and my Evernote password and cash in.
For the most part, these people have their hearts in the right place and they’re just trying to help. Other times they’re just too goddamn lazy to do their own work and they think I can help them cash in. In either case, I generally steer them toward doing their own work. The former group will generally drop it, but the latter will then be doubly offended when I’m not blinded by their brilliance.
Ideas, regardless of their medium, require sweat equity. I don’t care if your idea is in the arts, business, education, or technology, you’re going to have to execute. Create your idea, build your idea, demonstrate your idea works. Make the effort and get the work done.
Or don’t. It doesn’t matter, because ideas are easy. They die as quickly as they appear. If you don’t put any effort into it, then you won’t feel any real value in the idea either. Some random dollar amount you’ve attributed to an idea is just a fantasy until you’ve put the effort into it and proven its value.
So you’ve got an idea? Great!
Now get to work.
Barnes & Noble has long been accused of squeezing out local indie bookstores, and today’s announcement that they’re slashing their Nook business suggests they’re feeling the same squeeze from Amazon and Google’s Play Store.
Giving their customers a week to save their content is, to my eye, an indication of just how bad the situation is. If they were just shifting focus, Barnes & Noble would make an announcement and give customers plenty of time to save their content. Less tech-savvy users are going to need as much time as they can get. To give users just a week suggest they’re bleeding cash—badly—and they’re shutting everything down immediately to stop the damage. I’m predicting a lot of panicked calls to family tech support over the next few days.
Then we read Amazon is opening a second brick-and-mortar store, and of course there’s speculation they’ll open up a whole chain of them and compete with Barnes & Noble directly. It seems unlikely, but of course that’s what the media seems to be looking forward to. The thing is, Amazon is a megastore that happens to sell books. Barnes & Noble is, despite their recent integration of games and toys, a bookstore.
Maybe all they need to do is start acting like one.
Barnes & Noble stores hold several events like readings, author signings, Q&As, and so forth, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble has employees who genuinely care about books and who can cater to readers’ tastes, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble is a place folks can hang out, just like indie shops.
Why, then, does their online storefront look like any other online store’s?
I get it, they have their algorithms and bestseller lists and blah blah blah. But why not leverage the in-store events as well? Use location-based recommendations to see what’s popular in the area is a quick start, but why not also steer location services to local employee lists or blogs that browsers can connect with and follow?
They should also be streaming events. Team up with Google Hangouts or Twitter/Periscope to tackle the tech side, so fans and readers can see or participate in Q&As, author talks, and so forth. Guys like Brian Keene would probably have a good online following. Greg Kishbaugh had over 50 people in-store when he launched The Bone Welder; how many more might have tuned in to his presentation and then clicked to make a purchase afterward?
That’s just a few quick thoughts. I’m sure there are other things they could do, but the point is, they should be differentiating themselves from Amazon in every way they can. Just like they forced indie bookshops to be more creative to hang on to customers, Barnes & Noble should be getting more creative to hang on to their own customers.
Otherwise they’re going to die, just like some of the indie bookshops who couldn’t compete with them.
I feel like we rang in the New Year yesterday. Every time I even think about catching up on something, I find another week’s gone by. I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re constantly on the move, and why I put such high value on my time.
Am I getting things done? Yes. Am I getting the things you guys care about done? The writing and the short stories and the books?
But I’m working on it. I miss it. Dearly. What little time I have left between two jobs and family is shrinking all the time, but I’ve been talking to a few friends about overhauling my schedule to make things happen again.
So let’s talk about what’s still out there:
The Pack books 1 and 2, Winter Kill and Lie with the Dead, will continue to be available for a while. My publisher, Evileye Books, has been forced to shift focus and goals, leaving The Pack and a few other series without a home.
People ask, then, “What about Book 3?” Good question. The book will be called All They Fear, but it’s going to sit in limbo for a while. I need to try to get a few other things off the ground before I can worry about keeping the series alive.
The same goes for the first The Pack short, “Bravo Four.” Grab it while you can! Another short, “Silver Bullets,” has been written but is also in limbo.
Meanwhile, Evileye has released The Burning Maiden Volume 2, the second book in their anthology series. This one includes my short story, “One Night on the Road to Charleston,” as well as a number of your favorite horror writers like Ramsey Campbell, Cullen Bunn, Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay, and John Urbancik. Editor Greg Kishbaugh has put together another great lineup.
You can still grab the first volume on Amazon, which includes my short piece “A Family Tree, Uprooted.” As of today, this one’s only five bucks on Kindle.
Meanwhile, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback for my comic short “All Things Through Me” in the horror anthology In the Dark. Some readers connected with Tristan Yates, so there’s a good chance I’ll be telling more of his stories soon, though probably in prose form. If that’s something you’d like to read, please let me know.
You know, 2015 wasn’t half bad. I didn’t get any new writing projects out there, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve been tied up with so many other things that I’m not going to sweat it right now.
Most of my time went into my karate training and my students. I took over as instructor of my old dojo (one of three dojo with my karate school) a year ago this weekend, and I’ve grown my enrollment quite a bit.
I enjoy teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Watching students grow in their karate and make connections is amazing, and I get a lot of good feedback from their families. If I’ve had a rough day at the day gig, or I’m just in a bad mood, that fades as soon as the first students walk in the door.
I put a lot into training for my own test in August, which consumed my otherwise free time through the first half of the year and into late Summer. The test itself was a long day, but I passed and earned my second degree black belt and my instructors were happy with my performance.
Fitness-wise, I sorted a few things and lost some weight, which is always a good thing. Progression on the weight lifting is slower than I’d like, but I’m also not quite eating the best way to build muscle because I’m trying to control the weight gain. This Summer, I ran non-stop for 5K (three miles) for the first time.
This New Year, I’m not even going to look back at the goals I set last year. I had a lot going on, and a lot of good things went down. The direction probably changed, but I’m calling the year a win and I’m looking forward to 2016.
Let’s do this.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a cigar review. It’s not because I haven’t been enjoying them, just that I’ve been too distracted to sit down and write about them. A local bar has an enclosed porch with a heaters and a nice fire pit, so it’s a great spot to relax and hang out with a cigar and a drink.
Of course, rumor has it the laws are changing and anything with a floor and a roof will be considered “indoors” and thus a non-smoking area. I haven’t seen it in the various lists of new Illinois laws coming January 1st, and the wait staff at the bar hadn’t heard anything about it yet, so with luck it’s a ways off for the existing bars—some of whom built enclosed patios to accommodate smokers—or they will be grandfathered in and not subject to the expanded smoking ban.
If the law does change, though, it’ll make for some long Winters with cigars few and far between. Ack. It’s hard to beat noodling on a plot point or a bit of dialog over a cigar.
I’ve certainly survived worse, though. And I’ve certainly had worse cigars than CI’s Drew Estate Copper Label.
CI offered up several Black Friday deals, and the Copper Label looked like a great deal. I got started with their ACID line way back when, and I’ve enjoyed their Natural, Sauza Tequila, and other labels. I felt having something on the mild end of the flavor spectrum would round out my humidor, too, and give me a few sticks to hand to friends who don’t always like darker cigars.
CI describes the Copper Label as a blend of Drew Estate’s Natural and ACID brands, and I’d say that’s exactly right. They smelled both sweet and savory right out of the cellophane, and before I lit up I could taste creamy vanilla similar to the ACID Blondie.
The cream turned bitter on light, but it quickly mellowed again. The strong vanilla quit and gave way to a subtler, creamy flavor that accented the earthy smoke rather than overpowering it. The smoke itself was not unpleasant, and the construction held up well. I think my only concern is going to be burning through them fast enough so the vanilla doesn’t linger in my humidor.
I see now that CI is selling five sticks for $35, so I got them for a little under half price on Black Friday. A steal for a good smoke like this, assuming you’re okay with the sweetness. The Copper Label is not something I’d normally fill my humidor with, but it offers a nice break from the stronger cigars I’ve been favoring lately.
I miss my camera.
I enjoy photography, and for a long time I was striving to get better at it. I especially wanted to improve my post-production game. Unfortunately, I haven’t touched my camera in quite some time. Right now, I can’t even say with 100% certainty where my camera is.
I went through my Flickr photo stream today, and most of it is the Instagram stuff I’ve been throwing around. It’s been a long time since I posted something shot with my Rebel, and even longer since I posted something at least half artistic rather than candid.
So what the hell is keeping me away?
My computer is one problem. It’s an iMac from 2008, and while it still runs well, the software has gotten so resource-intensive that this thing can’t walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. If I’m going to work in Lightroom, I need to shut down everything else. If I’m surfing in Chrome, I need to shut down everything but Twitter. It takes forever to import photos, takes forever to browse and edit them, takes forever to export them, and if I’m lucky it won’t overheat and crash in the middle of it all.
Living on a slow Internet connection in the boonies doesn’t help. If I have to upload a big batch of photos, it’s pretty much a case of walking away and letting it run overnight. Our upload speeds would make a snail yawn, and I sometimes have to repeat batches due to timeout errors.
Then there’s the problem of subjects. I sometimes like to shoot my kids, my wife, or friends & relatives. Unfortunately they’re less than cooperative.
“Daaa-aad, I don’t want to!”
“There’s Mike with his damn camera again.”
“I don’t want to be on the Internet!”
Sometimes it works out and I get nice shots of them anyway, but most of the time it’s not worth the hassle. I got tired of lugging the camera around and not using it. Tired of the bitching while I tried to line up a shot. Tired of exasperated sighs when I asked for help to swap a lens.
The simple solution was to switch to inanimate subjects, or sometimes shoot self portraits. That helped for a while, but I started to run out of interesting ideas around the house, and I found it tough to get out and make time to find other subjects.
As I thought about this all today, I realized the real problem is being susceptible to external influences.
There’s not much I can do about the computer with out the cash to replace it, and there’s not much I can do about the Internet connection aside from packing up and moving. I can either have the patience to deal with them, or I can suck it up and get it done.
Am I shooting photos for my subjects, or am I shooting photos for me? I don’t think it’s selfish to say I’m doing it for me. I enjoy being creative, and if they don’t want to share in that, so be it.
Of course, the subject situation should easily be solved by creativity. I may not get out as often as I’d like due to family and job obligations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t explore some of the same subjects with new angles, or try different approaches with lighting, color, backgrounds, and so on. It’s part of nurturing the creativity.
We can’t allow ourselves to be susceptible to external influences, or we’ll never get anything done. There’s always a better rig available, always someone complaining about something, and it will always be tough to make time for things. If we allow these external influences to run our lives, we have no time to nurture our internal needs.
I think I have two jobs tonight.
First, find and dust off the camera. Check and clean the lenses, charge up the battery, and get it ready for action. Maybe I’ll carry it around again, maybe not, but I’ll shoot something soon.
Second, find out how many of these same external influences are screwing up my writing time, and fix them, too.
Okay, so “skinny” isn’t exactly correct, but I’m lighter now than when I got married so I’ll take it. I’m a lot lighter now than I was ten years ago; I’ve lost just over a fifth of my body weight.
A few weeks ago, I went shopping at a Men’s Wearhouse. The salesperson put me in an XL to fit my shoulders and chest, but then she told me it was a slim. I’ve never worn a slim anything in my life. I’m generally down to size large for most clothing, where I used to shop for XXL.
It’s weird finding clothes on the rack that actually fit. I’m used to sleeves and pant legs being too long, or shirts that are too long and droop around the shoulders. And that’s all assuming some stores even stocked the stuff. Now? Shoulder seams hang where they belong, and while some sleeves are still a bit long for my T-rex arms, the hem is where it belongs.
Now being skinny is expensive because I’m tempted to buy a couple shirts instead of just one.
Then there’s the whole temperature thing. The weather’s already started to change around here, and over the weekend I enjoyed a cigar with some friends on the enclosed patio of our favorite watering hole. I had to ask the waitress to fire up the heater above us. They never did, and by the end of the night I was shivering. My friends laughed, said I lost all my insulation.
Is this what being skinny is like? Being cold all the time?
People are friendlier, too. Maybe it’s social acceptance, maybe it’s just that I carry myself differently, but reactions from others are definitely different. People are warmer, chattier, even in situations where service is their job, like cashiers and wait staff.
How do skinny people protect their quiet time?
Next you’ll tell me I’ll actually fit in an airline seat.
As I type this, I’m sitting out on the porch watching the end of tonight’s supermoon eclipse. Cloud cover had killed the beginning of it for us, but now the clouds are gone and I’ve got a good view of the Earth’s shadow cast across the face of the moon. The red of the totality, the Blood Moon, was fairly dim, but now I’ve got a great view of the contrast between the sunlight and the shadow.
I can’t help but think about some people I know who take no joy in this sort of thing. It’s not an uncommon attitude, but some take it a step further and claim science has somehow ruined these events for them. Eclipse? “Big deal,” they’d say. “It’s just a shadow.” Meteors? “It’s just a rock falling into the atmosphere.”
When they were kids they were impressed by such events because they were in awe of what they didn’t understand. I even knew someone who was jealous of primitive cultures who explained the stars away as gods or dragons, of cultures who built stories and myths around these events. He’d lament how astronomy and physics have killed those stories.
So life was somehow better when we were ignorant? I just can’t get behind that attitude.
Ignorance is not imagination. Those cultures were explaining the world in the best way they could. Their ignorance does not make the world magical.
Imagination is still finding the beauty in these events, even though we know exactly what’s happening. Science doesn’t stop poets from romanticizing the full moon. It doesn’t stop writers from using a storm to set atmosphere. It doesn’t stop any of us from finding the beauty in a sunset, even though they occur every day and we know exactly how they work.
Should we not retain our imagination in the face of what we already know? Should we not find wonder in the explained? To me, that’s what real magic is about.
I’ve already talked about what I think of typing two spaces after a period, but there’s really no standard requirement behind it. Double spacing between lines, however, is a whole different animal. Some editors still require double spacing in their submission guidelines, and most teachers still require their students double space their work per MLA format guidelines.
MLA format also says, “Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).” To me, this demonstrates that two spaces after a period is an artifact of academia: some teachers are enforcing it out of habit and because it’s how they learned, not because there’s a practical reason to do so, so MLA takes the middle ground.
Have we reached the point where double-spaced lines of text should be treated the same way? If an editor or a teacher requires double-spaced manuscripts, then of course the paper should be turned in that way, but why? It’s time to discuss letting it die as a standard, if not a habit.
The first argument is for readability, but as with two spaces after a period, that’s subjective. We spend hours a day reading without double-spaced paragraphs, both on the Internet and in print. This is when the argument turns to readability for proofreading, where the eye is better able to spot errors. I’m with you there.
I still prefer to proofread in print, but I don’t double space. For me, a printed manuscript is not so much for readability as it is the feel of taking a pencil (yes, a mechanical pencil, because that’s how I roll) to a manuscript to tear it apart. Some writers prefer the nostalgia of a red pen carving a bloody trail of destruction across their beloved manuscripts.
If a proofreader is reading carefully enough, it shouldn’t matter whether he’s reading on screen or on paper. Our eyes can—and should—be trained for both. So what are the red pen and the double spacing about? Efficiency and clarity in communicating corrections.
Double spacing a manuscript is not for the proofreader’s ease in reading, but for the proofreader’s ease in communicating corrections back to the writer (or to a typesetter if we want to go way back). A red pen contrasts with the black ink so the writer sees every correction, and the double spacing gives the proofreader room to lay down edits and notes. If an editor or a teacher chooses to rewrite a sentence or make a longer note, they’re going to need room to write, right?
Do newspapers still work this way? I wrote and edited for a college newspaper in the ’90s. Our instructor was a former newspaper editor, and we did zero proofreading on paper and never fiddled with double-spacing. Do publishers still work this way? In the last decade, I’ve only turned in one double-spaced manuscript per the editor’s request. I haven’t handled a printed, double-spaced manuscript, proofread by an editor, since high school.
So why are writers and students still doing it? Habit, and because academia says so.
Proofreading marks would make great Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? questions. We all used (or at least saw) proofreading marks in school, but most adults have forgotten all about them. Hell, a college student at my karate dojo tried to remember some of them while we were proofreading a new manual we’re putting together for students.
We’ve replaced all of this with track changes, commenting, and similar functions in word processors. Even Google Docs now offers a Suggesting mode and allows users to see the entire revision history of a document, and the writer and an editor or teacher can see it all happen in realtime. It’s more efficient than passing papers back and forth and is a much faster and more direct way of communicating.
College students already turn in their work electronically, so colleges are already halfway there. Most K-12 schools are starting to make the change, too. 1:1 programs (1 device to 1 student) are the new trend, whether with laptops or tablets, so every student has an electronic workflow. At the school I work for, every student from grades 6-12 has a Chromebook or laptop and a Google Apps account.
At the elementary level, we’re seeing long-form writing replaced by multimedia presentations and blog-style electronic journaling. Elementary students at my school still write papers longhand occasionally, but even proofreading marks are starting to die out. One of my sons saw them in 2nd grade, but the other has never seen them. They had two different teachers, one of which is in her third decade of teaching, and the other has been teaching less than ten years. Guess which one taught proofreading marks?
That all said, I spoke to a second-year junior high English teacher who requires double-spaced papers, even electronically. He finds seventh graders’ run-on sentences and similar issues are tough to parse in single-spaced text. However, he also admits he requires it because “that’s how it’s commonly done,” and because it’s easier to communicate page-length requirements to students.
Readability, again, is subjective. By high school, and certainly on a professional level, students and writers should be past the point where their writing can’t be parsed in single-spaced text. I’m much more interested in the why of things over “because we’ve always done it that way.” The latter is a dangerous statement, and only invites stagnation.
As for his page-length requirements, it’s not hard to say “give me half a page” instead of one double-spaced page. I suggested word count, but he feels if he required 500 words, they’d stop writing at word 501. They won’t do the same when they hit the end of a page? In any event, these things can be corrected through education and grading.
Double spacing is worth debating. If even academia is starting to make the switch, then maybe it’s time to revisit double spacing as a standard. I can see arguments on both sides, but I think we’re better off taking steps to dump it. Let’s start drilling the habit of proofreading accurately in regular text into our students instead.
And by the way, how many of us catch ourselves proofreading websites, books, magazines, and newspapers? We do it all the time, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. We tell ourselves it’s easier one way or the other, but we read single-spaced text (with one space after periods!) all day.
If double-spacing manuscripts is already a habit for you, by all means, carry on. If a publisher, editor, or agent requires it, then definitely do it! I just see no reason to keep drilling it into students as a requirement, or to require writers to use double spacing if we’re going to use an electronic workflow through the rest of the publishing process.
I imagine pretty soon it will become optional, just like those two spaces after a period.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a Smoke Blog post. It’s not that I haven’t been partaking, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and collect my thoughts. Tonight I selected a 5 Vegas Gold from a sampler pack I purchased recently, grabbed my laptop, and went out to the porch . . .
. . . only to find a giant spider building a web from my chair to the ceiling.
Spiders, we’re done. I’ve tolerated you up to this point. I let you build your webs in your nooks and crannies around the porch, including right next to my table. When one built a web between the bushes big enough to trap my kids, I took him out but I agreed to leave the rest alone.
This, though? This crosses a line. My chair is the DMZ. I turned on the lights, grabbed a broom, and Hell came to Spidertown.
The 5 Vegas is now a victory cigar.
It isn’t half bad, either. It has a smooth, easy draw with a lot of smoke. It has a bit more pepper than I expected from a Connecticut wrapper, and I’ve just read that it’s an Ecuadorian Connecticut raised in Honduras. I’m assuming that accounts for the difference, and why it’s included in the medium- to full-body selection in the rest of the sampler I purchased.
The construction is good, and the wrapper is holding up well. The fine ash tumbled on me, which sometimes results in a hotter burn and canoeing, but I’m not seeing that problem here.
I was looking for something a little lighter and creamier tonight, but this is working out just fine. I’d still favor a Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real over this one, but I wouldn’t turn these down for a good deal or as part of another sampler.