Thursday, September 27, 2012

We've moved!

It's pretty simple: we've moved. The new place for all things C.P. White Media is We've grown up. We've moved out. We've got out own Web site, CMS, hosting, and all that gobbledygook. So pop on over. Check out the tabs we've got too: you can browse and buy everything and anything. And just so you know, this Blogger site is going dormant for now. Follow Chris at today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I recently got the bright idea that I needed a literary agent because my books weren’t selling well. I decided to go ahead and query one, and not just anyone, but one of the top agents in the known universe. In my swing for the fence I thought that by magic he would somehow cause my poorly selling work to become magnificent and therefore change me into a discovered author who is loved, famous, rich, and possibly even more interesting, if such a thing is possible. But that didn’t happen, because he rejected my submission. And my heretofore magnum opus, K [phantasmagoria] is still not selling. Surely that’s not my fault. Right?

When the agent sent me a quick email to let me know “this one just isn’t working for me,” I reacted with grace and thanked him for his extremely valuable time because I am, if nothing else, professional. Meanwhile, under my skin, the sensitive creative bits were hurting. They still are. There’s no rhyme or reason for it other than the fact that someone who knows good writing basically told me my work isn’t good enough. The truth hurts, and this is the first time I’ve gotten a good dose of it. The hardest part to take was the truest: that he found it “hard to follow, with too much narrator-voice in it.” Yep. That’s precisely the problem.

But there’s more. See, earlier that day I met with another guy who knows his stuff. And he told me, “Dude, you have to do something about your covers. You’ve gotta stop doing them yourself. Find a good designer and pay them.” I responded with a sheepish yeah I know, which begs the question: if I knew that already, why is it still a friggin unsolved problem, know what I mean? So this guy who knows his stuff referred me to some awesome cover designers, and I got the ball rolling in the right direction.

What’s key about all of this is that I believe I have the ability to make my work better. I now realize why my book isn’t selling: because it sucks in every way sucking is possible. It’s true: cover, story, marketing, all of it. The hallelujah moment is now, because I can finally realize all of that and make the necessary changes. I mean, thanks to my fans—all two of you—but I can do better. Much better.

So I’m now going back through and rewriting K [phantasmagoria] for probably the tenth time. I’m taking out a lot of the gratuitous nonsense. I’m streamlining the plot yet again, trying to get that ever-important beginning right. I think the story starts in the wrong place, and I aim to fix that. Also the cover art is clearly bad, and that will be fixed— by a professional. There are branding issues as well, at least visually, and that’s going to be dealt with. Plus, the title is wrong. I can finally admit that. Phantasmagoria is a cool and loaded word, but most people blanch at it I think, at least if it’s in the title. And by the way, if you want to have a hand in retitling this book, your contest entry could win a free eBook at the C.P. White Media Facebook page. Just drop a comment and suggest one.

I’ve spent a long time sitting around waiting for the market to respond to me. It could be said that it’s been time wasted. But in light of the lessons I’m learning it’s been time well spent, at least if I can apply the kinds of changes that will get me good results. At this point, good results equal exposure, sales, and a loyal following that’s chomping at the bit for more. I have faith that I can deliver that. Though my confidence is at a new low artistically, it’s only for the time being. I can rise up and do better, and that starts today. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Awful Ode to Homemade Bread

This has nothing to do with anything...

Thy pockets are full
Of yeasty goodness
Air apparent
-ly awesome in admixture with gluten

Thou art crusty
And toasty and buttered
My teeth gnash
-ing across molecular webs that breadily fruiten

My mind is awhirl
A cascading torrent
Of bready texture
-s synapses fire ecstatically as I nosh

Wilt thou snog
O my slice
Softly thy coo
-ing to me makes mouth water in lusty anticipation of biting into your spongy innards

[This is better when it’s performed, as opposed to being read—ed.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Les Edgerton knows what he’s talking about. His eBook, Hooked, lays down the law about how to begin your novel—and how, most likely, your beginning could be much, much better. Making things worse, he doesn’t just expect you to take his word for it. He gives plenty of examples that buttress his point, like Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore, a book now on my to-read list. Look, here’s the deal: I know my writing has been changed for the better as a result of having read Hooked. I now approach everything differently.

Having said all that, it’s not that Edgerton’s research is the last word on how you should write your novel. After all, that’s up to you, and he doesn’t pretend it should be anything otherwise. What he offers is a kind of road map on story—a little like Bickham did—except with far more emphasis on the opening bits, which are, at least in the sense of one’s writing being a commercial endeavor, the most important.

At first the terms are a bit overwhelming (especially when Edgerton talks about the ten core components of an opening scene, blasting you upside the head with shoptalk terms you’ve probably never dreamt of), but as one reads on it becomes clearer. In fact, I highlighted the crap out of my Kindle edition because Edgerton constantly drops in these little nuggets of truth and profundity that sit up and beg for it. Examples? Sure:

“The first time a scene ends in success, the story is over.”

I’m like, WHAT?!

“A protagonist should not gain anything easily.”

Okay, yeah. I knew that. No really. I did.

“Summary doesn’t convince anyone of anything. Write that down.”

Hey Les, look: I wrote it down. And now I have a bunch of fluffy crap I need to go and delete elsewhere. Thanks a lot.

In fact, Edgerton’s book is so chock-full of great resources, you should stop what you’re doing right now and download it. Seriously. If you fancy yourself a writer, if you’re an indie author, if you’re published and agented and signed and successful, you should read it. It can only help you, and Edgerton points out other excellent resources too, like Bickham’s Scene and Structure, and like another I haven’t quite gotten to yet, On Writing Well by William Zinsser (I’ll just take Les’s word for it that it’s going to be outstanding when I finally do get round to it).

I’m not joking, this book will change your professional life as a writer. What I found most alarming as I read through Hooked is that I’d been trading mostly on instinct and raw talent. The emotional quotient to that, at least as an author, is pretty much just stark terror. I was ignorant of the structure, the rules, the order of Story. And I called myself an author?! Now that my mind has been peeled open a bit, I’m soaking this stuff up like crazy. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Go get yours now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Swiss Days 2012

For those of you who have seen the Swiss Days videos, I apologize. For those who’d rather read about my adventures (or who’d rather not hear me sing when I’m bored), I give you the C. P. White Media Blog. I recently drove more than 800 miles in less than 72 hours; a feat that favors the young (-er than I). I did it for Swiss Days. And it was pretty fun.

A good friend and colleague invited Aaron and me to pop on down to Utah from Idaho for this event, which regularly draws more than 80,000 people to the tiny village of Midway, UT. It’s been going on for 65 years, and it’s a great chance to experience a bona fide slice of Americana, with a Swiss twist. Aaron wasn’t able to make it, so I took his Honda and set off, staying at our friend’s house, where I slept on the couch and dreamt about miniature Schnauzers and talked in my sleep very slowly: “Geeeeeeeet ouuuuuuuuut,” I said at about three AM to the trespassing evil dream dog, which woke me up and probably alarmed the other people sacked out in the living room. One doesn’t expect to hear an authorial guest going on at literally all hours; I’m sure it was a little more than just irritating. So I apologize to the people I offended/ horrified, and I have a feeling there’s more of that kind of action in my professional future. Just cuz. It would figure, that’s all.

I met some outstanding people at Swiss Days this year. I signed lots of books and met tons of fans, some of whom had actually heard of the Airel saga, imagine that! One young lady just couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved Airel and Michael and how she really hates that we keep leaving the reader hanging at the ends of our novels. I’m going to blog soon about Les Edgerton’s book Hooked, which is about hooking the reader from sentence one (a great idea), but in today’s world of the series novel it’s almost as important to hook the reader at the end of books one, two, and three, assuming there’s only four books in the series—it’s really the hook before the hook. And technically, the hook at the end of book one is really the hook at the beginning of book two and so on. Anyway, this young lady was chomping at the bit for book three: Uriel, which is coming soon (hopefully before the end of the year). If you want to be in the loop, subscribe to this here blog.

I’ll be headed back to Swiss Days next year. I was stunned by the beauty of the event, and that includes the gracious people that organized it, staffed it, and attended it. I’m super impressed. I’ll be bringing my family back next year, and I probably won’t even have to bribe them with a stop off at Lagoon in order to get them to go. And I woulda stayed longer, but my oldest boy got baptized that weekend, so I had to leave early because I prioritize my fam—especially for things like that (I actually got the be the one who baptized him, and in the Boise River, no less). It was a momentous weekend for me. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned as the blog pages turn. Until then.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ode to the Hatred of Windows 7 (stop me if you’ve heard this one before)

Hate is so out of fashion these days, what with the moral superiority of the amoral shouting down at us from the high horseback of the religion of Save The Victim. I, however, have never been afraid of swimming against the tide. Ask me if I have an ounce of give-a-crap on me. My hatred of the Windows operating system is self-justified anyway because Windows refreshes it anew at random maddening intervals. Which makes it worse.

Attempting to trust Windows 7 with one’s productivity is like tasking a psychopath with cooking breakfast: you never know what kind of results you might get. Here’s the application of my angst. I was innocently using Inkscape, an open source (free) vector based graphic design program that’s available not only for unlucky number seven Windows, but also for Mac, which I’d wager is more stable in the same way that building one’s house on concrete is more stable than building a skyscraper on the point of a sharpened pencil. Granted, I was asking Windows for the exceptional: “pretty please with sugar on top can you render an image for me at 300 dpi with the dimensions of 5.25 inches by 8.5 inches.” <ENTER>

Whereupon Windows thought (boy howdy do I use that term loosely) for two hours and then spat out an unusable file that no program installed on my machine could read. You know what? I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

I then tried again. This is a regular occurrence for the Windows user. Microsoft is apparently okay with its many millions of clients being required to shoot craps on top of the OS that Gates built. The problem is that this craps table is like an extra-coarse cheese grater and the dice fall through the holes quite often. Anyway, I re-asked Windows 7 for permission to please be productive. I set the Inkscape application (oops, Microsoft calls them “programs,” not applications—that would be a Mac thing) working and then stepped away for an hour, knowing Windows would need time to do its hair and nails and gossip to the girl in the adjacent chair about how ambivalent it really felt about the whole thing.

WINDOWS 7: I don’t know, girl, it’s like this User I have expects the world of me… he actually thinks I’ll obey when he clicks the trackpad in certain ways!

XP: Tell me about it! It’s like they think they can just pop in and bark orders any time and get what they want.

WINDOWS 7: Mmmmmm- hm. Girl, you know that’s right. I was like, “Oh no, you didn’t just walk up in here without so much as a ‘hello’ or a ‘damn girl you look fine’ or anything.

XP: Right?! Them fools be thinkin they can just have they way wit us. I’m like, “Oh HAY-ull naw.”

WINDOWS 7: You got that right, girl!

One can predict how this ends. I sat back down at my Windows machine to check on it—it’s the only OS on God’s green earth that needs a babysitter—and what, to my utter shock, awe and surprise did I discover? Why, only that Windows had refused to obey a direct order. I got the following message:

Inkscape has stopped responding… <DIAGNOSE>

Whereupon I engaged in the ritual every Windows user knows by heart: CTRL> ALT> DEL, which now, as opposed to the relative elegance of XP, launches a menu window that gives the user more choices that are actually not helpful at all but instead just add an unnecessary extra step before you get to the Task Manager you really want. I clicked on the Task Manager choice, and the all-too-familiar little window opened before me, showing me that yes, Inkscape had indeed stopped responding to my commands. Big surprise. I then force quit the app…er, program.

Then Windows 7 popped up another window, this one ostensibly helpful:

Windows is checking for a solution to the problem… <CANCEL>


I then engaged in another ritual Windows users find all too familiar: I started all over again. Sigh…

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Wagner Diary

It seems like it’s been forever, I’ll tell you that much. I wrote The Marsburg Diary, or at least I started writing it, over a year ago. It started off as a Stoker-esque historical horror piece, but through the constructive criticism of my friends, it became far more. Harvey Marsburg was born. He took on the traits of a couple of people I’ve met in my travels, at least in regard to the amount of Dr. Pepper he consumes (one of my LAV school instructors practically survived on the stuff; a 2-liter of it was always with him like it was part of his uniform of the day). I think ol’ Harv is what makes the series great. He’s like a fifty year old male version of Airel: a little eccentric and proud of it, with the occasional amusing bits of inner dialogue.

But Harvey’s also a little bit of my own personal fantasy doppelganger, too. He’s British, and I’m borderline obsessed with British culture. I’ve been digging for tasty bits of slang to use, and I fairly splattered the second installment in the Airel Saga Diary Books with a liberal amount of it.

Some of the criticism I got about The Marsburg Diary was that it was pretty meaty. You know, all that Victorian English stuff (which I love, and tried to make as authentic as possible). So to wit, the second book has lots more of Harvey. I had to integrate new characters and new diary lines, so the flashback diary bits are more of a seasoning than the main course. You’ll see a little bit more of William Marsburg’s personal thoughts, but the main event is Herr Wagner’s diary entries, which feature a little more of the infamous Mr. Rotheram. And I promise, in this book we finally get to the bottom of that haunting line, “I have always hated Falkenhayn.” Taking my cues from Goethe’s Faust, I really quite enjoyed writing the quintessentially evil Falkenhayn, and hope you enjoy reading him.

Want an excerpt? I knew you did:

Deep in the wood, somewhere in Illinois~
I probably needed a change of underwear.
Have you ever woken up to the sunrise after sleeping on a forest floor? Let me put it to you this way: it’s not like an advert for yoghurt and granola on telly, where the sun is gentle and there are woodland fairies to caress one’s cheeks. It’s bleeding awful. I felt like bugs were crawling all over me, I itched profusely, and I had managed to injure my neck and head with what I had decided to use for a pillow the night previous— a rounded stone. I was as stiff as grandmother’s knickers (whom I never met, God rest her soul).
It’s funny about getting older— when I was young, I was superman. Getting hurt was a rare thing that usually required me to do something really stupid. But now that I’m nearing fifty, all I have to do is wake up. I will try to rise to a sitting position and I’ll have sustained an injury.
Cautiously, then, I raised myself from the dirt. Gradually. Sloooowly. Never mind being nearly fifty. I felt dead.
“What happened?” I asked no one. I was half expecting an answer though, and looked around to confirm my solitude. I was greeted by none but the lone piercing sun in the east. I raised a hand to my brow to shield my eyes, the back of my hand brushing against a twig that had stuck itself to my forehead in the night— which scared me. After dancing around in fear for a moment, though, I finally calmed myself enough to gather my things, tend to the morning necessities, and begin walking.
Where? Out.
What else could I do?
My car was dead. I had shot it.
And though my bestial enemy was dead too, or at least I assumed so, I also assumed there were no others like him chasing me round the wilderness. If there were, I reasoned, I wouldn’t have awakened at all. At any rate, I was an expatriate Englishman stuck within one of the islanded wilds of rural Midwestern America, stranded without a car, carrying only my backpack. My life had been whittled to that and its random plebian contents, with an especial consideration for those three books inside.
I checked my Ruger revolver. Empty still, of course. Anything else would have been uninteresting, after all. I shoved it back into my waistband at the small of my back.
I trudged on.
It wasn’t long before the wood began to thin out and brighten up. Trees gave way to scrub and brambles, which I tried to skirt around as best I could, moving toward some kind of exit. Nature doesn’t clearly mark these things.
Offhand I wondered what in the world I was going to do now. I was out in the middle of Illinois, somewhere south of Champaign, about an hour’s drive. That put me at least a hundred miles from my home in Chatham. The last road sign I remembered seeing was one for Tuscola, another anonymous American village utterly surrounded by corn. I knew at least that my wanderings had taken me off the beaten track and that I was far from help, far from home. Being on foot just made it worse.
I finally found a clear path to the edge of the wood, which was itself clearly defined: a gently curving razor’s edge, to one side of which there was unruly nature— brush and forest— and on the other side tall corn in perfect rows, towering at least two feet over my head, tassels waving in the early morning breeze.
That was the first time I felt what I call “the slip.” Like something just wasn’t quite right.
Some part of my brain was asking urgently why there should be a corn field ready for harvest in the middle of May. It was like gazing at an Escher; something was definitely not lining up here…

The Wagner Diary is now available for Kindle. Nook users have to wait until tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Apple and the Status Quo in ePublishing

Bad Apple...

Cupertino, we have a problem. The worst part of it is that it’s preventable. One of two things is happening: either the folks at Apple are dull (not likely) or they’re doing this on purpose. Let’s get right to it: if you want to distribute your eBook content through the iBookstore via Apple, you have to own a Mac. Period. Really.

Okay, maybe there are technically some loopholes—one can always go through one of their recommended third party epub converters, but that takes quality control out of the hands of the average indie publisher. Strike that option then, at least for my company, because I like to be able to control my final product (Apple understandably does not guarantee the quality of work from these guys). Another option that’s a little gray market, and would probably be frowned upon by the Apple cognoscenti, is the idea of borrowing a friend’s Mac in order to shoulder one’s way into the iBookstore. But I don’t like that either, because again, I like to do things in-house and I like to run my business with integrity. So there’s no other way than to just buy a Mac.

And I love Macs. I have one that’s too old to matter and doesn’t work. I want a new one, and I plan on buying one soon. It’s just the principle of the thing. Why, when I have a perfectly awesome epub file on my Windows hard drive, a conversion I have performed personally and carefully, does Apple require that it be uploaded to their eStore through iTunes Producer—an application that’s, you guessed it, Mac only. It’s not even available for iPhone or iPad, at least as far as I could find out (though I recall seeing some faint rumors about an iPad version, but I couldn’t find one). Really, Apple? This kind of eTyranny is something I would have expected from Microsoft, not you—if I didn’t know better. But I’m an iPhone user, and I’ve learned a little about how there are some things We the End User are not permitted to question. Or change. Or customize. It’s officially ridiculous as far as I’m concerned.

My experience? I’m glad you asked. First, I’m a bit stupefied as to why iTunes hasn’t had a name change yet, because, hello, iTunes is more like iMedia or iGateway, at least the way Apple uses it. But anyway if you want to publish your work to the iBookstore, you first must have an iTunes account, which seems a little diversionary. You must give them a credit card too, and when they have that information they will charge you a dollar as a nice little thank you. Wow. Mind you, they don’t give you a heads up about it, they just do it. It’s only a buck, but what the hell. I mean, it’s a buck, you know? Anyway, when you have an iTunes account (oh by the way, in order to set that up you have to download and install iTunes), then you can Google around and try to find the link that directs you to Apple’s application to become an affiliate, whereupon you must fill out some blanks and then wait for Apple to approve you from on high. Once that’s done, you must then give them your contact information, banking information, tax information, and then “request” a contract (which also must be approved) and accept the terms and conditions before moving forward as a publisher. Only then, at the end of about a week of back and forth, do you discover to your dismay that if you’re a Windows-based indie publisher, you’re totally screwed. Why? Because in order to upload your epub files to the iBookstore, you must download and install iTunes Producer, an OSX-only app. So you have to have iTunes and you have to have iTunes Producer and you have to have a Mac. But they disclose none of this up front. I’ve also heard tell, on some forum sites, that after all that nonsense the indie publisher must also run the gauntlet of Apple’s “quality assurance” process (whereupon they vet your work for spurious content, probably), which can take a very long time. One user reported that he had been waiting six weeks for Apple to approve his work, without so much as an email to let him know they were still working on it, they apologize for the delay, yadayada. Hey, Apple. I can upload and my eBooks to Amazon and Barnes & Noble with Web-based software that works on any device, and it goes live usually in less than 24 hours. What’s so hard about that?

I can only conclude that Apple is attempting to force the market to do things it does not want to do, which is a bit like China being communistical and yet enjoying all the benefits of capitalism that they learned from the British back when Hong Kong was still the center of wealth in their world. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? A little too ironic. If I buy a Mac, it won’t be because of this publishing issue. It won’t be because I’ve been forced into it by the iTunes Producer snafu; I won’t permit them to force my hand like that. It will be because I need a professional tool, and because Mac is the gold standard of computing, pure and simple. Unfortunately, the fools in the control room continue to place the Cupertino farm in jeopardy by marginalizing its true potential, attempting to strangle the market into doing unnatural things. I think eventually, and ironically, if Apple is going to be a major player in eBooks (like, ahem, Amazon), they’re going to have to do the exact opposite of what they're doing now and acquiesce to We the End Users and get with the program. Until then, we suffer through mild tyranny because of how frankly excellent the other parts of the biz are. But if Apple had to stake its entire biz on its approach to eBooks, you’d better kiss it goodbye.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Marsburg Diary, Second Edition

One of the things I love most about eBooks, and about being a published eBook author, is that things are easy to change if they need spicing up. I enlisted the help of my friend Joey, who is the man behind the Great Jammy Adventures illustrations, to scribble a little on some ideas I've wanted to incorporate into the cover for Book One of the Airel Saga Diary Series: The Marsburg Diary [the link won't update with the new cover until Friday].

I've made a few little changes in the text, but nothing substantive; mostly it's on the copyright page. I'm very pleased to reveal the new cover art. This format will carry across the Diary Series line. You'll see what I mean when Book Two, The Wagner Diary, reveals next month. There's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes on this, and things are going to start moving quickly as we get closer to fall and Christmas. The best part? My work will gradually be migrating across to all your favorite platforms... like the Barnes & Noble Nook and Nook Color, and the iPad and iPhone iBooks app. It's all coming soon. Stay tuned to this space.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Scene & Structure, by Jack M. Bickham

I found out about this book in the process of reading another eTome; Hooked, by Les Edgerton. Edgerton’s is an instruction manual for the modern author that induces a lot of #facepalm action, to say the least, and Bickham’s Scene & Structure is the same (More on Hooked in another post). In other words, if you’re an author or writer, or even an aspiring wannabe with good intentions and several partial chapter ones lying around, these books ought to be on your reference shelf. Period.

I edit manuscripts. I’m quite good at it, but this book has been a godsend, allowing me to refine my craft. Mostly what I’ve done in the past has been to follow my gut and play devil’s advocate, asking questions the author hasn’t thought of. I drop comments like this into the middle of everything: “If Jack is so smart, how come I figured Jill out three chapters ago? ARGH.” I also have an eye for spelling and grammar, which has served me well. But Scene & Structure goes well beyond all that, and it’s going to help me provide much more value for money to my clientele, as well as an increase in my rates.

On with it, then. Bickham starts small and simple by giving us the big picture. He outlines the structure of modern fiction, tells us how to begin a story and what’s essential—and furthermore, what needs to get deleted from or changed in our manuscripts (which in most cases will be a quite a lot).

What really hooked me, though, was his detailed analysis of the scene.

Scenes are where the action is. We see the characters on the stage of the mind’s eye, which isn’t a stage—it feels real. Edgerton calls it the “fictive dream,” which is apt. That’s why it’s so electric when it’s written well—and so awful when it’s total crap. Bickham’s book will illustrate for you quite profoundly if your work is in one camp or the other, because if you don’t have a story question that the protag has to answer, if you don’t have a scene question he’s also trying to answer, if you don’t have a scene goal he’s trying to attain, and if the scene doesn’t end in some kind of disaster—a setback—for the hero, you’ve got milquetoast on your hard drive. And miles of rewriting before you’re home.

Contrast that with sequel, which is really the antidote to scene, and you’ve got something with a pattern, a pace, an ebb and flow. Scenes drive the story forward. They contain problems and cause-and-effect stimuli. They’ve got guns and daggers and car chases. They goad us into turning the page. But sequel allows the characters to take a step back and internalize. Sequels read slower, so they’re usually more effective when they’re shorter. In a sequel, we get to see more of what the protag (or the villain) is thinking, what makes her tick; we get the backstory. We understand more of the why behind a character’s actions, and the author gets to set up the next scene for us. But in order to do this well, Brave Author needs to write effectively for Dear Reader. As “they” say, if you’re gonna break the rules, first you gotta learn ‘em. I would add that one ought to add a dash of reverence as well, because the greats are great for a reason.

The biggest danger to the indie author, who nine times out of ten is ignorant and uneducated about these things, is that most of us can “feel” our way through what makes a story compelling. But just because we can write by gut feeling doesn’t mean we should. It’s dangerous to guess your way through the disarming of a bomb. Maybe it will be the red wire that needs to be cut, but maybe it won’t. This plays into Booker’s SevenBasic Plots, too, because all of us have a hard wired intuition about story. We may not be aware of the precise nomenclature or structure of what makes a story work, but we know when it rocks and when it’s a dud. Bickham demystifies all that and reveals to the reader (the aspiring author) whether or not he’s been trading on hard-won skill and understanding or just raw talent. Ouch.

I cannot stress to you enough how important this book is. If you’re trying to make a hobby out of writing, it’s a stimulating read. If you’re at all serious about making a career as a published author, this book is required reading. As for me, I’m going to incorporate these lessons into my writing and editing. I’ll soon finish Edgerton’s book, too, and post up my thoughts on that. These two books are changing everything about my writing—and that’s a good thing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part Five

My brother and I have decided that close not only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but that it also counts in regard to framing. Especially when it comes to sheds. Granted, lots of guys are precise to about an eighth of an inch. My brother is far more picky, so a job done in the slovenly midlander fashion for him is about par for the rest of the world.

We started in the morning pretty early. I don’t know what it is about Idaho weather, but as soon as one thinks about installing a roof, it will rain. It did that day, but only briefly, as if to say, “Ha ha hurl.” Anyway, the first truss is the most important because everything else depends on it for layout, plumb, and square; and also because of global warming. As such, naturally, you’ll want to consult your guidebook of sailormouth expletives because the first truss will also probably be a cast iron Mongolian cluster flock. It wasn’t so bad. It only took about an hour to fix all the mistakes I had made on the walls that translated quite logically into the roof. See, this is why I have help. And he pays off in cheap beers, which is even better.

It wasn’t long before we had installed two or three of the trusses, and things were going right along. Note the bracing. The tails of the trusses were allowed to run “wild.” We would cut them off later. Twice. Really. You’ll notice at some point in the perusal of these images that the roof has a certain asymmetrical stance to it. This is one hundred percent intentional and not in any way the result of a mistake of any kind by anyone involved on the job. It is also not similar to an episode of ancient history involving two men, one of whom was helping with this roof, who at one point were replacing the starter on my old Euro-Ford whilst drinking beer and then proceeded to catch the car on fire.

Adding to the hilarity and all around enjoyable nature of the day, we had “help” from two small children who happened to be walking by and spontaneously began climbing ladders, brandishing hammers and saws, and mostly saying, “Hey dad! Watch this!” So we had no excuse, therefore, to not build the best damn shed roof you ever saw.

We eventually built ourselves right out of materials and had to run to Home Depot, where we parked in the PRO CUSTOMER parking, which I think is self-explanatory, obviously. We brought home a bag of H clips (which are officially called something else in order to be as confusing as possible), some tiko nails, and lots of sheathing. Either my neighbors love me and prefer generosity, or I have angered them and provoked them to rummaging around in their spare parts bin and giving me various tidbits to hurry the project along. I prefer to think it’s the former, with gifts like this. My Dutch neighbor from across the street gave me this gable end vent, which is precisely what I need in order to make the winter season cigar ventilation device work properly. More on that some other time.

Once all the trusses were set, we had lunch. There was some homemade lasagna from the night before. It tasted even better the next day. The sauce was homemade from Italian sausage, pepperoni, crushed tomatoes, basil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, sherry, and salt. I never knew they had those oven-ready lasagna noodles; boy howdy. What a time saver. I also found whole milk ricotta and mozzarella. That really made it. But it has almost nothing to do with building a shed, so on with the subject matter. But note the asymmetry. Again, this has nothing to do with beer. The longer eaves on the west side will create a safe place to hang my rakes and shovels while also keeping them handy. It’s intentional. I told my brother, “My wife will hate it. But I love it because it’s just slightly eccentric. Make it so.”

We started nailing the sheathing down after lunch. We let the ends run wild because, after we determined the length of the overhang for the gables (we’re basically freehanding this; there are no plans), we would only have to make one cut. Smart! Even with beer. The H clips install on the top edge of the sheathing in between the trusses, adding strength, and for cheap. They serve to tie the sheathing together top to bottom on their horizontal edge.

After what felt like a wrestling match with a cougar (not the sultry sophisticated kind), we were pretty much done. The incredulous look my brother had given me at the beginning of the day, when he had discovered that I had built the trusses to an 8/12 pitch, was now understandable. My body hurt from fingertip to toenail. As a matter of fact, I can still feel it, and it’s not nice. But we did good work, and I’m proud of it. Now I can fill in my gable ends and complete some of the framing on the inside (for finish work like sheetrock). I can do that all by myself. Which probably means it will be asymmetrical, and that will be intentional. Duh.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ongoing Saga of YES!

This is weird, but I was driving home from my AM writing session at my local coffee shop when I saw a car driving erratically on my street. The connection was quickly made that it was the same one I usually see whenever the YES! pink poobag drops on my lawn twice a week. Now, remember: I already called the Idaho Statesman about cancelling my subscription to their direct delivery junkmail paper. I was told that I would be unsusbscribed. But I didn’t hold my breath. Good thing.

I watched as the erratic driver slowed in front of my house. A pink bomb was hurled from the car and the driver moved on to the next “customer”.

“Oh no, you dit-n’t,” I said as I nailed the throttle in hot pursuit of liberty and justice. I tracked my friendly neighborhood carrier down posthaste and politely informed her that I had unsubscribed last week from the product she had just delivered. She told me she’d had a family emergency and hadn’t updated her manifest yet. I said I was sorry for her loss, but again reminded her of my address and asked her for a discontinuance of the service. She thanked me for the reminder and then I drove off.

It was fortuitous that I just happened to be a block or two behind her when the coupons were delivered. I was able to defend my hearth and home against the unsolicited pink menace of the Statesman’s YES! scourge. We’ll see if I get the results I want. If I don’t, I’m open to suggestions from the peanut gallery as to how I ought to solve it—so long as they’re legal, natch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why You Need Dun & Bradstreet

Ya know, for all the hype about college degrees out there, one would think they’d provide some kind of real world benefit. In my case, I hold a bachelor of science in Business/e-Business from the University of Phoenix and it’s pretty in its little frame on my wall, but that’s about it. No college is perfect, but most of what I learned from college is how to persevere and complete things, how to work online across big distances and how to reach my goals. Beyond that, the subject material wasn’t very pragmatic, in my opinion.

I wish there was a do-it-all college program out there for entrepreneurs. But then again, I don’t, because the best school for entrepreneurism has been and continues to be the real world. What the small business owner does on a daily basis is so opposite from the ivory tower of academia it’s not even funny. And now that I’m done whining about things, I can move on.

Still, a list of do’s and don’ts would have been nice. I do wish somebody would have told me about Dun & Bradstreet friggin years ago. You can get some info on them from the SBA, which is where my journey started off recently. My business is growing. It’s getting to the point where I have to start thinking differently about how it operates. One of the more important operational building blocks is how my business appears in the eyes of potential clients and creditors. The only way to manage that is to get a DUNS number.

Wikipedia has more: “The Data Universal Numbering System, abbreviated as DUNS® or D-U-N-S®, is a system developed and regulated by Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) that assigns a unique numeric identifier, referred to as a "DUNS number" to a single business entity. It was introduced in 1963 to support D&B's credit reporting practice. It is a common standard worldwide. DUNS users include the European Commission, the United Nations and the United States government. More than 50 global, industry, and trade associations recognize, recommend, or require DUNS. The DUNS database contains over 100 million entries for businesses throughout the world.”

This isn’t about getting credit for my business. It’s mostly about being intentional and proactive about managing what’s there. It would be a pity to lose a client based on false, bad, or missing information from D&B. When I searched my company on their Web site, they popped up an older sole proprietorship that has nothing to do with my current venture, so I knew I needed to take action. I tried changing the info on the Web site, but had difficulty.

That’s the one caveat I have to share with you. The iupdater page on the D&B Web site is a bit clunky and frustrating—at least in my case. I was using Chrome and thought seriously about changing browsers for this task, but eventually I just threw up my hands and called in. The D&B staff were extremely helpful and polite and got me all properly sorted in about fifteen minutes with a few questions as to the details of my biz. I recommend that you look into getting a DUNS number if you’re at all serious about running your own business more seriously.

When I incorporated, I filed with the Idaho Secretary of State and then dutifully popped over to the IRS Web site to get my EIN so I could open a business account at my bank. But as far as business credit was concerned, I wasn’t. Happily, as soon as D&B is finished with my report, I will be able to get the detailed picture (or so they say) on how my little LLC appears to the world at large, inside and outside of my industry. It’s not free, but there’s a cost to doing business. For about thirty bucks a month, I can stay on top of things in regard to this side of my operations.

I’ll have more to report when I get my report, and, naturally, as time goes by. My question to you is this: if you have Lifelock or some other personal credit monitoring service watching out for your personal details, why would you not also be mindful of your business’ credit picture? For me, it’s my livelihood. It’s a no brainer. I’ll let you know soon if it seems like the D&B folks have helped or hindered me.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Built My Business, Mr. President (No Thanks To You)

Entrepreneurs don’t ever stop. We never take vacations. When a man or woman is building a business from the ground up, he or she doesn’t have the luxury of taking anything for granted. It’s one hundred percent all the time; the plucky small businessman goes everywhere with the burden of his company on his shoulders. The entrepreneur doesn’t take time off, she has no “down time;” even if she’s sitting in front of the television she’s working, thinking of how to expand her biz, how to add more income streams, how to better serve her clientele, how to expand her product and service portfolio.

Contrast this picture with the following: A national organization that shall remain nameless gets the meals it provides funded by the federal government. If one were to travel through the line for one of those said meals, getting a dollop of slop plopped on one’s plate, and if one were to attempt to bypass, say, the milk, one would be told, “You have to take the milk. If you don’t, we won’t get credit for using our allotment and our federal funding will drop. Take it, and if you don’t want it, drop it in the box at the end of the line and we’ll re-use it.” I shouldn’t have to belabor this illustration, but this is where backward federal baseline budgets have taken us. If you don’t see how this is dishonest at its best—and theft in truth—you might as well stop reading this, because your mind is dead. But baseline budgets are de rigeur in the house that capitalism built (and socialism is actively eating).

At no time does the thought I feel secure because I know the government is helping me enter the mind of the bootstrapper. If anything, anyone who has ever tried to start up their own business feels the government is antagonistic to everything he is trying to do. The entrepreneur must beware of all kinds of tax regulations—some of which are written to be ambiguous on purpose, like the weird way the Idaho State Tax Commission allows businesses to “voluntarily” (you’ve gotta read the fine print to discover this) pay more taxes on internet-based sales. Does the ISTC not know that taxes are kryptonite to prosperity? Why on earth would any sane person volunteer to pay more taxes? But now the leftist brainiacs are spouting the lie that somehow paying higher taxes is morally superior. The Catholic church had a similar program (the paying of indulgences for the forgiveness of sin) before the Reformation. There’s nothing new under the sun. How ironic that those who proselytize us about the religion of recycling are themselves recycling a concept that’s a thousand years old: guilt as a motivator. My wicked step mother tried raising me like that, and I hate her to this day. Almost as much as I hate how the Obama government operates. But I digress.

The entrepreneur must beware of producing too much, lest he commit the sin of moving into a higher tax bracket and thereby suffer the sting of the long arm of the tax law, which punishes production. I know a guy who was forced by logic at the end of his fiscal year to plunk down a large amount of money on office equipment he didn’t need—because, the way the income tax brackets work, he could either spend money on something functional or write a check to the IRS for the same amount. That was a no-brainer. The government has too much already, and they don’t deploy it efficiently. Exhibit A would be the story about the milk above.

I know another couple that had a great year working their butts off only to find that it was all for naught—their tax bill went through the roof. They decided the subsequent year to reduce their production so they could make more money, which is backward as hell. This is how things are in the real world right now, and worse. Question: if we live in a consumer economy, why do we not then tax consumption, instead of doing things backwards? But still, I digress.

I’ve lately been brainstorming ways to better build my business. Being that I live and breathe by Web-based sales, I don’t have to volunteer to pay the Idaho sales tax, which is six percent. And trust me, I minimize my tax obligations ruthlessly. That’s the American way. The government ought to earn the right to take my money, but instead it’s the other way around: I have to earn the right to keep it; the onus is upon the business owner to navigate the treacherous bevy of legislation, regulation, and taxation that assaults us from all quarters. No wonder so many of us were outraged by what our sitting president said about all our work being nullified by the very presence of infrastructure in our lives—a crazy ass thing to say. It’s clear what our president believes in: government, not God. Marxist redistribution, not hard work being its own reward. But again, I digress.

Trust me, if you’re a hard working entrepreneur (is there any other kind?) you’re not alone. We are the majority in America today. With the uncertainty in the workplace, why not strike out on your own and take the risks of being self-employed? At least then if you’re downsized out of a job you’ll know who to blame (you). With the volatility in real estate and on Wall Street, why not make your primary investment in you, rather than sending your 401(k) to the gamblers in NYC? At least then if you utterly fail and your retirement is wiped out, you’ll know who to blame (you). As it stands, with the government engaging in a hostile takeover of the entire world, the central planners amongst us just might be unwittingly stoking the fires of an enormous backfire—that will explode in their faces—because if the government is responsible  for everything, guess who gets blamed when everything goes wrong? Bingo: BHO is his name-o (and friends, Republican and Democrat).

This is not an endorsement of Obama’s opponent, in November, Romney. Far from it. As one of my friends might say, we really have no options anymore. The powers that be have propped up the candidates they want us to choose from, and frankly neither one of them is what I want. We are being told who to vote for. For me, Romney is milquetoast. I don’t know him from Adam. I do know to a certainty that I do not want Obama to win a second term. Hint: it has absolutely nothing to do with race. He is a known quantity that has been measured and found wanting. He’s more of a punishment than anything else. His tenure in office is like God’s judgment against a wayward nation. Will we wake up? Who knows. Obama has told us who he is and we know what he wants to accomplish. Basically that is the castration of America. And it’s nothing new; the French invented revanchist politics hundreds of years ago (which begs the question of why Barack Obama is so angry, and what he wants revenge for—I leave that to you).

In the end, the entrepreneur has enough opposition working against him. We don’t need the government lecturing us, acting morally superior (which irritates the hell out of me). Federal bureaucrats haven’t the slightest clue about the real world. I know of a couple who both work for the federal government—they live in a $500k house and drive Cadillac Escalades. This guy’s home theatre is like his own personal IMAX—and they do it all with my money, your money. They don’t live in the real world. They live in a fairy tale, and nothing is real to them—especially the price we pay in order to pay them. Are they grateful? I can’t say. But I don’t see them volunteering to pay higher taxes. If that’s the measure of holiness these days, these federal employees have fallen short of the goal. But sadly, we the people who are paying their salaries are encrusted with ambivalence. “Meh,” we say. It’s sad. Because things could still change. America could still heal; it’s not too late. But it won’t—not, at least, with people like Obama in power.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Your Essential Shopper YES! and how to get rid of it

I’ve been receiving the YES! straight-to-the-trash “newspaper” for about half a year now. I never asked for it. I never, not once heard from the Idaho Statesman (a Gannett company) about whether or not I wanted it (they allege that a previous resident at my address gave them permission). But twice a week, it showed up any-damn-way, a pile of pink bagged garbage, a condomized collection of junk mail just sitting in my yard, daring me to defy it.

For a long time I just took it straight to the recycle bin (hey, evil conservatives with libertarian leanings can recycle, too). I would sometimes be outside and hear a thwack! sound and turn just in time to see the delivery person drive away with me trying to call out to them, “Hey! I don’t want that!” But to no avail.

I finally Googled the title of the supplement. What did I find out? Why, only that it’s a nationwide nuisance. There are people in places other than Boise that are just as befuddled as I am about this direct-to-your-door advertisement poopstorm. What’s funny is that, of course, you can find all kinds of links that point to how you can susbscribe to YES! and the blurb text gives me the impression that by God I ought to be excited about it! There are exclamation marks everywhere! There are words like dynamic and yippity zippity! Okay, maybe not that, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I finally found the number to call. It’s the Idaho Statesman subscription desk. It’s 208.377.6200, just FYI. And it’s public information, so I’m not breaking any rules in regard to disclosure. I’m just trying to save you the pop-up pain of navigating the Stateman’s Web site—clearly they’re desperate for revenue (maybe the majority of people are sick of reading “news” that’s really just the left’s opinion on how we’re supposed to think). If you call this number and tell them you don’t want YES! anymore, they’ll be happy to unsubscribe you. But if you tell them how outrageous their business practices are, they’ll transfer you to the supervisor. Now that’s service.

But wait, there’s more. Because there are other people out there across the fruited plain who have tried to unsubscribe from YES! as well. These people have spoken to the subscription departments of their local broadsheets and they’re still, guess what, getting a large pink turd dropped on their lawn twice a week. So be ready for a fight.

I told the Statesman that their direct delivery junk mail constituted a security risk to my family. No, really. Because what if I’m on vacation, okay? And what if the pink turd patrol continues to drop two bombs per week in my absence? Astute criminals will be able to deduce, a la Home Alone, that my house is ripe for the picking. And I ain’t having that.

I think it’s a commentary on where we’re at as a society when our newspapers can bully us into calling them for relief. Clearly, they’re desperate for a world that no longer exists; a world where they mattered. They’ve been reduced to schlepping used cars and appliances and blue light specials via ad supplements no one wants. I find it hilarious, in the end, and I rejoice in the demise of what has amounted to a powerhouse, for decades, of the American left (it’s also beautifully ironic that these socialists have to turn to capitalism to save them).

The Statesman’s harassment has been, perversely, at least a little instructive. I’ll keep you updated on whether or not they continue to shat on my lawn. Shades of the occupy movement? Oh, yes. I think so.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Try Something New

It was the banana leaves that did it for me. I tell my kids all the time, “Don’t tell me you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it.” I’m talking about food, of course, and in this case, banana leaves have the starring role. They’re an essential ingredient of kalua pork, a traditional Hawaiian dish that’s usually cooked in the ground. Mind you, I didn’t cook mine in the ground; I used a wood fired grill. But it’s true about those banana leaves. It ain’t kalua pork without ‘em.

And that has caused me to come over all philosophical. Because truly, how often do we really try new things? (If you’re jet set or single, ignore this). For those like me, who actually thrive on routine occasionally, trying something new can be daunting. Like a kid with a plate of sushi in front him and a look of horrified anxiety on his face. Or like a grown man trying to bring off homemade kalua pork for the first time in his life.

Sometimes there are a lot of elements that have to come together in order for the New Thing to be a success. For instance, there might be a need to find where in the hell to buy banana leaves in Boise, Idaho. Or Hawaiian red salt. Or there could be a wood fired grill that refuses to cooperate and just stay at around 300 degrees all day long, necessitating the native blowgun method of cooking (don’t ask, but it involves a disused metal broom handle aimed at hot coals and the lungs of an old trumpet player). That New Thing might cost you, in other words.

You may not even like it, and that’s okay. But at least you can say you’ve tried it. Or that you’ve had it, which puts me in mind of my mother telling me, “I have had it with you!” as a kid—or was that a Bill Cosby sketch? And anyway there might be the lingering aftertaste of regret commingled with be-bafflyfuddle-wildering victory. One might ask the question “why” one was so stupid as to try Spam and seaweed. Look at it as a notch on your belt, then. And try something new. Really. Try it. You’ll like it. Or not. But just try it. It may or may not be fun or even remotely enjoyable or even perhaps a total and complete waste of time and energy, but in the end you can at least brag about it. I know I will.

And you know what else? My homemade kalua pork was so good I’m going to try beef brisket the same way. I’m told I can’t (HA!) call it kalua beef, but critics aren’t even human. Now, before I begin a new tangent I must end this blog post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ninjas (Hemingway style)

I recently got a ca. 1950's Royal Quiet De Luxe portable typewriter. For two bucks. I'm told it's worth between two and three hundred. To me, it's priceless. It's completely mechanical, and a triumph of 20th century engineering. Ernest Hemingway reportedly composed much of his work on one of these.

I'm not that professional, but I've been practicing. I wanted to share a short story of extreme absurdity with you:

Of course there are errors. Hello, that is ROUGH. But it's beyond refreshing to compose on such a magnificent machine. Like playing a different instrument, you get different results. I'll share more in the future if it's worthy. For now, I'm just having fun. Hope you had fun reading this.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part Four

Last time I wrote about the shed I was missing a wall. There were two ends sort of dangling in the breeze like a participle. Whatever that is.

Since the fourth wall would not fit inside the other three laying down (which is how ya build ‘em), I had to frame it up on the grass. As it turned out, that was much nicer for my blown-out knees to kneel down on than the floor. My wife helped me stand it up and get in in position, sans sheathing. We had to lift the pre-drilled bottom plate over the power conduit. I didn’t install the header for the sliding glass door until the wall was set. I wanted it to be light and tweakable, because I had two corners to meet up with. After I nailed off the corner, I tacked on the first piece of sheathing at the top, letting it drape, checking for square. I wasn’t so worried about things being plumb or level yet—the deck has settled a bit since I dug the foundation stones, so there will be some shimming and leveling for fine tuning as weight is added to the structure.

Now that the power is inside the shed and not just sticking up into the atmosphere, I can begin thinking about wiring up all the switches and recepts I’ll need. I plan to use those ultra-modern LED lightbulbs, which have become pretty reasonable price-wise. I refuse to install CFLs, because one, they contain mercury, which is toxic (bet you didn’t know that, and please if you use those idiotbulbs, take them to a HAZMAT drop off when they expire—don’t chuck them into a landfill—we’ll be drinking mercury in our groundwater pretty soon if you do). Two, CFLs irritate the shit out of me because they take about five minutes to come on and warm up to full bright, which is like driving for groceries in a Model T. CFLs are rubbish. Anyway, more on electrical in the future. LED lightbulbs will contribute to efficiency, they last forever, and they won’t tax my electrical feed. They use about one tenth the power of an incandescent, and every little bit helps. Not for the environment. For my power bill. I'm an evil capitalist.

I got the sliding glass door from my brother. He was looking to replace the one on his house with a French door, and I told him we’d go halvsies on that if I could have his old slider. Turns out I paid twenty five bucks for it; not bad. It installed very easily. There’s a flange along the outside edges of it, and that flange is meant to butt up to the framing. After it’s all hunky-dory, the sheathing is installed over the top of the flange, decently tight to the door. [I've since been informed that I should have installed the flange over top of the sheathing. But I ain't changing it.] It’s important not to screw the flange along its top edge—it has to have room to expand and contract with temperature changes. If you strangle off the door by running screws through the top flange, you may end up with cracked glass.

After I got the slider figured out, I was able to continue sheathing the rest of the shed. A 2x4 wall is pretty strong in compression, but adding the sheathing makes it strong in shear load. Building each wall into a square makes those walls exponentially stronger, as does adding the roof. All that to say I’m past the point of needing to brace the walls, but it’s not done until the roof is on. And speaking of which, my brother and I figured out a way to build it simply, cheaply, quickly, and all while keeping it quiet and adding a facility for it to vent from bottom to top. If a roof isn’t vented, condensation could develop in cold weather, and extreme heat could build up in summer, both of which make it tough not only on the shingles, but eventually the framing. So we’re going to vent it. I’ll show you next time around, or the time after that. Or the time after that.

Between now and then I have to fine tune the floor, moving one foundation stone and shimming some others. I also have to build the inner wall. This will separate the storage part of the shed from the writing part. I already have my lawnmower parked in there. It looks great.