Saturday, January 02, 2010

Contest news

With the new year barely begun and sights set on Valentine's Day, I've decided to put together a contest with good prizes -- really good prizes. Interested? Stay tuned for more information. Contest launch will be January 5, 2010.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Year end of line

The battle of the e-readers is over and I have chosen the eBookwise 1150. I was about to buy the Kindle when I went to the site this morning and found the price had been raised to $259. I also discovered the Kindle does not come with a cover; that costs another $29.95. The refurbished Kindles were $219, but I'm not about to plunk down that amount of money when there would be an extra cost for the cover. At that price, they should have thrown in the cover and 100 books. End of game. I don't really need the global wireless. If I do find that a necessity in the future, maybe Amazon will get smart about the price and bring it down.

New Year's Eve was quiet and I just now finished my traditional New Year's Day lunch: pork ribs and sauerkraut with a side of fresh sliced avocado. Traditional dinner complete.

Today is an off work day and the weekend ahead will include considerable work. I have things to finish, a submission to get ready for Algonquin Books and a full two days of operative reports. Nothing like getting on track and staying on track for the coming year. I have a lot more books and stories to write, submit and sell.

Last year ended on a positive note. I sold two stories, Seeing Pink and Curiosity Kills More Than Cats, for an anthology about body image: Wait a Minute, I Have to Take off my Bra. There's an interesting story behind the submissions. I didn't realize I had sent two versions of the same story to the anthology, the first one when the first call came out called The First Full Cup. I revised the story, gave it depth and texture and renamed it Seeing Pink. The editor emailed me Wednesday and asked me which one I wanted to use since both stories were very similar and I wrote back: "Whichever one you like the best and will publish." Seeing Pink was a contender and that's the one they chose. Then, last night, I got the word they were taking two stories. Can't beat that for a way to end a semi-successful year. It bodes well for the future.

In other news, I have twenty copies of Past Imperfect. If you'd like a signed copy of the book, comment or email me and I'll send the details.

All but one of my Xmas gifts were delivered. The gift I sent Uncle Bob went to Florida and when I called to check on it, I found out they were still in Ohio. Luckily, the post office will forward the box to them in Ohio, but they'd better hurry since Uncle Bob and Aunt Lois are headed to Florida within the next two weeks. The gift to my grandson Jordan wasn't even sent until Wednesday and he won't get it until tomorrow or Monday (hopefully) at the latest. Everyone else received their gifts.

Last year was full of ups and down, the ups outweighing the downs, and the buzz about the coming year is good. I have no doubts the last year of the first decade of the 21st century will be even better than the previous eight years have been. I'm looking forward to the coming year. It won't be perfect and there will be ups and downs, but I have no doubt the ups will once again outweigh the downs. May the coming year be as generous and full of happiness and joy for you.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

In an electronic literary quandary

I'm increasingly leaning toward getting an e-book reader and have checked out several types and platforms. The eBookwise 1150 is still the top contender, but I'm being drawn to the dark side and considering the Kindle. I said it was the dark side.

While investigating the Kindle a little more I noticed something nefarious interesting. The newer, bigger and more expensive Kindle has limited wireless, only in the U.S., while the older 6-inch model, which is also cheaper, has global wireless. I think it should be the other way around, but I'm strange that way.

I have Internet access with my computers and don't really need the wireless since USB or dial-up access are just fine, but I worry about not being able to download and read all the books I'd like to have, and then there's the size of the potential library: 1500 versus 100 books, hence the quandary. The reviews on the 1150 have been overwhelmingly good and they are mixed with Kindle. Both have had their bugs and fixes and it all boils down to what works best in terms of battery life (15 hours for the 1150 and a week for the Kindle). I cannot imagine not being near an electrical outlet that charges while I read or being able to enjoy a week-long literary orgy, but then again.... So, now I turn to you, my audience, to ask for your experiences and opinions. I am waiting and listening.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Melting the meltdown

In between running around on errands, sending books out to family and friends (signed of course) and working, I finally sat down last night and watched Julie & Julia. It was very good.

I loved watching Julia Child cook on TV with Jacques and others, but she was the draw. It wasn't her high nasal whine of a voice, but her love of the art of making art with food, food that was wonderful, flavorful and just plain good. The movie showed that, but it also showed the main character, Julie, taking her cue from Julia's cooking. Making 524 recipes in 365 days was indeed a feat and it was well done, but what surprised me the most was when Julie had a meltdown when things didn't go right. The cream and liver stuffing fell out of her poulet (chicken to you and me) and she ended up in a crying, messy heap on the floor. The aspic failed to jell and she blamed her husband. Another meltdown. Julie seemed like a fairly histrionic female and a bit always on the edge of a meltdown, never a good thing whether the person is a cook or a writer, and one I've never dealt with. When all else -- or everything -- fails, start over. That's how I deal with disaster, like last weekend's first foray into homemade cinnamon rolls.

The recipe was one I hadn't used before (got it online), but I wanted to make cinnamon rolls and couldn't remember where I found the recipe the last time. Oh, yes, it was in a kit I purchased from King Arthur Flour online. Not enough time to buy it and get it here for the weekend and cinnamon rolls were on my mind and lingering like a ghost at the edge of my taste buds. To the Internet for research and I came up with what I thought was a good recipe -- until I tried it out.

Four cups of flour into the recipe and the dough didn't feel right. Kneading it was like punching Mike Tyson with pillows -- before he got into ear biting. My arms were getting sore and I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back from the bathroom, hands suitably washed, I punched and kneaded the dough some more, but it wasn't getting soft and smooth and elastic and my arms were sore and tired. I turned it into an oiled bowl, put a cloth over it and sat down to rest my weary arms. More than an hour later and the dough sat there like a lump of . . . dough. It hadn't risen, at least not as far as I could see. I had wasted the eggs, milk (and there wasn't much of that left) and the yeast, not to mention the time, but these things happen. I covered the bowel and set it aside as I sprinkled more yeast over warm water and assembled the ingredients once again. I was going to take another stab at it, and I did. The recipe was wrong and I stopped at three cups of flour when the once sticky dough became soft and pliant and kneaded like a dream. Once it was smooth and warm and elastic, I put the dough into an oiled bowl, covered it and set it on the stove, which is the warmest part of this house in the winter. The front room is so drafty and cold most of the time, except in summer when it's hot and sticky and uncomfortable.

At any rate, 1-1/2 hours later the dough had risen to 3x its original size and was ready to be rolled out and covered with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and then rolled up. Lacking string or kitchen shears, I used a sharp knife to cut the dough and place it into the greased stoneware 9x9 pan to rise one more time before I placed it in the oven. When I finally pulled away the cover, the result was beautiful puffed coils of brown sugar and cinnamon rolls ready to be baked. Soon they filled the house with the scent of butter, cinnamon and melting, oozing sugar and I could hardly wait to spread on the thick, creamy vanilla-laden icing.

As I sat down with my warm, fragrant cinnamon roll to call my mother, I cast a thought toward the recalcitrant lump from the first trial. I could either use it as starter for sourdough bread or put it down the garbage disposal. Either choice was good and it didn't really matter. I had a gooey delicious cinnamon roll to savor, and savor them I did for four days. I went a little overboard on Sunday and had three, not at the same time, but spaced out over the whole day.

That first trial was a disaster and the recipe needed adjusting. Less flour and more time to bake. Things don't always turn out the way I think they should the first time, so I give it another go and rely more on my senses than sticking to the recipe. Cooking, like life, is fluid and changeable, so is writing.

A draft can start out horrible and end up magic if the writer is willing to adjust, retrace and rewrite. It's not a disaster and there's no need for meltdowns. Nothing is a disaster unless you make it one. For instance, next time, instead of using melted butter, I'll use soft room temperature butter, mix in the cinnamon and brown sugar and spread it over the dough. I'll get a better result. The recipe is a starting point. The Ultimate Cinnamon Roll recipe wasn't tested and retested by Julia Child who, in the movie and likely in real life, made several bowls of mayonnaise, changing the ingredients and the mixing until she had the right combination. I found the right amount of ingredients and the perfect method for me and for the environment where I live (high altitude and organic ingredients) and will make the cinnamon rolls again. Nothing is without hope or without the need for a little tweaking. If I had given up after the first mistake, I wouldn't have been able to taunt my mother with homemade cinnamon rolls, and I'd have nothing to write about now. Even in the midst -- or on the far edge -- of failure, there's something to be learned.

In writing, as in cooking and life, sometimes the best results come from failure, providing you don't give in to meltdowns and negativity. Every road leads somewhere and detours often provide more than a scenic route; they provide insight and sometimes a better way of getting where you're going. Without failure, there would be no progress. Don't be afraid to fail. Try it some time. The results may surprise you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

To e-book or not to e-book

Taunting my mother has its perks, like being able to taunt her at all. She has so much already that it's hard to find something that gets to her. Yes, it's a silly game, but it's a game all the same. Taunting her about gifts is easy, and I do that with everyone when I have their gift far ahead of time. Makes the waiting easier. I found, however, a new way to taunt Mom, a short term perk: baked goods. Not just any baked goods, but homemade, ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls with rich vanilla-laden icing, also homemade.

When Mom called Saturday afternoon, I was waiting for the dough to rise. She asked me what I was doing and I told her, "Making cinnamon rolls." She wouldn't do anything like that unless it came in a tube from the dairy section at the grocery store, or better yet from the bakery already to eat. She doesn't understand why I like to bake bread and rolls and cook at all. "Nobody here but me eats," she complains, and then tells me her chihuahua Dink is getting fat from eating the same things that Mom eats. Mom has so many preservatives and GMO foods in her that she'd probably die if she didn't eat all that junk, but the dog doesn't have nearly 80 years of junk food in her. Dink's not even three years old yet, and that's barely 21 in dog years.

When the cinnamon rolls were finished and sending their sweet spicy aroma throughout the house, I called Mom just as I sat down with one still hot from the pan. "Guess what I'm eating?" She guessed, called me a few names best not repeated. "You'll eat the whole thing," she complained.

"Uh, no, I won't. I'm having one and the rest are for the coming days."

"How can you eat just one?"

"Easily. By stopping when I'm finished and leaving the rest for tomorrow and the other days." Mom has no control, as evidenced by her recent binge on circus peanuts when she ate three bags a day for weeks.

Here it is Monday morning and there are still cinnamon rolls in the pan. I already had one when I got up this morning. Mom always said I had no will power. I guess I still don't.

But it's Monday and the three day weekend is over and I must go back to work for four more days before I get another break. As much as I love the holidays, I have to say that the planning is off. There should be at least one three day weekend in every month, paid for of course by my employer. At least there will be an extra week of vacation this year as I celebrate my fifth year of employment with my employer in February. Three whole weeks of vacation and four extra days (two personal days and two floating holidays). I think I can do something with that.

One thing I'll be doing this week is deciding if I want to break down and get an e-reader. I really don't see the need since I don't go out that much and have plenty of books here, but the idea of having a lot of books and not having to wait for them or pay shipping and handling does have it's up side. Beanie got a Sony Pocket eReader for Xmas and we spent a good part of the weekend trying to figure it out. I found the customer service number and had her call them to get her started and then we spent yesterday looking at books and figuring out why an e-book costs so much money when there's no paper and no cover. It's a subject that has consumed several writers and readers over the past year or so.

It makes no sense to price an e-book at the same or slightly discounted price as a hardback book. It doesn't even make sense to price it the same as a paperback. There is no huge cost of production or formatting since that is all part of the package when the book is initially published and the book should be priced accordingly. Yes, a small price would net smaller profits, at least on the surface, but in the long run it's a question of selling a book for a thousand dollars or a thousand books for one dollar. The outcome is the same, but the numbers reached are significantly more. Keep pricing books in that range and there will be a path beaten to the e-bookstore to buy even more books. In a strapped economy with technology like makes books portable and fairly easy to read, it makes more sense to price the books lower and therefore sell more books. It would also make more sense to get the old back list out and bundle them to revitalize sales and keep readers coming back. If the price makes it possible to buy one hundred books as opposed to buy three or four, what would the bottom line look like then? Common sense and good fiscal sense. One day publishers will figure that out.

I don't need a lot of bells and whistles or Internet capabilities. I have a laptop and a desktop PC for that. I do need a reader that is efficient, easy to read and use and doesn't cost a lot. I can't afford to spend two hundred dollars or more for what is basically a small library. I'd rather spend the money on books, which is why I looked at the 1150 offered by Barnes & Noble. The reviews are good and, even though the 1150 is the Cybook remastered and retooled, the price is right at $89.95. I might be able to swing that and a few books. The only hangup I see is in the book pricing.

Beanie and I looked at some James Patterson books, specifically his science fiction trilogy. The Lake House was priced at the hardback price and it's seven years old. Come on B&N, even though you offer an instant discount that takes the book down into the five dollar range, it's still over priced, and your scheme of leaving the rebate on the books to buy other books, is too much like accounting and bait & switch for my taste. Read the above and consider a different sales tactic, like pricing the book at two or three dollars and bundling it with the rest of the series for under ten dollars. That would make more sense and you'd find more readers with e-book technology coming back for more until Amazon would be worried about their sales and follow suit. Someone has to lead the pack, so why not Barnes & Noble for a change?

Oh, well, technology is a big part of my life these days and on that note I will sign off, shower, change and begin another day while I decide whether this whole e-book technology is for me or not. I have plenty of paperback and hardback books to keep me company after the holiday haul, so I'm not hurting for reading material.

That is all. Disperse.