Combing the Archives

Some updates from a pinch-hitter, by Rich Paschall

While Marilyn is “out of office,” I have the opportunity to go back through the archives to repost some of Marilyn’s earliest works here on Serendipity.  Like the name of the blog suggests, you should find these to be a “pleasant surprise.”  If you have followed along from the very beginning, you will delight in seeing these posts again.  If you are a more recent follower, you will get to see some gems you have missed.

logitech sealed keyboardAs I am posting these with my login, there could have been some confusion with my name appearing at the bottom as “author.”  That seems to be part of the software and something I could not edit.  Therefore, I did something Marilyn would not do.  I added her name to the title.  She would naturally feel that you would know whose blog you are reading.  This is the only edit I have made in the reposts.  Marilyn will be back at her keyboard soon.

In the meantime, Garry will appropriately be playing the role of “reporter” to bring us updates on Marilyn’s progress at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit.  Although it is taking longer than had been hoped, Marilyn has finally been up and walking.  This certainly means I will be bumped soon from my temporary role as editor and back to Sunday contributor.  I will be pleased to be knocked off this chair by its owner.

I have added tags and categories to Garry’s posts when he is not looking.  Each of his posts carries the tag “Marilyn update.”  I have also tagged the reposts as “Best of Marilyn Armstrong,” but since it is all good, the tag seems a little strange to me.  I have already started using it, however, so I will keep right on with that plan.

There is no way I could explain how grateful I am that Marilyn has given me space here on Sundays for some short stories and totally random articles. She has been advisor, editor and illustrator of the writing I have submitted.  It provides me with an audience that I have not found on my own space.  So I am pleased to sit in the editor’s chair for a few days so that you may continue to have the work of Marilyn Armstrong each day.

Beware Exasperated Kidneys: Can You Spell-Check Disaster?

Some years back, there was an incident in the Boston Police Department‘s boot camp. In an attempt to be as tough as any Marine Corps drill instructor, the BPD instructor in charge of recruits forced a group of newbies to stay at hard exercise during one of the hottest days of the summer, without rest, food or water.

One of the recruits died when his kidneys failed. He had an undetected pre-existing condition. Dehydration proved fatal. This was a tragedy and a scandal.

The Boston Herald is one of the city’s two leading papers. The Globe is now owned by the New York Times and wants to be taken seriously. They have excellent writers and often the most thorough and unbiased coverage of important news. The Herald is a tabloid with a really great sports section. Intellectuality be damned, if you follow the teams, you read the Herald. Besides, the Globe is ridiculously expensive on Sundays.

So, back to the story. As it unfolded, the Herald pointed out that the young man who had died was already afflicted with kidney problems which were exasperated by being forced to go without water, food or rest in extremely hot weather.

75-FadedBooksFloatingWordsNK-004

I looked up from the paper and said to Garry, “This poor fellow suffered from exasperated kidneys. I can hear them now … (in a kidney voice) ‘That’s IT, I’ve HAD it, I’m OUTTA here …’ “

The dreaded spell-checker had struck again. The word had been exacerbated but the spell-checker didn’t know the word, so … the young man died of exasperated kidneys. What a pity. And so young, too.

There’s a moral to this story and that is (I hope) obvious and relevant to all of us who write or blog. Don’t depend on spell-checkers. They are helpful, but they are not intelligent. They are only nominally better than auto-correct … and we all know about that!

Spell-checkers don’t get context. Or style. You may want to say “my own” rather than simply “my.” The spell-checker will argue the point until you want to put your fist through the screen.

Proofreading is a big problem for all self-published writers, including bloggers. I’m tempted to give up on text and publish only pictures without captions. Even a headline could prove fatal. I am the typo queen. Worse, I hold the cut and paste error championship. When moving text, I can count on leaving something behind or taking something away that ought to have been left behind. It’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing and occasionally  funny … but not in a good way.

If I took everything to heart, I would have long since given up blogging. I do not have someone dedicated to proofreading and/or editing my copy. There are two reasons for this:

  1. No one wants to do it. They have other things to do (What? Something is more important than me? How could that be? Aren’t I the center of the universe?)
  2. No one I know is any better at proofreading than I am. I know this because I self-published a book. It was read and re-read by all my friends and family members and there are dozens of typos remaining.

Authors are generally lousy proofreaders of their own work. Sometimes, we are lousy proofreaders, period. As authors, we see what we meant, not necessarily what’s really on the page. It has nothing to do with sloppiness or not caring. Writing and proofreading are different skill sets. Hemingway didn’t have to do his own proofreading, nor did Thomas Wolfe. If they’d had to proof and edit their own copy without the excellent support of their publisher and Maxwell Perkins, they would never have made it into print. Nor would many of today’s most popular authors like Tom Clancy make it to print. Clancy, by his own admission is a very poor editor and proofreader … and in many people’s opinions, not a great writer, either, but I digress.

In the past few decades, editors and proofreaders have been mostly eliminated as too costly. Authors are expected to present press-ready manuscripts. Unless you are one of a publisher’s big money-making authors, there’s a very high likelihood that no one will read your manuscript before sending it for publication.  The result has been visibly lower quality manuscripts. You see it in printed books and even more on e-books. The official position of publishers is nobody cares. But readers do care.

Who doesn’t care? Publishers don’t care. Readers don’t get a say in the matter. If we want to read, we learn to cope with and compensate for text errors. The absence of proofreaders and editors is part of cross-industry cost-cutting and bottom-lining. The idea is to keep eliminating support services until there are no more services to cut … and then be thunderstruck that your product has suffered.

I spend hours going over my posts and I still miss stuff. It’s infuriating and embarrassing, but no one has time or inclination to read everything I write. It’s my blog and my responsibility. Not everyone has someone to backstop blog posts. My choice has been to write shorter — and fewer — posts. Fewer words, fewer mistakes. As it is, I spend more time proofing than writing. Ten minutes to write the post, 2 hours or more to proofread. There aren’t enough hours in my day.

If this means people won’t read my stuff because I’m a crappy proofreader, then I throw my hands into the air and say fine, whatever. I agree punctuation and spelling count, but so does content. If punctuation and spelling are the only things that count, something is wrong with the reader, not just the writer.

But what about spell-checkers? Surely they will catch the typographical errors!

Yes and no. Remember exasperated kidneys? Spell-checkers will find words that are misspelled and occasionally a few words used incorrectly. Spell-checkers will never find words that are spelled correctly but should not be there (cut and paste errors). They will “decide” what you wrote should be something else — witness exasperated instead of exacerbated — because the word you used isn’t in their database. Spell-checkers only catch misspellings. They won’t catch a missing word, a wrong word, an extra word. If you let them, they will change your text to mean something quite different.

There’s no convenient, simple answer. In the end, we do the best we can with whatever resources are available.  If perfection is going to be a requirement for blogging, most of us would give up. Perfection will never be achieved by anyone. Or at least, not by me.

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How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire — The 12-Foot Teepee and Me

Every once in a while, much to my surprise, Amazon informs me someone bought my book. It happened a few times during 2012 and just happened again … wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a genuine voluntary reader. This is cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any money from this. Hell no. The Kindle version of my book yields a whopping $1.87 per sale (or loan) and Amazon won’t send money until they owe at least $20. I guess that would require the sale of 11 electronic books? Something like that. Since my 2012 sales totaled 2 and there have been 2 more this year, I have now broken the $5 barrier and need only 6 or 7 more sales, downloads, or borrowers to earn enough for a trip to McDonald’s. If we order from the dollar menu, we could even afford a small beverage. I can barely control my excitement, but Garry has warned me not to count on it.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_Kindle

I still get buzzed when anyone buys or reads my book and delighted when they let me know they enjoyed it, but next time, I think I’ll write about dogs.

I wrote it in 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” — so to speak — until 2008. I did author things, television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got some nice local press. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends. I sold a few hundred books which isn’t bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got regular royalty checks, sometimes large enough for a cheap dinner at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing did not materialize. So much for Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. When it first came out, I had dreams of glory. My husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as time passes, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

English: Grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone ...

When you write a highly personal book largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Books like this become popular only if written by celebrities  revealing scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a sexual nature, or if someone pumps it up on a national television, which did not happen to me and doesn’t happen to most authors.

Unless you have a recognizable name, there’s no market for this genre. The ones that get published because they are written by a celebrity don’t sell well either, usually going from a  display in the front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s not likely that me or you, unknowns that we are, would be able to convince a publisher we are worth the ink and paper to produce even a trade paperback. And don’t even think about an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

Lately, I had the task of reading a lot of books that were deemed among “the best of 2012.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of the year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask about least half the entries: “What were you thinking?” There are okay books amongst the dross, a couple of great ones and a few pretty good ones.

Unfortunately, there are many awful ones, books so bad it’s hard to imagine how this could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing at all. The worst book I had to slog through was J. K. RowlingsThe Casual Vacancy.” If you buy this book, you will want your money back. All I can think was she had a contract, got an advance, the due date came around and she threw this together to satisfy a contractual obligation. I certainly hope that’s the scenario because I cannot believe that even she believes this book is good.

After Rowlings dreadful novel, my next three top suggestions for your “don’t read this book” list, all of which should carry large warning labels saying Bad literature!! Keep away! – include:

Any of these books will cause you gastric distress and could lead to existential despair and a desire to read something involving wizards and vampires, or worse, Jean Paul Sartre. Don’t blame me. I warned you.

Then, there are a whole lot of books that are — at best — okay. Not so awful that maybe there might not be someone who likes it, but I find it hard to imagine who it might be. Some of these are may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. I didn’t like them, but I suppose you could. Some others had redeeming qualities, but not enough, making you wish the author had given the manuscript one more edit … or considered including a plot and a few interesting characters.

Which brings me back to my book. I will say, in advance, that it is not a piece of deathless literature, but it’s not bad — and a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2012. In fact, comparatively speaking, my book has features that used to be traditional in books: characters, humor, the semblance of a plot, and a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I highly recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever you are, you’d really like having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cop and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at paying jobs, raise children who lack magical powers, don’t have access to time travel nor are likely to rocket into space to explore other universes are becoming rare.

Are we no longer able to find the real world sufficiently interesting to write books about it?

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason that there are so few good books set in the real world because we find our lives completely uninteresting? Are the day-to-day battles regular people go through every day so dreary that we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Having someone buy a copy of my book today was a big deal. If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe a half-dozen or so people will buy or borrow an electronic copy (or, be still my heart), a hard-copy trade paperback of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage loaded on our backs when we are too small to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump  them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m  a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos.

Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also hard to proofread your own manuscript: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is there. 75-BooksHP

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

You can buy the hardcopy paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. I get the same $1.87 in royalties whether you buy it or borrow it.  Go figure.

I have serious concerns about the state of publishing. I am convinced there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who get published. With the opportunities offered by the electronic publishing, I would think the potential profit has increased exponentially. Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until it has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Perhaps publishers should consider taking a chance on more newcomers who don’t write in trendy genres. I love science fiction and fantasy more than most people, but I also enjoy books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I fear the best of America’s writers are being lost in the scramble to publish only best-sellers. It doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just like they always have.  From what I’m seeing, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the nose. It’s not that I’m such a fantastic author and couldn’t get a reading,  publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that does get published is so bad. It’s not a healthy sign for literature or the publishing industry.

The 12-Foot Teepee … How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire

Every once in a while, much to my surprise, Amazon informs me that someone bought one of my books. It happened during 2012 and just happened again … wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a voluntary reader. This is cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any money from this. Hell no. The Kindled version of my book yields a whopping $1.87 per sale (or loan) and Amazon won’t send money until they owe at least $20. I guess that would require the sale of 11 electronic books? Something like that. Since my 2012 sales have totaled 2 and there have been 2 more this year, I think I have now officially broken the $5 barrier and need about 6 more sales, downloads, or borrowers to earn enough for a trip to McDonald’s. I can barely control my excitement.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_KindleFor all that, I’m always a little tingled when anyone buys or reads my book and especially happy when they tell me they enjoyed it. I’ve been away from it for quite a while already and I don’t think about it often. I’m unlikely to go back that way again. If I ever decide to write a new book, it will be something entirely different. Dogs, maybe.

I wrote it in 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” — so to speak — until 2008. I did those authorly things, some television interviews on local cable, some pretty heavy-duty radio interviews with pretty big guns, locally and regionally. I got some good local press, not as much as I might have wished, but not bad. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun to do and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends. I sold a few hundred books which I’m told, for a self-published book, is not bad. For a while, I got regular royalty checks, sometimes large enough for a very cheap dinner at a local fast food restaurant. I briefly thought I was going to become a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing did not materialize. So much for dreams of Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. When it first came out and I still held some dreams of glory in my aging brain, my husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as the years pass, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

 

When you write this kind of book, a book that is highly personal and largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list. The only time books of this kind will become wildly popular is when they’ve been written by some celebrity who is revealing scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a sexual nature. Or some other celebrity likes it and pumps it up on a national television show, something that did not happen to me and doesn’t happen to most people.

Unless you have a recognizable name, there’s no market for this kind of book. The ones that do get published on the basis of existing celebrity don’t sell very well either, usually going from the front of the store display to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s not likely that me or you, unknowns that we are, would be able to convince a publisher that we are worth the ink and paper to produce even a trade paperback first release. Don’t even think about an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

Lately, I have had the assigned task of reading a lot of books that have been judged to be among “the best of 2012.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of the year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask them — about at least half the entries — “What were you thinking?” There are some good books amongst the dross I was assigned. There are even a couple of great ones, as well as a bunch of pretty good ones.


Alas, there are also many really awful ones, books so bad that it’s hard to imagine how this literary effort could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing in any form. The absolutely worst book I had to slog through was J. K. RowlingsThe Casual Vacancy.” If you buy this book, you will want your money back. All I can think was she had a contract, got an advance, the due date came around and she threw this together to satisfy a contractual obligation. I certainly hope that’s the scenario because I cannot believe that even she believes this book is worth reading.

After Rowlings dreadful novel, my next three top suggestions for your “don’t read this book” list, all of which should carry large warning labels saying Bad literature!! Keep away! – include:

Any of these books will cause you gastric distress and could lead to existential despair and a desire to read something involving wizards and vampires, or worse, Jean Paul Sartre. Don’t blame me. I warned you.

Then, there are a whole lot of books that are — at best — okay. Not awful enough that maybe there couldn’t be someone somewhere that likes it, but I find it hard to imagine who that might be. Some of these are may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. I didn’t like them, but I suppose you could. Some others had redeeming qualities, but not enough, making you wish the author had given the manuscript one more edit … or considered including a plot, storyline, and a few interesting characters.

English: Grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone ...This brings me back to my book. I will say, in advance, that it is not a piece of deathless literature, but it’s not bad — and a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2012. In fact, comparatively speaking, my book has features that used to be traditional in books: characters, humor, the semblance of a plot, and a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I highly recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever you are, you’d really like having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cop and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at paying jobs, raise children who lack magical powers, don’t have access to time travel nor are likely to rocket into space to explore other universes are becoming increasing rare.

Are we no longer able to find the real world as it exists in the here-and-now sufficiently interesting to write books about it? Perhaps we bore ourselves and find our neighbors and families equally uninteresting.

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason that there are so few good books set in the real world because we find our own lives completely uninteresting. Are our struggles to keep a roof over our heads, get to a doctor, be treated by society with respect … are the day-to-day battles that regular people go through every day so dreary that we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Discovering the other day that someone bought a copy of my book was a big event for me. It couldn’t be anyone I know. They’ve already got copies, either bought them or got them as gifts from the author, who gets to buy copies at cost (gee). The purchase, which may actually have been a “borrow,” was in Kindle format, so if I sell another 9 books, I will reach the threshold at which Amazon will pay royalties (still hoping to hit that $20 threshold) . So, right now, they own me $3.74, which isn’t close. It’s possible in theory that more people will buy or borrow books, isn’t it? If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe 9 or 10 more people, will buy or borrow an electronic copy (or, be still my heart), a hard-copy trade paperback version of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage that gets loaded on our young backs when we are too small to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump  them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the heavy load of bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m  a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos. Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also really hard to proofread your own copy: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is really there. 75-BooksHP

So, in case there are nine or ten people out there who might want to splurge for an e-book or a paperback, you can find the books on Amazon:

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

You can buy the hardcopy paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. Oddly enough, I still get the same $1.87 in royalties, even if you read it at no cost. Go figure.

Note: There is some weird version of my book that comes up indicating that the paper book as no longer available. It’s an Amazon error that I have asked them (sigh) to fix. You get the correct information if you search in Amazon under “books” rather than as a general search. Maybe they’ll fix it, but it’s there, I promise. the links I included here are correct, even though Amazon thinks I published at least one version of this book in 0001 … which would make me a VERY old author.

I have some serious concerns about the state of the publishing industry. I am convinced that there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who have gotten published. With the opportunities offered by the electronic publishing services, I would think the potential profit in publishing has increased exponentially. Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until you print one that has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Perhaps publishers should consider offering opportunities to talented newcomers that don’t necessarily write in safe and trendy categories. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I also enjoy good books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I’m afraid the best of America’s writers are getting lost in the scramble to print only best-sellers. It isn’t working, either. Most books flop, just like they always have.  I’m not sure, from what I’m seeing, that most acquisitions editors would know a really good book if it reached up and bit them on the nose. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, much less a publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that gets published is so awful. Not a good sign for literature or the publishing industry.