Blazing Frustration, Still Fresh

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

I wish to expel all of this frustration as quickly as possible, so I am starting this post after 11PM, which is usually when I am settling in for the night. It is both a specific and general frustration with the work of independent authors. My specific frustration is with the series I have just completed, a three book series offered on Amazon by Ernie Lindsey, the Warchild series. The books are titled, in order, Pawn, Judas, and Spirit. I’ll expand on my general frustration periodically in the middle of explaining my current disappointment.

I was drawn in by the first book, read through it quickly, and posted a short, but glowing review on Amazon about it. I couldn’t wait to read the two following books to see how the story progressed and resolved. Herein lies my first general frustration and it is one that I know and understand is driven by the necessity of returning readers for independent authors who don’t get five and six figure advances to write a new book. These same authors don’t get to command normal book prices like traditional authors, so they are compelled to create book series to try and make up the difference between what they might make on a single book, if they were traditional authors.

What this leaves the reader with is the realization that a complete story will not be contained in a single book, regardless of its length, and that to know the whole story arc, they will be committing to a book series anywhere from three, which seems to be the minimum, to six or more volumes. Some of these individual “books” are merely continuity materials to get from the end of one major part of the overall story to the beginning of the next. Nothing truly impactful or story-driving happens in some of these individual sections. The fact that they cost as much as the volumes containing the meat of the story arc is frustrating (to me).

Back to the current frustration. I read plenty of independently authored books, and I have learned (little by little, with my teeth grinding together) to let slide the errors and mistakes that an independent editor would correct in the text. I understand that an editor is a luxury most independent authors cannot afford. This one certainly can’t. Therefore, small mistakes are a part of the package. In this case, however, a fairly important factual error was made in the second and third volumes concerning an event in the first. The end result was the same, but the images and impact of how the event happened in the first book versus what the main character remembers in the following two throws the reader (at least this reader) out of the story to the point that I had to go back and make sure I didn’t read it wrong. And I didn’t. It was an egregious error and I’m surprised that the author has not bothered to correct. This series is at least eight years old.

Another minor frustration was the cover art. This is not the first time that cover art has been unrepresentative of the books, but this, again, was egregious. The initial cover art (which I can no longer find anywhere) was just the face of an obviously female child or teenager. It was consistent with the contents and actually convinced me to initially start reading the book. The cover images for the second two volumes and the replacement cover image for the first book my electronic reader picked up after I bough the series, in no way represent the content of the books. They show the back of a blond female, obviously older than a teenager, dressed in body armor, armed with weapons the main character held only briefly in the story, walking through various post-apocalyptic scenes. It’s like the author gave only the title, the sub-genre of the book, and a poor description of the main character to the cover artist and just went with what they produced. I understand that this is yet another curse of independent publishing, the lack of a dedicated cover artist, but this is probably the worst misrepresentation of the content of books I’ve run across in my exploration of independently authored books. I believe it contributed to my next and final direct point about the series.

It’s the end. I didn’t think I would ever run across an ending more terrible than the last season of Game of Thrones, but I believe I have now. I won’t spoil it for anyone and I still recommend reading the series, as the story craft, aside from the issues already mentioned, was exceptional. I got the same feeling reading the end of this as I did watching the last six episodes of one of the greatest series ever put on screen. It’s like the author simply gave up. There were issues he couldn’t fix and problems he could not resolve and he just finished the story and stuck a “The End” on it. There were so many problems and issues left unresolved and he employed a plot-convenient deus ex machina to end the final confrontation and it left this reader with a bitter taste of lost potential. It’s like none of the sacrifice and loss suffered by the main character (and others) mattered anymore; he (the author) was out of words and just…stopped.

This was not the first book series to do this to me and I know it won’t be the last. Each author has a story and it begins, develops, and ends, hopefully with some internal consistency, as they write it. It is not my place to say it should have ended another way. I’ve made this argument before-it was in defense of the prequel trilogy of Star Wars that so many love to hate. Were there annoying characters? Yes. Were there plot turns and twists that didn’t happen how I (and others) thought they would? Sure. It was George Lucas’ story to tell. He just did it in a screenplay, rather than a book.

Last thoughts…

Did I like the Warchild series? Again, yes I did. If you like post-apocalyptic stories, it is a good read and has some familiar themes-extreme poverty versus comfortable lives, technology versus mankind, war as a necessity, humanity dealing with the results of excesses of the past.

Did I think the end had far more potential? Absolutely.

In the end, I feel that reading this series has somewhat galvanized me to do differently. I feel I should offer a complete story in one volume, although that is highly impractical in the world of independent publishing. I still feel I should aspire to present a complete story arc in one setting, while allowing readers to follow (hopefully) beloved characters into other adventures, not drag the reader along for three or more volumes to get the whole story. To borrow a line from Star Wars, that’s probably a “damn-fool idealistic crusade”, but it is where I am. I just hope I can now take this frustration and pour it into my work, and that you, dear reader, can one day enjoy it.

Featured Image:

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Reasons…

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

So…it has been a month and three four days since my “vanity card” post. Not bad as far as gaps in my postings go…

I haven’t posted out of a combination of laziness, busyness, indecision, and fear. That’s a pretty toxic combination, so let me unpack that a bit. This will get a touch complicated (or sensitive…one or the other).

The first reason, laziness, is the easiest to explain. I’m lazy, and the older I get the lazier I find myself. I finally get to the weekend with a head full of plans, and I can barely drag myself out of bed long enough to eat some breakfast, brunch, or lunch, depending upon the time I get up. The five days of work seem to take more out of me now that my age starts with a 5 instead of a 4………..Wait…Who am I kidding? This started early on in my 40s. The 50s just compounded it, much like interest on a savings account. Wait…who am I kidding (again). Interest rates are essentially zero.

Which brings me to the second reason, busyness. Yes, I feel like I am busier now, especially at work, maybe not so much after work, but once I slog through a busy day of work, I have no real desire to be busy that evening. That, coupled with my distaste for most of what is on what we call television these days, leaves me with watching reruns of some of my favorite shows, meandering about YouTube, listening to music, reading a book, or attempting to write. The fact that I can’t concentrate on any of these for longer than about 20 minutes makes the whole affair rather tedious.

That is a function of the indecision. Not being able to decide what 30 minute show to watch, or which book to start next, or what YouTube video to watch next, or what to write, is probably the most daunting challenge I have faced in all of my five decades. COVID and all of the horrendous responses to it really broke some people, and in some way broke a bit of me, too.

While I am an introvert, I do actually like to interact with people at times, and when told I cannot do that “for the greater good”, it makes it far worse. Those months of partial to total isolation were, to put it mildly, trying. Not knowing who to trust or what to believe bruised my latent desire for equilibrium and constancy so deeply that I am still recovering. Going from “masks don’t help!” to “you have to wear a mask!”, or going from “vaccines will keep you from getting the virus” to “vaccines only help you fight off the virus” were “triggering” (to borrow a word I really despise) to my mentality.

Which brings me to the last reason why I have not posted in over a month…fear. I fear that I cannot openly expose my thoughts here or anywhere else. “Cancel culture” is real and insipid, and I’ve seen lives ruined over expressing the slightest deviance from “ScienceTM” and “FactsTM“. We live in a society that abhors any notion of disagreement. It is suffocating and inhibits true debate and subsequently, progress. The degree to which some will go to smear, silence or gaslight others upsets me to the point that I know i should not write anything in an attempt to not say something truly damaging and cruel (but probably totally true).

Now, for someone like me who absolutely hates conflict to say that we need a better atmosphere for disagreement means that things are pretty bad. I don’t have a solution other than to continue to combat speech with which I disagree with more speech, not censorship or a desire to silence other voices. Might I also take the occasional opportunity to mock, when appropriate, speech I disagree with? Sure.

We’ll see how I do…

Featured Image: Photo by Victor on Unsplash

A “Vanity Card” for 2022

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

It has now been over a year since I posted on this blog. My last post was February 23, 2021. My posting has never been better than sporadic, with a few notable exceptions. I make no money from this blog, I post only very infrequently, if at all, so why keep it, you might ask. It would be a valid question. It is a question I have asked myself many times.

Part of my answer would be that someone, somewhere, would be inspired by something on this blog and go on to do what I grow ever more certain I cannot do – produce a work of words so exciting, so magnetic, so impactful, that others want to read, nay, will even pay money to read it. Or listen to. As an author, I am, at best “aspiring”. I have over ten works in progress, none of which are even close to the point of publication. They are all incomplete, missing vital aspects of plot, character development, conflict, and resolution. They have scattered story lines, incomplete narratives, redundant and tedious wording and detail, and lack any sense of cohesiveness. Yet I keep them around, hoping that inspiration will strike and sustain me to complete one of them.

Having recently jettisoned to the digital dustbin a large body of work that I had created over a decade or more, I know that I can’t do that with my more legitimate works. All of them have one of two fates in store for them. One, and the more likely, is they will remain unfinished, never reaching a moment of completion, forever lacking a “The End” that denotes them as done. Sure, they might be worked on, added to, edited, and tweaked, but more than likely will never be read by anyone besides me and my one trusted beta reader.

The other fate, the one I dream of, the one that tantalizes me, the one I see in my wildest imagination, is that one, or some, or all of them are eventually completed, presented to the world, and bring joy to someone other than me. This will take intestinal fortitude, a lot of creativity, and a lot of long days and nights clicking away on the keyboard to accomplish. I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to do this. I don’t know if I am good enough to even finish one, much less make it worth somebody else’s time to consume. I hope I do.

The one thing I have learned and relearned over the last year of not posting anything to this blog is that some things change, and others do not. There’s nothing new in this epiphany, as there is nothing new under the sun, but I believe that every person has to confront this fact on their own, through their own circumstances. It is not enough to see it in other’s lives. It must be lived, directly experienced, and assimilated into the mind of every individual for it to be real.

Sometimes change is good and your life is blessed. Sometimes change is debilitating, and your life is somehow diminished. As I get older, and time and the inevitable destruction of my body from diabetes wears on me, I see the diminishing of life. As I write this, I am rapidly approaching the time when my age will no longer begin with a four. That is only days away, and yet, I still shrink away from it and the full weight of that fact has yet to sink in. I’ve dealt with the curse of diabetes for nearly forty years, and while I have held at bay many of the physical effects of the disease, I know a time will come when I will no longer be able to do so. The pressure to take advantage of “the now” grows with each passing day as I see myself grow older and more diminished.

With all of that said, I once again put here in ones and zeros the proclamation that I will try, with what remains of this year, to complete one of my many works in progress – to turn a bunch of letters, words, pages, and chapters into something that entertains and inspires. Will this be the year I am right? Who knows? Maybe. And this is the best I can offer.

Photo by Ergita Sela on Unsplash

Leave It To Me…

Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

Leave it to me to find a great way to motivate me to write, and then NOT write for five days! How perfectly…me.

In my last post I talked about FRED and explained how I have converted this useful tool from the physical to the digital world. I’d created a FRED tool in Notion using some templates I had used for keeping track of my 21 days of fasting posts. The tool should work great, and it sort of does, except I am great at ignoring things. World champion caliber great at ignoring things. So I did.

Now it is, as I said, five days later with no writing done. This is me trying, to quote a lyric from Taylor Swift. Yes, Taylor Swift. I’m no country music listener, but her “stealth” albums from last year, evermore and folklore were pretty good. There are some gut-wrenching songs there, chock-full of longing, heartache, anger, resentment, regret, love, hate, and indifference. The songs are simple. Her collaborators are excellent. Of the two, folklore is the harder album to listen to, so far, anyway. None of the songs on evermore have punched me in the gut like ones on folklore.

Take for example, tolerate it. Swift gives us a glimpse of a decidedly one-sided relationship gone wrong, of an odd kind of unrequited love. She gives and gives to the relationship, “like…a kid”, but finds her efforts simply tolerated, not appreciated. She knows she deserves better and hopefully doubts her conclusion. But in the end, she is still asking where the man she once thought loved her went, and deciding that she is done, removing “this dagger in me”. Ow. Great song, but it is not very “kid friendly” as it includes some profanity in the chorus. Just FYI…

Or, even more gnawing at the soul is coney island, where two halves of a broken whole wonder what happened to “them”. The both miss “the fast times” and “the bright lights” of their relationship. One is afraid they simply no longer can relate to, or in some way broke their partner. A thick morass of regret and disappointment pervades the song, as the other partner wonders if they emphasized their work at the expense of their love, and if there is any chance at redemption. The National’s Matt Berninger’s rich baritone voice is a striking contrast to Swift’s light and smooth tones. It makes the dual internal conversations in the song unmistakable and remarkably dissimilar. The overall effect of the song is to jerk the listener into a “darkest grey” contemplative state, wondering themselves what went wrong? Can I fix it? …even if their own relationships are fine. Powerful.

After hearing one of the songs from these albums on the radio (I think it was evermore) and then diving into all of the tracks, I’ve given them quite a few listens. They get better every time I hear them.

I didn’t actually mean for this post to turn into a music reaction post, but it most certainly has. I really just meant to jump on here and write a few words saying I had not been hit by a bus or anything, after waxing so effusively over my implementation of FRED in Notion, and then NOT writing. Now that I have written a music reaction post, I can go record my work in FRED and feel satisfied that I put words “on the page” today. Now if I could only put words into the pages of my novel…

Featured image: Photo by Harshit Sharma on Unsplash

FRED and Notion and more!

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

I haven’t written in a bit, not for lack of topics, but for lack of motivation. Maybe the tools I mention in this post will help me get past the lack of motivation issue. I’m talking about FRED, a writing tool, and Notion, a super-duper note-taking (and other stuff) app that I considered using as a replacement for Evernote when I was attempting to migrate off of the mean, green, highly addictive platform. Oh, yeah, I have a couple of comments about my shiny new Rocketbook and Concrete5, too.

First, there is FRED, which stands for “Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft”. This is a nifty tool I learned about from Shaunta Grimes at Ninja Writers. She has a 15 minute YouTube video about what it is, and how to use it effectively. The concept and execution are so simple even I can do it. FRED lets you keep a log of your progress, stay motivated as you see word counts and continuous daily streaks rise, and make any notes that might pop into your head as you record your accomplishments. I won’t steal any thunder from Shaunta, go check out the video, and also consider taking a look at Ninja Writers, if, like me, you are attempting to write your own great novel.

With the concept of FRED in my head, I turned to Notion, as I am not great about actually writing things down on paper. First, my handwriting is the worst (more on that later). There’s no guarantee that I can even read something I wrote more than a few days after writing it, much less have anyone else interpret it. Second, I tend to not like having to carry stuff around (like journals), so a computer is a better venue for me to journal on. I did pretty well journaling during my 21 day fast back in January, so I know I can do it. I also know that I can customize a Notion database to record my journaling, allowing me to keep track of things like daily writing streaks and word counts.

So, off I went to create my own custom Notion template for FRED. I copied over some elements from one of the default templates in Notion, tweaked the requested information a bit, adding a spot to put in word count, a checkbox to say that I met my “tiny little goal”, which is a FRED concept, and a place to record what type of writing I did. This noted where my words were written, whether into a blog post, or into a current work-in-progress, or something else, like a critique at Scribophile, one of my favorite writing community web sites. I’ll have to write a post about Scribophile sometime. I think I have done one in the past, but if I did, I’m afraid it disappeared into the digital ether at some point.

Anyway, I was humming along creating this new template when my brain imploded. I couldn’t remember how to make certain aspects of the default page “stick” for later use. After checking the excellent documentation a couple of times and not finding an answer, I pounded away at the problem for a few minutes until I figured it out. Painful, but now I have an easy way to hopefully motivate myself to write every day. This is where the “tiny little goal” comes in. The idea is to pick a small goal, whether it is “write for ten minutes”, “write 500 words”, or some variation on those themes and make that my baseline goal for every day. If I meet the tiny little goal, I get to check the box on the journal entry that says “Goal Met”. The more days I can check that box, the closer I will get to either finishing my work-in-progress or throwing out a giant pile of blog posts. At least, that is the concept behind FRED. Some people who use FRED like to put a sticker on each day they reach their goal. A checked “Goal Met” box is as good as a shiny gold star sticker on a calendar for me.

I did get my Rocketbook in. I’ve used it a bit and I am amazed at the fact that it can OCR my handwriting fairly accurately. Not 100%, but 95+%, which is amazing. Even with the tiny dots on the Rocketbook page creating horizontal and vertical lines, I still can’t write in a straight line, so the fact that it read my wandering script just amazes me. When I finish writing my notes on the page, I use the Rocketbook app on my phone to scan the page and send the image and an OCR’d transcript to one of several cloud storage services. My primary one is Evernote, of course, but I also have the option of simply emailing it, or sending it to Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, or OneNote. I still have one more app I can select as a destination, but I’m leaving that open for now as there are no other supported cloud services that I use. So, yay! Rocketbook is cool.

Finally, some words about Concrete5, or, as it is soon to be renamed, ConcreteCMS. ConcreteCMS is, for those not familiar with it, a full-blown content management system designed to facilitate the creation and curation of websites. While not as popular as WordPress, it is a major player in content management. If you can envision WordPress as a precision scalpel, think of ConcreteCMS as a Swiss Army knife. It can do blogs, just like WordPress, but it can also build incredible websites that are more than a collection of blog posts with an associated image gallery. Not to say WordPress can’t be used to build great sites, but it doesn’t do as much “out of the box” as ConcreteCMS does. You have to add plug-ins to provide this additional functionality or write the code yourself, which defeats the whole purpose of a CMS or blog posting system like WordPress. Also, adding plug-ins to WordPress is the most effective way to make it insecure.

With ConcreteCMS, a huge array of functionality is available right after installation, no plug-ins needed. All types of websites, from service portfolios to small and large business sites can all be created in an easy to use, fairly intuitive system, complete with user management, revision control, page and site security, and a number of other essential and useful capabilities. You can jump on the Concrete site, as I mentioned in a previous post and they will let you run a demo site for 14 days, on their hosted service. You’ll have full control to modify pages, add users, and play with the entire system before deciding to either continue to let them host it, for a cost, or install it on your own hardware or hosting service. That’s a pretty cool and effective sales tool, because as easy as the ConcreteCMS is to use, once you put a few hours into creating the site of your dreams, who wants to toss all that out and start over?

I did install Concrete5, as it is known right now, on my shared hosting site using the Softaculous installer. It sits in my hosting account along with my WordPress site and my FileRun site. I’ll write a post on my FileRun setup sometime soon. It is pretty cool. I have a website started to feature my works-in-progress and hopefully, someday, feature my published novels. I am building a template for the “project” pages now so they will look similar once they are published publicly. Right now, the site is just not visible to anyone except me. I prefer that to one of those silly “Under Construction” pages that used to litter the Internet. As soon as it is tolerably presentable, I will post a link here on this site.

That’s it. While pretty much all of this was about tech, it was also kind of random, so it will get my favorite category attached to it – “Random Thoughts“. I’ll write more soon, as I now have FRED to keep me on my toes. What will be my tiny little goal? I have no idea, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Featured Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash