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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

we are
eight billion quilts
fashioned of threadbare cloth
stitched by blind hands
in a darkened room
uniquely alike
consistently different

or

are we
eight billion pieces
of patchwork pain
and remnant joy
a masterwork revealed
only when we see
not the threads of our lives
but the pattern of our existence

 

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In late 2019, I felt my mental acuity begin to falter. I would lose track of days, couldn’t always remember whether an event was yesterday or a few days before, failed to recall conversations, and so forth. I didn’t think it was dementia (though that is one of my big fears), but rather, I felt it was a function of a stressful decade that had been filled with deaths, turmoil, and a job with a team I loathed. In short, I had a lot on my mind and I was having trouble keeping things organized.

To help with this—or at least help with keeping the days straight in my memory—I purchased a Five-Year Journal. You might have seen them; each page is dedicated to a single calendar date, but divided into five sections, one for each of five years. So, Page One is January 1st, and holds an entry for 2020, 2021, 2022, etc.

Throughout my life, I have never been a reliable journalist. Generally, I’d start a journal during difficult times—breakups, relocations, end of semester panics—using an empty composition book or something similarly cheap and utilitarian. I’d fill page after page until the crisis began to abate, and then the rest of the book would remain blank. But with this Five-Year Journal, I figured I could keep it going because (primarily) the entry slots were small, just six lines that I could fill in a couple of minutes at the end of each day. In addition, it had the added attraction of allowing me to see what happened on a single date, year after year.

I’m three years into it, now, and it has helped my memory and recall. Days have a definite division, now, as the act of summarizing them each evening sort of “cements” them in my mind. And it is a very well-crafted book: sturdy, medium-weight paper, nothing fancy or unnecessary.

However . . . an issue has arisen.

The entry slots have become too damned small.

When I started, six lines was often more than enough room to hold the mundanity of my life. When I started to write more, though—here, and elsewhere—even when using a needle-thin ballpoint and my tiny, tiny scrawl, my entries regularly began to curl up into the margins in order to finish a thought.

To fix this, armed with my nearly three years’ habit of regular journal-keeping, I went in search of a larger format. One day. One page. I wouldn’t have to fill each page (some days, six lines is still more than enough), but if I wanted to, it’d be there, ready to capture every last, tedious detail of my suburban life.

There were many to choose from. I discarded “planners” right away; I do not (thankfully) have a life that requires planning. I also decided against the “page-a-day” journals that have the hours printed down the margin because, to be honest, if I have two things to do in a single day, that’s a full day, and an hour-by-hour breakdown is serious overkill.

No, what I wanted was just one page for each day, lined, with no extraneous frippery like icons for the weather, mood indicators, or “visioning” pages. Optimally, it also needed to have paper thick enough to handle my fountain pen, had to lie flat when making a mid-year entry, and it needed to be either hardbound or sturdily paperbound. Marker ribbons would be nice, too.

It took a while (the struggle is real), but eventually I found one that ticked almost every box, including the “not stupidly expensive” box.

I present to you, the Wykeham’s Executive 2023 Daily Journal.

Don’t be off-put by the “Executive” appellation, as it is surprisingly void of any “strategic” thought pages, address books, tabs, and such. In fact, the only thing it has that even smells of the Executive are pages for tracking expenses (one per month, all up at the front and easy to ignore).

In the front sections, it has an “at-a-glance” calendar, the aforementioned expense pages, a “by month” calendar (two facing pages for each month, large enough to list birthdays and vacation schedules, but not enough to track the kids’ soccer games and doctor appointments), and then a full set of clean, lined, 5.5 x 8 inch (14 x 20 cm) pages, one for each calendar day. It’s bound in hard(ish) boards covered with faux leather, has a marker ribbon, an elastic band to keep it closed, and opens flat on every day of the year.

And, at less than $25, it won’t break the bank.

For me, it is the perfect choice. If it wasn’t already November, I would have bought one for the remainder of 2022. Looking ahead, I’d buy a 2023 edition for every journal writer as a holiday gift, but I don’t have a lot of them on my list, at least not who share my tastes and requirements.

However, if you have such a person on your list, check it out. (It comes in black as well as this English tan color, and ships in a nice hard box for easy gift wrapping.) Of course, the Five-Year Journal would work for many, too.

While I won’t have the chance to see what happened on March 2nd, five years running, I think the elbow room the larger space provides will outweigh that lack.

Especially now that “writing” is playing a greater role in my life.

k

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she’s a night owl
and I rise before dawn
which gives us both
a few hours alone
to miss each other

 

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My sword is bright
it lights the path ahead
through treacherous times
shining

My sword is sharp
it cuts to the heart
the dissemblers’ lies
seeking

My sword is strong
it survives unfazed
the illogic tide
standing

My sword is my vote
it points the way forward
for right and for rights
singing

——

k

 

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“Has John read your books?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean? You guys talk about books all the time.”

“Well, sure. But not about my books.”

The above snippet of dialogue is verbatim from this past weekend, and it is Exhibit A in the case of Why I Absolutely Suck at Marketing.

In general, I do not know which of my friends have read any of my books. Yes, there are some exceptions to this—beta readers for a certainty, those who’ve expressed an opinion about a title—but if pressed, I know of only eight people who have definitely read one (or more) of my titles. And two of them are dead, so I’m really down to only six. That small list gets longer if I include people who I know have bought my books; but have they read them? One acquaintance told me flat out that she bought my books but did not read any of them, so I don’t take equate purchases with readers. 

Why am I so in the dark on this topic? Because it is how I was raised. And it’s also my nature.

A big lesson of my youth was, “Don’t show off.” My father was insistent about this. “You have talents,” he would tell me, “but don’t get cocky, don’t show off, because there’s always going to be someone out there who’s richer or smarter or more talented than you are.” The subtext, coming from the grandson of a charcoal burner (yeah, it’s a real occupation), was essentially “Pride goeth before a fall.” Humility, my dad felt, consistently won over more people than braggadocio. 

This fit well with my introverted mien. I have absolutely zero desire to “show off” and put myself in the spotlight (this blog notwithstanding), so self-deprecation and “hiding my lamp under a bushel” aren’t second nature; they’re first nature.

As a result, there are people who know me who don’t know that I’ve written nine novels (and counting). I don’t introduce myself, saying, “Hi, I’m Kurt. I’ve written nine novels. Heard of me? Want to read one?” In this age of self-publishing, being an accomplished novelist isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. Folks who learn of my bibliography might smile and nod, but the look in their eye betrays their unspoken reservations about the probable quality of my work.

None of this is to say I’m not proud of my books—I am—but there are just too many variables to the “Hi, I’m a writer” gambit. Nearly 20% of Americans didn’t read any books in the past year (print, e-book, or audiobook), and about half of the population has read fewer than six titles (and which ones do you think they’re going to buy? Mine?). Then there’s genre-preference, with “historical”-anything being at the low end of the popularity scale (and my stuff all being “historical”-something or other). Taken as a whole, there is absolutely no reason for me to expect that anyone I know is going to enjoy my books; the odds are simply against it.

Marketing is essentially nothing but “Look at me!” show-offery, and that is totally antithetical both to my attitude and to my nature. So, I suck at it.

However, this whole cover redux journey I recently began is nothing but marketing. Sort of. So, I’m a little conflicted. And a little anxious about the whole idea.

Still gonna do it, though.

k

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This has been a week of ups and downs—society, family, health, the future—and, to be honest, right now I’m on the down-side of it. So, fair warning.

In last week’s post, I admitted that my Fallen Cloud Saga needed new covers. This led to other considerations about fixing some of the content (e.g., typos, minuscule factual errors, and one extremely overwritten prologue), but primarily I spent this week focusing on the covers. I scanned sites and services. I downloaded several apps. I contacted artists whose work ticked a lot of the project boxes. Also, realizing how it’s been a long while since I formatted content for a novel, I solicited advice on the state of play as regards the best formatting tools for books (print and digital).

Sadly, rather than this activity working to ratchet up my enthusiasm, the reverse has happened, and the Black Dog has come to visit.

The reason? The costs.

Artwork, software, hardware, I’d need to license/commission/purchase/upgrade almost everything, and for what?

For vanity?

Brass tacks: Money spent refurbishing the covers of my Fallen Cloud Saga will never be recouped. The idea of making them more attractive to the passing eye and thereby increase my readership is, of course, a real and possible goal, but the money spent will not be earned back, not when taking past sales into account. Then, I have to add in the cost of decent formatting software. Everyone swears by Vellum, but it’s Mac-only, and it isn’t cheap, so I’d need the software and either a Mac-mini or a subscription to macincloud (and I loathe subscription-based software models). Alternatives to Vellum, like Atticus, have their adherents, but as with most charts that compare the enthusiasm coefficient of Apple-heads vs Windows-thralls, the Mac comes out orders of magnitude above.

So, in large part, it comes down to this: How much am I willing to spend to indulge my vanity?

My wife, bless her, has encouraged me to recast the discussion in several ways.
—I’m not buying covers, I’m buying artwork (something we’ve done plenty of times in the past).
—This would finally raise my Fallen Cloud Saga to the state I’ve always wanted it.
—Software and hardware could be used for future projects, as well as all my other titles.
—If she’d asked for something similar, I’d have already written the check.
. . . and the kicker . . .
—”I’ll be mad if you don’t.”

I’ve never been good at spending money on myself, at least not beyond a the cost of a good bottle of whisky. This, though . . . it’s different. Where a bottle of whisky is sipped into extinction, a professional presentation of the entire Fallen Cloud Saga would be something I would enjoy until the day I die, even if no one ever bought another copy.

Vanity? Perhaps.

Or perhaps it’s love, love for the saga I spent years creating, the love that drove me to write the fifth and final book even after the publisher had dropped the project, the same love that is shared by a small but ardent group of readers. It’s not something I owe myself or those readers, and it may not be something we even deserve.

It is, though, be something we would all enjoy.

Isn’t that enough?

Onward.

k

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Last weekend’s author-signing event went surprisingly well, but it was not devoid of lessons to be learned.

I say “surprisingly well” only because of my standard introvert’s dis-ease when facing the public, plus the fact that this was my first signing event in nearly a decade. The fact that I sold any books (and to strangers, no less) was also a surprise. Admittedly, we spent that revenue on books from other authors/artists at the event, but let’s be honest: I don’t do this for the money.

Another entry in the “went well” side of the ledger was using Square for accepting payments. When you consider the fact that a week before the event I had no way to accept credit card payments, Square was an excellent choice. Fast, easy, with a top-notch app and high-confidence from customers, I was able to set up an account, enter my inventory, and get a card reader with a few days to spare. I was also prepared to use Venmo and PayPal, but they weren’t needed, as every customer was very comfortable with using Square.

Aside from these plusses, though, there were a few negatives.

First, I need a “pitch” statement. The author at the next table, J.P. Barnett, was able to sum up his books in a single sentence. (“Two college roommates chase monsters instead of going to class!”) While I’m sure this oversimplified his work, the pitch gave potential customers a quick way to know if his books were something they might enjoy. To be fair, all of J.P.’s books were from the same series, so he only needed One Pitch to Rule them All, whereas my books vary in content, style, and genre. That’s just an excuse, though; hearing J.P.’s pitch and watching his customers’ immediate comprehension of what lay before them showed me the value of a pithy catch-phrase.

I also learned that even though we all say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we all most definitely do. To that point, I had to admit that the second edition covers for my Fallen Cloud Saga were not doing the job (even though minimalism was all the rage a handful of years ago). By far, the busier, more eye-catching covers on my table got the most attention.

The third lesson was that, if you have a series, bring more copies of Books One and Two. I foolishly brought an equal number of all titles, thinking (wrongly) that people would want to buy the whole series. With one exception, what they did buy was just the first in the series. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense; I’m an unknown quantity, and who wants to lay down cash for a series that they might not want to finish. Luckily, I didn’t run out of “first in a series” books, but it was a near thing.

Each February, Page Turner Books puts on a big signing event, which draws about six hundred sf/f readers, all eager to browse and find new authors. That’s about five times the traffic we saw on Saturday, and I’m seriously considering taking a table. There’s a lot of work I need to do, though, based on what I learned.

As I said, my motivation to participate is not financial. I want more readers rather than more bucks, so as long as I cover my costs, I’m happy. Watching people evaluate my titles, noting their reaction to my (admittedly) long-winded descriptions, and then seeing them walk out with one of my books under their arm, well, that’s the point, for me.

Onward.

k

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