Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Warning to writers: perfection is elusive, maybe impossible, probably dangerous.



My latest bookFAILURE TO COMMUNICATE, shown above, went through dozens of on-screen revisions, and seven printed proofs before I pronounced it "good enough" to be sold.

I said "good enough," not "perfect."

In its 37,000 words on 180 pages I know it has at least four small errors that probably no people will notice. I also know that it has fewer errors than most books I've read—even books put out by the big traditional publishers with huge staffs of editors, proofreaders and fact checkers.

Lots of books and other media have easily preventable, inexcusable errors. 

  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch baseball games in Yankee stadium, which was within "walking distance." The famous stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. I hope he calculates more precisely while building bikes. Twice on page 15, "Senior" mentions his house in "Muncie", New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Pub­lish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget by Theresa A. Moore is one of the most-error-ridden books I've ever read. Theresa  says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher. Theresa complains that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong.
I learned the hard way that each time I make a correction, there is a good chance that I will introduce other errors. They'll need to be corrected, and their corrections may lead to more errors, and the cycle never ends.

Perfection is elusive, and perfection may even be dangerous.


  • In Greek-Roman mythology, Arachne was a skilled human weaver who bragged that she was a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and was goddess of weaving (and of other things, and the inventor of music). Arachne refused to acknowledge that her skill came from Minerva. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent woman-made tapestry that she destroyed the tapestry and loom, slashed Arachne's face and turned Arachne into a spider. In biology, "arachnids" are the group of critters that includes spiders.
  • A Blogger wrote,"The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that no one was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection."
So, I'll live with a few mistakes (I omitted an apostrophe)—at least until it's time for a major revision. I wouldn't want to be turned into a spider, or a bookworm.

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Rug photo from http://www.willishenry.com.  Arachne illustration source is unknown. Thanks to all.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Writers: take the crap test to know if you're good enough to publish a book

Allegedly "everyone has a book inside them." After seeing so much crap between book covers I can't help feeling that many published books should have stayed with the bones and guts and not be allowed outside the bodies of the naïve writers.
  • Many writers turn to self-publishing after accumulating a pile of rejection letters from agents and publishers—the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing. (Gatekeepers are not perfect. They frequently accept crap, or reject books that are later accepted by their competitors and go on to be popular and/or have critical success.) The ego, over-confidence or blind ignorance of rejected writers may make them think that the gatekeepers who rejected them are idiots who don’t recognize the work of a true genius when it’s displayed before them.
  • Other writers simply choose to not risk rejection by the gatekeepers, saving years and anguish by taking advantage of self-publishing.
  • And others (like me) choose self-publishing for its independence, potential higher profit and quick route to reaching readers.
If you are in any of those groups, before you expend any money, time or effort in becoming a self-published author, and if you want to publish for money and not merely for ego gratification or perceived status, I strongly urge you to take the crap test.

There are three versions of the test:

(1) Submit an article of at least 1,000 words to a newspaper or magazine. Convince an editor that it is not crap and get paid at least $200 for it, and actually see it in print.

(2) Join a writers’ group, actively participate, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the group leader and at least three participants that what you write is not crap.

(3) Take a college course in journalism or creative writing, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the instructor that your work is of professional caliber and is not crap.

If you can’t pass the crap test, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t self–publish. But it does mean that it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll make any money at it, and that the money you spend may as well go down the crapper.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The English language is full of baby talk (and other poopy stuff)

Like many old farts, I detest the degeneration of American English, which I frequently witness on streets, in offices, in stores and restaurants, on the phone, in classrooms, in movies and on TV.

I'm particularly pissed off about the substitution of "HEY" for "hello." It seemed to have made a rapid transition from playgrounds to CSI Las Vegas and then to the rest of the world. When I was a child, if I used that word, my mother would scold me with "Hay is for horses—not for people!"


I'm even more pissed off by the use of "WAS LIKE" as a replacement for "said." It seemed to start with Hollywood's dimwitted blonde bimbettes and even spread to the White House! Time magazine quoted George Dubya Bush using that stupid phrase.

Both Dubya and Barack regularly say "GUNNA" instead of "going to." That's not the way English used to be spoken at Yale and Columbia, their alma maters.


I'm also annoyed by what I see as the rampant infantilization (if that's not a word, it should be) of speech. Kiddie Talk and Baby Talk are creeping into adult conversations, and even book, movie and TV show titles.

I confess to sometimes ending phone conversations with "bye-bye," but I refuse to say "MY MOM" instead of "my mother."

I reserve "boob," "pee," "poo," "poop" and "tummy" for jokes or for conversations with kindergartners. I cringe when I hear a doctor say "tummy." What's wrong with "abdomen?"  (However, I did say "poop" and "pee-pee" to my late dog.)

Southern speech is a topic for a possible future posting. For now I'll just say that I find it very difficult to take people seriously if they sound like they just climbed out of some "holler" in the deep south. My ears and brain shut down when someone says "poke" for "bag" or "done" for "did" or "Coke" for all brands of soda -- or TYPES "y'all" in emails.

I know a successful investment banker and publisher in New York City, who grew up in Kentucky. When he was in junior high school, a teacher advised his class to study and emulate the TV network news broadcasters if they had hopes of becoming successful outside the South.

OTOH, northeast speech often pisses me off, such as the cliched "Pock yaw cah in Hahvid Yahd."

The beloved Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard died at age 99. He was known as "the voice of God" and was complimented for his expert elocution. Although he performed in a stadium in daBronx, he sounded like he was in Fenway "Pock" in Boston—never pronouncing a final "R." 

By the way, Derek's last name should NOT be pronounced "Jee-tuh." The boss's last name was NOT "Steinbrenn-uh."

Not only do many New Englanduhs (and some New Yawkuhs) drop R's, sometimes an R gets put where it doesn't belong. My ninth-grade English teacher in N'Haven said, "Ameriker."

In Manhattan, you can meet someone at the intersection of "toity-toid and toid."

And back in daBronx (and in Brooklyn and Queens), you can hear "fill-im" for "film," "kern" for "coin" and "terlet" for "toilet."

A bit east of Brooklyn is Lawn Guyland, and if you travel west you'll reach New Joisey. If you go far west, you might hear former Governator Ah-nold say "Cally-fawn-yuh."

Pitcher Waite Hoyt played for the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers (among others) from 1918 through 1938. He was hit by a ball and injured in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. A spectator yelled, "Hurt is hoyt!"

Bad grammar is another—but related—subject. Rachel Maddow (who should know better) said "less" instead of "fewer" twice in the same broadcast. BOO!

At some time I'll have to deal with "the Macy's Day Parade," the silent second "c" in "Connecticut,"  and "The Port of Authority."

I'm not perfect, of course. Cynical cousin Dave doesn't like the way I pronounce "Saturn," and I confess to twice mispronouncing "kiosk" and "acai." 

(dog peeing photo and Cain photos from Getty Images  Street sign from brickfeetimages. I thank them.)


...



Monday, January 18, 2021

QUACK QUACK. A duck or two can make your writing funnier


David McCallum played agent Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E on TV in the 1960s. Since 2003 he has played Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on NCIS. The doctor's last name could have been Jones, O'Hara, Liebowitz or Spock—but "Mallard" permitted him to be nicknamed "Ducky."

I don't know why, but there seems to be something inherently funny about ducks. Maybe it's the feet, or the beak or the quacks.


If you want to get some smiles from readers, take advantage of ducks. Warner Bros. has made lots of money from Daffy Duck. Donald Duck and his family have been very good to Disney. Maybe a duck can make you rich, too. 

“Wanna buy a duck?"
Joe Penner

Q: What’s the difference between a duck?
A: Each of its legs is both the same?
—My Father

Two ducks are sitting in a bathtub.
The first duck says, “Please pass the soap,”
The other duck says, “No soap, radio.”
—Unknown

A duck walks into a pharmacy, and asks for Chapstick. The cashier says, "Cash or check?" and the duck says, "Just put it on my bill."
—Unknown

A duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Do you have any grapes?" The bartender says, "No we only have beer here." The duck leaves. 

The next day the duck walks back into the bar and asks the bartender, "Do you have any grapes?" The bartender says, "No, I told you we only have beer; and if you ask me again I’m going to nail your beak to the bar.” The duck leaves. 

The next day the duck walks back into the bar and asks the bartender, “Do you have any nails?" The bartender says "no." The duck then asks, “Do you have any grapes?"
—Unknown

A motorist in a Mercedes was driving through the countryside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when he came to a large puddle of water from a previous rain storm. Worried that he was going to damage the car in the deep water, he asked a local farmer (who was standing near the puddle) how deep the water was. "Arr", said the farmer "that water only be a few inches deep!" Relieved, the motorist edged his car into the water, expecting to come out on the other side with no trouble. Instead, as he drove in, the water came right up the side of the car, and the engine sputtered to a halt. Sitting there with the water lapping at the window, the motorist yelled at the farmer angrily: "I thought you said this water was only a few inches deep!!!" "Well", replied the farmer "It only come up to the waist of them there ducks."
—Unknown

CLICK for dirty duck jokes. 




 











“Why a duck?”
—Chico Marx



The Marx Brothers starred in an extremely funny movie called Duck Soup (1933).



On  Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life"  TV quiz  show  (1950 - 1960), contestants could win extra  money by saying an ordinary word while speaking to Groucho. A fake duck would drop down with $100.

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Illustrations above came from the obvious sources and I thank them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Writers: tax day is coming. Take advantage of your special advantages.


It's now Mid-January. This year Tax Day in the USA will be 'celebrated' on April 15th.  It's getting closer every second. 

What you do today—and every day—will affect what you pay and what you keep in the spring.

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don't know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 20 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I used to pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still came up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years earlier. My life is simpler now, as I ease into retirement, and I again do my own taxes.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume, and equipment and services used with the media, should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%.

Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, little TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, smart phone, computers, tablets, ebook readers, software, Internet service, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.


Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about men's fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance—and may have bigger cojones.


With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun—if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, and I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't

Monday, January 11, 2021

Get out of your comfort zone. Try writing something you think you can't write, or hate to write.


I once wrote a poem about a wiper. Could you?
When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher was a miserable bitch—hated by almost every kid in the class.

We were once assigned to write an essay about poetry. At the time, I pretty much hated poetry, except for funny stuff like one of the world's shortest poems, by Ogden Nash:

"The Bronx?
No thonx."

Basically my essay said something like I hated poetry because it is artificial and is much less efficient than prose for delivering a message.

I DESPISED faked/fudged/phony constructions like:

"My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty."

I got an "F" on the essay.

Elliot, one of my classmates, got an "A" for a few pages of bullshit about poetry "opening a golden door into the soul of the poet."


I was sent to the guidance counselor for guidance and discipline.

I did not get any discipline but I got some valuable guidance: Give the bitch the same kind of bullshit that earned Elliot the "A."

In other words, if you want to succeed in life, give the audience what it wants, even if you have to lie or sell out.

I didn't think it was good advice then or now. An audience can usually determine if a performer's heart is not in a performance.

A few weeks later, we were assigned to write poems. That was even worse than having to write about poems.

Rhyming is probably a natural activity and source of amusement for every kid.

But going from "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but I hate you" to something of homework quality would have been a major leap for me.

I was desperate to avoid a second flunk from the bitch, so with help from my father I did come up with something that I still think is pretty good. It was about a windshield wiper destroying rain drops. I don't remember it all, but it started with:

"Oh wiper, you viper,
You snake on the glass.
You strike hard and swiftly.
You kill with each pass."

I got an unexpected "A" on that one.

I also got an "A" on a second poem that involved some event in international relations in 1959 or '60. Apparently President Eisenhower was being pressured by the dreaded commies to give in on some diplomatic negotiating.

I need a word to rhyme with "now," and my father suggested the phrase "but Ike would not kowtow."

I had never heard "kowtow" before, and thought my father had made it up just for my poem. Pop explained that it came from a Chinese word meaning "submit" and I kept the word. The bitch knew what it meant and was impressed.

In high school I became a pretty good rhymer. I often wrote silly poems and songs about bad teachers. The worst teacher I ever had was Bertha "Crazy" Frehse (pronounced "frayzee"). We never knew what to expect when we entered her classroom.

Sometimes as we marched in, a student would be pinched on the shoulder and commanded to go to the blackboard and “write 10 beautiful words,” or “write 200 words about tobogganing,” or “explain why striped cats are superior to spotted dogs” or “list 500 reasons why Elvis should be pres­ident.”

One time, a class was ordered to write 500 words on “how Capri pants have been the downfall of western civilization.” (Girls couldn’t wear pants to our school.)

Years later, in college I used "lifestyle" in an essay and the professor put a note on the page about it being an excellent choice of words. In my mind I gave the professor a lower grade for being impressed by such routine terminology. Apparently "lifestyle" was a big deal in Bethlehem, PA in the 1960s.)

In my first semester as a journalism major at Lehigh, our class was assigned to write a large variety of news items. One assignment was to write about an intramural baseball game. I hated baseball and resented the assignment. I knew nothing about the game and felt absolutely feeble. My vocabulary had none of the appropriate idioms for "hit a home run." I read a published report on the game and unconsciously absorbed a phrase. My hawkeyed professor noticed it and flunked me for plagiarism! It was a valuable lesson

  • I've never bought a poetry book, but I do have appreciation for rhyming lyrics, especially:
"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest"
(Lennon & McCartney)

and

"When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone"
(Dylan)

I have no plans to write serious poetry, but being forced to succeed at something I hated has probably been useful to me as person and as a writer. I have gained appreciation for those who do write poems well, and I sometimes insert rhymes in my prose just for the fun of it.

This is probably the third time in over 50 years that I used the word "kowtow." It's not part of my normal writing vocabulary, but if I encounter it, I don't need to get a dictionary.

I've been writing nonfiction since I was a journalism major at Lehigh in the 60s. I never aspired to write "the great American novel." Or even a lousy un-American novel.

However, I've often been told that I have a great imagination and maybe I was wrong to shun fiction. 


As an experiment I wrote a novelized back story as the first half of a nonfiction book, Internet Hell. I think it turned out well and readers like it. I enjoyed the freedom of not needing to care about facts, truth and reality—but my training and experience as a journalist made my unreality realistic.

I think all writers should experiment with genres outside their comfort zone. You might enjoy it, or even create something great.

Flexibility and versatility may even help your financial situation. When I first moved to Manhattan in 1970 I lived in a tiny-but-expensive room in a YMCA. The manager knew I worked for a magazine and asked for help writing a fundraising appeal. He liked my work and lowered my rent.

My first job was assistant editor of a magazine that went to hi-fi equipment dealers. I sometimes filled in at other mags that the publisher put out, dealing with health foods and art supplies. Later on I worked for several ad agencies. I was hired because I could write about hi-fi equipment, but I kept my job because I could also write about computers, light switches, motor oil, food, floor tile, wrist watches and bathing suits. 

Specialization can help you get a job. Versatility can help you keep a job!

I can probably write about anything. What about you?

. . . . . 
wiper photo from HowStuffWorks.com Thanks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

American authors can have trouble with Canadian readers

The dual influence of American and British spelling on Canadian English can make life difficult for Canadian writers—and even worse for Americans writing for Canadian readers.

Canadians use standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), use American spelling for others (connection and tire, not connexion and tyre), and will use either version for other words (programme and program, labour and labor, neighbour and neighbor).
  • It's important for authors to be consistent so you don't look silly and confuse your readers.
Set up your own style manual (just a list, really), and stick to it. Don't mix "neighbour" with "labor," for example. Choose one pattern or the other and don't vary.

A Canadian dictionary might help, too (is there such a thing?). Word processor spell-checkers (chequers?) may not be much help. My MS Word rejects Brit spelling, and there doesn't seem to be a Canadian or British "language pack" available.

I could tell my PC to accept "programme" and "neighbour," but that would not make it reject "program" and "neighbor." To be safe, I'd probably have to search for all of the offending Americanisms and change them.

Or, I can just keep writing in American and not worry about the smaller countries that speak sort-of the same language. I don't freak out when I encounter British spelling. "Programme" is not as disconcerting as having to convert pounds and shillings.

Here is a helpful Can-Am cheat sheet (I prefer some of the Canadian spellings, such as "worshipped".)

(Thanks to Dorothy Turner for her work published by the University of Ottawa)