Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daylight Sneak-Thief In The Neighborhood

Have you seen this bandit? "Who? Me?"
There is a  sneak-thief in the neighborhood, a robber, a bad-man, a rapscallion doing some daylight unauthorized home shopping. There is a neighborhood creep doing some widespread creeping.

I hate to think that someone has looked through my underwear drawer. (I was meaning to throw away the pair with the hole in the ass, just in case Monsieur Light Finger reads this and is of the judging sort- the rest of you Folks can just ignore and move on, okay?) Violation of personal space is somehow worse than any loss of material wealth.

So what did we lose? Just a handful of change, as far as we can tell. And let me be clear on what I mean about neighborhood, because here in Maine, that might not be the same as other places. We live on a dead end dirt road with seven houses and everyone has at least two acres (.8 hectares) of land. The sneak-thief knows we all work during the day and being so isolated, has taken advantage.

The days of leaving homes unlocked here in Maine seems to have finally become antiquated. How crushingly sad I feel.Things change, but not all change is of the nice variety and this, Folks, is the nasty kind of change I wish did not exist.

In the grand scheme, home invasion where a change collection of twenty dollars is lost, is no big deal, especially when it is considered that other home invasions turn deadly. Yet, there is the looming shadow of what comes. I think I see the shape of that change coming over the horizon and you know what?

I don’t like what I can see.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Conversations With Ollie-Dog

Ollie-Dog  Keeps up on his hygiene. From Foreverhouse
Ollie-Dog and I sit on the lawn and watch in the murk of the passing day the neighbor boys play guns, mini commandos darting in and out of sight through the trees. There’s no wind, so the cool evening invigorates both of us, though we stay close together for a little extra warmth.

Ollie-Dog is a good listener. Most of the time. He’s still a puppy and he gets bored and wants to play, nipping at hands and feet to get a reaction, to show his excitement. Tonight he just sits, fascinated by the rattling gun and the flashes he spots in the dim light, better than me, of boys at play. Tonight he consents to play the calm, attentive puppy role.

We talk about the kids a bit, then I ask “Do you want a baby brother or sister, Ollie?” He turns his head at the sound of his name, I say his name again, questioning, waiting for a response. His head cocks to the side, considering the possibility. He turns away, uncommitted. “I’m talking about a baby, Ollie, not a puppy. Does that make a difference?”

The staccato of the gun and the incongruent call of “Stealth mode!”, holds more interest. Ollie-Dog is happy with me scratching under his chin. Babies- human or otherwise- aren’t of interest tonight it seems.

I’m not bothered. Ollie-Dog is often like that, so I’m used to his indifference.

We move on to talk of work as the sun finally gives over the day to the night. Neither of us are interested in talk of work and conversation drifts to silence. Even the boys have quieted, or perhaps they’ve managed at last to discover the elusive stealth mode, aided no doubt by the darkness.

Ollie-Dog re-adjusts closer. I move my leg enough for him to tuck against my chest and we wait in silence. Mommy is supposed to be home. Ollie-Dog wants to jump and do circles in front of her when she arrives to show her how much he loves his Mommy. And Mommy might give him a treat when she goes inside because he’s Cute and a Good Dog.

We wait as long as we can but Mommy is late. She won’t want to talk about work, either, but that’s okay with Ollie-Dog. It’s okay with me, too. I think about a quiet evening at home with my wife and the little ball of sporadic red-furred chaos who now sits so innocent wrapped in my arms. By the way Ollie-Dog is shifting, I can tell innocence is almost lost. He’s ready to move.

It’s time to go inside, finish our waiting in the warm and bright where the balls wait to be chased and chewed and maybe a crumbly might fall from the sky for patient dogs who are always vigilant for such things. I can talk just as well indoors as I can out, I think, so down the walkway we go.

Ollie-Dog and I, on the move, going places. “Nice talking to you, Ollie.” He wags his tail, nips my hand, and together, we go in the house.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writing Skill Diminishes In Youth

Here’s the rundown of my life so far in college, a place I never thought to be again, and perhaps somewhere I shouldn’t be, not a t my age. I say to people that I am old and though thirty-six isn’t young, I don’t actually feel old beyond a few aches that I never noticed before. Then I arrived at college a few weeks ago and bam! Pow! Right in the kisser with the age-punch I never saw coming.

Those kids are young, but it isn’t in the way they look, which is obvious, but in the way they think. They’ve come from a different education system than the one I grew up in and I guess... it irritates me. A grumpy (old) man am I? Maybe I am, maybe I’m just out of touch, or maybe I forget that once I was nineteen and thought I knew everything.

Of course, that’s part of the problem, knowing everything. In comparison to the kids in my class, I will claim an advantage now in terms of knowledge and I’ll claim that same advantage for my nineteen year old self, too. It goes beyond the spelling errors (adgenda? When the fuck did they put that second ‘d’ in there?), or not knowing how to write in cursive (I’m sorry to Mrs. Morang, my sixth grade teacher, who struggled so hard to teach me legible cursive, since apparently that sort of thing doesn’t matter anymore). Turning in papers for class that are handwritten instead of typed is a thing now, I guess (it is 2012, with fucking computers practically inserted in our asses, right?), but even that doesn’t burn me the most or make me feel ancient.

The kids in my classes don’t know how to fucking write!

I mean, wtf, omg, lol- these are considered higher forms of communication. When my dog Ollie stands on his back legs to put his front paws on the counter (for any possible crumblies that might be there), and lets out a series of farts, those farts communicate with more intelligence than many of my classmates.

Sentence structure, grammar, formulation of paragraphs and the ability to make a complex argument using actual, mother-fucking words are... no big deal. If a thought can’t be written in a text or expressed in the space of a single tweet, then, well I guess it isn’t that important. Right?

I could be overreacting, I suppose, just a stodgy old curmudgeon. I should reserve judgement until the end of the semester, give the kids a chance. I mean, why should I be angry, anyway? Communication, intelligent debate, reason, these are all hallmarks of the world in which we live. We couldn’t use more articulate discussion in the world. Conversation online isn’t overheated or partisan.

Who needs the ability to think, write and express a thought critically when we have the power of one-line zingers learned by the time we all were ten? No further advancement of writing skill required today, I guess.

So says the old guy in the back row.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blocked At Every (Twitter) Turn

There are two people I know of on twitter who apparently dislike me so much, that they have decided to push the little block button so that I can’t even follow them. That seems like the ultimate in insults in twitter land. I mean, think about it for what it really says.

If you have one hundred followers but you follow only one person, you only see the one person you follow on your twitter feed, right. If you had a thousand followers and still only followed that one person, the same holds true, just the feed featuring that single person’s tweets. No matter the number of followers, this still holds true, seeing only the tweets of the people you follow, not the other way around. So to block someone from your public twitter feed seems extreme. Especially when blocking a person who doesn’t send direct messages and who makes the attempt to be courteous and respond and re-tweet as often as he can.

Should I be upset?

No, and I’m not, not really but I am confused. What is so offensive about me that someone doesn’t even want me on their follower list? Who does my presence as a follower detract from their twitter experience? I wish I knew.

I have twitter followers who follow and unfollow me repeatedly. I notice them even though I’m approaching twenty thousand twitter followers. It doesn’t bother me and neither do the spammers on my list. I never see what they write and, usually they go away as quickly as they come. And when they show up again, I respond the same way; I ignore them. I don’t block them  but I really don’t care and have no animosity towards them.

One of the people blocking me, I re-tweeted a lot before she blocked me but being re-tweeted is what most folks on twitter want. I guess she didn’t but then, why have a public account if you want to exclude folks, unless you just like having that individual power.

I know I’ve written about this in the past, but with two people blocking my account, I wonder if maybe it isn’t them, but something about me that makes the blocking legitimate and warranted.

Not knowing might be a condition I have to accept but to those two people (or more) blocking me on twitter, I apologize for any offence, real or imagined. I’d say that directly, but... you know.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Defending My Closet, Defending My Vests

Shayna Nickerson ‏@ShaynaNickerson
@mt_nickerson Can your next blog post be on vests? please?#organizingthecloset #imarriedahipster

Ah, so a hipster, am I? A couple vests hanging in the closet and we get to the name calling (no offence to all the hipsters out there, but hipster is not where I aim in my fashion choices). I feel the need to defend my closet from scurrilous remarks. Not for a second do I want anyone to think I write this because the suggestion was made by my wife.

I’m my own man.

(I might have more than a couple vests, Folks. I mention this, a full disclosure, as I have nothing to hide. It is my closet, right?)

Michael T. Nickerson ‏@mt_nickerson
@ShaynaNickerson Dear, it's called a collection, which makes me a connoisseur. You should be proud & honored

Proud and honored of a connoisseur was my thought, but the mind of a woman is a mystery. She saw an opportunity and without knowing, I was perched on the very top of a slippery slope.
Shayna Nickerson ‏@ShaynaNickerson
@mt_nickerson Ah. So this is also true for my coat collection? #denial #obsessedwithvests

Those coats. There are more coats than winter days it seems in our house. I even have three winter coats myself when one is quite suitable in my opinion. How do you even think to compare the versatility and style of a well-made vest with a clunky and cumbersome coat? Silliness.

As I said, women are a mystery.  
Michael T. Nickerson ‏@mt_nickerson
@ShaynaNickerson Vests and coats are clearly separate entities- complete different rules governing each #coatobsessionworse #vestsrule

I try to set the record straight, to interject some sense in the conversation. Really, coat obsession? What is the point of that?
Shayna Nickerson ‏@ShaynaNickerson
@mt_nickerson Vests are just coats without sleeves. #wannabecoats

Ahhh! Wannabe coats. Wannabe coats? I’m trying to find my footing, but how do I respond to a statement so blatant in its disrespect?
Michael T. Nickerson ‏@mt_nickerson
@ShaynaNickerson Vests dare to do more with less #coolfactor

Lame. I have been reduced to a response of Vests dare to do more with less #coolfactor. A stinging return, huh, Folks?
Shayna Nickerson ‏@ShaynaNickerson
@mt_nickerson Coats are functional. Vests appear to have been born in superfluousness. …

Born in superfluousness.  And there it is, the brick wall at the bottom of the that short, slippery slope. And there’s a link involved just to rub in the fact that though my intentions valiant, my ability to defend the contents of my closet was never equal to the task.
Michael T. Nickerson ‏@mt_nickerson
@ShaynaNickerson Ouch. Why do always have go all smart on me?#can'tcompete (#vestsstillrule)

The bruise square on my ego is hidden from view. I can at least be thankful for that and besides, I have two, or five, or... a few more vests hanging about just waiting to be worn. Intellectually bettered, perhaps but bettered while remaining stylish.

I’ll do that trade.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

(Traditional) Publication Rules Of Writing


Thinking of a post I wrote recently titled Manuscript Length A Thing Of The Past prompted me to consider what I thought about the current state of publishing. Normally I go with the flow, write short blog posts of little consequence, but the times we find ourselves today as writers is exciting, a little scary and confusing.

I felt the need to sort my feelings with more structure than I typically apply to my blog. In doing so, I discovered that one post was too constraining but I also understood the need to begin somewhere, so what follows is a (long) overview of where my mind is at today concerning the state of writing. What I find wonderful as a writer is the ability to rewrite previously published work, to expand and grow opinions more organically than at any other time in history.

There are things I’ve left out due to space, half-formed thoughts that remain undeveloped and sections that I’m not even certain I agree with, but here they stand for others to read. To disagree with, to argue for and argue against, to dismiss or take to heart.

Here, then, is my first draft. A writer in progress begins with a word, hoping others will follow for the rest.

What Are The (Traditional)  Publication Rules Of Writing?

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
-W. Somerset Maugham

Rules. There are as many rules about rules as rules themselves, but unlike Maugham, I was able to sort out in my mind four rules as regards to writing publication. Remember as you read further, my rules are broad and in no way meant to be comprehensive. Other folks will come up with their own rules I suspect, and that in no way diminishes their rules or my own, I think. It just means that writing and publication isn’t definable to the tenth decimal point. Writing and publication must be viewed in terms of range and described with phrases such as ‘most likely’, ‘I believe’ or ‘In all likelihood’.  

Or so I believe.

Here, then, are four rules of (traditional) publication:

Length Of Genre Fiction

Here is a great site that breaks down the terms used for stories based on specific lengths, e.g, novelette, novella, short story and so forth.The labels are fairly standard anywhere you look, especially for the shorter works. For those writing novels, though, you run into variations depending on the genre in which you find yourself writing, so for example  if you write a hard sf novel, according you are looking at a word count of 90k to 110k. Some romance novels can weigh in at only 55k words, while fantasy can weigh in at twice that length at 120k+.

Go to your local bookstore or browse online at your favorite cyber-store and check out how well this holds true. Most genre novels are roughly the same length and most are tightly focused in a single genre, meaning there is very little crossover between genres. Fantasy novels are fat and romance thin, mysteries mid-length and so too with most sf. This is industry standard and because it is standard in what we read, it tends to be born out in what is written as well. Most writers I believe will naturally write to the industry because it is what they are used to reading and what you read is what you tend to write.

Number of Books In A series

How many books in a series? Well, to be a series, most will say that you need at least three and trilogies rule, being the most popular number for most series. We also see the double trilogy or even the triple series. These are often series that  are set in the same world but in different times, such as Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. Fantasy series have recently become grander and hence far longer than ever before, so we have the projected seven book George RR Martin Game of Thrones  or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series which will clock in at fourteen books, with a fifteenth if you include the prequel New Spring. (That’s five trilogies, though the structure of the books don’t bear out the strict trilogy format).

And then there is L. Ron Hubbard who wrote the ten book Mission Earth  series further muddling up things in the quest to answer how many books in a series.

Though there are odd series with any number of books, three continues to be standard in accordance with how The Lord of the Rings was divided into three books by the original publisher due to money concerns. In the land of series, the Trilogy continues to rule supreme.

Delivery And/Or Format

This rule is easy to define as delivery hasn’t changed since the earliest days of publishing. Writing was predominately available to the masses by the mid 1800’s and if you read, you read via the printed word, mostly in book form or by way of periodicals. Serialized novels, such as Charles Dickens wrote, had a brief life but over the 20th century, the stand-alone novel ruled. As with set lengths in the genre category, long stories were novelized and short stories were found their way to various magazines and the occasional anthology.

Once a work was published, that was the end. It was the rare author who was able to add to or alter a work once it found itself in published form. A delivered story was good and delivered and no question otherwise. A few exceptions have occurred, such Ender’s Game, which began life as a short story before author Orson Scott Card expanded it into a novel, then a series.  Stephen King also notably re-released his epic The Stand as an an even more epic uncut version that was unpublishable when King was slightly less influential.

For most authors, though, they do not have the same chance to re-write, re envision or otherwise re-release a work once published.

Publication Saturation

If you are so lucky to sign a book deal you will find yourself in a situation where the publisher decides the schedule of when you see print. You may be fortunate if you are a prolific short story writer to get your name in print multiple times a year (and with the pay structure, you would have to either be well known and command high per story payments, or productive to an extreme, to make a living just writing short stories). Otherwise, novelists under normal conditions are on a one book per year schedule even if two books are written.

Then there is the reality authors must also face, a shelf life for their work. Books appear for a time before disappearing and sometimes, oftentimes, the disappearing phase exists forever.

Saturation is controlled by the publishers, not the writer. The industry is designed to discourage prolific writers because the truth is, there are thousands of writers out there and publishers run a business that includes more than a single author. A publisher can’t cater to one author at the expense of others.

What Has Changed With E-Publishing

You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
Length Of Genre Fiction

E-publishing gives writers freedom, but even in a free system there is a need for rule breakers willing to test boundaries because freedom with unquestioned boundaries becomes an oppressive environment if there is no mechanism for change. It is important that the spirit of a system is retained more so than the form in which that system takes. Freedom with finite borders designed to resist change will eventually break under an assault of the dissatisfied and be supplanted by a new system rather than an evolved system.  

Genre fiction, non-fiction and any other sort of writing endeavor is far too stifled with rules of length. Print publication is a free system but one with stringent rules that writers who want change are pushing against, testing to see whether the boundaries accept change or are in need of breaking. The great opportunity presented by e-publishing is in the fact that it can be the mechanism of change that spurs a revolution in publishing, preserving the spirit of the industry while taking it to the next logical evolutionary step. Story is king and the only constraint should be the quality of the craft.

Number of Books In A series

A story unfolds. Readers become enthralled. A story continues, proceeding to the end. Readers are happy. A new story, linked, begins. Or does not continue. Readers are happy. Readers are sad. Life continues for those involved until such time as it ends.

That, Folks, is all I can on the matter. Five, three, ten? Write to completion and try your damnedest to keep your readers satisfied. (You should consider your satisfaction level in this matter as well and all should be well.)

Delivery And/ Or Format

Print on demand exists today. Self-published books are not the nasty step children they once were. There are options. The writer can opt for many paths, no longer reliant on cumbersome traditional publishing alone as a way to find readers for their work.

There is risk involved in bucking the established system and going the independent route of self publishing. Chief among the concerns a writer should take into account is quality erosion as a result of a writer who lacks the knowledge or experience to do the heavy lifting beyond writing. This includes formatting for e-books, e-book platforms, marketing, cover design and editing.

Writers who forget that self publishing is far more than just writing, place an unnecessary burden on their potential success. There is a learning curve but those unable or unwilling to learn still have more options than ever before. A great blog that has been dedicated to this subject is written by JA Konrath, who has written hundreds of posts about the subject of publishing in all the forms past, present and a few that might be headed our way.

Publication Saturation

Is too much, ever too much? Is there such a thing as over-exposure? Or are you one of those writers who need not worry about saturation because you write too slow to become overexposed?

Whichever way you fall on the saturation spectrum, if you decide to self-publish you get a measure of control over the process that has been to this point tightly controlled by publishers. If you can write a book a week, no matter the quality, why not put them in the hands of readers?

Quality is ultimately rewarded. Trends are critical, though, so if your book about clow porn is sitting in the publishing piepeline while someone else scores big with Bozo and His Amazing Balloon Balls, then how have you benefitted by long delays?

If you as a writer control your own book saturation decisions and are able to keep your e-books in perpetual print, then maybe you would reap the benefits of hitting a trend like clown porn instead of some other writer.

Why Is The Old Way Obsolete
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”

Everything old must pass, make way for the new. This is true in publishing just as it is in life in general. Stubborn adherence to nostalgia can never hope to prevent progress. All it does is delay an inevitable shift to the next standard.
We evolve at our own pace, which is fine, but we all evolve eventually. If you wish to continue doing things the old way, that’s okay. Recognize the futility of your choice, however, if you wish to succeed in the coming years as you look around and discover that your personal pace of evolution has left you far behind and out of touch.

A Period Of Transition
“In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.”

Dig in your heels, writer, resist, I dare you.

There are three choices a writer can pursue today:

1. Stick to the hide of the dying beast that is the traditional publishing scene
2. Join the change that e-books offer
3. Push the boundaries, break the rules, define the future of publishing

Any choice you make, this is a clear period of sharp divides and a time of transition when the foundation of publishing is going to be re-formed. Large publishers may still wrest control, take over the publishing world in the next incarnation, make minimal changes and retain the decision making on who, what and when for writers.

Or writers can embrace their freedom, take the spirit of publishing, which is providing content readers want to read, and retain control for themselves. Transitions provide opportunities for those who are willing to break the rules of the old ways.

What Is The Best Way To Proceed
“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

Writers must make a decision on how best to proceed, which path to take. It may still be possible to walk many, near parallel paths, but the time is coming when there will a dominant direction those in the publishing business will all travel together.

What should you do?

Minor Tweaks/ Nothing At All

Hedge your bets, make minor changes, dip your toes into the e-book world, either on your own or through a publisher. If your choice is to be timid, then you can expect to reap the rewards commensurate with your level of commitment. Change may sweep you forward despite your own effort or desire for that change.

What is certain is you will need to rely on luck more so than the more proactive writer who seeks to seize the opportunity the transition underway in the publishing world.

Radical Shifts

Jump in. The water may shallow, cold, filled with sharp rocks ready to impale you or it might be waiting to embrace you with warm, gentle waves that carry you to lands of riches. There is a place and time for bold action, for writers who see change as an opportunity instead of as a boogie man hiding on their bed who wants to eat them up with no mercy.

There is a prize that can be one and right now there is a race to see who gets that prize. Is it going to be writers, publishers, is it going to be you?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back To School: Redux

Between emotional extremes, life continues, unfinished, uncertain, frightening but marvelous.

Yesterday I met with my academic advisor, a woman I have not seen in a decade, and together we poured over my college transcripts to decide my best course of action for the upcoming semester. Yes, indeed. I’m returning to school.

The run from the parking lot (in which I parked illegally, as I did almost my entire career in college) was longer than I remembered. I was late as usual, a steady reminder that even older, I still misjudge the travel time from my hometown to the university. I never seem to factor in the parking and walking portion of the trip, a rather important portion of the equation. Perhaps this time I will learn more and reform.

Or not. I muddled through the first time.

From english major, to maintenance man, to possible teacher. A longer path than I anticipated with a destination I hadn’t expected, but there you go, Folks. Life in all the vagaries, in all the guises and missteps and exaltations, is nothing in the end except life. My life in this case.

I start next week back to the grind, taking education courses while planning for my ultimate goal of getting into a masters program next summer. Then an intense year in which being broke will be an aspiration as the hunger will prod me to achieve that wonderful prize at the end; a chance to teach secondary school.

Let that sink in. Jealous?

Me, I’m equal parts fear and excitement. But that’s life, isn’t it? We just have to find a way to live it the best we can.