Sunday, October 22, 2017

Is This What You Want?

Yes, it's very prudent to go into a new environment and do a lot of listening before speaking up (and showing how much you don't yet know). It's also very easy to listen a lot and attempt to make an addition to the conversation. Then it's time to muster the courage to launch into doing something in the venue to gain experience and recognition.

So it is with stepping from reading, to writing, to submitting, to publishing, to becoming self published. There's all the stuff that has different names. What seemed like a straightforward reference to a particular portion of the book is not what it seemed. (This isn't First Grade anymore.) And looking it up before speaking only leads to finding great information but on a different path. Does that mean do more listening? It means learning the terminology.

Foot in Mouth

So you want to know how to handle formatting the front matter. Front matter is just what it sounds like. It means the. beginning of the book. But here we are in the Electronic Age. There are print books and there are digital or ebooks. The front matter for one is very different from the other. So you talk about wanting to format front matter to someone hoping they'll reveal some precious nuggets to get you started on your own project. You think you're talking about the book cover, title page, acknowledgements, foreword, dedication, and the table of content. Right? For a print book, that would be true. For an ebook, that's not the case. How much do you know? Not a lot.

The front matter of an ebook title page, copyright page, and table of contents. There are other parts of a book that are considered front matter. Those are probably what were in the novice's mind as they posed the question. There will be polite responses that attempt to guide. Don't be dismayed. Writers and authors are busy people. They're not in the business of tutoring while they're attempting to make a living at their craft.

Ask the Right Questions

So listen and learn the terminology, the lingo. Because we're so carefree with terminology (and sometimes because it's simply so basic it isn't even discussed), it's important to look up the terms to be certain you know how a term is being used. Yes, it would be ideal to have a mentor. Mentors are people who have the time to guide another. You can find them in discussion groups, professional and fraternal organizations. You can also find assistance from sites that provide professional services - for a fee. Having a professional do the work is going to cost money. If your budget doesn't have that space, your learning and development will be even stronger because you're going to get hands-on application with knowing what it is you seek. It's also called "trial and error" and at other times it's considered practice. Do it; test; see the mistakes; fix them; test again. But at least you have a greater awareness of what it is you're talking about and what you're requesting a service provider (professional) to do.

Screening

Let's say you do have the budget to have a service provider do the work for you. You tell them what you want. You need to do some screening. (No, not silk screening nor film screening; those are something else.) They need to be asking you questions to be certain they understand what you want. You're forming a meeting of the minds, a contract for services, that is the foundation for the exchange of money for product. Furthermore, you need to be asking questions about their level of expertise. You need to be aware of whether this is the first time the gig worker or organization volunteer has done this type of work or whether they have three or four projects under their belt. Where can you find representations of their finished product, their work samples?

Just the Beginning

So there you are. You want to create and publish your digital book. Now you realize "front matter" isn't the same thing in all cases.

By now and because of your research and listening, you've come to the realize that there's also formatting that needs to be done. It needs to be applied to different parts of the digital book in different ways because the publishing processor sees the different parts as separate sections. You need to ask the processor to handle publishing your masterpiece in the proper way. There's book cover. There's the front matter. There's formatting and saving. There's using the right template and properly formatting it.

And then there's the manuscript. It's another story. But the creation of the manuscript, and the various things that are embodied in it, is probably the predominant part of the conversations you've been listening to in those discussion groups. They're all important. But it's essential to understand the language and speak it before you ask for help and get a surprise.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Selves

Selfies have become not only the rage, they're now the norm. Selfies are pictures that are taken of your own self by your own self. While they used to be single-person images, they've grown to include clusters of people. Although that would qualify them to be called "groupies", they're not. That's something completely different.

But as you can see from the opening sentences, the matter of how to use and when to use "yourself" compared with "theirself" or "themself" (complete with spellcheck's squiggly red underscore) can become problematic. Sometimes it's easier to go the long way around and just say "they did it on their own" or "they did it to their own self," which, admittedly, becomes a bit cumbersome. All that work to say something simple about "them."

So here's the skinny from Dictionary.com.

About "Theirself"

According to Dictionary.com, "theirself is the nonstandard variant of (what else?) "themself." Its usage comes from 13th Century Middle England and is an informal usage, i.e., spoken by the common folk; not necessarily proper English. Have we spent enough time on this part of the exercise?

Checking the Sources

It's useful to check the guidelines about use and usage before jumping into the middle of the ocean. After all, you want to know you'll have good footing or an easy way to swim. In this regard, I did a bit of research for you who (like me) were wondering about this and gaining way more gray (which way to spell that, with an "e" or an "a"?) hair than you deserve. With a search string that queried the principles of usage between the two words (themselves compared with theirselves), an avalanche hit me.

These words are considered reflective pronouns. Writing Explained (WE) tells us not only do these reflective pronouns talk about what's being done, they also emphasize who is doing it. (Hint: According to Stack Exchange, it means the speaker is doing it to their own self. A bit like self flagellation, e.g., he was flogging himself.) EX: The class took theirselves to the bistro. Who did this? The class. what did they do? They took themselves, and no one else. (Maybe it was a private party.) One example WE gives is the classic "Please CC myself and Donna on the email." That was one of the grammar lessons from Third Grade. The speaker comes last in the enumeration. Fortunately, that phrasing is noted as being "nontraditional" (ahem) and the correct phrasing (called more graceful) is provided, "Please CC Donna and me on the email."

Now, I'm starting to get confused about which word to use, them or their. So let's just plow (did you know that the "plough" version of this word is British?) through all of this themming and theiring (not real words).

"Theirselves" is more typically spoken and is definitely not correct when written. Okay. Just don't use it. And if you don't speak it, you're less inclined to get confused about what to do when it needs to be (hint: never) written.

Them and Themselves

Grammar Girl is a major guru. She's a member of the American Copy Editors Society (did anyone know such a society exists?) and dutifully stays up to date on all things grammar. She even tracks what AP and Chicago Manual of Style have to say about proper usage. Apparently, this subject has been plaguing the brains of others. But the two monsters of style are at odds. Where AP says, with caution, it's okay to use "themself" but you may want to rephrase your sentence. Why? Because "themself" is considered that naughty of naughties, nonstandard, i.e., incorrect. However, guru Grammar Girl tells us "themselves" is okey-doke.

As for the Tangents

As for all those tangents that (ahem) arose, we'll deal with them on an item by item basis over the coming months.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: For Dad

Some of us keep journals. Others keep vlogs (that is, videos of us speaking to a camera about our personal thoughts). They're personal. They're helpful in getting through some situations that are simply not comprehensible in any other fashion. Even more importantly, they are the tool we use when we dare not express our thoughts aloud with someone else.

It's sort of the duty of maturing adolescents to assert themselves and challenge authority figures. They need to figure out how hard to push, when to push, and how to be good, responsible people. And then there's learning how to deal with loss or death.

Techniques in good story telling involve many dynamics. Building tension is one such technique to keep the audience's attention. That requires having a good premise. The characters need to have charisma but they also need to have flaws.

There need to be contrasts. "For Dad" offers them from the perspective of the adolescent, full of promise juxtaposed to the comatose adult. We wonder what the outcome will be. A good story has an ending that's a surprise each time you experience it. Should the audience expect this conclusion?

Enter the adolescent girl, probably 15 or 16. Her father has just slipped into a coma. In "For Dad," we meet the unnamed heroine of the video journal. She is saddened at the loss. She poses one ultimatum after another to her sleeping father in an attempt to force him back into consciousness and reunion with the family. But those ultimatums are deals she makes after filling him in on what's been happening in her current world without him.

It's fascinating how much we learn from our parental experiences. Those are the foundations upon which we decipher how to navigate Life. Our protagonist has her first boyfriend. He wants her to break up with him. And she expresses what she realizes Dad will say in response to that situation. It shows she has a good foundation upon which to reason through good decision.

Her journal takes us through nearly a year and a half of fighting through the range of emotions that come from loss - grief, anger, depression, determination, resolve, acceptance. But she continues to bargain with Dad to wake up while also keeping him up to date on her progression through learning how to live and be vital again.

That includes being a teenager and going to the mall. Although they aren't the focus, we see the seasons passing. She meets a guy. She likes him. Opportunity lost. Opportunity regained. Bargain with Dad to wake up so he can meet the guy.

In her determination to get Dad back, she rummages through some of his belongings that were boxed and stored. She finds some things that were hidden. Best not kept for public viewing, especially for teenagers.

Seasons come and go. Dad's birthday comes around. It's celebrated by her with a nose ring and black lipstick - and more bargaining. But all the while, a return to living is evolving in the protagonist's life. More bargaining; more pressing the story forward. The tension is rising. It keeps us riveted to this story coming from a young perspective, one filled with promise.

Being vital culminates in taking a bike trip with the new boyfriend and a few other friends. They start from home on a journey to the coast, 400 miles away. She's still challenging Dad. She's still bargaining with him. When she makes that 800-mile round trip adventure, it will be tantamount to Dad's having gone on his own adventure and the both of them will complete their journeys and reconvene to celebrate.

Sure enough, her determination, her faith, have a payload. She receives a text message that Dad woke up. Since she's still on her own bike trip and three hours away from home by car, she (now a licensed driver) uses the car of one of the members of the group to get home. She's excited. She's so thrilled that she doesn't realize some of the things she's doing that are putting them in harm's way.

This is a short-short. The tension isn't predicated on what's not told (names, location, time of year) as much as it is on what's going to happen. Identifying with the experiences is also easy. No matter what the race or gender, the scenarios are of the human experience.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

But It's Protected

The wonderful world of copyright. When did that evolve into law that provides legal remedies for taking the work of another, claiming ownership of it, and then reaping economic reward for the theft?

Outright plagiarism still happens. Copying and modifying a theme gets us into murky waters. And then there is the matter of ideas and proposals that contain the idea for a work. Some of it is entitled to protection. Some of it takes finessing in order to make certain it doesn't unintentionally become public domain. And some simply isn't protected - or maybe it isn't.

Advice regarding what can be protected comes from copyright lawyer, Brian Klems. "[C]opyright doesn’t stop at your words, but protects any original expression in your work, including detailed outlines, plots and characters." Not too many folks understand that. Consider the kindly folks in the church committee who are trying to approve a new program. Someone steps up to the plate and outlines something they believe will be worthwhile. It sits in Committee for six months. It languishes. Meanwhile, someone needs further details. Those are willingly supplied. After all, this is a church group that is founded on ethical and honest behavior. A year later the program is nixed but someone else produces a program that is eerily similar to the one that was proposed. The doppelganger has some nice aspects to it but lacks the true thrust of the original idea. The original idea is somewhere in either the back of the file drawer or last year's trash.

Then there's the idea presented to a professional organization. "That's a fantastic idea," someone exclaims. "Let's work on it together so we can develop the details." Of course that collaboration happens. And then the colleague is mysteriously unavailable, that is, until they produce an initiative under their own authorship.

We need to be certain of the ethics of those with whom we're working and that they understand the principles of copyright. That doesn't mean browbeat everyone with your encyclopedic knowledge each time you have a discussion. But some preliminaries are justified. Observe the members of the group and learn about their habits and beliefs. Notice how they treat others. Have a conversation about their understanding of limits and boundaries, what will happen and under what circumstances is a healthy idea. (Document it.) If you see eye to eye, move forward. If they breach the understanding, it's time to move on to a healthier environment that focused on mutual benefits.

Be clever with your creations. Be smart and informed with how you handle marketing and publishing them. Be agreeable but also be wise about the nebulous subject of copyright.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review: First Stage of Being in the Club

Becoming a mother doesn't start on that final push, it starts with preparation. And giving birth is only the beginning of the wondrous adventure. As with Nature, maternity and motherhood comes in stages: there's the time of flirtation, getting attention and attraction, inviting a touch or visit that leads to fertilization. And then the miracles that happen during gestation.

"In the Club" is a mini series aired on KCET. It allows us to visit the lives of six women who become acquainted with one another because of a prenatal class they attend together. With a major life issue in common and regular visits filled with learning and sharing, they form a bond, even a friendship, with one another. Their partners become part of that friendship.

One by one, we learn about each woman and her circumstances. We learn about her partner and their living circumstances. With each episode we get drawn into the intrigue of what will happen next and whether the characters will be able to work through the challenges they face.

At first blush, it would seem that it's merely a story about six bloated women who will ultimately go through a time of screaming and groaning and exposing their bottom to the world so that they may receive a slimy, wriggly, wailing newborn. Well, we do go through all of that but there's more to each of the six stories.

One woman discovers, at 37 weeks, that she's expecting twins. An hour later, she discovers that her husband was fired five months before but never told her. Their car has been repossessed, they are in arrears on their house payments, they have two adopted children who are very much a part of the parents' lives, and Mom has been blithely going about preparing a nursery that the family cannot afford. The final straw comes when Dad takes the children for pizza after school but can't pay the bill. His solution is to feign being a terrorist and robbing a bank.

There is also the older woman who became pregnant by a lover who is 25 years her junior and has a lot of maturing that needs to be done before he'll be ready to become a responsible father. Meanwhile, Mom is going through a torrid divorce from a resentful husband and even more resentful adult children.

The unwed teen has been hiding her pregnancy from her widowed long-haul driver father. She's been resourceful enough to rent tapes about childbirth but she has no clue about what's happening to her. Housekeeping skills have not been part of her maturation agenda. She stumbles into the class in full labor. Meanwhile, her dad has fallen asleep at the wheel and suffered a serious injury. The teen and hre baby's after care become a major issue.

The young Indian couple are having their ups and downs. It doesn't help that she claims she became pregnant while they were honeymooning. She confides to one of her friends that she's not really in love with her husband but he's a good man. Tensions rise when her doctor questions why her ankles are so swollen this much in advance of her due date. Complications arise not only with her pregnancy but also with determining the paternity of her baby.

The lesbian couple are going through the strains of living out of the closet with the teenage son of the non-gestating partner. The ex-husband is also the father of the the coming life. What is ultimately revealed is that the pregnancy was not started by in vitro fertilization and the couple are falling in love with one another.

And then there's the prenatal class instructor, a nurse, who is expecting the child of her boss, the OB/GYN for the women in the class.

Yes, it's a bit of a soap opera scenario. The thing of it is, the story is well written. You don't get bored with weekly screaming and grunting sessions. It's the intricacies of each story that pull the attention. It's the tension that mounts causing the viewer to wonder what will happen next. The writers make the audience try to anticipate how the challenges will be resolved and ask their own selves how they would handle each one or whether they would be able to do so.

The writers succeed in making this a story of diversity in a unique way. Each mother faces a unique situation. There are different social issues at play, different ethnicities represented, different economic circumstances. Even the children pose non-traditional challenges that wouldn't be expected in a traditional family drama.

For example, one of the fraternal twins was a successful birth. But his sister had a difficult time and will be a special-needs baby. Those twins are special to their adopted older siblings. As far as those two are concerned, they are a family of six, all special and all equally loved. The teen son is going through rage and hate for his mother now that she's come out. He's abusive and disrespectful. Getting him to curb his behavior toward her is not the responsibility of her partner nor her ex-husband. Although she's good at being demanding, it's at the wrong time and her aggressive behavior is directed at the wrong person.

The story winds the audience into its telling but there's a bit of a snag there. This is a story premised on six expecting women. Those pregnancies are the primary basis of the show. It's not feasible to have the same six women having a new pregnancy year after year. So how will the series perpetuate itself? Perhaps by morphing into a story about raising children. That friendship bond can only last so long when lives become disparate because of disparate circumstances.

Spoiler alert: This show only lasted for one season.

The good things about it are the acting, the writing, the symbolism. It makes for some good conversation about dealing with Life circumstances and how many options we actually have. It's eye opening to consider Life outside of our circumstances in order to safely consider how long we should stay on a particular path before taking a turn onto another road that may get us to our destination in a more comfortable or safer manner.

Even though it's a brief indulgence, it's worth making friends with these women and becoming involved with their lives. We learn that maternity is only the beginning of the story.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Writer in a New Land

Public Broadcast Stations (PBS) are airing a few new week night series. It's a mixed bag of drama, light comedy, situational comedy, mystery, and whodunits. These are in addition to the weekend Masterpiece dramas.

One of the new series, 800 Words, seems to pick up on a theme from the Masterpiece story, Durrells in Corfu. There we were told the 1930s story of the newly widowed English woman and her four children who left England in search of a more affordable existence in a small village in a Greek island. Her eldest embarks on a career as an author.

With 800 Words, the story is modified. It's a contemporary Australian widower, George Turner, who transplants to a small town in New Zealand with his two teenagers. Each day is a new adventure of errors and calamities. The family learns the house they thought they were moving into is not the ideal abode. Instead, it's more than a fixer-upper. It's a disaster that is barely tolerable - and then gets worse. Then the boat with all of their furniture and belongings sinks. The family is left to quite literally rough it as they learn about the island, the people, the customs, and survival in a new place.

Now in a new place with offspring who need to be cared for, George needs to earn a living. He finds a job as the local newspaper columnist and journalist. Somehow, that job pays for the family's most immediate needs and affords George the ability to pay for the numerous repairs for the house and the car. While the teenagers go through their form of grieving and trying to make sense of this new life, we learn about Dad as he works through his own battles through his weekly column that has a word count limit of 800 words - thus the name of the series. He speaks to us, and the village, through his column. He philosophizes. He learns. He discloses.

The story is made more endearing because it's situated in a very small town on an idyllic island. Needless to say, everyone knows everyone else. Gossip is the mainstay. People pitch in to help one another. Spontaneous housewarmings happen. Scandals come; scandals go. Peace abides as Life shifts and existence spins its way into a new day and new situations.

We go through the maturation process with the teens. It's easy to recognize that the story is authored by a man. The older daughter seems a bit more mature for her years than we would expect of a 16 year old. She is also not shy about speaking her mind to anyone, whether adult or peer. The younger son is learning about claiming territory and where he fits into the pecking order of the land. But he is also learning about his voice and he uses his voice and sophistication to work through the various situations that confront him.

Both of the youth are very sophisticated and philosophical. They make the viewer wonder what type of woman Mum was and what type of parenting was happening before the transplant occurred.

When George isn't writing, he's negotiating his way through existence as he goes through his own form of release from grieving. He attempts to reclaim the precious days of his youth when he longed to surf the New Zealand waters. Now approaching middle age, he realizes that may be more of a daydream than something that will be attained but it creates an occasional respite and an opportunity to meet more of the neighbors and become one with the land. He wants to fit in and he wants his family to be accepted by the locals. After all, they're going to live there for the rest of their lives.

Like the petals of a flower that slowly peel away from the bud, so the knowledge about the transplanted family comes to life in the series and we're drawn into the drama of life in a new place. We laugh at the double-handed doses Life dishes out in the form of tragedies that morph into moments of laughter that make it all the sweeter to be in Weld. We begin to yearn for that simpler time when Life was much more mellow in spite of what seems like chaos.

Perhaps the chaos is merely the unpredictable nature of living one day into the next. It's all a surprise and an exercise in a type of game of survival. In this idyllic setting, the threats and dangers are sparse. It's a relief to believe that type of existence can happen both in the past for the Durrells and in the present for the Turners.

If only more of us were as articulate so that we would paint word pictures for others to savor while we surf through our days.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

First Impressions

I love this blurb from an American Management Association promotional email. It highlights the reasons why using a proofreading and copy editing service is so important:
Troubleshoot Writing Errors That Make You Look Bad

Every time you send an email or submit a report, you are being judged on your writing skills. Business writing errors (even simple grammatical mistakes) can complicate your message, confuse your readers, cost you money, diminish your professional image, and hold you back in your career.

There are many instances when the writer's message attempts to convey the level of expertise they have to offer. Were it not for the grammatical and spelling errors in their written message (the ones that the reader is willing to overlook because the logic is very sound), the advances the author could be realizing could dramatically increase. It's a heartbreaking situation.

For example, it may be possible that the author of this content wasn't able to afford the time for an additional copy edit before publishing it. Or maybe they were simply so motivated to get the content published, were pressed for time, and had a lot of confidence in what existed that they felt there was no need for an additional read-through.
Cash – obviously if you can make a sale that’s revenue for your company. One example of this would be a facility that sells monthly memberships.

Attention and Trust – now they’re lots of businesses that need this. For example: I’m going to watch channel 6 news tonight. Well, I’m not paying them cash. I’m giving them attention and trust, in which they can figure out how to make money through advertising.

Referral – Does your service or product work better when your friends use it too? Krispy Kreme uses the revenue of referral. Everytime they open up a new location, employees start giving away thousands of donuts. The people most likely show up for a free hot donut are those who have heard the legend of Krispy Kreme and are delighted that the company is finally in town. These people spread the word. They tell their friends and even bring them into a store.
Imagine the fan's disappointment when they read this excerpt and sincerely want to recommend the author to colleagues:

"The problem with this approach is if you think everyone that breaths is your ideal customer chances are you’ll spend money in the wrong media channels and time at the wrong events or on the wrong platforms, wasting your greatest resources of time and money."

or here when they find the stupendous advice that's laced with a few problems with the use of articles, such as:

"The typical bland response for many is to say . . . “I’m in the cleaning business, I’m an consultant, I’m a plumbing contractor or I’m a account specialist.”"

Then there are the writers who allow their spell checker to dominate their proofreading. Unfortunately, the spell checker is simply an automated system that doesn't really pay attention to context. So the printed version of the speech may sound right but it talks about the person who "lead" the throngs or the one who "new" all of the facts. And there's the classic where the reporter wrote about their interview with a South African artist who shared with comfort she derives from going back to the "crawl" to escape from the rigors of touring and being in the entertainment industry.

A grammatical issue makes the speaker seem to be in charge but the copy editor is wincing when they read this sentence: "Let's look at it another way. Do you care to listen to people whom you dislike?"

It's a good idea to use at least a proofreader for a quick review of the copy before it's published. Yes, the pressures of being first to speak are there. Yes, there are other issues happening that are demanding your attention and attempting to tear you away from that precious item to be pushed out to the world (literally).

Perhaps life would be better if instead of a one-time, gig-style service, a retained copy editor (or just a proofreading service) would be the answer. No doubt a reduced, continuous service rate could be worked out that would provide a more satisfactory result for all involved. After all, the real goal of the writing is reaching a destination that represents success for the writer / speaker. So it just makes sense to have the end result be an enduring positive first impression.

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