Wednesday, March 23, 2011

All right, who's in charge here?

This afternoon I've been trying to visit blogs, but my Internet connection has slowed to a crawl. What the heck is going on here? Where is the Complaint Department? Am I going to be reduced to doing something away from the computer, like lifting weights or reading a book?

This is an outrage. I am officially peeved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Critique group bounced!

Today our fiction critique group was kicked out of our meeting place at El Comedor, a small Mexican restaurant. The restaurant staff was apologetic and said they didn't even know why, but someone told them to close immediately and get everyone out. It wasn't a fire or any obvious emergency--no gunshots, screams, fire engine sirens, nothing like that. We never found out the problem, but the six of us moved down the street to a coffee house.

It's nice little hole in the wall. I hope there's nothing serious going on.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Comic relief

It's been a long, slow slog through Bloodlands, a book I've promised myself to read and review. Hitler has decided to exterminate every last living Jew, while Stalin has been slaughtering his own countrymen for years. When the two evil forces clash, millions of innocents are caught in the middle. The book itself is fine, the product of considerable research, but it seems every other page mentions a body count from some mass execution, with the victims numbered with four, five, or six digits. I've picked the book up several times and put it back down to get a rest. Certainly the book deserves a complete reading before I write the review.

So last night I needed a complete change of pace. I popped the Pixar move Up into my DVD player and thought I'd give it five minutes. If it was too stupid or childish, I'd pop it right back out again.

What a pleasure. Up had me within two minutes and held me for an hour and a half. The animation, the characters, and the voices were charming, and much to my surprise, there was a strong plot. The whole idea that you could escape the encroachment of "progress" by lifting your house with helium balloons and sailing away is original, and it's just the beginning of a good story.

When my brother died some years ago, a good friend suggested after a while that I needed a distraction. Go see Men in Black, she suggested. I took her advice and had some great laughs, exactly what I needed.

Everyone needs comic relief now and then--even Shakespeare's plays have it. What do you do when you need to lift your mood?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Self-Publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace

Yesterday, CreateSpace emailed me to say that they've shipped the proof copy of my new murder mystery, Little Mountain. The uploading process wasn't too difficult, although it's nitpicky work. Of course you can hire them to do all or part of the job, but that just seemed like an unnecessary expense. They don't have layout guidelines per se, but they do provide templates. Each size layout has its own set of templates--my book, for example, will be 6" x 9", so I first downloaded the appropriate text template. All the margins and font styles and sizes are preset, so you can copy your contents and past it into the template.

Easy, huh? Well, yes and no. Be sure to copy only your text, not your document formatting (don't copy the very last spot in your document, and you should be okay). Then your margins will be fine, but you may have to tweak your font as well as headers and footers to make sure everything is consistent. You may want to justify your text, too. There is a table of contents section that you can simply delete if you don't need it. As with any templates, you can adjust it to suit yourself. Just leave the margins alone.

The cover upload is a separate task. I uploaded the text and then went to work on the cover. Their template is set up for Photoshop users, but if you use something different, you should have no problem. For example, I use Paint Shop Pro X. If you get something wrong, which happened to me on my first two tries, CreateSpace simply rejects your submission with an explanation of the problem. For example, your images must be at least 300 dpi and must fit properly. If there is text too close to the edge, you'll be told to fix it, and there are other details to watch for.

The exact cover template they give you depends on your page count, because that determines the spine width. Then it all has to fit within the specified borders. It's a little tricky, but not difficult. Just be patient, and don't panic if you don't get it right the first time.

I've skipped over a lot of details, but you'll see them for yourself on the CreateSpace website. One last detail you'll need, though. The files you upload have to be in PDF format, and they don't tell you how to do it. Luckily, it's really easy. The PDF Converter website is one of several that will convert your files for free. It's what I used, and it works perfectly.

If you have any questions, please post a comment, and I will do my best to answer helpfully.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Camp Furlong Days in New Mexico

Last weekend we visited Columbus, New Mexico with friends to see the Camp Furlong Days festivities. In 1916, forces controlled by Pancho Villa attacked the town, which is about four miles from the Mexican border. They killed 18 Americans and lost about 100 of their own before retreating to Mexico. The raid prompted President Wilson to send General Pershing to lead a punitive expedition that turned out to be of dubious value. Pershing never caught Pancho Villa, and the general eventually went on to lead U. S. troops in World War I.

So what were the raid and the response all about? A lecturer at the festival mentioned two theories: first, that "Wall Street" wanted to provoke  a war so that the U. S. could capture more of Mexico and seize its substantial oil assets; second, that Germany wanted the U. S. and Mexico embroiled in a war so the U. S. would be weakened in the event it ever decided to enter the European war against the Kaiser.

Today, little is left of Camp Furlong except for a few protected adobe remnants. Every year, two groups ride to tiny Columbus (pop. about 1800)--one from Mexico and one from northern New Mexico--basically, to have a party and celebrate the two countries' friendship. Snowbirds from the U. S. park their RVs in Pancho Villa State Park, a few minutes' walk from the festivities. The horses arrive more or less on time, carrying riders who wear colorful costumes and fly the American and Mexican flags at the head of their column.

An interesting sidelight: the mayor and police chief were unable to attend the event this year, as they were among ten people arrested in a firearms-trafficking bust by Customs and Homeland Security.

Not everyone is happy about the annual event. A descendant of one of the people killed in the Villa raid understandably fails to see what there is to celebrate.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

History, bloody history

Schlepping my way through Bloodlands, a thick history of the slaughter that took place in Eastern Europe. Poles, communists, prisoners of war, Jews, Ukrainians--name a group that lived in that region, and it was probably targeted either by Stalin, Hitler, or both. On virtually every page someone like the SS is trying to exterminate large numbers of people, and it's depressing. Of course, I knew about all of this grim history on a macro level.

The writing is fine, but this is a slow read that I had to put down for a couple of weeks because it's such disturbing material. When I'm finished, I'll write a review for the Internet Review of Books. It should have been done weeks ago.

By the way, the Internet Review of Books is always on the lookout for talented reviewers. If you're interested, or just want to suggest a recent title, let me know. We're light on fiction lately, so leads on promising novels will be especially welcome.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ebook survey: What would you pay?

I've read lots of opinions about how to price self-published ebooks. Some have said pricing at $9.99 suggests that it's a quality product and that charging only $0.99 suggests the opposite--that in fact the author doesn't value his or her own product very much. Try 4.99 or 2.99 or ... Yet others have said they think most people will risk a buck on anything.

So let's phrase the question differently, because I am about to publish a book and make it available on Kindle. Assuming you don't know my work but you are at least mildly intrigued by my book, a full-length murder mystery, what would you pay for a self-published ebook by an unknown author?

I'd appreciate your comments on this post. Again, tell me what you personally would do.

And thank you. This will help me a lot in pricing correctly.