Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Words, words, I'm so sick of words...

I'm up to 58,000 words in Nursing Home Invasion. I have a character who is a kind of comical old guy. Everybody knows a guy like that. When he was young he was considered a pain in the ass, and everything he said was irritating. Now that he's old, he's irascible, and everything he says is funny. He says the same things, but because he's old, he gets away with it.

It's something to look forward to if you were a pain in the ass in your youth or are one now. (I know an old guy in his eighties who is still a pain in the ass. He didn't age well.)

Anyway, this old guy in my book spends some time on the witness stand in a murder trial, and he doesn't particularly like the prosecuting attorney. So, I put some text in there where he needles the lawyer, goes off on tangents, forgets the questions, and so on. I got a bunch of words out of that, and it doesn't detract from the story.

Word bloat can be a problem. Usually, however, if you look at the beginning of a chapter, there are more things that can be said to get it going. Not "the sun hung low in the western sky" kind of thing, but action lines that lead up to what's going to happen next.

I made a joke yesterday that I'd like to use in the book. We were going somewhere, and Judy was driving. She had the car backed out on the driveway, and I said I had to go lock my office. Judy said, "You already locked it. I saw you from the car standing in front of the door facing it and doing something with your hands. What else would you have been doing?"

Without thinking I said, "I was scratching my balls and didn't want the neighbors to see."

I shouldn't say stuff like that without thinking. I should've thought. Or maybe if I wouldn't have laughed so hard. I hope the swelling goes down soon.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Finishing a Novel

"Nursing Home Invasion" is almost ready to publish. Except that, for a novel, it's too short. I formatted as a standard small paperback with a 10pt font, and it's only 200 pages. That's about 55,000 words. I need more words. Trouble is, the story is told, there's nothing to add, nothing that would add substance or meaning to the story.

I wrote it with only one point-of-view (POV), that of the protagonist. Everything that happens in the story is in view of him or in his memory. There are no scene breaks within chapters and no need to change to a different POV. Except to make the book longer, and I don't like doing anything just for that reason. Words for the sake of words.

Both my proof readers said the same thing: It seems too short. And so I must think about that. I'll probably insert some scenery here and there and see where that takes me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ACase iPad Keyboard

I have an iPad and use it a lot for proof-reading. I wanted an easier way than the glass keyboard to make notes, so I ordered this:

Seven out of eight buyers gave it high marks. The eighth did not but only because the item never arrived.

It took a long time to get here. It arrived yesterday. I worked with it a lot last night. It goes back tomorrow. I cannot understand why so many people like it. It doesn't do the job, which is to say, it isn't any easier to use than the glass keyboard.

Here are my complaints:
  1. There is only one Shift key, the one on the left. Speed typists will not be able to use the keyboard because of that one feature.
  2. The quote key (' and ") is in the wrong place. Awful design for writers who use a lot of contractions and quotations.
  3. Likewise for the plus/equal key.
  4. The del key and the Backspace key do the same things. They delete the character to the left of the cursor.
  5. It doesn't work in portrait mode unless you take the iPad away from the keyboard.
  6. You close it by inserting a flap into a slot above the iPad. Difficult to do and a wear problem built in.
  7. When you fold the flap under the keyboard to get it out of the way (such as when the device is in your lap,) it raises the keyboard at an awkward angle.

 Other than for that, it's fine.

I'll be checking out other iPad keyboards soon.



Vent Book Print Edition is Published

The print edition of my new book on ventriloquism is now online:

It should be available on amazon soon.

The Kindle edition is also available now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Self-publishing on the Cheap"

I started a new project this week. Yet another book on self-publishing. I decided to write it after having read countless books on the subject and finding most of them saying the same stuff, most of them out of date, all of them lacking humor, interest, just taking themselves way too seriously.

Although I am well into the narrative, I took my usual cart/horse side trip to the cover. Specifically a picture on the cover.

I want the cover art to show a Kindle and a paperback book alongside one another. The Kindle will have pages from the book displayed on it. That's no problem. But the cover of the book will also have a book alongside the Kindle, and the book on the cover must be of the book. So the picture of a book will have a picture of the same book, which will have a picture of the same book, and on into infinity or until the picture of the book is one pixel. Like pointing a mirror at a mirror.

I bet Salvadore Dali would have known how to do it.

I'll be starting on the cover soon during breaks from writing. Here's how I will start trying to make the effect I want:

1.Place a book with a blank cover next to the Kindle.
2.Take the picture and load it into GIMP twice. (GIMP is a free image processor.)
3.Make image #1 smaller, rotated, etc, and put it in image #2 as a layer covering (replacing) the book in image #2.
4.Close image #1.
5.Duplicate image #2 as image #3.
6.Promote image numbers. 2 becomes 1, 3 becomes 2. (Just for the purposes of this explanation.)
7.Iterate steps 3 - 6 until image #1 is what I want.

I think it's going to drive me nuts. Post a comment if you have any ideas that might help.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Paradigm Shift (or Shift Happens)

I've changed the emphasis of my life, and thus the emphasis of this blog, to the pursuit of the written word and the improvised note. I made writing and playing music my livelihood for many years, wrote mostly about computers and computer programming, and played jazz in saloons and gin mills. I've switched my writing to other genres, fiction and non-fiction, and to self-publishing. I'll talk about that as things progress. I've stopped playing music out for a while, too.

Oh, yeah, I am a ventriloquist, too. It is not unexpected, then, that one of my first self-published works should be about ventriloquism. See recent postings on this blog about that book. And click here to view the website dedicated to that book. At this time, only the Kindle edition of the book is available. In the next week or two the print edition will be posted on amazon, and copies will be available from Tom Ladshaw at the Kentucky ventriloquist convention in July. If I make it, those copies can be autographed.

The vent book project is ongoing, and this place will mention it from time to time. There are three other books in the works, and we'll talk about them, too.

I had announced earlier that I am taking down the blog. Some of you expressed your wishes that I not do that. So, at least for a while, I'll leave those articles in place in the archives.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I have a book, a real book...

The proof copy of the print edition of "Ventriloquism: Art, Craft, Profession" arrived yesterday. This is my first hands-on experience with a POD (Publish on Demand) book. From Createspace.

The first thing I noticed was that I could have used a smaller font. 12pt is okay, but 11pt would have delivered as readable a book with fewer pages.

The next thing was that many of the old pictures don't print very well in the digital POD format. They're okay, given what they are, though. For the Kindle edition I made many of them larger and tweaked the brightness/contrast setting to make them readable on the smaller, monochrome Kindle. I could have done that with the print edition, too.

Then, the publishing model does not use "signatures," which is a 32-page bundle of 8 folded sheets. It's an advantage because you don't have that cluseer of blank pages at the end to make the page count evenly divisible by 32.

I found only one major typo. The heading for Chapter 1 doesn't say "Chapter 1." like all the other chapters. That bugs me.

I look at it and see things I'd do differently. And I can do that if I want to re-layout the pages and submit for another proof copy. I didn't want to do that. But it kept me awake last night. I'm too much of a perfectionist. I'll decide in the next couple of days.

Guess what? Even though the proof copy cost me the same as a production run copy will cost, they printed PROOF in big letters on the last page. I guess they didn't want me to sell the proof copy. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kindle Edition Available Now

The Kindle edition is up and available now.

Because of the many pictures, I prefer to read this one on the iPad, which you can do with iPad's Kindle app available from amazon or apple.

I am working on the description, but it takes amazon forever to post changes to a listing.

And I have to get busy on the accompanying webpage for the book.

Still waiting for a proof copy of the print edition.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A New Project

Okay, I've changed my mind. I'm not ready to shut down this blog. There really is something else to talk about.

For the past several months I've been working on one vent-related project: My book.

I started writing this book about ten years ago. My goal was a book with wall-to-wall coverage of not only technique, but marketing, the business, the offstage creative processes, equipment, and so on. Not just another book about how to talk without moving your lips.

Eventually, however, I realized that ventriloquism as an entertainment art form was in a decline. Interest in it was not what it had been. This realization was reinforced in 2006 when Clinton and Adelia Detweiler closed the doors on the Maher Ventriloquist Studios, an iconic business that had served the art for as long as I could remember. I asked Clinton about his decision, and he told me that the level of business had dropped off such that it would not support the endeavor. I put my book project on hold at that time.

Then, something happened. Seemingly all at once. Jeff Dunham's work started to catch on big time. Terry Fator won America's Got Talent. Dave Letterman featured not one, but two special "ventriloquist weeks." Clinton kicked off an online version of his business. Ventriloquism was rising from the ashes and the public was aware.

And there was another major development not related to ventriloquism. "Publish on demand" (POD) became a new model for print edition book publishing.

Originally I had wondered whether I could interest a publisher in my book, given its relatively small potential marketplace. At that time an author wishing to self-publish had one avenue--the vanity press. You paid a publishing house to produce your book, and you sold it, hopefully, out of the trunk of your car.

With the advent of digital publishing (as opposed to typesetting), books can now be printed one at a time. It no longer requires a minimum number of copies in the 100s to justify a print run. They print books as they are ordered.

The other obstacle to self-publishing was finding sales outlets. The bookstores are not interested in self-published books. There was no formal outlet for such a book. That has changed, too. With POD, your self-published book, good or bad, is listed on, the leading online bookstore.

So, given all that, I decided to resuscitate my vent book project. The manuscript needed a lot of update to reflect changes taking place in the industry. Not to mention all the unfinished chapters.

I got a lot of help from Tom Ladshaw, ventriloquism's acknowledged reigning expert and entrepreneur. Tom proofread the first draft, submitted countless corrections and suggestions and wrote a foreword.

Yesterday, I got the book finished and uploaded to the POD publisher. Copies will be available on amazon as soon as I receive and approve the proof copy. Tom will have copies for sale at his dealer's table at this year's ConVENTion in July. I hope to make it there, too, in which case we'll have a book signing one afternoon.

Keep watching this blog for announcements about the book and a link to the amazon listing.