Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes There is No Answer

I wrote this letter to my children years ago. I forgot it. They probably forgot it. Yet I still draw upon the premise: sometimes there are no answers.

I can draw upon the ancient sources, including the Bible, for the names of men of great knowledge.
Josephus says this of Abram:
Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him, when he says thus: "In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science." But Hecatseus does more than barely mention him; for he composed, and left behind him, a book concerning him. And Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abram reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abram is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abram."

He also adds, concerning Abram and the Egyptians:
Abram conferred with each of them, and, confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrated that such reasonings were vain and void of truth: whereupon he was admired by them in those conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject he undertook; and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him. He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.

Obviously Abram (Abraham) was a man of great wisdom, as shown by a number of ancient texts, though only the Bible and Josephus survive at this point. Even so, Abram was baffled by the promise of God to provide a son for him by Sarai, and, not understanding the power of God, had Ishmael by Hagar to fulfill the promise of God through his own abilities. We see in this case that Abram is not always very wise. We can also refer to the two instances where he had Sarai pose as his sister.
Solomon is known, Biblically, as the wisest man who ever lived. Yet when he was posed a problem by the Queen of Sheba he resorted to the inherent knowledge of a common bee to resolve the conundrum. He also showed his lack of wisdom in later years by straying from the direct commands of God and allowed the worship of false gods.
The point is that mankind can show signs of wisdom, yet we invariably fall short in consistency.  Though Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it was not a Tree of All Knowledge. We just don’t know everything, regardless of the promises of an attractive serpent.
Questions will arise that you do not know the answer to. Cut yourself some slack and understand that ignorance is not fatal and can sometimes be cured. (A cautionary note here: the Internet is a great source of information, but is also full of incorrect information, so caveat emptor.) Yet without a doubt there will be questions people ask that you do not know the answer to, and the answer may not be available. What is gravity? How can atoms stay stable and not fly apart? Why is there suffering in the world? How can God be three persons in one? God knows the answers to these questions, but we do not and we cannot.
Take a deep breath and accept that there are some questions we can provide thoughtful responses to, but we cannot definitively know the answers.
This is where Faith begins, my children. You don’t know the answers, but be assured that the God who rules the Universe knows the answers. Take comfort in that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day and more

Except for me, my family is a military family. My Grandma Jen and Grandpa Mac served in WWII (that's where they met) as well as most of their brothers and sisters, my great Aunts and Uncles. My Grandpa Comfort served in Korea. My mother and father met while both were stationed in Virginia. My father served in Viet Nam as a medical corpsman. Each of my younger brothers served in the military. My youngest brother met his wife when they were both stationed in Panama.

My thanks to each of them, and my remembrance of what they've done for me. Freedom is not free. Over the centuries the freedoms we enjoy in this country were won by the blood and the innocence of our youngest, our best and our brightest. We will never know the true cost of the conflicts; those who died might have been otherwise destined to cure cancer, compose symphonies and write great literature.

Thank you. You are all my heroes.

Our Pastor said that our WWII vets are now in their eighties and few remain with us. Darling's mother died two years ago at the age of 85 and she fled World War II. I cover some of her early life in my latest book My Mother-in-Law Misadventures. The book is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

For the next four days the book is free on Smashwords.

The process is simple:

2. Create an account (unless you have one)

3. Find my book at this link

4. Check out and use the coupon code QC33S to make the book free.

5. Enjoy the book. Please write a review.

I broke down and created a Facebook account. Please feel free to "friend" me. Don't expect a lot of chit-chat though. I have my blog for that (and thanks for reading). On Facebook I simply plan to track my projects and put some pictures, probably old pictures. Darling is the one who puts the newer pictures out there. I will friend my family and readers. I don't know what else I'll do with it.

Yeah, I know I said I wanted to be the last one in the USA with a Facebook account, but my brother Barry said the same thing. He wins.

I'm a little sick today, just feeling under the weather. I am fighting an infection and the Doctor has me on some serious antibiotics. I don't even like reading the side effects.
So Darling is fussing over me - a cup of hot tea, put socks on my feet (I could have done that), covered me with a blanket, made me toast (and made me eat it because of the antibiotics) and then put a warm bed buddy behind my neck (if you don't know what a bed buddy is, well, you need one). I made a face when Darling finally got me situated to her satisfaction.
"Do you want me to quit fussing over you?" she asked.
"Yes," I quietly growled.
There was a pause as she sat down and put her feet up, then she grinned at me. "Well, too bad."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Mother-in-law Misadventures PUBLISHED

My newest book, My Mother-in-law Misadventures is now available on Smashwords!

With a download from Smashwords, you don't even need a reader like a Kindle or a Nook. You can download a simple PDF or a document file, or any of a bunch of formats that you can read directly on your computer! Smashwords accounts are free, so jump right in and get the book.

Okay, on Smashwords, use the coupon code QC33S to get a free download of the book until June 1, 2013!

Yeah, Darling thinks I lost my mind. Please leave a review, though. 
It's also available on Amazon. That promotion will have to wait a bit!
Go ahead and grab the book. If you read it and like it, please leave some positive feedback.

Our first book is FREE on Smashwords, too, but you don't need a coupon for that!
Who knew this publishing thing could be so complicated? (Well, a lot of people, I guess, but it certainly is an adventure!)

About Smashwords
Founded in 2008, Smashwords is the leading distributor of self-published ebooks. More than 60,000 authors, small presses and literary agents around the world publish over 200,000 ebooks through Smashwords. Smashwords makes ebook publishing fast, free and easy. Smashwords distributes to major online retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Baker & Taylor Blio, Page Foundry and the Diesel eBook Store. Smashwords is based in Los Gatos, California, and can be reached on the web at Visit the official Smashwords blog at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dogs and Cats

There is fable about dogs and cats.
A puppy wags its tail when the master approaches. The puppy thinks "You feed me and love me and take care of everything for me. You must be some sort of god."
A kitten licks its paw when the master approaches. The kitten thinks "You feed me and love me and take care of everything for me. I must be some sort of god."

In my experience, that's the difference between cats and dogs.
From Wikipedia
I like dogs. Not little yippy dogs, but dogs that are at least medium size. I have a preference for Norwegian Elkhounds, but my favorite dog in my entire life was an Elkhound. Smokey and I did everything together. Mom didn't let him in the house, but she didn't let her four boys come in the house either, except in bad weather. So Smokey and I often sat in the back yard and discussed the weighty things of the world of a teenage boy. Smokey was a good listener.
I had two dogs when I first got married, a young man in his twenties with a new wife, a new job and no kids. The pups were sisters. They both got the parvovirus and one died. Tisha survived, but I wasn't good about spending time with her. I left her alone too much and she ran away a few years later. That ranks high on my list of life's regrets.
So I determined that if I ever owned a dog again it would come into the house with me and be part of the family.
Darling and I had a dog discussion before we got married. Since she was only willing to have a tiny dog in the house and I didn't want a tiny dog, we don't have dogs. Darling had a couple cats when I met her. Over the years kittens in dire distress have joined the family. No dogs, though.
Also from Wikipedia
My Aunt Jan breeds Bouviers. She doesn't have a web page or anything that I know of, though. They do have a club page, and Aunt Jan was the President of the club.  I didn't even know such a dog existed until she talked to me about them. Wikipedia says "The Bouvier des Flandres is a herding dog breed originating in Flanders. They were originally used for general farm work including cattle droving, sheep herding, and cart pulling, and nowadays as guard dogs and police dogs, as well as being kept as pets."
She and my cousin have raised them for years, and have a number of champions from their kennels. That's kind of cool.
My buddy Bill owns Brittanys. I get a Christmas card from him every year with him, his wife and his three dogs. One of his older Brittanys died not too many months ago, so Bill plans to replace her with a new pup. Bill plans to go pick the puppy up across the holiday weekend. He's going to pick from this litter.

So, they're the cutest, aren't they? And if that doesn't tug your heart strings, try the web site of the breeders who still have the litter, Ammo's Brittanys.
If that picture didn't make your heart warm - well, you're a cat person.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Mother-In-Law Misadventures

I owe everyone an update on my adventures in getting this book finished.  In the last post I mentioned that a cover is a hard thing to put together, and it is. However, a cover is vital to the success of the book. It is, along with the title, the first thing the prospective buyer sees. In some cases, it is all they look at. What you want is for the person browsing the book section to be intrigued by the title, hooked by the cover and reeled in by the description.

I couldn't do a cover for the new book myself. The one I managed to put together by myself was a nice cover if I actually wrote a biography of Darling's mother, but my book is a collection of (mostly) funny stories about her mother living with us for ten years. The last chapter deals a bit with Frau's life as a young woman, with pictures of documents from WWII that she kept in a lock box in her closet for fifty years. (Just to be clear, not all the documents are included - there were a lot of them.)

Not being happy with the title I did some research on people who do book covers and chose Tatiana, who was very patient with me. We went through a few iterations and now have a cover that is pretty nice.

I also changed the book title. My working title has always been The Frau Chronicles. That has meaning to me but wouldn't have meaning for the reader unless they read the reason I called Darling's mother Frau. Not a very good way to entice someone to read my book. However, My Mother-in-Law Misadventures describes most of the book pretty well. It doesn't say anything about the last chapter, but I can't think how to put that in there, even as a subtitle.

I did add something to the cover that I didn't have before. I don't know if it will work, but it gives the potential reader a bit more information. There's only one thing to do when your Mother-in-law comes and lives with you…YOU WRITE A BOOK.

Darling is not entirely happy with the cover. She would have preferred the one with her Mother's pretty picture. That picture is in the book, I might add. I understand; it is her mother and the cartoon figure doesn't look anything like Frau. (Someone at work and someone on Facebook said it looked like Paula Deen, but I don't know who that is.)

So a new title, a new cover and the following description:

What happens when your Mother-in-Law moves in for a few months and stays for a decade? You write a book about your adventures dealing with a WWII survivor under your roof.
In this funny and witty chronicle, Vince tells some of the outstanding stories of living with an old woman who was short in stature but large in life.
From microwaves to garage sales join in the tales of pinching pennies, battling bankers, and losing kittens. Laugh at the Perfect Present and weep with the Weeping Willow. Finally, follow the heroic voyage as a young family flees WWII and emigrates to the USA.
If you have a mother-in-law, you should read this book. If she is coming to live with you ... well, you're on your own.

Smashwords requires a short description also, so I'll need to come up with something for that.
Now all that's left is buying the ISBN and double-checking the format of the book. I'll let you know when it's available!

If you have any comments, now's the time!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Self-Publishing, My Lessons Learned

Steps to Self-Publishing

1. Write a great book, or at least a good book. This is critical. Of course, if it is really a great book and you can find an established publisher to publish it, then I'd opt for that route. Really. Save yourself the headaches. The problem is that it is pretty easy to write a book; it is a much harder task to write a good one, and pretty difficult to write a great one. This is why there are so many self-published mediocre books available. You can do better, though.

Okay, your book is written and you want to publish it.

2. Edit your book. Please. I spent weeks (of writing time) writing my second book. I spent months editing it. My buddy James Altucher said recently "When you write, don’t think about money. Don’t think about who the reader is. Don’t worry about what people will say." I agree with the statement, but grammar and spelling still count - a lot.

3. Format your book properly for e-books. Yes, the converters out there are pretty good, but not perfect. Now, if you're reading this before you write your book, then go study a style guide (I use the one from Smashwords) and implement the guidelines when you start. This was the major reason that I published our first book on Smashwords. I wanted to walk through all the editing steps on a short book. Trust me when I say this - it's a pain. I can see why someone with a few hundred dollars would hire someone to do the formatting. I spent hours modifying the format of the first book. It was worth the time - the book looks much better than the original one published on Amazon. I learned a lot about formatting.

4. Get an honest person to read your book. Family is fine, as long as they are willing to give you a fair critique (see Vernon's Rules of Verbiage), but usually family is so impressed that you actually wrote something they unintentionally mislead you. If you have a friend who is willing to give you straight feedback, then listen to them. This is sort of hard, because there will be criticism and you will get defensive. Wait a bit and get past that; try to look at what you wrote like a stranger would.
4a. Edit again. Really. This makes the difference between a poor book and a good book.

5. Manage your pictures. If you don't have any pictures, then smile and move on. My second book has over two dozen pictures in it. I took each picture, cleaned it up and then saved it in a smaller jpg format. Some experts suggest the png format, and that would be okay, but they are a bit larger, and I was trying to minimize the size of the final book. Now, though, I have a problem. I imagine some of the readers will want to zoom in on the documents (they are pictures, of course) and they don't zoom well. I removed much of the detail when I optimized the pictures. I'm not too sure how to handle this, but think I might have to set up a site to contain the full-size images and let readers sign up to access them. I'm just not sure how to do that yet.

6. Come up with a good title. No, really. The first book was easy. What did we want people to know about the book? That it was all about preparing for the Fiscal Cliff. I struggled with the title for my second book. My working title was always The Frau Chronicles. It's still how all my folders and files refer to the book. It sure doesn't much anything about the content, though. So I changed it a few months ago to She Bit Her Own Butt: My Mother-in-Law Misadventures. The idea was to give an indication of what was in the book, so I chose something from one of the chapters. Though a title like that will get a lot of attention, it just sounds … disrespectful, and that's not really what the book is about either. So I changed the title to The Frau Chronicles: My Mother-in-Law Misadventures. That was better, but we talked about it last night and I decided it was still not quite right. The final title is now simply My Mother-in-Law Misadventures.  After all, that's what most of the stories are about, though the last chapter is a pictorial history of Frau's earlier years and it's quite good also.
6a. Oh, and if that isn't hard enough - come up with a good subtitle too!

7. Do a good cover. I took a shot at a cover, but I'm just not a graphic artist. You can tell by looking at the cover of our first book at the top of this post. The problem I had was summarized by Tatiana, the graphic artist I hired to create a cover for my second book. She said “the problem with the other covers is that they don’t portray the core of the book. These covers would look good for a Biography or a Memoir, but your book isn’t like this.” No, my book is supposed to be funny, with some poignant moments. I'm still trying to create a cover that I really like. Honestly, this is such hard work I almost want to give up. I feel like McCoy in Star Trek: "Dammit, man, I'm a writer not a graphic artist!"
I think Picasso had problems

8. Write a good short description and a good longer description. This is what the person browsing the book store will see, and it needs to convey what the book is about, enticing a purchase. I struggled with this a lot, and still am. I'm not sure what I'll use for the short description, but this is the long one:

What happens when your Mother-in-Law moves in for a few months and stays for a decade? You write a book about the funny and odd adventures as you deal with a WWII survivor under your roof.In this funny and witty chronicle, Vince tells some of the outstanding stories of living with an old woman who was short in stature but large in life.From microwaves to garage sales join in the tales of pinching pennies, battling bankers, and losing kittens. Laugh at the Perfect Present and weep when the willow falls. Finally, take a pictorial tour of the flight from Nazi-occupied Poland to the USA, the years that shaped Vince's mother-in-law.If you have a mother-in-law, you should read this book. If she is coming to live with you ... well, you're on your own.

9. Get an ISBN. There is a ton of information on this topic, but it boils down to two choices. You can let your publisher assign one (Smashwords will do that for you) or you can buy one from Bowker in the USA. I can't explain this any better than Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer (amazing site for authors, by the way). If you want to sell your book and can afford it, buy an ISBN for it. If that doesn't really matter to you right now, let your on-line publisher (like Smashwords) assign it for you.

10. Following the guidelines on your publishing site, upload your book to their converter. This is a pretty simple step. Each converter will give you feedback, and I actually use the one at my Amazon site pretty often to get a "feel" for how the book is looking. Yesterday the Amazon converter caught a misspelled word. I've edited this thing over a dozen times, and I missed it.

11. I don't see this one listed often, but please do it. Go grab your file and look it over. As I said, I create the mobi file from my Amazon bookshelf before I ever publish the book, download it and read it on one of my Kindle readers. I did the same thing after I put the first book on Smashwords; I downloaded the Kindle and the PDF versions and reviewed them. They looked good, but if I had found an error I would have corrected it and uploaded the book again.

That's it. Your publishing effort is now complete. (There are questions about copyright. Yes, you can pay for the copyright to your book, but legally it is protected when you publish it.)

Now you have to market your book, and I haven't a clue how to do that yet. More to come?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff

I just finished publishing the Smashwords edition of Preparing for the Fiscal Cliff. Smashwords allows you to download books in multiple formats, including the Kindle format and PDF. If you didn't get the book that Darling and I wrote back in October, now's a good time. It's free, and according to my research, Amazon will eventually match the price, so it will become free on that site as well (though I have no time frame for that). So far about thirty people viewed the book and a half dozen downloaded it.

Although I wanted to make the book free for quite a while, the impetus was really a learning step for my second book.

I need to bring you up to date on my second book, right? I mean, I've babbled about it for a half dozen posts, so you should at least be able to follow my exploits.

I'll go through the self-publishing steps in the next post, but let's talk about FEAR. I've been writing for decades, literally since I was about five years old. I have finished very few things I've started, and tried to publish even less. In the last decade I finally figured out that it is simple fear that keeps me from trying to publish. It's the fear that I will pour my heart into writing something (which I do, or I wouldn't write) and others would read it and consider it crap. It's the fear that the opinions of others would crush me in this case.

It's scary. If you're a writer, or want to be a writer, then you know this fear. The fear intensified when I received rejection letters from potential publishers. I did my due diligence. I sent the right kind of material to the right magazines. They just didn't like my submissions. I'm not made of the stern stuff that Stephen King and John Grisham are made of. They persevered. I'm more of a Margaret Mitchell and hide my writing in the closet after a rejection.

So the world changed and it is now possible to self-publish. Let me tell you, self-publishing is guaranteed to get your book listed and available to the public. It is certainly not guaranteed to make you a success. It absolutely is not the easiest way to get published!

The easiest way to get published is to write something so amazing that every publishing house in the country will look at it and offer you huge sums of money to do the work for you. Then you get to talk to Oprah, who loved your book.

That probably won't happen to most of us. You can go to a vanity press, or you can self-publish. It doesn’t eliminate the fear factor, but it can get your book to the public.

Then you can be really afraid.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Live Peaceably

Romans 12:18 KJV "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
I had my two youngest children memorize Romans 12 years ago. I think they can still recite the verse. I get stuck with a few parts of it. I didn't make them do this as punishment. I chose this chapter from the Bible because I heard an old woman speak once and she said this chapter provided her guidelines for interacting with people.
I remember thinking how powerful that statement was and I wanted my children to have the same advantage. When I told them we would all memorize the chapter, they didn't even blink, but simply asked what version of the Bible we would use. The King James version is a little rough for my tastes, so I chose the New American Standard Bible version, which I read was a more modern, yet accurate rendition of the original texts.
Romans 12:18 NASB "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
The entire chapter is excellent, and I will write something on each verse, but I'm starting here because of the power of this verse.
"If possible" - sometimes it simply isn't possible to be at peace with someone. Peace should certainly be our goal, and our principle, but we can recognize (prayerfully) when it is not possible and move on.
"so far as it depends on you" - with all the strength you have you need to strive for peace with others, preserving peace where it exists and mediating with those who are angry. We should not start a quarrel. This means we need to learn to speak softly to people and understand their point of view, though we don't need to agree with it. My Grandmother used to say "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and she was the central linchpin of that side of the family. As they say here in Texas, she walked the talk.
We are not responsible for the actions of others. Some may never be able to act toward us or our loved ones with peaceful intentions. We are only responsible for our own actions.
I used to tell people that my father sent me out into the world and told me to never forget where I came from and never bring disrespect to our name.
That's true; I just never said which Father.
So do not quarrel with others. Each person has burdens and it is part of our job to help ease the burdens of our fellow men, not add to them.
I don't always succeed, but I try to do a little better each day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Frau Chronicles

Young Frau - a 1940s glamour shot?
I'm putting the finishing touches on the book. I finished all major edits, with Darling's sweet help identifying some spots where I needed to be more ... nice.

All the pictures are in place that I plan to add. I am, in fact, not including the British papers mentioned in my previous post. I am actively trying to keep the file size down for the book. The pictures view well on the Kindle (my test file) but you can't zoom in and see great detail on any of them. I'll need to post them closer to their original scan size and provide readers a link to them.

So all that is left is administrative stuff (the LCCN and ISBN) which entails spending a little money, getting a good cover design (a little more money) and the technical aspects of generating a very clean and crisp e-book version.

{UPDATE} After a bit of discussion with Darling and some more reading, we decided to take a shot at the cover ourselves. If we make any money on the book at all (statistically we probably won't), then I can reinvest in a better cover at any time. So here's what my preliminary (version 2) cover looks like:


I want to release it on Amazon as an e-book and also make arrangements for a print-on-demand version of the book. I also plan to make it available on other e-book platforms, but haven't worked through those details yet.

I also want to get the last book (Preparing for the Fiscal Cliff) published on Smashwords for free, since we didn't expect to make money on it in the first place and I can't set the price to free on Amazon. I read that Amazon will see the FREE price and change the setting without my assistance. That will work fine for me.

Then I can move on to my other books. I have a number in progress, of course (some for more than a decade) and one children's book that occurred to me the other day. I really want to take a shot at that one.

Before I do that, though, I'll have to revisit my smartphone apps and do some updates. I see a busy month ahead, even after The Frau Chronicles is finally published.

In the meantime, I scanned a bunch of pictures yesterday and found this one. I love this photo.

The Lad and His Cat

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Telegram to JFK

Darling's mother took her US citizenship seriously. She considered voting a right, a privilege and a duty. Among the many papers she left behind was a copy of a telegram she sent to Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960.

This will make it into The Frau Chronicles, near the final part of the bits about Young Hertha.

July 14, 1960
Senator John F. Kennedy
Washington, D.C.
Dear Senator: If you are man enough to take on the great responsibility for our nation, you should be big enough to make your own decisions without the Pope and fall on your knees to thank God for the honor placed upon you by your fellow Democrats and the favorite sons of our Nation. The Pope cannot help you, but God can. I am a friend of Lyndon Johnson and if you are elected in November I will support you - provided you don't ask for help from the Pope. Let me know right away where you expect to get your help. May God bless you and I hope you will make the right decision.

During all the years living with Frau I had no idea she thought so ... poorly ... of the Pope.