Thursday, September 26, 2013

What's that "thing" over there?

Some of you may have noticed that strange object in the upper lefthand quadrant of my webpage. You know, the thing that says "NaNoWriMo Word Count" and has a big old empty white bar underneath with the words "0/50000 words 0% done" under it.

What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? Well, funny you did, because I happen to have an answer for you.

It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's a 'competition' among writers to complete a 50,000 plus word first draft of a novel in one month; the month of November. I put the word competition in quotes because I mean it in the loosest sense of the word. In reality, it's more of a goal since all you really win is a virtual pat on the back from the event organizers and the other authors competing in the trenches with you if you surpass the benchmark.

I've known about this thing for two years now, but this will be my first year competing in it. The reason is that I've always found the number daunting: 50,000 words in one month? And not just any month. But November? You know...the one with a big old holiday at the end of it and typically vacation travel plans weaved in as well? Yeah, that one. The thought of bringing together 50,000 words into some sort of coherent mass is certainly an undertaking not to take lightly. Hence my reservations in previous years.

When you break it down to a daily word count, though, it seems less of an impossibility. It works out to somewhere on the order of 1667 words per day. Definitely doable. If you take out Thanksgiving. And vacation travel. And sleep. Maybe a couple meals per day too. And, oh yes, editing too. Yes, no editing allowed. The general rule of thumb is to puke your guts onto the keyboard and don't look back until December has rolled around on the day planner.

Since the world I've written in thus far has been the real world, and a historical one at that, it has required a great deal of research to bring those stories to life. But I won't have time for such research during NaNoWriMo, so I've come up with a plan...

I'm swapping genres.

That's right. The real world's a bitch to keep up with, but if I write in an artificial reality there's less real reality to keep up with. This is gonna be fun! I'm actually getting giddy as a type this. I've had an idea for a science fiction piece for a long time. And I mean a LOOOOOONNNNNGGGGG time. It came to me when I was a kid watching old Twilight Zone episodes with my Dad back in North Carolina. For now, I won't explain any further, but suffice to say the idea's had plenty of time to ferment and I think I'm ready to bottle this batch of brew up and see what it tastes like.

So, come November expect to see that Word Counter come to life. And if it doesn't then I also expect to see my email box flooded with vitriolic scorn meant to spur me into action, lest I fail in achieving my goal.

YOU, lady and gentleman, are here to keep me accountable to the cause. My goal, my mission in November is to turn that white bar blue.

Wish me luck, and in keeping with the sci-fi theme, if you are strong in it, would you do me a solid and say: "Mike, may the Force be with you!"

[P.S.: If you're interested in competing also, check out the link to NaNoWriMo here.]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Technophiles, Luddites and the Art of Shaving

I've always been nostalgic for the "old ways" of doing things. I still remember going to a grey-haired country barber out in the sticks of North Carolina and remaining frozen in his chair as he took a straight razor to my ten year old head with the precision of an Edward Scissorhands that had yet to be invented. "The old way," he'd called it, dismissing his younger protege toiling away with scissors in the seat beside us with a smirk.

I suppose that's why I still enjoy going to the farmer's market once a week, even when the grocery store is five miles closer and open 24/7. It's why I still prefer grilling over a campfire or a charcoal grill, even though my gas grill works just fine. It's why the bulk of my kitchen is trimmed out in cast iron and stoneware, vice teflon coated hardware.

And, unfortunately, it's why I thought teaching myself to shave with a straight razor might be fun. My brother, a premier barber back in North Carolina, got a kick out of it when I broke the news to him. "You did what?" he blasted over the phone. Even he would never attempt such a feat on himself, he told me, and he uses straight razors on his customers everyday. (You can see the result of my first straight razor shave in the photo below. I will say that it was an extremely close shave.)*

I didn't shave for a week after this debacle.

Believe it or not, I still use this on an occasional basis, though it's no longer the staple of my shaving routine that I once was considering it to be.

Just as I've had my fascination with the past, I've also always had a fascination with technology. The only difference, though, is that I've often hesitated about adopting new forms of it. When I was younger, much of that hesitation came from simply not being able to afford it. As I got older, it became more of a conscious decision to avoid certain forms of it either for privacy reasons or security concerns. I dodged cell phones for as long as I could until one was forced on me by the Navy when I went into the anti-terrorism and force protection field and they made it a requirement. Even then, it was just a flip phone. No Blackberry for me, thank you very much (does anybody still use those?). Before that, the 'worst' I had it was getting leashed to a pager when on SAR duty in the Pacific. I was grateful when I left the AT/FP world, because it meant I could give up what I'd come to consider an electronic leash. But upon my reentry into the States, my newly acquired wife assigned me a cell phone, despite my protestations. (I later learned this to be a preemptive form of domestication.)

It was just a standard flip phone, a Nokia if remember it right. My wife's phone by comparison, a Palm Pre, might have been a piece of technology shot back through time via a worm hole from the Star Trek tri-coder days of the 23rd century so far as I was concerned. She urged me to go that route too. "The wave of the future," she told me. "Look, I can get on the internet!" But, no, I resisted, and so I held on to my little flip phone right up through writing my first real attempt at a novel. By real, I mean one that I not only started, but finished.**

And here we come yet again to my reference to this completed novel that, had you read some previous entry to my blog you would realize, has mysteriously remained hidden from the public's view. Why? I certainly think it's well written for a first novel. I think it's a good story even, though as soon as the international political scene changes in Asia it may become less relevant. What keeps me from publishing the damn thing, then?

My spies use things like palm tablets in a world that has evolved to smart phones and i-YouNameIts. In short, to today's readers the people in my book would look completely inept by their choices in technology. The worst spies in the world. I've contemplated just tossing it (not literally), and chalking it up as a great learning experience. To sit down and write a full 100,000+ word novel to completion? Freaking amazing! I've thought about just publishing it here, in chunks as I go back an edit it, just for fun's sake. Just to say it's out there.

And then there's the other option. I could actually publish it. What I'd need though is a good editor who can pare it all down for me, removing all the self-indulgent writing -- a trap we authors often fall into -- and shore up the stuff worthy of the reading public's attention removing all the bad grammar and typos I inevitably missed. Someone who could make it a tighter story. Sure, I could do it. But it'd be like killing my first born, if I'd had one. Or, more realistically, like chopping a couple body parts off my newborn. "Hey there, cutie. Oh, you're so cute, aren't you?"

Then, WHAM! Screams. Tears. Howls of anguish, as my newborn loses an arm, then a leg to the ax of my inner editor. No, I don't think I'm heartless enough. Not for my first. The rest, yes. I can and have done this. But not her. She's precious.

I don't know. What do you think?

(Sorry for all the FOOTNOTES):
[*FYI, I've since downgraded from using a straight razor to using an old school safety razor. It still keeps me away from the new styled razors with their moisturizing strips and plastic. It also gives me a very close shave, and in the long-term costs less to use and is better for the environment. I'd highly recommend them, and leave straight razors for those flatter portions of your face and for days when you have a solid 30 minutes to knock out a shave.]

[**This is a tale as old as the first novel ever written, I am sure. Every author I've talked to or read interviews of has at one time or another talked about their multiple great starts to novels that quickly turned into extended short stories with no endings. I'll add my tale to this legacy in another blog post later.]

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting caught in one of these would really "suck"

The Earth has once again proven that it has mysteries we've yet to discover. Recent research has just proven the existence of one of those things that until now only existed in theory, random third person accounts and, of course, in the world of fiction: "black hole whirlpools" -- a.k.a. the very elusive maelstrom!

How cool is that?

Rex Features - Two mysterious 'black hole' whirlpools have been spotted in the South Atlantic ocean (Rex Features)
Check out the story on Yahoo News here.

Dazzling feat of choreography and skill

We see things on television and the web everyday. Stuff that had we been witness to in real life would probably have brought us to our feet in applause, or to our knees in anguish. But because we are constantly bombarded with these amazing things at all hours of every day we tend to get jaded, and give them just a passing nod or shrug.

Every so often, though, something still comes along that'll knock your socks off. I never thought marching drummers would do that for me, but I found myself applauding my computer screen when they were done. Freaking amazing!

Take a look...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Mysterious World of Search Engine Optimization

I probably don't spend the time on this internet contraption that I should, given it's my primary marketing tool. But every now and then I do poke my head around the curtain to look at the behind-the-scenes portion of this blog. There you'll find all kinds of interesting data, most of it more interesting than useful.

Usually when you pull up the "Stats" tab on your blog's dashboard, Google Analytics defaults to a "what's happened in the last week" overview. So, if you haven't taken a look here in more than a week and don't care to expand the reach of the summary, then you tend to miss data points. From a social media marketing perspective, this is probably--no, definitely--bad business practice. Not knowing what sites are referring back to my blog, what URLs, and so forth makes it harder to sort and shape the content I put up here to bring traffic to the blog.

But, hey. I'm doing okay, right? I've got you three.

But if one day I want more than three people and the good automated folks over at vampirestat (don't go there unless you want viruses on your computer) checking in here, then I should pay attention to the "Stats" tab on a more regular basis.

It was in that vein of thinking then that I said the hell with it and changed my summary period from one week to all time. Now, I'm not one to get giggly over numbers, but my vanity finally peeked its head. I've lived in a blogger world where my page view numbers have crept along steadily, though only in small increments. But in the 'all time' summary, my graphs and numbers challenge those of Vince Flynn, John Le Carre, Stephen King and probably even CNN's homepage for what they get in five minutes of traffic. For the briefest of moments I felt like a celebrity.

And then I scrolled down to the Search Keywords listing. This is where you find information on what key words people used in various search engines that led them to your site. At first glance, they looked as I would expect.

"thejmparkhangout"   "book cover missionary position"    "catchy titles with innuendo"

And then I saw this entry: "blog peepee"


So, someone got to my blog by looking for blogs about peepee? Or with the word peepee in them? I knew at once which blog post to attribute this to. One from my early days on the JM Park Hangout talking about something in my book, The Missionary Position. The question that came to mind, however, was "Is this something I want? Do I want people looking for pee-pee to come to my blog?"

The answer, of course, is HELL YEAH, I DO! Hey, if someone gets here, I don't care how it happened. That's one more set of eyeballs on my site, and potentially one more reader for my book. I'm not proud. I'll take what I can get.

I think that's a fine place to finish up this posting.

So, on that note, I'd like to throw up a couple other random words in the bodily excretions category for the search engines out there to look at: pee-pee, poo-poo, puke, vomit, spit, Dirty Sanchez (okay, admittedly not a...well it kind of is a bodily excrement), booger, the runs, sweat, weird bowel movements, hemorrhoids (it's close), and, last but not least, corn poop.

Who knows what alternative minds I might bring to my readership!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Star Trek, for reals!

Although I'm sure I get more visits by spam bots than I do real people, I continue to post for the sake of getting my voice out there, but also for those few of you who do come around for an occasional visit. As such, it behooves me to make sure I don't do you a disservice by wasting your time. Of course, if you're spending your time here, then wasting your time is probably exactly what you're looking to do.

Well, today lady and gentleman (not a typo), I bring you a momentous occasion in history. The first space craft built by man has exited our solar system. Now, this isn't to say it's the first manmade thing to leave us. Our dissipating radio signals have been doing it for many decades now, sending unfortunate representations of life on earth to our potential galactic neighbors. Can you imagine the first ambassadors of humans to our Milky Way brethren being the likes of Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges and The Honeymooners? Okay, maybe that's not so bad as some of the other stuff that's escaped our Earthly atmosphere into the cosmos...images of war, famine and Hitler's televised rants come to mind. As does the movie Explorers, which took a comical look at all this.

But I'm getting off track. We're here to talk about an actual thing, built by man that has for the first time entered into interstellar space. How cool is that?

Lady and gent, I present to you Voyager 1, a vessel that has gone and keeps on going where no man has gone before.

Image from Trainers City.

Yeah, that's not it. But it looks much cooler than Voyager 1, which is basically a flying radio antenna with a camera and an 8-track tape deck inside.

Monday, September 9, 2013

CreativeLive for the next 2 days!

Taking some time off writing to do a little edu-ma-cation with Tim Grahl on Tim's a marketing guy heavy on the tech-side of the game. Some very good info for fledgling authors and established guys alike.

Loving the Creative Live interface. If you watch it live, it's free, or you can subscribe for a fee and watch anytime. I'm cheap, so I play the live/free game.

Today and tomorrow's seminar? "Sell Your First 1000 Books" - marketing for authors.

Just log on to page, grab your coffee, your lunch and sit back and take notes.

FYI, they do seminars on photography, business, video & film and several other stuff I might need to delve into.

Take care, folks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mediatwits #93: How Authors Are Becoming Entrepreneurs (Like It or Not)

This is a fairly interesting and informative discussion on the rise of the self-publishing industry. If you're an author, or one day wish to be one, I think this is a video worth your next 38 minutes.