11. March 2013 · Comments Off on Dream Home · Categories: Ain't That America?, Local, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs

Period log and stone farmhouse at Becker Vinyards

Period log and stone farmhouse at Becker Vinyards

Old Officer Quarters - Ft. Martin Scott

Now and again, I dream of what I would like for my very own bespoke retirement property … only that it wouldn’t be retirement, actually; I’ll be working until the day that the medical examiner’s van carts me away. Being retired just means that you do the work you want to do, not the work you have to do … but I would like to have a place done up to my own specifications. To start with – the land itself; an acre would do, maybe an acre and a half. I’d like a slightly rolling property, oriented towards the west to catch the sunset.. I’d like the land to be scattered with a few oak trees – craggy, with gnarled branches, but I’m not particular about what kind. Just oaks; post oaks, live oaks, red oaks, all for the shade, and to hang a wooden swing from a thick branch that parallels the ground. I don’t need a spectacular view, but I would like it to be mostly of countryside: perhaps a glimpse of a distant creek or river.

Victorian Greenhouse
I’d want a good-sized vegetable and herb garden; expanded from what I have now. Raised beds would be ideal; filled with good soil and the proper nutrients. A good-sized kitchen garden would have to be surrounded with a stout wire fence. It is exasperating to have a good crop of tomatoes or squash coming in, only to discover that hungry rodents and deer – those enormous rats with hooves and antlers – have helped themselves. I’d have a good variety of kitchen herbs hanging from baskets. Herbs seem to do incredibly well in coconut-fiber lined baskets; this year I have one with a thyme plant spilling over the side and hanging halfway to the ground. Perhaps my garden and dream-house plan would include an arbor of unpeeled cedar poles, from which to hang the baskets of herbs. I’d have to have a place to shelter tender plants during those cold winter snaps when it gets down to or below freezing. Plants that scrape through a cold snap in San Antonio would not do as well during the winter in the Hills … so I likely I would need a permanent small greenhouse.View - Rooster Springs

In addition to the existing trees, I would also plant more; at least a couple of almond verbenas, which start as shrubs and with any encouragement at all turn into medium-sized ornamentals. They aren’t much to look at, but the clusters of tiny flowers have the most amazing sweet almond smell. I’d also have some redbud trees for the look, and a couple of bearing fruit trees. My choice would fall on peaches, plums, and a good pecan tree. The trees would bridge the gap between the practical vegetable garden, and my dream ornamental garden; heavily tilted towards native and native-adapted plants which look after themselves. There would be roses, though – the hardy varieties which would be picked out more for their scent than their appearance. There would also be shrubs to attract birds, butterflies and bees, and a tangle of jasmine somewhere, which would bring their scent in through the windows on those spring days before the summer heat sets in.

And that leads to the house; and that is where I go off, into the the non-standard. I wouldn’t want a single big house, but an eccentric collection of cottages, set in the landscape described. I would like a little house for myself, and two or three others, one for my daughter, and another one or two which would serve as guest quarters when I had company, just enough set apart that we all would have privacy. I’d love to have a well, with one of those old windmill pumps, to bring the water to an above-ground concrete or wooden cistern on legs … just as I have seen on some old properties around the Hill Country.
As for the little houses on the property … I would prefer Craftsman-style bungalows or small Texas farmhouses, maybe even a one or two of them might be repurposed log cabins. The cabins would be the kind with a main room and a loft bedroom over, a kitchen lean-to on the back and a deep porch across the front. One or two of those would suit just fine, but even just a couple of those kit houses from Home Depot would work well, assuming that I could adorn them with vintage architectural surplus.

The final element would be a separate entertainment kitchen – just one large room set up to do brewing and cheese-making, an industrial-sized stove and a deep sink, and outside of it, another deep porch with a barbeque grill and enough space to throw a good party. I’d have an area nearby this all paved in brick or stone; and where the main garden ornament would be. That would be a fountain; a good-sized tall stone one, rather like the ones that adorn the private courtyards in the old houses I used to see in Spain, with a wide enough ledge to sit on surrounding the lower pool. And when I had a party, the guests could enjoy the sound of trickling water, the scent of almond verbena, and look at the late afternoon sun setting in the distance. I love what I have seen in the Sisterdale area; the hills, the creeks, the view to the west, with rolling hills. Ah – I might dream. It is my profession, of sorts; that dreaming thing.

(Crossposted at my book blog)

25. February 2013 · Comments Off on Wait, Were the Oscars on Last Night? · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Media Matters Not, sarcasm, That's Entertainment!, Veteran's Affairs

Well, damn … so they were. They were written up in the media this morning, which was nice, I suppose. I skimmed the list of winners and noted that I had not gone to see any of them at all. This has been happening more and more often, of late. Curiously, those movies are being released on DVD almost as soon as they have premiered, so that ones’ chances of actually catching them in a theater are, shall we say, diminished. The only movie that we actually made an effort to go see was “The Hobbit” and we went all out to see it at the local Alamo Drafthouse, where we could get dinner and a drink in the theater along with the movie. If going to the theater to see a movie is the expense that it has become these days, might as well go all out. Getting back to the Oscars, I also skimmed the pics of the various personalities arriving, and didn’t see any outrageous get-ups, not like Bjorks’ infamous swan dress. The only big tizzy is that Michelle Obama appeared via remote feed to help present the best picture award. Sigh. There, too, oh Lord? Like Chicken Man, she’s everywhere, she’s everywhere! Just another reason not to watch self-reverential award shows for an increasingly incestuous industry. I might also get away with throwing in the observation that the old canard about Washington being show business for ugly people is in danger of being invalidated…

Sigh … where was I? Oh, yes, Hollywood and showbiz in general, and the fact that most of Hollywood’s shining stars seem perfectly willing to jump into bed, metaphorically speaking, with the Obama Administration. The thought of being a repeat guest at the White House must be a tempting prospect to the many Hollywood A-listers, and those who only dream of it … but still, there is a large chunk of the country who is not absolutely enamored of Barry O and M’Shell. I count myself among them, naturally – and I am given to wonder, if the Hollywood elite who are inclined to worship at the shrine of Obama won’t eventually pay a price for it, in popularity with the general public. I do know that my own household is maintaining an ever-growing list of personalities whose movies and shows we will no longer patronize, precisely because of this unfortunate tendency. As the cost of producing mainstream movies goes up, and as the general public picks and chooses more carefully, won’t this eventually begin to bite? Something to think about, anyway.

I was a teenager when the Manson murders went down, in the autumn of 1969 – of course, the cruel and inexplicable murder of a movie star and several of her friends made all the headlines, and had lots of law-abiding citizens looking over their shoulders and being very careful about locking the doors and windows of their homes at night. It wasn’t until some time later that the associated murders of an elderly retired couple also hit the headlines of the LA Times, and other national newspapers. A blood-drenched, hippy cult with a weirdly charismatic leader had committed those murders in order – so they claimed – to trigger a devastating racial war, which they termed ‘helter-skelter’ from a Beatles song moderately popular at the time. Well, it was the late 1960ies; after assassinations, race riots and anti-war protests, ordinary citizens were pretty shell-shocked. A lot of extremely deranged people held equally deranged beliefs back then, and continued to do so for a good few years – cults and communes like Jim Jones’ Peoples’ Temple, for instance. My parents often resignedly repeated the truism about the US having been tilted at a steep angle, and all the unmoored nutcases, nonconformists and grifters sliding west and ending up in California. Having both been born there, and with recollections of how it used to be, they would grumble about how they wished such people would slide the hell back to where they came from, and stop embarrassing hard-working and relatively conservative citizens of the Golden State.

Helter-skelter didn’t happen – well, not then, anyway. Reading this week about Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD cop and former Navy reserve officer, with a chip on his shoulder the size of an an aircraft carrier and a string of revenge murders on his slate … now, I could see helter-skelter happening now, forty years later. A lot of things have happened over in Los Angeles, not many of them for the better. One of them is that the LAPD are nowhere near as respected now as they were formerly. It might very well be that they were no more or less competent or corrupt then than they are now, but it is the public perception of them now that sets the bitter tone. Corruption scandals like the slow train-wreck of Rampart division, the beating of Rodney King, the perception of racism among police officers which allowed OJ Simpson’s legal team to plead for acquittal on those grounds … all of those incidents and accidents have blotted the LAPD’s reputation in the eyes of ordinary citizens of all races.

So, is Christopher Dorner a good and moral man driven mad by the system, or a race-card pulling manipulator with a very hot temper? Big boastful talker or a cold and calculating planner of a campaign of murder? The various stories in the news about the matter have it both ways and every gradation in between. One can take away anything that one wishes to see in his posted manifesto; in any case, the man has gone Rambo, and gone to ground, leaving at least fifty families under police protection, and three people – who looked nothing at all like him, but merely had the misfortune to be driving pickup trucks with a likeness to his vehicle – injured by panicky LAPD officers opening fire. Where is he now? Lost and dying of exposure in the woods at Big Bear, or blending into the background in a comfortable hide-out in Compton. Heading into Canada, or into Mexico, or just laying low until the row dies down? When and if he emerges again, and encounters the LAPD – or any other law enforcement body – the chances of it ending quietly with an uncontested arrest are pretty small. And should it end quietly or not – what are the chances of riots breaking out, regardless?

(crossposted at chicagoboyz.net)

11. February 2013 · Comments Off on War in Color · Categories: General, History, Veteran's Affairs, War

This brought on by a series of color pictures of women working in factories in WWII.

(Through Chicagoboyz.net, who also found the link to the Carbon Leaf song.)

14. January 2013 · Comments Off on Monday Miscellany – Mid-January Version · Categories: Domestic, Health and Wellness, Military, Politics, Rant, Veteran's Affairs

Another one of those interesting weeks, where I have been so busy and the headlines so full of various incidents which I might comment upon … that I am actually so spoiled for choice that I can’t make up my mind on which to deal with first.
Like – Jodie Foster coming out as gay. Ok, I am sure there are some cloistered religious under a vow of silence somewhere up a mountain to whom that comes as a surprise. And possibly a few others who might even care.
According to this story, the troops won’t get paid, and the whole US economy will go crash if the GOP doesn’t go along quietly and raise the debt ceiling. Sigh. Always with the ‘gonna close the Washington Monument!’ threat, if the budget for the Park Service is cut. Sigh. That ploy has got a longer beard on it than a seventy-year old Grateful Dead fan. Like President Kardashian gives a rip about the troops anyway, except when he needs his a** hauled to Hawaii on AF-1, or a nice uniformed dial-a-crowd for a photo op and doesn’t want to risk any booing or thrown rotten vegetables.

Sigh – on the the personal stuff; I finally had to make an appointment about the bronchial cough that had me sounding like I was hacking up portions of lung on a regular basis. Brooke Army Medical Center, where I have chosen to be seen since my retirement – on the basis of making it easier not to have to go round and round with a civilian medical provider – has expanded exponentially in the last three or four years. Much of the pocket of land just off IH-35 which once had just the main three-part brick tower, a circular apron of parking lot around and a good few acres of crusty mown meadow, is now entirely filled in with a huge annex, other support buildings and a multi-tier parking garage. I was not looking forward to threading my way through the newly-complicated maze, but now BAMC outpatients will seen on an appointment basis in a lavish new clinic building on Fort Sam itself. I think back on the troop clinic at Yongsan – sick call for the troops in a ratty old Korean-war era barrack building, where pretty much everyone under the rank of E-6 had to come to mass sick-call four times a week and be brutally treated like malingerers by the staff when they did so – and I smile. The cough seems to be better, by the way, under the onslaught of several different prescriptions. The doctor was a sweetie, by the way. Retired AF medico; also unhesitatingly put me on something for high blood pressure. Apparently, that is to be my chronic complaint for the remainder of life.

I am working on stuff for two different book clients and an editing job – so for a basically unemployed person, I am pretty darned busy. And that’s my week – yours?

You know, I am purely surprised that the CNN television studio didn’t completely implode when Alex Jones guested on Piers Morgan Tonight. Two competing champions of paranoid idiocy meeting in the same space-time continuum must have been something like the collision of matter and anti-matter. In a just universe, there should have been nothing left but smoking rubble and a small pool of molten glass. I suppose to Mr. Morgan, Alex Jones represents the typical conservative 2nd Amendment fan … just as the Westburo Baptist freaks are typical Christian fundamentalists, instead of being a clan of legal shakedown artists.
Ah well – I haven’t watched CNN in years, and the presence of an ignorant blowhard with a British accent is certainly not a good reason to reverse the habit. Good lord, didn’t we have enough condescending pseudo-intellectuals of our own that we had to go importing them from Britain. As a matter of fact, my required daily ration of condescending British twits is now adequately filled for the nonce, now that Downton Abbey is back for another season.

So, it looks like Senator Chuck Hagel is being put forward as prospective Secretary of Defense. Well, an improvement on John Kerry, anyway. (Pause for a brief and appropriate one liner; So John Kerry walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “Why the long face?” Thank you, I’m here all week. Try the veal and don’t forget to tip your waitperson…) So … any bets on the national Republican Party lasting past the next year … or even the next mid-term elections? Should they cave on defending the 2nd Amendment as they have so far appeared to cave on everything else, than I would guess ‘no.’ I actually did get a fundraising call, long in about August 2012 from some fund-raising functionary pleading for donations to the national GOP. The poor woman’s ears are likely still ringing, although I swear – cross my heart – that I didn’t use any bad language, and I was perfectly polite, when I told her that I certainly would NOT be sending in any such contribution to the national GOP, and that I would make any donation that I could directly to the campaigns of those Tea Party Constitutionalist-Fiscally Responsible-Free Market candidates who swam across my ken.

Which brings me around to the topic of the Tea Party, and how brutally efficient the establishment media has been in painting them – anent any actual concrete and verifiable evidence – as violent and racist fanatics. It’s been an education, seeing the Big Lie demonstrated and deployed in this 21st century … and do not think for a moment that I shall forget the names of those journalistic and media personalities who have most notoriously assisted in its perpetuation. No, I have a little list, and they will hardly be missed in my household.

On the cheerful side – as bad as the national situation seems to be getting, Blondie and I are doing OK, really. I have paid off a number of outstanding debts in the last year, and sales of books – digital and print are quite satisfactory, if not as yet up to Amanda Hocking standards. Sales seem to have begun being made in Germany, with the entry drug being the German edition of Book One: The Gathering. Hah! Once you read the first book, you have to come back for the second and third! Even if they are in English … Watercress Press has a number of new clients, I am shouldering a lot of the business aspects to it, being very well acquainted with the POD/indy author aspects of it all.

The occasional employer – the ranchland real estate specialist – had a couple of good sales, and so he can afford me to come to work for him. Well, as he had his skilled mechanic friend fix the GG’s most recent problem which rendered my car undriveable – I owe him some hours. Which, as he forgets how to do some of the most simple tasks, like printing up a sheet of mailing labels or attaching a PDF to an email, I am rapidly repaying, especially when he calls me frantically, asking me to sort it out, either over the phone or in person.

And that’s my January – so far. Yours?

Cynic that I am, I am deriving a great deal of amusement from some of the media-political-general public storms whipped up in the wake of the horribly tragic Newtown shootings, and the deaths of two firefighters in an ambush set by an ex-convict in upstate New York. As if the shootings weren’t horrible and tragic enough in themselves, we get to enjoy the reflexive Kabuki dance of ‘we must ban those horrid gun-things!’ being played out – especially since some of the very loudest voices in this chorus are politicians and celebrities who live with a very high degree of security at their workplaces and homes, and whose children attend rather well-protected schools. Such choruses appear to be completely oblivious to the fact that for many of the ordinary rest of us, poor and middle-class alike, the forces of law and order are not johnny-on-the-spot in the event of an attempted robbery, rape, break-in or home invasion. To rely on the oft-used cliché, when moments count, the police are minutes away. In the case of rural areas in the thinly-populated flyover states law enforcement aid and assistance might be closer to being hours away.
More »

I’m still fighting the remnants of the Cold From Hell (possibly complicated by an allergy to blowing cedar pollen which hits a lot of people around here) but at least I am starting to feel a little more in the Christmas spirit. Not much more, but at least I am enjoying the Christmas music on the radio, and just last Monday I was inspired to go ahead and sort out the last of the Christmas presents that I wanted to give to some people I am fond of. So, all that is sorted. Our Christmas dinner is sorted also. Blondie will be out doing deliveries for Edible Arrangements until the last minute, so practically everything to do with Christmas was done in the last day or so.

Which leaves me looking out at next year, and considering what I will do, and what I can do, as the fiscal cliff approaches; no matter how you slice it, 2013 is going to be a bumpy ride. So, in no particular order of importance, I am resolved to – More »

05. December 2012 · Comments Off on Wolverines · Categories: Ain't That America?, Tea Time, Veteran's Affairs, World

I don’t think I ever actually watched Red Dawn, the move – not the original, and probably not the remake, either. I haven’t been in the mood much for movie going lately, and I view remakes of successful old movies to be proof absolute that the creativity of mainstream Hollywood is a well pretty much run dry.

And the whole notion of Russia, China or North Korea having enough transport capability to bring over sufficient troops to overrun and overwhelm the continental United States is one which boggles my mind over into disbelief. Sure, Germany and Russia both did a fair amount of that military overrunning of adjacent nation in WWII, and Japan certainly managed to do all that and solve the transport issue well enough to do the same in Asia … but schlep a huge number of soldiers and necessary support the whole width of an ocean away, and then completely subdue a large portion of a continent? Nope, not with a block and tackle could I suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the popcorn.

And besides … as it turns out, maybe the dedicated socialists didn’t have to militarily invade at all. They’re already here, and plenty of them, ready to set aside the Constitution, to govern by decree and by thousands and thousands of dictates and rules touching upon everything from what kind of light bulbs we may buy, to what kind of healthcare we might have, what we pack in the kid’s school lunch and a thousand other matters large and small. And all of it decreed by the best and brightest for the very, very best of reasons and our own good, of course. Just call them the new Ruling Class. Some are political, some are academics or in business, or even entertainment – but all wish to cement their place at the apex of authority as quasi-aristocrats.

So what is a dedicated, small-government Constitutionalist to do but go Wolverine … but not by moving into the country and living out fantasies of the WWII-era resistance. No, the new Wolverinity is to stay in place and doggedly, sullenly resist. Resist by supporting small local businesses, independent authors, artists and fellow resistants. Use the power of the pocketbook as much as you can to starve the Ruling Class and it’s supporters. Ridicule and mock them, demonstrate your contempt – and never let a chance pass to remind certain of your fellow citizens (the ones who put Obama/Biden signs on their lawns) that the current administration is one that they voted for – especially when those unintended consequences begin turning up. Gas at $6 a gallon? You voted for that. Rolling brownouts in cities? Voted for that. Now you’re working part-time, or as an independent contractor because your employer can’t afford to implement Obamacare and remain solvent? Hey, you voted for that. As an old and wise NCO who was my mentor once observed, “Hey, sometimes you just got to let them fall on their sword.”

Go, Wolverines.

It looks really weird to me, this last Veteran’s Day weekend … not even a week after the election results came in. A couple of days after General Petreus put in his resignation as head of the CIA – conveniently for the American news cycle – on a Friday before a three-day weekend. So, kind of astonished over that – a mere several days before he was to testify about whatever was going on with regard to our quasi-official establishment in Benghazi on the 11th of September last. Of course, the second most astonishing aspect to me is that the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair secret, and the third most astonishing is that someone so politically wily as to be able to pin on four stars would still be stupidly reckless enough to engage on such a very public affair. What, were they doing the horizontal mambo in the middle of the parade ground at reveille at whatever base they were at in Afghanistan? Ok, never undervalue the comfort of situational friendships between persons of the opposite sex in a far country, double if in a war zone. Been there and … err, backed off from doing that, in the physical sense. But the friendship was enormously satisfactory; a way of getting through a hard tour in a distant and unforgivingly difficult place, and a lot of people there with us and who noted that we were a quasi-official couple also probably assumed that our relationship included an ongoing sexual aspect. Which it did not; part of the friendship involved an understanding between us that carrying it that far would inflict unacceptable damage on each other, emotionally and professionally. I thought the world of him, and he loved his family, back in the World; that’s the way that responsible and caring adults manage that kind of situation. It’s in the field, and it ends in the field.

But the way that the Petreus mess is expanding is enough to cause me to raise an eyebrow – and now it turns out that the second woman involved – is she the South Beach Mata Hari or what? – also had a good friend of the multi-star adorned command-rank level, as well as the somewhat dogged interest of the investigating FBI agent, who sent her a pic of him shirtless… dear god, people – this is not high school. Or at least, I assumed it was not. As it is, I could swear I watched a story line like this on General Hospital in the late 1970s, only with doctors, nurses and consultants, instead of commanders, reporters and socialites.

It is curious though – the sudden retirements, resignations, and reassignments of high-ranking and notable officers lately. It’s almost like there is something going on: earlier there was that kerfuffle about General Carter Ham being relieved of duty, with dark hints that it was because of events in Benghazi. On the bright side, though – since General Petreus was deeply involved in the events of 9/11/2012 in Benghazi, it just might be that there might be a little more interest in what happened there than has been displayed so far by our mighty mainstream press.
Or not.

23. October 2012 · Comments Off on After Math · Categories: Devil Dogs, Media Matters Not, Military, Politics, Rant, Veteran's Affairs, World

I own to being vaguely disappointed with our man Mittens’ performance in last night’s debate, as I had cherished fond hopes that Mitt Romney would mop the floor with the Obamster, and then clean up those little spills and smudges remaining with the hapless moderator, but then I am a writer and frustrated dramatist. I want the spectacular scene, dammit … but perhaps as other commenters have pointed out, Mittens was playing the long, cool game, and just letting the Obamster have enough rope to hang himself with. Lord knows, his crack about bayonets and horses, and about ships that have aircraft land on them and other ships that go below the surface of the ocean may have just finally and ultimately annoyed veterans and service members. As has been commented in other place, submarines are called boats … ships that go below the surface of the ocean are called ‘sunk’… anyway, my daughter very well recalls being issued a bayonet as a member of the Marine Corps. And milblogger Donald Sensing ran the historical numbers, comparing the present military and that of 1916 vis a vis bayonet possession. Oopsy – the US military does in fact have more bayonets now, than in 1916. As for horses … well, we probably do have fewer horses in inventory now than in 1916. Two out of three ain’t bad.

It’s a moot point as far as Blondie and I are concerned, as we went to vote at the early-voting polling place around midday on Monday, which was the first day of early voting in Texas. Any sort of malevolent October Surprise intended to depress voter turnout and Republican Party spirits on November 6th had better be uncorked real soon if it is to have any effect. The parking lot of the library was jammed, and the line to get into the room set up as the polling place wound halfway through the main library. It moved fast, though. The volunteers were on-point and very, very busy. It had been so, all morning long. Blondie said, “If it’s this way now, how bad is it going to be on Election Day?”

Two weeks today … fourteen more days. I would hate to be proved embarrassingly wrong about all this, especially if I were being paid big bucks to be a mainstream media prognosticator – but I am not. I will go far enough to venture that I do sense a turning of the tide, in favor of Romney/Ryan, and the Tea Party Libertarian/Conservatives generally. I don’t think I am being deluded by wishful thinking, or through being generally in a libertarian/conservative information bubble … or in Texas, which constitutes pretty much the same thing. In the whole of my neighborhood, there are only five or six Obama-Biden yard signs, another seven or eight signs for a Lloyd Doggett, a long-time Democrat Party senatorial candidate who apparently had to go district-shopping after being re-districted. Against that – twenty or more Romney-Ryan signs, and one or two more spotted every day. My gut-feeling is that Obama now has the stink of fear and desperation on him, now that he has a real-life record, rather than just soaring oratory and the slavish devotion of the mainstream media and the Hollywood establishment. There’s only so much that can be covered up, plastered over and excused when voters have their own experience to consult.

Really – who are you going to believe; Chris Matthews, and Eva Longoria, or the evidence of your lying eyes?

It’s been another one of those weeks, blog-fans … now, I do want you all (all both of you) to put your hands together and welcome back Radar, a contributor from away back, who has decided to get back into long-form blogging again. Yay, Radar! Welcome home!

As for the rest of it … well, welcome to interesting times. Now it is something like six weeks, give or take a handful of days until Election Day, and honestly, it cannot come too soon for me. Every week and every day there’s some new bit o’drama inflated by the lapdog mainstream media into something that spells Certain Doom for Romney/Ryan, and Glorious Victory for the Dear Leader. A sooper secrit recording of Romney talking to fundraisers and being bluntly honest that a certain percentage of potential voters probably wouldn’t vote for him and upset their entitlement applecart … oooh! Gaffe of the week, according to all the talking and editorial heads. That a good number of the conservative-libertarian blogger types taking note of all this would not have disagreed with this insight – although the exact percentage might be open for discussion – appears to be something that the usual media lapdogs have chosen to ignore. Also – that the tape was edited, and Jimmy Carter’s hapless grandson chose to do his bit for the Dems … jeese, doesn’t he have a real job to go to? Apparently many of these Millennial’s don’t. The Daughter Unit, better known as Blondie does – having several different jobs to go to, none of which offer health care benefits. Not a shock, considering that some of them are part-time, and for the rest, she is an independent contractor – and is qualified to go to the VA.

OK – back to election matters – wish I may, wish I might – know why Mittens Romney is the party of the clueless, disconnected rich, Thurston Howell-type … whereas, a candidate who has a fund-raising event at a venue owned by a fabulously wealthy rap music* entrepreneur and his performer wife featuring a tower made of $800 bottles of champagne and charging $40,000 a plate for the privilege is a defender of the downtrodden middle- and working-class. This is probably one of those mysteries, like that of Hollywood blockbusters which never turn a profit to pay off the hapless actors and writers who signed contracts for a percentage of the net profits.

But $800 bottles of champagne, all in gold – Talk about ghetto fabulous. I’ll shudder over the gross vulgarity of that and move on, while noting that if the stuff tastes any better than Crystal, I’ll be mildly surprised. And Blondie has sampled Crystal – through the offices of a date with a surfer dude she met in Ocean Beach, once upon a time. She tells me it didn’t taste any better than the $6 supermarket champagne that we buy for celebrating the New Year.

It does look as if the O-Man did, in his rounds of entertainment and talk shows, actually stumble into some real reporters, prepared to ask hard questions instead of the usually softly thrown Nerf ball. Just a hint, big guy – the local Hispanic community does care very much about what has been happening south of the US border for quite a while. Fast and Furious has managed to kill hundreds of Mexican citizens, many of them innocent bystanders to the drug gang wars. Meanwhile, the rest of us look at the Middle East going up in flames, and wonder if a brand-new Obama campaign motto and a logo featuring a re-imagining of the US flag with stripes bearing a curious resemblance to the dragging finger-marks made in blood on the doorway of the US consulate in Benghazi was all that good an idea. Your mileage may vary, however.

Let’s see … is Twitter a means for hapless celebrities to reveal themselves once and for all as utter morons and/or bigots? I guess so; the evidence is compiled at Twitchy. Alas, it looks like Bette Midler joins my steadily lengthening list of stars and personalities who have so pissed me off that I will never pay money for anything they are in. Bette, Bette, Bette … we do not, in fact, have a blasphemy law in this country. Citizens may not be arrested for saying things that embarrass the government or an established religion … and if they were, then Andres Serrano and the producer of The Book of Mormon would be in big, big trouble.

And that was my week – yours?

(* insert viciously skeptica quote marks around that word)

09. August 2012 · Comments Off on In the Post · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Local, Veteran's Affairs · Tags: ,

I’ve been thinking for a while – based on my own use of the service – that the good old US Post Office is something well past its best-if-used-by date. Oh, no – not that it should be done away with as a government service entirely. But I can contemplate delivery of the mail only two or three times a week with perfect equanimity … which is at least a little tragic for there were times when the daily arrival of the mail was a much-looked-forward-to thing. When I was overseas, or in a remote location – like Greenland (and in military outposts today I am certain) the arrival of the mail (three times a week) was anticipated with keen interest, since it was our lifeline to the outside world. There were letters from family, loved ones, magazines, catalogues and packages with goodies in them – sometimes gifts, sometimes items ordered … the whole world, crammed into a tiny box with a locking door in the central post office; the magical envelopes, the catalogues and magazines in a tight-packed roll, the little pink slips that meant a package … and then, between one or two decades, it all changed.

Now, the packages come mostly through UPS or Fed-Ex. The various utility bills arrive as emails and are paid on-line. My pension and my daughters’ VA disability are paid by automatic deposit to bank accounts. Magazines? I dropped a lot of my various subscriptions through lack of interest (I am looking at you, Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly) or through the magazines or the publications themselves going under. My news and intellectual-contact jones is fed on-line. Email works for just about everything else save for birthday cards to Luddites like my mother. My various businesses as a freelance are conducted thru Paypal, or through email with my business partner. I realize that not everyone has this kind of luxury – and in the case of the zombie apocalypse or some sort of solar event that crashes the internet I will be SO screwed … but then I am not advocating abolition of the post office. Just that in those metropolitan areas in the continental US that are well-served by internet services and by the various rival delivery services, the Postal Service can probably dial it back, quite a bit. Nothing much comes in the daily mail any more, save the print equivalent of the stuff that I empty out of my spam email box. Really – I am never going to respond to the Capitol One offers for a credit card, so do they need to have their weekly c**p underwritten with tax dollars? My way back into the house from the group mailbox leads past my trash and recycle cans; convenient, as that is where the bulk of it winds up.

I’ll shed a nostalgic tear for the USPS, when they cut back services. I really will – as there are (or were) the occasional business that would send a payment check by mail, instead of an automatic transfer. And the businesses which depend upon cheap bulk mail deliveries will be set back a peg or two. I do dispatch my own books when bought by readers through media mail, and the workers at the post offices where I do and have done business are wonderful, competent and cheerful people (Yeah, I know that is SO much against the usual stereotype) … but otherwise I fear that the USPS is a zombie corpse, being kept alive out of habit. To enable it to keep shambling around in those places where it does truly provide a neccessary service, I’d be willing to give up delivery service on Saturdays and at least two weekdays.

I’d also be able to avoid encountering my slightly-deranged and very chatty neighbor, who haunts the group mailbox; another win-win, as I count it.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net, and my book blog)

01. July 2012 · Comments Off on Monday Morning Miscellany · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, General Nonsense, Media Matters Not, Politics, Rant, Veteran's Affairs

OK, so it’s Sunday afternoon. I’m just planning ahead, ‘kay?
1. So the Supremes upheld Obamacare … well sort of. Is it a tax, or isn’t it? Dessert topping or floor-wax. All that I can tell from here is that the closer and closer it gets to being implemented, the more unpopular that the whole program seems to be becoming. Why, oh, why couldn’t the Obamster have just tweaked Medicare to cover those uninsured. What towering illusion of adequacy led him to devise what appears to be Britain’s National Health scheme writ large and applied willy-nilly to the US. Anyway, now he’s staked his political career – what’s left of it – on ramming it through, over objections.

2. Oh, and his reelection campaign is going big in Paris for the 4th ofJuly, which kicks off a campaign swing through Europe. Guess the Obama reelection campaign has squeezed enough out of Wall Street and Hollywood, so it’s on to greener pastures. Words fail, they really do. I’ll probably never watch George Clooney in anything, ever again. If Mittens has any sense at all, he’ll be at a traditional down-home American community 4th of July bash. I swear, the campaign ads practically write themselves.

3. Colorado burning … the pictures of the fires burning along the mountains, and the homes going up in flames give me the cold shivers, they really do. The Obamster did show up to console the good citizens of Colorado Springs though … Which is nice of him. Texas burned last year though, with nary a peep.

4. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes breaking up. I think there must be some order of contemplative religious in a monastery on an isolated mountaintop somewhere who did not see that coming.

5. I posted a sample chapter of the next book – The Quivera Trail, on my book blog, here. Check it out, if you’re interested.
And that’s my weekend. Yours?

Poor Mexico, runs the saying usually attributed to long-time Mexican strongman Porfirio Diaz, So far from God, so close to the United States. I was thinking of this, when we went to see the movie For Greater Glory – mostly because I had seen brief mention of it here and there on the libertarian-conservative side of the blogosphere, and the whole premise of it interested me, mostly because I had never heard of such a thing as the Cristero War. Never heard of it, and it happened in the lifetime of my grandparents, in the country right next door … and heck, in California we studied Mexico in the sixth grade. It appeared from casual conversation with the dozen or so people who caught the early matinee at a movie multiplex in San Antonio, only one of them had ever heard of it, either. Was there some cosmic cover-up, or did we have troubles enough of our own at the time … or was it just that Mexico was so constantly in turmoil that one more horrific civil struggle just blended seamlessly into the one before and the one after?
More »

25. May 2012 · Comments Off on Learning Curve · Categories: Ain't That America?, Good God, Politics, Veteran's Affairs · Tags: , ,

Like a number of other unpleasant experiences, a brush with a full-on, balls-to-the-wall sociopath can be a soul-scarring but life-educational experience. Generally, unless you are in a professional field such as the law, law enforcement or a working psychiatrist, you will – in the normal run of life, not run into them all that often. This is a good thing, generally – that they are rare. And a bad thing, because sheer disbelief freezes the normal, human reaction when they get heaved up to the top of one’s awareness. This is probably why they are able to do so much damage; they are as rare as man-eating sharks, and when they do pop up, the initial reaction is to think that … no, they couldn’t possibly have said/done/believed that. No normal, thinking, decent person could possibly … well, do what they do. It’s an experience so far outside ordinary experience that the first reaction is disbelief, and quite often the disbelief is prolonged because sociopaths often and at first glance (and even second) seem to be quite normal, reasonable and reality-based people.

The second quite human reaction when encountering one of these cold-blooded human sharks is fear, cold, stark fear, once you come to the realization that there are no limits to what the sociopath will say or do. Let me say that again: no limits. They will do or say anything, without remorse or second thoughts. They will tell any lie, use any person or tool they happen to have at hand, and then move on like a tornado, leaving the physical and emotional wreckage behind them. It’s frightening as hell – as I know from personal experience. It must be even more frightening for those bloggers who are now the target of a vengeful and malicious sociopath like Brett Kimberlin, one with an established track record of violence and sufficient friends in high places to enable harassment of blogger/reporters who have run afoul of him by spotlighting his criminal past.

I ran into a Kimberlinic personality once although at the time I didn’t know what she was. I described her as poisonous when I wrote about her years later. I still didn’t use her real name, although I have been retired from the Air Force since 1997, a matter of eight years after we were assigned together. I still would not want to have anything to do with her, especially after I looked up some of the identifying markers of a sociopath: Habitual liar? Check: she lied like she breathed, effortlessly. Egotistical to the point of narcissism? Check again – the whole world revolved around her. Scapegoating – whatever happens, it’s always somebody elses’ fault. Yep – check again. Remorselessly vindictive, when exposed or thwarted? OMG, check in spades. Everybody who ever had any kind of run-in with her, even administered the mildest reprimand – she would go nuclear in retaliation. I’m still a bit surprised though, that she didn’t ever think to accuse me of being a lesbian – in those days before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it would have been the ending of my military career for sure, even if I had been able to fight it. Manipulative, absolutely no empathy, and capable of violence? Well, definitely manipulative: that was one of her shticks; getting other people to do her dirty work. I’m still in two minds about the violence, although I wouldn’t have put it past her, if she were frustrated enough. I did have a point in writing about malignant, manipulative, cold-blooded sharks-in-human form today; the most obvious one was to participate in ‘Everybody Blog About Brett Kimberlin Day’ … which I did think long and hard about doing, just as I thought long and hard about doing a post about the Danish Motoons o’ Doom, a good few years ago. He is a vengeful, violent sociopath, and people are very right to fear such. But I do not believe it is wise or right to give in to fear.

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain!

(Later – here’s what you can do, should you feel moved – http://ace.mu.nu/archives/329575.php )

01. April 2012 · Comments Off on I Do Like Men · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Rant, Veteran's Affairs

Like them, appreciate them, adore them for their ability to wade in there and … fix stuff. I like them for all those qualities and more, although sometimes they exasperate me, and I have been exposed to slightly more than my statistical fair share of total male fahrk-quads. Twenty years in the military will do that to you. At best, it’s an 85% plus male-dominated profession, and one is guaranteed to observe them in their masculine glory and also at their absolute piggish worst. But on the whole, I like men when they shoulder responsibility, when they are stand-up great co-workers, when they are good in bed and fantastic with amusing children, when they come to your physical and emotional rescue – which they do – and when they give those perfectly thoughtful and slightly skewed gifts. From one long-time Significant Other, I got a birthday-Christmas present of two pallets of bricks. Yes, but it was what I really-oh-truly-oh-really wanted and I had said so. Dad once gave me a metal tool-box as a Christmas present, for pretty much the same reason. More »

09. March 2012 · Comments Off on You Know It When You See It · Categories: Fun and Games, Geekery, Media Matters Not, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine...

And here comes the next spectacular ruckus regarding indy-writers and the (relatively) non-elected, totally bureaucratic and ham-fisted powers of our universe. This one, for a marvel, does not involve Amazon.com, at whose door can be laid the last couple or three of these shindigs. This one involves Paypal, that pearl of great price … and fairly substantial fees on transactions although not to onerous as these things go, certainly better than pawn shops and payday check cashing establishments without a particle of the stigma and it usually makes up for the convenience of the transaction and who am I to object, actually? More »

27. February 2012 · Comments Off on Spring in the Garden · Categories: Domestic, Local, Veteran's Affairs

It’s nowhere near official, but it is pretty clear – Spring has Sprung, and it’s only the edge of February. By the books, the last freeze in this part of Texas is mid-March, but this year, we have already had one over-ninety degree day already. Well, it was only one day, and it was the tippy-topmost high for that day and I think that the high only held for about an hour and a half … but it still necessitated running the AC for half a day. Hold that thought in your mind for a moment. Air Conditioning. In late February. Fortunately, the next day, a cooler front blew in, and since then, the weather has been more or less back to something more or less resembling normal late-winter weather. Which is to say, highs in the seventies or so, lows in the fifties, with a ten degree deviation either way, enlivened by the occasional rainstorm; quite pleasant, as winters go, especially when the northern hemisphere is suffering under two or three feet of snow, and roads covered with black ice.

Anyway; because the weather has been so mild, we’ve been able to get started on spring planting. This year, it looked like early vegetable starts were everywhere, especially lettuce, mache, corn salad, mizuna – and early tomatoes. We had a couple of earth-boxes, lots of pots, and some topsy-turvy planters, so we bought some enormous bags of potting soil … and several trays of plants, and set about reviving my garden.
Among the empty pots was one of those strawberry planters, with the little pockets on the sides – which never quite work as advertised, as the soil leaks out before the plants grow roots enough to keep it all in place. This time, my daughter cut circles of thin coir with a slit in the middle to accommodate the plants – and not strawberries, but eight different varieties of mint. Mint is tough, invasive and grows like a weed, so what better way to keep it confined. Peppers and tomatoes went into the earth boxes and into the topsy-turvys, and the lettuces and greens went into ordinary pots, and everything looked very, very well … but that’s not all.
Last Thursday, we went out walking with the dogs, and saw that one of our neighbors was having their trees pruned back – in some cases, the limbs being pruned were pretty substantial. They were all piled up, waiting to be sent through the chipper – and so I asked the crew supervisor if they could drop off some of the mulch in our driveway once they were done working. He was agreeable, but warned – the mulch coming off the truck would mount up to at least two or three cubic yards. I said, cheerfully, that we could use every bit of it … and so we did.

That afternoon, they dropped off what amounted to a Matterhorn of mulch; good stuff, with hardly any twigs and green leaves in it. My daughter and I spent two mornings, scooping it into the wheelbarrow and trundling it hither and yon. We did have a dispute: I wanted it to go to the back garden first, as that is the part of it that we look at the most, but my daughter said that the front is what everybody else sees, and we didn’t want to be ‘those people’, did we? The neighbors whose house looks like it was just declared a disaster area? Well, no … We could have maybe used another cubic yard or two, but my daughter said flatly that her back couldn’t have stood another barrow-load. But the yard does look lovely now – and once again, something that I am proud to have people see.

29. January 2012 · Comments Off on Weekly Miscellany · Categories: General, Home Front, Media Matters Not, Politics, sarcasm, Veteran's Affairs

It’s been another one of those weeks, sportsfans; all kinds of odd things going on, some of them personal and some of them in the larger world. Kind of hard to see which of them are more important in the big scheme o’ things, and not many of them worth a full blog-post.

1. So King Barry I did his state of the union address this week. Meh … I didn’t watch, although we did catch a few seconds of it while channel-surfing. Just enough time to wonder why on earth he appeared to be such a garish orange color … seriously, he looked like a giant Cheeto with ears. I gather the speech was the same paint by the numbers blah-blah-blah. It must not have gone over all that well with the partisans, because I distinctly heard an announcer or a guest on a certain classical music program make a crack about it; something about a certain classical music performer getting more applause than the state of the union address.

2. Gingrich or Romney, Romney or Gingrich. I am underwhelmed. The sniping between the partisans is unseemly. My one wistful desire is that it were possible to take elements of all the candidates and mold them into one single candidate: Gingrich’s fire and take-no-prisoners attitude, Romney’s skill at organization, Santorum’s constancy to principle, Perry’s experience as a governor … but it isn’t, so I’ll just have to deal with the easy decision of who to vote for in November. Anybody but King Barry, of course, but I might give the Dread Cthulhu a look-in.

3. Working all week on an editing job; a novelette supposed to be a horror story, but in actuality it was what I call secondary guy-porn. Primary guy porn is what you think it is, secondary guy porn has lots of loving detail about weapons and vehicles in it. Secondary fem-porn has lots of loving detail about clothes and accessories. Hey, it’s a living. And it’s not the worst project I’ve ever edited.

4. The second edition of the separate books of the Adelsverein Trilogy has been uploaded to Lightning Source, the proofs are approved, and it should be listed on Amazon and the usual suspects by the end of the week – and at a price of a couple of bucks cheaper than the first edition. I’d always winced, looking at the retail price, and winced again, whenever I had to purchase a bulk quantity at my author discount from Booklocker. Here’s hoping that the Trilogy chugs along just as steadily as Truckee does – both e-book and print versions … and the German translation sells like hot-cakes.

5. Sigh. We found another lost dog. And no, we’re not keeping this one, as we did with Connor. German shepherdish, youngish, fairly clean and well-mannered, unneutered male, bouncing around in the empty field back of St. Helena’s. He followed along with us, all the way home; did not take well to having a leash put on him, so we deduce that he was never taken for walkies. Of course no tags. He’s already listed on fido-finder, and tomorrow we’ll go through the usual rounds. The other two dogs are freaked out by this. The Weevil has taken over Connor’s bed, wedged underneath my desk, and Conner has had to take the Weevil’s bed, which I moved over next to my chair.

And that’s been my week – yours?

27. January 2012 · Comments Off on No Ship Named For Murtha · Categories: Ain't That America?, Good God, In the Navy, Military, Veteran's Affairs, Wild Blue Yonder

It appears that a great number of veterans and relatives of veterans are increasingly incensed at the news that the late Senator Murtha may have a new Navy ship named for him. The late senator was famed for nearly being nailed in the Abscam scandal, lo these many decades ago, for sucking down absolutely mind-boggling quantities of political pork for his district, and last but not least, pre-judging the Marines charged in the so-called Haditha incident.

Those veterans and relatives feel so strongly about this gross insult to military honor that they have opened a website, and a means of communication their displeasure to the Secretary of the Navy.
This is the website –


Go, therefore, and do your duty, with regard to their petition. That is all.
(sorry, means of posting embedded links has gone the same way as the ability to post pictures.)

Ever since I finished the Adelsverein Trilogy, I’ve wanted to have a German language version out there.

I’ve had emails from fans asking about it, and talked with native German speakers who assured me that Karl May (the German equivalent of Zane Grey) has an enormous and devoted Old West fan-base. This in spite of the fact that he shuffled off the mortal coil in 1912, and only visited the US once: on that occasion, he only went as far west as Buffalo, New York – but in book-world, his characters of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand were in the thick of it.

In any event, movies, television and radio dramas and comic books based on Karl May’s version of the Wild West have continued to be madly popular in Germany ever since. I have made an arrangement with a freelance translator, Chicagoboyz fan and commenter Lukas R., who has provided a sample translation of a chapter. If you are fluent in German, take a look at it (here on my book blog) and tell me what you think. If it works out as I hope, the German-language version of Adelsverein: The Gathering would be available in about a year, as an e-book and print paperback edition.

(Crossposted at my writer’s blog and at Chicagoboyz.)

20. December 2011 · Comments Off on Miss Us? · Categories: Science!, Site News, Veteran's Affairs

Apparently, we were hijacked by some spam-originator, which resulted in trouble with the host for the Brief … and what with one thing and another, it took most of the weekend to get it straightened out.
As if having to empty out a ton of spam every couple of days, now they’ve added injury to insult. Anyway, we’re back for now, although I’ve had to assign new passwords for the remaining regular contributors.

(Addendum: 8:45 AM – on the advice of our service provider, I am having to approve all comments, to prevent the hacker from doing any more damage to our reputation. We really risk beging taken down permanently, if there are any more complaints about ncobrief.com generating spam, so I do this, apologizing in advance to all the regular commenters.)

06. December 2011 · Comments Off on A Bleg and a Business Proposal · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff, Local, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine...

I’ve long been kicking around the notion of a German translation of my books, especially the Adelsverein Trilogy – since that story has to do with German immigrants to the Texas frontier, and the Wild, Wild West as a concept is madly popular in Germany, and has been so for decades, if not centuries. Yeah, I know – weird concept, but it is true. I’ve fielded the occasional email from readers asking if there were such, as they have friends who don’t speak English but would just love-love-love to read the Trilogy in German. Early on, I had kind of hoped that I would get some interest from a German publishing house wanting to clean up from all those Karl May fans, but that hasn’t happened, not so far.
So, being advised by another newly-indy author, and a couple of friends, and my daughter (who had a great many caveats, seeing that she is not only my assistant but heir to the whole ongoing literary concern) I have decided to give up on any offers from German-language publishing concerns, and take command of the situation in a time- honored indy-author/free blogger way. Feh – like I had all that many offers for mainstream American publishers anyway …

Amazon has the ability to distribute their wares in Europe, and I am the junior partner in a boutique publishing firm with an LSI (Lightning Source International) with the ability to publish in any language that we specify – so publishing a German-language edition of my books would be a fairly simple matter: a separate ISBN, and another set of relatively small fees to upload.

That’s the easy part – the hard part is getting a German translator. I can’t afford to hire one directly. My checks for sales of my books, while adequate, are not yet into four figures. But sales for my books are a good and steady solid stream. I am mildly renowned locally and I do have a solid core of local fans, plus generally good reviews for my books. I figure that I am at the start of an arc of success, and that I can do on turning out another ripping good yarn every two years or so. Every book that I go on writing will bring in more fans; every reader who discovers a book of mine and instantly adores it will go to my back-list and buy all the rest. Such is my strategy, confirmed by the experience of a good few other indy authors … who have a nice augmentation to their regular day-job paycheck. Not enough that many of them can afford to quit their day jobs or start shopping for castles in the neighborhood of R.J. Rowling’s … but in this current economy, a regular income stream is a regular income stream, and to be valued accordingly. Given the focus of the Trilogy, the existing fan-base in Germany for Wild West adventures, I figure this venture would be a pretty solid … for anyone who wants to take a chance.

I am proposing to offer a significant percentage of ongoing sales of a German-language edition of the Adelsverein Trilogy to any qualified linguist prepared to take it on spec. Yeah, to do a lot of work in expectation of eventual royalties, which would sound a bit problematical – except that it’s what I have been doing with my books all this time since I published my first book, just like about every other author does, indy or mainstream pubbed. I gambled that my work on it would pay off eventually and over time. That gamble looks like it is beginning to pay off, so I am in a position to offer this to anyone with mad translating English-to-German skills.

I do have access through friends to means of judging abilities – and of setting up the legal matters … so, anyone out there who can translate from English to German, who wants to take a gamble on a steady income, and is prepared to do the same work I have done and take a long view … let me know.

(Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

23. November 2011 · Comments Off on Temporarily Lost My Cookies · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, General, Veteran's Affairs

Yep … Sgt Mom has had to upgrade to a totally new, just out of the box computer. My semi-sort-of-old one died, after becoming more and more unstable and noisy … plus, it was a Windows XP, which Joe computer guy has been telling me is not going to be supported any more, and that I would have to resign myself to a wholly-new machine … which is kind of an upgrade. My first computer was purchased back when I was in Korea, and cost a bomb, relatively speaking — but I nursed that puppy along for ten years before the hard drive failed utterly. This is when I met my computer genius good friend Dave, who performed the last rites, told me that it had lasted well beyond realistic expectations, and sold me a perfectly well-working rehabbed computer from his collection at a completely reasonable price, and taking the dead one in trade for any functioning parts on it. Several years after that I wound up with another rehab, which Dave had supplied to my then-employer and which I inherited when that employer closed the office. The last machine, and my flat-screen monitor came from Dave, also – his family gave them to me, along with just about all the office supplies I could carry home, as they had no need for them after Dave died. I always thought of them as his bequest, and was terribly grateful for them. I didn’t need to buy paper for nearly three years, or another computer until now.

Last night the old one simply locked up, and wouldn’t reload Windows. This afternoon, on the advice of Joe the computer guy, we opened it up and blew dust out of the innards, and on his advice — “It’s not all dead, it’s only mostly dead!” plugged it in and powered it up again, in an attempt to salvage the last of my documents and favorites. Big pop-flash-fizzle from the power unit … like the Wicked Witch of the West, I fear that it is now most sincerely, completely dead. Joe says he can pop in another power unit, and retrieve all the documents, which will be nice. I had backed up all the super-important-absolutely-key ones, and all of my picture files, but not some of the small things … which are the ones, which aggravatingly, I most miss.

So, I am reconstructing all my favorites lists, reloading software and printer drivers, and trying to sort out the mysteries of Windows-7, which is a pain … but on the other hand, it’s nice to be able to get into a document or a website instanter, and not have to wait about half an hour. No, I exaggerate, it was more like fifteen minutes, sometimes.

Yeah, this is one of the things that I am going to give thanks for, tomorrow. That Blondie’s laptop is mostly paid for, and I could afford to put this all on my AAFES Star-Card. Heck, the woman at the Randolph AB BX customer service said that I could have bought ten of them, what with the limit on a card that I only use for emergencies like this anyway.

20. November 2011 · Comments Off on The Indy Author Game · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine...

So, having been in the indy author game since . . . umm, when is it? Since 2004: my, how time does fly when you are having fun. I never had any ‘in’ with the monolith of the literary-industrial complex, no close friends or relations in the professional publishing game; never did a graduate level writing course of study, and I never did writer workshops. I did buy a couple of issues of Writer’s Digest, once upon a time, and made a good try at following their advice, pitching magazine articles and short stories . . . not entirely without result, just not results that made anyone sit up and pay attention. I have been paid often enough for my writing that I can, with a straight face, insist that I am a professional, but generally, the places that paid me were and are not exactly big league. So, when I took it in my head to write long-form fiction, I only took a year to go through the recommended motions of sending out query letters to agents, and submitting manuscripts or the portions thereof to the bare handful of publishers to even consider unagented submissions.

I was fortunate enough to have started off in blogging, which provided a body of readers, and me with practice in turning out a fetching phrase, and even more fortunate to have come around to wanting to do a long-form work in print when it became possible to publish a book in limited print runs through POD, or Print on Demand technology, and distribute/sell through online retailers like Amazon.com. The whole world of writing and publishing was pretty much rocked by those developments, and as much as the old-line publishing establishment will deny it, the cracks in the walls are visible and widening every day. The hows, whys and rationale of all this is enough for a whole ‘nother post, but what I wanted to do here is to distill some of the experience I have had over the since 2004, for the benefit of anyone thinking of doing a book (e- or print) as an indy writer. Holy cow, has it been nearly eight years? Guess it must have been. And I have done seven books in that time? Why, yes, I have.

1. Make your MS good, first off. Write it the best you can, invite other people to review and critique. Frame up the plot, polish the spelling and grammar; even put it away for a while and come back to it after a couple of months. Assure yourself that there is, indeed, a body of people who will want to pay money to read it. In one of Sharyn McCrumb’s books – Bimbos of the Death Sun, I think – one of her characters gave the greatest advice of all time for aspiring writers, to the effect that it’s a bit like taking up hooking: before you start charging money for it, best be sure that you’re pretty good.

2. Get an editor, preferably one strictly trained up in something like the Chicago Manual of Style, and hyper-vigilant, consistent – anal retentive, even – about punctuation and grammar. Hire one, do an exchange of work, call in favors; have someone else do this. It’s axiomatic that you cannot edit yourself. Of course, even with the most exacting editor, there will be some errors. It’s just going to happen, but you want to make the smallest number of them possible.

3. Graphic artist for the cover: again, hire, swap, beg, plead, whatever you have to do – a professional looking, and eye-ball attracting cover is absolutely essential. And it must also look good in thumbnail sized.

4. Formatting – that is, the design of the inside of the book. There a number of templates floating around, and some nice software programs that will give a good result if you do this yourself for a basic all-text interior. Remember, margins should be generous, top and bottom of the pages should likewise be generous also: I have seen some POD published books that were practically unreadable, as the formatter/publisher tried to save money in print costs by squeezing the margins until they were practically non-existent. Readers are accustomed to certain conventions in reading a book. Take account of the font size (10,11,12 pt is usual) and the leading – the space between the lines. Remember also running heads, and page numbers.

5. Setting the cost of your book: there are a couple of variables to consider, one of them being that the per-unit cost of a POD book will always be slightly more than the same format and size book printed by a traditional litho press. A traditional lithographic press print run will be in hundreds, thousands, or millions even, which will bring the individual per-copy costs down. The usual POD print run will be in the tens, or perhaps hundreds. So, for example, a single copy of a 6x 9 paperback POD book will cost . . . let’s say, $3.50 to print and ship to you. Now, in setting the end retail price, you could sell straight to the public for $5.00 and make $1.50 in profit per copy – but if you want to have your book available in a big box retail store like Barnes & Noble, you will also need to consider pricing to allow for a distributor’s discount of %55 off the end-retail price and your own profit. (And your publisher’s profit margin, if you have worked through one of the POD houses. Setting up as your own publisher is another whole blogpost.) Given a page count of 300-350 pages, a 6×9 paperback will retail in the neighborhood of $15.00. Of that, $8.25 will be discounted, then subtract the print costs per-unit, leaving $3.25 in profit. This is way simplified, of course – but you can see that writers like me really like selling directly to the public. On the other hand, the big-box places might make it profitable by dealing in volume, selling more efficiently. Lots of variables, and preferences to sort out.

6. Reviews: getting them is another consideration. Paying for them is probably not a good practice. Count on a long lead-time to submit reviews to various print and online organs who will have an interest in your book: that is, send out review copies six months ahead of your planned official release date. Realize that sending out review copies is at your expense and know that there is only a 25 percent return: that is, only one in four review copies sent out will result in a review. The old timers tell me this has always been the case. Review outlets are usually swamped with submissions, by the way. Target them carefully, as many of them will not consider POD/Indy published books anyway.

7. Have a plan, from the very beginning – of who the audience is for your book, where they might be found, and what you are going to do to get your book in front of them. This is a plain way to say ‘marketing.’ Like most things to do with publishing, it can be done cheaply or expensively. At a minimum, work up, or have worked up for you, things like flyers, business cards, post cards, and a website. When people ask you casually about what you do, tell them you are a writer, and if they seem interested, tell them a little about your book. Always have business cards with the name of your book and the ISBN, and your website to hand out to those who are really interested.

8. You will have to market the book, regardless if you are an indy or a traditional-published writer. It helps to be good at public speaking, or at least, be comfortable in front of a camera or behind a microphone. Anyplace there are people who want to know about your book, do whatever you can to get yourself in front of them.

9. Finally: save receipts, and keep records of your expenses – a lot of these can be considered business expenses, when it comes time to doing the income tax return.

Any Questions? There will be a quiz next week . . . and there are some interesting discussion threads on this topic here, and here.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

(For your enjoyment – a selected chapter from Deep in the Heart – the soon-to-be-released sequel to Daughter of Texas. Advance orders for autographed copies are being taken now, through my website catalog page, here. and for the print second edition of To Truckee’s Trail. Purchased copies will be mailed out by November 15th. My books now are being published through Watercress Press, rather than Booklocker, so I am working very hard to get them switched over, and to have mybacklist available in print editions once more. For now, it’s only the Complete Trilogy, and Daughter of Texas, so any purchases directly from me will help!)

Chapter 19 – The Last of the Lone Star

In the morning, Margaret rose at the usual hour, when the sky had just begun to pale in the east, and it was yet too early for the rooster to begin setting up a ruckus in the chicken pen. She had a house full of guests, even though most of them had not spent the night. One of the last things that Hetty had done before retiring for the night was to have Mose move the dining table back into the room where it normally resided, and return all the household chairs to their usual places. Margaret viewed the now-empty hall with a sigh, for the temporary glory that it had housed on the previous day – now, to see to breakfast for those guests who had remained. That breakfast should be every bit as good as the supper on Christmas night – for Margaret would not allow any diminution of her hospitality. She tied on her kitchen apron and walked into the kitchen, where she halted just inside the door, arrested by the expressions on the faces of the three within. Hetty bristled with unspoken irritation, even as she paused in rolling out the dough for the first batch of breakfast biscuits, Mose – who stood by the stove with an empty metal hot-water canister in each of his huge hands – had a nervous and apprehensive expression on his dark and usually uncommunicative face. Carl sat at the end of the kitchen table, interrupted in the act of wolfing down a plate of bacon, sausage and hash made from the leftovers of last night’s feast. He looked nearly as nervous as Mose, and his expression – especially as Margaret appeared in the doorway – appeared to be as guilty as a small child caught in the midst of some awful mischief, mischief for which he was certain to be punished.
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