Thursday, September 04, 2014

A very proper proposal: boycott Fox News — and not just them

The only kind of fox thinking people should pay attention to.
Photo Red Fox #3 by Rylee Islit Photography. Used under Creative Commons licence.

Last week, the satirical site The Daily Currant ran a story saying conservative ranter Ann Coulter recommended that the US government purposely infect refugee children who arrive at the border with ebola.

It was a satire, sure, but it was shocking partly because it seems only a little more extreme, stupid and disgusting than the things Ann Coulter has already said. Like “…college campuses serve as sort of internment camp for useless leftists in wartime. We know where they are, this way. And, as General Patton said, 'I love it when they come out and shoot at me because then I know where they are and I can shoot the bastards.’” (Source:

Coulter never advocated (at least publicly) deliberately infecting people with Ebola, just shooting them.

The far-right crew spouting regularly on the Fox network and similar outlets has a habit of making comments and suggestions that collapse under the weight of their own stupidity, let alone a single fact.

Sean Hannity: “Here you are, you're a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.” October 2009 (Source:

Bill O’Reilly: “Asians aren’t liberals because they’re industrious and hard-working”—2013 (Source:

Fox doesn't have a monopoly on stupid lies, of course. 

Rush Limbaugh: “So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” March 1, 2012, saying that a woman who wants health insurance to cover contraception is a prostitute.

Sarah Palin: "Why are you even worried about fast food wages?"—on her own Internet TV channel.

Fox Noise—What does the Fox say?

In short, Fox News and their ilk of right-wing US commentators are not a viable source of information or analysis for anyone who likes to think to decide how to feel about the world.

They are great fodder for comedy, but that raises a problem: does commenting on them, even making fun of them, raise their profile even more? Give them credence?

The uproar that Rush Limbaugh causes every time he makes an especially horrible comment feeds his ego and his career, proving to advertisers that he can draw an audience. And encourages him to say even worse things.

Very proper foxies

“Very Proper Charlies” was a novella by Dean Ing, published in 1978 about journalists thwarting terrorism by refusing to report it. Terrorism in the 1970s seemed almost innocuous compared to today: it usually involved hijacking a plane and threatening to kill passengers one by one until their demands were met, as opposed to the mass killings of the 21st century.

In the story, journalists theorized that if the goal of terrorism is to attract media attention to a cause, then the solution would be to ignore it. The logic was “if we didn’t report it, the terrorists would have no reason to spread terror.”

Journalists around the world stopped reporting any terrorist attacks. In the story, when the terrorists realized their antics were no longer effective, they gave it up.
I don’t think this a realistic approach to solving terrorism. But it may be a useful approach to silencing the verbal bullies. Let them talk; just don’t listen. Tune out.

They’re all on various commercial media and dependent on advertising. If thinking people stop reacting, and more importantly, stop listening and watching them, their sponsors will notice, eventually, that the audience is declining and stop paying them. And finally, they’ll be silent.

So this is my proposal: to counter the hate-filled and false prophets such as those I’ve listed, but not limited to them, let’s boycott them. Thinking people everywhere, ignore the Coulters, Limbaughs and their ilk in all languages. Don’t tune in to Fox News, read the newspapers or visit the websites of those who use lies and made-up bullshit to mislead people.

This strategy may take a very long time to have an impact. It may not work at all. But it’s an experiment I’d like thinking people to try.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Inspiration from the natural world

The Canadian Shield. Trees down to the water's edge.
I've made it back from the wilderness!
A typical "Canadian sunset" picture. 

Actually, I've been back for three days now, and it wasn't that wild. While the Mattawa is significant as part of the original "river highway" of Canada, used by the fur traders as part of the route from Montreal to the Great Lakes, today it's paralleled by a highway, dammed and is home to many summer cottages.
A rapids on a small stream as it enters the Mattawa.

Still, it's an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 
The Stepping Stones reach about halfway across the river as it leaves Trout Lake. 

I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Into the near(ly) wild

As this post goes live, I'm on the highway toward North Bay, Ontario, to begin a canoe trip down the Mattawa River. It's going to include some white water, a few short portages and more white water, all in the great Canadian wilderness.

Actually, it's not all that wild. There are provincial campsites all along the stretch of river, the route is marked and mapped, the portages are long established and marked, and there is human habitation, even towns, along the way. We'll even be within cell phone range for most, if not all of the trip.

The pictures here are from that trip with Super Nicolas and the Rovers. They'll give you an idea of the kind of territory I'll be going through, and maybe inspire you, too.

Talk to you next week.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rules, shmules

Photo by: Scott Kleinberg, Creative Commons
Writers are always teaching me, whether they know it or not. I’ve been editing and beta-reading manuscripts for a number of people this summer, and their words make me re-evaluate some ideas I held firmly for some time. And I keep coming to the same dilemma: at what point does trimming text and adhering to the current stylistic conventions begin to trample legitimate expressions of writing style?

Every writer has heard of Elmore’ Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Good Writing.” You can Google them easily enough.

And it seems to me that the “rules” thrown around by those who claim to be publishing professionals and insiders are often contradictory. For instance, real professional authors don’t use adverbs much, if at all. I once heard an author in a radio interview claim proudly (there’s another adverb, damnit!) that he only had three or four adverbs in his whole book.

Then there’s the dilemma over dialog. “Never use a word other than ‘said’ to describe dialog,” advised Mr. Leonard. Also, never modify “said” with an adverb.

Meanwhile, I read some time ago that a large number of grade-school teachers across the US encouraged their pupils never to use “said” in their compositions. They could use “exclaimed,” “asked,” “replied,” “retorted” or anything else that made sense, but not “said.”

In providing a beta-read for a good friend’s new manuscript, I couldn’t bring myself to follow either rule. Now, there were times that I thought “said” was the right word, and I suggested that to my best-selling friend. But sometimes, as a writer, you want to describe how someone spoke. So you need either a stronger verb—which breaks Mr. Leonard’s Rule #3, or you need to describe with an adverb, which breaks rule number 4, or longer description, which breaks rule number 9 (“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things”).

Probably Leonard’s most famous rule is “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose.’” Usually, it’s good advice. If something happens suddenly, then you can usually find a stronger verb to describe it.
He came in suddenly.He burst into the room.And you never need to write “it burst suddenly.” A burst is a sudden thing.
But sometimes, “suddenly” is the right word. Here’s an example from my first book, The Bones of the Earth:
[Photius’] staff was glowing white, and [Javor] suddenly understood it had been the source of the white flashes.
I suppose I could have written it differently, but this phrase most efficiently conveys the meaning to the reader—that the character understood a cause-and-effect relationship in an instant, after a period when he did not. I could have written “the glowing stick made him realize in an instant….” But that would have taken more words.

In praise of the cliché

In my own writing, I try to avoid clichés (like the plague, right). For a new client, I explained that removing or replacing clichés was part of my standard level of service, and she stopped me immediately (damn, another adverb). Clichés are part of her style. They’re part of the way she speaks and she wants her little expressions in her written work, too.

 Speartoons, Inc. is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
That made me think about clichés, and alter my opinion. Really, they’re a form of jargon. Words can have more than one meaning, and any phrase, sentence or longer writing works on several levels. It conveys the literal message, as well as memories and associations. That’s how advertising works—by associating a word, a message or an image, or a combination of them, with positive feelings. “Buy this stuff and you’ll be happy.”

We can think of clichés as our modern social jargon. Jargon does more than convey a specific meaning within a narrow group: it identifies the speaker or writer as someone in the know, part of the club. Current slang and clichés serve the same purpose. They tell the audience that the user is up to date, part of the in crowd. Using last year’s slang is also dangerous—it tells the audience you’re out of date.

In fact, using a cliché well may be the most efficient way to achieve your communications goal: to get a particular reaction from your audience.

And the way people use quotation marks in writing, or air quotes when the say a well-used phrase, is akin to a bibliographic entry. Quotation marks essentially mean that the words they contain are not the writer’s original work, but someone else’s. The writer or speaker who uses them is giving credit, or at least, admitting they’re using another person’s expression.

Maybe there is room in the professional, credible publishing world for description, for using clichés and words other than “said.” If we all follow the same style conventions, isn’t all writing going to seem the same? Isn’t diversity what we want?

Have I blown my credibility out of the water by daring to support that pariah of the writing world, the cliché? By arguing against Elmore Leonard?

“That’s just the way I roll,” I thought suddenly.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A lovely award

Every time this blog gets one of these spontaneous, friendly “awards,” I’m surprised and delighted. It still makes me happy not only that people read Written Words, but like it enough to give it some public recognition.

Thank you, Rosalind Burgess and Patricia Obermeier Neurman of the Roz and Patty Write blog for nominating Written Words for the One Lovely Blog Award.
Roz and Patty are co-authors of the Val Kit Mystery series, which includes The Disappearance of Mavis Woodstock, The Murder of Susan Reed, Death in Door Country and LethalProperty. Follow the links and check them out.

The One Lovely Blog Award is one of those award chains. Now that I have gladly linked back to the writers who nominated me, it’s my turn to nominate some of my favourite blogs.

But first, I have to share seven things about me. Here goes:
  • I like my coffee black, and after all these years, I’m still searching for the ideal ratio of coffee grounds to water.
  • I am enjoying this cool summer. It makes it so much easier to ride my bike to work when the air isn’t hot and muggy. On the other hand, it’s been windy most days, and for some reason, the wind always seems to be blowing exactly from the direction I need to go.
  • I have more ideas for stories and books than I believe I will ever have time to write down, even in rough form.
  • I once tried starting my own religion, but it’s really hard to rally fanatical followers with the phrase, “Think for yourselves, you self-deluded fools!”
  • I used to do book paste-ups using waxed galleys. I also used actual glue to do rough paste-ups of a magazine I used to work for.
  • I hate pomegranates. Just hate ’em.
  • I love the prairies, and wish I had more time to visit them.

Now it’s time for me to nominate the blogs I think are lovely. Remember, nominees: in accepting this award (you have no choice), you must follow through by acknowledging your nominator (me), confessing seven facts about yourself, and nominating 15 “or so” other bloggers. And you have to let them, and me, know about all this!

It probably won’t surprise you that most of my favourite blogs are about writing and writers. Here you go:
  • BestSelling Reads—a collective of authors whose books regularly hit the best-seller lists—not because of a huge marketing push, but because they know how to appeal to an audience.
  • Rachel in the OC—the blog of Rachel Thompson, bestselling author and one of the driving forces behind BestSelling Reads. There always something to get out of this blog.
  • Van Brown’s Journal—Van is one of my first fans, an actor, writer, funny guy and all round good person. I haven’t found I disagree with him, yet. Except maybe about motorcycles.
  • Seb Kirby’s New words for new times—Seb is an excellent, best-selling writer, author of the Take No More series of thrillers as well as the sci-fi book Double Bind (which evokes my favourite old-time science fiction author, Philip K. Dick).
  • WriteHook by my brother from another mother and father, Scott Morgan—one of the best writing stylists I have ever found.
  • Cinta Garcia de la Rosa’s many blogs, like Indie Authors You Want to Read, I Can’t Stop Reading and Cinta’s Corner. I don’t know how she manages to produce so much every day.
  • Guild of Dreams—a collective of independent fantasy authors who always produce something worth reading.
  • Rob on Writing—the blog of my friend and bestselling author in his own right (grrr…), Rob Guthrie.
  • Because Life is a Reallly Good Story—the website and blog of writer, designer and photographer David C. Cassidy, author of Velvet Rain, Fosgate’s Game and the upcoming The Dark, and designer of some terrific book covers (including two of mine).
  • Author Unplugged— Frederick Lee Brooke’s blog about writing and life.
  • Ms. Cheevious—the blog of “Ms. Cheevious,” Lisa Jey Davis, Hollywood publicist, author, health speaker and personality. Yah, I know I’m not the target audience for this blog, but it’s fun to read and educational, too.
  • The Thoughts and Opinions of a Writer on the Rise—Bruce Blake is one of the most original fantasy authors out there, and someone like me who doesn’t seem to want to be constrained to one genre. I just wish I could be as successful as him!
  • Indie Universe—Gary Henry is an excellent writer, and he’s a proponent of indie authors, to boot!

These blogs are all more than worth your time, so click on the links and spend a few minutes every day.
Creative Commons

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where do you stand when the boundaries blur?

The boundaries between the different types of publishing just keep getting more blurred and more porous.

Amazon and Hachette’s dispute has reached a new plateau, with the respective CEOs writing mass emails to explain their respective positions over book discounting. Amazon is also in a dispute with Time Warner, and has blocked pre-orders of some Disney movies.

About three weeks ago, Amazon spurred news attention yet again with rumours that it’s in negotiations with another Big Five publisher, Simon + Schuster. Some speculated that it may lead to Amazon purchasing this publisher from its current corporate parent, CBS.

In addition to the publishing operations that Amazon already has, this would make Amazon one of the biggest publishers as well as the biggest book retailer.

Is this really new, though? Remember the Doubleday Bookstores, which were the most prestigious in the US until they were bought by Barnes & Noble in 1990.

Major corporations straddle boundaries

One of the raisons d’être for the commercial publisher is to provide those essential selection, editorial, design and manufacturing services that ensure audiences get quality books. Self-publishing, according to this argument, just cannot measure up to the professional standard of major publishers. I’ve ripped this argument apart a number of times already, so suffice to say now that it’s not backed up empirically.

But several major publishers have invested millions and more in self-publishing platforms. Penguin launched Book Country in 2011 and then bought Author Solutions a year later. Simon & Schuster has Archway Publishing, a vanity publisher. And they’re not the only ones.

So, now we have vanity publishers owned by major commercial publishers, in an embarrassing and disingenuous pissing match with the biggest retailer, which also owns the most successful self-publishing platform.

Neither side in this argument is being open

It’s kind of hard to understand just why Amazon is going to such lengths in this dispute. After all, they make a lot of money reselling publishers’ products. Why should they care what price the publisher sets? But remember that Amazon also sells a particular brand of e-book reader. Lower prices for e-book versions of the world’s favourite, bestselling titles will encourage Kindle sales.

The dispute between Amazon and Hachette or Time-Warner is over how much of the money readers pay they get to keep. The author isn’t part of the dispute, even though both sides like to repeat how important the author is to them.

“Brick and mortar” bookstores are another trope in the sympathy pleas of both sides. “Amazon is putting brick-and-mortar, physical bookstores out of business.” It’s hard to argue against that, particularly following the loss of Borders and uncounted independent booksellers.

As for the independent booksellers, though, they’re getting squeezed not only by the Internet, but also by the growth of big-box corporate bookstore chains. And if it weren’t Amazon, it would be some other company that uses the efficiency of the Internet to grab market share.

Amazon, for its part, does what it says it will do, and efficiently. Whenever I have ordered anything from Amazon, it’s arrived in a breathtakingly short time.

In this light, I have a hard time finding sympathy for big publishers, multinational corporations that are self-appointed gatekeepers of the written word.

What if we change the question

What if we shift our focus from the publisher and bookseller to the author? What if the authors, the people who put most of the work into producing a book, got the greatest part of the proceeds? What if publishers and printers and retailers were only incidental to the value chain?

It would be an ideal world. But I’m not hopeful it will arrive.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rules that are written and those that are real

Highway speed limits were the topic on the call-in radio show a few days ago in my home town. The show asked, since people routinely drive 20 kilometres an hour (at about 75 miles an hour for American readers) above the posted speed limit, maybe the province should just raise the posted speed limit to 120 km/h.

It's an interesting debate. On one hand, the law would acknowledge what people, drivers as well as police, are actually doing, anyway; on the other, raising the speed limit may encourage people to drive even faster.

Would someone who exceeds the speed limit—breaks the law, in other words—persist in unlawful behavior and drive 140 kilometres an hour?

The debate illustrates the difference between what people say and what they do, and between the stated laws and the rules that people really obey. John Irving explored this idea in his novel The Cider House Rules. Much of it is set on an orchard farm, whose owners post rules for the pickers who stay during the season in the “cider house.” Rules like "Please don't go up on the roof if you've been drinking—especially at night."

Of course, all the orchard pickers went up on the roof at night, with beer, because it was cooler.

The pickers disobeyed nearly all the written rules, but they obeyed very firm rules. Mr. Rose, the head picker, made the real rules that governed the cider house, rules that were clear and understood, if unwritten.

I think John Irving got it right: the real rules are unstated but clear.

We can see this phenomenon playing out all around us. The written rules say "no bullying tolerated," but bullies always have ruled every playground.

Writ large, we see this in eastern Ukraine today. The United Nations' rules proclaim the sovereignty of states, yet Russia supports its proxies in prosecuting a rebellion. Then official Russian government sources deny this, in writing, and decry Ukraine's use of force.

The written rules tell us not to commit adultery; in former centuries, the penalties were fierce. Yet there was probably as much sex unauthorized by religion or society going on in previous centuries as there is today.

Why the conflict?

The phrase "put it in writing" supposedly means that written communications is more credible, more reliable, more likely to be true. “Unwritten rules” is a cliché in itself. But the unwritten rules are more accurate.

The written rules tell us what we should do.

To me, the bigger question is not why we don’t follow the written rules, but rather, why we feel compelled to write down rules that go against what we normally do.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Do we need a new category?

Photo by jsorbieus via Flickr Creative Commons.
Last month, I wrote in this blog that I did not consider my books to be self-published because I did not do the work myself. In fact, a number of talented, creative and generous people made critical contributions to the development of all my books, as
  •           pre-publication readers (“beta readers”)
  •           editors
  •           proofreaders
  •           a cover designer
  •           marketing consultants.

I have said before, in this blog and elsewhere, that commercial publishers, big or small, hold no monopoly on quality books, electronic or print. Authors have more than one skill, and by collaborating, they can help each other publish books that meet or exceed the standards of Little, Brown, MacMillan or Knopf.

Exceeding their marketing and distribution might is another story, of course.

To me, a better term than “self-published author” is “independent author,” because I am independent of the control of any publishing company. No one tells me what to write, what to include, or what kind of cover to have.

But as readers of this blog will know, blogger, author and teacher Joshua Isard wrote that the term “independent publisher” is already taken. (I won’t quibble that I didn’t call myself an independent publisher, but rather an independent author. Oops, I guess I just did.)

The publishing landscape is changing fast.

Author and blogger Anne R. Allen wrote in her blog about the blurring lines between traditional, commercial and self-publishing. Not only is Amazon becoming a publisher, but the Big 5 have been adding self-publishing services as well as buying vanity presses—companies that charge authors (often thousands of dollars) to help them format, print and produce e-books.
(I will give you some free advice if you want some, or you can read this blog regularly).

As Anne concludes, the lines have always been blurry and they’re not getting any clearer.

But maybe “independent publisher” is the wrong term, simply because it doesn’t describe an idea clearly. Maybe we do need another term.

How about “collaborative publishing,” or “cooperative publishing”? Do either of those work better?

What do you think?

Friday, July 18, 2014

My print adventures

Publishing a printed book is much less forgiving than producing an e-book. I have known that since I started working with electronic publishing, lo many years ago. But I really felt it with the production of my third book, Army of Worn Soles.

I have printed books before, and I thought getting a print version of my third would be a piece of cake. And it was—until I made my own life my difficult by making the books itself more complex and using photographs within. No, it’s not hard to do, but getting the results you want means you have to follow some pretty strict guidelines. 

Here are some of the lessons that I had to re-learn.

Use them when you prepare your own books for printing through CreateSpace, Lightning Source or any other printing service.

Word perspective

There are some things about document design and layout that I knew about even before I started writing. 
  • Use proper opening and closing quotation marks, not straight quotes/inch marks. 
  • Use real, curvy apostrophes, not inch marks instead of apostrophes.
  • Double-check to make sure you’re using a real open quote ‘ instead of apostrophe ’. Most modern word processors like Microsoft Word and Pages automatically format these for you. If you’re not getting quotation marks at the beginning of the quote that point in the opposite direction from the marks at the end, go to your Preferences or Options menu and select “smart quotes.”
  • Use the Ruler in your word processor, or the Styles menu, to indent the first line of paragraphs.   —but remember not to indent the first paragraph after any heading or subheading. Don’t double-space paragraphs unless you’re writing a business guide or something similar. Definitely do not double-space paragraphs in fiction.
  • Learn the differences between hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes. 
    • Use the hyphen to join compound words, like “north-west.” 
    • En dashes are twice as long as hyphens. Use them to indicate a range in numbers, like “August 3–4.” You’ll enter it by typing Ctrl-hyphen or, on a Mac, Option-hyphen. 
    • An em-dash is twice as wide as the en-dash. Use it to break a sentence to indicate a new idea or a brief break in the logical flow—like this. Enter it with Shif-Alt-Hyphen, or on a Mac, Shift-Option-Hyphen. Decide whether you want to have spaces on either side of your em-dashes — like this — or not—like this—and use them consistently.

Come up to the page

When I got my first job at a subsidiary of one of the Big Five publishing companies, I learned to think about book layout in terms of the two-page spread. When readers look at a book, usually they see a left, or verso page, next to a right, or recto. In the West, where we read left to right, we tend to start with a right-hand page, so the left is the back, or verso, of the right-hand page.

Left hand pages have even numbers, right pages have odd numbers, because we start page 1 on the right-hand side, then turn it over. Word allows “mirroring margins,” so that you have opposite left and right margins, and a different setting for the “gutter.”
Image courtesy Knite Writes

Depending on whom you talk to, the outside margin—left on the verso (left) page, right on the recto—should be either wider or narrower than when laying out pages that are to be printed on one side only.

Createspace asks for a wider gutter—right margin on the left page, opposite on the other side— because of the perfect binding—the flat, glued spine of the book. With a thick, perfect-bound book, text too close to the spine is harder to read. Createspace offers a Word template that has a suggested width for left, right and gutter margins.

Headers and footers

With opposite pages, you can have opposite formats for headers and footers.
The first thing to realize here is that the first page of every document and every chapter has a different format. In Word, choose “Different first page” from the Layout menu. In Apple’s Pages, select Setup—Section—“Hide (Headers and footers) on first page of section.”

The second thing to remember is that left and right pages necessarily have opposite treatments of page numbering.

Traditionally, when it comes to fiction, publishers have not done much about this. Looking at some old books I have, I notice that typically, the verso page has the author’s name, while the recto bears the title of the book. Page numbers are centred on the bottom, or the footer.

With textbooks, on the other hand, the page number (folio, in publishing jargon) is on the outside corner —that is, on the far left of the header or footer of the left-hand/verso page, and on the far right of the recto. 

Personally, I think it’s much better. Think about how you use a book. Pick up a print book, the one closest to you right now. Turn to page 96. How do you do that? You hold the book’s spine in one hand, and use the opposite thumb to flip through the pages. How much more difficult it will be to find page 96 if the folio were in the gutter, instead of on the outside? 

Sometimes for very long books or anthologies, one header may have the name of the author of that chapter, while the other page has the title of the whole anthology, or sometimes the theme of the current section.

For example, my 1999 edition of Lord of the Rings, three-volume set has the book title (eg. The Fellowship of the Ring) on the left/verso, and the chapter title, eg. “A Short Cut to Mushrooms,” on the right/recto. The page numbers are on the outside corners of the header, and the footers are blank.

The textbooks that I worked on had a much more complex treatment. Headers or footers would show the part and chapter titles, along with the page number, in the outside corner.

It’s important to put the folio in the outside corner. 

How to accomplish this

In Word or Pages, you can change the header and footer from one page to the next this way:
  • Go to the Header and Footer or Page Layout menu and select “different first page.” 
  • Inserting a Section Break at the end of each chapter and deselect the “Continue from previous” button in the Header/Footer menu.
This gives you four areas to put four different kinds of information:
  • book title
  • part title
  • chapter title
  • author.
When I was writing my first novel, I sent a preliminary draft to a beta reader who had pretensions to being a publisher. I thought I would send something that would imitate a professionally printed book, as far as possible with the technology and my experience at the time, so I did those very things:
  • set up facing pages
  • put the folios (page numbers) on the outside corners
  • put the name of the series of the book (The Dark Age) on the left (verso) footer
  • put the name of the book (The Bones of the Earth) on the recto footer
  • put the part title (Part 1, Initiation Rites; Part 2: Tests; Part 3: The Mission) on the left header
  • put the chapter title in the right header.

The beta reader went ballistic on this. “What are you doing! A publisher just wants to see the page numbers in the header or the footer. This is way too fancy.” But why? It’s information that adds to the experience for the reader. If you don’t want to see it, don’t look—in fact, when we read a book, this fades into the background.

While Word makes this pretty straightforward, Apple’s Pages word processing program has no facing pages option, so this is very frustrating.

Take care with photographs

The photo of the author (me) in the print version of my first two books didn’t turn out so well. They looked great in the e-book, but muddy in physical form. 
Turns out I made a rookie mistake, one I should have known better than to commit. I have worked for years in print, after all, and I remember telling other people to do this very thing: don’t print .jpg-format images.

If you have a photograph or any other image to print, you have to make sure that you’re sending the printer a file that will print well. Make sure you do at least these things:
  • In your photo editor program, change the colour space to either Grayscale for black-and-white, or CMYK if you’re printing in colour.
  • Set the resolution to at least 300 dpi. More isn’t really necessary, but less will look terrible.
  • Save the image as a .TIFF or .EPS format file.
  • Import the high-resolution .TIFF file into your word processor or page layout program.
  • If you have to send the printer a PDF, make sure your resolution and colour space match the printer’s requirements. Make sure that the page layout program’s resolution for images is also set to at least 300 dpi, CMYK.

Lightning Source requires a PDF (Acrobat) format file. Here are some other settings to check before you upload your file:

  • Page size—the default for your .pdf output is probably 8 ½ by 11 inches. This will not produce a book. Change the page dimensions, margins, bleed and trim settings to Lightning Source’s (or whichever printer you’re using) specifications.
  • Page orientation—again, check whether the output will give you the results you expect. Test it on your own printer first.
  • Fonts—if you’re using a special font, you will have to embed them in the .pdf. You can do this with the Printer settings.
Producing your printed cover is even more complex by a factor of magnitude. I’ll cover that in a future post.

For now, for those working on formatting their print books, this is just a place to start. But following these tips will get you past the initial errors that a lot of people make.

Tell me about your experiences in print.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I can't stop writing

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I don't appear to have an "off" switch. I do have a "distract" switch, a "sex" switch and others, but somehow, I don't seem to be able to stop writing.

Right now, I'm sitting on the back patio of a fancy restaurant in Ottawa, waiting for my wife to arrive. I've ridden my bicycle here from work, about 10 kilometres or so; she's coming in from home, about another 14 kilometres, by car. I hope she's brought the SUV, so I can put my bike into the back. Sure, I can ride that distance—I do it regularly, and the restaurant is on my regular path from work to home. But I don't look forward, somehow, to the prospect of carrying this meal plus a couple of glasses of wine back. 

But here I am, on a fancy patio shaded by beautiful leafy trees, sipping a Heineken while I wait for my lovely wife to arrive. I couldn't help myself. I had to take out my iPad and start writing a blog post.

It's a strange compulsion, but I suppose it accounts for my career. I have been writing something as long as I can remember: bits of stories, beginnings of novels, poems, essays. I was a journalist for over 20 years, and in the past four years I have finally managed to complete and publish three novels.

I suppose that's the difference between the hobbyist and the author: actually completing the story. I find it easy to come up with the beginnings of stories, of dramatic situations and unique characters. Figuring out a story arc that someone wants to read is much harder.

Story arcs make me thirsty.

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A sip of beer

Much better. A rabbit hops past a corner of the patio, unnoticed by the serving staff. For some reason, it makes me think of some of those unfinished ideas.

Back in my university days, I began a science-fiction novel. I created another world, colonized by different nations from Earth, much like different European nations started adjoining colonies in Africa, but which for some reason has been cut off from Earth for decades. I decided that the best way for getting around on this planet was by dirigible, probably because I had been reading Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld around then. And also, there was an alien race from yet another planet who were meddling in the colonists' affairs. 

I created a main character who more or less played at being a spy, collecting a salary and expenses but never accomplishing much, and a thief, and an assassin. But I couldn't figure out where to take it from there.

There's The Doctor's In-Laws, a story inspired one summer many years ago, when I was staying at a very cheap summer resort when my mighty boys were babies. The central characters were a married couple, both working at low-end jobs and struggling to stretch their incomes over the demands of modern social life. Her sister, though, has married a doctor who loves conspicuous consumption, and the protagonists feel pressure to keep up.

Okay, but where do you go from there? And to what end? I never figured that out. Maybe I will one day.

Another idea I had on a beach a couple of years ago (I seem to get ideas on vacation) was about another couple, Neal and Karen. Neal is a kind of short guy, while Karen is clinically a giant. They fall in love. 

Again, I don't know where to go from there. Short guy married to a giant.

The server brings a basket of bread

Excuse me while I put spread butter on this. I know, it's more fashionable to dip it into olive oil, but I love butter. It's okay, I rode 30 kilometres already today.

Then there are novels that I have developed a lot more fully, but have not completed. Not yet, but I will. 

The Last Tiger, about Siberian tiger cubs in the Russian Far East, through their perspective. I've worked out the plot, but it's a difficult book to write without getting really silly.

I have done most of the work on the sequel to Army of Worn Soles and plan to publish it before the end of the autumn of 2014. I'm debating between two titles: Freedom Fighter and Four-Sided War. What do you think?

I have worked out most of the plot of the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, as well, and have the rough, basic idea for the plot of book three of the Dark Age trilogy. I don't know what the title of the second book will be, but I've settled on Seventh Son as the title of the third.

Let me know what you think of all those ideas.

Ah, there's my lovely wife now. Talk to you later.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Microsoft Word versus Apple Pages—A comparative review

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Occasionally, you have to hand it to the dark side. For years, over a decade, in fact, I’ve known and acknowledged that Microsoft Word is the best word processor.

I did not want to acknowledge that, though. I wanted there to be something better than the market leader and de facto standard. But my latest experience in publishing my latest book has only reinforced that conclusion.

I used OpenOffice's word processor and then Pages to write the book, which were fine when the goal was producing an e-book. I found Pages especially useful in that I could use it on both my desktop Macintosh and my iPad.

But when it came to formatting the book for print, well, using OpenOffice is downright aggravating, and Pages lacks some of the feature essential to producing a professional grade printed book.

My reaction to Pages

Pages is a light and easy to use application. It only costs $19.99 from the App store, and the iPad version is only ten bucks. On the other hand, Word for the Mac can only be had as part of the Microsoft Office, which costs $139 for the Home version, or $99 per year for the Web-based subscription.

One of Pages' productive feature is the way that it automatically saves your new files and updates in iCloud. This made it simple to switch between using my desktop computer in my office and my iPad while mobile. 

Pages’ user interface is characteristically clean and inviting on the desktop computer. The iPad version, though, features a shade of orange that I, personally, don’t like.

I reached the iPad version's limits quickly. It’s almost impossible to format paragraphs using the ruler at the top of the screen. I don’t know if my fingers are too thick and blunt or what, but the only way I could change the paragraph indents was to enlarge the view to at least 200 percent, and even then, it difficult to select the icons to move the margins.

Also, there doesn’t seem to be a Styles feature in the iPad version, where I can set the typeface, font size, paragraph spacing and other typographical features for blocks of text and headlines and change them with one command. This is standard in full featured word processors.

Finally, the major limitation on both the mobile and desktop versions of Pages is the lack of a facing pages feature. It just doesn’t seem to have entered the programmers’ minds.

What I need for print layout

Formatting an e-book is relatively simple compared to print output , because much of the format of the e-book is determined by the e-reader device. Sure, you can choose typeface and whether paragraphs are double-spaced or indented on the first line. But when you go to print, there are many aspects beyond those that you have to control.

When laying out a printed book, you have to consider the page spread—two facing pages, left and right. If you look at a professionally produced book, especially a textbook, you’ll see that the page layout elements are mirrors of each other. For example, if the page number (“folio” in old book layout parlance) is on top right corner of the right-hand page, it will be in the left corner of the left-hand (even-numbered, if you do it right) page.
The page spread. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Word has a simple means of allowing this: you just check “Different Odd & Even Pages” when formatting the Header or Footer.

Without this, you could put your page numbers in the centre of the header (top) or footer (bottom) of the page. But you cannot set your document to have the book title on the right hand pages and your name as the author on the left. There’s just no way to do that in Pages.

What I like about Word

Word offers everything you could ask for in a word processor: typing aids, a fully featured Styles menu, control over every aspect of not just wording, character style and page layouts, but also output to .pdf and e-pub format.

I can use Pages, but I have to use work-arounds. For instance, if I want to save the document in a format (like .doc) so that a non-Mac user can share it, I can’t just Save As a .doc. Instead, I have to Export a copy of the file. That means I now have two separate files, which leads to version control problems.

Just use the .doc version from then on, you say? Easy enough with Word, or most other programs. But the people at Apple have taken a bizarre approach. It will open the files with the .doc filename extension, but convert it on the spot to .pages format. Saving it in Word format requires saving it first as a .pages document, then Exporting it again to Word format. It’s not a big deal, but it is an extra step that gets annoying.
Workarounds. Image Creative Commons

Word is a big, expensive program with more features than any one person will ever use. But it does give me all the tools that I need for electronic and print publishing. For that reason, it will have to remain my word processing choice.