Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gaming the System

As I write this, the number one movie in the country is Gravity. I haven't seen it yet, but it's on my list. The number one TV show is The Voice - never watched it, don't intend to. The number one album is Bangerz by Miley Cyrus. Sorry, but I've seen enough twerking to last me the rest of my life. But, more importantly for the overall scope of this blog, the number one book, as ranked by Amazon, is The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4) by Rick Riordan. It's a fantasy epic. Not my cup of tea, but obviously very popular. J.K. Rowling helped to increase the popularity of the genre with the Harry Potter books, and as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

As much as I wish it to be true, my books are unlikely to be found at the top of Amazon's list, or The New York Times bestsellers. Being two and three years old, my books - like most things that are ranked - peaked during the first few months following their release. That should give me some incentive to finish my third book as soon as possible and generate some excitement for all of them.

Independent authors like me, no matter how good our books are, have a difficult time getting noticed amidst a sea of an estimated 6,500 titles published weekly, in the US alone. This is according to Bowker, a leader in publishing industry information.

There are always exceptions, of course. John Locke and Amanda Hocking are just two independent authors who have managed to break away from the pack. Quality and a superior marketing effort go a long way in pulling a title up the charts.

That and fudging the numbers. I don't mean somehow buying 1,000 or so of your own books just to see it at the top of the list (although I've heard that it's been done). The trick is in how Amazon categorizes books. The aforementioned House of Hades is number one overall; it has sold more books in the period of time being considered than all titles currently sold by Amazon. (I can't say exactly how it's figured because Amazon's rankings are calculated hourly, and the algorithm that is used is more difficult to decode than NSA secrets.) Amazon, however, provides subcategories which narrow down the type of book and gives a ranking within the subcategories. This then allows the author to say that he or she is a number one Amazon best selling author.

For example (and I'm not going to be too specific here - don't want any maniacal authors coming after me) an author can claim to be number one because his book is number one in Books>Fiction>Mysteries>Detective>1940s>Nebraska>Corn Theft>Hog Rustling
That narrows it down pretty well. The author may have only sold one book, but it's number one in the category. It's probably the only book in the category. But he'll call himself a Number One Amazon Author.

I've got to rethink my own marketing strategy. I'm sure I could be a Number One Amazon author, too. All I have to do is convince Amazon to add a few subcategories. Protecting the Cittern would undoubtedly be number one in Books>Fiction>Literary>Families>Dysfunctional>Italian>Instruments>Citterns and The Ibex Trophy would take the top spot in  Books>Fiction>Historical>World War II>Italy>Corsican Occupation>Trophies

No problem. I'll have to change my Facebook bio to reflect my number one status!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Inviting Trouble

Well, it's time for me to get on my linguistic soapbox for yet another round of "Things That Irk Me." Something must have happened while I wasn't paying attention, but exactly when did the word "invite" become a noun? I know it's definitely a verb, as in "I would like to invite you to visit me in the mental hospital when these things finally push me over the edge."

But, "invite" as a noun? Over the past few years I've been hearing things like "Did you get the invite to Guido's bachelor party?" First of all, never ask me that in front of my wife because I'm not allowed to go to bachelor parties, and she never much liked Guido, but more importantly, it's an invitation, not an invite! You invite someone to a party by giving them an invitation. Got it?

There are plenty of other examples of verbs being used as nouns or vice versa. Some of this is due to the way many of us communicate now, using social media, smart phones, and other things that encourage brevity. For example, "friend" now has a dual role as a noun and a verb. Thank you, Facebook. Guido is my friend, much to my wife's dismay, and I also friended him on Facebook (the wife doesn't know - don't say anything). 

If you use Twitter, you know you're limited to 140 characters for any messages. When I get out of bed every morning, my groans use up more than 140 characters. What kind of coherent message can you write? And, of course "tweet" has become a verb meaning what you do when you use Twitter. So, I guess, any twit can tweet on Twitter.

Everyone uses their phones to send messages and because of this, the word "text" has become a verb, when it was doing perfectly fine as a noun. Because of data usage costs, and I guess to save maybe ten seconds of time, everything is abbreviated. I received a text message from Guido the other day that said "R U going 2 my bchlr prty? U'll luv it. Strippers!" Why he had to spell out "strippers" is a mystery to me, but I think we're seeing the decline of language. People are losing the ability to spell or use words correctly.

The last example I'll use, although believe me, there are plenty more, is using the word "fail" as a noun when it's a verb. Specifically, when something has gone extremely wrong, it is now called an "epic fail." No it isn't - it's a failure, Whether it's epic or not is a matter of interpretation. But "fail" is a verb.

I realize language evolves. Words fall in and out of favor, spelling changes, and so does usage. Evolution of the species takes place over millions of years, so you can't see it. But this is going on before my very eyes - and ears.  I know it's happening and feel like there's nothing I can do to stop it.

I received a text just now. "Cops here. Guido and strippers arrested." Whew! Glad I didn't respond to the invite. The party was an epic fail.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Handing Over The Reins

I decided to take a break for this post and turn it over to my Vice-President at the Treasure Coast Writers Guild - Peter Haase. Peter is a prolific author who has written books about his experiences growing up in Nazi Germany, his love of sailing and the eleven years he spent living on his boat, and several thought-provoking novels. You can find his books here.

Peter has written a clever piece on clichés, which fits in nicely with the main theme of this blog - language. As authors, we are advised to rarely, if ever, use them, because it displays an inability to come up with a better and more original way to express something. Rebel that he is, Peter has used most of them here. Enjoy!

At the crack of dawn, I counted the eggs before they hatched, put them all in one basket, and then fought my way up the creek without a paddle. For no rhyme or reason, I threw caution to the wind, abandoned ship, and took to my heels. Cool as a cucumber, without a care in the world, I went to town like nothing could stop me. Sure, it would have been easy to cross one of the bridges when I came to them; however, I had already burned them all because my left hand did not know what the right was doing. 

In hindsight, I should have poured the baby down the drain with the bathwater, but 20/20 vision isn’t always as clear as daylight. At the fork in the road, the baby began to cry, so I put the candy I had taken from it back in its mouth. As sure as two plus two adds up to something, I chose the road less traveled. It was so crowded, I got lost like the needle in a haystack. Only my sore thumb stuck out and someone thought I gave him the finger. He cursed like a drunken sailor, then bent over backwards to apologize.

In the nick of time, I reached the point of no return and asked myself, Self, I asked, where the hell am I? Why is there no light at the end of the tunnel? I was scared out of my wits. The answer came to me in a flash of lightning, but lightning wasn’t supposed to strike twice, and so I was left in the dark and stormy night, stumbling over stones that were better left unturned. I had either dodged the bullet, or I would have to bite it; one way or the other, it was an uphill battle.

I wanted to call it a day, but decided to make a break for it. No more beating around the bush. I’ll find the elusive creek behind the next bend in the road. Should be easy as pie, but things are usually in the last place you look and a shiver went down my spine, when it hit me: I’d be damned if I did, or if I didn’t. As far as the eye could reach, all over the map, I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Game over, I thought, the end of the rope. The baby cried, hungry as a bear cub in winter. I reached for the cookie in my pocket, but it had crumbled.

Now, I wasn’t born yesterday and perhaps not the sharpest crayon in the box, but if you thought I didn’t have an ace up my sleeve, you’d better think again. In a last ditch effort, I caught my second wind and fought tooth and nail, as if on fire, to coin a phrase, and I made headway, steady as I went. And all was not lost. There was the creek and my raft! Reason for a drink from my bottomless flask. Drunk as a skunk, I let myself be caught off guard and, like a bull in a china shop, stepped all over the egg shells. Searching far and wide for hours on end, I had to face the music: the chicks had flown the coop. Don’t cry over spilled milk, the baby’s toothless smile seemed to say. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, dust yourself off, and turn the page. You can’t win ‘em all. I swallowed the salty tears of defeat and I threw in the towel.

Then once again I had a wake-up call. No pain - no gain, it repeated ad nausea and once again I threw everything but the kitchen sink into my quest, sure that that and a quarter would get me over the hump. All’s well that ends well, it is said, but I saw no shining star, no silver lining from here to the gates of Heaven or Hell. Perhaps right around the corner? Curiosity killed the cat, said a voice in my head, but I stuck my neck out, for action speaks louder than words. I was determined to go to the bitter end, now or never, even if it took me two steps forward, and one back. I took a look at the bright side and, better late than never, I realized that it was all water under the bridge. You do or you don’t, it’s all six or half a dozen and I couldn’t care less. You can never have your cake and eat it too.

There are one hundred twenty clichés, give or take one or two, in these 775 words. It just goes to show you … Oops, there’s a couple more.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bringing Jimmy Back

It's been almost a year since I introduced you all to Jimmy. The post titled Staying Away From Jimmy has received more hits than any other of my blogs. I closed the original by saying, "To be continued," yet I didn't. You may want to read it to refresh yourself.

Now, let me bring you up to date on what has happened to our good friend.

Jimmy went from the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center straight to prison, because he hadn't sufficiently rehabilitated. When he was finally released from prison he was missing a few teeth, caused by several run-ins with a former English professor, Mortimer, who also happened to be 250 pounds of solid muscle. Over the years, Mortimer decided to bulk up because he found that being intimidating was the only way to get his students to pronounce words correctly. When he heard an offending word, like someone pronouncing "height" like it had an "h" at the end, saying "heighth," he would slug them. This was frowned upon by the principal, superintendent, and law enforcement, so he ended up in the slammer.

Jimmy had the misfortune of being Mortimer's cellmate. Jimmy continued his pronoun abuse, and Mortimer found a good reason to use him as a punching bag. Jimmy also had problems with a few words, like "height," so Mortimer had several reasons to pound Jimmy into the ground.

It started like this. They were in their cell when Jimmy turned to Mortimer and said, "Can I axe you a question?"

Mortimer said, "Excuse me?"

"I need to axe you a question."

The fist came out of nowhere. "It's 'ASK' you moron."

"OK, OK. I just wanted to know if you had any idea why that guard, Bruno, was being so mischievous lately?" Unfortunately, he pronounced it "mis-chee-vee-us."


Again,  he pronounced it incorrectly. Mortimer's fist flew through the air.

"It's 'mis-chi-vous', idiot. Where did you learn to speak?"

"In school. The one acrossed from the high-tension wires."

"Acrossed? You mean 'across' don't you?" POW!!

"Stop hitting me! You make me want to excape."

"Escape!!" Mortimer screamed, landing another blow. "There's no x in escape, and while we're at it, there's no x in espresso either!"

"Owww!! I'm bleeding. I need to get a bandage in my draw."


And that was just one day's English lessons.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blocking the Net

I'm way past due in my blog posting activities, but I do have a semblance of an excuse since I was traveling for the past four weeks. My wife, Evelyn, and I spent that time touring Southeast Asia, Japan, and China, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  We saw many wonderful things, not the least of which were the Great Wall of China ("Great" is an understatement) and the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an, China.

The Great Wall of China

Terra Cotta Warriors

Along the way, I posted one or two photos from each stop to my Facebook page, mostly so my friends would know I wasn't lying about my trip. I tried to make sure I was in most of the photos as proof, although security had some problems when I tried to climb down into the pit with the warriors. Those guards in China are way too serious.

During the time we spent in China I learned something, even though I knew it subconsciously. It wasn't until I experienced it myself did it come to the front of my mind - China blocks a lot of stuff on the Internet, including Facebook. The first day in China, when I tried to log on to Facebook to upload a photo, the page never came up, and I realized what was happening. I tried Twitter and had the same experience. Then I had an eerie feeling that my activities were being monitored.

I usually read two newspapers on my iPad, either through their websites or apps: The New York Times and my local paper, The St. Lucie News Tribune. I went to the Times' website - nothing. I tried the app but it wouldn't update. Then I tried the St. Lucie paper. I usually only read it for local news, like to see if anyone I know was arrested, but it does carry articles from the Times, AP, and other sources. Lo and behold the authorities in China are not yet aware of the St. Lucie News Tribune! I read the paper with reckless abandon. I devoured all the high school sports articles, letters to the editor, and the community calendar ( I saw that I missed an "Oxbow and the Natives" seminar on the spotted skunk at the Eco-Center while I was away - hopefully they'll repeat it). But I also read the world and national news. Democracy is safe!

Of course, as I prepare to post this, it occurs to me that my blog may now be in the crosshairs of China's Internet police. There's a possibility that I, too, may be blocked and I will lose 1.3 billion readers. Which is a shame for the Chinese people because next month I am planning to post my recipe for General Tso's Chicken.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Participating in "The Next Big Thing"

This is a bit of a departure from my usual blog content.  My friend, the author and blogger Christa Polkinhorn, invited me to be a part of a "blog chain" called "The Next Big Thing". The purpose is to give a preview of our current works-in-progress by answering some pre-set questions and to invite other authors to do it also. In doing so I'll provide links to Christa's blog and those I've invited so you can get an idea of their books and how they answer the same questions. Here are my answers:

What is the working title of your next book?
Raw Umber

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Matt Corcoran, committed to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt, is advised to write a journal to help him get to the root of his problems, and his journey of self-discovery leads him to unexpected places.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The Bee Gees. No really, see the next question! Obviously this idea has been with me a very long time.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Believe it or not, the idea of a person digging into his memory to answer how and why he ended up in a psychiatric hospital came from an old Bee Gees song from 1968 called World . It was pre-disco Bee Gees, when they sounded more like the Beatles than K.C. and the Sunshine Band. In other words, good (sorry disco fans). The lyrics "If I remember all of the things I have done / I'd remember all of the times I've gone wrong / Why do they keep me here" always made me picture the situation of someone who is institutionalized who wants to forget his past but is forced to remember it.

What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction - it seems to be the type of book I'm most comfortable writing, since that's what most of my reading over the years has consisted of.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Johnny Depp or Joseph Gordon-Levitt would make a great Matt Corcoran. Sally Field as his mother; Christopher Mintz-Plasse (the guy who played McLovin in Superbad) would be great as Matt's obsessive-compulsive roommate, Larry. Tracy Jordan could be Jimmy Carter (you'll have to read the book), and maybe John Goodman as Dr. Frank Friedman.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm still undecided. There are pros and cons for both although I may try to get an agent with the hopes of getting wider distribution with a bigger publisher. But I'd also lose a lot of the control I currently enjoy as an Indie author, not to mention the time it would take to find an agent, then a publisher, and then get the book out. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I'm still working on the first draft; hope to have it completed within the next six months. Too many distractions and other responsibilities (excuses, excuses) make it difficult for me to be a "write every day" author, although I know I should be, and wish I could.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the obvious answer. It combines humor and pathos in the setting of a psychiatric hospital.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest
The fact that it's written as Matt's journal, in his cynical yet humorous voice, makes Matt a sympathetic figure, and the ending will surprise everyone.   

These are the authors who will be posting for The Next Big Thing on March 30. Check out their blogs and get to know their work.

John J. Tuite

Monday, February 18, 2013

Believing Anything

There's never a shortage of people who are willing to believe almost anything, no matter how nonsensical, if it supports a previously held worldview or sometimes because it tugs at the heartstrings. Without getting into petty politics, this is seen from extremists at both ends of the political spectrum, from the "birthers" on the far right to the "9/11 truthers" mostly on the far left. It doesn't matter that there is no shred of real evidence to support either of these beliefs. They see conspiracy where none exists and no one can change their minds.

If there are people willing to believe those extreme theories, it's no surprise that there are more mundane examples of this phenomenon that have been in wide circulation at one time or another in the recent past. Thanks to email, Facebook, and other Internet sites, these rumors and scams get spread quickly and exponentially, with the click of a mouse, and no one sharing these items ever thinks to verify them.

There is a Facebook phenomena of various types showing a person holding a white board containing a message pleading for X number of "likes" in order to attract attention for their disease / financial difficulties /  soldier who needs a job, etc. In reality, a photograph is taken of a person with a blank whiteboard. The message is then changed electronically, depending on the plight du jour. But it's so tempting to like a photo of a cute little kid who will go to Disney World if he gets a million likes.

People continue to believe that if they forward a particular email to X number of people, or "like" or leave a comment on some Facebook posts, something hysterically funny is going to appear on their computer screen. It never does. Yet the same people keep following the instructions waiting for that elusive punch line.

What the original posters of both the examples above want is for Facebook to see a high level of activity on their post. Facebook gives greater exposure to pages with high activity, and this can result in revenues for the poster. Even worse, some lead you to apps that can give your computer a virus. A good explanation can be found in this article.

If you use Facebook even casually you've no doubt seen a post saying that a certain month will have five Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays and it's the first time that has happened in 800 years, or something to that effect. Nonsense. Any 31-day month will have three consecutive days five times, beginning with the day of the week the 1st of the month falls. Seven months have 31 days ("30 days hath September ..." - do you remember that little memory device?) So it happens seven times a year. It's not a miracle - it's the Gregorian Calendar. We've been using it since 1582!

Bill Gates is not going to give you $5,000 for forwarding an email, and you're not getting free merchandise from anyone. Yet I keep getting emails or see Facebook posts from people with a message saying, "You never know. It's worth a shot!" No it isn't. Stop wasting your time, and more importantly my time, with this nonsense. Not to mention you're clogging up the bandwidth and slowing down my download of Hot Hits From the 60s.

All anyone needs to do is check to verify if something is true. The problem is the people who are already inclined to believe something is true, especially if it plays into their already rigidly held beliefs, never doubt its veracity to begin with, and just pass it along. We'll probably be seeing this type of thing continue indefinitely because no matter how cynical we can be at times, we still are hopeful enough that the big payoff is just around the corner.

And by the way, if you send the link to this blog to ten people, the most amazing thing you will ever see will appear on your computer screen. And Warren Buffet will put you in his will.  Trust me. Would I lie?