Compression

I’ve been working on a history of the steam tugs Baltimore for several years now. It’s been rough sledding in many ways. I’m still working at it, but presently I’ve taken the book manuscript apart, and I’m trying to compress the book into an article to submit to a historical journal. Whether that will work remains to be seen. Compression is a good way to discover one’s problems in a work, however. I’ve come to recognize the book manuscript should be reorganized. If that improves the end result, then it is worthwhile.

Steam Tug Baltimore

I’m sorry to say that I feel pressed to get the article, and book published because the steam tug Baltimore is in such sorry shape that her days are numbered. She will never sail or steam again; she lacks Coast Guard certification, and isn’t likely to receive that again. The Baltimore could perhaps be lifted out of the water and moved to land, if she had the right kind of experts to do that for her, but even that seems to be beyond the Baltimore Museum of Industry to organize and carry out. The museum has good volunteers, but it takes money for materials, and to hire experts to get things done. The volunteers can’t do it all out of their own pockets.

I’d like to at least publish my history of the Baltimore, and her predecessor before she finally sinks into the mud at her dock.

 

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Hey, Wait a Darn Minute!

alien forbiddenplanet saucer(A Still From The Forbidden Planet, 1956, from The Paris Review, Sept 13, 2016)

Hey, Wait a Darn Minute! You there, in the government. You’re screwing up the plot of my latest science fiction novel, the one I’m in process writing. What the hell do you think you are doing? You’re the Trump government. You guys can’t…

Back up. Breath, David, and seek your center. 

 Meditate. And try telling the story from the beginning.

 

There I was, well into writing my science fiction novel about alien first contact. I was turning it into an interstellar love story that didn’t involve an Independence Day type of war scenario.

arc028-ufo-hudson-j-sexy-saucer-people-those-960c3971500-pixels.jpg

My imaginative aliens are good aliens (for the most part), if a bit greedy, but some of them are good scientists.

The text was into the second round of beta reading, which is something you have to go through if you are writing a novel these days. You call on those friends with a sense of humor, and enough time to plow through your half-baked writing in an attempt to help you turn it into good writing. They must be people who care about good story telling, and want to help wanna-be writers by combing your novel text for mistakes, illogical assertions, and stoopid stuff.

But back to my science fiction novel text. Part of the plot centers on our Federal government not being prepared to deal with alien first contact. And imagining what would happen in the Trump administration if a friendly group of aliens arrived, and wanted to do business deals.

Of course, no one would be dumb enough to tell the President. Because he’d just want to deport them. Because the out-of-this-world aliens would not have any money to stay in Trump hotels, so what use would they be?

Then Bam! I see a headline in USA Today that says the White House is looking for an interplanetary protection officer.

NASA is hiring a Planetary Protection Officer

The pay is pretty good, over $100.000, if you need a job and qualify. You must have the ability to negotiate favorable trade relations with the critters from another planet. You must have a top, double-sekrit security classification, and know a lot about space. It must be someone who knows the hazards and bio-risks of sucking up to Congress, the White House, and the generals at the Pentagon. It must be someone not afraid, who will protect the country from alien cooties. Because, someone in government seems pretty sure the aliens will have alien cooties. And that just ruins the plot of my novel. (Not really, but hang in there with me, will you?)

Ellis Island arrivals irish-immigrants-ellis-island

I can envision an alien Ellis Island situation, with the arriving aliens brought into holding pens to fill out visa and immigration forms and answer questions. If you’ve ever entered the US accompanied by someone with a foreign passport, you’ll understand how it can go.

Ellis Island screening 72abfd18e6c4fd1c4d32de9505eb8d0f

“Sir, please state your name, and home address.”

“Zryxigantsa. Home world D95724.”

“Right. I don’t find that world on my National Geographic map. Must be fake. We’ll call you Pedro. You have no visa, and have attempted to enter the country illegally. Therefore, you have no rights, and will be interned interminably in Guantanamo.”

Gitmo prisoners(This photo is allegedly in the public domain, according to Wikimedia)

But the prison in Cuba will fill up quickly, so some will be put in those private, for profit, prisons down in Texas and other parts of the south. The ones where the human aliens are being warehoused so the private prisons can gouge the federal government for inflated prison prices. Then we’ll have a comingling problem of mixing human aliens with non-human aliens. Inevitably, some Congress critter from ‘Bama is sure to want an alien bathroom bill, to make sure those with or without human parts are not using the same place to…

It’s all in a day’s work for a speculative novelist, however. A word changed here, and a changed sentence there, and I’ll add that planetary protection officer to my book. Sure I will. And it will make the novel all that much better.

I just have to ask – who is going to say “no” to the Trumpster when he wants to grab one of the alien women by the crotch? Because, sure as donuts in the morning, the government is not going to grant out-of-this-world aliens any kind of rights under the Constitution. He’ll want to do the nasty with them. You just wait.

That job of interplanetary sheriff is going to take some big cajones.

 

(Is there an emoji for satire? Where’s my tongue in cheek typeface?)

  • David W. Wooddell

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Archival Fun

Steam Tug Baltimore
The wheel of the Steam Tugboat Baltimore, a National Historic Landmark

Progress continues here at the word farm as I write the profiles to be included in a the “Steam Tug Baltimore” book (not the exact title). Historic research can be a lot of fun, as well as a lot of intense work in archives and libraries, not to mention hours and hours in front of one’s computer.

Recently I had the pleasure of finding some very good material at the Maryland Historical Society library about two of the gentlemen engineers of Baltimore, James Murray and Henry R. Hazlehurst. They were partners in the firm Murray & Hazlehurst that built the steam tug “Baltimore” for the city of Baltimore in 1857. 

You never know what you might find while poking around in history. Henry R. Hazlehurst was a descendent of an important American family from Philadelphia and New Jersey. His ancestors backed and signed currency that supported the Continental Army during the American revolution. And they also paid for some of the first vessels for the Continental Navy, small as it was back then. How cool is that?

continental-currency-1a-copy
Currency signed by Hazlehurst to support the Continental Army
robert-hazlehurst-by-peale-display_image-php-copy
Robert Hazlehurst by Peale

Doing this type of archival research is slow, however, and may account for the slowness of my writing. I’ve put myself under pressure to finish the profiles, and all of the other editorial parts of the book in time for History4All Publishing to publish it this summer. It’s been a project I’ve been working on for the past five years. I want to exhibit and sell copies of the book at the Baltimore Book Festival in Sept 23, 2017. I’ll also be selling copies of my history of the 31st Virginia, “Hoffman’s Army.”

Life is what you make it. Make it a good one!

How to Help an Independent Author

Hoffman's Army cover

The independent authors of this world are struggling to get their work read, but beyond that, they are dying for want of reviews of their books. Why are reviews, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and other places so important?

Research shows that it takes 20 or more reviews of a book before it rises through the mass of offerings at places like Amazon. “It’s not sales you’re after, it’s the metric that leads to sales: Reviews” says writer Nicola Jane in The Writer Life.

Another blog claims, “Over 85% of all Amazon Kindle readers rely heavily on book reviews before making an online order to have the copy of the book.”

When an independent author publishes a book, she is not only the writer, and sometimes her own publisher, but also responsible for marketing, and public relations. I can tell you from my own experience that I was not prepared for those parts of the business. it isn’t easy. As Bookmasters says, It requires “serious elbow grease to get noticed.”

Even though I’d worked in publishing books and magazines nearly all my life, in the editorial, art, and photography departments, I had no real experience in marketing or public relations. And can not afford to hire experts, since I’m already working for pennies and hour in return from the sales of my work. That is not so unusual.

Amazon publishes a list of top reviewers, based on the ratings the reviewers receive for their reviews. Some sources claim it is worthwhile to go through the lists and find reviewers who specialize in reviewing the type of books an author writes, and then contacting that reviewer to offer a free copy of the book in return for an honest review. It takes lots of work to do that. But it took years of work to write your book, so why not add to the process and go the distance you need to get those important reviews?

David W. Wooddell author
David W. Wooddell author photo

The majority of authors today, whether self-published, or backed by a small press, or even a mainstream publisher receive very little compensation for the time spent creating the work. But readers can do their part in helping authors. If you enjoyed someone’s work, please take the time to write a brief and honest review of the book, and post it on the relevant Amazon page. Give it a rating. You don’t have to lie, or only make nice. Be honest. It takes only a few moments, but the author will thank you, and it may well help that author reach the magic number of 20 reviews in order for the book to be seen, and maybe even purchased.

Is that too much to ask? Many of us do offer a free copy to someone willing to read and write such a review. That comes under the marketing and public relations portion of what we do. –  David W. Wooddell

 

Wooddell Through time-1971

Where we end up as writers does not always have any correlation to where we began. It is all too easy to imagine, when one is young, the career path. All too easy to believe that one’s work will inevitably be celebrated, awards will flow, and wealth will result from that million dollar sale.

Wooddell Through time-1978

But I would hazard a guess that most don’t imagine the years of sitting solitary, in front of a keyboard and computer screen, doing the writing itself. Or of sitting with a pad of paper, or a notebook and pen, or pencil, and cramping one’s hand while writing word after word, endlessly, then revising them, and then, at last, sitting down to put it all into a computer’s word processor. That part of the dream is boring, and will be glossed over by the unimaginative.

Wooddell Through time-1-2

 

But what if that dream of great success and riches doesn’t happen right away? Does that mean one’s writing has no validity? When I was at university, I knew a young man who was my own age. He was determined to write novels in such a way that his genius would be recognized by the time he was 21 years old. Because his hero had done so. And when that didn’t happen? He was shattered. He declared he would never write again. I lost touch with him soon afterward, and don’t know what happened to him. Maybe he learned that stuff runs downhill and became a plumber. He probably made more in his career than most wanna-be writers ever will. He might own a vacation home, and a boat, and maybe even can afford to send his kids to college. I don’t know.

Another friend from the same period was a serious pianist. He’d been groomed from age 3 to be a concert pianist. His mother poured money and hopes into private lessons, piano camps, tutors, and a first rate piano in their home. He was astonishingly good when he performed. He went off to college, studying piano, and he became much better. But his goal was to be world famous by the time he was 21, because his hero did that. And his mom said to do that. And when he didn’t succeed in reaching that level of fame?

Wooddell Through time-2004

I lost track of him for many years, but through the wonders of the internet some few years ago, was able to briefly connect. He’d gone on to get a master’s degree in conducting, and then a doctoral degree. He as teaching college symphony band, conducting, and playing piano, and was still pretty good. They always asked him to play at parties. He knew all the songs. He married, had children, bought a comfortable home, and made a very good life for himself. Was that not worth the doing, simply because he didn’t live up to the dream he’d had when he was young?

I seem to meet a lot of young writers these days, and I try to be reserved in giving advice. I’m not Gandalf: I don’t have magic dust up my sleeve. If I did, I’d be famous and rich, instead of relatively obscure and on the poorer side of middle class. The only solid advice I can give is to keep writing. Write more. Then write it again. And then again. Write more than one story. Write many stories. And then more stories.

Wooddell Through time-2014-2

How do you learn and know what you don’t know? Ask a lot of questions. Write down the answers, and find your stories in the answers from others. Ask: What do you do? How do you do it? Why do you do it? What do you think about when you garden? How did you meet your spouse? Why did you want children? In the answers from those people you meet, to whom you ask question about their lives, you will find answers for your writing. No one is born with answers within them. But good writers are born with lots of questions. Writing is answering the questions you ask. Ask good questions.

You might want to read this essay from a speech given by a writer, Andrew Solomon, in which he discuses Advice for Young Writers by Rilke. It is more brilliant than anything I could say.

I mostly did other things in my career than write. I worked with photographers, and artists, and eventually became a photographer. I learned to be a careful researcher, and writer of reports read mostly by senior editors. To get there, perhaps the most important part was learning about the world. In my youth, I worked construction, in a steel mill, in stores, in factories, in restaurants, in libraries, and occasionally for my grandfather, learning to take care of a historic 19th century farm on a mountain. All of that was grist for my word mill, for my word farm; learning to ask questions, and find answers.

  • David W. Wooddell

Nom de Pen contest

B&O RR Museum 052715
B&O RR Museum 052715

I write serious history books as my main occupation, though it pays little, so I could probably say it is an avocation. And I publish them under my own name, David W. Wooddell.

But my dirty little secret – well, one of them I’m willing to admit to here – is that I write fiction, too.

That’s right. Factually incorrect narratives, with wildly imaginative “facts” that are improbable, but plausible if you squint, and drink enough caffeine, and are excited by space travel, aliens, and new interpretations of physics and biology. And occasional sex. Because sex sells, and it is hilarious to write. Especially when combined with the new interpretations of biology, in which… oh, never mind for now. Just take my word for it.

Evidently, to be a successful fiction author, I need a nom de pen (or should that be nom de word processor?) I’m currently writing a series of science fiction novels. And those will be followed with a series of speculative historical adventure novels with some traces of steam punk levity.

Any suggestion would be gratefully received. I won’t guarantee I’ll use the suggestion. But I do think it would be fun to see what people suggest, and there is always a chance I might like one enough to use it on my books.

If I end up using one of the suggestions, I will award the person an autographed copy of my first science fiction novel, The Invisibles, after it is published later this year.

Who’s in? Make a comment below, or send one to me, here or on FB at my writer page.

  • David W. Wooddell

Early Bird Gets the Word

B&O RR Museum 052715

I’ve been in the habit for so long, I can’t recall when it began. Some will tell you that my habit is odious. Some are offended by it. “Why can’t you quit?” someone asked. “Just act normal.”

“But this is normal,” I reply, “normal for me.”

Back when I smoked cigarettes, I used to think it was because I needed the nicotine. But it didn’t change after I stopped smoking. In fact, it may have become worse. I still drink coffee, and while I tell the dogs, when I rise at 3am that it’s just for coffee, that is my way of telling them not to hope for breakfast for a couple more hours.

No, the habit is not connected to coffee, though I enjoy my cup of joe first thing. There was a day last week when my wife asked me to do something before I’d had my first cup of coffee of the day, and I thought, just for a moment, that I’d crack. But I held it together, and didn’t snap at her.

Hard to conceive it is possible, but what I’m discussing this morning is more important than my coffee habit. It is the habit of getting up early to write.

The reason is simple: my mind is clearer first thing in the morning. And since I go to bed early, sometimes as early as 8 pm, I’m ready to roll out of bed and start digging at the word farm before 5 am. And that is what bothers many people. They like to laze around in bed, some of them until 8 am, if you can imagine! And I’ve heard that some people sleep until noon, though I have a hard time crediting it as anything more than rumor.

Recently, I found evidence to back up my claim that early morning is best for what I do. I love confirmation. I feel vindicated. It’s 4:59 am, and I feel like shouting out the window: Get up you lazy slugs, you’ll work better!

But of course, I’d wake everybody up. That will never do. They might find chores for me to do, or distract me with marketing calls, or spam, or post something to distract me on Facebook. No, I prefer to keep quiet when I am up early.

And now, back to writing. – David W. Wooddell