Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Travel, Now.

In the first year of my marriage, some 30+ years ago, we decided that we would travel. We were dirt poor, but even though we couldn't afford it, we made the choice to travel regularly. It was a wise choice.

Mary Ann had a history of travel with her mother, and as a child, I remember regular vacations. I don't know if they happened every year, but I have memories of Colorado, Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Travel was natural.

So, even with budgets of $60 dollars, and travel ranges possible only because of gas prices in the 20-cent range, we took trips from the beginning. We traveled, not waiting for the day when we could afford it, because "We might not be able to when we're older."

We slept in the tents, or the back of the station wagon. When we bought a van, I got one bare and hand built a little RV -- bed, table, and 'bathroom' on the inside. When we moved to a pickup, we bought a pickup camper and took it all the way to Alaska.

The kids grew up with travel, and they liked it, up until the difficult teenage years made the camper too small. But even then we traveled. We started annual ski trips which continue in a fashion to this day. Debra took the opportunity to visit Europe in highschool, and Mary Ann and I followed a few years later.

As the opportunity arose, we bought our RV and started putting on some serious mileage. Africa is also on our radar.

Only in the late 90's did I begin writing up travel blogs, and I found that many people were interested in them. Most of those have been added to the archives on this site.

It has all been worth it. I don't regret a single trip. The kids have gotten an education they couldn't have gotten any other way. Many times, school book learning prompted their comment, "I've been there."

So, my advice is plain. "Travel now, you might not have the opportunity later."

All of the travel blog entries in my archives have been indexed now, and I've added the link to the side bar where you can find the index:

Travel Blogs:
St Louis Flood July 17, 1993
Family Hawaii Trip
Galveston Seaweed Landfall
Marfa Texas 2000
Road trip to Chicago for Worldcon and Back through Yellowstone
Flight back from Montreal
Europe 2002
Boston Worldcon, Driving around New England, and RV travel to St. Louis.
RV travel from St. Louis to Michigan to South Dakota and Colorado
Great Sand Dunes NP, California to Malibu, then to Death Valley
Tucson Arizona and Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico
West Texas, Tucson, Sedona, Death Valley, and on to Malibu.
San Francisco, and then I-10 back towards Texas.
Research trip in the jeep through NM, Colorado, WY, Utah.
Crossing California, the LA conference and back to Roswell.
RV to St. Louis
Tanglewood and Breckenridge
Breckenridge, Rocky Mt. NP, and Denver.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Primary Moments

On the ramp-up to Debra's wedding, I had a couple of people ask me if I was excited. I couldn't answer that -- at least not in the way the questioner meant. Yes, of course, stress levels were increasing. I could say I was happy, I was pleased, but excited?

In my life there have been a few, primary, life-changing moments. I may not anticipate these, I may not seek them out, and I'm not really excited that they may come, but when they do, it is profound.

I can remember my own wedding. No, I don't remember the vows. I don't remember who was there, or the music, or any of those details. But I have a clear, vivid memory of Mary Ann coming down the isle. I can feel how I stood, I can remember my posture. I can remember thinking, "This is my day. This is my wedding. She is my wife."

I can remember the first time I held my newborn children. I looked at the little bundle in my arms and the world ... clicked. I was a father. From that instant, everything was different. When I held Debra, my daughter, I was her protector. I could feel a lifetime of duty settle into place, and it wasn't a burden to be feared, it was a clear path I could see into the future.

Yesterday, I waited at the arch for the bridesmaids to pass by, and then the flowergirl. It seemed forever for them to make their way down the path. The music paused and Debra, in her fine dress, came up. I offered my arm and we began our way down the path. I whispered "Steps" as we approached a little drop, not that she needed it. She was doing wonderfully.

And then the path turned, and we began the final leg. I felt ... full. It was a wonderful moment. I said nothing, but in my heart, I was showing this group of people my wonderful, beautiful, perfect daughter. My face must have been something to see.

And there was Jonathan, waiting. He must have been feeling what I had felt all those decades ago. I hoped Debra could feel that joy. We walked up to our spots and waited for the music and the cue. The preacher gave us a look that said, "We're here. Everything's right on course. Be at ease." And then he began his wedding sermon.

A moment later, "Who gives ..." I don't remember the words, but I gave my prepared resonse, "Her mother and I do." And I meant it without reservation. Jonathan was perfect for her.

Debra gave my hand a squeeze and I handed her over. I stepped over to my seat and sat down.

And the world had changed. Debra will always be in my life, but it was if while watching a TV show, the picture turned off. Her life will go on, and be full and beautiful and joyous and hard, just as it's supposed to be, but some part of that duty that settled on me at her birth was not mine to carry any more, and her path would lead places where I could just watch from a distance. Jonathan would walk with her their own path into the future.

She had been handed on, and I could close my eyes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mixing the Wedding Songs

I was up until 1:30 this morning preparing and packaging the music for Debra's wedding this evening. It wasn't hard, but the final music selections weren't decided until very late yesterday -- after all the other errands had been done. Finally, I was given a sheet detailing which songs in which order, and some of them had to be 'looped' because they were short.

This gave me the perfect opportunity to play with GarageBand. This is one of those Apple iLife programs, targetted to anyone who wants to mix audio tracks. I had not installed it on my laptop when I bought the iLife '06 DVD, since iDVD and GarageBand both contained gigabytes of templates and samples, and I was conserving hard disk space. Plus, I don't play a musical instrument and have no delusions of mixing down my own compositions.

But, hey, it's a cool program and I was glad of the opportunity to tinker. Installation was quick, as was the Software Update that followed. As is usual with Apple programs, there was no manual, but it was obvious what needed to be done.

The music was collected on three different computers, containing a mix of Windows Media Files, MP3's and protected AAC iTunes music. Only one set of music, in encrypted WMA files, was unusable, but luckily Jonothan had unprotected versions of the same music on his USB thumb drive.

I downloaded the shareware EasyWMA which allowed me to convert all the un-encrypted WMA files over to AAC or MP3 (I don't remember which one I did) and collected them in a playlist. I copied all the unprotected MP3's and AAC's over from the other laptops, and for the iTunes purchased songs, I exported them to AIFF audio, burning a standard audio CD. Those, I re-imported over to my laptop in my iTunes, (sadly losing all metadata, but I didn't really need it for this project.)

Now with all the music usable and on one computer, I set up a GaragaBand project for each part of the service: BeforeTheWedding, Mom's Processional, Bridesmaids Processional, Bride's Processional, Recessional and Reception Music. For each of the first five stages, I opened the iTunes browser in GrarageBand and pulled in the appropriate songs and arranged them on the timeline, testing out the fades and making sure that all the transitions were fairly smooth. Some had to be looped so there was enough music for the length of time the event would take, so some of the shorter pieces, I laid down multiple times on the timeline, matching up the tempo. Each section I exported as one long song, to make it simple for the man who'll be running the soundboard.

After a final change in the Recessional music, choosing a brisker paced song than the original choice, I had two CD's worth of music. The ceremony and the reception. I burned two copies of each and placed them also on my iPod. It was a smooth process, for having never used GarageBand before. I know that I didn't touch any of the real musicians features, but I didn't need them for this.

I just hope the actual event goes as smoothly as the music preparation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The RV is Back!

Finally, I picked up the RV from the repair shop and parked it in it's traditional spot, just before the grass had finished covering over the bald spot. Yes, I missed the behemoth. It's my home away from home while traveling, and my quiet office while not.

Of course, this week, it'll be a guest house for visitors collecting for Debra's wedding, and the groom's dressing area at the wedding. Secretly, however, I'll be fixing it up in anticipation of hitting the road again. Hmm. Tomorrow I'll need to get propane so it can have hot water, and I'll need to contact the man who'll fix the satellite dish. Time to add a few more items to the to-do list.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

It's Gonna be a Busy Week

I wonder if all this activity -- new website design, my first on-line novel, and the associated webstore -- is part of my coping mechanism for events in real life. Debra, my daughter, is getting married on Thursday. As father of the bride, I have the easiest job of any of them, but it's still a bit much for a self-confessed hermit. Today, we had lunch with Jonathan's grandparents, and I've learned a ton about his family. All I have to do is sit back quietly and let all the social people chat away. I have the feeling Mary Ann is soaked to the gills in sentiment. She's smiling constantly. Debra and Jonathan are always nose to nose, looking at each other. And everyone is running low on sleep.

I don't know what I'd be doing if I didn't have this marketing puzzle to occupy my brain.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Artwork for a Book

Emperor Dad isn't the first story I've published, or had published. The bulk of my fiction has been short stories in the magazines. It isn't even my first book. That honor goes to Clean Slate Word Processing for the TRS-80 back in 1983. This was my big push as an independent software developer. I wrote a word processor program, and it was published by Howard W. Sams, a well-known technical publisher. The book was a companion piece. It included all the design philosophy, tips for use, and the complete source code. It was a lot of fun to write, and all of the content was up to me.

My magazine stories often had artwork, but that was the book editor's job. I never saw it until the last minute, and never had any input into what was illustrated. In general, I've been quite pleased, but it was always a surprise.

In Clean Slate, I had to do all of the diagrams and illustrations myself. While I could handle the charts and such, I wanted a more personable book than just a dry technical manual. So, I decided I needed a few cartoons, just to lighten the mood and bring a smile to the reader. I had the ideas, but it would take me weeks and they wouldn't look professional.

Working at Motorola, I had noticed down on the test floor, that some other employee was always doing cute signs, illustrating work-related notices with cartoons. I tracked Melvin Stephans down and asked him to do some for me. I gave him my crude sketches (very crude) and he produced the finished products which I passed on the Sams for the final book. I was very pleased.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mailing List Woes

Okay, I set up a sales presence on the web. Now, how do I get people to notice it? One of the great tools of the modern era is email. But, mass mailing is not the simple thing it was ten years ago. I've got 854 entries in my address book, but many of those are paper-mail only -- Christmas card lists and such. I've collected a much smaller group of people that have expressed an interest in being notified about my stories, so I attempted an advertising announcement to those. There were bounces, of course, as some addresses had changed, but my biggest problem is that it was still a very small list. Maybe 8 people?

Tell me I should just close my eyes and email something out to all those 854 people, no matter who they are. For some reason, I just can't do it. Spam has become epidemic, and I just can't add to the problem. I really suspect that maybe 100 people would be happy to receive some kind of announcement from me, considering the makeup of the list, but I don't know that.

Is it just because I'm a hermit? I know many people circulate chain letters of cutesy postings all the time. I've never done that.
I want a fully vetted list of emails -- thousands of people who'd consider an announcement of a new story at least interesting, and not a plague.

So, tell me. What's a handicapped marketer to do?

On an individual basis, if you want to be on that vetted list , click Contact on that Blue Button above, or leave a comment to this posting. If you do have a private mailing list of your own, you could maybe mention and the stories available there -- free short stories as well as my experimental webstore -- but only if you think it's appropriate.

Hmm. I wonder what a highway billboard rents for?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Website Change is completed

Okay, I've finished my revamp of the web re-design. It looks the same, in general, but it was greatly in need of a cleanup, and now I've done it. One more checkmark off the to-do list.

I've added a webstore, with one item for sale, a downloadable novel. So all you people who've been urging me to sell stuff on the web, now's your chance to prove yourself right. I would also appreciate any links to direct traffic that way.

If there are any bugs, please tell me.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Deep into Webbishness

I'm taking a break for a minute to write this entry and to let my brain cells relax for a minute or two. Adding direct sales functionality to my web site has escallated to a complete re-do of the whole site. So, I have a diagram of the new site map on my desk, with checkmarks on each page I've completed. It will be a few more days, likely, before I'm done.

I set up a new domain that I'm using as a test-bed., so I can leave the production site alone until I've got the new one up and running. You can actually visit the under-construction version, but it's running on a mac mini at my house behind an ISDN line, so bandwidth is horrible. Once I've got it all ready, I'll just clone it over to the one running on my ISP.

For years, I've been a Dreamweaver user, but with iWeb being so close to usable, I've been doing the bulk of the redesign using it as my main design tool. There are a few pieces that won't work, but with some scripts in the background, I'll be able to make cosmetic changes with iWeb and then pop up the terminal and type make to patch in the additional functions. iWeb would be a lot nicer if I had my own custom templates, but I don't want to take the time to make that happen. Not yet. Instead, I pick the plainest template available and the delete everything off it until I'm left with a blank page. Then I copy and paste design elements from previously completed pages.

If everything works as planned, I'll have a totally static website, one that I can clone to three different locations, just in case an ISP goes down. Strange. Just a couple of years ago I designed a totally dynamic web site system for my wife and sister that they're using. and are just a couple of perl cgi scripts and a database. You can never accuse me of consistency.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I Need Marketing Advice

For some time now, I have been toying with the idea of selling some of my writing directly from my web site. This is quite a change from my decades-long policy of selling my stuff only through the traditional publishing companies. For just as long people have been telling me to sell direct, using the shareware model and others, but I have been adamant. My thought was this -- the web is flooded with words, from blogs to wiki's to traditional news services. Fiction out on the web almost declares itself sub-standard. If it was good, wouldn't the traditional publishers have paid for it and sent it out in paper?

I think my logic was valid, but conditions have changed. There has been an explosion of content, both good and bad. Everyone knows how to wiggle the keys and put words on the screen now. Practically everyone I know has a blog. This translates into a glut of manuscripts to the traditional publishers as well. I've been sending manuscripts to publishers since at least 1973, and I can tell you Things Have Changed. In the olden days, I took the used box a ream of paper came in and packaged up the whole novel manuscript and mailed it off. It's been years since I've had to do that. For a while, it was just "three chapters and a synopsis". Now, it's "send a query letter", if the publisher will even talk to an un-agented author. The big guys, for the most part, will kindly direct you to a list of agents. Of course, getting an agent to read your material now is just as hard as it was to get interest from a publisher.

I _Know_ my writing is better now than it used to be. That novel I sent out in 1973 would have been a terrible embarrassment if it had actually been published. In fact that same story line has been mutated, expanded, and re-written into a much better story now, one that I would be proud to see on the shelf. My short fiction still manages to be sold to the magazines, but since I have been concentrating on writing novels, there is very little of that being produced.

So, I am writing novels. I have ten good ones ready to sell, but I am unable to get them across the moat into the hands of the publishers. I understand their policies. They are flooded with content. They have to rely on agents to filter out the worst of it. But many of my competitors may not write better, but are better at that query letter, or gaining the attention of an editor or agent at a conference.

So, I must learn how to better market myself. I've been waiting to be discovered for decades, and looking at the mirror, I have lost confidence that it will happen on its own. I have to try something new.

I have entered a contest. Maybe "award winning manuscript" will make it more appealing.

But I am also considering dipping my toes into direct sales.

My website has already offered short fiction to read. Like this one, or this one. These are stories that have already been published by the magazines, and thus were already judged "good enough". I haven't put my rejects out there.

But what I'm considering now is a sample novel. I'd rig some kind of "web store" and email out a PDF packaged copy of just one of the novels. I've looked at Print On Demand and other self-publishing techniques, but large up-front costs or managing an inventory of paper copies doesn't appeal to me at all. Indeed, all of these small volume paper publishing ideas produce very expensive books.

I could supply a PDF formatted to be printed, just like I currently use when I send a manuscript to my first readers, or I could provide one formatted for easy reading on the screen. I have no confidence in or liking for DRM, so this would have none. I'd just have to hope that releasing an easily pirated copy into the wild would be a risk worth the rewards of wider exposure.

I have no expectation than any Big Name Publisher is crusing the web, looking for properties to publish, but any increase in my name recognition, and any better appreciation of what Henry Melton fiction is like, could only help me out, down the line. I have little expectation I'll make any money this way. People expect to read free, or nearly free, off the web.

So, Reader, what do you think? Is it a workable idea? What do you think about the PDF formats? What would you like to see? What would tempt you to visit and browse? I honestly need your advice.