Thursday, January 31, 2008

An iPhone Novel? It's do-able.

Having read several articles about the Japanese craze for cell phone novels, I thought I'd see how well the iPhone stacks up as a writing instrument. This isn't too strange for me. I've written novels on a Newton before. But those were just first drafts and were heavily edited on my laptop later.

This is an experiment and I doubt I'll finish this story. But here it is. All writing was done with my index finger -- I haven't graduated to the two-thumbs method yet. Any editing was also done with the iPhone. Here is perhaps a first chapter of a novel, untouched after I emailed it out of Notes.

Major problems: No italics or bold. Scrolling to the bottom of the note takes a while. And as yet, the only way to get it out to other computers is via email.

Take a look at the results. This was done over a couple of days between other projects.

The apartment was three blocks from the park, but from the eighth floor, I could see the tops of the trees yielding to the wind gusts. Maybe I should just skip my walk and keep working. The deadline wasn't getting any more extensions.
But I hadn't picked up anything for lunch either. Nubbie's Hot Dog stand on the north end of the park sounded better each minute. Eventually, I closed the file and pulled on my sweater. I reached the elevator and when three people got out, all bundled in heavy coats, I had a second thought and went back to add my down coat and the wool cap.
As I dashed across the street, my hands in my pocket, I wished I'd thought about gloves as well.
No snow, although that might not last given the looks of the clouds.
I reached the park and was pleased to see that even on a day like this there were still people out on the walkways. The more I walked, the warmer I felt.
Cutting across the open meadow at the north end, I reached the radiant warmth of Fred's stand.
"The usual."
He nodded and began building my dog. I like pickle relish and yellow mustard over a fat sausage.
I nodded and he handed me a steaming foam cup. I just held it in my hands to warm them up. It was much too hot to drink just yet.
"It's cold out."
Fred, sweating behind his burners, nodded and looked past me onto the park. "For some people."
I looked over my shoulder as I handed him the cash. There was someone standing on the little rise in the meadow.
"I need a cost myself on a day like this."
He grunted and passed over the coins. "She's been there for an hour like that."
She? From this distance I couldn't tell if it was man or woman or even a child. I took my food over to a park bench near the tree line and began sipping the chocolate. The warmth spread inside me and made me glad I'd taken the break from the report and gone outside.
It was a woman or at least a mature teen, with that profile. But she had to be small. She was in some kind of slacks and the wind was whipping at her cuffs. Still, she stood there, facing into the wind like a character out of a fantasy I remembered--a princess watching the contestants of a joist for her favor. I struggled to remember where I'd seen it. It had to be one of those oriental martial arts movies or maybe a video game. I could remember the panoramic scene, complete with enormous flowing robes and flashing swords. I frowned over the memory but there were no more details.
When I looked back up at the girl I was surprised to see her looking in my direction. At least she wasn't a statue put there to confuse the passerbys. There were enough jokesters in this town that I wouldn't have been surprised.
My cup was empty and I feared to set down and have it blown away so I crumpled it and stuffed it in my pocket. The dog was still warm and I was ready for it. I took the first bite and then chewed slowly as I watched my hillside princess come down off her perch and walk straight towards me.

I fumbled with the dog, took a second bite and then wrapped it back up as it became clear that she had me as her destination. Why? There were twenty people here in the park and according to Fred she'd been standing there for an hour ignoring everyone.
When she was a dozen paces away I could see that she was stumbling and unsteady on her feet. I got up from the bench. She needed help. Her face and hands were blue from the cold, and no wonder, her clothes were thin and totally unsuited for this weather. Maybe my coat...
I'd barely undone the zipper when she raised her arms and dived into the opening.
Yes that would work too. I'd intended to wrap her in my coat but she practically climbed inside my coat with me.
Oof! Cold hands worked their way under my shirt and were like ice on my skin. Hey, she needed the warmth.
Giving in to the inevitability of it all, I just wrapped my arms around her and looked over the top of her head to see if anyone was looking. I have nothing against holding a girl tight, but I'd like to at least know who she was.
"Ah, hello?"
No response other than an even tighter grip around my chest. I could feel her uncontrolled shivers. Was she likely to be going onto shock or something? I had no idea of how it worked. But I needed to get her out of the cold air.
As I turned slightly to put my back to the wind I noticed that the dog was gotten knocked off the bench and a pigeon was already working the wrapper free.
Food! And hot chocolate! That's what she needed.
"We're moving now." No reply. Either she was too cold to speak or ... something. Anyway talking could wait. I turned the both of us and began walking. She wasn't about to come out of my coat, but she shifted slightly so she wasn't walking backwards. Her fingers were still cold, but they were no longer ice. In fact, they felt kinda nice.
Fred watched us approach with a puzzled look on his face. He shook his head and smiled.
"Until I saw that face, I thought you'd grown another pair of legs."
Looking down I could see her peeking out. She was wearing some kind of cloth cap that was likely more decorative than warm, but she was definitely cute. With Fred looking on, I was acutely aware that her left hand was digging under my belt in search of warmer skin.
"It's a good thing you pointed her out, Fred. The girl is frozen, without any coat at all. Give us a couple of Trashcan hot chocolates and another couple of dogs." I'd told him that I didn't think he'd named his giant sized drinks very well, but he was happy with the moniker. All the Big-whatsits and Super-thingies were all taken by the big chains.
Handing the girl a large hot drink at least got her hands out of my pants in a reasonably tasteful way. She held it like a sacred chalice, closing her eyes and breathing in the sweet warm aroma. I took the opportunity to drape my coat around her and lead her to the bench most sheltered from the wind. It was also my first real look at her other than those few seconds when she zeroed in on me across the meadow.
She was small, and with the dark hair and my memories of that movie, I'd first thought she was oriental but looking closer, she wasn't. I'd be hard pressed to classify her. Something of a unique mix--pale skin, dark black hair, nose a bit wider than I was used to, but her eyes...I couldn't quite classify those either. Brown or hazel, but she'd turn her head and I'd see gray or blue. Lovely eyes and with a smile every time she looked up at me.
Her drink vanished quickly and I reluctantly offered mine. My sweater alone wasn't doing the job. She downed that one as well.
"We better get started on these dogs while they're hot." I handed her one and she held it one way and then another before looking at me for directions. Not familiar with a hot dog? That was strange. Almost as strange as standing out on the meadow in this weather, or crawling into my coat without a word.
"It's a hot dog. Eat it like this."
She unwrapped the end like I did and took a bite. The hot juices must have caught her off guard. She wiped something from her face and then chewed, grinning at me as I worked to finish my lunch before some new disaster would interrupt.
Hunger abated, I had to decide what to do with her.
If we could talk, I'd have something to go on. But either she couldn't talk--I hadn't heard a peep out of her even when she burned her mouth on that first sup of hot chocolate--or she spoke a foreign language. I'd bet on that, because it didn't appear that she understood English either.
Was she waiting here in the park for someone? That brought an unpleasant thought to mind. What if she was bring abandoned like a puppy that had worn out its cuteness. There was a trade in Russian brides. Probably other countries as well. Maybe someone "ordered" her and then when she arrived she was too small or too quiet or something.
But I can't just carry her off either. I don't have the right and I could get in big trouble if someone thought I was kidnapping a child.
I looked at her again, really hard. She noticed my gaze and tidied up the crumbs on her face and straightened up, putting a smile on her face and tilting her head back and forth so I could get a good look. Honestly, she looked small not young. Like my first impression of a young oriental woman, except without the oriental facial features.
But I was just wasting time, and starting to shiver myself. The sweater alone wasn't warm enough. I needed to get back home.
I'd really hate to lose that coat. But that was one of the options playing through my head.
"Stay here. I'll be right back." I stood up and with a glance at the traffic, dashed across the street to Fred.
He looked up and his eyes opened wide in horror. A screech of tires on pavement echoed with a female shreik of terror. I turned just in time to see a taxi skidding at an angle, just missing the bundled up girl, screaming in the street. She'd followed me.
I raced back and hustled her out of the road. The taxi driver had stopped and was getting out to see if he'd hit her.
I held her shoulders. "Are you okay?"
She could read my intent even if she didn't understand the words. She nodded and then tried to explain in gestures what had happened. She was rattled, I could tell. Wherever she'd come from, she hadn't had to check for traffic before.
"Is she okay? She stepped out right on front of me!"
I reached for my business cards and handed him one. "I saw what happened and you're one great driver. I don't exactly know who she is but she doesn't talk and may not be right on the head. She owes you her life. Get something from Fred here, on me."
I really had no idea what I was talking about, but it had the desired effect. He glanced at where his cab was double-parked and nodded. "Just glad she's not hurt." A free hot dog and a coke was much better than talking to the police.
I took her frantically waving hands in mine and she began to calm down. I was worried. Her hands were as hot now as they had been icy before. I hoped she wasn't coming down with a fever. I had to get her indoors out of the weather if she would let me.
"Fred, I'm gonna head back my place and see if she follows. Take one of my cards in case someone comes looking for her."
He looked at it distrustfully. "I'd warn you about picking up strays, but you've already fed her."
I nodded ruefully. It wasn't my first choice, but I couldn't abandon her either.
Three blocks, holding her hand gave me a little time to think. I took the opportunity to point out stoplights. She quickly comprehended the red and green lights, but when I pointed out a stopsign, she just looked puzzled.
She kept looking up at the buildings as if she'd never seen a skyscraper before. Had she been raised on a farm?
The elevator had her completely confused and she hesitated to enter the strange little room. For just an instant, she panicked when we started moving up. She looked at me with a nervous smile, and then with a little nod to herself, she straightened up and waited until we stopped.
"Here we are. Eighth floor." I pointed to the number on the button but I don't think she connected it with the lit number above.
She followed closely all the way to my apartment. I took off my sweater and hung it on the peg. When I reached out, she shed my big cumbersome jacket and shook out the wrinkles in her clothes.
We stood there looking at each other for a moment, neither of us knowing what to do next.
I sat down on the couch. "Come here. I want to feel your temperature." I patted the cushion beside me.
She sat down. I took her hand again and frowned. I put my hand on her forehead. She giggled. I leaned back.
"So you have a voice." I remembered her scream in the street but I'd almost convinced myself that I'd imagined it. She also had no fever. Had I imagined that as well?
She leaned over, it was a bigger reach for her, and felt my face. She was grinning with the tip of her tongue trapped between perfect rows of teeth. I put up with it--turnabout is fair play.
When she started playing with my mouth, I asked, "Do you talk? Can you say aaah?"
She looked puzzled. I repeated the noise. Then again, "Aaah."
Hesitantly, she opened her mouth and then closed it.
"Come on. Show me you can speak. I won't bite. Aaah."
Like a little bird call, she cheeped, "eeh."
She was trying at least. Was her native language so different that she couldn't even say aaah?
I smiled. "Good!"
"Ud!" she giggled and held her hands on front of her mouth as if she'd done something daring and naughty.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Bought 2 CD's

I mention this because it's rare. I'm strictly a one-click purchaser on iTunes. Want to buy me a gift? One of those iTunes gift cards will do nicely.

However, I had lunch at Tres Amigos at the intersection of 290 and 183 and as we sat down for our traditional fajitas, I noticed a guitar nearby, leaning up against a few speakers. I sighed. I'm not a big fan of live entertainment at a restaurant. I like sitting and talking, and far too often, especially in Austin, a place has booked a live band of some kind. Sometimes I bring earplugs to a place if I fear I'm likely to be entertained. (I hate TV's in restaurants too, but that's a different rant.)

But as we waited for our order to arrive, a guy sat down, picked up the Takamine G Series Acoustic Electric Classical Guitar and with no announcement or anything, just began strumming. Most of the pieces Buzz Guerra played were old standards, like Misty or If You Could Read My Mind, but done with complex strumming and arranged so that I just enjoyed the music, and only when well into the piece, could I recognize the name of the song.

The sound was comfortable. Mary Ann and I ate and talked world politics (tribalization problems mainly) and were never unpleasantly distracted. I greatly enjoyed the meal, and walked over to his little table with CD's, a business card and a tip jar. As the meal wound down, I visited his website on my iPhone and begged Mary Ann for cash to pick up his CD's. His playing and instrumental arrangements, I knew, would be perfect background as I wrote.

When I purchased the CD's Buzz mentioned that there was another CD on the way.  I'll be looking for it.

Take a look at Buzz Guerra's website.  I think there are a few sample tracks you can listen to.  I recommend them.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Travel Days 2007

It's my annual travel summary blog. In general, it was a very good travel year, with more than half of it away from home. However, as I ran the numbers it wasn't a record. I had been thinking it would be, with a long trip to Yellowstone and a month in Africa, but 2007 was a case of fewer trips, even though those were memorable.

The cities marked on the maps aren't consistent. Most of them were places were we spent the night, but Gold Beach was just the limit city of that California run, and Washington DC was an airport layover on our Africa trip. We certainly visited many more locations, but I just marked notable places as I went along. These maps are from my screensaver, OSXplanet, which isn't currently working (and I miss it).

However, 2008 is shaping up to be one with less travel. Budget issues. Hey, it's been 19 days of the new year and I haven't been anywhere yet! I'm getting itchy.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Working on the Wrong Problem

I'm sitting at my desk so much I just wore out the office chair and the plastic chair mat that lets the wheels roll around instead of digging into the carpet.  I just put down a new mat when the shock absorber gadget in the main column started leaking black oil.  Oh, well.  Put a new chair on the to-do list.

I'm working as hard as I can to make this publishing effort work, but I suspect I'm working on the wrong tasks.  I just made several runs through the layout and proofing of Lighter Than Air, while waiting for another finished proof copy of Roswell or Bust to arrive in the mail.  I spend hours making the text pleasing to see and easy to read.  I'm working long hours layout out the covers, and being a slave-driver to the artists working on the art, trying for a perfect image.

I want these books to be perfect, and I keep learning more and more about how to put it all together.

But making a great book isn't my problem.  The real problem is that no one knows that they exist.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Eyes are Blurry

I've been doing layout and editing on Lighter Than Air, one of the novels that I'll be putting out this year.  I've probably read the story a dozen times when I first wrote and polished it, but now that I'm doing the final layout, I've read through it four times in the past two days.  And I think it gets better each time.

That's one thing I find about my writing.  I'm in love with the story when I write it, but when it ages while off at a publishing house or an agent, I tend to lose confidence.  This was certainly a pleasant surprise when I opened up the file and began working on it again.  I wrote a great story and it holds together very well, even under multiple re-readings.

A publisher has to be in love with the books he produces, and, you know, I'm not having any difficulty with that at all.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The House is Quiet

Holidays are over. No guests left. Most days Mary Ann is in and out on her own projects. I think today I've got a little cabin fever.

Progress is being made on Roswell or Bust. I've just put together the third proof copy. Yes, I am learning this process the hard way. I rushed the first proofs using the artist's preliminary sketch for a cover, but when I had a copy in hand, I realized I could do a better job of formatting the text -- plus I needed some more proofs to send off to the pre-publication reviewers. So I put together a second batch of proof copies with a horrible error added. During the formatting stage, I had deleted most scene breaks. Major wince.

So for the past couple of days I have re-entered all the scene breaks and fixed the text. Then, during the conversion process of DOC file to PDF, the page count dropped. It seems the on-line converter I've been using is probably based on a Windows Word model and I've been using Mac Word. There is just enough difference in the products that the automatic repagination comes out differently. This makes a big difference when preparing the PDF files for a print-on-demand engine, because all books have to have page counts evenly divisible by 4.

So, back to the edit stage to make sure that no chapters end close to the end of a page. That solved, I prepared the text of the book. Now to the cover.

My first attempts at putting together books had used the cover wizard on the Lulu site. However, there are considerable limits in what you can do there. I wanted more. So the real cover has been carefully built up in Photoshop, layer on layer. I was just about to upload the flattened, PDF version of the cover when I noticed a misspelled word! Yuck.

So back to Photoshop. Luckily I had saved all layers and all component images so fixing the text was actually easy. I put it all together and uploaded it. So proof version 3 is in process. And I know it won't be the last.

I'm in the process of converting from Lulu as my printer to Lightningsource. I can make books at a much better price-point that way. However, it's easier to make all these proof copies using Lulu. The price per unit is higher, but there isn't the initial upload charge that Lightningsource has. So, once all the final changes are in and I add the last finishing touch, I'll upload everything to Lightingsource and produce the last proof copy there.

Unfortunately that still leaves me a small set of proof copies with no scene breaks. But that's the whole purpose of proofs, isn't it? Find those nasty mistakes and squash them before turning on the production run.

By the way, any blogger who does book reviews who wants a copy, let me know. I'll even mark the scene breaks for you.