Friday, April 4, 2014

Starting to write as freelancer today?

These days, I’m not sure anyone who started freelancing when I did—1968—can really offer much useful advice, but I'll try. Keep in mind that until recently, I had no interest at all in writing fiction. I wrote, and still write, non-fiction, usually in the do-it-yourself fields that most interest me--cars, photography, woodworking and home repair and remodeling. Along the way, I photographed and wrote feature articles on specific older cars for several magazines, some of which no longer exist and one that now believes my lowest rate is too high.

The successful freelancer spends as much time checking markets as he, or she, does researching and writing articles. Markets come and go, and the Internet has created massive weaknesses in the print market so market checks are even more important today.

Current freelance markets are almost all on a downward slide, producing a sense of futility in those of us who have been doing this for years. Getting $20 to $50 for 400 or 500 words is not a sane option for anyone looking to make a living turning out useful words. This is the primary reason, in my opinion, that there is so much half-assed nonsense published on-line as either news or do-it-yourself material, or, for that matter, as essays on various subjects. About 98% is poorly written, and even more poorly thought out. All is poorly researched, if researched at all.

That said, there remains some areas that still pay at least half decently—The Atlantic comes to mind—while demanding excellence all around. Some of the still existing semi-technical magazines, such as Popular Mechanics, take freelance material and pay decently for it, as do some of the car and woodworking magazines. I’m sure there are others with which I am not familiar because of a lack of interest in the subject matter. I don’t much like the direction the current Popular Science has gone, but for years, I picked up appreciable chunks of money from them. Extreme How To is an interesting magazine that pays decently.

Today, the ability to work fast and accurately is even more important than in the past: for most of my busiest years, I could make a decent living writing from three to five articles a month. Today, it is difficult to find five sensible assignments in any one month, and the requisite numerical need seems closer to eight  (assuming a max of $500 per article).
Ten years ago, I usually wrote two $500 articles, one or two for $800 to $1800 and, if luck was good, one for $3000.

I was able to add a book most years, though for a period of time, I did flat fee books (usually a mistake) for a publisher at the rate of two a year.

If I had to begin as a freelancer today, I wouldn't. It is more crowded, less enjoyable, and pays less. Still, if anyone wants to write today in the arenas in which I worked in the past, I’d suggest checking the magazines on newsstands, and going through various writer’s publications that offer market listings as part of their fare.

I’ve some very modest success recently with short material on Amazon. Such things as “How To Build A Birdhouse” sound simple minded, but I’ve kept the price very low, so it sells a few copies most months. I’ve also put a couple of books on Amazon, but they don’t do as well as the simpler articles, at least so far. From what I understand, sales are enhanced in two ways, one of which is extensive on-line marketing by the writer, not one of my strengths, and by having at least five publications listed. I haven’t gotten there yet because I spent the last year, or most of it, either in hospital or rehab centers recovering from botched knee replacement surgery.

I’m not going to give writing instruction beyond saying the avoidance of clich├ęs is always good and clarity is even better. You obviously need to be able to construct sentences that make sense. In the process, avoid what is known as purple prose, the inflation of descriptions with too many, and too vivid adjectives. Hemingway is a good example there, though a bit extreme.
Otherwise, read good writers as often as possible and try to follow their examples—without plagiarizing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Back in Action--sort of

After over a year of mostly being an invalid, I'm stumbling along in a slightly more active manner these days.

I'm updating a book I wrote nine years ago, for Fox Chapel Publishing. That's a tight deadline I probably won't make.

I'm having fun trying to load an ebook on Smashwords. Evidently they are overloaded right now, so I've wasted over an hour waiting for something that isn't going to happen this morning...maybe never. This is an update, and shortening, of my 1994 "Woodworker's Guide to Selecting and Milling Wood", brought out originally by Betterway Books, a company that was soon bought by Popular Woodworking Books (now owned by F+W Publishing). It should be useful for woodworkers from beginning levels on up to intermediates, and might interest a few experts. All I have to do is get it on-line through Smashwords. It is available as an Amazon Kindle book already.

The car show season for those outside California and Florida is about to crank up, and I hope to be in shape to hit some of south central Virginia's usually large group of smaller local shows. I'm hoping the town of Bedford is still going to be running their Main Street version, though it may mean more walking than I'm capable of at this point.

In another couple of weeks, I'll be attempting to install windows in a basement for an article for "Extreme How To", assigned over 18 months ago. I hope Matt's sense of humor is still intact (and he still wants the article).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The best laid plans seem to go off the track more often for me than for many others. My expectations for 2013 left out the possibility of intense problems. Intense problems hit.

My knee surgery on January 27th seemed to go well, but within a few weeks I was informed that there was a massive infection, presumably created by the prosthesis. Within a short period of time, the new knee was removed and replaced with concrete spacers, which are still with me months later. These were not blocks of concrete as I envisioned, but slender rods of resin, helping me to keep my leg straight. They are fragile, though, so I've been wearing a chic leg garment called an immobilizer since the second surgery.

I'm still bedridden or wheelchair is hard to believe how desirable a simple shower becomes after five or six months of bathing, or being bathed, out of a bowl of tepid water. Take my word for it. As soon as the next replacement is in place and the scar healed enough, I'll drain our hot water tank every day for a week or more!

To add to our fun, just as we were about to move me from a rehab facility to our home so my wife could take over caring for me, lightning struck the house. That was a real blip on our screen. Fortunately, we've got good insurance, so we're currently living in a rental paid for by State Farm.

It took until about ten days ago to pry my computer out of the restorer's grip, and we've been up and running for about nine days.

The decision to change home pages was primarily brought on by Google's announcement that iGoogle was to be shut down on November 1, 2013, and laziness prompted using Meandering Mind as the landing site. Whether this will make any difference to a seldom updated and mostly unread blog, I have no idea.

With luck, I'll post more, though until late October, gaps will happen as I go through more surgery and physical therapy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snowbound Dreams

I'm watching the snow--intermittently, because there's no window in my office--while thinking of the next step in my current work. With winter upon us, outdoor projects have ceased. Actually, they'd stalled before this as my bad knee got worse. That begins to change  next month when the knee gets replaced.

I've actually applied myself to writing a novel: Big 50 is to be a thriller--I hope--and swings around a retired Marine who supplements his retirement by writing about the outdoors, guns and whatever interests him at the moment. There are bank robberies and weaponry and antique and new cars and other things that blend my interests and knowledge into a whole that I hope will interest many thousands of readers.

I've written nearly 50 non-fiction trade books, so assembling words is not something that is a problem, but assembling them into interesting fiction is a different kind of work than is writing non-fiction. At this stage it is a lot more difficult.

The writing goes in fits and starts, but I hope to have it done late in February or early in March depending partly on how long and difficult the knee rehab is. I've done that before, and while it isn't a whole lot of fun, after a month or so, getting around is fairly easy with a cane. With this right knee replacement, though, I won't be driving until the end of March. Living where I do, that's going to be a challenge. I'll probably re-read everything on our bookshelves!

The big problem with books published on the Internet, whether just popped up as a PDF on a web site, done as a Kindle or Nook book, or anything else that crops up before I finish Big 50, is marketing. Regardless of the joy found in researching the characters--yeah, really, you do need to know your characters--and following them on the pages, the intent of any genre novel is to make money by pleasing the largest number of people possible. So far, I've been ineffective on the Internet at this in non-fiction, with most of the suggestions available being either unaffordable or plain stupid. I'm aware that latter judgment is too harsh so I'm looking for new ways that aren't stupid--in my mind.

In the meantime, I'll check in here and drop a word or six on the writing process, stumbles in research and similar enjoyable pastimes.  At the moment, I'm approaching 40,000 words in the first draft. I'm not sure what total we'll see, but double that seems a likely number, especially the way my characters are pushing me now. Once everything is written, I'll rewrite, then edit, then proofread. I'll probably do another rewrite after that, so the final book may be 60,000 words--or 100,000.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Lot of Want Tos

This isn't a Christmas list: I've been hampered more than a little in the past eight or nine weeks with my old bugaboo, a miserable knee. The knee in question, my right one, has already had two surgeries, so next month it goes in for replacement. Unfortunately, I've got to go with it.

In the meantime, my physical activity is pretty much limited to a stationary bike and a couple of light dumbbells.

The left knee replacement went well last year, though any kind of surgery when they have to knock you all the way out is less fun than most other things. Too, there is no time wasted between coming out of the ether (or whatever anesthesia they use) to starting rehab. Leg motion starts on day 1, and you're out of bed the next day, if memory serves...memory doesn't always serve well, because they started pain medication (Fentanyl...never again!) that interacted with anesthesia too early and I hallucinated for what Frances says was four days. I guess I was in and out because I can recall learning to use a walker--there really is a right way!

Rehab is no fun, but is a little better than the horror story many guys pass along. Yes, it hurts a bit. Yes, it aches a lot. But in the end, if the surgeon has done his job, which Dr. Larry Lipscomb had, you end up with more range of motion in your knee than you've had in a good number of years. The rehab person is also important. You have to get along, appreciate the effort she--in my case--was putting into getting you active.

In the meantime, check out for my most recent Kindle book:

 And for you bird lovers, here's an easy to make birdhouse:

Come next year, I expect to produce a birdhouse based on scrap materials and stuff that is normally tossed in the dumpster. At this point, I foresee it being another Kindle book, as print publishers are still running scared. I've got most of the methods worked out, all the tools I can think of needed ready to use, and plenty of scrap. I just can't stand for long enough to do the real work. That will come.

Shortly after that, I'll be finishing photography for a beginner's guide to car photography. Short and to the point, with lots of photos. In the meantime, I've got a photo book that is useful for those who want to shoot and organize their photographs in story form. It's what I do, and it's easy, but...

And a hearty Ho, Ho, Ho, just in case I don't get a chance to get back on here before then. Merry Christmas to all.

Next up, Peace on Earth, though I'm afraid we'll need to stick with Semper Fidelis for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

After Election Thoughts

No one asked me, so here it is:

Going Back To Failure Ain't A Grand Idea
 My belief is that re-instituting George Bush's policies would have brought on an almost instant depression instead of a recession that we seem to be stumbling our way out o, too slowly but gaining. The recession wasn't wholly Bush's fault, but his emphasis on deregulation certainly helped the banks get too big to fail, very fast, while he stared on in incomprehension while Darth Cheney did whatever Cheney does—pull the strings? Financial affairs absolutely must be regulated, and no bank can be allowed to grow too large to fail. Supposedly, we learned that in 1929, but that generation is mostly gone now, and the lesson has trickled down and disappeared--about like the good from Reagan's trickle down effect. Those banks already in that category need to be forced into more elemental business structures so that a failure doesn't present a row of dominoes that continue to fall.

Bush's reactions included stimuli and TARP, for which Obama has already taken the heat, but neither was truly big enough to give instant relief. Romney was, like WalMart, a roll-back type. And as at WalMart, rollback was mostly bullshit.

Why The Republican Loss
The Republicans, at least according to current conventional wisdom, have twice now been voted down because they refuse to admit that our society is no longer made up of mostly white people with a few blacks tossed in to pepper the stew. Some of those peppers are now chilis, and the LBGT community has grown in power, so that's three large, and growing, groups that went the other way. Add to that Romney's arrogance--his 47% remark was meant only for the elite, and helped to destroy his candidacy when it was released--and his wife's similar attitude: "You people have enough information", which, "we" generally agreed we didn't. Us peasants. I still believe Romney's refusal to release more than two years of tax returns was a sign that he was hiding things. It wouldn't have looked fantastic for a super-patriot to have paid no income tax for most of eight or ten years, so he refused to release his returns. Yes, it would be legal. But the lack of patriotism, the actual anti-Americanism, it would show would have destroyed his campaign on day one of the release. So, no release. The counter-arguments about Obama's college records was asinine. When on earth have school record releases been a requirement for the Presidency? Only in the minds of the Tea Party. That particular argument again hurt the Republicans. It does seem, too, that a great many Republicans are afraid of women, to the point of disliking them and making it evident where they can be overheard, after passing laws many women feel intrude on their persons in ways not done to men.

The best event of the entire election cycle: Karl Rove's on-air meltdown when Obama was declared the winner early by Fox. The little worm deserved everything bad that went through his mind then, including wondering if the Kochs would hire a hit man for the guy who pissed away 300 million Republican generated bucks on a "can't lose" proposition and then lost. He's so oleaginous, it won’t be surprising if he finds a way to reinsert himself into the party, though. And now, Gingrich is stumping around wondering how it happened. It strikes me as odd that the Republicans who attacked Romney the hardest during the primaries don't understand that those very facets of his personality they pointed up were the problem. Hell, the Democrats could have won going away if they'd just re-aired the Republican primary commercials and speeches about Romney.

Prognostications..But Not from Me
As to what the future brings fiscally, no one has any real ideas. We all have a lot of hope, but until he of the orange face, Boehner, manages to form some kind of working relationship with both President Obama and the rest of his party, we're stuck with what we've had for too much of the past four years: maladroitness and something very close to the gridlock DC residents face driving to work every morning. Eventually, they get there, though, and I won't know if the U.S. will. If we get two more years of "Party of No" from the Republicans, I'd almost bet half will be voted out of office in 2014.

Of course, term limits provide at least a partial solution. Unfortunately, the very people who would implement term limits are those who are staying in Congress and becoming professional politicians. I don't believe that kind of political scene was what the Framers intended, but there's nothing to prevent it in the Constitution. Probably the only way it can be done is a grassroots movement that allows the incumbents to remain as long as they are reelected. The next elected officeholders get out in a single term. Of course, that poses another problem for the incumbents: what happens if people pay attention and vote them out! If they came back two or six years down the road they'd only get a double term or whatever is allowed. Personally, I'd like to see a three-term limit for Congressmen, two terms for Senators and a single six year term for President. That would stir some stumps.

I don't expect anything like that to be enacted in my lifetime, even if I live to my Aunt Eugenia's age of 97. 

Tough Times
I disagree on the times currently really being all that tough for most people, though many of us are in—er, reduced circumstances. Thinking back to what I've been told of the Depression, our Great Recession has been a minor inconvenience for many and a disaster for very few, relatively speaking. I go into VA and almost no matter the time of day, the roads flow with vehicles, restaurants are busy, malls are overflowing, and money is moving. I pulled into a Hardee's (a regional fast food chain with great biscuits) last week to get a biscuit and some coffee, and the line circled the building and went into the street. We still don't go out for dinner on weekends because of the crowds at decent restaurants. I look around and the vehicles I see today are still those no one with a grain of sense buys and drives any more--which shows how few have a grain of sense, I guess. SUVs and four door pick-ups in abundance. I know there are those out there who cannot afford to change--hell, I'm one of them, with this damned Taurus POS station wagon. We owe too much on that to get rid of it for another year, while it continues to drink gas at a 23MPG clip. 

Certainly I'm more cramped for cash than I'm used to. My 2008 book on woodshops never came close to paying back its advance...the timing was terrible as everyone was worried about every buck, and few people wanted to spend time dreaming of, or building, a hobby woodworking shop. No trade publishers since have been up for my ideas. I have two books and an article plan up on Amazon. So far, sales are abysmal, at best. That is mostly my fault. I have yet to find a key to selling the books that doesn't make me feel like a charlatan or jackass or both. I realize that with the Internet, I need to put my personal feelings aside, and do the clown act, the door-to-door sales bullshit, but I thought I had bailed out of that after an abortive few weeks selling encyclopedias in NYC. In 1962. Like a great many people my age, I've been brought up to be reticent about most of my accomplishments. I didn't even realize that my middle nephew didn't know I'd been in the Marines until I asked him something about his local Marine Corps League detachment. Marty was born during my last year in the Marines!

Messing with SS and Medicare
I paid into Social Security from the time I was 14 until some time maybe 52 years later, plus a couple years since I "retired". Yet that is one of the programs Boehner and his ilk wish to tear apart, that and Medicare are on their chopping block. There certainly need to be changes, with the foremost being a removal of the top income limits for the deductions. That's nearly a cure alone. Medicare needs to be allowed to do as the VA does: bargain for prices on drugs and services.

Losers and Winners
Tim Kaine beat up pretty well on George Allen. It is to be hoped that Allen will now go back to practicing corporate law where he might actually do some good, if good is what corporate lawyers do. He was one of the least fiscally responsible governors we've had in recent years: I guess he inherited that from his father. George Allen Sr. was touted by the then owner of the Redskins (Jack Kent?) as having been given an unlimited budget which he then exceeded. The nut doesn't fall far from the tree. Allen was a pissant Senator for his term, too, voting for expensive program after expensive program.

We've been behind on education, but, so far, no one has tried to get much of a tax passed. It wouldn't make it in our current climate. Of course, we've got Republicans all over the place touting a new voter ID card, with photo and laminated, for all eligible voters in the country. I think that's maybe 200 million people. It strikes me as nuts that the party that wants to save money around the clock is wildly in favor of doing something that would be very expensive for a problem that barely exists. It's a little like replacing all the plumbing in a home because one faucet is dripping. At a rough estimate, each ID would cost about six bucks. That's includes hiring people to shoot photos, take in the info and print it out, then laminate it all. I mean, what's a billion bucks between friends? The saying--Sam Rayburn's?-- that "a million here, a million there and sooner or later it adds up to real money" may be changed to "a billion here, a billion there" today.  

It all beats an added two or three cents gasoline tax to improve our roads...doesn't it? I don't think so.

Electoral College
This time around, we had no real reason to complain about the electoral college after the election, and, while Romney led, Fox was delighted with it, as was Rove. I'm not really convinced one way or the other on this one. It does provide for some neat moments, as with Rove's babbling breakdown on Fox, but otherwise, it's probably not necessary. We do need to do something about those areas where it takes too long to vote. Places around the country, all urban though often small urban like Roanoke, had waits of upwards of 90 minutes, some many hours. If that continues, election day needs to be made a Federal holiday (and we really don't need any more Federal holidays, though this one would be once every four years, because the lines do not build as badly for other elections).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Acrimony for All

I've voted in a lot of Presidential elections, but the mean-mindedness this time around is close to unbelievable.

I'm not talking about the candidates themselves, but about two things coming from different angles: PACs and citizens (and certainly more than a few non-citizens) on the Internet. I've just been reading through a series of responses that detailed Romney's ministerial service in France during the peak of the Vietnam War; some of the responses were rational, but others not so. I did get a kick out of several who chastised President Obama for not serving during 'Nam. Considering his age ranged from about four to about fourteen during that war, he would have been a real phenomenon. Romney had college draft deferments before he got ministerial deferments; college deferments were the norm for students in those days.

Romney, though, was something of a war hawk, carrying placards in support of the war. That reminds me somewhat over everyone's favorite action hero, John Wayne: he got through WWII without serving because his studio had him declared 4F. During the height of the Vietnam protests, Wayne was a war hawk, verbally abusing the young men who dodged the draft by going to Canada.

Then, and now, the U.S. seems to have developed a trend towards fighting wars that are less than imperative, making serious, and costly in terms of lives and materiel, attempts to bring democracy to those who neither want it nor have the cultural background to use it. The wonder of seeing purple thumbs on voters in places like Afghanistan wears off when one sees that one form of dictatorial government is replaced with another that quickly moves towards similar practices.

The level of acrimony during the Vietnam War years was nothing compared to what it is now. I've never been called as many names as in recent months. I do wonder sometimes just how many people change their minds because an anonymous poster verbally abuses them. A hint of a rational reason for changing one's vote might help, but being called a Libtard or Repugnican doesn't seem the way to make great progress.

As I've written before, the anonymity of the Internet is responsible for this freedom to cuss others out with no retaliation beyond a few easily ignored words. It's probably my age, but I do miss people standing up and personally taking responsibility for what they say and how they say it.

In the meantime, consider the two logos here. Christmas is coming. The Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Reserve are accepting donations for children for this season's coming tree.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lack of courtesy...

At this point in the political season, it's a wonder that the mass of insults hasn't caused more problems than is the case. The Internet itself seems to release the inner meanness of a lot of posters on both sides of the coin.

It's probable, at least in my mind, that the access to Internet anonymity is the primary villain in the piece, but added to that is the discomfort too many people often evidence when thought that goes beyond the level of bumper sticker-isms is needed. Anonymity, though, is the primary culprit: people who are in essence ashamed of, or afraid of, their own opinions find it easy to create a new on-line identity to use in order to stir the pot without burning themselves...the anonymity serves as a long handled spoon with which they can ladle out opinions without having to worry about consequences to themselves. This is designated as a need for free speech, but free speech as described in the U.S. Constitution was never designed to protect those who speak freely from non-governmental consequences for that speech.

The utter inanity of many of the comments is one thing: that's a symptom of laziness combined with a lack of reading comprehension and is usually quickly evidenced by an inability to form coherent sentences. Selfishness is another feature of too many comments and quotes, as is stereotypical thinking. Sometimes it seems the old idea of painting many people with a broad brush has given way to using a powered paint roller to collect even larger numbers, pro or con.

I don't believe I've ever before seen the number of putative quotes from our Founding Fathers as is the case in the current election cycle. Almost every one is pulled out of the air by someone, then repeated a few hundred times by others, after which it is believed to be real.

Silly statements about what a politician will or will not do that are not based in the real and legal possibilities of whatever job is up for grabs also abound. People running for state government offices make claims about how they will affect Federal legislation, while those touting Federal candidates scream that their candidates will improve things in arenas that belong entirely to the states.

It's enough to make your head ache. Enough to make you want to shout "Shut the hell UP!"

It will be over in something under two weeks, for this cycle. Be glad. I sure will be.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More of a wandering mind

Blue Ridge Parkway tree: shot last week for my own use and pleasure.

More wondering and wandering

Memories crowd in, to the point where description is unlikely to be accurate, as the memories themselves are surely tainted by years of storage without use. Then, my mind makes the jump to many of the “What ifs” of life. I have a feeling this may be the course of many minds at a certain point in life, but that, too, is irrelevant. As long as I continue to realize those alternate lives are shadows, that they did not occur, and that current memories of those peopling the daydreams are figments of my imagination, or of my sleeplessness, there's no problem.

Some of the memories are wonderful, while others are less so, and some would be terrifying if I were still a child. As a rather elderly adult, I find terror less easy to come by than I did in the days when I delivered newspapers to all of the movie houses in New Rochelle, NY. One theater specialized in Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi films: Chaney, for those who are too young to know, was the original Wolfman of horror movies; Bela Lugosi, the most famous of the Count Draculas of that era. Special effects were laughable by today’s standards, but many was the late afternoon when I got chills traveling my spine as one or another of those characters metamorphosized into less, or more, than human title characters. The next time I was that terrified I was at Parris Island, with my first drill instructor looking at me while hollering, “Your ass is grass and I’m the lawn mower”. And he was for 13 very long weeks. Finally, on April 14, I joined most of the rest of my recruit platoon in boarding a bus heading north to Camp Geiger and our Infantry Training Regiment month of fun in the sun…when there was any sun. 

All I solidly recall is sweat, chiggers, Nissen huts, and shelter halves. The Nissen huts are variants of Quonset huts (or Quonset huts are variants of Nissen’s design, depending on who you ask). Major Peter Nissen, a Brit, designed the basic half tube huts during World War I.
Life in the hut was not pleasant. Fortunately, true cold isn’t much of a factor in North Carolina in April and early May, nor is true heat, but those metal half-tubes were cookers when the temperature rose above 70. I’d hate to have been there in January.
Replica of 1966 Cobra. I shot this some time ago for a magazine article...and my own pleasure.
 I can remember exactly one name from those of my hut-mates during that month: Shanahan. His first name is long gone from memory, yet his photo sits next to mine in the Parris Island, First Battalion, Platoon 105, book that was sent to my mother later.

Today, I have to wonder if I would have more friends from my Marine Corps years if I hadn’t been so socially inept (that is a condition that changed, though not an immense amount). The path never taken looms up, though without urgency. I’m not young enough to believe there is some magical way to go back and try again. I never was, at least after I quit believing in the tooth fairy.

I’ve always been a step to the side of the crowd, usually on the opposite side from those who work to be apart, who consciously work at being different. I just stumble along, at least if my memory is at all correct, always standing aside, often scratching my head in wonder.

As a writer and photographer with too many decades of experience, I also wonder just how different my life might have been if cameras had been my earliest interest, rather than words. My current photography skills have built up quickly with digital work, but I believe I’d have been at or close to this point 50 years ago if…