Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Self-Publishing and Platforms for Sales

My Website Home Page

Remember me whining about pitching my book to an agent? I complained about being required to sell my book (Murder on Ceres – wink, wink) and really I had to sell myself, too. So the agent would know there was a future for both of us. And I hated it.

So I decided to self-publish. What was I thinking? How am I going to get my book out there for readers to read? Well, salesmanship of course.

A publisher (not a big New York City publisher, but one who has several years in the business) asked me during my pitch two years ago what platforms I was on. I hadn’t any idea what he was talking about. So I sat in on the panel discussion on platforms at that writers’ conference. He meant Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Pinterest, websites, etc. ad infinitum.

Well I’ve been on Facebook for several years. It was a painful and frightening experience to be on Facebook. But now I like it, except when someone with whom I am not personal friends wants to friend me. Just typing ‘friend’ as an active verb makes me cringe. I have 34 friends and only one is someone I’ve never met. Most of my ‘friends’ are relatives and the one I don’t know is a close relative of a relative.
In person, I am friendly. On the internet, not so much. Maybe, not at all. But I’m trying.

Blogging is pretty easy for me. I used to work for a small-town daily newspaper, so I’m used to people I don’t know reading what I write. There was always a certain anonymity with that. People who didn’t know me personally recognized my name, but not my face.

My editor and graphic designer daughter Grace is helping me become active on these platforms. Trusting my computer skills, she gave me a website that helps you set up your own website, SquareSpace.com. I don’t know if the instructions on that website are not simple enough for me or if my antipathy to the project was so strong that I couldn’t allow myself to understand them. Whatever.

I made an appointment for her to come to my house and ‘help’ me do it. We sat side by side with our laptops – me playing solitaire, her building the website and periodically asking me questions. Not how-to questions, you understand, but what-do-you-want and is-this-what-you-had-in-mind questions.

There were things she learned not to ask me. She showed me umpteen fonts and at each one I sounded like A Christmas Story Ralphie’s little brother. “Oooo. I like this one.”

What was Ralphie’s little brother’s name? I know, I could Google it. Or ask Grace.

She suggested posting updates and book reviews on Google. That didn’t sound so bad.

Then she set me up a Twitter account. I wrote down what I thought she said its address is in my little black book. I tried this morning to get on my Twitter or whatever it is you do with your twitter and couldn’t. I went to my website to access my Twitter and this is what I got.

“Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like this account, @CWeberWagner, got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake.
We apologize for this inconvenience. It’s possible your account posted an update that appeared to be spam, so please be careful what you tweet or retweet. You might also want to review our help page for hacked or compromised accounts://support.twitter.com/entries/68916. You will need to change your behavior to continue using Twitter. Repeat violations of the Twitter Rules may result in the permanent suspension of your account.”

But my only tweet was “Check out my new webpage at http://cweberwagner.com , where #scifi and #murdermystery combines! #newauthor”

A bit of research and multiple attempts to do as they directed and I am back on my Twitter. That sounds so much more fun than it feels.

I promise to change my behavior and never, never repeat my violations. Cross my heart.

Then there are the business cards to decide on. And I’ll have to have a new picture for the business cards and to update my profiles. And a new haircut for the picture.

And I haven’t decided matte or glossy for the cover.

I’m feeling pressured.

Maybe I should tweet that.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Never Underestimate the Lives of Old Men -- Flash Fiction


from cupsofcoffee100.blogspot.com
Herb sat on a park bench. He wasn’t far from home, less than three blocks. He walked there every morning when the weather was good. It didn’t have to be perfect. As long as the sun was shining. Or the wind didn’t blow too hard. Or it wasn’t raining or snowing. It was good enough. Even in hot weather. He’d go home for lunch and that was always early enough to miss the heat of the day.
Herb picked up his cane and walked across the street to the Seven Eleven for a coffee. Their coffee was good enough. He’d never drunk that Starbucks. Went in there one time, looked at the prices, figured out that what they called a tall was actually a small and walked right out again.
Most days a friend or two would come by and they’d visit. Trade war stories. Not too many fellows still around that remembered The Big One. Even Art was too young for that. He’d been in Vietnam. Just a young whipper-snapper. But he was all right.
Still in good shape, too. That Art. He said it was dancing that kept him fit. Herb thought it was probably the women that kept Art in shape.
Back on his bench, Herb listened to the world around him and sipped his coffee. The thing about coffee was the aroma. It brought back those early mornings with Madge. He always got up first and put the coffee on. She was practically unconscious before her first cup. Then she’d make breakfast. He’d wake the kids and they’d all eat together.
When the kids got into high school, breakfast was often their only meal together. Come to think of it, Herb Junior would have been about the same age as Art. Sixties. Somehow he didn’t think Herb Junior and Art would have gotten along all that well. Herb Junior was a quiet, thoughtful lad. A good son.
The sun was warm on Herb’s back as he dozed and dreamed of a different time and place. His father’s farm. Lying in the wheat, looking up at the sky. All he could see were green leaves and blue skies. The sun was warm on his face and bare chest and he could hear red-winged black birds whistling to each other. There were chores to do, but he could lie here a few more minutes.
“Hey, Old Man!” The girl with the spiky, black hair skated toward him smiling. “You gonna sleep all day?”
“Tina, how’s things?”
“Fine, Herb. How are you feeling today?”
“Better than I have any right to.”
A quick spin in front of him, and she was off again.
Herb had a daughter. Genevieve. She used to be young, too. With brown hair and bangs so long, you’d think she couldn’t have seen a thing. She was an intense young woman always working for one cause or another. She would have been one of those Peaceniks Art complained of.
Her hair is white now and she has bad knees. It was hard for him to think of her as a grandmother.
The morning sun soon had him sleeping again. The kids were grown and gone. Herb Junior was working in Washington, D.C. Gen had sent them new pictures of the grandkids. It was just him and Madge camping in the piney woods. They were sitting back to back on a big rock in the middle of the creek. He could feel the warmth of her against him. He could hear a woodpecker working a tree somewhere nearby and smell the pines.
Something woke him. Art was sitting at the other end of the bench. The two of them just sitting while the street in front of the park filled with police cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing.
A group of policemen moved past them. One peeled away from the pack and asked, “You guys seen anybody come past here on a bicycle? Mighta been wearin’ a green knit cap.”
Herb looked at Art and Art looked at Herb. They both shook their heads. And the officer hurried away.
“So, Art. You got a green knit cap.”
“Sure do, but it’s too hot to wear in the summer time.”
They sat there in the sun a little while longer. They watched the policemen and talked about the excitement, whatever it was. The officer hadn’t said. They talked about the weather and how it was getting pretty warm.
Herb stood up using his cane for support. “Well, it’s about time for some lunch.”
“See you around,” Art said making as though to tip his hat.
Herb walked away, a little stoop-shouldered, a little shuffle-stepped.
Art got his bicycle from behind the bench and rode away from the police activity.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Self-Publishing, Two Steps Forward

 by pinstriped briefs

I’m ready to upload my manuscript to CreateSpace and make a book out of it.
First they ask for the title and information. I fill in the appropriate boxes and save.
Next comes ISBN and copyright. Now it’s time for me to do some research. They provide information and discussion on both subjects which I read. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a number that is unique to a book’s title, that book’s binding, edition, and publisher. It is not unusual to have vastly different books with the same title, but each will have its own ISBN. Libraries use that number as the identifier for each of their books. If you’ve ever had reason to have your library request a specific book on inter-library loan, they’ve used that number to get exactly the book you want.
Now I had to do some decision making. Bowker is the official ISBN agency for the United States. Bowker also offers a self-publishing program. Hmmm. But I had already decided on CreateSpace, and since Amazon is sort of the 21st Century’s Sears Roebuck Catalog, I’m sticking with them. At least for Murder on Ceres. When I get rich and famous I might want to move on up.  
Considering cost and marketing possibilities with Amazon, I chose the free CreateSpace assigned ISBN. I guess that time I worked in the Edmond Public Library has forever warped my perception of books. All of a sudden my book having its own ISBN made it seem more real to me than all those pages of text and that beautiful cover. Kind of like seeing your baby’s official birth certificate for the first time.
Now comes the question of copyright. Okay. All the books I read have the copyright listed above the ISBN. I checked out the information and discussions CreateSpace offers, then went to copyright.gov to see for myself. For a single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire, the current online registration fee is $35. That is doable. The current processing time is, however, three to five months. And I want my book now, or at least sooner than that. The good thing is an author has up to five years to apply for the copyright certificate. And the even better thing is a work has automatic copyright beginning with the date the author can show they wrote it. The certificate itself is useful in court should the writer feel their copyright is being infringed.  
Are you glassy-eyed yet from this bureaucratic maze? Ready to pitch your book to that nice agent again? No, I’m not. Okay, we’ll move on.
Now we come to the Interior. You know, your story, the whole reason for this exercise.
CreateSpace gives you choices. What size book you want to have. They suggest that
6 x 9 is currently the preferred size. I know it will fit nicely on a library shelf. I choose that size and watch CreateSpace’s video on formatting. I follow the instructions, save my document as a pdf, and upload it.
They have a free service called Interior Reviewer. It’s great. It finds errors in the text. Errors I didn’t think about. Certain things don’t translate for them. In my case I had used a symbol, the Greek letter Sigma. If you’re more adept at this than I am, you can do what is necessary to embed your non-True Type symbol. Me, I just made a quick rewrite in those two particular locations.
Did I say “quick rewrite” limited to those two sites? I lied. While I was fixing them I noticed this and that and fixed them, too. Then I realized there were extra spaces, not extra lines denoting space-breaks between scenes, but extra spaces before a sentence or between words. You know when you turn on Word’s paragraph function and it shows all those dots. I couldn’t let it go out with all those. So several hours later with only one Frappuccino, two cookies, and a yogurt I finished. By that time I couldn’t tell if it was a dot on the document or a speck on my screen.
I uploaded it again. Ran the Interior Reviewer and was satisfied that all was well. Then came the cover. Thanks to Grace, I have the cover art. But CreateSpace wants to know if I want the cover to be matte or glossy.
Matte or Glossy? I don’t know. They do offer to send me, for a nominal price, an example of each.
Okay. Send me an example of each. It’ll be here next Thursday.
Good.

I need a break.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It's a Book with a Cover


I finished the first draft of Murder on Ceres the week after Easter while luxuriating in the hospital. From my mood, you’d never have guessed I was NPO and hooked up to fluids. I felt like I could conquer the world. I had conquered the world! Everything was all caps and exclamation points!
Now to publish!
I’d seen vanity press published books. They didn’t stand up against the traditionally published works but I couldn’t afford that kind of capital outlay anyway. It was DIY publishing for me.
I used my money to hire an editor. My editor is Grace Wagner, my daughter. I would caution that not everyone has a family member that is actually competent to take on the task. The rule I followed is if the family member can’t command that kind of pay from nonfamily, then hire someone who can. $2000 is not out-of-line for this work. If you can’t afford it, wait and save your money until you can. This is not a step that can be scrimped on if you’re serious about your work.
A month after finishing the first draft, a month of diligent work, I finished the rewrites and shipped it to people who had agreed to be beta readers. And that’s important. They were people I could trust to tell me when something wasn’t working, a character was behaving uncharacteristically, the chronology was off, the science was just flat wrong, anything that threw them out of the story. People who would be wowed by my imagination, or didn’t want to make me mad, or wanted me to say nice things about their work would not do.
Beta readers are so important. They don’t know everything the writer knows about the story so they can’t fill in the inevitable gaps. The writer knows the main character’s father’s name is Charles. The beta reader should have no idea who Charles is until they’ve read the manuscript.
Rewrite! Rewrite! And each time, the rewrite is less extensive, more focused. Easier. No longer adding or deleting whole scenes. A sentence here. An attribution for dialogue there.
Now it’s a good, sound story. A clean manuscript.
Print on demand is available. No need to pitch anything. Ooooh. It sounds so straight forward. It costs nothing to upload a book for Kindle or Nook. And for a print book, you pay for how many books you can afford – fifty, a hundred, ten. They do, however, offer choices. You can actually do it yourself or you can pay for their services.
Services? I have access to the talent and the know-how. I can follow directions. I'm not afraid of work. And, best of all, I may not have the time to wait for an agent to discover me, but I have the time for this. I'm doing it myself.
Okay, I have the book. But no cover. That same editor daughter of mine is a really good artist. But she says “No.” Not even for the money. She says she’s not good enough on Photoshop yet to do a professional job and my book should have a professional-looking cover. She says, “If you’re serious about this, it has to be a professional job.” She’s right. Hand crafted is good. Homemade is not. Unless it’s a cherry pie.
I start checking out art websites. My personal favorite is www.Deviantart.com. Their name is a bit off-putting but their artists run the gamut from uninspired amateurish to highly polished, original, and professional.
I had an idea what I wanted. Murder on Ceres is a Sci-Fi/Murder Mystery. So I wanted a cover with a representation of the dwarf planet Ceres with the infinity of Space behind it. And maybe a noir image of my police detective hero, ala Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. I know, I know. Spade was a private detective with a fedora and he looked like Humphrey Bogart. Not right for my book. But you know what I mean.
So, how to choose an artist. Directly contact the artists whose work I especially like and pitch my story to them, see if they’d be interested? Run a contest with the winning entry getting the assignment and the pay? Announce what I’m doing and what I want and let them come to me?
Before I did any of that, Grace decided she could handle the job.
We talked about what I thought I wanted. She tamped my enthusiasms down. The dwarf planet and space – okay. Sam Spade – not so much. A representation of the cylindrical Ceres Colony floating around the planet – no. She explained that the cover has to look good as a thumbnail, because that’s how most readers will see it on whatever website they’re shopping. And intricate does not a good thumbnail make.
She did the design, choosing the colors based on what does well in the marketplace. Did I know anything about that? But she does. And the thumbnail needs to look good full-sized sitting on a shelf.
Grace chose the fonts. The font for the title is a little 30’s noir, Ever After (free from the designer Michael A. Hernandez Jr.) For the author’s name the futuristic Bocemina by Erion Dyrmishi. (For this one I needed permission to use it commercially. An email to the designer got a quick response with the permission.)

So, I have a book. I have a book cover. Now to get everything ready to upload to Amazon’s createspace.com for the print book and kdp.amazon.com for the Kindle edition. More about that later.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Self-Publish

Drawing of a printing press by Brad Johnston


Why self-publish? I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself.
I’ve dreamed of getting a fat contract with a big New York City publisher. There would be hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of readers for a book I wrote. I’d buy a house in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I’d be surrounded by gardenias and bougainvillea and camellias. And I’d have coffee and beignets from CafĂ© du Monde every morning for the rest of my life, and sometimes late at night, too. Even more importantly than that, I wanted a book on the shelf in the public library of Edmond, Oklahoma.
I knew I could write. And I’ve never had problems thinking of story ideas. As an English major from before the 4th Grade I had no problem with grammar or punctuation. And as much as I loved reading the dictionary, spelling errors were merely opportunities.
But, and a very big but it was. I was not satisfied that the skills I had were the skills necessary to produce an extended plot and develop characters while sustaining that plot. Skills require training whether you want to repair watches, grind lenses, or build houses. And I wanted to write a novel. So I found a teacher. In my case it was and is William Bernhardt. (www.williambernhardt.com)
I went to class, paid attention, argued, fought, and rebelled every step of the way. Most importantly, I learned.
And I wrote.
Then came the wall. You runners out there, know what I’m talking about. For me, that wall looked like a very nice person sitting across the table waiting patiently for me to pitch my book. Damn. If I wanted to be a salesman or had any talents along that line I’d be in real estate or insurance. And guess what, a writer cannot get to the big publishers, except through an agent. Talk about camels and needles’ eyes.
To make matters worse, I had no track record. A few poems, some newspaper work, and lots of government correspondence. But no book length fiction. Not to mention that I’m in my sixties. I’ve heard that most writers can be expected to have a productive lifespan of 15 years. And here I was asking an agent to invest in me with indefinite prospects for financial reward over a foreshortened number of years. This is, after all, the way they make their living. They have mortgages and children in college. I understand.
Luckily for me at my ripe old age, I came of age at the right time for the self-publishing author. Traditional publishing is in flux. It’s come up against its own wall in this digital age and is having to reinvent itself.
It looks like now, with print on demand and ebooks we don’t have to rely on the deep pockets of the big publishers. DIY has arrived for writers.

Join me on my journey. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. As I am discovering them.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Words Are My Life

Pig or Hog
Actually this is probably a gilt, meaning a female pig who has not yet given birth. She's a Duroc which is my personal favorite breed of swine. 
 

All Natural Sausage
INGREDIENTS:
PORK, WATER,
CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, SUGAR, BLACK PEPPER, SAGE,
RED PEPPER, SPICE EXTRACTIVES.
This is not the list of ingredients in my favorite sausage, but I had some for breakfast this morning and it was pretty good. My favorite sausage has a few more ingredients.
 
The point of these pictures is the use of the word 'Natural' by the marketing folks. Now other than the long line of chosen genetics for the beautiful Duroc, she is natural. I'm sure there is a great deal of pork in her and quite a bit of water, too. And some salt. As for peppers, sage, and spice extractives, I doubt there is anywhere near the 2% listed for the sausage.
 
Now, don't get me wrong. I'd much rather have the pork with additives at my table for breakfast than the pig in the other picture. Though I once knew a perfectly well-behaved Pot-Bellied Pig named Beverly. She had pierced ears and lived in the house. Pigs are very bright and actually quite clean when given the chance to be.
 
But it's the words marketers use that set me off on this rant. The words indicate to me that our society is either woefully ignorant, apathetic, or willing to be led by the nose. The old story of  "I don't know and I don't care. What do you want me to do?"
 
This morning I bought a quart of buttermilk to make biscuits. Normally I use powdered buttermilk because it's cheaper and keeps well in the fridge. That buttermilk I bought today was identified conspicuously as 'reduced fat.' Buttermilk is what you have left after the butterfat is removed? How much fat could there be in it? And, no, they had no buttermilk without the 'reduced fat' identifier. That's because ALL buttermilk is reduced fat. Naturally.
 
Now that I think about it whole milk is only 3.25% fat anyway. About the same as cooked, skinless white chicken meat. Compare that to ground beef which ranges from 3% to 20% depending on how much you want to pay, or how much will cook away.
 
If it ain't got wheat or wheat products in it, it's gluten-free. Including those fat-free after dinner mints and ice.
 
GMO? Give me a break. Most of what we eat is genetically modified either through selective breeding or genetic engineering. We would not recognize the original, natural orange or potato or corn on the cob. Or hog, for that matter. And strawberries!
 
And, friends, if you want a no calorie, caffeine free, artificial dye and artificial flavor free drink that's natural -- try water.
 
I know, I know. Chlorination and fluoridation. That's a whole 'nother story. It's called improved public health and I won't jump on that soap box today.
 
Words! Words! Words to mislead us, massage our insecurities with promises that this or that is better and we needn't think about it, we needn't make any kind of decision because somebody somewhere will show us the way -- preferably somebody who deals in magic. Smoke and mirrors. Snake oil.
 
Come to think of it, I've known some well-behaved snakes who lived in their people's houses, too.
 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gran and Aunt V -- Flash Fiction

Moon Flowers


“That was a nice service, Justine.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“One thing about your Gran, she never killed anybody that didn’t need killin’.”

Aunt V was a little hard of hearing, so she talked loud. But everyone at the grave site knew Aunt V, and Gran always said for us to pay her no mind.

Aunt V never did really like Gran. Anytime anything unfortunate happened to someone, Aunt V told everyone who’d listen that Gran used Voodoo on them.

I think Aunt V never did accept that Papaw married a Louisiana Catholic. Though why she would hold that against my Gran I don’t know. We all live in the Delta less than fifty miles north of the Arkansas-Louisiana Line. Which isn’t much different than being in Louisiana. And we’re Episcopalians which just isn’t that much different either when you come down to it. My cousin Mary Elizabeth says we’re Catholic Light, but not when her momma’s in hearing distance.

“Justine, you just think about it. When your dear momma died of the appendicitis after that fool emergency room doctor sent her home, sayin’ there was nothing wrong. Maybe a little gas.” She nodded her head and jabbed her cane at the sidewalk to emphasize what she was saying.

I’d heard this story so many times before, it didn’t hurt anymore.

“That no-count Toliver boy up at the hospital in Dumas. He was one of those Tolivers from over in Greenville. Went up north somewhere.” She waited until Mary Elizabeth caught up with us. “I think it was Tennessee.”

“What was Momma?”

“Where that Toliver boy got his doctor’s degree.”

Mary Elizabeth sighed. “Yes, Momma. It was Tennessee. Vanderbilt.”

“That’s right. That’s right.” Aunt V smiled and walked on.

 Gran was a nurse, so she’d explained to me that when my momma died, the hospital was small and they didn’t have equipment like they do at big hospitals. She said momma’s white blood cell count was within normal limits and she didn’t have a fever and her pain was generalized, so anyone could have missed it even if they hadn’t been drinking. And that we shouldn’t hold it against Doc Toliver. We should leave him to God.

Doc Toliver died that weekend after Momma did. He slipped and hit his head in the bathtub.

We all got in the limousine to go back to Gran’s house.

“Doesn’t the cemetery look nice?” Aunt V asked as we drove out through the west gate.

“Yes, ma’am. It does.” It was probably the prettiest cemetery in the Ark-La-Miss.

Aunt V gazed out across the green grass, all decorated with flowers and mementos and headstones. Some more ornate than others, but all proud and clean and beautiful. “Why, I’ve been to cemeteries out in Texas. Even went to one up in Kansas. Lord that is forsaken country. Broad, open land. Hardly a tree in sight. And brown. That country would make you weep for want of something green.”

I had no idea where this was going. I don’t think she’d ever talked about Kansas before.

“They don’t decorate their graves except on decoration day.” She clucked her tongue at the sorrowful disrespect of it all.

There wasn’t anything for us to say to that.

“And that Toliver boy, he wasn’t the first Miss Adelia used Voodoo on. There was that school teacher, ‘cause he messed with your little friend Donnette.”

“Momma!” Mary Elizabeth didn’t want to hear anymore. “Mr. Van Zandt died of a heart attack. He was old.”

“Not that old.” Aunt V said, her mouth pursed so tight her lips almost disappeared in a tiny little O. “There were prob’ly others. Little boys, too,” she said.

They drove us up to the front porch at Gran’s. The driveway had a large patch of Moon Flowers on either side. Gran said it was called Jimson Weed. She told us that the old folks where she came from used to grind it into a powder then mix it with sulfur and honey and pour it in a glass. Then you rub it against a black cat and drink it slowly. And it’ll cure all your ills. But she said for us to leave it alone because it was poison.

The house was two stories with high ceilings and a wrap-around covered porch. Mary Elizabeth and I and Donnette, too. We’d play jacks on the east porch by the hour, getting all the way to Around the World sometimes. And Gran would bring out lemonade and home-made sponge cake with fresh strawberries or sliced peaches.

The ladies from Gran’s church brought in food for everyone coming by the house.

Aunt V took a pecan tassie, holding it delicately between her thumb and middle finger she said, “And my first husband, Richard. He was downright mean. People always say that so-and-so was as nice as could be until he’d had a few. But Richard, he was lots nicer with a snoot full. Trouble was I just couldn’t get him to drink enough.” She giggled at her own wit.

“Justine’s Gran told me I had to get rid of him ‘cause, he was going to hit me one too many times and ….” She nodded at me. “And Justine’s Papaw was gonna kill him and then he’d end up in prison or executed.”

She dabbed her lips with a napkin, leaving an orange smear on the white damask cloth. “He died a bloody death all right, Richard did. Hog huntin’ and a big old boar hog got him in the groin. Bled out before they could get him outta the woods.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve got a splitting headache,” I said and excused myself from the room.

Upstairs in Gran’s room, it was quiet. It didn’t feel empty. Not like Gran was gone and would never come back again. The bed was made and the windows were open. Filmy sheers waved in front of the big south windows. Gran had a little altar set up in the corner next to her writing table. Someone had kindly lit the candles at Our Lady’s feet. Between the candles was a leather pouch.

Nothing was different, except that Gran was gone now. She’d never let me touch the pouch. She said it was very old and it held all her sorrows. Inside I found a dried Moon Flower and two small vials, one with amber liquid and the other with yellow powder. And there was a rolled parchment tied with a black ribbon.

There were names on the parchment – Richard Clement, Dean Van Zandt, Carl Toliver.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth -- a review

 
 
This is the most inspirational book I’ve ever read. I qualify this statement with the explanation that I’ve been out of my self-improvement stage for at least 15 years. I do not read inspirational books and you won’t find this one on those shelves at the bookstore.

 There are so many quotable statements in this book. I put post-its on the ones that especially spoke to me so I could come back to them for this review. The book looks rather like a porcupine with all those strips of paper sticking out around its edges.

Chris Hadfield was nine years old when he went to a neighbor’s to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. According to his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he decided that very night that he wanted to be an astronaut. That probably didn’t make him a minority of one. But he dedicated himself to that goal, and he achieved it.

The first major obstacle to his ambition was his birthplace. He is Canadian. NASA only accepted Americans into the astronaut program.  There was no Canadian Space Agency then. “But . . . just the day before, it had been impossible to walk on the Moon. Neil Armstrong hadn’t let that stop him. Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go too, and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.”

Knowing full well that he hadn’t much of a chance at the job, he started right then to prepare himself. He did what any determined 9-year-old would do. He imagined what it would take to become an astronaut. He must be physically fit and he must fly.

He did have several things in his favor. His father was an airline pilot and flying was a part of his life. His parents encouraged education, responsibility, and good sense.

He flew in space three times – the first two during the Shuttle Era, first to MIR then to attach Canadarm2 to the ISS.

This photo was taken 7/2/2014 from the ISS of Hurricane Arthur
off the Florida coast. The object in the upper right quadrant
is Canadarm2 installed by Hadfield in 2001

His third space flight was on a Soyuz back to the ISS where he served as commander living in space five months, returning to Earth in May 2013.

 He talks about attitude. “Our safety depends on many tens of thousands of people we’ll never meet, like the welders in Russia who assemble the Soyuz, and the North American textile workers who fabricate our spacesuits. And our employment depends entirely on millions of other people believing in the importance of space exploration. We work on behalf of everyone, so we should behave the same way whether we’re meeting with a head of state or a seventh-grade science class. Frankly, this makes good sense even if you’re not an astronaut. You never really know who will have a say in where you wind up. It could be the CEO. But it might well be the receptionist.”

 About leadership. There was an emergency EVA just before he returned to Earth from his mission as ISS Commander. “Throughout the five-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, I felt a bit like a choreographer probably does while watching dancers perform; there was a sense of involvement and responsibility, a feeling of shared risk and reward, but also a necessity to detach and trust them to do their jobs properly.” He expresses pride in his team’s work on that EVA and in himself for “living up to NASA’s belief that I was capable of commanding the world’s spaceship.”
 
 
“Determined as I was to be ready, I was equally determined to enjoy myself. I lack the gene for martyrdom.” 
 

Here he is with his cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity"
with a few changes to the lyrics.
Give it a listen and a watch.