Thursday, January 30, 2014

Put 'Em Up, Papa

It isn’t that I don’t like literature.


Maybe it is that I don’t like literature.

A few years ago, I was having lunch with my cousin and his son and talking about reading. My cousin’s son had been reading one of the Percy Jackson books, and I thought that was pretty cool. This surprised my cousin. He seemed to think that that kind of reading would be beneath my level, but I am the kind of reader who would rather see people enjoying books they like than forcing themselves through books they don’t like.

When I was in high school, I once got called out by my freshman English teacher for reading a book by Robin Cook. Junk reading, he called it. Beneath the level to which I should be aspiring. Although, that same teacher did recommend Ender’s Game for winter break reading, which is not exactly literature, though I would agree that it has more depth than your typical Cook medical thriller. (He was actually shocked that I read it - he had intended that suggestions to be “for the boys.”)

This semester, I am taking a literature course. In order to earn the degree that I am currently seeking, I am required to take a few courses involving the study literature. I chose to start with modern and contemporary American literature.

I’m really not sure why.

Other than that the schedule worked. I am allowed, technically, to take classes during my scheduled work hours as long as I make them up in the same week and have a pre-approved plan to do so. But I’d rather not if I don’t have to, so I’ve been sticking to evening and weekend classes so far.

To say that I was not thrilled to see Hemingway on the reading list would be an understatement. But at least we are getting him out of the way first.

It’s not that we didn’t have a good class discussion of the stories, or that I have trouble reading them. The writing just doesn’t appeal to me. I am having to force myself to get through the readings, and, because I want to be prepared, through multiple re-readings and the note taking that has never come naturally to me.

We touched on the “Iceberg Theory” last class. The idea behind it is that a writer who knows what he (or she!) is writing about may leave those known things out, and they will come through in the words that they do include. “The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water,” writes Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon. I really wanted to laugh. In the writing workshop classes that I’ve taken, the opposite theory is endorsed. The instructors (and students, since, of course, taking the class qualifies you as a critic/editor/judge) insist that readers need everything spelled out for them. Anything left out is a void to be filled by the writer. The only thing that you can give the reader are the words on the page.

No wonder so many of those stories lacked dignity, as we strove to follow directions and build our icebergs wholly above the water.

I am trying to learn from reading Hemingway, even as I dislike it. As with last semester’s class focusing on literature, I choose to take it less as a course in literature and more as a course in how to write stories. I already know how to write papers, after all. That won’t be the hard part. But if I can figure out, just a little bit, what makes all these literary stories tick and what about them makes professors swoon, then it’s worthwhile.

Even if I have to take on “Papa” to do it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pride and the Meaning of Publishing

After I let my friends and family know about the book, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of happiness directed my way about it.

See, I've been busy educating myself in the past couple of years about the writing and publishing worlds, and I know that there is a certain amount of, shall we say, hostility, that is directed at the endeavor of self-publishing from the direction of the traditional publishing establishment. And a part of me wants to gently shake my friends and family and tell them that they shouldn't be so excited about my publishing a book like this.

It isn't that big of a deal.

Any schlub could do it.

It's not like I'm "really" an author. It's not like I have a publishing contract or any sort of imprimatur.

I just wrote an account of a hike that I took on my own two feet. I spent a few months getting it all down, and then I had my husband read it over. He made suggestions; I made corrections. Then I just used a free image manipulation software to put together pictures of my gear and the pictures that I took on the hike. All of it was slapped together into a Word document, and then uploaded using CreateSpace. A few rounds of revision later, I ordered the proof copy and was able to hold it in my hands.

It needed work, but it was still beautiful to me.

My husband reread it. I reread it. More corrections. I went through a complete recreation of all of my images (because I didn't know that I needed 300 dpi for my photos when I first created the image files). I edited the text for clarity. I corrected typos. I didn't work with an editor, or a designer.

I just did it.

Anyone could.

That's what all the people who decry self-publishing say. It isn't a "real" book. It isn't as good as one published by a publishing house. It should even be put in a "special" section so readers don't buy it thinking that it's a real book, according to some people.

So I don't have a contract that severely limits the amount of money that I'll receive for my work - for what makes the book unique - my writing. I don't have an agent to take a cut in perpetuity. I don't have to worry about when my rights to my work will revert to my control.

In exchange for that, I might only ever sell copies of my book to friends and family. Or maybe not. I'll keep it on the virtual shelf and I'll write more and see what happens.

But no matter what, I believe that it wouldn't matter if I tried to shake my dad and tell him that he shouldn't be so proud of a self-published book. It wouldn't make him any less proud of me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Go for Book

Why look! I made a book. Lovely. 


Ahem, yes, so there it is. Proof! Actually, it is the proof copy. I don't have any of the "real" copies in yet, but it is available for sale in both print and ebook formats (two separate links for now - supposedly they will merge at some point, perhaps after I contact Amazon and poke them).

It turns out that full color, 8.5x11, 230 page books are quite expensive for print on demand. But that is how I wanted the book. Full color, for sure, because the pictures are very pretty; 8.5x11 to make it easier to read and hold; and 230 pages is mostly the result of making it large print. I probably could have fit it down to 140 or so in a smaller font.

But that would have defeated the purpose of the book being able to be read by my mom.

And, the purpose behind the book, which is doing it my way, because I want to. Because I can. And because publishing non-fiction makes the idea of publishing my fiction just a little bit easier. I'm planning on publishing another short non-fiction work sometime in February before I start to focus more on school work.

After that will come publishing some fiction. Something weird and fun where I stop taking myself personally and/or seriously. Practice, to put out there so I can prove to myself that I am practicing, and so I can learn about self publishing by doing. By practicing.

It's a scary idea, but so was CrossFit, and I'm having a great time with that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Proof

The proof of my book arrived in the mail Monday. My husband offered to bring it to me at work, but I figured that that would just distract me from working. And I wasn't ready yet to share the news with my co-workers. So he read it through and marked places he found issues, like typos or ill-lit pictures. I didn't look at it much that night. I just admired the cover and flipped through it a bit. I was excited, but also a little stalled with it.

Here was this thing, this book, a real book, with my name on it. Everything in it was mine, what I had organized and done and I had to go and pass judgment on it. I had to take my precious, beautiful, perfect baby and find all its flaws. Flaws that were entirely my fault.

It took me some time to get to a place where I felt I could do that. But I didn't want to take too long, because I really want to be done and ready and happy with it. I mean, I am happy with it. But there are aspects that can be improved, and I intend to improve them to the best of my ability. Even if that means re-doing every image (which it does - painful).

I started by reading my husband's comments. I even agreed with some of them! Others, I chose to leave as is, either because I felt he was wrong, or because I felt that my "wrongness" had a purpose to serve. We had a little argument about ending sentences in prepositions. Discussion, rather. Civil, I swear. And I ended up just rephrasing that sentence. I looked at the pictures and decided which ones would need a little tweaking in the program that I use (GIMP II).

Then, after I had started working on the images, which I decided to do first because they're more mechanical than the text fixes, I realized that I needed to re-do all of them. Because the source images were not all 300 dpi, which means that even if I copied them over and then made the copy 300 dpi, that still left them not quite right for print. And if I'm going to do this, I might as well do it well, right?


So, I just have about 50 images to re-create, some text to fix and some formatting to juggle and then, oh then, I will have to make the decision of whether to order another proof or call it good and put it up for sale. And I'll have to re-upload the kindle version that's already on sale, since I have some textual changes to make.

This is exciting. Because I don't care about making sales. This is a project that I am doing for myself, and I am confident that I am meeting my own expectations. With fiction writing, I feel like it's different, because if I put fiction up for sale, then shouldn't I have sales? Isn't that the point? And why do I feel this way? Why can't I just put some fiction up for sale, that I wrote and that I like, and just be happy that it's out there?

Why not?

Maybe I will.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

One Year of Blogging

One year ago, I made my first post on this blog.

My intentions for this blog were to post at least once a week, and to practice writing. With 59 posts published in the last year, I've made the average of one per week, even though there were some weeks that went by without a post.

I participated in some short story writing activities through, I wrote essays for myself, and I started a different blog to contain my hiking and athletic type posts (that way I could share them with co-workers without censoring myself here). I wrote a short ebook, and I'm in the process of publishing a second book both physically and in ebook form. I finished a novel that I started back in 2010, and wrote a couple novellas. I consider that as practice accomplished and then some.

I'm happy with my progress. In a way, it's an accomplishment just to have kept posting for a whole year. When I first thought of using "overthinking" for my domain, I, of course, wanted the The jmboverthinking was a second choice. But it was instructive to visit that There are four posts, all from August 6th 2001. Not one post is longer than a sentence, and one is entirely a quote in Portuguese. The last thing I wanted was to have a blog like that - so few posts, and no activity for over a decade. I might not be blogging for more than 15 years like John Scalzi over at Whatever, but if I want to, then I have to keep going.

And it has been good practice to be writing for two blogs instead of just one. I'm making myself write to a deadline (once a week), and, especially since I tapered off doing the Flash Fiction Challenges, I'm forcing myself to figure out something to write about. The downside to that is that I haven't been writing as much fiction, but I think that a break is healthy. And my talents seem to lie more in writing non-fiction than fiction, at least for now.

I didn't buy a raffle ticket this year. Instead, I spent money on a month of Crossfit classes (and writing a blog entry for each class attended), and a Kindle Paperwhite, so I can view my ebooks on an actual ereader and figure out what works best formatting wise (instead of letting bad reviews tell me what doesn't work).

I can't be successful by not doing anything. Instead of being scared that what I'm writing is not good enough, or that no one will buy it, I'm giving it a shot. I'll see what works, and what doesn't, and I'll figure out what I want to do next.

First things first: keep writing.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Book to Please Myself

Writing the content was the hard part. Well, it took the longest anyway. But part of that was because I was focusing on school work.

Formatting wasn't easy, really. It was just more rote. Once I figured out how to format my pictures, I could just repeat the formula until the all the photos were finished.


I wrote a book about my solo hike to Stump Lake. The first part is an explanation of backpacking and hiking and what I bring and how I do it, and the second part is about the hike itself, including some parts that didn't make it into my blog entry about the trip. The reason there is an explanation section is that I wrote this book for my mom, and she's never been backpacking.

While I was on that hike, I thought about what I might write about it, and I got the idea in my head to take tons of photos to put into a book that I could send to my mom so that she could get some idea of what going on a backpacking trip was like. She has Multiple Sclerosis, and such a trip would not be feasible for her. But, I thought, I could try to write something that would be like being there for her.

In many ways, this book is for her. But, it is also a book for me. I wrote it to my standards. I chose the photos and wrote the captions and created the cover. My husband helped me proof-read it, but this book is mine. And it will soon be available as an ebook.

Getting the actual hard copy takes a little longer. I have ordered myself a proof copy, and, if it looks good, then I anticipate having the hard copy available for print on demand before the 15th of January. A large print edition, of course, since her eyesight is a bit weak.

I feel a bit strange about the whole thing. I put a lot of work into it, and I like it. But there's a part of me that knows that when I finally send a copy to my mom, she'll find something wrong with it. Like, "oh, what a lovely book, but why didn't you ... ?"

I'm actually counting on that, because it is feedback, and can help me make decisions for the next book.

But it doesn't really matter if she likes it or not, or if anyone buys a copy at all. I'm learning. The process of creating this book, creating the images using the photos that I took, and compiling it all, every little thing that I did is one more thing that I've learned. And it will be just a little less scary next time. And it won't take as much time, because I'll know some of the tricks of the trade - like make sure the photos are 300 dpi for print editions. And be patient while waiting for the proof to arrive.

It seems like there are dire warnings about publishing and self-publishing everywhere I look online. Do this. Don't do that. Never do this, unless you do that first. So I'm tuning it out, and I'm putting a book up for sale that pleases me.