I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Oh, Right

Post? What? Oh, yeah, it is Thursday, isn’t it?

Sorry. I’m about to send the main character of my current Work in Progress–let’s call them “Peeby”–off on a quest straight out of their least favorite fairy tales.

After I finish screwing up their life again, just as they thought they was getting it under control*.

* No, I’m still not happy about “they/them” as a singular pronoun, but Peeby insisted. Darn uppity characters.

Because that’s what writers do. See, there’s a school of writing that says when you don’t know what happens next, ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and then do it. I don’t usually follow that advice literally, but this time I am. It’s amazingly cathartic, but I suspect it’s taking me down several paths that’ll get cut in the next draft.

But I digress.

Anyway, Peeby’s about to go on a quest. Literally. One of those “Find these things, and I’ll make you ruler of the world,” deals. Of course, they is all “I don’t care what that damned song says, I don’t want to rule the world.” But they doesn’t have a choice because, hey, “worst thing,” right?

The problem with quests, though, is they need an object. Or, in this case, a set of objects. Three to be precise.

Why three? Well, as I’ve said before, I generally subscribe to the “Rule of Three” in my work. And in this case, it makes sense in the context of the story because–well, I’ll save that for another time.

I’ve got three targets for Peeby, but at the moment it’s a Three Bears’ Porridge set of objects. One is just right, but one is more video game than fairy tale, and one is clichéd and boring.

I can work with the video game one. In context, it even makes some sense.

But boring is death and cliché is eternal damnation.

The destination shapes the journey–very literally in the case of a fairy tale quest. I can’t send poor Peeby off on a quest for something that’s going to get written out of the book before they finds it. I need a replacement before they sets out, and so I’ve been on an extended ramble around the Web in search of a quest object.

Yes, I’m fully aware of how meta that is. Questing for a quest. Ha ha.

And that’s why I’d forgotten it was Thursday, and thus had to subject you to my ramblings on the creative process.

It’s all Peeby’s fault for not wanting to rule the world.

State of the Fourth Estate 06

In the latest blog tradition, the annual “State of the Fourth Estate” post is late. Strictly speaking, it should have gone up on Sunday or, since I don’t do weekend posts, last Thursday. But the Facebook contretemps seemed likely to have wider appeal, so here we are. At least I’m closer than last year, when I didn’t get around to the SotFE post until mid-April.

Nothing much has changed on the blog. This is Post 883; on my current posting schedule, that should have the largely-meaningless, but oh-so-round-numbered Post 1000 sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No doubt, I’ll observe the occasion with some modest celebration.

As usual, the infamous leftover sauerkraut post racked up the most hits of any page on the site. It beat the next most popular page, the one about The RagTime Traveler more than five to one.

As usual, the stats don’t include post read on the main page of the blog, through the RSS feed, or via email. So it’s possible TRTT is actually doing better than pickled cabbage. Unlikely, perhaps, but possible.

Speaking of email, it was around this time last year that I set up my newsletter. My thanks to those of you who have subscribed. You may be wondering why you haven’t gotten one lately. Well, it’s a newsletter, and there really hasn’t been any news about my career. No new book sales (or short story sales), no planned signings. So, rather than continue to send out a monthly “Hey, there’s nothing going on!” message, I decided to put it on hiatus until there’s something worth sharing.

What might be worth sharing? Well, selling a book certainly would. Finishing one probably would. And that might happen soon*.

* In the publishing world, “soon” is the equivalent of the software industry’s “Real Soon Now”. Nine characters shorter, because electrons are cheaper than ink and paper. They both translate as “I don’t know when, but it’ll almost certainly happen.”

Like Herding Cats is in beta. Yes, I know I said that back in November. I’m still waiting on one beta reader, for reasons that are nobody’s business but theirs. I understand, and I think the feedback will be worth waiting for. And, once I get it, barring a major surprise, the rewrite shouldn’t take more than a month or two. At which point that will be a finished book.

And, while I wait, I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m working on the first draft of a completely different book. Well, it’s also urban fantasy, so it’s not totally unrelated, but the location, time period, characters, and plot of Demirep* have nothing in common with LHC. I’m about 50,000 words in–about two-thirds of the way, since my first drafts tend to run short–and the plot is mostly in focus, and I’ve got a vague idea of where the ending will be. That’s actually more than I usually know at this point in the first draft. Even better, I’m keeping up with my daily target of 1,000 words more often than not.

* Or maybe “Demi-Rep”. Worrying about punctuation in a working title isn’t even on my to-do list.

So what happens if I finish the first draft of Demirep before I get the last beta report on Like Herding Cats? I won’t. No, really, it won’t happen. But, just in case it does, I’ve got, uh, hang on a second…five concepts in my “Possibilities” folder. I won’t be bored, or run out of things to write if it happens. Which it won’t.

Onward into Writing Year Six.

Semi-Vacation

About the time this post goes live, I’ll be boarding a plane, heading for Sedalia and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’ve uploaded Feline Friday posts for the next two weeks–I know better than to leave y’all with no cats–but don’t count on anything else. There may be a few short posts. There may be a few tweets (If you’re not following me on Twitter, why not? I’m @CaseyKarp over there.) Or not. We’ll see.

Regular posting will resume June 13th.

State of the Fourth Estate 05

It occurs to me that I completely failed to bring you the traditional “State of the Fourth Estate” post last month. Instead of rambling on about what’s happening with my writing, I gave you pictures of Tuxie and Rhubarb.

Many of you probably consider that an improvement.

But tradition must be served (I prefer it barbequed, but I won’t look down on anyone who’d rather have their traditions fried), so here we go, not quite a month late.

Starting with the blog, as usual, the Home Page continues to be the most popular page because most of you are reading new posts there. Which is perfectly fine.

Home Page aside, in 2016, the most popular post was not Using Up the Leftovers: Sauerkraut. Top honors instead go to Four for the Price of One. I’m not naïve enough to think my musings on The BFG, Ghostbusters, or even They Might Be Giants brought in well over five hundred viewers. Nope, most of the credit goes to those three young ladies from Japan*.

* If BABYMETAL brought you to the blog and you’re still hanging around, make a note in the comments, would you?

So far in 2017, the pickled cabbage has reclaimed the popularity lead, but posts about The RagTime Traveler are doing very well. Thank you all for that.

Unsurprisingly, most of the readers come from the US, with Japan, Brazil, the UK, and Canada making up the rest of the top five. (I’m going by page views, as WordPress doesn’t seem to track unique viewers.) There’s been a single page view from each of twenty countries, including (alphabetically) Angola, Faroe Islands, and Turkey. C’mon back, folks. You’re welcome to hang out as long as your network connections last.

Over on the fiction side of things, The RagTime Traveler is, of course, the big news. If you missed the earlier announcement, by the way, you can now preorder TRTT as an ebook. Just click that picture of the cover and choose your format.

When I wrote the 2014 SotFE post, my beta readers were looking at Splat Squad. In 2015, it was Lord Peter’s Eyes, and last year it was TRTT. This year, unfortunately, there’s nothing in beta.

As many of you know, Life rather kicked me in the face in 2016. I’ve got about 41,000 words of the first draft of Mo’less Jones and nearly 50,000 words of the first draft of the still-untitled other novel. Had I spent the entire year on one or the other, I suspect it would be with the beta readers today, but as Kurt Vonnegut put it, “So it goes.”

(For those of you who haven’t been regular readers, my father and co-author of The RagTime Traveler and Mo’less Jones, passed away in October. I do intend to pick up Mo’less at some point, but there are both emotional and practical reasons why it may be a while. And so I’m instead working on The Nameless Novel, which has nothing to do with ragtime or baseball.)

Last March I said that my daily target was 1,000 words a day. More recently, when I started writing again in November, I dropped it to 500 words. As I said last month, it’s not a hard-and-fast goal, and I don’t usually worry if I come up short, but never coming close to 1,000 words was starting to drive me nuts.

But for the past month, days when I failed to hit 500 words have been rare, and I’ve exceeded 1,000 at least as often as not. So I’m officially bumping the target back up. Not only does that feel good, as a sign that my brain is starting to work again, but it means I might just have the first draft of The Nameless Novel done before the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival*.

* Yeah, my first drafts tend to run short. If TNN comes in at 70K, it probably means the draft that goes to beta readers will likely be 80-90K, right on target for a fantasy.

It’s iffy: there are still some major gaps in the plot that I need to figure out, but if it was a sure thing, it wouldn’t be much of a goal, now would it?

Stay tuned!

Free Books!

Apparently I’m doing this all wrong.

Oh, not the actual writing. Just the self-promotion.

I had thought that this blog was the way to go: get some words out there, attract a little attention, keep the content fresh, and build up a loyal core of followers.

Unfortunately, the current wisdom in publishing is that blogs don’t sell books. What does sell, I’m told, is a newsletter; something that reminds your fans that you exist. In other words, once a month or so, authors should go around to their readers, tap them on the shoulder, and say, “Hey, just checking in. I’m still here, still writing. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be in your town next month, signing books. Why don’t you drop by and say hello?”

The idea makes sense. I know how easy it can be to forget about a blog when you’re busy with your real life. There’s a niche for a basic reminder, free of random product reviews, rants about baseball, and cat pictures. But there’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem involved in getting people to subscribe to a newsletter about some author they’ve never heard of, and whose first book isn’t even out yet.

The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to keep blogging, and try to convince the thousands of people who come here looking for recipes for leftover sauerkraut* to sign up.

* For those of you who have come in late, that’s the most popular post I’ve ever written. It’s drawn more than three times as many views as the next most popular post. Thank you, Google, for keeping it in the first page of results for more than three years!

Oh, and to offer prizes.

So, no, the blog isn’t going away, nor do I have any plans to change the content. I’ll still ramble on about the cats, the Mariners, the Bay Bridge, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

But if you look over to the right (or down at the bottom of the page if you’re reading on a mobile device), you’ll see a link to subscribe to my newsletter. Or you can just click here.

Standard disclaimers apply: I won’t sell your names and addresses, nor will I give them away. I won’t send spam, I won’t send more than one message a month (barring emergencies), and I won’t keep you on the list if you want to leave.

What I will do is send you monthly-ish updates on my publications and, when the time comes, signings and other appearances.

And, to encourage you all to sign up, I’m going to give away– absolutely free–copies of The RagTime Traveler! (At this point in the narrative, you should picture me doing my best Kermit the Frog imitation.)

I’m still working out the details–how many copies, how I’ll select the recipients (it’ll be random, but I haven’t decided between rolling dice, picking ping-pong balls out of a barrel, or throwing darts), and so on–but I will say this: the more subscribers there are, the more copies I’ll give away. So don’t just sign up yourself. Tell your friends, your enemies, and everyone in between.

And, once I figure out the process, I’ll announce the details–where else–in the newsletter.

The RagTime Traveler Is Real

Now it feels real.

Sure, I’ve known The RagTime Traveler was going to be published since October, but I’m starting to feel it in my gut. Because–well, remember last month’s post about all the steps that have to happen before a book can reach the shelves? Since that post went up, we’ve passed several of the biggest milestones.

First, Poisoned Pen Press, the publisher, finalized the cover art, and it is, IMNSHO, beautiful. Eye-catching without being garish, conveying something of the spirit of the book, and–oh, heck, see for yourself:
10-1

Nice, ain’t it? Seeing that started to convince me that TRTT was really going to be published.

Then there are the proofs. Remember I said there was a final review and revision after the ARC was produced? That’s done using the proofs: a typeset copy of the manuscript. In essence, an electronic ARC. I’m going through the document line by line looking for those elusive typos and typesetter slip-ups.

Are there any? Yup. But so far nothing as head-slappingly distressing as the error that snuck into one of Dad’s books. (It’s worth noting that we made use of the same quote in TRTT. Fortunately, it looks like it’s made it through the edits intact. So far. Given Dad’s experience, I’ll be checking the final books…)

Working on the proofs has pushed me further toward belief. But the real convincer? The ARCs. They’re out there. People are reading them. And a couple of days after Christmas, a box showed up on my doorstep. That’s not unusual. What was unusual was that we didn’t recognize the return address. Inside, this:
10-2 Three of ’em, actually.

Holding that book–that physical object–was the final push into belief.

So thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for that belated Christmas present. And thank all of you who have pre-ordered The RagTime Traveler.

As for those of you who haven’t put in a pre-order, take a look here. All the information you need is there.

OK, maybe not. I’ll add reviews when they start appearing, and if I really need to twist your arms, once the final-final text is set–once the proofs are edited and the corrections confirmed–I’ll add a sample chapter.

Look, don’t make me come to your houses and beg you to buy my book. None of us want that.

Batter Up

Welcome to 2017!

The beginning of the year is completely arbitrary. There’s no relationship to any specific event*, but it is when it is, and we’ll have to make the best of it.

* I’ve long been of the opinion that the year should begin with the Winter Solstice, when the days begin getting longer again. Better yet, set it in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. But there’s too much cultural inertia behind the current system to make a change at this point. A shame nobody thought to introduce Pope Gregory to baseball. The 1582 season was a thriller, and might have converted him. As it was, the confusion caused when Italy adopted the new calendar in October, while Greece remained on the old calendar forced the abandonment of the World Series with Milan and Athens tied at two games apiece. But I digress.

My first post of 2014 covered continuing problems with the Bay Bridge, BART, and the San Francisco Giants. In 2015, I talked about BART and Caltrans again, and added a few thoughts on the NSA, police militarization, the Oakland As, and phablets. Despite the initial gloom and doom, both years had their ups and downs, but turned out relatively well.

I started 2016 with “The Tale of Knuckles Malloy” and we all know the general consensus on last year. I won’t accept sole responsibility for the state of the world, but it’s clear I should begin this year with a rant instead of trying to entertain.

Unfortunately, I really don’t have anything new to say about the problems besetting our transportation infrastructure, super-giant phones, or the increasing number of threats to privacy and security. And the less said about the Giants’ and As’ off-season moves thus far, the better.

How about a generic admonition instead of a rant?

If you’re one of the majority who regards 2016 as the worst year since [insert date here*], don’t just sit back and hope 2017 will be better. That’s not going to work.

* Popular choices include 1969, 1944, and 1930. If that seems rather 20th Centuryist, you might want to consider 410, 1066, or 1348.

Granted, there isn’t much any one person can do about some of the depressing aspects of 2016. But some can be dealt with. Pick one–any one–and do something–anything–about it.

It doesn’t have to be something big. I’ll spare you the usual platitudes about grains of sand and beaches or acorns and oak trees. But you’ll feel better for having made a contribution.

I’m Back

No, the crisis isn’t over, but it’s sufficiently under control that I’m starting to suffer symptoms of writing withdrawal*. Rather than endure that, I’m declaring the hiatus done. I’ll have more to say about the situation later, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

* Nightmares in which I realize I’ve forgotten how to type and have to write a 90,000 word manuscript longhand. Overwhelming impulses to edit something I said an hour ago because I just thought of the perfect word. Waking up in the middle of the night with a story idea and not being able to write it down because a cat has run off with my pen–no, wait, that’s business as usual.

Moving on.

Something actually went right for the Bay Bridge this weekend. Friday, Caltrans made the long-awaited announcement that the bike and pedestrian path from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island would actually reach the island on Sunday. Monday, Chron writer Jessica Floum confirmed the removal of the dead end that’s been in place for the past three years.

This is a major victory for Caltrans. This is the first component of the bridge to be completed as scheduled!

Well, sort of. The trail was supposed to open along with the bridge in 2013. It did, but stopped about half a mile short of the island. Then it was supposed to open when the old bridge span was fully demolished. Uh… The demolition is still going on–and, thanks to poisonous fumes released by the deconstruction work, the bike path will only be open on weekends and holidays until the work is done.

But that’s nitpicking. The important point here is that Caltrans resisted the urge to make yet another date prediction, only to discover they couldn’t meet their target. Keeping their mouths shut until they were sure may not sound like much, but it actually represents a process improvement. At the risk of reading too much into it, this could even be a sign that Caltrans is beginning to fix their dysfunctional culture of failure.

Yeah, I know: Once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy actionlegitimacy. But you have to do anything once before you can do it a second and third time. Keep it up, Caltrans! We’re rooting for you.

Moving on.

It’s been 107 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and 70 years since they last played and lost. It’s been 67 years since the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, though they’ve managed to lose three World Series since then, running up a combined 7-12 record. Not exactly stellar performances by either city.

But, as Jackie implied recently, somebody has to be MLB’s champion this year.

The only possibilities are the Cubs and the Indians. Sometime between Saturday and next Wednesday, somebody’s record of futility will come to an end.

It puts those of us with no sentimental or geographic attachment to either team in an awkward position. There’s a natural tendency to root for the underdog, but it’s not clear who that is. The Cubs have had excellent regular seasons the past two years, unlike the Indians, who struggled to a .500 record last year. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook a century-long track record–no concerns about small sample sizes here!

You can make up your own minds–and Jackie’s post includes some good arguments on both sides–but I’m going to be rooting for Chicago for one simple reason: Cleveland, by and large, has suffered in silence. They lose, make the obligatory mumbles about next year, and move on. Chicago, on the other hand, whines and blames anything except their play on the field. Who else blames their losses on a goat? Or their fans–poor Steve Bartman?

I figure if the Cubs finally win a World Series, their fans will have to shut up, and we’ll get some peace and quiet.

Game One is at 5:00 (Pacific) tonight. Go Cubs! Let’s win it–in seven games, of course.