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 na├»ve 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.

State of the Fourth Estate 04

“It’s deja vu all over again.”
–Yogi Berra

Today marks the end of my third year writing full-time. Time for another “State of the Fourth Estate” post.

Nothing much has changed on the blog front. This is post number 576. WordPress tells me the blog has seen nearly 6,000 visitors–presumably including spambots–who have made a collective 13,000 views.

Twenty-one percent of the views come on Thursdays, and eleven percent between noon and one. On behalf of your bosses, thank you for using your lunch breaks to read my writings.

So far this year, the most popular page on the site is the Home Page. Presumably individual posts would draw higher numbers if they didn’t appear in their entirety on Home Page. But I don’t see any real value in making you click through to read the second paragraph.

More deja vu: the individual post with the most views is still the infamous “Leftover Sauerkraut” post. So far this year, it’s had more than ten times as many views as the next most popular (February’s “Gone Too Far” piece on the Super Bowl and its commercial culture.)

As far as I can tell, WordPress no longer allows you to see cumulative stats since Day One, but the numbers looked similar in 2015. The Home Page pulled in the most views, “Leftover Sauerkraut” came in second, and “Water, Water, Everywhere‘s” musing on water wasters was a distant third.

Pickled vegetables aside, indignation over the imminent fall of Civilization seems to be a hot seller. I’ll keep that in mind going forward. I trust you’ll let me know when you get bored with that kind of pessimism.

You can look forward to a few changes on the blog during Year Four. One of them is already in effect: no more ads in the posts. Clarification: I may still promote the occasional product I use and appreciate, and I’ll definitely be promoting my own writing. But you won’t get any more ads from WordPress’ commercial partners. You’re welcome.

Less significantly, over the next few months, I plan to clean up a few cosmetic issues with the blog’s appearance. You may not even notice those, but I’ll feel better.

But enough about the blog.

I’m still writing fiction. That was the point of my career move, after all.

I put short story writing on hold from mid-2014 until late 2015 in favor of concentrating on novels. But I’ve had a few bouts of free time between drafts, and the result is two new short stories that will be going out to editors before the end of the month. As usual, you’ll be able to follow their progress on my Scorecard.

The two combined are about 7,500 words. That works out to an average of 125 words a day. I’d be depressed about that if they weren’t side projects.

I’ve made much better progress on the mainline projects: novels.

Speaking of novels, that’s another bit of deja vu. At the time I wrote the first annual SofFE post, Novel Number One, Splat Squad, was in the hands of my beta readers. This time last year, Number Two, Lord Peter’s Eyes, was with the beta readers and I was querying agents with Splat Squad. Now Number Three is in beta and Peter is making the rounds of agents’ in-boxes.

So I’m keeping a consistent one-novel-a-year pace. That’s hardly a record, but it is quite respectable. Since each book has been upward of 90,000 words*, that means I’ve been hitting around 350 words a day. Actually, that’s a severe understatement. Keep in mind that each book has been through at least three drafts. As it happens, 1,000 words a day is my goal. Nice to see that I’m right on target.

* Digression for non-writers: In days of yore, manuscripts were measured in pages, specifically, typed pages with a typical letter size and a standardized margin. With the rise of ebooks and their rather loose association with page count, the emphasis is now on the number of words rather than pages. Expected word counts vary by genre, but in general, adult fiction will run somewhere between 70,000 and 110,000 words. Your favorite best-selling author might run longer (“Game of Thrones”, the first novel in Martin’s series, came in at 284,000; the sequels are all significantly longer), but previously-unpublished authors such as yours truly are well-advised to keep it to five digits.

“Life is what happens while we are making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

Novel Three does have a title, but we’re not quite ready to announce it. “We”? Yup. In last year’s SotFE post I said “my third novel [has] a historical setting”. That’s still true, at least in part, but it’s not the same book.

Not long after I made that statement, an established author whose work I respect made me the proverbial offer I couldn’t refuse. He wanted to do something a little different from his previous books: a time travel novel. He asked me to come on as his co-author. I’ve wanted to do a time travel piece for decades, and, quite coincidentally, some of the research I’d already done for my novel was relevant*, so I jumped at the chance. I put my notes and the first several chapters of my novel into suspended animation, and I’ll get back to them later.

* Even though some of the research transferred, there isn’t any actual overlap between the books. Although the time period is similar, the geographical location is very different. Most of what applied to both books was related to politics and technology.

The collaboration has gone well. Not only has it been fun, but I’ve learned a heck of a lot about a genre I hadn’t considered working in. And no, being a co-author doesn’t materially affect those word count numbers a few paragraphs ago. I haven’t written all 90,000+ words, but on the other hand, we’ve done it in just over six months. It averages out about the same.

Yes, I’m deliberately being mysterious. It’s more entertaining for you folks that way.

As I said earlier, the book is currently with our beta readers. Unless they find something we’ve both missed, we think it’ll be ready to shop around after one more draft. And while we’re waiting for the feedback, we’ve started a second collaboration, something that should be a genre stretch and learning experience for both of us.

I’ll have more to say–hopefully much more–about Novel Three, including the identity of my co-conspiratorco-author, over the next few months.

Year Four begins tomorrow with the obligatory Friday Cat Post. Baseball season starts next week. Optimism abounds.

Moving on.

Special Bonus Post!

Special bonus cat post today!

No, you didn’t miss a post. It’s not here, it’s over on Katzenworld.

The folks who run that blog invited me to contribute a guest post. Many of you know how much influence British authors have had on my spelling, so I’m sure you can guess how much I squealed in delight at the opportunity to appear on a prominent UK-based blog.

If you’re one of my readers in the “Yes on cat blog posts” camp, please take a look at my ruminations on meezer mythology.

Note: The post was supposed to go live at 7am UK time. This announcement was supposed to go live at 8am UK time (midnight US Pacific Time), just in case there’s a glitch. If you don’t see the post, it probably got stopped at Customs and Immigration.