Sunday, October 5, 2014

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

No doubt, I've been neglecting this blog for over a month. Maybe some kind of schedule is needed to ensure regular inputs to the system. Truth is, I've been keeping very busy, struggling to put words on paper.

With everything going on these days, I feel like I am so unprepared according to my own internal timeline. To be honest, I've been doing a lot of research on a story thread that's been bouncing around in my head for some time now. That's how it works for me. I get just a thread of an idea - an inkling, or bug, that just won't go away. I  might spend a few hours or days, or even months running the idea down. Sometimes it pans out into something I must pursue further. Often times, the doubt monster sneaks up from behind to snatch the idea from me.

I've been thinking about a story I published on Smashwords not long ago and am considering re-writing it into something longer. This, of course, is The Sentient Soldier, written as flash fiction and published by Eclectic Flash Magazine back in 2010. This story was originally intended to be of much broader scope but I felt it a worthy challenge to parse it down into the smallest piece for sale to the magazine.

At the time, I was very proud of myself. I somehow managed to get the story down from near-novel size to just under seven hundred fifty words. Of course, a couple of reviewers of the work make clear their thoughts of its length. They said it should have been a short story or novel and it didn't really work for them at such a short length. Message heard, loud and clear!

Maybe soon, I'll post another story of one of my many follies as a child. I certainly seem to have an endless supply of those. I might write about the time I had to drive home with the passenger door to my car in my trunk after losing it in the mountains while mushroom picking. Or, I might tell of my first bit of combat training when one of our neighbors shot us with rock salt for playing in the woods behind her house. And people wonder why I'm all broken down now as I enter old age.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aquaponic Gardening 18 Months In

It was the middle of April in 2013 when I first filled a 200 gallon tank full of water and added fish to the mix. The entire concept of gardening using no soil and a re-circulation pump to water plants was completely foreign to me. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the idea.

You see, I’ve always been a terrible gardener. Sure, I can pull weeds and clears plots of dirt but when it came to actually growing an edible plant from seed to harvest, it couldn't be done. At least, not by me. In 2012, my wife and I were meandering through a local warehouse club store and found some raised garden bed kits on sale. We thought of our grandchildren and how much enjoyment they could get from them so we purchased them. I set them up in our back yard and built a small greenhouse around them using PVC pipe and plastic (see my post from March 17th, 2013.) The grandson loved them, while the granddaughter was probably too young to really get any enjoyment out of them. The grandson grew lots of zucchini and aspired to take them to the local farmers market to sell. It was at this time that I started looking into easier ways to garden and stumbled across the concept of growing vegetables without dirt, weeds or the need to water.

Not really sure what I was getting into, I built my system as inexpensively as I could with at least half my materials from scrap I found around the yard. Instead of forking out the $175 dollars for a pond liner, I bought a used billboard tarp for about $30 dollars. Sure, every time I look into the bottom of the tank, I see an advertisement for windshield washer fluid but it has worked great since I installed it.


Continuing my theme of doing this as inexpensively as possible, I bought feeder goldfish to stock the tank and get the system going. You see, in aquaponics, it is important to initially provide enough waste from the fish and at a reasonable temperature in order to allow beneficial bacteria to grow. These beneficial bacteria are needed in order to convert the fish waste into plant food. The plants in turn complete the filtering cycle so the water that returns to the fish tank is filtered and stripped of all toxins that may harm the fish. The downside to this is that, if one is getting the system started using fish, there will be dead fish. This is because it takes time for the bacteria to grow into a large enough colony to effectively filter the ammonia produce by the fish.  Until this happens, the ammonia level in the fish tank may rise to a level that is toxic to the fish. There are other methods available to cycle the system but I chose this one as it seemed the easiest to understand at the time.

Anyway, it took about six weeks for the system to “cycle” or for the ammonia levels to go back down in the tank. In that time I killed about twenty little comet feeder fish but the plants made it through mostly unharmed.


So, there it was. I now had an aquaponic garden. At first I planted starts that I bought from the local home store. I wasn’t sure exactly how to start plants from seed as I’d never done it any other way except for just throwing the seeds out in the dirt garden and adding water. Nonetheless, and despite the cold, the plants started growing.

Once the system was in operation, I decided to add another grow bed. The first grow bed would not be sufficient to filter all the water once I added tilapia to the system.


So I built another smaller grow bed for the other side of the tank. The grow beds are about one foot deep and filled with pea gravel. The gravel is heave but I did not want to spend the money on expanded clay pellets. Besides, my goal was to develop a system that could be easily built with local materials. I quickly found that, where I live at least, there are just some things that must be purchased through other means such as ebay or the on line part of the large chain hardware stores.

By this time, we were in the middle of Spring so the cold was becoming less of a problem. With the warming temperatures, I started realizing the true awesomeness of an aquaponic garden. This awesomeness can only be explained by showing you actual plant growth. In the picture above showing my first grow bed you might see some plants in there. Planted in that grow bed was Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Parsley, Cilantro, and Boxwood Basil. In the picture below with the second grow bed I added two Eggplant starts and, in the second grow bed, some Green Pepper plants.


The above picture was taken on 15 May 2013. Here’s some close ups of the swiss chard and eggplant taken the same day.



The pictures below were taken nearly a week later on 20 May 2013.




The next set of pictures were taken about a month later on 20 June 2013. This is when I began harvesting my first crop and replanting. There has not been one day since then that I have not had something growing in both of my grow beds. My only input to the system is food for the fish.






In October, I decided to try my hand at Broccoli and Collards. Below is a picture of what they looked like on 13 October 2013.


Below is a picture of the same plants on 29 December 2013. We make broccoli casserole and collard greens on 1 January 2014 and they were delicious!


I grew some lettuce in this grow bed throughout the month of January while I started more collards from seed. At the beginning of February, I transplanted the collards into this grow bed. They took off immediately.


By the middle of March they’d grown quite a bit as shown in the picture below taken on 17 March 2014.


By 25 March, they were ready for harvest and I immediately put another new crop into the space. I did not have to prepare the soil. I did not have to pull weeds. I simply spread apart some gravel with my fingers and placed the new plant starts into the hole before covering it back up.

So, I would say that my first eighteen months enjoying the benefits of aquaponic gardening have been successful. Oh, and I did not even mention that this garden also provides us with fresh tilapia that are completely natural with no additives or carbon monoxide!



In June, as I was considering a new purchase of tilapia (originally cost only fifty cents each from a local fish farm) I discovered some new little babies swimming around. So, I put them into a small aquarium for safety until they are ready to go back into the large tank. The cycle continues and I can continue to harvest both fish and plants. With only fish food as an input to the system, I can truly have an endless supply of fresh fish and vegetables!

Oh, Here’s the babies.


For more information and video of this content, click this link to visit my youtube channel and see the rest of the story.

Friday, August 22, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I've recently been challenged to pour a bucket of ice water over my head to help raise awareness for ALS. I accepted the challenge and the following video serves as proof. Of course, I couldn't just make a simple video. I had to make it epic.
My Epic ALS ice bucket challenge video

or you can just view it right here:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Three Simple Rules for Book Covers

As most of you know, I have quite the independent streak. Unfortunately, I'm also a cheapskate by nature. Sometimes my need to do things myself with whatever resources I have on hand gets me into trouble. So, this post is for all you independent cheapskates out there, especially those writers like myself who insist on doing everything the hard way.

You want a great-looking cover for you book, right? You want your cover to express what your book is all about, right? Well, I got news for you. Sometimes these two things together are not what you might think. I've worked with a few authors (including myself) that have a tendency to show their main character on the cover, or put all characters on the cover, or show every element and aspect of the story on the cover but one must resist this urge and adhere to rule one.

1. Less is More

While there are countless examples of bestsellers with covers so simple one might think it was an afterthought, I can think of very few examples of bestsellers with overly busy book covers. Here, I must make a distinction between print covers and ebook covers. They are different but the design elements remain the same. The only thing is that, with an ebook, simplicity is more important because the potential buyer is usually looking at the cover as a small thumbnail photo.







Notice the simplicity of this Hugh Howey novel? I'm not even sure what that picture is. Could it be a face. Hugh Howey, as an independent author, hit the nail on the head with simplicity.





Now, take a look at this cover as if you were seeing it on your favorite bookstore, whether that be online or brick and mortar. What do see that might make you look inside or hit the "purchase now" button? Of course, there's the title, the picture, the endorsement of how wonderful this book is by someone you may not know up there at the top, but then there's something else. Oh yeah, that's it-the tagline!

2. Use Simple Taglines.

I know the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words but, in the case of book covers, I believe a short tagline is worth a new buyer of your book. When a person looks at the cover at the bookstore or online, they will naturally read the tagline. See what you just did there? You might have just sold a book. The most important thing a tagline can do is get someone reading your book before they've even opened it up. In the case of the book shown above, the cover does not really do a great job of explaining what the story is all about. Sure, the use of color is great but that tagline, now that's intriguing. A good tagline should be short, express the tone/mood of the story, and put a question into the potential reader's mind. I consider taglines to be a kind of secret weapon. While some covers don't lend themselves well to taglines, one should use this if they have the option.

3. Bold is Beautiful.

By bold I don't mean "in you face" rainbows and sparkles. Simple is bold. Limit your color scheme to meet the tone of your story. Dark colors convey darkness, Light colors convey boldness, White conveys simplicity and forces the eyes to whatever other graphics shown on the cover.






In this example, notice how your eyes are drawn to the picture more than anything else? Even the title is understated. The symbol on the upper right is the Chinese symbol for beauty, but who would know that? It just looks like part of the picture.






Above is an example of a cover I recently completed that shows a simplicity of color with a complex picture. I actually applied a shading graphic in this to tone down the colors and make it darker. The brightest spot shows the single character walking toward a maze. Since this novel did not have a tagline, I used the picture to set up the question, "Where's that person going? Why is he walking into a maze?" Sure, I'm still unsure about all the blank space in the middle but thought that if the eye was drawn to that (for the ebook version) it would show a sense of solitude. Funny thing is that, in the story, the character does not go through the labyrinth alone but I felt this picture set the tone or mood. The story is really about recovering the stolen sword shown on the back cover but you'll just have to buy the book to find out more about that.

One more thing that applies specifically to ebooks-they must look good/be readable in thumbnail size. Many authors and even cover designers forget this and, whether they admit it or not, it may hurt sales of the story. If a person is scrolling down the list of books on their favorite online bookstore, they simply will not be prompted to click on that picture if it looks like a jumbled mess.

Of course, other elements come into play here too. Things like a catchy title, author name recognition, series books, and many others. I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible for those do-it-yourselfers out there. Also, these simple rules still apply if you are having someone else design your cover for you. Do not be afraid to demand your cover meet these requirements. Remember, it's your hard-earned money you're spending on this cover and the story is your baby. Don't let the story that you worked on so hard become a neglected foster child because of a lackluster cover.

My hope is that this post provides hope and comfort to all those cheap bastards like me out there.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go



I recently let loose another rant on FB about a current news item (sometimes I do this for fun and either take an unfavorable side or remain so ambiguous that no one really knows what I'm trying to say) that somehow turned into a discussion about the Zombie apocalypse.

Funny how everything seems to fall back to the Zombie apocalypse for me.

Anyway, someone mentioned how prepared I must be and that if the Zombie apocalypse ever happened, they were coming to my house. This leads to a critical question, should one travel during a Zombie apocalypse (or any other disaster?)

The answer-yes and no.

You should strive to be as prepared as you can to bug out. Spend some time putting together a bugout bag-something that can hold all the bare necessities without sinking you like a ten-ton anchor. And right there's the rub, isn't it? If the Zombie apocalypse were to begin right now, this very instant, the major of our population would be dead within a week. Our population wouldn't die from the Zombie hordes or by running out of bullets, most (even many that have a bugout bag) will die of dehydration. While one may survive for weeks without food, no one can last more that a few days without water. It you are on the run, your water requirements will be higher than one sitting in the shade at home. And, unless you've invested in a quality portable water purifier ($100-$400 dollars) than you will have difficulty carrying enough water to fulfill your own needs, let alone fighting off those you meet on the road that are less prepared but use your burden against you to beat you down and take all your crap. Yes people, as shown so many times during natural and man-made disasters, people will treat you with less respect than zombies.

Don't even get me started on that subject.

So, in the event you are walking to the mailbox to get your mail one day and happen to see a small group of undead limping your way, followed by a massive horde of thousands (or, in the case of my small town-roughly four thousand) it will be better to run back inside and katy bar the door then to grab your heavy-ass day pack and try to outrun the horde to ...where?

A household will always be much more secure then the woods or roads. If you own a home with property, a good fence can buy you some time. If you live in an apartment, you can secure the front entrance and move to higher ground. If you are in an urban apartment building, a little pre-planning can give you a reasonably safe and lengthy existence on the rooftop once all the entrances are securely sealed.

Now, although having a year's worth of food stored in some closet would be great, I understand that most people just can't manage this. I, myself ain't got that kind of room to devote to my fanatical and, others might say, fantastical underpinnings and weird beliefs.

From your homestead, what form that might take, is a great place to eventually venture out looking for food. I believe that your food stores should always be the last thing you should consider eating. With just a little bit of knowledge, one can use the bounty around them to survive quite comfortably. The only downside to this is your protein might have to come in the form of rodents and even stray dogs. I know what you're thinking, "eww" but if you are not willing to eat rover when nothing else is available you probably weren't going to make it anyway.

For instance, I have a few chickens in my back yard along with a large fish tank full of tilapia that provide nutrients for plants in aquaponic media-based grow beds. I will eat my dog before the chickens or fish simply because, if it came to that, the chickens and fish will provide me with eggs and vegetables for as long as they are alive. I mean, hey, we're talking survival here folks.

So, before you break open you second five-gallon bucket of survival food, consider what might be right in your back lawn or in the cracks of the sidewalk just outside. There are two plants that are abundant all over the world and are completely edible from root to flower.

Clover-although considered by most as a weed, this plant is a delicacy to deer and other foraging animals. While the roots are difficult to process and bitter, the stems and leaves work quite nicely to supplement a salad.

Dandelion-All parts of this weed are edible. The only thing on this plant considered not edible is the milky with substance that sometimes on the inside of the stalk. The roots can be boiled and made into a tea. The stems, leaves and flowers can be eaten raw.

The only thing one might consider in eating these plants is where they came from. Koreans consider dandelion salad a very tasty treat but I cringe when I see a group of Korean women picking these leaves from an open field on our local military reservation. Why?  Simply because just a few days before this I undoubtedly see these grounds being sprayed with fertilizers and insecticides.

If you live in an apartment and don't have easy access to plants of this kind, fear not, there is a solution. You know that guy living down the street who never mows his lawn and the weeds grow unchecked and unfettered. Yeah, that guy is now your friend. Don't waste your time calling the local authorities on these folks for ruining local property values. Be there friend so later, their unkempt lawn will become your food oasis. Just remember to share in your bounty and include them.

Now don't go getting all crazy on me here and thinking your just going to go out there and start pulling up everything green to put in your belly. There are some plants that are equally abundant to the aforementioned, that will kill you in very slow, embarrassing, agonizing ways. As a general rule, here are some characteristics of plants you want to avoid:

Milky, oily, or discolored liquid or sap.
Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
Beans, bulbs, or seeds that are inside pods.
Plants that look/smell like dill, carrot, or parsnip.
Plants that have an almond scent.
Plants with stalks or grain heads that are pink or purple in color or have black spurs.
Plant with three leaves, and some with five.

Yep, I know right now your thinking about all those veggies you buy in the grocery store and you're thinking I'm a liar. Remember, I you know for sure what these plants are, like they came from your garden or you can positively identify them, that's another story. I'm talking here about what you will find while venturing down the street or along those train tracks along the back of your apartment while trying to not gain the attention of any zombies or other people.

It is better to be safe than sorry.

Although you can forage equally well whether you are traveling or simply venturing outside your secure domicile, It is always better to travel only as a last resort. If you are going to get sick from eating something, wouldn't you rather be in a secure location rather than simply soiling yourself while running from baddies? I mean you might soil yourself anyway but that's another concern.

So, by all means, put together a go bag but the majority of your preparedness should go toward securing up your current location and hunkering down. Unless there is a hurricane coming and you're told to evacuate-then, do that.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Little Dity

Here's a little something I wrote a few years back. I suppose most would classify this in the "weird" category, although I don't see what is so weird about it.

Okay, maybe it's a little weird. This is another piece of flash fiction I wrote for Eclectic Flash Magazine. At the time they limited their flash fiction to 750 words, and this comes in at 749 words, so it was a good fit.

For those of you that might find this little story too hard to stomach, keep in mind that it is written in an epistolary format. That means that the story progresses through a series of letters, or in this case, emails.

So, here it is, for your enjoyment:


MY MIND’S EYE

 
29 January

All-seeing Sophia,

I send you this email from a hospital bed. After using your email psychic service for many years, I should be afforded proper readings and predictions of my future. If you truly are psychic, you should tell me to be more careful.

Yesterday afternoon, just after receiving your cryptic email, I was hit by a Wal-mart truck full of “Dr. Thunder” soda. I would think that getting rear-ended by a truck would be something you could easily foresee.

My next correspondence will likely be from my lawyer.

Good day,

Jonathan Tischel

 


30 January

Jonathan,

You might recall, as I certainly do, my exact words were, “Take heed the rolling thunder as its love hits you like a tidal wave, bringing you sweetness and effervescence.”

My website states, “All-seeing Sophia” is not responsible for any event, real or perceived, that may, or may not be attributable to predictions made by said entity.”

In consideration of your current and rather painful predicament, I am willing to offer you a fifty-percent discount on a future service of my choosing.
 
All-seeing Sophia

 
 

2 February

All-seeing Sophia,

Point taken, Sophia, but frankly, I interpreted your message to mean that I would find love, or rather, love would find me. What I received instead, was a fast ride to the hospital in an ambulance. Although, I must say, the nurse was nice.

Do you have any prediction on a future with her?

Jonathan Tischel
 

 

3 February

Jonathan,

Love impresses upon your eye and punctures from arrears. Beware, from behind you comes love and pain.

All-seeing Sophia
 

 

4 February

Sophia,

Once again, I have failed to understand your cryptic message. It seems you are telling me that, again I will be slain but not see it coming.

I certainly wish that I had eyes in the back of my head with the way you predict my fortunes, or rather, misfortunes.

On a more civil note, it seems I had left my wallet in the hospital and the nurse I met called me to give it back. She seems very nice. We have our first date tomorrow.

Your friend Jonathan
 

 

9 February

Jonathan,

Wish granted.

Please notice in your next statement, the discount applied.

All-seeing Sophia
 

 

14 February

All-seeing Sophia:

I am very disappointed in your services to the point of anger. Do I understand correctly in assuming that Rochelle was not the wish you granted? I am in disdain of your cruel sense of humor.

I woke this morning with a terrible ache in my eye. I groggily left my bed to wash my face with cool water. The water did not sooth my aching eye and, upon closer inspection, I was horrified to discover that THE EYE WAS IN THE BACK OF MY HEAD!

HOW COULD YOU!

Just combing my hair was terribly painful. By the way, I only have one eye back there. I can’t make out distances, I just run into walls and doors. My hair covers the eye and it becomes irritated and painful by day’s end.

Furthermore, I had a very romantic Valentine’s evening planned with Rochelle but you ruined that as well. For the first time since our meeting, she quickly embraced me in her doorway. As we pulled close into the inevitable kiss I was sure would seal our love, she moved her lovely hands over my shoulders and into my hair. In my enamored condition, I forgot about the eye and, of course, had not told Rochelle. Just as I felt the warmth of her lips so close to mine, she poked me in the eye!

She was completely disgusted and I was in no shape to explain as I was reeling from the pain and trying to keep my own hair out of my watering eye. Now, Rochelle will not answer my calls.

Lastly, I spoke to my lawyer and he believes we have a viable case. Our next conversation may be in court – and in person!

Jonathan Tischle
 

 

17 February

Mr. Tischle:

I am writing on behalf of All-seeing Sophia. The Law firm of Adleman, Forrester, and Klemisch has concluded that your case against our client is without warrant. We have taken the initiative and spoken with your lawyer. There is no case.

Additionally, the accounting firm of Wallace & Sons wished to have our legal firm relay this message: “You get what you pay for – at fifty percent.”

Condolences,

Adleman, Forrester, and Klemisch

 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Taking the Plunge



I've finally done it, taken the plunge, ventured into the unknown. Well, sort of. As most of you know, I've been publishing independently for a few years now under a pen name. Now, I've published my first work on Smashwords.

Go ahead. Check it out, it's free!

Why would I offer my work for free, you ask? I know this flies in the face of what many would consider traditional wisdom, but believe me, there are larger, unseen forces at work here. About a month ago, I posted an article here about how one might find success as a new author. Now is the time to put some of this advice in action.

I will continue to offer stories, some previously published elsewhere, some new, for free as I gain some readership. This is extremely critical for me as an independent and because I tend to write across genres. Also, because I tend to occasionally venture into weird, high-brow, succinct, and downright cerebral stuff. Sorry. My bad.

Back to the current subject. I have already learned some things since putting this story out there late last night. I know, right? Well, this is what happens when you offer something free. Many, many readers take you up on your offer.

As of the writing of this post, the story has received two reviews, both with three stars. The first one caught my eye because it mentioned the story needed some proofing. Ouch! I looked into it and found I had actually uploaded the wrong file! What the first eighteen readers got was an old draft of this story as I was trying to pare it down to what the magazine I wrote for, called flash fiction. I've since fixed that issue.

But the aforementioned leads to the next item. Both reviewers also stated that this story didn't seem like flash fiction and would work better as a longer piece. Well, duh. Any story would work better as a longer piece but with flash fiction, one is limited by the amount of words they can use to tell the story. I did tag this work as flash fiction but maybe I need to make it clearer. I suppose I can update the file and add a paragraph in epilogue explaining that this was  made into flash fiction specifically for use in a flash fiction magazine.

Anyway, won't you consider giving this a read? Might you also consider leaving a review if you enjoy the story? This story will soon be available through all major outlets except Amazon but for now, here's the link to my author page at Smashwords:  JL Stratton at Smashwords

Saturday, June 7, 2014

New Youtube Video

Okay, so I really do not have much interesting to say. Just wanted to post a link to a new video I posted on youtube.

Actually, this video is not new, but from way back in 2008 while I was training the Iraqi Air Force in Kirkuk, Iraq.

For those of you that may be unaware, Kirkuk is the city in Iraq where Saddam Hussein dropped chemicals on the population (Kurdish) and attempted to make the survivors march East into Iran.

Funny thing, we trained pilots for the Iraqi Air Force that were Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite. I know that may not mean much to normal civilians and the uninformed public in general but let me explain.

For centuries, a genocidal war has been waged between these three groups (and more) as each one truly believes the others have no right to life, and should be in charge. Sure, the infighting wavered just a little when all the groups were busy hating on America. Of course, with America (and the west) out of the country, they're back to fighting each other. Just not as openly as before.

Anyway, here's the link:




Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Sad Farewell

Today, we mourn the passing of Maya Angelou--a poet, writer, actor, dancer, gardener, and civil rights activist.



She was so many things to so many people. I believe she was probably best known as author of the best-seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This first novel put her into the recordbooks as the first Aftrican-American woman to produce a best-selling novel.

She will be missed. For more information, her biography can be found here: http://www.biography.com/#!/people/maya-angelou-9185388

It is worth looking at as she provided a wonderfully positive example for so many.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Confusing World of Undergarments



Women - Try as I might, I don't think I'll ever fully understand them. Why? because I'm a man and I've discovered that, while men are simple, women are complicated.

I'm not talking what wine to drink with chicken or beef complicated. No, not how to match sock color with the rest of your outfit complicated. I'm not even talking Rubik's Cube complicated.

I'm talking about calculating the vastness of the universe complicated; pondering the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and God complicated.

In comparison, men must appear like simpletons to women. We basically see and name about twelve colors, while color selections are endless to them. Our underwear come in two basic styles: boxers and briefs. Yes, I know that there are other styles but men will still classify them into one of the two aforementioned categories.

In keeping with this complication of all things woman, I made a grand discovery this last week while shopping with my wife. We were at that really big low-priced  retail chain because we needed some groceries, windshield wiper blades, and possibly some clothing. My wife found some clothes she liked and asked me to watch the shopping cart (called a "buggy" in Alabama) while she tried them on.

"Sure," I said before wheeling the cart to the men's clothing department for some socks. I quickly found some socks I liked and *BONUS* they came in a two-pack. I put three of these in the cart, you know, to cover all my bases. Yep, I consider myself reasonably fashionable, and purchase socks in the three basic colors to match any outfit: black, blue, and brown.

Within minutes, I was back to waiting, nestled within the four rows of bras outside the dressing rooms. I couldn't help but notice the vastness of the bra section and, before long, I began to give closer inspection to the bountiful shelves in some weird quest to bring understanding to this seemingly infinite array of women's support garments.

My mind was soon reeling and I felt a cold sweat building at the back of my neck like back when I was learning algebra for the first time. Here's a very limited and partial list of the different styles I found available in alphabetical order (yes, it's that long) not including specialty and medical styles:

Adhesive -Yes, it's like a sticky-note, but it's a bra.
Backless
Balcony - I have no idea.
Bralette
Convertible - What?
Demicup
Front closure
Full coverage - Aren't they all full coverage?
Longline - As apposed to the shortline, which is next to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Minimizer - Why would anyone want this?
Molded cup - You know, like a jello mold.
Nursing
Petite - Do short women also have short breasts?
Plunge
Pushup - Not like the ice cream.
Racerback - Not like the snake, you know, red racer?
Sleep - I must admit, I have special sleeping underwear too. There called "Boxers."
Soft cup - Aren't they all?
Strapless
Stretch cup - Seems to me, men would need something like this more than women.
T-shirt - Is it a bra, or a T-shirt? I don't know.
Torpedo - Imagine the looks I would get if I wore torpedo underwear!

Of course, each one of these styles come in an endless band (or waist) size and cup sizes from AA to N.

Hey, wouldn't it be great if men's underwear came in different cup sizes? I, for one, would certainly appreciate it, but then again, I'd probably just become confused by all the choices and just buy boxers.

One thing is clear to me, while bras and underwear were likely first worn out of necessity , these garments - bras and underwear alike - must've been further developed by women.

How can I say this? Blasphemy you say? Sexist pig you say? Lemme' 'splain.

Bras obviously have developed over the years to meet the individual needs of women. Men's underwear, on the other hand, have not improved much (except for the 'Y' closure for briefs) since the use of the fig leaf, or the simple loin cloth. And, wasn't the loin cloth and fig leaf unisex?

Now, the person credited for patenting the first bra in america is Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914. She was a socialite, which explains how she basically got credit for 'inventing' the bra when, in fact, it had been around as long as recorded history.

Archaeological digs have uncovered bras in Greek settlements. At first women would tie a rope of braided wool around their chest for support. Nothing like the warmth of itchy wool rubbing across one's nipples. In later settlements scientists found ancient bras made from woven linen. Oh, the comfort of cotton has got to be better than wool.

Imagine Mary Phelps Jacob kind of like the Paris Hilton of today. Now, I know what your thinking. Mary, at least, had to create something, while Paris is mostly famous for her sex tape. Well, had you ever heard the phrase "That's hot" before Paris? No matter how long it had been said in one form or the other since humanoids mastered speech, she still managed to copyright the phrase.

Of course, there was this brief time in history when men wore a codpiece. The codpiece was a sort of outer covering, usually made of some hard material (for protection, I suppose) that gave the man an appearance of wearing a protective cup outside his clothes.

This gives a whole new meaning to the term "little man in a boat."

These codpieces did serve a purpose. they allowed for protection from whatever and easy access for... uh, relieving oneself. But, like everything else in that era, the codpiece turned into another form of artistic expression until it became almost comical in appearance.

Despite all this, the codpiece did have a short resurgence in popularity in the 1980's and 1990's for hair-metal bands like Kiss, Poison, David Lee Roth, and countless others. Thank goodness that fad ended quicker than a Hollywood marriage. I sure wish the whole 'baggy pants' thing would have done the same.


Oh, and don't forget all those movies of late featuring superheroes like Batman, and sadly, even Star Wars. I find it strange that Batgirl didn't get a codpiece, although I think the costumers more than made up for it with her quasi-torpedo bra top.

After everything I've learned about bras lately, I'm grateful that my choices for underwear are limited and simple.  I mean hey, If I get the urge to wear fancy underpants, I simply pull on a pair in some color other than white.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Succeed as a New Author

photo credit: bioedge.org


First off, I'd like to start with a disclaimer that I'm about to espouse all kinds of advice I probably have no business espousing. Well, that's not completely true. I do have my own experience, and the experiences of friends,  for my benefit--and yours.

Many new authors, whether going it alone or using an agent and/or publisher, are completely unprepared to succeed when they publish their first story.

Let me emphasize this:  It does not matter whether you decide to publish independently or rely on a publisher, you must prepare if you want to succeed. This means that you have much work to do besides just sitting back to watch your book sell like hotcakes... because it usually won't.

Please, learn from my experience. I published my first novel in December of 2010. I did it independently and breathed a big sigh of relief when I was finished. What I didn't realize is that I was not finished. In fact, publishing the book and getting it out to all those places that sell books online like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords, was just the beginning. I had no idea how any of this publishing stuff worked. I thought all I had to do was keep writing while my efforts were rewarded with instant success, lots of money, and millions of admiring fans clamoring for just a moment of my time. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Now, I will admit, I thought, at the time, I did a pretty good job of getting my stuff out there. I published this story under a pen name because of its 'adult' nature. I started a blog before publication and posted nifty little ditties about my characters and their awesome plight. I made announcements to prepare potential buyers about the availability of my book. It was an exciting time, and I was in a hurry to get my masterpiece out there. That was a mistake too, as the poor thing had to go through many edits after publication.

Okay, so you haven't kept reading this far to listen to me whine about how stupid I was in publishing my first novel, so let me put what I've learned into a list of things you can do to prepare should you decide to publish your masterpiece.

Five things to remember for writerly success:

1. Slow down.

I know, I know. You've given birth to your baby and you want to tell the world, for the world will surely rejoice and there will be peace on Earth because of your story. Yeah, not so much. Your baby is not born just because you've written it. This is just the beginning. After you've struggled through fourteen drafts, realize that your baby has merely been conceived. What you've accomplished is equivalent to sex. Yes, you've gently coaxed and conjured these words onto paper. You've writhed with passion and anticipation of your accomplishment and, with luck, you've reached that pinnacle of pleasure, that little death, in the process. Hold on to the memory of that pleasure because you'll need it to carry you along the rough road ahead. Now you must demonstrate patience and perseverance as your story gestates inside you, becoming a more complete thing. Now is the time to let the story rest and begin preparations.

2. Preparation begins long before publication.

The world of books and publishing has changed. Gone are the days when the Hemmingways and Faulkners and Kings of the world suddenly appeared out of nowhere every year or so with a new novel to bestow upon the public. Gone are the days when authors spent years in solitude, sitting in cold rooms tapping away at typewriters, prostituting themselves for a week's supply of heating oil (okay, I have no proof of that last one) until suddenly made famous through one Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

We live in a digital world and one cannot expect to become famous and pay the bills because a publisher offered to give their manuscript a shot. Got news for you, publishing is a big business and, unless a publisher thinks they can make millions from you, they are not going to invest in you the same as they might invest in established authors like King, Child, Patterson. Your chances of becoming an overnight success would be better if you played the lottery. Yes, I know you are about to quote a bunch of exceptions like Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James but you must remember that you are not them. Stephanie Meyers had movie-makers convinced (through friends) that they would make money so her first book was published almost by default, and almost after the movie was released. E. L. James started her first story as Twilight fan fiction. She distributed her story to hundreds of thousands free before changing the title and gaining almost immediate downloads of her book from many of her friends who'd already read the story. Oh, and she was also a movie and television executive with proper connections. Not convinced? here's another example. I'm sure you've heard of Robert Galbraith. You know, the author of The Cuckoo's Calling? This book sat lonely in the archives of booksellers for nearly a year until it was 'leaked' that this was simply a pen name for J. K. Rowling. The book suddenly found itself at the top of the charts.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that as a new author, whether going traditional or independent, will need to sell and promote their work mostly by their little ole' lonesome. This begins long before your first publication. You must consider things like blogs and websites, peer critique groups, writer's groups and the likes to get it out there that you are an author honing your craft. Basically, now is the time to build a following and prepare your followers for your future greatness.

3. Build a platform, build an army.

Say you need to buy a car. A car is a large expense for most folks and, if you are smart, you will do some homework before making a decision or walking into that dealership. Well, let me ask, when getting information about that car, do you ask friends that bought the car or do you simply take the salesperson's word for it at the dealership. If you answered the in the affirmative to last option instead of the first, you deserve whatever you get. It is true. There is absolutely no substitute for word of mouth advertising. But how do you advertise for something that is not even available yet. Here's how. Introduce people to your work and writing style before asking them to purchase your novel. This means, before your novel is published, maybe even a year before, you start to recruit your army. How do you do this? The same way armies have been recruited for centuries--one soldier at a time. You must have something to offer your possible recruit. This might be a free sample of your writing, or informative articles on subjects relating to your stories. What you are doing now is saying. "Come with me on my journey and share in the rewards." Remember, it is more important, at this stage to attain a dedicated few rather than a passing many.

Consider this blog for instance. I haven't published a damn thing under the name JL Stratton. I'd like to though, and have some things in the works. You can bet that the few followers I've established on this blog are going to get advanced reader copies of anything I might consider publishing. I'm going to ask these dedicated few to be beta readers and take part in the final development of that future story/series. I will ask these few to post reviews and offer them free copies of the finished product.

I know what you're thinking. If I give all my stuff away fre to this small following, who's going to buy my book? Simple, my small group will show their free stuff to their friends and give a glowing review saying, "I know this author he wrote this great/good story. You should buy this and check it out."  Of course, If I'm lucky, my book will be available at Amazon just as those friends start looking for it, which leads to the next item on the list.

4. Build anticipation for upcoming work.

Remember that great sex (an analogy for writing your story) you had a year or more ago that became the conception of your story? I know, it's hard to remember all the little details as the edges tend to wear smooth over time. Well, your about to give birth to the results of your work. What do people do when they are just about to give birth? They send out the announcements, that's what. They ask a trusted friend to plan a baby shower. Excited friends show up and bestow gifts upon the as-of-yet unborn child. So, now is the time, your book has been published and will be available everywhere soon. Remember, you've recruited your army and they are all excited about this arrival. Now is the time to call upon your troops. This is your time of need. It is okay to ask them to consider purchasing a copy of your book as soon as it is available. It is okay to ask them to post a review, and it is okay to ask them to recruit their friends into your growing army. Maybe create a mailing list and send out occasional newsletters.

The fate of many books by both well-known and completely unknown authors is set at places like Amazon within the first few days and weeks of its publication. At this time, it is all about placement. Were talking about placement on the bestseller list for your book's category. Yes, your book may be completely obscure on the New York Times bestseller list but it could be number nine at Amazon's list. If your book is listed properly, you might find yourself in this position (for a time, anyway) with as little as ten to twenty sales in one day. This is important because, at number nine, your book is on the first page for someone looking for your category of book. This increased visibility makes your book more accessible by many more buyers, which increases sales. It becomes a kind of self-perpetuating sales loop. It is also important to take advantage of publishng options such as advance notification of publishing so that buyers can purchase a book that is not yet officially published.

Now, the key is momentum. At this point, there is little you can do to affect the trajectory of sales for your new book. That does not mean you should stop because, what you do now, will have an effect tomorrow, or next week, or next month. No, it is what you've done for the last month, or year, that gets you here. If you've done nothing, chances are, unless your story is so great that it gains the attention of someone with influence, your book will falter and begin its slow descent down the bestseller list. But, there is hope for even the quickly fading stars among the universe, which leads us to number five.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now is not the time to just sit back and wait for sales to pour in. No, now is the time to keep writing and preparing to offer something new and exciting to your faithful army of dedicated readers or rabid fans. In fact the time to keep writing was probably a year ago when you started the editing process of your first work. In fact, I've found that many authors offering a series (a big thing right now) have at least two books ready to go. They offer the first one for free, or at a greatly reduced price, and offer the second and consecutive stories in rapid succession after the first. Of course, now we're talking series, and that's a whole different ball of wax. for now, let's assume that each one of your works is a stand alone effort. Being able to set your own price for your work is a great advantage of publishing independently, for me, anyway.

In any case, the longer you make readers wait for your next work, the more your first work sinks into obscurity. You must now develop your next baby while your first one is just learning to walk. I know it seems like this is a very difficult proposition but just like with real children, you'll find that things get easier in some ways after your first. By your second or third child, the first will be able to venture out on their own and even help with the younger children.

This list is in no way complete, and I could go on forever explaining the little I've learned in my few years in this business, and I haven't quit my day job yet. I think the key to remember is that your creative works should be looked at as living things that are conceived, born, and grow just like other living things. The upside is that these works are not like living things but employees that never take a break or ask for a day off, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is never a good thing to go out there and put the hard-sell on people. I can give limitless examples of people using facebook and other social media to do that right now. It doesn't work. you must do the soft-sell. You must give something to readers even before you have something to sell to them.

On a personal note I will say that I'm just now learning to follow my own advice. After writing my first novel and gearing it almost exclusively to the genre I thought it would best fit (paranormal erotic suspense?) I realized the story was greater than its first writing. I had limited success with the first and wrote a second under more of a paranormal romantic suspense category. This second novel was an utter failure in comparison to the first and it stunted my writing (for this series) for some time. I think I've finally grown as a writer to a point where I can attempt a re-write along a paranormal romantic suspense for the entire series. I suppose what I'm trying to convey is that there is always hope for your work. I rushed to publish my first novel but now have the more adult ability to hold off on something until I think it is ready for prime time.

If you found this article informative, or would like to add anything, please comment below or send me a message.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dig to the Devil



Funny how memories work. I sometimes find myself reminiscing about some event that happened in my early childhood, and yet, I cannot remember what I had for dinner last night.

So, for today, I will post about the former, having absolutely no recollection of the latter.

I'm pretty sure that, when I was very young, both my parents worked. This is because many of my memories of these times involve a babysitter. This particular memory starts with the antics of my brother and I while watched by a babysitter. Funny though, I only remember certain things like the fact that this babysitter lived in a trailer park. Maybe she was a neighbor as I remember, we also lived in a trailer park at this time.

Anyway, my brother and I were prone to activities that usually were brought to an end with a belt or switch. I would not say that we were mean-spirited or little demon boys, rather, we were considered "all boy." I think that today the term has been renamed. It's now called ADHD. Of course, behavior modification back then was usually conducted using a leather belt or tree branch. Otherwise known as a "whoopin'."

On this particular occasion, I remember we were outside on some dirt road. We were digging a hole, as, strangely enough, was an activity enjoyed by many boys of our age. Having somehow come into possession of a shovel, we were determined to "dig to the devil."

Yes, we honestly believed that, if we dug deep enough, we would breach the doorway to the home of the devil himself. We were also aware, of course, that if we missed our mark, we might just keep pushing through the dark earth all the way to China.

I'm pretty sure we dug with a frenzy for at least ten minutes (an absolute stretch of our attention) before stopping and feeling the ground. Looking back at this memory now, through the prism of age, wisdom, and cynicism, we likely only dug to a depth of about three feet. But, to young boys, I'm sure it seemed like we'd moved a mountain of dirt.

Well, sure enough, when we crawled inside the hole to check, we found that we, in fact, were well on our way to confront the devil himself. How did we know? Although the memory is sketchy, the emotion remains, and I remember clearly the elation we felt when we put our palms to the ground and found that it was warmer than the surrounding air. Yep, sure enough, we were closer to the devil than anyone could have ever been.

With this realization, we became scared. Just what would we do if we actually reached our destination? Suppose we ventured another foot into the fertile abyss and then, suddenly, out pops the devil? What would we do? We were just small boys of probably six or seven years old; armed only with a shovel and the backing of Jesus. How would we defend ourselves. The shovel, we could barely lift, Jesus was powerful and loved us. We knew this because the Bible, and those songs we sang in Sunday school, told us so. But how would Jesus help us when confronted with the devil. We weren't sure of this, but we had learned that Jesus and the devil were not friends.

I'm not quite sure how, exactly, it happened, but we came to a sudden consensus that we'd dug deep enough, and that we had no business with the devil. Plus, it was nearly lunch time.

Now, you might think there is some lesson in all this. In retrospect, I believe the true lesson came after lunch, and had little to do with the gaping hole we'd left in the roadway.

After lunch was nap time, so we were sent to some dark back room of the trailer with a cup of water and a stern warning to keep quiet. As young boys often do, we were soon quietly spitting water at each other through the gaps in our front teeth, and trying desperately to keep our giggles to a level undetectable beyond the thin wooden door to the room.

I was the first to run out of water, so I snuck out of the room and quietly turned the knob on the bathroom door. When I came through the door and my eyes registered on the object in the bathtub at the far end of the room, my mind went blank. I mean, totally blank. I'm not even sure if my heart and lungs were still functioning at the time.

My babysitter stared back at me, equally stunned but infinitely more naked. This is where the story gets real interesting. We both stared at each other like two deer in some kind of weird headlight standoff. After what seemed hours, I finally pried my eyes from the sight and backed out of the bathroom like like a poor comedian booed off  a vaudeville stage. The image, or rather, the thought of the image of this incident left a permanent mark on my psyche.

Hmm, this might explain a few things.

Anyway, nothing was said about the incident and my brother did not even ask questions as I returned to the room and lay down on the bed. I can only imagine that the look on my face told him something had happened that he best not ask about.

Nonetheless, my brother and I both received an excessively harsh whoopin' that night. The reason given, of course, was because of the large hole and shovel we'd left in the dirt roadway.

Fast forward about five or six years, and our nearly forgotten shovelling skills were put to the test. We were in the midst of remodeling our home and my dad had plans of raising the house up and turning the crawlspace under the house into a full-sized basement. But first, given the rains on the Western side of Washington state, there had to be proper drainage around the foundation of our home. After comparing the cost of having the drainage line professionally dug or having it dug manually using his own family construction crew, he decided on the latter.

For an entire Summer my brother and I had the ongoing chore of digging a three-foot wide path around our entire house at a depth of at least six feet. Through this, we got really good at operating a shovel but, you know, we never did reach the devil. Although there were times when I think he was coming to meet us. And, we had no babysitter to break up the monotony.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sleepless Night

Photo credit: www.greenewave.com

Well, this doesn't happen often. It's 3:30 AM and I'm sitting here wide awake with my head and throat on fire. Sleep completely alludes me.

It's these damn allergies, I suppose. I mowed the lawn today and the pollen count must have been at record highs. This kind of thing usually does not bother me. But I guess that this is just one of the many 'perks' of getting older. Every year, I discover new allergies and ailments I never knew I had.

Maybe it's because I'm getting old, and my body is saying, "Keep moving, you don't have time for sleep." I don't know. I feel an ever-increasing fear as each year passes that I'm running out of time. I fear I will die before I can complete all my story ideas. Some of these stories pull on my heart and mind as if to cry out, in that strength one finds when their life depends on it, and dominate my mind. Others visit me in my dreams, bringing me through a long slow seduction as I see the characters move about, morph and change with the developing theme. Or maybe it's just a writer thing.

It seems writers suffer from insomnia more than other folks, and that remains a mystery to me. I can only imagine it has something to do with having a story in your head that simply must be written. I think this way too, and more often now.

Well, with nothing else to do but sit and look at my computer screen, I wrote a quick poem to express my thoughts of this sleepless night. here it is:

Sleepless Night

Oh, those torrents of the dark
Those devilish, nocturnal things

Tonight, I joined them
Cast away the invitation to sleep
I cannot find rest
And my dreams have left in fear
Of the wilds in the night

I watch with untrusting eyes
As a cast of spirits taunt me
And hold my friend captive, just out of reach

Spirits so dark and deceitful
Even their shadows are not welcome
They are only darkness among shadows
And they hold slumber ransom

What ransom for sleep
Name it and I’ll pay
Although sleep will not be freed

I’ll pay my dues all the next day 

Yep, I'm sitting here hoping that I might at least get sleepy. While most men in my position would eventually resort to surfing porn, I'll probably succumb to the lure of searching for the next typewriter in my collection. 

Somehow I believe porn would be cheaper.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Remette, The Family Typewriter

Ohh, I'm so excited. My newly purchased typewriter just arrived. I'm proud to announce the newest marvelous machine to my collection--The Remington Remette.


Here it is. The diminutive and sporty Remette.


Just like those tiny little sports cars of yesteryear, this machine is stripped to the bones. If you want a platen knob on the left side, or even a warning bell for when your typing reaches the end of the pages, you'll have to purchase the 'deluxe' model.


As you can see in the picture above, the little typewriter worked great. This little bit was typed before cleaning. The only thing I'd done at this point was replace the ribbon.

Here's a typecast sample of the machine's handiwork:




This was the only advertisement I could find for the little Remette typewriter. Funny how typewriter companies put so much into advertising around Christmas. Most folks buying a typewriter during the depression would purchase them on some kind of payment plan, often paying a small amount weekly or bi-weekly. It might be hard to imagine now, but in those days, it was difficult to justify spending $29.75 on a typewriter. It would be the equivalent to spending $2,000 dollars on a computer today. Surely not unheard of, but not pocket change either.














On the left is a short poem I whipped up on my new machine. It's worth noting how a typewriter can inspire and motivate. For people of my age, the typewriter represents something from their youth, before the age of computers and smart phones.