Friday, July 31, 2009

Cover Me!

It's taken literally months, not to mention a very patient artist, but we finally have a cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming!

Thanks to everyone on the mailing list and on Facebook who helped out with this! I'm sure I wouldn't have worked out the problem with my own cover preferences without your help.

And what was the problem?

The problem is that there's a conflict between the title of the book, the content, and my cover design preferences.

For example, here are some of the covers that we tested, in order of my preferences -- i.e., my preferred covers are at the top.















The problem that the test groups helped me see was that the title of the book sounds like one of those silly self help books (presumably non-fiction, although I sometimes beg to differ), which it does because that's kind of the point, and the cover style I was leaning to is a type often used exactly for that sort of pop psychology book, leading a lot of people to mistakenly think the book was meant to be nonfiction.

Ack!

And so, as much as I hated to do it, I chose my least favorite cover simply because it was the one that looked the least like a self help book.

Therefore, here it is, the final cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming by Gillian Polack!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Can't Get There From Here

Have you ever had that feeling that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, things are a mess and anything you do to try to fix them, is only going to make them worse? That's certainly been my mood for the last few weeks; I've felt as if I were walking around with storm clouds over my head!

It all started with my computer. I love my computer. I've had it for several years, but it was top of the line when I got it, and I don't feel it's obsolete yet. However, the hard drive started to fail and a couple of weeks ago, I began to get CHKDSK errors every time I started it -- time for a new hard drive. I backed up as much as I could on a removable hard drive and then I took it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy to get the hard drive cloned. Fairly simple, right? Maybe not.

I have dual hard drives and they are huge, and I thought it was important to have them completely backed up before starting the clone procedure, so I told the Geek Squad to do that first. It took four days just to do the back up. Yikes! At the same time this was going on, the artist who is doing the cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming sent me the first proofs. Brilliant! Except that all I had to look at them with was my little laptop and I couldn't really get a good view.

ARRRRGGH!

I've been waiting for sooooo long -- completely my fault, not the artist's -- but still, I was dying to really examine the proofs. And I couldn't. Except for the color, which was, unfortunately, too close to the brown shade used on our last book. I asked her if she'd mind changing that base color to something else, and she said she wouldn't, but that she'd hold off sending me new proofs until I got my computer back since I couldn't really look at them anyway.

OK. But, AAAARRRRGGGHHH!

In the meantime, Geek Squad called and said I needed to come and pick out the new hard drives. DH and I went to do that. And then we had another problem. Because there are two drives, they have to match exactly, but Best Buy only had one of the model I chose in stock, so we had to get another one from a different store. A helpful clerk called around until we found a store that had one in stock and then we made arrangements for DH to pick it up. Geek Squad said it would only take a little while to install it once they had it in hand. Great. This was on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. We made arrangements to bring in the drive the next day (Saturday). They said they should have it by Monday. Great.

Monday morning we called to see what time it would be ready. They weren't sure. "Call back tomorrow," they said. "Tomorrow," was Tuesday; DH was leaving for California that day, so he wouldn't be home to help me pick it up even if it was ready. That was a problem because my surgery last autumn has left me less than capable of carrying heavy things. DH wouldn't be home until Friday. So that meant more than two weeks without my computer. ARRRRRGGHHH!

DH left on Tuesday as planned and that afternoon, Geek Squad called to tell me that my computer was ready. Of course. They also left a message stating that they wouldn't hold it longer than five days. I felt like going over there and strangling all of them. By this point, however, I was resigned, so I simply called and asked them to please put it aside because we wouldn't be able to get it until Friday.

That night there were terrible storms. Thunder, lightning, the whole nine yards. Pippin, my dog, who is normally not afraid of storms, was suddenly terrified. Neither of us got any sleep. I left for work in a cranky, miserable mood, but I should have known the fun was only just beginning. I turned out from a traffic light and my car wouldn't accelerate properly. The RPMs just kept going up and up, but the gears didn't seem to be shifting (it's an automatic transmission). So there I was in rush hour traffic and I couldn't make my car go any faster than 35 miles per hour -- and while it was going even that fast, it sounded like a 737 on the runway getting ready to take off!

I nursed the car about a mile down the road until I found a side street to turn off on. People behind were honking and being a$$holes the entire time, so when I got there, I was on the verge of tears. I turned off the car, tried to call DH (who didn't answer), and fiddled around in my briefcase, looking for my Triple A card and the number for my office so I could let them know I'd be late. I found neither, so I sat there for a while, just trying to calm down. Once I'd done that, I decided to try the car again on the side street since there wasn't any traffic. It seemed to work just fine, so I cautiously edged it back out on to the main road and took it on to work.

When I got there, I rang the dealership and made an appointment to bring it in for service the next afternoon. I gingerly drove it back and forth to work and then to the dealership, terrified the whole time that I was going to have a repeat performance, but I didn't. The people at the dealership were very nice; they gave me a rental car as a loaner, which I took all the way home before I realized that I had left my house key on my key ring. With my car. I had to go all the way back and get it and then drive home again. All at rush hour, knowing that my dog was probably having fits locked in my house (he was).

The thing that really capped off my week happened on Friday. DH had been gone since Tuesday and he was supposed to be home early in the afternoon on Friday. I'd had such an awful week and I was really looking forward to seeing him. I got a call from him on Friday afternoon to say that he had arrived, but that it appeared that he was going to have to leave on the next flight to Delaware -- and I wouldn't even make it home in time to see him before he left! ARRRRGGGHH!

When he told me that I very nearly melted down in a puddle of messy tears. Fortunately I did not. Nor did I give in to the urge to scream obscenities at him. He was able to push off his urgent trip for one day, so I got to see him for 24 hours before he left again. He picked up my computer from the Geek Squad and I have it now. He also went with me to return the loaner car and get my own car back. The problem with the car was apparently caused by a software bug and according to the dealership it has been fixed (we'll see about that).

DH is now in Delaware. The computer is in my office. My car is in the garage. And I'm hoping that the cloud is no longer over my head! I REALLY REALLY want to see those proofs of the cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What You Wish For

I was sitting in traffic this morning, skipping through the CDs I have in my car, and I hit on one song that I always used to listen to when I lived in Washington: "What You Wish For" by Guster. It started me thinking of how strange my life has been these last few years. I mean, I've gotten something, but I'm not really sure it was what I wished for. What did I wish for?

Wishing has always been a problem for me. Not that I don’t have wishes, but they've always been a bit amorphous. When I was growing up, I was never one of those children who said, "I want to be an accountant when I grow up." Life would have been so much easier if I'd been able to do that. In fact, oddly enough, I've never had a clear desire to occupy any kind of specific profession. I don't mean, I didn't want to work; I did, and I always have done, but I didn't have a particular job that I wanted to do. I could take the easy way out and say I wanted to be a writer, but then I've always been a writer, ever since I was old enough to hold a pen in my hand. To me, that's not a job, that's life.

I know when I was young, I hoped someday to fall in love, and maybe even to get married. That, I've done, so I'm sure I've fulfilled at least one of my dreams, but the reality is incredibly different, and better, than anything I could have imagined. At one point, I wished for children. That didn't work out, but now that my disappointment has faded, I see that I received so many unwished for gifts in life – things so far beyond my wildest dreams – that I doubt I would trade them for the wish I did have.

It pleases me to think that I have come far enough down the road in life to be able to appreciate the fact that even though I do not always know what I want, or what is best, there are good things here to be had and enjoyed. For example, as my friends on Facebook know, I went to a charity ball last week, after agonizing madly over what I was going to wear. I only had one long dress and I didn't want to spend the money on another one. The problem was that my only long dress was bright pink, but I have been told all my life that I shouldn't wear pink because I have red hair and it clashes. For the two weeks prior to the ball, I spent a lot of time wishing that my dress wasn't pink, or that my hair wasn't red. Indeed, I almost bleached my hair blond because I was so disgusted with it. But after whingeing for days, I sucked it up and went to the ball. And I had a good time – my wishes were clearly stupid, but I was handed the gift of a good time on a plate, and I was at least smart enough to be able to appreciate it.

I haven't learned how to do this with everything, but I plan to keep trying!

What You Wish For
Guster

Woke up today
To everything gray
And all that I saw
Just kept going on and on
Sweep all the pieces under the bed
Close all the curtains and cover my head
And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?

If this serenade
(Repeat after me . . . just a little bit closer)
Is not what you want
(And do what I say . . . caught up in a lie)
It just how it is
(It won't change a thing . . . got a little bit colder)
It keeps going on and on

Come out come out wherever you are
Would you do it all over
Right from the start?
And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?

And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?
Once had this dream
Crashed down in Oz
Not black and white
But where the colors are

I never dreamed that
I would let it go
And I will get
What I deserve
Keep all the secrets
under the bed
Open the curtains
forget what I said

And what you wish for
Could come true
You act surprised, love
Are you?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Riding the Bull

A few weeks ago, DH and I went to see Sara Bareilles in concert. She performed at the Austin Rodeo, so instead of having another band as her opening act, there were rodeo events instead. All the different events – calf roping, barrel racing, and such – looked hard, but the big one – the one with the real tough guys – was the bull riding. To get on a huge angry beast that has horns and try to stay on it while it tries to buck you off so it can kill you – that takes some cojones, man!

Oddly enough, I was getting ready to leave the house this morning and I thought of that bull riding contest. For the last three weeks or so, I think I've felt almost exactly like one of those guys sitting on the bull's back!

Does that sound melodramatic? Of course it does. But after telecommuting and doing various writing projects from a home office for the last nine years, I decided that in order to keep my publishing company in business, I was going to have to accept a job that requires me to work in a downtown office. It's just a temporary job, and it's a great one at that – I'd be insane to complain about getting paid lots of money to write, just because I have to leave my house to do it.

In addition to the job, I've done so much in the last few weeks. I have, for example, visited my relatives in Arkansas (and attended my uncle's birthday party). I've also managed to snag a couple of truly awesome Louis XIV-style chairs at the Round Top antiques fair, which I attended weekend before last. I've found a cover-artist for The Art of Effective Dreaming, which I can now (woohoo!) afford to pay for – a much better solution than futzing around and doing a half-assed job of it myself. I've tested "Dreaming" on the Kindle and it works, so I think we'll be good to go with an ebook version as soon as I can get the paperback version of the book released. I've found the perfect Badgley Mischka dress for my brother in law's wedding in August and the perfect pair of Manolo's to go with it (you know I keep my priorities straight).

So, you see, this isn't really a whinge, it's more like a "Whoa Nelly!" while I hang on to the bull.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Women's History Month

In past years, I've had more time to spend writing about WHM, but even though I haven't been able to write anything about it this year until now, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought. One of the things that I keep noticing in articles about women's history is a tendency to pick out some woman or another who did some job or another and say, "Look! She did this thing!"

That's all fine and dandy, and I wouldn't want to take away from anyone's accomplishments, but quite frankly I can't think of anything less interesting than reading yet another ode to a twentieth century woman who was a lawyer or a doctor or a scientist when everybody knows that "women didn't do that." Why? Because it's all HOGWASH. Women DID do it, at least they certainly did in the twentieth century, and we all know it, so it's disingenuous to keep pretending that it's such a complete surprise to find a woman who did whatever this thing is that has apparently left the writer breathless.

I think it would be more valuable for those of us who care about women's history to actually pay a bit of attention to the women in our own histories because if we don't document their lives, then who else is going to? Turning that thought to my own life, it occurs to me that the last thing I'd want to be remembered for was for any sort of job I'd done! I'm not a mother, but I know that if I were, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered as a daughter, and a niece, and as a friend. I'd want to be remembered as a wife. If I were a sister, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered for trying to do good somewhere, some how. But the thought of only being remembered for doing some job, doesn't make me happy at all.

Auntie was in the Foreign Service for thirty years, but it isn't the job itself that's memorable about her. It's that she's so intrepid. She was in all kinds of dangerous hardship posts like Damascus during the 1960s, and Nigeria, and various other ones. She had a fascinating career (more than one; she had another after she left the FS), and it's part of who she is, but what's important about her isn't what jobs she held.

My grandmother went to college during the Great Depression. She worked some as a teacher, and also as a clerk in my great grandfather's law office when he was the County Clerk. I doubt if it would have mattered much to her to be remembered for any of that. I do, however, think it would please her to know that I remember her for teaching me to read Shakespeare when I was nine years old. And for making the best orange cake on the planet. And for being a defining influence on my life. I also think others would have known and loved her as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a grandmother. And if she'd ever thought about that (And who knows? Maybe she did!) she would think herself well-served by our memories.

If women's history is ever going to be more than a freak-show, I believe it has to move beyond trivializing the activities and accomplishments of everyday women. Not just the ones who become Supreme Court Justices. It has to include the woman next door who bakes cookies for her kids. And those of us who ARE women are the ones who have to make this happen. We have to look at the women in our lives and we have to pay attention to the value of what we're all doing. We have to look at the lives of our grandmothers and our mothers, our aunts and our cousins, our sisters and our friends, and we have to look at our own lives, and we have to acknowledge that we are all making history and it's up to us to recognize it and acknowledge it in each other.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle - I don't THINK so

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my sadness to see the last print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I received the following comment on that post from business consultant Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption," who writes The Phoenix Principle blog.

The change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle, and for Hearst. Developing a viable news model for on-line reporting is important to future readers and society.

I had a look at Mr. Hartung's blog and then I clicked over to the new PI site to see how it was going on the first day of their new venture. The site looked approximately the same, and it appeared to have been updated with local stories, but when I clicked into the headline story, it was just a two sentence blog-type post by someone I wasn't familiar with. And so, I clicked over to the PI's former newspaper rival, the Seattle Times to get the *real* local news for the Seattle area.

There, in addition to the local news, I found an interesting column by Danny Westneat who had written about a goodbye rally a Seattle Times reporter had organized for the PI reporters, editors, and photographers on Monday. He wrote:

Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton organized it as a memorial of sorts, to say thanks to the P-I's reporters for helping tell the city's stories. He said he wanted it to be like when a firefighter dies and all the other firefighters come to the funeral.

It was. We gathered in a little park near the P-I offices. Some spoke wistfully, others ruefully. When it was my turn I said that while everyone is focused, understandably, on the corporate side of newspapering — on the making of profits — it's worth remembering that that's not why anyone goes into journalism. Reporting is what matters. Asking questions, prying things open, telling stories.

And this:

So Seattle wakes up today a one-newspaper town for the first time. But The Seattle Times is hardly alone. It's also a multiple-Web-site-town. And a dozens- or hundreds-of-blogs town.

Someone at the rally compared today to the frontier days — an unruly but inventive era when some of today's news businesses first formed.

Loggers or fishermen will tell you living through sea change like that isn't easy.

I take comfort that they also say this: We're still here.

I think it's fascinating at how views like Mr. Hartung's diverge from those of Mr. Westneat. Mr. Hartung thinks in terms of business model and how the PI's model and, the newspaper industry's model in general, is flawed and must be changed or it will completely die. I agree with him; this is patently obvious.

And yet, Mr. Hartung doesn't see, or doesn't acknowledge what is also patently obvious -- that if the newspaper industry dies, we, as a culture, will suffer a tremendous loss. Because this is not just about making money for Hearst of Sam Zell or anyone else. Mr. Hartung wrote his own blog post about the death of the PI and in that post, apparently, without realizing it, he alludes to the problem:

The on-line paper already achieves about 4million hits/month, and it hasn't really started trying to be competitive on-line. The site (www.seattlepi.com) already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go from the old newsroom. And it has made agreements to pick up content from Hearst Magazines, xconomy and TV Guide amongst other partners.

Right.

The size already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go...

Um, no. That is a problem.

Why?

Well, it isn't because the bloggers are inferior as writers (although they may be; there's no way of knowing). It's because, at least on this first day of the new PI, these bloggers are not writing articles, they are writing two sentence blog posts! I clicked over to the Seattle Times because I wanted to read the local news, which means I wanted details; I wanted quotes; I wanted sources. In short, I wanted articles! Journalists know how to do this. I can get syndicated content anywhere, however, now that the *real* PI is gone, I apparently will need to go to the Seattle Times web site to get detailed news about Seattle.

Although Danny Westneat has a vested interest because he wants to keep his job, I think he is a smart guy because he understands what he, as a reporter, is supposed to be doing: telling stories.

A note to Mr. Hartung -- if you are going to advise the newspaper industry, you need to incorporate this aspect of it into your business model. There MUST be stories; they MUST be detailed; and they MUST be LOCAL. The Huffington Post is fine, but advising every paper to try to be just like them is silly.

As for the Seattle PI, well, hopefully, they're just having first day glitches and they'll improve as they go along.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Honor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer

Today is the last print run of a newspaper I have long admired: the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I was a faithful reader and subscriber both times when I lived in Washington and I've continued to read that paper online nearly every day since I moved away from Washington. After today, the paper will continue with a limited online-only edition, but somehow, it won't be the same.

I know it seems peculiar in this day and age, but I'm such a newspaper lover. I mean a real news-PAPER lover -- I like the ink and the paper and the pages themselves. I've been this way ever since my dad started working for the Tribune Company when I was 13, and he started getting all kinds of newspapers sent to the house. When he did that, I started reading all those newspapers and I became addicted.

In all the different places I've lived, I've subscribed to a local rag, and once the web came along, I continued to read many of those I left behind. I currently subscribe to the hard-copy edition to the San Antonio Express, and I pay for some online stories from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. I also read the online editions of the NYT, the Seattle PI, the Houston Chronicle, and the occasional story from the Lake Charles American Press and the Chicago Tribune.

None of this is strictly about the news -- you can get that straight from AP and Reuters (or the plain vanilla CNN) -- it's about the place. With the exception of the New York Times, which I read because it tends to have more in-depth coverage of major events, the primary reason I read newspapers from different places I've lived is because those papers give not only in-depth coverage of those specific regions, but they also report with the viewpoints of those regions.

For example, when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast last fall, I wanted to read about it in the Houston Chronicle. Who else would have a more relevant viewpoint? CNN? The NYT? The Seattle PI? Highly doubtful. Of course those viewpoints were relevant when I wanted to read about how the rest of the country viewed the storm, but not when I wanted details about the storm itself. And now, no one cares about the aftermath of the storm except the Gulf Coast, and so for that, once again, I turn to the Houston Chronicle.

It works that way for most things. For an earthquake in California, naturally, I turn to the LA Times. For the economic melt-down in the car industry, I start with the Detroit Free Press. There are so many wonderful newspapers: the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Austin American Statesman...

The economic downturn and falling advertising revenues has really hit the newspaper industry hard. The Tribune Company, where my dad finished his career, declared bankruptcy in December, and it made me incredibly sad. The venerable Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, which began in 1859, published its final issue in February.



And now, today, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which started in 1863 is distributing its last press run. Without these papers, the news will still go on and it will still be reported, but we lose so much when we lose these local voices doing the reporting of it. The headline on the final issue of the PI is "You've meant the world to us" -- playing on the iconic symbol of the globe that sits atop the PI building in Seattle. I think I can say the same back to the PI and all the other great newspapers out there.

You've meant the world to us.