Have Typewriter, Will Travel

Portable TypewriterAfter I finished packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, I noticed that I had enough room left over for my portable typewriter and a ream of paper. My roommate gave me a funny look when I mentioned that. If the TSA didn’t flag me as a terrorist, having a typewriter in checked luggage would. I ended up taking a notebook, my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my carry-on bag.

The funny thing is that I stopped using a typewriter for writing several years ago. With the mobile office back in action this year, I’m using a clipboard to write rough drafts on notepads in black ink at lunch, enter those pages into the computer at night, and edit the printouts in red ink the next day. The idea of pecking away a typewriter and using whiteout ink seems antiquated.

The moment I walked into the hotel room and saw the desk sitting sideways to the floor-to-ceiling window, I wished I have brought my portable typewriter with me. Sitting at the desk, I would have blank pages to my left, the typewriter in the middle, and finished pages to my right. The next morning I woke up before dawn to see the sun rising over Sunrise Mountain as a beautiful yellow orb through the silt of the curtains before a beam of sunlight stabbed my eyeballs with a fiery pitchfork. I had a gorgeous view of the eastern mountains outside of Las Vegas in the afternoon. That was so perfect for writing.

My roommate took out his iPad on the first night, connected to cellular to found the speed rate lousy and the wifi connection was no better. He had a bazillion Facebook friends who were attending the Star Trek convention that he needed to stay in touch with and keep up with all the updates. (He met only two of his Facebook friends in person.) Since he registered his iPad to the hotel room, and I didn’t want to pay $13 USD per day to register my wifi-only iPad as a second device, I went without Internet access and left my iPad in the carry-on bag.

For the first time in my life, I was on a real vacation.

The desk was also perfect for writing in the notebook. I wrote about getting through airport security without incident, flying on an airplane for the first time, attending four days of Star Trek panels, signings and parties, the various restaurants and hotels we visited, going out to Hoover dam and seeing a David Copperfield show. I even started a new short story about my albino demoness who protects the prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip, using the Voodoo Rooftop night club as a backdrop. A very busy week filled one-third of the notebook.

Someday I’ll get on an airplane with my manual typewriter, lock myself in a hotel room for a month and write the rough draft of the Great American novel. I would have breakfast, read the newspaper and gamble in the mornings (the best time to avoid the crowds, semi-naked cocktail waitresses and second-hand cigarette smoke). Have lunch in my hotel room, re-read the previous day’s work, and bang away at the typewriter for the rest of the day. After having dinner I would attend an evening show or conk out early.

The Snail Mail Slush Pile Rises Again

When editor Perry Terrell informed me via emailOld Snail Mail Box that my short story, “A Stockton Wedding Reception,” will appear in The Ultimate Writer (September 2013) next month, I didn’t know anything about it. Neither the short story nor the magazine sounded familiar to me. The first thing that came to mind that this was a very old snail mail submission that sat in a slush pile for years before the editor got around to reading.

A virtual search of the old manuscripts—I’ve shredded the paper files months ago—turned up the short story. The opening line for the first paragraph was a writing prompt from The First Line magazine.

Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. They arrived in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall in Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the heavy scent of cow manure hung in the air. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their best clothes. The loud buzz in air was from people talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over a cow pie. Paul and Miriam greeted each other when introduced by their dates, Jacob and Verde, who left them alone at their table to get some refreshments.

This particular short story was probably the last snail mail submission I made before switching over to email submissions two years ago. One short story, “The Unfaithful Camera,” was out of circulation when an editor accepted it for publication a year after submission. Several rejection slips arrived 18 months late since a putsch against the editor at a university magazine delayed sending out responses.

I’ve since rewritten and published “A Stockton Wedding Reception” as an original ebook, “Let Me Be Your Spook,” making the original version unavailable for first serial publication and the ebook version available as a reprint. I altered the writing prompt by replacing the period with a comma to extend the sentence and changing the names to make the story a prequel to my short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” about retiring old spies.

George and Gracie met the old-fashioned way in the mid-1950’s, arriving in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall outside of Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the smell of cow manure hung heavily in the sweltering heat. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their finest wedding clothes. The loud buzzing came from everyone talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over the cow pies in the surrounding fields. They shook hands when introduced by their respective dates, Verde and Jacob, who left them sitting together at a back table to get refreshments.

Although the opening paragraphs are quite similar, the differences between the two stories are in the slant. Both have two people meeting for the first time because their dates were more interested in seeing each other in defiance of church rules on dating. The original version has the couple discussing church gossip and the theological implications. The ebook version has the couple discussing church politics in terms of a Cold War conspiracy, as both will become a future husband-and-wife spy team.

After trading emails with the editor, and reading both versions of short story side-by-side, I decided to let the original version be published after some minor editing. The editor has previously published my earlier flash story, “The Forgotten Sinner,” in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). The original version of the short story has the same spirit as that early flash story. Since the editor gave me a break, I’m willing to extend the same professional courtesy.

The Megatokyo Visual Novel Game

[iframe src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fredrin/megatokyo-visual-novel-game/widget/video.html” width=”480″ height=”360″]

Most webcomic artists use Kickstarter to sell pre-orders for a printed collection of their work. Not Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo. His non-Japanese manga webcomic about two American fanboys stuck in Tokyo is already available in six print volumes. He turned to Kickstarter to fund the creation of the Megatokyo visual novel game for the PC, Mac and Linux, using the open source visual novel game engine, Ren’Py.

From an interview with GameZone, Gallagher states:

The Megatokyo Visual Novel Game is a game based on my long-running webcomic Megatokyo. A Visual Novel is a form of interactive fiction with static graphics, background music, sound effects and a story with multiple paths and numerous possible endings. You play these games by clicking to advance the dialogue and graphics and making choices that cumulatively determine your story path. The game will be in three parts – the first part cover the content in the first three volumes of Megatokyo books, the second part covers the content in volumes 4, 5 and 6, while part 3 will be entirely new content with all the good, the bad, the neutral, the really bad and the awesome endings for the various story paths.

The response from fans was phenomenal. With a funding goal of $20,000 USD and stretch goals to $75,000 USD, nearly 5,000 fans gave under $300,000 USD in pledges. (I’ve pledged at the $35 USD level to receive all the digital downloads when they become available.) The visual novel will happen over the next 18 months, with part one due in February 2014.

According to Publishers Weekly, this kind of success isn’t unusual:

There are many more examples of successful comics projects on Kickstarter. Indeed this year comics projects on Kickstarter have a success rate of 48% (general publishing has a 32% success rate) and have raised more than $19 million funding 2805 projects so far this year.

The official website for the Megatokyo visual novel can be found here.

As a child I loved reading the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which is technically possible to do with ebooks. Creating an interactive visual novel is something that intrigues me. I have the writing and programming skills to make that happen. Alas, I’m not an artist. If I ever got serious about learning how to do black-and-white ink drawings, I might do a visual novel someday.

A Summer of Flash Stories 2013

Children Letters

After my family rented a house within walking distance of a public library, I visited the children department and signed up for the summer reading program to read a dozen books in three months. I would get a gold star for every book I read from the recommended fourth-grade reading list and a diploma at the end of summer. Things didn’t work out that way. I read a dozen books in a single day.

The children librarian wasn’t happy about my rapid progress and accused me of cheating. I took the accusation in stride. After being misdiagnosed as mentally retarded as a young child, and shuffled around the county in little yellow buses to the Special Ed classes, I got used to adults underestimating my abilities.

Besides being a fast reader, I had a photographic memory for what I read. (I later graduated from the eighth grade with a college-level reading comprehension.) The librarian made me recite line-by-line several of the picture books. When that proved too easy, I described what picture was on each page for each book. She reluctantly gave me my gold stars. My diploma arrived in the mail at the end of summer.

I didn’t bother to sign up the following year.

With the content pipeline broken and nothing fresh to submit for publication, I’m going to publish 13 flash stories on Fictionaut this summer. Unlike the summer reading program of my misbegotten childhood, I’m not giving out any gold stars or diplomas. You can read and comment on each weekly flash story for FREE.

  1. Golem Got The Beach Balls (6/27/2013)
  2. Terror From Above (7/3/2013)
  3. Falling Earthward (7/10/2013)
  4. Trillion Dollar Odds (7/17/2013)
  5. A Butterfly For A Married Woman (7/24/2013)
  6. Flash’em Tag’em Bag’em (8/1/2013)
  7. Killed Twice Over (8/21/2013)
  8. Ultra Menoetius (9/4/2013)
  9. Circling The Drain (9/19/2013)
  10. The Editor Is Always Right (9/25/2013)
  11. Zombies At The Movies (9/29/2013)

The flash stories in this series are those previously slated for publication in a flash anthology before Pill Hill Press went under earlier this year and the rights reverted back to me, and newly written content based on a flash story idea list from a failed NaNoWriMo project. All the flash stories will come out in forthcoming flash stories ebook.

Updated 29 September 2013: A Summer of Flash Stories 2013 came to a close with a few flash stories short of a baker’s dozen, as two of the flash stories became short stories that are now circulating in the slush piles to face a cruel world of rejections.

Taking A Summer Break 2013

Las Vegas City SignLast year I took a three-month summer break to restructure the writing business where I didn’t publish any ebooks while writing a business plan (didn’t happen), re-branding existing ebooks (done), and filling up the ebook buffer (didn’t happen). I’m surprised that I got one out of three done, as re-branding the ebooks with updated cover art, internal navigation structure, and front/end matter got very expensive and time-consuming.

This year I’m taking another summer break by suspending the publication of new ebooks for three months. Here are my three new goals.

1. Fixing the Content Pipeline

I’ve spent so much time learning the ropes of ebook publication over the last few years, the content pipeline ran dry and nothing is available for first serial submission or ebook publication. What I had on the bottom of the barrel wasn’t worth my time and effort to scrape up for publication.

Being an ebook publisher is fun, but I’m a writer first.

I’m clearing off the back burner of manuscripts that I’ve abandoned after I started writing or stopped editing. The last time I did this was five years ago when I kicked everything out to face a cruel world of rejections in the snail mail slush piles. This week I wrote a new short story from beginning to end in a mad rush that I haven’t experienced in years. Between the old and the new, I’m hoping to find the right balance to fill the pipeline.

2. Building a New Business System

Like many small business owners, I have way too much stuff going on to think about the big picture and plan for the future. This was why the content pipeline broke down. After seven years of shoving everything into envelopes and hoping for the best, I need a new business system.

I recently became a fan of growth hacking, where you make a change, measure the result, and make more changes with the business processes to go from okay growth to exponential growth. This appeals to me because I have a testing and programming background. Being able to slice, dice and document a big problem into smaller, workable problem was second nature. I can’t fix everything at once, but I can fix one problem and move on to the next problem.

3. Going On A Real Vacation

After I got a new non-writing tech job this year, many of my coworkers started talking about their summer vacations even though spring hasn’t arrived yet. All this talk came about because HR changed the accrued vacation time policy to force everyone to take time off, as some techies never go home much less take a vacation. As a contractor, this didn’t apply to me. But, not to appear as another antisocial techie, I said I was going to Las Vegas for my birthday in August.

Why Las Vegas?

Besides the obvious fact that I have never taken a real vacation, I have never taken an airplane trip to somewhere far, far away from Silicon Valley that I couldn’t reach by car. That the world’s largest Star Trek convention will be in full swing while my roommate and I are in town is purely coincidental. This is also a research trip for future essays, short stories and maybe an urban-fantasy series about the erotic underworld of Las Vegas.

Which of these goals will get completed this summer? I think all of them are quite likely to happen. The first two are separate sides of the same coin and the Las Vegas trip ties everything together if I hit the jackpot. This summer break will be better than last year’s.

Scarlett Johansson Sues The Author Of Her Literary Doppelganger

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson

According to the Hollywood Reporter (via The Passive Voice), Scarlett Johansson is suing the author of her literary doppelgänger that appears in a French novel.

In the novel The First Thing We Look At [by Gregoire Delacourt], a woman shows up at the door of a mechanic in the northern village of Somme seeking help. At first the mechanic believes she is ‘Scarlett Johansson,’ though sixty pages later it is revealed she is not the actress but simply a doppelganger named Jeanine Foucaprez.

Maybe the publisher forgot to include this legal boilerplate:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Of course, it really depends on how the author wrote the character.

  • A passing reference to a character that physically looks similar to Ms. Johansson wouldn’t invite legal scrutiny, whether coincidental or not.
  • A character that is a precise clone in description, mannerism and history that readers can readily identify as Ms. Johansson would invite an accusation of trading off her name.

Ms. Johansson has personality rights on how her public image is use, which is halfway between a private citizen who expects privacy and a politician who gives up privacy. (With the recent spying revelations, no one has any real privacy.) If a character believes that another character was Ms. Johansson for 60 pages in a novel, Ms. Johansson has a winnable case.

From another paragraph in the Hollywood Reporter article, the author admitted that he compared his other characters to Ryan Gosling and Gene Hackman. If you need to invoke the names of famous people to prop up the description of your characters, you’re not a very good writer.

Three Great Typewriter Movies

The “10 Memorable Spy Novel Film Adaptations” appeared on the Huffington Post. Glancing through the article and the related video, I noticed one glaring exception on this list. “Hopscotch” by Brian Garfield, which he adapted for a 1980 comedy movie with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, was missing. I posted a comment protesting this oversight with a link to the trailer. The comment never got past the moderator. The few comments that did appear weren’t very enlightening. On that note, I decided to put together my list of three great typewriter movies.

Yes, Virginia, typewriters.

Those ancient devices that writers slaved over in isolation before the invention of word processors and laptops made writing in coffee houses fashionable again. A great typewriter movie appeared every four years from the mid-1970 to the mid-1980. As the typewriter became less ubiquitous in society, its starring role in the movies declined over the years. If a typewriter does make an appearance, it’s always tucked away in a corner to gather dust.

1. All The President’s Men (1976)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fLdCZm7qgs]

Set in the newsroom of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, typewriters were everywhere as Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) unraveled the criminal conspiracy that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office in disgrace.

When I wrote my still unpublished first novel from 2007 to 2008, I had “All The President’s Men” playing in the background as I sat at the typewriter. The constant rhythm of the click-clack kept me focus, especially when my typewriter fell silent from figuring out what to do next with the novel.

2. Hopscotch (1980)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naQO14SnbUc]

After an old CIA agent, Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau), gets punished with a desk job for letting his Russian counterpart go free in West Germany, he plots revenge by writing his memoirs to expose the CIA’s “dirty tricks” division and mailing each chapter to all the intelligence agencies. With the assistance of his Austrian girlfriend, Isobel von Schoenenberg (Glenda Jackson), and her manual typewriter, he stays one step ahead in a Cold War game of hopscotch.

I recently read the novel for the first time. The major change between the book and the movie is keeping Isobel as a central character in movie and eliminating the one night stands as Kendig slept his way through the novel. Having seen the movie years before I read the novel, I enjoyed the movie better than the novel even though they are both similar.

3. Romancing The Stone (1984)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WokoWHHAxp4]

A lonely romance writer, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), receives a treasure map in the mail and a phone call from her kidnapped sister to come to South America, beginning a romantic adventure where she meets jungle explorer Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) and together they search for the stone.

I was always fascinated by the opening scene with the sexy hero freeing the sultry heroine in an Old West bodice ripper that transitions to the writer weeping over her typewriter as she types THE END on the last page. I too have wept over my typewriter, usually on a blank page. This movie always gave me hope that being a writer can lead to having larger-than-life adventures.

When Your Debit Card Travels To London Without You

Internet CheatIf you want to stay on top of your finances, you need to spend ten minutes every day looking at your account balances. This little habit can help you spot problems before they get out of hand. I got a nasty surprise last week when I found two unauthorized transactions pending on my personal checking account. The timing was terrible. The rent check was coming in and I didn’t have enough in savings to cover it.

I called the toll-free number for my credit union to report the unauthorized transactions and cancel my debit card. I asked the woman assisting me how my debit card could be used if it never left my physical possession. She told me that my debit card information could be copied by a waiter at a restaurant, from a hidden card skimmer at a gas station or a spyware-infected computer watching a legitimate Internet purchase being made.

I haven’t visited any restaurants where the waiter could disappear with my debit card. The gas pump I usually use was down for maintenance several days before the unauthorized transactions appeared. When I came back the following week to get gas, all the gas pumps had inspection stickers from the county weights and measure department. No way to know if that was the source. As for my computers, I run anti-spyware and anti-virus scanners on a regular basis and avoided questionable websites.

The affidavit form to dispute the charges never arrived at my personal email address. I went down to my credit union on Saturday morning to talk to the branch manager. He confirmed that my debit card got cancelled, flagged the unauthorized transactions as being fraudulent, and printed out the affidavit form for me to fill out. I withdrew some cash since the new debit card won’t arrive for two weeks.

An Internet search on the two companies for the unauthorized transactions revealed that they were cosmetics companies, which is a product category that I have little use for. I filled out the “contact us” form to request the identity of the person who placed the orders and threatened to file a police report against the companies if they don’t comply.

The first company based in San Francisco told me that their privacy policies prevented them from revealing the identity of their customers, and, besides, the transaction never went through on their end. The pending hold on my checking account fell off a few days later. I didn’t pursue the matter with them any further.

The second company based in Texas immediately gave up the identity of the customer and refunded the money taken from my checking account. Either I was dealing with an inexperienced business owner or the privacy laws in “no tax / low regs” Texas don’t exist.

The customer (a.k.a., the thief) had my debit card info and street address, used her presumably real name, listed a phone number for a storage rental place in San Francisco (50 miles north of Silicon Valley), and wanted the merchandise shipped to London via FedEx overnight delivery. Didn’t I read something like this in a Stephanie Plum novel?

I wanted to file a police report on the London Police Department website, but forwarded the information to my credit union to handle instead. I didn’t lose any money; my rent check went through. This has been another needless distraction in a long month of needless distractions that have taken me away from writing. Seems like it never ends.

Author Website Disappears On April Fool’s Day

internet error 404 - file not foundAn email arrived from DirectNIC with a five-day notice that my web hosting was moving to a new server with upgraded hardware on April 1st. Of course, by the time I got around to reading the email, the five-day notice was really a two-day notice. The timing was bad—and not because the deadline fell on April Fool’s Day.

My newest essay ebook, “The Apple Store Job Fair: Don’t Drink The Water, Don’t Use The Restroom,” was finally being published on March 31st. As Stephen King once said, “Non-fiction is hard because you can’t make [crap] up.” Working on an 8,300-word essay was more difficult than editing my abandoned 120,000-word first novel. With all my efforts focused on getting this essay done on time, a number of website-related tasks got postpone until the first week of April.

I logged into my DirectNIC account to open a help desk ticket to protest moving my web hosting to a newer server at this time. The last time my web hosting got moved to a different server because I needed PHP 5.3 for the content management system (CMS) back in January, my websites were off the Internet for three days. That’s the last thing I needed after publishing a new ebook.

A response to my ticket indicated that my web hosting was already on a new server. That surprised me. Moving my web hosting has never been that smooth. I’m pleased that DirectNIC finally got that process worked out. I updated my email and FTP clients to the new server settings.

The essay ebook got published late Sunday night (3/31) and the new website page got put up on Monday morning (4/1). Although I still had other website tasks like putting up the ebook preview and a Plan B Magazine anthology announcement, I took a short break to recover from working on the essay.

I noticed something strange the next day with my websites. One website was working, two websites were displaying a message that my web hosting account was either suspended on the domain or misconfigured on the subdomains. I immediately opened a help desk ticket with DirectNIC.

My own investigation revealed that the working domain and all the email accounts were on the new server, and the non-working domains were on a different new server with an expired trail version of the CPanel web hosting software. Talk about a half-assed migration job from DirectNIC. I fumed as three days went by without a response to my ticket.

I had abandoned a one-man ISP in 2010 that had my business for 15 years because the primary and secondary Internet links to the servers went down for a week and the owner was too busy making alternative arrangements to respond to user inquires. By the time the ISP came back online and I got a response to my emails, I had already relocated my websites to DirectNIC that held my domain name registrations.

As a small business owner, I can’t allow another company to interfere with my business. I started looking at alternative web hosting providers. The timing was bad. With the $800 USD franchise tax for doing business as a California LLC due on April 15th, I couldn’t afford to switch to another web hosting provider and spend a week configuring all the website. Except for these infrequent three-day interruptions, I’m quite satisfied with DirectNIC.

So… I complained to DirectNIC on Twitter with my ticket number.

Within an hour of posting my complaint on Twitter, my ticket got resolved. All the websites were working again and I got a three-month credit to my account, except my web hosting was still split over two different servers. That took another day to get my websites back on the same server that was working just fine on the morning of April Fool’s Day.