Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lap Steel Guitar

Hey, check out Mike Byers' new toy, a homemade lap-steel guitar:

Sound sample here.

Way cool ...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Urban Fantasy Novel: Stemwinder

So, I am about to finish the copy-edit on the current book-in-progress, Stemwinder: An Urban Fantasy in 4/4 Time. Probably the subtitle and the cover image are enough clues to tell a potential reader there is music involved.

Bear with me and I'll spin you a tale connected to this biz, and a decision to which I have come regarding this particular book ...

So I am past the Geez-what-a-pile-of-crap-this-is! and to the transient stage where It-doesn't-seem-absolutely-awful, and still a ways from the Hey-this-is-better-than-I-remember-it! phase, which usually comes a few years down the line.

(When I look back at some of my early stuff, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised. I wrote that? Wow. That's not bad ...)

Um. Now the decision comes as to what road I should take to get the new novel into the hands of readers. The choices I see are two, and hereunder, a comparison and a conclusion.

Traditionally, I have gone traditional, i.e., I cleaned the ms up, printed out a copy (and later, emailed a copy) to my agent, and went on about my business while she shopped it around and looked for a New York City publisher to buy it. 

Sometimes, I offered up three-chapters-and-an-outline, which sped the process up a bit on the front end. 

When things went well, my agent would make a sale within a couple of months, the publisher would put it into their schedule, and a year or so later, plus-or-minus, the book would hit the racks.

Part of that process involved me getting some kind of advance against future royalties, and this stipend ranged from so-so, to not-bad, to whoa! depending on the project and publisher, and how well I had been selling other books. If the new title sold well, I got more money. If not, I still got to keep the advance.

Um. Anyway, when things didn't go as well in traditional publishing, the book took a long time to peddle, the pub date stretched out to a year-and-a-half or longer, and they divided the advance up into bits that came in three chunks: on-sign; on delivery/acceptance of the manuscript; on-publication. 

When they really didn't go well, the book came home to live on a shelf in Steve's garage. Some times I'd go back and rewrite 'em and try it again; others abide on the shelf still. Few of us bat a thousand.

When the book market crashed for many of us mid-listers in the nasty recession of 2008, I started poking around in early ebookery, and now have a goodly portion of my backlist up in a couple of places, most lucrative one being, where I get a small monthly check for titles long out of print. It's free money, they never go out of print, and I don't have to do anything past the initial listing.

There were a couple of novels my agent didn't find thrilling, so those I also put up as original ebooks, and they sell a few copies, too. Since my publisher no longer wants any of my Matador titles, any more of those I write will go straight to epub, too. 

Now, the either/or:

The good thing about traditional publishing is the advance. The bad things include the process of submission, waiting, wrangling with agent and editor, and elapsed time before the book sees the light of day, plus a short shelf-life.

With ebooks, these are reversed: No waiting, no wrangling, publication the next day, but also, no upfront money. Yes, the royalty rate is much, much better than traditional, unless you are George R.R. Martin or Stephen King, but in my case, the copies sold this way will be smaller in number and spread out over a longer time. At the end of a couple of years, I might make just about as much money in dribs and drabs as I would have in an advance.

Or not. No way to tell.

One of the things about this particular book is that it is skewed toward readers who are musicians. There are things in it that I hope will make singers and players smile, including some lyrics for songs, and gearhead stuff about guitars and ukuleles and amps and such.  I hope that I'm good enough so the gist comes through in context, but it might be that a publisher will worry that non-musician readers won't get it. And if they don't, it therefore might not sell a lot of copies.

I dunno, there are a lot of musicians out there. If 10% of them bought the book, I'd make millions, and the publisher would make tens of millions ...

Thing is, I don't want to take all that material out. I find it interesting, and I can't help but believe that enough readers will also find it interesting so there will be some market for the novel. Again, no way to tell. 

This is where ebooks shine. They allow a me to produce a work that, even if it does have a limited audience, I can still write it like I want without having to worry that I make a traditional publisher sufficient profit to justify their outlay. I don't begrudge them that notion, if you don't make money, it's harder to stay in business, but I am at a stage in my career that writing what I want and saying it how I want to say it is more important than making a lot of money. Who knew I'd ever get there?

So, yes, this will be an ebook, unless a print-publisher comes calling, and agrees to do it as I wrote it, and I won't be holding my breath waiting on that ...

Onward and upward ...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Smooth Operator ...

Let's get this out of the way right up front: You are going to die. Not a matter of "if," but "when," and maybe you don't like that notion, I don't care for it myself, but there it is.

How do I know it is true? Look around. See anybody here who was here a hundred and fifty years ago? Show me. Even if Methuselah lived to be 969–and I would want to see the birth and death certificates, thank you–he's not here any more, either.

The Taoist master back in China? Sure. Him and Bigfoot and the Yeti are roomies, right?

Now, what happens after you shuffle off this mortal coil is open for discussion: You might go to Heaven, you might be reincarnated, you might go out like a candle, but the flesh you wear is going to break down, and whosoever is paying rent is going to move out. 

Period, full-stop, end of the organic road. If you can't see this or don't believe it? Have your meds adjusted. 

Are there things you can do to add years to your natural genetic tendency? Probably, though the jury is still out on most of them. 

Choosing your parents wisely seems to be of some benefit.

Conversely, are there things you can do to shorten your stay here? 

You know there are. Smoke too much, drink too much, eat too much, sleep with the wrong people, engage in risky behavior, your number could be up quicker. The Reaper is coming to your party sooner or later, but ... why hold the door open for him?

So diet and exercise and pills made from goat gonads and meditation and prayer and intermittent fasting notwithstanding, eventually Death will feast upon you.

He's gonna get me, too, which I still don't like, but there it is.

All that is more or less beyond the scope of this discussion. What I would offer is that there are some things that will affect the quality of life you have, and those things are there if you want them. Can't change the destination, but you might be able to make the ride more fun.

Diet, exercise, mediation, prayer, intermittent fasting those are candidates. I dunno about the goat gonad capsules ...

"Quality of life" here goes to to how you feel and move and your capabilities to go through life and do the things you need and want to do. Might have medical maladies or physical problems you can't fix, but some of these can be improved. 

Which exercises? What foods, or spiritual practices? You have to figure those out for yourself. If something makes you feel better, more alive? Probably a good start. And yes, some of you will say that bacon-wrapped Triple Whopper with cheese and a side order of Monstro Fries and thirty-two ounce Coke make you feel better, and I suppose that is possible, but I don't believe it. You might love the taste, I surely do, but feeling like a beached whale after you eat something is not feeling better. It's the price you pay for overindulging, and you and I both know it. No wool is being pulled over eyes here. 

All that sugar, all that fat, all those calories? You can choose to go there and that's your choice, but there are consequences.

Of course, you could eat healthy, work out like a body Nazi, free your life of stress, Om yourself to bliss each day, and you could still fall over dead of a stroke or heart attack tomorrow. Shit happens. But some of it is the ride and not the destination, and getting up and feeling great is, in my opinion, better than getting up and feeling like crap. Don't think so? How about how you feel on a great spring day with all cylinders working smoothly as opposed to how you feel when you are abed with the flu? That's when you appreciate how "good" feels, isn't it? 

Being fit, on a good diet, they won't keep you alive forever. But they might make the time you have so much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

iPhone 5 Camera Problems

Got an iPhone–not the very latest one–and it's the cat's pajamas, except that after a few days, the camera stopped working. Black screen, neither front nor back cam working, zipola.

So, I went onto the net, saw this wasn't uncommon, and looked at the list of fixes.

Tried them all. Some of them seemed to fix it, but that was temporary. Next time I opened the camera app, I got ye olde black screen and controls that didn't do anything useful ...

There were a bunch of things suggested: soft reset, hard reset, (force-closing the app, powering off and on), resetting the phone's preferences to factory, toggling, trying third party cameraware, erasing third party applications, yadda, yadda.

If none of those worked, as I understood it, chances were it was a hardware problem, and best I get it replaced. So I sent a note to my carrier and said, "Hey, camera ain't working, here's what I did, now what?"

But while I was waiting for an answer, I scoured the boards, and came across this:

*WORKAROUND FOUND* - I know there are a bunch of tricks that don't work. My wife had this same exact problem on her 5, which I took to the Genius Bar today and they told me I had to shell out $250 for a new phone. I went home and started playing. *FYI My wife's quicklaunch screen had the Flashlight dimmed out and that would not work either... This fixed them both!

1. Go into Settings
2. General
3. Restrictions
4. Select "Enable Restrictions" - Put in a passcode of your choice / 0000
5. *When the restrictions become available, de-select Camera and Facetime
6. Back out to home screen (Camera should be gone)
7. Reboot phone (hold power and home until phone shuts off)
8. Turn phone back on and go back into Settings > General > Restrictions
9. Enable Camera and Facetime
10. Disable Restrictions
11. Back out to home screen (Camera should be available)
12. Swipe up to quick launch - Flashlight should be available
13. Check Camera, rear facing camera should be functional

If this works for you please spread the word, this is NOT a hardware issue, but a software one, the people @ the Genius Bar should be doing this for customers instead of recommending they buy a new phone

Now, I dunno if this will do you any good if you are having the same problem. And to be honest, I dunno if it will still work come the morning, but at least for the moment, it did fix things. If you are desperate, it would be worth a shot ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nope, didn't do the trick. Stopped working again. A last-ditch effort involved wiping all the phone data and reloading the software from iTunes back-up. That didn't fix it, either, so new hardware is coming ...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

Crap. Another one gone ...

I met Nimoy once, worked with him on a book project. Here's the link to that post:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ukulele in Progress - Bling

I am pleased and privileged to own three handmade ukuleles, from luthiers with high-level skill and artistry. Two of them were made for other folks and I bought them, one used, one because the sale fell through. The third was custom-built with my input. The luthers are, in order of acquisition: Woodley White, Alan Carruth, and Michael Zuch.

Above, top to bottom: White, Zuch, Carruth

Above, top to bottom, White, Zuch Carruth.

They are all, insofar I can tell, outstanding instruments. All tenors. All strung low-G. Quality woods and tuners, and they all sound different, but great, to my ears.

As you can see in the photos, all of of them are made with minimal bling; by that, I mean little in the way of decorative inlay. They are all bound and purfled. The White has an abalone shell rosette and a stylized heart inset into the headstock, with small abalone fret marker dots. The Zuch has a solid wood rosette and a script-Z inlaid into the slotted headstock, along with MOP fret dots. The Carruth has a classical-guitar style rosette, but no other inlay, not even fret markers.

With the White and Carruth, that’s how they came, and I allowed when talking to Michael Zuch that plain was fine with me: Inlay and custom decoration add to the cost of an instrument, because they take a lot of time and effort from the builder.

One of them now lives at my daughter’s, and I play the other two about equally. They are way better gear than I am a player.

When I started talking to Beau Hannam about another instrument, I didn’t intend to have any more bling on it than on the others. I did want it to have a couple of accents, one of which was snakewood, and Beau allowed as how this wasn’t a problem.

Pretty much I told him the same thing I told Michael: Build something you like; that if somebody asked you to hold up a uke that represented your best? Make that. 

As the build went on, Beau would ask, when he came to different places, if I wanted to add something. Sound port? 

Wasn’t in my original plan, but Michael had also asked about this on his build, and I liked the results, so that seemed okay to me. 

So, Beau said:

How about some bits of snakewood in that Michi-style rosette? And to bind the sound hole? 

Yeah, go for it. 

You’re a science fiction and fantasy writer. How about some elements that might bring that out? I have some agate that kind of looks like the surface of Jupiter I could put in the headstock, does that sound interesting?  

It does. Go right ahead.

Hey, I’ve got some walnut burl, want to see that on the headstock?


On the butt, around the pick-up jack, more snakewood?

Oh, yeah.

The heel cap? Got some more snakewood.

By all means.

Tuners? Here are some choices. And you know, with the high-end Robson’s, you can get those with snakewood buttons.

Then we should certainly do that.

Now, about the fret markers, I have some Tahitian Black MOP we can use next to some snakewood …

Well, why not?

So what we have is a nearly-complete instrument that, from the photos I have seen, is absolutely gorgeous, and with more accoutrements than I had considered when we got started. With any luck, I'll have my hands on it in a few weeks.

Couple others recently arrived:

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and I believe it. While the bling might not make a difference in sound or playability, it does add a visual wow-factor element I much enjoy. Nothing wrong with that from where I sit …

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Battery Blues

Came out of silat class on a chilly evening this week and when I turned the key in the ignition of my automobile, I got that little solenoid clicking and naught else. Enough juice to light the dome light, not enough to crank the engine. 

Well, crap!

Got somebody to jump it off without electrocuting either of us, made it home, and next day, same deal. Battery was nearly dead.

There are several things that can cause this: Alternator, voltage regulator, a short in the electrical system, or a bad battery. Given that the car is nine years old and still wearing the original factory-installed battery, that was my first thought. Generally, after five or six years, the batteries give up the ghost, usually on a cold day.

My mechanical abilities are slim, but I can pull a battery out where it is accessible. Never seem to have exactly the right tools, but that's why God made Crescent wrenches and pliers, and I managed to get the old one out, drive in the wife's car to Les Schwab's and swap the dead one for a new one. 

Cannot believe what those suckers cost these days, but it's been like fourteen years since I bought one, and this was the top-of-the-line Extremo Mondo Whatevero model, good for seven years, yadda, yadda. Came home installed it, car cranked right up, and, I hope, problem solved ...