Chocolate in Kilchberg

images 5043344_f520 liquid_chocI love chocolate. I prefer the Swiss kind, very dark. (It helps me write.)

I once went to a chocolate town in Switzerland named Kilchberg. That city is the home of the Lindt & Sprungli factory.

Kilchberg is not a typical jumping-off spot for the tourist with a Swiss Rail pass, but it lured Thomas Mann at the end of his life. His son Golo Mann, an essayist and historian, also settled into Kilchberg at the end of a distinguished literary career, living in his parents’ house with his mother.

So Kilchberg has this literary and chocolate past, you see. If ever writers needed a pilgrimage spot, Kilchberg could work.

The town smells insanely good. The Lindt & Sprungli factory furnaces burn off the “bad” chocolate (as if that adjective could be stuck next to the noun and make sense). So the closer you get, the dizzier you become. Tours can be arranged at this factory, and visitors are given bags of sample chocolate.

I guess there used to be bad chocolate. As most prolific readers (that would be writers) know, chocolate was heavily in use in the New World, but not like we eat it today. Sugar wasn’t part of the mix. Ground cocoa was roasted and mixed with red pepper, vanilla and water. The Milanese traveler Girolamo Benzoni said chocolate seemed “more suited for pigs than men.” About 70 years later, the Spanish began to experiment with chocolate.Zürichsee_-_Kilchberg_Lindt_&_Sprüngli_IMG_0227

The trend of eating chocolate in sold form spread from Spain throughout Europe. In 1674, chocolate in the shape of rolls and cakes “in the Spanish fashion” were being sold in Lodon. Rodolphe Lindt (1855-1909), following in the footsteps of chocolatiers Henri Nestle (who invented condensed milk) and Daniel Peter (who mixed the condensed milk with chocolate) brought chocolate into new states of lusciousness.

Lusciousness is of course what writers need in order to think, write and console themselves.

The reason Lindt is called Lindt & Springli is due to Rodolphe Sprungli-Schifferli buying the Lindt trademark and recipe secrets in 1899 for 1 1/2 million Swiss francs.

This sum (even then!) should give writers pause. We are all trying to write the breakout novel. People eat chocolate more than they read. Who said the limits of chocolate have been explored? Or for that matter, why invent or write anything? Employees at Lindt & Sprungli can eat as much chocolate as they want.

What are we doing at our computers when we could be in a chocolate factory?






A self-help book for people with bad neighbors?

I have read more self-help books than I would like to remember (as has Connie) through the sublime position of judging for contests. There are all kinds of self-help books in the world. You would never think that so many self-help books are published each year, not if you walked through a bookstore. While those places (with cash registers) are becoming rarer, I would still not have guessed from browsing Amazon or Barnes and Nobles online, where quality fiction is presented in a changing carousel.

Well, now I know. Self help books are printed in yearly profusion and some of them have made a bundle of bucks–notably The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and Think and Grow Rich by Nap0leon Hill, which are both about making money come zinging out of the stratosphere and adhering to your skin.

Then there are the apocalyptic Christian self-help, the easy-going Christian self-help, the spirit-guide (occult) self-help, the daily diary or journal self-help, the how-to-face-death self help, the love nature self-help, the how-to-overcome divorce , the dog is your best friend self-help and the low self-esteem self-help. And more.

But I have yet to see one  about how to deal with bad neighbors. If a book like that had any good tricks in it, I might even buy it.

We have an alley bordering the back of our house. Some new renters have come to a house that is very close. They use the garage, which opens onto the alleyway, as a pool hall, rapper disco, gambling and possibly cock-fighting party zone. M***F**** is the main compound word in the lyrics of the songs they play. These are not the kind of people one should talk to. I daresay they are not aware anyone else exists in the universe, and if they are aware, they do not care.  garage rappers

So where are the books to help me cope? I am so sorry that all those self-help writers in their ivory towers or Hawaiin grottos do not know that just possibly, a few hundred thousand readers might actually profit not from journaling about our disappointments or lack of self-esteem but from reading a really well written self help book for people with bad neighbors.



The Lakers lost season: a prospective on losing

ImageAs a Lakers fan, this has been the worst season I can remember in a very long time. The back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 seem as if they were decades ago. It’s a year that, much like last season, has been defined by major injuries to key players. I could go into detail about all the trials and tribulations, but those have been, and continue to be, hammered on by beat writers covering the Lakers. The bottom line is, this year’s team is little more than a D-League group. For those non-NBA fans reading this post, the D-League stands for Developmental League and it’s comprised of players who either didn’t make it in the NBA or have been sent there by their respective teams to get playing time because they aren’t good enough to see minutes in an actual NBA game.

As such, the players on this year’s Lakers simply don’t have the talent to compete with the league’s top level talents like Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Truth be told, they don’t have the talent to compete with most non-All Stars of the league either. These Lakers are role players who, in a normal season, would play 15 – 20 minutes a game tops. Instead, they are forced to play 35 to 40-plus minutes because all the players who were expected to be starters are sidelined with lengthy injuries. The results, of course, speak for themselves: 18 wins, 34 losses. Sadly, there are still 30 games left to play. Records are falling every game, and not in a good way.

I expect many fans have stopped watching the team this year, but I’m not among them. I’ll keep watching for the rest of the season because A) they are my team and I’m not a fair weather fan, and B) losing is a part of life. No team can win it all every year. Many teams have never won an NBA title, or even come close. That doesn’t mean the players on those teams aren’t trying their best (with the possible exception of Andrew Bynum, good luck Pacers, lol). It can’t be easy to go out each season and lose more games than you win, but that’s often the reality of professional sports.

It’s also the reality of life. Just because we aren’t at the top of our chosen fields doesn’t mean we aren’t contributing to said fields. As a writer, I’ve accomplished only a fraction of what I’d hoped to at this point in my life: two non-fiction books sold via the conventional route. I had expected my resume to include at least three novels by now, but it hasn’t happened. Does that mean I’m a failure? Some will answer yes, but I’m not among them. There are tons of good writers out there who haven’t sold any books. That doesn’t make them failures. Like professional sports, writing is a tough business. It takes talent and a good amount of luck to hit it big. Maybe it turns out I’m more of a D-League player. So what? Those guys are full of passion and love for the game, even though they aren’t getting paid millions of dollars to suit up. I don’t need a six figure advance to write a good book; I just have to write stories that people enjoy reading.

Four Potent Sources of Encouragement for the Writer/Artist

ImageHave you subscribed to dozens of writer-support emails/newsletters and engaged in multiple artist/writer forums over the years? How much have they helped your life as a writer/artist? What I am looking for is probably the same thing you are looking for– encouragement. Encouragement comes from ideas that help me morph back into the creative spirit I most love being.

Such encouragement gives me courage and energy.

Does it feel as if it is in short supply?

Here are four hotspot articles of true encouragement recently found, and I am not talking about the clever, rambling email letters that attempt to sell you a book at the end of a long page.

1. Jon Morrow has written a thoughtful piece entitled “How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers” (Sept 17, 2013) Normally I would comment on his blog, but this is superior material and needs to be shared. It will make the reader think about his or her approach to life. Morrow’s suggestions are not that hard, and if followed, will make writers/artists feel better about life.

(Simply mentioning Morrow’s piece here will ensure  I go back to re-read it and be re-inspired!)

2. Morrow’s article came to my attention from an article entitled “49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art” written by Leanne Regalla (Jan 23, 2014), and Morrow wasn’t even listed as one of the 49-ers, but his was the link that plucked me up the most.

3. My window onto the world above was opened by subscription to The Writer’s Weekly written by Kimberley Grabas. the most recent one being The Definition of Marketing (Issue #28) This was a fantastic post leading to multiple colored, glowing doors, almost all of which feel useful and helpful to writers and artists. Tell me if I am wrong.

4. Not all the best encouragement is found on the web, especially when you think of all the internet dross to be avoided. Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, edited by Laurie Lamson (2014) and published by Penguin is a valuable recent book I have added to my shelves. There is advice in it from speculative writers of every kind, from Dr. Seuss to screenwriters whose names you might not recognize but whose movies you will.

For instance, Jeremy Wagner (who wrote The Armegedon Chord) has a short piece encouraging writers (and artists) to be prolific. So many writers stop writing due to lack of encouragement–they become the opposite of prolific. Wagner uses a clear and simple argument: writing  more makes you a better writer.

Being better at anything opens doors.

Wagner’s idea took three minutes to read and has stayed with me for weeks.

May today be a day you find encouragement.

Formatting Text and Images for your Amazon Kindle Book

ImageThe more books you put up on Amazon Kindle, the more you are going to learn about the process.

I have just put up my first illustrated children’s book. While my first collection of stories had pictures inserted, the formatting of which drove me crazy, what I learned from the process did not stick long enough in my head for me not to make the same mistakes while formatting this recent book.

A rule of thumb is patience. You can do everything right, formatting your text so that the first line of each paragraph is indented five points (and making sure you never “tab” anything), but it can still come out wrong in the previewer. If the error does not slap you in the face in the previewer, it will certainly do so while you are lying in bed, perusing your side-loaded (or purchased?) version on your ebook reader. You may sigh, as I have more times than I can count, and get back to editing (once more) in the morning.

Why don’t I get it right the first time? Maybe because I am human and fallible. If you get it right every time, first time, please turn off all electrical appliances, scream at the gardeners to turn off their dust blowers, in effect, cut all power and if necessary, take a drive out to a deserted part of the country for utter peace. Then listen. Very carefully. The sound of enthusiastic if sarcastic clapping you hear coming from God knows where will be the echo of my two hands slamming against each other just now.

(Now we can get on to business. That person has clicked off.)

The point is that the previewer is not going to show you things in the same way your word doc file does. Even when you click on the paragraph symbol to show you whether you have tabbed or formatted, everything may look right on the surface. The previewer will demonstrate a rebellious paragraph or two, and you will have to struggle with those with the same persevering patience as a fisherman does to hook his prey. Try blocking and checking how it is formatted. Try making two paragraphs into one. Eventually you will see how the damn sentences are misbehaving.

You are clever. You will fix them. Eventually.

Next we have the illustrations. They look fine in the word doc file, perfectly centered, but for reasons unknown to non computer software programmers, they will show up too much to the right in the Amazon Kindle previewer. Sometimes the inserted picture that looks fine in the word doc file will be partly cut off in the previewer page. You can either narrow the picture while you edit, or make sure it is not indented five points into the paragraph, which your format set up will do automatically.

An inserted picture that looks to be placed too far to the left in the word doc file may come out perfect in Amazon Kindle. Then count on the need for more patience while you upload your edited version, which takes a short eternity, and then to turn pages in your previewer (demanding the same time necessary to turning pages on a clothing store’s online site). Such are the luxuries of our electronic age and the short fuses we have developed to go along with the whole shebang.

On one thing you can be certain: there will always be some edit you know you hit “save” on that does not show up when you are turning pages on the previewer.Image

Does stupid sell?

As dylanmcpreviously noted, both Julia and I have newly completed manuscripts we are attempting to market the old fashioned way, that being the agent and conventional publisher route. We have saleable books in every respect of the word. Well written, with interesting characters and plots that tie in with popular culture. Julia’s in a form of ghost hunting story with light humor. Mine is a kid shooter book that explores what these horrendous deeds do to the people who are often forgotten after the fact: the friends and family members of the victims. It honestly amazes me that neither of us has received more than a mere blink of interest from agents, which once again begs the age old question: what do today’s agents want?

Since I am sort of a TV addict, I’m going to use a current television series to tie into the title of this post. The show is Hostages, currently airing on CBS. The show has an interesting premise at first glance: a doctor who was scheduled to operate on the president is forced to pledge she will kill said president in order to save herself and her family, all of whom are being held hostage by a rouge FBI agent. The problem is, this show is being stretched over a series of 15 episodes when it should have been, at best, a 90 minute made-for-TV film. Each week something more ridiculous happens to keep said hostages from escaping the clutches of the evil FBI guy. Last week’s gem gave viewers (the few who are left) the reason why this seemingly competent, decorated FBI agent has gone ballistic. For those unfamiliar with the show, which probably includes most of you reading this, the explanation was that his wife is dying of cancer but her cancer is curable if she gets a bone marrow transplant. Alas, there is only one match in the entire world: her estranged father, who—Are you ready?—just happens to be the president. To quote the infamous Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does. So, after that “shocking” revelation, the doctor becomes sympathetic to her hostage holder and begs him to give her some time to find another suitable bone marrow donor.

So now for the question on all of your minds: why in the world am I still watching this loony show? Pure curiosity. I want to see how many more stupid plot twists (a generous description, I realize) this group of writers (again, a generous description) were capable of coming up with. I can’t help but wonder how much longer it will be before FBI man and Killer Doc wind up in bed together. That, in turn, could lead to a plot to kill Doc’s husband, who, for the most part, is the only sane character in the entire show. Even the actors, including the handsome and talented Dylan McDermott, seem anxious for this thing to just end.

And finally, to answer my own question, yes, I guess stupid does sell, as long as you know how to wrap it in a fancy package and top it off with a pretty red bow.

NaNoMo and too many writers out there?

images (1)I believe in the power of writing: its benefits are enormous. For instance, students who write about personal matters tend to have fewer illnesses than students who write on hackneyed subjects. That has been scientifically proven. Writing teachers know that serious writing stimulates critical analysis: student writers often do not know precisely what they think until they have to write something down. In general, to write even to oneself in a journal (presuming one does so on paper) is to leave a mark of having existed.  ( Journal or diary-keeping was widespread in the 19th century.) On the other hand, some blogs outlive their creators, as is the case of

To cultivate writing is to cultivate good grammar, strategy (formulas of argument and story) and eloquence. Additionally, people who write become fascinated by and adept in language usage. Words are the richness of culture; with their origins and meanings they weave the breath of other lands into one society.

As a writing teacher, I think everyone should learn to write effectively. To do so is empowering.

Having experienced the role of a writing judge for a well-known magazine, I realize that a great many people think their skills honed enough to merit a book. They are often wrong.

NaNoMo (National Novel Writing Month) statistics give a startling indication of the competition out there for anyone who does write a good book:

NaNoWriMo 2012 at a Glance

341,375 participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.–From the NaNoMo site.

Publisher’s Weekly/Lunch usually reports approximately 50 book sales a day, although that probably doesn’t include weekends. Usually people on the free email list read that there are even more sales to hear of if we would but subscribe to the magazine.  So at least 250 books gets sold a week and about a thousand a month, coming to 12,000 a year. We could double that number to include all the book sales not reported by Publisher’s Lunch.: 24,000.

I am noticing that 24,000 and 341,000 (writers in NaNoMo) as numbers are really far from each other. Like miles. Or light years.  What about all the writers who aren’t counted in NaNoMo? Maybe another 340,000? How many of those writers are querying agents?

The numbers are sobering.

Something to think about.AbdulAhad_RubyStar