This selection is adapted from my upcoming memoir, Arrows Axes and Scythes.
The move from Krumer’s to Lockwood’s necessitated many adjustments, some positive and some less so. The increased privacy and space were balanced by a cessation of food deliveries. The problem of decreased food supply was exacerbated by an increase in the number of mouths to feed: We began to accumulate pets. Eventually, the number grew to nine. Our pet/food imbalance became a crisis as the animals starved.
I can state with certainty that my mother asked for none of the animals. She didn’t particularly enjoy having pets, but was a compassionate person. Once a pet had been remitted to her custody, she cared for it. The animals sensed this, and they loved her.
Our pets were a hodgepodge of pedigree and mutt. Some were strays and some were delivered to our door in a misguided attempt to give the pets a home. One of these charges was contributed by my father. He found a huge animal, a St. Bernard/Great Dane mix, rummaging in the garbage behind a restaurant. This “rescued” animal, Boots, became a beloved member of the family.
Another dog was brought to the home by my mother’s brother, Jimmy. Uncle Jimmy was important to the family because he owned three dry cleaning stores in Brooklyn. He regularly gave us abandoned clothes, in excellent condition. These were the core of our school wardrobe. Uncle Jimmy’s Chihuahua, Chico, was no longer welcome in his home. That’s how we got Chico.
With nine dogs in the home, and no regular food supply, my mother tried to manage. Potatoes, delivered by my uncles, were cooked and mashed for human consumption. Peels were for the dogs.
Because hunger was their perpetual companion, the dogs took measures. They foraged in neighbors’ trash. Complaints poured in, but my mother couldn’t control the animals and she couldn’t feed them. So the neighbors, or at least one of them, took their own measures. They poisoned the dogs.
Dogs began to turn up dead. They came home to die. We discovered them in various stages of decay. It was Clinton’s job to bury the deceased, but since this was a family tragedy, everybody pitched in.
With the earth frozen, burial was a particular challenge. Clinton’s solution? A bog, a quicksand pool, he found in the forest. In the picture below, the scene of a burial is depicted, as I recall it. This memory is clear.
We dragged our dog, Hortense, up to the bog. Clinton threw her, as respectfully as he could, onto the mud and we waited for her to disappear. In a very little while the surface was smooth again and Hortense was no more.
In the book, Looking Back, Looking Forward, the author speaks of leaving her country home and moving to New York City. The train station above was likely one that was the departing point for her new life; it was likely the last place she saw as headed into the future.
Looking Back, Looking Forward was written as a demonstration book, not as a straightforward memoir, but the details in the book are all true–at least as true as memory will allow. The author of the book speaks of a kind of longing for the country home left behind. This rupture in her life took place when she was a child and had little control over her destiny.
It is obvious from the events described in the book that the author’s family left their country home for good reason. Nonetheless, this departure was experienced as a loss and the loss is palpable throughout the book.
The picture of the train station above captures the sense of quiet solitude the author seems to miss. There is in this scene nothing of the bustle she describes of her new home in Brooklyn.
I’ve just finished another book. If you’ve ever written one, or attempted to write one, you know this takes a lot of patience and effort. In my case, research is a major part of the process. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I always do background work.
There was a book of fiction I wrote once that referred to an unspecified island. The setting needed to be pristine, a place where both humans and the earth were in a primitive state.
To make my story believable, I researched the history of New Zealand (worked for Peter Jackson, didn’t it?). The origins of the Maori and their traditions became the cultural template upon which my characters were built. Even the tree in my story was believable.
That book (a little over 85,000 words) was shelved and never will again see the light of day. No matter. I learned, not only about New Zealand and banyan trees, but also about writing and publishing. As I look back on my 85,000-word book and the difficulty of physically preparing it for publication, I smile. So much of what I do routinely now was a struggle back then.
While it’s true there’s nothing like experience and each of us has to learn by doing, it’s also true that information can be shared. That’s what this blog is about. I’m sharing some hard-earned information about self-publishing. There are no writing tips in this post, except for the basic suggestion that we should keep at it. Information is limited to my experience only and may not help anyone else. That said, this is what I’ve learned.
Three formats that have been indispensable to me are Amazon Kindle (ebook), Amazon CreateSpace(print), and Smashwords (ebook). The print format is the easiest because it is the most literal; that is, what you see in the PDF conversion is likely what you will see in print. Documents have to be uploaded as PDFs in order to be processed by CreateSpace for publication.
Both Kindle and Smashwords require a little more TLC, which some authors seem to resent. They seem to resent especially the formatting demands made by Smashwords. Let me be upfront about this attitude: What?
I wrote an 85,000-word book and can’t take the time to format it properly? Doesn’t make sense to me.
Every book I’ve ever published (and unpublished–there have been a few of those) has been formatted for Smashwords. Smashwords is a powerful distribution tool. Apple, Sony, Kobo, Barnes&Noble–the list goes on. All of these vendors receive books from Smashwords. The trick to getting your work into the hands of these vendors is to format it in a very precise way. If you do that successfully, Smashwords puts your book in the “Premium Catalog” and the world opens up.
So why do many authors give up on Smashwords? I don’t know. I figured out long ago to keep things simple for this publisher. Limit exotic formatting. Give up on stylistic quirks that you think might make your book attractive. Not worth it. And, if you have pictures, make sure they are at a low resolution (96 dpi) and that they are anchored to the page “as character” (in Open Office, which is what I work in).
Smashwords issues a Style Guide. The book is free and very detailed. Follow the rules in that book and you should have little trouble. Of course, my last book, What Is Radioactivity? The Basics, was uploaded six times before I got it right. But that took maybe a couple of hours. Took a lot longer to write the book.
Kindle has its own distinct formatting issues. One tip I picked up a long time ago was to indent each first line in a paragraph by .01. Failure to do this results in some pretty weird stuff, especially if you have block formatted your piece, as I always do. .01 is barely visible to the eye and yet it keeps Kindle from messing with the block style I desire.
As with Smashwords, anchor your pictures “as character” or they are likely to float into odd places. Kindle doesn’t seem to mind bold or varied font size. By all means, if you want a clean page break, then indicate that in the formatting menu on your toolbar.
I’ve noticed that my books do not look as good in the Kindle version as they do in the Smashwords version or in print. My last book (the one on radioactivity) was uploaded ten times before it looked acceptable on Kindle.
Finally, proof your copy after you’ve uploaded in each format. Unpleasant surprises are likely to show up. These include not only peculiarities of formatting, but also your own human error. In this last book, for example, I had published and proofed thoroughly three versions: Kindle, Smashwords and Createspace.
I read through one more time, while the books were live, and was horrified to see that I had referred to ‘nineteenth’ century scientists as ‘eighteenth’ century scientists. I know very well what ‘eighteenth’ century and ‘nineteenth’ century mean, but that did not prevent me from making this egregious error. I had to pull all the books down and correct.
As I write this post, I’m looking forward already to my next project. For me, book-writing is a release from reality, although, the irony is that I mostly write about ‘real’ things. There are a lot of ideas floating around in my head right now. One thing certain is that my next subject will not be familiar to me. That would be too easy. I guess I’m like a marathon runner who has to keep testing limits. There is one difference, though. At the end of a race, a marathoner has memories, and a very tired body. At the end of one of my projects, I have a book, and a very tired body.
Check out my latest book, if you have a chance. It’s pretty good, I think. Available in print (of course) and ebook on Smashwords and Kindle. Two versions of the book are offered: one has a workbook included for students with solid reading skills. The other version is suitable for anyone who knows little about radioactivity and would like to understand the history and science of it better.
One more point: I can write a book and publish a book. When it comes to marketing, that’s a blog someone else will have to write.