Thought For The Week

Hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy.

— Liu Xiaobo


Should You Pay To Have Your Book Published? It’s Complicated.

There are very definite opinions on both sides of this question.  I did a lot of research before I published my book and just couldn’t find the scales tilting strongly enough either way, so I went with my cheapskate nature and published for free.  I did pay for a cover design, but that wasn’t exactly required.  However, it may have enhanced a little attention-getting, which could have brought me more sales.  That’s debatable.

What’s also debatable is whether you get what you pay for when you go with a vanity press.  It may be expensive, but might it be the right balance of time, effort, and potential success? There are a lot of aspects to cogitate upon.

Here’s one discussion of it that examines several factors, by Barbara Lane in the San Francisco Chronicle, and it’s worth a read and some pondering on the subject.

Is it worth paying $7,500 to have your book published? Maybe

In many cases, however, having your book published by a vanity press, as the name implies, carries something of a stigma. After all, if your book is any good, wouldn’t one of the reputable publishing houses want the honor of bringing it into the world and pay you for the privilege?

Not necessarily. As the publishing world becomes increasingly competitive and the purse strings ever more tightly drawn, it’s become harder and harder to get a contract with a traditional publisher. To meet the needs of writers dying to get their work out, a new crop of hybrid publishers has sprung up. It’s a whole new game out there.

One of the most robust and well-regarded is She Writes Press, co-founded by Berkeleyites Kamy Wicoff and Brooke Warner in 2012 as a response to the formidable barriers to traditional publishing.

Warner, the executive editor at Berkeley-based Seal Press for eight years, had become disillusioned as she rejected books she loved because the submitting author didn’t have a strong enough “author platform.”

An author platform, for those not in the know, means having a strong online presence: a highly visited website, big Twitter following, a popular podcast, etc. I hear J.D. Salinger shuddering in his grave.

She Writes, by the way, deals with literary fiction, memoirs and some self-help written by women. Its sister company, SparkPress, publishes more commercial work by both men and women.

Click here to read more…

It’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day

It’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day.  Please don’t forget those who have served our country and sacrificed so much…those who have become Prisoners Of War or Missing In Action.  Why?  Here’s why:

Fifty-two years ago, 5-year-old Bryan Knight went to Dallas Love Field to say goodbye to his father, as Air Force Major Roy Knight, Jr. left to serve in Vietnam.  Bryan never saw his father again.  But last month, Bryan, himself an Air Force veteran and now a pilot for Southwest Airlines, flew his father’s remains back to that same Dallas Love Field, bringing him home, finally, to be laid to rest.

You can read the rest of that amazing and heart-wrenching story at the link below, but I’d like to take a few moments to explain how this happened.

There’s an agency in the Department of Defense called the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, whose sole mission is to recover missing personnel who are listed as Prisoners of War (POW), or Missing In Action (MIA), from all past wars and conflicts and from countries around the world.  They recovered (subsequently promoted) Colonel Knight’s remains early this year and identified him in June, and now he’s at rest and closure has been given to his family.

But they didn’t just find him and identify him.  When he was shot down in Laos on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, search and rescue teams immediately tried to get to him but failed due to hostile ground fire in the area.  The point is that they didn’t stop trying.  His crash site was re-visited, searched, and excavated at least seven times over the years before he was finally found and recovered.

The DPAA is working constantly to bring home our service members, and as an example, just so far this month they have identified the remains of twenty-two of the missing from Korea and World War II. Their search continues now, and they will never stop as long as any are still missing, because when a service member is being held prisoner or is awaiting rescue, the biggest thing they can cling to is the certain knowledge that their country is striving, right that very moment, to find them and bring them home.

They know that bad things happen, and they realize that they just might not see their families again.  But it also helps them to know that one day, their families will find the peace of closure like Maj Knight’s family did.

Our service members and their families need to know that our government will never, ever stop trying to bring them home, whether they’ve been captured for a day or lost for fifty years.  They need to know that we will honor them and never forget them.  So for the ones who are, right now, risking their lives in your service, please show them that you have them firmly in your minds and hearts.  Fly your POW/MIA flag, post your support on social media…let them know that while they have your backs, you have theirs as well.

That’s what you’d want to know if you were in their combat boots.

On May 19, 1967, Maj. Roy A. Knight, Jr., USAF, was shot down while attacking a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. He was initially listed as Missing in Action until being declared Killed in Action in 1974. During that time, he was promoted to Colonel. Fifty-two years later, in Feb, 2019, Col. Knight's remains were recovered and identified by personnel assigned to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

On May 19, 1967, Maj. Roy A. Knight, Jr., USAF, was shot down while attacking a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. He was initially listed as Missing in Action until being declared Killed in Action in 1974. During that time, he was promoted to Colonel. Fifty-two years later, in Feb, 2019, Col. Knight’s remains were recovered and identified by personnel assigned to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (Photo: None,

Read the USATODAY story here.

The Junkyard

Ol’ Blue was in the early stages of Plumb Wore Out.  At thirteen years old and a hundred thousand miles, my ’63 Ford Fairlane had faithfully hauled me hither and yon, from Iowa to Texas, Colorado, California, and everywhere else Uncle Sam sent me, without a whimper.  But having recently expanded our family by its first increment, we finally broke down and bought a 1972 Mercury Montego, which was only four years old and therefore sparkly new in comparison, to carry the family around with a tad more dependability.

Ol’ Blue was now relegated to second place in the transportation hierarchy and occasionally got a bit cantankerous in retaliation.  The first significant thing to go was the linkage between the gearshift and transmission.  This became more significant when I realized new parts like that weren’t being made for cars that old.

The Air Force had recently promoted me from Airman First Class to Sergeant and I was now bringing in the astronomical base pay of $459.30 a month, which made me believe I could manage payments on a used Montego.  It did NOT make me giddy enough to go flinging dollar bills about with wild abandon, such as fixing Ol’ Blue by converting my three-speed-on-the-column to a floor-shifter with that cool conversion kit down at Checker Auto Parts.  As you can imagine, that was the recommendation by the counter guy at Checker.

But forty bucks was forty bucks.

Luckily for my wallet, there was an automotive parts reclamation facility east of Colorado Springs on Highway 94, several miles out past Peterson Air Force Base.  Back in the 70s, though, we got away with calling it a junkyard.  I should be able to find the appropriate linkage there, and cheap.

I pulled up in front of the shack that served as the office and paused a moment to read the small, faded, hand-painted sign next to the steps in front of the door:  WATCH FOR RATTLESNAKES!

I paused a little longer.  But I was cool and sauntered into the ramshackle building quite nonchalantly, I thought, after surreptitiously scanning the ground in all directions.  It wasn’t like there were venomous serpents slithering everywhere, right?  And they’d rattle if I got too close, to warn me, right?  The sign was probably just there for liability purposes and most likely the critters were pretty rare.


I was a country boy, raised in the fields and barnyards of Missouri and Iowa, spending my youth wrestling hay bales, scooping soybeans, shelling corn, wrangling pigs, hunting, fishing, and camping.  I was well acquainted with garter, bull, king, and rat snakes…I never liked ‘em, but I was familiar with ‘em.  And they didn’t kill people, generally speaking.

But rattlers, now…they were something new.  Something to make you exercise a little extra…healthy wariness.  I didn’t want to be taken for a greenhorn, so I tried to walk the fine line between laid-back and eagle-eye.  I think I was pulling it off.

Inside, I was told to just go out and find what I needed, remove it with my own tools, and bring it back to the office so the guy at the desk could tell me how much to pay him for it.  I had been hoping it would be a little less work on my part, but at least he gave me a few possible areas to search.  I decided to locate a good donor of parts and then fetch whatever tools I’d need.

At least there were wide lanes between double rows of old junkers that were mostly laid out side-by-side in a neat and orderly fashion, and I could walk down between them while judiciously scanning the arid landscape.  It was mostly bare dirt and rock, except right around the vehicles themselves, where it was a little harder to keep the weeds trimmed back.

In the older section I was focusing on, things were a bit more random and disheveled.  Tall, dry weeds sprouted in clumps around casual piles of tires or sheet metal pieces, and the wind had wedged tumbleweeds into a lot of the nooks and crannies.  And there was a beat-up ‘63, splotched with rust, wedged in haphazardly, sideways between two rows of cars and surrounded by old tires and a couple of wayward bumpers.

I exercised healthy wariness for a minute or so.

I couldn’t get to the car in question without either wading through thick weeds and piles of car parts or climbing on top of other cars.  I had second thoughts about this method of car repair, out here in the desert wastelands, confronted by sidewinding assassins.

But, well, forty bucks was forty bucks.

So climb on top I did, from the bumper of a heap bordering the bare dirt pathway, over the roof to the trunk, to a neighboring hood, to the top of a pile of fenders, and onward.

Arriving next to the ’63, squatting cautiously on a stack of tires, I peered through the broken driver’s window and discovered that this one wouldn’t work out because it was an automatic.  I was turning to pick out a route to head for the next potential area of perusal when something caught my eye.

Hanging by two wires, underneath the steering wheel, was a small plastic contraption I recognized immediately.  It normally sits underneath the horn ring on the steering wheel and controls the turn signals.  My car’s controller had a piece broken off and I’d been manually cancelling my signals for a while, but here was a chance to get it working right, and cheaply.  This one looked intact, and was already unscrewed and ready to unplug and remove.  Bonus!  I figured I’d better grab this one while I had the chance and then go look for the shifter linkage.

I was still exercising healthy wariness.  I scanned the ground under the edge of the car, the seats, what I could see of the floor…nothing.  I eased in the door handle button and slowly creaked the door open as far as it would go.

Scanned some more.  Looked for movement.  Listened for stealthy slithers.  Nothing.

I leaned in through the doorway, still balanced precariously on the stack of tires, one hand on the door, one on the door frame.  I reached out with my right hand, little by little, until I could grasp the controller…but the two little electrical plugs wouldn’t pull loose.  I needed a firmer grip.

I leaned a little farther and slowly moved my right knee to the edge of the seat cushion to brace myself for one quick jerk on the wires, and as I lowered my weight onto the seat…

HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Like a thousand tea kettles!  Like a steam engine on steroids!!  The loudest sound I’d ever heard in my life, amplified and echoing inside the confines of the old wreck…AND IT WAS COMING FROM RIGHT UNDER THE SEAT!!!!

Up until that time I’d never really believed in levitation, but within half a microsecond I was about thirty feet in the air and gaining speed.  I don’t know where I touched down, or how, but I was out in the middle of that wide, packed-dirt lane, moving purposefully and as outwardly nonchalant as I could be, under the circumstances, exercising an impressive outpouring of healthy wariness as I went, around the shack out front, out to the Montego, and rocketing toward town before my pulse slowed down below heart attack range.

In close succession, I learned two important things.  One: I proudly own one of the finest sets of reflexes on the planet.  And two: it took a whole day and lots of cussing to make modifications and install that conversion kit, but Ol’ Blue ran great and looked awesome for the rest of his natural days with that Checker Auto Parts floor shifter.

Best forty bucks I ever spent.

The War Of The Words

If you’re a lingo lover and enjoy conversations about how words evolve and spats over usage, here’s a good article I just found in The Guardian, by David Shariatmadari.  I’d take issue with the claim that these are the 19 Greatest Spats, but there’s some good background and interesting discussion.  Some of the comments are good, too… “The frequent use of Z in place of S is entirely due to the bloody Americans who owe us billions for using our language without agreement. Bloody Americans.”

Language wars: the 19 greatest linguistic spats of all time

by David Shariatmadari

Words are ever evolving – but not without controversy. From creative applications of an apostrophe to the overuse of literally, what makes you rage?

What is it about language that gets people so hot under the collar? That drives them to spend hours arguing with strangers on the internet, to go around correcting misspelt signs in the dead of night, or even to threaten acts of violence? The languages we speak are central to our sense of self, so it is not surprising that their finer points can become a battleground. Passionate feelings about what’s right and wrong extend from the use of “disinterested” to what gay people are allowed to call themselves. Here are some of the most memorable rows, spats and controversies.

Apostrophe catastrophe

A so-called “grammar vigilante” has been correcting shop fronts in Bristol, England, for more than a decade. His pet peeve is the confusion of plain old plurals with possessives, which in English are usually marked by an apostrophe followed by an S. Confronted with a sign advertising “Amy’s Nail’s”, he will obliterate the second apostrophe with a sticker. Addressing the potentially illegal nature of his mission in a BBC report, he said: “It’s more of a crime that the apostrophe is wrong in the first place”. Linguist Rob Drummond disagrees: “Fetishising the apostrophe as if its rules are set in stone,” he writes, “and then fostering an environment in which it is acceptable to take pleasure in uncovering other people’s linguistic insecurities is not OK.”

Read more…