Tag Archives: #WPLongform

Special Orchid

Painting – Both Art and Craft

Did I ever tell you about my very first painting? Probably not. It wasn’t anything close to a Rembrandt or a Dali. It wasn’t a portrait, or a bowl of fruit either. If anything, it was more like plein air or a landscape. The setting was idyllic. It was late spring, in a valley, near a hamlet called Valley River and about a 15 minute drive from my home in Dauphin. Gorgeous, lush parkland, and at that time of year one can work long hours . . . the sun hung around at least until 10 at night.

I didn’t pick the site, rather it picked me, or perhaps more accurately my dad helped pick it out. I was still a teen then, didn’t even have my driver’s license, so he was instrumental in getting me there. By the way, he was teacher most of his life, and a real whiz at math . . . that was his passion. With six kids and always in debt, he took on odd jobs in the summer months, self-employed light carpentry and painting. That’s how my first painting came about – it was a barn and it hadn’t been painted in about 30 years!

It was one stubborn fucking building, I’ll say that! Keep in mind that this was 1974, so 30 years prior, they were using material from around WWII time – lots of lead –  I’m sure a similar concoction would eventually find it’s way into the making today’s hockey helmets, it was that tough. The building was in remarkable structural condition – no warping or rotting or anything. But that paint, all three layers of it, oye what a job!

After all those years of being exposed to the sun and wind, it was drier than David Letterman with a hangover! There were a million tiny, stubborn, nasty paint chips . . . about four would fit on the nail of your little finger . . . each clinging to the wood like they used crazy glue . . . more like “completely psycho glue”. And they drove me nuts!

But wait, there’s more!

I could bitch about the process all day. I’m pretty sure it was the first time my dad knew that my cussing vocabulary was fully developed. That took perhaps an hour or so. He didn’t seem to mind though, and I’ve always appreciated his patience and understanding. He just let me vent, would move to a different section and give me that space, and get his own too I suppose? He worked so hard and never complained. However, you could tell by his eyes if you had hurt him or were doing something wrong, so just by looking at him I’d find myself thinking, “Stop being such a jerk!” and then I’d calm down, at least for awhile.

After 3 weeks of evenings and Saturdays on this barn, I actually did feel like we’d accomplished something, and at that point I’m sure there was even a little smile of accomplishment. After all, the scraping was complete and now we could do some painting.

Well son-of-a-bitch . . .the next news came as a complete shock. Having read the stories about Tom Sawyer and Huck, I felt duped . . . this was no goddam picket fence! Now we had to put plaster all over the place, not on every square inch . . . mostly where I’d left some nasty gouges in the wood from my “aggressive” scraping technique. There was that and then over the head of every nail, and in the cracks where one board joined the next.

Still, it was much easier than scraping, and by the way, now that I think of it, that’s the year where my throwing arm really developed . . . launching bullets rather than darts! Anyways, after about another week this puttying was done and I could hardly wait to start painting, or so I thought. Well mother-fucker, no one told me we had to sand this pig first!

As you can see, I’m still not quite over the swearing-out ceremony!

I can still feel that pain in my shoulder as I’m typing, but at least I’m not sweating buckets and swatting mosquitoes or worse . . . those tiny no-see-ums. No smell of cow shit lingering either. Finally we got to the priming, and then two coats of grey with white trim, and by then this part felt like a vacation.

I have to say though, after all of that, it was one of the best experiences of my life. There is nothing in 19 years of schooling that could teach me what that project taught me. The building was beautiful, especially in this valley setting, on a bit of an incline, surrounded by trees and close to the creek. And the wood almost seemed grateful – you could literally watch the paint soothe its dryness, and it felt wonderful when it was all done. It felt just as great some 20 years later, which was the next time I saw my friend, the barn. I had actually forgotten about the place, and was there kind of by accident, so it was quite a surprise to see it again, especially since it looked exactly like it did we finished it!

The grey with white trim was still there, and it was still our original paint , , , I could tell just by looking, but don’t ask me how. It was like time had stood still in that serene, secluded place. A nice rush of warm memories came over me and it was then when I realized how good this was to do. I have no idea how much money dad gave me. It wouldn’t have been much. It’s hard to remember, but I think that’s the summer I got a ten-speed bike and a really great baseball glove. I got that and an allowance that would be enough to treat my girlfriend to a Saturday night movie and a soda after, at the Grange Cafe . . . if we could talk her dad into that extra hour or so . . . he was even more stubborn than me.

Most importantly, I learned about patience and perseverance. Maybe that’s partly innate? I don’t know. What I do know is that for the next decade I spent my summers painting houses, barns, churches and more, and pretty much loved every minute of it. Before graduating from high school I had gone solo.  I loved the self-reliance aspect and it paid for most of my seven years of college and university, including grad school. Ever since then all I’ve ever really wanted was to have that kind of independence again, no matter the endeavor . . . owning a small business, and now that includes my art and writing.

Back to the future . . . soon

It all seemed much easier then. In many ways earning a living by painting houses is much easier than selling paintings. After all, people needed their houses painted and most abhorred doing it themselves. Few people see a need for art. Believe me, I understand that. However, I guess there is one odd little commonality between painting the houses and the pictures I paint. With the houses I had this quirky little thing about color. I’d always recommend the color and color scheme, and insisted on using really good paint, but not necessarily the most expensive. However, sometimes my customers would have their own color ideas.

If I didn’t approve of them I simply wouldn’t take the job. Thankfully there was seldom any real disagreement. I did walk away from one job opportunity though, because I just couldn’t put those colors on that house. Don’t forget, my reputation was on the line with every job. So that one time I walked away and got as far as the curb . . . by then she had called me back, agreed to my color selections, and loved it in the end.

How is that common to my art? Even though it’s digital painting, the final printing is not so simple . . . it’s not just pushing a button. There are decisions to be made, nuances in the final process, and believe me this is all very personal . . . the little details that really do matter. So you can be damn sure that my final printing approval is extremely stringent before I sign any piece of my art. I guess I’m just stubborn that way . . . maybe that’s the one time when it’s good to be one’s own toughest critic?

Finally, I loved this movie when it first came out (see below). Every time I see this scene I think of that barn, and of my dad. He had a few faults, but a lack of kindness or patience was never among them. I’m happy to say that I do miss him.

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Going Where No Reader Cares to Go . . . in Cyberspace

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Reading, The Environment, though you don’t necessarily have to read it to understand this one.

A lot of what I wrote in that post is verified in a way by the following four articles I’ve found on this whole issue of ebooks, book publishing, reading and independent authorship.

Forbes Magazine – Excellent Article on Indie Books

The Verge – Ebook Self-Publishing

Publishers Weekly – Best Selling Ebooks of 2012

Huff Post (Canada Books) – Smashwords Owner’s Predictions for 2013

The pros and cons of self-publishing are really well described in these articles above. That need for filtering comes up time and again – essentially my list of Top 10 is my own attempt to do just that – here’s what I did.

Methodology

First, I picked a popular category, such as “Literature & Fiction> Romance”. From there, I went where no man dares to go – below the Top 100 – into the depths – as deep as 1,500 titles under the See! I’d have searched further down, would have liked to see what #28,043 looked like, but I couldn’t. The system wouldn’t let me get past 1,500 which means that if there is a book I want to look at down there, I need to use the search function, so I’d need to know the name of it, or author or ISBN.

Selection Process

To begin, the main sort I use in any given category is “New & Popular”. Basically, when I go deeper I’m looking for less popular, yet good reads – kind of like panning for gold.

My selections are close to random. I ignore popular authors that are down the list, dead or alive, and there are a ton down there – people like Charles Dickens, Herman Hesse, Hemingway and many, many more. There also plenty of living writers down there, but with their older titles. This is kind of odd though, given that the sort is “New & Popular” – huh?

I also found one sub-genre kind of amusing. Did you know that on one site, if you look under “Literature & Fiction” you can find a sub-category called “Literary Fiction” – too funny!

For any given category I pick out around fifty books to look at. I don’t look at price, try to ignore covers and titles, but what I do look at is page counts. On the lower end, I don’t include any under 200 pages – to me that’s close to a novella. Almost all the titles are around 250 – 300 pages, and a few are closer to 400. I’ve also kept away from books that are part of a series, unless it’s the first book.

Looking Inside and Then Some

Once I’ve gotten this list together, I start previewing more than reviewing. This is really a two-step process, and one that typically results in about 80% being discarded. With the remaining 20% I go back and take a closer look, and from there the list gets whittled down to titles that I’d definitely consider buying based on what I’d read.

This is not the same as doing a book review, nor was it ever intended to be. There are a few real benefits as an indie author in doing this kind of exercise, at least for me. I’m fairly well read, really eclectic interests, and I don’t need to read a ton of classics to know whether my book is worth reading, or is “marketable”. After all, if the classics are the benchmark, there are tons of successful, well-written books that fail that test.

Final Selection Criteria

First is the “flow” test. Call it style if you will. If something is written this century or the last, I really don’t want to have to work at reading every second or third sentence. I’m pretty sure everyone reading this understands what I mean. By the way, if you are thinking grammar should be first, that stuff’s gone with the 80% – I’m past that stage.

The next thing is the boredom factor – Have I read this before in one form or another? I realize there may be all kinds of plot turns and twists down the road, but one does get a feel for this. Often it’s uninteresting characters or overly long, drawn out setting descriptions, or perhaps a tinge of melodrama, that makes something boring. It’s almost like many writers are simply trying too hard to grab your attention, and it has the opposite effect.

Third, there is the novelty aspect – it’s pretty easy to tell when a story is just going to get better – kind of like it’s worth buying just to see what actually does happen. I really avoid copycats. As an aside, I’m guessing that in some genres, a solid 10% or more are basically fifty shade knock-offs, and I haven’t even looked in any “erotica” categories . . . yet!

Results

After all of that I had a list of 10 books that I’d say are worth reading as they are published. While I didn’t keep track of the ones that were “close”, I’d say there was about another ten – these are the ones who simply need a little editorial polishing – as stated in those articles at the top, there is a big demand and need for those editorial services.

As it turns out, I have a bit of egg on my face with my Top 10 list, but at the same time I also had one of those “ah ha” moments. The embarrassment came when I did one more final check for independence. I discovered that 7 of the 10 books I chose were actually published by a major publisher, in print first, so the authors are not indies. That means that in the end, after going through over 150 titles, I found 3 that I’d say are really good indie books, on par with the standard set by traditional publishers.

The “ah ha” aspect is that this kind of validated my process, and my skills, at picking out talent. By accidentally mixing indie authors with traditionally published ones, I inadvertently validated the results!

Conclusions

Realizing this is still a very crude process, based on the 3 of 150 titles I found, that means that perhaps 2% of indie titles really have market potential. What does 2% mean though? Well, first, how many indie titles are actually out there? Smashwords is definitely a major player in launching new indie works. They’re putting out almost 100,000 a year now, and cumulatively they are at about 250,000. Then there are other similar services, as well as number of indies who simply publish directly, with no intermediary.

It’s not easy to get a handle on that number. I’m sure there is a strange exaggeration out there about the total books available – the highest number I’ve come across is something 4,000,000 – I don’t think so!

My best estimate, and I think this may be on the high side, is perhaps there are 500,000 ebooks available, fiction only and by indies, and novels (say 70,000 + words). On the low side, using that criteria, it may be as low as 300,000. If my 2% estimate is in the ball park, that means that there are about 6,000 to 10,000 indie works out there with serious market potential – that’s where issues like discovery come into play.

To put that into perspective, as I found in one of those 4 articles mentioned at the top, the traditional publishers claimed that they had 1,000 titles that sold 25,000 or more copies in ebook format in 2012.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that . . . this post is getting very long as it is. However, aside from the numbers, I’d also say that it seems like the overall quality of writing that many readers’ find acceptable has certainly gone down. I’m saying that because I looked at a couple of current bestsellers by indie authors and I know that neither of them would have made the first cut in my selection process – that makes the market somewhat unpredictable, certainly from the traditional point of view.

Finally, through all of this, one huge intangible benefit is the confidence I’ve gained about SUNNI KNOWS. I’ll put my book up against any indie standard, or one for published works, so for me it really is an issue of discovery.

If you’re a non-Kindle user, you can order my book on Kobo . . . then you can read it on your favorite e-reading device . . . have a great weekend!

Being Cool in the Media

It’s funny how one thing leads to another . . . eventually I’ll get to why I posted this video.

I began this Saturday night determined to push my book through more social marketing, but not knowing exactly where I would do so. These days I do gravitate to Pinterest, probably because I feel that it has the potential to be an outlet for creative expression.

I’ve been thinking of doing a Pin board completely about drumming. In the last few years I’ve come to appreciate it more. There’s something persistent, and I do believe universal, about drumming . . . there’s simply no need to try and explain that. However, it didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that it’s not so easy to make a board of it, so I’m going to make a board of all kinds of musical instruments instead, but not the ones I’m more familiar with.

After a simple search, wow, what can I say? I found a stunning list of musical instruments, 120 different percussion ones, 195 string ones, and over 500 in all! It seems my board won’t be complete tonight, on the other hand it feels like I’m starting another little adventure. Pin pictures really don’t do justice to the music, such as the video above, so I’m creating a YouTube playlist that will eventually link to my Pin page . . . once it’s full enough.

On this little journey, I’m doing a lot of Google searches to look up all kinds of instruments from many different countries and cultures. At first I was annoyed that Google wasn’t very helpful on many them – even coming up blank on some of them (instruments). Strange though, in no time at all the frustration turned into a relief of sorts – I really don’t want to ever think that “Google knows everything”!

This fascinating video at the top is titled:

“FOLI” there is no movement without rhythm original version by Thomas roebers and Floris Leeuwenberg

Certainly these people deserve the recognition, as little as mine may be. This is the fourth video installment on my new playlist – the seventh one I’ve researched so far from my list of 120 percussion instruments – the other three are each remarkable in their own right. I already know this is going to make an incredibly rich playlist, and yes Giselle, it does feel like a pretty cool way to spend a Saturday night! 🙂

It certainly beats getting bogged down in an online discussion on whether including vague figures in abstract art negates the label, “abstract”. It also beats getting into another discussion on the importance of garden sheds to the careers of various writers . . . the sheds being their favorite place to write . . . I screwed up by interjecting some humor . . . apparently the discussion is for those devoted to the topic . . . seriously folks!

What’s much more important is how this video struck a chord with me that’s been around for many years now. It seems I have a knack for putting two and two together and coming up with a picture or some words – in this case it’s words. The video reminds of something I read years ago, in Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. It will take me awhile to find the exact quote. The passage has to with how the introduction of a water well completely disrupted the culture of an African tribe – the ritual of collecting water from the river was an important part of the day – the introduction of the well led to an unhappy cultural shock, whatever the intent.

This has stuck with me for many years now, and I kind of cringe every time I come across something that shows the third world becoming well-educated . . . I have very mixed feelings about this process. This book of McLuhan’s is like a fountain of relevancy – every page of it – not just to remote cultures, but to our own as well. Think about the following quote in the context of the video above, as well as in relation to our current cultural environment – the relevance is alarming on both counts:

Consider the phrase “It’s a man’s world.” As a quantitative observation endlessly repeated from within a homogenized culture, this phrase refers to the men in such a culture who have to be homogenized Dagwoods in order to belong at all. It is in our I.Q. testing that we have produced the greatest flood of misbegotten standards. Unaware of our typographic cultural bias, our testers assume that uniform and continuous habits are a sign of intelligence, thus eliminating the ear man and the tactile man.

Looked at another way, if we can’t solve so many of our own cultural problems, where is the wisdom in educating other cultures in our ways? These are some of the issues I think about often . . . as you can see, I get easily distracted. Perhaps that’s why I’m having a hard time selling my book . . . it is very much about all kinds of love, and the struggles.

I’m just glad I can still enjoy the music, like in this video above. I also believe there is much to be learned from the quote below, which is encouraging in more than one way – it turns out that he began by self-publishing as well:

“Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book. Dismiss whatever insults your soul. ” —Walt Whitman

Do We Know?