Category Archives: Essays

A category dedicated to the situations that I’ve written about in the form of creative nonfiction.

Am I Any Good at This?

It’s a Sunday night, and I’m going through my e-mail, checking out some of the offers for free courses that would turn into paid premium courses that I can’t afford if I go deep enough down the rabbit hole (I think this is how cults work, but I digress), and one 2:16 video I just finished watching is about branding and determining your brand, and watching it has given me introspective questions I figured I’d ask publicly.

The speaker is a pleasant middle-aged dude who says that he “built and sold two businesses” and wrote a book about branding to help entrepreneurs and authors launch their brands, and at a recent speaking engagement he had sold out of these books and managed to double his post-conference sales without having listed them on his site or on Amazon.

My first thought is that it must be nice to have so many people want to read something that he wrote. But my other thought is that most authors with audience support have to build that audience through products that they want. Branding is part of establishing an identity, but that identity only works if the attached products are products people want to invest time and money into, and that puts a big question mark on the kind of time it takes to produce these things.

The hard reality about branding is that it limits experimentation. Creativity can still come into play under certain conditions, but with limitations. Experimentation, however, is much more difficult. Imagine, to the dismay of thriller fans, Lee Child writing Jack Reacher: The Musical. Not sure that would please most of his fans. He might do an awesome job with it, good enough to attract anyone who likes a good musical (I myself don’t understand them, but that’s me). But the people who enjoyed Jack Reacher: The Musical may not enjoy The Midnight Line (the most recent Jack Reacher novel) quite as much. Even though Lee Child is a millionaire author with a millionaire brand, his ability to stretch that brand is still pretty limited, it seems.

So, one of the advantages of being an unknown is that I still have time to craft my brand and figure out who my core readers are. The disadvantage is that once I find that core, I’m probably stuck writing for them, and only them, unless I want to come up with a pen name and write all of my other stuff under that name even though I kinda like my regular name. I like seeing it on book covers, at any rate.

Then I think about writers who are successful with every book they write, like Carl Hiaasen, who has his weird Florida thrillers like Lucky You and Nature Girl, and his kids’ books like Hoot and Chomp, and I realize that they can still write in multiple genres and not lose an audience (with Hiaasen, we are talking adult thrillers vs. middle grade environmental stories), and that branding is a general idea and not a concrete rule. And then I remember that all of Hiaasen’s stories take place in Florida (pretty sure that’s true), and I’m back to thinking, oh….

Branding doesn’t scare me, though, because I see myself as a quirky writer who writes in the thriller and/or coming of age genres, and I have a few series books in the making or in mind that keep to these genres and styles closely, so finding my audience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

The problem I face, in reality, is that I just don’t know if I’m actually any good at this. People say I am, but those same people haven’t bought any of my e-books. They read snippets, or they’ll read printed manuscripts I happen to have with me when I see them, and they’ll say, “Hey, this is good.” But will they spend their money to support me? Very few have. And, that’s what makes me ask the question.

I’m at a point in my life where I have to start evaluating my resources for generating traffic, interest, and sales for my stories. That means figuring out where to cast my net of investments. I don’t really want to buy any more books or courses on the topic of success (or related fields), as those are just educational resources and not practical applications. I want to start spending it on the tools that will actually allow me to convert these casual travelers into readers and fans. That means getting an official website, and an official emailing list, and an official delivery system for bonuses to subscribers, all of which go beyond the scope and freeality (made-up word alert) of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm and its free WordPress host. Without a professional presence, I can’t expect to have readers take me seriously.

Investing in my future is scary because I don’t know if mine is the kind of work that people would want to pay money for or come back for seconds. I think it is, but I haven’t heard from any readers who agree. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, of course. One of the problems with having no official point of contact is that I can’t really know how people perceive the stories I write. I have no way of knowing how they feel about it, or if it’s even something they’d want to read. Investing in these tools of contact and advertisement is vital now.

There is a service that opened this week called Author Cats that would actually be helpful for my brand, if I had the $497 to spend on it between now and December 5th. If I wait until after, then I have to spend that each year. If I get it before then, I only have to spend that once. But, I still have to tie it into a website I own (which could cost me up to $25 a month), and link it to an outside mailing list I port in from elsewhere (which can also cost me a monthly fee if I go with anyone other than the unwieldy MailChimp). Is it worth it? Well, it doesn’t matter because my author career has so far prevented me from affording the tools that will help me make it better.

Brings me back to the question: Am I any good? Specifically, am I good enough to support these costs?

This is what every author struggles with, even those who have been doing it for a long time, and even those who have managed to attract a few fans. Every new work is a reset button waiting to happen. The poor opening of Justice League proves that even tried and true brands aren’t guaranteed success, at least not right away. Of course, critics say that the movie is made for fans and fans think it’s “pretty good.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’m a fan of superhero movies. Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, while both enjoyably bad movies, have made me not care much about this franchise, at least not enough to spend $15 on the theater ticket and $22 on the Blu-ray in a few months. I’d rather just get the Blu-ray.

The question, then, I guess becomes, “What do readers want?”

I hope my answer to that question is both true and proves profitable soon. I have stories in the works that I want to share, and stories past that I’m updating for 2017-2018, and I want to start adding price tags to each of them in the next month or two.

But more on that later.

For this point in time, I’m still doing what I can to tell a good story, and then follow that up with another good story. That’s the best I can do for today.

That said, I finished NaNoWriMo at nearly 34,000 words, and I’m working on a Christmas story that I started last year (and had intended to finish, but couldn’t due to reasons I’ve since forgotten), and hope to release it in time for Christmas this year. I’ll talk more about both my NaNoWriMo and Christmas stories soon. I think they’ll be good.

P.S. I will be creating my mailing list soon, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dotcom] with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

Cover Image: Pixabay

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On Tragedies

In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus reiterates that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” I’m beginning to think his words are less of a lesson for the good way in which to live and more of a warning about how to protect ourselves from evil, present and future, and ultimately to prevent evil from metastasizing in man in the first place.

Let me explain.

On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I decided to take advantage of the “fall back” rollback of the clock and sleep in an extra few hours. I finally got up about 11:30, made breakfast, showered, and, seeing as how it was too late to go to church, watched half a video on YouTube, then played a computer game I bought years ago but only just now installed called Railroad Tycoon 2, and did so until about 3:30 when I realized my train stations were costing me more to operate than they were paying me, and my company was basically going bankrupt, and to continue the same game was ludicrous. Once I felt like I’d had a sufficient day of rest and turned off the game, I went into the living room, checked out what was on television, and then my heart sank.

Another mass shooting. This time in Texas. This time in a church. This time with a casualty and injury rate at near 100%.

I just stood there thinking, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Never mind that this tragedy hits close to home for many, many churchgoing people, including myself (when I go), or that once again we’re talking about a soft target, or a group of Christians, or what-have-you that’s cause for us to collectively shake our heads and cry. Sunday’s tragedy speaks to a scary reality we face today, in that nothing is sacred anymore.

My mom was telling me earlier that when she was a kid, my grandmother would go into the church and pray at any hour of the day or night because the church was always open because there was no reason to ever lock it, and if someone wanted to go in and pray in the middle of the night, they could. Now we have a lady in the Sutherland Springs, Texas area explaining that until Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, her community was just as safe, so much so that she could leave her keys in the car without worry of someone taking it, except now they’re dealing with the reality that evil can strike anywhere in any way, and that no one is truly safe anymore, and that keeping one’s keys in a car without worry doesn’t mean that he or she is exempt from the horrors that seem to bleed in through all cracks in our modern society, which include mass murder that can physically destroy 8% of a town’s population and emotionally destroy the rest of it.

As of this writing, I don’t know why the gunman did this sick thing, nor do I know just how far this story will go from here. We still have Las Vegas fresh in our minds, as well as the attack on pedestrians in New York (where the assailant rented a Home Depot truck and used it to run people over). My guess is that we’ll have Big Media and Congress running through their usual talking points about gun violence, gun laws, and all of those other dead end channels that seem to always saturate the discussion without coming up with a solution that would actually work, and that a week from now, no one who has a say in what comes next will do anything that will actually prevent this problematic weed from sprouting up elsewhere. That’s how it’s been since Columbine, and here we are, yet again: same talking points, same lack of stopping it from happening again, same collective breath held for a change, and the hope that this is the last one.

I’m sad, not just about the tragedy, but about the fact that no one seems to get it anymore that the problem isn’t guns, rented trucks, or even rhetoric. I’m not even sure if the problem is entirely based on mental illness or flawed ideology. I think much of the problem today is with evil itself, and evil exists where love is absent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Actually, I think there are two sources of evil—well, one source, but because we live in an “intellectual,” “civilized” or “free-thinking” society, I’ll refrain from pointing the blame squarely at the devil, even though that’s the only true source of evil, and the one that we’re foolish to ignore time and again, but there are two subsources we can actively combat, and by proxy combat the original source that most people today don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason, even though that source is real and scheming against humankind—and they are selfishness and lies. Both fail to show love for other human beings, and both leave us wide open to carry out destructive tendencies when given permission to fester.

I don’t know the story yet about this new shooter, nor do I know the story about the shooter in Las Vegas. I don’t know what drove them to want to commit mass murder, but I’m willing to guess that they were either lied to by someone they trusted and they let that lie grow, or they lived a life without knowing real love, and filled that empty space with hate because if love is absent, then hate has more room to grow in its place.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, I think He was warning us how to prevent violence from overtaking our world. Perhaps not ironically, it was hate and jealousy that put Him on the cross, so it’s not just a product of our time, but a product of our human nature to move to violence if we don’t have love in our hearts or understand the good things that we want to destroy.

Likewise, if we love our God with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our minds, then we’ll unlikely want to break His other laws, including the one that says, “Thou shall not commit murder.”

That’s my thought today. This should all sound obvious, but the fact that we’re still poisoning the world with hate and with actions taken in hate is proof that we still don’t get it, and we need to start figuring out how to better implement methods of exercising love for one another, even if we don’t always like one another. Is that easy? No. Is it necessary? Of course.

So, before we turn this conversation back to gun violence, can we at least address the problem of the absence of love for each other first? Not trying to be a hippie here. I just think among these other issues we’ve let our isolation from each other (thanks, cellphone!) bring out the worst in us far too often these days, and we need to address that.

I have more to say about this topic from the perspective of a writer, but I wanted to address the core issue first, which is that we, as a people, need God’s help again, not political intellect or talking points, and that we’d be foolish not to seek it.

Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If we all do these three things, we’ll see a change in our world for the better. That’s what I often think about each time somebody does the opposite of these things, opposite like what one person did on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas to more than 20 churchgoers, including babies.

Cover image by Pixabay

Rush to Preorder: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 3

Missed a part? Play catchup here.

“Rush to Preorder”

In August 2015, I gave my novel, The Computer Nerd, a preorder date for October 20, 2015, the day before Back to the Future Day. Then I started to write it, or add to its existing short story form, rather. I thought this was a good idea. I was on such a hot streak that I thought two months was plenty of time to produce a great title. I thought wrong.

I had just finished and uploaded the revised version of The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, a novelette that I’d written as a simple short story years earlier (and am currently in the process of revising again to include more story and less fable, but more on that another time), and because I was trying to keep my release momentum up to one new title a month, it was time to get my next e-book title in motion. I was planning on revising and releasing the short story version of The Computer Nerd, which was only about 6000 words and ended with the protagonist taking a chance on his wife not murdering him in his sleep by going to bed with her, but I decided rather quickly that the story was just a first act and really needed more. So, by the second week of August, I ditched my progress on Teenage American Dream, which was supposed to be my next title at the time, and went to work crafting a novel out of that single-act short story. By September 9, 2015, I finished the first draft of the complete novel, and I was happy with it.

I’d set the preorder date for October 20th, because I thought that would give me plenty of time to revise it and get enough beta readers to tell me how to make it better, even though setting a preorder for October 20th meant I’d actually have to have the whole thing done and uploaded by October 10th. But I couldn’t get the beta readers I wanted even though I asked. I got one reader and two advisors for certain moments in the story to cover my every question. Hardly enough feedback to tell whether the story truly worked, or if it was even any good. Had I given myself, say, six months, I might’ve gotten more feedback, or even given myself enough time away from the story that I could read it with greater objectivity and see for myself what works and what doesn’t. Had I given myself that kind of time, or even a year, I’d have been able to learn enough about editing for genre that I could clearly see what was off about the story and worked to fix it before anyone in the public eye would ever see it.

But I didn’t do that. I obsess over most of my stories, which is evidenced by the fact that I keep going back to stories I’ve written more than ten years ago to see if I can improve them, but I didn’t give myself time to obsess over The Computer Nerd. In fact, as I write this two years later, I still don’t know if my ideas for improvement are actually good enough to make it worth public attention even now. All I know is that my plans for its revision are better than what I actually published in October 2015, as a preorder, in an attempt to publish something new every month.

In Part 1 of this unintended series (I thought I would tell this story in one part, not three), I mentioned my plan to rerelease this story with new content and a new title. This is why the planned update for a “finished” novel that people have bought on Amazon or downloaded for free at Smashwords during promotion seasons. I rushed the current version without giving myself enough time to really let it sit with me. I rarely rush through anything without giving myself adequate time to meditate on its details and fix whatever doesn’t work. But the conventions of indie publishing pushed me in ways I wasn’t ready for, and I broke my own personal conventions (and convictions) to see how the story would perform in the marketplace. The result of that performance was poor to say the least. I had no sales at Smashwords or its affiliates, short of a couple hundred free downloads during my I-no-longer-care phase, which aren’t sales, and may not even be reads, and only a couple on Amazon, the first of which yielded a one-star review. The print book never sold. As of this writing, I have the only print copy in existence, and I don’t get far into reading it without cringing. It’s not bad, but I know I can do better.

I intend to do better.

And I wish to do so by giving it a new identity, hence its retitle to Gone from the Happy Place. I want to make sure that readers get the story they deserve and not the one I felt obligated to rush out the door. I still have logistical questions to answer, like whether or not I want to change the opening, or even scrap the original first scene (my gut says yes), but I also have to consider conventional rules for its genre and figure out how best to incorporate those ingredients that the current version lacks, like, say, adding a new character who complicates everybody’s relationship to each other by simply being in the same room as they (because she’s trying to arrest two of the three characters while stealing the third away as a romantic interest even though he’s married to one of the two she’s trying to arrest, and you get the idea…spoiler alert).

The end result of this tale is that each of my stories are now under scrutiny, and some, like Gutter Child, as much as I like their current versions, still need more to become competitive in the marketplace. I can’t save every story or turn them all into blockbusters. But I can still do my best to give each one a proper foot forward, and that’s why I no longer wish to rush anything I write, even those stories I need to rewrite. Gone from the Happy Place is “finished” already; at the same time, I haven’t actually begun the version that will earn its new name, and I won’t start it until I’m satisfied with my rewrites for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Shell Out, and whatever else needs my attention. And even when I do finish it, I won’t release it until I can get proper marketing in its fuel tank. I want to have a better launch for its next version.

So, if you’re wondering why my publishing pace has suddenly slowed to a crawl, or why I’ve produced nothing commercially since May 2016, that’s why. I believe in quality over speed. I ignored it in 2015. I won’t do that again. It’s the same reason I don’t blog all of the time. I’d rather spend my writing on novels than on lectures.

But thanks for reading this all the same! Please come back. Next time I’ll write about…er…stuff, I guess. You won’t want to miss it!

Note: You can find links to most of the books mentioned in this series as thumbnail images to the right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you can find the links at the top. Alternatively, you can wait until I release the revisions and just subscribe to this blog for updates instead.

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Cover image by Pixabay

The Experts Aren’t Always Right: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 2

Missed Part One? Play catchup here.

“The Experts Aren’t Always Right”

As an independent author, when it comes to writing and selling books, I have to take matters into my own hands. As much as I would love to have someone else handle my marketing, cover design, copywriting, actual writing, etc., I don’t have that luxury. If I want people to read my stories, I have to get the word out on my own, or convince others to help me by convincing them that what I have to share is worth reading. And to convince them to read my work, I have to market to them, which means, ultimately, the cycle is unavoidable, and I’m responsible for getting the word out regardless, help or not. If it’s near impossible to get any reader interested in reading my work, then it’s even more nearly impossible to get them to market for me. If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, and the book will undoubtedly flop.

But even if I do get readers, and even if I can convince a few of them to help me get even more readers, it doesn’t mean my career is set and ready to launch. I also have to figure out how to get and retain fans, which is even more nearly impossible than the even more nearly impossible task of getting a support system to help me find those fans.

But nearly impossible isn’t the same as impossible. Fortunately, impossible is a dead adjective in independent publishing. Okay, more like an animated corpse that seems lifelike. But it’s still dead.

Through traditional publishing, authors have a chance to get their books displayed on a shelf at a bookstore, and by proxy, open an avenue for exposure that indie authors often don’t have. This doesn’t necessarily improve the author’s chances at discovery, as any book that’s displayed with the spine out is no more likely to get discovered than a specific crack in a sidewalk in the heart of a beautiful park would get discovered. But even shy people can discover that crack in a sidewalk if the alternative is to make eye contact with other people, so at least it’s an extra opportunity.

For an independent author, that chance for discovery is almost entirely limited to marketing, whether via e-mail, or word-of-mouth, or blast system like Bookbub or Instafreebie, which tends to succeed only when the author already has a following or fat marketing account and strong copywriting and cover design, and getting a sale through that market or discovery is dependent on whether or not the moon passes by the sun at the precise time a chicken crows while a dog pees on its head, which is, to say, not easy.

And that’s just for one book. What happens when the independent author writes another one? How many times does the moon eclipse the sun? (At the time of this writing, the total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Oregon and proceed through the heart of the United States and into South Carolina in a few hours, so, timely! But by the time this goes live, it’ll be long gone, so ha ha, you gotta wait another 18 months for the next one! But I digress.)

Because it can be difficult to build an audience, and even more difficult to retain one, independent authors are often encouraged to write books quickly (one every month or two) to earn enough income to write full-time. And this is assuming they have at least 3000 e-mail list subscribers who are ready and willing to buy every book the independent author writes, or tens of thousands of subscribers that can balance the odds enough to glean about 3000 loyal readers from the list. With the average $2.99 e-book earning its author 70% of its sales, 3000 loyal readers can earn him over $6000 a book. And that’s great…if he can pop out a new book every couple of months on average.

Traditional authors can’t do that because the industry takes about 18 months to contract and release a book via publisher (the length of time you’ll have to wait for the next total eclipse to happen after today, August 21, 2017, aka the day I’m writing this post, not necessarily the day I’m posting it). But independent authors can release books as quickly as they can write them, which is awesome for anyone who writes quickly and cleanly and doesn’t mind ignoring his loved ones most days.

The key idea here being how quickly one can write, edit, market, and release a full-length book of about 200 or more pages (50,000 words or more) and still be good enough to keep the reader coming back for more. Is one-to-two months for each book really long enough?

I guess it could be. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the summers he spent at Goldeneye, his home in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I believe), and spent the rest of the year working as a real spy, leaving his publishers to take care of the rest. That’s about two months per book for his part. I don’t know if he had to do anything more than just write the books. But even still, at that rate, he produced just one book a year. You could say he spent the other ten months researching.

I’d argue that producing a new book every one or two months is beneficial for keeping readers’ attention, but it may also be too much for those who feel oversaturated by reading books only from a particular author who, for some reason, is more prolific than even James Patterson or Stephen King. Ian Fleming had a dedicated readership, and even though it took him just two months to write each novel, it took about a year for his readers to get each one. In spite of the gap between stories, they came back anyway. They had other authors they could read in the meantime.

Indie authors don’t have to wait a year to get a book they’ve spent two months writing into their readers’ hands. But is that a good thing? I have authors I’m subscribed to that I still haven’t read because I simply can’t keep up with their pacing. It seems like every time I think about starting one of their freebies, they’re pitching me a new book. I’m not ready for it yet! Of course, it’s not their fault I’m not ready for it yet. I’ve just got so much else to read. Maybe a year between releases isn’t so bad. But, for the indie author, a year between releases is the same as starving. Seems like neither party really wins here.

I don’t know how involved Ian Fleming got with his books after he submitted them to the publisher, and it may be that two months dedicated to his author career was plenty, but independent authors don’t have the luxury to stop at the writing process or spend two months a year on a single book. They have to maintain the editing process, as well, and that can cost time and money. If an editor charges between $1000 and $2000, for example, then that reduces the author’s $6000 in sales profit to just $4000. And that’s not including cover design costs ($300 on average), marketing services (conditional, but probably more than $100 and upwards to about $600), and any subscriptions to web hosting or e-mail list providers ($100 a month or more), and now the author is down to earning an ROI of about $3000 or less for his book, and that’s assuming he’s grossing $6000, and if it took him two months to produce that book from zero to hero, then he’s earning about $1500 a month as an author, which is about what I make tutoring college students how to write.

It’s not a lot when you crunch the numbers. And it takes a long frickin’ time to get enough subscribers and fans to produce those kinds of numbers in the first place.

Now, these are estimated costs based on research and not based on experience. In contrast, based on experience, each book earns about $3 a year. This is without a mailing list, or marketing system, or editing service, and so on. This is based simply on writing and uploading a book to Amazon or Smashwords and crossing my fingers (what all writers wish they could do successfully) and seeing what happens. This is based on zero reviews, or a three-star average thanks to a one-star review cancelling out a five-star review, and, while I’m at it, wishing upon a star.

And that three-star average is based on cranking out a book in two months without editing, marketing, or having any real beta reading support, save for a single reader who says the book is “pretty good,” which isn’t the same as saying the book is “freaking amazing.”

It’s also based on beating a preorder deadline on the advice of experts who say preorders increase first-day sales and that preorders should be given to all books. No, I’m gonna have to disagree here. Preorders are yet another marketing stage for increasing exposure on a title that needs marketing to get that exposure, but it’s only helpful if the author produces a book that readers would actually want to read, which usually requires something called quality, which is hard to achieve on two months’ worth of writing, marketing, etc. I’ll cover that in more detail tomorrow.

But everything about writing and publishing independently comes down to costs, both in money and time, and neither produces guarantees for success, even though more of each increases the odds.

Now, there are things in my life I wish I could reset like a videogame, most of them having to do with career choices or women, but I don’t regret giving independent publishing a chance. What I do regret is rushing through my titles in order to match the speed that some authors claim they need to produce their own success. It’s that regret that has led me to the decision to otherwise disown the current version of my novel, The Computer Nerd, and seek to revise and release the story under a new title, and to do so at the pace I need to make it worth buying and reading. This isn’t to say that it’s bad in its current form, mind you. But it is to say that it needs better.

More on that tomorrow.

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Cover image by Pixabay

Public Revision: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 1

Would you like to go back in time a few years and redo something you screwed up? Or maybe just a few days? Or even this morning, perhaps? If you could do it all over again, would you refuse that job offer, or decide not to date that person (or marry them), or make that investment in that swamp that was supposed to be the home of the next big mall but to this day remains a swamp? If given the chance, would you have decided against erecting that statue of a controversial figure to our national history?

We all fantasize about correcting the bad choices we’ve made in life, but rarely can we ever do anything but forge ahead and hopefully make better decisions the next time we’re faced with something similar.

In videogames, we see this fantasy realized in two places:

  1. Most games come with a reset button of some kind. We make a mistake in the game, we turn it off, we reload from our last save, and we try again but tackle the problem differently and see if that earns us better results.
  2. Game developers who release a bad or buggy game have many opportunities (if finances allow) to patch it before their clientele finishes lighting up the pitchforks, as long as they remain in communication with their fans and customers that improvements are coming. In this way, they can turn a bad game into a great one, if they pour in the time, money, and love to see it through.

Okay, three places:

  1. In the case of old or poorly executed games, creators can remake their games with better technology and/or better ideas, and anyone who appreciates the idea behind the original may be onboard for trying out the new version. Take a look at SimCity for example…

Or don’t; your choice.

It’s the perfect medium to work with because gamers are the most forgiving people on earth…at least it could seem that way as long as you ignore the flames they fan on gaming forums (especially on Steam) or if you constantly update your game, preferably weekly, even after you’ve released the final version of the final version of the version that jumped the shark because people keep demanding updates when the game has outlived its need for updates and you just want to get on with the sequel or a new property already, but can’t because those ingrates won’t leave you alone about adding that stupid feature where the hero blinks when you press the mouse button three times while upside down because real heroes blink and your game sucks if the hero doesn’t blink and you said that the hero would blink way back when you announced the game was coming and foolishly published your wish list of features as a motivation or goal for yourself, which included the possibility of having the hero blink at the click of the mouse, as if you were making promises to the people to implement these features when you really intended to implement them only if time and money permitted and that anyone who trusted this wish list to double as your infallibly planned features list would inevitably have their hearts broken, and as a result cry out to the masses that you’re a fraud who only cares about grabbing cash and couldn’t give a crap about releasing a quality or finished product to everyone who deserves the game that they want because they spent a whopping five bucks on it, dangit, and demand to get their every penny’s worth! See, it’s the perfect medium.

But books and movies don’t get the same love, it seems. Or do they???

I can’t speak much for movies, as I’m neither a filmmaker, nor am I in the loop with filmmakers, and the only time I ever see a movie “revised” after its theatrical release is when it goes to DVD or Blu-Ray as a director’s cut. But books are becoming friendlier as a medium for post-release revisions, and I think readers may even be at a point where they’re ready to accept it.

Okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it should be. Here’s why.

Remember The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien? Have you read it? It’s, in short, a brilliant fantasy novel that jumpstarted the fantasy craze that continues today, eighty-five years after its publication. It’s a tightly-written children’s book about hobbits, dwarves, elves, trolls, adventures, wizards, and kings, told in a sing-song, fable kind of way, mixed with rhymes, riddles, and rendezvous with fate that captivates the imagination of any of its readers. But did you know that, according the video interviews by Peter Jackson, Tolkien had plans to revise it? After the success of Lord of the Rings, he decided he would write a revision to The Hobbit to better tie the two stories together thematically and theatrically (sounds better than plotrically, so, you know), which, to me, sounds like a worthy plan. If you suffered through The Hobbit movie trilogy (I have, and I’m a better man for it), you’ll get an idea what the rewrite could’ve been like, as Peter Jackson, the director of both Middle Earth trilogies, took Tolkien’s notes about the planned revision (that he clearly never finished) and filmed that, according to the documentaries that come with the films, which are worth watching, even if you don’t care for the movies themselves. Whether that revision would’ve been better or not remains to be seen, but after the success of Lord of the Rings, both in book and movie forms, it stands to reason that readers, whether they’d like it or hate it, would’ve been willing to give it a shot.

And that’s a fair assessment, as we give movie adaptations of books a chance all the time. Sometimes, in the case of movies like Silence of the Lambs and Silver Linings Playbook, these adaptations work. Sometimes, like in the case of The Running Man, the movie even improves on the book. Revising an already published work is not a bad thing, nor should it be a problem, especially in today’s world where e-books are biting off a piece of the reading market.

To revise is to sand off the burrs that mar the otherwise perfectly sculpted image, and reshape that statue of Mr. Controversial into one that looks more like Miss Congeniality, and that revision can happen at any time, even decades after the first version originally went live. The goal is to make sure the new version is better than the old one, and to make sure the end result won’t piss anyone off or cause a riot in the streets.

Having said that, tomorrow I would like to move toward a discussion about my book The Computer Nerd, and why I think it’s important to write and release a revised version, retitled Gone from the Happy Place, and why you should be happy that I’m doing so. I’ll begin by discussing the nature of independent publishing and why it’s a tough business. Hope you’ll come back for it.

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Cover Image by Pixabay

Using Scrivener for Game Design

It’s been quite a while now, but once upon a time I wrote a post about a software tool for writers called Scrivener that revolutionizes the way authors create worlds. This post attempted both to inform how it works and to review it as a product, based on the lessons taught in the tutorial. I had planned on writing a follow-up post that covers the remaining sections of the tutorial, but I never tackled that post because I never finished the tutorial. I’ve since bought an online course at Udemy on how to learn to use Scrivener and haven’t looked back. I decided not to write the second half of the post because there are plenty of videos that do a better job showing what I can only write about, and my point was pretty much made in the first part anyway.

But, the moral of the story, in both my post and the many videos on the software that you can find on Udemy, YouTube, or anywhere that Scrivener exists, is that Scrivener is the best tool for writers since the typewriter, and it’s just a good idea to have it.

What none of these courses, posts, or the like will tell you, however, is that Scrivener is not just a decent world-building tool for writers, screenwriters, and bloggers. It can also be used for game designers.

What???

Yes. But to make that make sense, let me first remind you what Scrivener is:

Scrivener is a project-based design tool that keeps all of your documents, web links, video files, PDFs, etc. in one place. What does that mean? It means you can use the program to plan out your games extensively, from the journal itself, to character bios and files, to maps of your games, and so on. You can also tag your assets, keep notes on every file, view select files at once, maintain side-by-side comparisons of documents (perfect for scripting), and so on.

Here is a sample of what my game design journal for Entrepreneur: The Beginning looks like in Scrivener.

From my May 25, 2009 entry:

scrivener game design 1

Notice all of the many tabs in the left binder that have dates attached? Yep, those are journal entries. I can track my development progress, ideas, etc. by clicking on the tab for that day. Because I can tag items with labels and/or keywords, searching for specific terms is quick and easy. If I need to find out what my plans are for the trashcans west of the game’s town, I can search for the keyword “trash” and see what pops up.

Next, here’s an early version of the game map that I produced in another program. I’ve imported it as a PNG file, and here we are. If I need to get a quick reference on where a store is located, I don’t have to open the game file to find it. I can just look at the graphic I posted in Scrivener.

A visual map of Hybrid City to remind me where everything is located:

scrivener game design 2

And that’s not all. Games require a programming language specific to the engines they’re designed on, and Scrivener, while not a compiling source, and not recommended for actual coding, can still be used as a storage container for active codes or scripts, and even used as a before and after example if certain code needs revision.

Here is a sample of what my plotscript file looks like in Scrivener. This comes from HSPEAK, the scripting language for the OHRRPGCE, which is the engine I use to design Entrepreneur: The Beginning.

The script I use for starting the game:

scrivener game design 3

Because Scrivener does not work as a compiling source, you would need to copy your scripts to a text file and compile from there. Or, you could probably export your scripts into a single text file, or into a document that you can convert into a text file. It’s neither hard nor time-consuming. But again, it is perfect for keeping track of scripts and for taking notes on what each script is used for, and even where you might be using it in the game.

An example of the side-by-side view, using the search parameter “random text”:

scrivener game design 6

You can also keep a chart that tracks how you’re using your assets in case you want to make a drastic change to one of your systems.

Keeping track of game assets:

scrivener game design 4

But Scrivener is not just a place to update your design journal or list locations of assets. You can also write the story in the same file you keep graphic images, research, etc.

Here is a sample of a story script in Scrivener. The program comes with various templates to help you draft the perfect story in your preferred format. It also comes with character and setting sheet templates to help you flesh out your people and locales during the design phase.

Note: Those templates are usually located in the novel formats, but you can import and use them wherever you want.

A sample story script from the game’s introduction:

scrivener game design 5

If these screenshots don’t do enough to convince you that this program is awesome and a great tool for game designers, then check out this three-part video I recorded on the topic.

Video 1 (Design Journal): https://youtu.be/N9kcDbOBB_Y

Video 2 (Plotscripting): https://youtu.be/9DhhU0CZJCo

Video 3 (Screenwriting): https://youtu.be/YNnj6G5d8Ho

Full Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2ihfMnuinWPyDkNfgtqSotqWuonxKqWM

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding all of its possibilities. Scrivener is the ultimate organizational tool, and it can even import mind maps if you have supported software. It’s extremely versatile, and after going through a minor learning curve, anyone can find a use for it in game design planning, or any type of design, and it can even replace the need for a Trello account if you’re clever enough.

It does come with a price tag, but it’s low compared to most writing software, and probably more useful than most of them.

So far, it’s saving me the burden of getting lost in my plotscript rewrites, and it’s reminding me of all of those unimplemented features I’ve forgotten about.

scrivener game design 7

Scrivener can be bought and downloaded at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php.

You can also try it for free for 30 days. So, if you’re on the fence, you can explore that fence without fear of falling too hard on your crotch.

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Cover image from Pixabay

Bonus: In Other Programming (Software) (The Marketing Author 001, Part 13)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Bonus: In Other Programming (Software)”

Welcome back to The Marketing Author 001. This week I’m giving you a bonus chapter, which will cover some important software decisions you’ll want to make as you begin you’re indie author hobby…er, career. You won’t need them all, but you should probably consider getting them all, or similar programs, if you want to maximize your potential.

Microsoft Word:

You probably have this item already. It’s the world’s premier word processor. You probably wrote all of your English essays on it. I’m using it to type this sentence. It’s Microsoft Word. You should just have it. It’s very powerful. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. If I do, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. This is your chance to flee! Really, why don’t you have Microsoft Word yet? Is it still 1990 where you live?

Microsoft Excel:

You probably have this program, too. (Most people have the core Microsoft products, Word, Excel, One Note, PowerPoint, etc. on their computers.) Let me just offer a shortcut here: All of Microsoft’s Office products are useful for one reason or another. One Note is good for keeping all of your thoughts in one place. PowerPoint is good if you want to build an online presentation to promote your product or build a course that will get people interested in what you have to say. But what about Excel? Why would a writer need to worry about Excel? Simple. You need Excel to keep track of your sales or downloads so you can see how well your titles perform (and what changes to metadata or cover images might do to improve those sales). Here’s what my sales looked like in November 2015.

Cool, huh? Okay, those are pretty much all free downloads. But the important thing is that I can see how each book does against the other. You want Excel as part of your author toolbox if you want to keep good records and track performance, especially since most of your hosting sites, like Smashwords, will only display stats over a certain length of time.

Scrivener:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - scrivener

You want Microsoft Office for your piecemeal work, but Scrivener is the Mercedes of the writing world, and for writers, it’s the thing most likely to replace Word as the writer’s best friend. It’s got a high learning curve, but through practice or via paid courses, you can discover just how great Scrivener is for any author and why you should have it on your computer, even if you’re a casual hobbyist writer who just wants to journal.

It’s a writing tool. It’s an organizational tool. It’s a digital notebook. It’s an idea farm. It’s a research hub. It’s basically all of Microsoft Office’s programs compiled into a single program, and each “file” is actually a “project file” that stores all relevant information into a story file via folders and special categories. It’s also about 10% of Microsoft Office’s price tag, and it provides a 30-day trial if you’re not sure.

But give it a few minutes and you’ll be sure. It’s gradually replacing Microsoft Office as the go-to for writers.

Note: The Mac version has features the Windows version doesn’t offer.

Editor:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - editor

Disclaimer: I have this program, but I haven’t used it in years. That said, the reason it’s on this list is because I still think it’s useful, especially if your power of language or ability to spot grammatical or repetition problems is weak. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting problems at the local level, which is why I don’t really use it anymore, but this program has once upon a time helped me spot a page one problem with punctuation that I must’ve overlooked twenty times, which is something I never would’ve done, even in thirty or forty revisions. I had become too accustomed to ignoring that particular problem. That reason alone keeps me loyally recommending it to anyone who needs an extra boost in spotting problems, even if I don’t use it much for myself.

It should be noted that Editor is a reporting tool, not a fixing tool. Its creator is an Ivy League English professor who wrote the program to assist writers in making wise style choices, not to override their writing, like what Word might try to do. It reminds writers that no program can know all connotations in grammar. It can only make an educated guess about your usage and that you, the writer, should still know grammar.

It’s also the only editing program I know that looks for clichés, repetition, and comes with a few dictionaries, like a rhyming dictionary if I recall correctly.

The only thing I don’t like is the interface. It’s pretty raw.

KDP Rocket:

Official Website

Part of the importance of marketing is knowing how to locate effective keywords that can increase exposure or interest in your book. This program, which I just bought recently, will go to a subscription model soon, so I’d get it ASAP if you want it, as it’s still sold for a one-time only fee of $97, but its job is to report the top performing books at Amazon in that particular category or keyword you choose so that you can make an informed decision about the keywords you apply to your book. For example, I learned that my keyword for The Computer Nerd, “marital thriller,” is pretty good, while my keyword for “computer nerd” kinda sucks for a psychological thriller (though it wouldn’t be so bad if I were writing a book about programming). The things we learn when we research.

Results for keyword “marital thriller”:

Results for keyword “computer nerd”:

You can alternatively find separate programs like KDSpy and Kindle Samurai to do similar functions for less money, but the nice thing about KDP Rocket is that it does everything these other programs do, but in one place, and it does it better in my opinion.

Adobe Digital Editions:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - adobe editions

This is not essential but still highly recommended, as this program will allow you to read .epubs right on your desktop. If you’re writing an e-book and you want to see how your story will translate, this program will help you see that translation. It’s kind of like tasting the batter before you commit to finalizing the cake. You want to know that you’re about to produce and distribute a quality product and Adobe Digital Editions can help you see what your readers will see.

Amazon Kindle (Desktop App):

Official Website

author marketing 001 - kindle

Ditto as above, but for .mobi files used on the Kindle platform.

WordPress:

If you want to blog, this is probably the best platform for it. You’re reading this post via WordPress. That’s how good it is. I don’t really want to talk about something you can clearly see for yourself. But having a blog is a great way to talk to people so that you don’t have to waste your life on Facebook. Plus, you’re more likely to reach your subscribers through WordPress than you are on your friends list, as Facebook requires you to pay lots and lots of money to promote your posts. That’s how they stay afloat.

And so on.

So that covers this week’s bonus chapter. If you have a program you like using, talk about it in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this beginner’s journey into independent authoring and marketing. Be sure to tell me how your marketing adventures pan out as it happens. I’m sure I’ll blog about mine soon enough.

I hope to launch a new series soon about books on writing, so stay tuned for that.

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 4)

So, if today is Saturday, then Hurricane Irma is eminent, and by the time this article airs, it may be knocking at my door. Because I’m writing this ahead of time (on Wednesday evening), I don’t actually know what’s coming, or what’s happening as this goes live. But according to forecasts, the odds of tropical storm force winds coming across Florida within the next few hours is somewhere between very high and certain, and that’s assuming that it’s not already here.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing I can probably guarantee: Based on what it’s done to the Lesser Antilles, and based on what it will probably do to the East Coast, “Irma,” which has replaced 2011’s Hurricane Irene on the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization’s naming list, will be a one-and-done (well, two-and-done if you count “Irma’s” last appearance in 1978). What does that mean? Simple, it means this:

Everyone who’s a big deal who comes to Florida comes here to retire. This includes old people, sports stars, and hurricanes.

When “Irma” gets to Florida, I’m sure she’s coming here to retire.

Unfortunately, that’s not a positive. My 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around” explains this retirement of hurricanes in detail.

The Politics of Weather

Every year that destructive hurricanes strike land, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization receives a petition for name retirement.  Nations will submit the names of hurricanes that caused extensive damage or loss of life in their lands to the WMO Regional Association, with the hope that those names will be taken out of circulation.  Of the eight names that I mentioned in the last segment, all of them were submitted and approved for retirement, along with one more in 2005, a storm named “Stan.”

Retirement is issued to a storm when it becomes a topic of sorrow for the people affected.  I tend to think of it more as a way to make the storm legendary.  For example, who could forget the three-day old storm that struck Mississippi in 1969 named “Camille”?  She started out as nothing, blew up into a monster overnight, and leveled the Mississippi coast two days later.  She was just another blip on the radar until she made her mark, and then, like a phantom mistress, she was gone in the night.  But she left her mark on American history.  One storm, one name—both never to return again.

What of our recent copycat, “Katrina”?  Like “Camille,” she blew up out of nothing and charged for the northern Gulf Coast, causing untold death and destruction.  Sure, her name had been used before in the last round, in 1999, and once before way back in 1981, but she didn’t do anything but rain on Central America as a 40mph tropical storm in ‘99, or do anything but pass over the Haiti/Dominican Republic border in ‘81.  Now that she’s left her mark in history, would it make sense for her name to be used again?  Why should the memory of New Orleans or her significance in history be bastardized with a weak return in 2011?

I tend to get fascinated over the history of particular named storms.  Some people think I’m crazy for thinking this way, but here’s my logic: as a fiction writer, all characters have an identity.  That identity begins with a name.  Just as each of us began life not as a musician or a construction worker, but as a name, so a character must start his journey as a hero or a villain with a name.  Likewise, a hurricane must start its journey of passivity or aggression with a name.  The heroes, those hurricanes that don’t hit anyone, always return six years later (if they’re low enough on the list).  The villains, however, the ones that haunt our thoughts, are the ones that go down in history.  It becomes a fascination, then, to see which names of the new season become heroes, and which ones become villains.

Those of us who grow up with the uncertain dread of what might happen between June and November of each year get this sick little joy from sharing our name with a hurricane.  Though, I have yet to have my name on the list in any basin around the world (there are eight basins, I believe), I still wonder what a hurricane with my name could do.  Will it be a passive storm, sputtering out in the middle of the ocean where the winds of sheer destroy it?  Or will it be a history maker, a force so bad that it convinces a city to implement new ordinances to protect it from future damage of similar nature?  Will it be a wimpy storm like “Alex” (“Andrew’s” replacement), who tries every six years to make its mark, only to fail by circumstances of weak power and poor direction?  Or will it be a devastating storm like “Ivan” the terrible, who knocked a section of I-10 into a chasm; or “Wilma” the Flintstone, who ripped apart entire networks of telephone poles along Federal Highway between Boynton Beach and Lake Worth, singing the words: “yabba dabba doo,” which isn’t far off from the sound the howling wind makes, all the way to the beach on her first run?

Names are a big part of a hurricane’s existence, so it leaves me to wonder why it has to be up to the targeted nations to make the call about its future.  If it’s about death, destruction, insurance, or confusion (the last being a symptom of what might happen if the World Meteorological Organization were to rename a future storm “Camille” or “Andrew”), then why let the history makers return if the affected nations fail to submit a plea to retire it?

There are two names I think about every time I think about hurricane retirement: “Emily” and “Gordon.”

“Emily” had been making appearances every six years since she was first introduced in 1981.  Like “Frances,” she showed up over and over again, trying to make her mark on someone, but just couldn’t muster up the right ingredients.  In 2005, “Emily” finally performed the tasks necessary to be considered for retirement.  Just as “Frances” finally made her mark in 2004 (after nearly ten attempts since the ‘60s), “Emily” made her mark last season.  She was a Category 5 storm that, like “Wilma,” smacked into the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm, stirred up trouble all over Mexico, and went out, finally, in a blaze of glory.  In a year full of hurricane insanity, she was a star.  But of the six hurricanes to wreck the Atlantic Basin, she was the only one slighted for retirement consideration.

“Gordon” was the name to replace “Gilbert,” when “Gilbert caused enough damage to come off the list in 1988.  “Gordon” made his first appearance in 1994 as a minimal hurricane, but one that dumped waves of rain on the mountains of Haiti; one that ultimately killed more than eleven hundred people.  This same storm later moved into South Florida as a tropical storm and tried to kill me when I was on my way to work, when I was getting tailgated by a florescent green car carrier on I-95, when I later hydroplaned off the exit ramp into Palm Beach Gardens and landed in a ditch at the bottom of the bend, where no one, not even the police officer who saw me struggling, offered to help me out.

Both of these storms were prime candidates for retirement in those years, but were overlooked for one reason: politics.

“Emily” was passed over in 2005, allegedly because her damage, though extensive, was minimal compared to what “Wilma” did to that same region three months later.  Even though Florida could’ve used the same excuse to slight “Frances” in favor of “Jeanne,” who hit the same exact area three weeks later, the state chose to bury them both into the history books once and for all, for they both sucked.  Mexico didn’t take that road, however.  The nation chose to favor the latter storm, as if only one could take the honor.

“Gordon” was passed over in 1994, simply because Haiti had bigger problems than hurricanes to deal with that year.  There was a political coup happening that took top priority with its government, which “Gordon,” as bad as it was, could not steal away.  So when it came time for the nations’ vote on their retirement nominees, “Gordon” was not to be seen.  Incidentally, no one in 1994 came off the list, as “Gordon” was the only bad boy of the bunch.  Now, in 2006, “Gordon” had since returned, but so far has yet to impress anyone with his fury.

This brings about my question: why wait for a nation to submit a name?  Shouldn’t there be an in-house panel at the World Meteorological Organization who can retire noteworthy hurricanes without national outcry?  Historically, notable storms have been submitted for retirement, but only by those nations that had nothing else going on that year.  In the case of these two storms, which by all rights and purposes should’ve made the list for their respective years, it would have benefited the Atlantic and the hurricanes’ victims had the WMO just taken the reigns away from the political institutions that were responsible for making the call.  Then, “Emily” could receive her justice, and “Gordon,” the storm that nearly killed me, would never again have to haunt me with another appearance.  Chalk up another victory for politics.

For Reference

For a full history of all tropical storms and hurricanes, including the ones mentioned in this essay, as well as information about naming systems, how hurricanes work, etc., visit the Weather Underground at www.wunderground.com or the National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov for all the resources you could ever need.  The first site stays current, with weather blogs written by experts that outline the potential for a storm, while the latter, though more official, tends to lag in information by a year or more.  They’re great places to visit if you’re in a panic over a storm.  You can also look up hurricanes through Google if you’re feeling really ambitious.

(end of “What Blows Around, Comes Around”)

Back to the present (2017), I hope those of you who are reading this are staying out of harm’s way. For me, I’m probably in the middle of it because I’ve got nowhere better to go. But my house is sturdy. Hopefully. But, if the people of Texas who went through Harvey (another storm likely to retire this year) are of any inspiration, then I can say that no matter how soft or hard this storm might be, we can still get through it if we stick together and don’t complain too much.

That said, if this storm does stay on its current track (as of Wednesday’s predictions, which is all I have at the time of this writing), then I’ll be without power for a few days, and I won’t be quick to answer any comments posted here. But, if you are one of the people in the path of this storm, and if you haven’t been through one like it before, and if you somehow found a way to read this (it’s 2017, so you’re probably on your fully powered smartphone, something we didn’t have in 2005), remember that the aftermath of a hurricane is generally very quiet, and you’ll suddenly find yourself able to think again, which isn’t so bad.

And, if you are in the storm’s path tonight, good luck. Hoping for the best for me, too.

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 3)

With Hurricane Irma moving closer and closer, tensions are undoubtedly rising throughout the southern East Coast. But Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, nor is it a stranger to bad hurricanes, and just as Hurricane Irma is similar to last year’s Hurricane Matthew in path and in hype, it’s no stranger to hurricanes that share basic qualities to other high-profilers that have recently preceded it.

In the third section of my 2006 article “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” I break down the characteristics of Florida’s last major hurricane hit, Hurricane Wilma, and how it relates to other hurricanes of its era. It’s easy to see that we can learn from anything, yet we can’t know everything.

The Familiarity of “Wilma”

On the morning of October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a major storm that chose to use my town as her exit point into the Atlantic, became the eighth hurricane to hit or pass Florida in two seasons.  Ironically, she had something in common with each of the first seven:

Like “Rita,” she passed through a narrow channel of water, before heading for open waters where she would later pick up steam to smash against her targeted coastline; “Rita” picking Texas, while “Wilma” picked us.  She, like “Rita,” also inundated the Keys.

Like “Katrina,” she surprised the world (or at least our section of it) when she suddenly transformed from a nobody to a reckless Category 5 storm, taunting her targets with unknown destruction.  She also shared the history board with “Katrina” in that “Katrina” set the “costliest storm” record at over $80 million dollars, while “Wilma” set the “most intense hurricane” record when she dropped to 882mb, which would’ve made her a nightmare over the Caribbean.  Also, like “Katrina” and “Rita,” she was a 2005 Category 5 storm that had the letter “A” ending her name.

Like “Dennis,” she set a time record for earliest something.  For “Dennis,” he was the earliest Category 4 formation and strike in the Atlantic Basin’s history.  For “Wilma,” she was the earliest formation of the twenty-first storm (which only happened one other time in recorded history).  Her formation also marked the first time that the seasonal naming chart had been exhausted.  This was a thrill to me, because I’ve always wanted to know what happened if a twenty-second storm formed and there were no more names to label it.  Now I know.  “Alpha” came about while “Wilma” blitzed the Yucatan.

Like “Jeanne,” she became the reckless youngest daughter of her family (family being major storms of a season), and proved once and for all that she would not be forgotten.  Also, like “Jeanne” she dilly-dallied in a faraway place before making the turn to strike South Florida, and blazed a trail for the coast, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 3 at the last possible minute before landfall.  Also, like “Jeanne,” she confirmed to Floridians that hurricanes were nature’s way of harassing us.

Like “Ivan,” she left Floridians lingering with dread as we wondered where the Category 5 storm would go, and what it would do when it got there.  Also, like “Ivan,” she set a personal record, where “Ivan” became the southernmost tropical storm formation in Atlantic history, while “Wilma” became the fastest drop in pressure (she lost 100mb in 24 hours, which is also nearly a world record).

Like “Frances,” she was a massive storm that lumbered about for so long that she pummeled her first target for three days.  Though “Wilma” shot over South Florida in less than five hours, she hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm for an entire weekend.  “Frances,” though only a Category 2 at the time, did the same thing to us the year before—on a weekend.

Finally, like “Charley,” she surprised the National Hurricane Center, and the citizens of South Florida, when she significantly increased in speed at a critical time.  While “Charley” leapt from a Category 2 to a Category 4 about two hours before landfall, “Wilma” leapt from a tropical storm to a Category 5 about two days out from the Yucatan.  This made life ominous for South Florida when the National Hurricane Center said she was coming for us next, and that her navigation around the cliffs of the Yucatan would decide whether she hit us with Category 2 strength or Category 5 strength.  Also, like “Charley,” she swung into South Florida from the west coast between Naples and Ft. Myers, before making a beeline straight for my house, previously in Altamonte Springs, this time in Lake Worth.

(Part 4 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 1)

I had originally scheduled a release for the final bonus chapter of the Marketing Author 001 today, but I decided to push that and all of my other upcoming releases back a week to focus on a more timely event.

About two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey roared onto the coast of southeast Texas and caused extensive and catastrophic flooding damage to the region. It became a major historical event that will take a long, long time for the people of Houston and surrounding areas to recover from. Today, another storm, Hurricane Irma, is destroying the Lesser Antilles with 185 mph winds, and over the next couple of days will continue west through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Bahamas, and by late this weekend, if the predicted track holds true, will makes its unwelcome appearance here in South Florida.

Now, last year in October, South Florida was threatened by another major storm, Hurricane Matthew, but that storm skirted the coast, as the big ones often do, and continued on north of us. The end result was bad for the Carolinas, but pretty tolerable here. I ended up keeping my lights on the whole time.

It’s easy to assume that Hurricane Irma will do something similar, especially when the projected track is already in close alignment with Matthew’s, and when the patterns of moving north ever so slightly, enough to change the potential landfall in fact, continue to persist.

But, as I’ve learned through years of preparing for absentee storms and bracing for the monsters that actually arrive, hurricanes are unpredictable, and expecting one to do exactly as another has done in the past is a mistake, and one that no one can afford to make.

Now, Hurricane Irma is still out there, and its effects on Florida and the rest of the East Coast have not yet been determined. It could come right up the middle of the state in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger went right up the middle of Buzzsaw, a villain he battles in 1987’s The Running Man. But it could also steer clear of the state entirely, spend some more time in the water, perhaps take a direct visit to Canada, and leave everyone else alone. Only time and history will tell, of course.

With the future of the storm unknown, but the lessons it can teach us still at the forefront, I thought it was time to reintroduce one of my older articles from 2006 about this very topic, told through the lens of The Big Four, the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, as a way to bring the legacies of the past into the relevance of the presence, and hopefully to remind those who read this to respect the power of a major hurricane, no matter where it goes or whom it affects.

I’ll be releasing this story in four parts, one each night until Saturday, when the storm prepares to hit. Because everything I’ve got coming up the line is on a schedule, my previously planned articles will still make landfall, whether I lose power or not, but a week later than planned. So, The Marketing Author 001, Part 13 will go live next Wednesday, September 13, and additional articles will follow on the 14th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Hopefully I’ll have power again by then. (Hopefully I won’t lose it in the first place.)

(Story begins below the photo of Key West getting slammed by a hurricane.)

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A History of Hurricanes

At the height of the 2004 Hurricane Season, a friend of mine asked if I had a hurricane magnet in my pocket.  I told him I did.  I had carried it around since August of that year, only briefly to pass it off at the start of 2005, just to reclaim it back to my possession near the height of that season.  It was an exciting thing—attracting so many anomalies over the course of fourteen months.  Even now as I write this, I have no guarantee that the phenomenon has run its course.  With some heavy hitting names like “Beryl,” “Florence,” and “Joyce” on the list, the 2006 season about to launch in six weeks will no doubt put the shade of red into Florida’s cheeks for the third year in a row.

Ah, the magic word: Florida, a peninsular state that weather experts all over the Western Hemisphere have whispered about for ages.  The target of more than a hundred spinners in as many years, the trap of tourists who eagerly race for the northern highways come August and September—that’s the magic kingdom we know as Florida.  My place of birth.  The land of my upbringing.  Florida.  Both the weatherman’s fantasy and his nightmare rolled up into one ball of emotion.  The state where insurance is an unpredictable commodity.  My home state.

Anyone who has watched CNN or the Weather Channel since August 2004 will know that Florida was stamped with a bull’s eye.  Those dormant weather makers that have teased us for years finally pounded on our front doors and demanded to rip us apart.  For two straight years.  With no guarantee that the torment has finished.  As I type this, the state is holding its breath.

The funny thing is that life didn’t start with such anxiety in the early days of my memory.  Even though some notorious storm systems made their way through my backyard over the years, none of them heightened my tension the way the 2004 season did.  My first recollection started with “David,” a 1979 storm that kicked the crap out of the Caribbean, but somehow lost its punch when it brushed the South Florida coast.  My father took me to the beach when the wind started churning, to show me the tide and to introduce me to the spectacle.  Where normally that would’ve been a bad idea (storm surges are usually inevitable with hurricanes), the punch was so weak that it didn’t seem like anything more than just another windy and rainy day.  And unless “David” was actually “Danny” (1985)—though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere close to nine years old yet—this thing reduced my fear of hurricanes to an almost nonexistent level.  Any time the “threat” of a hurricane became eminent, I just shrugged it off, as if it were another “David”—that horribly weak storm that couldn’t blow a leaf off a tree—that storm that unbeknownst to me at the time had killed way more than a thousand people on an island south of me and at one time packed Category 5 winds not even a week before passing over me.  Like most Floridians, I was disillusioned.  At three years old, I was disillusioned.

My eyes didn’t awaken to the true ferocity of a hurricane until thirteen years later—the year that Florida had gotten its dues for the first time in a generation.  In the late eighties, I heard about monsters like “Gilbert” (1988) and “Hugo” (1989) terrorizing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, but I figured they were products of a different world—a world that didn’t mess with Florida.  “Hugo” got my attention when the local news showed footage of his aftermath in Charleston, South Carolina, revealing a level of damage that seemed uncharacteristic of the hurricanes that I knew.  Wreckage remained where homes previously stood, and families sobbed over their hardened losses.  It was a strange sight to see.  The hurricanes in my world didn’t do such things.  The hurricanes in my world sent their gusty breezes, but not much else.  “Hugo” was no doubt a bit freaky.  But he was an anomaly.  Storms like him didn’t strike south of the Carolinas.  Storms like him only struck the Carolinas.

If only that were true.

Three years later, his hopped-up cousin came to town.

“Andrew” (1992) changed my mind about hurricanes forever, sort of.  When I was sixteen years old, I was hanging out with my youth group at the same beach where my father had taken me to see “David” so many years earlier.  We were there on the Saturday before the new school year started, undoubtedly trying to squeeze out the last remnants of our sacred vacation, and I had no idea that something big was brewing in the Atlantic.  The youth pastor’s wife mentioned that a storm was coming, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Storms that came after Florida were like de-clawed cats that came after pine trees.  Nothing about them spelled scariness.  But then, I went home to watch the news and felt my heart pound for the first time.  That little wimpy “Andrew” was packing over 150mph sustained winds.  And he was aiming for South Florida.  The storms that landed before him barely packed 80mph winds.  They weren’t anything to panic over.  But “Hugo” of South Carolina packed close to 140mph winds.  And that thing wrecked a community.  This “Andrew” was out there laughing at “Hugo,” and it was coming right for South Florida?  Laughing at us?  The arrival of a hurricane didn’t seem so comfortable all of a sudden.

Sunday was spent preparing the house for his arrival.  As a sixteen-year-old who didn’t want to be bothered with housework, I felt like I was wasting a perfectly nice day.  I hated the prep work involved with bracing a house for a hurricane, but I put up with it because I didn’t have much of a choice.  If “Andrew” was coming, he wasn’t going to be bringing roses.  I did what I was told.  And then, night fell.  The news was dedicated entirely to “Andrew” for the rest of the evening.  In my prior memories I couldn’t recall the news devoting so much of its airtime to a hurricane.  Undoubtedly, this one was serious.  And I kept myself glued to the television all night.

Even as my parents slept, I stayed in the living room monitoring the progress of this storm.  Not once did the wind speeds die during the course of its coming.  Somehow I expected it to lose its punch as it drew closer, but it kept coming, inching ever closer as the harbinger of doom.  I looked out my back window to see our palm tree whipping around as the winds kicked up to 60mph.  It was enough to bend the frond all the way down to the grass.  And the storm drew closer, holding its course.  All it needed was to shift direction toward the north by one degree and it would be upon me full force.  But it held its course—passing over the Bahamas, passing through the Florida straits, reaching the South Florida coast, hitting the city of Miami full force—brushing me with its 60mph shoulder.

It missed me.  The news showed the streets of metro Miami getting smashed with horribly fierce winds: traffic lights flinging around like rag dolls, streams of water rushing through the avenues at ungodly speeds.  But my palm frond continued to dance outside the back window, as if it knew the chance for fury had subsided.  When the sun came up a couple of hours later and the conditions failed to worsen, my trees, my home, and my neighborhood continued to stand.  The great and powerful “Andrew” kept his fury limited to the south.  The most we lost in the skirmish were a few leaves and the first day of school.  All was back to normal by Tuesday.  But the cameras were still rolling and the southern regions of Miami were on the news.  “Hugo” was reborn.  “Andrew” put the fear in me.

For the next couple of years I watched the news during hurricane season religiously.  For every new storm that surfaced, I had to find out what it was doing and where it was going.  Each week I waited to see if my home was destined for danger, but nothing came.  For two straight years, Florida received nothing in the catastrophe department like it did from “Andrew.”  Only “Gordon” (1994) stood a chance at re-igniting my fears, but that was due to something that happened on the highway.  All in all, Florida’s big hurricane crisis was limited to one isolated storm.  After the busy season of 1995, I became exhausted with hurricane news and decided I didn’t care anymore.  Each season before and after were as big of a bust as they were in the ‘80s.  We spent an entire day preparing for storms that eventually turned into “coastal riders.”  In 1999, the last straw hit me as I sat in my darkened house in Orlando waiting for a new monster to come at me.  “Floyd,” the first storm to put the fear in me since “Andrew,” came up to the Central Florida coastline near Daytona, promising to sweep across the state with an unholy swath of destruction in its Category 3 wake, and changed its mind.  At the last minute, the storm swung northward and rode up the coast into the Carolinas, where it rerouted its destructive intentions into some small towns in the northern state.  I was disappointed.

The thing that I learned from “Andrew” and confirmed in “Floyd” (and in many of the storms before and since) was that hurricanes, as destructive as they had the potential to be, were relentless teases.  The big ones had a habit of taunting me, making it clear that they were coming for my house, bringing the pain with them, but only the little ones ever followed through.  The ones that actually had damage potential put the fear in the local news enough to convince residents like me to board up, to bottle up, and to pack away a garage full of canned soup.  But at the last minute they’d change direction, and all of a sudden my entire Sunday was wasted.  No hurricane.  No danger.  Just a boarded up house and an idiot sitting inside.  By the start of the 2000s, I didn’t give any thought to hurricanes anymore.

My jaded heart against the hoopla continued all the way into the middle of August 2004.  On Wednesday, the night of the 11th, I walked around the aisles of a Blockbuster Video in Altamonte Springs, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), searching for DVDs, when I heard one of the clerks nearby talking about two storms that were churning near the state: “Bonnie” and “Charley.”  I didn’t listen very intently, because I no longer respected hurricanes for the dead-focused behemoths they should’ve been.  I walked home that night (I lived up the street from the store), putting the thought out of my mind.

The next day I walked to the pool to catch up on some reading, where I was surprised to see the deck chairs stacked up and roped off.  I thought the condo association was just cleaning the area, so I walked to the other pool across the parking lot to read there, instead.  But I discovered the same ordeal.  Without a place to sit, I decided to stick my feet into the pool and read by the steps.  And that’s when I noticed the fitness room across from the fence sealed off with the big giant “X” of masking tape.  Now I knew the comments from the night before meant something.

As it turned out, “Charley” was the one that got the clerk’s attention, as it was the one that got the condominium’s attention.  The forecast predicted it to come ashore near Gainesville as a Category 2, but the threat to Orlando was subjective.  Seeing as how the preparation efforts were primarily limited to masking tape coverings, I didn’t think much of it.  I went to sleep that night with my usual expectations.

The next day, however, my mood changed.  “Charley” had already become a Category 2 by the morning of Friday the 13th, but somehow, in the time it took for me to escape the Weather Channel in the early afternoon to go to the grocery store and to return an hour later, the entire forecast shifted.  When I headed back to my apartment, one of the neighbors stopped me and asked if I heard about the updates.  Since I was at Publix for the last hour, my answer was “no.”  Apparently, that wimpy little “Charley,” a former list-mate of “Andrew’s,” had blown up into a strong Category 4.  And it wasn’t heading for Gainesville any longer.  Now the forecast aimed it straight for Tampa Bay—a coastal region surrounded by three large cities.  For the first time in twelve years, I sensed that catastrophic destruction was coming.  Seeing a place on the news that I had just visited three months earlier, called The Pier, intensified my dread.  The last fond memory I had with a close friend, and the place that formed it, was endangered of getting wiped off the map.  My dread sunk in.

But then, “Charley” did something no one expected.  He shifted again.  As conditions in my own town drastically deteriorated, “Charley” took his aim off Tampa and moved into the coast with destructive power through a town called Port Charlotte near Fort Myers.  At Category 4 strength, he ripped through that region with the anger and fierceness of “Hugo,” but he wasn’t finished with them.  He had a mission—a significant point to prove.  After all the times I had been teased by weak storms and course-changing powerhouses, “Charley” initiated a war that would forever change my tune.  He came right for me—dead on.  That night, at 9pm, as my power blew out, the eye of this rampaging storm, which was supposed to strike Tampa Bay, reached I-4 in the Kissimmee region and rode the highway all the way up, past Universal Studios, through downtown Orlando, and right over Altamonte Springs—right over my buried head.  For the first time ever, I sat in a darkened room without windows, waiting for a fierce storm to pass by.

Within an hour, the 90mph winds died down and the eye was on top of me.  All was calm.  I waited for the backside to hit, but there wasn’t much to it.  It was in and out and on its way over Daytona by midnight.  I walked to my car to listen to the news.  Palm trees were decapitated all around the neighborhood.  A pile of fallen debris blocked the driver side of my poor Honda Civic (a car unfortunate enough to sit through four of these monsters).  An oak tree had fallen on top of one of the buildings next to the first pool.  Hurricane reality finally woke me up.  And “Charley” was just the warning shot.  The neighborhood was completely trashed, the city as a whole was littered with damaged signs and fallen trees, and “Charley” was only the beginning of a two-year nightmare.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay