Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review - Deadend

I've had a bad case of sore eye (conjunctivitis) for almost three weeks now. Only the right eye was affected (hence the singular form) and it's developed a blurriness that creates a circle around points of light. Doc says it'll go away eventually which is a relief. It's difficult to read the computer screen so I've been minimizing my computer time. I make up for the inactivity by reading books but I've read all of them already so I decided I'd download a couple of free ebooks from the internet and read with the bad eye closed. I was in for a disappointment.

I downloaded Robert C. Waggoner's Deadend, which was all of 2,452 words making it a sketch story instead of a short story. There's a Twilight Zone-quality to the story but falls flat on impact, at least for me.

There were a few misspelled words but the book is full of mispunctuations.  I can't claim to be an expert in that field but I'm familiar enough with comma use to know how important they can be. Grammar-wise, it's okay. I didn't find any sentences that tended to paralyze my tongue.

The author has some talent though. The story revolves around a series of strange experiences of a mother and her son. I actually got interested when they arrive home to find someone else living in their house. After that, the story starts to fail in the "believability" department.

I guess that's  my main problem with the book. If you come home and find someone else living in your house, what would you do? Confront him? Call the police perhaps? The mother doesn't do any of those things. She just breaks down and cries. Then she and her son decide to go to their neighbor's house but the familiar faces were not there.  Inside the house were the "strangers." They don't confront them but when they learn who the strangers are, they don't do the normal and sensible thing which is to try and escape. Instead they engages them in conversation! Most unbelievable is her son who seems excited to learn about all about the strangers. The story might have been better if mother and son had tried to escape and the strangers prevent them from doing that to avoid being discovered by other people.

Robert C. Waggoner states his location as being in the Philippines though he also says he is "out of country." I guess that means he's not a Filipino. I can't tell his nationality from his picture but he seems to be an American.

Mr. Waggoner, you've got enough raw talent to be a good storyteller. I suggest you get beta-readers to give an honest opinion before you publish. Good luck.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Software for Writers


I've been alternating my writing with MS Word 2003 and OpenOffice's Writer and, so far, I don't have much to complain about. MS Word opens much faster than OpenOffice (OO) but I like OO's convert-to-pdf feature  which Word 2003 doesn't have. I know Word 2007 has this feature built in already but I haven't  got the finances to upgrade at this time.

One of the things that I had been looking for in both Word and OpenOffice is a continuous word counter. A lot of authors track their progress by counting how many words they've added to their work on a daily basis. With these text editors, you get the word count by selecting a menu item and the word count is displayed for you. There's no way to get a running word count.

When I tried my hand at writing short, 200-word articles for an online company, I was hampered by not knowing how many words I had been typing. Most times, I thought I had completed 200 words but had actually fallen short. Occasionally, I would exceed the target by a huge margin. Less than 200 words is unacceptable by the company but more than 20% over 200 words was unacceptable for me since it meant I was doing more work for the same pay. So, I started looking for another editor that provided a continuous word count.

yEdit2: If you're looking for a simple editor for making simple, specific-length articles, this is a good program. It's small and portable (you can run it from a flashdrive), and simple to set up. You set the target word count and, as you type, you get a running word count as well as a "words-to-go" countdown.

yWriter5: From the same person who created yEdit2, yWriter5 is a novel writing program. It allows you to divide your novel into chapters and scenes which are stored in a folder as separate files. Each scene has tabs where you can input who are characters  present in that scene; the location/s where the scene occurs; items or objects that are present in the scene; and tabs for scene descriptions and notes. There's also a Goals tab that I haven't investigated yet.

After using the program for more than a week, I've come to appreciate the way it had been designed. I had been having problems keeping track of my characters and even had a problem with timing. I had one event happening before a previous event when it should have been the other way around. yWriter5 provides a way for you to keep track of time frames which is really handy when your story gets complicated. One feature I really liked was the simulated sound of a typewriter as you work. For some reason, it helps me keep working. That might not be true for everyone but it does for me.

Both yEdit2 and yWriter5 are available for free downloading at Spacejock. The creator is Simon Haynes, an author as well as a programmer. He doesn't ask for payment but he is willing to take donations which, he says, is used to improve his programs. I am unable to donate at this time, so I'm doing the next best thing. I hope you like it as well as I do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Case of the Haunted Room


This is an excerpt from my book Funny Stories from My Travels. I have two reasons for posting this:
  • One is to test the paragraph spacing bug I mentioned in an earlier post, Blogger Paragraph Spacing. I sent them a feedback so I will be testing this bug from time to time. 
  • to give you a glimpse of a part of the book that isn't included in the free sample. I hope you enjoy it.

Back in 1993, I tried applying for a job at my Dad's former place of work, an oil refinery. It is located in Limay, Bataan and used to be owned by Esso, an American company. Dad left them in 1971 after Petron bought it but several of Dad's old buddies still worked there. I had an uncle living in the next town, Lamao, so it was only natural that I would stay at his place for the two days I would be in Bataan.

I naturally assumed I would be sleeping at their house. I had been to Uncle Romy's house lots of times and had no trouble sleeping there. This time, however, I was going with them to sleep at the harbor pilot's lodging house or quarters. Uncle Romy had been hired or appointed as caretaker of the building so they slept there at night.

The building was within walking distance from Uncle Romy’s house and was two stories high. I followed them through a door and entered a large kitchen. We then went up two flights of stairs to the second floor and opened a door to the left. It was a large room that looked like it could accommodate maybe ten beds or more. It was empty at the moment and a mattress had been placed on the floor at the center. This was where Uncle Romy, Auntie Guia and my baby cousin Chellie slept. It was a large mattress and Uncle Romy said we could all fit into it.

I decided to explore the rest of the building and found a door just across the corridor. It opened into a long rectangular room about ten feet wide and about fifty feet long. Three of the walls had windows with flimsy curtains on them and the windows on the long wall looked out over the street in front. The two, smaller windows overlooked the neighbors on either side. The fourth wall was bare with just a single light switch adorning it. It was a bedroom but an unusual one. The door was at one end and the bed at the other. There were no furniture, not even a chair or table. It contained just the bed. I thought about my uncle’s family making room for me on their mattress so I asked Uncle Romy if I could sleep in this one.
This is how the haunted room looked like 
as best as I could draw it. The drawing is 
not included in the book.
He hesitated. “I’m not sure, Eric. A number of people have slept there before and reported hearing footsteps in the room. One had even run out of it in fright.”

Now, I'm not a believer in ghosts. I’ve never seen one and I’ve investigated sounds that go bump in the night and found them to be caused by natural things.

“I’ll be okay, Uncle. You don’t have to worry about me.”

After some more hesitation, he gave his consent. Auntie Guia gave me a pillow, bed sheets and a blanket. After making up the bed, I laid down and appreciated the quality of the mattress as well as the silence. I stood up, walked the length of the room to the switch, turned off the lights and walked back to the bed. It wasn’t dark since a lamppost on the street in front illuminated the room though not so brightly. I laid back down and was soon asleep.

As sometimes happens when I sleep in a new place, I woke up after several hours. I checked my watch and found it was just before twelve midnight. The air was cool and the wind was blowing, causing the curtains to billow into the room. I closed my eyes to get back to sleep.
This photo is similar to the experience in this story.
The curtains were longer than this and reached almost
to the other wall. This is just to give you an idea
about what I saw.
I woke up with a start. I had heard footsteps! They seemed to be coming from the other side of the room. I sat up with my feet on the floor, got my glasses and looked intently. The windblown curtains obscured my view of the far end of the room but I could hear the footsteps very clearly. What's more, they seemed to be inside the room and getting closer to the bed!

I didn't feel any fear. If it had been someone else, I imagine they would have been terrified, more so because the footsteps were coming from the direction of the door. Anyone trying to escape needed to go toward the footsteps.

The sound continued to come closer. I stood up and started walking slowly toward it. The wind blew the curtains and kept me from seeing anything. As if it was avoiding me, the footsteps moved from inside the room to outside the window. I looked out and saw...

A security guard.

He was walking his beat with his shotgun on his shoulder, his shoes clicking on the cement road as he walked at a leisurely pace. I suddenly understood the phenomena.

The room had a bare wall along one side, and windows along the other. The sound of his footsteps entered the room and reverberated around, making it seem that the footsteps were coming from inside the room. Mystery solved. I went back to bed and slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Next morning, I told Uncle Romy about the source of the mysterious footsteps. He shook his head in amusement and gave a little laugh. The Case of the Haunted Room was closed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ebook or Print Book?

Are you still holding on to the dream of getting your book published as a print book? Are publishers ignoring you? Are you just about ready to give up?
You're not the first to have this experience. At this time, you won't be the last either. Countless authors have tried—and given up—getting their work published and quite a few have resorted to self-publishing and selling their books on their own. The expense of going it alone, however, means that only those who have money to spend can get their books out into the hands of readers.
If your purpose in writing a book is to have the satisfaction of seeing your words on a printed page, this post is not for you. If your purpose, however, is to have people read your book, then this post will offer you an alternative to having your book printed on paper.
Perhaps you've heard of ebooks. If you're like me up until about two years ago, you probably never even considered publishing your book as an ebook. Seeing your words on a screen somehow didn't have the same effect as reading it from a printed page. That notion is slowly changing.
Mark Coker of and Amy Gahran of CNN both posted that more people are reading ebooks than ever before. The reason may be due to the proliferation of ebook readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad. Along with the increase in ebook readers comes the increase in ebook publishers and authors. Print books are slowly losing out as more and more authors and readers decide to go digital rather than traditional.
There are several possible reasons for the shift. One is that ebooks are generally cheaper than print books. In fact, some authors are giving away some or all of their books for free. Those that have prices are generally sold for the same price as second hand books even though they've been newly released.
Another possible reason is that ebooks take up practically no physical space. You can have several dozen books on your reader or laptop and your load won't feel any heavier. You can store ebooks on CDs and flashdrives which can have more than a hundred books in them. Even when you're away on vacation, you can bring a whole library of books in your bag or in your pocket.
Where do you buy an ebook? Why, anywhere you can connect to the internet. There are so many sources of ebooks that you can browse several bookstores at a time from the comfort of your chair. You can discover new authors, talented writers who had been rejected by traditional publishers.
For authors, ebooks have the potential to reach more people than print books. There are only so many thousands of brick-and-mortar bookstores and only a few thousand people are in them at any one time. By publishing their books on the internet, they have the potential to reach millions at a time 24 hours a day.
Still for authors, ebook distributors offer higher royalties than print book publishers. There's not much expense in getting your book out into the internet so the returns can be greater though you will still need to market your book. If your passion is just to write books and not really earn from them (yes, some authors do that), then writing ebooks will be the way to go.
I've noticed lately, that brick-and-mortar bookstores seem to have less books today than they did before the digital age. It used to be that I would go to a bookstore and 90% of the space was allotted to books. The rest were for school and office supplies. These days, the books take up about 50% of the floor and, in addition to the school and office supplies, toys and office furniture now vie for the customers attention. Services like photocopying and gift wrapping also take up some of the space once occupied by shelves of books.
Print books are slowly disappearing though the end still seems some distance into the future. You can wait for that day to come before you decide to publish your book as an ebook but, personally, I think it will come sooner than later. The growth of ebook publishing and reading is increasing rapidly. That favorite of traditional publishers, the text book, will one day disappear and reincarnate as bits and bytes in a computer where my son, daughters and grandchildren will be reading them without a thought of what it feels to read something on paper.