I've just finished formatting the manuscript of Dark Exhibit for publication with Kindle Direct Publishing. It was so much easier than formatting the manuscript of Dark Mural.
As you may see on my Books page, Dark Mural and Dark Exhibit are the first two books in my series of murder mysteries. I got this crazy idea that it would be best to postpone publishing the first one until the second was also ready.
As a result, I had my first adventure in turning a docx file into some that that looks right as an ebook and as a print book about a month ago with Dark Mural. As always with new software, there was a lot of trial and error.
This week, I gritted my teeth as I set about turning Dark Exhibit into the kind of books you can buy on Amazon. I am pleased to report it went much better. In fact I mostly set aside the directions and worked intuitively.
If I had published the first one six months ago, I probably would have gotten out of practice and had to learn this all over again. Maybe my idea was not so crazy!
Last weekend we went to our favorite place for breakfast. When I was done eating, I looked across the street and noticed the morning light was beautiful on the buildings and the tree.
I started snapping, noticed people were walking by, and managed to catch the woman in the baseball cap in front of the red doorway.
When I got this picture up on my computer screen, I noticed there was a second woman just stepping out of the shadows on the right. She wears a headscarf and carries a yoga mat.
Baseball Cap is wearing yoga pants, so maybe she is walking to a class at the place Headscarf has just left. But Baseball Cap doesn't have a yoga mat. Maybe she's going to another kind of exercise class.
Of course, Headscarf could be carrying that yoga mat as a distraction. She might have been hiding in that dark doorway, waiting for Baseball Cap to walk by, intent on attacking her.
If so, she has a problem. Again, when I got the photo up on my computer, I noticed Baseball Cap is not alone. Look just behind her front foot and you'll see another foot. Someone is walking next to her.
Did Baseball Cap get word that headscarf was laying for her and bring backup?
As Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Argonaut's website says it offers "fine and rare books in most fields." That is a fine business to be in, and a rare one. It's been around since 1941 and is now operated by the son of the founder, Robert Haines, jr.
The shop gets some tourist trade because it appears in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, or, rather, the original Argonaut did. It was six blocks away on Kearny street. And, in fact, they didn't film the scene with Jimmy Stewart in the store. Rather, they recreated the inside of the store on a soundstage in Hollywood. Still . . .
Haines still does a thriving business, as you can read about in this recent interview. It seems that in the era of ebooks, fine and rare books are valued more than ever. Haines tells a great story about the store's more recent brush with fame. It seems Danielle Steele, a San Francisco resident, dropped by one day.
True confession: I've never seen the inside of this store. Most of my books are paperbacks, nothing fine or rare about them, except the stories and thoughts inside. However, I have an idea for getting someone a gift so I just might walk through that door in the next couple of weeks.
I saw this stairway and liked it so much I had to take its picture.
It's in the Metreon, a building in downtown San Francisco where Ann and I had gone to see a movie. The wall of green outside the windows is the edge of Yerba Buena Gardens, a lovely place to linger if you're ever in town.
It reminds me of the one in the Museum of the African Diaspora, which (come to think of it) is only one block away.
Stairways like this are not hard to like especially for a guy who prefers to take the stairs and counts himself lucky in being able to do so.
But for me, they are more than just pretty. They are somehow theatrical. When walking on them, I see people outside the building and they can see me. I feel exposed, but somehow aloof at the same time.
Such a stairway might serve well for an important scene in a story. A pursuer (sleuth or assassin) might spot the pursued. The pursued might feel safe from the pursuer, but only if he can get to a higher floor and hide.
Hmm . . .
Prutting my manuscript in book form continues to teach me lessons.
For instance, that line at the bottom of the page on the left begins a paragraph that continues at the top of the following page. In book-design jargon it's called a widow. I suppose that's because it's left alone.
If you see a paragraph at the bottom of a page and its last line carries over to the following page, that line is called an orphan. I suppose that's because it's disconnected from its origin.
Word processing programs like MS Word and Google Docs usually avoid widows and orphans by keeping at least three lines of the paragraph on each page, but book designers do not. I had to teach myself this by looking through books from my shelves and seeing they frequently have widows and orphans.
This explains why some of my pages in the print previewer were one line shorter than the others. When I allowed widows and orphans, those blank spaces at the bottom of the page filled up.
As with most things about book design, I find myself saying, "I never really noticed."
By the way, those clamps holding the book down are from back when I used to repair guitars.
Recently I discovered that reading my book in Kindle Direct Publishing's ebook previewer taught me some lessons I hadn't learned by reading and re-reading my book in a word processor and on paper. Specifically I learned to use paragraph breaks in a new way for e-publishing.
Preparing my book for publication as a paperback has yielded still more lessons. Perhaps because throughout my life I've done most of my reading on single-spaced, facing pages, I never had to think of how the eye and the mind work together to turn those ink-blots into images and thoughts.
I've been over Dark Mural so many times in the past two years, I have parts of it memorized. Yet, when I saw it in the familiar form of a printed book, it looked different and read different. I became aware how parts of a scene fit together and raised questions that would be answered on the following page. In a few instances, I saw how the scene could be better built, and I've made changes.
Of course, most writers say they always want to change things, even after a book is published. So perhaps this was just one more opportunity for me to see such things. But I really don't think I would have seen them without reading it in book form.
As previously reported here, I have seized the opportunity attend a trial in criminal court as research for a book about a guy who reports for jury duty. I figured if I was going to write about it, I needed to make notes on the nuts and bolts of the process of conducting a trial.
So far I have watched as the judge and attorneys question potential jurors regarding their fitness to serve in this particular case. The process is called voir dire, a French term meaning, "speak the truth."
This is an important part of any trial, and I am glad to be reminded of how it works, but I'm learning much more about how it feels to be one of those called for jury duty. For however long it takes, your life is not your own.
On the whole, the judge is considerate of jurors' comfort, never remaining in session more than an hour and fifteen minutes. Beyond that, anything can happen: a fifteen-minute break can last twenty-five minutes; the session no sooner begins than the judge and attorneys withdraw for five minutes (stand and stretch, but don't leave the room); an attorney can spend twenty minutes questioning one juror, five minutes questioning another, and excuse both. Or neither.
Having no choice but to comply with orders that are unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary is stressful. The only thing keeping me in the room was curiosity, and I still felt trapped.
Perhaps the title of this blog post should be, "Writer Gets More Than He Bargained For."
Several years ago, I was called for jury duty, selected, and served on a jury in a case of sexual assault. We deliberated and returned a verdict of guilty.
For the first few days, I tapped out a description of each day's courtroom proceedings, so I would have the research done if ever wanted to write a story about a juror. But I stopped because I didn't think I ever would.
Big mistake. Let all us writers resolve never to repeat it.
Recently I returned to my notes and I saw how I could turn it into a story, but I would need the nuts and bolts of the trial process for my hero to work with.
So I emailed a writer friend with some background in law, and asked how I could find out when a criminal case was going trial so I could be there at the beginning and take notes. My generous friend wrote me a long email about how that is public information, but difficult to track down . . . databases, incompatible systems, etc.
Then, just last Thursday, a neighbor said she had to report for jury duty today for a murder case.
And here I am, taking notes.
Yesterday, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Jim Guigli was on hand to educate us crime-fiction writers regarding firearms. Though there is very little gun play in my books, I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.
Clearly Jim can geek out about guns with the best of them. Click on the "Guns" link on his website to read his "Firearms Bio." While you're on that page, download the pdf of his article, "Firearms and Writers." It's an entertaining description things we've all seen in books and movies that don't make sense if you know about guns.
But instead of wowing us all with his knowledge, Jim geared his presentation to what might be most useful to mystery and suspense writers. He suggested we ask two questions. Why does the character carry a gun? Therefore, how does she carry it?
His demonstration was mostly about holsters. As he showed ankle holsters, leg holsters, belt holsters, and many kinds of shoulder holsters, he explained the trade-offs between concealing the weapon and drawing it quickly.
He used plastic models of common revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. The assembled writers asked many questions about different weapons and ammunition, which Jim was happy to answer. But mostly he focused on who? why? and how?
Not only is Jim a firearms expert, he's a good teacher.
I just finished my third novel by Bill Crider, and I enjoyed it as much as the first two. This one features Sheriff Dan Rhodes.
Between 1986 and 2017, Crider wrote 25 novels about this character. Booked for a Hanging is the sixth, published in 1992. In his long career, Crider created four other series but wrote no more than five novels for any of them. Clearly Rhodes was the character he knew best.
Being a small-town sheriff, Rhodes has the same settled-in quality as Carl Burns, the English professor who solves the crime in Dead Soldiers. As he goes about his business, he's always conscious of being a member of the community.
Like Ted Stephens, the hero of Mississippi Vivian, Rhodes is a man of action. He'll fight if he has to. It's part of the job. But he's not "badass" the way Stephens is. After all, Stephens is a private investigator, and Rhodes is a law man.
In all three of these novels, Crider renders life in small Southern towns with imagination and authenticity. Crider himself was an English professor in a small town in Texas.
There are no stereotypes here. Every character is a wonderful blend of quirks. With each, I think, "I've never met anyone quite like that."
Crider's books weigh in at about 200 pages or a little more, just right so far as I'm concerned. I do not understand the current taste for crime novels upwards of 350 pages.
I think I'll be spending a lot of time with Sheriff Dan.
Last Friday, we had lunch with some friends we hadn't seen in almost a year. We talked about what each of us had been up to, and I admitted I was ready to start publishing the mysteries I've written. One friend asked what the books are about. Another asked to be informed when they are available.
Another said Stephen King's On Writing is really a good book. Some others agreed. I think this was the only time I've heard a book on the craft of writing mentioned and discussed by people who aren't writers.
On Writing might be widely read because King's fiction is so popular and because the first 90 pages is about how he grew up and became a writer. But I think people are also reading the 140 pages that make up the middle of the book in which he lays out how to write fiction.
These pages are practical and inspirational for the writer, but also, I would imagine, entertaining for anyone to read. For instance, King says the room in which you write needs only one thing, "a door which you are willing to shut." That's bound to raise a smile.
A writer I know found it perplexing that King devotes about 100 pages of the book to autobiography, although the subtitle of On Writing is A Memoir of the Craft. But another of my favorite books on craft, Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, illustrates many of its practical points with anecdotes from the author's career.
I also like the way King says, "I have written because it fulfills me." This reminds me of how Patricia Highsmith in her how-to book says, "Writing is a way of organizing experience and life itself . . ." Ultimately, it's as much personal as practical.
This is the only oil painting on the walls of our apartment. I bought it at an antique shop when we lived in Philadelphia for less than we spend on groceries in a month. The bill of sale describes it as, "Oil on board of the 'Trou de Bozouls' in Aveyron, France (ca. 1946) signed F. Monge."
I've done a little searching to find out who F. Monge may have been and have turned up nothing. Maybe there is a small regional art museum somewhere in France that celebrates Monge's work. If so, they don't turn up in an internet search.
I've wondered whether F. Monge might be due for rediscovery by the art world, or if some scholar might find that a famous artist signed some paintings with this name at a stage of his or her career.
Such a discovery would make this painting more expensive, but not more valuable. In the years we have owned it, I have not gotten tired of it. I still enjoy looking at it. That is its value for me, along with knowing it is a relic of the mid-twentieth century.
If it became an expensive painting, I would have to pay to insure its replacement cost. I might even have to take precautions so it wouldn't be stolen from my home. I might hear from people who want to see it or borrow it for an exhibition. That might be pleasant or not, depending on the person.
I like owning a painting that is valuable, but not expensive. So, I guess, the theme of my "collection" is, "art without the bragging rights."
I tried another novel by Bill Crider and liked it even better than the first one I tried. This one is about Ted Stephens, a private investigator hired by an insurance company to look into fraudulent claims.
Mississippi Vivian has all the things I liked about Dead Soldiers---the transparent prose, the straight-ahead, logical plot---but the main character is quite different. Ted Stephens has a quality that is highly desirable, according to Matt Bird in his book, The Secrets of Story. Stephens is "badass."
By contrast, Carl Burns, the hero of Dead Soldiers, is humble and has a sense of humor about himself. This is appropriate for an English professor forced into service as an amateur sleuth on his campus.
Ultimately Carl Burns is just as heroic as Ted Stephens. He's willing match wits with reluctant witnesses and suspects, and he risks life and limb when the need arises. But he always seems surprised when he prevails, whereas Stephens sets his sights and gets it done.
By the way, Clyde Wilson, the other name on the book jacket, was a private investigator who apparently consulted on the writing of this novel. For Crider to name him as co-author was generous.
This was typical of Crider according to Susan C. Shea who had the pleasure of knowing him. When I spoke with her recently and mentioned I was reading Crider for the first time, she smiled, and said, "Oh, wonderful Bill."
A good writer and a good man. I'm sorry I didn't meet him before he passed in February.
This view of the Golden Gate was taken from the entrance to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, an art museum in San Francisco's Lincoln Park. We are looking into San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean at our backs. Worth noting: if you sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, you've already sailed past about half the city.
This narrow opening to the bay was called the Golden Gate long before the bridge was built in the 1930's. One might assume it was given that name because thousands of ships rushed through it during the Gold Rush, which started in 1849. But in fact this strait was given that name by John C. Fremont in 1846. He saw it as a "golden gate" to trade with Asia.
These waters outside the Golden Gate are known as the graveyard of ships. At low tide pointed rocks look like rows of teeth on either side. At high tide, they lie hidden beneath the surface, waiting to rip open any vessel that strays outside the central channel.
Because of this danger, bay pilots take control of any ship entering or leaving the bay. They must learn the topography of the strait and and study the currents driven by the tides. But their knowledge is not enough to ensure safe passage even when aided by GPS.
Sometims at night, as we lie in our beds, we hear the fog horns like a chorus of tubas warning the pilots to beware the graveyard of ships.
San Francisco is a good city for bookstores. There's the legendary independent store, City Lights, in North Beach. There are other much-loved indies such as Green Apple Books and Browser Books. There are a couple of local chains: Books, Inc., and Book Passage. There is the venerable source of fine books, Argonaut Books.
And then there is G. F. Wilkinson Books in the financial district. This picture shows the entire store. It occupies three retail display windows, which, I assume, are available because the fast-food place that occupies the ground floor of the building didn't need them.
About a year ago, Rick Wilkinson (seen above) decided to retire and it looked like the store would close. But some of his customers formed a collective and took over the store to keep it open. A similar thing happened to Borderlands recently.
And it's not just bookstores going non-profit. Sam's Grill, which had been slinging the hash at Bush and Belden Streets for 147 years closed briefly and was reopened by customers who bought it and started running it.
Apparently we're entering an age when only tech and financials can make a profit. But people gotta eat, and people gotta read.