Category Archives: On Writing

In Praise of a Pen

Standard

My hands go numb when I write or type or make a hat or do macramé. Seems everything I do eventually causes a feeling of pins and needles in my hands, followed by pain, followed by numbness.

The problem started in the mid 1990s, and I blame it on alcohol, my friend The Computer Guy, and his friend Dan, on whom I had a crush. We were out drinking and The Computer Guy got an idea for a cool photo. The woman he was in love with was with us, and she was—conveniently—a photographer who, as always, had her camera.

Dig! The Computer Guy said with excitement in his voice. Dan can put Blaize on his shoulders and I’ll put Dan on my shoulders. We’ll stand under the Dragon’s Lair sign, and Gretchen can take our picture.

My beer addled brain thought it sounded like a fun idea. I certainly liked the prospect of having my legs around Dan’s head. The problem was—although I was at the thinnest of my entire life—I was still heavier than Dan. The photo Gretchen took shows The Computer Guy—strong as an ox—easily holding us both up while Dan seems to be crumpling under my weight.

Still, everything went fine until the photo was taken and we tried to disengage.

The Computer Guy lowered Dan to the ground gently, but Dan didn’t do so well with me. He must have bent over, as he tried to put me down, and I felt myself sprawling, falling. I put my arms out in front of me and caught myself with my hands.

My arms hurt for weeks. At the time I worked in a souvenir shop and the pain made even folding t-shirts impossible. When I told my dad how much I hurt, he asked if I’d seen a doctor. I just laughed. My minimum wage job didn’t offer insurance. I asked where I was going to get money to pay a doctor, hoping he might kick some down to me. He offered nothing.

The pain eventually subsided, but my hands have never been the same. There have been times when I couldn’t hold a pen long enough to sign my name. Whenever I bring my thumb and pointer finger together for more than the briefest period of time, my fingers tingle, then I feel pain, then they go numb until I can’t feel them at all, which means I can barely control them. Shaking my hands helps, as does stretching them and taking a break from the activity that’s causing the problem, but after 25 years, I think my hands will be this way for the rest of my life.

The situation has improved since riding a bicycle is no longer my main source of transportation and my job doesn’t require the use of power tools. I can hold a pen now, but I do better using a fat pen instead of a regular skinny pen if I’m going to handwrite more than a few sentences.

For months and years, I’ve been using whatever pens I’ve come across as free promotional items or paid for by the pound at a Goodwill Clearance Center. Of course, most of the free and cheap pens were skinny and numbed out my hand quickly. I was so happy when I found free fat pens, but they always ran out of ink too fast.

A few months ago, I’d had enough. I was tired of trying to write with pens that were too skinny for my comfort. I was tired of finding fat pens I liked only to have them run out of ink. I went into Wal-Mart determined to find a comfortable pen I could get refills for. I found just what I wanted in the Pilot Dr. Grip gel.

My Pilot Dr. Grip gel pen. Photo by me!

The pen cost around $6, and a two-pack of refills cost under two bucks.

If I don’t lose the pen, I’ll use it for years.

The pen fits nicely in my hand; its fatness minimizes the numbness my fingers experience. I really appreciate the rubber cushion on the area where my thumb and fingers rest while I’m writing.

The gel ink flows smoothly, which means I don’t have to hold the pen with a death grip and press into the paper so my words will show. As an added bonus, I was able to dismantle some of the darker color gel pens I bought from The Man when they no longer served his needs and use those cartridges as refills in my Dr. Grip.

I like the clip on the pen which lets me attach it to my notebook or my shirt. I also like being able to put the tip away by pushing the button on the top so I don’t have to worry about losing the cap.

I’m totally happy with my Dr. Grip, and I plan on using it for a long, long time.

 

Technical Difficulties

Standard

Sometimes it feels like the Universe is against me. I’ve wanted to work on the blog for weeks, but every time I tried, something went wrong.

It looked like The Man and I would be in Flagstaff for a few days before we trecked off to Cali. I thought I’d find a nice coffee shop and use some of those days to hunker down and schedule a few weeks of posts before we headed up into the forest. However, The Man decided he really needed to be settled somewhere, so we didn’t linger in Flagstaff.

When we got to the forest, we tried to use the WiFi at the mercantile, but we couldn’t get it to work on our phones. It took The Man a couple of days to figure out we were trying to connect to the wrong server. We were both happy to finally have internet access. However, there’s no way I can write and schedule blog posts on my small phone, so I pulled out The Man’s old  iPad.

Several months ago I’d used the iPad before to type up a blog post, and it had worked fine. This time, however, when I typed in the text box, no characters appeared on the screen. When I previewed the post on a new page, I could see the characters, but on the page where I typed–nothing. So I pulled out my laptop.

To use my laptop, I had to plug it into an inverter I bought at a truck stop. The inverter plugs into the cigarette lighter and sounds like a lawn mower.

You may wonder why I didn’t charge my laptop’s batery, then use the battery as my power source. Unfortunately, my battery had crapped out months ago. It only charged to 40%, and that charge dimished rapidly. This was my laptop’s second battery, the one my computer guy bought me when the original battery crapped out. The replacement battery lasted just about a year.

I plugged the inverter into the cigarette lighter and the laptop’s power cord into the invertor. Once I plugged the mouse (bought at a small-town garage sale in Colorado for $1) into the laptop’s USB port, I was sitting in a tangle of cords, but at least I’d be able to get some posts scheduled.

Not so fast! the Universe said.

My laptop would connect to the internet, but although I was connected, I was also told I had no internet access. I restarted the computer. Again, I was connected, but I had no access. I shut down the computer and restarted it. Yet again, I was connected, but had no access. I seethed in frustration, but nothing I did gave me access to the internet.

The Man said he’d take a look at it, and he did. He ended up uninstalling an update and finally (!) I was able to both connect to the internet and access it. I was mighty grateful.

I typed up and posted a dispatch from the woods. Although working in the front seat was a little crowded and I kept accidentally sounding the horn, at least I was making progress. The working conditions weren’t the best, but I could handle it.

On my day off, I parked in front of the mercantile early, before it opened. I plugged in all my cords and tried to get on the internet. Once again, I was connected but had not access! I was frustrated but tried to remain calm.

When I’d turned on the laptop, an update had immediately uploaded. Maybe the update had messed up something? I uninstalled the update and again had both connection and access. Thank goodness!

I had alrady handwritten a post about the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my notebook. I just had to type it up and add a photo, and it would be ready to schedule. I’d moved to the passenger seat, so I had a little more room and typing was a bit easier.

I had the post almost complete when my laptop told me the battery was critically low. Battery? I wasn’t using the battery. I looked at the icon that tells me if the power cord is plugged in. It did not indicate I had a power cord plugged in.

I jiggled the power cord. The icon showed it was working. I relaxed a little and typed in a few more words before getting the low battery message again. I jiggled the cord a few more times but couldn’t get the power cord to work again. Bummer. The power cord had crapped out.

Reparo 19v 3.16a 60w Adapter Power Charger for Samsung Compatible With AD-6019R 0335A1960 CPA09-004ALaptop AC Adapter Power Supply Cord
The Rubber Tramp Artist went on hiatus while a new power cord and battery were ordered. I went to the post office (26 mile round-trip) last Friday before work and picked up the new cord. That evening after work I went back to the mercantile to get the blog show back on the road.

I plugged the inverter into the cigarette lighter, then plugged the new power cord into the inverter. So far so good. I turned on the laptop and waited for it to connect to the internet. No! I was again connected with no access. Sigh.

Then, before I could figure out how I might correct the problem with the WiFi (which has been a reoccurring situation for everyone who’s tried to use the internt there in the last couple of weeks), I realized the computer was not recognizing the power cord. What the heck!?!

I was demoralized, to say the least. I put everything away and went back to camp in defeat.

Since then, I’ve determined the power problem was with the inverter, not the power cord. That was a relief. So now I have a new inverter on my wishlist for next payday.

I don’t know if I will be able to overcome the internet problem.

Currently I am at Panera planning to work for another five hours, to get as many posts scheduled as possible because I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to work again from the mountain. In any case, I’m nothing if not resiliant. I’ll keep posting, even if I have to come down from the mountain to do it.

 

What I’m Learning About Self-Publishing a Book

Standard

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
I recently self-published my first book, Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s a 200+ page collection of short essays about my experiences as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a popular trailhead in a National Forest. Some of my readers have expressed interest in publishing books of their own, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about self-publishing so far.

#1 Writing the book was the easy part.

Confessions of a Work Camper includes 15 never-published-anywhere-else essays, as well as newly written introductions to each chapter, and some fun lists, but the bulk of the book has appeared in blog posts. For the most part, the book was written before I decided to self-publish it.

The steps that came after writing were the more difficult parts for me.

#1a Proofreading is a pain.

Believe it or not, I edit my blog posts several times before I schedule them. I thought I’d been doing a great job proofreading until I put the texts of posts into my book document and found typos all over the place. So I did more proofreading and editing. Then I did more proofreading and editing. Then I took a friend up on her offer to help, and she read the entire document and offered some corrections. Then I read the entire book aloud and found more mistakes. So when it was time to approve the proof of the book, I did so without reading it one more time. That was a mistake.

When I started reading my essays again in preparation for reading them aloud to an audience, I immediately found more errors. I’m not talking about formatting problems. I’m talking about wrong words in sentences. Since the words aren’t technically misspelled, the spell check didn’t alert me to them, and my eyes glided right over them. Sigh.

Every typo is an embarrassment to me.

The first edition is barely complete, and I already need to work on the second edition.

#1b It took me a while to figure out how to use CreateSpace.

I needed some form of Adobe to use CreateSpace’s cover creator. I couldn’t get Adobe to work with Firefox. I had a telephone conversation with a CreateSpace representative in South Africa. He was exceedingly nice and very helpful, but Firefox and Adobe still wouldn’t work together to let me use the CreateSpace cover creator. I ended up using Google Chrome to do anything on CreateSpace that required Adobe.

I put the text of the book in a Word Starter document. (Word Starter is the word processing program my laptop came with. I never upgraded.) When I transferred my text into the document formatted for CreateSpace, any words in italics transferred to all caps. Since I use italics to indicate thoughts or conversations, this glitch made it seem as if all the people in my book were YELLING AT EACH OTHER. I had to go into the CreateSpace document and manually change each instance of capital letters into italics.

When it came time to approve the book’s formatting online, formatting that looked fine in the CreateSpace Word document looked all wrong in the examples of the actual book. I spent an entire morning working on the formatting, and it’s still not perfect.

I’m not saying CreateSpace is impossible to use. When I got frustrated with it, I reminded myself that people many people use CreateSpace to self-publish every day. However, there is a learning curve when using CreateSpace. (The Poet had warned me of the learning curve when she first told me all she knew about publishing with CreateSpace. Read that post here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/19/self-publishing-books-online/.) Until a writer learns the ends and outs of CreateSpace, getting a book ready for publication may take more time than expected.

#2 That book’s not going to promote itself.

Again, writing the book was easy, compared to getting people to buy it.

My book was first released as an ebook. In the first day the ebook was available, it sold nine copies. This is great! I thought. From there, sales dwindled. Once my friends who read ebooks bought their copies, I had to figure out how to get strangers to buy it.

#2a Public libraries aren’t so keen on buying self-published books (and sometimes they don’t seem to want to buy any books at all).

I had the idea to get all my friends across the country to ask their local libraries to buy my book. To make it easier for them, I researched different libraries to find out how my supporters could go about requesting a book for purchase. Many libraries have an online form for such a request, but while some library systems (I’m looking at you, Las Vegas, NV and Richmond, VA), say sure, patrons can suggest a book for purchase, I found no indication of how to do so.

I filled out an online request for the purchase of my book with a library system in a major U.S. city where I happen to have a library card. I received a response saying they don’t even consider buying a self-published book unless it has at least 50 reviews on Amazon or GoodReads. (I currently have seven reviews on Amazon and none on GoodReads.)

#2b I’m not much of a hustler, so figuring out ways to promote the book hasn’t been easy. I’m encouraging folks who’ve read the book to leave reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads. I’ve set up an author’s page on GoodReads. I’ve announced the book (repeatedly) here on my blog and on the Rubber Tramp Artist (https://www.facebook.com/Rubber-Tramp-Artist-1582864462007151/) and Blaizin’ Sun Creations (https://www.facebook.com/Blaizin-Sun-Creations-291317231259583/?fref=ts) Facebook pages.

I’ve done two readings so far, and have another scheduled for the day this post runs. The two readings were at the RTR and both were small. Making a reading a success seems to take a lot of promotion, including hanging flyers and sending emails. I haven’t given up, but it’s a lot more work than I expeted.

#2c It takes CreateSpace a while to deliver 100 copies of a 200+ page book.

It was Christmas before I was able to approve the book for publication and order the 100 copies I wanted for promotion. I thought I’d get them by the first week in January, which was based upon absolutely no concrete information. Instead, my estimated delivery date was January 17. I was hesitant to schedule reading where I hoped to sell copies of the book when I had no copies of the book to sell.

#3 Lots of people want to write a book.

When I mention I’ve recently self-published a book, the person I’m speaking to often says s/he has written a book or wants to write a book. I try to be encouraging while also making clear that writing a book is only the first step in getting it read.

 

My Creative Dream Guidebook

Standard

I’ve adored SARK for years.

I can’t remember which of her books was the first I read, but I know I knew about her before the 21st century. I remember decorating a post card and writing a fan letter on it and sending it to her in 1999 or 2000, so I certainly knew her work well by then.

If you’ve never heard of SARK, I’m glad I can be the one to tell you about her.

Succulent Wild Woman
SARK is her acronym name; the letters stand for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. On her website, Planet SARK (http://planetsark.com/about-sark/), she says about herself,

Throughout the course of my life and career as an international expert in personal well-being and transformation, my name has become synonymous with transformation, color, healing, movement & FUN.

I’ve written countless books and created programs that I offer to provide a powerfull [sic], grounded and practical approach to feeling glad more often, transforming what hurts into what helps and living a life of joyfull creative expression. No matter what!

I’ve read a lot of SARK’s books over the years, including Succulent Wild Woman, Eat Mangoes Naked, A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit, The Bodacious Book of Succulence: Daring to Live Your Succulent Wild Life, and Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book.

The books are full of colors and wisdom and love. Even though I live in a van and have little space to hoard books, I own copies of both Succulent Wild Woman and Eat Mangoes Naked. Sometimes when I am sad, I reread one or both of the books for the umpteenth time. I like browsing through the books, skipping around, reading bits and pieces here and there. Reading SARK’s kind and gentle words always lifts my spirits, cheers me up, makes me feel better.

Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day
In 2004, Touchstone books released SARK’s book Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day. (Yes, I WOULD rather sleep all day, as a matter of fact.)

I’ve had my eye on Make Your Creative Dreams Real for a while now, but I was never in the right position to acquire it. I don’t like to spend money on books since there are so many free ones out in the world, but I never found this one in a free pile or offered on BookMooch.

I was house sitting for a friend from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve. She had a $10 voucher at an independent used bookstore that expired on New Year’s Eve. She didn’t have a chance to use the voucher before she left town, and her plane didn’t land until late on December 31. Since she couldn’t use the voucher, she left it for me. (Super big thanks to this generous friend who also left a Chick-fil-A gift card for me!)

Before I went to the bookstore, I didn’t really know what I wanted to get. I wandered around in the store for a while before I thought, OH! SARK!

So I sought out SARK in the store’s self-help section. (SIDE NOTE: I couldn’t find the self-help section, but I was too embarrassed to ask any of the workers to direct me. How silly is that!?! I was too embarrassed to let strangers know I wanted to self-help myself. Sigh.)

The Grapes of Wrath
There were quite a few titles by SARK on the shelf. Then I saw Make Your Creative Dreams Real. Oh, yes, that would do. I checked the price. It only cost $8! Score! (With my remaining $2, I bought a battered copy of The Grapes of Wrath, which I’d decided to revisit.)

Although the word “plan” is clearly in the subtitle, I didn’t realize Make Your Creative Dreams Real is a how-to book. I started reading it and realized it’s a twelve month, week-by-week guide. Every week SARK presents a new project, exercise, game, or suggestion.

I’ve never been good at sticking with how-to books that require weekly exercises, but I figured since I already had the book I should stay the course.

The exercise for the first week was to make a “creative dream guidebook” for myself. I had a visual journal I’d bought with a gift certificate The Lady of the House gave me a couple years ago for Christmas. I’d bought two journals and only used part of one, so I thought the second one would do just fine.

I made collages on both covers. (One of the best features of this particular journal is that you I can open it completely and lay it flat.) I went for a blue theme, which I thought gave everything a dreamy feeling. Coyote Sue had just given me an old children’s dictionary she’d bought at a thrift store, so I cut out and pasted on the definitions for “create/creation/creator” (since there was no entry for “creative”), “dream,” “guidebook,” “blaze” (because, you know, the dictionary doesn’t include “Blaize”), and “sun.” I think it turned out great.

img_7921

I took the photo of my Creative Dream Guidebook collage. The other images are links to Amazon.com. If you click any of those images, they will take you to Amazon, and I will get an advertising fee from anything you purchase.

What Do You Think?

Standard

As we get ready to greet a new year, I wonder what folks think about this blog?

I was going to set up a neat little survey, but then realized everything I could find that would maybe work was going to cost me money. I don’t think I need to spend money. I think I can ask a few questions, request your answers, and done.

My questions will follow. Feel free to answers one, more, or all of them. You can answer in the comments section of this post, or, if you want to answer in private, send a message to rubbertrampartist@gmail.com. Please feel free to answer whether you are a longtime reader or if you just discovered this blog five minutes ago. I am truly interested in your opinions, but I reserve the right to do whatever the heck I want.

#1 How do you feel about the frequency of publication?

a) Once a day is great!

b) Once a day is a little excessive. How about

i) Four times a week

ii) Three times a week

iii) Twice a week

c) Once a week is about all I can take

img_7833

#2 How do you feel about the length of posts?

a) Short (less than 200 words) is best

b) Keep most posts at 300 to 2,000 words.

c) Go in-depth (2,000+ words)

img_7835

#3 What category of posts do you like the best?

a) Travel stories with photos

b) Stories about travels with traveling kids

c) On-the-job stories

d) Experiences with frugal living

e) Book reviews

f) Stories about music

g) Personal experiences living in a van

h) Stories about food

i) Other [please give example(s)]

img_7822

#4 What do you think about the overall Rubber Tramp Artist attitude?

a) The Rubber Tramp Artist is too negative.

b) The Rubber Tramp Artist is keeping it real.

img_2324

#5 Do you think the Rubber Tramp Artist is funny?

a) The Rubber Tramp Artist IS funny!

b) The Rubber Tramp Artist THINKS she’s funny!

img_2046

#6 Would you recommend this blog to your friends? Why or Why not? (If your answer is yes, please go ahead and recommend now.)

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Self-Publishing Books Online

Standard

I recently announced I am planning to self-publish a collection of my work camping stories. (Read that post here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/09/in-which-i-decide-to-write-a-book/.)

In the post, I mentioned asking the Poet for all the information she had about self-publishing. She graciously sent me an informative email within a couple of hours.

In response to this information, one of my readers asked, Is there any chance that you could pass this on? I just recently heard about it, but don’t know much about the where and how-to. I would be grateful for any info.

I asked the Poet if I could share her information in a blog post, and she said, yeah for sure! 

The following is the information I received from the Poet, with names removed and only lightly edited. I hope this information helps other folks who aspire to self-publish.

The two main ones are CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com/) through Amazon and Lulu (https://www.lulu.com/).  I think they’re similar, but Lulu if you get on their mailing list sends lots of discount coupons/promotions for publishing through them.  I’ve received 30% off coupons from them a few times…

I have a good friend who uses CreateSpace to publish ebooks, mostly lesbian erotica.  I don’t know if you want to publish it ebook and paper book simultaneously?  I think you might need Microsoft word for that, but I’m not certain.

Also you need if you’re going to sell ebooks (or maybe paper books too) to link it directly to your bank account so you can get the funds you earn direct deposited, at least through CreateSpace.  That turned me off because I wanted to route things through PayPal, but when I was researching a few months ago, maybe half a year ago?, that wasn’t an option.

You have all these options–they try to sell you packages that include cover art options, editing, and other kinds of help.  Of course the more work you do yourself, the cheaper it is.

So you upload your text in the right format, you check and make sure everything’s okay, you do your cover.  You get an ISBN.  Then you pay them something.  They mail you a proof, which I think takes a little while.  Then you okay the proof and I think there’s a little time delay after you tell them the proof was okay before the book is actually available.

There are different packages where you get so many copies for yourself.  But the main appeal about print-on-demand is that you don’t have to buy a thousand copies of the book yourself and store them and sell them yourself–people order them directly through Amazon or Lulu or other ways.  You can do a package where they make your book available for booksellers to sell, like Barnes & Nobel can pick it up, for example.

My friend just wanted to get 30 books printed for him to sell and give away himself, not to sell print-on-demand or ebook, so he was able to do that and I guess he found the shipping to be expensive. But he got what he wanted.

I think this whole process takes a while so if you want it in time for Xmas probably other people are thinking the same thing so I’d hop to it.

I know more about CreateSpace than Lulu.  Most of the info I give you above is what I learned about CreateSpace.

I think one of the main ideas is that you self-publish and your book gets noticed so a regular publisher decides to pick it up.  Then you’re in a good position and will get an advance and some promotion maybe and the book will take off.

That’s about all I know.  And hopefully things haven’t changed much since I researched it.  Good luck!

In Which I Decide to Write a Book

Standard

My friend the Poet visited me at my campground over the summer. During the visit, the topic of self-publishing books came up. The Poet planned to self-publish a book. I hadn’t given self-publishing an actual book much thought. Sure, I’ve published zines before, but a whole book? That seemed beyond my capabilities, but the more I thought about the project, the more I thought, I could do this!

A couple weeks after The Poet’s visit, I decided on a Tuesday afternoon that I would self-publish a book (called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods) collecting my stories of work camping. Before a week had passed, I made decisions about chapters. I wrote intros for each chapter, as well as an intro to the whole collection. I decided in addition to stories that had already been posted on my blog, the book would include brand new, never before published stories. I wrote several of these new stories.

I want the book to be ready for purchase for the winter holidays, which means I have to work pretty fast. When I got to civilization, I asked the Poet for all the information she had about self-publishing. She graciously sent me an informative email within a couple of hours. I choose a company to work with and did some of the preliminary work of setting up an account.

I also did a quick Google search on “confessions of a work camper” and “confessions of a camp host,” and with the exception of a couple of poorly written blog posts, I found nothing. Could I possibly have come up with an idea for a book that’s never been written? (Part of me thinks I should not go public with this idea, lest someone else scoops it up before I can complete my project. Oh well. I’ve never been much good at keeping my big mouth shut. Also, I feel like if I go public with my intentions, I will have to follow through if I don’t want to look like a fool.)

I wrote to another friend who is a published (as in by a publishing company) writer. She offered to help me with the book and told me to think about goals for the book. Goals? Ok.

My Goals for My Book

#1 Generate income

#2 Generate interest in me as a writer

#3 Bring more readers to my blog

#4 Amuse readers

#5 Educate people about the possibility of work camping.

Because I am worried my blog will suffer while I am working on the book, I have been recruiting guest bloggers. I’ve invited several friends to write for the blog while I am busy with the book. In less than an hour, three people said yes and one said maybe. If other folks want to share stories, please contact me. I am looking for nonfiction pieces of a personal nature, 300 to 2,000 words. I’m most interested in travel and van dwelling stories; pieces about class issues; recommendations for books, articles, zines, websites, music. I don’t want to put a lot of work into guest posts, so please edit carefully before you send me anything for consideration.

This entire book project is exciting and overwhelming, but mostly exciting. I think I will feel less overwhelmed when I am no longer isolated on a mountain with no internet access. It won’t be long now.