I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing is business, business is war, and I’m in a hell of a fight


I’ve got 3 novels in the market now. In case you haven’t noticed we are in a ‘down’ economy, and it’s likely to get even worse before it gets any better. And I see the results in every royalty check I receive, and in the reduced number of purchases buyers make at sales events. Folks just do not have the discretionary funds to spend like they used to. They simply do not have the ability to buy a book from an author they haven’t read before unless a good friend recommends it to them. In other words, buyers have been forced to become very conservative in their buying habits.

On top of that, print-on-demand publishing and the fact that anyone with an internet connection can publish an ebook without paying a fee, and the ability to set up and maintain a web site for no money at all has seen an incredible jump in the number of writers competing for eyes on web pages. There are millions of author’s web sites in existence and millions of books published every year. A lot of them are utter crap by anyone’s definition, but how is the reader to know?

And every author – good, bad, or utterly atrocious,  is competing for the same dollars. And those dollars are starting to get real thin on the ground.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores, whether chain stores like B&N or Books-A-Million, right along with independent new and used booksellers, have a difficult time competing against today’s marketplace on the web.

I’m not going to bore you with a lot of statistics that show how eBook Reader sales have increased over the past year, or how owners of such devices are perfectly happy to wait three months after the hard copy publication of their favorite author’s newest work to appear in digital format.

Suffice it to say that digital reading is not going away any time soon. Neither are bookstores. The independents actually have a better chance of surviving than do the more costly chain stores (they sell used books, remember).

Neither are authors. In fact, authoring is growing, and competition for sales on the Web is murderous (not really; metaphorically).

I do a lot of personal appearances; as many as I can find and fit into my schedule. And I don’t do it just to sell copies of my books. I do it to meet readers, and hear what they have to say.

When I set up at local community events around Florida, I have copies of my books on a table, and usually stand to greet people who pause to look over my book covers. They might comment on how pretty my covers are (and they are pretty – A local naturalist painter of my acquaintance paints all of my cover art on canvas, which I then have photographed). When I begin to tell them what the books are about, all too many say, “I don’t read”.

That comment deserves a long pause. Grown up human beings who don’t read. If the parents don’t read, there is a very good chance their children won’t, either. That scares me every time I hear it. And I hear it way too often.

But I also find that at these events people will run up, grab my latest off the table, push money at me and ask me to sign their copy, say “I loved your last book”, grab it out of my hands and run off. Some even stay to chat for a few minutes, and I really enjoy that.

Unfortunately, author’s don’t have that same ability to interact with potential customers on the web. I’ve thought about setting up a ‘chat room’, but I know that I simply do not have the time such a thing requires. On the web, folks searching for something to read come across a web site via a Google search (or Yahoo or Bing, whatever), and if they do not find what they are looking for in the first 30 seconds on the home page, they are gone, and it is all too likely they will never return to that web site.

And no, they will NOT scroll down to see the rest of that home page. What they see when they land on the page is ALL they will look at. Whatever the top half of your home page contains had better be what they are looking for or they will leave you in the dust.

You have 30 seconds to grab that visitor by the eyeballs. That’s about 15 seconds longer than a literary agent’s secretary will give an author’s query letter, so make good use of that time, and be sure that what they see is what they want.

Yes, business is war by another name, and every author in every genre is facing the same stiff fight. We compete for every sale; on bookstore shelves, on tables at community affairs, and on the Web. We each of us compete against millions of authors. Every dollar that goes into my pocket is one you will never see - unless I buy a copy of your book.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Win 7 vs. Applications and Riviera Recorder for Skype Review


I’m beginning to miss Win XP. Windows 7 is supposedly a quantum leap above and beyond Win XP; but in my opinion only some parts of the user interface meet those goals. On a machine capable of meeting the display standard for Win 7, anyway. Even parts of the user interface fall below expectations.

But all of that is normal for Microsoft products, which, according to legend at least, just have to be good enough to meet the needs and expectations of most users. Win 7 does that, but it leaves some users disgruntled. Such as yours, truly.

My system is a Compaq Presario with 4 gig of RAM, a 500 gig hard drive and other useful bits and Windows 7 with SP1. Automatic updates for Windows products is turned on, of course, and I use a nifty product from IoBit (www.iobit.com) called Advanced System Care several times a week to keep things running smoothly. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to check this product out. Even the Free version does more than many buy-to-use products.

I have Windows Explorer v 9 installed (though I use it only rarely) and Mozilla Firefox v 6.0.2, which I do use. I do NOT use Chrome, or any other browser.

I connect to the internet via a wireless connection with the second computer in the office. That connection has never given me any problems, and is always ‘on’. And the router for the DSL connection is working perfectly and the strength meter indicates a good connection.

But my internet access disappears at frequent and very irritating intervals. My system is dropping access to the router, even though the connection is ‘on’ and the router is working as it should. I can open a browser window, but when I click on a page the page fails to load (“Server not Found” appears all too frequently - and it does not matter which browser I use or which software application is calling for access).

Checking the network and Sharing Center in Control Panel shows a strong connection to the router, though No Internet Access.

After a few seconds, though internet access is back and the page will load. This is infuriating, and frequent.

And Skype (v, of course. which is starting to cause me some headaches with behaviour I have never before seen in any application. And I have seen a lot of bizarre behaviour from applications over the years, since I earned a very nice living in software testing for a chunk of them. But Skype has come up with something new, and I can’t figure it out.

My first gripe with Skype (though not the most serious) is that you cannot exit the program once it is loaded. You cannot shut it down, and it will add itself to your Start Menu without asking. This is not good behaviour, and that is not something any user should have to deal with.

But yesterday, things got very interesting. I was invited to take a look at a new product called Riviera for Skype, from Jiteco. (http://www.jiteco.com/skype_call_recorder.html).

I do have a very nice collection of tools and apps that I use frequently when I researching and writing, and I am constantly looking for new apps.

Riviera for Skype is a call recorder and playback tool that integrates with Skype. And that would be a very good thing for folks like me.

I do a lot of calling with Skype, to editors, bookstore owners, printers and such. I also do on-line and radio interviews and join a few on-line webinars where having the ability to record what’s said (since I hate to take notes) would be a very good thing, indeed.

So I downloaded Riviera and allowed it to access Skype, which registered it as a Skype add-on and allowed it work inside that app as it needed it to.

I came across a few small defects/issues, which I reported to the company techs and they very quickly resolved them and made a new download available for me. Apparently, issues with Win 7 are an ongoing headache for developers, but there is nothing new in this. That is far more a Microsoft problem than it is Jiteco’s or any other developer, although they are the ones who have to deal with them.

Here’s a screen shot of the Riviera application:


And here’s a screen shot of the Recorder during playback:


So all of those (mostly display) issues were quickly resolved and Riviera worked. I was able to use the Echo utility in Skype to record and play back those calls. later in the day, though, I began to see some very strange behaviour in Skype. Every time I tried to call someone in my Skype call list ( you select a name from your call list and this opens a right-hand pane with a Call button and  message text box), and then clicked on the Call button in the right-hand pane. Skype promptly shut down. Disappeared right off my desktop, leaving the Skype icon sitting there, all innocent-like.

So I reopened Skype and tried it again. Same thing. Tried the Skype Echo call service. Same thing. Uninstalled Riviera for Skype and cleaned the Registry and made sure it was no longer registered in Skype. Reinstalled. Same thing. Only then I found that clicking anywhere in the Call pane would shut Skype down faster than a revenooer at a moonshine still. Then I uninstalled Skype and cleaned the Registry again. And reinstalled it.

Same thing. I went into Skype and tried to contact their tech support. Could not do that, since it involved clicking in the right-hand pane and that shut the program down. Went to Skype on-line, but there is no way to send them an email with an issue. Just a thorough FAQ page which did not include this particular issue.

The I went to bed, and tried to sleep, thinking that I would have to come up with an alternative to Skype. I was beginning to think it would never, ever, work again on my machine. I was also thinking unpleasant thoughts about Riviera for Skype, as well..

But this morning, I opened Skype without starting my browser. Skype works.

I’m beginning to think the problem is not with Skype or Riviera at all, but stems from a problem in Win 7 and how it handles (or mis-handles) calls for internet access when there is a wireless connection involved.

Now that I have absolutely no idea why Skype behaved as it did, or why my system keeps screwing me around with my supposed ‘always on’ (but not really) internet access, I am going to reinstall Riviera for Skype and run some more tests.

At this point I tend to agree with the Jiteco developers – the problem is NOT with their product, but with Win 7 and how it fails to properly allocate internet access calls from applications.

Now that the Recorder has been released (at a very attractive price), Jiteco has a few features they will be adding in the near future. Currently the app records and plays back voice. they have plans to extend that to video & voice recording and are thinking of adding an auto responder to the app as well.

Riviera for Skype is a nifty tool, and it works. Not only that, but the Jiteco techs are on the ball, ready and willing to help. I like that, and I like their little application.

Go to: http://www.jiteco.com/skype_call_recorder.html and download their Recorder. You’ll like it, and you’ll like the way the Jiteco techs respond to questions and issues. And they plan on three new product releases in December. I’ll be keeping my eye on the folks at Jiteco. I suggest you do, as well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Better Late than Never


Or whatever it is they say about not posting on time. I was pretty much out of it all of last week. I got out of the hospital and spent the next several days wiped out on antibiotics. Most of the time I was living in a haze, half-asleep and half bored out of my gourd. I had no energy to do much of anything. Antibiotics affects me that way, and these were doozies by anyone’s measure.

Twenty-four hours after I took the last of them I came down with a nasty head cold, and now my chest sounds like I’m carrying around half a ton of phlem. Oh, well.

I had a radio interview scheduled for this morning, so I drove down to the station in Ocala – WOCA AM, 1370 on your dial. the interview was to promote my latest novel, ‘Twisted Key” and two book signings in the Novel idea bookstores in Ocala, one of Silver Springs Blvd. and the other on College Ave across from the Paddock mall. Here’s a link to the podcast, if you want to give it a listen:


Next, on Wednesday, 16 November, The Author's Show (http://www.theauthorsshow.com/) will be running a pre-recorded interview with me about my latest novel, "Twisted Key". This interview will run all day on Wednesday and should also be available as a re-run on the weekend. the Author's Show is a professionally run radio program available through the internet everywhere in the world (more or less, depending on your definition for ‘everywhere’).

Also on Wednesday of this week I will be in Green Cove Springs, Fl, at the VIA Clubhouse, 17 Palmetto Ave, Green Cove Springs, Fl, between 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. The event is a fund-raising affair, with several prizes to be raffled off, including copies of my books. If you’re in the area, please do stop by.

Here’s the schedule for those two book signings in Ocala on Saturday next:

19 November - Book signings at "A Novel Idea" bookstores in Ocala, Fl:

Silver Springs Store: 2019 E. Silver Springs Blvd. - 12:00 - 2:00 pm

College Ave store: 3131 S.W. College Ave. - 4:00 - 6:00 pm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I got out of the hospital on Wednesday of last week


And I’ve spent the intervening time drowning in antibiotics. Those things (in the dosages the doc prescribed) knock me on my fuzzy white butt. Zero energy to do anything but sit and stare at TV (and periodically nod off every hour or so), or whine to myself about everything I should be doing, but can’t.

I just this morning took the last dose of those meds, so I am hoping – praying – for a better day and a better me tomorrow.

There are lots of things left undone for the last two weeks, and I’ve no time to lay around and whine about poor, poor, pitiful me.

I’ve got the last third of “Lonesome Cove” pretty much mapped out; now I need to put it all down on paper and massage it a bit (or a lot). With any luck (except for bad luck) I’ll have it done by the end of December and can get it off to my editors.

“Twisted Key” is selling well, and that has driven the sales of “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley” right along with it. The event in Middleburg was a smashing success, as far as small events with big profits goes. I sold two copies of TK to separate customers, two combinations (meaning TK + HV) and another combination with all 3 novels to another buyer. For a 0ne day event in a small town, I was very happy, indeed.

On-line sales are slow, but I expect that to grow as we move closer to the holiday season. On-line sales consist mostly of eBooks, and the most popular of the three novels is, again, “Twisted Key”.

Terry Rankin, my main character, and Cathy Diamond, the lady cop he is engaged to, are about to get a pleasant but very scary surprise. Spike, the Hemmingway, is not at all sure he’ll like it, but as a cat he is a professional at coping with what life throws his way. As long as his humans continue to feed him and give him a warm lap when he wants it, he’ll go along to get along.

Stay tuned, ladies and gents. Terry Rankin is in for the ride of his life.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I spent the last seven days in the hospital


And just got out this afternoon. Actually, I went on Friday night, was sent home on Sunday afternoon and went back in on Monday, feeling even worse than I had on Friday when I took my painfully swollen and completely useless right leg to the emergency room.

Okay, I admit it now. I am an old and essentially useless codger Well, I feel like one right now, anyway. I had to have help getting from the passenger seat into the wheelchair on Friday when my sister drove me to the emergency room, and I was well and truly bound up in my misery, on the verge of being a crotchety old fart, to boot. But my knee hurt, darn it, and I needed help, and I hate feeling helpless and needy.

I really, really, hate that feeling.

In fact, it blows my self-image right out of the water.

By Sunday, all the docs managed to do was pump me full of antibiotics and send me home. They had no idea what was wrong.

But when I hauled my sorry butt and very swollen knee back to the emergency room on Monday evening, the change in their approach to problem solving took a dramatic and very welcome turn for the better.

They pumped me full of morphine. I was Mr. happy in a very big way. At least, I was, until they slipped a very large needle into my right knee and began to draw out some hideous-looking greenish-brown fluid out of my knee. About thirty CC’s of file stuff. I admit that I let out a few girlish shrieks intermixed with sailor-like curses when they struck bone during the procedure, but aside from those brief (though very painful) moments of true weakness, I was my usually manly self.

Yeah, right. I was a true wussy-boy, and I admit it. My self-image is going to go through a reality check over the next few weeks.

Along with my web site, which I was supposed to be rebuilding during these last seven days. But my knee was in such bad shape all of last week I couldn’t even sit with my feet on the floor. In fact, it was so painful it hurt to lay flat on my back in bed. Once I realized the pain was not going away I had no choice but to take my sorry butt to the hospital.

And I’m glad I did. Screw the web site, or anything else I wanted to do with that time ( get married again to a wonderful woman, go sailing, build a boat, sell books, finish writing “Lonesome Cove”, whatever).

I am physically exhausted, and wondering why I am beavering away at this blog post. Actually, I know why; I do not want to get back into a bed of any sort right now. I want to do ‘stuff’, just as I have all of my life. Build things, design things, run companies, take a well-armed squad on patrol in the West Bank; you know, ‘Stuff’.

Laying flat on my back in bed scares me. It means I can’t do any of that ‘Stuff’.

So, this is my plan for the rest of this week. Get my web site redesigned and make it live before the weekend. I’m starting from scratch, using “KomPozer”  (http://www.kompozer.net/ ), a SourceForge free application to build the site.  I worked on web sites before, and have a pretty good idea of what’s involved. But I’ve never used an application like KomPozer to build one from scratch. I written HTML in Notepad (yes, you can do that, if you’re a purist. Purists insist on doing things the hard way, which is why I’m not a purist). 

I’ll let you know what I think of KomPozer once I’ve got the site up and running. I’ve gotten some good recommendation for the app, and that means a lot about its ease of use.

I had to trim the original site down by several pages that had little to do with my writing; it’s become somewhat haphazard with all of the additions over the last year or so. At a later date I will set up another site for the Photo Gallery and get that back on-line.

On Saturday, I will be at the Middleburg Historic Festival, 2102 Palmetto St, Middleburg, FL, between 8 am and 4 pm.

Then I have much of the week following to fine-tune the site and prep for all of the events I have crammed into the week following. Such as:

Please take note of the two interviews: 

On 14 November I will be live on WOCA 1370 AM out of Ocala, Fl, on their morning drive show, discussing “Twisted Key”.

On 16 November “The Authors Show”  (http://www.theauthorsshow.com/), available via internet all over the world, will begin broadcasting a pre-recorded interview with my about the novel.


14 November  - Live radio interview WOCA 1370 AM Radio, Ocala, Fl - 10:00 - 10:30 am

16 November - Green Cove Springs "Boutique" - VIA Clubhouse, 17 Palmetto Ave, Green Cove Springs, Fl 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

16 November -  I will be on "The Authors Show", http://www.theauthorsshow.com/, the most popular internet radio show devoted to authors in America, and available all over the world via Internet Radio. This is a pre-recorded and professionally edited interview. It will run at several times during the day and will be re-run the following weekend, as well. The show interviews several authors during the course of each week, and is well worth your time, if you love books and the people who write them.

19 November - Book signings at "A Novel Idea" bookstores in Ocala, Fl:
       Silver Springs Store: 2019 E. Silver Springs Blvd. - 12:00 - 2:00 pm
       College Ave store: 3131 S.W. College Ave. - 4:00 - 6:00 pm


Give the interviews a listen and let me know what you think.