Posts Tagged With: ebooks

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Texas any more…

Well, that’s quite right; Kathryn got a job offer for a teaching position at a Community College in Kansas, so last January we packed all our stuff and moved out of Texas. That’s it.

No complaining, no rants. I think it is a wise, positive move after all.

Reasoning? When Kat and I met, she was working on her English Masters degree so she could achieve her life-long aspiration of teaching in college, instead in the chaotic environment that High Schools or Middle Schools do represent. It gives us a marginally larger budget, she gets to do what she wants and it makes her happy.

On my side, well, I was finally able to land a job on almost on my first try, while in Texas, even though I had spent six months placing my résumé in every single place I could think of (as soon a I got my work authorization) which had yielded me nothing.

I have the itching suspicion it had a lot to do with the fact that the city we lived in was within the boundaries of the Rio Grande Great Valley, too damn close to the Mexican border. I strongly believe I was in a very disadvantaged position there, with all those people around me that were easily recommended for a job just because they were somebody’s primo. I guess nepotism was strong with this one, young padawan.

Of course some clarification is in order: don’t get all too delusional about my job, as it is just a daily five-hours-a-day routine of hauling beer cases in a liquor store, and put them wherever I’m told. I had applied for several dozens of similar jobs while living in the Valley, and I got no results, while here I just walked in, asked for a job application and a few days later I got an interview and the job. It seems to me that people in Kansas just want others to work decently, I guess.

The main thing here is that this job will allow me to rebuild my credit score from scratch at last; I had an excellent credit in my home country (one so high that I possesed a Platinum credit card back there) but that’s just the sort of stuff that doesn’t cross country boundaries, so I was basically a financial non-entity in the States…  until now.

A job represents that I’ll have some income, which will allow me to apply for a credit card, which wll allow me to… well… you get my drift, I guess…

Well, here I am, already two months into a new job and you can’t even imagine the feeling I experienced while depositing my first paycheck. After almost a decade of deprivation in the jungle and spending a year inactive just waiting for my paperwork to come through, the feeling of accomplishment is beyond belief.

I guess that’s about it for now..

 

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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RETURN TO MY ROOTS

I’m enjoying a moment of ironic epiphany. Of late, I’m writing once more, which is a great relief since I thought my writer’s mojo had dried up somewhat. The irony is that my current project will be written in the Spanish language, closing the circle I started about three decades, when I was a teenager. I began writing in Spanish, dreaming of perhaps becoming the next Gabriel Garcia Marques… and I’m now doing it again, after oh, so may years.

This story is something I could have easily chosen to write in English, but ever since I toyed with the idea, I had the strongest feeling that language wouldn’t lend itself well to the rather gritty topic, which will be about cockfighting in South America.

The central premise behind this tale is very silly, so I won’t get too deep into it here, but what I wrote so far promises to be my usual writing foolishness, only this time covered with a respectable veneer of prosaic plausibility created by the mere use of the Spanish language. Sigh. I know that in the end no one will ever read it, but no one would have read it in English anyway, so the notion of writing it either language doesn’t matter much. The main thing is that I’m writing again.

Oh, yes. Progress is painfully slow, as I no longer churn out 10 000 words every day as I used to do in the past. Back on those days I had absolutely nothing else to do but write, since I was stuck in the middle of the rainforest. These days I’m more into meaning, rather than bulking my daily output, so it is more like a leisurely pace of maybe 200 or 300 words, 500 tops if I’m able to get into “the zone”, which is the term we writers use to describe that place where we achieve to see every single story detail, event and character with laser-sharp clarity for a brief moment before committing the words to paper.

You know? That was something I really did miss…that instant when my writer’s mind eye is able to take a snapshot of the life of people that don’t really exist, and paint them against the backdrop of improbable places and more impossible times… and yet be capable of making them come to life, fixing all these bogus alternate realities into words.

Yep… I was certainly missing that feeling. I couldn’t wake up that mental eye for the longest time.

All this may not amount to much… but at least I’m writing again…

I’m back in the saddle, which is the only thing that matters…

Edwin Stark
Signing Off

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Quid pro quo

Every time I tell someone that I’m into deep doo-doo and I may need some assistance, almost everyone I know acts as if I’m asking them to donate a kidney or something like that… and then disappear from my life entirely.  Yeah, I know that very few people will go to the lengths that Kathryn is going through to help me but, hey, let’s not take this all out of proportion.

It is the little bit of help that I need, as just mentioning my books in your favorite Facebook group or leaving a review on their sales page that I really mean (hey, I’d even chip in a Smashwords discount coupon for that if you care to read them!) that really would be appreciated.

Today, I want to talk about one of those little bits of help that really goes a lot of way; some writer who’s an acquaintance just published the next issue of his science fiction e-zine, Tales from Tomorrow #9 and he has told me that my short story collection Cuentos made it into his regular “Recommended Reads” section at the end of that particular issue.

Well, I’m flattered and I guess I must have done something in the way of impressing him with Cuentos. Even though I can’t afford the 99 cents to check out the link within that issue, I suppose I can pay the small favor back by recommending his Tales from Tomorrow series to every Kindle sci-fi aficionado out there (there’s even an offer of the first three issues available for free during this weekend).

Thanks John!

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Thanks but no thanks

My last blog post raised the usual batch of kind offers from my online friends to send me money.

“Can I…?”

“Is it possible to…?”

“The situation is bad but I can…”

My usual reply to all these queries was as always I handle them: “Thanks but no thanks.”

(If I didn’t ignore the offer from the outset, mind you),

And if that didn’t deter you from insisting, well, I’d simply hit the ‘Reject´ button even if there ever was a way to send me some cash (and you’d probably end up with the shape of my left boot imprinted on your butt).

I still have my little bit of pride.

The wrongness of this approach in such offers is that I’d know who is aiding me. Afterwards, I’d feel completely awkward with the good Samaritan in question for ever, positively ruining my friendship with that person.

Now, if you ever went ahead and performed a giveaway of 10 (or 25 or 50) copies of one of my 99 cents e-books, there’s nothing I could possibly do to prevent you from doing it. A) you’d stay anonymous as I don’t have the online resources  to track from where this assistance came and B) it would help me a hundredfold more times than an outright cash offer. It would be nice publicity too. Besides, these e-books are honest stories, maybe a bit sloppily edited, but honest work. I sweated my way through them and I’d deserve the reward (even if it is just a convoluted way to circumvent my personal pride).

Yeah, of course, there would also be a lot of degradation of the money sum I’d receive in the end as Aunt Ammy and Uncle Sam take their slices out of the whole damn cake, but at least the money would do some work before it finally reached my hands.

Of course, all this is just an idle speculation; as once, I tried to do a giveaway for 5 copies of one of my books, with absolutely no takers. If I couldn’t get a single one, well, good luck in finding TEN (or 25 or 50!!!)

*chuckles* Thanks… that made my day 😉

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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Understanding Amazon’s Sales Rankings

One of the greatest mysteries of self-publishing is the way that Amazon has to calculate its sales rankings. Much has been said from the algorhythms involved, most of it hogwash coming from independent writers as they try to out-guess an intricately developed program in their feeble attempts to understand how it works, so they could scheme a way to the top bestsellers lists.

Good luck and good riddance.

On a personal level, I’m more than able to perform an educated guess, since I spent at least six years during the 80s, learning to program a Commodore 64 on the machine language side. That means, I was directly accessing the ones and zeroes that made the computer do what it did at the lowest hardware subsystems. I loved to decrypt machine code, break through copy protection systems and understand what the damn 6502 microprocessor—one of the hottest computer chips at the time—was capable of doing.

Ok, so I know a little about computer programming and that makes me a more reliable source about what Amazon’s Sales Rankings are doing in the background. Trust me on this.

By mere deduction, one is able to easily determine that this Holy Algorhytm is keeping tracks of sales and whether you picked your toes clean in Poughkeepsie, but it’s by means of experimentation that I found out that it tracks many, many more variables.

About 10 weeks ago, I asked exactly 100 people to have a look at The Recycling Kid’s sales page… and its Amazon Rankings went up by 93 spots. More recently, I lowered the price of Cuentos to 99 cents, tweeted about it (Kathryn and another person helped with this)… and its Sales rankings went up from the 964,000s to the 962,000s… but there were absolutely no sales per se of this particular title… Hmmm…

So this algorhythms also tracks social media traffic while determining your book’s final sales ranking… Of course, there are a few certain variables that I still have to test, like if downloading a sample of an e-book does affect its ranking, but…

I also had a sale in one of my zombie books, which caused its ranking skyrocket from the 1,200,000s to the 100,000s overnight… (a sale every week seems to pin your book in the 80,000s… any notion conceived beyond that, without hard data to back it up, is just a wild speculation).

I came up with an idea to glean the required hard data to prove my deductions, but every fellow writing colleague to whom I introduced it has met it with extreme suspicion, so there’s no way to truly test / disprove my theories and finally be able to clear up this intriguing mystery.

I guess there are truly things that mankind isn’t meant to know….

This seems to be one of them.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Ahhhh-Ruba! (Part 2)

 

After I unloaded the aluminum cans, I walked the remaining mile or so on my road to Caucagua’s bus station. The sun, playful as ever, decided it was time to peek from behind the low clouds. This caused that every wet surface in sight (remember: it was a drizzly day so far) to warm up and steam to rise into the air, turning the entire area into one large sauna bath.

By the time I arrived to the bus station, I was sweaty as hell. Also, I was greeted by a vision that normally would have filled me with dismay: the long queue lines to board the buses. Since I wasn’t in a particular hurry (I still had 22 hours to catch my flight), I took this with equanimity and a relaxed attitude, ready to wait in line as long as necessary.

There were about a hundred people waiting, which is enough to fill at least a couple of buses (or maybe even 3) according to local standards.

Electronics and armpits don't mix (Steam, steam everywhere...)

Electronics and armpits don’t mix (Steam, steam everywhere…)

I was bored and I wanted to document this moment too, so I pulled out my small digital camera from the pocket of my jacket. I did my best to act as conspicuously as possible, trying to take a snapshot by concealing the camera in my armpit lest some pickpocket might feel tempted to rip the little gadget off my hands. Alas, as the blurred left picture  shows, sweaty pits and electronics don’t mix well.

Sigh. Well, I let the camera rest for a while to let the moisture evaporate and, after I made sure the image wasn’t blurry, I took the next picture, which illustrates how dilapidated and dismal the bus station at Caucagua is.

Well, I watched as two buses arrived to the depot, let people board and leave… at the rate of one every 45 minutes or so, as they don’t run on a timetable and their arrival/departure times are heavily dependant on transit conditions in Caracas. If there’s a massive traffic jam over there, well I could kiss my chance to get there goodbye.

About 10:30, I was fortunate to catch my ride and I was able to travel the 50 miles that separate Caracas from Caucagua in less than 2 hours (I told you, didn’t I?). Of course, this journey was shadowed by a very bad omen: where the hell did I put my baseball cap? I remembered I took it off and put it aside to take the pictures. During the entire bus ride I rummaged through my handbag, searching from top to bottom.

Queues, queues everywhere...

Queues, queues everywhere…

It’s not that I put too much importance into such stuff, but that’s no way to start a trip and a baseball cap is a must in the area where I live, especially at noon, lest your brains fry out. I was about to arrive to Petare, the eastern tip of Caracas, when I finally picked up my bag with both hands and looked at its underside. There was the cap, smugly grinning back at me. (Ohhh, here I was! Wasn’t that a nice game of Hide and Seek? Yay!)

Grumble.

Also, by the time I paid my fare, I was very glad that I had spend an hour scavenging scrap metal: the guys running the bus company had raised the fare almost by 50 % overnight, which would have caused that I’d be rather short strapped for cash in local currency during the rest of the trip.

I got off the bus at Petare sometime around noon. And I pondered about what I could do with all my spare time: I was supposed to be at Maiquetia, Caracas’ only International Airport and check-in at 3 AM, and the last bus going there departs at 9 PM, which still gave me plenty of time before I reached my final intended destination.

What to do?

Ah, well, I chose to walk across Caracas, from Petare to Parque Central, which is about a 5-mile long walk. And of course, I had my trusty plastic bags at hand: this city is now a filthy cesspool and there were hundreds of aluminum cans calling me by my name.:

Eeeeedwiiiinnn Stark

Signing Off

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Ahhhh-ruba (Part 1)

I returned last week from Aruba, after enjoying a six-day stay with Kathryn over there. I must admit that I’m still a bit in aftershock. My trip really began on an early Friday, two weeks ago, even though my plane did depart on Saturday. Why? Let’s face it: getting my sorry ass out of the jungle isn’t for the fainthearted, since I have no friends or acquaintances who could conveniently drop me at the airport during the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

I have every intention to chronicle this trip in my usual ironic way, since it was a very important event in my life, as the series of blog posts that follows will attest.

Miles of Road, Miles of Road everywhere....

Miles of Road, Miles of Road everywhere….

That day started rather ominous; it was raining (as always, duh!) but I was fortunate enough to have a neighbor give me a ride to La Recta de Caucagua, at least saving me from walking the 2-3 miles out of the housing development where I reside. The picture to the left depicts La Recta, which is just a straight three-mile, two-lane highway that connects the only supermarket in the area with the main town. See that red circle, highlighted by a bright yellow and red arrow? That marks the town borders and it’s halfway the road that I still have to walk.

By the way, this picture was taken sometime around 8 AM and the weather was already showing a very bad attitude towards me right then. It was drizzling every five minutes and only the occasional sliver of sun was able to make it through the overcast skies above.

It’s a very lonesome road, with only the sound of the passing cars that rush past to keep you company. Of course, I could have taken the bus from the supermarket to town and save myself the hassle, but why hurry? I had a whole day to reach my intended destination and the prospect of reaching the airport too early didn’t really excite me much.

Aluminum Cans, Aluminum Cans Everywhere...

Aluminum Cans, Aluminum Cans Everywhere…

Anyway, I couldn’t but resist the temptation to do a final roundup of scrap metal scavenging before embarking on this little adventure (as the picture at the right shows). I was opening a can (pun definitely intended) of worms with this, you know; what if the guy that buys them out from me wasn’t open that day? It was early Friday and the locals are known to goof off the day before any given weekend. If this was the case, all my work picking up aluminum cans would be lost. What could I do with them? The guys running the bus to Caracas wouldn’t allow me to board it while carrying two filthy bags smelling of stale beer. Of course, I could conceal them under some brush and come back for them a week later, but my chances of this were few. I tried this ploy a couple of times and the bags weren’t there when I returned for them even only a day after.

I nerved myself and headed straight to the place where I could ditch my crushed cans.

Fortunately, nothing of this happened and I was able to exchange nearly six pounds of cans for the measly sum of 87 bolivars. In the end I was glad of this, since the money proved useful to cover some unexpected expenses I met along the way.

So, I was now relieved of my smelly cargo and it was still early: 9 AM. Where to now?

Onward to the bus!

Well, that’s about it for now. Stay tuned for the continuation of this exciting (YAWN!) journey!>

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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Pecking Order in The Jungle

Okay, it’s time for me to hit the road again,,,

Kathryn and I will be meeting again in Aruba this weekend.

She’ll travel about 2500-3000 miles by plane and it’ll take her about 10 hours in connections and travel time for that.

I’ll be traveling about 300 miles by land and plane… and that means it will take me 36 hours…

Why this astonishing difference?

Well, my first five or six hours will be wasted on walking out of the secluded housing development where I live and having to wait in queue for a bus (it’s Friday, so it will be Helltime to catch one). Then another two hours dealing with a subway system that’s more densely packed than the Tokyo subway in winter time. Then another two hours getting to the airport… by bus.

There, I’ll have to wait 12 hours (to say the least) for the check-in desk of Imbecile Air to open (it does at 3 AM in what is known as one of the most dangerous airports in the Western hemisphere). There’s no seats outside the waiting área, so my sweet firm ass will be sitting on a cold tiled floor for most part of these 12 hours. And due to the high crime rate, there won’t be a single cafetería open where I can alternate between the floor and a hard plastic seat in front of a cup of coffee.

(Note to travelers: don’t drink the coffee if you ever come to my home country… It’s just boiled dirty water).

Why does this happen?

Mainly due to the Pecking Order (go peruse your favorite Fakypedia to check this; I’ll wait).

In every society there is an invisible Pecking Order… Chicken A pecks on all the B-ranked chickens (i.e. top guy with all the money and all the political/economic connections… the B-chicks his employees/underlings/lower-ranked friends or acquaintances). The B-chicks NEVER peck on Chicken A, but they get to peck on Chicken C, D, E and so on down this crazy alphabet soup until we reach the poor little chick that everyone pecks on but who never has a chance to peck on anybody.

Considering that I’m a white dude who lives in a rainforest, scrounges aluminum cans to eke out a living and has published at least a dozen books that no one cares to read…

Well, I guess that makes me Chicken-Z.

Gosh, I want to be able to peck on someone… at least ONCE in this lifetime…

See you in Aruba, Kitty… I’m oficially incomunicado from now on…

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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A Movie List

Oh, heavens! Look at the date! I’m long overdue making a post here… Also, I’m a little overdue in updating you guys about my current situation concerning Kath and all that… so why not kill two stones with one bird (or was the other way around?) and do both.

(The new WordPress interface takes ages to load with my lousy connection, by the way, so don’t expect these delay issues to go away.. in fact, I dread they will become worse in the near future when most websites become more and more graphically intensive while I remain stuck in the Stone Age 😦 )

Well, now I’m up to my neck with trying to get a hold of my Birth Certificate (yeah, like that, with Capital Letters) so I can start the legal paperwork to marry her. It’s a very cumbersome process that involves me traveling five hours on a 50 miles trip (which will give you an idea of the general road/traffic conditions that we have down here) and being told that I’m too late or at the wrong place for that.

Just so you can imagine it: it took me three weeks only to find out where I must go to request that %”$”@!!! Piece of paper. Meanwhile, Kath and I are still chatting online and discussing our plans for Aruba and the immediate future.

All of a sudden, she wanted me to tell her which are my favorite romantic movies. Well, no big deal… I have a short list for that, too. However, I split the movies listed into two separate listings: serious romantic movies and romantic comedies. I guess you’ll have a fairly good idea of what kind of man I am after having a look at it: And that would be that I like my romance with cream pies and soda bottles…and maybe a rubber tuna to smash over someone’s head..

Serious Romance

Gone With The Wind – No surprises here. A Golden Oldie. Better seen on a 100-foot wide screen with Surro-Sens-o-rama, but still acceptable on a 13 inches screen.

Casablanca – No big surprises here, either. Plenty of romance and drama in a movie that’s regarded by millions as the best picture ever. I can’t disagree.

The Mirror Has Two Sides – A more modern romance with Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges in the main roles of two neurotic college professors who meet in a very unorthodox manner. The witty dialogue is so amusing that the movie threatens to sneak into the funny side of my list… just barely.

Working Girl – Yeah, I know some regard this as a quasi-romantic comedy, but if you analyze the movie properly, you end up discovering how seriously it handles the topic… and that maybe Mike Nichols was perhaps trying to make some half-assed fashion statement about hairdos and your place in the work food chain.

Romantic Comedies

Defending your life – Great romance set in the afterlife. Merryl Streep and Albert Brooks carry their unexpected, recently found love with stolid dignity while silly existential jokes seem to explode all about them like metaphysical stand-up comedy.

Roxanne – Excellent update to the Cyrano tale with a hero owning a bigger nose than possible. Imagine that. The scene with the radio was a little overdone, but great movie, nonetheless. Great nose jokes, too.

Arthur – Rich Boy Meets Poor Girl While She Attempts to Steal a Tie (RBMPGWSAST for short) comedy. He falls for her but has to back out because his family threatens to disown him… but he quickly nerves himself and goes full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes and all that jazz.

When Harry Met Sally – Fabulous Boy-Meet-Girl-But-Girl-Dislikes-Boy routine. They fall in love with each other 13 years later, though. Hilarity ensues.

Well, that’s about it… I still have a few extras like the Princess Bride, My Fair Lady and Walt Disney’s Cinderella up my sleeve, but their status as romantic movies is highly debatable… Now, if you excuse me, I must go so Kath and I will be able to will discuss online my list a bit later…

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Nooooo!

There’s a scene in the Revenge of The Nerds movie where a Takashi, the Japanese exchange student (a.k.a. the Japanese Nerd) asks an amused John Goodman if he can get out early from his work. Poor Taka has been working as a locker assistant for the same moronic College jocks who are directly responsible that he is currently without a place to sleep, and he wants to get out early to resume his search for an apartment.

Of course, this poor guy also has to put up with the humilliations that the jocks impose on him, like placing a sweaty jockstrap over his nose while his hands are full of a bunch of the damn things. Well, you can imagine Takashi, standing there with a an armload of recently worn jockstraps and a wistful look in his eyes, eagerly waiting for the coach’s answer. Meanwhile, there’s a sadistic glee painted on John Goodman’s features; he’s certainly enjoying himself at the moment.

After a moment that seems to last an eternity, the coach finally makes his pronouncement: A rather subdued but soul-crushing NO!!!

All this so you can have a good idea what’s life like in my home country.

Today, I had to visit Caucagua so I could print a couple of important forms relevant to my trip to Curacao. It was  Ia very simple errand; just download the PDF files and print them out, but I admit that I was standing with certain trepidation in front of the cybercafé where I intended to perform this task, knowing beforehand what would happen next: A) The Internet would be down B) the cybercafé’s printer would be on the fritz or C) the locale’s printing protocol wouldn’t work with PDF files…( believe it or not, this has happaned to me several times).

And this mental picture of John Goodman uttering his resounding NO! came back to me again and again, refusing to leave me in peace. No wonder, since my home country is the sort of place that constantly forces a guy to live in total denial of the simplest things in life (and Murphy’s Law has certainly been jacked up until it reaches eleven).  I swallowed a steely ball of saliva and opened the front door.

The guy in charge of this place is a rather pleasant fellow. I asked if the Internet access was working well.

He fixed a unwavering, ice-cold stare on me… OMG! Here it comes!

The man opens his mouth after a moment that seems to last an eternity:

NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Well, that’s not exactly what he said but it comes to that in the end. Internet access is dead all over the town. I best take the bus and ride 50 miles to the nearest city to try my luck.

Isn’t it comforting to live in a place where uncertainty about an answer has been so absolutely obliterated?

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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