Posts Tagged With: writing

A matter of routine…

Oh my…. Three months since my last post…

It’s not that I’m being particularly lazy about writing something to put on my blog; there are at least a couple of dozen false starts for potential posts residing in my computer’s hard drive, posts that I began to compose but somehow managed to lose steam as I wrote them (this one almost went into the Recycling Bin).

It happens that I’m currently leading a lifestyle with only a few minor details to complain about (and I already did on an earlier post), and none of them relate to the The times and life of an author who lives in a rainforest motto, which is now a complete thing of the past.

To be honest, I don’t really know what to do with this blog anymore, as it was a way to vent my frustration of being stuck in the middle of a tropical jungle.

Anyway, my hands are full as I do my best to get acclimated to my new, more civilized life. Most of it is getting used to do things. My daily routine in the jungle was getting off bed at sunrise, go outside to either hit the road to scavenge metal or hack my way through overgrown greenery to see if I could find something to eat… then take a break when the heat was too oppressive to continue and then resume activity when the temperature reached more manageable levels.

These days my routine involves tinkering about the house, tightening loose screws, unloading the dishwasher, exercising, pulling crabgrass and try to grow some vegetables in the backyard (the soil here looks very fertile in spite of its desert-like qualities but I’m on a wait-and-see attitude here, folks).

Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound much of a routine but it’s a hundred times better than the one I was doomed to carry while living in the tropics.

One thing worth to mention, though, is the fact that I’m slowly adapting to deal with people again. This specially true whenever I go outside for a walk or with the goal of buying something in the supermarket. You see, while living in Cholondron, every time someone popped in my neighborhood, be it a stranger or someone I knew, it usually meant baaaad news.

Presently, whenever I interact with somebody, I keep telling myself: “okay, cool now… not everyone is a backstabbing sunofaB that wants to exploit you, like everybody back in the jungle… take a deep breath…”

What am I aiming for here?

Well, if you keep a car parked on your driveway for a year, you wouldn’t just board it and hit the road without first checking if everything is in working order, would you? You’d charge the battery, check the tire pressure and oil levels and that squirrels hadn’t decide to make a nest out of one of the back seats.

That’s exactly what I’m doing with my life at this moment; slowly revving up a piece of machinery that had been left to rust in the jungle for almost seventeen years.

Just be patient… the ride will be amazing once I’m done with my checklist.

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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I have a very bad feeling about this

I start this blog by titling it with my favorite Star Wars quote (apart from “a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” which I use to aptly describe my home country) because I really have a very bad, bad baaaad feeling about The Force Awakens.

It’s okay if you don’t want to believe me, but I had the same sensation when I went to watch the first prequel. The Phantom Menace, and we all know how “great” that particular mess went, don’t we all? Hmmm?

I still recall the hype and the manner in which most Fanboys were making the Internet hum with excitement the last couple of weeks before the first screening ever… “Ohhhh, a new chapter in the SAGA!!! Squeeek!!!” and all that…. but I particulary recall the way how they blasted Lucas’ latest offering afterwards back at the time… “Childish!” “It sucked ass!” “The pod race is padding!” (though I may be remembering it wrong… perhaps the gut who wrote that was saying the “pod race was pudding” but that doesn’t actually make much sense, does it?)

The thing is that I read the whole bunch of reviews back then and I decided to watch The Phantom Menace in spite of all, midochlorians and all… Yeah, well, it had some Star Wars innit…. The lore… Jedi stuff… lightsabers… laser blasts…. two key main characters in their prime… A younger Yoda…. How the trade dispute with Naboo trigger the events of the original trilogy… But it didn’t actually feel like Star Wars, you know what I mean?

Ok, to wrap it up… I liked it (mainly as a writer, but not as a Star Wars fan) because it filled many gaps in the Skywalker’s Family Saga (just don’t ask me what my thoughts of Jar-Jar Binks are, please) but once more, I couldn’t call actually put my fingers on what or where did George Lucas screw up the whole works.

Now, after seeing all the Fanboy Buzzing that The Force Awakens is generating now, I’m having that very bad feeling about it, reliving it, so I may decide to skip seeing it on the big silver screen this time, thank you. I’m especially uncomfortable with the idea of seeing how the heroes of my childhood have grayed and grown fat, wrinkled or gone balding (Chewbacca must have a great hair transplant doctor or buys Grecian Formula by the wholesale to look that way, almost 40 years later!) as it kinda rattles the feelings I have about my own mortality of late, you know…

I guess I’ll satisfy myself with reading the bad IMDB reviews this time..

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Jungle Medicine

For the past month or so I’ve had to deal with a very nasty tick bite on my left ankle. It tended to scab up and then the scabs regularly fell off every five days or so, without healing properly and restarting the cycle.

I know, I know… tick bites heal the hard way, but this one was way beyond insidious, so there was the possibility there was still something noxious lurking within. So last week I scrapped the scab with the sharp edge of a blade and then proceeded to burrow deep into the wound and probe with the tip of the tool to make sure. I found nothing, but the reopened lesion began to suppurate a clear substance instead of bleeding, which isn’t a good sign. So I began to squeeze the edges of the injury until the nearby skin began to bruise and blood finally surfaced. Now, six days later, the wound finally scabbed and presently shows signs of healing correctly. It still itches like hell, but it’s well on its way to proper recovery.

Am I mad? Why subject myself to this gruesome treatment? Shouldn’t I go to a hospital and have a doctor have a look at the bite, and then prescribe some sort of antibiotics?

Well, the answers are quite simple: 1) I’m on the edge of a jungle and 2) this is the only available medical procedure I can allow myself to have since A) the good doctors have already fled the country (leaving only a bunch of quacks to consult) and B) antibiotics?!? Ha! Don’t start me on discussing those! (Absolutely scarce nowadays, if you need to know).

It’s not the first time since I moved to the jungle that I had to perform a quick fix up or impromptu surgery on myself.

There was the time I scratched my arm badly with rusty barb wire, so I had to intramuscularly give myself a tetanus shot. And there was the occasion when a lemon thorn went so deep within my thumb that it got infected and then I had to carve an X with a shaving blade across the wound’s lips. And I mean digging really deep, like one-third of an inch to reach the infected spot and help the injury weep.

 

Of late, I had to hunt down for the Hepatitis-B and Trivalent immunization shots for a week before I was able to get a hold of them (requisite for the plans that Kathryn and I have been arranging for the past ten months or so. BTW, the nurse who gave me the shots had a heavy-handed approach with the syringe when she jabbed my arms with the needle; she even made me bleed from her clumsy stabbings). Do you think is fair that I have to hunt down the last eight remaining shots in the entire country, when you just walk into your doctor’s office and ask for them, anywhere else in the world?

And I’m supposed to be the mad one… *chuckles*

Okay… rant’s over.

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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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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Christmas is Cancelled

Or so it seemed last Thursday. I had the opportunity of walking through through Sabana Grande, one of Caracas’ main commercial districts, on my return from Curacao. The place was mostly closed up shops and the few remaining stores had their colorful signs ripped out from their façade by order of one of Our El Presidento’s most loyal minions some time ago.

You can hardly figure out who’s selling what and, to make things worse, there were no Christmas ornaments nor colored strings of lights laid out this late in the season.

The city I grew up into is now as dull and as dreary as any town in the Soviet Block at the height of the cold war. It was quite a contrast against my cherished memories; the Sabana Grande Boulevard of my childhood was a three-mile long stretch of bustling stores, pharmacies, cafeterias and pizza parlors. My favorite place was the Chocolate Savoy’s store, which had all the company’s wide array catalog of candies in display at three massive exhibit windowpanes. I remember spending many hours standing there, as I was a very, very poor kid who couldn’t afford to buy a chocolate bar, but at least I was able to catch a glimpse of the colorful and shiny candy wrappings (along with a healthy whiff of the aroma if I took a deep breath). Now the place is a sport shoes’ store, which is sort of an anathema to me.

But what remains with me is the fact that they haven’t set up this year’s Christmas tree at the Chacaito Shopping Mall… and they’re not even playing the music typical of this season.

Very depressing.

I managed to go past by one the few surviving toy stores around, and though I was greeted by the sight of a Dad and his Son standing in front of the display window, there were a few disturbing details that I wished I wasn’t able to see. But I have a writer’s mind… and it took detail of everything.

It must be a familiar sight all over the world: Dad standing with his young Son of about six, looking at all the motley arrangements of toys, holding hands while the boy gushes at the playthings, incessantly babbling “Daddy, look! I want that! Ohhh, and that!”

But there was a look of focused anxiety in the father’s face. The father’s expression was soul-crushing; I suppose he was calculating with extreme despair if he’d be able to satisfy his son’s even littlest whim this year.

I must remind you that due to Black Market’s distortions, even a humble $50 toy can become an expesive trinkey with an outrageous price tag in the $500-$700 range… and the natives barely earn $100 each month.

You do the math.

I shook my head sadly as Father and Son walked away.

I guess there will be many sad Christmas in many, many local homes this year.

 

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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