Friday, June 29, 2007

Street Perfomers are getting lazy

So, it’s Friday. That means no intern today. This means we don’t have to drag ourselves out of bed at the unholy hour of nine a.m. and make ourselves presentable before she gets here at ten.

We have blown off running this week because even at eight o’clock in Madrid it is still 86 degrees out and the sun is high in the sky. Today though, we are determined to go out in the morning and get a run in. We spend 45 minutes waking up, having coffee, re-hydrating and then head out at 11:00 a.m.

We walk to our starting point and do some stretches. I point across the street to Wendy, “it must be really early the bar isn’t even packed yet.” Last time we were here it was also morning but an hour later. Every table had a beer on it and one guy was trying to sleep while his buddy kept pestering him to wake up by poking a pencil in his ear or kicking his chair.

Today, no one.

We start our run and it takes us between the palace and Plaza de Oriente. Between these two landmarks is tourist heaven so there are always a gaggle of street performers here hoping for change.

There are some excellent examples of some of Madrid’s finest here.

Some of them are fascinating, some are just annoying (too many accordian players) and some are pathetic. Some of my favorites are the “Living Statues.” These are people that dress up in a costume and then stand like mannequins until someone puts a coin in their box and then they wake up and do a little jig or wave or smile and move a bit which is your reward, and gives them a chance to switch positions. I’ve seen a bunch of these. An astronaut, a golden cowboy, a wisp of a woman who always dresses very elaborately as an angel or fairy princess with beautiful costumes and full face and hand paint.

One of the first ones I saw here was a granite lady. She was sitting on a box in the Plaza Major and was covered in brownish yellowish mud. It would be a stretch to call it gold. She looked like a rough hewn granite statue, covered in time and dust. She was so still I didn’t even realize there was a person under it all. I thought it was actually another of the hundreds of statues that dot the Madrid cityscape. When I found out she was real, I had to go back and drop a Euro into her can and she raised her sitting position a little bit, slowly raised one hand and waved side to side at me and then set the hand back down. I thought that was pretty cool.

Right up until I saw a real living statue. One that stood on one leg for thirty minutes. Eyes open, unblinking. And had gold dust all over her and a bright wand and flowing platinum robes. Then, seeing a woman sitting, on a box, with her eyes closed, didn’t seem that impressive any more, it just seemed lazy.

Not so oddly enough (knowing human nature) more of the granite, sitting statues appeared all over the city. And oddly enough, people were giving them money! Most likely, innocent people like me who didn’t know what real living statues were like.

And they kept getting lazier! They would have less earth on them. Less paint. There clothes wouldn’t look like a statues, it would look like jeans covered in dirt! They began to become objects of our scorn.

This morning took the cake though. As we run by the palace, street performers are already jockeying for the best spots. And there is already a sitting granite living statue.

I bust out laughing when I see him.

It looks like he’s taken some brown spray paint and sprayed his clothes. Then he took some dirt from the park, rubbed it on his face and hands and sat down.

I turn towards Wendy as we run, still laughing – “Did you see that guy?”
“That wasn’t a statue! That was a fat guy that forgot to bathe this morning and fell asleep on a box! Are you kidding me?”

Lazy lazy lazy.

About five hundred yards ahead we pass through the Plaza Espana and start up the long hill. On the left is a moving van with two guys sitting on the tail gate about to get to work. As is typical of Spain, one of them has a 16 oz beer he is sipping.

In America, coffee, in Madrid, beer.

Nothing you want more before a hard day of moving furniture up four flights of steps than a nice can of energetic beer!

We circle the park three times and head home. When we get back to the area we stretch at I point to the bar across the street. Every table is full and people have wine, beer and Coca Cola in front of them.

It’s noon.

Just the start of another day in Madrid.

Comment Answers

1) Thank you Adam.
2) Links have been fixed.
3) I don’t know. Best guess is it doesn’t matter since I believe Lulu tracks everything. I think either way would help.
4) Counter fixed.
5) I hope you’re one of many.

Chris – They look pretty sweet. I’ll post some photos when I have one in my hands.

Garth – Thanks man, that was what I was looking to hear.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

And we're back!

Have I finally got this thing fixed?

As you may have noticed, I've moved again. Typepad was interesting and hosted on a friend's site (besos Lorelei! Okay that was effeminate... let’s just move along.) But it had some problems you might have missed me bitching about so let me count the ways...

1. No spellchecker.
2. Typing in Word and then pasting into Typepad made formatting errors. Paragraphs lost their forms and ran together.
3. Links didn't highlight.
4. Pictures weren't working and Dave couldn't figure out why.

So I moved to a place that did all of the above ( and set up a page. I liked it so much I moved everything here. Simple, effective, does what I need, no flashy trashy gizmos. Sure, I did some research into what site I should move to, but Google always does things well and I imagined they would do their blogging software correct as well. And I was right.

In the reviews I read, one other site was mentioned called "Vox" which I looked at. My first impression was that Pink Sushiman threw up after a hard night of drinking paint. It's like the cartoon network of blogging software. It's like a more colorful flamboyant version of Myspace. And I hate even plain vanilla Myspace. A more colorful version is akin to something you would drink on a Friday night and not show up for work until Tuesday.

Okay, admittedly, if you click the link above you'll see that Pink Sushiman is actually a restaurant and not a man, but it sounds like a great name for a superhero doesn't it? Wendy and I have eaten at Pink Sushiman and we love it. Another of our excursions on "take the intern to lunch" day.

Okay, see this always happens when I can't update for days. So much to say and no coherence at all. Too many thoughts running wild so they're hard to reign in. Lets get some coffee, I bet that will help.

Okay, updates: I've decided to self publish at Lulu. I have formatted my old "Tournament Reports" manuscript into a 6x9 book last week and uploaded it into Lulu and printed out a copy for myself and shipped it to the house. As soon as I look it over and make sure it is correct, it will be available for sale. There will be a link here where you can buy the book. It will be available for download for $4 and for a printed copy for $14.99.

Work continues on Marilyn's Story. Wendy has suggested that I do a make over on it and turn it from a blog into an actually novel. At first I resisted, but then I realized she was right. It's not very well written for a memoir. As a blog for people to read updates who knew us, it was fine. If I want to involve a whole new audience that knew nothing about us but want to read a good book, it needs a lot of work. So far it has much more of an introduction, an explanation of why it's important to be a good patient's advocate, why staff have no sense of urgency in a hospital and possible mistakes that we made as well as tips and thoughts to consider when facing cancer or any long hospital stay. It's been a lot of work already and I'm only up to page twenty. When it's finished, that will also be available at Lulu.

I am hopeful that with enough hits to this web site and enough book sales I can use that as leverage to get an agent or publisher in the future.

In related news, Wendy went to Brown and still receives there Alumni magazine. This week had an article on Joshua Micah Marshall's website "Talking Points Memo" an A-list political blog. Since part of the lead in to the story was "Now some bloggers are not only scooping well-paid journalists; a few are making enough money to hire staffs to quit their day jobs and blog full-time." Wendy pointed it out to me.

Interesting article. Especially since I used to read this blog religiously during the 2004 elections. Now he's got a staff and some money. How did he do it and could I do the same?

A first impression after reading the article was "not really."

It is daunting to find out that the really successful bloggers work 14 hours a day on a singular obsession and have a rough time even leaving their blogs side.

"Black went to dinner and a movie with his wife, he returned and confessed to his readers he felt slightly guilty, like a parent who'd left his kids with the sitter for the night."

That's never going to be me.

After some thought on the article, the answer morphed into "possibly."

Today is Thursday which is "take the intern out to lunch" day. We went across the street for some Paella. This place specializes in it, and it is always delicious. Since it was 2 in the afternoon and so far I had only poured some coffee and water down my throat, I was a little hungry. We had some fine conversation and I stuffed myself on saffron and seafood rice before heading out for my latest dentist appointment.

Right now I am in the middle of teeth whitening. Today's procedure is to have a lip spreader and a suction tube inserted into my mouth and my teeth painted with a substance that reminds me of nail polish. Nail polish made out of acid! Oh man does that stuff sting!

Then, when all my teeth are painted, I lie there with the suction tube noisily swallowing all my spit and my lips stretched out so they don't touch my teeth while the acid nail polish dries. Some fun.

But it does give me forty minutes to think.

This blog has been rather narrow in focus. Updates are more frequent than any of my friends by a factor of ten, but not as frequent as they could be for a self employed writer who wants to promote himself. And the posts have been rather narrow. Usually updates about my life, experiences that were funny, how Wendy and I were doing, how writing was coming along - that sort of thing.

Time for a new tact.

I can't comb the web for 14 hours a day about politics and spew my vitriolic thoughts all over this electronic parchment every hour without going insane inside of a week.

But people do wish I updated more often. Some people like to read about my Magic playing adventures and I'm not writing about them anywhere else. Some people devour anything about WoW. Some like the daily funny stories. Some like the travel stories.

I bet I could make this place entertaining enough that people would bookmark it and come back a few times a week if they knew there was fresh content all the time. And the more people that know, the more people that read, the more people that might be tempted to push the "Buy" button on "Quest for the Pro Tour" and "Marilyn's Story" and maybe that fantasy novel if I ever get it finished.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Decisions, decisions.

Spent the day yesterday writing a query letter for Marilyn's Story. I think it turned out pretty well. Wendy looked it over and thought it looked good too. Then she asked me if that was for publishers or agents and I didn't really know. A quick look in my three "how to get published" bibles informs me that you approach both in the exact same way. With query letters and proposals.

Wendy took a break very late afternoon and went to read "Time" in the bedroom while I tried to finish up the letter. I went in to see her a bit later and she showed me an article on self publishing I had read and meant to get back to but forgot.

Self publishing is something I have investigated but decided was not for me. A couple of my friends have done it, and it never turns out profitable. Of course, one thing to realize is, the rules have changed in this wondrous age.

In the past, you had one option - offset printing. You contract a house to print up 500-2000 books, they print them up, you sell them yourself. You do the shipping, the selling, the promotion, the storage. Everything. Any books left over you can use to start fires with or as one author did, make a desk and a chair out of them.

Things are quite a bit different in 2007.

1. Books can be published on demand. One at a time.

2. I can sell them from this website and someone else takes care of the shipping. You click on a little link and two weeks later you get one of my books. Every three months I get a check big enough for a cup of coffee AND a danish.

3. Some publishers will get you an ISBN number and you can sell your book through and Barnes and Noble. Sweetness.

There are many routes you can take, many of them horrible, some, maybe not so bad. We'll have to see. There's a lot of information out there that I am combing through to see how best to pursue this route.

One of the things that's important to note is that following this path, correctly, does not prohibit me from still trying to get an agent and/or a publisher.

I find it amusing some of the horror stories of Do It Yourself (DIY) publishing houses. Like senile senior citizens who think they've just won a million dollars if they just give some telemarketer there credit card number and a small deposit, these people get taken in by scams or just don't do the research on some of these sites.

Like who pretends to be a regular publisher but wants you to submit 100 names of friends and family they can contact when your book is ready. Then they jack up the price of your book to far more than its worth and try to sell it to those hundred names.

"Dear John Wakefield,

We are proud to announce that your brother Jamie has just published his new book. You can get it for the low low price of 39.95! Follow the link to buy it now! You want to support your brother don't you?"

Then I get money for coffee, they get 37.50 from each of my relatives, and my relatives all get a book worth $1.99. Some deal.

And if I promote the crap out of my book and it actually sells to people other than my relatives and garners some attention, they have me locked into a contract for SEVEN YEARS. That seems like a long time.

There are, of course, other options. Four color options even. I could get my book printed at and it will be stunning. I can put in full color photos of Mare. Mare's character in the different games we played, Mare in her Supergirl negligee... wait, scratch that one... Mare with the dogs. Mare with 7 tubes sticking out of her. And it would be all glossy and professional. Sadly, it would also cost people $29.99 and I was thinking more along the lines of $9.99.

And stories abound about people who go this route and fail. The work for 4 years on a novel, make it into a DIY book and sell 20 copies to family and friends and are crushed.

I have no illusions.

Despite the fact that my out of print book once sold for about a hundred dollars, and the fact that my web site once had over 40,000 hits, and despite the fact that one reader said "I would read a calculus textbook if you wrote it." My feet are still grounded in reality. Reading my writing on the web in your office at work is quite a bit different than actually shelling out cash for something you read in your leisure time.

If I want to make money on self published books, I'm going to have to promote the crap out of them. Google Ads. Updated web content. An easy ordering interface. Contacts with Ingram and Amazon. Pimping the book to book stores. Handing out free copies of chapter one on the streets of Madrid. Walking around naked with ads painted all over my body. That kind of thing.

Success stories are rare, but they do happen.

$11,000 in one year sounds pretty good. His profit margin was a lot higher than I expect to make though. I'd be happy to make a dollar or two on each book I sell, he's making almost seven dollars a copy.

Eragon was a self publishing success story. The kid pimped himself out at libraries until he hit it big with a contract.

But hey, it can happen. And one way to impress a publisher or an agent is to let them know "Hey, my self published book has sold 2000 copies this year, how about that?"

Exploring a lot this week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Riots? Oh no, just a street fair!

Ah, writing.

Today I am moving notes 64-79 (so far) from my digital recorder into the written Word. One that I want to share with you is a conversation we had in Berlin with the Hotel desk clerk. I swear to you this is true and not embellished.

May first is riot day in Berlin.

We come back from a day of tourism and see Beya and her husband in the lobby. We ask them about their day and they ask about ours and we notice they have suitcases with them.

"Oh, we're leaving the hotel. Each year on this date there are riots in this area so we're moving a safer distance away. Like, outside the city."

How fascinating.

Wendy goes up to the desk clerk and asks about the impending riots.

“Breakfast? Oh yes, we will have breakfast right over here in the morning.”
“No, no. Riots.”
“Yes, because there are demonstrations near here. We heard they sometimes riot in this area."

“Ohhh. No, no no, that’s just a street fair." Pauses. "But sometimes they get violent after midnight but generally it’s just a street fair.”

“So, we’ll be fine here?”

“Well, sometimes they come up here" and he punches his fist into his hand "and we fight, but generally it's just a street fair with music.”

So of course, since we are insane, that night, Wendy and I head into the thick of it.

We have a great time until things appear to be spiraling out of control and head back towards our hotel. As we are leaving, an army of police officers are descending on the area we were just in. Okay, it wasn't an army. more like a platoon. We walked ten minutes and didn't get to the end of the line of police sttreaming into where we just exited.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Universe kicks me in the ass.

In a good way.

The owner of Star City Games (the web site I used to write for) recently emailed me and let me know that my readers weren't signing up for Premium. They were still there, but my style of writing and playing Magic was more suited to casual players and readers. Hence, he was hoping to move me to the non premium side of the site. Sadly, this would mean a significant cut in pay. One that I couldn't accept.

One of the reasons I couldn't accept it was that I was ready to go anyway.

Magic is a lifestyle. You can't really pick it up once in a while and know what's going on. It requires a large investment of time and money even to play casually. If you drop out for 3 years, it will take you over a month of study to understand what is going on again. And like poker or chess, you have to play all the time to hone your skills if you want to be the best.

Something I'm not ever going to be by the way.

With the news that I was no longer going to be writing for Star City I had two paths to follow. I could hunker down and play more Magic and try to make money by getting back on the Pro Tour. Or I could quit Magic and focus more on my writing.

I have been writing a great deal, you just wouldn't know it if you didn't have a premium subscription to Star City. A great deal of my life changes, travels and observations about the Spanish culture are in there. In fact, more and more of my writing was about Spain and life in general, and each week I was having a little more trouble contemplating Magic enough to justify an article. I was also having a rough time playing enough Magic to keep up. The time just wasn't there.

And while the pay supplemented my savings, and got my thoughts and experiences out to an audience, I was never going to make it as a real writer following the path I was on. As the days ticked by, I started to think maybe I needed to focus some more on the other projects I have brewing.

So, that's that.

In other news, lets have some general rambles about life.

As well as working for Star City, I have been working part time for Wendy's company. She does all the important work, I'm just one of her grunts (and tech support) but it has been a busy month for us. Last week Wendy had a big meeting at the beginning of the week on a project we've been working for a couple months on. Friday morning, another meeting with a very important client. Her boss flew in from Paris for it. We worked until two am Thursday night and then were up again at seven am Friday morning.

This weekend we finally got to relax. We lay in bed and watched "Eurotrip", "So you think you can Dance", "The Ultimate Fighter" and read. Lest you think "So you think you can Dance" is something I watch for her, let me correct you. I used to watch the show three years ago when it first came out and actually called in and voted for the Russian ballroom dancer "Snow"until she was kicked off. (Wait, did I really just admit that?)

As for reading, I've been exposed to a market that my writing style should flourish in. I've been reading "A Year in Provence," "Driving over Lemons," and "A Parrot in a pepper tree." I'm pretty sure my tale in the same vein : "An Ultimate Magic Writer in Madrid" will hit the same audience and hopefully be met with some praise.

I've also been devouring every issue of Time and Vanity Fair that comes in. Right now in Vanity Fair I'm reading the Reagan Diaries and getting an eye opening. Like this entry -

"Thurs, Aug 12 - Met with the news the Israelis delivered the most devastating bomb & artillery attack on W. Beirut lasting 14 hours. Habib called - desperate - has basic agreement from all parties but can't arrange details of P.L.O. withdrawal because of the barrage.
King Fahd called begging me to do something. I told him I was calling P.M. Begin immediately. And I did - I was angry - I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately & said the symbol of his war was becoming a picture of a 7 month old baby with its arms blown off. He told me he had ordered the bombing stopped - I asked about the artillery fire. He claimed the P.L.O. had started that & Israeli forces had taken casualties. End of call. Twenty mins. later he called to tell me he'd ordered an end to the barrage and plead for our continued friendship."

Now, I've never been a Reagan fan or detractor (this was before my interest in politics bloomed) and I don't know the truths of the matter he is writing about. But I did find the journal entry eye opening.

World leaders just call each other on the phone and beg for their neighbor to stop shelling them?

I have always known America was the policeman of the world, but never quite knew how personal it got. I also thought such dealings only took place with translators and bodyguards and heads of state gathered around a huge table. Never did I guess that world leaders would just call up the President of the USA and ask for his help and he would then call another world leader and chastise them.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Be Aware

Here’s some scary statistics for you.

“Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the gynecological cancers with 22,000 new cases and 15,000 deaths in the US expected this year. About 80 per cent of ovarian cancer cases are not detected early, resulting in a poor survival chance.”

This comes from an article published today.

“The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and the American Cancer Society have announced the first national agreement on ovarian cancer symptoms.”

Bloating.Pelvic or abdominal pain.Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).

Read the full article here and get yourself to a doctor immediatly if you experience these symptoms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cairns Unlimited

Lena and Stefan came over on Sunday for a goodbye party. Lena is heading to Vermont to teach at Middlebury College for the summer. She works for them here in Madrid during the rest of the year. We don’t know how Stefan is going to survive without her for 5 weeks. Those two are so in love its amazing to just sit back and watch them be together. We had fine German sausage cooked on our barbeque, fine german beer, sat on the terrace until the heat drove us inside and then watched some bullfights we had taped. We have plans to travel with them many days in the future. Ireland and Scottland in particular since they love it there and are eager to show us around.

One thing that was brought up this weekend was Steve Savage and Maria. They’ve moved to Australia and started up a business there that they need pimped. Check it out.

“Cairns Unlimited “Everything you need to know about Cairns , the Great Barrier Reef, and Tropical North Queensland !”

At the mention of their names and how much we miss them, we all agreed that we would visit them in 2009. 2007 is already packed for us. 2008 is packed for Lena and Stefan, so we made a firm commitment to go scuba diving in the great barrier reef in two years.