A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2 books for $.99! Okay, but what's in it for you?

We often forget in the rush of events that point of entry in a pitch is the ruling factor. And if we enter incorrectly, we'll be overruled by readers who are deluged with thousands of Free or Save Now pitches.

A freebie or a reduced price mean nothing in themselves if the benefit can't be seen quickly. In fact, to be brutally honest, readers who've been burned before may fear that a free book is not worth the price...and that a $.99 book isn't worth a penny more.

But what can the benefit be if not price or the bland commonalities offered by so many others: thrills, romance, suspense, chills...? You won't find room on Twitter or the average free site listing to get across your difference.  So take whatever chance you get to nail your point of entry...as I hope to do right now by way of demonstration.

My Double Event Next Week--and Its Benefits for Readers

Free Event: 02/2-02/06: The Vanishing Magic of Snow--a reformatted and revised edition.
Benefits: Previous readers receive a free, properly formatted edition with light but important revisions. Others can enjoy a tale unlike anything else that's on Kindle--without charge. TVMOS will have special appeal for all readers who share my interest in the subject of manifestation, as popularized in The Secret. It concerns one ruined man's use of magic to escape The Great Recession--with a risky trick that killed his friend. Partly set in Toronto in the 1970s, TVMOS features cameos by some well-known people including: Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Linda Lovelace, Xaviera Hollander...

Amazon Countdown Event: 02/02-02/09: Red Champagne--the second book from my new formatter and the first with my new cover artist. The Countdown Event offers layered savings before a return to the regular price:
02/02: $.99
02/05: $1.99
02/09: $2.99
Benefits: Red Champagne  has been described as combining Groundog Day and The Great Train Robbery. Extensive research puts readers on board the legendary train, The Twentieth Century Limited, in 1938. And in this book I've drawn on my background as a professional writer to give readers a unique thrill ride combining mystery, fantasy and magic. Reviewers have agreed that they've never read anything like it.

So, buy now...and save big...while you receive rich benefits!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to Get to Heaven via an Amazon Locker

Here, friends, is my vision of total shopping heaven:

Image result for amazon locker image

Actually, the entire experience of discovering Amazon lockers, learning how to set up the service, and then how to retrieve an order left me with a fine smile on my mug.

Back story: I'd had one Amazon order boosted from my apartment building after being signed for by the super...and another order barely rescued by a neighbor. I'd found yet another order on the lobby floor by mailboxes. Despair and frustration. I'm on the go a lot and the super leaves at 5:30. A Postal Mail Box would cost me and involve my trundling across town. But...

Here's where Amazon excels and boogies on to glory.

The solution to my challenge began with an online Chat. No question about their replacing the stolen item, they'd send it out that day, no charge. But what if this too were stolen? Give it a try, the representative said. And if this didn't arrive safely, they'd replace it again, sending it to a different address. Why didn't I look into trying an Amazon locker?

Grumble, mumble, frustration and doubt. Still, the rep urged me to check out this link and see if it might work for me.


Well, here is where Amazon also excels:

That's right: clear instructions. If you've ever tried their Help button for almost any issue, you've probably been pleased by how easy Amazon makes it for us to help ourselves. Also, at any strep of the way we're offered the option of an online Chat or a return call. Within 15 minutes, I understood how lockers worked and how to use the service: select a locker location from the zip code matches...add the locker to my Amazon delivery address list...specify the locker on my order...agree, if I like, to text status updates...and await an email telling me when the order had arrived. The email would provide me with a code for opening the locker.

I decided to give this a try while awaiting, at my home address, replacement of the stolen order. So I placed a small order for locker delivery. And here's where things get really cool:

I received notice shortly after that the item had been shipped--and would be delivered that evening. Lockers at my chosen site were accessible till 9 p.m. Better still, I'd chosen my location well: a safe main street in a very large and classy building. Where were the lockers inside, though? Not listed on the directory. Hmmm...Well, I was dealing with Amazon, so it made sense to assume that the lockers wouldn't be too hard to find. I proceeded through the lobby, took a gander to my left--and saw a bank of bright yellow lockers, exactly as you see above.

What you do next is touch the screen, entering the one-time code provided in Amazon's email. The code will change with every order. When the code is pressed, one of the forty locker doors will whoosh open pneumatically, your order waiting behind it.

I love every aspect of the Amazon locker experience, not just the terrific convenience. I salute the vision, the boldness, the commitment to providing really exceptional service.

And I'm committed in return to giving Amazon all the business that I can.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Heyyy, Where the Heck Did the Freebie Go?

Here's a very short story about the best intentions...the ebook learning curve...and the occasional need to eat crow.

Supposing we start off with crow and good intentions...

For weeks I've been promising a free event for the reformatted, revised edition of my first ebook, The Vanishing Magic of Snow. Since I've stopped doing giveaways, the event was special in itself. But, equally important, the giveaway allowed readers who'd bought the previous, misformatted edition to replace it with the book done right. Furthermore, I'd done some editing and rewriting, resulting in a better book.


I'd scheduled the event on Amazon for 1/26-1/30...and thought I was ready to go after a few announcements on Twitter and Facebook. I also asked on Authors Electric if anyone could recommend a few free sites on which I should post, since I'd lost my own lists in a computer crash. I received one response advising me to place an ad on AE's own group page. By and large, AE members no longer stage free events.

Clearly, I'd just run head-on into the learning curve. And I needed to learn some new footwork.

Opening lesson: we can't count on everyone to help us with our homework...but that doesn't mean we can't count on anyone--as long as we're willing to carry our end. So, while I dug around online, I contacted a friendly ebook king, Claude Bouchard and asked if he knew anything he might share. Well, CB and I have ReTweeted promotional touts for our books for two years. And he's a noble soul. So he took the time to send a link to a free event site list from another writer's blog.

A quick glance a the list convinced me that I had to postpone my event. I'd need to cull the list to a manageable size since I don't have a month to prepare and since I'm hard at work on a new book. Some sites require listings on the day(s) of the event. Others must be contacted days (or weeks) before. Some listings require considerably more work.

The learning curve, for this challenge, demanded clear knowledge of my chief goal: to reach as many readers as I can with one week's work. My goal is not to 'beat' other writers with my numbers...nor to engage in a steeplejack chart chase with anybody else. My goal is to make this rare, for me, free event as special as I can...my way of saying thanks to those who've supported me--and Hi to those who are new.

I'm not doing this gig for the numbers.

The Gold Rush days resulting from the first free events has passed. Who cares? Let's stage our own, now and then, with free and loving hearts.

The new dates for my free event are:

Monday, February 2-Friday, February 6

And special thanks to Claude Bouchard for being such a prince:

Claude Bouchard

And thanks to Authors Electric, whose members have always been there when they can:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hell, No---I Won't Fly! A Rant

Baggage piles up at Heathrow Airport Terminal Five after the baggage system broke down.

No, thanks, bubbas. Not for dear old Reb MacRath. I can't say I'll never fly, but I can swear to this much: I'll never fly again unless I really have no choice.

But why would I spend $138 for a round trip 40-hour bus ride from Seattle to San Francisco-when I could fly for $50 more, in just 90 minutes each way? About 19 extra hours each way? Let's start with the money, since we all like to save, I maintain that I save a good deal more, since I can pack a home-made gourmet lunch and supper for the bus for a fraction of what I would pay for snacks before plane departure and on board the flight. Since bus and train terminals are downtown in most cities, cab fare will be a lot less, if I do need a cab. I'm allowed to bring cologne, after shave, toothpaste in their natural containers...so I'm saving on travel-sized rip-offs.

The time factor also deserves a bit more thought. 20 hours may sound horrible when compared with 90 minutes. But when I fly, I leave home 3 or 4 hours before departure time--to get to the airport and clear security. Flights are often delayed by an hour or more. And when they land, it may take me  an hour to deboard; get my baggage; find a bus, rent a car or hail a cab. I may then need another hour to reach my destination. Add all this together with the flight time--and it may be close to ten hours each way. Ten hours we've all been trained to not even consider.

Train and bus travel are already looking much better. But I based my decision on the bigger picture. The cardinal charges against flight are these:

1) Discomfort and low-rent experience. Thirty, forty, years ago I found rich adventures in travel by plane: pleasant hours in the terminals, bars and smoking rooms...room to stretch out on the flights...occasionally far better than average food. I recall no flight hysteria, none of the anger or hostility that are so common now. For years, when I've had to fly, I've been in agitated moods to and from all airports...and every instant that I was on board. I arrive, my body scrunched and my belly growling for food.

2) Spiritual unrest. How we set forth on a journey does quite a bit to determine the state of our spirit when we arrive. I'm sick of being rushed and jostled and herded. No, thanks.

3) Insecurity checks. I understand the need for strict airport security and I don't take the subject lightly. Nor do I have reason to fear anyone searching my bags. That said, I'll take the train or bus, avoiding the high stress.

4) And on and on and on. My list is so long I don't know where to start: from the pathetic bags of peanuts and cookies to the charges for carry-on bags...from unattractive flight attendants to the lack of blankets and pillows...from the five-inch back-of-the-seat TV screens to the rotten earphones.. Nothing about the flight experience is designed at present to put a smile on travelers' mugs. Nothing about the experience has our comfort or pleasure in mind.

The best thing I've seen on the subject of the still Bigger Picture is the following quote that I received from author Richard Monaco. Source: The Daily Kos.

Few experiences are as universal to Americans as the shared degradation and misery of flying on our nation's air carriers. These corporate behemoths have somehow managed to wrap up everything wrong with this country and present it to us as a package deal: income inequality, corporate indifference, dwindling services, automation and skyrocketing prices all combined to make flying a tortuous chore rather than a pleasure, particularly in the last ten years.  It's no different than fiscal austerity, really--just a calculated effort to push the limits of greed for a tiny minority to the point where Americans won't tolerate any more, then convincing us that such a drastically diminished quality of life is the "new normal."
And Americans continue to suffer it, because in most cases they feel they have to. For many, travel is a necessity for their livelihood. For others with scattered families travel is the only way to maintain personal connections.  The airlines understand they're fulfilling a need, and at this point they've abandoned any pretense of actually caring about what their customers think of them. Thus an unnamed major carrier is considering something called "economy minus"where it can shove more people into its metal cylinders, gutting personal legroom and offering no services at all except (perhaps) a toilet.
The power of the corporations to collude is nowhere more visible than among the airlines. It's practically impossible to keep track of which airline has merged with another. There are, it seems, only about two or three actual airlines that carry the vast majority of passengers in the Continental U.S.  Deregulation, once promoted to "foster competition," and a near-constant train of mergers have created a perverse state where the airlines can now collude together to provide poorer levels of service

Friday, January 16, 2015

Research: Before or After?

Some best-selling writers prefer to get the story down, with blanks left for things to research: the history of a part of town...types of trees and flowers,,,architectural styles of homes...etc. In an interview, a while back, Stephen King claimed that he filled in the blanks after completing the story. And in his Top 20 Rules for Writers he advises: 'If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember (the) word back. That's where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.'

It's hard to argue with success. But, even so, other sorts of writers--especially historical novelists--may need to do the research first...and do a lot more of it. For them, the details are more than seasoning to sprinkle through the story...but close to the soul of the feast. Margaret Mitchell took time to learn when the bustle replaced the wide hoop skirt--in 1868. By her own account, she read the files of old newspapers from 1860 to 1878, plus hundreds of old magazines, diaries and letters, while consulting hundreds of books. Interestingly, she claims to have taken very few notes. She retained what she needed in a mind like a steel trap, allowing the facts to suffuse her with a rich feeling for the era.

We'd have had a far different book if she'd dreamily made it all up at her desk, then took time to fill in the blanks.

Does attention to detail like that matter in a mystery or popular novel?

Stephen Saylor's Roma Sub Roma mysteries, set in the time of Sulla, Cicero, Caesar and Cleopatra, feature a detective named Gordianus the Finder. The books are far less densely detailed than the Roman epics of Colleen McCullough, yet readers around the world revere them--not just for the mysteries and the breakneck packing...but for their sense of time and place, conveyed in the just-perfect details.


Inspired by Saylor's method...

Four months ago, when I moved to Seattle, I'd already decided to set most of the next Boss MacTavin mystery here. And in the past four months I've acquired a working sense of Seattle--specifically, the rougher parts that I wanted to make my real focus. So I might have just jumped in and started to write...But I did what I always do, beginning with a journal I proceeded to fill up with questions and notes.

I may end up using 10% of my research. Even so, I won't regard the 90% as a waste. I want the confidence level that comes with knowing 100%. I want the sense of power that comes with carefully selecting. So, here I am spending a couple of months researching things that cross my mind as the book in my head gathers more depth and shape. And every now and then some cool thing I learn will offer the plot line a dazzling new spin.

Back to school now to learn more about:
1) Alternative weapons.
2) Retail theft: by both shoplifters and staff.
3) 3rd and Pike, 'The Scourge of Seattle'.
4) Pioneer Squars
5) Tent cities for the homeless.
6) The ritzier parts of Seattle.
7) Drug use and alcoholism.
8) Racial make-up of Seattle.
9) Income diversity.

Viva, La Digging!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Perfect Planner 2: Forging It

In part 1 I made the case for unformatted notebooks as planners. The first challenge was to find one that rang bells in terms of appearance and size: not too small and not too big, neither too cheap nor too pricey. Now the second, greater challenge is how to make it work for you. The ruling principle is this: the planner should be a means of recording and planning your days...also a way of compelling yourself to take action--if you set something down, you will do it.

A few suggested caveats,

1) Don't confuse your planner with a journal, as you'll see done in this hourly planner:

2) Don't confuse your planner with a diary, as you'll see done here:

3) Don't confuse your planner with a creative log like this:

4) Do feel free to use a pencil and a ruler to format the pages however you please--as this creative planner did:

The MacRath Solution:

There were three areas I needed to track in a 240-page notebook that had to last me a year.
1) Acts/Appointments
2) Physical: Gym/Additional home exercise/Nutrition
3) Writing: to-do's including composition, networking, reading, reviewing, blogging, etc.

I also hoped to add a few lines per day for two motivational notes: an intention that I visualized as being achieved...and a perception, or lightbulb, for the day.

1) I divided each notebook page into halves, horizontally--giving me two days per page, each page consisting of 11 lines.
2) Thus, I worked in four-page batches with a full half-page left after the 7th day. I would use this free half-page to list the things I needed to accomplish in the week.
3) Between the 11-line days, I allowed two lines apiece for notes on Intention and Perception.
4) The master stroke, for me, was dividing the 11-line days into three equal vertical columns, one for each of my chosen areas. 

I have enough pages left over at the back end for important addresses and notes. Plus, there's a Moleskine-style pouch on the inside of the back cover.

After decades of trying one planner after another, I've become a happy camper. And you can be one too if you stop forcing your style to fit someone else's format.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Can I Be Writing When I'm Not?

You've all heard the stories of writers who never go a day without writing 8-18 hours. They may take a day off each week, month or year. Likewise, you all know of actors who don't bother with breaks between films. Good for them, for all of them. You read their books and watch their films...and curse your own lack of money and time.

But today let's consider two shining contrary examples. And, at the same time, let's rethink what it means to be working in art. This post is not a poke at Literary Factories or an argument that writers should write fewer books. I've set my sights on one question:

Are some artists actually working when they appear to be idle?

In the last thirty years, Daniel Day-Lewis has starred in 15 films.--with 'down times' ranging from two to five years. Famous for his role preparations, he recharges...considers his options...prepares his acting strategies...and gets into character.

Ira (Rosemary's Baby) Levin wrote seven novels and nine plays. from 1953-1997. Levin took fourteen years after his first book to give us Rosemary's Baby. After Boys From Brazil, he took fifteen years to return with Sliver, the title reflecting the format and length. Call him the Daniel Day-Lewis of the writing business. One can imagine him playing cat-and-mouse with his famous plot twists for as long as he needed to nail them. You don't tell a writer like Levin 'Just sit down and write the book.' He'd roar back, 'Shut up--I am writing!'


Pat Conroy still takes his Southern time: six novels since 1976, with fourteen years between Beach Music and South of Broad, nine years between Prince of Tides and Beach Music. Did he work at his desk eighteen hours a day on these books exclusively? He'd have gone mad if he did. He recharged, planned ahead, and kept his motor running through efforts that pleased and relaxed him: a cookbook, a book of essays on 'military brats', a childhood memoir and a book about playing basketball at The Citadel. Six novels in four decades--but six that could not have been written any other way. Not by him.

Both writers made their fortunes through well-filmed versions of their work. So they could afford to take as long as they liked on their next books. True enough. But do recall: both writers took the years required to write books that brought Hollywood calling. And those years, we can be sure, involved some significant down time.

We all need to shake any shame we may have over down times of our own--and to lose all envy of those who work around the clock. The better we understand the nature of our own process, the more tolerant and patient we are, the more efficiently we will be able to work--yes, even when we're 'idling'.

My own mindset changed last year, After completing Red Champagne, I wanted to begin work immediately on the next Boss MacTavin mystery. But the story line hadn't come clear and my confidence level kept sinking. I spent a full month beating up on myself...while I hustled Red Champagne, paced and brooded, worked on my two blogs and worked out at the gym.

One day, at last, I felt the itch and started taking notes, not a thought in my head about how others work. It's always worked this way for me: notes first, then a detailed outline...then one day I know that I'm ready and start. The key difference for me, this time, was this: I understood that I'd been working, as a writer, all along: in the gym, on my blogs..I'd been working on my new book, in my own way.

Now, I don't have any ambition to 'sell' my style to everyone. My ambition is far simpler: to make clear that there are many ways of working on a book...and that writers who need down time should treat their working idle time with love and respect.

After all, there are saner ambitions than to end up like this:

And let this not be said because you would not take the time:

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Perfect Planner 1: Finding It

You could spend the whole month of December looking for a planner that's made for you--and fail. In fact, you could spend a lifetime pursuing the same quest in vain. The burgeoning planner industry plays to averages and numbers, rather than personal needs. In your search you will find a bewildering number of styles, designs and sizes:

Franklin Covey 34684: Sierra Simulated Leather Organizer Deluxe Starter Set, 7-3/4 x 10-1/4, Black

In my lifetime, I have tried almost every style, at prices ranging from a $5 to $75.  The fact that I kept changing shows my dissatisfaction with the industry options I found. I kept looking for something tailored to my needs::
--I have very few formal appointments.
--I don't want a highly regimented planner like Franklin Covey (7 Habits) or DayTimer.
--I don't want to waste my time or tough on extras and accessories.
--Rather than a journal, log or appointment book, I need a planner that's in equal part: organizer, tracker, motivator and ferocious daily nag, An ongoing reminder to: Don't dream about it, do it!

The closest I came to a MacRath-style planner was a pocket-size number from Moleskine, 3"x5" for $18.

--Portable size.
--Design: two-page weekly spreads. Left: seven sections for daily to-do's. Right: a ruled blank page for notes, weekly overall intentions, motivational notes, etc.
--Superb Moleskine quality.

--The too easy to lose size for a man on the go. In one month two of these fell from the pocket of my cargo pants or the side pocket of my backpack.
--Plenty of room on the right side, but not enough room in the dailies.
--Cost: I'll spend $18-$25 for a Moleskine writing notebook. But not for a third planner that wasn't made for me.
--The design fails to satisfy my unique need for a turbo-charged blend of planning, tracking and nudging.

I found the perfect planner while rummaging through Barnes and Noble.
Piccadilly - Color Essential Notebooks:

Piccadilly rivals Moleskine quality...at a fraction of the cost. I bought the above notebook on sale for $5.88...at least $25 cheaper than I would have paid for Moleskine.
Size: 5"x8"...still portable but not something I'm likely to lose.
Pages: 120 ruled sheets or 240 pages.
Potential: 2 days per page would last a year...with plenty of room at the back for my more stylized needs: notating monthly recharge dates of electronic devices...recording incidents at work with dates, times, detailed notes...logging a job search or ebook promotional campaign...
Strategy: the world was my oyster for those two days per page. I'd been freed. Now, unbound, I had only to decide the right--the MacRathian--way.
Colors: For those who lack the stones to tote a coral-colored notebook, you'll find other colors here:

Next week, in part 2, I'll tell you in detail how I transformed my Piccadilly into my own perfect planner.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weekly or Daily Weakly News? My New Blog Direction

Well, thanks to all of you, I've given myself a fine challenge this year: to strengthen this blog through more regular posts and to give the blog more definition. Frequency first: how could I post here more often while contributing to two other blogs monthly and working on a new novel? Correction: how could I post here more often in a way that's best for readers?

Two posts a week should do the trick, so long as the posts score high points for usefulness, insight and pith. Far too many blogs I've seen go on for thousands of words. Who has time? A few hundred words are more like it for me--and when I read, I want those few to be as tightly edited as in a well-written novel. The blog goal that works best for me: Be brief, be blunt, be gone.

So much for frequency and length. On now to content, with you again in mind. Two posts a week about writing seems more than a little bit yawny to me. But maybe you'd enjoy a weekly split along these lines:
1) one post a week about writing and...
2) one post a week about something that strikes my fancy--or gets my goat, And there's a long list, bubbaloos, of things that do get the MacRathian goat.

I want you to know when you come to this blog that, whatever the day's menu, you'll be pleasantly filled but not stuffed...the ingredients will be fresh and lovingly prepared...and the service will never be hurried or slow.

The first proper New Year post will deal with the challenge I faced in constructing a dayplanner customized to my own needs.

As you've guessed, that isn't mine. I came up with something that, I guess, looks like hell...but is working like  a charm. And I'll tell you about it on Monday, 1/5.

Your seat will be waiting. And I think you'll like the reboot made with you in mind.