Monday, May 26, 2014

Buying Back My Faith in Humanity

Our front door was ‘upgraded’ a few days ago, and it really shattered my faith in humanity. It probably wouldn’t have been so traumatic if I hadn’t needed to replace my electric shaver the week before.

Allow me to explain:

My old shaver was great; it came with a handsome faux-leather carrying case, sturdy cleaning brushes and a pop-up sideburn trimmer but, sadly, it was getting on and was more than ready for the electric shaver retirement home so I went out and bought a new one. The new one had no carrying case, a sorry excuse for a cleaning brush and no pop-up trimmer. And, needless to say the device as a whole could have served as the poster-shaver for low-quality material, poor workmanship and a complete lack of concern for producing anything remotely satisfying for the customer.

This, naturally, put me in that “everything just keeps getting shittier” frame of mind so I was pre-primed when they came to ‘improve’ my door.

Still, I generally don’t invest that much emotion in a door, but this is a venerable old door: it’s the same one we’ve been using since we moved in and, over the years, it has done everything you could ask of a door: it opened, it closed, it had a brass letter slot that allowed the postman to slip the mail though so it landed on the inside mat with a satisfying ‘thunk’ (and scared the life out of me every time it happened). Granted, it had a large gash on the front, making it look suspiciously like a battering ram had been applied to it in the past, and pieces of the door jamb appear to have been hurriedly tacked into place, but this only served to enhance its appeal.

(By the way, some years after we moved in, we found out that the previous tenant had died in bed and, after not being seen for days, the police came and battered down the door.)

Heedless of our wishes, on the appointed day a workman came to tell me he couldn’t do the door because he had an emergency in another flat where a woman—whose door had just been upgraded—had locked herself out because the improved doors swing closed automatically. So he made a new appointment and left me wondering what I would have done if I suffered the inconvenience of a job and thinking that they were going to have a great deal of those types of emergencies in the future.

In all the years I have lived, well, anywhere really, never once has this thought entered my mind: “You know, if only my front door swung closed by itself, what a huge improvement that would make to my life.”

Yes, after managing to unlock, it while carrying several bags of groceries, I could kick it open with my foot only to have it slam closed in my face. Or I could step outside in my bathrobe to put the trash on the front porch only to hear the ominous sound of myself being locked out. How have I been getting along without that innovation all these years?

And so, on the second appointed day, the workman came and ‘upgraded’ my door. The door itself would remain, but everything associated with it—the locks, the hinges, the letter slot—would be improved.

So the workman took the old, battered door from the door frame and spent several noisy hours sawing and sanding and filling my flat with a thin layer of dust. Then he returned the door to its previous location and explained the improvements.

In addition to the new self-closing hinges, the upgraded door features the latest in letter-slot technology, which includes flaps that snap closed (seriously, you could use them as mouse-traps) on both the outside and the inside, and contains within something that looks like a set of miniature whisk-brooms. These are designed, of course, to make it impossible for the postman to push your mail through. They can only stuff it in far enough so that a bit shows on the other side and you have to wench it through the rest of the way. A huge improvement if you like your mail crumpled and torn.

There were also improved locks, which looked a lot like the old locks but which the workman assured me were more secure. I asked him if he might fix the door jamb to make it so that, if someone happened to lean against the new, secure locks, the tacked on pieces of wood wouldn’t simply snap off, but he told me all he was authorized to do was upgrade the doors, not the door frames.

All of this put me in serious funk and left me scouring my mind for a single example of something, anything, that had actually made my life better for having been ‘improved’ but I could not find a single one.

It was with these grim thoughts that I went to the pub where I ordered my usual pint and handed the requisite amount to the barkeep. Then I received a penny back in change.

“We lowered the price of a pint,” the barkeep said, as I continued to stare in wonder at the penny.

I smiled. “You have just restored my faith in humanity,” I said, and it was true.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks: Yet Another Cover for Rachel

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcasts to bring you this update on the state of Finding Rachel Davenport – the paperback. It has a new cover:

She's new, she's purple, she's...naked?
It also has a new price: $6.99 (or £6.33 or €7.42). This is not a limited-time offer or anything like that, it’s just that, when I uploaded the new cover, I noticed the paperback was priced at $9.99 and that was a mistake—I had always meant to price it lower. (This could explain the enthusiasm customers displayed in avoiding buying the paperback—practically as soon as I set it to $6.99, someone bought a copy.)

Pricing aside, this new cover is not to be confused with the cover for the e-book…

Don't confuse the price, either: this is only £1.61 including VAT
…or the erstwhile cover for the paperback…

…or the fact that the e-book started life with a different cover altogether.

So, why the confusion and indecision over the cover, and why am I seeking to make it even worse? I’m not; I’m trying to clear things up.

Finding Rachel Davenport began life as an e-book published by Prospera Press’ Opis Imprint with what I thought was a dynamite cover:

 The readers, however, seemed to disagree, so the publishers, who seem to know what they are doing, asked if I would consider changing the cover. I did. I like the new cover and, although readers aren’t exactly snapping e-copies off of the virtual shelves, the book is e-selling fairly consistently.

The publishers also allowed me to publish the paperback version myself, which came in handy for sending hard-copies to reviewers, as well as friends and family. (What, you didn’t get your free copy? It must have got lost in the mail; the good news is, you can now buy a copy at the reduced price of $6.99.)

Anyway, producing the paperback copy was a snap, but the cover was a bit out of my purview. So I spent a few hours with Photoshop and came up with this:

Not bad for someone who doesn't know what they are doing.
I considered this an adequate and (let’s face it) fairly lame cover, but one that would suffice as a stop-gap measure. Then I stumbled across One on One – 101 True Encounters by Craig Brown in the local book store:

Doesn't seem quite as lame now, does it?
 This book was published by Fourth Estate books, a reputable publisher (Annie Proulx, anyone?) that, I assume, has a stable of professional cover artists at its disposal (or at least a brother-in-law who took Commercial Illustration 101 at the local community college), and the cover they came up with looked an awful lot like my lame done-in-an-afternoon effort.

This, of course, meant I could pat myself on the back for a job well done and go about my business, but eventually I realized I had to bring in a pro. So I hired JD Designs and she came up with the new paperback cover, which I think is a bit cheeky, over-the-top, flashy, and captures the tone of the book pretty well.

(Quick aside: I thought the silhouette looked too much like a naked woman, so I asked the designer to add the cape. Now  the silhouette looks like a naked woman wearing a cape. Still, it's a result.) 

So to recap:

LT: The PAPERBACK, published by Lindenwald Press   RT: The EBOOK, published by Prospera Publishing 
This situation should hold steady until my contract with Prospera runs out, at which point I put the new, purple cover on both editions. I will, of course, write another post at that time, under the guise of keeping you up-to-date, but which will really be a thinly disguised reminder that I have a book (several, in fact) out there and ...

Hang on, someone’s at the door.

How is that for serendipity? The postie just arrived with my shipment of Finding Rachel Davenport sporting her spiffy, new cover. (No, I did not make that up—the post came just as I was typing that paragraph.)

Pretty snazzy, eh? Now go buy a copy.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fun With Toilet Paper

Gosh, nearly a month since I’ve posted anything new! Sorry, but the, um, sun was in my eyes and, ahh, my dog ate my homework and…okay, I’m sort of a lazy sod.

To make up for my inexcusable hiatus, allow me to bring you a bit of whimsy:

My wife and I buy toilet paper by the gross. It’s the one thing we can buy in bulk because it is the one thing—in our diminutive flat—that we have ample storage for. When we find ourselves running low, we buy the biggest economy-size package we can find and dump it all in a basket on the shelf in our loo.

Many people would be satisfied with a heap of toilet roll, but every now and again one or the other of us gets it in our head to arrange them in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Stacking them, of course, was the initial response...

... but this led to a series of Jenga-type competitions...

…and morphed into Romanesque architecture.

Then I decided to add a bit of flair…

…which culminated in this sort of tribute to the Wicker Man.

We called foul on that and now the introduction of internal structural materials is discouraged because we’re running out of coat hangers.

It does occur to me, however, that glue and duct tape is not yet on the exclusion list, so you never know what might appear next.