Monday, January 24, 2011

Words + Music = The Blues

Blues performer John Rogers gave WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) members a glimpse into the life of a wordsmith who sets his tales to music, in the tradition of the Blues.

He traced the source of the blues, words recalling deeds and woes set in a sing-song form which made the telling easier to recall for the teller and easier on the ear of the listener. Unlike lyrical Broadway musicals with Moon, June, Spoon rhyming words, the blues can be childish verse (Mary Had a Little Lamb)or a litany of woeful episodes, told against a rhythmic musical beat.

He strummed his acoustical guitar for an hour or so talking/singing a potted history of the blues and those who had carved a name for themselves in the genre. Rather like writers known for their romances, historical novels, mystery and war. Those who attended could be seen reflecting on incidents in their lives which might qualify for the Blues.

And the good-news for those musically challenged - the blues can be talked or croaked within the comfort-zone of the story-teller. Hitting High-C is not a requirement. However, playing an instrument would be a plus!

ps: spoons are considered an instrument ;^))

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tools To Write By

I don't know what children use to write their first words today, but white chalk and a grey slate board was my first tool.

It's not quite as archaic as it sounds. Teachers communicated to students by demonstrating on a wall-mounted blackboard, using chalk. A classroom toady, inevitably seated as close to the teacher's desk as was humanly possible, gleefully grabbed the chalk-eraser at the end of class to expunge the lessons of the day.

Later it moved up to colored wax crayons which, fortunately, I did not develop a taste for. I vividly recall watching the rigorous efforts of the matronly schoolteacher wielding a rough cloth towel on another kindergartner, trying to expunge the purple lipstick-like glob from him.

Teachers indulged in a lot of “hands-on” activity, from tweaked and cuffed ears, to knuckle ruler-raps. Lurking in the background was the ever-present threat of a canning and the ultimate humiliating punishment – a thrashing before the assembled school. In a world which readily accepted the premise of “spare the rod and spoil the child”, and heartily subscribed to the concept of corporeal punishment as a valuable teaching tool, watching one's P's & Q's was a survival tactic.

Transferring oversized block letters from chalk to crayon to pencil and reducing word size to fit between the lines of ruled paper, was a milestone moment.

The ritual of pencil-sharpening, at the hand-cranked pencil-sharpener mounted on the wall – within striking distance of the teacher – encouraged most to acquire a pencil box with rubber-eraser and hand-held pencil sharpener. It also introduced pen-knives into the lives of children who were repeatedly admonished to “don't run with an open blade.”

Another major leap forward, from creating whole words in pencil, was to join block letters into cursive, using steel-nib pens and black ink. The institutionally issued ink, carefully measured into porcelain ink-wells by ink-monitors before being placed into individual desks, became a constant source of consternation. Not only did it react to weather conditions, rather like syrup in the winter and watery during summer, but it seemed to have a mind of its own.

Along with pen and ink came the indispensable blotting-paper. A thick, usually pink or green, absorbent paper whose pores soaked up spilled ink and dried-off freshly penned prose. [Also, most effective as pellets, the ink-soaked missiles most found – and always left - their mark.]

The skill of cursive words was not so much in the steady hand of the writer so much as the careful intake of ink. To much created messy disaster and to little created chicken-scratch paper rips.

School-issue pens, with their slender white-wood handles the size of a drinking-straw, and sharp steel-nibs, were strictly utilitarian. They were designed to get the job – children, writing for the use of – done. The nibs may have been designed to create cursive words; the split point spreading for broad down-strokes and together for other maneuvers, may have looked identical but each reacted differently. Either they delivered to much ink to the point of the pen, or not enough. The first resulted in ink blobs on paper where their should have been a letter – the other called for a quick flick ( which could result in a Jackson Pollock-appearing page... and neighbor) or a student's saliva. The theory was, moistened pen-nibs allowed the ink to flow more freely.

One very apparent reality, based on the appearance of black-ink lipsticked students, is it was a common practice. Also, a precursor to smoker's nicotine-stained fingers, ink-covered fingers were a sure indication of a pen-writing student and an introduction to a pumice-stone scrubbing session.

No all of the writing disasters were a result of the product issued.

Boys being boys, numerous other uses were found other than writing, for pens. They became darts or arrows, depending whether they were thrown or projected from a sock-garter or rubber band. They were excellent close-quarters swords or daggers in impromptu fights and scuffles. They became catapults for rubber erasers broken into capsule-sized projectiles stuck on the nib, braced back and released. They were also quite handy and retrieving coins in floor-cracks, and other objects just out of finger reach. Following their extra-curricular activities, the nibs did not fare well in the intended purpose, consequently exercise book writing was not of prize-wining copperplate quality.

Depending on the depth of the student's parents pockets, school-issue pens could be replaced with store-bought pens and special gold-tipped nibs or fountain-pens with platinum tips. The ritual began with unscrewing the bottle of quality ink. Blue was most popular, followed by purple, red and green; although the red was usually reserved for diagrams – or teacher's comments, corrections and grading. A rubber tube within the shaft of the pen was depressed and inflate – siphoning ink up from the bottle – by a lever in the body of the shaft. Depending on the bladder size, a writer could complete several pages in luxury, with no need to dip a pen nib.

That was the extent of school writing tools, despite the newly invented ball-point pen marketed by Biro and later, Bic. The schoolboy scribblings which some teachers described as “marks left by a drunken spider who crawled out of an inkwell” caused ball-point pens to be banned from school.

Pen-nibs may have created pools of ink, blots and scratches but they forced students into measured and methodical strokes to ensure fewer errors. The universal point of ball-point pens had so such restrictions and the resulting writings were often as indecipherable to students as well as teachers.

My quantum leap into the writing tool future, beyond handwritten notes, essays and stories, came for me with an ancient early 1900's Oliver typewriter, retrieved from a junk-shop after school. It weighed in at 30-pounds, looked like the twin-peaks of a two-hump Asian camel (or Mae West) and took a major down-stroke workout to get the keys clacking onto the roller.

It may have looked odd, and could give me a hernia relocating it from one desk site to another, but the wobbly printed letters were legible. Writing produced on paper via a black-ink ribbon, began to look like a book.

It launched a lifetime love and a career in the craft which has lasted to this day.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Save The Sahara Forests - Before Its To Late [pre-BC Press Release]

Protesters turn Parliament effigy into a pyre at Forest of Dean site (Guardian)

I'm getting emails from County folks and others in UK concerned with the fate of the fading forests. They're looking for signatures on a petition, and to raise awareness before it becomes a fait accompli. You probably know more about it than me - but if not, here's the gen.

BTW, earlier tree-hugging procrastinators (see headline) paid the price ;^))

@ @ @

Dear (YOUR Name),

Happy New Year! Over the holidays 50,000 more people joined the campaign against government plans to sell off our woodlands. That means that over 135,000 of us have now signed the Save Our Forests petition.

Together we're making sure the forest sell off plans are noticed. The huge petition has encouraged experts to speak out and it's been on the news and in lots of newspapers.

But the government is still trying to sneak through new laws so they can sell all our forests. We need to stop them. A huge petition will force them to think again.

Please help get past 150,000 signatures by forwarding this e-mail and asking your friends to sign as well:

If they want to read more about what could happen to our forests before they sign the petition, there are links to lots of recent newspaper articles explaining what's going on here:

A lot of people still haven't heard about the government's plans to sell off our woodlands. We need to spread the word. We need to make sure people know about these plans while they are still just plans - not when it's too late and forests are already being fenced off, run down, logged or built over.

If enough people sign the petition, we can make the government think again. This campaign is growing every day. Thousands of us have chipped in to raise nearly £20,000 for the Save Our Forests campaign fund. That's money we can use to put pressure on the government by holding Save Our Forests events across the country, hiring experts to expose the flaws in the government plans and making sure that politicians know how many of us want to protect our forests.

A petition of 150,000 will be one of the biggest ever - something the government can't ignore. Please ask your friends to join the Save Our Forests campaign by signing the petition at:

If you use Facebook, please also spread the word by sharing the petition on your profile:

If you use Twitter, please send a “tweet” about the petition by clicking here:

Forests like the Forest of Dean, the New Forest, Grizedale, Thetford, and Alice Holt are national treasures. Once they’re gone, they are lost forever. If we get enough signatures on the petition, we have a bigger chance of making sure they are protected for wildlife and future generations.

Please ask your friends to join the campaign to save our forests by signing the petition here:

Thanks for being involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny and the 38 Degrees team

[1] You can read articles and find links to videos about the campaign here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kindle's "Mini-Books" Balloon - Is It Just A Marketing Ploy?

Those wonderful people I love to hate -- Amazon -- the brick 'n mortar bookshop killers, floated a test balloon before writers recently. This ploy requires wannabe contributors to respond, presumably to determine if enough writers go for it.

Dunno if the idea burst or is still being calculated by the Bezos Bean Counters, but it might be a potential venue for short-haul story-tellers.

It could plug the gap between 99-cent short stories at one end, now being offered on other sites, and $9.99 tomes at the other. The more markets the merrier.

Here's the skinny in case you overlooked it:

SEATTLE, Oct 12, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) --
(NASDAQ:AMZN)--Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.
Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.
"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."
Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be "Buy Once, Read Everywhere"--customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.
To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact