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The Future of Editing: Beta Readers and Agile Publishing

As discussed in a previous post, the single greatest barrier to producing a quality Indie book may be Editing. Unless it’s Marketing or Writing the Damn Book in the first place. This is a very good piece on the topic.

 

SELF-PUBLISHING FOR REAL PEOPLE #2

How and Where Should You Publish?

A Porter Hall Novel

The first question you will have to answer is are you going to publish in ebook, print, or both? The definitive answer is: It depends. First it depends on what type of book you are publishing, mainstream fiction, genre fiction, a cookbook, a guidebook, a how-to book, a self-help book. The first question you must answer is, Who is your audience? How will they use your book? For example, someone buying a cookbook may care more about a hard copy than someone reading genre fiction.

If you want a print edition, you have one big decision. Print-on-demand or a print run and inventory? That question turns into a choice between Amazon’s CreateSpace, or Bookbaby or similar? The answer (again): It depends. Will your readers primarily be buying online, or will you be going around to clubs and events selling and signing. If it’s the latter, you should may want to go with Bookbaby, or Outskirts, or Blurb, or anyone of a number of similar sites that let you do a print run of anywhere from twenty-five to several thousand. You can also order in bulk through Amazon POD. If you do a print run, however, you have to pay for it in advance, manage the inventory and take care of sales and distribution.

I chose CreateSpace for my initial publication for one simple reason: Print On Demand. That means readers who want a print version of my book can order it from Amazon. Right now it’s selling for about $8. I make less than a dollar per copy, but I priced it that way to (hopefully) stimulate sales. The Kindle version is .99, right now. I can reset the price at any time. It takes about five minutes. Amazon prints and ships in whatever quantity is ordered, and the POD is available for delivery within 24 hours, generally.  I don’t have to purchase inventory, maintain it, or ship it. If I want to send sign copies to friends, reviewers, or a reader who requests one, I buy it, have it sent to me, then reship it. Media mail, the least expensive way to ship, costs about $3.

Kindle, Cobo, Nook, etc.? Which format should you chose? All of them, probably. I believe within the year we will see a slow eradication of formats and eventually there will be either one standard ebook format, or all devices will accept all formats. The reason is that tablets, computers and smartphones already do, and the dedicated devices, primarily Kindle, Nook and Cobo, become superfluous in the face of something like an Android tablet or iPad, which can read everything, and do more than either, at the same price or less. I had my car broken into in April and one of the things stolen was my Kindle. I replaced it with a 7-inch Samsung tablet, which is far more useful. Right now my book, ONE MINUTE GONE, is available only on Kindle because of some promotional tools Amazon offers if it is exclusive to them. Within a week I’m going to open it up to all formats. I’ll let you know how that goes.

NEXT: Pricing strategy.

Please visit my website at Davidhansard.com

SELF-PUBLISHING FOR REAL PEOPLE #1: You Need a Team

Self-publishing is not hard, but there is more to it than you might think unless you’ve actually done it. This series is not about telling you how to do it, but telling you how I did it, what I went through. In most cases, what you will go through will be similar to my experience in getting my first novel, ONE MINUTE GONE, live on Amazon in both ebook and trade paperback forms.

There are a lot service providers, platforms and sites that will help you self-publish. Below is the list of my providers. It doesn’t matter who you use, or which platforms you choose, but these are the essential pieces of self-publishing.

INTERNAL FORMATTING, TYPESET & COVER DESIGN: This is the process of converting your Word file, or whatever word processor your finished manuscript is in, to a form, generally a PDF, that will become your book between the covers. In addition to your novel, or whatever the content is, you will probably want to add a copyright page, acknowledgements, dedication, and author bio. Keith Snyder at Typeflowny.com did all of this for me. Because Keith is a talented graphic designer I had him do my cover, though generally the internal setup and cover design come from separate sources. Keith is a mystery author himself, but does a wide range of designs for children, YA, sports, poetry, etc. His prices are reasonable, he’s professional, prompt, and easy to work with. In addition to the formatting for print, as part of the package, Keith also formatted mine for Kindle and other ebook vendors.

COVER ART: I purchased the rights to a photo of Lower Manhattan from http://iStock.com. I first found it on another photo bank, which was selling it for more than I wanted to pay. After half an hour of scanning, I finally found the same photo in iStock for a third of what the other site was asking. Keith modified it and turned it into—what I think—is a terrific cover. Of course, you can do your cover yourself, but, unless you are a talented designer, it will look amateurish. When you are selling online, your cover is one of your most important promotional tools.

WEBSITE DESIGN AND MAINTENANCE: You really need a website, and you can do it yourself. Generally (see COVER ART), that’s a bad idea. I used Maddee James at xuni.com. Maddee is unbelievably good, which is why she has a waiting list. She was a dream to work with. She used to do only crime fiction, but has recently expanded to romance and YA. Check out my website, http://davidhansard.com, and then go to Xuni.com and look at some of Maddee’s other client sites.

NEXT: CHOOSING A PLATFORM: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookbaby, etc. And how do you PRICE YOUR BOOK, the ebook and the hardcopy?

Self-publishing made easy

My first novel, ONE MINUTE GONE, is live on Amazon after many years and countless (literally) rewrites and edits. I had an agent who tried to sell it, didn’t, so I decided to publish it myself using CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publshing format. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I guess. Follow these steps exactly:

  1. Write the book, several times.
  2. Drink some, smoke something illegal, take pills.
  3. Rewrite the book, several times.
  4. Repeat 2, and continue to Repeat 2 after each step.
  5. Edit it several times.
  6. Send it out for a professional edit.
  7. Reedit following the professional edit, several times.
  8. Get a cover design.
  9. Get the internal files formatted.
  10. Reread entire manuscript, which will cause your head to explode. Fortunately, mine was mostly empty.
  11. Get a website created.
  12. Publish on CreateSpace.
  13. Publish for Kindle.
  14. Find out your brilliant cover has turned black under Amazon’s algorithms.
  15. Reload a new cover.
  16. Wait.
  17. Return to step #2.

Questions?

 

The New Norman Normal. He looks a lot like you. And me.

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The idea of “normal” is one of the simplest and most difficult concepts in all of human discourse. While getting an undergraduate degree in philosophy, I became well-acquainted with the idea of “normative ethics” and “normative behavior.” As a graduate student studying film theory and criticism, the idea of normative was a fundamental requirement as a basis of any sort of criticism. Nothing can be decreed either good or bad unless you have a standard, a norm to measure it against. But while the concept may be useful, even essential, it can also be destructive and repressive. The critical problem is that Normal is, by definition, self-centric. Normal is me. Normal is how I see the world. What else could it be? In our entire life, in the life of every individual of every life form on this or any other planet, there is only one mind we are ever in, and that is our own. We require the concept of Normal to negotiate our own existence. As humans, we gravitate to those who think like us, who believe like us, who walk and talk and look like us.

My “normal” is a constant struggle with time, with the organization of time, with the very concept of time. I’ve tried countless things, and continue to try new things. “Make a list.” Do you know how many times I’ve heard that? I do make a list, and then I lose the list, forget the list. Or start out to do the first thing on the list and two hours later I’m organizing my toolbox, which was never on any list, and still haven’t checked off Numero Uno. Some “coping techniques” help, some don’t. To those who don’t struggle with time wrangling, i.e., those who don’t have ADHD (which comes in many shapes and sizes and manifestations), I am lazy, disrespectful, and live on a diet of bullshit excuses. To me, those who think like that are ignorant bigots. To me, they seem sick. I am not. I am normal.

The reality is, and we are now approaching such a level of sophistication in our investigation of the brain that this can be confirmed, there is an incredible array, a monstrous tapestry of normal, and it is that very diversity, the one that so often perplexes and frustrates us, that contributes to the survival and success of the human race. We thrive as a species because there are so many different normals, and when one normal fails, other normals prevail. Check with Charles Darwin. Of course, if you are one of those normals who thinks evolution is a Satan-driven hoax, you dismiss natural selection as heathen conspiracy. You are a Believer; I am a Doubter.

In the course of human history there have no doubt been times when True Believers saved us, just as there have been times when the Doubters, the Questioners the Nonbelievers, did too. It’s not our fault we don’t agree, or don’t like each other. We were born that way. God/Evolution (pick one) made us that way. Because, borrowing the words of Noel Paul Stookey, this new “Norman Normal, he looks a lot like you.” And me.

And like Eleanor Longden. Eleanor hears voices. Read “Why I Thank the Voices in my Head.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eleanor-longden/voices-in-our-heads-ted-talk_b_3791908.html

It turns out a lot of people hear voices, and while some of those who do may have difficulty functioning in day-to-day existence (as do some who don’t hear voices), some get along just fine. It is normal. It is their normal, and they do not need to be on anti-psychotics, but need to be understood, need to have help in understanding this phenomenon with which they live and with which most of us do not. At other times, in other cultures, those who heard voices were not considered crazy or defective. They were considered blessed. Both they and others believed God was speaking to them. They were oracles. They were the chosen ones. Remember Moses, who climbed a mountain to take dictation from God? Twice. Remember Joan of Arc? A great many, if not all of the world’s religions were founded, shaped, driven by men and women we would today consider delusional. God told Abraham to kill his son. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness talking to Satan and meeting with long-dead prophets. Sure, that sounds reasonable. Where’s the dude with the Thorazine and Haldol when we need him? Does he stock Adderall too?

As Bob Dylan put it (and if there were a God, I would argue he speaks to Dylan–or used to):

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”                                                                         Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”                                                                     God say, “No.” Abe say, “What ? “God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but                                                                                   The next time you see me comin’ you better run”                                                              Well Abe says, “Where do you want      this killin’ done ?”                                                     God says. “Out on Highway 61”.

So if there are any True Believers out there who want to further discuss this with a True Non-Believer, I’m happy to meet you at Starbucks. Be advised I will probably be ten to fifteen minutes late. Unless I completely forget, and that happens, too. Fairly often. Please don’t take it personally.

CJ Box: THE HIGHWAY: What kind of sick mind…?

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In a one-star review one reader said he didn’t care about all the critical acclaim for the author. He said,  “…I still don’t want to fill my heart and head with these products of a sick mind.”

The comments from pre-release reviews of CJ Box’s THE HIGHWAY have been overwhelmingly positive though there has been an undercurrent of discomfort, sometimes anger, from both long-time Box fans and those reading him for the first time. With this book, far more than his others, people love it or hate it, and there’s not much in between.  The balance is heavily on the “love it” side, but there is an intensity and consistency to the negative points of view that bear consideration.

THE HIGHWAY is based on actual events, dozens, maybe hundreds, of unsolved abductions, disappearances, and murders of women, many, but not all, prostitutes. That’s what this book is about. If you want lighter, but still excellent fare, check out stories that feature Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot.

THE HIGHWAY, from the first page to the last, is intense and dark, at least compared Box’s Joe Pickett series, as well as his other standalones. It’s not dark compared to Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, or Ross MacDonald’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY, but next to the stories of Joe and Mary Beth and their girls, with best friend/loose cannon Nate Romanowski in a sidecar, this one is as black and frightening as Wyoming wilderness on a moonless night.

Part of the reason for the grimness is that you are led into the story by one of Box’s most troubled and complex protagonists, a lawman some consider to be a “borderline psychopath” himself, Cody Hoyt. Cody first appeared in THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE, and reappeared in BACK OF BEYOND. He is a fired, disgraced (in some eyes) cop, who consistently manages to do the right thing, and just as consistently manages to do it in the wrong way. He has a gift for making almost everyone on both sides of the deal upset with him. He’s your friend from high school or college that you loved being around even though every time you got in a car with him you knew two things: it would be an adventure; and you were probably going to get into trouble, maybe a lot of trouble.

CJ Box has taken fictional fee simple title to a good portion of the American West, the same way Tony Hillerman did the Big Rez, Raymond Chandler did post-depression Los Angeles, and John D. MacDonald did South Florida. THE HIGHWAY, however, though set in Wyoming and Montana, does not fit a restricted geography. It jumps the rail and busts the barricades of single locale. The true location of THE HIGHWAY is not a couple of Western states, it is America, broad and deep, as defined by that endless center-striped ribbon of road that is an organism unto itself. The American highway, perhaps more than any other physical feature of the continent, including the Rockies, the mighty Mississippi, the Great Plains, (I know, queue soundtrack: “Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies…”) embodies our culture. This man-made tentacle calibrates American consciousness like nothing else. From Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, which plays through Cheyenne, to Stirling Silliphant’s ROUTE 66, to THELMA AND LOUISE, and the literally countless chase and road movies, TV shows, and films, this is us. THE HIGHWAY is America.

Box has fine-tuned his best-selling Pickett series to such a degree he could shift to overdrive and cruise as long as he wanted. He has chosen not to do that, challenging both his readers and himself by taking on narrative tasks that few, if any, other writers are up to. He does it notably in the Pickett book, COLD WIND, and he does it in spades in THE HIGHWAY. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to talk about how he does it in either without spilling a barrel of spoilers. But I will say this. Every time you think you know where the story is going, you are probably wrong; and, though I have read hundreds of crime fiction novels, there came a point deep in the tale at which my jaw dropped and I quit breathing for a moment. I was stunned in a way I don’t remember, ever, at least not since the scene in THE EXORCIST in which Linda Blair’s head did a three-sixty. What happened in THE HIGHWAY can’t happen in a story like this. But it did.

What is not different from Box’s other books is the voice, the pace, the rhythm, the power of the language, the passion. As sure as the night is dark, you will be hooked within a page or two. It is a tale that keeps on telling because even when you are done with it, it will not be done with you. It will come back to you on lonely roads running through an opaque night when the needle’s on empty and the only pumps are at a faded truck stop with flickering neons, and a lot that’s empty except for a single tractor-trailer, idling in blackness. The idea of filling up at a place like that will be about as appealing as spending a night at the Bates Motel.

Oh, and for the record, the introductory excerpt was from a review of THE COLLECTED WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE.

ONE MINUTE GONE: Chapter One

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She stepped out of a shadow at the far end of the lobby, and began the long walk to the front door.

Later, as viewed in footage from a security camera, her walk would seem like a slow parade, taking on a dreamy, Felliniesque quality, time-marked by the click of her heels on the marble floor.

She was earthtones that day, colors of the fall. Sun-streaked brown hair and an oval face with wide brown eyes, set off by a brown suit that looked hand-tailored but was off-the-rack Bergdorf. The 1947 rack, that is. The skirt was snug against her thighs and the fitted jacket emphasized her figure. Not that emphasis was needed.

The concierge, who watched her every step of the way from his desk at the front of the lobby, would attest to that. So would the two college girls in flip-flops though they rolled their eyes at her dated couture. Still, each would have swapped a year of Daddy’s tuition money for her figure.

Jamie Trent was her name and her outfit came from the Spence-Chapin Thrift Shop on New York’s Upper East Side, that area of town being to collectors of pre-owned clothing what Florence is to art lovers. While some combed the thrifts for almost-new designer castoffs that could be had for a fraction of their boutique prices, Jamie sought the discards of society’s grande dames of the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, whose closets passed to the neighborhood shops when they passed on.

As she passed the concierge desk, she stopped abruptly.

“Oh, hello, Miss Trent,” the man said, as though noticing her for the first time.

“Orlando, I almost forgot. Put these in the lockbox. They’re for 9H.” She stepped over and handed him a set of keys with a tag on them.

“One of Mr. Hall’s units. Yes, ma’am.”

“I should leave him a note.” She reached into her calfskin bag, a Chanel 2.55 from the late Fifties, and removed a small leather folio that held monogrammed notepaper and envelopes. She uncapped a 1943 fountain pen and wrote

Dear Porter,

I need to talk to you, seriously. I regret this didn’t work for us although I really tried.  It would have been wonderful, but as we both know, some things are meant to be, others are not.  See you at lunch. Ask for Babie, Baby.

Love,

                           Jamie

She glanced at her watch.

“This is silly. He’ll be on his way to meet me when he gets this.” She recapped her pen, a Parker supposedly like Hemingway’s, and stuck it in her purse.

She wadded the notepaper. Orlando extended a hand to take it, but Jamie tossed it over his shoulder. It banked off the wall and landed in a wastebasket. She winked at him.

“Two,” he said, and smiled.

“If you see Porter, please tell him I’m at the restaurant.”

She half-turned, then looked back at Orlando, who had started toward the room where the lockbox was kept. “Wait, Orlando. I’m going to keep those. I’ve got a meeting with…” She looked briefly toward the front door, deep concern visible even in the mediocre resolution of the security camera. “I’ll drop them off later.”

He handed the keys back. She slipped them in the side pocket of her jacket and walked out the revolving door into the calm October light of East Twenty-second Street. Camera Three, an exterior camera, showed her heading west toward Fifth Avenue. She looked as good from the back as she did from the front. That was at 11:17 a.m.

Later, the shot from an interior camera would show another man exiting the curtained door behind the concierge desk. He reached into the wastebasket, removed the wadded notepaper, opened it, and read it. He said something to the concierge, which was unclear because the two girls were passing by and their chatter muddled the sound.

The man re-crumpled the paper, dropped it back into the wastebasket, and followed them. He removed a cell phone from his pocket, punched a button, held it to his ear, and fell in behind the young women, his eyes affixed to their rear ends as though he were assigned to count the stitches on their jeans.

On the other side of Broadway, Jamie used a pay phone. She was the only real estate agent in Manhattan who didn’t own a cell phone, maybe the only one in the universe. She checked in with her office, told them she had a two o’clock meeting. She didn’t say with whom. She also asked her assistant to confirm a three o’clock showing at a condo in Chelsea.

She reached the restaurant, Kates, at 11:35, where she was greeted with kisses on both cheeks by Tall Kate, a pretty, mocha-skinned African-American woman who was one of the owners. Kate told her that her table, in the back room against the Hepburn wall, would be ready in a few minutes.

The restaurant was owned by Tall Kate Masters, who wasn’t all that tall except when compared to her co-owner, Just Kate O’Meara. “Short Kate” was a more obvious nickname, but O’Meara, at five-two, disliked it.

The décor was all “Kates,” floor-to-ceiling with photos and memorabilia of the famous: Kate Hepburn, Kate (Katherine) the Great, k.d. lang, Katie Couric, Kate Winslett, Cate Blanchett, others.

But it was Kate Hepburn that Jamie Trent worshipped, having once seen her on Third Avenue as the icon pushed heavy snow into the gutter in front of her townhouse. Jamie stared for a few moments until Hepburn looked at her. Her head had a slight tremor, but her eyes were clear and steady, piercing. Hepburn smiled. Jamie smiled back, flushed, and started across the street, almost stepping into the path of an oncoming taxi.

The actress once dubbed “The Most Powerful Woman in Hollywood” returned to clearing her walk.

Jamie thanked Tall Kate and took a seat at the bar. She removed a book, Ship of Fools, from her bag and began to read. Just Kate was behind the massive oak-front bar, which, along with the mirrored back bar, had been extracted from her grandfather’s defunct Irish pub in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She looked at the cover. “Oh, my. Another Kate.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Jamie, looking at Katherine Ann Porter’s name across the top.

“We should make a place for her,” said Tall Kate.

By 12:15, Porter still wasn’t there. Jamie went outside and stood, looking toward Fifth Avenue, the direction from which he would likely come. She went back inside to a pay phone near the restrooms. At 12:19, the records would show, she placed a call to his home, and a minute later to his cell phone. She left messages both places saying she was at Kates, and leaving the number.

At 12:30, Jamie was still at the bar and growing concerned. Porter might be ten minutes late, but beyond that he would call. She had known him for ten years, and dated him for one, long ago, before he’d met Laurie. He would call. Something bad had happened. She was sure of it. A waitress working the sidewalk tables came in and said a man outside was asking for her, saying Porter Hall wanted to see her. Jamie slid off the stool, took two steps toward the door, went back and grabbed her purse. She left her second Perrier, her book, and unpaid tab on the bar.

At one o’clock, Just Kate noticed Jamie’s book, check, and Perrier still on the bar. She picked them up and headed to the back room to take them to her. Two other women were at the table. She found Tall Kate and asked if she had seen Jamie.

“I guess something came up.”

Kate O’Meara shook her head. “She left these.”

“So?”

“In the book.”

Tall Kate opened the book and saw the unpaid check for two small bottles of Perrier. “Oh, my God,” she said, her face going a shade paler. “We better call.”

They went to their tight windowless office, where Just Kate picked up the phone, called the Thirteenth Precinct on East Twenty-first Street, and explained the situation to a sergeant.

“Some chick walked a six dollar check? Hold on. I’ll put out a BOLO, an APB, an Amber Alert. Want a SWAT team, maybe National Guard, too?”

“You don’t get it, officer. Jamie wouldn’t walk a six-cent check and we don’t care about that anyway, and she wouldn’t leave her book. She’s the most…”

“No, you don’t get it, lady. I got a stack of files on my desk, domestic violence, sexual assault, grand theft auto, breaking and entering, two murders, you name it, and you want me to go after some gal who beat a six buck check a half hour ago? Keep the book and call it even.”

Just Kate’s freckled Irish face turned a brilliant red and she screamed at the phone. “Not go after her, find her. And it’s not the money. She stayed until four in the morning helping us clean up after a broken pipe and wouldn’t even let us give her lunch the next day. If you…”

“Well, la-ti-da, call me heartless, call me lazy, call me in two days and file a report.” said the officer, “If she don’t show up.”

Her head dropped and tears burned her eyes. She looked at Tall Kate. “They don’t know. They don’t care.” Her hands were trembling.

“What can we do?”

How could they explain that the pope was more likely to rob a bank than Jamie Trent was to walk a check? Her ethics were as stubborn and old-fashioned as her wardrobe, and to Jamie right was right, wrong was wrong, and things were just that simple.

The inescapable conclusion is that had Porter Hall left his place at the Medora condominium when he was supposed to, Jamie Trent would not have disappeared. But he got caught up in some crisis of his own, and it wasn’t until the three-story clock on the Met Life tower outside his window began to gong noon that he realized the time. He grabbed his jacket and cell phone, found his sunglasses, which had mysteriously made their way to his daughter’s vanity, hurried to the elevators, and pushed the call button. The elevator came in thirty seconds and stopped five times on the way down.

When he reached the lobby, he checked the time: 12:04. He stepped out of the elevator and almost bumped into Marvin Plockman, who worked for the management company. Plockman was on his phone.

He said, “Marvin, hey. I need to talk to you.”

Plockman raised a finger, nodded over his shoulder, and kept walking. He went through a metal door marked STAFF ONLY, which led to a service corridor.

“Marvin, it’s important,” Porter called. The door thunked shut behind him.

Porter shrugged. “Yeah, call me later. That’s fine.”

Just then Orlando, the concierge, appeared carrying a Styrofoam cup and a paper bag with the logo of a neighborhood sandwich shop. He was on his way to the break room, accessed by the same door Marvin Plockman had disappeared into.

“Oh, Mr. Hall. Miss Trent said to tell you she’s waiting at the restaurant. She still has the keys to 9H. That’s the only set.”

“Thanks. And if you see Plockman back there, tell him to call me.”

Porter turned into the long lobby, a faux-1890s concoction with oak-paneled walls, period furniture, imitation Bierstadt, Eakins and Durant nature scenes, and copper compact-fluorescent fixtures made to look like the gas sconces you might find in a Victorian theater.

At that moment two men in bad suits entered the front door. Two minutes earlier, even one minute earlier, and Porter would have missed them. He would have been gone, out the glass doors, walking briskly toward Kates, where he would have arrived at 12:10. He would have gone to Jamie at the bar, put his hand on her shoulder, kissed her cheek, and said, “Hi, Babie.” They would have walked to the table that awaited them beneath framed original posters of Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, and The Philadelphia Story.

But that Wednesday, Porter Hall wasn’t a minute earlier, so she was gone. By 12:30, when she really needed him to be there, he was blocks away, cuffed to a metal bench in the local precinct. His eyes were closed, and a song about a candy-colored clown they call the sandman was playing in his head.

Jamie Trent is gone and Porter Hall is the reason. He failed her. It’s just that simple.

He believes that.

I believe that.

I’m Porter Hall.

Dad’s Flag: What It Means To Be an American

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This is the flag that was presented to my mother following my father’s memorial service. It was presented by a young corporal in dress uniform from the honor guard. His hands were shaking, and there were tears in his eyes.

During World War II, my father served primarily in North Africa and Italy. Those years were arguably the most significant of his ninety-five, yet he seldom spoke about them. Only in his last year, my mother said, did he begin to talk about that time. One of the things he did say was that never did a day go by when he didn’t think about it.

My father was distant, non-communicative by nature. Then came Vietnam, and it got worse. We barely spoke for a decade. I was an activist. One day my mother was driving to the school where she taught first grade, listening to the radio, when a story came on about a major anti-war demonstration at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. According to the radio, I was the one who organized it. That wasn’t entirely accurate. I just happened to be the spokesperson.

My father was a civil service construction inspector. Among other things, he inspected missile silos. He had a high security clearance. When the FBI investigated me, as they did thousands who were vocal in their criticism of the War in Vietnam, they interviewed him. I’ve always wondered what he said. If I file an FOI request, I might be able to find out.

As with most of his generation, my father could not comprehend the “anti-Americanism” of my generation. How could we debase their sacrifice? What the hell did his generation fight WWII for?

Conversely, my generation could not comprehend the willingness of his generation to support what we saw as a quickstep toward totalitarianism and repression. Watergate was the clincher. For an American president to attempt to subvert the electoral process was vile. Just about anything else you could get away with, including the assassination of foreign leaders, but to try to undercut a presidential election was beyond the pale. I still don’t think Nixon should have been pardoned. What the hell did his generation fight WWII for?

On the idea that  you should simply do what your government tells you and shut up, he never backed down. Neither did I. I believed, and still do, in the responsibility of the individual to stand in the way of wrong, as his generation had done in the trenches of Europe. I believe in that even when the perpetrator of the wrong is the U.S. government. He and I never agreed about that. We never even agreed to disagree. Eventually, however, we did put all that to the side and focus on things we could agree on. Like the Denver Broncos. Thank God for the NFL. Thank God for John Elway.

My father and I never came to an agreement on what it means to be an American. And that, for anyone who doesn’t know, is exactly what it means to be an American.

Henry David Thoreau, Edward Snowden: On Heroes, Traitors and Cowards

ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is one of the seminal essays in the history of the United States. We are Americans, and we do things a certain way. Our government, and the rules and actions and regulations or our government are always subject to scrutiny, and, in certain cases, rejection. We are an independent lot. That is a major reason for our success as a nation. Rebelliousness is a part of our national character. How could it not be since we were born of a rebellion known as the American Revolution. Irreverence is our calling card, and our rejection of rules and convention is the means by which we innovate, invent, alter paradigms and change the world, in science, art technology, music, everything. But we rebel in a certain way.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson went to the jail to get Thoreau out after he had been incarcerated for refusing to pay a tax he considered unjust, Emerson said, “Henry David, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “What are you doing out there?” The point is that the American spirit of Civil Disobedience requires that we accept responsibility for the rule of law. If we are going to break the law, we face the consequences. Those who don’t are both cowards and criminals. Cowards run. Traitors go to the enemy. Heroes accept responsibility and put their life in the way of wrong, even if it is their government committing the wrong.

During the Vietnam War, which was one of the most destructive and divisive events in our history, there was a level of resistance that began at a grass roots level and worked its way  to the top. It was a cruel, unjustified, and misdirected war started by politicians waving ideologies, and finally stopped by the people themselves. That’s never happened before and probably never will again. A discussion of that war is not a blog, it’s a hundred blogs. But that history has been written many times over and there is no need to repeat it here. During that era a young man of draft age had three main alternatives if drafted. Serve in the armed forces, refuse to serve and stay home and face the consequences, or go to Canada, or some other country that would provide safe harbor. Your choice said a lot about you.

I will not mention Edward Snowden in the same paragraph with those above. He is arrogant, a narcissist, and a coward. I believe he would and did jeopardize the safety of this country to satisfy his own ego. I believe he thought he was going to be hailed as a hero. This is the heart of the matter: Heroes don’t run. Cowards and traitors do.