Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others Writing tips

What’s In a Name?

In the last three years I’ve written five articles for Rock&Gem Magazine. Along the way of research and writing I’ve come across the confusing topic of precious and semi-precious gems — just what do those words mean? I recently bought some used gem and mineral books and they shed new light on an old problem. For me, I can now lay the problem to rest by disregarding the two terms altogether. Read on.

Nevada’s precious gem is the Virgin Valley Black Fire Opal. As the Nevada legislature’s website explains it, “Among the many gemstones found in Nevada, the Virgin Valley Black Fire Opal is one of the most beautiful. The Virgin Valley in northern Nevada is the only place in North America where the Black Fire Opal is found in any significant quantity.”

Nevada’s semi-precious gemstone is turquoise. “Sometimes called the “Jewel of the Desert,” Nevada Turquoise is found in many parts of the State.” But is a small, inferior Black Fire Opal more precious than a large turquoise piece, free from all imperfections?

Decades ago, only five stones were recognized as being precious: diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald, and precious opal. These due to their rarity, beauty, and durability.

It was acknowledged that the terms precious and semi-precious were somewhat arbitrary, in that a poor diamond specimen could be worth a little whereas an outstanding tourmaline could be worth a lot. One authority wrote that it would be well if another term for semi-precious could be introduced and generally used.

Lapidary instructor Eric Shore brings us into today’s era with this observation: “Precious and semi-precious are terms used to differentiate expensive and not so expensive stones; but where is the line drawn between the two? The more modern use of the word ‘Gemstone’ tends to cover all materials that can be cut and polished.”

BTW, I now sponsor the agate page at (external link)

Magazine article Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others Writing tips

How Long Does It Take To Write A Book?

How long does it take to write a book? That answer of course depends. For my brother’s book on Uncle Murray (internal link), it took Bill four and a half years. Along the way he wrote magazine articles on Murray and gave lectures on Murray’s place as an unrecognized Copper King of Butte, Montana and as a promoter of radical Irish politics. Here’s the timeline in which Bill wrote 70,000 words of biographical nonfiction and conducted all original research and writing:

Apr 2013 Started in earnest (research privileges approved at the Huntington Library)
Dec 2013 Submitted book proposal to contest
Oct 2014 Pitched proposal at writer’s workshop
May 2015 Sent proposal to publishers from writer’s workshop
Jun 2015 Sent proposal to agents
July 2015 Sent proposal to university presses
Aug 2015 Sent proposal to small publishers
Dec 2015 Mountain Press Publishing expresses interest
Feb 2016 Signed contract
Nov 2016 Turned in draft manuscript
Aug 2017 Editor returned comments
Dec 2017 Finished Edits
Feb 2018 (?) At the printer

Bill says, “I was conducting research through the summer of 2016. So, three and a half years of research and four and a half years of writing. Research and writing occurred mostly simultaneously. I’d guess this took up on average 15% to 25% of my time during this period.”

Bill contacted 22 publishers before being accepted. As every query should be tailored for every press, that’s quite a bit of work. Here’s the list with his scratch notes:


1. Penguin  Sent 7/28
2. Harper Collins Sent 7/28
3. Skyhorse Emailed Proposal 9/8
4. Caxton Press Mailed Query 9/8
5. Westholme Emailed Query 9/8
6. Mountain Press Mailed Proposal 9/8
7. High Plains Press, Wyoming Mailed Proposal 9/8 No 9/18
8. Fulcrum Emailed proposal 9/8
9. Irish Academic/Merrion Sent 8/31
10. Counterpoint Press (CA)

University Presses 7 no 3 looking, 2 silent

1. New York University Press Mailed 7/29 No 10/1
2. University of California Sent Query 7/29
3. Notre Dame Sent 7/28 – Responded 8/14 Will look over next 2-3 months No 9/16
4. Syracuse Sent 7/28 – responded 7/28-will look at over next 2 weeks
5. Yale sent 7/30 No 8/29 30 days
6. Missouri Sent 7/28 gmail – Responded 8/1, Several Weeks No 9/30
7. Wisconsin Sent 7/28 gmail – responded, will look at
8. Colorado Sent 7/28 Submission portal NO 8/4 7 days
9. California Historical Association (Contest-July1) No July 5
10. Oklahoma Sent 7/28 Acknowledged 7/28 More Info 8/2, an 8/4 No 8/29 32 days
11. Nebraska Sent 7/28 NO 8/18 21 days
12. Washington Sent 7/28, NO 7/30 2 days

music Uncategorized

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

This is an American Christmas novelty song. Perhaps my overseas friends are not acquainted with it. To everyone, a joyous holiday season and a Merry Christmas!

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Written by Randy Brooks, originally performed by the husband-and-wife duo of Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire in 1979.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

She’d been drinkin’ too much egg nog
And we’d begged her not to go
But she’d left her medication
So she stumbled out the door into the snow

When they found her Christmas mornin’
At the scene of the attack
There were hoof prints on her forehead
And incriminatin’ Claus marks on her back

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin’ home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

Now were all so proud of Grandpa
He’s been takin’ this so well
See him in there watchin’ football
Drinkin’ beer and playin’ cards with cousin Belle

It’s not Christmas without Grandma
All the family’s dressed in black
And we just can’t help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts or send them back?

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin’ home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of pig
And a blue and silver candle
That would just have matched the hair in Grandma’s wig

I’ve warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin’ home from our house, Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe!

Poetry Thoughts on writing Uncategorized

For The Joy of Reading

By Lewis Carroll. From Alice in Wonderland. Illustration by Sir John Tenniel.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

Drone Photography Uncategorized

Learning to Drone Part IV

Here’s a few seconds of recent drone footage that I made near Goldfield, Nevada. The first video came out well but is too short. The second video shows I need practice as a new drone pilot. I needed to get higher to show the surrounding countryside but I missed my chance. The winds, though, were pretty strong. All that beautiful drone footage on TV comes with a lot of hard work. Here’s what I am learning with my DJI Phantom 3 Standard Drone.

  1. Footage is kept on the drone itself, using a micro SD card. That means you can’t review it on your smart phone. Which means you have to land the drone, take out the card, and then put the card into a laptop to review. On my recent trip I did not take my SD card reader or laptop. On arriving home I found the long video I took was unacceptable. Next time, when I go into the field, I will have all my electronics.
  2. Winds are tough. Although I didn’t lose my drone, I could definitely hear the blades working hard to fly the drone back against the wind.
  3. It takes a long time to charge the drone controller. It’s fed by a tiny cable so perhaps that limits input.
  4. I am having great success with the portable battery I bought. The long name for it is the Suaoki 400Wh/120,000mAh Portable Solar Generator Lithium ion Power Source Power Supply. It can be charged from a variety of sources, not just solar, in fact, the fastest way to charge it is from an AC electrical outlet at home. Plenty of power to charge the drone and the laptop in the field.


art Photography Uncategorized

Back From Esmeralda County, Nevada and Elsewhere

The Last Supper. By Poland-born Belgian sculptor Albert Szukalski, in the ghost town of Rhyolite, on the road to Death Valley.

Ghost Rider by Szukalski.

books Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Turning Down Work

UPDATE: As of December 20th, 2017 I am back to accepting new assignments. I have submitted my latest book proposal.

ORIGINAL POST: For the first time I am turning down work. To get my book proposal done I can not accept any new assignments. Has this problem happened to you? It is a very uncomfortable position to be in.

The group I am turning down has been good to me and I have enjoyed working for them. But I have two sample book chapters to complete by January 2d and I will not get them done unless I apply myself. Already I am thinking I may need another week to finish.

I don’t know if this will permanently wound me with this employer. I hope not but I will understand if it does. This is all  unsatisfying in that the book proposal is purely speculative, perhaps some money in the distant future, while the company I am turning down pays promptly at the end of every month.

Have any of you had to deal with this problem and how did you manage?

books Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others Writing tips

Book Publishing Point of View From a Small Press

Interesting article from (external link) regarding book publishing at a small press. Most interesting is the idea of paying authors in copies, so that they can go about selling the titles themselves. Here’s a quote:

Instead, the royalty model that I’ve been playing with for the last few years is to pay authors in copies so that they can sell their book themselves. This way, they actually earn more than if I paid the traditional seven-ish percent of list. Here’s an example: I gave one author 250 copies of her book—a quarter of the print run—in advance, as payment in full. If she sells them for $10, she stands to make significantly more than what goes into the PGP coffers. (Averaging about $5 per book, selling 700 books after promo copies and the 250 for the writer, subtracting $2000 in printing costs.)

This kind of detail runs through the article and I encourage you read it if you are in talks with a small press. Or if you hope to be.

02/17/2018 UPDATE: I had a sit down meeting with a publisher a few weeks ago to discuss a possible book that I might write. He eventually decided to pass on what we talked about, however, he did say that it costs him $50,000 to produce a title. That’s quite a bit of risk on his end . . . .

books Research tips Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Battling Through a Cold – Working on A TOC

After I got back from Atlanta a week ago I developed a bad cold. It lingers still. I want to get a book proposal (internal link) done by January 2d and I fear I may not make it.

Aside from my infirmity, I am struggling with writing a table of contents. This book’s word count can’t exceed 70,000. Let’s call it 60,000. That permits 12 chapters of 5,000 words apiece to 20 chapters of 3,000 words apiece. But is there any reason, aside from aesthetics, to make the chapters uniform in length?

I know I want some sidebars, short pieces from 750 to 1,500 words. Already I have disconformity. I’m leaning toward having the first chapter quite long as it is an introduction to the book. And then have the remaining chapters hew closely to 2,500 words.

The path I am now on is identifying the topic for each chapter, as well as a list of sidebars. I  have in mind 15 main topics and three sidebars. Have any of you done a Table of Contents? And if so, what did you find? Please e-mail or comment.

Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others

Let’s Get Them In The Right Order

The Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief has long been a favorite record of mine. Side two was unusual in that it had two record tracks or grooves paralleling each other. Depending on where you first placed the phonograph needle, you got a different track. This selection preceded by many years the pompous and fawning Inside The Actors Studio, which I understand is still running on the American TV network Bravo.

Great Actors from The Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief

Voice Over: (Graham Chapman) Just starting on BBC1 now, ‘Victoria Regina’, the inspiring tale of the simple crofters daughter who worked her way up to become Queen of England and Empress of the greatest empire television has ever seen. But right now it’s time for ‘Great Actors’, introduced as usual by Alan Semen.

Alan: (Eric Idle) Sir Edwin, which has been for you the most demanding of the great Shakesperean tragic heroes that you’ve played?

Sir Edwin: (John Cleese) Well, of course this is always a difficult one, but I think the answer must be Hamlet.

Alan: Which you played at Stratford in 1963.

Sir Edwin: That’s right, yes, I found the role a very taxing one. I mean, er, Hamlet has eight thousand two hundred and sixty-two words, you see.

Alan: Really?

Sir Edwin: Oh yes. Othello’s a bugger too, mind you, especially the cleaning up afterwards, but he has nine hundred and forty-one words less than Hamlet. On the other hand, the coon’s got more pauses, sixty-two quite long ones, as I recall. But then they’re not so tricky, you see. You don’t have to do so much during them.

Alan: You don’t.

Sir Edwin: No. No, not really. And they give you time to think what sort of face you’re going to pull during the next speech so that it fits the words you’re saying as far as possible.

Alan: How many words did you have to say as King Lear at the Aldwitch in ’52?

Sir Edwin: Ah, well, I don’t want you to get the impression it’s just a question of the number of words… um… I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important. Old Peter Hall used to say to me, ‘They’re all there Eddie, now we’ve got to get them in the right order.’ And, er, for example, you can also say one word louder than another–er, ‘To be or not to be,’ or ‘To be or not to be,’ or ‘To be or not to be‘ you see? And so on.

Alan: Inflection.

Sir Edwin: And of course inflection. In fact, Lear has only seven thousand and fifty-four words, but the real difficulty with Lear is that you’ve got to play him all, you know, shaky legs and pratfalls and the dentures coming out, ’cause he’s ancient as hell, and then there’s that heartrending scene when he goes right off his nut, you know, ‘bliddle dee dee diddle deebibble dee dee dibble beep beep beep,’ and all that, which takes it out of you, what with having the crown to keep on. So Lear is tiring, although not difficult to act, because you’ve only got to do despair and a bit of anger, and they’re the easiest.

Alan: Are they? What are the hardest?

Sir Edwin: Oh… um, fear.

Alan: Fear?

Sir Edwin: Mmm, yes, never been able to get that, can’t do the mouth. I look all cross. It’s a very fine line.

Alan: What else?

Sir Edwin: Apart from fear? Er, jealousy can be tricky, but for me, the most difficult is being in love, you know, that openmouthed, vacant look that Vanessa Redgrave’s got off to a tee. Can’t do that at all. And also I’m frightfully awkward when I try that happy prancing, you know. Which is a shame, really, because otherwise Romeo’s very good for me. Only three thousand and eight and quite a lote of climbing and kissing.

Alan: Sir Edwin, get stuffed.

Sir Edwin: I’ve enjoyed it.