Rent-a-Car Problem With Enterprise

I travelled to Atlanta recently and experienced something new: the rental car I reserved was not there. There were, in fact, no rental cars available from Enterprise at the airport at all. The other car rental agencies were similarly sold out. It turns out that rental cars are on a first come, first served basis. Your reservation does not matter. Reservations are for the convenience of the rental agency only, they are not a guarantee.

The counter clerks said that people were keeping the cars for a longer time than expected, something they had no control over. I understand Thanksgiving week is abnormally busy but they should be able to anticipate that since they know how many cars are being reserved, all the reservation requests coming over their phone lines and from their websites.

I have never had a sellout at a hotel with a reservation held by a credit card. I see no reason why cars should be any different. The agency could cap the number of reservations or warn people with cautionary language that a sellout might be possible. Enterprise did neither. They also said they e-mailed me but I never received anything.

I prefer to rent cars so I can drive where and when I like. Without a car I had to take a $55 cab ride to my hotel. I then put Uber on my phone and got around that way. While Uber is a fine service, I like to come and go as I please. Also, the thought of missing an important ride, say back to the airport, is incredibly worrying when you have to depend on someone else.

I’m not sure what to recommend. Someone suggested making multiple car agency reservations. But wouldn’t they all have penalties for cancelling at the last minute? Right now I am no longer trusting Enterprise or an entire industry. I’m concerned about my next trip.

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A New Creative Nonfiction Workshop at Berkeley Extension is Now Enrolling

David Rompf is once again teaching a creative nonfiction workshop through Berkeley Extension. Instruction starts January 23d and runs through April 17th. At this blog I’ve written several times about creative nonfiction as a genre and my experience with the course.

I’d recommend the workshop to anyone considering broadening themselves as a writer. If you’re not sure you’d benefit, look through the main textbook: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. It’s edited by Phillip Lopate and is published by Anchor Books. 1995. In many libraries. You’ll see the kinds of essays you’ll be discussing and writing about.

UC Berkeley Extension’s Voices Blog just posted a nice overview of the course, featuring comments from me and from the instructor, David Rompf. Click on the link below. I’m happy to answer any questions I can about my experience with the workshop. Just e-mail me.

Workshop: http://voices.berkeley.edu/writing-editing-and-technical-communication/nonfiction-writer-discovers-his-creativity

E-mail: thomasguyfarley@gmail.com

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Battling “Was” and “Is” (Again)

I think “was” and “is” deaden sentences. I’ve written about this before (internal link). Here are some more examples with my suggested revisions.

The fort was built to guard against Indian attacks.

They built the fort to guard against Indian attacks.

What he really wanted to do was to eat ice cream

He really wanted to eat ice cream.

That was the first time he traveled there.

He traveled there for the first time.

Is this what we should be thinking?

Should we be thinking this?

The design of the road was to move large trucks.

The road moved large trucks by design.

This was a very interesting experience for them.

The experience proved interesting for them.

Is this the right time and place for basketball?

Basketball here and now?

Far up in the air was an object that looked like a balloon.

A far up object in the air looked like a balloon.

Was that his intention?

Did he intend that?

Is that really important?

Important, yes?

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Writing Another Book Proposal

I just submitted a magazine article two weeks ahead of deadline. Yay me! Now, I can turn to writing a book proposal that an editor asked me to develop. I short queried first, taking no more than twenty minutes to write up the query. The editor replied, asking for a complete proposal, one that includes two sample chapters. Here’s what this publisher asks for:

  • A cover letter, including: a brief summary of the book, the approximate length (word count) of your manuscript, and why you think your book is a good fit for Imbrifex Books.
  • A table of contents or outline of the book’s contents
  • Two sample chapters
  • Any photographs or illustrations you believe might assist us in evaluating your proposal (do not send originals!)
  • A brief list of similar or competitive books, including title, author, publisher, ISBN number, and date of publication. (These are all available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers.) Tell us what makes your book unique. How does it differ from your competition? (This is vitally important information — please take the time to research thoroughly and think about it carefully.)
  • Marketing and publicity plans or ideas
  • A description of your book’s target audience (Please be as specific as possible.)
  • A brief autobiographical summary or résumé. What do you, as the author, bring to the project?
  • Your mailing address, daytime phone number, and e-mail address

A big project, eh? Certainly. And I’ll develop a website to support the proposal, just like I did with NevadaAg.com (external link). One editor, who passed on that project, called Nevada Ag’s website the best book proposal idea he had ever seen. Why all this work?

It’s all about commitment. Any press is taking a big risk on your book, both in time and money. They want to see that you are also fully involved, not just in writing the book but also in marketing the title. Are you a true partner or not?

A good comparison is the business plan. You can’t ask for financing based on an interesting idea, you have to develop a lengthy, well analyzed plan that shows how your idea makes economic sense. Business plans can take months to write but they are the first test a lending company will ask you to pass.

I am aiming to complete my proposal by January 1st, 2018. A warning word to all my foreign readers — little gets done in America during December. It is a very difficult time to get hold of people. Lots of holidays in December with families often the central focus. Get your correspondence done now or be prepared to wait longer for replies next month.

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The Literary Press World, The Needs of an Editor, and the Virtue of Reading Blind

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiates 9:11 KJV

This quote crossed my mind after I read Peter Orner’s well done essay in today’s New York Times entitled Modern Love. I admired how well he wrote short sentences and incomplete ones. But was the essay any more fulfilling or technically expert than others I have read? Not really. How, then, did it get into the most widely circulated newspaper in America? What quality made it stand out? Or could there be other reasons?

One reason could be that the editor was looking for just such a piece when it crossed her desk. You never know what an editor needs unless they make it clear. Such desires, though, are rarely publicized by leading magazines and newspapers. Exceptions exist when a title’s submission page (if any) list requirements, when an editorial calendar for the coming year is published, or when there is a working relation with the editor. Failing that, making several short pitches at a time (internal link) is what I consider the most efficient way to solicit. Keep pitching!

The other reason Orner’s piece might have been picked was because of his credentials. The bio line says he is a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia and the author of four books of fiction and the essay collection “Am I Alone Here?” How do you compete against that if you are a non-academic and perhaps someone unpublished? That’s where the world of the literary press comes in. Although addressing a vastly smaller audience, most presses read blind, that is, you are usually under strict orders not to identify yourself in your MS. I am told this often extends to University Presses as well. True, the publication might disregard you after they’ve selected your writing, after finding out that you don’t possess an M.F.A., but that sort of pessimism can kill your spirit. Be positive, it’s the only way to go on. Now, let’s go back to Ecclesiastes.

All of us need luck. Time and chance happen to everyone. I once proposed an article at the exact time an editor was considering such a story. How often does that happen? But I will take that lucky break and move forward. Establishing a relation with an editor, no matter how it happens, even by chance, is the most reliable way to get more work. You become a known commodity and your e-mails get read. Keep writing and explore the literary world if you need to break in. Keep pitching and good luck.

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Musings on Readability and Consistency

Shorter sentences tend to be more readable than long ones. Since I usually write long sentences in my first drafts (a part of brainstorming, writing whatever comes to mind), my revisions find me breaking those long sentences into shorter ones. The problem is that short sentences tend to be choppy. Not as smooth as extended copy. The trick then is to find a way to make short sentences flow as well as uninterrupted sentences. It’s not easy.

I got to thinking about this while editing and revising the work of another writer. Light editing doesn’t usually change how well a writer’s sentences flow into one another. But I’ve had to make so many revisions for one writer that their posts now sound fragmented and choppy. This is a serious problem. The only way to smooth out their writing would be for them to do a complete rewrite with my changes in mind. There’s no time or budget for that.

The consoling thought, at least for web work, is that ultimately most of us are not writing for readers but for robots. Much of this content generation is for higher search results rankings, the subject of search engine optimization or SEO. I often wonder, as I pen the blog posts I am paid to write, if anyone reads them at all. Or if all those words, no matter the writing style, simply go to improving a client’s website in the rankings. Today, readability may play less importance than coming up on the first page of Google’s search results.

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Can You Sell Confusion?

“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke’s the Book of Hours

My writing goal  is clarity but I am fascinated by the cryptic, something I never allow myself. I don’t feel the compulsion to write it and I don’t see a market. Still, millions are made by songwriters who indulge in it.

Poets don’t make that money for similar work, so there must be something about songwriting, something about that craft, that makes money from haunting verse. David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, is a favorite of mine, reminding me of Rilke, another cryptic writer.

If Bowie’s song were first published in a literary journal, would it achieve critical success? Or be relegated to another page in a periodical selling a few dozen copies? How does a poem or a literary work make the leap from obscurity to fame?

The Man Who Sold The World

We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend
Which came as a surprise
I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone
A long long time ago

Oh no, not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home
I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazeless stare
At all the millions here
I must have died alone
A long, long time ago

Who knows? Not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

Who knows? Not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

Songwriter: David Bowie

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