"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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What was the First Book You Really Loved?
My Love/Hate Relationship with Pre-Orders
The Facebook Ties that Bind
Getting Carded at the Ballot Box?
It Takes So Little . . .

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

What was the First Book You Really Loved?

A touch of nostalgia here this late Sunday afternoon, just to let everyone know I'm still around.

One day last week, Penny Sansevieri asked a question on Facebook that spurred a lot of answers: "What was the first book you really loved?" I didn't even have to think about it. My choice was "What About Willie" by LeGrand. Now I didn't expect anyone else to know what I was talking about. This was a Little Golden Book, published the same year I was born (1939), and maybe the first book I really owned. My long-suffering parents read me the story night after night--for years-- until I had it memorized and had taught myself to read by reciting it and picking out the words. As I commented to Penny, the book started my love affair with books and cats at the same time. 

When a couple of other people remembered the book, I became curious. Is it true that you can find anything you want on Amazon?  In this case, it was. I'm not alone in my choice of books after all. This one is on Amazon and for sale as a collector's item, with prices running as high as $75.00. Fortunately there was one reasonably priced one and--on a whim--I ordered it. It was listed as in 'good" condition, with some wear and tear on cover and edges. That didn't bother me. I kept mine until it literally fell apart.

Now I'm waiting anxiously to take a trip back to my childhood. I no longer remember the whole story, but I can still its repeated refrain: "Willie was cold. Willie was wet. Willie was lost. Willie was looking for a new home."  I'll let you know if it is still as good a story as i remember!


My Love/Hate Relationship with Pre-Orders

What’s not to love about pre-orders on Amazon? I can understand the appeal. Customers get their hands on the book early, the price is often reduced, and they also know that their favorite authors are getting a small plug every time someone places a pre-order. For a major publishing house, pre-orders are a valuable clue as to the size of the initial print run. And for an author, the pre-orders all register as sales on the day of publication, thus giving the first Amazon sales rating a boost that can carry the title to the top of the best-seller list, at least in its own category.
So why do I still have reservations about their value?
 
For those of you who will purchase the Kindle edition, the only advantage I see is a possible price reduction. Pre-orders and orders placed on the first day of publication go out at the same time. Electronic publishers have no need to know how many books to print because they don’t print—they just click and send. As for authors, I admit that first ratings boost is rewarding, but it doesn’t last beyond the first few days. For readers who purchase a trade paper edition of a new book, there are advantages. Price reductions are more important when the price is higher. If your author offers autographed pre-orders, that may clinch the argument.
 
But here are a couple of facts you may not know. Amazon does not allow independent writers and small publishers to offer pre-ordering of printed books. That privilege is reserved for the largest publishing houses, who may receive thousands of orders. And even their Kindle store has strict rules about who may and may not pre-order. For example, I was recently punished with a one-year suspension of my ability to offer pre-ordering. What was my sin? On my last pre-order, I submitted a typo that set my publishing date ahead by three months. I asked for a correction, which they granted. It was one number: change month 6 to month 9. It could have been done by any third grader I know. However, asking for  a changed date is “against the rules,” so they suspended me.
 
And that, dear readers, is why there are no pre-orders for the Kindle version of my new edition of Beyond All Price. All is not lost, however. If you want to pre-order   a new print copy of Beyond All Price—the one with Nellie Chase’s photograph and signature on the cover and my autograph on the title page, just visit the “Store” page on this website and order away. The offer there will be good from now until Monday, August 27, 2018.

The Facebook Ties that Bind

Facebook has come in for a lot of criticism over the past few weeks, and I admit that I don’t like some of their practices. However, there are times when I realize that the friendships I have made on Facebook have also enriched my life. One such incident occurred this week.
 
To set the scene. I write historical fiction and creative biographies based on the lives of historical figures. Two of my early books were based on the letters of my great uncle James McCaskey, who enlisted with the 100 Pennsylvania Regiment (known as the “Roundheads”) during the Civil War. After several months of training and marching, the regiment ended up in South Carolina’s Sea Islands. There, my Uncle James died, along with his friend Jacob Leary, in their first battle. The letter sent to my great grandparents described their horrific deaths—hit by a cannon ball that blew off their legs. They bled out and died on the battlefield and were buried with some 500 others in a mass grave at the site. Their company lost four men, with several others gravely wounded.
 
Now, some 156 years later, the Little Beaver Historical Society in Darlington, Pennsylvania, is planning a Roundheads Reunion for descendants of that regiment. They have made arrangements with me to sell copies of my first book, A Scratch with the Rebels, and to give away two copies of the second book, Beyond All Price, which is coming out in a new edition just in time for the reunion. The first book is already on offer on their Facebook page.
 
This week, an order came in from someone who had just joined the “Society of the Roundheads.” His posting stated that he wanted the book because it might tell him something about his uncle, Jacob Leary, who had been in the Roundhead Regiment. Yes. His uncle and my uncle were friends, and they died together on that fateful day, June 16, 1862, at Secessionville, South Carolina. I immediately posted a comment, telling him what I knew of Jacob’s life in the regiment. We have begun a friendship based on a bond of shared grief at the meaningless deaths of our uncles and the ties that kept them together into their shared grave. We will both be the richer for it.

Getting Carded at the Ballot Box?

One day last week, I issued a small Facebook rant about a political survey that refused to let me participate because I was over 65. Comments came quickly. Some were simply enraged voters; others attempted to explain why pollsters might not want our input. One friend suggested that maybe we old codgers are just too smart and experienced to be fooled.
 
Within the next few days, I was able to discover who commissioned the survey—a young newcomer to politics with an obvious agenda. But more important, I learned that the survey was uncontrolled and invalid from the start because it kept cropping up on my Facebook feed, a fact that would allow people—some people, at least—to respond multiple times, thus skewing the results. The second time I saw it, I tried checking the block that said I preferred not to reveal my name. Nope. “Thanks for your time.”
 
The third time, I lied, shaving a couple of decades off my age, and was welcomed. Now I could see the questions and discover the “issues” they were investigating. Um-hum! First, they asked my opinion of famous people—all two of them. The first was a universally admired historical figure, a spiritual leader dead for over fifty years. The second was a living political figure who has been ridiculed and publicly discounted. Answers were foregone conclusions.
 
Then we came to the meat of the survey—not issues at all, but the local race between an old politician and a challenger (who just happened to pay for the survey.) We started with the basics—Who are you going to vote for? (Grammar be damned!) The following questions—lots of them—took a carefully-worded legalistic approach:
·      “What if we told you that Candidate A is a mafia boss, a felon with a lengthy criminal record, a slum landlord, a crook with an ill-gotten fortune in a bank in the Cayman Islands?”
·      “What if we told you Candidate A believes the elderly and those with medical or mental infirmities should be put out of their misery like we do with old pets?”
·      “What if Candidate A wants to double your taxes and take away all your government benefits?”
 
Notice that none of these are accusations or statements of fact. “We didn’t say that. We just asked how you would feel if we did tell you that.”
 
Repeat: “Who are you going to vote for?”
 
Then came the questions about the other candidate:
·      “What if we told you Candidate B spends time reading to small children, living a healthy lifestyle, and petting puppies?”
·      “What if we told you Candidate B gives money to charity and walks amid rainbows, flowers, and unicorns?”
·      “What if Candidate B will lower your taxes and give you everything your heart desires?”
 
Now the clincher: “Who are you going to vote for?” (Again!)
 
I always assumed that the purpose of a survey was to let a political candidate know what the voters were thinking. If this survey is any example, that’s no longer the case. Here, the questions are designed to force the voter to think what the candidate wants him to think.
 
Do such tactics really work? I suspect they do sometimes, which makes it all the more important that we stand up and call fouls where we see them. What can you do? Pay attention to who says what. Know your candidates. And most important, get out there and vote.  Nobody’s checking your age at the ballot box.

 

It Takes So Little . . .

I was not having a particularly good day today. A brief rain shower had simply turned the world into a steam bath, I've been a little under the weather with a stomach bug, and now I was whittling away at a growing list of chores. The proofs of my new book were waiting at home, begging for me to finish the careful line-editing they needed. I had spend too long standing in lines at the bank and the post office. And now, here I was, standing in another long checkout line at the grocery store.

As the cashier started to sort through and unload my cart in some sort of order known only to her frowning concentration, I could tell that the little old lady behind me was staring intently at my purchases. Now, you need to know two things before you judge what happened:
(1) I'm a little old lady, too. We were both pushing eighty, so you can't accuse me of being "age-ist."
(2) I had the requisite items in there--eggs, zucchini, corn, bread, Ritz crackers, applesauce, peanut butter, bananas--boring stuff--maybe not entirely virtuous but reasonably healthy.

When she caught my eye, she grinned and put her hand on my shoulder:
SHE: "I like your shopping list--wine and cookies--all the necessities."
ME: "And cat food--don't forget the cat food."
SHE: "Absolutely! Life's good!"

And she high-fived me. As our hands met over our heads, i could see that everyone around us was smiling--cashier, bag-girl, customers. My day got better from then on.