This is my ankle.

Looks healthy, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, when I’m running the inside tendon (known as the posterior tibial tendon) gets stiff and sore. That small scar is from when I accidentally smacked my ankle against the corner of the coffee table in our Shanghai hotel sometime back in July. I’m pretty sure I was trying to step over several toys on the floor. That boo-boo didn’t have any effect on my running in Shanghai.

The swelling on the tendon is so slight that I only notice it when I feel it with my fingers, comparing it to my other ankle. It doesn’t hurt when I walk. It hurts a little sometimes when I’m going down the stairs.

The tendon started bothering me a little in the week before I ran my first 5K. I took a week off from running after the 5K, thinking that ought to be enough. So one week later, I went out on a Sunday morning and did three miles and it felt stiff and sore. Moreso the day after. Again, I iced and rested it. I went out on the following Wednesday morning and tried running. I ran a quarter mile when the pain started up. I walked back home.

Then on the following Sunday I tried running again. This time I ran for a half mile before the pain started. I turned around and walked home. Okay, I told myself, this is going to need more time. I waited another week.

This past Sunday I planned for three miles but only made it through two and a half. The first mile and a half were fine. But then the stiffness and pain came and then after awhile my right knee started bothering me. So I stopped running.

I have never had these kinds of problems with swimming. The water is kinder to my joints. The chlorine is not kind to my hair. Though I never have to worry about the weather, swimming is far less scenic than running.

It’s very frustrating. But I keep telling myself that if I want to still be running 10 years from now, I’m better off not running for the short-term.


Manic Monday

Good morning. Welcome to another edition of Manic Monday.

First, some bad news.

Hurricane Sandy is shutting down a large portion of the East Coast of the U.S. this week. This includes the stock market.

The decision to shut down the stock markets came after Wall Street had prepared to open for business on Monday with limited staffing after a mass transit shut-down in New York, booking hotel rooms for key employees and leaning on offices in other cities.

Here’s hoping people stay safe in the Eastern part of the country.

Now for something uplifting.

In Vanity Fair there is an amazing story about how a five-year-old boy in India was separated from his family, lost, was adopted by an Australian couple, but then 20 years later used Google Earth and Facebook to find his birth family.

By the time they hopped off the train at Burhanpur, Saroo felt exhausted and told his brother he needed to nap before they caught the next train back. Guddu took his hand and led him to a bench. “I’m just going to go off and do something,” Guddu told him. “Stay here. Don’t go anywhere.” But when Saroo woke up later that night, his brother was gone. Groggy and dazed, he wandered onto a waiting passenger train, assuming that Guddu must have been waiting for him inside. There were only a few people in the carriage, but Saroo figured his brother would find him soon enough, so he settled back to sleep.

When he woke, sunlight was streaming through the windows and the train was moving quickly through the countryside. Saroo had no idea how long he had been asleep and jumped up from his seat. There was no one else in the carriage, and, outside, the blurred grasslands were unrecognizable. “Bhaiya!” Saroo screamed, the Hindi word for brother. “Guddu!” But there was no response.

DIY Publishing 101, Part 4 – Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

This is part four in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, and Three.

Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

There are two parts to formatting your files: digital and dead tree. I’m going to describe the digital portion first. My next post will deal with formatting for print.

When you are composing your great tome in your word processor, make sure you know how to use paragraph formatting. When I say “paragraph formatting,” I do not mean going through and manually fixing each and every paragraph. I mean that you should use the full powers of those paragraph styles in your word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Paragraph styles make it easy when composing. Paragraph styles also make it easy when formatting the text of your book according to the standards defined by Amazon and Smashwords. For an ebook you essentially need only a handful of paragraphs styles: Normal or Body (for text), a Heading style for Chapter headings, maybe even a separate style for the first paragraph of each chapter, one for the Title, and one for the sections (like the Dedication and Acknowledgments, etc.).

If you write with double-spacing between the lines, you’ll have to get rid of that spacing when you go to publish. It’s easier when you can simply redefine the paragraph styles, thus making the changes near instantaneous. Among other things, you’ll also have to decide how large a paragraph indent for each paragraph, define the space between each paragraph, define Chapter headings, and apply those universally.

When I’m writing, I use Mariner Write. It’s a no-frills word processor available for the Mac. I’ve used it for years because it’s fast-performing and has all of the basic tools that I need for writing.

When I needed to format CHICAGO TIME for Amazon and Smashwords, I converted the file to Word format and made two files: one for Amazon and one for Smashwords. Then I used Microsoft Word to modify the paragraph formatting according to the needs of both Amazon and Smashwords. Each site has different conversion software and therefore different requirements for formatting.

For Amazon, you need to convert your file to HTML before uploading it. Using Word, this is easy. Once you’ve made all the style changes in the text, you simply select Save As and then choose the HTML format when saving the file.

For Smashwords, you can use the Word file. The Smashwords converter has a reputation for being finicky. But I would follow their advice in their Style Guide and reformat all the paragraphs. This ensures a clean file with consistent, well-defined paragraph styles.

Once the files are uploaded and accepted by Amazon or Smashwords, you must download them and view them on an ereader, like your Nook, Sony Reader, Kindle, or whatever digital reader you use to read so you can proof the files.

I cannot stress this step enough. Too often the text looks just fine on your word processor but looks wrong in your reader. You might have to fix a stray paragraph or two, or a link in the table of contents doesn’t work. I had the latter problem because Word inserted its own hidden tag into the text of my Acknowledgments heading, thus breaking the link I had set up to the Acknowledgments.

Proofing the files in your ereader might take a few iterations. But, just like hiring a copy editor, it’s worth the extra effort to make sure that your readers have a smooth and enjoyable reading experience.


P.S. I’m not a fan of Microsoft Word as a desktop publishing tool. But I recommend using it for ebook publishing because it’s the default tool with the most universally-accepted format. I’ll save the reasons for my dislike for the next post.

Who Is Boss Kane?

One of the few TV shows I watch with any regularity is Boss on the Starz cable channel. I’ve seen both seasons now. I was interested from the very beginning, both as a former Chicagoan and lover of good TV shows.

What I hoped would eventually develop into an insightful look at urban politics with complex characters, centered around a powerful man’s descent into madness and enfeeblement, has never risen above melodrama. No cast or director, no matter how talented (and the cast of this show is great, along with the direction), can rise too far above the material handed to them.

Kelsey Grammer as Mayor Tom Kane is riveting to watch. But I can see why he didn’t get nominated for an Emmy. It’s not his performance. It’s the writing. Beyond a desire for acquiring, keeping, and using power, I don’t know who Mayor Thomas Kane is.

I have no sense of why the people of Chicago vote for Kane every four years. What has he accomplished for the city?

Too much elementary information about Kane has been left unprovided. Where is Kane from? If Chicago, which neighborhood did he grow up in? What are his ties to that neighborhood? If not, what brought him to Chicago? Where does his base of power reside? What about his parents and family? Does he have any sisters or brothers? Cousins?

If Kane is the hollow center of the show, then the supporting characters are the thin shell. They share certain degrees of power-hungriness, but we never really see what’s in it for them. There is only the grim serious business of using power to solidify power. No one, not even Kane, seems to relish the power they have. The drudgery about it all is relentless.

The melodramatic twists (“a casino development!” “a councilman is buried six feet under!” “a bastard son!” “Mrs. Kane fucks a powerful man not her husband!” “Ezra Stone murdered!” “dude gets his ear cut off!” “a phony assassination attempt gone bad!” “the lover of the GOP gubernatorial candidate murdered!” “Kitty shows her titties!”) only seems to underline the desperation of the writers to juice the series. This is what happens when you don’t have full-bodied characters: you use plot twists to keep the viewers’ interest. The twists would be more credible if the political machinations were allowed to simmer a bit more (thus providing a bigger impact) while the characters are allowed to grow with their struggles to survive in this milieu.

Oh, and could someone maybe crack a joke? Just once?

There are exceptions to all this grim power-hunger in the characters of Emma Kane, Sam Miller, and Mona Fredricks. But Emma is either looking for a fix, emotionally over-wrought, or emotionally over-wrought looking for a fix. Sam’s desire to get to the hidden truth about Kane’s corruption has led him on frantic trips around Chicago, to Canada and back. But then we got sidetracked with an implausible “relationship” with Kitty, the mayor’s former aide.

Mona has by far the most depth of any character on the show, gambling her years-built, well-respected reputation in the community that Kane would do something good for that community. Only she got burned. (Meanwhile, Kane’s sudden, perverted fascination with her is developed and then suddenly dropped.)

If you take the time to watch all 18 episodes you will have learned nothing more than that politicians can be greedy and power-hungry. You can see that in the news every day.

To understand how a particular city like Chicago can come to be ruled by one extraordinary man, you need to read Mike Royko’s classic, the original Boss. Royko accomplished in a little over 200 pages what Boss the TV show has so far failed to do in 18 hours: bring to life a glorious, troubled city, it’s power structures, and the man who rules it all.

DIY Publishing 101, Part 3 – If You Must Design Your Own Cover

This is part three in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One and Two.

If You Must Design Your Own Cover

As I said last week, every level-headed person with experience in DIY Publishing will tell you that you should not design your own cover. They are correct.

But since I could not afford to spend several hundred dollars, I designed my own cover for CHICAGO TIME. Judge me accordingly for my hypocrisy.

It was not easy. But I did it rather cheaply.

To design and format both the ebook and printed covers for my novel CHICAGO TIME I used GIMP. GIMP is an open source image editing tool. Thanks to my many years as a technical writer  using a variety of desktop publishing tools, I did not have too difficult a time learning how to use GIMP. (This is not to say that I am some kind of GIMP Wizard. I am most definitely not. Though I will say that layers are your friend.) From my local library I checked out a copy of Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional by Akkana Peck.

The digital cover was much easier than the printed cover. The digital cover needs to be at least 600 by 800 pixels. Once I had the design I formatted the file to the necessary dimensions.

If I had only been doing an ebook, I would have been done. Since I was doing a printed version, I had a bit more work to do.

The printed cover can’t even be completed until you know the dimensions of the physical book. You can’t format a cover until you’ve chosen the book size (for example, 6” x 9”) and have laid the book out in a template, giving you the exact page count. The page count and the type of paper lets you know how wide the spine will be.

Createspace makes this rather simple. They’re the company I used for the printed version of my novel. They provide Word templates for the size of your book and the fonts of your choosing. Once I had the book laid out, and had the exact page count, I used Createspace’s tool for configuring a cover template. You plug in the book size and the number of pages, and you’re given a graphic file with all the correct measurements. You take this file and open it in GIMP (or Photoshop, InDesign, or whichever image manipulation program you’re using) and, using it as a layer, create the front, back, and spine of your book’s cover.

Once the printed cover is complete, you convert it to PDF, and you’re ready for the next step.

When the Bribe Isn’t Big Enough to Matter

Only in Illinois can your conviction for corruption be overturned for not accepting big enough bribes. From the Chicago Sun-Times,

Dominick Owens, 46, twice took bribes of $600 to issue certifications of occupancy for four newly constructed homes he hadn’t inspected, a jury found following a trial in November. Originally suspected of taking more than $20,000 in bribes in 2005 and 2006, he was sentenced in March by Judge Blanche M. Manning to a year and a day in federal prison.

But the sentence was reversed Thursday in a ruling issued by the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Justices ruled that Owens should not have been convicted because prosecutors didn’t prove the bribes he took were worth more than $5,000, as the law requires.

That’s a pretty nifty requirement. In other words, accepting two bribes of $600 each isn’t really much of a bother. It’s like jaywalking. Sure, it’s against the law, but it’s not worth going to prison over. What’s several hundred dollars between a developer and a building inspector?

Owens was convicted as part of a much larger federal investigation called, “Operation Crooked Code,” which has resulted in the convictions of 21 people. Of the 21, 15 were Chicago building and zoning inspectors.

Six of the 15 crooked inspectors apparently used connections to get their city jobs, according to a hiring “clout list” that was kept by Mayor Daley’s former patronage director, Robert Sorich, who, in an outgrowth of the Hired Truck investigation, was convicted in June 2006 of overseeing an illegal-hiring system that gave city jobs and promotions to politically connected people.

You got that? The Hired Trucking scandal (more details on that can be found here and here) led to its own investigations, which in turn led to Operation Crooked Code. Operation Crooked Code showed empirically what most people in Chicago already knew: that city inspectors are open to bribes.

For Federal investigators, Chicago is a place where there’s plenty of corruption to investigate, which means there’s plenty of job security for them.

For writers, corruption is just one of the many inexhaustible sources of inspiration in Chicago. It’s a city that appalls, repulses, fascinates, seduces, and charms. It never bores. I never tire of it.

Manic Monday

Good morning. Welcome to another edition of Manic Monday.

Here’s a link that will depress you about the state of journalism in the US and Canada; an interview with Alexandra Kimball at The Rumpus.

I don’t see how these barriers won’t lead to a homogenous class of journalists who are very privileged. There are growing economic barriers to a profession that needs to have people from different backgrounds on staff. So that they can cover issues that affect every group in accurate and nuanced ways, so that they can accurately cover what’s affecting poor communities, minority communities—issues that are so often misrepresented or overlooked.

Kimball wrote the essay “How to Succeed in Journalizm When you Can’t Afford an Internship.”

Now for some good news. Chicago Magazine has put together a list of the 50 best sandwiches in Chicago. I’ve been gone so long from the city that I don’t even recognize any of the names of the places on this delicious list. I’m going to have to add eating some of these sandwiches to my To Do List when I go back to visit, like the Atomica Cemitas, Jibarito, and (how can I resist?) The Gatsby.