NaNoWriMo 2019 – Firsts: Part 1 (The Mosquito)

I had given the kids a verbal version of this before NaNo, but couldn’t quite pull it out to a full day’s writing. As such, I started behind the 8-ball, and I didn’t finish it. In the original, the mosquito gets squished just as she’s fully exulting in her plan to change mosquito nature.

She hungered. Hunger was her world, and she sought blood. If you had asked her, and if she had been able to respond, she would have said that the blood was life to her, but especially to her children. The hunger drove her on, and it had a voice.

The voice did not speak in words. Rather, it throbbed. It throbbed with a deep, slow rhythm, so much slower than the beating of her wings. The throb filled the air around her, and was accompanied by a smell. The smell was, to her, the smell of blood, but she knew that it was not the blood itself. It was, rather, the smell of the place of the blood, the source of the blood.

Her wings carried her on, towards the blood, the throbbing of the voice filling her mind with nothing else. There was a barrier between her and the blood, and she explored it, tentatively. It was not thick, and her piercing, sucking mouth could have penetrated it easily, but it was too far from the blood. She moved on until she found where the curtain ended, and she began to fly around it.

That was when her life began to change. There was something hanging there. It, too, smelled of life. It had all of the smells of the place of blood, but it was cold. She landed on it, and probed. There were tiny crevices in the thing, and in those crevices there was protein. She knew the smell, and she knew the taste. It was not blood, but it was the same smell and taste she had every time she drank blood.

The eggs within her cried out, and she thought she should hurry on, but she waited another moment, lingering over this strangeness. The voice of the hunger told her she needed blood, and for her to drink blood there must be a victim. Now, she wondered. She could easily continue in the way she had always gone. The place of blood was near, and the victim unaware. However, what if there was another way?

The children were waiting. They needed the blood, or did they? What if she could nourish them with the victim’s protein instead? It lay in the crevices of this thing, waiting for her deft mouth to suck it free. There was moisture in plenty to ease it down her throat. What if she stayed here?

She regarded the victim hazily through the distance. Her eyes were not made to focus at those distances, but she could see its naked skin. How she would pierce that skin with her mouth, anesthetising with her saliva so that she could drink unmolested! Soon, her belly would be full, distended with the warm, rich blood. She would not be able to fly far, or fast, then. No, she would have to find a place to sit and digest, feeding the proteins slowly to her developing eggs.

What if there were a different way? she thought again. Her children might be fed by the proteins from this thing she was sitting on. Perhaps they would even be stronger than the children fed by blood. After all, could such a parasitic life be healthier than one of scavenging, or of harvesting the resources left by others?

Perhaps, indeed, (here she permitted herself a flight of fancy) the children might be different than the others of their kind. Perhaps they would learn — here she reminded herself that she would never see the children, knowingly, for they would hatch under water and by the time they emerged into the air again they would be indistinguishable from all others —

NaNoWriMo, Linux, and Scrivener

Well, it’s that time of year again. My son is the most excited about National Novel Writing Month, but Kimia and I are also participating in the competition to write 50,000 words in a month.

I opted out last year, and the year before that I was mostly working in Mac OS, so I did all of my writing in Scrivener. There are lots of apps out there to help you write: most of them seem to focus on helping you focus (by covering up your screen except for where you’re typing), while a few also work on helping you to organize your writing project.

While Kimia (and Jack) continue to use StoryMill on the Mac, I switched over to Scrivener a few years back, and I believe it’s the king of this software category. Available on Mac and Windows, they even have a synced iPad app, which was nice at the time. NaNo without Scrivener was a daunting prospect.

I realized that there might be some similar software, so I started looking. The early favorite was Manuskript. The interface was a little kludgy in comparison to Scrivener (perhaps a tablet inspired look?) but the main pieces seemed to be there. Alas, using it was somewhat painful, and I couldn’t find the most important feature of a NaNo writing tool — the word count target bell!

I moved on to oStorybook, CherryTree notes, Joplin, Draftman, etc. I even tried just using SimpleNote (which is somewhat compatible with the back end of Scrivener). I couldn’t even find a non-organizing text editor with a word count target bell.

Finally, I returned to an old project. I had dug up an old Scrivener for Linux beta, several years ago. You can download it, yourself, from Literature and Latte’s site. Unfortunately, it depends upon some old libraries that are not in the “software store” for Linux Mint 19.2. What to do? What to do?

Well, one of the nice things about Linux is the error messages. Trying to run Scrivener (installation was without error) it told me precisely which libraries were missing. Thus, the first time I tried to run it, I was told that I was missing A little bit of searching allowed me to download it from the repos for an earlier version of Ubuntu:

(Note that the above is the 64-bit version — if you need the 32-bit version, you’ll have to do your own searching.)

curl -O
sudo dpkg -i libpng12-0_1.2.54-1ubuntu1.1_amd64.deb

The first line above (which wraps to two lines on my blog) downloads the file to your computer. If you just click the link to download, you don’t need to do that part. The second line (that starts with sudo) tells the package manager (dpkg) to install (-i) the file you downloaded. Now, we try to start Scrivener again.

This time we’re told we’re missing (It should go without saying that you probably already have both of these libraries installed, but in later versions.) I found and resolved that dependency, and Scrivener fired up as intended.

There are a couple of interesting lessons from this long pilgrimage. One, never let your old versions of software disappear. If I hadn’t been able to find the older versions of those libraries, I wouldn’t have been able to twist Scrivener’s arm into running on my system.

A larger lesson might be this: if you wait long enough, someone is likely to do the work for you. Yes, not only are you, dear reader, able to learn from my work and easily download the needed libraries (as well as the 1.9.01 beta itself), since you have read to the bottom of this post, you will now learn that there is another, easier way. The Way of Linux has a post about this same issue, with the good news that someone who calls himself Erkus the Damned has made an AppImage version of Scrivener that includes the needed libraries. Download, double-click, and voilà!

A final lesson is this: you found this page, and you might just have been looking for a solution to this problem. I looked for and solved it in my way, and The Way of Linux and their friend Erkus solved it in theirs. Linux is a bigger pie than it was in 2015 (when the last beta was released), and there just might be a market for a Scrivener competitor in Linux. Ideally, it would be compatible with Scrivener’s data structures so as to be a complete drop-in replacement, but even a version of Manuskript that was a little less clunky and implemented some of the missing features found in Scrivener might fit the bill.

One can always hope.

A Child’s Commentary on the Bible


It is inevitable that a work like this needs an introduction. Children are as different from one another as other people are, and they develop at differing rates. In addition, they belong to different sorts of families, with different moral and cultural backgrounds. It might seem wisest to leave this sort of thing alone.

However, Jesus told us that unless we come to the Kingdom like a little child we will never enter it. As a result, I believe that it is high time children were given a commentary of their own, to help them as they, too, enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Bible is full of God, but it is almost as full of people, and people are a sinful, depraved bunch of creatures. There is much in the Bible that people will want to censor when reading to a child. That is certainly the parent’s prerogative, and indeed, sometimes duty. However, while I will probably deal with things from a pietistic perspective (because of my own background) I believe children are much more resilient than we often give them credit for, and frequently are being exposed to many frightful things in the schools to which they are sent, or in the media which they consume. Allowing them to have God’s perspective on these things is a gift.

The Bible was written in Hebrew, among the ancient Jewish people, and in Greek, among slightly less ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman people. Their culture was different than ours, and culture is inevitably expressed through language. I believe that the Bible is without error in its original autographs, but that doesn’t mean that I believe an English, American understanding is always correct. Sometimes the Bible expresses things in a way that sounds like one thing in a 21st Century ear, but would have sounded different in the ear of a 3rd Century BC Hebrew. I am not a scholar of these things, but I will try to be clear when my interpretation is based upon a supposition of this sort.

Finally, all Bible commentaries are presumptuous. You should really be reading the Bible! Cliffs Notes and summaries are popular, but there is a reason that courses are never taught about the Cliffs Notes version of Shakespeare’s plays, etc. The play is the thing, not the summary of it, and the Bible is the thing, not the commentary on it. It is my hope that you will be helped in understanding the Bible through this work, and that you will thereby come to know God more closely, but there is no substitute for reading His own work, the love letter written across millennia to His Bride.

Web Development and Password Management

I keep intending to write a blog post about password management, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Nevertheless, I’ll mention that I use Enpass for cross-platform, secure password management.

Because I rely on this program so heavily (1Password isn’t available for Linux, and some of their development direction is concerning to me) I was nonplussed to see that I was asked to uninstall Enpass in order to try the highly-acclaimed Web Development program Brackets. In fact, I remembered that I had wanted to try Brackets some time back, but had held off for this very reason.

Well, I decided to try harder this time, and I tracked down a bug report (or Issue in the github vocabulary) that pointed to curllib3 being the culprit. This older library has been replaced with curl4, and Enpass (and several other apps on my computer) depend on the newer version. For whatever reason, Brackets was unwilling to try the newer version, and the package manager was not willing to let the two libraries coexist on my system.

Fortunately, the bug report had a solution. Unpack the .deb installation package, edit the manifest to allow curllib4 to be used, repack the package and install.

Computer work was a lot harder back before there was such a large collaborative community online.

The Bible or the Axe

I realize I don’t have anything very quippy to add to the title of the book I’m reviewing, but there we are.

I met William Levi at the Father-Son camp in downstate Illinois when he was a featured speaker. I was attracted to him, as I am attracted to all African ex-pats, but his story was surprisingly moving. The Bible or the Axe is his memoir of an interesting childhood and a gripping escape from Sudan.

William’s education is as an engineer, and it shows in the writing. It can be dry and pedantic, and of course he’s dealing with multiple variables of racism and culture as he’s writing cross-culturally. Nevertheless, the further I got into the book, the tighter the prose became, and I was hooked into the narrative as things got personally interesting for him — particularly during his escape from Sudan.

This book is a great reminder for Christians that our citizenship is in heaven, and that every decision we take here will affect our witness for that Kingdom, whose King is the Prince of Peace. Levi had an opportunity to live that struggle in a very personal way, but not just under the jihadi rulers of Sudan. It played out differently among secularized Christians in Egypt, and with American college students who unwittingly mocked his “easy” life.

It’s also a good book for people who want to see the reality of life under jihad, especially for someone whose experience of it greatly precedes 9/11. I found it encouraging, considering some of the anti-theism and anti-Christianity that seems to be growing in parts of our society. While it seems far-fetched right now, the days may not be so far off before we are called upon to make some similar choices to those faced by William Levi.

In all, I think it’s a worthwhile read, although the early chapters dragged a bit, and he can be “preachy” at times. For this last element, it’s usually when he’s decided to tell, instead of show, his point. In other words, the point is valid, but it would be better for him to trust the reader to get it from his narrative.

A Christmas to Remember

Lately my spam folder has been filling up with emails telling me that I have an opportunity to give my children a Christmas they will always remember. I haven’t read the messages to see what will accomplish this feat — I’m a little lazy that way. However, it got me to think about one Christmas, when my daughter was young, that I tried to give her a memorable Christmas.

This was back in the 90s, and we were all much more naïve about the Internet, etc. There was a website that offered the ability to “send an email to Santa” on behalf of your kids. I thought it was a cute idea, so I called my daughter in to my office to compose her note to Santa. She wasn’t sure, at first, what she wanted to ask Santa to bring her, but finally settled on a pair of ballet shoes.

We hit send, and I realized that ballet shoes hadn’t been on the radar for either my wife or me. It was Christmas eve, and I went out in the snow to look for ballet shoes in my daughter’s size that wouldn’t break the bank. I finally found them in a little shop that was ready to close for the evening. I bought the slippers, rushed home, and packed them under the tree for Christmas morning.

At the time, my daughter was delighted with her gift, and she went on to ballet lessons for a few years until she moved on to something else. However, the important lesson for me was this: she doesn’t remember. She knows it happened, because we talk about parenting, and cute things that happened, and tricks we played, and times the tricks backfired on us. However, she has no recollection of that particular Christmas. What she does remember is growing up knowing that Santa was a game we played with one another, and that presents really came from our friends and family.

So, make it a Christmas they’ll never forget? Maybe not. Just as the many gifts that get less play than the boxes they came in, most of our efforts to make this Christmas inoubliable end with the child surprising us with an astonishing lack of concern with the things of this world, and the current trends. Perhaps that’s one reason the “child” of Christmas, many years after His celebrated birth, admonished us to remember that, unless one comes like a little child, one will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Merry Christmas!

So long, Apple. It’s been nice.

In 1983 or 1984, I was a senior in high school. The year I had started there, they had received a bunch of new Apple ][ computers, and there was no one on staff who knew how to use them. (Previously the computer class had used terminals hooked to a computer in a semi trailer parked outside the school building.)

I was hooked as soon as I sat down at one of the new machines, and it wasn’t long before I was able to offer instruction to my computer teacher, who had duties beyond spending every free hour on the computers.

It was because of this that I was invited by the faculty to attend a special meeting offered by Apple, to show off a new computer they were introducing. I don’t know if it had already been released (hence my uncertainty about the date) but the computer was the brand-new Macintosh.

I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything so perfect. The black-on-white display, the fine resolution (72 dpi), the mouse, and the motorized 3.5″ floppy drive… I told the faculty that they were looking at the future, right there.

It would be several years before I was able to purchase a computer of my own, but when I did, it was a Macintosh SE/30, upgraded to 5MB of RAM and a 40MB hard disk drive. My wife still reminds me of my assurance that we would never need to buy more storage than that. When people asked me what kind of computer to get, I would always point them to the Mac, and I seldom had anyone be disappointed with my advice.

In the mid-1990s, when the press was beating the drum of Apple’s demise I was confident that their deep cash reserves and superior engineering (both software and hardware) would see them through. I never had a problem with Apple until Steve Jobs came back to the company and cancelled the cloning program.

Now, I had purchased a computer while the clone program was still going on. I had really wanted to buy a UMAX clone, partly because I really liked their scanners, but when it came down to it, the Apple Macintosh 7500 was a better computer for the money, and that’s what I had got. However, it bugged me that Steve had shut down the competition, and I remember stomping up and down the service floor expressing my indignation. I don’t know if someone else asked me, or if I asked myself, “So, what are you going to do?”

The question settled me instantly. Most of my work at that time was building and fixing Windows-based computers. Windows 95 was the shipping OS, and I knew quite a bit about how to get it working under various conditions. I also knew that I never wanted to rely on Windows 95 for anything. I might have started playing with Linux, but it was a really raw operating system, and wasn’t really a player. I realized that I wasn’t going to not use a Mac just to spite Steve Jobs — that would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

Later, in 2000, Mac OS X came out and revolutionized everything all over again. With the Unix underpinnings and bundled developer tools, OS X not only reinvigorated Apple, it also breathed new life into that other Unix derivative, Linux. Being able to do things in the Bash shell on both Linux and Mac, and being able to recompile lots of software to work on either helped both platforms to grow. I experimented with Linux from time to time, but the Mac was so stable, and had such good software, that I didn’t need to switch, and didn’t really want to.

When the iPhone came out, I was disappointed that the openness we had seen on OS X was not carried on with the mobile platform. Although iOS is built on the same technology as OS X, Apple chose to lock it down, and they locked it down rather tight. This didn’t stop me from jailbreaking my phone a couple of times (‘rooting’ in Android parlance) and I loved the smooth performance of the computer in my pocket. The integration with my Mac was nice, too, and although I was skeptical of iCloud (or .Mac, or the other incarnations) I was able to do most of what I wanted without handing Apple all of my keys.

This began to change when Apple began to push iOS updates harder and harder. Suddenly my friendly Apple phone was behaving like malware, using misdirection and social engineering to try to trick me into installing an update I didn’t want. It downloaded the update to my limited phone memory using equally limited foreign cell minutes while I was traveling overseas. I set the iPhone on my bedside table and left it there, getting an Android phone instead.

While I had spent years working to keep Google from invading my life, I was surprised to find that it was actually pretty easy to block them from tracking my Android phone. Turning off the voice assistant, blocking various permissions, I was struck at how easy it was to protect my privacy on the Android, where with the iPhone I had been faced with the binary choice: install or don’t install the software, but don’t ask what it accesses.

Meanwhile, Apple was also beginning to make life difficult on the desktop. Starting with Mac OS X Yosemite, they wanted to prevent me from having root access to my own computer. Suddenly the little tricks and hacks that had been coming over from the Linux world were stymied — my friendly Mac wanted to keep me, its owner, at arms’ length. I disabled SIP (System Integrity Protection, the Orwellian name for giving Apple more control over my own computer than I had) and soldiered on, ignoring the Sierra and High Sierra updates that broke so much of the large software collection I had accumulated in decades of using the Mac. I also didn’t like the interface changes that had crept in, removing so much of what made the Mac interface intuitive after using it since 1984.

In short, I began to feel towards Apple the way I had once felt towards Microsoft. They weren’t interested in how I wanted to use a computer — they wanted to tell me what to do, and how to do it. Facing challenges with syncing my Android phone to the Mac, looking at more and more of my software breaking as they pushed out updates, being nagged by my other Apple software (Pages, and the rest of the iWork suite, iPhoto and its replacement) to upgrade my system, I finally decided that it was time to try something different.

I downloaded and installed Peppermint Linux 9 on one of the spare drives in my computer. (Only possible because I am using an older Mac with lots of room for drives. Newer Mac models are restrictive in that way.) I rebooted into Linux and found that I could now go days and weeks without needing my Mac. My Android phone mounted seamlessly on the desktop. My calendar and contacts were syncing nicely with my NextCloud server. Although some software, like 1Password, and Scrivener, were no longer options for my computer, I found many new programs that had no peer on the Mac. And while I could run Linux in a virtual machine on the Mac, and have not yet figured the intricacies out of running Mac OS in a virtual machine under Linux on the Mac, Linux was so much faster, using the multiple processor cores where Safari on the Mac (and just booting) had chugged slowly along, draining time from my day.

I miss the Mac. I truly miss what it was. Peaking somewhere around Lion, Mac OS was a beautiful thing, and a real tribute to the engineers who put it all together. Somewhere along the way (and I must admit it began before Steve Jobs died) Apple lost their way, and began to push novelty for its own sake, and to wrap their customers into a tighter and tighter cocoon of Apple-only software. Where previously I had been able to plug something in and confidently expect it to “just work”, they had opted for a system where if it wasn’t from Apple, it probably wouldn’t.

I’m typing this update in Chromium on Linux, on my Mac Pro tower. Mac OS El Capitan is still installed on another partition, and I reboot to it once every week or two to try to salvage some remnant of my former life, like Crusoe returning to the ship wreck. Like him, I wonder if one of these times I’ll find that the sea has reclaimed the last thing I wanted — if it will be my last visit to those familiar boards. I wonder what software I’ll use for my writing, as NaNoWriMo approaches in November. Mostly, I feel a deep sadness for the friend I trusted — for their tech, even when I questioned their business decisions — who finally drove me away.

An Unexpected Gem

Many years ago, before the Internet and cell phones, it was often difficult to find games for the Mac at the stores where I normally shopped. As a result, I would sometimes impulse-buy things on the possibility that it might contain something that I would later enjoy. One of these things was the Mac Game Cube, a stack of CD Jewel Cases that was cubic, and that included quite a few games. I played with a few of them, but ignored most of them — shovel ware was more of a problem on Windows, but it did exist for the Mac (as indeed, it still does).

Years later, as I was going through my software, I found the installer for System Shock, installed it, and found myself blown away by the fantastic game. There was another Mechwarrior-like game whose name I don’t recall, whose premise was silly, but the gameplay and graphics were amazing (for the time).

This experience showed me that the first impression you have of something isn’t always deserved, and sometimes you can get something for nothing (or at least, thrown in with what you were looking for).

I don’t know which extravaganza of free books I was perusing when I stumbled upon Monster Hunter International, but I do know that it was quite a while ago, and I had put the ebook onto a virtual shelf and not thought much more about it.

The cover was a little overly dramatic, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a blood-and-guts monster romp. Finally, while I was overseas, I decided it was time for me to check it out. I synced it to the Kindle app on my phone and started reading.

The opening didn’t grab me, partly because the style was kind of flippant, and I have had some bad experiences with Indie authors, but by the time I finished the first chapter, I was intrigued.

Monster Hunter gets so many things right that it would be difficult for me to list them (especially without giving away too many spoilers). Principally, although the book is predictable in the sense that you’re pretty sure the good guys are going to win, Larry Correia managed to introduce plot twists again and again without doing crazy deus-ex-machina things to get there. Every time I started to roll my eyes and sigh and say, “I suppose he’s going to do this next,” he did something very different, and he pulled me through to the end of the story, and left me wanting more. (There are at least six books in the series, so I shouldn’t have any trouble sating that desire.)

Larry is a “gun-nut”, a competitor in multiple civilian gun competitions, and it showed in what he wrote. The main character is passionate about his guns, and the loving detail given about them throughout the book is a lot of fun. There’s some fun Libertarianism throughout, as well, which is a refreshing contrast to the socialism that infects so much Sci-Fi. Most of all, Larry’s style is engaging, his characters are flawed, but likable, and he doesn’t need an editor with the same desperation as many other lesser-known authors (or he’s used one).

Content warnings: quite a lot of anatomical violence, primarily against monsters, but occasionally against the protagonist. There is some sexual content, but it’s generally very discrete. Finally, the characters have a modern sense of foul language, and the book is full of obscenities. I would not recommend this book to a younger reader who needs to establish a moral framework, nor to someone who struggles with bad language, nor to someone squeamish about gore, but it’s otherwise a delightful read, and highly recommended to other readers interested in a modern fantasy/sci-fi urban fantasy action adventure.

Help for Authors

Authors need help. Goodness, me, but we need help. We need help, because we think we have stories that other people will pay money to read! We need help because we spend precious hours of our lives researching things that virtually no one else cares about, so that we don’t mess up that particular detail of our story. (We’ll mess up numerous other details, but that one will be fine!) I’m pretty good with numbers, but I don’t think I can count all of the ways in which writers need help.

That said, there are a couple of ways in which we can actually get help. (I’m not talking about paying a psychiatrist — that would be a very different sort of post.) The DW (or, as Rumpole would refer to her, “She who must be obeyed”) decided that it would be fun for us to have a reading challenge this year. There were people at her work who were talking about being in a Century club, where the goal was to read 100 books in 2018. She decided that 100 might be a bit of a challenge for our first attempt, so she gave us each a goal of 50 books to read before 2018 dissolves in ashes some twelve months hence.
Now, initially, I wondered where I would be able to find the time to read 50 books (almost 1 per week) in 2018, and I thought how difficult it would be to get Acerrimus and Nether Master published with that kind of a workload imposed. However, I used to read quite a lot, and this is a good excuse to (eventually) buy a bunch of books, so I plunged in, reading a classic (in the sense of being an old book), The Book of Were-wolves. I won’t trouble you with the entire litany of books I read (if you’re interested in the details you can follow me on GoodReads) but I realized that reading books is a good way to reflect upon my own writing. Yes, I’ve read many books, many of which were terrific, and I’ve internalized a lot of their lessons in my own writing over the many years of my life. However, I’ve also forgotten a lot of lessons over those same many years, and it does a lot of good to scour the rust off of the old brain-case periodically and take a fresh look at the work of other authors. (It may also be an encouragement in another way. While I greatly enjoyed the story of the Chronicles of Amber, Zelazney’s terrible writing encouraged me with the thought that if he could get published, then certainly I could, too!) One book I’ve read that reminded me to look at my descriptive text and try to amp up the immersion through clear description is Death Be Not Proud. It’s a fun retelling of a classic fairytale (with enough obfuscation that my initial report on it guessed the wrong two) and Suzannah Rountree has that eye for descriptive detail that got my own juices flowing again.
Another book I read is K. M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out. I really don’t like to be told how to write, and I’m terribly suspicious of people who try to make an art into a science, but Weiland has some good insights (largely gleaned from the writing of other writers’ aids) and I have decided to apply them to the two drafts currently awaiting polishing in my dungeon. While my flesh crawls at the idea of measuring and cutting my story according to these patterns, it certainly can’t hurt to evaluate it by the pattern, can it? And, if it would take only a bit of tweaking to get it to align with the approved story structure, it could be an entertaining experiment. I could see if my beta readers like it better, or if I get more reviews on Amazon when using this technique.
So, I guess I’ll have to think of some way to thank the DW, as this exercise is already starting to bear fruit, and we haven’t gotten half-way through January, yet. Perhaps I’ll wash the dishes.


A New Author and Smashwords

So, here I am, new published author, Follis Wood. My print book is en route from Amazon (published using Createspace  and all is well with the world. In the past, when I helped my daughter start publishing, I put her ebook up using Amazon’s services as well, using Kindle Direct Publishing  My daughter, the incomparable Kimia Wood, has since chafed at some of the restrictions on KDP, so she made her second major novel available through Smashwords. Eager for new experiences, I submitted my novel to Smashwords, sifting through their style guide as quickly as I could, only to have my archaic .DOC-formatted manuscript flung back in my virtual face.

Undeterred, I tweaked the already-functioning table of contents to meet Smashwords’ discriminating standards, but to no avail! This time, I was confronted with a quandary. The review at Smashwords told me that I had used mixed formatting for my “Normal” paragraph style, and it was causing some text to overlap or get crunched. Now, I don’t want to imply that the esteemed reviewer didn’t see some sort of text artifact, but there was no such faulty formatting in my document.

I considered my options. I have loathed Microsoft for decades, more because of working with their shoddy products than in spite of it. I do not own Microsoft Word, and I will not if I can at all help it. However, it’s possible that LibreOffice formats .DOC files differently than the dinosaur of Redmond does. I began consulting DuckDuckGo for answers and I found that the Smashwords approval process is referred to as the Meatgrinder. Great! My next search was for “alternative to Smashwords”.

And so, in the words of the Teacher, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (ESV) I found that Lulu has ebook distribution.

Lulu takes me back to that time before Createspace when my daughter and I tried to publish the novel that shall not be named. We submitted our PDF to Lulu and received an entertaining collection of copies filled with what my wife termed “Chinese”. It was gibberish characters from some flaw in the Lulu PDF engine, and resulted in several useless copies of the book. Combined with Lulu’s lack of free shipping (whereas, with Amazon and Prime we could get free shipping) I turned my back on Lulu, and seldom thought of it again.

Now, in my need for a digital publishing solution, I approached Lulu again. I found that I could submit my ebook in DOC, docx, ePub, and ODT(!). Wow, a modern file format!

To be fair, Lulu doesn’t have as wide a distribution as Smashwords does, but it does seem to get to the big retailers. I can’t comment on how many sales I might miss out on due to not using Smashwords’ distribution to some websites I haven’t heard of before.

I went ahead and modified my DOC that I had uploaded to Smashwords (changed `Smashwords Edition` to `Lulu Edition` and uploaded it to Lulu. To my disappointment, it was rejected. To my great glee, Lulu notified me within minutes, and gave clear instructions as to how to fix it. I ended up moving to an ODT and uploaded again. Again within minutes, I had the go-ahead, although now, I found a problem with the converted file. Back I went to LibreOffice and touched it up, uploading and getting feedback from Lulu within minutes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have immediate publishing joy with Lulu, either. Even after uploading a complete ePub I got some cryptic errors (although more complete information than what I was getting from Smashwords.) Dutiful searching through similar issues was unable to resolve the problem. I decided I would submit a docx instead. I went around this mulberry bush more than a few times, and finally decided that I would take my now “nuked” DOC back to Smashwords.

While it wasn’t as quick as my feedback from Lulu, the “nuked” DOC passed the Meatgrinder, and my ebook is now available through their Premium service.

What’s my lesson in all of this? I think, firstly, that competition is good for competitors and for consumers. Smashwords and Lulu do things differently, and although I eventually published with Smashwords, Lulu’s process was very attractive. It may also teach me to be a little more humble about my computer knowledge, since, apparently, there was something wrong with the DOC when I first submitted it to Smashwords. While it would be nice if they accepted more modern formats, it eventually worked. Finally, it’s a shame that none of these options fully accounts for the metadata possibilities of ebooks. Editing the ebook version in Calibre and Sigil was a lot of fun, but it was frustrating that even Lulu didn’t accept their output. (In the midst of all of this, I also created an account with Draft2Digital, and I may have to try them out further for my next book.)

Oh, there is one more lesson. It’s not always wise to start a rant before the end of the story. You can buy my ebook on Smashwords here:

(Oh, but don’t buy it there if you bought the paperback. I’m working with Amazon Matchbook to give you the ebook for free if you buy the paperback!)