In Praise of Not-So-Old Technology

In some countries, the windows are double-glazed. In some countries, the windows are triple-glazed. In New Zealand we are a hardy bunch, and unless you live in a fairly new house (or a house with fairly new windows) there’s a good chance you have single-glazed windows.

Yep. A single layer of glass between you and the chill of the winter beyond. Admittedly, our winters aren’t as cold as some places, but when flights head to Scott Base in Antarctica, New Zealand is where they leave from.

Scott Base Antarctica Sign
I’ve spent the last 15 years in two of the cities closest to Antarctica. Brrr.
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Thirteen Lessons Learned

It’s been a long road to this point of being a published author, and I have learned a lot. Some things I have learned from others, and some things I have learned the hard way. Here are a selection, in roughly the order I learned them.

I Some writers can produce remarkable work in odd bits and bobs of time. I am not one of those writers. It takes me a good half hour to submerge. Find out how you work best and don’t listen to those who say that there is only one right way to go to work.

Day 220: What the heck am I writing
II Making it up as you go along is not the only way to write – nor is is necessarily the best or most authentic way to write. It certainly works better for me if I take some time to brood and hatch out a skellington ahead of time. Again, find out how you work best and don’t listen to those who say that there is only one right way to go to work.

III LyX is great. I type into a nice clear large-print text file, and when I click a button, it shows me how it will look on the page – all properly formatted like a Real Book. How much of this was set up by the Caped Gooseberry and how much comes straight out of the virtual box, I know not, but any way you slice it, I recommend LyX.

IV However good your word-processing/typesetting program is, you will still have to make a million decisions. Really. You have no idea how many decisions go into a book until you try it, and all the decisions will need to be made regardless of how little you care about them. (Rather like organizing a wedding in that respect.)
Latex layout
Font, margins, running heads and/or feet (with placement & content thereof), leadings, headings, et cetera ad nauseam. Don’t even get me started on the typographical complexities induced by the inclusion of another language (real or imaginary). On the plus side, all this decision-making means your book comes out looking just how you want it.

V On which point, details are not my forte, particularly typographical details. The Caped Gooseberry, on the other hand, is an excellent proof-reader. “This says leaned, but eighty pages ago you said leant – which is it to be?” (Yes, he is a man of myriad usefulnesses. No, you can’t have him. He is mine, all mine, muahahahaha.)

VI Nothing is ever simple. On average, you can expect one moderately major detour or road-bump for every decision you make. And sometimes there will be dead ends when you least expect them. The one thing which went much more smoothly than I expected turned out to lead to a brick wall.

Spaghetti-Junction-Crop
VII Graphic designers design. Mac Operators carry out others’ designs. While a graphic designer may choose to take on mac operator work, mac operators don’t do graphic design work.

VIII Some ebook distributors won’t accept Creative Commons-licensed works, citing the vendors’ non-acceptance of Creative Commons & Public Domain works. However, a quick search of Amazon.com (the biggest fish in the pond), reveals that not only do they still list public domain works by Austen, Brontës, Dickens etc, but that they also list Creative Commons-licensed books by Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig.

IX Other ebook distributors insist on putting on DRM, regardless of the author/publisher’s wishes. (Some of them also insist on taking a large part of the profits, despite incurring almost no cost whatsoever.)

X The wholesale discount includes 15% for the distributor, so a wholesale discount of 55% means 40% of the list price for the bookseller (generally the minimum brick-and-mortar booksellers will accept in order to stock a book). This leaves 45% for the publisher (in the case of self-published books, also the author) from which the printing and shipping costs are deducted.
Content writer
Depending on the cost of printing and the list price, there may be very little left – and that’s before you take into account that the bookseller will expect to be refunded for any copies they don’t sell (and will either destroy them or charge you for shipping them back).

XI When the National Library of New Zealand CiP form says “What is the book about? (Describe the main topics, themes, and/or places covered. Please be as specific as possible.)” what it means is “please provide a brief description to be published verbatim.” (Embarrassing.)

XII You can’t use a Young Adult Fiction BISAC code unless the book is primarily classified as Young Adult Fiction – which ensures it will be shelved in places where adults fear to tread. Young adult readers, on the other hand, are not afraid of venturing into the adult section. (Yay for young readers!)

XIII A matte finish dims the colours of a cover more than you might expect. On the other hand, they feel lovely. Choose wisely.

Glossy on the left; matte on the right.

Yes, some of these are definitely more serious than others (VI and X are pretty major), but if anything I’ve written here lets another writer learn something the easy way, I shall be delighted.
And if there are any other self-publishing Creative-Commons-using New Zealand-based writers out there, whether further along the road than me or not – drop me a line. I’d love to know that it’s Not Just Me.

The Home of Enoughness

A face, Loretta Young said, “is like the outside of a house, and most faces, like most houses, give us an idea of what we can expect to find inside.” Our house is 74 years old, built during the Second World War as state housing: good quality housing for the working class. It’s still a good quality house. Rimu doors, matai floors, cupboards that don’t fly open in earthquakes…

State houses at Arapuni Hydro Works
A house is the embodiment of the culture which built it, but New Zealand culture has changed. As Bill McKay and Andrea Stevens noted in their book on the New Zealand state house, past and present (Beyond the State: New Zealand State Houses from Modest to Modern), most ex-state houses have been adapted, extended, enlarged. But not all. To quote: “Having lived in the house now for several years, Aaron [Kreisler, ex-state-houseowner] feels he has grown into it. Instead of adapting the house, he has adapted to it.”

There is a fascinating depth to that idea which I would like to delve into. The idea of cutting your coat to suit your cloth is quite passé, but why? What is the allure of indebting yourself in order to increase your space beyond what you actually need? First you spend money on stuff, and then you spend more on enlarging your house to fit it. Why not instead take the house as it is, as your ally in living a life of enoughness?

I feel particularly blessed in that regard, as my house seems to have been neatly designed for enoughness. It’s not an ornate and draughty Victorian behemoth, or an eighties temple to overconsumption, or even a modern there-is-a-house-somewhere-behind-this-garage architectural ode to our cultural dependence on personal vehicular transport. It’s a 1940s row house/terraced house, with a slightly cottagey aesthetic.

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife- Everyday Life in London, England, 1941 D2358
One can imagine the first occupants moving into it with the precious furniture that their family managed to hold on to through the Depression, each item carefully tended and given its own place. If there’s one thing that this house would not have seen a lot of in its early days, it’s clutter. Its ‘face’ suggests an interior of comfortable simplicity, an efficiency without sterility, a warm and unpretentious home. Slick modern luxury? No.

McKay and Stevens describe the ex-state house bathroom as “a surprisingly perfunctory space. It is tiny and speaks of a very different attitude to what is seen nowadays as an indulgent daily ritual.” Our very typical bathroom contains a bath, a basin (no stand, it’s attached to the wall) and a toilet, with the sum total of storage provided by a small medicine cabinet set into the wall. If you want to avoid accumulating clutter, the ex-state house bathroom is your friend, the tough no-nonsense kind of friend who will chuck your extra conditioner bottles out the window if you overcrowd the sill.
VIEW OF INTERIOR BATHROOM, FACING WEST - 1019 East Fourteenth Avenue (House), 1019 East Fourteenth Avenue, Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL HABS FL-557-13
Storage becomes a bit of a theme in McKay and Stevens’ description. “But the thing you really notice when visiting these houses is how little storage space they had compared with today’s homes. We don’t take up more space, but our stuff seems to; indeed, quite significantly more. A standard-issue wardrobe for these times was about a metre wide. With all the consumer temptations thrown at us today, this would barely be enough for a coat collection.”

On reading this, I immediately thought of what could be construed as my coat collection. I have one winter coat of wool, one jacket ditto, one alleged raincoat (showercoat, more like), and one red velvet coat, plus one large cloak. This seems to me like a lot, but I can assure you, it doesn’t take up half of the wardrobe space which the 1940s have bestowed upon me. Six dresses hang in the same wardrobe, along with a collared shirt, two skirts, my evening wear, an off-season dressing-gown and my wedding dress. And a hanging doohicky which holds scarves, hats, kerchiefs, belts etc. And that’s just the rail. What more do I need?

Second floor, northwest wall of northwest bedroom - Jacob Crow Farm, House, Crow Creek Road, 1 mile south of intersection of Routes 15 and 28, Cameron, Marshall County, WV HABS WVA,26-CAM,1A-17
“’There’s this fascination now for people making their mark with these über-sized houses,’ reflects Aaron, ‘where your kitchen has to be a chef’s kitchen and your bathroom a large walk-in space. [I am happy to say that I have yet to see a bathroom into which one cannot walk. Possibly he is conflating the idea of the large en-suite bathroom and the walk-in wardrobe?] The addiction to spending is huge. We are the generation that is allowed to carry large amounts of debt. And so the state house presents a different set of attitudes about ownership.”

Perhaps that’s something we can use to help ourselves, as our culture careers down the slope of constant-growth consumerism like an out-of-control shopping trolley toward the muddy ditch of debt and buyer’s remorse. If a house speaks to us of the culture that produced it, perhaps we can use the house as a way to reach back to that culture, or rather, a way for that culture to reach out to us.

I can’t help feeling, though, that the past is most likely to reach out and smack us round the head, shouting “what on earth do you need that many clothes for? How many bodies have you got? And what do you mean, his and hers bathrooms? Haven’t you got any bladder control?”

double-sink-1416377_640My house is 74, after all, and at that age you’ve got past any awkwardness about asking people embarrassing questions.

How old is your house? And what might it say to you?