Just Chicken

Last week I got around to writing about a proposal to allow Bremerton residents to have chickens in their backyards. I say “got around” to it because it had been on my list for months. A reporter from another paper got to it first and I was ashamed, so I had see if I could do better. You can read the story here, and watch the video, which isn’t quite as funny as I wanted it to be, but it was good enough and I wanted to go home.

Wednesday night I went to a city council meeting where the councilman who is leading this effort shared some of the rules. One is you can only have up to four hens. They can’t be roosters. Another rule is that the four chickens don’t count against the city’s limit on four pets, which is great because our cat doesn’t lay eggs.

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‘It Is Not All They Are’

At some point in my life I came to see criminals as something other than the crimes they committed. Maybe it was the years between college and when I met Diana, where I proved that a man without a plan isn’t to be trusted. Somehow I think it was sooner than that.

In fifth grade there was a boy whose name I can’t remember (And it’s really bugging me that I can’t.) who startled me one day when he suddenly erupted and called the girl next to him something completely random, like “a communist.” The boy told of riding his bike and finding a dead cat by the side of the road. The kid put a firecracker in the cat’s mouth, lit it and watched it explode. “That will teach you not to smoke,” he said he told that former cat. I was horrified, but I laughed like crazy.

Another kid whose name I do remember was a constant source of trouble, but was genuinely nice. Because of his inability to catch on to schoolwork and his penchant for displaying attitude, he was doomed to continuation school by the time we reached high school. There was something amiss in his family, though I never got close enough to figure out what it was. Years later I saw him yelling at a girl I knew from church, a girl who had fallen away because she never really found a friend there. She was his boyfriend. He got her pregnant. I wasn’t surprised.

These two boys I remember, even if not by name, have yet to show up on Facebook, so I’m left to wonder what became of them. So much can give a kid a tough start to begin with that it’s no wonder years later when you read in the newspaper that they’ve been busted for meth, got arrested for doing something that to most of us seems incredibly stupid, or maybe died an accidental death. Or maybe they found a way to make life work.

I have my doubts. I heard Michael Hanlon, who wrote the book “Ten Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet!): A Guide to Science’s Greatest Mysteries.” He told the host society doesn’t really deal well with people who aren’t very smart. We accept that we can’t all be elite athletes. Most of us just aren’t built for it. Yet we expect everyone to go to college. These boys I knew didn’t cope well early on, and didn’t get a lot of help.

Then there is my nephew, who is in prison, again, for reasons none of us seem to know. That boy wasn’t wired like the rest of us. You see those movies where some country type says, “That boy just ain’t right.” That’s my nephew. It could be alcohol his birth mother drank while pregnant with him, or so we’ve heard. Whatever it was, he wasn’t wired the same as you and I. So it’s hard for me to be too certain that he is, shall we say, a dirtbag. No matter what those two boys from school ended up doing, they aren’t either.

In Rick Bragg’s book “The Prince of Frogtown,” he comes to accept that there was more to his father than all the bad things he saw.

“But over a lifetime I have known a lot of men in prisons, men who will spend their eternity paying for their worst moment on earth. It came when they caught their wife cheating on them and thumbed back the hammer on a gun they bought to shoot rats and snakes, or got cross-eyed drunk in some fish camp bar and pulled a dime-store knife, just because they imagined a funny look or a suspicious smile. You do not have to forgive such men, ever, that minute. You can lock them away for it, put them to death for it, and spend your eternity cursing their name. It is not all they are.”

This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t pay for their crimes. It wouldn’t hurt, though, to consider that we aren’t the sum of all the bad things we’ve done.

Act Two: And So It Begins

Six years ago I took up blogging writing about Janet Jackson’s exposed breast. The point behind launching the effort was to learn about blogging, but also to have a history of writing available when I wrote my first book. The blog would help market books, and the books would market the blog.

On Saturday I applied for a business license to become a publisher in this state, marking the real beginning of the purpose of this blog. Over the past few years I debated how I would get my first book published. Within the last month I definitively concluded I want to publish myself. I have confidence enough in the quality of my work that I could get a publisher. The pay-off for that, though, is less attractive than it once was.

Any advance for a book would be unlikely to amount to much more than minimum wage. Publishing companies are being less generous with the handouts, especially since the economy tanked and the industry itself is in technological flux. Another soon-to-be self-published author got himself an agent, who told him he’d probably get at most $5,000 as an advance, which he wouldn’t get all up front. And that $5,000 would be all he’d probably ever get.

Self-publishing used to be primarily for those who couldn’t get a book sold to a publisher and had the money to pay for the printing themselves. Those books were immediately suspected of being of awful quality and had trouble finding space in the market. There were exceptions, but they were rare.

Print-on-demand and evolving consumer habits are changing that. For the past decade or so it has become entirely affordable for authors to go their own way in publishing. Of course, this means there are probably more awful books out there, but I have enough confidence in my writing that the quality of the book isn’t going to be the issue. For a few hundred dollars as a publisher I can get my books sold on Amazon and other retailers. For a few more bucks I can start getting them physically into stores.

There is the additional reality that big publishers don’t traditionally love their authors’ books. It’s all about what will sell. There is nothing wrong with that approach. I want to make money, too. But for someone passionate about the work I think it’s a method less likely to create longevity in the field. Typically what happens is big publishers throw books against the wall to see what sticks. The rest, which is the majority, they return. An author who doesn’t do well the first time isn’t likely to be invited back to try again. On the other hand I worked for a small publisher for a year and saw that they were passionate about the books they chose to publish. It didn’t always translate into massive sales, but the publishers continued to work angles for years and years to get those old books sold. In my case I can continue to market the book in perpetuity and I’ll be motivated to do it. I can work the angles long after traditional publishers would have given up.

Beyond that, I want to be in control. I’ll hire someone to edit my work, but I’ll be the one making the changes, deciding on the book’s look and feel. Ten years ago I did get a publisher, but let him decide too much. I was embarrassed with the result and had virtually no recourse. Putting the books in my control means I get to write more of them as well. And this way, I just might get that old book out on the market again.

On Saturday I registered for a business license with the state and founded the company Narrative Arts. The first couple of books will be test projects. I imagine there will be some return on my investment, but I would be thrilled if I broke even. I’ll wait until a couple of months from now to unveil what books are coming.

Part of this is also a reaction to what’s going on in the newspaper world. For years I’ve appreciated the stability that comes with being paid a salary, but the earning ability was put on shaky ground for a while. I always thought I should take more control of my earning ability anyway. Things seem to have hit bottom in the industry, but that’s no sure thing. Having a second income that has the potential of being a first income is exciting.

Every so often in years past, especially before I became a reporter again, I would catch a little entrepreneurial fever, but usually it was toward something I had no natural passion for. So when things got the slightest bit difficult — be it in selling NuSkin or 900 numbers — I’d get tired of the act. The best thing I ever realized was I thought I had a great idea for a restaurant, but was smart enough to know that I wanted nothing to do with running a restaurant business.

The reason the entrepreneur in me will continue to push in this case is because it’s backing something I want to do anyway. I want to write books, a certain kind that will be spelled out more as I develop Narrative Arts. This whole venture is designed to make it possible for me to write books for the rest of my life. The first book that makes a profit will help pay for the next one, and so on. Chances are, that’s why this time my venture adventure will work.

Conversion

This story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun is one I had wanted to do for years. As it is with every story, once it was written I counted all the ways I could have made it better than it was. That’s what writers do. Despite that, it was probably one of the most rewarding writing projects I ever did for a newspaper. In a post down the road I’ll write about why I wanted to do the story. Here’s one of the videos that accompanied the story.

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