Book Review: The Second Ship

The second ship The Second Ship (The Rho Agenda) by Richard Phillips was a slam-dunk 5 star book.

Technically excellent, characters that draw you in and cause you to care about them – even the bad guys are compelling.  Dialogue is perfectly natural and flows effortlessly.  The story includes a lot of advanced communications and physics concepts and Mr. Phillips does an excellent job of keeping them understandable and believable.

There were several nights I was kept up late because I did not want to put the book down yet. The entire concept of the story is a clever new twist on the “alien spacecraft recovered at Roswell” theme.  The ongoing juxtaposition of good elements versus bad elements also keeps things interesting.  This is not a farmers versus the government story.  Some elements of the government are good, some bad, some you’re not real sure about.  One ship is good, one bad; but which is which?  Even among the story’s main characters, some are good, some bad, some change sides.  It never got boring, it was never trite.

This is the first book in a trilogy, so the story ends in an open-ended manner, but THIS story does conclude with most of the major factors resolved.  It does not end in such a cliff-hanger that you feel cheated.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys science fiction, and especially if you have a fascination with alien conspiracy theory.  I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

** My Simple Formula for Book Reviews was used to review this book. **

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 3 of Cyborg Wars

Want to Start at the beginning?

cyborg invasion,Our operative’s report included coordinates: coordinates which had been transmitted to the entire Birdman fleet as a rendezvous point.   Something big was about to happen.

There had been quite a debate over whether this report could be trusted.   It could be bait set out by the Birdmen to trap our best ships far from help, but discussion quickly dimmed the luminance of that possibility.

Hastily we pieced together an assault fleet and ordered them to proceed to the coordinates given.   The Executioner, a Dreadnought class battleship, was patrolling in my vicinity and I took command of her as my flag ship.   My fleet was scattered all around the quadrant, a well coordinated, cohesive assault would be nearly impossible, but we would do the best we could.   Continue reading “Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 3 of Cyborg Wars”

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 2 of Cyborg Wars

Start at the Beginning?

Romulan Warbird, Star Trek, Paramount
via Paramount Studios

Wing Commander Ulan broods in her command chair, listening to the sounds of the war bird around her.   They are the usual unobtrusive sounds of a star ship in flight; the soft whoosh of life support, the small chirps and beeps of computer equipment as it tracks and monitors a billion circuits throughout the ship, hushed voices as her crewmen confer on this matter or that.   And under it all the deep, barely perceptible thrumming of her ship’s engines as they propelled her though space with unimaginable speed.   She has sat, listening, a hundred times before.   It’s a habit she developed when on important missions; listening for any small sign that there was a problem.   It’s silly she knows, the computers would alert her crew of any malfunction.   But still, she liked to feel in control, even while waiting for events to play out.

This mission was especially important.   The wing she now commands consists of every last war bird the Empire could muster.   Cloaked, and traveling at top speed toward a date with destiny.   Continue reading “Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 2 of Cyborg Wars”

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 1 of Cyborg Wars

Long, long ago in a galaxy far away I used to play a game called VGA Planets.  It was a mult-player, on-line, roll-playing game of space conquest where each player had to build their race’s home planet’s economy and industry then develop space ships, then go and explore and, generally, kick butt to keep other races from over-running them.  If you were good, or lucky, or a little of both you could expand your empire.

I wasn’t especially good at it, but I enjoyed it so much I kept playing.  At one point, I decided to chronicle a game and create a story from it, posting the story for other players to read as the game progressed.

Earlier this morning on Twitter some of us were discussing the way as kids we used to look forward to Saturday morning and cartoons.  That conversation gave me the idea of posting part of that VGA Planets chronicle here each Saturday morning as a bit of fun.

Understand, that this was never slated for publication, it is not polished. It does contain references to and take-offs from most every Sci-Fi series ever made.  All characters are fictitious, so if the Romulan commander reminds you of your Aunt Mable, don’t go trying to sue me.  I never even met your Aunt Mable.  The images used are the artwork of various people I knew at the time and could not possibly remember now.  If anyone wants to complain, I’ll delete them.

Ready?  Here’s part one:  Continue reading “Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 1 of Cyborg Wars”

The Fat Lady Sings

fat ladyThere is a saying: “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Apparently coined by sports information director Ralph Carpenter during a 72-72 tied game between the Raiders and the Aggies in 1976 and reiterated any time someone is in a close contest.

For most of us recently life has been a close contest.  Economic disaster has pushed many to the brink of ruin.  And some have gone over the brink.

I’ve been building furniture for over 30 years.  It started as a hobby, making things for my own home, then friends and relatives.  Eventually word got around and my friends’ friends began calling on me to build things for them too, and furniture making moved from hobby status to side-line business.  This side-line grew until I cut my full-time employment to part time to test the waters as a full time woodworker, then quit my job altogether.  That was about 12 years ago (1998) and I’ve been working full time as a self employed custom furniture maker ever since.

There have been a few lean spots where things got particularly tight, and there have been times when demand for my work has been so great that I had a 12 month long waiting list in spite of the fact that I was working 12-14 hours a day 6 days a week for weeks on end.

Yet, somehow we never seemed to reap the benefits of all this work.  Even when our busiest year came to a close and we tallied up all the numbers in our annual report to Uncle Sam, profitability was disappointingly low.  How could that be?

Then I found a series of articles in Custom Woodworking Business magazine written by consultant Anthony Noel in which he addressed this very issue, pointed out many expenses that often slip through the cracks to feed upon your profit margin and taught us to build a spreadsheet for tracking those costs and calculating them back into our hourly shop rate.  I awaited each installation of that series with much anticipation and when it was complete I had my spreadsheet and began tracking down all those misplaced profits.

We recalculated our shop rate based on the results of that study and were confident that we would now be able to start tucking away a little for retirement.

Then the economy tanked (2008).

For a while people who still had money to spend on quality furniture were finding us and we were getting along, but last July either those people started feeling the need to hang onto their money or we were no longer able to get our name in front of them and things began to get really tight.  But, the fat lady hadn’t sung yet.

Almost another year has passed and nothing is getting better.  I believe I hear that buxom soprano starting her aria.  It’s decision time.

Having furniture custom designed and built for you is expensive.  It’s much like the difference between selecting a suit off the rack at your local department store or going to a tailor and having a suit specially fitted to your physique.  A tailor made suit will be many times the cost of an off the rack suit.  More so if you choose a particularly spiffy fabric.  But there are men who feel that $500 to $1000 (sometimes more) for one suit is money well spent.  Marie spent many years as a seamstress in a popular dress shop in St. Louis and she knows first hand the extraordinary amount of money women will put into custom made gowns.  And we hope to meet some of those people again soon as they will be the ones who are willing to spend money on high quality furnishings that are designed to their specific needs and tastes and built to last for generations.

But those are not the people who have been contacting us lately.  As an example, there was the fellow who wanted a table and benches designed for his children’s use.  After discussing his needs with him I estimated the job at around $1,000.  His budget for the project was $350, and that had to include delivery to the east coast!  This was just one example, it is typical of most of the dealings we’ve had lately.  We’re just going to have to move in a new direction if we are to survive.

Over the years there have been certain items that have been very popular and have sold consistently.  The higher pricing dictated by the need to actually show a profit as cooled the enthusiasm for even these items.  But if I can get pricing back down to the previous levels, we may be able to revive interest in those pieces.  How do we do that? Volume production.

I have always considered myself as something of an artist and as such have always considered production work to be distasteful.  But then, so is starving to death.

If I can produce our most popular items in batches of 10 to 12 pieces I can economize by making the parts of these pieces in runs, and saving labor overall.  How does that work? Well, it takes time to set up a tool to make a particular cut.  Depending on the tool and the cut being made, it can take 20 minutes to fit the jigs and make test cuts to home in on perfection.  If making parts for a single piece of furniture, all that work will go into making one or two finished cuts on parts (which may take all of 30 seconds to make the actual cut) and all that time gets billed to the one piece of furniture.  If making 12 of those pieces of furniture, once the set-up is done it can be used to make parts for all of them and the 20 minute set-up time gets split between the 12 pieces.  Instead of adding 20 minutes of shop time to each, less than 2 minutes is billed to each.

This is not to say that we will be able to slash our pricing to ½ of the current rate, for assembly and finishing of each piece of furniture will still consume most of the construction time and that must be done one piece at a time, with careful attention to detail or the quality of our work will suffer greatly.  And it does not take 20 minutes to set up for every cut made.  But if economizing in the parts making stage will help us reduce costs, maybe we’ll get some of that business back.

This will mean that what we build will not be customizable.  Asking us to make a set of tray tables 2″ wider than the ones we normally make seems a simple enough request, but it would in fact require re-designing and re-making all the jugs and templates for most of the parts used to make those tables.  So, full custom work is being sent to the bench until the game turns around for us.  The fat lady has sung.

Stepping up to a 3D Book Cover

Writing for Profit or Pleasure: Where to Sell Your Work - book imageToday I took the next step in the full-publication process of my latest book. That step being to produce a PDF version that I can sell on my web site. Most people who buy and read PDF books are accustomed to seeing snazzy, 3D book cover images that look like a photo of a real book. So the flat 2D image that I’ve been using in the bookstores isn’t going to be quite good enough if I want to look “professional” as an author of PDF books. But, I can’t spend $700 on Photoshop (the most popular software for doing this) nor do I have the time to learn it even if I could afford it.  So I went looking for alternatives.

I found a bunch.  Several were plugins for Photoshop to make setting that up easier – no good if you don’t have Photoshop. {Gong} They’re disqualified.  Continue reading “Stepping up to a 3D Book Cover”

The Benefits of Failure and Imagination

J.K. Rowling delivers a witty and touching commencement speech at Harvard University and shares a peek into her life and trials.  This is a great example of how the hardships of life can shape us, and if we don’t give in, to improve us.

The Voice of the Appalachians

I’ll call this Tribute Tuesday, and talk about a powerful writer and local (former) resident who loved this region, it’s people and it’s heritage.

Wilma Dykeman, who passed away at age 86 at her Asheville North Carolina home in December of 2006, has been heralded as “The Voice of Appalachia” for her literary works about the history and people of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Brief Biography

Wilma_Dykeman PHOTO Asheville Citizen-Times
Wilma_Dykeman PHOTO Asheville Citizen-Times

Wilma Dykeman was born on May 20th 1920 to Bonnie Cole Dykeman and Willard Dykeman in the Beaverdam community of Buncombe County, North Carolina, which is now part of Asheville N.C.  Her father was 60 years old when Wilma was born and he passed away when she was 14.  Dykeman would later credit both her parents for instilling a love of reading and her father in particular for arousing in her a love of nature and a curiosity about the world around her.

She attended Biltmore Junior College, graduating in 1938, and Northwestern University, in Chicago where she graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech.

In August 1940 Dykeman was introduced to her future husband, poet James R. Stokely, Jr. a  Newport, Tennessee resident and a son of the president of Stokely Canning Company which become Stokely-Van Camp Inc. The couple married just two months after they met and produced two sons, Dykeman Stokely and James R. “Rory” Stokely III.  Both sons grew up to become writers as well, co-authoring several books with their mother.  Continue reading “The Voice of the Appalachians”

Lights Out for Incandescent Bulbs as GE Closes Last Plant – New Technologies Loom

incandescent bulbAmerican manufacturing icon, General Electric, brought an era to a close today; Friday, September 24, 2010 as it flipped off the lights and locked the doors at its Winchester Virginia light bulb plant. This was the last G.E. plant in America to make incandescent bulbs, an item that has been a staple product for G.E. since Thomas Alva Edison’s innovations in the 1870’s.

This closure is a direct result of the energy conservation measure passed by Congress in 2007 which mandates that incandescent light bulbs are too wasteful and must be eliminated from American homes by 2014. The resulting savings in energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be immense. But this move also has unintended consequences.

To start with, 200 G.E. employees, most of them in their 40’s and 50’s and many of whom have worked at this plant for decades, are now heading for the unemployment office. Employees interviewed as they left the plant for the last time expressed concern over being able to find another job in this economy, at their age, and with no other experience.

G.E. did look at retooling this plant to produce the new Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) which will meet the governments efficiency guidelines for 2014, but the $40 million conversion cost and the much higher level of labor involved in twisting the tubes of the CFL as opposed to making a round bulb would result in a bulb that would have to sell for a price that is 50% higher than those currently being produced in China. They didn’t feel Americans would pay $12.00 for an American made bulb if they could get a Chinese made bulb for $8.00. GE does plan to build a CFL factory – but they’ll build it in China.

Globalization Impacts the Job Market

When our government began pushing for “green” standards and “green” technology it was said that this would result in more jobs as the technologies developed and companies were built to serve these needs. But government regulations and the high cost of labor in the US appears to be shooting this concept in the foot as companies who want to make products to serve this new “green” revolution go overseas to build their factories.

Under the pressures of globalization, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been shrinking for decades, from 19.5 million in 1979 to 11.6 million this year, a decline of 40 percent.

CFL Bulbs and the Environment

CFL First to burnThen there are the environmental issues. The Compact Fluorescent Lamp uses considerably less energy to produce an equivalent amount of light than an incandescent bulb. But a prime component of the CFL is mercury; a highly toxic element that is highly frowned upon by environmentalists.

Each CFL contains up to 5 milligrams of mercury, which I admit does not seem like much at first glance. But, when you consider that these are to become the defacto lighting source in our homes, and the number of homes and businesses there are in the US… it adds up quickly.

For example; I counted 29 light bulbs in my home (a very modestly sized bungalow) and 33 more in my workshop. So once I convert all of the se lights to CFL I’ll have around 310 mg of mercury in my living environment.

Is that dangerous?

I wanted to find out, so I went looking. The EPA says only 3.7 micrograms of Mercury is safe to ingest. A microgram is 1 1,000th of a milligram. 310 milligrams (the amount of mercury in the CFLs in my living environment contain 310,000 micrograms, when only 3.7 micrograms are considered a safe level of exposure.

But, this mercury is safely contained inside the CFL right? Yes, it is… as long as you don’t break one. The General Electric web site lists the steps for properly cleaning up a broken CFL, it starts with this warning:

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Also, you cannot throw them away like you did ordinary light bulbs. According to G.E.’s web page on proper disposal of CFL’s you need to take CFLs to a recycling center that accepts them. Their site includes two links to organizations that help you locate companies that will recycle fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs, but when I followed the bread crumb trail to find out how I am to do this, I ended on a page that stated, “Contact your local solid waste management company for locations and dates of the next suitable recycling event.”

It does say that if state and local regulations do not (yet) prohibit disposing of CFL bulbs with other public waste, wrap the CFL in two plastic bags and be sure they do not get sent for incineration.

But wait … there’s more!

Liz Schwab posted on her blog an article that describes the effects of CFL lights on her autistic son. It seems that the faint flickering that any fluorescent bulb will produce, including CFLs, causes autistic children to become agitated and combative. As soon as she changed the bulb in her son’s room back to incandescent, he settled right down again.

Advantages of CFL bulbs

With all these potential down-sides, is there any good news about CFLs? Yes, there is. Let’s start with the reason that CFLs are replacing incandescent bulbs in the first place; they are much more efficient producers of light.

An incandescent light bulb is better categorized as a miniature space heater than it is a light because only about 10 percent of the energy is consumes is converted to light, the other 90 percent goes out as heat. A fluorescent light on the other hand uses 75% less electricity to produce the same amount of light and produces almost no heat at all.

Most CFL bulbs are touted to last for at least ten times as long as an incandescent bulb. In fact any bulb that is identified as being Energy Star certified has a minimum life span guaranteed. If the bulb goes out too soon, check the bulb for the manufacturer stamp, and contact them to obtain a full or partial refund of the purchase price.

Recent Improvements to CFL Bulbs

New packaging standards are being rolled out whereby CFL bulbs will be shipped in boxes with a selfsealing plastic liner to contain the mercury vapor should the bulbs be broken in transit.

And companies such as ArmorLite are producing a shielded CFL bulb with an incandescent-like outer bulb made of tough plastic that will offer some protection to the fluorescent tube and contain glass shards and mercury vapor should a bulb be smashed.

What’s Up Next in Lighting?

With all of the problems CFL bulbs represent, it’s not hard to imagine that many people are looking for some other option for lighting their home. The most promising technology is the LED.

This is not a new technology as LEDs have been with us for decades but new developments have helped to refine the product to yeild more light and longer life. Several companies are producing an LED product designed to replace standard bulbs in home use.

A typical Listing

A19 9W High Power LED Bulb, Standard, White

LED light bulbBest LED replacement for common 60W incandescent bulbs!  Excellent for table lamps, desk lamps and reading lights.

The NeoBulb!

This is a 120vac high power led bulb the size and shape of an ordinary incandescent bulb. It is 2 3/8 inches (60mm) in diameter and 4 3/4 inches in length. The 8 high power leds are made by a US company, and have a unique patented structure. The advanced design yields superior heat dissipation giving the LEDs greater stability and longer life. The bulb is available in daylight white and warm white. The bulb will maintain 70% brightness for 20,000 hours and has a total expected life of 50,000 hours. UL listed.

Disadvantages of LED Lighting

The downside of LEDs is that they are currently quite complex. The interior of the simple looking bulb pictured above contains many light emitting diodes that produce the light. LEDs do produce some heat, and that has to be channeled away from the diodes and dissipated through a heat-sink assembly. The complexity of manufacturing translates into a bigger hit to our wallets – typically LED light bulbs start around $30.00 and go up to $89.95 for the NeoBulb pictured above. Yes, that is per bulb!

As with any new technology, manufacturing costs will come down as they perfect their techniques and find new ways of accomplishing things. But I doubt I’ll ever be able to pop into Dollar General and pick up a box of 4 60 watt bulbs for a buck like I could with good old incandescents.

Oh well, such is the way of the world.

Best Laid Plans

When I first started my woodworking career in earnest, many years ago, I was a young man with a dream; and a plan. I planned to go sailing about the world on a 28 foot Bristol Channel Cutter, earning my way by doing carpentry work in the ports I visited and writing about my adventures. This was before laptop computers, so I planned to do my writing with pen and paper, mailed off to a typist who would put it into manuscript form. The woodworking angle took a little more planning. I refined my tool kit to a selection of the essential hand tools that would fit into a pocketed oilskin tool roll about the size of a big duffel bag. Hand tools only because electricity would not always be available. With that, a knock-down work bench, several reams of paper sealed in freezer bags and a fair bit of ingenuity I felt confident I could accomplish my dream.

I practiced by building furniture for friends and neighbors using just this tool kit in my back yard. I got to be pretty good at it. I was already pretty good at the writing and had sold a few articles and one book.

Following in the Footsteps of Others

I felt confident that I could do this because I had some great role models. I had read all of the books written by Lynn and Larry Pardey about their adventures as they cruised the world in their 24 foot Serrafyn. Much of their writing was about handling rough weather in a small boat, navigation and cruising on a shoe string; being a “Self Sufficient Sailor” as a common thread through all of their books and the title of one of them. These folks provided the blueprint for my plan and their tag-team style of writing (Larry writing some and Lynn writing some) kept me guessing as to who was writing what.

I enjoyed a pair of books by Gordon and Nina Stuermer, Starbound and Deep Water Cruising. In them the Stuermers spend two and a half years circumnavigating the world with their family aboard the square sail ketch, Starbound. Gordon used a fair bit of humor to keep things entertaining, and includes many practical tips on deepwater sailing.

I also added Blown Away and You Can’t Blow Home Again by Herb Payson to my library. His first book, Blown Away caught my fancy by his writing style. Herb and Nancy Payson, she a cocktail waitress and he an experienced sailor, decide to sell everything, buy a boat and sail the world. Herb writes about their adventures aboard their 36 foot wooden ketch, Seafoam. He injects a good amount of humor and uses self deprecation to counterpoint his obvious skill as a seaman. With a large boat, a bankroll to live off of and plenty of family who rotate through as crew for a working vacation, these folks were the exact opposite of the Pardeys; but the books were very entertaining

And of course Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship is a reference book no serious sailor should be without. It covers everything from tying knots to weather prediction to navigation.

Since I planned to build my boat by finishing out a hull and deck kit, I also devoured all of Ferenc Maté books beginning with From A Bare Hull. It was his Best Boats To Build that helped me decide on the Bristol Channel Cutter.

Phase One: A Real Boat

T hen I bought a sailboat. Not the Cutter I wanted, I lived inland and needed a boat that could be used on the local lakes yet would handle like a bigger boat. I did some research and chose the Victoria 18. With a full keel, 550 pounds of lead ballast and a sloop rig, she would respond and handle on the lakes like a large boat would on the ocean. I had already taught myself the basics of sailing using a Sunfish. I traded the sunfish in on a Victoria, christened her Pegasus and set about learning to handle a real boat.

Pegasus came with a small outboard engine, but I loathed using it. I didn’t even take it with me most of the time. Instead, I learned to SAIL the boat. I learned to tack my way up the narrow channel to the marina, learned to watch the water for wave patterns that indicated wind shifts, and to maximize whatever winds were available. I went out sailing in all weather from near calm to 35 mile per hour winds that whipped the lake to huge, foam crested waves, spray stinging my face and the wind howling through the rigging. Pegasus seemed to enjoy the rough weather sailing as much as I did. And I learned a great deal about sailing single handed.

I did have a little Welsh Corgie named Brandy, who enjoyed sailing with me in fair weather. I trained him to stand on the foredeck as I worked into the dock, foreline in his mouth. On my command, Brandy would jump over to the dock, run around a cleat and jump back into the boats’ cockpit where I sat and give me the rope. I’d then snug it up, stopping our forward motion and drawing the boat up to the dock gentle as a falling leaf. This little maneuver tended to leave the spectators on the dock staring gape-jawed. It was great… once we got it down pat. There were a few scary and embarrassing moments along the way!

The First Snag in the Plan

I was well on my way to accomplishing my dream. But then I fell in love with a young lady, and this young lady had no intention of bobbing around the world in a boat.

Rather than trading the Victoria in on a Bristol Channel Cutter and going off to see the world, I kept the Victoria and spent the boat money on building a woodworking shop and got married.

In retrospect, I should have held onto the dream, and let go of the girl. But that’s another story.

Because The Young Lady wanted a fine house filled with expensive toys, the woodworking got relegated to a part time hobby and I took on a full time occupation with its more predictable pay rates. I divided my spare time between tinkering with furniture and sailing. But The Young Lady discovered that not only could I build lovely furniture, but that I could do so much more affordably than buying commercial furniture of the quality she demanded. Thus furniture production became a priority over sailing and Pegasus sat on her trailer; neglected, decaying, and lonely. I hated to see that happen to her, but just didn’t have the time even to keep her maintained let alone taking her out sailing. So I sold her to someone who had long admired the boat and promised to take good care of her. So long good friend.

In retrospect, I should have held on to the boat, and sold the girl. But…

Pressing On: A New Plan

Over the course of my years my life has endured many changes. I’ve attempted a number of different career choices, some with more success than others, and lived in many different locations. But through it all, were my woodworking and writing. I kept at those no matter where I lived or what I did to earn a living. At one point I took a year off from formal employment to try my hand as a professional writer. I did OK, but just OK. Eventually, I got tired of eating beans and decided to earn my living from the woodworking which looked to be far more lucrative.

I was again establishing a reputation and business was building slowly. Then, divorce cost me my first workshop and everything in it. Time to start over.

Same Plan: New Start, New Partner

When I met Marie I was living in a small apartment, with no space for a shop, and being bled white by the divorce I had no funds to rent suitable space and buy tools. But I was teaching woodworking at a local Rockler store and writing articles for woodworking magazines.

While on a vacation, we stopped at a visitor’s center on the Blue Ridge Parkway that houses a store for local artists. Marie was marveling at some lovely turned wood bottle stoppers and saying that they would probably sell well to the wineries back home in Missouri. Yes, Missouri actually has quite a few wineries. I commented that I could make those if I had a lathe.

So she bought me a small lathe and a basic set of turning tools and I began making bottle stoppers. And we sold them to local wineries; we sold lots of them. With the proceeds we bought more tools and built more things. And it mushroomed from there. Back in business.

Almost Heaven Joins the Plan

When we moved from St Louis to the mountains of East Tennessee, we brought the tools with us and bought a mountain side property with a small workshop already in place. Over the next three years we built it up and earned a reputation for making quality furniture. Along the way several people have come to help out.

Marie and I worked together here full time right from our move. But in 2003 we hired a web site designer to improve our web site and use her SEO skills to bring us more traffic. Instead she destroyed our traffic and nearly bankrupted us. At this point it was decided that Marie would seek employment to be sure the bills got paid while I continued to keep the woodworking going and re-build our web site. When the orders began flowing again, Marie chose to stick with her new job, just in case.

Moms HouseWe moved my Mother and Step-dad out here in 2006, setting up a double-wide for them on our property to keep them close so I could help them; they were both getting on in years. Mom helped out as shopkeeper in the gallery we opened in Cosby. Pat tried helping out in the workshop, but it wasn’t something he enjoyed, so he went to keep Mom company in the gallery.

W e met Brian and Linda Hinschberger while buying Mom & Pat’s house. Linda was our salesperson, and mentioned that her husband also did woodworking. We got together and he was very helpful for a time; then he got a shop of his own set up in a huge old barn on his property. I was a little envious of all that space, but wished him well as he headed off to create his own company. We continued to help each other out, subcontracting things back and forth, for quite a while.

M y nearest neighbor, Tim stepped in to fill the void. A born-and-raised mountain man and retired truck driver he had no furniture making skills but had done carpentry work. He built us a wonderful little storage barn. He had a good eye for detail, was willing and eager to learn and was a hard worker. He was very helpful until it was learned that he had stomach cancer and would soon be going on to join the Lord.

That left just me; once again a one-man shop. Back where I started, but content with that.

When the economy tanked in 2008, work began to slow down, my comfortable back-log of orders shrank, then disappeared. In October of 2009 I began gearing up for the Christmas rush. Every year about that time things would get very busy and I’d end up working 12 to 14 hours a day six days a week trying to get orders out in time for Christmas delivery. But that year the Christmas rush never developed. A few orders came in, but nothing like years past. I actually got to spend that Christmas season with my family decorating a tree and the house and baking Christmas goodies to send to our families. Well, OK, Marie baked, I conducted quality control checks.

Between Christmas and February was always slow, it would pick up in late January or early February. It always had. I was sure it would, and we planned accordingly. But it didn’t.

Another New Plan

So the woodworking got set aside and I began to focus more on my writing. Being a part time endeavor it had never brought in much – a few hundred dollars a month at best. And though I had tried being a full-time writer before and failed, the world is a very different place now. No longer do printed manuscripts have to be boxed up and mailed off to potential publishers where they lounge around for weeks (or months!) awaiting a review. On-line publishing makes it possible for anyone to publish their work for the world to read at little or no cost. Building a portfolio of work on-line should make it easier to query publishers for works I hope to have formally published. Or I can publish my work in e-book format and sell it on Amazon. Whether or not I’ll be able to earn anything approximating a living doing this is yet to be seen, but I have high hopes. Like any new thing, it takes some study to learn how to use the mechanisms that make it all work. It takes some perseverance. It takes a positive outlook. And it takes a plan.

My current plan is already bearing some fruit; reaction to my work posted here on Hub Pages has been mostly positive. My personal Blog The Daily Prattle is rapidly building traffic.

Part of that traffic were the editors of Grit Magazine, a rural living publication in print since 1882 who have asked me to write for them as a regular contributor. I will be writing a column/blog called Of Mice and Mountain Men.

Other deals are in the works. The Plan seems to be unfolding nicely. I just need to remember the wise words of a Chinese proverb: “When you want to test the depths of a stream, don’t use both feet.”