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Month: July 2015

Procrastination, part 2

Posted in A Writer's Desk

See part 1 on this topic.

ProductivityNotTodayThe features of a useful writing procrastination project are that it produces something of long-term utility, and that it has a natural end.

The work I've been recently doing on my genealogy fits, since the information I can pull from records about my family tree (assuming a judicious pruning of remote cousins and in-laws) is finite. You can read about that here.

The second project is larger, but even more finite. You see, I have this website of Scandinavian fiddle tunes…

Blue Rose Music

Twenty-five years ago, in my 30s, I was listening to some Swedish twin-fiddle records (of which I already had a few dozen — now many hundreds). As a harmony singer I've always been a sucker for two- and three-fiddle folk music performances, and the best of these come from the Swedish folk tradition.

I said to myself, “Boy, I like this stuff. Gee, I wish I could do that.” And then the light bulb went off — how hard could it be? I had a musical background and knew my way around a piano and a guitar (as an amateur).

So, I picked up a violin for the first time, just to play the Scandinavian folk repertoire, and never looked back.

The Nonesuch recording that sucked in most Scandie musicians of my generation
The Nonesuch recording that sucked in most American Scandinavian musicians of my generation

You can read about this in some detail here, but the short version is I've been going to workshops and playing solo and with small bands now for a very long time, primarily for the use of dance groups who are equally fond of the folk dance traditions of Sweden and Norway.

Playing for dances in pick-up groups means you carry around huge binders of material because the repertoire demand for all the dance forms is very large in the Scandinavian genres. It's not like, say, Irish, where if you know jigs, slip-jigs, reels, waltzes, and polkas, you're covered for most dance requests. No, the tune categories alone are broad, and many of those categories cover several different dance types with different musical requirements.

I improved the situation by using early digital music printing programs to create binders of incipits, the first bars of each part of the tune, to serve as quick hints for what tune to play next for dancers.  Then, naturally, I put up a website, Blue Rose, where those lists of incipits went online, with links to PDF files for each tune, so that people who played together regularly could find them. When I went to workshops, I posted the tunes we learned for everyone to use.

Over time, this grew…

There are now 2000 Scandinavian fiddle tunes in my binders and up on Blue Rose.

What’s the point of an author website?

Posted in Just for Writers

WebsiteDesignThere are plenty of gorgeous websites out there for books and authors, but I think that a surprising number of them miss the point and frustrate their readers and potential buyers.

Over time, I have evolved some firm opinions about what should be on Author and Publisher websites. It seems only fair to put them up here so that others can shoot at them.

In brief, the point of an Author website is to own and control all the information about your products so that you can tell readers what they want to know and turn them into fans who will buy your next book. It's really that simple. Almost no one builds their first Author website with that in mind, however, and it can take quite a while for them to clarify what they're doing with it.

Let's explore what that mission statement means, in a 4-page post…

Procrastination, part 1

Posted in A Writer's Desk

See part 2 on this topic.

ProductivityNotTodayIf I were a rational human being, I'd sit and do my 4-5 hours of writing every morning without a quibble. I like writing. Being a normal human being and not a rational one, I instead find a myriad of other things to occupy me, all apparently fascinating.

So I resort to tricks. The most effective of these is to channel the desire to punt into other productive work. Better almost anything (I tell my subconscious) than just to play games or read. Best of all if I can tell myself that the alternative projects are finite.

There have been two big (but productive) writing procrastination sinkholes recently. Here's the first one; I'll save the second one for a separate post.


I was raised by wolves. Nice wolves, but still… There were no family stories around the dinner table. None. I had the equivalent of a single sheet of paper for both sides, together, and not a full sheet of paper, either.

Considering that my father had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that my mother was a war-bride from Antwerp, you'd think they'd have something to talk about, like the time Aunt Bertha did this, or the time Grandpa Louis François said that. Or even just the stories of how they met during the war. Not so. The only family story I ever heard about came from my father's sister. I met my two aunts (one on each side) and their children a few times, and that was about it. I couldn't name, with certainty, my own grandparents, much less their siblings.

Great-grandmother Clara Gasperov Myers, about to be re-gilded as the Statue of Wisdom on the dome of the state capitol building in Augusta, ME

When I put out that story about my great-grandmother, I sent a link to my father's niece and asked her to forward it to any relatives she knew. Lo and behold, cousins on my father's side sprouted from the woodwork. They all know each other, more or less, and haven't quite understood that I didn't know who any of them are. So when a free trial arrived for, I went to work with what little I knew.

I was able to pin down more of the connections between my great-grandparents on my father's side. (It helps that the two Jewish lines arrived from Odessa (father's father) and Germany (father's mother) at about the same time, into the land of census records and Massachusetts Masonic membership cards).

When I stumbled across someone else's family tree that included my great-grandmother Clara, I contacted them and passed along a link to the story about her. That got me connections to another bunch of cousins, as well as a professional genealogist who specializes in Jewish immigration (mother of a family in-law), and that side of the tree firmed up nicely. I didn't get any further back (some but not all of my great-great-grandparents), but it certainly got very broad with all their descendents.

Even the dry bones of demographics have interest. There's got to be a story behind the 3rd cousin who married on her 18th birthday, though I'll never know what it was.