Grammar Police

A story in the Guardian states; “Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds.” Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.”

Wow, I thought it was just me that had errors caused by me others.  Yes, the dreaded editors or proof readers who are fixing your wonderful manuscript, but somehow manage to make it worse.  Okay, I can hear my editors screaming obscenities from many miles away.  Sure some of those elusive “mistakes” were mine, but weren’t you hired to fix that?

Hemingway probably had a much better set of excuses than I do—some of his manuscripts were hand written.  My god, if I actually “wrote” these stories in long-hand it would take a magician to fix them to the point they would be readable.  Plus, there was another step in Hemingway’s world where the manuscripts were typeset.  Many years in my past, I was in the printing business, and those typesetting machines were like very bad old typewriters—of course there would be mistakes!

I like the line “made primarily by editors and typesetters.”  Mr. Trogdon probably has some natural bias about saying Hemingway was a sloppy writer (I understand he used to drink—a lot!)  It’s a lot more convenient to place blame on nameless, faceless editors. 

In one of my past blogs I talked about Tolstoy (I do this quite often so I can run his picture with the blog—the poor man looks insane), and the fact that War and Peace was 1,225 pages long, and he did write in long-hand.  What’s amazing is that I read somewhere it was actually almost twice that long, but was cut down to keep it at one book. A book that size might be pushing 400,000 words; I’m exhausted after writing a 70,000-word book.  This may get back to his state of mine, and why he looks the way he does in that photo.

Errors have been on my mine lately.  Amazon does quality checks on some e-books by running them through what appears to be very sophisticated software to find grammar/typo errors.  This is not Word checking grammar and typos, because it catches things that are not obvious. A couple of my books had some errors—about 7 was average on each book.  That is after three (yes, three!) editors had reviewed the books.  Those 7 errors were mostly typos and a couple were not mistakes at all because it was a syntax I was using to fit a character.  Still I get this rather unfriendly notice that I should fix the errors or Amazon would label my book as flawed.  I assumed the next step was to attach a Tolstoy pic to my bio.

After a moment of irritation, I realized Amazon just did me a favor, at no cost.  The errors were easy to fix and a new file was uploaded and cleared Amazon’s approval process.  I’m just not sure that Amazon should be the standard setter for all things, but I guess if nobody else is willing to do it why not them?

So I had a 70,000-word mystery book that is often free, and it had 7 errors; and I felt bad.  As if I had not provided perfection at zero cost to my reader. I’m starting to seriously wonder why I write these things?  Maybe it is punishment for some of my sins in grade-school.  I was primarily an artist in grade-school and had bad penmanship, plus it was on my permanent record.  I knew that would catch up with me sooner or later.


Art Update

Detention

Adding new art to my site almost everyday. These are things I’ve done over many years. Take a look www.tedcliftonart.com.

Lots of Cactus

Just like Hemingway, I also enjoyed a nip or two on occasion, which might explain some of these images.


Thanks for being a reader!

Dreams and Hopes

Selling art and selling books feels like the same world.  You, as an artist or writer, are a small drop in the huge ocean.  Thousands, or maybe millions, of artists and writers around the world are creating and selling their stuff; often very good stuff.  Dominating the whole process are these large, nee huge, web sites who sell art and books—best and biggest example; Amazon.  In the art world there are FineArtAmerica and ArtPal along with many more.  They are very functional with huge data bases of art ready for the consumer to browse and chose great looking art and products for their personal use at relatively small prices.  The artist gets a small (very small?) piece of that sale.

My ebooks are exclusive to Amazon for several good reasons; some economic and some convenience.  The largest cost for marketing my Amazon books is paying Amazon to promote them in this sea of competing books.  I don’t know the number of indie authors Amazon has as an exclusive, but it has to be hundreds of thousands.  Their product ads are sold to this somewhat captive audience.  It’s a brilliant business strategy.  Now, of course, those authors chose to be in this situation so it is not Amazon’s fault that it works better for them than the authors; that’s just how it is.  I’m not particularly happy with this system but don’t know how it should be changed.  Of course the obvious solution is fewer authors—but if they started excluding certain authors –I might be gone.  So, that’s not a good solution.

When I first started writing, maybe ten years ago or so; I was deeply absorbed by the writing experience.  It was hard work (which I think surprises non-writers), but I enjoyed the whole troubling process.  Even the editing and debates over cover design.  Everything felt important and creative.  Having those first books show up on Amazon and start generating sales and reviews was thrilling.  I fretted over every negative review and redoubled my efforts to write a perfect book.

Now I spend more time marketing/promoting than I do writing.  It doesn’t feel productive.

The art has many of the same characteristics as writing.  Creating art is energizing.  I can become absorbed in the process.  Sometimes I will labor on artwork for hours and hours; or sometimes it is more inspiration than perspiration.  I once did a sketch in a matter of minutes as a present for my brother’s birthday.  We were headed out for the party and realized we had not purchased a gift.  I did a quick charcoal sketch and thought it was one of the best pieces I had ever done.  My brother loved it—of course, he was my brother.

Marketing art is worse than books.  While the web sites have many tools, they are not the equivalent of Amazon and books.  My art is purchased for decorating.  Colors, designs, hues, blends, shapes all have some aspect in the decision process but in odd ways the art is all the same.  A book is very distinct, good or bad—it is usually unique.  Art starts to all blend together in shapes and colors.  Does this match my sofa?  How would this look in the hallway?  Those are valid decisions but very subjective.

My art is bold, graphical and colorful.  One critic, who actually liked my stuff, described it as “primitive.”  He was describing a certain art style not suggesting I was ape like (or at least, I don’t think so).  Books are personal but art is very, very personal.  A good PI mystery can be enjoyable even if your preference is sci-fi.  Art seems to fit into narrower and narrower categories.  “I only like pictures of flowers or birds!”

One of the great things about all of the internet stuff and digital this and that is the availability of amazing art and great books at ridiculous prices.  You could probably spend a lifetime reading nothing but free books (or maybe up your limit to $2.99) and never run out of options.  And there is incredible art for very low prices that can be delivered right to your door—ready to hang.  My art is available on towels, handbags, face masks, pillows, shower curtains(?), and on and on.  Unique art on anything and everything.

I know it’s my own design–but I bought this pillow and I really like it.

All of this access is good; but I wonder if there is too much of something does it start to lose value.  A thousand free e-books on Amazon today may lessen the value of those books, or even all books.  The best-selling book last week was the tell-all gossip book about Trump by his niece.  I’m sure someone thought that was an important book (maybe the niece, since it sold a million copies in one day at full price).  That book had value because it was unique or sensational; but a free mystery book has little value—so why even bother downloading if its worthless, much less take the time to read it.

The plus side to all of this is a monstrous marketplace for all sorts of creative endeavors that has never existed before.  As a consumer of art or books or most anything creative the supply has never been this vast, this accessible or this cheap. 

For the artist and writer, the opportunities have never been this wide open.  Pre-internet book publishing was controlled by a very few publishers who had more gate-keepers than editors.  The snobbery of publishing was legendary; don’t know someone important, fuck-off.  The art world was controlled by academics and a few odd-ball loonies.  Not a member of this elite class; then you know –F-off.  All of those barriers have collapsed.  Today you have to compete with the hordes of other authors and artists, but you are competing.  The doors are wide open.

It is still a very small number who reach their financial dreams being creative, but the number of people who can now legitimately dream of that kind of success is almost unlimited.  Dreams and hope have great value.  We are lucky we live in this time.

Thanks for being a reader!

Aim High or Not?

When I was the financial analysis guy for a large department store chain, I was asked to develop a method to evaluate advertising costs related to the benefits of increased revenue.  The CEO asked me to tell him if he spent an extra $1 in promotion costs what kind of return would he get.  I spent considerable time analyzing various ways to track and measure the impact of advertising; but one of the issues was that there had never been a time in the company’s history when they didn’t spend a considerable sum on promotion.

One of my recommendations to the CEO was that the company should stop advertising for a period of time allowing us to establish a benchmark on what revenues would be without any promotion.  The look in his eye seemed to suggest he was considering tossing me out of his office window.  It was only the third story but my chances of survival were not good.  Thankfully, he chose another option.  He thanked me and did not speak to me for weeks.  It was conveyed to me by one of his assistants that he thought I was an idiot.  He also increased the adverting budget 20% without any factual justification.

While he was the one who asked the question, he knew that there was no way he was going to risk his job by suddenly decreasing or even lowering advertising expenditures.  To deal with the increased promotion costs he cut the staff.  He didn’t get to be CEO by being dumb.

My book sales are driven by promotion.  If I stop advertising, book sales drop to almost nothing.  The only exception to this, is to put out a new book; which will generate short term increases in sales for all of my books.  The problem I have is very similar to the department store CEO years ago, how do I justify spending money on promotion when I cannot measure results.  Sure, I can measure number of books sold during the one-day or two-day promotion; and if that is the measure I should stop all promotions, because I do not generate a profit from those days.  I see this all of the time from “experts” advising how to measure your book sales based on ROI.  I spent $100 and got a bump in sales that brought me $150—okay, no problem; I will do those promotions each and every day.  But how about if I spent $100 and received $40?  That looks like I should stop all promotions.

Of course the problem is how to measure and for how long.  If I run a promotion today and sell books a week from then—did that promotion have anything to do with that?  Or how about in my case I sell some books but also have an increase in pages read (which I receive some compensation from Kindle Unlimited) but can’t really put an exact number on that.  In essence it’s the same problem as my old CEO; stop all promotion and see what happens.

I’ve sort of done that in the past.  No promotions equal zero (or close to it) book sales.  Okay that’s a known; but should you spend $100 to generate $40?  If I had staff, which I don’t, I would follow the tried and true path, and would increase the promotion budget and fire the staff. 

There is another approach to this problem, which I have advised many times as a wise (and expensive) consultant—when in doubt do nothing!  This follows the principle of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  During my days as a business consultant the most common approach taken by business leaders was always postponement.  While we have the image of business owners/leaders as aggressive “let’s do something new and different” types; the reality is that most successful businesspeople are reluctant to change anything.  I’ve advised people staring at bankruptcy who were reluctant to change anything, including the high-priced brother-in-law who was as dumb as a rock.  Change means responsibility.  The people who most often have tremendous ideas on how to change things often work in the warehouse.  They have nothing to risk, so their advice is throw out the bath water and the baby.  Baby is often the current leader/president/CEO of the business; warehouse people have no fear.

If you follow my blog you know I have this love hate thing with advertising/promotion.  I just want to magically have massive book sales and basically be left alone.  That’s not going to happen.  So the question is the same; what should I do, nothing or something?

I’ve decided to stop whining (I’m sure you can appreciate that, if you’ve read this far) and re-double my efforts on advertising.  Also I’m going to get back to work and finish the two books in progress.  Of course taking a more aggressive approach to marketing, costs money; and since I don’t have the staff to fire, I will have to cut my own pay.  Based on my analysis a twenty percent reduction of nothing is more than doable and reflects my overall commitment to myself.  Recognizing all along I was going to change whatever plan I decided on for this month by next month, the long-term consequences will be minimal.


Baseball folly?  Okay, enough already!  Both sides should immediately compromise.  It’s time for baseball—I’m tired of these scripted TV shows.  We need real drama—bottom of the ninth inning drama.  Go Rockies!

Thanks for being a reader!

In case your interest The Bootlegger’s Legacy ebook is FREE today on Amazon.

Jerry-rigging–a family tradition

Owning an ice cream parlor in my early twenties was the beginning of a long career in business.  During times when I was not self-employed, I offered my services as a financial person—usually a Controller, Consultant or CFO.  As such I knew, or was expected to know, how to make businesses work better.  I understood the rules and how not to follow them to achieve results.

What I was not was “handy” as in handyman.  Sure, I did home repairs and fix-ups, but I was not very good at it; I was a jerry-rigger.  My tools of the trade were tape, glue, wire, screws and pooky.  Yes, the oft shamed gooey stuff that could be used to “repair” almost anything.  Now, I believe, there are a lot of other meanings of this non-word.  Some of them are no doubt offensive, I’m not using the word in that manner—it could also be called goop.  So if pooky is offensive, Word keeps correcting it to poky, let’s stick with goop.

Jerry-rigging came to me naturally.  My father was a jerry-rigger.  He could fix anything with wire—his best go-to staple.  My father had some not-very-interesting stories of fixing various cars with wire.  From tires, exhaust pipes to engine problems, wire was the essential ingredient for any by-the-side-of-the-road emergency repairs.  He would often intone philosophically how his father was not a wire man but had been a devotee of rope.  Different time –different forms of transportation.  These musings seem to imply that dad had improved on granddad’s dated methods.  The next generation tops the old folks, once again.

Because of this unspoken family tradition, I own an unusual amount of wire.  I really seldom use the wire (I’m a tape guy), but it gives me a warm feeling to carry on the family tradition.

My older brother was, of course, a jerry-rigger.  He actually turned this skill into an impressive career.  He was one of the very early (1960s) computer programmers.  He actually dealt with wired boards to instruct machines on what to do—more wire.  The early computers were incredibly dumb and opaque.  He had a natural ability (thanks dad!) to work around the machines that mimicked the use of wire and rope to achieve an outcome that did not match the textbook approach; but got results others couldn’t.  He was hailed as a genius, although it was only jerry-rigging like grandpa; only with different kinds of machines.

Now, if you’re a jerry-rigger and a gooper, you can end up with one hell of a mess.  This ugly mess can sometimes be covered up with tape but often even tape won’t help.  At this point the jerry-rigger starts thinking about things to cover the handyman’s completed task, that now looks like crap.  Cardboard is the resource that always comes in handy.  Cardboard, tape maybe a screw or two and viola—it looks brand new.  Maybe a little paint would help?

Today I’m an author.  My dad didn’t write, nor my granddad; they would probably think it was not much like work at all.  Sitting at a desk all day staring off into space cannot be work, can it?  I write fiction, which in itself might be a form of jerry-rigging.  I tell a story that is made up.  If something is not going right in the story, I just change it—apply a little goop; and its all fixed.  Editing is the ultimate goop.  My slip-shod writing is patched up by competent editors—it’s the way of the writing world.  Just get it on paper, and we can fix this mess.

I look out at the mess the world is in and wonder if it is time for a re-write.  Could we do better?  Sure some of the mess would be in the re-write, we still need flawed people or there’s no plot; but maybe a little less flawed.  Maybe we could jerry-rig some of our flawed systems—shouldn’t everyone have the basic minimums in life, food, water, air, health care, shelter?  How do we do that?  Do we want to do that?

It may sound odd but when I was in business and things weren’t going well; I felt great.  Sure, I didn’t want bad outcomes, but I never felt more alive or engaged as when I was trying to fix problems.  Most business activities come down to just that, fixing what is broken.  Sales are slow—get to work on better products, better advertising, better customer service, better………; stop complaining and fix it. 

Maybe we need more wire, pooky, goop, screws, cardboard or whatever, along with a bunch of jerry-riggers so we can get stuff fixed—it’ll be fun.  And, if the results are not perfect, we can cover most mistakes with a good coat of paint.

Thanks for being a reader!

Alerting The Reader

A reader said the characters in The Bootlegger’s Legacy were boring.  His comment ZZZZZ.  Okay, it’s one of those reader reviews I should ignore and wish the person good health and happiness.  Well, maybe not happiness.  The two characters he was referencing are Mike and Joe.  Mike is the son of the bootlegger in the title and Joe is his best friend since second grade.

The excitement in this book is not thriller stuff—it was not intended to be.  It is about two ordinary guys who stumbled across a mystery about the past and see it as a way to make their lives more meaningful.  Not massive bomb blasts or twenty people mowed down in a hail of bullets.  Nothing close to political overthrow of the government; just a couple of guys trying to figure out how to live.  Maybe that is mundane.

So more than likely the reader was expecting action (which I think means greater risk to the protagonist—like a thriller, or maybe more graphic violence).  Either way that is not this book.  So was the book misclassified?  How, as a reader not familiar with the author, do you determine if the book is something you’re interested in reading?  Probably by the description provided by the author, the genre of the book or reader (or editorial) reviews. 

First the description on the book’s page on Amazon.

“Joe and Mike, middle-aged losers, have discovered the promise of abundant riches and a better life; if they can only solve the cryptic clues from the past. Clues left by Mike’s bootlegger dad, whose legacy is immorality and astonishing wealth. Mike finds a troubling family history and Joe discovers his love for someone already dead. This adventure of discovery may lead to happiness or misery; but they will not be able to stop themselves from unlocking the past. The answers will surprise everyone.”

I’m not proud of my descriptions.  It is one of my many weaknesses.  I have trouble with hype or hyperbole and therefore, they all sound kind of boring or flat.  So if that reader read the boring description and expected something else, that can’t be the problem of mischaracterizing the book.

The genre of the book is mystery.  Well, that covers a ton of books from one extreme to another.  There is a sub-group of Cozy Mysteries which this book might fit into, except for my use of gritty language.  Of course I’m not real sure what the actual dividing line on cozy verses regular mysteries is—so who knows maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t.  Definitely this book was never intended to be a thriller with lots of high tension moments putting the characters at risk of losing their lives. 

There are no sub-classifications regarding mystery; in-depth character development or mystery; fun story with only a little violence—so the huge pool of mystery can, of course, lead to not finding the mystery book you were looking for.  I often think of my books more along the lines of British mystery books with a slower pace and more dialogue—but they are not the same.  That quality can be boring to some readers looking for action.

This book has another element that can be confusing.  There is a flash back to the life of the bootlegger in the 1950s.  And any real “action” in the story occurs there.  Most of the mayhem is “off-camera,” but the main characters in this section of the book are put at risk.  Pat (the bootlegger) and Sally (his mistress) have contact with the bad guys in this part of the book.  Their lives are at risk and the action drives a main point of the plot.

So I suppose you could say that the flashback portion is more of a thriller than the current time portion.  The reviewer I mentioned at the beginning did not refer to the characters in the flashback section as being boring (only Mike and Joe); so maybe the reviewer thought that portion was okay and was only giving a snoring review for one portion of the book.

The last way to evaluate a book (other than reading it—even at full regular price e-books are cheap) is reviews.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy received good reviews from several professional reviewers including Kirkus.  Also, the book received a Benjamin Franklin award.  There are 236 reader reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5.  But, of course, some reviewers may have better insight than others—how would you know?  Obviously, you wouldn’t.

I have often said this is my best book.  Not necessarily the writing, more the narrative.  The Pat and Sally story as a flashback I think is a great tale of very different people who meet for a short time but leave a lasting impression on many people.  I greatly enjoy those stories of people’s lives that impact the future of so many others—and I thought this was a good one.

So this blog seems to be me promoting my book, okay; maybe.  But it did not start that way.  I am very concerned about how to help readers select the best books for them to read.  In that regard I’m going to re-write all of the descriptions of the books with a new emphasis on less promotion and more information.

Attempt 2.

“The Bootlegger’s Legacy is a non-thriller adventure by two ordinary guys, Joe and Mike, whose lives have hit a wall.  Desperate for money to solve their problems they embark on a lark to find treasure from the past.  The past is about Mike’s father who was a bootlegger in 1950s Oklahoma and his accumulation of great wealth and his illicit love affair with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  That legacy of wealth and love drive the later story of self-discovery and fulfillment by the next generation.  Great characters, some romance, some adventure and a bit of humor.”

I don’t know, I think I like the current description better than the new one?  Guess I will try again, later.

Or maybe the approach should be full-on bullshit—

“#1 New York Times national bestseller by one of the best authors writing today; The Bootlegger’s Legacy by superstar author Ted Clifton.  This book has been nominated for every award in existence and is currently being made into both a TV series and a major Hollywood movie.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy is so popular that, if you do not buy it today, all copies could be gone.  Currently the e-book is on sale at only $4.99 from the regular price of $129.99—what a bargain!”  Note; only 5 star positive reviews are currently being accepted for this book per agreement with anybody who matters.

Next book genre, fantasy.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writer and Book Salesman

Indie writers are actually in the business of selling books.  It happens to be books they’ve written, but it is still book peddling. 

For an indie author the first step of producing a book is, of course, writing the book; but also having it edited, cover designed, building the structure of the book (e-book, paperback, hardback, audio) and then having it produced (printed, file creation etc.)

Next step in selling a book is that old bug-a-boo marketing.  Writing this blog about indie authors and the process of writing, I have covered marketing on numerous occasions.  Usually complaining about the time and money involved and the inability to predict results.  Just because you can write a book does not mean you know diddly about marketing that book.  My approach to all marketing is trial and error with a great emphasis on error. Half of my time devoted to being an author is spent (or wasted) dealing with the marketing aspect of book sales.

I have a web site, blog, newsletter and a data base of email addresses.  Also I participate in other blogs, share marketing ideas with people in the industry including other authors.  I place ads on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Bing; have also ran ads in some trade publications.  I pay to have ads run on Twitter or Facebook by third parties.  Also I giveaway thousands of e-books, utilizing web sites who market the free books to their audiences—I pay for that privilege. 

Generally, I design my own ads (probably a mistake—but I do not need another fee to pay out).  I subscribe to various software sources to construct these ads.  I will spend several days out of every month designing and placing ads with questionable results.  On occasion I will feel rebellious and decide I’ve had enough of this nonsense and will stop placing ads and giving away books.  Sells go to zero pretty damn fast.  Marketing with all of its complications and headaches is a necessary evil.

The results of all of this marketing effort is book sales.  That was the primary goal and at some level it works; not as well as I would like, but it works.  The other result is book reviews.  Reader reviews have some impact on sales, because other readers read them and also because Amazon likes them.  But reader reviews are a double edge sword.  Some reviewers seem to have anger issues.

Probably one of the most popular and acclaimed books ever written was To Kill a Mockingbird.  On Amazon it has 18,800 reviews (wow!) with 3% of them 1 or 2 stars (there are no zero star reviews –it is not an option with Amazon).  Okay 3% bad reviews that is not a big deal—right?   That 3% for To Kill a Mockingbird is over 500 readers who said this was a bad book, not worth reading.  And none of those 500 received the book in a free book promotion—because the To Kill a Mockingbird people don’t have to do that to find readers.

Marketing books is a chore.  I will spend as much time marketing, promoting, advertising, hawking my books as I do writing them.  Writing is what I do and what I enjoy.  I do not like marketing.

In my previous life as a financial analysist I was asked by my employer (a very large department store) to analyze their advertising/marketing efforts and establish a method to measure the results on a cost/benefit basis.  My first suggestion during a large meeting with the top executives was to not advertise for a period of time to establish a floor to measure marketing results against.  You could only measure results if you know what the results would be with no advertising.  All of their attentive faces turned a ghostly shade of white.  It was a while before anyone spoke.  The CEO thanked me for my suggestion and sent me back to the accounting department to measure less important things like ROI.  The next month they increased their advertising budget.  Better to overspend than to run the risk of no customers.

I could take my own advice and stop marketing for a couple of months and then would have the data to measure the impact of advertising.    It would cut my workload in half and relieve me of all this self-doubt about my marketing skills.  On the other hand, I think I know the results.  After some thought I have decided to double my marketing efforts for next month.  Better to have some books sales (with a few less than perfect reader reviews) than to become a private indie author writing only for myself.  Although if I was the only reader, my reviews would be glowing—unless I was having a bad day.

Thanks for being a reader!

“Big Shots” know it all!

A really long time ago I worked for a large public company that was doing acquisitions in the oil field.  They were interested in acquiring anything related to oil and gas; reserves, drilling companies, service companies, equipment companies—anything.  Unfortunately for them, it was a time when many companies were looking at oil and gas assets as a smart diversification move.  That meant a lot of competition to acquire anything of value.  I had been around that oil and gas industry some and knew the guys from other backgrounds were in for a rude awaking-especially the New York guys who employed me. 

From my perspective, it seemed the first rule in the industry was not to make anything clear.  Who owns that well?  Depends on the time of day.  Stupid answer, but it might be true.  What is the division of profits?  Depends on circumstances that will not be clear until we have finished drilling.  So, people invest in this well but don’t know what their percentage of ownership will be?  Yep!  When you’re drilling a well how are the costs shared?  Sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you that.

But, the New York boys knew they were a lot smarter than some clod kicker from Oklahoma; and in most things that was no doubt true—but the oilfield?  Maybe, not.

My job was to run numbers, lots and lots of numbers.  Huge spreadsheets on columnar paper—this was long before personal computers.  Pages and pages of numbers.  Taped together spreadsheets that would almost fill the largest conference table. 

What did the numbers say?  With great clarity the numbers said; go home and invest in shipping, or mining; something other than the oil business.  Of course, if you’re the smartest people in the room (or on the planet); you don’t listen to numbers crunchers.  To be a man you had to trust your gut.

All of the projections and resulting analysis were based on conservative and realistic projections on the price of oil.  What was the cost of a barrel of oil today and what would it be in five years, or ten years or even twenty years?  From that analysis we could determine a rate of return on various assumptions about the initial investment. 

The time was the middle 70s, just after the oil embargo.  Prices were unstable with little agreement on where they would be in the future.  For most of our analysis we were using projections in the $40 to $60 a barrel range—and that felt risky.

As the big shots continued to miss out on one deal after another due to their low-ball bids, they made a “big shots” decision.  They told the numbers crunchers to start assuming the future value of oil at $100 a barrel.  I remember there were a few laughs in the room (mine included) when they made their brilliant determination about value.  Of course all of the new analysis (now being done using “big shot” values) was supportive of higher values on those desirable assets.  They started acquiring those wonderful assets as they dreamed of being a hero back in New York City—maybe CEO?

Most of the overly worked numbers crunchers dreamed about having some piss-poor oil field assets they could sell these suckers.  But of course they didn’t—they were only numbers crunchers.

I did hang around long enough to see their ridiculous decisions come home to roost.  Oil is volatile to say the least—the latest current price for a barrel of oil is about $30.  There were some times in those ensuing years when the price pushed towards $100, but only for a very brief period. Soon as the price of oil fell instead of rising, the highly sought assets were becoming a huge liability and needed to be unloaded at any price–no more CEO hopes.

The best example of that dumb headedness today is food delivery.  It’s not the same as the oil field, of course, but what is the same are the “big shots” who think they know something no one else knows; and who can ignore the obvious questions because they do not like the answers. 

Great source of fun facts and relevant financial analysis is a newsletter called The Margins, should check it out.

From that newsletter:

“Grubhub just lost $33 million on $360 million of revenue in Q1.

Doordash reportedly lost an insane $450 million off $900 million in revenue in 2019

Uber Eats is Uber’s “most profitable division” 😂😂. Uber Eats lost $461 million in Q4 2019 off of revenue of $734 million. Sometimes I need to write this out to remind myself. Uber Eats spent $1.2 billion to make $734 million. In one quarter.”

I was young when I met the “big shots” from New York, and I was impressed.  They looked like they knew everything; fancy cloths, smooth talkers (also loud) and they were big shots.  I later learned they knew very little and had a major flaw—they didn’t know how to listen.

Many business people (and politicians) have this critical flaw.  They know how to hire people who have expertise they do not; but few know how to listen to that advice when it doesn’t agree with their preconceived objectives. 

Of course the people at Doordash might say “hey, it’s not our money; and I’m making a bundle!”  They would be correct, and I offer my sincere apology for disparaging their business venture that is losing millions—no doubt, I’m just jealous.  The “big shots” always win, one way or another.



Four Corners War is now available as an audiobook.

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Skytrain to the movies

Midwest City was America’s premier post-war planned community. An ultra-modern shopping mall was centerpiece to lovely, winding neighborhoods, well placed schools, and beautiful parks. Included in this design was the streamlined style Skytrain Theatre which opened by December 1944. It was closed in 1980.


Been watching a lot of television lately. Mostly bad stuff, but some good mixed in. My first experience with entertainment was the Skytrain Theatre—home of the Saturday triple feature. That experience was a combination of bad and good. The trolling manager with the flashlight looking for noisy children and smooching teens. Somehow the image of this frightening woman was the spitting (not allowed) image of the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz. Both terrified me.


My father worked on weekends at a shoe store in downtown Midwest City just around the corner from the Skytrain. On many of those weekends he would take me with him and deposit me in the Skytrain. No doubt this was a gift to my 1950s working mother. I was a regular on Saturday along with a house full of other kids whose parents identified the quarter admission as an amazingly cheap babysitting service.


On a few occasions during the week my older brother would take me (no doubt he was bribed or threatened by dad) to the movies at the Skytrain which was within walking distance of our small house. This never turned out well, and still is a source of bad dreams. My brother and his hoodlum buddies thought it was hilarious that I was terrified by “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” for them it was a source of great entertainment to continue the horror as we walked home in the dark. Kid’s fear is a long lasting source of deep psychological problems.


Another humiliating experience was when the evil witch in Wizard of Oz first showed up and tossed fire balls at Dorothy—I was gone; to the lobby. My brother tried to get me to go back into the theatre with a promise of that was the only “bad” part. I didn’t believe him; based on lots of brotherly experiences. Much, much later I saw the movie and wondered why it spooked me so much; but in my little kid brain that was one bad witch, who I wanted nothing to do with.


Most of the movies showing at the Skytrain in the 50s were not very scary, or for that matter very anything. There seemed to always be a feature of Francis the Talking Mule (have no idea how many of these they made, but it had to be a lot), Abbott and Costello chasing ghosts and mummies (and no it was not scary), and thousands of westerns.


Of course some of the most remembered or hated movies of the time were horror, sci-fi/space creatures, and comedies featuring the dumbest people on the planet. Kids like to watch dumb adults. Ma and Pa Kettle seemed to have a new movie every month—probably didn’t take a whole lot of time to make those gems. I watched them all. As I got older very few scared me the way the Wizard of Oz and the Creature from the Black Lagoon did—I had matured.


The movie ticket price break for kids was at 11. One price for a kid –a quarter; and a monster price for a young adult 12 to 16—seventy-five cents. One Saturday morning I walked around the corner from the shoe store to the Skytrain and plopped down my quarter. The lady starred at me and demanded in a threatening voice, “how old are you kid?” I stammered that I was eleven. She eyed me and my unusual height and demanded a king’s ransom of 75 cents.


I knew she was wrong, but she had an expression that seemed to suggest she had caught some international crime kingpin. I had some money for treats and a little hidden stash; so rather than argue; I forked over the extra 50 cents. Things changed after that, and I seldom went to the movie. Accused of being a liar changed my feelings about the Skytrain.


No more Saturday mornings at the Skytrain full of kids; loud and unruly, but always under the watchful eye of the sister of the evil witch from OZ with her trusty flashlight. I didn’t miss her at all. I did miss the movies; even the bad ones.


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Favorite Artists

In my monthly newsletter I have featured authors and artists whose work I enjoy.  The list of these people would be all over the map; from famous to unknown.  The only common element is that I like their stuff.  Personal preference is a fascinating human characteristic.  Why does one person think an artist is the greatest in the world, and someone else can describe the art as trash?  This can often be people who, on most matters, agree; but when it comes to art or writing see the world through different lenses.

For no reason, other than not to dwell on covid-19 or politics, I was giving thought to my favorite painters.  With only scant thought, I came up with a list of eight.  What I immediately saw was a common theme of bold colors.  The one exception was Monet; with his softer tones but engaging imagery.  I like abstract, I like somewhat realistic, I like color, I like daring images with bold hues.  Not sure what this pattern is or isn’t?  The famous quote “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” is a way of saying that the best art is just personal preference.  The fact that a list of the top fifty artists would have mostly the same names has to do with who compiles those lists and their native biases. 

My list has famous names not because they are famous, but because I like their stuff.  But, also, it’s because those are the artists I know.  Many, many artists never become known outside a very small following (thanks, mom!).  In that “who the hell is that list,” I’m sure there are artists who could replace Picasso as my favorite—but only if I know they exist. 

Painters and indie-authors share this lost in the crowd problem. 

My list of favorite artists (at this moment):

Pablo Picasso

Claude Monet

Henri Matisse

Jackson Pollock

Andy Warhol

Georgia O’Keeffe

Vincent Van Gogh

Diego Rivera

O’Keeffe and Van Gogh probably had the most influence over my attempts at art.  O’Keeffe in particular, due to our shared fascination with the landscapes of New Mexico.  While Van Gogh was a Dutch painter, many of his paintings had the same sense of space and color as O’Keeffe. 

Art and fiction writing are two distinct areas of expression, but for me they have a lot in common.  The stories in art are usually less obvious, but the stories exist just the same.   Fictional murder mysteries are not art in the sense of a Diego Rivera painting but the attempt to tell a story in words has a lot in common with painting.  Some stories are bold and jump out at you with a sudden explosion of emotion; while others build a story layer by layer until the picture becomes clear and meaningful.

Okay, my favorite, favorite artist of the unknown variety.

Ted Clifton


New book by one of my favorite authors.  His “The Devil in the White City” is one of my all-time favorites.  Have not read this new book but I would bet it is terrific.

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Grandma Rules

A blog about books and writing has no business discussing politics or religion.  I remind myself of that a lot—stay away from divisive subject matters.  Advice given, even to one’s self, can be (and often is) completely ignored. So it shall be again.

George W. Bush made an appeal for unity as part of a pitch to get people to give to some charities supporting various aspects related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  He closed with: “Finally, let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants, we are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

In his first election for President, I voted for George, in the second I didn’t.  He wasn’t my favorite Prez and on occasion I’m sure I said some harsh things about his abilities.  But this appeal for unity seemed mild and appropriate for an ex-President.  I gave him a thumbs up and thought even though he had serious issues as President, all in all, he has been a good ex-President.  Soon after his appeal, there was some controversy about his comments which seemed out-of-place considering what he said. 

My first impression had been positive, but It occurred to me that what he said was not true.  First, “our differences are small.”  On what basis would we say our differences are small?  We all breath air?  We eat and sleep?  Okay, there are some things that most of us have in common.  But how about what we think, or what we feel?  We have huge differences on many, many topics.  While some differences might be small, a bunch are colossal.  And the differences are growing.  We are not headed toward a Kumbaya moment.

“we are not partisan combatants”.  I wonder if even George believes that?  Combative seems to be a desired trait for all sorts of people, from TV talking heads, to Senators, to Presidents.  In-your-face attitudes even show up with religious leaders.  Kind, gentle, forgiving might be a good thing for grandma, but the rest of us seem ready to fight.  Bring it on asshole!

“we are human beings”.  Okay, I will give George that one.

“equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God”.  In the sight of God is the problem here; who can speak for God (definitely not me; and maybe not George).  So, if we turn to the people who claim to speak for God, is this true?  Of course not.  Almost all of those God spokespersons only find true equality with their fellow travelers; not the strangers standing on the edge.  Yes, my people are all equal (with the exception of the leadership people, such as myself), but all of the others are infidels or something like that.

And finally, “we rise or fall together.”  What a farce.  The inequality in our American society is enormous.  The impacts of this pandemic are not equally spread amongst the classes.  Ask the people working in restaurants, ask the nurses, ask the garbage collectors, ask the grocery store workers, ask the factory workers. 

I’m sure George believed what he said, but that does not make it true. 

If from my comments, you think I have solutions to these issues—you are wrong.  Just like everyone else, all I can do is spout off.  But there does need to be solutions and soon.  Maybe the country needs a grandma to run the show.

Every cloud has silver lining.

Audiobook sales for Dog Gone Lies and Sky High Stakes are going well.  Thank you very much.  This is new ground for me and had no idea how it would start.  Got a couple of ads running and there has been a good kick-off for these audiobooks.  Four Corners War should be available in about a month or so.

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