Retold, brilliantly, by author Robert Davidson…
Time is like a river. You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life.
As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or
friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.
As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn’t stop for directions.
I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew
left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.
I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played
like I’ve never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played “Amazing Grace”, the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and
started for my car. Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.
As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, “I never seen anything like that before, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for
Apparently, I’m still lost….it’s a man thing.
# # # #
Thanks! We needed that!
It’s been a long, very cold winter this year. I usually enjoy the serene beauty of the occasional snowfall, but with the stuff on the ground more than a foot deep for weeks, despair finds its way in. We haven’t been sleeping that well, either.
This morning, at a quarter to seven, we were suddenly awakened by the raucous sound of a crowd cheering and whistling. Very loud, I couldn’t tell if it was coming from outside, or… inside. Terrified, I crept down the hall and around the archway into the living room. A low, trombone growl alerted me that if it was a home invasion, at least they brought instruments!
The traditional sounds of “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”, began blasting from our loudspeakers, to paraphrase Clement Moore, it soon let me to feel I had nothing to dread. Why of course not. It’s Fat Tuesday, and the parade bands are tuning up… somewhere along Saint Charles Avenue, far to the South, where it wasn’t actively snowing.
We’d been to New Orleans in January where my grandson and I contracted the flu. Still, some good old voudou must have hung on, to spring free when it was needed the most, up here in the frozen North. I went into the den, with a lively step, to turn down the music. We keep our gear in a tall entertainment armoire with doors that close so we don’t have to look at the electronics when we don’t want to. I’d closed those doors securely when I retired for the night a few hours before. One door, lay slightly ajar… just wide enough.
I knew when I saw that, how the magic had worked. One of our cats is a bonafide tunnel-cat, preferring to tunnel under bedclothes and inspect dark places in his spare time. This morning, he must have crawled up inside the armoire and stepped on the remote lying next to the receiver, to turn on the music. It had been set to our Satellite Radio station (Sirius/XM Channel 67, Classic Jazz) yesterday afternoon. I switched it off when it was time for the news.
So that’s what I’ve decided to tell myself instead of the alternative, which is that the ghost of Marie Laveau, knowing we were beginning to let the weather get us down, sent one of her familiar spirits over the miles to bring a little Mardi Gras cheer just when we needed it. Besides, I’ve got two handy bathrooms here.
Laissez le bon temps rouler! Where are those purple crew beads anyway?
Watch the live NOLA Parade Webcam: http://www.nola.com/paradecam/
In order for writers communicate with readers, our words need to be presented in the most legible, effective ways possible. Selecting and manipulating typography to these worthy ends has filled entire libraries with nuanced discussions dating back to Gutenberg, but for our present purposes, we can simplify the process.
We’re fortunate that technology now allows us the luxuries of easy trial and error. Instead of hours of painstaking work, locking up a type tray and spacing the letters out with thin zinc strips to ink and print a galley proof, an entire book’s text font can be changed with only a couple of clicks of the mouse.
It’s a capability that is especially useful when choosing the typography for our work. We can select exactly the font that does the best job putting our words before our readers. I call it the Font Test, and it yields results that can be surprising as well as very useful.
My own books appeal mostly to adult readers, many over fifty, so I select the size of my text based upon legibility first. All of the test examples that follow, were set exactly the same way, in 12 point fonts, single spaced, no paragraph indents or extra line spacing. You can always do this yourself using a full page of text, sized to the exact trim-size of your book. This way, you can adjust the column width carefully, if using justified text, to minimize the visual problems that justified text can create as a result of the variable letter and word spacing. Some of the visual issues that cause eye fatigue when reading pages of text are vertical white “rivers” of linked white spaces running up and down the page, white holes, too much hyphenation and other issues that can be simply massaged away by adjusting the column width to the most optimum for reading and viewing. The place I start is a column wide enough to accommodate 39-42 letters and spaces of whatever type size you will be using, in which ever font you want to test. In the following examples, I set up an optimized width for Times New Roman, 12 point, but did not change the width when each font was applied to the text. You’ll see what I mean when you compare them.
You’ll see that the differences between fonts are quite startling, both for relative ease in reading, and also for the number of words that can be accommodated on a page. It almost appears that different sizes were used, but these are all 12 point. You can skip ahead, if you don;t need a quick overview of type design variables. It won;t be on the test.
You’ll notice also that the difference in legibility between sans-serif (no feet) type such as Arial and serif type such as Caslon are quite distinct. Also variable is the depth of the ink coverage, resulting in variations in the overall “grey” of a page when viewed with eyes slightly out of focus. Too much contrast over pages of text, can be quite tiring for the eyes. One of the primary reasons for this, is the differences in what is called x-height. X height is the relative measurement of the height of a lowercase letter (x makes a good comparison) against the full height of the capital letters. The higher relatively, the easier a font is to read, but it can get tricky if the x rises too high. Another consideration is the amount of stress in each letter form, caused by the play of the thick and thin strokes. Too much again, makes for hard reading, as does a font that is too compressed left-to-right. Condensed fonts can produce more letters per column width, but as text, it becomes too visually fatiguing when the compression is more extreme. Extended fonts, ditto. It isn’t such an issue in headline sizes, though. Of course, every designer has their favorite fonts
I suggest you go through the following samples, noticing as many differences as you can. It’s a process that will help make your own books easier to read, and can also add the shine of professional polish to your page design, once the right font, size and column width has been selected. You’ll also have to experiment with the kind of paragraph returns that you want to use, but remember, that introducing large amounts of white space between paragraphs can be very tiring for the eyes and slow down the read. I prefer a simple indent of less than 0.3″ for most of my books, but I have also added small bits of extra spacing, usually no more than three points, to returns for paragraphs, but it depends on the style of the book, the quantity of dialog, how you set dialog apart, etc. While there are so many variable details, it can set your head spinning, the place to start is with a page that looks good to your eyes, after trying out a selection of different fonts and sizes. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to get really quirky, just for fun. You’ll doubtlessly pull back to a more legible type selection, but you’ll have something to compare it to, at least. You can also print out your range of font selections, trim the pages to their trim size and elicit responses and choices from readers you know.
If you have any design-related questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below the samples, or just your impressions. I’ll be sure to reply in a timely fashion. Here’s the Design Cents page link, for more information about book design. I’ll be adding new articles every couple of weeks.
My extended short story, Vermont Woods: A Music Fable is now available for Kindle, over the next four days completely free! Here’s the link:
A longtime work in progress, I’m again working on my WW2 novel which has a new title and a provisional cover design. I expect it to continue to evolve, but today, I’m posting a few opening pages for you to taste to see if they’re a flavor you enjoy…
Cristobal, Canal Zone, October 1944
First Mate Walter S. Reilly sat thumbing his rosary while studying his shoelaces. There was enough shade here to block most of the sun’s late afternoon heat. His ruddy coloring and light blue eyes didn’t get along too well with the tropics, but he never let that stop him. A light breeze was coming in off the water, cooling him almost to the point of comfort. But comfort alone wasn’t why he was here. He could close his eyes, inhale the wet, jungle smell as it mixed with the salty air, and if he let his mind wander enough, it almost felt like… home.
While the sun continued to slip into the unseen horizon, the shadows under the eyes of the looming stone Jesus grew sterner and sterner. In Reilly’s mind, there was nothing there but accusation and blame, so a stern demeanor suited the Lord’s face. Last night’s bottle hadn’t sat too well, but there was always today’s… waiting. He settled back, waiting for his stomach to settle down a bit more as the breeze wafted over him, sending him back. Back in time and back over the miles. Back home. But which one?
A prayer asking forgiveness began to form in his constricted mind but he was sending it out, not to the Savior, but to his wife. The one farthest north. Maybe to both of them; so maybe he could just nap for a few minutes, first. He settled back against the bench and let his legs straighten out in front of him. As Reilly’s eyes slowly closed, his chin settled against his chest.
# # # #
“Wha’z that?” The military cop who’d brought the dead seaman in, leaned over the examination table and stared at the dirty linoleum floor. He’d heard the sound of a coin, or a key, or some small metal object hit the floor as they rolled the body over. Normally, Chief Petty Officer Hastings didn’t get involved once he’d completed the forms and dropped the corpse, but today, the examiner was missing his assistant, Guillermo, who’d left early for a family quinceanera. Annoying was the least of it. The way they ran things down here, it amazed him they ever got anything done, or right.
“Y’ hear that? Som’thin must’ve fell out his pockets.”
The Examiner, Dr. Nunez y Chavez, glanced down, then stood back from the rust-streaked table to see if he could spot whatever Hastings heard. “I see nothing on my side…” His eye caught a glint of metal caught in a broken-off section of torn flooring under the table’s edge. “Wait – there is something. A coin?
Nunez y Chavez bent over stiffly, one hand upon the table to steady himself and came back up holding a small, light brass coin. He offered it to Hastings, who took it and held it up to the light for a better look.
“Well… I’ll be damned. It’s a Brooklyn Trolley token! “ A smile crept across Hasting’s face as full recognition set in. Brooklyn. That was a place he knew pretty well. Then he wrinkled up his dark eyebrows and said, aloud, “But… I thought this guy was from… “ He reached over to where the departed seaman’s billfold was lying near a pocket knife in a chipped, white porcelain tray. He flipped it open and ran his fingers over the contents, then pulled out a small card. “Yeah, this guy Reilly was from New Orleans. Wonder why he carried around a token for a Brooklyn trolley?”
The Examiner raised his hands, palms up. “There’s no saying why these men do anything. Why do they drink so much? Why do they fight so much? Can you tell me?”
“Not me, Doc. It’s a mystery.” Hastings lifted his palm up towards the light, where the filigree pattern of lines on the token caught the light. He gave it one more glance, then put the billfold and the token back into the tray. He asked the Examiner what he wanted him to do, adding, “You think I should wear some gloves?”
“Why bother. No blood or vomit – there’s a sink and some soap in the corner if you have hesitation or something about handling the dead. They are just dead.”
“Nah. I got no problems with that – I bring lots of ‘em in.” Hastings didn’t really like it much, but didn’t want his squeamishness to show. They removed the dead man’s boots and socks, and tossed them on the floor, then began removing his clothes to inspect the corpse for signs of injury. After turning it over once more, the Examiner reached for his clipboard. There was always a new Certificate of Death ready to go, and he began filling out what he could. “Chief Hastings? You know his captain? Captain Moresell?”
“I think so… yeah!” Hastings had already taken several steps back from the table, adding, “Why y’ask?”
“Well, someone needs to contact him so he can make positive… uh, I.D., you know?”
“I guess I can find him. Their tug is over at the Pilot Quay. He’ll be around a few more days now, since he’s gonna hav’ta find a new Mate, eh?”
“Today would be best.”
There was such a tone of finality in the Examiner’s voice, Hastings just repeated him. “Today.”
Nunez y Chavez glanced at the clock on the wall then back to the table, where he lifted the dead man’s arm and tried to work the wrist joint. “When did you say you found him?”
“It wazzn’t me. Some kid said he was just lyin’ on a bench all the way up the Paseo to the Kid’s Park across from that Jesus Statue. Thought he was just sleepin’. I think the little bastard was gonna roll ‘im or somethin’, you know? But he got scared and found me eatin’ my breakfast on the corner. Brought me over to the bench.”
“Yes, yes, but what time was it?”
“Oh, yeah… maybe eight forty?”
Nunez y Chavez looked up towards the high window on the far wall. Without turning back to Hastings, he said, “He must have been there all night.”
# # # #
The deceased’s big oceangoing tug, U S S Libby Island, lay against the quay wall between two barges. Hastings stood leaning on a bollard until he saw some activity, then he called out, “Cap’n Moresell ‘round?”
A seaman on his way to the engine room heard Hastings’ shout. “Yeah – I’ll get ‘im for ya,” he called back, heading below. In a few minutes, the wheelhouse door swung open and a large, rough looking customer wearing the scrambled eggs on his cap’s visor walked over to the nearest rail and called down to Hastings, “Whaddya want, Hastings? You got trouble?”
“Yeah. Sorry, Cap, but we found your mate.”
“Where is the sonofabitch anyway? He was supposed to be aboard by now? You got Reilly in the brig?”
“Nope. He’s dead, Cap.” Hastings hated to deliver this kind of news dockside. He added, “The Examiner needs positive ID and … well, I didn’t really know him.”
“Why the hell not? You hauled him in twice this week alone!”
Hastings shuffled his feet, then replied, “Yeah, but Somebody’s gotta take his belongings and notify the next of kin. I can’t do that. That’s your job, I guess.”
“Yeah, yeah. My job.” The gruff tug captain turned and started down the gangway to deck level. The stair rungs echoed a hollow metal sound. He walked over to where the bulwark was gated. A wide wooden plank lay across the gap to the dock. It bent a bit, Hastings noticed, as the big man stepped across it.
Hastings gave him the details and the time. Moresell just rubbed his chin, his head shaking slowly back and forth. Finally, the tug captain said, “OK, I’ll get down there in an hour. That OK with you?”
“No problem at all. See ya ‘round!” Hastings replied cheerily, almost free of this sorry detail.
He headed towards the base, where he’d have to rehash it all over again, explaining why he was late to report. Then there were the forms. As he passed a clump of palms that leaned out over the seawall, he noticed the slick, greasy water rising and falling in a slow rhythm like one of those dance numbers he always heard in the bars here. Hastings had been thinking how ridiculous it was, for him to be planted down here in Rummy Heaven with a war on, since his posting here last October. There must be some place he could do something better than this. Maybe shoot some Krauts or Japs?
Deep down, he even wished he were back home in New York. At least at the Navy Yards, there was more to do than round up drunks and haul dead sailors to the morgue. A parrot flew overhead. The flash of its bright colors just made him feel worse. It made him more homesick. Damned token. he thought, why’d the stiff have to have that in his pocket anyway?
Freado is a reader site that connects readers with the kinds of books they enjoy. I recently was asked some questions about my current projects and was pleased to see it posted on their site. Here’s the interview…
As the year runs into it’s final day, I’m full of questions about what the next year will bring us. The times we’re living in are not as stable as the ones I grew up in, nor do they offer all the opportunities I grew to expect. Usually one to scoff at the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, I can see now that this New Year will require some changes of each of us if we are to make the best of it.
I wish everyone the best opportunities and joy in the coming year. There are many problems confronting our entire human family right now. Some of them affect the entire world we live in. My sincere wish is that we get back to speaking together about our issues, fears, concerns and ideas. Face to face, if we can, but any way possible.
I’ve seen how the technology of online communications makes it so easy to simply pass along someone else’s ideas, someone else’s agenda, without really getting to know all the details. Cut n’ Paste is a real timesaver, but it can also be a dangerous thing if it becomes a crutch to use instead of actually engaging. We’re better than that, all of us and we all have a serious stake in making our lives happier and safer. Really share. Talk to each other. Listen to each other. Engage.
That’s my only resolution for the coming year and beyond.
… from this day forward, all the very best of this and every Season. All the warmth of your family and friends, good health and everything you need to feel safe and happy!