Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Editing in Process...The Very Best of W. P. Kinsella

Very Best of W. P. Kinsella
Cover art by Thomas Canty
If you read this blog fairly regularly, you'll recall my post earlier in the month when I wrote about purchasing the Xcanex Professional Book and Document Scanner by piQx imaging. In that post I mentioned a huge scanning project I had begun working on at the time, which is why I was in a bit of a kerfuffle over scanners -- and the fact that my go-to scanner for nearly 10 years no longer worked with OmniPage Pro and Windows 7.

That scanning project is short story collection The Very Best of W. P. Kinsella, forthcoming in 2015 from Tachyon Publications.

And the project is indeed huge: approximately 138,000 words of fiction, all of which has to be scanned, then cleaned up and formatted, and finally copy edited.

If you've seen the movie Field of Dreams (1989), starring Kevin Costner, then you've experienced a wee taste of W. P. Kinsella, who wrote the novel Shoeless Joe (1982), upon which the movie is based. And Kinsella's novel is an expansion of his 1979 short story, "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa" -- which is included in this Very Best of collection. In the story, a corn farmer in Iowa hears a voice:
Two years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin's-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, as I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in eastern Iowa, a voice very clearly said to me, "If you build it, he will come."

The voice was that of a ballpark announcer. As he spoke, I instantly envisioned the finished product I knew I was being asked to conceive. I could see the dark, squarish speakers, like ancient sailors' hats, attached to aluminum-painted light standards that glowed down into a baseball field, my present position being directly behind home plate.
The "he" in "he will come" is Joseph Jefferson Jackson, the "Shoeless Joe Jackson" in the title, one of the greatest baseball outfielders of all time -- who had passed away in 1951, years (and years) before our Iowa corn farmer heard that voice. But if our farmer builds that ballfield, he will come. [Note: Shoeless Joe had been mired in the Black Sox Scandal after the Chicago White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series; Joe and seven other teammates were banned for life from baseball the following year.]

There are a few other baseball stories in this collection, but you don't need to know anything about baseball to enjoy these tales: baseball merely serves as a backdrop to these stories, which are about life and the human condition, often with a bit of the "fantastic" thrown in. My favorite story in the collection is "K Mart" -- but don't let the title fool you: it's the story of lost childhood love, nostalgia, and survival, all amidst the backdrop of a neighborhood dirt-lot baseball game, a game that seemed endless (to the children playing it), but only lasted throughout the summer months.

W. P. Kinsella is also well-known for his "First Nation" stories about the indigenous Cree on the Hobbema Reserve near Edmonton, Canada. These stories reflect the Cree's destitute and disadvantaged culture, yet add an element of humor by exploring the convoluted situations (and shenanigans) they get into trying to survive in a world dominated by white people. But even with the element of humor, there is a sadness to all of these stories. What is especially delightful about these stories is that Kinsella's characters -- Silas (the narrator), Frank Fencepost, Mad Etta, Bedelia Coyote, Sadie One-wound, and Rufus Firstrider, to name just a few -- appear in all the stories. By the time you finish reading this collection, you'll certainly consider them acquaintances, if not friends. In "Beef," Bedelia Coyote determines that a treaty the Cree signed with the Canadian government in the 1800s is still valid, and she files the necessary paperwork so that the reserve receives financial compensation. But Frank Fencepost has a better scheme in mind: he hijacks the paperwork and requests the government honor the compensation put forth in the original treaty: cattle -- figuring he can make more from the cattle than the money the government was offering. The title of the story, "Beef," says it all.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Austin Musician Suzanna Choffel

So I was channel surfacing last night at about 8:30pm, looking for something to watch for a half hour, and I saw a listing in the paper for "Austin Musicians" on San Mateo's PBS station, KCSM. So I hit the remote for cable channel 17. The show was an hour-long broadcast of the 2013 All ATX concert at the Moody Theater in Austin, a benefit to support the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM).

Fortunately, I turned on the TV just in time to catch musician Suzanna Choffel's two-song performance, the latter of which, entitled "Raincloud," absolutely knocked my figurative socks off. I spent some time this morning searching for more info on Ms. Choffel, and learned that she was a performer on NBC's The Voice a few years back, losing in the "knockout" round to a singer who I thought (having watched both performances on YouTube) was (aside from being occasionally off-key) derivative of nearly every other female singer one hears on contemporary pop radio. Anyhow, Ms. Choffel said about her loss: "I was definitely the wild card of the show, doing folk, pop, and reggae, and that may have hurt me in the end, but it's who I am."

I also found on YouTube what appears to be an audience recording of "Raincloud" from the All ATX concert, but the quality is quite poor; so, searching for the song itself, I found a superb version performed "live" at Austin's The Sessions production company. Enjoy!

I checked out Suzanna Choffel's albums -- her latest, Archer, includes "Raincloud" -- but I was disappointed: the sultry, raw quality of her vocals and fretwork are lost, sadly, in the music's overproduction. If she were to release a live album, I'd snatch it up in a digital minute!

Other performers at the All ATX concert included Marcia Ball, Christopher Cross, Eric Johnson, the Sexton brothers, and Jimmy Vaughan, to name but a few. The Austin Chronicle had a fairly decent review of the concert the following day.

Note: Ms. Choffel currently resides in NYC.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Xcanex Professional Book & Document Scanner

Xcanex-boxThe first flatbed scanner I purchased was a Microtek brand, I'm guessing about a dozen years ago. I was running Windows ME (Millennium, remember that short-lived OS?) at the time and the Microtek scanner worked like a charm. Of course, as is the way of all things technical, I decided to upgrade to Windows XP in 2005.

I purchased the XP system discs and, with the help of my friend Randy (the same person who helped me design my first desktop years earlier, which I wrote about here), I wiped the hard drive and installed Windows XP. I then spent the next two days installing all my software and hardware. Around the end of day two the OS started behaving badly and I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I'll admit I was in a hurry to get the new system up and running, and I didn't keep track of what I installed when, I didn't create restore points, and I didn't test the system after each install. Silly me.... So, back to square one: I wiped the hard drive myself and reinstalled XP, and began the arduous task of installing hardware and software correctly. I created a restore point before each install, I rebooted and tested the system after each install, and I kept a running list of what I installed at each point. Instead of two days, this "best practice" process took me about four days -- at which point everything started behaving flaky again. After some investigation, reverting to restore points, reinstalling some things yet again, I determined that the Microtek driver for the scanner was crashing XP.

I clicked on over to the Microtek website only to discover that they did not support Windows XP on this particular scanner; I guess their developers were too bloody lazy to update the Windows ME driver -- but I bet they sure would like to sell me a new scanner that works under Windows XP! What we call built-in obsolescence! Well, if I'm going to have to dump a perfectly good, working scanner to buy a new one that works with Windows XP, I certainly will not give any more money to Microtek. You would think these corp. idiots would learn....

Xcanex open box
So after some research I purchased a Canon CanoScan 4200F flatbed scanner -- which is even better than the Microtek and has served me far longer. The beauty of this CanoScan is the hinged lid that allows you to place an open book face down on the glass and still be able to place the lid on the book. I used this scanner with Nuance's OmniPage Professional -- first OmniPage Pro 12, then I upgraded to 14, then 16, then 17, and finally 18. (Note: Version 18 has a lot of glitches at startup which Nuance has simply refused to address (or even respond to on their own community forum) since they've now moved on to an even bigger and better version -- and because of this, my days of upgrading have ceased with version 18. These tech companies can really be a pain in the behind.) I've been using one version or another of OmniPage Pro and the CanoScan scanner for nearly ten years. The scanner has performed flawlessly.