What makes writers happy? In a word, readers.Sure, we love sales because sales lead to income and income leads to paid bills. But more than sales we love readers. Because we write in order to tell a story. And to tell a story you need an audience, otherwise you’re just talking (or typing) to yourself. That’s not particularly satisfying. So while we’re capitalists (for the most part) and professionals (in theory at least) and nearly insanely hopeful individuals (when we’re not busy developing an embarrassing drinking problem that will turn us into legendary figures who died too you) we’re mostly writing in the hopes that we’ll acquire readers. Better yet, satisfied readers.

That’s the brass ring for a writer. Developing a following of dedicated readers who enjoy your work enough to seek out the next story, the next book, the next essay – and hopefully purchase it with a broad smile and a hopeful heart.

I’m feeling a little energized on this particular topic this week because of a handful of e-mails I’ve received. Not thousands of e-mails, mind you. Not even hundreds. But e-mails from a handful of satisfied readers have made it through the digital maze and found their way to my computer. I appreciate these notes more than I can tell you. In each case they asked when the next installment of the Lifeboat Augusta series would be published. I’m so pleased by the question, and I’m happy to report that installment number two is well underway. It should be coming to an ebook outlet near you before the new year rolls around. Additional installments will be showing up in short order after that one, as well. Installment two is called, “Just About Armageddon,” which expands on the story that starts with, “To the Lifeboats.”

Randy Tagget, Keisha Miller, and the full cast of Lifeboat Augusta characters become more nuanced, a bit more mysterious, and in at least a few instances, a little more devious.

The process of writing this series is actually enjoyable. Believe it or not, I’m having a terrific time telling this story in all its technicolor glory. And that enjoyment is enriched considerably during weeks like this one when reader’s e-mails continue to show up on my computer expressing a real desire to get their hands on the next installment sooner rather than later.

It makes this writer happy to know those readers are enjoying the story as much as I enjoy writing it. So hang in there, appreciate the anticipation you’re feeling, and brace yourself for, “Just About Armageddon.” It’s headed in your direction and will be ready for your voracious consumption soon enough.

Airplanes pitch, roll, and yaw. Boats do, too. But nobody ever gets all weirded out by somebody asking them about how to turn a boat. Maybe because it seems obvious, so obvious that nobody feels the need to label the movements. When it comes to airplanes it makes sense to label everything though, because unlike a boat, airplanes aren’t naturally buoyant. If you let go of the tiller on a boat, it just kind of floats along, meandering with the wind. If you let go of the controls on an airplane for very long, something unpleasant might happen. That’s especially true if you’re not all trimmed up to fly hands off.

We’ll get to the trimmed up part later. For now, let’s just consider the three axis of flight. They are pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch, roll, and yaw movements are controlled along the longitudinal, lateral, and vertical axis. Read More →

by Jamie Beckett —

This is an open letter to the public. Because the news outlets in my city and county have been unwilling or unable to share this information with the public at large, the responsibility to share with the public an honest view of how the process of replacing a departing city manager was managed, has fallen to individual citizens. As one of the five residents of Winter Haven who are currently charged with overseeing the management of the city, I will share what I know of the process, for the benefit of anyone who wishes to better understand how the most recent transition occurred.

Dale Smith, the sitting city manager of Winter Haven, Florida, publicly announced his intention to retire at a city meeting on August 27, 2012. It was not news to many city residents, or senior city staff. Smith, whose wife retired from her career with the school system previously, had made it known to friends, staff, and at least this commissioner that he was considering retirement for himself in the not too distant future. The decision was on his mind. Read More →

by Jamie Beckett —

It will come as no surprise if I were to report that a person who is often in the news said something stupid today. Some will immediately think of Mitt Romey’s 47 percent comment, I’m sure. Others will reflect on Barak Obama’s claim to have visited 57 of the 58 United States. It makes no difference. When mouths open, goofy words can come out. It happens to everyone. It’s worse when recording devices are rolling, though. What would have been a regrettable but forgettable slip in Lincoln’s time is now a permanent part of the historical record. It is the journalistic equivalent of collecting lint – pointless. But at least we’re doing something, right?

No, we’re not. And the fact that we think we are is truly sad. We’re cheapening the political process and limiting our options by constantly trying to find the perfect, Teflon coated, squeaky clean candidate who never misspeaks, never missteps, never over-reaches, and never postulates on the future incorrectly.

Heaven forbid if we were to seriously consider a candidate who doesn’t espouse his everlasting love for his (or her) mate. Or jump at every chance they get to go out back and throw the ball around with their kids, or grandkids.

Are those the qualities that really make a good president, or governor, or mayor, or supervisor of elections? I don’t think so. No, wait. I take that back. They aren’t at all. They’re merely feel-good distractions from the real issues and challenges of the job. Something that can be spun when there’s nothing of substance to share.  Read More →

One of the great gifts that comes from being a freelancer is the ability to work with multiple editors. Many writers don’t experience that advantage. Or at least they don’t get to experience it often enough. Newspaper reporters, for example, often toil under the tutelage of the same editor for years, decades even.

That’s unfortunate.

Having a bevy of editors to your credit gives you an insight that writers with more stable employment just don’t get. You learn that the right way to construct your piece is the way the editor wants it. With apologies to my high school English teachers, I learned early on this simple but often hidden truth; there is no correct way to write in English.

Now I know that’s an incendiary statement. There are no doubt plenty of successful writers, and editors, who will disagree entirely. My evidence is significant, however. It starts, but it does not end, with Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style. Read More →

Aviation is awash in weird terms and expressions that non-aviation people just don’t use much. For instance, consider the term, “relative wind.” Use the term around a pilot and they’ll nod and give every impression they understand entirely. Use it with a non-aviation enthusiast on the other hand, and they’ll scratch their head and start to wonder about your sanity.

Relative wind is critical to flight, so if you want to be a pilot, it’s important that you know what it is, and what it isn’t. So here’s the long and the short of it. Relative wind is the apparent speed and direction of the wind, based on your perspective. It is not the actual speed and direction of the wind. Read More →

New flight students need to know the basics. Old hands do, too. So whether you’re new to the flying game or an experienced pro, we need to learn, review, and expand on our knowledge base on a regular basis.

So let’s start with the basics, the four forces of flight. They are, in no particular order…

Lift, Weight, Thrust, and Drag. 
The lift part seems obvious. You need to have lift to fly. But how much lift do you need? Well, you need exactly as much, or slightly more than the total weight of the aircraft and everything in it. Read More →

by Jamie Beckett —

As the American public slides into another political campaign season with reckless abandon, it seems appropriate to offer a word of caution to all concerned. This message is pertinent to Republicans and Democrats, alike. Libertarians, Greens, and the membership of any other party you can think of will benefit as well. Provided they listen, of course. And there’s the rub, because listening isn’t common during campaign season. Instead we tend to focus on name-calling, reputation-bashing, muck-raking, and mud-slinging.

Keep this in mind if you can; politics is about philosophy. It’s a debate of opinions, not personalities. There is no absolute right. There is no absolute wrong. There is only the consensus we agree to accept for the moment. Rest assured, whatever that consensus is, it will change over time. It always has. It always will. It will change because we change. It’s fated to be so. As surely as the weather rotates through various seasons, political opinion and social norms are in a constant state of change. Read More →

Writers are aware of this truism of the trade. Many who want to be writers are not, however. If you want to write well, you must read. And you must read a lot. Ironically perhaps, of the work you read, some of the most important to refining your process is, your own.

Once a piece is written, whether it might be a short story, a newspaper column, an essay, or a novel, the author needs to read it. And they must read it with a critical eye. There are almost certainly mistakes to be found, as well as sentences that are clunkier than your first car just before it broke down for the last time. A good writer will fix these issues. But to fix them, first they must find them. And that requires reading. In fact, most writers will typically read, and critique, and edit their work more than once.

Readers appreciate the effort.

An annoying glitch that can occur in fiction as well as in non-fiction, is the factual error. A writer can find those mistakes by reading and carefully taking notes. If the column says a particular school system’s budget was X number of dollars, it would be wise to check the school system’s budget to verify the accuracy of the number. Nothing takes the wind out of a good argument like erroneous information.

It is important for the fiction writer to check for facts, too. If a scene has five teenagers piling into a station wagon to drive recklessly through the night for a clandestine meeting with a dubious character in a neighboring town, the reader will be curious and potentially confused to find only four got out of the car after arriving at their destination.

Reading. It’s one of the many secret weapons used by writers to improve their work. It doesn’t hurt to read other writer’s work either. Truthfully, if your goal is to be a writer, or to be a better writer, you might consider everything you read to be a free lesson. You can learn what works, what doesn’t, and which rules you can break without incurring the wrath of your readers. And often you can learn much of that simply by reading.

My local newspaper published a disturbing editorial today. It seems they will no longer be running editorials to make recommendations in political races.

What I find troubling about this is not just the realization my local paper has decided to cede to the Internet, rumors, and coffee talk their civic responsibility to intelligently weigh the options when election time rolls around. No, it’s more than that. My bigger issue is they went quietly, without a fight.

As the apologist editorial running today makes clear, this was a corporate decision. The owner of the paper, the Halifax Media Group, has apparently come to the conclusion that it is better to publish a bland, occasionally inaccurate newspaper of dubious value to the reader, than it is to risk offending that reader.

Welcome to the end of print journalism folks. When it becomes too risky to express considered opinions on the editorial and opinion pages of the newspaper – we all lose. Our penchant for political correctness now prevents the primary news gathering machine in our cities and towns from freely expressing themselves.

What’s the point of a first amendment right to free speech if the publications who need it most are afraid to exercise that right?

Admittedly, I’ve had my differences with my local paper. Their once proud tradition of publication has been replaced in recent years by an ever shallowing curiosity to ferret out facts, and a troubling willingness to print opinons on the news pages, as if they were facts. That’s not good. But today’s announcement is worse. This is the culmination of a nightmare scenario men of my grandfather’s time feared – a country with no serious news coverage.

In this respect at least, the computer industry, the news industry, and the political stability of our cities, counties, states, and nation all share a common truism. Garbage in, garbage out. If you do not provide high quality input, you will inevitably suffer from poor quality output. It’s just that simple.

This is a sad day. Newspapers across the nation are gutting themselves, willingly, in a vain attempt to pander to a readership who have options. And my local newspaper just admitted it in public without the decency to even show signs of embarrassment as they abdicate their responsibilities.

In the old days you read the paper, or you were ignorant of what was happening in the world. Today, we have so many options our heads are swimming. Most of those options are Internet based, and often their journalistic standards are so low, or so skewed, the information they choose to share is of dubious value to the public. Shockingly, those low standards are now superior to what many of our long-lived newspapers can deliver to us. And so readers are dropping their subscriptions and ignoring newspapers in large numbers. Not because they’re too offensive, rather because they are too bland, too pointless, too careful not to offend – even at the price of failing to inform the reader who dropped their quarters into the slot expecting better.

It is a disappointment that publishers and editors have so easily knuckled under to short sighted boards in far off cities. Our newspapers are worse for it. Our communities are worse for it. And soon, our political process will suffer mightily because those who were charged with informing us have chosen instead to focus on publishing nothing more challenging than entertainment fluff, discount coupons, and obituaries.