Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Words that fill unusual needs

Once again, I need to remind myself that I do not believe in omens.  Really and truly, I don't.

Coincidence?  Yes.  Even serendipity and luck.  But omens, with their implication of supernatural manipulation of human events?  No.  Just, no.

On the other hand. . . .

Several years ago, a rather unusual sequence of events put me in possession of a faceting machine.  Though I have played around with rocks and stones and gems for a very long time, I had never considered faceting.  The equipment was too expensive for my budget, for one thing, and I had no clue how to go about learning the craft.  But the machine was offered to me for free and would have ended up in a Dumpster otherwise.  So I took it.

I subsequently found out what it was worth and was more than a little astounded.  Flabbergasted is probably a better word.  I also learned that a few small and inexpensive but absolutely essential accessories were missing.  They were quickly and easily replaced and the machine was fully functional. 

As I wrote in Really Neat Rocks, faceting is one of the lapidary arts that requires significant investment.  The basic machine can cost several thousand dollars, but then there are the accessories -- laps and dops and transfer jigs and so on -- not to mention the rough rocks.  Facet-grade rough is a lot more expensive than the agates and jaspers that can be found out in the desert for free.  The machine I acquired came complete with all those expensive accessories and with a modest supply of rough as well. 

I should have been all set.

I wasn't.

The machine came with a little booklet of maybe 60 pages, Facet Cutter's Handbook, that purported to be all one needed to learn how to facet.  For me at least it was woefully inadequate.  I already had an old edition of John Sinkankas' Gem Cutting: A Lapidary Manual, which was likewise inadequate as well as out of date.  I needed a well-illustrated, step-by-step manual.  If I have that kind of guide, I can usually figure out how to do just about anything.

The books that might have filled that niche were, unfortunately, long out of print and subsequently priced way out of my budget.  I played with the machine a couple of times, and managed to achieve some results, but I didn't really know what I was doing.  So I quit.

But I did join an email discussion list sponsored by the U.S. Faceters Guild.  Almost every day I receive emails from the other participants, most of which comments are way above my head because I know so little about the craft.  There's never been a temptation to unsubscribe, however.  Though I delete most of the emails -- they're archived should I ever decide to revisit any of them -- I do read them all.  Now and then there's something that either adds to my store of knowledge about other aspects of lapidary or is something tucked away for an indistinct future when I will actually get to use the machine.

As I recorded yesterday, I gave notice two weeks ago to quit my day job.  Just a couple days after I made that rather scary decision,  one of the members of that USFG email list posted that he had published a book.  Two books actually, because two volumes were needed to contain all the information. 

I bought the books.  Immediately.  They arrived yesterday.  I've read the first chapter of the first book, and I'm very, very impressed.  Tom Herbst has done an excellent job, and if the rest of the books live up to the promise of the first chapter, they will fill a huge need.

He acknowledges right at the beginning that self-publishing is the way to go for this kind of specialty books.  Digital print-on-demand allows authors to create the special-interest volumes that just can't be commerically viable for a traditional publisher.   Are these POD editions lacking the glossy full-color photos that many of us in the arts-and-crafts fields are accustomed to?  Yes, they are.  Though Herbst's books are loaded with black and white drawings and photos, there are no color pictures.  Because I've researched it myself, I know that the cost of including color printing in a CreateSpace product shoves the cost into the stratosphere.  In a way, these new books are a step backward in terms of the illustrations.  They're more like Sinkankas' 1963 hardcover than James Mitchell's 2012 Gem Trails of Arizona.

But today we have the internet and the www and Google images and Flickr and if we need color images, we know where to get them.  We don't need the glossy color photos; we can get more and better pictures online.

Tom Herbst's books arrived, in more ways than one, just when I needed them.  A few weeks ago, I probably would have ordered them but maybe not.  A year ago the probably drops down to possibly, but not very likely.  But last week there was no question.  Everything came together at just the right time.  I have the equipment, I have the time, and now I have the books.

What does this have to do with writing romance novels?  Ah, I'm so glad you asked.  ;-)

We never know, as readers or as writers, how our words are going to impact other people's lives.   We never know, as writers, how our product is going to be received.   It behooves us, then, to make sure our product is the very best that it can be.  I'm not an expert faceter.  Hell, I'm not even a beginner yet!  So you can bet I'm going to be watching the reviews, even the informal ones, that show up on the USFG email list.  And I'm going to pay attention to what those people have to say.  Because they are the experts.  I've seen the kind of work they produce and I know they know what they're doing.  As reviewers, they may not have perfect grammar or spelling, but that's not the expertise they're utilizing.

And they won't hesitate to criticize if necessary. 

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