Monthly Archives: January 2013

Self-published books and sloppy editing

I’ve read quite number of self-published books—books with genuine merit—over the past year or so, and have been appalled by how poorly most of them are edited. And each one, without exception, has listed the name of the editor in question. I’ve run across misspelled words, misused words, malapropisms, misplaced apostrophes, and loads of typos.spelling

I confess that, being a bit of a grammar/spelling/punctuation Nazi, this kind of thing kind of freaks me out.

It’s one thing to say “Her and me went out,” if it’s in an actual conversation, but as part of the narrative…no, no, no. I can remember the days when you never found even the tiniest error in a printed book, but those days are long gone, I’m sorry to say.

And who are these editors? If the authors themselves were doing the editing it would be bad enough, but when the job is done by a person who actually calls him/herself an editor and then lets a string of egregious errors slip by? OK, I know how hard it is to edit and proofread—I’ve been doing it for years. And I can’t say I’ve never overlooked something, but from what I’ve seen of the books I’ve read lately, the overall editing of self-published books looks pretty dismal.grammarcartoon-blogSpan-300x218

I would think that if you’ve written a book of your own, you’d want it to be perfect—or at least as perfect as possible. Wouldn’t you go through it with a fine-toothed comb several times to make sure everything was exactly the way you wanted it? Or maybe I’m kidding myself and neither the authors nor the writers has sufficient knowledge of spelling, punctuation, and grammar to get it right?

I just want to make it clear that I’m not in favor of perfect texts just for the sake of being perfect, with no thought to cultural context, etc. I like conversational writing—in fact, you may have noticed that I’m a conversational writer myself. We can take certain liberties. We don’t have to write in a strait jacket (and please stop spelling it “straight!”), but we do have to write intelligently and not let mistakes slip by that we should have learned in grammar school.

OK, sorry for the grumpy rant—I think I’ve been holding it in for too long!


Filed under writing

Callings vs. “hobbies”

A fellow friend and blogger wrote a post about writers being a strange breed—exceptionally acute observers, attentive listeners to what’s going on inside their heads (which can make them seemed spaced out to others), and passionate and focused workers once they get started. They can seem obsessed to those who aren’t writers, and each one seems to have his or her own special set of neuroses about getting their stuff out there (i.e. publishing) and even about the old cliché, writers’ block.

I found myself resonating with a lot of what she said—especially the part about getting an inspiration and having to write it down somewhere, anywhere, as if it were a matter of life and death. Any napkin or scrap of paper will do—or even the back of your hand.

The funny thing is, though, that I don’t really think of myself as a “writer” and never have, even though I was a journalist for more than a decade. Now that I’ve got a book for sale on Amazon, I’m trying to get into author mode, but it all feels a little strange to me. Writing is something I do for fun. I don’t find it hard, and it’s not hard, it’s not a struggle, I don’t fight with writers’ block, and I’m not afraid to put my stuff out there. I’m not bragging, this is just the way it is. Let me explain…writing_on_laptop-222x150

Writing isn’t really my calling. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, well why did you write a book? Why do you write a blog? I guess I could call it a hobby, I don’t know. I’m not really sure what that word means. But I can’t say it’s my calling, because I’ve never felt resistance to doing it, and I never agonize over it.

My calling is music. I’m a composer, and yes, when I get an idea for a tune or a band arrangement in my head, I’ll grab any random piece of paper floating around and frantically try to get it down before I forget it. I used to walk around with a cassette recorder, and now I walk around with a digital one.

I’ve felt resistance to writing music, to getting started on something. Maybe it’s because I take it more seriously that I do with my writing. I knew it was my calling from the time I was 13 years old, and felt inklings in that direction from age 7. Oh, and I’ve also been known to sit around looking like I’m doing nothing, when I’m really deciding whether the low brass should come in before the trumpets, and whether the piece should begin with a percussion intro or not.article-new_ehow_images_a08_2f_jt_write-music-trumpet-800x800

Once I actually sit down and start writing a piece, I am totally fixated. If you’ve read my book, you’ll remember how I used to sit up late every night writing arrangements for my band before I even had a band, and the next morning it was as if “I” hadn’t written them at all—it was as if little elves had stolen into my apartment in the middle of the night, done the work, and left the music stacked up on the piano. I imagined that I could almost see their tiny footprints on the piano top.

But now I have a book, too, so I know I have to treat that with respect. In the piece I wrote the other day about marketing, I said that I’d often felt that self-promotion was “tacky.” I think this is a carry-over from when I used to live in New York and had to go around to the jazz clubs trying to sell myself as a musician. If you didn’t have a manager (and hardly anyone did, except for the big shots), you had to do it yourself, and you were most often met with the cold assertion: “We’re booked through next year.” In spite of that, I persisted and managed to get some fairly good gigs when I lived there, so I know in my heart I can do the same thing with my book.

Here’s a bit of shameless self-promotion!



Filed under music, writing

The frustrations of self-publishing

As some of my readers here know, I recently self-published my autobiography, “Getting Down to Brass Tacks,” which is now for sale on Amazon and numerous other online stores.

Getting the job done has been a bumpy road. You can’t do it on your own unless you’re at least somewhat computer savvy and have some knowledge of formatting in Word. I did my e-book first, through BookBaby, and was able (with their excellent customer service) to get the job done on my own, but when it came to doing the print-on-demand paperback through CreateSpace, I found the process so complicated that I finally hired someone to do it for me. book-promotion

After you’ve self-published your book, the inevitable question arises: Now what? Well, I’d been promoting my book here and in the social media, which aroused some interest initially. But after awhile, things cool down and you start to wonder what to do to spread the word about your book.

I started doing some research online, and found quite a number of offers to promote e-books, most of which involve paying a sizable fee, and many of them deal only with free books. As I rooted around some more, I discovered that there are authors who actually pay people to review their books. My response to all these deals was “ick.”

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure yet. I’ve always felt that self-promotion is kind of tacky, but I can see that it’s essential in the self-publishing world. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing, spreading the word on social media and by word of mouth, and maybe hit up a couple of magazines for a possible review. I believe my book is a good read, so other than that, I’m just going to follow my intuition about what I should do (or not do).



Filed under the book, writing

Is anything really lost to the past?

I think it may have started with the photos of old Rio. Someone posted a series of black and white photos from the 1890s to the 1970s, and I found myself looking at them with a dreamy kind of nostalgia, as if I’d been there and was missing it.

But of course I’d never been there. I was born in the USA and came to Rio for the first time in 1990. I think what I was longing for was a sense of tradition, something I’d actually had a taste of when I was involved as a percussionist in Rio’s famous Carnival for more than five years in the early 90s. Amy Anu

I soon discovered that what I’d been missing was a hands-on involvement in Brazilian musical culture. I stopped playing samba a number of years ago, and hadn’t really thought about it much—until now. So I found myself glued to YouTube for several days, watching videos of old-time samba players and wondering if all of that had been lost to me.

Then one evening I started watching what I thought was a video clip of my favorite samba singer, Paulinho da Viola, but which turned out to be a full-length documentary about him. In the film he repeated many times that there’s no reason for nostalgia or longing, because nothing is lost to the past—in fact, it isn’t really in the past at all. “If I take an old song and play it, then it’s now, it’s not in the past,” he said. In fact, the name of the documentary is “My Time is Now.”

With that thought in mind, I downloaded a bunch of sambas to my iPod and pulled out my dusty tamborim (small drum played with a stick) and tam-tam (a hand drum), and tried to play along with some of the tunes. I was amazed at how bad I sounded and how awkward I felt, but I knew it was just from neglect. I took Paulinho’s advice and brought something from my past that I thought was lost, into my present. And now there’s really nothing to stop me from improving it.

As I thought about this experience, I realized that I could apply it to other situations in my life as well. Can you think of a situation from your past that could be “rescued” by bringing it into the present?



by | January 11, 2013 · 3:54 pm

“Finding My Invincible Summer” – a new book

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned there was inside me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

I met Muriel Vasconcellos on a translators’ website a few years ago. One thing led to another, and we discovered that we not only had an affinity, but that we were both writing autobiographical books. We became long-distance friends—she in California, me in Rio de Janeiro.Cover-for-blog-199x300

Muriel’s book, Finding My Invincible Summer, was just published by Hay House, and I want to share it with my blog readers. It’s a story of tragedy, fierce determination, patience, persistence, and triumph. Muriel’s story takes us through her experience with breast cancer and her search for alternative treatments. Along the way, she is faced with challenges that would have made most of us give up, but with dogged determination and courage she bucked the system, stood up for herself, and found solutions.

Here is a quote from one of her 5-star reviews:

“With Finding My Invincible Summer, not only did the author take you into her complete confidence but the story was so intense and relatable that I could not put it down. During a week of reading where there were many other distractions in my life and in the greater world, I kept yearning to return to this quiet, deeply involving and highly personal story, even as difficult and painful as that life was in parts. Ultimately, the reader is given their own sense of possibilities—that there are indeed attainable solutions to even the most difficult of life’s problems.”

Head-shoulders-10-2-12-cropped-e-mail-210x300Muriel’s book can be purchased here on Amazon:

Here is the link to her blog:

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Book update for the new year!

I wish all my readers a very happy new year, and I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my blog in 2012—looking forward to sharing with you and to reading your comments!Cover_Getting_Down_to_Brass_Tacks_Duncan

As you know if you’ve been hanging out here, I have written my autobiography, “Getting Down to Brass Tacks” – My adventures in the world of jazz, Rio, and beyond.” It started out as an e-book, but now there is a paperback available, too.

The paperback is on Amazon in various countries, and the e-book is on Amazon and also iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and several other online stores.

I’m very happy and grateful for the eleven 5-star reviews I’ve received so far on Amazon. Here they are, just scroll down the page:

If you’re planning on reading the book, have read it already, or are reading it now, I’d love it if you’d write a review for Amazon, and also if you’d click on “like” on the Amazon page. This helps to get the word out!

If you’re reading the e-book, there’s a link to photos in the Appendix.

At the moment, the pages for the e-book and paperback are separate. They should be synched by the end of this month, if not sooner. Meanwhile, you can find both versions by following this link:

If you’re on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, please share this blog post so others can find out about the book. I’ve been hearing from my readers that there’s a lot in my book that resonates with them, and I’m glad to hear that, because I never intended for my life story to be just a “vanity memoir” to share with family and friends. If my story can encourage someone, then I would really love them to have access to it!

If you’re on Facebook, you can sign up for my author page by “liking” it here:

This is a place where you can make comments, ask questions, etc.

For a sneak peek at the paperback:


Filed under the book