Happy Birthday to us!

With this issue of My Mac Magazine we are 50 issues young. I hope you will pardon us if we pat ourselves on the back just a little. It’s no mean feat to be around on the Internet that length of time. Internet years are similar to dog years: to get a more accurate reading, one should multiply the number of months times seven. Hmm, let me see now, that would make our ezine about 29 years old. In the fast paced Internet arena, nothing seems to last too long. Many of the original Macintosh ezines have faded away and, although they have been replaced by newer Mac-centric ezines, I believe My Mac Magazine has done more than a few things right.

Just as Steve Jobs was the original guiding light for Apple and has rejuvenated the company with his return, so too has this publication had its own visionary. Our publisher, Tim Robertson, is the Steve Jobs of our ezine world. He has been the life and spirit that has raised this electronic magazine to the heights and success it has achieved. He has also had the foresight to bring on board editors, writers, artists, web designers and a host of talented contributors with imagination and an underlying love of all things Macintosh. If Tim is the life and spirit, then the talented contributors are the meat and potatoes. Somewhere in there you will find me. I guess you could call me the ham of the group.

What follows is a rather lengthy dissertation on how I got from “there” to “here”. Some may find it of interest and, although it may not have the panache of fiction, it does have the candor of reality. I was not a professional writer, or at least not prior to My Mac Magazine days. Although I wrote “stories”, none were officially published. Given my love of the craft, I suppose I should have pursued my writing aspirations, but I did not. Writing became an on again, off again hobby. At times, it would result in voluminous product; at other times, months might pass with nary a dangling participle needing correction. Finally, to encourage more company spirit at the firm where I was employed, I decided to start a company newsletter. Armed with my ClarisWorks assistant, I issued my first edition. Interestingly enough, the most encouraging response was from my boss, The Chief. He could understand why I had chosen this venue and that there was a need for it in the organization. He backed me up with praise and more encouragement. A mercenary person might have suggested “Don’t thank me, buy me something”, but I was quite content with the praise and challenge.

As a youngster, I was always interested in stories. My mother would often reminisce about my early years when she would recite fairy tales while I would listen in rapt attention. Like many children, I would not tolerate any deviation to the story line. If Red Riding Hood visited her grandmother and the wolf disguised as granny would answer her questions, he would have to answer them in the correct sequence. I would get quite upset if my mother changed the sequence of events. In fairy tales, I was obviously a traditionalist.

When I was in my pre-teens, I was fascinated with books and the library was a favorite haunt. I read voraciously and recall a particular favorite series called Freddy the Talking Pig. Little did I know that years later the movie Babe would very closely imitate those charming barnyard adventures. Later, I discovered another series that tweaked my interest, The Hardy Boys. After the first book, I was not happy until I had read the complete series which numbered almost thirty and was growing each year. Having read most of the Hardy Boys adventures, my next goal was to acquire all the books so that I would have my own personal collection.

Alas, that treasured collection has disappeared. My personal view on the mysterious disappearance is as interesting as any of the mysteries solved by Frank and Joe Hardy, but that will have to wait for another article. It was those engaging stories that initiated my scribbling, always in long hand and always in my thick, lined work book. My series was about the Adventure Boys who were made up of three chums named Tim, who was the main character and, of course, my alter ego, and Ted and Doug, my two best friends.

At first, my stories were short in both length and size of page. Let me explain. I devised my own format. I would cut a sheet of letter size paper in half so that I had a 5 1/2″ high x 8 1/2″ wide page. Since I had no means of binding the edges, I used two loose rings to hold together the assembled pages plus a cardboard front and back cover. The story would be hand printed on the right side and, on the facing page, I would sketch some action or plot development. Storylines would run approximately 20 pages, for a total of forty, if you counted the illustrations.

The Adventure Boys would experience their sagas in the cowboy west, the jungles of Brazil, or in hometown Stoney Creek. I went so far as to lay out a plot plan of the town and its environs, showing many of the locations of their adventures. They had all the fun and mystery of the Hardy Boys with the added bonus that they were three. In time, I graduated to a full length novel, also featuring my three heroes. That blockbuster story I called “Crime on Wheels”, and the action took place in nearby Centre City. The plot line told of a group of teenagers involved in car theft and how the Adventure Boys helped the police break up the ring.

Perhaps the greatest mystery in all my stories was how my heroes, who were, after all, teenagers, could afford to travel the world and become so chummy with big city police authorities. But then, my goal was to spice the adventure with fun, mystery and suspense, and lack of realism be hanged. Apparently, my most recent fiction on My Mac Magazine has not deviated from that dogma.

In order to appear more professional, at least in my own eyes, I talked my parents into buying me a used typewriter. It was a refurbished Underwood but it was new to me. When you depressed the keys on that baby, your fingers dropped more than an inch and resulted in a sharp clack. No semi-silent operation here, but I loved that machine almost as much as I would my future SE-30. Now I had a new challenge: how to put together a real book. I took the easy way. I simply folded all letter size sheets in half and used the resulting four pages as manuscript pages. That is where, after the story proper was completed, I typed my story. Can you imagine the difficulty of keeping track of pagination? For instance, the first folded letter size sheet would be the cover, followed by page 2, followed, depending on the length of the novel, by page 100 then 101. Each folded sheet would be inserted into the centre of the main body. There would be no clean cut edges with my home made books, but it made me feel like quite the author to actually see my work in “print”.

When not writing about my heroic trio, I regaled my friends at our rustic summer cottage with off-the-cuff stories. They seemed genuinely interested and this, needless to say, egged me on. There is no intoxication more potent then the flattery of your peers. On a recent get-together this past Christmas with some of these same friends I had to boast of writing articles for My Mac Magazine. They were not surprised. I only hope I have grown, at least in plot and characterization.

Throughout high school, the class I enjoyed most was English Composition. I tried to instill in those writing projects something unique, and sometimes a touch of the bizarre. It was an enjoyable task and not the drudgery that algebra and geometry seemed to be. In post secondary education, while studying Architectural Drafting, English Literature class piqued my curiosity and I began to read the classics I had missed during high school.

Ironically, during my beginning years in the work force as a draftsman, I would be working with squares, rectangles and circles, utilizing that geometric drudgery every working day. At that time, writing became a part time hobby reserved for weekends and midnight sessions. That was when I wrote “the novel.” In a writing time span of epic proportions, the cliched plot of a young man finding himself was less than epic, even while the author aged well beyond youth. It now lies in a locked briefcase hidden away in an airless bedroom closet, the faded typewritten sheets a testament to the days before personal computers.

Writing for this magazine has made me develop a regular work regimen. Often my story ideas will start with a simple title. A title encapsulates the story, plot line, and the theme I want to develop. Writing comes easily to me. I rarely have a mental block and usually just let the ideas flow. Don’t get me wrong, what I write is not cast in stone. No matter how many times I read my finished article, I always find something to change, rearrange, add or cut out. The secret is to know when to stop. I don’t profess to say I have solved that dilemma, but I’m working on it.

Story ideas can develop in a variety of ways. Let me give you an example of how one of my story/articles was born. My wife and I are ardent tea drinkers and have been for years. Several months back, as I was preparing our nightly tea, nothing exotic, just regular orange pekoe, I had added sugar to my mug and started to stir when the spoon tapped the walls of the mug and made a tinkling sound. I thought suddenly how appropriate that sound was to the calm tea drinking ritual. It also reminded me of wind chimes and conjured visions of the East and China, in particular. The Chinese seem to value natural things. They entwine the principle of being one with nature into their everyday lives. I like the way they are appreciative of simple sounds like the chirping of a cricket or the sound of gurgling water. Immediately I thought that “tea cup chimes” would be a perfect title for one of my articles. I added it to my list of possible future articles. Yes, I have a list of titles, a long list that varies but usually has a minimum of ten or so. In time, I will add a short synopsis to the title and enlarge on my notes. It is not unlikely that I will be actively writing several stories at one time. At present, I have 5 articles, in various stages of preparedness, including the one you are reading. I believe that this is one reason that I keep interested in what I am writing. I can switch from one to another or carry on and complete another, if I so desire.

Possibly, the most difficult part of writing fiction for this publication is to include a Mac or computer angle. I sometimes choose to challenge myself by picking a subject that may be far removed from what the reader would normally expect. The surprise is a bonus. The Tea Cup Chimes story, I felt, had to take place in China. Again, I was stretching myself as to plot and the Mac angle. I have never been to China, although my wife has, and I would have to do some research (thank God for the Net). I requested help from a colleague of my wife’s, who is Chinese, to suggest several authentic Chinese names that I could use for my characters. I also wanted to know how to say apple in Chinese. The Mac angle forced me to think of how to introduce the computer into the plot. To ease that transition, I thought of having apple trees play an important link in the story. The apple tree idea led me to rethink the title. I decided to change it from, “Tea Cup Chimes” to “Apple Blossoms” which became the final title of my March article.

The premier rule of writing is to write about what you know. Apparently I was ‘winging it’ more than a good writer should, so I included some hard facts that I knew were authentic and topical for my story. The Richmond suburb of Vancouver has a very large Chinese immigrant population. My sister-in-law and her family also live there and from them, I learned many interesting facets about the newcomers. The UBC campus, which is relatively close by, also has one of the most scenic university locations anywhere. We always include the grounds as part of our favorite drives whenever we visit Vancouver. The Okanagan valley of British Columbia is one of the most fertile apple growing areas in the world and so it was logical to include that in the plot. The integration of these points helped to add a tangible as well as interesting depth to the overall story.

My articles would be far less readable if it were not for my wife’s invaluable help in correcting my spelling, grammar, and awkward phrasing prior to sending it in for our magazine’s fine editors to peruse. I owe her and them many thanks for making me appear almost literate.

I hope you enjoyed this jaunt down my personal memory lane. I’ve tried to touch on my writing style, if I have one, and to keep it entertaining. I also wanted to leave an aura of mystery about myself that will keep you guessing as much about me as about what I write.

Ralph J. Luciani

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