In Memory of Neil Peart

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

Friday afternoon, I sat at my desk working at my computer, when my phone buzzed—a text from a friend. Normally I just keep working on what I’m doing and check messages when I’m done, but this time I decided not to wait.

“Hey man, did you hear the news about Neil?”

Oh, no. My heart sank. No way.

A quick Google search later confirmed my feelings of disbelief: Neil Peart, legendary drummer from the rock band RUSH, dead at 67.

I was stunned. I am still stunned. It took me all weekend to process this.

No, that just can’t be true!

Let’s rewind for a minute. We’ve sadly seen the deaths of many great artists these past few years, from Tom Petty to Prince. Now, while I have great respect for these musicians and the bodies of work they’ve produced, and I of course hated to hear that they had passed on, I didn’t feel any great sadness about any of these losses.

This time, though, I get it. In fact, I got it—a punch right to the gut and a hole ripped out of my heart, to be precise.

I’ve written about how I became acquainted, and later infatuated, with the band RUSH in a separate post. I don’t intend to reiterate any of that here. However, when one looks at the band RUSH as a whole, what they represented, and the ethos that drove them almost non-stop through their forty-plus year career—at the center of it all was Neil Peart.

RUSH existed before Neil joined the band. At the time, they were a three-piece rock band out of Toronto that had just cut their first album, which was very Led Zeppelin-esque with hard-rocking riffs and lyrics about girls (with a working-class song thrown in for good measure). Just as they were about to embark on their first big tour, then-drummer John Rutsey quit due to health issues.

Enter our hero.

Had circumstances not worked out the way they did—had John Rutsey stayed with the band, or had Neil continued to work at his father’s farm equipment shop and not auditioned, or had the band decided to go with someone else—I seriously doubt that RUSH would have gone on to do the great things they did.

You see, Neil brought two things to the band that they didn’t have prior: hard-hitting, precision drum technique; and imaginative, thought-provoking lyric-writing. Had it not been for these two ingredients, folks wouldn’t be air-drumming to “Tom Sawyer” or quoting lyrics like “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This in no way diminishes the contributions his bandmates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, made to the band—RUSH would not be RUSH without any of them. But when you look at the musical and philosophical genius that is RUSH, you look center stage at Neil Peart.

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

Neil Peart — Ghost Rider

I’m not a drummer, but I have admired Neil ever since I heard how he could hit the skins. He revolutionized the world of drumming with kits that almost completely surrounded him on stage, playing every component at some point during the show. And his technical mastery was unparalleled—he himself compared it to running a marathon and solving equations at the same time.

And his lyrics—once I started diving into them as an adolescent, my mind opened up. These weren’t your typical “hey baby wontcha come on over” kind of rock lyrics. These were lyrics about almost everything under the sun: science fiction, real science, relationships, philosophy, everyday life. In other words, his lyrics were about the world and how we relate to it and live in it. On the whole, they accept the reality that life is hard and painful (and sometimes downright cruel and evil), but remind the listener that dreams coupled with right action can be transformative.

For these reasons—among others—Neil was, and always will be, one of the few people whom I place on a pedestal. He strove for excellence in all that he did: drumming, lyric-writing, motorcycling, cooking, husband-ing and fathering. He lived no double lives, had no double standards. (In fact, he’s pretty candid about his flaws and foibles in his books—so he’s honest, too.) He inspired me to be a better human being. And I am forever grateful for it.

Love and respect are the values in life that most contribute to “the pursuit of happiness”—and after, they are the greatest legacy we can leave behind. It’s an elegy you’d like to hear with your own ears: “You were loved and respected.”

Neil Peart — Far and Away: A Prize Every Time

Because he lived such a private life, his passing came as a shock not only to me but also to the RUSH community and the rock community as a whole. Most everyone knew that he was through playing music after RUSH’s R40 tour in 2015; tendonitis made drumming painful for him, and he wouldn’t accept anything less than his best—so he quit altogether. But none of us fans had any clue that he had been battling brain cancer for the past three years. In fact, it was three days after his death before we heard the sad news (he passed on the 7th but it was not announced until the 10th).

I knew I had to write something about the impact Neil had on my life, and I soon found that I wasn’t alone. Folks from across the RUSH fan base and the music industry have penned beautiful eulogies, telling stories about how they met him, how he inspired them, and so on. Reading these tributes from other people has reinforced to me just how much of an impact he had on so many people—and that, I think, is something he should be respected for.

So, thank you, Neil. Thank you for all the music, the words, and the wisdom you’ve given the world for so long. Thank you for being a positive influence on young men who (like myself, and like yourself) often found themselves on the outside looking in, and for encouraging them that it’s okay to be that way (in fact, that it might even be cool to be that way).

And above all, thank you for having the courage to stay true to yourself and your convictions, while inspiring others to do the same.

I’ll conclude with a fitting quote from Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame….

He was called “The Professor” for a reason: We all learned from him.

Dave Grohl

And even in the wake of his passing, may we continue to do so.

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone

It’s Official…

Look at that shiny orange badge!

It’s official… my book is now officially ranked as the #1 New Release in the Consumer Guides category on Amazon. I’m amazed. I don’t like to brag, but I’m very proud of this accomplishment!

As you can also see in the image above, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t also got its first review… and five stars no less! It reads:

The prose is good, it reads well. It’s factually accurate, even when it touches on matters of opinion and taste. Does a good job of defining terms. I think it could give someone dealing with their computer good guidance, and enough, but not too much, confidence; it draws a well positioned line explaining where the reader should go for expert help.

That eloquently expresses the aim of this book. I’m glad the point got across, and I’m grateful for the review!

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you can do so by clicking on the buttons below. Currently, the Kindle and paperback versions aren’t linked, but this is something that usually takes a few hours (or days) to occur on Amazon. For the time being, the buttons below will take you to the respective product pages.

Enjoy! Until next time, onward and upward!

Bestseller Status!

Great news! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t now ranks #1 in three different categories on Amazon! This is very cool and something I did not expect at all. So, if you’ve helped it here by buying it or grabbing it for free, thank you!

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, I have good news. First, the Kindle version is free on Amazon again through tonight. Second, it’s now available in paperback! I know many people (myself included) like to have a physical copy, so here it is.

Currently, the Kindle and paperback versions aren’t linked, but this is something that usually takes a few hours to occur on Amazon. For the time being, click either of the buttons below to go to the respective product pages. Enjoy!

One-Thousand Downloads in One Day

Wow! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t got over one-thousand downloads on launch day. That’s pretty incredible, and way above and beyond my expectations. If you’ve downloaded a copy, thank you!

If you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, you can still get it for free today by clicking here. And please be sure to share this with your friends and family who are computer-challenged!

For those who want a paperback copy, I promise it’s coming soon! If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, follow this blog by clicking on the “Follow Matthew R. Baker” button on the right side of this page (or the bottom if you’re viewing on mobile) or join my email list, where you will also receive access to free bonus content from How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

Enjoy!

Want a Free Book about Computers?

It’s here! This weekend is your chance to snag a free Kindle copy of my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

All you need to do is click the button below!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t will be available for free through Saturday (February 2). Be sure to claim your copy and share this deal with your friends before it expires.

You can also sign up for my email list to gain access to the book’s bonus content and stay in the loop on future books and sales (I expect both in the near future!). I promise you no spam!

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

My First Book is Going Live (and Free)!

Steve Jobs once famously said, “Real artists ship.” What he meant was that any artist, be that a painter or a writer or a software developer, must put aside perfectionism and put their work out into the world.

I have finally shipped. How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is the product of over two months of writing, editing, and content-gathering preceded by a life of tinkering with technology.

This book is written for all users, but particularly for those who have trouble using or understanding computers. I’ve taken the technical knowledge of computers and translated it into simple English so everyone can understand what makes a computer tick. I’ve also distilled what I’ve learned from years of repairing and troubleshooting computers into The Seven Principles of Solving Problems that can be applied to any technical issue. In addition, I’ve provided guides with easy things you can do to keep your computer running smoothly and speedily, as well as things you should do if it’s not. Finally, I included a reference guide for buying a computer so that you can acquire exactly what you need without breaking the bank.

If all this sounds interesting to you, it gets better. I’m offering the Kindle version of How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t for free this weekend. When you sign up for my email list, you’ll receive an email with a link to the book on Amazon when the deal goes live.

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

If you’d like to read more about How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, head over to my book page. And be sure to sign up for my email list so you can be notified when the book goes live plus additional bonus content!

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

NaNoWriMo 2018

Today is the last day of November, which means that by 11:59PM local time tonight, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is officially over. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get authors to stop procrastinating and start writing their novels by giving them a word count goal (50,000 words) and a time period (the month of November, so 30 days) to get those words written.

This year, I unofficially participated in NaNoWriMo. I intended to start writing my novel in October and continue through November. Long story short, that didn’t happen. I spent October revising the characters and outline, things that needed to be done once I realized I had plot holes and a setting that needed more fleshing out. The good thing about that was I discovered new depths in my characters and created a better universe for them to live and breathe in, while adding and re-plotting several scenes.

November rolled around and I needed to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keys). I started my first full draft on November 5th and wrote on all but three or four days the rest of the month, racing after the 50,000-word goal. Most of the month I was behind because I started late, but Thanksgiving saved me because I had four consecutive days off and wrote over 10,000 words in that time.

I’m a numbers guy, so here are the statistics from my first NaNoWriMo:

  • November 5th – 15th: 20,649 words
  • November 15th – 24th: 21,077 words (41,726 words total)
  • November 24th – 30th: 9,368 words (51,094 words total)
  • Grand total: 51,094 words (+1,094 from target)
  • Daily word count for November (30 days): 1,703 words/day
  • Daily word count for actual days writing (~23 days): 2,221 words/day

My book is not quite done yet. I expect to write 15,000 – 20,000 more words before I’m through, and then it will be editing time, so the numbers will fluctuate. As I write, I make notes on things I want to add, remove, or change later, and these things will affect the final word count somewhat.

All that aside, I enjoyed my first (unofficial) NaNoWriMo and highly recommend it to any author. If you don’t want to wait until next year, pick a month and make it your month to write. The key is to set goals so you keep moving forward. Even though NaNo (abbreviation of an abbreviation there) is over, I’m still setting milestones for myself; my goal is to keep writing at the same rate and have the first draft completed before Christmas. (Yes, that’s a gift to myself.)

More to come in the near future. Stay tuned.

On Indelible Imprints: Novels

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Last week, I wrote a post called On Indelible Imprints: Music about some of the songs that had significantly shaped me and my musical tastes, to the extent that I could remember when and where I first heard them. This week is a continuation on that theme, this time for books, specifically novels, the other art form that has entertained me, inspired me and changed the way I think.

  1. The Hardy Boys mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon — Starting in first grade, I began checking out and reading the original series of Hardy Boys mystery novels, shelved in the children’s section of my church library (which is now a thing of the past, but that’s another story). Even now that I’m older, I can hardly think of a better series of books for young boys. Though antiquated, they still provide clean, wholesome, exciting entertainment.
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis — Around the time the Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out, Mom bought the whole Narnia series at the local Mardel and, over the coming months, Dad read them to me and Daniel every evening after supper. Great memories of a great series, complete with illustrations. What more can I say?
  3. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne — If there was ever a man ahead of his time, it was Jules Verne. He was writing about space travel and deep-sea diving before it was cool—no, he made it cool. I remember reading this adventurous novel while cooped up at my grandmother’s house in Wichita Falls during a very unadventurous (and deathly hot) summer. I reread it last year for kicks and still enjoyed it, vowing to read more of Verne’s works.
  4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien — Dad told me I had to read each book before he would let me see its corresponding movie, so over one summer I checked them out from the library and read through them. I was young enough to like the visuals the movie provided more than the books, but I think now that I’m older I’d appreciate the books more. Either way, it’s an incredible story (I’m especially fond of Frodo and Samwise’s undying loyalty to each other), and it’s no surprise that it’s inspired so many other fantasy writers.
  5. Mythology by Edith Wharton — I’m not a big mythology fan, but I had to read and annotate this for my ninth-grade English class. I at least gained more appreciation for some of the epic Greek and Roman tales, though unfortunately I had to study this book on a weekend vacation to San Antonio with my family.
  6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — Dickens isn’t the most fun to read. In fact, he can be pretty laborious with his sentences, and that turns a lot of readers off. (You have to remember, back in the day, he was paid by number of pages and installments, so he had to make some convoluted elocutions.) While I worked my way through what was, at the time, only a marginally interesting story, to me it was the ending that hooked me. No spoilers, but one word: sacrifice.
  7. Dracula by Bram Stoker — I’m not a fan of any modern vampire tales, but I am a big fan of Stoker’s classic. Ironically, my dad, who never reads, read this one and raved about how great it was. I picked it up and immediately understood why. I don’t categorize it as a horror novel so much as a suspense novel or a thriller. Of course, you can’t have suspense without some elements of horror, but it’s not the gritty, gruesome kind of stuff you see today. I want more books like this.
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père — This is the most epic tale I’ve read to date. It has it all: adventure, romance, betrayal, prison breaks, treasure hunts, revenge, murder, theft, blackmail—mostly in that order. It’s also a great tale of good and bad, and how easy it is to slide from the good end of the spectrum down to the bad end. It’s long, but it’s completely worth the read.
  9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — To date, this is the only Agatha Christie novel I’ve read (yes, it’s a travesty), but am I glad I read it. I started it on the return leg of a camping trip to Laredo, and couldn’t put it down. If you only read one thriller in your whole life, read this one. It’s as simple as that.
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy — I figured if I wanted to introduce myself to Russian literature, I’d might as well dive in head-first and tackle this epic work. I started it mid-December 2017, right before I graduated college, and finished it just over four months later in mid-April. My intention was to read it in a year (which could be done easily if you read just one chapter a day—there are 365 of them), but I found it hard to limit myself so I plowed ahead. This is not quite a novel, nor a history book, nor a philosophy book, but it has aspects of all three. It’s far from the easiest book to read, due to its length, number of characters, and time span (fifteen years), but if you’re interested in the Napoleonic Wars, the Russian Empire, or history told through real and imagined characters, it’s worth adding to your reading list. You can also read my writeup of War and Peace for more.

Of course there are more than these ten, and hopefully many more down the road. Maybe a part two or a list of non-fiction titles is in order. In fact, thinking as I write, I think I will compile an Indelible Imprints list of non-fiction books. Stay tuned.

The Birth of an Idea, and the Gestation of a Novel

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

— Chinese Proverb

Many months ago, an idea for a novel popped into my head, as sometimes happens. When that does happen, I usually jot a note down describing the plot, characters, and so forth, and shelve the idea for later. Sometimes, the ideas stay in the back of my mind, and make themselves known just often enough for me to remember them, even though I’ve written them down. This one idea, however, persisted, and persisted to the point that I had no choice but to flesh it out.

So, on September 17th, after stewing on the idea for a while, I called up a blank document and began outlining the story. I took the idea from fifteen-second synopsis to rough-hewn skeleton to blow-by-blow summary. Midway through this two-week process, I created some deadlines for myself. I would have my outline finished before October 1st, and have my first draft done before December 1st.

I’ve found in life that having deadlines forces me to get work done. I’m very deadline-averse. I hate working down to the wire. In school, deadlines motivated me more than grades. I was the kid who finished a project two weeks before it was due so that I had ample time to tweak it if needed, and plenty of free time if I didn’t.

It’s the same with writing. I finished my outline this past Friday the 28th (though there are still a few rough spots), and started the first draft on Saturday the 29th, two days ahead of schedule. I would have been ashamed of myself had it not happened that way.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a great way to write that 50,000-word novel you’ve been putting off forever. Instead of waiting another month to write (the idea is demanding to be fleshed out now!), I decided to play the game by my own rules and give myself two months to write the novel. I’m not shooting for a total word count, nor am I trying to meet a daily word quota; I’m simply working on it as much as I can every day. If it’s moving forward to completion, that’s what matters.

I don’t know how long the draft will take to revise, or even what will need to be revised once I finish drafting. I’ll come up with another deadline to beat when that time rolls around. Who knows how different the story will be then from what it is right now? I’ll put on the editor’s hat later, though. What matters now is that the story needs to be written, so I will write it.

As the work progresses, I will be releasing some tidbits, and they will be delicious. Without giving too much away at first, here is the first one, a picture that may tell a little about the plot and setting:

sand dangerous weapon gun
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This novel will be big, explosive, and entertaining, ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned.