Self-Publishing My Grandpa’s Memoir

In early September 2021, after more than 15 years on his end and one on mine, my grandpa and I published his life story, Moiety of a Gingerbread Man: A Rocket Scientist’s Memoir.

It was one of the most meaningful things I’ve been a part of thus far in my time here on the globe (even beating out my high scores on 3arcade in fourth grade), and for that I am immensely grateful.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Grandpa and I worked together to add new stories to, flesh out, organize, revise, re-revise, re-re-revise, and format the text until finally – and I do mean FINALLY! – it was ready for publication.

This project was simultaneously engaging and exhausting. I kept trying to motivate myself with “C’mon, it’s not rocket science!” and then remembering that it actually was rocket science, so that was an uphill battle.

It was worth it, though. Not only did I learn how to self-publish, but also I earned my bachelor’s degree in Rocket Science. I am now fully capable of building functional rockets that can go to Mars and back before you can say some really long sentence that takes at least 5 minutes to say. Also, I know what calculus is.

Did I Mention He’s Blind?

Grandpa lives in Texas and I in NC, so my involvement was entirely remote, which… presented some challenges. Lol.

My grandpa can’t see well – he’s legally blind – so some days consisted of me trying to explain to him how to enable accessibility features (which I’d learned about 5 minutes prior on Google) on his computer so Word would read aloud or stop making everything highlight in gray. It was a lot like I was an IT technician based in India, except that (or especially that?) I sometimes had no idea what he was talking about.

Further, I didn’t even have my own copy of Word at the time, because my big brain thought I could save some $$$ and do it all in Google Docs. (You can do an ebook there, for sure, but are limited with paperbacks.)

Luckily, my mom came to the rescue in those scenarios a fair amount. For that, I say thank you!

Oral Tradition is the New Black

Since typing and reading on the screen is difficult for Grandpa, he often (though not always) opted to send audio accounts instead. Yee old oral tradition. I’d play them in VLC Media Player and toggle the speed anywhere from -2x to +2x in order to keep pace. (My grandpa speaks with long pauses and then 3 sentences in one breath, see.)

I solicited help from my boyfriend in this area. After logging hours and hours of work manually decoding and click-clacking away, I got aggravated that he hadn’t been doing the same. So what did he do next? In a fraction of the time I’d been working, this turd burglar found a software online that uses AI to automatically convert mp3 files to text. “Work smarter not harder” in action – I wanted to kill him. I’d been toiling away! That said, those files required extensive revisions, because robots just aren’t there yet. (Whew!) With follow-up work, each section slowly shaped up into its final form.

Grandpa’s Nightmare

Through the process, email became our playground. In an email trail with hundreds of exchanges, this was my favorite:

From: Grandpa Larry
To: Melanie Lech
July 31, 2021

Second to that would be my grandpa’s email correspondences with his old rocket scientist pals. They use shorthands and make typos when they’re off the clock just like us Grogs! Well, maybe they just do that because they’re old, but I’m still letting it boost my ego.

A Road Map

As much for my sake as for the readers’, one of the first things I did while editing was split the text into more digestible sections. Much of the science was so dense, you could easily get lost in it. This improved readability by approx. 300%. With his feedback and approval, I broke Grandpa’s book down from 8 or so chapters into 12 main chapters with numerous subsections each – some as many as 51!

I would 100% recommend this to anyone writing nonfiction. It became much easier then to organize the stories within each chapter and move certain parts to entirely different chapters they fit better into.

Plus, it suited the vignette style of the memoir.

Things I Learned:
  • The enormous differences between setting up a paperback vs. an ebook in MS Word and beyond
  • Self-publishing through Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital
  • A million things about rocket science, some of which I retained, some of which immediately left my airspace
  • Finicky grammar rules of days past
  • All about ISBNs & Bowker’s essential monopoly on them
  • How to file a copyright
  • Benefits of wide vs. exclusive releases
  • How freakin’ hard it is and long it takes to write a book!!
Things I Felt:
  • Like there was no light at the end of the tunnel
  • Like I would surely implode
  • Proud of myself
  • Impressed with myself
  • Absolutely astounded by myself 😆
  • Agonizing brain pain trying to understand thermodynamics
  • Like punching 18 walls, one for each time I thought I was completely done and then had to redo something all over again
  • Like I really got to know my grandfather, his values, and his purpose
My Favorite Story

My grandpa has some pretty amusing stories from his childhood. One of my favorites recounts an early invention attempt of his to make a diver suit. It’s got drama! It’s got zaniness! It’s got floating logs! It’s really just a fascinating insight into who he was and how obvious it was that he was destined to become an engineer.

About Moiety of a Gingerbread Man

Here’s the lowdown about the text – our book blurb, as they call it:

You might know the old adage – “Curiosity almost blew the cat’s eye out.” Is that how it went?

Moiety of a Gingerbread Man: A Rocket Scientist’s Memoir follows Larry Wm. Carlson’s story as he went from poor Minnesotan boy to prominent engineer and rocket scientist for NASA, Rocketdyne, National Bureau of Standards and Argonne National Labs.

With insights into the shady dealings and stupidity behind the scenes at some of America’s biggest aerospace operations and historical events (Apollo missions, Reagan at Reykjavík, Star Wars, Three Mile Island, Carter’s DOE, the dawn of the computer era), Moiety relates a lifetime’s worth of lessons and knowledge that refutes lies told to the public.

Select chapters feature descriptions of experiments and projects throughout Carlson’s 40-year career, including development of the United States’ first chemical laser weapons systems (MIRCLE, design influence on ALPHA, Star Wars mainstay weapon system), sodium cooled nuclear reactors, Magnetohydrodynamics and Experimental Breeder Reactor facilities, NutraSweet production increase, and others.

Defining memories and curious vignettes from Carlson’s personal life offer advice and heed warnings. A father’s advice led to a vocation. A childhood folly led to a lifetime disability. A disability led to a door.

History, science, and even mysticism come together in this memoir of a man who could conceptualize, design, and build massive nuclear test facilities, but never quite keep his mouth shut.

A thermodynamicist in the 1960s-80s with seven patents, Carlson leaves his unfinished invention literature open to his readers.

What do you think? PRETTY COOL, right?

Where to Buy a Copy

To purchase a copy, visit https://books2read.com/larrycarlson or buy a paperback on Amazon.

The most important thing to my grandpa is that his story gets out to the public. The money is secondary. He has thus been generous enough to allow me to keep all of the profits made from selling his book. So on both a personal and financial level – I am so appreciative of your support!

That said, I too am committed to sharing his story as well, so if you find yourself in a bad place financially but really want to read it, I will send you a free ebook.

Purchase an ebook here: https://books2read.com/larrycarlson or order a paperback on Amazon.

Moiety of a Gingerbread Man: A Rocket Scientist’s Memoir contains adventurous and amusing stories, but it also shares his knowledge, insights, and crucial advice to younger generations from an engineering perspective that people need to hear.

Please help us spread the word about the text to anyone you know who’d be interested. I’m still figuring out the ropes of PR, as it so happens!

For press release and photos, email me at Lechmc1@gmail.com.

Unboxing Video
September 2, 2021 – The exciting news!!! 😁😁📚📚🚀🚀
Resources

Finally, if you’re interested in self-publishing your own book, check these out!

These go over some of the smallest, most aggravating steps of self-publishing, like different left and right page headings, index section page numbers vs. regular page numbers, “section breaks” and “continuous breaks,” inserting drop caps, proper use of headings and indentation tools to ensure uniformity throughout your book, starting each chapter on a right-side page, setting up and modifying an epic table of contents with hyperlinks, mirror margins, the list goes on…

Thanks for reading (this and Moiety)! Cheers.

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