Turtle Party!

I am lucky enough to work near Caltech, a beautiful campus that is perfect for a lunchtime stroll. In the ponds of its Japanese garden, there once were frogs, crayfish, carp, and turtles. Now there are only carp and turtles – and no one is talking about what happened to the others. If you stand near the sign that says “Do Not Feed the Animals”, many of the turtles will flock to you in anticipation of getting fed. (Apparently turtles are not the only ones who can’t read.)

Below are some of the turtles on a typical sunny day.

Turtle fun in the sun.

Turtle fun in the sun.

The party at its climax.

The party at its climax.

A recent WP Photo Challenge topic was “Community”.

Felines: No Two Alike!

I’ve known many cats through my life, and although they share important characteristics, each remains unique. I love them all and have been well- and long-trained to understand that cats are the master race!

Arrow (center) is incapable of moving slowly.

Arrow (center) is incapable of moving slowly, and most photos of her are blurry.

Luna likes to lounge on a skylight - with difficulty, because the surface is convex. At some point, inevitably, he will relax too much and slide off.

Luna likes to lounge on a skylight – with difficulty, because the surface is convex. At some point, inevitably, he will relax too much and slide off.

Bop loves to help me with chores such as organizing paperwork.

Bop loves to help me with chores such as organizing paperwork.

Bo and Leo hang out together but could not be more different. For Bo, life seems a series of disappointments, while Leo is gratitude incarnate: he purrs when you touch him; he purrs when he eats; he purrs as he walks around.

Bo and Leo hang out together but could not be more different. For Bo, life seems a series of disappointments, while Leo is gratitude incarnate: he purrs when you touch him; he purrs when he eats; he purrs as he walks around.

The WP Photo Challenge wants to see “one”.

Critters, Co-Existing

I love to discover creatures who are not pets in the spaces that humans pretend to claim – although the experience is always bittersweet, because it reminds me of how invasive my species can be.

Walking Stick on a sidewalk in Pasadena, California.

Walking Stick on a sidewalk in Pasadena, California.

Toad on a walkway, Punta Gorda, Florida.

Toad on a walkway, Punta Gorda, Florida.

Gecko on a restaurant wall at breakfast-time, Punta Gorda, Florida.

Gecko on a restaurant wall at breakfast-time, Punta Gorda, Florida.

Apparently geckos are omni-urnal (?). Here is one on the wall of an outdoor bar, late one evening, also in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Apparently geckos are omni-urnal (?). Here is one on the wall of an outdoor bar, late one evening.

Green Lynx spider on a wall outside my house.

Green Lynx spider on a wall outside my house.

Sidewinder leaving a trail in Griffith Park, CA: hauling ass to escape from all the hikers trying to snap photos and otherwise ogle it.

Rattlesnake fleeing a trail in Griffith Park, California: hauling ass to escape from the numerous hikers and mountain bikers who have stopped to snap photos or otherwise ogle it.

Young alligator fleeing our car in Arcadia, Florida.

Young alligator fleeing our car in Arcadia, Florida.

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is to show “one”.

Among Many, A Search for One

The Gulf Coast of Florida (and surely, many other locations) has beaches where fossil shark teeth are abundant. My young nephews collect pails full of them! (That is my idea of a fun vacation: planted at the ocean, sifting shells and sand to hunt treasures.) On a brief recent visit to a beach near Venice, Florida, I spent about an hour on one of those beaches and made some amazing finds!

There, see all those fossil teeth?

There, see all those fossil teeth?

Actually, you need to look more closely. Be prepared to be distracted by all the amazing shell fragments!

Actually, you need to look more closely. Be prepared to be distracted by all the amazing shell fragments!

Sometimes a tooth sits on the surface in an obvious manner but usually you will need to sift the shells, a handful at a time.

Sometimes a tooth sits on the surface in an obvious manner but usually you will need to sift the shells, a handful at a time.

The results of my hour of searching, discovered one tooth at a time.

The results of my hour of searching, discovered one tooth at a time.

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is to show “one”.

For Non-Traditional Christmas Musicologists (?), Two Gems

When I was a kid, my father ignored neighbors’ comments for weeks each December, when he blasted tinny Christmas recordings from a speaker in our garage, making the music kind of seem to come from the illuminated plastic carolers in the garage window.

As an adult, I admire my dad’s ability to ignore the opinions of others, but I struggle with Christmas music – with the exception of Phil Spector’s Xmas album, and these two splendid pieces.

The Pogues – Fairytale in New York

“I could have been someone.
Well so could anyone.”

What a song for an audience singalong! (You won’t learn the lyrics by listening to Shane deliver them here, but if you would like to join in, click here for a version with lyrics laid out.)

The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

“I couldn’t let them off that easy.”

This video approaches genius.

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!

An Unexpected Etching

Twice a week, the exercise class I have attended for years meets under a certain freeway overpass. The other day, I discovered a note scrawled in the concrete. I had never noticed it before. Now, I have a long history of not noticing stuff, but when I asked around, nobody else had previously noticed it either. Perhaps we are all oblivious, or perhaps the message is an indication of intense longing, sufficient to carve long-dry concrete.

I LOVE ART BERMUDEZ.

I LOVE ART BERMUDEZ. Note the final curl to the final letter, rendering a heart from the Z.

Note the final curl to the final letter, rendering a heart from the Z.

I don’t know anyone by that moniker, but man do I love that nameArturo Bermudez. I can guarantee that one of my novels will include a character by that name. In fact I am tempted to use this for a character in my fantasy detective series, FRAMES. The character is currently named Hernandez.

What am I thinking? FRAMES is finished and in revisions! To change a character’s name is to change the character; to ditch “Hernandez” at this point would be a kind of murder. And I love Hernandez. Everyone who has read the book loves Hernandez.

I do look forward to meeting the fictional Arturo Bermudez soon; probably in book two of FRAMES. Meanwhile, I hope the concrete scribe and the real-world Art are doing well, together or no.

(The current WP Photo Challenge wants to see “unexpected”.)