Month: March 2017

Missing the “B”

Have a close look at these two images and see if you can spot a significant difference between them.

The Nexus corrected

Image #1

 

The Nexus

Image #2

OK, the title and the author’s name are a lighter colour in #1, but that isn’t it. No, it’s the typo in the subtitle. “A portal to the Herert West Series.” A typo on a cover image! A cover image designed by the author herself, i.e., moi.

AAARGH!

I published this short story in September — six whole months ago — and didn’t notice that error until last night, when I ran across the cover image on some website. I was admiring how all the elements worked together, when I saw it. “Herert,” not “Herbert.” I messed up the name of the main character of my series. How bad is that?

I’ve seen typos on other authors’ cover images or in their book listings, with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Look how that poor schmuck screwed up! Haste makes waste. Ha, ha!”

OK, it could have been worse; at least the typo isn’t in the actual title or the author’s name. And the font I used for the subtitle is called Sacramento, described as “a monoline, semi-connected script.” It’s pretty, but barely legible in thumbnails and other small images. At least I spelled everything correctly in the book’s listings in ebook stores. Maybe most people don’t bother to enlarge cover images and scrutinize them.

I have, of course, corrected the error and uploaded the corrected image to the relevant sites. But it takes a while for a change to trickle through the internet, and quite a few copies were downloaded before I found the mistake. Which means the flawed image is still out there, waiting to be noticed.

I did manage to find a couple of positives in this irritating little situation:

First, it’s a reminder to pay attention. Always double, triple and quadruple check the spelling of titles, subtitles, author names and any other text that appears on a cover. Whether it was designed by you, a friend or a professional designer — before you approve it, check, check, check!

Second, those error-bearing covers may become valuable rarities sought by collectors, sort of like postage stamps with a monarch’s head printed upside down. “Ah yes, the rare ‘Herert’ edition. Very few exist.” Well, maybe if I become posthumously famous. You never know.

A Slow Spring

Calendar spring has arrived, but the real thing is still peeking around the curtain, trying to decide when to make its appearance. We’ve gone from cold to cool, but haven’t arrived at warm.

And that’s fine with me. No, really! I’ve always found spring to be an anxiety-producing season. So much to do and not enough time in which to do it, never mind savour and observe. Weeds to weed, plants to plant, seeds to seed. And grass to mow.

Last spring — my first as a job-free (i.e., retired) person — came on fast and hot. Right from the start, I felt I had missed the garden bus with no hope of catching up. The weirdness of  leaving my years-long work routines, combined with hot (30 C, 86 F) days in May threw me off balance. I found myself shelving ambitious plans for the garden and improvising.

This year is different. I’ve worked through most of my Things to Prune list and made good progress on the Plants to Move one. I’ve seeded half a dozen perennials (inside) and of course the tomatoes. Most of them are starting to sprout. Tomatoes aside, it’s been years since I bothered growing new plants from seed.

Finding literally hundreds of hellebore seedlings around one of my mature plants, I potted up a few dozen. Hellebores do quite well here, so my plan is to make them more of a feature in a couple of beds, replacing plants that are struggling. The parent plant is a rather dark, smoky purple; it will be interesting to see what colours its offspring produce.

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These cool, often cloudy days are perfect for doing strenuous stuff in the garden, such as digging up perennials and moving them to new, supposedly better spots. Preparing the new spots, of course, usually involves cutting and removing part of the network of tree roots that lurks just below the surface.

I also have a lot of compost to distribute — shovel into wheelbarrow, shovel out over the ground. (When I think about it, compost is an awful lot of work — rake up the leaves and stuff, pile it up, poke it and turn it, and finally shovel as above, probably returning much of the material — in a decomposed state, of course — pretty much to where it started from. Nature probably laughs at gardeners).

In between all these efforts, it’s good to wander around and see what the plants are up to. That, after all, is the reward.

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Euphorbia myrsinites

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Iris unguicularis

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Arum italicum

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Guest Author: Audrey Driscoll – Weird rabbits…

Sue Vincent invited me to contribute a post to her estimable blog, so I wrote this.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

A while ago it occurred to me that when humans become extinct, unless aliens arrive on Earth to dig up and appreciate our music, art and writing, it will become meaningless. The animals that survive our presence on this planet will never read our books, sing our songs or admire our creations, even though vines may festoon our sculptures and birds nest among their twining stems.

Culture, I thought, is unique to us. Then, for some reason, I remembered those weird rabbits.

What rabbits?

Near the end of Part I of the late Richard Adams’s wonderful book, Watership Down, the band of homeless rabbits comes across a warren whose inhabitants display peculiar behaviours. They practice complicated etiquette, recite poetry and make things they call Shapes by pushing pebbles into burrow walls. It turns out this warren is managed by a nearby farmer. He protects it from predators and delivers…

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Tool Review: Pole Pruner

I’ve been doing a lot of pruning around the place lately, and had a substantial brush pile for pickup on our recent Compost Day.

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Most of the pruning and trimming was done either with feet on ground or from an 8-foot-tall stepladder. Not, unfortunately, one of those elegant three-legged numbers used by professionals, but an orange fiberglass and aluminum one intended for the handy homeowner. In most places it worked well, and is just light enough that I can lug it around and position it properly.

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My cutting tools — secateurs, loppers and scimitar-shaped pruning saw — also worked as expected. Near the end of the job, I tackled a relatively small but (when fully leafed out) shade-creating branch of the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). I had an idea I could remove it by deploying the pole pruner. Most of the time, this tool stands unused in a corner of the shed. Once more I have been reminded why.

In theory, it’s a marvellous thing — a 5-and-a-half-foot-long telescoping pole that may be extended to 10 or so feet, with both a clipper and a saw blade at the end. The clipper is operated by pulling on a long cord (wrapped around the pole when not in use, as in the photo) that works a spring-loaded device attached to a blade-and-hook arrangement similar to that found on loppers. The gardener may stand on the ground (or, if desperate and daring, on a ladder) and cut otherwise unreachable branches. In theory.

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Slick, eh? Except the damned thing is virtually unusable, especially when fully extended. For one thing, it’s fairly heavy, with the cutting equipment on the end accounting for a good portion of that weight. It’s hard to finagle the hook over a branch at the correct angle and then hold the tool with one hand while pulling the cord with the other. The cord is long and hard to manage. The cutter can’t easily cut branches thicker than half an inch in diameter. That leaves the saw blade, which is about 9 inches long, but it’s impossible to saw a branch that’s bobbing up and down and can’t be held steady because it’s out of reach. Thus the saw is usable only to cut branches fairly close to a trunk or thick branch.

My pole pruner gets a one-star rating — or, if you prefer, a multi-#*%! rating.

To anyone who has been contemplating a pole pruner as a solution for pruning out of reach vegetation, I would say — don’t. At least not a heavy two-tools-in-one thing like mine. I think I’ve seen pruning saw blades attached to long wooden poles, which are probably a lot lighter. The limitations I’ve already noted would still apply, though. All in all, I would recommend a good ladder, and if that won’t do the trick, note the real problem branches and hire a professional to deal with them.

Holly Hell

I have at least three sizable English hollies (Ilex aquifolium) on my modest patch of land. Maybe more than three; they may be multi-trunked or actually two or three plants growing close together. A next door neighbour who moved away some years ago told me his place was surrounded by a holly hedge at one time. Knowing how birds spread the seeds around, I’m betting my plants are descended from that hedge.

Many people really like holly. Gardeners in cold-winter areas bemoan not being able to grow it and wish they could. Having lived and worked with these plants, I’m not so sure.

“Worked with” means pruned them, handled the prunings, raked up their dead leaves or encountered them while weeding or planting.

Hollies can become small trees — if by “small” you mean 25 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. They have a habit of branching low on their trunks, and unless one makes a point of crawling under and removing the lowest branches, they get up to all kinds of mischief. I have found thin, whippy branches 6 to 8 feet long hanging down and rooting where they touch the soil. Left to themselves, they would become new holly bushes, thickening the thicket, so to speak.

Hollies are, of course, broadleaf evergreens, so a large plant casts considerable year-round shade. Other plants growing near the hollies are susceptible to being shaded out of existence or engulfed by ever-expanding holly foliage. Unless the gardener has space for such expansion, and wants a tall, impenetrable hedge, it’s necessary to prune and trim every couple of years to keep the plants within bounds. The good news is that hollies can endure severe pruning, so a gardener doesn’t have to fret about doing it wrong. Lop away!

And now the bad news — holly leaves are intensely prickly. Each leaf has several spines along its margin. Even fallen leaves are a menace to the leaf-raking gardener wearing thin gloves or no gloves at all. Burrowing into a holly thicket or crawling under low branches to cut out any with rooting ambitions is an exercise in masochism, as is gathering up and lugging the cut branches. I have little pink prickle marks all over my hands and wrists — and I was wearing gloves!

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Skeletonized holly leaf, with spines intact!

Despite all this, hollies are undeniably attractive, in a dark, prickly way. The red berries borne on the female plants add a festive zing (and, of course, birds love ’em and distribute the seeds far and wide). A gardener without a holly bush who wants one should probably acquire a named variety rather than go with the species, which tends to be overly vigorous. Many cultivars are available, offering a range of sizes, colours (including variegated) and degrees of hardiness.

A large holly can support climbers such as clematis, whose blooms — especially the lighter colours — look good against the dark foliage. One of my hollies hosts a Clematis armandii, which looks wonderful when in full bloom. Of course this complicates the pruning business considerably, so a clematis that can be cut down every spring, such  as one of the Viticella types, would be a better choice.

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Clematis armandii and holly

 

 

 

Read an E-book Week (2)

Read an Ebook Week continues at Smashwords through Saturday. Here Edeana Malcolm tells Kindle owners how to load Smashwords books. Don’t miss out on all the great books available (including Edeana’s and mine).

My Writing Eden

How to download a Smashwords book to a Kindle reader

Don’t be held captive by Amazon. Sure it’s more convenient to buy e-books direct from Amazon, but this week you can get some really good book deals at Smashwords. For some reason, Amazon won’t take books from Smashwords. They prefer exclusivity, so writers have to publish directly.

Don’t worry. You can still benefit from the Smashwords promotion. As I promised yesterday, here are the instructions on how to download a Smashwords book to your Kindle or Kindle Fire.

First find the book you want at Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com

How do I download books to my Kindle or Kindle Fire?
You’ll find links to all your purchased books in your Smashwords Library. There are two options for loading Smashwords ebook content to your Kindle or Kindle Fire:

1.  USB Connection.  Plug your Kindle into the USB slot (small rectangular slot)…

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Forging the Draft

In a recent post I moaned about how hard it is to undertake the enormous job of imagining a novel and turning it into readable prose. Since writing that post, I’ve also written several thousand words of my work in progress — new, freshly imagined stuff. At this stage, forward motion is crucial. This isn’t the time to worry about choosing the right words and avoiding the wrong ones, the niceties of grammar or whether elastic bandages were used in 1962. I have to keep that pen moving, writing down what I see my characters doing and saying, as though I’m transcribing the action in a movie, while maintaining the intended narrative voice. Anything I need to check or go back and work out later, I note as such and keep going. Quick, dirty and fast.

This first trip through my plot is like walking a tightrope across a chasm. Standing around admiring the view isn’t going to get me to the other side.

Once I have the bare bones laid down, I’ll go back and fill in, rearrange, add and delete stuff, and generally whip that scene or section into shape. But at this point I don’t intend to get mired in trying to achieve perfection. It’s more important to move on to the next scene or chapter, keeping the goal in mind: finish the first draft.

In On Writing, Stephen King says to write your first draft behind a closed door. Don’t show it to anyone. After it’s done, stash it away for a couple of months before you look at it again. I’ve seen similar advice from other writers and indeed, that’s pretty much how I wrote my first five novels.

For some reason, I haven’t managed to do that with the current work in progress. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer using my subterranean (i.e., basement) writing room. My current writing spot has way too many distractions that make it too easy to avoid the tough work of intense imagining with pen in hand.

Manuscript SWCF

Pen? Yes, I still write the first draft with a pen, on paper. My semi-legible scribble makes it hard to start fiddling with stuff I’ve just written, almost inevitable when the words are displayed in stark clarity on the screen. But I don’t consider a chapter or scene to be properly first-drafted until the completed handwritten pages are transcribed — with changes, of course — into electronic form.

Contrary to King’s excellent advice, I’ve resorted to sending freshly written chunks of my WIP for discussion at my critique group’s monthly meetings. Why? To create an external deadline and a sense of urgency. So far, it’s working. This work has been “in progress” for more than two years, with no progress at all until the past three months.

There are other ways to induce writer urgency — the Write or Die app, for example. I haven’t used it, but I understand you can set it to nuke whatever you’ve written if you don’t keep banging those keys until you achieve a specific word count. (So don’t indulge in too much liquid refreshment during a writing session).

Post header image courtesy of Pixabay

 

Book Rocks

No, not “books rock” (even though they do). This is about stones.

I started reading at meals as a kid. Food and reading seem made for each other — both are at least potentially pleasurable activities, depending on the quality of what is being consumed.

Thing is, it’s hard to read while eating if your book refuses to stay open. (This, incidentally, is one area in which ebooks have an advantage over print). Some sort of weight is required, and pressing tableware into service for the purpose doesn’t work too well. The knife slides off, someone else needs the butter dish, etc.

Rocks, on the other hand, are perfect. And my house is full of them, ranging from small pebbles to large cobbles, due to a habit of picking up attractive rocks on beach walks.

Some rocks are better suited as book weights than others. Flat, rather than curved surfaces, and an elongated shape, are ideal qualities. As to weight, it depends on the springiness of the book, but something from a few ounces to a pound does the job admirably. Of course, you have to be careful; it’s not good to drop a hefty cobble onto a brand new, tightly glued paperback. A carelessly wielded stone may break the spine of a valued book.

Here are three reliable rocks I have used for years to keep books open.

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The topmost one is the heaviest. Placed with care, it gently subdues any book that wants to snap shut when left unattended. The post header shows it in action, making my copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead (a thick book with a tight spine) a little more readable. I found it by the South Saskatchewan River, near the town of Borden, in the 1980s. The middle one must have come from some beach here on Vancouver Island. Its shape was what made me pick it up; it’s less than half an inch (about 1 cm) thick, and an inch wide. It’s perfect for books that lazily flip up an unweighted leaf, and looks quite elegant when in use. The bottom one is a piece of greenish stone (possibly serpentine) from Ballenas Island in the Strait of Georgia. (OK, it looks grey in the picture, but trust me, it has a definite green tint, especially when wet. Looking good wet is something beach rocks do really well). I kept this rock on my desk at work, and used it to hold open books I was cataloguing. It’s a bit on the light side, so I’d have to position it in exactly the right spot. Sometimes the page would fight back, and the rock would slip off, requiring recovery and repositioning. Those white marks on the top two stones are eraser residue; rocks are also great eraser cleaners.

To be fair, there is another tool for holding books open — the “book snake,” an elongated cloth bag filled with dried beans or peas or similar stuff, or a weighted leather thing you can buy. I have no experience with either. Book snakes are said to be superior to rocks in that they are softer and shape themselves to the contours of a book, so will not mar pages. But you have to buy them or make them, whereas a suitably shaped stone is instantly ready for use. And it costs nothing.

Book rocks may also be used to crack nuts, or as weapons or missiles, should your dining situation deteriorate to the point that such items are required.