A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Self Publishing Advice

On Facebook, a friend of a friend asked for advice about self-publishing.  Here's what I wrote.  I thought it might be helpful to other people.  

Never pay anyone to publish your work. These are called "vanity publishers." 

However, it is often wise to pay an editor and a book cover designer, and if you're going to sell anything significant, you probably need a marketing budget too. Just don't pay a publisher to do the actual publishing. You can publish your own stuff practically free: E-books free and easy, print books through a POD (Print on Demand) publisher like Amazon, where they don't actually print the books until someone orders them. With Amazon, the only cost to you for this service is that you have to order one proof copy of your book. This is smart anyway, to make sure it looks good. You can also buy author copies cheap and sell them in person. Print books through these places look self-published, however, even if you have a good designer, because of the odd sizes offered. 

Some companies (that often call themselves publishers) will bundle editing service, book cover design, some marketing, and publishing services together and charge you a fee. However, a lot of these just publish through Amazon or someone similar, so the books still look self-published, and it's not like they're going to be able to get you into libraries and reviewed in the New York Times. Some of these companies offer legit services, but some of them are real scams. I had a friend who did one, signed the contract, and then wasn't happy with the service and lost a lot of the control. For example, she couldn't directly see her sales, couldn't change the price as she wanted, etc. If you publish yourself, you can do all this easily. She had a hard time getting out of the contract. 

I recommend hiring any editors, book designers and marketers separately and then doing the publishing yourself.  If you have a reliable group of critiquers/editors (at least 3-4 with good proofreading skills), you don't necessarily need an editor. But please, please, please don't publish anything that hasn't been seen by at least 4 sets of critical eyes. It gives a bad name to self-publishing.  You can do a book cover yourself too, for free, using something like GIMP (free graphic art program), but if you're not a graphic designer, it'll probably look self-published and put off some readers.  You can buy pre-made covers where the artist just changes the title and author and maybe a few other details for you.  They won't resell it (if you're working at a reputable site), so it's yours alone.  These can go for as low as $30, but are often more like $70-90, and sometimes more if you want the print version too.  To hire a designer to do your project from scratch will cost significantly more.  Alternately, you might have a relative or friend studying graphic arts and wanting to bulk up their portfolio.  This might come cheaper.  

As for sales, unless you're good at marketing and have a lot of time/money for it, or if you have a real niche with no competition, don't expect to sell much.  It's still a fun and satisfying thing to do.  Just moderate expectations.

So, hope that was helpful.  


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rock climbing in the Garden of the Gods

Not my idea of fun.  Well...maybe on the kiddie slopes.  But if you like this sort of thing, The Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, has narrow climbable rock fingers in spades.  If you don't see the people, look more carefully.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nanowrimo 2016

Yay!  30 days and 52,000 words written.  This year I didn't get as far along in the plot as I wanted, but I got my words in!  This is the sequel to last year's Nanowrimo novel.  It's a fun story to write.  Now I just need to finish and perfect both books.




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Garden of the Gods, Colorado

This is an awesome city park on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.  The park is free and the many hiking and walking trails take you past beautiful red rock formations, many impossibly thin. One of the formations is called "Cathedral Spires," and it's an apt description.  If you're visiting or even just traveling through, check it out.
 





Sunday, November 27, 2016

Southeast Wyoming Landscape

After my stay in the Czech Republic, this was a bit of a change.  Take a look at the countryside near Laramie, Wyoming.  Wild west, anyone?



Friday, October 28, 2016

Most interesting books read so far in 2016

I'm just about to finish reading my 30th book this year.  Here are a few of the most interesting or enjoyable ones:

--Hunting Monsters:  Crytozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths
by Darren Naish 
An exploration of the evidence of creatures like bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.  Mostly it debunks the myths, but in a way that leaves it open to possibility and philosophizes a bit on why so many cultures have similar myths.  It got quite repetitive, but if taken in small bits, it's very interesting.

--The Railway Children  
by E. Nesbit
This novel is my only 5-star rating of the year (so far).  It's warm and charming, and despite everyone being a little too perfect and everything working out a little too well, I loved it.  

--Wealth Woman; Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold
by Deb Vanasse 
A well-researched account of the life of Kate Carmack, the native wife of the man credited with starting the Klondike Goldrush.  I especially loved the parts about how her culture viewed certain actions and social encounters differently than her husband's culture, leading to various conflicts and misunderstandings.

--At the Water's Edge
by Sara Gruen
Rich, idle young people in World War II go looking to find vindication in the form of proof of the Loch Ness Monster.  Like an unfortunate number of other books, I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book.  Unique premise, great historical detail, lots of culture shock, good writing.  And then it just turns Hollywoody.


--Broken Angels
by Gemma Liviero
I almost gave this five stars.  It takes place in WWII, but has some very interesting characters in situations we don't always see in WWII novels.  I grew to love the characters, and I read the last twenty percent or so absolutely rapt, not stopping for anything.

--Caretaker
by Josi Russell
A man has spent 5 years alone in space on a colony ship, taking care of all the people in stasis, even though the computer really does almost everything.  This part is fascinating--the endless loneliness, the feelings of uselessness, the grief for his wife who remains in stasis while he will age 50 years.  Then someone else wakes up.  Also interesting.  But then the author goes and ruins it all by introducing unrealistic magical aliens and sudden superpowers.  Still, the first part was enough to make me include it here.

--Tisha
by Robert Specht
Based on the story of a young woman who goes to the Alaskan frontier as a school teacher.  Very interesting culturally and historically, if a bit preachy.
Also some plain good adventure--with a bit of romance.

--A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
Okay, I included this not because I liked it (which I only sort of did), but because I'd heard so much about the author and this was my first experience.  And it was...interesting.  I thought the writing was mostly quite good, with some unusual perspectives.  The premise was crazy in a cool way.  But the end...I guess I just don't like implausible wild goose chases.

--The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Beautiful writing, though sometimes too stylistic for my tastes.  Fantastic characters.  Distinct voice.  Sad ending with a little hope.

--The Good Soldier Svejk (pt 1)
by Jaroslav Hasek (translated by Zdenek K Sadlon)
Part BRILLIANT dark humor and social commentary, part heavy-handed ranting, this is an interesting book, and one of the big Czech classics.  Some parts dragged.  Others were immensely entertaining.  And Svejk's character is fascinating.  He's a national icon for a reason.  Read it and see.
                      

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bila Opava, Czech Republic

Bila Opava
Want a great hike in the Jeseniky mountains of the Czech Republic?  Try the Bila Opava.  

The trail follows a beautiful little stream, complete with many tiny waterfalls.  The second half gets a little adventurous:  potentially slippery rocks, occasional missing planks on the stairs suspended above the water, and ladders that may suit long-legged people best.       

The trail is only  about 5 km from Karlova Studanka up through the valley and to the nearest bus stop at Ovcarna (check bus schedules beforehand on idos.cz--the stop is "Mala Moravka, Ovcarna tocna").  However, since you're already so close, consider continuing on to Praded, the highest peak in Moravia (1491 m), before returning to Ovcarna.  It'll stretch your hike to about 12 fantastic kilometers with about 700 m elevation gain.  Plan some time at the top to enjoy the views.

You also might want to spend some time in the spa town of Karlova Studanka, just admiring the architecture, strolling the parks, and trying the supposedly healing mineral water.      

Bila Opava
Praded



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another day, another border

Next on the gallery of me with border markers:  Austria (Österreich).  I hiked from Znojmo, Czech Republic, across the border to the nearest town, hung out for a bit, bought some local apple juice with my leftover Euro coins, and walked back.  Very fun day.

The hike was beautiful:  I took the yellow trail trail from Znojmo along the river, up to a great viewpoint (Sealsfield Rock), down to an old mill valley, and through vineyards and to the little town of Mittleretzbach where one street had row upon row of old wine cellars dug into the ground.  I walked back along the road through the now-abandoned border crossing station and caught the bus from Hnanice.  Highly recommended trip.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Secret of Platform #2

Coolest retro train marquee ever!  You pull down a lever to raise the appropriate train so the passengers know where to wait.  They're even in red for the fast trains and black for the slow trains, just like nowadays.  And they still work fine.  :)

It's worth scheduling a change in the station in Přerov, Czech Republic, just to see this.

Platform #2

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Good Soldier Švejk, by Jaroslav Hašek

The Good Soldier Švejk
(The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, Book I) 
by Jaroslav Hašek 
Translated by Zdenek K Sadlon

I had a strange reaction to this book.  I'd heard so much about it, living here in the Czech Republic.  References to and cartoons of the Good Soldier Svejk are everywhere, his character embedded in the collection consciousness.  So I finally decided to buy it.  I researched the various translations—about which there is much debate—and finally settled on this one.  Since I haven't read any other translations, I'm not sure exactly where my critique of the novel and my critique of the translation begins and ends.  But here goes.

Okay, first of all, I'm not a huge critic of book covers, but...seriously?  This is the worst cover ever.  Maybe they didn't want to use the classic Lada drawings because they wanted to focus on the grittier, earthier side of the story.  Maybe there were copyright issues.  But every time I look at this it looks like a nose-less, mouth-less, one-eyed alien with a bow on his head.  And everything else about it is equally bad.  Sorry.  Why not incorporate the guy below?     

Josef Lada's view of Švejk  

Now for the actual book  Some parts are absolutely brilliant.  The beginning is darkly humorous.  I laughed out loud several times, then felt rather guilty because of the direness of the subject matter..  But the bizarre humor and serious commentary are brilliantly balanced. 

However, other parts really drag.  For example, the chaplain's speeches are way too long without striking much of a funny note with me.  The songs are annoying and boring (of course, I pretty much always dislike songs in books).  Other parts go on too long.

The stories Svejk tells began to feel formulaic—not the stories themselves, which are usually amusing and creative—but the way he comes up with one for every situation and the way he frames them all in the same manner.

And then there's the vitriolic afterward by Hašek himself, which really put a damper on my enjoyment of the book.  I suggest letting the novel stand on its own.

Some of the language feels too modern, which has to be the fault of the translation.  Or perhaps Hasek was just ahead of his time.  Also either the fault of the translator or perhaps the e-book converstion, I did find several typos and errors.  One thing I liked about the translation was the footnotes.  These included cultural, historical, or linguistic explanations that helped readers understand, but would have felt odd if included right in the text of the novel. 

I love the commentary on war and patriotism and oppression.  There's one scene near the beginning where a bunch of men are in jail for heinous crimes such as saying unflattering things about the Archduke or making jokes about the war.  The sixth man, "staying away from the other five, said hat he wanted nothing to do with them, lest he fall under suspicion.  He said that he was sitting there merely for the attempted robbery and murder of a farmer…"  And here's another pretty powerful line, as the chaplain and Švejk are going out to give a sermon to the troops:  "The great slaughter of the World War cold not proceed without a priestly blessing."

Also absolutely brilliant:  Svejk's character.  Is he an idiot?  Or a genius?

Overall, I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next volume, but I think it's the sort of thing that's best spread out over a little time.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Javoříčko Cave, Czech Republic

Photo from atlas-cs

I recently visited Javoříčko Cave, one of the most beautiful caves in the Czech Republic.  The number and variety of cave formations was impressive, the English text was good, and I understood some of the jokes the guide made in Czech!  I even saw a few lone bats.  I can't recommend it enough.


While there, be sure to take the nature trail around the area, so you can see this cool stone bridge (skalní brána)



If you go:

Closest bus stop:  "Luká, Javoříčko jeskyně"     Be sure to plan ahead.  Buses are infrequent.
Take the longer tour.  It's not much more money, and you get more cool cavey enjoyment.
Don't forget a jacket.
  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Amazing ship in the North Sea

I saw this ship one evening on the North Sea and thought:  
Have I gone back in time?
Amazing.  I'd love to sail on one of those one day.  



Thursday, September 8, 2016

Red Panda in the zoo in Lille, France

My new favorite animal:  the Red Panda.  He has a nice, big enclosure at the free city zoo in Lille, France, and I spent a long time watching him.  He reminded me of a cross between a lazy red cat and a big raccoon.  I bet he wouldn't have wanted to cuddle, now matter how cuddly he looked.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Carrier Pigeon Monument

A cool monument in Lille, France, honoring the carrier pigeons used in the world wars.  How poignent is that?




Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Deadly Translations

The other day I saw a strange McDonalds advertisement for Happy Meals. In big cheerful letters next to some cute animals, it proclaimed, "Die pets!" I was shocked that Happy Meals had become so violent, and it took me a minute to remember that I was in Germany, and "die" means "the." 
Ah...deadly translations.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Radhošť

July 6:  Radhošť is one of the tallest mountains in our region, and famous as a spiritual spot.  Once upon a time it served as a sacred place of the pagan god Radegast.  Now a Christian chapel stands on the highest point, along with statues of Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to the Slavic people and helped develop a written language.  Those who aren't religious still make the pilgrimage because of the history, the great views...and the blueberries.  When they're in season (this year starting in early July, but often later), you can pick so many you won't know what to do with.  Go prepared with containers.

Me picking blueberries on the walk from Pustevny to Radhošť:


My friend Katka and I at the statue of Cyril and Methodius:


The views:


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Vsetínský Krpec--A Czech Folk Festival

The Vsetínský  Krpec is an International Folk Festival in the small town of Vsetín, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic.  Held every other year (on even years) the festival draws groups from nearby countries and even further.  This year one contingent came from South Korea.  The first year I saw it, they hosted dancers from Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the US state).

I love Czech folk dancing, and I've loved all the visitors too.  I had fun comparing styles and traditions.  This year my favorites were the Serbians:  so energetic, with such great music and nice costumes.  Here are a few pictures.

Members of various groups posing for a picture:


Polish dancers:


Serbian dancers:



If you want to go, here's the website:  http://krpec.dkvsetin.cz/  The festival usually takes place at the end of June/beginning of July.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Awesome Czech Words with No Direct Translation

Aren't these Czech words great? 

Přiotrávit--to almost poison
Sezvánět--to call together with bells

"Přiotrávit" is is apparently more of the "Oops, I accidentally put the wrong mushrooms in this soup" as opposed to "Darn, I didn't put enough arsenic in his food" or "Wait, dear, don't drink that.  I do love you after all." 

"Sezvánět" isn't much in common usage anymore...but seriously, how beautiful would it be to call people together with bells?

I love words like these.    


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kutna Hora Silvering Festival

Kutna Hora is a historic royal town in central Czech Republic.  At one time the town rivaled Prague in power and importance, chiefly because of the silver mines.  Now they have a medieval festival every year, where they pay homage to the role of silver.

A falconer--with the impressive and unique cathedral in the background:


The King and Queen with their entourage:


One of the many miner-related works of art in the cathedral (the man is wearing the traditional white robe of miners--which you can also wear to go on the awesome underground mine tour):


And, of course, Kutna Hora is also famous for its ossuary (also called the Bone Church).  Yes, these are real bones.  No, it's not as morbid as it seems:



If you want to go to the festival, which takes place every year in June, here's the website:  http://www.stribreni.cz/the-royal-silvering-of-kutna-hora 

It's also a great place to visit other times of the year.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

This is a beautifully written book.  And yet.  Some of it's too stylistic for my taste.  It's interesting.  But.  Sometimes "style" comes across more like "gimmick." 

I LOVED Leo's character. His loneliness is palpable, heartbreaking, his views on things unique.  But.  The "And yet" and "But" sentences drove me crazy.  Had there been fewer, I think it would have been a nice way to distinguish his voice, to show his sort of tentative hope and struggle to hang on.  And yet.  Too much of anything just diminishes the power of the device.

I also loved Alma and her world and her weird little obsessions.

I didn't read the book fast enough, so I got a little confused sometimes on what was truth and how people were really connected, but I think that's part of the point of the novel, so I didn't mind it. 

I would have preferred the ending to go on a little longer.  But.  It was still satisfying in a bittersweet sort of way. 

As I said, most of the writing was beautiful, with some fantastic passages.  I cared about the characters and didn't want it to end.


I would definitely read more by Nicole Krauss.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pernštejn Castle, Czech Republic

Pernštejn Castle is a CASTLE.  Sprawling defensive walls, bastions, towers, spiral staircases that go clockwise so that attackers can't properly use their sword arms, tales of a ghost who appears to foretell good or bad events...the whole nine yards.  But parts are also very palace-like and opulent inside.  It's now one of my favorite castles.

If you go..

Check opening hours and plan plenty of time.  The tour alone may take over an hour, and there are other museums, shops, and bastions to wander.

By public transport, the nearest train station is Nedvědice.  From there, it's a a nice walk to the castle, about 1.5 km on the yellow trail.  You'll see the castle in the distance.  Head along the railway tracks toward it and watch for trail markers.  On the way back, consider the "long" red loop, which leaves from the castle gate nearest the restaurant and takes you past some other sights like a covered wooden bridge, an old stone bridge, nice views of the castle, and various other points with interpretive signs in Czech.  



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Cool Fountain--Brno, Czech Republic

This is the most awesome fountain I've seen in a long time.  It's hard to see in the picture, but this big frame has a row of water jets in the top that go and stop in carefully controlled patterns to create designs with the falling water, everything from various geometric designs to quickly plunging images of the city's landmarks.  It's amazing.  I sat on the grass in front of the theater and watched for a long time, and I wasn't alone.  If you can't see the patterns, look for diamonds.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Funny English Errors

Learning any language is tough.  English is no exception.  But if you're a big company producing T-shirts to sell, and the T-shirts have sayings in English, don't you think you should pay someone like me a dollar to check and fix T-shirts like the one I saw in Brno which said,

"Expect for the best.  Be prepare for the worst."

Nice motto, but...not so nice grammar.


Then, on a nicely printed color map of a Czech folk festival, they translated "šatna" creatively.  I would translate "šatna" as "dressing room" or "changing area" or something, but they translated it as "hinterland."  So, the end result was "Hinterland for Performers."  Banish those performers to the inland wilderness away from all centers of civilization!  :)  I got a kick out of it.  But...I'm not sure the organizers were really intending to make English speakers laugh.






Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hiking the Czech-Slovak border

I love living so close to the Czech/Slovak border.  A few weeks ago, I went hiking along the ridge that separates the countries, and I went to Slovakia about 50 times, hopping back and forth like a kid over the border markers.



This is from the red trail west of Kohútka.  That thing I'm leaning on is one of the many old border markers.  The "S" stands for Slovakia.  There's a "C" on the other side for the Czech Republi, and a line through the top marking the exact border.  Some of the lines even change angles right on the stone.  Very cool.

If you go...

If you want to go without a car, I recommend getting a bus to "Nový Hrozenkov,Vranča,konečná" and then hiking up to Kohútka via the yellow/blue trail.  Stop at the restaurant there for lunch or a snack.  Consider their famous blueberry knedliky (a sort of dumpling filled with blueberries and drenched in cream, butter, and sugar).  Then hike the red trail west as far as you like before heading down to a road or train line.  I took the blue trail to Huslenky (well, I got lost on the blue trail, but ended up in Huslenky anyway).  Great hike.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Czech Language--or Klingon?

Is it just me, or does this Czech word look like Klingon or some equally intimidating language? 

baťůžkář
"Insult my honor, and I will destroy you with my baťůžkář of death!"

Okay, so it actually means "backpacker" in Czech, but I think it sounds more appropriate in the above example.  I love the Czech language, and I'm getting slowly better and better at it, but some of it's just a little more complicated that what seems necessary. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Živá Voda Aquarium, Czech Republi

In Modrá, by the folk skansen and near the impressive basilica and pilgrimage site of Velehrad, you can visit Živá Voda.  It's a cool place with an herb garden, outdoor representations of the different environments in the Czech Republic, a pond you can wade in (complete with frogs and fish), interactive exhibits good for kids, and the most awesome thing:  a glass tunnel under the freshwater pond where you can see giant fish from below.  The biggest fish there is a Beluga (European Sturgeon) measuring 2 meters!  It's apparently the largest freshwater fish.  You can also watch a lot of huge carp and other cool fish.  Amazing to see them from that close.

   It's hard to show the true size, but here's a hint--with one of the smaller fish.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bees in Buchlovice

Wow.  That's all I have to say.  I wouldn't want to get to close to this mass of seething life.  My friends with beekeeping knowledge, however, say that when they're swarming around looking for a new home--that's when they're calmest.  They certainly didn't sound calm.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Velehrad, Czech Republic

Though the current basilica and other buildings are fairly new (by European architectural standards), this location has been a holy place for more than 800 years.  It was more impressive than I expected.


If you go...
Velehrad has good connections by bus from Uherské Hradiště or Staré Město.  Also consider combining the trip with a visit to Modrá, right next to Velehrad, with its folk skansen and the Živá Voda ecology center and aquarium.  

And if you go in spring, you might see this in the pretty little lakes there: