2015

Revealing Reviews

It may be axiomatic that there is no bad press, but two reader reviews have been welcome for more than the book discussion they have started (Full disclosure: I have met neither reader, but did invite each of them to post a review upon learning they owned The Samurai Poet). The first reviewer liked the first part of the novel, but had no use for the second part, calling it "comparatively directionless." On the other hand, the second reviewer saw the first part as something to be read through with "patience," with the reward being the latter part of the novel in which the main character's reflections acted as a catalyst for the reader's own.

The criticism did not bother me—in fact I welcomed their openness. If anything, it made the complimentary portions of their respective reviews seem all the more sincere. What fascinated me was the possible underlying gender dynamics that might have been at work. Allow me to explain.

The novel is divided into three Books: "Yang/Activity," "Yin/Quiescence," and "Unity." While writing the novel I realized how cliched it might look for a Western author to hone in on the Yang Yin dichotomy and deploy it in a superficial manner. Given my readings in Chinese and Japanese philosophy, I felt like it was an idea the novel explored in a nuanced manner and which was appropriate to the worldview of the main character, so I committed to it.

While I have no intent to provide a thorough summary of Yang and Yin, it is necessary to note that historically Yang was sometimes associated with males and Yin with females. Given this traditional association, I couldn't help but wonder if it was a coincidence or not that the male reviewer preferred the "Yang" section and that the female reviewer preferred the "Yin." I don't want to make too big a deal about it or fall into the trap of essentializing anyone, but it does make me curious to read more reviews and see what a larger reader community makes of it. Is it destined to divide people based on taste? Will readers emerge that like how the style of each Book changes to suit the content of the section? Or do the three Books contrast too much to fulfil the ambition I was hoping to realize?

It's a question I can't answer, but I can still hope it finds a large enough audience that a consensus emerges for me to reflect upon. If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, I encourage you to share a few words at Goodreads and/or at the site where you purchased your copy. Thank you in advance.

N.B. In related news, I have added a Goodreads review widget to The Samurai Poet page of the web site so that you can see the full reviews for yourself. Here's a hot link for quick access—just scroll to the bottom of the page for the reviews.

A Small, But Important Revision

I recently finished reading Samuel Hawley's book about Japan's 16th century invasion of Korea, The Imjin War. It was a book I had intended to read long ago, but was foiled by a small print run that led to an early sell out and exorbitant after market prices. Once it was released as an ebook, both issues were resolved and I was able to buy it last year. Unfortunately for me, I did not clear time to read it until March. If I had read it sooner, I could have saved myself making a third distinct revision of The Samurai Poet.

It's not that his book had me rethinking entire passages of the novel. I was well aware that I was fudging history when I sent Ishikawa Jozan's father overseas to join the invasion. To me, it was a worthwhile trade to complicate the father character and create a pretence for Jozan to know more about the real circumstances of the invasion than he might have otherwise. No, the problem came down to one word.

Mimizuka.

Mimizuka translates as "Mound of Ears," which is in fact a misnomer, for as Hawley relates in his book, it actually contains the buried noses of Korean and Chinese victims that were salted and sent back from Japan as proof to Toyotomi Hideyoshi that his orders were being carried out in Korea. In fact the memorial site was originally given the more accurate name of Hanazuka (Mound of Noses) but was changed later in the seventeenth century, apparently because it somehow seemed less unsavoury to remove ears than noses.

Recalling that I had used the word Mimizuka in the novel, I realized that this was a historical oversight on my part. Considering the trouble I had gone through to have Ishikawa visit the Rokujo Misujimachi pleasure quarter in 1605 rather than the more famed Shimabara because it did not come into being until a few years later, I was somewhat bothered by this mistake. However, I was prepared to leave it as is because Mimizuka would be more familiar to the modern reader.

It was not until I read the passage a second time that a bigger mistake dawned on me. I had not written Mimizuka after all, but Mimi-no-zaka. After checking to make sure it was not also known by this name, I tried to trace the origins of my mistake. The best I could do was to assume that I had mistakenly translated Hill of Ears directly into Japanese as Mimi no zaka, possibly confusing the word saka (slope) with zuka (mound). Realizing I had a factual error on my hands, it now made sense to fix it completely, and change the word to Hanazuka and remove any English references to ears from that section.

While this might seem trivial to some, I think it is worth releasing a revision in this instance. Not only does it make the novel more historically accurate, but it undoes an attempt by someone in the Tokugawa bakufu to somewhat sanitize an ugly incident from Japan's history. Hawley's book actually suggests that it was Hayashi Razan (a friend of Jozan) who made the name change. Given the at times testy relationship between Jozan and Razan in the novel, it only makes sense that Jozan would use the correct, and more accurately descriptive word.

The up-to-date edition number is 1.3. If you bought this book through Apple, you can download the update for free once you receive the alert. If you bought it through Smashwords, you can download it immediately. As for other ebooksellers, I would suggest checking the edition number in the preview to ensure that you are buying the latest version. Thank you again for your support. Every reader matters to me.

Help Keep My Website Online

Well, I just paid my web host to keep the site online for another three years. Even though they offer a great value proposition, I'm still losing money on the website. It's a discouraging thought which led me to seriously consider whether it was worth it to continue. Since it has been renewed, it's apparent that I decided to take another tack. Here it is: a naked appeal for help.

If you like my website or have ever found it useful, buy my book, The Samurai Poet. It's an ebook that will only set you back three dollars. It's well written and well edited. Even if the subject matter or storytelling style isn't to your taste, know that you are getting something in return for making a modest donation to keep the website afloat. (If you already own a copy, thank you.)

In the spirit of Kickstarter campaigns, I'll even offer some new website content if certain sales thresholds are met.

15 book sales = a new high resolution photo gallery showing Shisendo in the early morning
30 book sales = a new high resolution photo gallery showing Shisendo in the late afternoon
50 book sales = the addition of a video gallery to the website with a new video of Shisendo
100 book sales = a narrated video tour of Shisendo's gardens

I have no idea how website visitors will respond to this campaign. To me, it makes more sense than just putting random Paypal buttons on my site asking for donations. If you agree, then here is a list of booksellers where you can buy the book. Thank you for your support.

No Fooling - Website Redesign Launches Today

RW Website 1Last week I received an interesting email from Google. It read, in part, "Google systems have tested 16 pages from your site and found that 94% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 15 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users."

Apparently this is known as the dreaded WNC-451500 message.

Well, I had a choice. I could start kicking and screaming, cursing Google and the rise of smartphone users the world over or I could redesign my website. As attached as I was to the rustic looking site that I had worked so hard to customize a couple years ago, it seems I had known the writing was on the wall, because the old design was immediately cast aside in the search for new options.

My first thought was to search for a Rapidweaver plugin that would allow me to redirect mobile visitors to a parallel site. When I saw the prices, it seemed just as cost effective to buy a new theme. That's when it occurred to me to double check RW6 and see what their new themes looked like. Lo and behold, I found one that grabbed me immediately (thanks Nick Cates). Then, with a small assist from RW Multitool Lite, I had myself a customized, up-to-date website that looked equally good on a monitor, tablet, or smartphone. In fact, that was the easy part.

I then spent the next week working on backend issues that never see the light of day, but are important for the long term viability of the site. I also took the opportunity to rethink the content, pages, and menus of the site. Some pages have been rewritten, three were eliminated completely (Contact, Downloads, and Networking), and About Me and Interview were moved to the Welcome section. Announcements has been rebranded as News, but alert url readers will notice that "announcements" lives on in the address to avoid duplication of links on my host and to maintain consistency with pages already indexed by search engines.

While this project took a bit of work, it was by no means a burden. If anything, it has helped me solve a long term problem of having a web theme too closely tied to one novel should I eventually publish a second that is set in a completely different time and place. I'm pleased with the clean, contemporary look of the new site and like how it displays on the smallest of screens. Hopefully this will keep eyeballs on the pages longer and maybe even help out a lost tourist in Kyoto one day.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me using the link in the footer.

Website Redesign in Progress

I'm working on a new design of the website this weekend, so let's say it's in Beta for now. Once it's all tested out I'll make an official announcement and explain the reasons for the change here.

Contact Page Changed

Just a quick update to let everyone know that the contact page has changed. It looks like e-mail weren't getting through, and I just don't know how long this has been a problem. If you tried to reach me and I never replied, it wasn't out of rudeness. Please try again using the "Contact Me" link that is now available at the bottom of every page on this website. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

The Samurai Poet in OverDrive

This is certainly the best novel-related news I have received all month. The Samurai Poet is now available at OverDrive. If you've never heard of OverDrive, this might not seem like a big deal. If you have ever borrowed an ebook from your local public library, then there is a good chance you were a beneficiary of OverDrive and you didn't even know it. In the past, I have received some library interest in the novel, but once they heard it was not on OverDrive, they were unable to proceed with the acquisition because it was the only ebook service they used. Now that this hurdle has been removed, I'm hopeful that at the very least it will make it on to the virtual shelves of my local library and my hometown library. The day that happens, I will be celebrating it here to be sure.

If you're reading this, please consider requesting The Samurai Poet at your local library. Once they know it's on OverDrive, there is a good possibility they will take your request seriously. I have been a big fan and user of libraries my whole life, and would love the chance to connect with a wider audience via the public library system. Sure it doesn't pay as much, but ultimately it is readers using legitimate channels that matter, not the royalty. I appreciate your help.

Resolution Rock

I didn't remember posting resolutions here until last week, but since rediscovering them I can't let them go without a reflection.

1) "Be discovered [. . .] What I really need in 2014 is for some well-connected Tweeter, Facebooker, blogger, or Goodreads reviewer to discover my website, blog, or novel and then share their discovery."

This didn't happen in 2014, but it's probably for the best considering that I was feeling a little down on the novel myself. Now that I've got my mojo back, I'll make the most of it if 2015 is the year.

2) "Get more likes and +1’s on my website and blog."

This one paid off in 2014. I know social media experts like to dismiss Google+ compared to its more successful rivals, but I still like it. A couple of my favourite communities are Japanese Culture and 京都. The Japanese Culture community has an eclectic range of posts and there is always someone around who will +1 one of yours. The Kyoto site features a lot of great photography from Japan's most beautiful city.

3) "Sell a copy a day of The Samurai Poet."

Dare to dream. I came nowhere near achieving this goal, but still did better than expected considering my promotional efforts dropped off the deep end. Looking to bounce back in 2015.

Galleries Restored

Well it was hardly a global crisis, but all of the photo galleries in the Shisendo section have been restored. I doubt that there were a flood of website visitors in the last twelve hours wondering what was wrong, but I do take pride in fixing things as quickly as time allows. It looks like Rapidweaver 6 no longer speaks directly to iPhoto, forcing users into the preferred practice of making permanent folders elsewhere for the program to access the photos. Nothing wrong with being dragged into the present I guess, but it would have been nice to do so without the surprise.

And Now the Bad News

Was I tempting fate in my previous post? All of my photo galleries are messed up. Seems like a Rapidweaver 5 to 6 transition issue that I can't put my finger on. Sorry about the messy appearance. Not sure how long it will take to fix.

TSP Updates #3

I've got some good news and I've got some great news. The good news is that the updated edition of The Samurai Poet is now available at Apple's iBookstore for $2.99 (US). The great news is that if you have already bought it, you can get a free update in iBooks. Look for a little red circle in the bottom right corner with a number in it and take it from there. Enjoy!

TSP Updates #2

The Samurai Poet Edition 1.2 is now available at Barnes & Noble for the new low price of $2.99. Think of it as an amends for having to make any edits in the first place.

TSP Updates #1

The Samurai Poet Edition 1.2 is now available at Smashwords, Oyster, and Scribd. All links available here. Check back soon to learn when Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo release the latest (and cleanest) version.

The Samurai Poet Updated

After months of careful thought, I have decided to upload a lightly revised and edited version of The Samurai Poet. Given the impermanent nature of ebooks compared to published versions, I feel it is important to disclose why I took this step, what kind of changes were made, and to give readers who feel they missed a chance at a cleaner final version to obtain an updated copy. It's a bit of a long story though, so settle in.

During the spring of 2014, I was in need of a bit of a psychological pick-me-up, so I decided to reread part three of The Samurai Poet, entitled "Unity." When I reached the final sentence (or sentence fragment), "Beyond that, the red maples swaying," I panicked because it seemed like there was a huge continuity error. You see, earlier in the chapter the protagonist, Ishikawa Jozan, described seeing fireflies (a summer insect) outside his window. I castigated myself for making such an obvious mistake, and then started to wonder, were there more? This launched a sporadic project to read the novel backwards, one chapter at a time, in the hope that I would be better able to focus on grammar, typos, and (hopefully no more) continuity errors.

Much to my chagrin, there were mistakes. A missing word. A missing punctuation mark. An unnecessary word repetition in consecutive sentences. Nothing on the scale of red leaves in summer, mind you, but enough to rankle and make me want to set things right. Just as I was about to finish the laborious reverse rereading process (I don't recommend it—the book isn't as good read backwards), I lost my eReader with a good half dozen chapters worth of corrections on them and had to do that part again. Finally, I was able to enter the corrections.

Every typo I found was fixed, but I resisted the urge to change anything larger than that should it seem like tampering compared to an earlier edition in a reader's hands. Did I change a couple word repetitions to improve the rhythm of a paragraph? Yes. I also left a large number as is whenever it seemed like it was merely a case of stylistic preference, reasoning that I had my chance the first time around. I also added a Japanese translation for one term given the success my eReaders have had rendering kanji since it helped the reader visualize a scroll Ishikawa wrote in one chapter. All told, I made approximately forty changes. Not bad considering the book is nearly 126 000 words long, but still regrettable given the high editorial standards readers of independent fiction and supporters of independent authors deserve. I would like to apologize for the miscues and the long delay in correcting them.

Ironically, one change I did not make was to the sentence about the red maple leaves. They are still red. Why, you ask? I forget the exact day, but during the summer of 2014, I was standing at my closet getting dressed, when a mental block was inexplicably removed from my mind. I finally remembered that Part 3 of the novel had been intentionally written in a stream of consciousness point of view in which the timelines were intentionally skewed due to Ishikawa's declining mental state. Even though the chapter is written as though it were happening in a 24 hour period, not all of the impressions relayed are necessarily being experienced in real time. Some are memories, others are projections, with the remainder largely being shared as they are experienced. Once I remembered this, I experienced an emotion akin to an epiphany, and realized that present day me was going to have to trust the author I was when I made the decisions that led to the novel in its final form. From then on, I returned my focus to the nitty gritty of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Any reader still with me at this point might be wondering if it is fair to even make changes such as a comma at the end of a set of quotation marks. In my experience, this happens far more often than readers realize in mainstream publishing. For example, when I read John W. Dower's Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II in hardcover, I noted enough small miscues to make me realize the book hadn't been edited with 100% accuracy. When a friend gifted me the softcover edition, I kept it just to compare and saw that most (perhaps all) of the miscues had been corrected. During grad school I also had the fortunate experience to compare A.M. Klein's original manuscripts with published versions of his poems. While I forget the exact details, I recall examples of variances introduced into the published versions that were not in his manuscripts and variances between published versions. We are all human and that likely means that there are fewer "pure" texts out there than we would like to believe. I am hoping that by being honest about the changes I have made, it will help maintain trust between reader and author.

On that note, I have one more confession to make. My latest edition of the novel is no longer labelled "Smashwords Edition." It now reads "Smashwords Edition 1.2." 1.2? But there was no 1.1 was there? Within a week of The Samurai Poet's publication date, I read an article that gave the year a famous gate at Chionji Temple was built as being a few years after I have my character walking by it. After reading the paragraph again, I realized that deleting it would have no affect on the rest of the chapter, so I did so and uploaded the change without notifying anybody. To the best of my knowledge, this change only affected readers who pre-ordered a copy of The Samurai Poet. If you search the word "Chionji" in your copy and it appears in Chapter 11: 1605, you have that rarest edition of all, 1.0. If it does not appear, you have 1.1. Again, I apologize. This was a more substantial change and I shouldn't have tried to hide it.

Now, to make things right. If you own Edition 1.0 or 1.1, I would like to make 1.2 available to you for free. If you bought your copy through Smashwords, you already have access to the updated version as well as the earliest version you first bought. If you bought through Kobo or iBookstore, send me an email (see the Contact Page) and I will send you a coupon for a free copy at Smashwords. In your email, please let me know which bookstore you bought it from (e.g. iBookstore Australia), so that I can check it off my list. I do have a record of how many books were sold (and where) before version 1.2 was uploaded, so this will help me limit any potential abuse of this offer. Thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoy what could be the final version of The Samurai Poet. Of course if you spot a typo, I would be happy to fix it, whether it means we go to a 1.21 or a 1.3. (Please note it could take 1-2 weeks for these changes to be pushed out to all retailers.)

Thanks again for your support and understanding. I hope you find this effort at transparency and restitution satisfactory.