Site News

Afternoon at Shisendo

I've recently uploaded a second gallery of Shisendo and its environs. The pictures were taken July 19, 2013. It was remarkable how the scenes changed in the afternoon sun. Golden light and shadows created some interesting natural effects. I also experimented with some camera settings designed to make the most of the light.

Overall, it was a memorable day. I arrived at Shisendo near the opening and stayed for close to three hours photographing and making videos. There weren't many people in the first hour so I was able to record the sozu refilling with water less than once per minute without inconveniencing other visitors. A friendly obasan caring for the grounds chatted with many of the visitors but we never crossed paths to speak.

The woman working at the front desk was helpful and informative. She even let me return later in the day without charging an extra admission. There were even fewer people there in the last hour before closing. It facilitated a reflective ending to the day. I hope you enjoy the gallery.

Ohayo Shisendo!

Thanks to a recent sales surge of The Samurai Poet I have been inspired to add a new photo gallery of Shisendo. These photos were taken in the morning of July 19, 2013. If any photo geeks are reading this and check out the metadata of the photos and wonder why the dates say July 18, it is because I didn't set my camera to local time while in Japan. That should just about cover it. Enjoy the gallery!

Happy New Year!

Even though my blog, Over a Hedge, has been retired, there is one tradition worth saving—the new year greeting and photo. Here's wishing you a 2016 of health and good fortune.

Happy New Year!

あけましておめでとうございます。

Kagami Mochi

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.

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.

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.

Whew, that was close!

I experienced one of every computer user’s worst nightmares two days ago--hard drive failure.

Lesson: Always perform a complete backup, preferably in Time Machine, before upgrading your Mac’s OS.

As one might expect, I had become lax in recent months in my backup regimen as well.

Lesson: Automate your backups. You can try invent your own routines, but eventually you’ll get lazy.

Fortunately, on the first day I was able to grab an image of my user file before erasing the drive and starting from scratch. I spent the majority of the second day installing the latest version of OS X on my computer and restoring files from the disk image. Unfortunately, I was unable to grab a disk image of the Library, which holds important information such as your keychain, e-mail archive, and custom website themes.

Lesson: Use Time Machine to perform complete backups of everything, not just your photos, videos, and documents.

Fortunately, I was able to retrieve my custom Rapidweaver template from an old back up I had done more than a year ago. Talk about lucky. Today is the first day I’ve tried updating my website using my fully restored template. I’m praying it works seamlessly. If you notice anything that looks out of sorts, please be forgiving and notify me so I can try get it back to normal as soon as possible.

Lesson: If you spent a lot of time customizing a Rapidweaver theme, save it multiple times in multiple locations along with your website itself. If you integrate albums created in iPhoto, you’ll want those fully backed up for easy retrieval too. From what I gather, you cannot reverse engineer a Rapidweaver website from what you have uploaded, so make sure you have everything related to your website backed up so that you will never find yourself having to re-create it from scratch. My next step should be creating an off-site backup for that matter.

Hopefully nothing I just experienced these last three days ever happens to you. Take precautions and you can save yourself a lot of stress and work.

Fauna Gallery Added

Last month, I added a gallery of photographs featuring seasonal plants and flowers that can be seen at Shisendo in July. Today, I have added the companion gallery that shows all the animals I saw that day. One bird photo is a bit out of focus, but I included it in the interests of completion. I was hoping to see something a little more rare like a snake, but had no such luck that day. I did hear an uguisu, the famed “Japanese Nightingale,” but this notoriously reclusive bird now known as the Japanese Bush Warbler did not emerge from cover either. I hope you enjoy the photos.

A Potpourri of Booksellers

The distribution net for The Samurai Poet seems to get cast ever wider. It is now available through Blio, Flipkart, and Whitcoulls. For people who prefer to pay monthly subscriptions for their books, apparently Oyster and Scribd are both distributing the novel now. Since I am not a member of either service, I’m unable to confirm the listings to provide the direct link to TSP. If you happen to be a member, I encourage you to search it out. I don’t understand all the fine print, but apparently a percentage of royalties are paid out for even partial reads, so your support would be appreciated.

For links to all of these booksellers and more, click here for the most up-to-date list.

Maiko Images Added

I finally added a couple images to my “In Search of the Geisha” travelogue. It was long overdue. I gave the photos different art treatments with FX Photo Studio Pro to hide some imperfections in the scanned photos that were taken with an old 35mm camera. Please forgive me.

Flora Gallery Added

Just a small website update to share today. I have added a gallery with some of the pictures I took last summer at Shisendo. The theme of this gallery is “Flora.” It’s a modest update, but it is also the beginning of a series of planned monthly additions, hopefully culminating with at least one video gallery. If this is your first visit to the website, you’re invited to explore beyond the new gallery. Thank you for visiting.

Bookseller List Update

Since I’m trying a new price point for The Samurai Poet during the month of February (only $2.99!), I tested all the bookseller links to see if it was being reflected on their sites yet. During the course of this test, I found that a handful of them were showing the book out of stock, so the links have been removed. This shouldn’t be a major issue since the novel remains available on all major eReader platforms: iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and Kindle (via Smashwords). If you discover a broken link or a new listing of the novel somewhere, please contact me and I will update this site to reflect the changes. As always, thank you for your support. I am gratified every time the novel finds a new reader.

Social Networking Page Added

I’ve added a new page to the website as an experiment. Rather than putting “Follow Me” buttons on every page (possibly confusing visitors looking to share a link), all social networking follow buttons have been placed together on their own page. The two networks I’m most active on publicly--Google+ and Twitter--can be found there. I also included the Flickr button just in case you are looking for followers of your photostream.

I’m not sure if this page will expand my circles or not, but it seems like it is a worth a try.

New Year Resolutions 2014

Happy New Year!

2013 was a busy year for the website. With the publication of The Samurai Poet in October, the real value of having a site already up and running became clear. Not only did I have a destination to list in the many author profiles I had to fill out, but having this announcements page proved to be the best way to share links as booksellers around the world added it to their sales lists.

As important as it is for an independent author to have a web presence, I did not neglect Ishikawa Jozan or Shisendo either. During my July trip to Kyoto, I was able to shoot video and new photographs. This allowed me to add a new site feature that gives easy to follow visual directions to Shisendo--an idea I got from Japanese travel guides that tend to be far more visual than English ones. As I organize the photos and edit the video, more content will be added throughout the year, so check back for updates.

Lessons Learned in 2013

While publishing a novel is an accomplishment, having an audience of readers is necessary to really bring it to life. The initial response has been slow (as expected), but I still learned some lessons that might be of benefit to other authors considering indie publishing.

1) Manage your expectations and it will be easier to avoid disappointment. The general consensus is that 100 book sales is a meaningful milestone for an indie author. The Samurai Poet is not there yet, and I know how much it will mean to me when it makes it.

2) Don’t expect a huge response from your personal network. Your friends will buy you a latte, treat you to lunch, and lend you twenty bucks without expecting you to return it. That doesn’t mean they want to buy your novel--even if it costs less than the proverbial latte. Can you blame them? Buying a novel implies a time commitment to read it and makes a statement about a person’s taste. Have you ever felt burned by a bad book and hesitant to try another based on the experience? So have your friends.

Based on an earlier experience at the website Authonomy, I was prepared for approximately 10% of my personal network to support my writing career by purchasing TSP, and that’s about what happened. Will more of them buy it after reading a review or hearing a recommendation from a mutual friend? No doubt. Just be prepared if your friends don’t all open their wallets right away.

3) Reviews are important. If you can find unbiased reviewers willing to write up your book in exchange for a free copy, offer it to them. If you are a reviewer or a book blogger, contact me and I’ll set you up.

Looking Ahead

Normally, I make a New Year’s resolution that is within my power to realize. This year, they are mostly beyond my control. I’ll call them resolutions; you might call them wishes:

1) Be discovered. I try, but I am just not a social networker. 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. I have a feeling that this is the only way to experience a breakthrough short of publishing another novel that catches someone’s eye.

2) Get more likes and +1’s on my website and blog. Google+ has recently emerged as my favourite public social network ahead of Twitter for the following reasons:

+1’s seem to help move links higher up on Google’s search pages--more of my blog posts are appearing on page one searches than ever before
Google will display your profile photo and post introduction on the search page--seeing the writer’s face seems to entice more clicks and consequently drive traffic to your website or blog
Posts on Google+ are “stickier” and more discoverable than tweets that disappear as quickly as they are posted

3) Sell a copy a day of The Samurai Poet. One book per day means nothing to Stephen King, but I would take 365 sales by the end of the year. If the book has merit, those 365 readers are sure to tell someone and it will find its audience.

Thanks for reading! Have a great 2014 everyone.

Get Detailed Directions to Shisendo

Last year I received an e-mail from a family asking for directions to Shisendo. This message made me realize that the information I already had provided on the website was not enough for some people. As a result, one of my main goals when I visited Kyoto this summer was to take enough pictures to give visitors to my site step by step directions.

Given the accuracy of Google Street View, it is fair to ask what my set of directions adds to the mix. I have added tips and recommendations with each photo to save you time and highlight some of the best shops and secondary attractions you will encounter along the way. The one huge advantage Street View still offers, however, is the ability to walk around inside Shisendo and take a virtual tour. This cool feature is even more welcome now due to Shisendo’s new policy forbidding photography inside the building (although garden photos taken from within Shisendo itself are still permitted).

You can check out the all new Visual Directions page here. Remember to click on a thumbnail to access full-sized images and complete texts. If I have made any mistakes or left anything unclear, please contact me and I will do my best to resolve the issue.

TSP Cover Added to Downloads

If you are interested in writing a review of The Samurai Poet and you need a cover image, feel free to use the one I added to the Downloads page today.

Website Reorganization

With the forthcoming release of The Samurai Poet, I realized it was time to make some changes to the website. “The Samurai Poet” page has been moved from a subheading within the Writing section into a section of its own. Rather than function as a page to sample the novel, it now provides information about the ebook and where to buy it. This change creates a more clearly defined landing page for visitors to learn more about the novel whether they are discovering via casual browsing or on-line advertising.

I have also removed the epub sample of The Samurai Poet because it contained variances from the final version. To the best of my knowledge, all ebook retailers allow you to download a significant sample of the novel so that you can make an informed decision before buying. For this reason, I encourage you to download the sample directly from one of them. I will keep an updated list on the new page.

For readers interested in the literary equivalent of DVD bonus features, an earlier version of the first chapter remains for sampling in the Writing section with the title Osaka 1615. I plan to add a “deleted scene” at a later date as well, so the overall impact of these changes will lead to more content on the website. I hope you find the site changes make sense and look forward to hearing your impressions of The Samurai Poet, be it via on-line reviews or direct contact. Thank you for your continued support.

New Year Wishes

Happy New Year!

I would like to start the new year by thanking everyone who has visited and made use of my website this year. Being able to share some information about a well known, but sometimes overlooked Kyoto tourist destination like Shisendo gives me a lot of satisfaction. I especially appreciate all the people who took the time to share a link to any of the pages on the site. Since I fund this site from my own pocket and accept no advertising, I think of each share as a “thank you” from visitors. Even if you are not a Facebook or Twitter user, when you click the orange plus sign in the side bar, you can find over 300 sharing options, including printing and e-mail. In somewhat related news, I have also added a Twitter follow button at the bottom of the page if you would like to connect with me that way. [Edit (1/1/14): The Twitter follow button has been removed, but I’m easy to find @travisbelrose]

Thanks again, and have a fulfilling 2013.

New Essay Uploaded

I have just uploaded a short essay about the poetry of Ishikawa Jozan to the website. This is the first major addition since the summer when content was added to the Downloads page. Considering what a no brainer it must seem to have a page about Ishikawa’s poetry on a website devoted to him, it’s fair to ask what took me so long to create it.

In fact, the idea for the essay came about almost by accident. In September, I started a short blog post taking Donald Keene to task for some harsh words about Jozan’s poetry (you can read the post here). Once I finished my rant, I realized that it might be more productive to write a more balanced appreciation of Ishikawa’s work. To my surprise, the essay was much more difficult to write than I expected, as I tried out three different angles before finally settling on my approach.

Regardless of what you think of my opinion, I hope you enjoy reading the poems I included to support my thesis. Both books which translate Ishikawa’s work into English are out of print, so it is hard to find samples of his writing.

Mission Accomplished

To all my visitors from Canada and around the world, Happy Canada Day!

At the beginning of the year, I posted three resolutions on my blog, one of which was to redesign my website and transfer it to a new host before Apple mothballed MobileMe. I’m pleased to announce that as of today, MobileMe no longer exists and yet I still have a presence on the Internet. Here’s a brief summary of the changes:

1) Site Creation: After trying 5 different programs intended for web design on a Mac, I went with Rapidweaver for its blend of professional-looking templates and options for under the hood modifications even by those with limited programming knowledge. An early favourite was Sandvox because of their attentive customer service and the number of templates that featured drop down menus. While I am extremely satisfied with Rapidweaver, Sandvox is a good option for people who want an iWeb experience with more design options.

2) Hosting: While enjoying a free year of hosting as MobileMe wound down, there was time to investigate Rapidweaver friendly web hosts. I went with RAGE web hosting for a number of reasons. First of all, they were already in my good books for their free iWeb SEO Tool that remedied a glaring need in iWeb for users who wanted their sites discoverable by search engines. Secondly, they are a Canadian based firm. Even though they bill in US funds, I like knowing that my .ca domain is being hosted in Canada. Thirdly, having the ability to prepay has allowed me to find hosting for $5 a month. Since my website has always been ad free, inexpensive hosting is important to me. As an added bonus, I have received excellent customer service in the form of quick replies and personalized e-mails.

3) Domain Registration: I switched from a .com to a .ca generic top-level domain primarily because the .ca gTLD allows private citizens to hide their addresses from WHOIS searches, whereas .com does not. I see no reason why that kind of information should be widely accessible, so why not keep it private if you can? So while the .ca domain makes me look more patriotic, there were more practical concerns at work.

The Transition Begins

It’s been about six weeks since I uploaded the beta version of the site. It gave me time to clean up the site and fix some little problems. No one has written to point out any egregious errors, so I have decided it’s time to start making the transition from the old site to the new one.

Almost every page of the new site has been encoded with meta data to ensure that search engines start finding it. As well, every page except the welcome page on my old site, travisbelrose.com, has been embedded with redirects. If you are also making the transition from Mobile Me and iWeb to a new web host, you can find the redirect code at http://iwebfaq.org/site/iWeb_Redirect.html

Website Re-design in Beta

The website re-design is far enough along to start testing on the Internet, but not enough to remove the beta tag. If you have any suggestions regarding improvements or features you would like to see, feel free to contact me by e-mail.