Category Archives: Blog
A few years ago, I got to wondering how many different states were covered by my Who Pooped? series, and it led to a blog post that is now obsolete, as the series has grown since then. This post updates and replaces that one.
In the beginning, each book in the series was for a specific national park, and most of those national parks were tucked securely in a single state (Yellowstone does span three states, however). As the series progressed, the books covered more ecosystems than specific parks, and sometimes those covered multiple states. That got me thinking: what states does this series cover?
So far, the series covers 19 states in 20 books — some books cover multiple states and some states have multiple books. The number of national parks, national conservation areas, national monuments, national recreation areas, and national forests is significantly larger than that. I haven’t compiled that list lately. A project for another day!
- Who Pooped on the Colorado Plateau?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Grand Canyon National Park
- Who Pooped in the Cascades?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Death Valley National Park
- Who Pooped in the Park? Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park
- Who Pooped in the Redwoods?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
Overall, yesterday wasn’t a great day. My tea shop‘s main computer died during a Windows 10 update, our wi-fi went utterly wonky, my phone stopped making or accepting calls, I spent a bunch of time on legal documents trying to collect back wages from February & March, and the kitchen sink backed up. Plumbing is the worst.
Today, on the other hand, had a stupendous start! I was catching up on some emails, and pulled out my latest royalty statement from the lovely folks over at Farcountry Press. As I am wont to do, I started tallying up the sales numbers for each edition of Who Pooped in the Park. The total sales for the series to date? A whopping 500,853 copies!
Over half a million. I’m gobsmacked. The mere fact that I got to use the word “gobsmacked” today makes this a great day! I’m feeling so magnanimous that AT&T and Microsoft are hereby both forgiven for yesterday’s fiascos.
When I was focused on writing specialized technical books about closed captioning, selling a few thousand copies was enough to make me happy. Ten thousand was a lofty goal. And then—just for kicks—I wrote my first book for kids. The Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park came bursting out of the gate, earning out the advance in just a few months. That edition is by far my best-selling book, being the only single title of mine to have sold over 100,000 copies.
The other Who Pooped books have followed with mixed success. A few still haven’t sold out their first printings. A few (I’m looking at you, Grand Canyon edition) have had really stellar sales. My non-poop books have also had mixed success, but I’m working on that!
When I talk to other authors of children’s books, they want to know my secret. Is it shameless self-promotion? Is it mad skills at writing and/or illustrating? Is it having the best agent in the whole wide world? While all of those things would help, here’s what I think made Who Pooped work:
- Being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. There’s just no substitute for this.
- Having a title that makes people pick up the book, and content that makes them read it.
- The right publisher. Farcountry doesn’t have many contacts in schools and libraries, but their deep connections in national parks and gift shops were, in my opinion, critical to the success of these books.
- The right editor. I’ve had a lot of different editors over the course of my writing career, and I think having Kathy Springmeyer’s advice as I worked on my first children’s book was invaluable. The single best piece of advice she ever gave me was to have my kids read the manuscript out loud to me and look for places where they stumble over words or the dialog doesn’t sound natural.
- Persistence and fearlessness. I was lucky. I only got turned down by one publisher on Who Pooped in the Park? before Farcountry picked it up (your loss, Globe Pequot Press!).
- Asking for help. Nature writer Gary Ferguson gave me a lot of good advice in the beginning, and scat & track expert Jim Halfpenny proofed my original manuscript for me. Using the publisher’s industry contacts has put me in touch with a deep pool of experts. Using those contacts made my books better.
- And, of course, shameless self-promotion. After you’re successful, the media calls you. When you’re getting started, you have to call them.
Agents can make a big difference, from what I hear. I can’t tell you firsthand, as I’ve never managed to land an agent myself. Here’s where I need to be more persistent. I’ve been turned down by a couple of dozen agents, but I have friends that have sent out hundreds of query letters before getting to yes. I’ll get there…
I’ve been playing a lot of games lately, but it took a Ctrl+Alt+Del comic to get me thinking about the difference between tabletop games (board, card, dice…) and video games.
I was part of the first generation to play computer games. In high school in the ’70s, I played Moon Lander on a PDP-11, and a text-based Star Trek game on an HP 2000. In my first “real” job the summer before I started college, I worked on a chip for an early arcade game. Over the following years, I played Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork on a DEC-10, bought a Pong game for my home TV, and collected computers like the Apple ][ and Atari 800 to play games ranging from Breakout to Galaxian.
I grew up, however, on tabletop games. My family’s copies of Scrabble, Monopoly, Clue, and Probe were battered and taped together. I played chess, checkers, go, backgammon, and mah jongg, and always had card decks laying around for hearts or go fish. My senior year in high school is when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons (oh, how many hours I spent painting miniatures).
Video games and computer games never stopped me from playing tabletop games. With few exceptions, I played computer games and video games by myself, and tabletop games with friends. In fact, it wasn’t until World of Warcraft came along that I really got interested in a multiplayer video game, and I gave that one up years ago.
For a while there, it looked like tabletop gaming was dying off. Others didn’t share that mental distinction I had of multiuser games around a table with friends and single-user games in front of a TV or computer screen. But today, it’s a whole different world.
Every Thursday night is Game Night at my shop (the Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern), and we play everything from the old classics like chess and go to new & different games like Splendor, Bärenpark, and Lanterns. Of course, the hot series like Catan and Pandemic are pulled out regularly, too.
Public places to play tabletop games are popping up everywhere. It’s not just your friendly local game store anymore. My old bookstore had game nights. There are coffee shops, bars, and hotel lobbies with stacks of demo games to play.
What brought back tabletop games with such a vengeance? I think it’s a collection of factors:
- Portability: You can play Munchkin around a campfire, Dixit in your hotel room, and Apples to Apples in the back seat of the car. A couple of Magic: the Gathering decks fit comfortably in a coat pocket. You can’t say that for a game console.
- Face-to-face social interaction: Sure you can chat with your guildies with a headset as you play Zelda or WoW, but when you’re playing a game of Mysterium with a group of friends, you’re all leaning over the same table, looking at each other, and searching the same clues. You’re chatting (unless you’re the ghost) and sharing real face time.
- A game for every situation: Some days, you’re in the mood to spend the entire afternoon setting up and playing Risk: Godstorm. Other days, a quick half-hour session of Fluxx (the Monty Python edition, perhaps?) may be more up your alley. There are tabletop games that take a few minutes to learn and others that take an hour of reading rulebooks.
- Control over the level of chance: Do you like a level playing field? Go fish. The game depends on the shuffle of the cards, and your eight-year-old just might kick your butt. Do you want pure, solid strategy? There are no dice in chess or go. You want to get wild and crazy? We’re back to Fluxx. Some make you think, and some just let you kick back and play.
- Easy breaks: There’s no pause button on an MMORPG. If you get up and walk away from the computer, your teammates might well be toast. But in tabletops games, bathroom breaks are easy (and the mandatory break to order pizza, of course).
I don’t really think it matters why they’re back. I just take joy in having them back. And in having such wonderful games coming in from all around the world.
If you have a favorite tabletop game I didn’t mention, leave a comment. And if you happen to be in Red Lodge, Montana on a Thursday night, pop into Phoenix Pearl Tea and join me for a game!
We’ve all been seeing a rash of Facebook account cloning. You see it when you get a friend request from someone that you’ve already friended. If you have a lot of Facebook friends, you may just think, “Oh, I thought we were already friends,” and accept the invitation. Shortly thereafter, you’ll get a private message from your new friend. It starts out innocuous. “How are you doing?” Then the scam starts. It may take you a while to realize that your friend wouldn’t really be trying to borrow a pile of money or get you to invest in something. By then, it may be too late.
If your account gets cloned, you may think you’ve been hacked. Don’t worry. You haven’t. Nobody’s figured out your password and broken into your account. They just followed these simple steps:
- First, they copy your profile picture and cover photo onto their computer.
- Then they create a new Facebook account using your name and a throwaway email address.
- They set the profile pic and cover photo to the ones they saved from your real account.
- Finally, they click on the “Friends” tab on your real account and start sending friend requests to everyone.
There’s a quick ‘n easy way to prevent that fourth step.
This will bring up a window that includes “Who can see your friends list?” If the button to the right of it says, “Public,” click on it.
I like mine being on “Friends” or “Friends except acquaintances.” That way, when one of my friends is looking for another of my friends on Facebook, they can just go to my friend list and find them. If you prefer nobody being able to see who you’ve friended on Facebook, use the “only me” setting.
When you get a friend request from someone that sets your Spidey-senses a-tingling, don’t just hit that “confirm” button. Search your friends list to see if you’re already friends. Click on their name to see their page. Warning signs of a cloned account are:
- They have hardly any friends, and the ones they have are all people you know as credulous or careless.
- There are no timeline posts and no pictures (other than profile and cover).
- The name and username don’t match (see picture below). This can also happen when you have friends without much computer and/or Facebook experience that don’t know to set their username.
Whenever I get a friend request from someone I think is a scammer with a cloned account, I always report it to Facebook and tell my real friend about it so they can notify their friends to be careful. You might want to do the same!
I’ve been looking for a new creative outlet for a while now, and I’ve found it in the form of a new webcomic called Ferret in a Lab Coat. The concept of a webcomic has fascinated me for quite some time, as the potential goes so far beyond traditional printed comics.
Syndicated comics fit into one of a few strict formats: the daily multi-panel (landscape), the daily single-panel (roughly square), and the Sunday format. Newspapers need this structure to make sure that the comic page lays out neatly every day. If Dilbert fit into a particular space yesterday, it will fit that same space tomorrow.
When I started planning for Ferret, I played around with ideas of what could be done on the web that can’t be done in print. I didn’t see any reason to fit a web-based comic into a set of restrictions defined by newspapers.
I pulled all of these ideas together into what I call the “Enhanced Webcomic.” Here are its components:
- CHARACTER ID: Not sure who one of the characters is? Hover over the character to see the name, click (or tap) on the character to go to the appropriate page in the cast of characters.
- HOTSPOT OBJECTS: What the heck is that thing in the drawing? Hover over it for a description, click to read about it in more detail.
- TRANSCRIPTS: Every comic has a full text transcript below the image, which helps with web searches if you want to find a particular comic again.
- VARIABLE IMAGE SIZES: In the days of newspaper comics, there were only a few size options to choose from. Daily comics were either a single-panel format (e.g. The Far Side) or a standard wide format, usually drawn as three panels. On the web, there’s no reason to limit the size. Randall Monroe takes this to extremes in his comic, XKCD, with comics like the scrollable Click and Drag, the big wide Movie Narrative Charts, and the really tall Earth Temperature Timeline. Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is also well-known for very tall comics. Randall and Zach are both inspirations of mine.
- TEXT LINKS IN THE COMIC ART: Certain words in the comic itself may also be links to related cartoons or reference sites. I’m experimenting with highlighting the linked text in red vs. leaving it as an Easter egg for readers to find.
- MULTIPLE NAVIGATION PATHS: We don’t all read comics the same way. Some start at the beginning and read forward, some folks look at titles and pick something interesting, some start at the end and read backward, some jump around randomly, some look at series or story arcs. I’ve built Ferret with standard forward/backward navigation, an archive page, and a dropdown menu above and below each comic showing the titles of every single one. I’ll be adding a random link shortly.
So far, I’ve put up a dozen comics, ranging from science to poetry to politics to screws.